Fascism and the Left (from Red Eureka Movement, November 1980)

… scratch a “Communist” and one quite often finds a fascist underneath.

(Note: I was personally on the other side, the wrong side, during the conflict described in this article. I opposed the Red Eureka Movement. I now regret not being open-minded and rebellious and instead clinging to the safety of dogma, a close social circle and the Party Line. We all have our dark years, I suppose. The thing is to face them and keep learning…).

* * * *

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.

OTHERS TOO

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.

CHINESE FASCISM

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.

DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM

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.

SOME FACTS

  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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 its 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.

*******

THE WINDS OF CHANGE – CULTURAL REVOLUTION IN EUROPE AND THE INDIVIDUAL

Continuing with Tom’s notes…

Gramsci describes as a cultural revolution the period ushered in by the Renaissance and the Reformation. I’d not previously thought of these events, or movements, as cultural revolutions before, but he was right. They sounded the death knell of medievalism and it is worth remembering that the war was protracted, often bloody and characterised by what we have come to realise as historical transformations with their obligatory twists and turns. (This latter point should serve to reassure.)

It was from this cultural revolution that the modern individual arose.

There was a Cultural Revolution (CR) in Europe and it was accompanied by political struggle, war and revolution. It ushered in the modern era. Because of poor historical and theoretical understandings we are content to think that a CR is something that is launched – as it was by Mao in China. Communists in power will indeed launch GPCRs – its surely part of the job description, part of the deal in waging revolution. It is a conscious attempt to push things forward. Prior to this CRs were not prescribed or consciously directed and were more like a dogs breakfast (could do with a better description). They moved forward in fits and starts, often suffering defeats and being impossible to distinguish from the political and social turmoil that spewed it up. A slow moving but unstoppable tsunami, creeping forward here, being held back there, leaving untouched some remnants and swallowing up others. One way of reading Christopher Hill’s histories is through a cultural lens.

From the times of the English Revolution the big bourgeoisie in Britain only recognised a political personality, an individual, if they had property. This itself was clearly reflected in the franchise which, at the time of the revolution, was given to only about 3% of the population, a situation that changed only very slowly due to a franchise version of ‘bracket creep’ rather than reform. Gramsci makes this point regarding recognition in relation to the Catholic Church (no doubt he was right) but my thinking took me to the English Revolution and the rise of the capitalist class in Europe generally. The point is that a person is not worthy in their own sake, but only insofar as one is accompanied by wealth and the power implicit in wealth. The masses (and many pejorative terms exist to describe them) are the counterpoint to the valued, wealthy man of property and they arouse disdain and a strange mixture of indifference and fear. So long as they have no power and are accepting of this, it is the former; when they cease to accept their proscribed role and seek redress, it is the latter.

The primitivist appeal to the state of nature made during the revolution’s century saw man as a rational but isolated, atomized individual, set free from society. The appeal to the individual conscience, the religion of the heart, was ultimately an appeal to changing social norms. (Hill, Change and Continuity in 17th C England p 116). This too is the appeal of Locke’s tabula rasa.

Reactions to the French Revolution and their implications for individuality.

1. “… Semblance, I assert, must actually not divorce itself from Reality. If semblance do – why then, there must be men found to rebel against Semblance, for it has become a lie.” Carlyle, “The French Revolution.”

Marshall Berman’s page on this raises the matter stated by Marx that the dominant ideas of any epoch are those of the ruling class ->
xxxi Burke saw in 1790, before the revolution’s direction was clear, that the Enlightenment – the multitude of “ sophisters, economists and calculators”, had seized the initiative and “extinguished forever” “the glory of Europe”.

“All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonised the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics all the sentiments that beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by the new conquering empire of light and reason. All decent drapery of life is to be torn off …”

Beautifully written tripe and an admission that the ”whole social system of Europe was essentially a system of lies.” The artifices of ruling class life and the ideological justifications of it were laid bare. Once again the emperor had no clothes – but this time they had been torn off. Semblance had not only become a lie, it had been seen to become so.

This masquerade, as Berman calls it, may well have been subtle for its beneficiaries (here straight jacketing the self expression of those within it) but it was hardly subtle for the peasants or the emerging proletarians. In Britain it was brutal (the Industrial Revolution) although Burke’s prose applies equally to the draperies employed by the capitalist ruling class in Britain as it did for the decadent feudal ones of Europe.

THE EMERGING INDIVIDUAL

a) in England – the role of Puritanism

Hill makes the point that the transition from tribal to village society involved a shift from kinship (blood bond) to neighbourhood – ie, tribalism to feudalism; and that the transition from parish to sect was a shift from local community to voluntary organisation.

Voluntary organisation cannot occur to any significant degree without the existence of self motivated individuals. Today this is everywhere around us. If we exclude work from our reckoning (it is a necessity and as such limits the ground in which voluntary organisation can operate) we see a plethora of activities, clubs, associations and the like which people engage in freely. It covers all classes, ages and tastes and could not occur without freely choosing individuals, all taking responsibility for fulfilling certain of their needs.

The communist movement has struggled with this aspect, that is, the ‘free’ aspect of the individual. A difficulty I see is that the free individual, as he/she emerged from the medieval quagmire, has been associated with the development of capitalism. In other words the free individual has more than likely been one of the ‘industrious sort’ so central and instrumental in the development of capitalism, in England especially (Tawney’s depiction makes this connection a defining characteristic). Bourgeois individualism has ‘form’ and communist movements have rightly identified these social elements (and the economic relations which generate them) as self serving and willing (and needing, more to the point) to exploit others.

This aspect of the individual’s development, while true, is also one sided. And it’s with the other side that we have had trouble understanding, coming to terms with and more importantly, relating to. Berman, in ‘The Politics of Authenticity’ and ‘All That is Solid…’ has, I think, attempted to correct this by focusing on the other side, that which deals with the emergence of the individual due to the development of modernity.
From a different discipline so too has the English Marxist historian Christopher Hill. One of Hill’s great contributions has been his determination to track and expose the development of both sides or aspects of the individual’s development in England from the 16th to the 18th centuries. That is, the individuals connection to bourgeois economic and social development, the aspect that has ‘form’, and the individuals development caused by modernity (although I cannot recall him using that term).

The Levellers wanted to extend voting rights to all adult men with a proprietary stake in the realm. While limited re today’s understanding, this demand was radical and aimed against their class enemy. The bourgeoisie, for its part, successfully sought to deny the common people this right. What is significant about this struggle is that it indicates that two streams of individuality/individualism had emerged – one was that of the bourgeoisie proper and the other that of the common people, the latter being led at this historical stage by the Levellers. (Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ represent the logical development of the Levellers position.) This latter represents the historical tradition that we need to identify with. Its development took, what we could call, petty bourgeois and proletarian directions; Paine on the one side, Marx on the other. Figures like Goethe and Shelley sit somewhere in between, but much closer to Marx, I think.

Capitalism and modernity are not the same. Each has developed together and each has, within itself, contained the possibility of the other. This is best seen and summed up in the “all that is solid melts into air’” aspect, the dynamism, that is common to both.

By the early 19th C it was becoming possible to clearly distinguish between the two and to see that the development of one frustrated, distorted and held up the development of the other. Marx’s writings were very much concerned with this distinction; indeed he and Engels were key figures in making it. In effect they were saying: I like this part, the dynamism, the restlessness, the urge to develop, which in turn enables the individual to develop; but not this part, the tying of labour in perpetuity to market relations and the exploitation and alienation that goes with this. Marx and Engels spent most of their lives demonstrating that capitalist economic and social development will materially create the conditions where it can be superseded. Where, iow, (in other words) modernity can be fully transformed and shed itself of its capitalist aspect.

b) The 18th C Enlightenment

xiv
‘To be authentic, authentically “oneself”, is to see critically through the forces that twist and constrict our being and to strive to overcome them” In this sense we see Burke as not authentic, just true to his class (see comments on Burke’s take on the French Rev).

We are affected ourselves by the twistings and constrictions as we do this. We may move toward authenticity through willingly taking on (or perhaps even maintaining) other twistings as we identify and seek to overcome or overthrow the main source of that which twists and constricts us. (This needs some thinking through).

p41
The notion of virtue draws a sharp line between the self and society: the self is virtuous only when it surrenders its freedom and submits to the laws of the society that imposes them. Yep; and clearly an important reason for women in particular to not be virtuous. When Berman wrote that sentence – the second is mine – he could not have imagined how prescient it would turn out to be for Muslim women in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

p16
In the Persian Letters Montesquieu tries to show that no social system can provide human happiness unless it posits – and its Government guarantees, a basic human right: the right of every person to be oneself.
My Comment:
a) this seems self evident as one needs a ‘self’ to get this.
b) the link between this idea and the American Rev, and its emphasis, well developed by the Revolution and crystal clear by the 19th C, on individualism.
c) The floods of migration from Europe to the Americas and a little later to Australia and other areas of the new world indicate a strong drive for economic betterment for family and for self. This often took the form of a sacrifice for one’s children, for the next generation, and it bore fruit. This drive has been overwhelmingly positive and progressive.
d) The self, oneself, is not a static entity. The self evolves, develops according to the constraints and possibilities of the level of social development in a given society. This applies between social systems and within them. This is especially so with capitalism
e) If communists don’t ‘get’ this, respond to it, work with it (not against it) we will be relegated to the margins of history, a curio blip, like a number of historically redundant beliefs and trends.

p22
“The basic question, now, is how much freedom do the members of any state or society have to be the individuals they are – how far, in other words, is human authenticity allowed to unfold?”
Comment: This is historically and socially mediated, constructed even. As ‘they are’, the degree of unfoldingness, is developmental. This also applies within a historical epoch, to movements.
It applies to us on two levels:
1. The general, the historical.
2. The demands, impacts on oneself of the movement, group, whatever.

p31
A repressive society – and this covers all pre capitalist societies and non democratic capitalist societies – creates a radical gap between people’s social identities (the roles they are forced into) and their real selves/identities. Personal identities must therefore be achieved. People cannot be themselves within the system but must strive to become themselves in spite of the system. This can take private, even mystical forms (see above) where the contradiction is maintained and where, therefore, authenticity cannot be achieved; or against the system. Here people cannot be themselves within the system and strive to become themselves against the system. Thus, Berman argues, revolt is the only mode of authenticity a repressive society allows (a variant of where there is oppression there will be resistance to that oppression, where our true nature is oppressed, revolt is inevitable).

The theory of revolution grows out of, and develops alongside, the idea of authenticity. This is consistent with our revolutionary history going back to the English Revolution. The question is: how well have proletarian parties, especially the successful ones – Bolsheviks, CCP being foremost – fulfilled this – or sought to fulfil – within the boundaries of what was historically and socially achievable? Within the west I think we’ve been mainly bench warmers and not players. Revolutions in the undeveloped economies led by communist parties present a more complex picture. With 80/90% of the population in China, for example, being peasant and where feudal practises, ideas and habits predominated, the communists had to work with the raw materials at hand and an emphasis on a collectivism that downplayed individuality was probably inevitable and necessary. (This did not mean that individuality did not develop – it did, in leaps and bounds – but that this aspect was not overtly promoted.) What I find disappointing is the lack (or maybe it’s an apparent lack?) of theoretical material from either the CCP or the Bolsheviks that laid the realities on the table in such a way that indicated that they knew the growth of the individual was an important goal, and a Marxist one to boot, but that circumstances did not allow them to focus on this. This distinction, the rationale, does not strike me as complex or beyond the ability of most people to ‘get’. That there does not appear to have been much written about this indicates that it was not seen as a problem. This reinforces my hunch that there is a deep ambivalence about the individual/individuality in revolutionary movements generally that has been dealt with through avoidance and a one-sided focus on notions of collectivism.

p36
A comment on the romantic yearnings for an idealised, Arcadian past. What is yearned for is an equality of a simple, static, face to face agrarian economy based on scarcity and frugality.
And this is what makes it a reactionary yearning – it looks to the past, an idealised and non-existent one at that – and posits it as the future. Its most modern form can be seen amongst extremist greens and Islamic fundamentalists like the Taliban. It certainly had a presence in the English Revolution and re-emerged as a current of the Romantic movement which coincided with and responded to the Industrial Revolution.
We, however, envision, as Berman states, equality (and authenticity) within an urban, dynamic economy based on growth and abundance. And Amen to that!

p85
Montaigne: (16th C) Nothing within the range of human experience was alien to him – anticipating Marx in the 19th who was no doubt paying tribute when he said it.

Rousseau’s alienation:
was self alienation. This was new. Rousseau: “they transform themselves into totally different men” (Confessions); in other words, the source of this alienation was men themselves. Philosophers had hitherto enjoined people to “know thyself”. Rousseau deepened this – not just to know, but to be oneself. His Confessions were aimed to bring his authentic self into being. The injunction to know oneself assumes a core self, an inner reality that, while masked, shrouded, hidden beneath layers of socially prescribed falsities (hypocrisies, two facedness) existed and was ready for development. The idea of a true self/false self dualism fits into this. Rousseau’s idea was much more radical. He posited that the inner self itself was a problem – that the self was only potentiality, something yet to be attained.

While stripping away the layers of the false self was a valid ‘work in progress’, the more important task was the actual creation of the self – a ‘work in progress’ from go to woe.

“It is no longer necessary for the self to go back into the past to search for its source. Its source is here and now, in the present moment”. This is a radical idea and one picked up within the psychotherapy field in the last century. Its truth, its value needs to be counter-posed to the observation made by Marx: “we suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development. Alongside modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living but from the dead.” Capital 1 13. Together these views form a dialectical whole.

p88
“…Rousseau showed how all the modes of personal identity – both traditional and modern – were actually modes of depersonalization, stumbling blocks which kept the individual self from coming into its own.” Marx would not have a problem with this.
“Servitude is so unnatural to man” writes Rousseau in Julie, “that it could not exist without some discontent”. He is grappling with a truth (let’s leave aside the unnatural bit as this is both true and untrue) that Mao was able to articulate in full force 200 years later – it is right to rebel against reactionaries.
p102
Rousseau comments on his experience of servitude when, as a young man he was employed by the Countess de Vercellis. “She judged me less by what I was than by what she had made me; and since she saw in me nothing but a lackey, she prevented me appearing to her in any other light.” “But” continues Berman, “he himself had collaborated in the falsification, by acting as if her image were true.”
This objectification, and creation of a demeaned other in the process, continues today in all areas of life. What is different is that the individual has assumed centre stage and demands expression in ways unimaginable 250 years ago. How the individual exists or is portrayed in media etc – their central role in soaps, for example, are indicators of this development. While the ‘making’ aspect still applies it is now done much more consciously (because there is no other solution). This needs more teasing out………
p103
That the Countess could have this effect underscored to Rousseau that he needed recognition – that he could be himself only to the degree that his self identity was confirmed by others. That which they did not recognise he could not assert. To Rousseau this suggested that others could mould people into whatever shape one wanted, and in a traditional hierarchy this power was held by the hereditary ruling classes – those at the bottom were forced to define themselves according to the terms dictated from above.
While this seems obvious, Rousseau’s conclusions came from a very personal experience via an examination of self. His conclusions indicate that he already had a well established self capable of self reflection and autonomous action. His ability to be self analytical and to resist sprang from that well.
It also indicates that resistance to ruling class pressure that distorts identity a la Rousseau’s experience begins in the individual (there must be formed individuals of which modern societies generate by the truck load) and then taken to a mass arena.
Another take on this: OK, so one can be moulded by the ruling class; this is old news. The interesting bit is the resistance. This was based upon the existence of an autonomous self, who drew the lessons and grew in strength. Today we are a much harder bunch to mould. The autonomous individual is churned out by the truck load. But this means that ‘we’ or, rather, ‘they’ will resist being moulded by us too. If we pigeon-hole whole bunches of people along simplistic class lines without recognising and respecting their individuality, we will be making a rod for our own individual and collective back.
Another aspect here springs from our social nature. We define ourselves in relation to the other. Developmentally the self is created through the interplay of the infant/child and external ‘objects’/subjects. Without recognition there is no self and therefore no individual. The question is not whether recognition is needed, but from whom/what and with what aim.
p114
Traditional societies pigeon hole people; their identities are ascribed and fixed within very narrow limits
Modern societies enable identities to be achieved and transcended. Limits, roles are transcended regularly and to such a degree we barely notice. Your average Joe at work transcends himself out of work – is he a junior sports coach, team manager, assistant this or that, the secretary of a club, an amateur whatever, a blogger etc. How about a revolutionary? Now, that’s a novel idea!
Modern society has made it possible for the first time in our history for people to be themselves, to define and create their lives as they see fit, to create lives authentically their own. And modern capitalist society both enables and prevents this.

p129
Cultural authoritarianism of the 18th C – Berman mentions the political Newtonian physics, used to promote ideas of clockwork perfection in science, everything in its place etc and neo-Classicism in the arts – was aimed at accustoming people to submit to fixed, eternal rules, externally imposed, closed to scrutiny… It’s an interesting idea – a defacto, partial, ideological united front between a decaying French feudalism and an ascendant British capitalism. The point of unity was the need for social stability. The British ruling class was largely successful in this quest because they had had a revolution; their French counterparts were not because they hadn’t. It’s also a consequence of the ER being forcibly stopped where it was. As social/economic developments continued to gather pace, the ruling class was attracted to and also had a need, to dust off ideas of stability and of permanently fixed social roles that they had challenged so successfully when the feudalists held sway.
This following quote has relevance for today:
By teaching to order and evaluate their experience according to received conventions, culture was depriving them of their strongest weapon against political oppression and social exploitation: their sense of self.
This was made regarding Rousseau’s evaluation of pre revolutionary France, albeit a Paris in the early throws of modernity. But the comment regarding culture stands alone. Culture that draws its authority from a closed and oppressive past cannot prepare or aid its members to negotiate the permanently turbulent waters that modernity throws up. For such cultures, the future has already happened and all it does is prepare people for another round of the same.

p131
Rousseau saw modernity as possessing a paradoxical character: “as both the nadir of man’s self alienation and, simultaneously, the medium for his full self-liberation.” Yep, got it in one – well, almost. Seeing it as a paradox denies its dialectical nature although it is unfair to be critical of Rousseau here as he precedes Hegel. He deserves our gratitude for seeing both aspects of this ‘paradox’ which, as an 18th C thinker puts him one up on most the left thinkers of the following two, for, with notable exceptions, only one aspect or the other has been focused upon and only very rarely has their dialectical nature been understood. The left has been particularly guilty of this as it is they who have claimed the mantle of Marx’s critique. This includes the revolutionary left as well as the reformist.

pp158-9
Some interesting ideas here:
To overcome self alienation Rousseau understood that this (modern) social system (although I don’t think he understood it as capitalist), in the course of its own development, had created a mode of consciousness that was capable of transcending it. (He gets a cigar for this very profound insight). Re this, Rousseau drew upon his view that modern men inherently strove to transform their thoughts into practise (another cigar) and that, therefore, their alienation could be overcome via their consciousness being transformed into self consciousness (half a cigar because of the link to individuality and autonomy). In this way they may be able to solve their personal and social problems through reforms from within (no cigar). He hoped “to draw from the evil itself the remedy that can cure it.” (A dialectical view, but not a sophisticated one – a few puffs on somebody else’s cigar for this one).
It seems to me that Rousseau is swinging between idealist and materialist frameworks, anticipating, in some ways, Hegel. His dialectical thinking comes close, but there is no cigar because he is unable (by nearly a century) to link his observations and analysis of modernity to the economic relations driving it. Without this the slide into idealist solutions becomes seductive.

(to be continued)…