On Saturday, May 22nd, 2021, the Melbourne chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted an in-person panel discussion at the Clyde Hotel in Carlton, Australia on the question: “What is Capitalism, and why should we be against it?”
The present is characterized not only by a political crisis of the global neoliberal order but also by differing interpretations of the cause of this crisis:
Capitalism. If we are to interpret capitalism, we must also know how to change it.
– What is capitalism? – Is capitalism contradictory? If so, what is this contradiction and how does it relate to Left politics?
– How has capitalism changed over time, and what have these changes meant politically for the Left?
– Does class struggle take place today? If so, how, and what role should it play for the Left?
– Is capitalism in crisis? If so, how? And how should the Left respond?
– If a new era of global capitalism is emerging, how do we envision the future of capitalism and what are the implications of this for the Left?
Panelists: – Rory Dufficy (Scholar of Avante-Garde politics and teaches Marx’s Capital at the Melbourne School Of Continental Philosophy) – Rjurik Davidson (Marxist writer, editor & speaker. Former Associate Editor of Overland magazine) – Arthur Dent (Unreconstructed Maoist and contributor at c21stleft.com)
[ Unfortunately 20 seconds of Dufficy’s opening remarks were lost due to an internet drop-out. However, his remarks are complete in the transcript expected to be published in an upcoming issue of The Platypus Review ]
I’m working on an eventual series of posts on above theme but currently focussed on current pretence at preparing for mRNA vaccine production in Australia that requires catching up on technical details.
Meanwhile Dominic Cummings started a twitter storm on 17 May, fully documenting from inside just how Shambolic the UK response was.
The 59 tweets (so far) are well worth reading and thinking about carefully.
It also includes some responses on his own responsibility for helping promote that government.
More immediately relevant is a warning from Cummings that UK preparations for dealing with variants could be likewise shambolic and that transparency is vital to enable earlier reversals of wrong policies protected by official secrecy.
Naturally the “business case” for mRNA manufacturing in Australia is beiing witheld and an 8 week “process” is being rushed through to ask local manufacturers to confidentially provide detailed costings for know how and supply chains they don’t have. An engineering task needs to be recruited immediately (from anywhere, worldwide) to actually work out what can be done and who needs to be recruited and trained to do it. That will be difficult but is the obvious first step which simply is not being taken. They are instead talking to managers of the non-existant Australian BioPharma industry to fill out forms about matters they know nothing about.
Meanwhile here’s the text of the 59 tweets, although it is better to read them with accompanying graphics at links above:
1/ Covid… Summary evidence on lockdowns. For UK political pundits obsessed with spreading nonsense on Sweden/lockdowns, cf. SW econ did a bit WORSE than Denmark which locked down, AND far more deaths in Sweden:
One of the biggest misunderstandings, spread by political pundits even now, is the ‘tradeoff’ argument. Fact: evidence clear that fast hard effective action best policy for economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering 4/ Best example: Taiwan. Also shows that if you REALLY get your act together not only is econ largely unscathed but life is ~ normal. But SW1 (Remain/Leave, Rt/Left) = totally hostile to learning from East Asia 5/ There’s a general western problem based on nonsense memes like ‘asians all do as they’re told it won’t work here’. This is what many behavioural science ‘experts’/charlatans argued, disastrously, in Feb2020. This nonsense is STILL influencing policy, eg our joke borders policy 6/ Another confusion re Sweden: data shows despite no official ‘lockdown’ behaviour changed enormously. The closer your measures are to ‘welding people inside homes’ (per Wuhan at peak) the >> effect on transmission. Semantics of ‘lockdown’ obscure this really simple point 7/ If you are going to have to do measures ≈ lockdown to avoid health system collapse then the harder/earlier the better & the sooner they can be released. Pseudo ‘lockdowns’ w/o serious enforcement are hopeless: econ hit & people die anyway, nightmare rumbles on 8/ Waiting room, 1st jab. Remembered Vallance 24/3 amid disaster: will u support taking vaccines out of DH & a new Taskforce, we need different leadership & skills to drive it? CABSEC supported divvying up DH tasks. If not, normal Whitehall process, probably normal result
9/ Success seems to have blinded SW1 to important Qs. a/ We did it much better than Brussels, obviously, but Brussels is not a good comparison. How well did we do relative to ‘how well wd General Groves who ran the Manhattan Project have done it?’ 10/ I think we’ll conclude we shd have done Human Challenge trials immediately & cd have got jabs in arms summer. This is not criticism of the VTF which has been constrained in ways they shdnt be. It’s cnctd to b/ where is the public plan for how the VTF will deal with variants? 11/ One of the most fundamental & unarguable lessons of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe. Openness to scrutiny wd have exposed Gvt errors weeks earlier than happened 12/ So why are MPs accepting the lack of a public plan now for VTF viz variants? Especially when rumours reach me that the silent entropy of Whitehall is slowly turning VTF back into a ‘normal’ entity? 13/ The best hedge re a variant escaping current vaccines is PUBLIC SCRUTINY of Gvt plans. This will hopefully show it’s been taken seriously. If not, better learn now that the Gvt has screwed up again than when ‘variant escapes’ news breaks 14/ I can think of no significant element of covid response that wd not have been improved by discarding secrecy and opening up. This was symbolised by e.g how COBR cd not be used: a constrained STRAP environment cd not cope with the scale/speed, another important lesson
15/ Having watched classified elements of covid response, Gvt cd make the vaccine plans 99% public without risks, ‘national security’ almost totally irrelevant to the critical parts of the problem, a few things cd be withheld while publishing all crucial parts of the plan 16/ These issues are relevant to c/ Who is writing the plan for ‘how we deal with something worse than covid?’ If we get this right now, we do not need to have this sort of disaster again. We’ll also be hedging vs future bioterrorism risks: cf:
Andy Weber on rendering bioweapons obsolete and ending the new nuclear arms race Bioweapons are terrifying but scientific advances leave them on the verge of becoming an outdated technology. https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/andy-weber-rendering-bioweapons-obsolete/ 17/ The covid plan was supposed to be ‘world class’ but turned out to be part disaster, part non-existent. I urged inside Gvt to do a review of other contingency plans for more dangerous things than covid, a largely open process with e.g @wtgowers helping. Happening? 18/ MPs shd force publication of vaccine/variant plan & require mostly open review of other contingency plans before we find out the hard way they’re as ‘world class’ as the covid plan… 19/ Such reviews shd seek out those were right & early on covid. Such people are more likely to spot that other plans have errors, gaps, that institutional planning has blind spots, failure to look at crucial operational details etc. E.g @MWStory 20/ P Vallance & I supported opening up SAGE much earlier than it happened. I argued before 1st lockdown to open up the CODE of SPI-M models for scrutiny. Barrier = SW1 cultural hostility to openness & this barrier means SAGE still too closed & too little of its workings public 21/ Looking at minutes does not give good insight to reality of discussions. E.g looking at minutes of crucial 18/3, which I attended, does not convey true situation, discussion, atmosphere, effects 22/ With something as critical as variants escaping vaccines, there is no justification for secrecy, public interest unarguably is open scrutiny of the plans 23/ This point is critical re Groves/Manhattan/vaccines & wider covid & wider issue of gvt performance: our civilisation is abysmal at seeking Groves/Bob Taylors & getting them into critical roles, bureaucracies exclude & expel them, as they did with Groves/Taylor! Image 24/ The public inquiry will at no point ask: how does the deep institutional wiring of the parties/civil service program destructive behaviour by putting the wrong ppl in wrong jobs with destructive incentives? It will all be about relatively surface errors 25/ If SW1 wanted to ‘learn’ there wd already be a serious exercise underway. The point of the inquiry is the opposite of learning, it is to delay scrutiny, preserve the broken system & distract public from real Qs, leaving the parties & senior civil service essentially untouched 26/ J Phillips, a brilliant young neuroscientist I recruited to no10, argued for immediate Human Challenge Trials, as did others. We were far too slow to listen to such advice. The science ‘misfits’ who urged this early were clearly right, the ‘ethicists’ disastrously wrong 27/ So true from @paulg, it’s amazingly rare to find people who deeply care about results at senior levels in politics/gvt, those who do are seen as mad/unreliable & are weeded out. SW1 incentives are ~all about rewarding process + fake signals. V relevant to covid fiascos Image 28/ Of the 20 ppl who I saw do most to save 1000s of lives, it’s striking how many gone or leaving or planning to leave, & how many who were disastrously wrong/useless been promoted to jobs they can’t do/given honours etc 29/ @pmarca on the west’s covid failures (‘the harsh reality is that it all failed’) & the General Groves mentality needed, influential in no10, 4/20, as we pushed thro the vaccine taskforce
IT’S TIME TO BUILD – Andreessen Horowitz Every Western institution was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, despite many prior warnings. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, … https://a16z.com/2020/04/18/its-time-to-build/ 30/ Crucial data generally ignored by those who want to downplay covid danger, many 1000s will have serious health problems for years because of our failure to act faster/harder in Feb/March & Sep. Those who predicted this issue wd be ‘Gulf War syndrome bollocks’ were wrong Image 31/ There was a PHE exercise called Exercise NIMBUS in a hypothetical future 14/4/20 with mock COBR slides. Assumed peak week 13/5 and >33M cases over 16 week wave, hospitals full by 14/4, >800K deaths, schools told stay open(!!). A/one know when exercise happened (think 3/20)? Image 32/ This, evening of 31/10 re lockdown2, from @wtgowers who was ahead of the game in 3/20, was spot on. If mass testing had been developed properly earlier in year as cd/shd have been, wd probably have avoided lockdowns 2&3 while awaiting vaccine Image 33/ True but also UK gvt did v badly, turned out we cd/shd have had these tests at millions p/day scale by Sep latest, instead of seriously starting in Sep, which wd have greatly changed q42020. Those screaming from ~Feb/March were ignored, months/lives/£ needlessly lost Image 34/ Mass testing same story as elsewhere: some brilliant/dedicated relatively junior officials (e.g Alex Cooper) + great young scientists (e.g @gaurav_ven) + entrepreneurs held back by senior management/DHSC/PHE (particularly awful) & Whitehall legacy procurement & HR horrorshows 35/ Even tho the PM/CABSEC/I all told 9/20 most senior HR & procurement officials to treat mass testing ‘like a wartime project’, ignore their usual bullshit multimonth processes, mass testing hugely hampered by Whitehall’s optimisation for ‘[awful] process over results’ 36/ So much ‘lockdown’ confusion. Obv they’re ‘destructive’. But if you have to do it cos alternative is 100s of 1000s choking to death + no NHS for months for everybody else + econ sunk cos everybody hiding in terror then earlier/harder is better for health AND econ 37/ If we’d had the right preparations + competent people in charge, we wd probably have avoided lockdown1, definitely no need for lockdowns 2&3. Given the plan was AWOL/disaster + awful decisions delayed everything, lockdown1 became necessary 38/ Media generally abysmal on covid but even I’ve been surprised by 1 thing: how many hacks have parroted Hancock’s line that ‘herd immunity wasn’t the plan’ when ‘herd immunity by Sep’ was literally the official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings until it was ditched 39/ Yes the media is often incompetent but something deeper is at work: much of SW1 was happy to believe Hancock’s bullshit that ‘it’s not the plan’ so they didn’t have to face the shocking truth. Most political hacks believe in ‘the system’… 40/ In week of 9/3, No10 was made aware by various people that the official plan wd lead to catastrophe. It was then replaced by Plan B. But how ‘herd immunity by Sep’ cd have been the plan until that week is a fundamental issue in the whole disaster 41/ All those referring to the Sunday Times story 22/3/20 re me dramatically ‘changing my mind’ at SAGE on 12/3: there was no SAGE on 12/3! It’s an invented meeting & invented story repeated for a year by political hacks as ‘fact’ 42/ No10 decided to lie: ‘herd immunity has never been… part of our coronavirus strategy’. V foolish, & appalling ethics, to lie about it. The right line wd have been what PM knows is true: our original plan was wrong & we changed when we realised 43/ Lots of hacks have lost their minds. Herd immunity wasn’t ‘a secret strategy’, it was THE OFFICIAL PUBLIC EXPLAINED ON TV/RADIO STRATEGY! Halpern, on SAGE, literally explained it on radio explicitly, 11/3/20, as did others!! 44/ The whole ‘flatten the curve’ plan A was to get herd immunity by summer & avoid 2nd peak during annual NHS winter crisis. That’s why our official graphs had ONE peak over by summer! COBR docs/graphs describe herd immunity as ‘the optimal single peak strategy’ etc 45/ What happened is a/ panic about the phrase, ‘comms disaster’. b/ We ditched the herd immunity plan and shifted to Plan B, suppression, which previously the Gvt said/thought would be worse cos it wd lead to a 2nd peak in winter 2020 during the annual NHS crisis 46/ A COBR doc from week of 9/3/20 explains official thinking behind Plan A: ie. suppression either won’t work or wd lead to 2nd peak during NHS winter crisis, so the advised herd immunity approach was what DHSC/Cabinet Office described as ‘single peak optimal strategy’ Image 47/ In that week it became clear neither Hancock/CABOFF understood herd immunity effects: 100s of 1000s choking to death + no NHS for anybody for months + dead unburied + econ implosion; so we moved to Plan B: suppression + Manhattan Project for drugs/vaccines + test&trace etc 48/ Critical as I am of the PM in all sorts of ways, it’s vital to understand the disaster was not just his fault: the official plan was disastrously misconceived, DHSC/CABOFF did not understand this or why, & a PlanB had to be bodged amid total & utter chaos 49/ Jenny Harries told us, the same week herd immunity was the official plan, masks are a ‘BAD idea’, ‘we don’t want to disrupt people’s lives’, acting ‘too early we will just pop up with another epidemic peak later’. So Whitehall has promoted her, obviously 50/ ‘Herd immunity’ was officially seen as UNAVOIDABLE week of 9/3. It wd come either a) in a single peak over by Sep, or b) in a 2nd peak in winter. (a) was seen as easier to manage & less of a catastrophe so it was Plan A. Cf SAGE 13/3: ‘a near certainty’ suppression>2nd peak Image 51/ It was in week of 9/3 that we started to figure out Plan B to dodge herd immunity until vaccines. Even AFTER we shifted to PlanB, COBR documents had the ‘OPTIMAL single peak strategy’ graphs showing 260k dead cos the system was so confused in the chaos, see below Image 52/ Hodges = wrong: there was neither an intention to lockdown nor as of Fri13/3 any official plan for doing so. The SAGE minutes show the opposite of what Dan says they say… Image 53/ Dan says the SAGE minutes show ‘The strategy was to wait for the optimum moment to lockdown’. No. SAGE said literally the opposite: lockdown = suppression = ‘near certainty’ of 2nd peak & this was thought to be much WORSE than single peak/herd immunity by Sep, hence graph Image 54/ On 14/3 one of the things being screamed at the PM was ‘there is no plan for lockdown & our current official plan will kill at least 250k & destroy the NHS’. Cf the graph: ‘optimal single peak strategy’ with 3 interventions. That was the official plan, which was abandoned 55/ Another reason we ditched Plan A was it became clear the official system had given ~no thought to all the second order effects of 250k dying, almost all without ICU care. True deaths wd clearly be much >250k cos there would be no NHS for anybody for months 56/ On 12/3, the most surreal day of 18 months in Gvt, it was argued to the PM that a/ individual isolation be delayed (‘we’re not ready’), b/ we might not do household quarantine at all, c/ given Halpern’s interview on 11th, the PM shd publicly explain the ‘herd immunity’ plan 57/ Re D Halpern: a/ on 11/3 he was simply explaining the OFFICIAL plan, not freelancing; b/ unlike many he supported the switch to Plan B in the next week & told the CABSEC & DHSC that… 58/ NB. Even at SAGE on 18/3 it was not all clearly agreed ‘must do national lockdown ASAP’. Halpern supported it with others. Senior DHSC officials were saying even on 18/3: lockdown just means it pops back up again in 2nd wave so why change strategy? 59/ Even at SAGE on 18/3 some argued: even if lockdown needed, delay, finesse timing. Others argued: there’s no alternative so sooner must be better. The latter were right (I think) & that argument prevailed • • •
A review of “Radicals” by Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley has been overdue since March but will remain overdue since notice of a panel discussion on “What is Capitalism” will be obsolete tomorrow, this Saturday. The direct connecting link is simply that there is chapter on “Albert Langer (Arthur Dent): Hardened Apparatchik” in the book and Arthur Dent is also on the panel at discussion this Saturday, tomorrow.
I have been too preoccupied catching up on mRNA vaccine manufacturing to write on anything else and have run out of time to mention both separately.
For now I will focus on tomorrow’s discussion, but first just quickly provide links for the book in case anyone turning up here from the discussion might be interested. It is well worth reading for anyone wanting background on the Sixties in Australia (not just because it has a very friendly treatment of me in the chapter by a fellow rebel, Nadia Wheatley).
As well as the chapter and short bio notes at pp 362-3 there are background links on pp 380-381 including:
There will also be a Melbourne book launch on Thursday 24 June at Trades Hall 6pm to 8pm.
Q&A panel will have the Melbourne people described by chapters – Gary Foley, Margaret RoadKnight, Margaret Reynolds, Peter Bachelor and me. Links will eventually be at Nadia’s web pages above.
The cover highlights the flags of the National Liberation front of south Vietnam:
There is of course also a deeper connection between a panel discussion about Capitalism in the 2020s and a book about Radicals in the sixties – more than half a century ago.
That connection is the fact that Radicals were central to the existence of a broader Left in the sixties and the absence of Radicals is central to the absurdity of what gets passed off as the Left today. I’ll be speaking tomorrow putting forward some ideas on why Radicals fought the pseudoleft back then and why that must, and therefore will happen again.
So, first the panel discussion, this Saturday, tomorrow, 22 May, 3pm to 5pm at the rear lounge of the The Clyde Hotel 385 Cardigan St, Carlton, 3053. Postponed from original 1pm due to clash with Palestinian rally at 1pm, State Library:
Their slogan is “The Left is Dead! Long Live the Left!” so we have something in common.
Unfortunately the title of their article explaining that excellent slogan is preceded by:
“Vicissitudes of historical consciousness and possibilities for emancipatory social politics today” and has lots of similar language from the “Frankfurt school”.
The people who obscured clear and simple slogans with that sort of language were not theoreticians but mere onlookers when there actually was a Radical Left in the sixties. Combining such opposite approaches in a single title perhaps suits affiliates of an egg laying mammal. So we have some differences too. I never got interested enough in the Frankfurt school to actually study their stuff, except for their first publication by Henryk Grossman, who had a theory of capitalist breakdown or collapse and was actually closer to Communism than to the Frankfurt school (while still obviously wrong about “breakdown”).
There is one central point of unity between revolutionary democrats and academic democrats. The pseudoleft that the mainstream tries to pretend is its old enemy on the left is in fact virulently anti-democratic and hostile to debate as well as being virulently anti-communist. That has always been characeristic of the far right. The broad Left has always been a milieu that lives and grows through debating opposing ideas. The pseudoleft is in fact far right.
Below is the panel descriiption for “What is Capitalism, and why should we be against it”:
The present is characterized not only by a political crisis of the global neoliberal order but also by differing interpretations of the cause of this crisis: Capitalism. If we are to interpret capitalism, we must also know how to change it. We ask the panelists to consider the following questions:
What is capitalism?
Is capitalism contradictory? If so, what is this contradiction and how does it relate to Left politics?
How has capitalism changed over time, and what have these changes meant politically for the Left?
Does class struggle take place today? If so, how, and what role should it play for the Left?
Is capitalism in crisis? If so, how? And how should the Left respond?
If a new era of global capitalism is emerging, how do we envision the future of capitalism and what are the implications of this for the Left?
The 15′ presentations will be transcribed for publication so to help the transciber I will include notes with references on that, point by point. First the references because my Android Tablet is about to crash. I will try to update this evening.
In 1962 Mao Tsetung said:
“The next 50 to 100 years or so, beginning from now, will be a great era of radical change in the social system throughout the world, an earth-shaking era without equal in any previous historica! period. Living in such an era, we must be pnepared to engage in great struggles which will have many features different in form from those of the past.”
That was said when the Soviet Union and its satellites had already gone revisionist and the split in the international communist movement was becoming open. Nearly 80 years later we still have another 20 years “or so” to go.
Although the left upsurge in the sixties did not last a decade, nor succeed in revolutionary overthrow of all existing social conditions, a major reason it subsided was that the it succeeded in compelling the ruling class to adapt to a faster rate of change in the social system than any previous historical period.
When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, England was the most advanced society, but still with less than half the population urban. Today more than half the global population is urban.
A characeristic feature of the pseudoleft is its continual moaning that things have got worse and worse. In fact this period has seen the most rapid rise in both the numbers, the cultural and political level and the standard of living of the global working class.
From a revolutionary communist perspective it is far too slow. But it was fast enough for the radical left to be eclipsed by a reactionary pseudoleft that openly wants to at least slow things down to live more “simply”. There was certainly a lot more room for the productive forces to continue developing within the capitalist mode of production than Marx and Engels had hoped.
In looking up that quote from the Ninth National Congress documents I actually found it in:
Peking Review #25, June 18, 1976. (Slightly abridged translation of an article in Red Flag #6, 1976)
It is reprinted in a book with lots of other background on Maoism:
And Mao Makes 5: Mao Tsetung’s last great battle, edited with an Introduction by Raymond Lotta, (Chicago: Banner Press, September 1978), 539 pages. [Because of the very large file size of the entire book, each section and each included article is also being made available here separately.]
I will be quoting from “Some Questions” by “Perplexed” in Number 1, September 1993.
Other classic works I will or may reference include:
“The Communist Manifesto”
“Socialism – Utopian and Scientific”
“The Capitalist Cycle” by Pavel Maksakovsky.
The latter, are available at Library Genesis as is pretty well anything you might want to read (see wikipedia and google for proxy links)
Hope to update this evening.
Ok, update below – leaving above unfixed.
“Below is the panel descriiption for “What is Capitalism, and why should we be against it”:”
The term anti-capitalism, along with anti-globalism and anti-imperialism was adopted by the pseudoleft to absorb the progressive leftist movement that fights to accelerate the transition from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to communism into a mush combined with reactionary opposition to capitalism from open Malthusians such as the Greens.
According to the Communist Manifesto:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed onesbecome antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.
The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. Thenecessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces with separate interests, laws, governments and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier and one customs-tariff.
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
Clearly what is called “the left” these days is naturally and instinctively against all that. But Communists see it as a necessary and desirable move away from the past and towards the future. We are not part of the “anti-capitalist” mush.
“The present is characterized not only by a political crisis of the global neoliberal order but also by differing interpretations of the cause of this crisis: Capitalism.”
Neither the “global neoliberal order” nor it’s “political crisis” were concepts debated among sixties Radicals or our opponents. There were equally vague terms like “the system” and “the establishment”. But we were part of an explicitly globalist, internationalist movement that had a revolutionary communist and therefore also revolutionary democratic core.
The main opponents of Radicals within the broader “Left” were what we called “revisionists” and “social democrats”. They were more inclined to call themselves “Socialists”.
As Engels wrote in the preface to the English edition of 1888 of the Manifesto quoted above:
“… when it was written, we could not have called it a socialist manifesto. By Socialists, in 1847, were understood, on the one hand the … mere sects, …gradually dying out; on the other hand, the most multifarious social quacks who, by all manner of tinkering, professed to redress, without any danger to capital and profit, all sorts of social grievances, in both cases men outside the working-class movement, and looking rather to the “educated” classes for support… Thus, in 1847, socialism was a middle-class movement, communism a working-class movement. Socialism was, on the Continent at least, “respectable”; communism was the very opposite. And as our notion, from the very beginning, was that “the emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself,” there could be no doubt as to which of the two names we must take. Moreover, we have, ever since, been far from repudiating it.”
There was no need to quibble with their adoption of the term “Socialist”.
As far as I can make out the term “neoliberal order” was adopted when social democracy abandoned any pretence of aiming to eventually reform their way out of capitalism and the remnants of the revisionist “communists” had to come up with an even more mealy mouthed phrase than “socialist” to describe their common opposition to the center right.
The center right, like the center left was both conservative and reformist. Both sides of mainstream politics had very similar policies for adapting capitalism and avoiding another upsurge from a Radical left. By mouthing off more “militantly” against the “neoliberal order” people who could no longer even claim to be “socialist” were able to unite around the Keynesian adaptation of capitalism while posturing. In fact of course, as US President Richard Nixon said: “We are all Keynesians now”.
I do think there is an ongoing collapse of mainstream politics that could be described as a slow moving crisis and will eventually become a sudden sharp crisis when it actually confronts a Radical opposition. But I won’t try to interpret that and will instead focus on the more important crisis on the Left that has enabled the mainstream to keep limping on without facing a Radical opposition.
“If we are to interpret capitalism, we must also know how to change it.”
On the contrary, if we are to change the world and move on from its capitalist past and present to a communist future we must also understand where we are, how we got here and how things actually work in the world we live in now.
I prefer Marx’s version:
“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
That was the final 11th point in a list of “Theses on Feuerbach”. Here for the benefit of those stuck with the Frankfurt School is the third:
“The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change … can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.”
“We ask the panelists to consider the following questions:”
I prefer Lenin’s question “What is to be done?”. I prefer it precisely because I do not know the answer, whereas I can give glib replies to the questions posed to the panel.
“What is capitalism?”
Capitalism is generalized commodity production based on wage labour.
“Capital does not consist in the fact that accumulated labour serves living labour as a means for new production. It consists in the fact that living labour serves accumulated labour as the means of preserving and multiplying its exchange value.” (Marx “Wage Labour and Capital”, 1847)
For a deeper view it is necessary to study Marx’s 3 volumes of “Capital”, and fourth volume on “Theories of Surplus Value”. According to Lenin the theoreticians of the Second Internatinal could not understand the first chapters.
The first page of the preface to the first edition says:
“This work, … forms the continuation of my book [A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy] published in 1859….”
I strongly recommend starting with that beginning before its continuation.
Also the whole “Grundrisse” as well as its “Introduction”.
Marx also said in that preface.
“With the exception of the section on the form of value, there fore, this volume cannot stand accused on the score of difficulty. I assume, of course, a reader who is willing to learn something new and therefore to think for himself.”
As Hilferding remarked, that assumption was unsubstantiated.
Such readers are rare. Actual readers usually get lost at the first 3 chapters on the form of value. Partly because they ignore the preface and don’t read the “Contribution” before its “continuation”. But mainly because they don’t think for themselves – and therefore don’t think dialectically.
“Is capitalism contradictory? If so, what is this contradiction and how does it relate to Left politics?”
It is not necessary to acquire a deep understanding of “Capital” in order grasp the central contradictions of capitalism and how they relate to Left politics.
Engels short pamphlet “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” was a popular exposition read and understood widely in both the second and third internationals. It should be the starting point for anybody interested in actual Marxism as opposed to the “Marxians” (from Mars).
Engels made it easily accessible. I will not attempt to compress it further and there is no point discussing that central question with anybody that is not willing to read what the workers did read when they joined mass based Marxist workers parties before such parties ceased to exist.
“How has capitalism changed over time, and what have these changes meant politically for the Left?”
Although written nearly one and a half centuries ago I think Engels pamphlet was remarkably prescient in Part 3 on Historical Materialism. Complete ignorance of that has gone together with political bankruptcy of the pseudoleft.
“Does class struggle take place today? If so, how, and what role should it play for the Left?”
The class struggle plays a role for the pseudoleft. It is a prop for militant posturing and recruitment.
When there is a Left again it will that Left will instead play a role in the class struggle – educating, agitating and organizing.
The class struggle is essentially a political struggle and the present situation makes theoretical struggle primary.
Three areas of theoretical struggle that I am interested in are:
Supporting modern science and rapid development of the most modern productive forces against greenie nature worship funded by the “Gas and Wind” lobby.
Mobilizing a united front for war on the current and future pandemics based on the scientific understanding that none of us are safe until the whole world is effectively vaccinated.
“Is capitalism in crisis? If so, how? And how should the Left respond?”
The term “crisis” is widely misused. A Global Financial Crisis was aborted in 2007-9 by extraordinary measures that have not resolved the underlying disproportions but have also not been resolved by exploding into full scale crisis.
We have now reached an untenable situation with zero and even negative interest rates etc. It has gone on for some time but I still expect it to eventually result in a crisis much deeper than the 1930s Great Depression.
I don’t expect a Left capable of responding to develop until after the crisis has actually broken out.
Meanwhile I recommend preparing for theoretical struggle on crisis theory by serious study eg of Marx and Maksakovsky’s theory.
“If a new era of global capitalism is emerging, how do we envision the future of capitalism and what are the implications of this for the Left?”
Crises mark sudden phase shifts and leaps in development that make envisioning the results very speculative.
But I would expect the development of State Capital as the “National Capitalist” as described in Engels part 3 on “Historical Materialism” to be greatly accelerated. I would also expect it to be supported by the pseudoleft. I would also expect a revolutionary Left to again emerge at least in the aftermath.
Further update: Regardless of expectations we need to understand the basic mechanism of the 19th Century and early 20th Century business leading up to the Great Depression as a foundation for understanding what changed after that Great Depression and what is happening now. There should be some serious study of Maksakovsky in a reading group. Below is where I got to, before encountering Maksakovsky.
Unemployment and Revolution is about 4 decades old but was a serious attempt to get started on understanding the business cycle that should be followed up. Links below are still not included as DB11 in html at ERO, but should be. It deliberately avoids references to Marx to avoid distraction by polemics with inananities from Mars by “Marxians”.
Maksakovsky’s “The Capitalist Cycle” is nearly a century old but got much further on “overproduction” and the “cycle” than part 5 below. It clearly completes that part of the work done by Marx in volume 2, which Marx postponed to volume 3 but never completed.
Part 1. Emphasises that unemployment is specifically a problem connected with market economies. Then it gets slightly distracted to talk about science fiction and jellyfish.
Parts 2., and 3. Analyse the economic mechanisms that regulate “normal” unemployment, in order to explain the conservative arguments for “wage restraint” and why such arguments are wrong.
Part 4. Examines “technological” unemployment and shows that the increased unemployment now is not “technological”.
Part 5. Attempts an explanation of “overproduction” and “cyclical” unemployment (without great success).
Part 6.Considers various “solutions” from the labour movements, in the light of the earlier analysis, and rejects them all, but cheerfully, in view of part 7.
Part 7. Tries to give some concrete content to the idea that “the only solution is revolution”.
Posted on by c21styork (Reprinted from a couple of years ago)
The first world war resulted in 40 million casualties: 15 to 19 million deaths and 23 million wounded. (Population of the world was less than two billion – so, in today’s terms, think 150 million casualties).
It’s one of the major things on which it can be said ‘the Bolsheviks got it right’. They opposed the war as an imperialist one.
From the point of view of Marxism, that is, of modern scientific socialism, the main issue in any discussion by socialists on how to assess the war and what attitude to adopt towards it is this: what is the war being waged for, and what classes staged and directed it. We Marxists do not belong to that category of people who are unqualified opponents of all war. We say: our aim is to achieve a socialist system of society, which, by eliminating the division of mankind into classes, by eliminating all exploitation of man by man and nation by nation, will inevitably eliminate the very possibility of war. But in the war to win that socialist system of society we are bound to encounter conditions under which the class struggle within each given nation may come up against a war between the different nations, a war conditioned by this very class struggle. Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility of revolutionary wars, i.e., wars arising from the class struggle, wars waged by revolutionary classes, wars which are of direct and immediate revolutionary significance. Still less can we rule this out when we remember that though the history of European revolutions during the last century, in the course of 125–135 years, say, gave us wars which were mostly reactionary, it also gave us revolutionary wars, such as the war of the French revolutionary masses against a united monarchist, backward, feudal and semi-feudal Europe. No deception of the masses is more widespread today in Western Europe, and latterly here in Russia, too, than that which is practised by citing the example of revolutionary wars. There are wars and wars. We must be clear as to what historical conditions have given rise to the war, what classes are waging it, and for what ends. Unless we grasp this, all our talk about the war will necessarily be utterly futile, engendering more heat than light.
We say: if you have not studied the policies of both belligerent groups over a period of decades so as to avoid accidental factors and the quoting of random examples if you have not shown what bearing this war has on preceding policies, then you don’t understand what this war is all about.
These policies show us just one thing continuous economic rivalry between the world’s two greatest giants, capitalist economies. On the one hand we have Britain, a country which owns the greater part of the globe, a country which ranks first in wealth, which has created this wealth not so much by the labour of its workers as by the exploitation of innumerable colonies, by the vast power of its banks which have developed at the head of all the others into an insignificantly small group of some four or five super-banks handling billions of rubles, and handling them in such a way that it can he said without exaggeration that there is not a patch of land in the world today on which this capital has not laid its heavy hand, not a patch of land which British capital has not enmeshed by a thousand threads. This capital grew to such dimensions by the turn of the century that its activities extended far beyond the borders of individual states and formed a group of giant banks possessed of fabulous wealth. Having begotten this tiny group of banks, it has caught the whole world in the net of its billions. This is the sum and substance of Britain’s economic policy and of the economic policy of France, of which even French writers, some of them contributors to L’Humanité, a paper now controlled by ex-socialists (in fact, no less a man than Lysis, the well-known financial writer), stated several years before the war: “France is a financial monarchy, France is a financial oligarchy, France is the world’s money-lender.”
On the other hand, opposed to this, mainly Anglo-French group, we have another group of capitalists, an even more rapacious, even more predatory one, a group who came to the capitalist banqueting table when all the seats were occupied, but who introduced into the struggle new methods for developing capitalist production, improved techniques, and superior organisation, which turned the old capitalism, the capitalism of the free-competition age, into the capitalism of giant trusts, syndicates, and cartels. This group introduced the beginnings of state-controlled capitalist production, combining the colossal power of capitalism with the colossal power of the state into a single mechanism and bringing tens of millions of people within the single organisation of state capitalism. Here is economic history, here is diplomatic history, covering several decades, from which no one can get away. It is the one and only guide-post to a proper solution of the problem of war; it leads you to the conclusion that the present war, too, is the outcome of the policies of the classes who have come to grips in it, of the two supreme giants, who, long before the war, had caught the whole world, all countries, in the net of financial exploitation and economically divided the globe up among themselves. They were bound to clash, because a redivision of this supremacy, from the point of view of capitalism, had become inevitable.
The present war is a continuation of the policy of conquest, of the shooting down of whole nationalities, of unbelievable atrocities committed by the Germans and the British in Africa, and by the British and the Russians in Persia which of them committed most it is difficult to say. It was for this reason that the German capitalists looked upon them as their enemies. Ah, they said, you are strong because you are rich? But we are stronger, therefore we have the same “sacred” right to plunder. That is what the real history of British and German finance capital in the course of several decades preceding the war amounts to. That is what the history of Russo-German, Russo-British, and German-British relations amounts to. There you have the clue to an understanding of what the war is about. That is why the story that is current about the cause of the war is sheer duplicity and humbug. Forgetting the history of finance capital, the history of how this war had been brewing over the issue of redivision, they present the matter like this: two nations were living at peace, then one attacked the other, and the other fought back. All science, all banks are forgotten, and the peoples are told to take up arms, and so are the peasants, who know nothing about politics. All they have to do is to fight back! The logical thing, following this line of argument, would be to close down all newspapers, burn all books and ban all mention of annexations in the newspapers. In this way such a view of annexations could be justified. They can’t tell the truth about annexations because the whole history of Russia, Britain, and Germany has been one of continuous, ruthless and sanguinary war over annexations. Ruthless wars were waged in Persia and Africa by the Liberals, who flogged political offenders in India for daring to put forward demands which were being fought for here in Russia. The French colonial troops oppressed peoples too. There you have the pre-history, the real history of unprecedented plunder! Such is the policy of these classes, of which the present war is a continuation. That is why, on the question of annexations, they cannot give the reply that we give, when we say that any nation joined to another one, not by the voluntary choice of its majority but by a decision of a king or government, is an annexed nation. To renounce annexation is to give each nation the right to form a separate state or to live in union with whomsoever it chooses. An answer like that is perfectly clear to every worker who is at all class-conscious.
On the question of America entering the war I shall say this. People argue that America is a democracy, America has the White House. I say: slavery was abolished there half a century ago. The anti-slave war ended in 1865. Since then multimillionaires have mushroomed. They have the whole of America in their financial grip. They are making ready to subdue Mexico and will inevitably come to war with Japan over a carve-up of the Pacific. This war has been brewing for several decades. All literature speaks about it. America’s real aim in entering the war is to prepare for this future war with Japan. The American people do enjoy considerable freedom and it is difficult to conceive them standing for compulsory military service, for the setting up of an army pursuing any aims of conquest a struggle with Japan, for instance. The Americans have the example of Europe to show them what this leads to. The American capitalists have stepped into this war in order to have an excuse, behind a smoke-screen of lofty ideals championing the rights of small nations, for building up a strong standing army
Those interested in the socialist movement should read the Basle Manifesto of 1912 adopted unanimously by all the socialist parties of the world, a manifesto that was published in our newspaper Pravda, a manifesto that can be published now in none of the belligerent countries, neither in “free” Britain nor in republican France, because it said the truth about war before the war. It said that there would be war between Britain and Germany as a result of capitalist competition. It said that so much powder had accumulated that the guns would start shooting of their own accord. It told us what the war would be fought for, and said that the war would lead to a proletarian revolution. Therefore, we tell those socialists who signed this Manifesto and then went over to the side of their capitalist governments that they have betrayed socialism. There has been a split among the socialists all over the world. Some are in ministerial cabinets, others in prison. All over the world some socialists are preaching a war build-up, while others, like Eugene Debs, the American Bebel, who enjoys immense popularity among the American workers, say: “I’d rather be shot than give a cent towards the war. I’m willing to fight only the proletariat’s war against the capitalists all over the world.” That is how the socialists have split throughout the world. The world’s social-patriots think they are defending their country. They are mistaken they are defending the interests of one band of capitalists against another. We preach proletarian revolution the only true cause, for which scores of people have gone to the scaffold, and hundreds and thousands have been thrown into prison. These imprisoned socialists are a minority, but the working class is for them, the whole course of economic development is for them. All this tells us that there is no other way out. The only way to end this war is by a workers’ revolution in several countries. In the meantime we should make preparations for that revolution, we should assist it. For all its hatred of war and desire for peace, the Russian people could do nothing against the war, so long as it was being waged by the tsar, except work for a revolution against the tsar and for the tsar’s overthrow. And that is what happened. History proved this to you yesterday and will prove it to you tomorrow. We said long ago that the mounting Russian revolution must be assisted. We said that at the end of 1914. Our Duma deputies were deported to Siberia for this, and we were told: “You are giving no answer. You talk about revolution when the strikes are off, when the deputies are doing hard labour, and when you haven’t a single newspaper!” And we were accused of evading an answer. We heard those accusations for a number of years. We answered: You can be indignant about it, but so long as the tsar has not been overthrown we can do nothing against the war. And our prediction was justified. It is not fully justified yet, but it has already begun to receive justification. The revolution is beginning to change the war on Russia’s part. The capitalists are still continuing the war, and we say: Until there is a workers’ revolution in several countries the war cannot be stopped, because the people who want that war are still in power. We are told: “In a number of countries everything seems to be asleep. In Germany all the socialists to a man are for the war, and Liebknecht is the only one against it.” To this I say: This only one, Liebknecht, represents the working class. The hopes of all are in him alone, in his supporters, in the German proletariat. You don’t believe this? Carry on with the war then! There is no other way. If you don’t believe in Liebknecht, if you don’t believe in the workers’ revolution, a revolution that is coming to a head if you don’t believe this then believe the capitalists!
I came across this poem, written by Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) in the 1930s, in an edited collection called ‘Student Power’ edited by Julian Nagel and published in 1969. The poem is attributed to Brecht’s ‘Svendborg poems’ collection. The poems were written by Brecht when he was in exile from Nazi Germany on the Danish island of Funen.
We need a revival of the spirit fueling the poem. Its truths remain valid – pretty much everywhere.
Originally published by byork at ‘Strange Times Last Superpower blog’ on December 9, 2009
Remember the Beatles’ reactionary song, ‘Revolution’? I liked them as a group, and still do, but, gee, it was disappointing to be a young revolutionist in the 1960s and hear them come out with lyrics against revolutionary change. Of course, the Beatles’ song was written from the perspective of the Establishment – lyrics about “minds that hate” and against “Chairman Mao” would not have made much sense to people who were struggling for survival and freedom in the Third World, not to mention in the ghettoes of the US.
Someone who, at that time, stood with the oppressed people was the great African American piano player, composer and singer, Nina Simone.
Poor Nina, she was not consistent later in life and her decline and end was a very sad one indeed. Her version of the Beatles’ song subverts it into an actual revolutionary song.
I’m sure she was addressing the Beatles with the lyrics:
“Some folks are gonna get the notion I know they’ll say im preachin hate But if i have to swim the ocean Well i would just to communicate Its not as simple as talkin jive The daily struggle just to stay alive”.
And, hey, greenies, “It’s more than just air pollution”.
She recorded the song in 1969: “We’re in the middle of a revolution, coz I see the face of things to come”.
Enjoy! (And swim that ocean!)
Another great one by Nina Simone was her song about the desegregation struggle, and struggle for racial equality, in the US, called ‘Mississippi Goddam’. It was inspired by the murder of four girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on 15 September 1963 by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The song was banned in some parts of the ‘Deep South’.
The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam And I mean every word of it
Alabama’s gotten me so upset Tennessee made me lose my rest And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam
Alabama’s gotten me so upset Tennessee made me lose my rest And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam
Can’t you see it Can’t you feel it It’s all in the air I can’t stand the pressure much longer Somebody say a prayer
Alabama’s gotten me so upset Tennessee made me lose my rest And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam
This is a show tune But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet
Hound dogs on my trail School children sitting in jail Black cat cross my path I think every day’s gonna be my last
Lord have mercy on this land of mine We all gonna get it in due time I don’t belong here I don’t belong there I’ve even stopped believing in prayer
Don’t tell me I tell you Me and my people just about due I’ve been there so I know They keep on saying “Go slow!”
But that’s just the trouble “do it slow” Washing the windows “do it slow” Picking the cotton “do it slow” You’re just plain rotten “do it slow” You’re too damn lazy “do it slow” The thinking’s crazy “do it slow” Where am I going What am I doing I don’t know I don’t know
Just try to do your very best Stand up be counted with all the rest For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam
I made you thought I was kiddin’ didn’t we
Picket lines School boycotts They try to say it’s a communist plot All I want is equality for my sister my brother my people and me
Yes you lied to me all these years You told me to wash and clean my ears And talk real fine just like a lady And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie
Oh but this whole country is full of lies You’re all gonna die and die like flies I don’t trust you any more You keep on saying “Go slow!” “Go slow!”
But that’s just the trouble “do it slow” Desegregation “do it slow” Mass participation “do it slow” Reunification “do it slow” Do things gradually “do it slow” But bring more tragedy “do it slow” Why don’t you see it Why don’t you feel it I don’t know I don’t know
You don’t have to live next to me Just give me my equality Everybody knows about Mississippi Everybody knows about Alabama Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam
I am republishing this from 1980 as it remains so pertinent.
Barely a week goes by without me receiving a post on facebook from individuals who were once good comrades but who now promote all manner of right-wing conspiratorial theory and who openly take the side of fascist, autocratic and theocratic regimes against the masses who are trying to overthrow them and establish basic democracy, or what Marxists call ‘bourgeois democracy’. The chest-beaters are the worst.
Anyhow, I feel that this analysis, originally from the Red Eureka Movement in Melbourne, explains a lot and offers a rare but exceptionally important, cogent, analysis. (I was not with the REM people back then but rather stayed with the Blue Eureka nationalists – and had stopped thinking quite a few years earlier).
* * * * * * * *
Written: November 1980. Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
EROL Note: This was a document that was circulated within the Red Eureka Movement in late 1980.
* * *
A major theme in left wing propaganda is opposition to fascism. Quite often relatively moderate opponents of the left are described as “fascists”.
Yet scratch a “Communist” and one quite often finds a fascist underneath.
The regime that began with the October Revolution is now a fascist dictatorship. In China too, since the defeat of the Cultural Revolution many revolutionaries have been executed and the right to speak out freely, hold great debates, put up big character posters and so on has been officially and formally repudiated.
The degeneration of Communist Parties in power is a separate problem calling for a separate analysis. But what about the degeneration of parties holding no power?
THE CPA (ML)
Our experiences with the “Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)” were sufficiently frightening to require some deep analysis. Almost any split is accompanied by outraged cries of “unfair” or “undemocratic” from the losing side, so it seemed undesirable to distract attention from the fundamental issues at stake by going into details of who done what to who. But another reason why we never got around to it was probably embarrassment at ever having been involved with such a sick group.
The bankruptcy of Australian nationalism as an ideology for communists is now pretty apparent, while the question of whether China has gone revisionist has been settled by open proclamations from the Chinese leadership themselves. Although Vanguard keeps coming out each week, the people behind it seem pretty discredited and there is little need to discredit them further.
In Adelaide the “Worker Student Alliance for Australian Independence” has disintegrated, along with its newspaper People’s Voice. In Melbourne the entire editorial collective of Independence Voice quit some time ago, there was no “Independence platform” at Mayday, the “Australian Independence Movement” is virtually defunct and supporters of this line have been completely routed in “Community Radio” 3CR. The Australia China Society is unable to defend the new regime in China and little has been heard from the CPA(ML) in the trade union movement either.
As a complete expression of E.F. Hill’s bankruptcy we have the suggestion in “Australian Communist”, that they want unity with us (previously described as “Soviet agents”). Hill has even signed an article proposing reunification with the CPA in “one Communist Party” (presumably because the Chinese revisionists, having recently re-united with their Italian and Yugoslav colleagues, also wish to re-establish relations with the CPA, leaving Hill out in the cold).
The thuggish behaviour of the CPA(ML) supporters in attempting to intimidate their opponents is well known. Both intellectual and physical thuggery, in 3CR and elsewhere, has become so notorious that the only “broad united front” they have been able to create has been that directed against themselves. They have also become notorious for openly preferring to ally themselves with various Nazis and other fascists against the Soviet Union rather than trying to unite the people, and especially the left, against Soviet imperialism on the basis of progressive principles. Their main political theme these days is the united front they claim to have with Malcolm Fraser, who nevertheless remains quite unaware of their existence. As for China, they openly say they would rather not talk about it, even though China was, and is, central to their whole political outlook.
These facts are mentioned, not to kick a dead horse, but to emphasise that the horse really is dead and to confirm that the additional facts about it cited below are genuine observations and not just part of some ongoing sectarian faction fight.
The more or less open fascism of the CPA (ML) has resulted in that group being simply dismissed as “crazies”. But in fact they are only a more extreme expression of problems that exist, less overtly, throughout the left. Indeed it has been noticeable in 3CR for example, that the excuse of “keeping out the crazies”, has been used to justify appallingly manipulative and undemocratic behaviour (e.g. elected listener sponsor representatives voting against explicit directives from a large general meeting of listener sponsors). People who would be shocked and indignant about that in other contexts have made excuses for it when their own friends are doing it. Really how far is it from making excuses to acting in the same way? And how far from there to ending up just like the “crazies” themselves?
Also the fact that China and the Chinese parrots are anti-Soviet (and Reagan, Thatcher, Fraser etc) has become an excuse to actually apologise for Soviet actions that would be called “fascist” if American was doing it. Indeed many quite non-crazy “left liberals” have been prepared to go through the most amazing mental contortions to justify the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea or to minimise the significance of Soviet aggression elsewhere. Rather than agree with “right-wingers” (like Churchill), they prefer to apologise for fascists (like Hitler).
Where was the left wing outrage (as distinct from concern) when Polish workers were being denied the elementary right to form free trade unions? Why do “militants” in “left-wing” unions take delight in the same bureaucratic manoeuvres their opponents use to stay in power? Why are splits in left wing groups so common and so nasty?
In Australia many other groups supposedly on the left have exhibited a personal intolerance comparable to the Chinese parrots, and also a comparable willingness to apologise for reactionary regimes in other countries, provided those regimes pay lip service to “anti-imperialist” principles. (Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, Libya… name a country that is suppressing some other country or trying to impose some medieval religion on its people and you will find a “left” group wildly enthusiastic about it.) Scanning overseas “left” newspapers one gets the impression that narrow minded religious bigotry is pretty common, and even where it is not taken to extremes, it is still present. No wonder so many on the “left” thought a fellow zealot like Khomeiny would be progressive for Iran.
The undemocratic tendencies of “Leninists” is a common theme in anti-Communist propaganda – from open representatives of the bourgeoisie, from Social Democrats, from Anarchists, from “Left” or “Council” Communists and what have you. Nevertheless, attacks from our opponents should be taken seriously, and indeed have been taken seriously by the classic exponents of Marxism.
This question was especially taken seriously in China and some of the material from the Chinese Cultural Revolution is very valuable for understanding the emergence of fascist tendencies among alleged “Communists”.
For example Mao Tsetung’s unpublished works, and the material criticizing Lin Piao (the “successor” who turned out to be a fascist). The Cultural Revolution was after all a direct struggle between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries who both purported to be part of the “left”. The concept of fighting bourgeois ideas disguised as “left” ideas was crucial to unleashing the 1960s upsurge and will be crucial again. It was necessary to challenge the “peace” ideas that were dominant in the left in the 1960s and it will be necessary to challenge the views that are dominant now – many of which are again crystallised in the eclectic mishmash of the “CPA”.
In the “gang of four’s” Peking University Journal of September 1, 1976 there is an important article on “The Bureaucrat Class and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”:
…We must further recognise the high concentration of political and economic powers under the dictatorship of the proletariat. If the bureaucrat class succeeded in usurping power and in its restorationist conspiracies throughout the country, then it would continue to flaunt the banner of socialism, take advantage of this high concentration of political and economic powers and turn the democratic centralism of the proletariat into the fascist centralism of the bureaucrat class.
In controlling and manipulating the means of production and the product of Labor, these bureaucrats will be far more powerful than any previous exploiting classes and their political representatives, than the slave owners and feudal rulers who claimed that “all land under the sun is my territory and all people on earth are my subjects”, and than the bureaucrats and financiers in capitalist countries…In a similar vein, the present day new tsars behave much worse than the old tsars… (Translation from Selections from People’s Republic of China Magazines No 895, American Consulate General, Hong Kong. Reprinted in Study Notes No 6, Red Eureka Movement, August 1978)
This article also goes into the question of the transformation of authority into capital and capital into authority, which is relevant to an understanding of imperialism in the West as well as in the Soviet Union and China.
Western bourgeois democratic society is heading towards an acute crisis and upheaval as another Great Depression and a Third World War develop. The outcome can be Communist Revolution or some form of fascism or social-fascism. We could face a new ruling class more powerful than the present one. It largely depends on how clear the left is on what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against and how sharply we can draw the line against perpetuating the old system of exploitation in our own practice. If the left continues to whinge about capitalism, and even oppose it from a reactionary perspective then it cannot hope to inspire people to fight for something fundamentally different.
Indeed, just as one would have to defend the national independence that Western and Third World countries have already achieved, from Soviet “socialist” imperialism, one would also have to defend the achievements already won by the bourgeois democratic revolution from attack by alleged “socialists” who want to go backwards to a more oppressive society.
If the democratic centralism of the proletarian dictatorship can be easily transformed into the fascist centralism of the bureaucrat class in a developing socialist country, then what about democratic centralism in Leninist parties out of power? Is this an argument against democratic centralism and proletarian dictatorship, as anarchists and others insist?
The answer to this argument is that there never can be a guarantee against proletarian dictatorship turning into its opposite, and Communists in power must always be prepared for transition to underground life as Communists in opposition to capitalist roaders in power. Likewise in Communist Parties generally – one must be prepared to rebel and to be expelled for rebelling.
But if there was no democratic centralism and proletarian dictatorship then it would be quite impossible for the revolutionary ideas held only by a minority in capitalist and socialist society to be centralised and dominant and in that case the bourgeoisie holds power anyway. So weakening democratic centralism is not the answer. On the contrary, it needs to be strengthened to keep fascists out, on the same argument that the left cannot afford to be pacifist and must learn the use of arms if it doesn’t want warmongers to hold power.
Proletarian dictatorship means just that. It does not mean dictatorship over the proletariat by some bureaucrats. It means a political system in which the working class can really wield political power – something that can be achieved by workers councils led by a revolutionary party and cannot be achieved by parliamentary institutions or by milling around in confusion.
Democratic centralism also means just that. It does not mean the leadership imposing decisions on a reluctant membership. It means that the abstract “parliamentary” right which almost all organisations give their members to ultimately take decisions, is made real by conscious leadership of the decision making process to make it “from the masses, to the masses” and so make it actually work without manipulation or obstruction.
This article is not a plea for everybody to be more tolerant of everybody else. It is a call for sharper defence of our basic principles and less tolerance of attempts to undermine them. One cannot be a Communist if one is not first a democrat. The democratic revolutionaries of England, France and so on in earlier centuries had no hesitation about chopping off the heads of their aristocratic opponents and neither should we.
Fear of strengthening democratic centralism is really fear of struggle. Such fear is fully understandable in the present situation, and a lot better than blinkered complacency. But it must be overcome.
The quote from Orwell’s “Road to Wigan Pier” in “the Personal is Political” (Discussion Bulletin No 9) rang a few bells and is worth repeating:–
…..“Socialism” is pictured as a state of affairs in which our more vocal Socialists would feel thoroughly at home. This does great harm to the cause. The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight.
We should be ready to fight against the dictatorship of the prigs and to do this it is necessary to understand the transformation of Communists into prigs.
ARE WE DIFFERENT?
If we take Lin Piao for example, there is no doubt that he did make contributions to the Chinese revolution before emerging as an outright fascist. The superstitious Mao cult he built up in opposition to Mao had definite roots in China’s feudal past, but also struck a chord among Western “Maoists”.
Ted Hill now appears to be nothing more than a follower of Liu Shao-chi, then Lin Piao (as a major cult advocate) then Liu Shao-chi again, or whoever may hold power in China at any given moment. But some of his analyses of revisionism, parliamentarism and trade union politics in publications like “Looking Backward; Looking Forward” are still valuable and he once made a point of opposing sacred cows and stereotypes and supporting rebellion.
Things were drastically wrong with the CPA(ML) long before we parted company and people are entitled to ask how we got mixed up with them and why we should be regarded as any different. If we are to be any different then we must analyse the thin dividing line that appears to exist between being a Marxist-Leninist or “Maoist” on the one hand, and being a lunatic or a fascist on the other.
There is little need to “expose” the CPA(ML) leadership now in view of its obvious degeneration. But the roots of current fascist attitudes do need study, so the following facts are placed on the record for our own benefit rather than for the benefit of anyone still taken in by Hill.
1. There never was anything remotely resembling democracy within the CPA(ML). This became obvious when concrete disagreements made it necessary to have a proper discussion and take a decision. But it should have been obvious even when people thought they were in agreement. 2. As soon as a disagreement in principle was announced “through the proper channels” etcetera, the immediate response was to launch vituperative attacks on individuals – at first surreptitiously behind their backs and then openly in Vanguard. 3. The very idea of discussing the differences was repudiated and “security” was abused to tell people that there had been a full democratic discussion, which they just didn’t happen to be part of. 4. As a matter of fact it turned out that no Central Committee actually existed. One member of the Red Eureka Movement discovered that he was supposed to be a CC member after wanting to express his views to the CC. This must be some sort of record in the international communist movement! 5. Other members of the Red Eureka Movement who were both on the Central Committee and knew it, were able to expose the lie that there had been some kind of Central Committee discussion about China and that documents expressing opposition had been circulated to the Central Committee etc. 6. Individual party members had to go outside the “channels” to get any kind of discussion and then discovered that the “channels” didn’t really exist. Now others who accepted this are finding the same situation. 7. It was not a case of discussion being suppressed arbitrarily and decisions usurped, but of there being no provision whatever for seriously discussing and reversing a policy disagreed with. 8. This situation which existed long before it came to a head was put up with by people who would rebel strongly against similar fascist practices in any other social institution. 9. Many people on becoming aware of it, and seeing people branded as Soviet agents etcetera, took a cynical attitude that this was wrong but not a major question of principle requiring them to take a stand. 10. Our initial reaction to all this shit was not to launch a public struggle as in the Cultural Revolution or in accord with our own experiences in the 1960s. Instead we had great hangups about “the party” and organised semi-conspiratorially. 11. Despite being a very small group, since breaking with the CPA(ML) leadership we have not been able to resolve internal disagreements in a civilised, let alone comradely manner, but have had two further splits. While nowhere near as bad as Hill’s, these have also involved strange behaviour that would not be tolerated in most community organisations and should not be tolerated on the left. Moreover they have occurred in a situation where we are not leading any great revolutionary struggle and no pressing life or death decision was at stake.
LIFE WASN’T MEANT TO BE EASY!
We did not fully realise it at the time, but there was little alternative to the apparent extremism of Hill’s stand because there really wasn’t any possibility of a discussion. If he had agreed to a discussion, what could he possibly have said? And if the CPA(ML) did not follow China religiously, what else could it do? We cannot blame Hill for our own naivety.
We only realised how difficult most people find it to rebel and think for themselves once we had broken with Hill and company. “Stalinists without a country” was the contemptuous Trotskyist label, and there is something in it. It really is enormously easier to at least think you know what you’re doing when there is some “socialist motherland” backing you up. (Or a “Fourth International”, a “great leader” or some other crutch).
For non-revolutionaries it’s fairly easy to maintain a political position sustained by one or other of the reformist currents in mainstream bourgeois society. But in a non-revolutionary society and with no back up from a revolutionary society, it requires real effort to develop a revolutionary program. How much easer it would have been if we could have forgotten that we didn’t have such a program by simply pretending to ourselves that China, or Albania or somewhere was revolutionary and that supporting them would somehow produce a revolution here. Or by pretending that if we were all more dedicated, we would figure out where we were going while getting there.
Its interesting to note how even people with no attachment to Russia, China or Albania have managed to persuade themselves that Vietnam is still worth supporting and feel a deep and personal threat to their whole ideology when this is questioned. Or how people leaving REM because it hasn’t been getting anywhere who know perfectly well what’s wrong with the political line of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA), are nevertheless attracted by the reassuring certainty of that group’s proclamations.
Idealism and metaphysics are the easiest things in the world, because people can talk as much nonsense as they like without basing it on objective reality or having it tested against reality. Materialism and dialectics, on the other hand, need effort. They must be based on and tested by objective reality. Unless one makes the effort, one is liable to slip into idealism and metaphysics. (Mao Tsetung)
PRIESTS AND HORSES
Judging from overseas literature, the temptation of closed minded religious fanaticism is very strong in this situation. It provides a certainty that would otherwise be lacking and puts an end to all confusion, doubt, cynicism, liberalism and so on.
But this way out is the way out of the movement. It means joining the innumerable sects that are much better organised and disciplined than we are, and are able to get more done precisely because they do not have the “burden” of really having to think out a revolutionary line.
We did not hesitate to reject the “security” of blindly following China, Albania or anybody else so we should not regret the consequences.
One consequence is that we are in some respects more vulnerable to confusion, doubt, liberalism, cynicism and so on than other left groups that feel more confident about their (manifestly wrong!) lines. The reason horses are given blinkers is that it keeps them working away steadily without getting distracted by things they might see. Groups that have attached themselves to a foreign state, or that merely reflect a reformist current in mainstream bourgeois ideology, have a secure basis for their activity and can work away at it for years after it has ceased to have any social relevance or has become purely reactionary.
The same can easily be true of “revolutionary” groups that feel secure, or pretend to feel secure in their “correct line”. They can whip up a great frenzy of activity, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. Take a look at the Communist Workers Party or the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA). On many points we would be in full agreement. They have a similar analysis of China and Albania to ours and they certainly do make a clear distinction between communist revolution and the bourgeois reformism advocated by most “revolutionaries”.
On international questions of very great significance they appear to have a fundamentally wrong analysis, But even more important, their whole approach to “correct line” politics seems alien. They are certainly not paralysed by liberalism like we are – but so what?
While confusion, doubt, liberalism, cynicism and so on persist we will remain unable to accomplish very much, including theoretical work:
We must have faith in the masses and we must have faith in the Party. These are two cardinal principles. If we doubt these principles, we shall accomplish nothing. (Mao Tsetung)
But the only basis for faith in the Party is confidence in the soundness of its analysis and line. Once we have grounds for such faith we will be able to accomplish something, but not before. (And of course once we do, we will again have the problem of blind faith and the potential for people to continue following a leadership that has proved itself worthy of confidence, long after it has ceased to play a progressive or revolutionary role. But then it would be at a higher stage of the spiral).
Demands that people pull themselves together, combat liberalism or what have you, will not solve the problem of lack of faith. This is an atheistic age and real communists are atheistic people. Our only God is the masses and the only basis for our faith is scientific analysis of reality.
The situation we are in calls urgently for working out where we are and where we are going. Without that, calls to press on more resolutely and with greater vigour will only result in people getting more lost.
CHIN UP, BACK STRAIGHT, EYES SHUT!
It is conservative, not revolutionary to promote “leadership”, “organisation”, “doing things”, “collective life” and so on without a clear perspective for liberating people from oppression. Defenders of the status quo habitually make such appeals and every organisation, revolutionary or not, naturally wants to be as effectively organised as possible (and most sewing circles and amateur theatrical societies are probably a lot better organised than REM). But it is quite wrong to see the organisational reflection of our confusion as the central problem instead of dealing with the confusion itself. (As for any who are not confused, they would have an even greater problem. Take off the blinkers!)
Communism is not the only ideology opposed to liberalism. Fascism opposes liberalism too. It is one thing to want to widen and deepen and ultimately transcend democracy by going beyond such mere forms as majority voting. It is quite another thing to declare that ones policies have proved their own correctness and deliberately exclude others from even a vote, let alone a real say, on the matter. Yet we have repeatedly experienced this kind of behaviour not just from enemies, but from comrades who probably really do want to be revolutionaries.
The fact that people like Lin Piao or Ted Hill could turn out to be fascists and that we could go along with a load of shit for a long time should alert us to the dangers. When people on the left start acting like people on the extreme right they must be pulled up sharply and told “You’re Ill” before the disease becomes incurable and before it spreads.
This was the pithy saying uttered by an old comrade to describe secular religious thinking, or blind faith, in adhering to the Party line, no matter what the line was or how it was arrived at. It need not be confined to, or even predominantly associated with, Communist Party politics of course with yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir, the Daleks “I obey” and other variants all treding the same path. Follow me … arose in the aftermath of the CPA M-L kindly informing a number of us that we had “expelled” ourselves and the sense we then made of how a reputedly revolutionary organization, prompted by the arrest of the Gang of Four, could perform a 180 degree pivot overnight without discussion and still keep a straight face. I need hardly add that we did not keep a straight face but saw this as a joke – and not one on us.
I don’t know about others, but there are some sayings I hear that are gold and are instantly hard wired. “Follow me …” was one of them. It spoke to me then, and has done so since, most recently after reading Richard Wright’s American Hunger, the second part of his autobiography Black Boy that deals, in large part, with his experiences in the CPUSA in the 1930’s. I will come back to this, for while this post is not about Wright per se, his experiences have certainly prompted it. Not for the first occasion it brought into sharp relief the contradiction between communist aspirations (what we believe in, this is what we are fighting/struggling for), and the more disturbing, at times reactionary, internal and personal processes involved with what the ‘correct line’ is, how it is arrived at and ‘followed’. Walking the walk, as well as talking the talk, in other words; how what we do, and how we do it, as a reflection of our revolutionary (transformative or synthesizing) aspirations and practice.
So let me come back to Richard Wright and American Hunger. Wright (1908-1960) was a black American writer of great talent and vision who effectively fled the Jim Crow south when 19. Like so many of his black contemporaries he headed to Chicago. “The environment the South creates is too small to nourish human beings, especially Negro human beings.” he said later in a radio interview. He brought with him an intense curiosity, a hunger, a desire to grow. It was this that enabled him to observe in himself and others who had fled the south, loneliness and confusion. “Wherever my eyes turned they saw stricken, black faces trying vainly to cope with a civilization that they did not understand. I felt lonely. I had fled one insecurity and embraced another.”
By his mid twenties his hunger and curiosity, containing as they did a worldly, universalizing vision, had led him to the CPUSA. “Of all the developments in the Soviet Union the method by which scores of backward peoples had been led to unity on a national scale was what had enthralled me. I had read with awe how the Communists had sent phonetic experts into the vast regions of Russia to listen to the stammering dialects of peoples oppressed for centuries by the czars. I had made the first total emotional commitment of my life when I read how the phonetic experts had given these tongueless people a language, newspapers, institutions. I had read how these forgotten folk had been encouraged to keep their old cultures, to see in their ancient customs meanings and satisfactions as deep as those contained in supposedly superior ways of living. And I had exclaimed to myself how different this was from the way in which Negroes were sneered at in America.”
He wanted to use his ability and drive, with the organizational and political support of the CPUSA, to give the ignored and sneered at a place and a voice on the political stage. This was not simply a political quest, but also one that unavoidably required acculturation. In the same decade Mao was developing the mass line in China, while in still unoccupied Europe Bertolt Brecht was writing The Life of Galileo, the sixth scene of which begins with this couplet: ‘Things indeed take a wondrous turn/When learned men do stoop to learn’. In effect Wright advocated the adoption of a stooping stance and he began a process of taking oral histories from men, like himself, who had migrated north, effectively changing planets in the process. The one we hear about in American Hunger is Ross, a fellow Party member. But rather than applauding and supporting his initiative, what in Maoist language would be termed ‘learning from the masses’, the CPUSA viewed his project with suspicion. Paranoid thinking, in partnership with anxiety, is probably more accurate.
Outside of Ross, who was initially cooperative, this suspicion came from both black and white members. I think I get the nervousness of his black comrades. The confusion and insecurity Wright refers to above sounds very familiar to utterances I have heard from refugees. One, a young Hazara man from Afghanistan, said to a colleague some eight years ago, that what he really needed to know was “where do I fit in?” Coming from a society still dominated by strictly hierarchical and tribal norms this is a question he would never have had to seriously consider before he changed planets. Another, from a Sierra Leonean colleague, put the anxiety and confusion this way: “We have come from hell to find heaven. And it is heaven, if you change overnight.” Wright’s black comrades were still finding their feet, not yet standing on culturally solid ground and needed the support and approval of their white comrades.
Empathic understanding (an interest in, and understanding of, the hurdles they faced) appeared not to be present or offered, a situation Wright found baffling. Offering feelings of acceptance and purpose, probably patronizing, where the rules pertaining to these are too heavily sourced from above, was not good enough. Fascist organizations, and there were a few around at the time, provided this too. Indeed they were arguably better at it as they had no desire at all to see their membership grow intellectually or emotionally. Unthinking loyalty was what was demanded to both the organization and its ideological script.
Under a veil of suspicion Wright was repeatedly questioned about his motives and actions. His explanations fell on deaf ears and he was, again repeatedly, told by members higher up the food chain that he did “not understand”. Projection is an interesting psychological defence mechanism. It is a pity that those not listening to Wright were ignorant of their use of it. More disturbing, however, was the parallel process being reproduced in the party. Being a ‘good communist’ – being seen (needing to be seen) and understood as being compliant, obedient, well behaved and toeing the party line, qualities valorized by Lui Shao-Ch’i (see Quotations of Liu Shao-Ch’i, Paul Flesch and Co.1968, a ‘Little Yellow Book’ worth getting hold of), is not the same as being a good communist. The latter has the capacity, in reality develops the capacity, to swim against the tide, be that tide external or internal and to accept the associated risks. The party line down south was the Jim Crow line where the consequences for not being seen to be ‘good’ and obedient to Jim Crow cultural norms could, and often were, fatal. What Wright and so many others from down south were doing in heading north, was learning how to swim against the tide.
There is a difference between toeing the line (being obedient) and agreeing that a given line or position will be supported and acted upon, and that the processes by which it has been arrived at are democratic and not autocratic. Wright’s experience speaks of the latter and it was something, on a lesser scale, that I recognized at the time I and others ‘expelled ourselves’.
Walking hand in hand with this, and generally justifying it, was the question of organizational security. Wright mentions that, to his understanding, security was reckoned using the conditions under Czarist oppression as a measuring stick. The darkening clouds beginning to engulf Europe will have done nothing to abate this. But the USA was not a fascist state – unless you happened to be black living under the heel of Jim Crow. That this was not sufficiently grasped, underscores the importance of what Wright was trying to do and the failure of the CPUSA in supporting him in doing it. It also indicates that any purportedly revolutionary organization that is too reliant or wedded to top down decision making and the concomitant creation of a culture of membership obedience or compliance is likely to miss what’s under its nose.
None of this is meant to downplay the significance or need of security or measures to maintain a Party’s viability and effectiveness, considerations that become pressing the more oppressive and reactionary the prevailing context. The activities of the Czar’s secret police, the Okhrana, gave the Social Democrats, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks et al good reason to take those activities seriously. So too the activities of the Italian fascist secret police OVRA, the organization upon which the Nazi Gestapo was modelled, not to forget the Gestapo itself. But none of this could justify closing the minds of party members. Caution, in the face of external danger is not the same, and should not be confused with, closed or narrow mindedness in the face of such danger. Paranoid mindsets can be cultivated.
The most influential, and moving, account from a communist who kept the distinction between external danger and internal openness as distinct as circumstances would allow comes from Julius Fucik and his Report From the Gallows. Fucik, a central committee member of the Czech Party, was arrested and gaoled in 1942 and executed the following year. With the assistance of two patriotic cum anti fascist prison warders he was able to write and smuggle out notes of his experiences and thoughts, his report from the gallows. I came across Fucik’s work in the mid to late 1970’s and, given recent events, I found it refreshing, insightful and invigorating. Here was a man experiencing the harshest of treatments, knowing that death was near, yet still embracing life rather than merely clinging to it. What I found particularly impressive was his ability to listen, to want to understand what made his jailers and wardens, most of whom came from working class stock, tick. Much of the book is devoted to what are dubbed in my edition “Figures and Little Figures”, nuanced reflections on comrades (Figures) and those in a more mixed bag, such as the prison superintendent who were certainly enemies and others among the wardens who deserved a deeper level of understanding (Little Figures), His ability to reflect upon and engage with both/all sides of contradictions was an ability, it would seem, that was absent, or certainly wanting in the CPUSA and the CPA M-L
One of the things Fucik’s book did for me was to reinforce or make less abstract the absurdity of the CPA M-L adopting the same organizational structure as that used by the Czech and, I presume, other communist parties in occupied Europe (three member cell structures with one reporting higher up the chain, secrecy over membership etc). In occupied Europe this made a lot of sense – it was about survival. But not in the Australia we lived in. And in attempting to explain the rationale for its being, without getting sidetracked in theoretical bushland, the temptation to reach for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association) to determine the clinical criteria is difficult to resist. ‘Fucked’ seems an appropriate term to use that bridges the theoretical/clinical divide.
It is tempting to see my use of the concept ‘fuckedness’ as somewhat flippant. And to a degree it is because the ‘clinical’ component can seem like a cheap shot. But there is also a serious side to this that goes well beyond the drab manifestations I and others saw in the CPA-ML or the more disturbing, but not yet out of control manifestations that Wright witnessed and was subjected to. The example I wish to point to is the fate that befell the El Salvadoran revolutionary poet Roque Dalton who was murdered by elements in his own party with whom he was in disagreement over the importance of the party developing a mass base if it were to have any chance of overthrowing the regime. Unsurprisingly perhaps, given his murder, Dalton was argueing the importance of developing a mass base.
Dalton’s poetry is worth chasing up and to give a flavour of it – and of its relevance to this post – the following is the first stanza of his Dialectic of Genesis, Crisis and Rebirth:
‘For you we will not put the Party on an altar/Because you taught us that the Party/is an organism which lives in the real world/and it’s sickness is the same as bankruptcy/Because of you we know, Lenin/That the best crib for the Party/Is fire’
A bitter irony exposed in these lines is that Dalton’s murderers, and those who sanctioned it, were trying to put out the fire.
The fire that Dalton was speaking of, was not simply, or even primarily, that of the class enemy, whose fire belongs in the blindingly obvious department, but, as with Mao’s view of swimming against the tide being a revolutionary principle, refers to internal fire. Using gentler language, but making the same point, Wright referred to this as a “nurturing environment”. To see the meaning of this sentiment as being only directed against the tide generated by one’s political foes misses the point.
The proposition, be that stated openly or assumed, that the party line is, by definition correct, is a reflection of one sided, non dialectical thinking, the heritage of which comes more from medieval or pre medieval mind sets than modernist ones. If ever history were able to assume a sentient human form its reaction to the idea that leadership, be that in revolutionary organizations or not, automatically confers correctness and is thus deserving of deference, would be hysterical rolfing.
Our experience in the CPA M-L exposed political fuckedness, an organizational suspicion cum aversion to internal democratic processes, and a gift for paranoid thinking. This also seems to be the case in Wright’s experience of the CPUSA. The same cannot be said for Dalton’s. Politically fucked, certainly. But his murder exposed something pathalogical that was not only not organizationally contained, but was organizationally facilitated.
Revolutionary movements and parties in the developed world have disintegrated leaving in their wake a smug capitalist class and an opportunist and reactionary ‘left’ cum pseudo left drawn to every form of oppression other than that of class. It is ironic and certainly telling that we now live in an age where the capitalist class is quite happy to bend to and accommodate ‘woke’ agendas. And why not? The property question, the goal of expropriating the expropriators, has been successfully swept under the carpet. No prizes for guessing who/what has been doing most of the sweeping.
One of the tasks of a reemergent and genuine revolutionary left, will be to clean up its act regarding democratic processes; or to borrow from Dalton, to actually understand that the best crib or nurturing environment for its existence and growth is ‘fire’. It is not enough that a leadership pays lip service to the idea, as opposed to the practice of criticism and self criticism, reducing it to an auto de fe in the process. It must be open and be seen as being open, to itself being a target of fire.
One of the things communist parties, in whatever form their new iterations take, will need to do is to ensure that, to paraphrase and tweak Wright, the environment it creates is large enough to nourish the development and growth of rebellious and critical spirits, spirits who can not only keep an active eye and involvement on fire that is externally targeted and generated, but internally generated and directed.
It is more than two months since the “insurrection”. Many things still up in the air but some have landed so an update is overdue.
I expected SCOTUS to hear some cases on unlawful changes to election rules. I was wrong about that. SCOTUS just refused to hear the last of the Trump campaign disputes (Wisconsin).
That has lots of implications which have not yet landed, so I won’t start analysis now.
Trump’s recent speech confirmed his complete domination of the GOP with much the same orientation as before plus a focus on making it harder to vote in battleground States where GOP still controls the legislature but lost to Biden. Effects of that campaign and Federal legislation still have not landed.
As I expected anti-Trump opposition within GOP has basically fizzled. A large majority of GOP Senators and a majority of GOP in House of Representatives oppose Trump but they won’t fight and Trump will. So the GOP will become a right wing populist party led by Trumpists with a large, militant and angry mass base and substantial representation in Congress.
The calibre of Trump’s opponents in the GOP is well illustrated by the fact that they want to use Trump’s brand to raise funds for defending GOP incumbents against Trumpist challengers:
That is a significant change to the US political system the results of which will become more clear after the 2022 primaries.
Another significant change is the full commitment of Democrats to batshit craziness. It is now compulsory to believe that Trump incited an insurrection to overturn the last elections. Not one single Democrat in the House or Senate voted against that. The results of that, and of the efforts at media censorship, are also still up in the air.
In particular there is not yet any indication that the question of who decided not to protect the Capitol from an openly planned break in by militia groups will become an issue.
There is still a race between vaccination and the new strains of covid-19 both in Europe and North America. Rest of the world still not likely to get vaccine quickly enough. Likely outcome still looks like at least several years of a new endemic disease. Less likelihood of hospital systems actually collapsing in developed countries but they are still trying to open up far faster than is justified by the levels of vaccination. Effect of that on US politics still up in the air along with general impact of new administration.
David McMullen has written an important essay countering the market economists.
“According to Austrian economists, even with everyone’s best efforts, a system based on social ownership of the means of production could not effectively deploy a decentralized price system. An examination of the key writings on the question by Mises, Hayek and Lavoie reveals that this view rests on very shaky ground”.
The essay, ‘A socialist price system: answering the Austrians’, can be accessed here.