My only disagreement with this article is the author’s use of the word ‘leftists’ to describe those in alliance with the Iranian clericalist regime. She should use the term ‘pseudo-leftists’, as that is accurate…. B York
Iran: A New Wave of Mass Protests and Strikes
(written by Frieda Afary, reprinted from her blog ‘Iranian progressives in translation’)
Iran is experiencing another wave of mass protests and strikes as economic, social, political, environmental and health problems make it impossible for the large majority of the population to have the bare minimums needed to live.
Petrochemical Strikes, Protests Against Water Shortage
A new wave of mass protests over severe water shortage in the mainly ethnic Arab province of Khuseztan began on July 15. Protesters’ slogans have included: “Down with Dictatorship.”, “Down With Khamenei”, “We Don’t Want An Islamic Republic”, “The People Want the Regime to Fall.” Government security forces have shot and killed at least 8 protesters and injured and arrested many others. However, solidarity protests have started in Azarbaijan, Kurdistan, Isfahan, Sistan & Baluchistan and Tehran. Iranian filmmakers, teachers and writers’ groups have co-signed a joint statement in support of the protests. (https://iranwire.com/en/features/9985)
The latest protests have followed a series of nationwide strikes of temporary contract workers in Iran’s oil and gas industry which is also heavily based in Khuzestan. The strikes which began on June 19 and have spread to a hundred production sites, are demanding permanent employment status, a $500 monthly wage, safe working conditions and the right to organize and be free of police surveillance. Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers on strike in Khuzestan are also asking for COVID vaccination and expressing solidarity with protests against the lack of water.
Economic Crisis and COVID Pandemic
Iran continues to suffer from a massive economic crisis brought about by the costs of its regional imperialist interventions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, its nuclear and missile programs and the effects of U.S. economic sanctions. The official minimum wage is approximately $120 per month in a country where the cost of bare necessities for a family of 4 is $500 per month. Electricity is shut off for several hours on a daily basis. Access to the internet is becoming more limited or impossible for many because of the cost and government repression.
COVID is spreading rapidly in Iran’s prisons, which have an official population of 190,000. Women prisoners are also suffering from and dying from COVID. They include journalists, teachers, feminist and labor activists, students, environmentalists, Kurdish and Arab civil right activists, as well as Baha’i and Sufi women.
Women Prisoners and Afghan Refugees
Nasrin Sotoudeh, imprisoned feminist human rights attorney and defender of the “Girls of Revolution Avenue” is suffering from a variety of health problems in addition to COVID. Narges Mohammadi, feminist activist against the death penalty who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was released last year after a long prison sentence, only to receive another prison sentence which also includes 80 lashes for continuing to oppose the death penalty and “endangering national security.” She has been fighting this sentence, and has attended protests in solidarity with the people of Khuzestan, striking workers and the families of political prisoners. In a recent interview, she called Iranian women’s struggles “the Achilles heel of the Iranian regime”. (https://www.facebook.com/voicesofwomenforchange/videos/241864884051720) Sepideh Gholyan, feminist labor activist , imprisoned in Khuzestan, continues to write about the plight of ethnic Arab women prisoners. She has been savagely beaten in prison and is now on hunger strike.
U.S. New York Times columnist, Thomas Freedman reveals imperialist inhumanity in his recent column on Iran where he offers a “solution” that is “the best anyone can hope for with Iran.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/15/opinion/iran-biden-nuclear-deal.html?searchResultPosition=1) He argues that the U.S. with the help of Gulf states should give more financial aid to the Assad regime to kick Iran out of Syria, maintain Russia and Turkey as dominant powers and assure the continuation of the Assad regime. This he says would reduce Iran’s danger and satisfy the U.S. and Israel. To him, the people of the region, the Syrian Arabs and Kurds and the Iranian population, are mere pawns on the U.S. and global Imperialist chessboard.
Needed Progressive Solidarity with Struggles inside Iran
No less cynical are those leftists and so-called socialists around the world who support the Iranian regime as “anti-imperialist” or refuse to criticize it.
Those who limit their solidarity to calling for the removal of U.S. sanctions, refuse to recognize the complexity of the problems in Iran. They do not address the fact that these problems are rooted both in the external imperialism of the U.S., Russia. China and internal capitalist militarism and religious fundamentalism.
Any effort to engage in solidarity with the struggles inside Iran begins not only with calling for the removal of U.S. sanctions and an end to Israel’s attacks, but also simultaneously holding the Iranian regime accountable for its repression and exploitation of the people and environment of the region. That recognition demands calling for the immediate release of political prisoners, expressing solidarity with striking workers, feminist and environmental struggles, oppressed ethnic, sexual and religious minorities, and demanding Iran’s withdrawal from Syria, Iraq and an end to its interventions in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Yemen.
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”.
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.
Biden got more votes than Trump largely because of Trump’s catstrophically bad leadership on covid-19.
Trump was very good at provoking enough insanity from deranged liberals that he looked like getting a second term simply based on being hated by deranged people rather than having actually delivered anything.
The Democrats were so hopeless that despite running against a Trump who could be blamed for many of the 400,000 deaths they nearly lost in the Electoral College and there are serious doubts as to whether their victory was lawful.
The Biden administration has just released a 200 page strategy for covid-19:
I have only skimmed the first half. I could not bear to even skim the second half which had chapters on “equity” and “US leadership” plus the full text of Executive Orders to implement the strategy.
As far as I can see the strategy document adequately highlights the fact that the current wave is spreading uncontrolled across the USA and will get worse, with hospital systems already starting to be overwhelmed. That is better than Trump and a necessary preliminary to having a strategy.
But I did not notice any plausible strategy. As with Trump the focus is largely on the vaccine. Various measures are proposed to accelerate delivery but I did not notice any that could achieve even a parabolic acceleration, let alone catch up with exponential infection. For example great stress is placed on delivering 6 doses from each vial originally intended to ensure 5 doses with allowance for wastage. That is merely an insignificant blip, not even a plan for constant linear, let alone parabolic acceleration.
The target of 100 million doses in 100 days is comparable to the current level of bungled delivery (900,000 per day). Proportional to population it is substantially slower than what the UK is currently delivering. That is probably realistic and reflects how disfunctional the US health system is. If achieved it could substantially reduce mortality both by protecting many of the most vulnerable and by keeping most of the health and aged care workforce functioning so that staff sick, dead or in quarantine are not the main bottleneck on health and aged care.
But I did not see any calculation suggesting that vaccination of less than 1 in 6 Americans could avoid continued exponential increase resulting from the more infectious strains becoming dominant with the current levels of shutdown. Continuing at that rate would take more than a year to reach herd immunity if it was not reached by infection first.
Instead of plans to tighten lockdowns what I did see was a goal to open up kindergartens and schools within the same 100 days and focus on “testing” to open up rather than immediate mobilization for more severe lockdowns.
In other countries that opened schools too early so as to get parents back to work too early, the pretense that children do not transmit infection has been dropped and schools are being closed as an emergency measure to help keep hospitals open.
The USA is still headed in the same direction as Trump, the opposite to what is needed. So is the UK and so is most of Europe.
A worse disaster can be expected in most of the developing world. Hopefully they may get enough vaccines to protect their relatively small healthcare workforce. But they won’t receive vaccines before Europe and North America so herd immunity will take much more than 1 year with no realistic prospect of overtaking the exponential growth of new strains.
On December 2 I wrote:
This is not just a half baked, but rather a quarter baked article on the current situation with covid-19.
My guess is that Australia is about half way through the state of emergency that began in mid-March.
Current indications are that a vaccine will start to be available here from about March or April, with full availability and likely herd immunity by the end of next year.
That should mean Australia goes to the back of the queue for vaccination. There is currently no urgent need here and major disasters elsewhere, so it should take much longer than the end of next year to vaccinate Australia.
But its far more likely the poorer countries that are likely to eventually get hit very hard will come last and Australia will be in the middle. I would be surprised if the production plants in Europe and North America divert supplies from the disaster unfolding around them until they have that under control. So the initial vaccinations here could also be later than March and April.
Anyway there is plenty of time before next March to analyse the recent news re vaccines.
A lot more information will be available in a few weeks so I am not attempting to analyse this further now. The disasters in Europe and North America are still unfolding and far worse is to come in the rest of the world, but it will be a lot easier to analyse in a few weeks than it is right now.
I am just dashing this off quarter baked because I expect to be paying more attention to US politics over the next few weeks.
A few weeks later there is no doubt a lot more information available. But I am still focussed on US politics and have not caught up on covid-19.
We are still in the silly season and a lot of things are up in the air and have not yet landed – both for US politics and covid-19 (of my three main topics last year, only Brexit has “landed”, with the expected whimper not bang).
As far as I am aware covid-19 has developed pretty much as I expected. But the new virus strains could make things considerably worse than I was expecting. Anyway here’s another “quarter baked” update.
The UK hospital system has now been in crisis for several weeks. The explosion in case numbers was inevitable due to catastrophic government failure (worse than in USA) but it has been confirmed that new virus strains are indeed significantly more infectious and are pretty certain to spread worldwide.
That is not an unexpected development. Natural selection favours survival of those viral strains that are more infectious.
Unexpectedly there is now preliminary data from the UK indicating that the strains expected to become dominant worldwide are also more deadly. Natural selection does not usually favour survival of viral strains that kill their hosts more quickly since dead people spread infection less than when alive. It is suggested that the mechanism which makes some new strains more infectious is stronger attachment between the virus spikes and host cells, which results in both a higher viral load that is more infectious and a more intense immune system response that is the main cause of death.
It is tempting to speculate that greater mortality could instead simply be due to collapse of the UK hospital system with government announcements naturally preferring to blame nature. But there is no doubt the preliminary data is based on serious statistical analysis by authoritative sources, not from Public Relations spokespeople.
Here is some commentary from outside experts followed by link to the technical paper that was just released:
I am not competent to evaluate any of this, but it seems likely to be important.
Both the US and UK are engaged in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible as fast as possible to get their hospital systems back under control.
That seems to me an inherently implausible strategy. We know that the new strains still grow exponentially under the levels of lockdown imposed so far. A plausible strategy would move immediately to a severe enough level of lockdown to actually stop transmission despite the greater infectiousness. That would require only really essential workers allowed out of their homes to work on delivering food, electricity and other essential supplies and services direct to households (as in Wuhan).
We also know that the rate of manufacture and delivery of vaccines cannot grow exponentially as vaccinations do not produce more vaccinations in the way that infections produce more infections. Extreme acceleration of vaccination can only be parabolic, like the acceleration due to gravity, not exponential, like a “viral” epidemic or a nuclear “chain reaction”.
Of course it is possible that even a constant linear delivery of vaccinations could reach herd immunity before the virus infects everybody. But it is very much a short term race with unfavourable odds.
The emergency already justified “emergency use” authorizations without the length of studies usually required and accelerated parallel development of manufacturing facilities. There are health as well as financial risks in both. These are now compouded by lengthening the period between initial and follow up doses so as to maximize short term numbers and permitting use of untested combinations of different vaccines for first and second doses when supplies of the vaccines initially available (mRNA) cannot keep up and manufacturing plants for others (eg AstraZenaca) do come on stream.
One risk already visible is that those for whom vaccination is most urgent – frontline health and quarantine workers – are also the most aware of the risks and about a quarter of healthcare workers in the UK are already hesitant about getting vaccinated.
That will presumably be met by media campaigns and lots of reassuring pronouncements by authorities that could induce actual panic given the perceived trustworthiness of authorities and the media.
Another risk strikes me that I have not read any technical papers about. Partially vaccinated people could be an ideal breeding ground for new strains that are harder to get rid of. My understanding is that people given a course of antibiotics are required to complete the full course to avoid the survival of those more resistant bugs that were not completely killed off by the initial dose.
I gather the effects of triggering the immune reaction are sufficiently unpleasant (nausea, fever, headaches etc in a small but not negligible proportion) that the dominant reason for two doses is to reduce that impact. Indeed recent evidence from Norway suggests that enough frail elderly people are getting killed by the effect of the vaccine to make it possible that the more frail residents of aged care facilities are better off just relying on the vaccination of staff, visitors and other residents rather than getting vaccinated themselves.
If the severity of those effects is the main reason for two doses, it seems possible not enough attention would be paid to the danger of breeding new strains by delaying a second dose in an emergency situation where there really is desperation to outrace collapse of the hospital system. I would of course not be capable of becoming competent to make that judgment.
So far the level of blithering incompetence in Australia has been less fatal than elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether Australian governments will act quickly enough to prevent the new strains escaping from quarantine. I have no way to judge whether they will or won’t. So far they have not. But things are already desperate enough elsewhere that it is reasonable to expect that they will.
I am not commenting on the dispute about whether AstraZeneva should be paused in Australia because it is unlikely to deliver herd immunity. As far as I know the simple fact is that mRNA plants in Europe and North America are not going to deliver supplies needed in a race to save their hospital systems to countries that are worse off, let alone countries that are better off, no matter how selfishly the Australian government demands it and how high it bids up the price. My impression is that even Paul Kelly makes more sense than the competent virologists who started and then backed away from that dispute. That unfavourable impression of competent virologists is not an endorsement of Paul Kelly. But it does strengthen my lack of confidence that people who should know what they are talking about actually do.
The media’s campaign to convince Republicans the election was rigged against them has been spectacularly successful.
Overall trust in elections has plummeted among Republicans: Prior to the election, 66 percent of GOP voters said they had at least some trust in the U.S. election system. In the latest poll, that dropped to 33 percent. Democratic trust, meanwhile, jumped from 63 percent to 83 percent.
Simply by asserting that allegaions are “baseless” and “without evidence” in almost every paragraph, the media has been able to halve the number of Republicans who have any trust in the U.S. election system. Increasing the proportion of Democrats who trust it by a third is not much compensation.
Now President elect Joe Biden is joining in the campaign:
Joe Biden : (09:12) Even more stunning, 17 Republican Attorneys General, and 126 Republican members of the Congress, actually, they actually signed onto a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas. That lawsuit asked the United States Supreme Court to reject the certified vote counts in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. This legal maneuver was an effort by elected officials and one group of states to try to get the Supreme Court to wipe out the votes of more than 20 million Americans in other states. And to hand the presidency to a candidate who lost the Electoral College, lost the popular vote, and lost each and every one of the states whose votes they were trying to reverse.
Joe Biden : (10:04) It’s a position so extreme, we’ve never seen it before. And position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law, and refused to honor our Constitution. Thankfully, a unanimous Supreme Court immediately and completely rejected this effort. The Court sent a clear signal to President Trump that they would be no part of an unprecedented assault on our democracy.
That sends exactly the same two clear messages that the media has been repeating:
The USA will now have a government that treats going to its courts to dispute election results as an attack by enemies of the people – exactly like every country that has rigged elections.
Thankfully, the courts can be relied on to defend the government from such outrageous attacks by enemies of the people.
Can Biden succeed in halving again the number of Republicans who still have some trust in US elections so that only 1 in 6 Republicans remain trusting? Will he feel successful if he increases the numbers of Democrats with some trust by another one third?
He can certainly try!
It would be hard for anyone who does not support his government to fail to grasp this clear message that they will have to fight.
What remains to be seen is how many who oppose Trump will join in.
Trump makes it harder for people to oppose this attack on the basic principles of democracy. Biden is doing his very best to make it easier. Anyone who cops this shit from the government will cop anything.
I thought it would be extremely difficult for the Democrats to top the stupidity of having spent years claiming that the President of the USA was a Kremlin stooge.
I was wrong. Its easy and they are likely to become even more unhinged as the inevitable results of their efforts bear fruit.
Presumably they really do believe the conservative majority on SCOTUS is on their side.
So how are they going to cope if that turns out to be wrong? What if the same courts that refused to issue emergency orders without testing the evidence end up holding trials to consider the evidence? Obviously the media will continue to simply denounce that as an “unprecedented assault on our democracy” and insisting there is no evidence. Will repeating that again be helpful?
And what do they expect, and what does SCOTUS expect would happen if courts did simply refuse to consider election disputes as demanded by the President elect.
Are they going to find it easier to govern a country where more than half the voters don’t trust the election results, or the courts?
Not a problem. In the same speech where Biden denounced a majority of Republican voters for their “unprecedented assault on democracy” he also said:
Joe Biden : (12:32) You know, in this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed. We the people voted, faith in our institutions held, the integrity of our elections remains intact. And now it’s time to turn the page as we’ve done throughout our history, to unite, to heal. That soothing message is bound to work out well. Can’t you just feel the uniting, the healing…
Looks like the scenarios I mentioned in Notes 48-50 are becoming more relevant.
As I mentioned in Notes 50 the race tightened in the last week though not enough to be likely to change the expected outcome.
There never was any good reason to expect a big enough landslide for Biden for Trump’s defeat to be obvious on the night.
As expected, Trump has taken the opportunity to declare that he really won, that the election is being “stolen” and can only be saved by the Supreme Court.
But it was rather subdued for a claim of victory and Pence’s follow up was even less triumphalist. At present it does look like Republicans have retained a majority of State delegations in the House of Representatives. So it would still be theoretically possible for Pence and the Supreme Court to invalidate Democrat votes in Pennsylvania and throw the election to the House voting by States:
But that forecast of State delegations is itself uncertain. Final results for President and perhaps for Senate and House are unlikely to be known for at least a few days. Meanwhile Trump can only hope for riots against him to unite his very large minority. His injured rather than triumphalist tone is appropriate for maximizing support.
Trump does not have much hope of remaining President but it looks to me that his original 2016 intention of emerging as the leader of a large far right mainstream party posturing against the US “elite” will be spectacularly successful.
An old comrade and friend recently wrote some of his reflections on his trip to China in 1978. This prompted me to write about my own time there, a month in May 1971. I was one of 19 Australians on a delegation organized by the Australia-China Friendship Society. Our aim was to promote the campaign for the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. Nearly all of us were sympathetic to the Chinese revolution, and a core was Maoists. The tour leader was the communist leader of Melbourne’s wharfies, Ted Bull. He often called in Jim Bacon and I for discussions on the trip, which makes me think we were his ‘deputies’.
My friend’s account of China in 1978, when he went there, makes me realize how quickly things can change. I must say that I disagree with his assessment of Deng Xiaoping as a ‘great man’. I take the opposite view, and shall explain why in relation to the features in China that attracted and inspired me back then, in 1971.
My memories of the 1971 trip remain strong for a number of reasons. Firstly, during the 1970s, I gave talks and showed my slides about the trip on more than a hundred occasions. I only had a cheap ‘plastic’ camera but took 400 photographic slides. Incidentally, I was never stopped from taking photos over there.
In 1971, there was great interest in ‘Red China’ in Australia and it was sensational for any Australian to have ventured beyond ‘the Bamboo Curtain’. I remember a neighbor in my street in Brunswick asking, with great concern, as to whether I was worried that they might not let me out. I explained to the neighbor that China wanted a more open relationship with the world and that it was the Australian government that had placed tight restrictions on ordinary people travelling there.
During the 1980s and 1990s, I continued to show my slides but much less frequently. I last showed them about five years ago when some Chinese friends of a friend were visiting Australia and my friend told me the visitors would love to see slides of their homeland from way back in 1971. Their reactions to my commentary and slides suggested that ‘the past (really) is a foreign country – they do things differently there’. The visitors were very loyal to the current philosophy and policies of the Chinese Communist Party and had a kind of nostalgic attachment to the Mao period.
A few years prior to that I had shown the slides to one of the mums at the local school. My wife had told her that I had been to China and met Zhou Enlai. This young mum, whose parents were Chinese and had lived through the Cultural Revolution, was thrilled to meet me and to see the slides. She was gushing with enthusiasm to meet someone who had actually shaken the hand of the late Premier. Born years after Zhou’s death, she none the less gushed: “We Chinese LOVE Premier Zhou!”
My memories were also kept alive by an oral history project I recorded for the National Library in 2013 in which I interviewed several of those who were on the 1971 trip. Their memories and reflections, from the perspective of ‘now’, were fascinating and revived more of my own recollections. Later, I persuaded the Library to allow me to record the memories of members of the Australian table tennis team – the ‘ping-pong diplomats’ – who we met in Beijing in May 1971. It was another fascinating project. One of the players described to me the difference in the attitude of the everyday people in the eastern bloc, where he had also competed in table tennis, and those in China. The vibe of enthusiasm in China was a marked contrast, he told me, to the drabness and crushing sense of alienation in East Germany and other Soviet bloc countries.
I could relate to what he said because, wherever we went in China, the vibe in the streets was one of friendliness, happiness, engagement and curiosity. Perhaps all this was staged, but there were times when it couldn’t have been – such as when Jim Bacon and I told our guides in Shanghai that we wanted to go shopping and that we were confident we could manage on our own without a guide or interpreter. It is a humorous but insightful anecdote that I always tell with my slide show (but too long and complicated to take up space here). We were more or less mobbed by the locals, many of who sported Mao badges and all of whom seemed very happy people. I can imagine their vibe was not terribly different to that in other revolutionary societies, including the unleashing of enthusiasm during and immediately after the English civil war and the period in America when the British were defeated and Washington elected unanimously by the Congress as the first President.
Anyway all this has kept the memories alive for me.
Like my old friend, I was keen to see socialism in action. I had read a fair bit of theory and there were detailed accounts by westerners like the American communist William Hinton who had spent long periods living there among the peasants and workers, poet Rewi Alley and novelist Han Suyin, and scholarly works by Joan Robinson, professor of economics at Cambridge University. It was Robinson’s book on the cultural revolution, published in 1968, that influenced me in terms of the Maoist view of the relationship between the economic base of a society and its superstructure. The deterministic brand of Marxism that saw the relationship as a one-way street was rejected by Mao and developed into a nuanced understanding that the superstructure, the culture, customs, and habits, can impact on the base of a society with such power as to turn it into its opposite (ie, under socialism, restoring capitalist social relations of production).
The source of the regressive impact was not ‘socialist’ but feudalist. In terms of ‘custom’ etc that reflects and in turn pushes the ongoing development of socialism, we are talking of a lengthy process (which is why Mao spoke of the need for many cultural revolutions). Feudalism was collectivist because there was no other choice: the individual, rights, and expectations being severely constrained. And it was this cultural drag that was able to present aspects of itself as ‘socialist’. The communists were waging a struggle on two fronts – against feudal ideas and practices (the latter of these especially because they can present themselves as ideologically free zones) and the emerging bourgeois ones that were also able to present themselves as revolutionary (and to the degree they were anti-feudal, they were).
Thus, it made sense to wage ‘cultural revolution’ against those in the communist party who sought to perpetuate bourgeois values of selfishness over serving the people, competitiveness over cooperation, and personal acquisition of great wealth, as a virtue. The much-promoted slogan for the socialist ethic at the time was ‘Serve the people’.
I could readily relate to this distinctively Maoist outlook for two main reasons: I was very much the “Arts” type and into subjectivity. I was easily moved by music, film and poetry. I loved expressing myself through writing and art and music. Mao emphasized human agency in the materialist dialectic. Marx had dealt with the power of subjectivity in the interaction between base and superstructure in footnotes – Mao pushed it centre-stage at a time when socialism was being built in China. Secondly, I felt part of a youth rebellion in the late 1960s. It took many forms, from rock music to opposition to censorship and rejection of notions of obedience. I grew my hair long. One day, walking along my street in Brunswick, a bloke in a Holden drove by, slowed down, and yelled out, “Get a haircut, ya poofta!” From that day on, I pledged to myself I’d be a ‘long hair’. (Even now, when Nature has placed a prohibition on me doing so, I at least like to grow a pony-tail). This ‘youth revolt’ was global and, as in China, we were challenging the old assumptions and the old ways. So, I went to China in 1971 very keen to see this playing out.
William Hinton’s book, ‘Fanshen’, based on his life with a commune, was a very detailed description of daily routines under conditions of land redistribution and ‘New Democracy’, with power placed in the hands of the people through revolutionary committees – similar to Russia’s earlier soviets – in which workers and peasants could directly elect their managers and recall them at any time by popular vote. These committees elected representatives to higher bodies and, in turn, they elected representatives still higher up. But the beauty of the revolutionary committee system, to me, was that the workers and peasants had a real say in the economic direction of their local community and the bigger society. It was the exact opposite power structure to that in Australia and other capitalist societies where, at best, you might have a corporation appointing a union boss to a board of management.
So, I was keen to see how these revolutionary committees worked.
I won’t go into detail here – I could write much more about all this – but I’ll list five principal features of China’s revolutionary life that inspired me and that I experienced during May 1971.
The revolutionary committees. We met with cadres from two such committees (from memory) and one that I remember clearly (again, thanks to the slide showings) was based in a rolling stock and locomotive factory. The workers had produced surplus stock and the revolutionary committee convened a mass meeting to decide what the workers wanted to do with the surplus. We were told they decided to donate it to the government of Tanzania, where a railway was being built. The socialist ethic of ‘serving the people’ was not nationalistic but based on international solidarity. I returned to Melbourne and to La Trobe University with an almost evangelical zeal to convey what I knew about the revolutionary committees. One of our student demands was for ‘student power’. We even had to struggle for a student representative on the governing body of the university – indeed, in 1969, I received my first penalty for political protest on the campus when I was ‘severely reprimanded’ for being part of a deputation that ‘invaded’ the Council chambers during a Council meeting to demand student representation. We also wanted students to have the right to observe Council meetings.
Big Character Posters. These were, in a sense, the Internet of the day. While the Cultural Revolution was dying down in 1971, with Mao concerned about the ultra-leftists and violence between the various ‘true Maoist’ factions, the Big Character posters were apparent in schools and streets. These were forms of grass-roots expression, usually expressing local grievances and/or criticizing capitalist-roaders within the communist party. The posters were something that anyone could do – hence my analogy with the Internet.
Who needs a Navy? I’ll never forget meeting with party cadres and discussing the military threats to China from the Soviet social-imperialists (the Ussuri River border being a dangerous hot spot where fighting had broken out in 1969) and from the US imperialists in Indo-China and the Pacific. We were told that China’s military strategy was entirely defensive and based on the Peoples Liberation Army and civil defense. My ears pricked up when mention was made of a coastal naval defense force. I asked, “Why doesn’t China have a conventional Navy – why just a small coastal guard?” The reply, which I’ll never forget, was that “China does not need a Navy because we have no intention of expanding our interests beyond China. We shall never become imperialist! Only imperialists need a large powerful Navy!”
Social ownership of property and poverty/progress. When Marx spoke of ‘private property’ he meant the means of production, not one’s spectacles or shoes. China’s communes were based on collective ownership of land once owned by individuals and formerly run in pursuit of maximizing the profit to the landlords. Socialism is social ownership of means of production. When that is lost, then you no longer have socialism. The grass-roots’ enthusiasm that I saw in China, and that people like William Hinton, Han Suyin and Rewi Alley wrote about based on experience living there, confirmed to me that society does not need greed or the pursuit of individual profit as a motivator for innovation. I saw things that were indicators of progress, especially in housing and, at the same time, I also saw a level of poverty that did not exist anywhere in Australia’s regions and cities. This was not disillusioning, though, because I knew, from works like Edgar Snow’s ‘Red Star over China’, what conditions had been like for the peasants pre-1949, when they had to eat bark off trees or hand over their children to landlords in lieu of rent. We met elderly folk who recalled the bad old days, usually with tears, and who described how their personal lives had changed for the better. Yes, they could have been party stooges, reciting by rote what the party bosses were forcing them to say. If that were the case, then China had some truly magnificent actors, individuals worthy of Academy awards. They seemed very genuine to me.
On the topic of progress, I’ll relate an episode when we visited a waterfront. With the assistance of an interpreter, Ted Bull was invited to speak to the Chinese waterside workers. Ted began by telling them that conditions on the wharves in Melbourne were superior to what he had seen in China. I was rather surprised by his frankness. He explained that this had been achieved by struggle, hard struggle, over many decades. He said that they had to struggle because the waterside workers were more or less ‘owned’ for the period of their labour by the ship owners and other capitalists. He told the Chinese workers that the big difference in China was that they had much greater ‘ownership’ of themselves as a class and could thus progress through struggle of a different kind, such as the struggle to develop better ways of improving safety on the job and better ways of innovating and producing stuff. He hardly needed to point out that socialist China had begun from a far less developed starting-point.
5 Politics in command – It is right to rebel! In 1971, there were still signs of revolutionary enthusiasm such as big character posters and anti-imperialist and anti-racism billboards. Whenever we met with cadres, they were intensely political – politics was in command. The politics was based on dialectical understanding – the cadres often spoke about the on-going struggle between the two lines within the communist party. The notion of rebellion as a positive value struck me – but I may have been projecting my own values onto the situation. One would have to live there for many years to grasp anything like that – as William Hinton did. In 1971 I was living and breathing politics as an activist at La Trobe University, and had been since 1968/69. A highly politicized society strikes me as an engaged one: a participatory democracy. Apathy and cynicism are tantamount to surrender. Our struggles at La Trobe had no room for either.
Those five features, whether accurate or not, and whether a product of idealised rose-coloured glasses or not, struck me as essentials of socialism, of the dictatorship of the proletariat (ie, the replacement of the rule by the 0.1% with the rule of the 99.9%); things that would really take off with even greater success under conditions of advanced industrial capitalism. There was occasionally theoretical discussion in Melbourne about whether it was possible to ‘jump’ mature capitalist development from a semi-feudal society into socialism. At the time, I believed it was possible.
But each of those five features was gradually reversed following the coup – ‘regime change’ – after Mao’s death in 1976. And this leads me to why I have no time at all for Deng Xiaoping, the architect of ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’.
At the time of the coup in China, I merely followed the party line, the CPA(ML) line. I’d been like that for too many years – an obedient follower rather than a critical reflective thinker, researcher and debater. That was the negative of my experience for most of the 1970s. Dogmatism, group think, formula-thinking, failure to investigate and think for myself… and worst of all: obedience. I may have still called myself a ‘Maoist’ but I was far from being one. Of course, to rebel within the CPA(ML) was not easy and had bad personal consequences, especially if you were dependent on a social life based around others who also tended to have become dogmatic and obedient. (I could write a book about this period).
To the extent that I did think about it in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I regarded the rise of Deng as a positive move; something along the lines of Lenin’s New Economic Policy and the beginning of a modernization process (something Mao had wanted and which was clearly needed) rather than a regime change ushering in a completely different path. I would have agreed with the idea that Deng was a ‘great man’. The ‘Gang of Four’, I speculated (in the absence of any investigation or evidence), were ultra-leftists who put sloganeering above economic development. Closer to home, we had the Red Eureka Movement, who supported the Gang of Four – and (nearly) everyone in the party knew they were ‘no good’ and heaven help you if you suggested, even mildly, that they might have had a few good points. And, further, their ‘leader’, Albert Langer, was a CIA agent –a definite fact according to Duncan Clarke and other veterans. Of course, it was nonsense (and I’m ashamed to say I went along with such nonsense, for too long).
My doubts about Deng were slow to develop and I was able to question what had happened more freely after I resigned from the party late in 1980 or early 1981. I opened my mind to different possibilities about him and followed events in China more closely. And listened to the range of opinions and analyses on offer.
Something that struck me as strange was that the western media, almost unanimously, praised Deng and admired him. This usually doesn’t happen to genuine communists while they are alive. They are usually vilified and demonized by the capitalist press. But, no, Deng was almost heroic to some pro-capitalist western outlets: he was ‘opening up’ China’s economy by facilitating a market aspect. Well, I figured, maybe that is needed. Let’s see.
Then, in the early 1980s, I learned that the revolutionary committees had been disbanded in 1978 – not by the workers and peasants but from above. The revolutionary committees had formed the backbone of China’s New Democracy for more than a decade. No wonder the capitalist media was glowing in their admiration for Deng. In 1982, I also read about how the Chinese regime had banned the Big Character posters. This was done as part of the revision of the Constitution no less. Apparently, genuine rebellious types in China were using the posters to challenge the corruption that grew with the new market direction. Defiantly, other rebellious types revived them seven years later and, despite being unlawful, they became ubiquitous during the June Fourth protests in 1989.
It seemed to me that China under Deng’s influence might be going down the capitalist road as had happened in the Soviet Union but it didn’t preoccupy me as an issue. I was now living and studying in Sydney, enjoying life more, and this issue only arose for me through my reading of ‘Vanguard’ and newsletters of the Red Eureka Movement and occasional contact with former and current party members who wanted to talk about it.
I was easily influenced by others during the 1980s but I had at least started thinking again. I suppose ‘confused’ would be the best word to describe myself at that time. I’d read damning stuff about ‘the real Mao’ and been influenced by that, and then a counterpoint would come along and I’d feel okay about him again. The western media rightly portrayed Deng in contradistinction to Mao. They got that right. Either way, I still adhered to the values embodied in those five features of China in 1971 that impressed me so much. I still believed that socialism could work and offered something better, more innovative and productive, less alienating, more democratic and more conducive to the development of the full human being, than capitalism.
Then came another clanger for Deng in my eyes. “To get rich is glorious”. Really? Glorious? What happened to the socialist ethic: Serve the people? In 1986 in a Sixty Minutes interview, Deng did not deny saying that but tried to justify it by claiming he meant “For society to get rich is glorious”. In the context of the widening of the market economy under the reforms he supported, it was entirely plausible that what he meant was individuals getting rich was glorious. This is certainly supported by his other claim: “Let some people get rich first”.
And what was happening to the communist slogan, ‘Keep politics in command’? According to Deng, it was a case of “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice”.
During the 1980s, I had friends who visited China. Gone were the days of the early 1970s when the tourist industry was barely developed over there (which actually meant a greater degree of freedom for tourists, as I found in 1971). In the 1980s, the tourist industry was becoming large and sophisticated, and more controlled. Anecdotal evidence from my friends indicated that there had been a profound cultural change in China, reflecting the development of market capitalism. My friends would complain about how on every street corner in Beijing or Nanjing or wherever, someone was trying to sell you something. Everyone, they said, seemed to be out to make a fast buck. “To get rich is glorious”!
Still, around the mid-1980s, I still wouldn’t have felt confident to argue with anyone about all this. But then, in 1989, something happened to clinch it all: a ghastly massacre of young students and workers who had occupied Tiananmen Square to protest against government corruption. In rolled the tanks. And even the corpses were crushed.
A perennial question for any leftist confronted me: whose side was I on? Against the insistence of a handful of party loyalists (who struck me as increasingly eccentric) that it was all a foreign plot, I sided with the rebels, the protestors, the courageous ones, the ones without the tanks, the ‘long hairs’. And it wasn’t only because some sang ‘The Internationale’. It was because their cause was just, and their suppression despicable and completely unjust. (The Waterdale Road demonstrations from La Trobe University in 1970, which were violently attacked by police who made two arrests at gunpoint, were a pleasant afternoon tea party by comparison).
In my eyes, Deng – who was chairman of the central military commission in 1989 and had argued for swift military intervention – was clearly a social-fascist. Mao would have described him as such.