Celebrating Darce Cassidy

Notes for my contribution to memorial meeting on May 14, following Darce’s death on 2019-04-29

I’m not a historian and cannot do justice to the story of Darce Cassidy.

But I do know that he played a critically important part as a leader of the sixties rebellion in Australia and it would be well worthwhile for some historian to write up that story.

Most people who knew either Darce Cassidy or Jon Cassidy would know him as a progressive and radical who worked in the mainstream as an ABC journalist, staff organizer and manager and who was able to get on with all kinds of people helping others to organize themselves in a progressive direction that caused problems for the powers that be. He would be known by many for his contributions to Community and Multicultural radio and opposition to internet censorship and surveillance as director of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation. He did all of that and more, and it was central to his life.

But I knew him as a revolutionary as well as a friend, and specifically as a revolutionary communist leader, and I know that was also central to his life and should not be forgotten so I will focus on that. That description may come as a surprise to many who got to know him after the sixties wave had subsided when there was no radical left to help organize and lead. He was able to adapt because he always followed the “mass line” of taking progressive political ideas from the masses, concentrating and developing them and taking them back to the masses.

In the late 1960s Darce played a significant leadership role in the largest and best known radical student and youth organizations in Australia – the Maoist led Monash University Labour Club and Worker Student Alliance. Like other open supporters of the Vietnamese armed struggle against US occupation and advocates of militant protest tactics in Australia he was regularly slandered. Bob Santamaria’s far right wing Newsweekly had a major campaign to oust him from his “subversive” influence at the ABC, claiming that he was a terrorist. More common were the slanders from the “Communist” CPA, the “Labor” ALP “left” and some Trotskyists who portrayed revolutionary rebels like Darce as sectarians.

In response to Santamaria’s campaign, the ABC duly obtained a report on comrade Cassidy from ASIO. This confirmed that actually he was a revolutionary, not a terrorist, and that his employment in charge of book reviews for the ABC was not a matter of immediate concern to ASIO in the current situation and while he was not in charge of news or current affairs. But Darce was no sectarian either and helped ABC news and current affairs staff to rebel in ways that right-wingers are still upset about.

For anyone interested in sources to find out more about Darce’s revolutionary activities, in preparing notes I was helped by two references easily found online by a google search for “Monash Labor Club”. They are listed at the end.

ASIO’s records have been released and would provide a lot more detail.

Darce was not a theoretician, nor a public spokesperson for revolutionary politics. But he was a leader, with a major role in strategy, tactics and organization. His revolutionary work as a journalist and organiser was central to the radicalization of the youth and student movement in the sixties because he taught others how to do radical journalism, how to get organised and how to maneuver against our enemies without getting isolated. He was particularly good at teaching people how to think before writing, so as to produce short punchy items with real impact, through careful attention to catchy headlines and humorous slogans that adapted tactics to strategy.

Darce arrived in Melbourne and enrolled at Monash University shortly before things got moving in 1967. He immediately helped launch our regular news sheet called “Print”. Unlike most of the sixties activists in Australia he had several years experience of radical politics at Sydney University before the movement took off and had edited a weekly newsheet there called “Wednesday Commentary”. He advocated a neutral name to focus attention on the content not proclamation. But he originally proposed the name “Gladys” as he thought “Gladys says” would catch on. Fortunately we were able to persuade him that “I saw it in Print” would also work.

The sixties Vietnam movement in the US grew more directly out of the civil rights movement than in Australia (especially with black conscripts as the most important force). But a lot of the sixties Australian indigenous rights movement was also inspired by the US example. An obvious direct import was the rural NSW Freedom Ride that Darce helped organize in March 1965 following on from solidarity protests in support of the fights against racism in the U.S. and South Africa. The Vietnam movement also had a natural continuity from solidarity with US as well as South African struggles. (My own earliest political activity was as secretary of “Youth Against Apartheid” around the same time.)

It is ironic that we were presented as “anti-American”. As with the Freedom ride, even more so for Vietnam, a lot of the inspiration for the sixties movement came from following the examples set by radical Americans.

We did not have the internet back in the sixties. But we did have typewriters, wax stencils and duplicating machines called “Gestetners”. One of Darce’s slogans was “All power grows out of the barrel of a Gestetner”. Darce was more than anyone responsible for launching an irreverant and uncensorable underground journalism tradition of “the sixties” that Australian university and later high school authorities could not cope with.

Another of Darce’s slogans was “If there is to be a revolution there must be a revolutionary party – Friday night at Jasmine Street”.

Jasmine street was the home of several Monash Labor Club activists including Darce from the summer break1966-7.

The revolutionary parties at Jasmine Street every Friday were pretty wild, some would say they were drunken orgies. But the revolutionary music organized by Darce was not just background noise. Radical songs are always a necessary part of any radical culture and tradition. Jasmine Street was also the off campus HQ where people developed their ideas on HOW to rebel in continuous political discussion. Later a similar role was played by “Shirley Grove” and then “The Bakery” which became the headquarters of a non-student organization, the “Revolutionary Socialists”. Darce was central to organizing all three HQs, fostering an atmosphere in which ideas could develop. Later he proposed disbanding the Rev Socs to form a more explicitly Maoist led youth organization, WSA, the “Worker Student Alliance”, in January 1970.

These irreverant takeoffs from Mao’s slogans “All power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and “If there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party” were typical of the thoroughly irrevererant and politically incorrect sixties rebellion that Darce helped organize.

As Darce confirmed in an interview half a century later:

“By late 1966 early 1967 I grew to see ALP politics as futile and the Maoist stance offered a clear anti-Parliamentary line. Other than this fact it was the sheer rebelliousness of the Maoist ideas like ‘It is right to rebel’ that became attractive
to a lot us around that time.” (2005-09-03)

Soon after Darce’s arrival we had a major breakthrough in 1967. After some initial toughening up in response to attempts to censor “Print” from the University administration we were able to withstand a real “baptism by fire”. This came when we organized collections of aid for solidarity with the “National Liberation Front” who were fighting and defeating U.S. and Australian invaders in south Vietnam. The concentrated attacks from press, TV, government and University authorities as well as the peace movement “establishment” were a major turning point, not just for the student movement but for the wider anti-war movement. As intended the whole climate shifted left. The “moderates” were now able to distance themselves from us while also moving towards a position that the war could only be ended by defeat of the U.S. rather than by respectably influencing its government to be less aggressive. The left became a major force in the organized anti-war movement with Darce often representing us at private meetings where he helped out maneuver the old guard “peace movement” without them ever quite understanding how they got done over.

Darce’s detailed organizational proposal for moving from a weekly “Print” to a daily were written under the name Len Esdaile in the third issue of the internal bulletin of the Young Communist League, Sunday February 15 1969. Eventually the Monash radical student movement had many weeklies, including those from groups in most Faculties such as “Spanner and Sickle” in Engineering, as well as the daily “Print”. Many high schools also had their own regular newsheets based on the same rebellious and offensive “underground” style. These had to be distributed anonymously as the editors would be expelled from school. Being cheeky, rebellious and highly offensive to all right thinking people was easy. Learning to do it skillfully required lessons from a professional revolutionary journalist – Darce Cassidy, also known as “Tony Brooks”.

Darce’s commitment, like that of other sixties radicals, was not virtue signalling and hence was of interest to ASIO without them pretending that he was a eiither a terrorist or about to launch an armed struggle. Like the rest of us he was totally in favour of offending people to make them think (while rejecting the “being offended” that helps people avoid thinking). He was of course hostile to the censorious “political correctness” that now dominates the pseudo-left that imploded into the vacuum left by the subsiding radical wave half a century ago. It was the radical left, not the right that invented that term “politically incorrect”, and its Australian equivalent “ideologically unsound” to mock the pretensions of the pseudoleft.

Darce was a thorougly mainstream and thoroughly political incorrect revolutionary. That style of politics was fun. Darce will be remembered for it.

REFERENCES

1. Robins, Daniel (2005) Melbourne’s Maoists : the rise of the Monash University Labor Club, 1965-1967. Honours thesis, Victoria University.

http://vuir.vu.edu.au/30211/

2. From http://www.reasoninrevolt.net.au/biogs/E000612b.htm links from page on “Monash Labor Club”

“Factfulness”

Just finished this book and VERY strongly recommend it.

First do this quiz is at the main site for the book (with lots of other very useful material):
http://forms.gapminder.org/s3/test-2018

Do above first for quick preview without spoilers. Numerous surveys done with this quiz. Consistently show that most people including most “experts” do worse on choosing between 3 plausible answers to basic factual questions about the world than random one out of three guesses of “Chimpanzees”.

Continue reading

Where do correct ideas come from?

“Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment. It is man’s social being that determines his thinking”.

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(Cartoon from ‘Rabelais’, La Trobe University SRC newspaper, 1970)

“Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and changes the world. In their social practice, men engage in various kinds of struggle and gain rich experience, both from their successes and from their failures. Countless phenomena of the objective external world are reflected in a man’s brain through his five sense organs  —  the organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

“At first, knowledge is perceptual. The leap to conceptual knowledge, i.e., to ideas, occurs when sufficient perceptual knowledge is accumulated. This is one process in cognition. It is the first stage in the whole process of cognition, the stage leading from objective matter to subjective consciousness from existence to ideas. Whether or not one’s consciousness or ideas (including theories, policies, plans or measures) do correctly reflect the laws of the objective external world is not yet proved at this stage, in which it is not yet possible to ascertain whether they are correct or not.

“Then comes the second stage in the process of cognition, the stage leading from consciousness back to matter, from ideas back to existence, in which the knowledge gained in the first stage is applied in social practice to ascertain whether the theories, policies, plans or measures meet with the anticipated success. Generally speaking, those that succeed are correct and those that fail are incorrect, and this is especially true of man’s struggle with nature. In social struggle, the forces representing the advanced class sometimes suffer defeat not because their ideas are incorrect ! but because, in the balance of forces engaged in struggle, they are not as powerful for the time being as the forces of reaction; they are therefore temporarily defeated, but they are bound to triumph sooner or later.

“Man’s knowledge makes another leap through the test of practice. This leap is more important than the previous one. For it is this leap alone that can prove the correctness or incorrectness of the first leap in cognition, i.e., of the ideas, theories, policies, plans or measures formulated in the course of reflecting the objective external world. There is no other way of testing truth. Furthermore, the one and only purpose of the proletariat in knowing the world is to change it. Often, correct knowledge can be arrived at only after many repetitions of the process leading from matter to consciousness and then back to matter, that is, leading from practice to knowledge and then back to practice. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge, the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge.

“Among our comrades there are many who do not yet understand this theory of knowledge. When asked the sources of their ideas, opinions, policies, methods, plans and conclusions, eloquent speeches and long articles they consider the questions strange and cannot answer it. Nor do they comprehend that matter, can be transformed into consciousness and consciousness into matter, although such leaps are phenomena of everyday life. It is therefore necessary to educate our comrades in the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge, so that they can orientate their thinking correctly, become good at investigation and study and at summing up experience, overcome difficulties, commit fewer mistakes, do their work better, and struggle hard so as to build China into a great and powerful socialist country and help the broad masses of the oppressed and exploited throughout the world in fulfillment of our great internationalist duty”.

–   Mao Zedong

May 1963

Cultural Revolution “We’ll return admid triumphant songs and laughter”

We are coming up to the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, 5 May 1818. That will also be the 50th anniversary of the peak month of the “sixties”, especially marked by the “events of May 1968”. China’s Cultural Revolution was a key inspiration, regarded with extreme hostility by the current regime in China as well as all “authoritative” historians.

I was struck by reading this article in “South China Morning Post” the auththoritative Hong Kong newspaper of record, now owned by Alibaba. As expected the article is totally slanted to express the regime’s hostility to rebellion. So the following excerpts are a “total distortion” of what was actually said under the headline below (especially by omitting illusions about a fake “maoist” removed from the regime’s leadership).

Why are so many Chinese nostalgic for the Cultural Revolution

Tens of thousands of Maoists marched in the Hunan hometown of late leader Mao Zedong on December 26 to mark the 122nd anniversary of his birth….

…Beyond paying their respects to the atheist revolutionary with fireworks, flowers, music and the burning of paper money, many of those in Shaoshan also expressed their nostalgia for Mao’s era, which ended with his death in 1976, and the Cultural Revolution that marked the last decade of his life.

Dai Cheng, 62, led a group of 60 people from Changzhou in Jiangsu, 800km away, to sing revolutionary songs in Shaoshan’s main square that night, as the temperature dropped to four degrees Celsius.

“We will never forget the Mao era. He made us secure throughout our lives. We didn’t need to pay for medicines, education or housing. And there was no corruption,” he said, raising his voice to be heard above the fireworks.

Dai said it was the Cultural Revolution he missed most…

…“They started a coup in 1976 immediately after the death of chairman Mao,” Dai said. “They betrayed communism. They betrayed chairman Mao. They betrayed the Chinese people.”

As he went on, criticising Deng Xiaoping, the mastermind behind China’s post-Mao market economy reforms, some in the crowd applauded and cheered.

“The Cultural Revolution was aimed at uprooting corruption,” Dai said. “Anyone who opposes it is a supporter of corruption.”

May 16 [2016] marked the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, which Mao reportedly hailed as one of his two biggest achievements but which the Communist Party declared more than three decades ago to have been a “catastrophe”…

While most people in China agree with the party’s verdict that the Cultural Revolution was a catastrophe, a minority nostalgic about it has been gaining influence. That nostalgia has grown beyond its usual supporters – retired or laid-off elderly people who were adversely affected by market reforms – to include younger people, some educated overseas, who were not alive when Mao was in power. That attraction mostly stems from dissatisfaction with today’s China , which they describe as a state with little welfare and a large wealth gap.

Many supporters of Mao’s political teachings call themselves believers in democracy, referring to the form of government during the Cultural Revolution, when many voices were given a say, not just bureaucrats.

“I admire the revolutionary committees during the Cultural Revolution, it was a reform of the government. There’s no more supervision now,” said Li Musen, a former Red Guard leader in Chongqing who later became a vice-director of the city’s governing revolutionary committee. He was 28 when the Cultural Revolution broke out.

A little over two years into the Cultural Revolution, and usually after bloody clashes backed by the military, all 29 provincial-level governments at the time had been replaced by revolutionary committees, with bureaucrats holding only a third of the seats.

Many political scholars have argued that the composition of the committees, where rebels held around half the seats, caused perpetual political instability. But Li disagreed.

“Representatives of the people, military, all had authority,” he said. “Representatives of cadres were endorsed by all. We supervised each other. What about now? The cadres are so paternal.”

Despite the fact that none of the committees were elected, Li, who calls himself a “dissident” who believes in democracy and freedom of speech, argued that they provided more checks and balances.

“In our revolutionary committee, we spoke what was on our minds … when we didn’t agree, we stood by our own opinions,” he said. “I think that should be the normal atmosphere. The different opinions themselves showcase supervision.

“Now the government just cooks up pretexts used to maintain political stability. There’s a complete lack of freedom of speech.”

China in the Mao era also struck Li as a much fairer society, where the most skilful technicians earned more than the factory director. “Deng said let some people get rich first,” he said. “It turned out to be letting the cadres get rich first.”

Some younger supporters of the Cultural revolution are attracted by the idealism of a movement they never experienced.

Li Beifang, 38, who holds a master’s degree in anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science, is considered a leading Maoist intellectual born in the post-Mao era.

Born two years after the Cultural Revolution ended following Mao’s death, and in the same year the Communist Party kicked off market reform and opening up to foreign investment, Li became a leftist while studying at Peking University.

“I realised that what’s more important than knowledge is stance and affection. Who do you place your heart closer to? The powerful and the rich, or the bullied and compromised people?” he wrote of his reasons for becoming a Maoist in a preface to a book published last year.

Like many supporters of Mao and his political teachings, Li Beifang applauded the Cultural Revolution as Mao’s attempt to create an egalitarian utopia….

“Without such an attempt, the human race’s imagination about future forms of society will be exhausted, “ Li Beifang said of the Cultural Revolution in a panel discussion in Beijing in August. “Yes, it was aimed at a utopia and its failure was no surprise. But how could the human race not have a utopia … [we] would lose direction of where to go and end up trapped in nihilism.”

Li Beifang said a vacuum of belief was to blame for widespread materialism in China, another common belief among Maoists.

“After the Cultural Revolution ended, the mental vacuity made problems generated by reform and opening up even worse,” he said, adding that the Cultural Revolution was not successful because it harmed the interests of too many senior cadres.

Li Beifang declined an interview request, citing the sensitivity of discussing the topic with media outside of mainland China.

His nostalgia for utopian Maoism is shared by Zhou Jiayu, 71, a former Red Guard leader in Chongqing who once rose to the top leadership in Sichuan province.

“Like the Paris Commune, it failed and its spirit will always be there,” Zhou said. “The spirit of the Cultural Revolution is rebelling and revolutionising towards inequality and injustice. I miss the unsparing dedication to the revolution. I miss the equality and fraternity between people.”

Each Ching Ming grave-sweeping festival, Zhou visits a cemetery where some 400 Red Guards from his faction are buried. “They gave their lives for their beliefs. They had a sublime goal,” he said. “Before they were hit, they were all chanting slogans like ‘Long live chairman Mao, long live the Cultural Revolution’.”

As Mao wrote in a poem “We’ll return amid triumphant songs and laughter”.

Hasn’t communism already failed?

There is a thoroughly entrenched view that the experience of revolutions during the 20th century shows that communism has failed. It is true. There was a failure. However, it was not of communism, but rather of an attempt to sustain a path towards it when its preconditions were absent.

Another section from Rescuing the message of The Communist Manifesto

* * * *

There is a thoroughly entrenched view that the experience of revolutions during the 20th century shows that communism has failed. It is true. There was a failure. However, it was not of communism, but rather of an attempt to sustain a path towards it when its preconditions were absent. Russia in 1917 and virtually all the “communist” regimes established mid-century were essentially backward pre-capitalist societies. Most people were peasants rather than proletarians, and they were more interested in land for the tiller than social ownership. There was little modern industry and thinking was more medieval than modern. They had not passed through the capitalist stage, which is necessary for a successful communist revolution. As the experience of other backward countries shows, even getting capitalism off the ground under these circumstances is hard enough, let alone a society that aims to supersede it.

This peculiar state of affairs arose because the bourgeoisie was too weak, cowardly or treacherous to carry out its own tasks. Instead, in the first half of the 20th century, communists found themselves at the head of both anti-feudal modernist revolutions and patriotic resistance to fascist aggression and occupation.

After World War II, the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union was joined  by a host of other countries in what became ‘the socialist camp’. It included China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia where their own revolutionary forces had taken power, and eastern and central Europe and northern Korea where regimes were established by virtue of Soviet military occupation in the aftermath of the defeat of Germany and Japan. So, by historical accident communists found themselves burdened with the task of raising their societies out of social and economic backwardness. They had to perform the work of capitalism. They had to create an industrial base and a trained workforce virtually from scratch. The “failure of communism” was a consequence of the tardiness, perhaps even failure, of capitalism.

 

“It is true. There was a failure. However, it was not of communism, but rather of an attempt to sustain a path towards it when its preconditions were absent.”

 

Under these conditions the move in a communist direction could only be quite limited and eventually proved unsustainable. They took important preliminary steps but did not achieve the real substance. Industry was placed under state ownership which meant that capitalist industry was expropriated and the new accumulation of private wealth thwarted. At the same time there was a degree of economic security for workers. The system was described as socialism, the first stage on the road to communism. However, the weakness of the proletariat placed severe limits on what could be achieved. With a couple of exceptions in central Europe, it only began to become a significant section of society with the industrialization that followed the revolution. Proletarians were former peasants engaged mainly in the low paid toil that you would expect at this stage of development. They were simply not ready to be a ruling class. There was not the basis for a society based on mutual regard. Enthusiasm and unprompted initiative was limited in these harsh conditions and so there was a heavy reliance on material incentives and top down command with all kinds of perverse results. The freedom and democracy required for the full development of the proletariat was not possible given the intensity of external and internal opposition and the weakness of the revolutionary forces.

Because most work was arduous and repetitive manual labor, and the education level and background of the typical worker left them ill-equipped for involvement in the mental aspects of production, there was a minority who did the thinking and deciding. These were the managers, engineers and officials – generally referred to as ‘cadres’. Members of this elite had a vested interest in entrenching their privileged position and were unlikely to encourage an invasion of their domain as workers became more skilled and educated, and industry more mechanized, nor to willingly start to take upon themselves a share of the more routine forms of labor.

Once career, income and position are the primary impulse, economic results take a second place to empire building, undermining rivals, promoting loyal followers, scamming the system and concealing one’s poor performance from superiors. The opportunity for workers to resist these developments was limited by the lack of freedom and the culture of subordination which drains away confidence and the courage to act. This culture can be very strong even in the absence of political tyranny as we can see in any “liberal” capitalist society. At the same time, one can imagine that, under these conditions, rank and file workers with special abilities or talents would tend to be more interested in escaping the workers’ lot by becoming one of the privileged rather than in struggling against it.

 

“… after a crash industrialization in the 1930s, the Soviet Union was able to defeat the fascist Axis powers through the largest military mobilization in human history. This is something for which the world should be eternally grateful.”

 

Mao Zedong, the head of the Chinese Communist Party until his death in 1976, referred to this process, once fully entrenched and endorsed at the top, as capitalist restoration and those encouraging it as revisionists and capitalist roaders. The Chinese Cultural Revolution that he led in the late 1960s was an attempt to beat back this trend. However, that revolution was sabotaged and defeated, and the capitalist roaders were able to seize supreme power in China after his death.

The Soviet Union and similar regimes in Eastern Europe ended up as a distinctive type of dead-end economically, politically and socially, and their demise in 1989-90 is one of the celebrated advances of the late 20th century. At the same time, by discarding much of the empty and dysfunctional formal shell of socialism and operating more like normal capitalist economies, both China and Vietnam have managed to achieve considerable economic development in recent decades. Cuba is now beginning to take this route. The monstrosity in North Korea survives throught mass terror and the support of the Chinese. All these regimes are an affront to freedom and democracy, and will share the same fate as those in other countries where the capitalist “Communist Parties” have already been overthrown.

 

“This peculiar state of affairs arose because the bourgeoisie was too weak, cowardly or treacherous to carry out its own tasks. Instead, in the first half of the 20th century, communists found themselves at the head of both anti-feudal modernist revolutions and patriotic resistance to fascist aggression and occupation.”

 

Notwithstanding this grim picture, there were still some significant achievements. In a large part of the world, landlords and feudal relations were swept from the countryside. Industrialization was raised from a very low base and generally outperformed the backward countries in the capitalist camp. Most importantly, after a crash industrialization in the 1930s, the Soviet Union was able to defeat the fascist Axis powers through the largest military mobilization in human history. This is something for which the world should be eternally grateful.

The dilemma faced by 20th century communists was anticipated by Engels in the following passage from chapter 6 of The Peasant War in Germany, published in 1850:

The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realization of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost.

*****

This discussion of the “failure of communism” in backward countries certainly does not imply that the process of communist revolution would be easy in countries that have reached the developed stage of capitalism. While capitalism has created conditions that make communism possible, there is nothing automatic about it. Indeed it will require an entire epoch of struggle to make the transition to a society based on mutual regard rather than profit. There cannot be any notion of ‘socialism’ that does not see it as a revolutionary transition that is prone to capitalist restoration. The initial threat from the old bourgeoisie is followed by a threat from a new bourgeoisie emerging among cadres, who wave the red flag in order to oppose it.

The initial period of the revolution will have many problems. A large number of people will  be hostile, neutral or lukewarm in their support. New revolutionary governments will be far less experienced than their opponents, and will face many difficulties getting into power and holding onto it. The old management cannot be dispensed with overnight and will be in a position to sabotage output and efforts to change things. Defeat could result from revolutionaries making mistakes or the counter-revolution recovering from temporary disarray.

There has to be a fundamental change in human behavior and the way society operates. The bourgeoisie, and the habits and ways of thinking of its society will prove tenacious, and the proletariat will have to transform itself in the struggle against them.

We will have to learn new ways and cast off old ones. We will have to unlearn passive, submissive and weak-spirited habits engendered by capitalism, and develop the new morality of mutual regard and steadfast resistance to the old forms of behavior. Mutual regard is enlightened self-interest where everyone does the right thing knowing that a large and increasing section of society is doing the same. It will be the basis of morality and what is honorable. We will all share in the ‘pool’ of greater prosperity and good-will that results. Such a culture is totally at odds with capitalism where the rich exploit everyone else and a large number of people are simply thrown on the scrap heap.

Critical for success is the emergence of a large and increasing number of people who see the revolutionary transformation of the conditions around them as a prime mission in life.

Marx was no green

The Communist Manifesto Project has just published an article titled ‘Was Marx a green?‘ I’m republishing it below, with gratitude to the writer David McMullen.

In reading a draft of the piece, these thoughts came to mind:

In Mao’s critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems in the USSR Mao says Stalin is wrong to believe that human development is restricted by natural laws. Mao asserts that humans can work out ways to overcome these laws:

(Stalin) 2. Leaving aside astronomical, geological, and othersimilar processes, which man really is powerless to influence, even if he has come to know the laws of their development. . . . (Mao response) 2. This argument is wrong. Human knowledge and the capability to transform nature have no limit. Stalin did not consider these matters developmentally. What cannot now be done, may be done in the future.

To me, this kind of thinking – this spirit – was what attracted me to Maoists in the Left in Melbourne back in the late 1960s. They were the ones drawing critically from previous socialist experience, rather than rejecting it out of hand, and they were the ones really placing human conscious activity centre-stage and understanding the inter-relationship between economic base and cultural superstructure.

Marxists have always wanted progress and revolution and Karl Marx supported capital ‘p’ Progress in his time ­ but those who try to reinvent him as a green steady­-statist reverse his progressive and revolutionary nature and turn him into his opposite.

­As for the town and country divide, Engels nails the distinction between those greens (or ‘utopians’, in his time) who value small-scale craft-based life over the advances brought about by the C19th Industrial Revolution, despite its immediate grimness. In the Introduction to The Condition of the working class in England (1845) he talks about the much healthier, more humane, way of life in feudal rural England but says, no!, it sucks because in such a pre-industrial village and family based way of life, the people’s horizons were so limited. They were ‘comfortable in their silent vegetation’:

Before the introduction of machinery, the spinning and weaving of raw materials was carried on in the workingman’s home. Wife and daughter spun the yarn that the father wove or that they sold, if he did not work it up himself. These weaver families lived in the country in the neighbourhood of the towns, and could get on fairly well with their wages, because the home market was almost the only one and the crushing power of competition that came later, with the conquest of foreign markets and the extension of trade, did not yet press upon wages. There was, further, a constant increase in the demand for the home market, keeping pace with the slow increase in population and employing all the workers; and there was also the impossibility of vigorous competition of the workers among themselves, consequent upon the rural dispersion of their homes. So it was that the weaver was usually in a position to lay by something, and rent a little piece of land, that he cultivated in his leisure hours, of which he had as many as he chose to take, since he could weave whenever and as long as he pleased. True, he was a bad farmer and managed his land inefficiently, often obtaining but poor crops; nevertheless, he was no proletarian, he had a stake in the country, he was permanently settled, and stood one step higher in society than the English workman of today.

So the workers vegetated throughout a passably comfortable existence, leading a righteous and peaceful life in all piety and probity; and their material position was far better than that of their successors. They did not need to overwork; they did no more than they chose to do, and yet earned what they needed. They had leisure for healthful work in garden or field, work which, in itself, was recreation for them, and they could take part besides in the recreations and games of their neighbours, and all these games — bowling, cricket, football, etc., contributed to their physical health and vigour. They were, for the most part, strong, well-built people, in whose physique little or no difference from that of their peasant neighbours was discoverable. Their children grew up in the fresh country air, and, if they could help their parents at work, it was only occasionally; while of eight or twelve hours work for them there was no question.

What the moral and intellectual character of this class was may be guessed. Shut off from the towns, which they never entered, their yarn and woven stuff being delivered to travelling agents for payment of wages — so shut off that old people who lived quite in the neighborhood of the town never went thither until they were robbed of their trade by the introduction of machinery and obliged to look about them in the towns for work — the weavers stood upon the moral and intellectual plane of the yeomen with whom they were usually immediately connected through their little holdings. They regarded their squire, the greatest landholder of the region, as their natural superior; they asked advice of him, laid their small disputes before him for settlement, and gave him all honour, as this patriarchal relation involved. They were “respectable” people, good husbands and fathers, led moral lives because they had no temptation to be immoral, there being no groggeries or low houses in their vicinity, and because the host, at whose inn they now and then quenched their thirst, was also a respectable man, usually a large tenant-farmer who took pride in his good order, good beer, and early hours. They had their children the whole day at home, and brought them up in obedience and the fear of God; the patriarchal relationship remained undisturbed so long as the children were unmarried.

The young people grew up in idyllic simplicity and intimacy with their playmates until they married; and even though sexual intercourse before marriage almost unfailingly took place, this happened only when the moral obligation of marriage was recognised on both sides, and a subsequent wedding made everything good. In short, the English industrial workers of those days lived and thought after the fashion still to be found here and there in Germany, in retirement and seclusion, without mental activity and without violent fluctuations in their position in life. They could rarely read and far more rarely write; went regularly to church, never talked politics, never conspired, never thought, delighted in physical exercises, listened with inherited reverence when the Bible was read, and were, in their unquestioning humility, exceedingly well-disposed towards the “superior” classes. But intellectually, they were dead; lived only for their petty, private interest, for their looms and gardens, and knew nothing of the mighty movement which, beyond their horizon, was sweeping through mankind. They were comfortable in their silent vegetation, and but for the industrial revolution they would never have emerged from this existence, which, cosily romantic as it was, was nevertheless not worthy of human beings. In truth, they were not human beings; they were merely toiling machines in the service of the few aristocrats who had guided history down to that time. The industrial revolution has simply carried this out to its logical end by making the workers machines pure and simple, taking from them the last trace of independent activity, and so forcing them to think and demand a position worthy of men.

Anyway, here is David McMullen’s article, with which I basically agree.

Marx Was No Green
There are Greens who espouse an “ecological Marxism” and claim that if Marx was around today he would support organic agriculture and a steady state economy based on renewable resources that provides everyone with “sufficiency”. In such an economy the poor and rich countries would converge, with the former increasing somewhat and the latter shrinking a lot. The most notable exponent of this view is John Bellamy Foster, the editor of The Monthly Review. (We will call him JBF for short.) He goes through the writings of Marx and tortures them until they deliver a green essence.
JBF draws our attention to a number of Marx’s views that you could use to start building a case that he was a Green. Marx was concerned about the destruction of natural stocks of fertile soil, forests and fish needed by future generations. He also commented on how consumption often included frivolities that reflected people’s alienation rather than real needs and that human thriving requires more than increased consumption. JBF also correctly points out that when Marx talked about mastering nature he did not mean destroying it but mastering its laws and harnessing it accordingly. However, from here on the case begins to unravel.

JBF tries to extract greenness from the fact that Marx was a materialist who believed we lived in a material world where we depended on plants and animals for food, water to drink and air to breath. This is a long stretch.

The greening of Marx of course requires JBF to explain away how Marx and Engels talked about communism unleashing the productive forces. He claims this thoroughly ungreen viewpoint was confined to their youthful less mature writings. This is not true as these quotes from the 1870s attest:

Let us take, first of all, the words “proceeds of labor” in the sense of the product of labor; then the co-operative proceeds of labor are the total social product.
From this must now be deducted: First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up. Second, additional portion for expansion of production [emphasis added]. Third, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities, etc.
Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
The expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an unbroken, constantly accelerated development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself. Nor is this all. The socialised appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.
Engels, Anti-Duhring, 1877
JBF also has to misconstrue Marx’s constant reference to the fact that capitalists are compelled by the forces of competition to accumulate  in order to survive, by suggesting that he actually disapproved of the process. For Marx the plowing back of much of the surplus value rather than spending it all on extravagant consumption was what made capitalism superior to previous societies where there was a compulsion to stagnate. It is what delivered economic and social progress.
Under communism, the robust development of the productive forces will lead both to the qualitative improvements in output and also to the use of increasing amounts of energy and materials. This would occur not just through accumulation but also through greater investment in research and development and through making each generation of plant and equipment better than the last. It is not hard to imagine the uses. Increased automation will require millions of robots. People will want ready access to various recreation facilities such as gyms, gardens, artificial ski slopes, master chef kitchens, laboratories, workshops and research facilities. The requirements of an increasing population will also have to be considered. While the population is expected to plateau and then decline later this century, under communism you would expect it to start rising again as the burden of having children will be much less. We need large emergency facilities to deal with super-volcanoes and tsunamis. We will need to prepare for the effects of major climate change such rising sea levels and eventually the next ice age.  Major space programs will among other things protect us from meteors and allow us to start moving off the planet in order to explore, settle and exploit extraterrestrial resources. It will be a long time before we run out of things to do with iron, steel, glass etc. This increasing production under communism will proceed with an on-going decoupling from impacts on the environment. We will see food produced with less and less use of land and water, and the industrial waste streams in extraction, production and disposal cleaned up and reduced.

JBF’s pièce de résistance is to pick up on Marx’s analysis of the contradiction between town and country. In the separation of town and country, Marx was concerned about two things. Firstly it stunted the brains of those in the country and ruined the physical health of those in city. Secondly it meant a break in the nutrient cycle as human waste and food scraps were not returned to the farm but instead dumped in rivers and oceans. This transfer of people from the land to cities was an inevitable part of capitalist development. Capitalist farming needed less workers and the cost to the soil and to workers of concentrating the latter in the cities was of no concern to industrial capitalists.

However, these problems are being resolved without having to spread the population evenly over the landscape. High density living in large cities can now be quite healthy and comfortable. Living in the countryside no longer means being cut off from the world given modern modes of transport and communications. This modern transport can also truck in fertilizer, be it human waste, animal manure or the synthetic kind that is now produced in abundance. Indeed, the present concern is excessive nutrients and resulting emissions into ground water or the atmosphere. The best hope for dealing with this under present capitalist conditions is through increased regulation and better management including greater adoption of precision farming.

The organic farming favored by JBF would just make things worse for the environment. It does not allow the use of synthetic fertilizer and so requires rotations that include nitrogen fixing legumes that are simply plowed back into the soil. So a world of organic agriculture would require far more land being assigned to farming to get the same net crop and less for forests and other natural uses. Magically getting the 7 billion people presently on the planet to become vegetarians would reduce the land pressure given that crops consumed directly provide humans with more calories than if they are fed to animals first. However, that would be undone later this century when we have 2 or 3 billion extra mouths to feed.
It is very important that red and green are seen as being at total odds. Humanity and the environment require economic progress and communism is impossible without it. The sooner we have a vocal Marxism supporting economic growth, and un-green things such as nuclear power and genetic engineering, the better
* * * *

STUDENT REVOLT – La Trobe University 1967 to 1973

Student Revolt 001

 

I’m pleased to make my book, Student Revolt: La Trobe University 1967-73 available on-line as a pdf. The book was published in 1989, with comrades helping finance it. It was based on my Master of Arts thesis, completed at the University of Sydney in 1984. The book was published in 1989, when La Trobe University was commemorating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the La Trobe University Act. The University declined my offer to contribute a chapter to their official history of the University and, as I expected, the official history trivialised and down-played what bourgeois academics and administrators still refer to as “the troubles” on the campus. It was actually a full-fledged student rebellion, questioning the nature and purpose of the universities under capitalism, and part of a global movement of young people questioning the inherited wisdom that held back progress by keeping the system in place.

Student Revolt blurb 001

 

I wish that rebellious questioning spirit would return to the campuses, which strike me as too bogged down by group-think and uncritical thinking in the Arts faculties. Yes, a generalisation but one borne out by what I read and experience – and confirmed by efforts to shut down research that does not fit the dominant paradigm and to censor ideas deemed offensive. I continue to embrace the motto “It is right to rebel!” – offensive though it may be to the professors, popes and princes.

Here it is: STUDENT REVOLT By Barry York