Uncategorized

10
Aug

Lowwagecapitalism.com

During the Cold War and the struggle that put the USSR and China on one side and imperialism headed by Washington on the other side, revolutionaries used to characterize the conflict as a class war between two irreconcilable social systems.

There was the socialist camp, based upon socialized property, economic planning for human need and the government monopoly of foreign trade on the USSR-China side, and capitalism, a system of production for profit, on the other.

That the two systems were irreconcilable was at the bottom of the conflict dubbed the Cold War. In light of the current sharpening economic, diplomatic, political and military conflict between U.S. imperialism and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it is time to revive the concepts that were applied during the height of the Cold War.

Of course it is necessary to make modifications in these formulations with respect to socialism in China, with its mix of controlled capitalism and guided socialism.

Nevertheless, the conflict between imperialist capitalism, headed by Washington, Wall Street and the Pentagon, and the Chinese socialist economic system, which has state-owned industry at its core and planned economic guidance, is becoming much sharper, and imperialism is growing more openly hostile.

U.S. imperialism’s long-standing effort to overthrow socialism in China, Chinese capitalism notwithstanding, has been concealed beneath sugary bourgeois phrases about so-called “common interests” and “economic collaboration.”  But this kind of talk is coming to an end.

Washington’s first campaign to overthrow China — 1949-1975

This struggle has been ongoing since 1949, when the Chinese Red Army drove U.S. puppet Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist army from the mainland as it retreated to Taiwan under the protection of the Pentagon.

The conflict continued through the Korean War, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. high command drove the U.S. troops to the Chinese border and threatened atomic war. Only the defeat of the U.S. military by the heroic Korean people under the leadership of Kim Il Sung, with the aid of the Chinese Red Army, stopped the U.S. invasion of China.

The struggle further continued with the U.S. war against Vietnam. The war’s strategic goal was to overthrow the socialist government of Vietnam in the north and drive to the border of China to complete the military encirclement of the PRC. Only the world-historic efforts of the Vietnamese people under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh stopped the Pentagon in its tracks.

The Pentagon’s plans for military conquest failed

With the rise of Deng Xiaoping and the opening up of China to foreign investment beginning in December 1978, Wall Street began to reevaluate its strategy. The U.S. ruling class began to take advantage of the opening up of China to foreign investment and the permission for private capitalism to function, which could both enrich U.S. corporations in the massive Chinese market and at the same time penetrate the Chinese economy with a long-range view to overturning socialism.

U.S. multinational corporations set up operations in China, hiring millions of low-wage Chinese workers, who flocked to the coastal cities from the rural areas. These operations were part of a broader effort by the U.S. capitalists to set up low-wage global supply chains that integrated the Chinese economy into the world capitalist market. The U.S.’s recent sharp turn aimed at breaking up this economic integration with the Chinese economy, including the witch hunt against Chinese scientists and the U.S. Navy’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea (called the Eastern Sea by Vietnam), is an admission that the economic phase of the U.S. attempt to bring counterrevolution to China has failed.

China is now a growing counterweight to Washington in international economics, high technology, diplomacy and regional military might in the Pacific, which the Pentagon has always considered to be a “U.S. lake” ruled by the Seventh Fleet.

The attack on Huawei

A dramatic illustration of the developing antagonisms is the way the U.S. had Meng Wanzhou, the deputy chairwoman and chief financial officer of Huawei, arrested in Canada for supposed violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran — an outrageous example of imperialism exercising extraterritoriality. The Trump administration has also leveled sanctions against Huawei electronics, the world’s largest supplier of  high-tech operating systems in the world. Huawei employs 180,000 workers and is the second largest cell phone manufacturer in the world after the south Korean-based Samsung.

The sanctions are part of the U.S. campaign to stifle China’s development of the latest version of data-transmission technology known as Fifth Generation or 5G.

The Trump administration has barred U.S. companies from selling supplies to Huawei, which has been using Google’s Android operating system for its equipment and Microsoft for its laptop products — both U.S.-based companies. Huawei is contesting the U.S. ban in court.

Meanwhile, as a backup plan in case Washington bans all access to Android and Microsoft, Huawei has quietly spent years building up an operating system of its own. Huawei developed its alternative operating system after a 2012 finding by Washington that Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese giant cell phone maker, were in criminal violation of U.S.“national security.” ZTE was forced to shut down for four months. (South China Morning Post, March 24, 2019)

But the conflict is about more than just Huawei and ZTE.

The new ‘red scare’ in Washington

The New York Times of July 20, 2019, carried a front page article entitled, “The New Red Scare in Washington.” A few excerpts give the flavor:

“In a ballroom across from the Capitol building, an unlikely group of military hawks, populist crusaders, Chinese Muslim freedom fighters and followers of the Falun Gong has been meeting to warn anyone who will listen that China poses an existential threat to the United States that will not end until the Communist Party is overthrown.

“If the warnings sound straight out of the Cold War, they are. The Committee on the Present Danger, a long-defunct group that campaigned against the dangers of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, has recently been revived with the help of Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, to warn against the dangers of China.

“Once dismissed as xenophobes and fringe elements, the group’s members are finding their views increasingly embraced in President Trump’s Washington, where skepticism and mistrust of China have taken hold. Fear of China has spread across the government, from the White House to Congress to federal agencies.”

The Trump administration has opened up a tariff war against the PRC, imposing a 25-percent tariff on $250 billion worth of Chinese exports and threatening tariffs on another $300 billion. But there is much more to Washington’s campaign than just tariffs.

The FBI and officials from the NSC (National Security Council) have been conducting a witch hunt, continues the Times article, “particularly at universities and research institutions. Officials from the FBI and the National Security Council have been dispatched to Ivy League universities to warn administrators to be vigilant against Chinese students.”

And according to the Times there are concerns that this witch hunt “is stoking a new red scare, fueling discrimination against students, scientists and companies with ties to China and risking the collapse of a fraught but deeply enmeshed trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies.” (New York Times, July 20, 2019)

FBI criminalizes cancer research

According to a major article in the June 13, 2019, Bloomberg News, “Ways of working that have long been encouraged by the NIH [National Institutes of Health] and many research institutions, particularly MD Anderson [a major cancer treatment center and research institute in Houston], are now quasi-criminalized, with FBI agents reading private emails, stopping Chinese scientists at airports, and visiting people’s homes to ask about their loyalty.

“Xifeng Wu, who has been investigated by the FBI, joined MD Anderson while in graduate school and gained renown for creating several so-called study cohorts with data amassed from hundreds of thousands of patients in Asia and the U.S. The cohorts, which combine patient histories with personal biomarkers such as DNA characteristics and treatment descriptions, outcomes, and even lifestyle habits, are a gold mine for researchers.

“She was branded an oncological double agent.”

The underlying accusation against Chinese scientists in the U.S. is that their research can lead to patentable medicines or cures, which in turn can be sold at enormous profits.

The Bloomberg article continues, “In recent decades, cancer research has become increasingly globalized, with scientists around the world pooling data and ideas to jointly study a disease that kills almost 10 million people a year. International collaborations are an intrinsic part of the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Moonshot program, the government’s $1 billion blitz to double the pace of treatment discoveries by 2022. One of the program’s tag lines is: ‘Cancer knows no borders.’

“Except, it turns out, the borders around China. In January, Wu, an award-winning epidemiologist and naturalized American citizen, quietly stepped down as director of the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center after a three-month investigation into her professional ties in China. Wu’s resignation, and the departures in recent months of three other top Chinese-American scientists from Houston-based MD Anderson, stem from a Trump administration drive to counter Chinese influence at U.S. research institutions. … The collateral effect, however, is to stymie basic science, the foundational research that underlies new medical treatments. Everything is commodified in the economic cold war with China, including the struggle to find a cure for cancer.”

Big surprise. A world famous Chinese epidemiologist, trying to find a cure for cancer, collaborates with scientists in China!

Looking for the ‘reformers’ and the counterrevolution

For decades, the Chinese Communist Party has had changes of leadership every five years. These changes have been stable and managed peacefully. With each changeover, so-called “China experts” in the State Department in Washington think-tanks and U.S. universities have predicted the coming to power of a new “reformist” wing that will deepen capitalist reforms and lay the basis for an eventual full-scale capitalist counterrevolution.

To be sure, there has been a steady erosion of China’s socialist institutions. The “iron rice bowl” which guaranteed a living to Chinese workers has been eliminated in private enterprises. Numerous state factories and enterprises have been sold off to the detriment of the workers, and in the rural areas land was decollectivized.

One of the biggest setbacks for socialism in China and one which truly gladdened the hearts of the prophets of counterrevolution, was the decision by the Jiang Jemin CCP leadership to allow capitalists into the Chinese Communist Party in 2001.

As the New York Times wrote at the time, “This decision raises the possibility of Communists co-opting capitalists — or of capitalists co-opting the party.” (New York Times, Aug. 13, 2001) It was the latter part that the capitalist class has been looking forward to and striving for with fervent anticipation for almost four decades.

But on balance, this capitalist takeover has not materialized. Chinese socialism, despite the capitalist inroads into the economy, has proved far more durable than Washington ever imagined.

And, under the Xi Jinping leadership, the counterrevolution seems to be getting further and further away. It is not that Xi Jinping has become a revolutionary internationalist and a champion of proletarian control. But it has become apparent that China’s status in the world is completely connected to its social and economic planning.

China’s planning and state enterprises overcame 2007-2009 world capitalist crisis

Without state planning in the economy, China might have been dragged down by the 2007-2009 economic crisis. In June 2013, this author wrote an article entitled, “Marxism and the Social Character of China.” Here are some excerpts:

“More than 20 million Chinese workers lost their jobs in a very short time. So what did the Chinese government do?”

The article quoted Nicholas Lardy, a bourgeois China expert from the prestigious Peterson Institute for International Economics and no friend of China. (The full article by Lardy can be found in “Sustaining China’s Economic Growth after the Global Financial Crisis,” Kindle Locations 664-666, Peterson Institute for International Economics.)

Lardy described how “consumption in China actually grew during the crisis of 2008-09, wages went up, and the government created enough jobs to compensate for the layoffs caused by the global crisis,” this author’s emphasis.

Lardy continued: “In a year in which GDP expansion [in China] was the slowest in almost a decade, how could consumption growth in 2009 have been so strong in relative terms? How could this happen at a time when employment in export-oriented industries was collapsing, with a survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture reporting the loss of 20 million jobs in export manufacturing centers along the southeast coast, notably in Guangdong Province? The relatively strong growth of consumption in 2009 is explained by several factors.

“First, the boom in investment, particularly in construction activities, appears to have generated additional employment sufficient to offset a very large portion of the job losses in the export sector. For the year as a whole the Chinese economy created 11.02 million jobs in urban areas, very nearly matching the 11.13 million urban jobs created in 2008.

“Second, while the growth of employment slowed slightly, wages continued to rise. In nominal terms wages in the formal sector rose 12 percent, a few percentage points below the average of the previous five years (National Bureau of Statistics of China 2010f, 131). In real terms the increase was almost 13 percent.

“Third, the government continued its programs of increasing payments to those drawing pensions and raising transfer payments to China’s lowest-income residents. Monthly pension payments for enterprise retirees increased by RMB120, or 10 percent, in January 2009, substantially more than the 5.9 percent increase in consumer prices in 2008. This raised the total payments to retirees by about RMB75 billion. The Ministry of Civil Affairs raised transfer payments to about 70 million of China’s lowest-income citizens by a third, for an increase of RMB20 billion in 2009 (Ministry of Civil Affairs 2010).”

Lardy further explained that the Ministry of Railroads introduced eight specific plans, to be completed in 2020, to be implemented in the crisis.

According to Lardy, the World Bank called it “perhaps the biggest single planned program of passenger rail investment there has ever been in one country.” In addition, ultrahigh-voltage grid projects were undertaken, among other advances.

Socialist structures reversed collapse

So income went up, consumption went up and unemployment was overcome in China — all while the capitalist world was still mired in mass unemployment, austerity, recession, stagnation, slow growth and increasing poverty, and still is to a large extent.

The reversal of the effects of the crisis in China is the direct result of national planning, state-owned enterprises, state-owned banking and the policy decisions of the Chinese Communist Party.

There was a crisis in China, and it was caused by the world capitalist crisis. The question was which principle would prevail in the face of mass unemployment — the rational, humane principle of planning or the ruthless capitalist market. In China, the planning principle, the conscious element, took precedence over the anarchy of production brought about by the laws of the market and the law of labor value in the capitalist countries.

Socialism and China’s standing in the world

China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. According to a United Nations report, China alone is responsible for the global decline in poverty. China’s universities have graduated millions of engineers, scientists, technicians and have allowed millions of peasants to enter the modern world.

Made in China 2025

In 2015, Xi Jingping and the Chinese CP leadership laid out the equivalent of a ten-year plan to take China to a higher level of technology and productivity in the struggle to modernize the country.

Xi announced a long-range industrial policy backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in both state and private investment to revitalize China. It is named “Made in China 2025” or “MIC25.” It is an ambitious project requiring local, regional and national coordination and participation.

The Mercator Institute for Economics (MERICS) is one of the most authoritative German think tanks on China. It wrote a major report on MIC25 on Feb. 7, 2019. According to MERICS, “The MIC25 program is here to stay and, just like the GDP targets of the past, represents the CCP’s official marching orders for an ambitious industrial upgrading. Capitalist economies around the globe will have to face this strategic offensive.

“The tables have already started to turn: Today, China is setting the pace in many emerging technologies — and watches as the world tries to keep pace.”

The MERICS report continues, “China has forged ahead in fields such as next-generation IT (companies like Huawei and ZTE are set to gain global dominance in the rollout of 5G networks), high-speed railways and ultra-high voltage electricity transmissions. More than 530 smart manufacturing industrial parks have popped up in China. Many focus on big data (21 percent), new materials (17 percent) and cloud computing (13 percent). Recently, green manufacturing and the creation of an “Industrial Internet” were given special emphasis in policy documents, underpinning President Xi Jinping’s vision of creating an ‘ecological civilization’ that thrives on sustainable development.

“China has also secured a strong position in areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), new energy and intelligent connected vehicles. …

“Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) continue to play a critical role for the development of strategic industries and high-tech equipment associated with MIC25. In so-called key industries like telecommunications, ship building, aviation and high-speed railways, SOEs still have a revenue share of around 83 percent. In what the Chinese government has identified as pillar industries (for instance electronics, equipment manufacturing, or automotive) it amounts to 45 percent.”

Breakup of U.S.-China relationship inevitable

The tariff war between the U.S. and China has been going back and forth. It may or may not be resolved for now or may end up in a compromise. The Pentagon’s provocations in the South China Sea and the Pacific are unlikely to subside. The witch hunt against Chinese scientists is gaining momentum.

The U.S. has just appropriated $2.2 billion for arms to Taiwan. National Security Adviser and war hawk John Bolton recently made a trip to Taiwan. The president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, made a recent stopover in the U.S. on the way to the Caribbean and is scheduled to make another one on the way back.

All these measures indicate the end of rapprochement between Beijing and Washington. This breakup between the two powers is not just the doing of Donald Trump. It flows from the growing fear of the predominant sections of the U.S. ruling class that the gamble they took in trying to overthrow Chinese socialism from within has failed, just as the previous military aggression from 1949 to 1975 also failed.

High technology is the key to the future

Since as far back as the end of the 18th century, the U.S. capitalist class has always coveted the Chinese market. The giant capitalist monopolies went charging in to get joint agreements, low wages, cheap exports and big superprofits when China “opened up” at the end of the 1970s.

But the stronger the socialist core of the PRC becomes, the more weight it carries in the world and, above all, the stronger China becomes technologically the more Wall Street fears for its economic dominance and the more the Pentagon fears for its military dominance.

The example of the stifling of international collaboration on cancer research is a demonstration of how global cooperation is essential not only to curing disease, but also to the development of society as a whole. International cooperation is needed to reverse the climate disaster wrought by private property — none of this can be carried out within the framework of private property and the profit system. Only the destruction of capitalism can bring about the liberation of humanity.

Marxism asserts that society advances through the development of the productive forces from primary communism, to slavery, feudalism and capitalism. Marx wrote: “The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist.” (“The Poverty of Philosophy,” 1847) And now the revolution in high technology lays the basis for international socialism.

The bourgeoisie knows that the society that can advance technology to the highest degree will be triumphant in shaping the future. This is why imperialism, headed by the U.S., imposed the strictest blockade of the flow of technology to the Soviet Union, as well as the Eastern Bloc and China. This was done by COCOM, an informal organization of all the imperialist countries, which was created in 1949 and headquartered in Paris.

The main targets were the USSR and the more industrialized socialist countries, such as the German Democratic Republic, the Czech Republic, etc. Detailed lists were drawn up of some 1,500 technological items that were forbidden to export to these countries.

Marx explained that developed socialist relations depend upon a high degree of the productivity of labor and the resulting abundance available to the population (“Critique of the Gotha Program,” 1875).

However, as Lenin noted, the chain of imperialism broke at its weakest link in Russia — that is, the revolution was successful in the poorest, most backward capitalist country. The result was that an advanced social system was established on an insufficient material foundation. This gave rise to many, many contradictions. The countries that revolutionaries correctly called socialist, were in fact really aspiring to socialism. Their revolutions laid the foundations for socialism. But imperialist blockade, war and subversion never allowed them to freely develop their social systems.

The great leap forward in technology in China today has the potential of raising the productivity of labor and strengthening the socialist foundations. It is this great leap forward that is fueling the “new cold war” with China and the real threat of hot war.

Category : China | Cold War | Hegemony | Trump | Uncategorized | Blog
18
Mar

Check out operator in a Tesco supermarket. ‘We should break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework.’ Photograph: Robert Convery/Alamy

A movement that started out as a critique of capitalist exploitation ended up contributing key ideas to its latest neoliberal phase

By Nancy Fraser
The Guardian

October, 2013 – As a feminist, I’ve always assumed that by fighting to emancipate women I was building a better world – more egalitarian, just and free. But lately I’ve begun to worry that ideals pioneered by feminists are serving quite different ends. I worry, specifically, that our critique of sexism is now supplying the justification for new forms of inequality and exploitation.

In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women’s liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society. That would explain how it came to pass that feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms. Where feminists once criticised a society that promoted careerism, they now advise women to “lean in”. A movement that once prioritised social solidarity now celebrates female entrepreneurs. A perspective that once valorised “care” and interdependence now encourages individual advancement and meritocracy.

What lies behind this shift is a sea-change in the character of capitalism. The state-managed capitalism of the postwar era has given way to a new form of capitalism – “disorganised”, globalising, neoliberal. Second-wave feminism emerged as a critique of the first but has become the handmaiden of the second.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the movement for women’s liberation pointed simultaneously to two different possible futures. In a first scenario, it prefigured a world in which gender emancipation went hand in hand with participatory democracy and social solidarity; in a second, it promised a new form of liberalism, able to grant women as well as men the goods of individual autonomy, increased choice, and meritocratic advancement. Second-wave feminism was in this sense ambivalent. Compatible with either of two different visions of society, it was susceptible to two different historical elaborations.

As I see it, feminism’s ambivalence has been resolved in recent years in favour of the second, liberal-individualist scenario – but not because we were passive victims of neoliberal seductions. On the contrary, we ourselves contributed three important ideas to this development.

One contribution was our critique of the “family wage”: the ideal of a male breadwinner-female homemaker family that was central to state-organised capitalism. Feminist criticism of that ideal now serves to legitimate “flexible capitalism”. After all, this form of capitalism relies heavily on women’s waged labour, especially low-waged work in service and manufacturing, performed not only by young single women but also by married women and women with children; not by only racialised women, but by women of virtually all nationalities and ethnicities. As women have poured into labour markets around the globe, state-organised capitalism’s ideal of the family wage is being replaced by the newer, more modern norm – apparently sanctioned by feminism – of the two-earner family.

Never mind that the reality that underlies the new ideal is depressed wage levels, decreased job security, declining living standards, a steep rise in the number of hours worked for wages per household, exacerbation of the double shift – now often a triple or quadruple shift – and a rise in poverty, increasingly concentrated in female-headed households. Neoliberalism turns a sow’s ear into a silk purse by elaborating a narrative of female empowerment. Invoking the feminist critique of the family wage to justify exploitation, it harnesses the dream of women’s emancipation to the engine of capital accumulation.

Feminism has also made a second contribution to the neoliberal ethos. In the era of state-organised capitalism, we rightly criticised a constricted political vision that was so intently focused on class inequality that it could not see such “non-economic” injustices as domestic violence, sexual assault and reproductive oppression. Rejecting “economism” and politicising “the personal”, feminists broadened the political agenda to challenge status hierarchies premised on cultural constructions of gender difference. The result should have been to expand the struggle for justice to encompass both culture and economics. But the actual result was a one-sided focus on “gender identity” at the expense of bread and butter issues. Worse still, the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social equality. In effect, we absolutised the critique of cultural sexism at precisely the moment when circumstances required redoubled attention to the critique of political economy.

Finally, feminism contributed a third idea to neoliberalism: the critique of welfare-state paternalism. Undeniably progressive in the era of state-organised capitalism, that critique has since converged with neoliberalism’s war on “the nanny state” and its more recent cynical embrace of NGOs. A telling example is “microcredit”, the programme of small bank loans to poor women in the global south. Cast as an empowering, bottom-up alternative to the top-down, bureaucratic red tape of state projects, microcredit is touted as the feminist antidote for women’s poverty and subjection. What has been missed, however, is a disturbing coincidence: microcredit has burgeoned just as states have abandoned macro-structural efforts to fight poverty, efforts that small-scale lending cannot possibly replace. In this case too, then, a feminist idea has been recuperated by neoliberalism. A perspective aimed originally at democratising state power in order to empower citizens is now used to legitimise marketisation and state retrenchment.

Reconnecting to solidarity

In all these cases, feminism’s ambivalence has been resolved in favour of (neo)liberal individualism. But the other, solidaristic scenario may still be alive. The current crisis affords the chance to pick up its thread once more, reconnecting the dream of women’s liberation with the vision of a solidary society. To that end, feminists need to break off our dangerous liaison with neoliberalism and reclaim our three “contributions” for our own ends.

First, we might break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework. Second, we might disrupt the passage from our critique of economism to identity politics by integrating the struggle to transform a status order premised on masculinist cultural values with the struggle for economic justice. Finally, we might sever the bogus bond between our critique of bureaucracy and free-market fundamentalism by reclaiming the mantle of participatory democracy as a means of strengthening the public powers needed to constrain capital for the sake of justice.

Category : Feminism | Neoliberalism | Uncategorized | Blog
1
Jan

 

The Manifesto

In memory of Joachim Bunge, who first smuggled this text out to me in the 1960s, and of my father, who first gave me the Communist Manifesto, printed by a Croatoserbian partisan brigade, in 1945. 

If we then in a poem now & here consider the nature 
Of people, as the great Lucretius considered the nature of things, 
It’s because we too are only vouchsafed a dim break of day…       
Brecht, On the Poem for Learning

By Bertold Brecht

Wars are destroying the world, & the ruins are visibly haunted
By an enormous spectre, not simply born of war.
In peace it could already be sighted, terror to the rulers
But friend to the children of slums. In scanty kitchens
Often it peeps, horrified, angry, into the half-empty pots.
Often it waits for the exhausted in front of shipyards & mines;
It visits friends in jails, passing without passport.
Even in offices it may be seen & in auditoria
Heard. At times it dons a hat of steel, enters
Huge tanks & flies with deadly bombers. It speaks in many
Tongues, in all of them.  And in many it holds its tongue.
It sits as a guest of honour in hovels, a headache of villas,
It has come to change all things & stay forever, its name is
Communism.

You’ve heard much untruth about it from enemies, from friends
Much untruth also. This is what the classics say:
History books speak of great individuals, how
Their stars wax & wane; how their armies roam;
And further how empires resplend & fall. But the doubting great
Teachers examine the old writings for other lore
& they teach: history is mostly the story of how CLASSES STRUGGLE:
For they see all peoples split into classes struggling among
Themselves. Slaves & plebeians once, patricians & knights;
Artisans, peasants, nobility; burgesses then
& proletarians, processing the enormous economy,

Stand at daggers drawn in enormous contentions of power.
In daring subversion the partisan masters thus added
The story of ruled classes to the story of classes that rule.

Yet the ruling classes behave differently at different times,
Rome’s patricians act other than Spanish grandees,
Burghers of early cities than the later cities’ bourgeois:
Here, a class cleverly uses the hulking despot,
There, the despotic plurality of their own Houses;
One opts rather for bloody wars, another for slyness,
As their specific position allows, but always to strengthen
The rulers’ rule, & always struggling against the ruled.
When peoples leap in slaughter on peoples, behind their battles
Other battles are raging, not so loud, steering the former.
The armies of Rome storm into the far-off icy Pontus
While back at home, in Rome, plebeians & patricians fight.
Germans are warring on Frenchmen, yet German cities, allies to
The Emperor of Germans, also wage war on German lords.
When a truce unites inimical classes to counter the external
Enemy, in true danger or artificial entrapment,
Both win the fight but only one the victory:
That class returns victorious, the other rings the bells,
Cooks the victory banquet & builds the triumphal column.
For deeper & longer lasting than the wars our primers render
Are the wars of classes, open or secret, not for enemy
Cities but for their own, ending only in revolution
Or in a joint downfall of the fighters, rulers & ruled

Thus came about the age, which now is ending, of the bourgeois:
A fleeing serf, he became a burgher of the market town,
Then of the city, & behind its secure walls the guilds
Flourish. Cloth keeps crossing the walls, & commerce awakens
The dreaming country. Seaports build ships that sail to new shores,
Busily round Africa & set courageous sights
On American gold. Opening Chinese & East Indian
Markets, the New World, the accumulation of wares & moneys
Give wings to manufacture, & powerful there appears

From feudal relations a new societal ruler, the burgher.

Industry overtakes crafts. Long will endure the distaff,
But the master crosses the market with less echoing footsteps
And work once divided by guilds is now by the factory owner
Divided within one, bigger workshop. & still the markets
Insatiably grow. Even manufacture can no longer fill
The new demands, & lo! machines & steam overturn
All again, & the manufacturer gives way to the captain
Of industry, commander of workers & financier–
Our bourgeois. The Teachers show us in detail how large
Machine-based industry created a worldwide market
& the market in turn helped to concentrate industry
Till the bourgeoisie had fought its way to eminent rule:
State power attends to the business of the bourgeoisie now
Clothed in pomp & purple raiment, a willing executive board.

And this class has proved a hard & most impatient mistress.
With brazen cheek & iron heel it stamped out the rotten
Patriarchally still idyll, tore up the feudal, old,
Motley ties that bound protector & protégé,
Permitting no nexus but naked self-interest between people,
Payment in cash. The chivalric masters & loyal servants,
Love of native soil, honest craftsmanship, serving
A cause or inner calling, it has drowned in the icy jet
Of calculation, & brutally sold off dignity of persons
As small change. In place of the numberless chartered freedoms
It set up the sole Freedom of Trade. No doubt, this was always
A natural, pious exploitation; now it is naked
& shamelessly wielded.

Physician & priest & judge & poet & researcher, in the past
Still met with pious awe, it hires as workers for wage,
Sends to a doctor the ailing as paying customers, & he sells
His recipe, & the priest sells his consolation.
Justice may now be purchased from the watchman of property, the judge.
Whatever ploughs its inventor imagined, its dealer sells

For swords. Hungrily the artist glorifies, with quick
Nobilitating brush-stroke, the bourgeoisie’s visage,
Versed in the artifice of art he massages for money the lady’s
Languid emotions. Smirking, the bourgeois turns the poets
& thinkers into paid lackeys. The temple of knowledge becomes
A stock-exchange, and even the family’s holy abode
Hustling he stamps with the seal of unholy haggling

Indeed, what are to us the aqueducts of Rome, the pyramids,
What a Crusade, & what even the Great Migration of Peoples,
To us who have seen the titanic buildings & expeditions
Made by this all-upsetting class, that always & wherever
It breathless reaches replaces what it created, living
On upset? Without pausing it alters machines & all products.
Formerly unimagined forces it hauls from air & water,
Creates new materials, never seen on this planet:
Thrice in one generation it changes the cloth of one’s clothes,
The hold of knife & fork frequently alters its feel
In the hand, & the eye is always faced with new formations.
So too are people changed, peasants are into factories
Driven, craftsmen driven in droves to new savage shores.
Villages shoot up & cities where this class digs for ore,
Dead & unpeopled in a flash when it moves away. So quick
A boom was never seen before, nor so quick a bust.

Retaining unaltered the way of production was always the first
Business of the classes that rule–this class is the first that erects
The upset as the sine qua non of society. Building its buildings
On permanently quaking soil, fearing nothing

So badly as rusting & moss, it enforces daily change
On the force of existing relations, all that was stable habit.
The steady & solid is pulled down, the sacred desecrated,
& people stand unsafe, the earth rolling beneath their feet,
Finally forced to examine their living with sober sight.

And all of this happens not in one country or two
For an unquenchable urge to sell off the bulging commodities

Ceaselessly drives the bourgeois class across the whole
Worldwide expanse of the Earth. It must everywhere look around,
Build upon, settle in, everywhere tie the sticky threads.

It makes consumption & production cosmopolitan.
It is at home everywhere & nowhere. It destroys the rich
Crafts & indigenous arts, & fetches its raw materials
From furthest-off places. Its factories service fashions & needs
Brought forth by the most diverse climates. High amid
Clouds the feverish commodities climb up the mountain pass.
They trample on rotting toll-bars that have stood for a thousand years.
Their password is CHEAP! & who are the white-bearded geezers there,
Priests come to curse the blasphemers? Not a chance, they are buyers.
And those walls there, never conquered? –The agents smile
& with bales of lightest calico batter soundlessly down
The Chinese walls. Mountains make way, islands regroup,
Peoples start needing each other. Spiritual wealth too becomes
A commonwealth of spirit. The Roman scholar avidly reads
A formula from Poland, lines penned by an English hand are completed
By a Japanese hand, & together scholars all over the world
Design an image of the world. Literatures of various peoples
Become the world’s literature.

Panting, the coolie hauls from entrails of the foreign vessels

Products never before beheld, & sweating behind them
The great new begetter itself, the machine. Thus the bourgeois
Civilizes barbarians by turning them into further bourgeois.
Like joins to like & produces more likeness, the bourgeoisie
Produces a world after its own image & likeness.

Thus cities lord it over the country, & they grow gigantic
                                               
Constantly tearing people from the doldrums of rural duration.
And as cities over country, so the bourgeois nations lord it over
The peasant henceforth; the civilized rein in barbarians
and semi-barbarians, the East becomes dependent on the West.

Machinery & property & people, up to now scattered about
Coalesce into huge formations. Faster & faster,

Implements pile up in prodigious workshops, masses of people
Agglomerate into abundantly producing centers, & the swelling
Property piles up in the hands of a few proprietors.
New political fields are created: loosely bound regions                                       
Separately ruled, with separate laws & separate tariffs
Are pressed together into one nation, with one single
National interest of the class that rules over all.

Never before did such a creative ecstasy happen
 
As was set ablaze by the bourgeoisie at the time of its triumph.
It created power out of steam & electricity. In few years
It cleared up, as by magic, the wildest continents of the world,
Pumped petrol out of the ground & propelled ships with it & cars,
Extracted coal & amassed it into heaping useful mountains,
Dug up iron untouched by a thousand generations

& forged steel into flexible bridges & heavy turbines
Milking the rivers & lakes to light up villages & towns.
It changed forests into weightless paper. Into distant prairies
The daily paper is flung by trains, good news & bad.
 
In five decades, as if humans wanted simultaneously
To live in all places of the planet, the ether became a carrier
Of messages. & now the first people rise up in steerable aircraft
Above the earth. No dream had ever shown to humanity
That such forces slumbered in its formative womb nor such liberations.

This gigantic creation of goods was confined & fettered
By aristocracy’s mortmain & its State of absolute kings:
Wrathfully the bourgeoisie exploded its fetters.
Like unto hurricanes arise the creative forces & shatter
Ancient power, supposed eternal. Other classes,
 
Yesterday servile, tear up the property deeds, codes
Of law & ledgers of debtors, laughing at senile rights.

Ruling opinions were always the opinions of rulers, they follow
The rulers’ downward path, for the flight of thinking must follow
Such tempests: they force the thoughts of people down to the ground

Or wheel them forcibly round to other flight paths.
Right is no longer right, wisdom not wise, all is other.
The temples had seen & defied a thousand seasons’ change
When they tumbled down into dust, shaken by the victors’ step.
But in those left standing, the gods’ countenance changes:                                                
Lo! the Old Ones wondrously look like the rulers today!
Huge are the changes occasioned by new creative forces.

But liberty equality fraternity, what happened to it?
Freedom for the bourgeois to exploit people, say the classics, equality
Before the law for the rich & poor to buy palaces
                                             
Or to be permitted to sleep under the bridge arches.

Born out of tempests that bore it to power, the bourgeoisie
Beholds the deadly tempests violent gather against it.
For now that this class, with its new property deeds & rights,
Had conjured forth forces never hereto imagined
            
It seemed a conjurer who has lost control of the underground
Forces he has brought up. As rain quickens crops, but unceasing
Completely washes them out, so the rising creative forces
Multiply fortunes & powers of the class that rules, but rising
 
Still further, they endanger that selfsame rule.

From now on the story of commerce & mass production tells
How the forces that create the goods engage in rebellion against                                     
The bourgeois ownership & bourgeois ways to create goods.

Colossal crises, recurring in cycles, similar to huge
& blindly groping hands that grip & throttle commerce,
            
Convulse in speechless rage companies, markets & homes.
Immemorial hunger had plagued the world when granaries emptied:
Now, nobody knows why, we’re hungry when they’re too full.
Mothers find nothing in the bare pantry to fill the small mouths
While sky-high mountains of grain rot behind walls.
& while bales upon bales of cloth are warehoused, the ragged family,
Overnight kicked out of its rented home, wanders freezing
Through emptied city quarters. He who cursed exploiters

Now cannot find exploiters. Ceaseless was his work,
Ceaseless is now his search for work. But the gate is locked.                               

Alas, even hell functions no longer. Where now? The giant
Edifice of civil society, built with so much exertion
By so many sacrificed generations sinks back into barbarism.
Not the TOO LITTLE is threatening, the TOO MUCH makes it totter.
The house does not exist for dwelling, the cloth for dressing
Nor the bread for stilling hunger: they must bring Profit.
If the product however is only used, but not also bought
Since the producer’s pay is too small–were the salary raised
It wouldn’t pay to produce the commodity–why then
Hire the hands? For they must produce at the workbench more
Than a reproduction of worker & family if there’s to be
Profit! Yet what then with the commodities? In good logic therefore:
Woolens & grain, coffee & fruits & fish & pork
All are consumed by fire, to warm the God of Profit!      
Heaps of machines, tools for entire armies of workers,
Blast furnace, shipyard & mine & iron & textile mill
All sacrificed, cut up to appease the God of Profit!

Yet their God of Profit is smitten with blindness. He never sees
The victims. He’s ignorant. While he counsels believers he mumbles
Formulas nobody grasps. The laws of economics
                         
Are revealed as the law of gravity at the time the house collapses
Crashing on our heads. In panic torment the bourgeoisie
Starts cutting to pieces its goods & wildly runs with the remains
Around the globe, searching for newer & larger markets
(The plague-stricken thus flees but only carries the plague
Along & infects the places of shelter!). In new & larger
Crises it wakes up staggered. But upon the impoverished people —
Whose multitudes the bourgeoisie is whirling around
In planless plans, now thrown into saunas now onto icy
Streets again–it dawns that the Springtime of the bourgeois class                                    
Is over: its constricting world can’t grasp the riches created.

Against the bourgeoisie the weapons are raised that once

It death-dealing swung to shatter the feudal world, for it has
In its turn brought forth a class which swings the death-dealing weapons
Against it. Together with it from the very beginnings there grew
In huge masses its inseparable servant, the proletariat,
That only lives by work but only picks up work
If it quick & abundant adds to the bourgeois’s capital.

As the capitalist is selling commodities so the worker
Sells his commodity, labour-power, & is forced to compete
& to share the ups & downs of the capitalists’ market.
Appendage to the machine, he sells his manipulation
& gets his subsistence & what it costs to propagate
& rear his useful kind, for the price of labour-power,  
As of other wares, conforms to the cost of its coming about.
These workers cohabit no more in the patriarchal workshop
Of a master of their craft. Drilled in long columns, foot-soldiers
Of machine trades, they stand in the wide factory halls,
Slaves of the bourgeois class, daily & hourly enslaved.

Work is divided. The workers perform their monotonous part.
 
The hours run on killing the mind & exhausting the muscle.
What the journeyman of the crafts saw, the product of his hands,
They see no more, no shoe or plough which they would have made.
The machine is ingenious, the worker grows dull, for the grips are simple:
But the effort put in is still huge, the wheels revolve quicker.
No doubt, anybody can do it. Sweating women & children
Surround the workbench, gender & age count no longer.
All they are now is mere tools & living levers, producing
Commodities whose end it is to create Profit.

When they’ve given their exploiter more than they cost, when the exhausted slumping
Hands finally clutch the scanty pay envelope,
At factory gates new robber bands await them: landlord,
Usurer, shopkeeper, physician, all stage their raids.

No doubt, soon enough such “middle classes” as traders, peasants,
& craftsmen fall into the proletariat, because the small profit
Is not enough to buy new machines, or because factory
Production devalues their specialized skill–all are kicked out
From shop or workshop or tenant farm to the army of workers.

And the proletariat climbs up step by step in the war
That rages between the owners of hands & the owners of tools,                                      
A war that came to be as soon as these classes came to be.

Single workers to begin with, then workers of a single plant
Fought their bourgeois owner. They began by fighting the ways
& not the whole system of bourgeois production of goods. They trashed
Foreign commodities & machines, & burned factories down
To rid themselves of this new, more profound enslavement, to get
Back to the feudal enslavement, to arrest, despairing & tired,
The iron hand on the world clock, by themselves forged.

Still scattered all over the country, the proletarians remain
Long disunited, divided by deadly competition
            
For work, & the divided workers fight first the enemy of their
Enemy, absolute monarchs & landowners, guildsmen
& clerics; for still the flag of progress flutters over
The bourgeoisie, & it’s able to incorporate all victories.
But any victory strengthens also the class it needed         
For winning. The growing large industries concentrate proletarians
Into ever huger masses. Workers grow alike:
Who may find a wave in the turbulent torrent? Past differences,
Industriousness or skill, are cancelled working the machine.
Wages are equalized too. They fluctuate & sink in crises
Or totally cease whenever no work is to be had. All of this
Torments all at the same time. Coalitions of workers appear
Seeking to protect their wages. Open collisions begin.

Here & there, briefly, workers may win. More often they lose  
The local battle for which they united. But the union stuck
& transcended localities. Trains & then phones connect places.

All over the country scattered skirmishes grow to struggles
Of classes. As a class the workers now fight the political fight.
& the class, oft sundered through competition among its needy members,
Always united anew through new fights fought in common,
Reaches for the letter of bourgeois law & forces the employer
To come a cropper here & there, it manages to pinch
A fleeting little hour or so off the long working day.
But it knows, & when it forgets blows will bring it back:              
It has to seize hold of the law & finally break its letter.

The rising class gains much from the old classes’ dissension
& constant infighting. Still the bourgeoisie has to fight
Aristocrats in army & civil service, then within
Itself as the deadly roller of progress rolls over some of it,
&  above all & always it fights the bourgeoisie of other
 
Countries. All these require fellow-fighters from lower
Strata, so it drags the proletariat to political struggles
As helper, & arms its own enemy in the arena.

The proletariat learned how to learn. Painstakingly
Exploited at workbench, drill & construction crane, it needed
Education & was forced into schools. Meagre the knowledge
It got & mostly falsified, but knowledge still of the power
Of knowledge & awareness about their thirst for their own
knowledge.

Angry abuse would a Haroon al-Rashid hear on the market
Against the bourgeoisie. The failing corner-store keepers,

Owners of petty businesses as well as rentiers & farmers
Fight tooth & nail to keep their minuscule property intact.
The carpenter luridly curses furniture factories, the farmer
Big agribusiness, & all deplore our moral decline.                       
These good people don’t want to subvert the societal structure, its lone
Good side they are attacking & accusing, the great production
Of goods, shaking their shattered fists in vain.

The rotting mob of our cities, formed from putrefaction
Of the old society’s lowest strata, is also oft

Pulled by revolution into proletarian ranks but it is
 
Only a victim, not an enemy of bourgeois rule, & easily bought
As a bestial servant to batter the proletarians down.

The only class finally that may vanquish the bourgeoisie
& shatter its fettering State is the proletariat. It has
The proper stature & position. What ensured life in the old
Society has long since been swept away & wholly destroyed
In the being of the worker. Without property, to wife & child
Neither family head nor bread-winner, discernible
Barely by nation & race, since identical servitude bound
To identical bench & machine endow him with the same
Identity from the Ruhr to Canton, the proletarian
Sees in religion & morals mere fata morganas,
Prejudices to him behind which hides the robbing grab.                                       
Other classes, having come to power, protect what they got
While dictating to everybody else the novel way of getting.
This class conquers the goods-producing works by wholly repealing
The way they are got. This class has nothing to safeguard for itself.
To the contrary, any individual safeguard it has to destroy.

Mountains of machinery behind fences & walls & hidden even better
By laws, & on this side millions upon millions of willing workers
Terribly torn away from the means of working by fences & walls
& the State’s laws, each a singleton that may be hired
By the hour to set in motion the machines, hired like water-power                                  
Or electricity, for the cost of production, but only if that
Blind God of Profit, the crazy one, nods, the gambler.

The rulers’ rule was always founded on the fact that the ruled
Could somehow live from the toil: their exploitation was sure.
But now the bourgeoisie can manage no more to ensure
A servile life to their serfs. Instead of feeding off
Its proletarians, now it must feed them. It needs to employ them
But has no employment for them & yet lets their numbers swell.
And dehumanization wins, marking the victims

& victimizers, chaos results from the bourgeoisie’s                                                         
Plans, the more plans more chaos, & lack is born from production
Wherever it rules, death-dealing to the vast majority.
No longer can society live under its rule. The new class
It raised, the proletariat, will bring it down: it raised
Itself the giant hands that dig its grave.

The vast majority is in this movement, & when it rules
This is no longer ruling but suppression of rule. Only
Oppression shall here be oppressed: the proletarians, lowest
Level of society, must, in order to rise, smash
Into pieces the whole social structure with all its upper levels.                              
The proletariat can only throw off its special class
Servitude by throwing off the servitude of all.

FINIS.

Copyright (C) Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1964
Copyright of English translation (C) Darko R. Suvin 1999, 2001.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog
31
Oct

Review of The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self, by Peter Gabel, Routledge.

By Martha Sonnenberg

Peter Gabel’s new book, The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self, is at once a startlingly new and groundbreaking contribution to critical social theory, and a call to action for all who desire to be a part of transformative movement beyond a current world of alienated fearfulness, oppression, economic and spiritual deprivation, misogyny, racism and xenophobia. His book provides a refreshing perspective, and one necessary, in my opinion, to save a young progressive movement from the one dimensional thought which has characterized both the old and new left, and all revolutionary movements before and after. At a time when thousands of young people are exploring notions of “socialism” (Democratic Socialists of America, DSA, now reports its membership at upwards of 50,000), when the bastions of patriarchy are being rattled by the voices of #MeToo , this book offers an opportunity for these movements to avoid the flaws and failures of previous movements for change.

Gabel’s precursors may be the cultural Marxist critical theorists of the Frankfort School of Social Research in 1920’s Germany, most notably Herbert Marcuse, who became somewhat of a cultural guru for the New Left of the 1960’s, as well as the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, and others (Georg Lukacs, Wilhelm Reich) And while Gabel also draws from Marx and Freud (among others) he pushes beyond the limits of all of them, to show how and why each of us has both a “false self” created by the fear of the humiliation of rejection by others, and an authentic self which yearns for expression and which emerges when we can mutually recognize each other and let ourselves be truly known.

Gabel’s essential thesis is that our basic drive as human beings is our longing for mutual recognition of our authentic selves, and towards a loving connectedness with one another. The fear of the rejection of that longing (fear of “ontologic humiliation”) leads us to the creation of “false selves,” behind which our innermost desires are hidden and suppressed. Gabel’s discussion of the creation and maintenance of the false self is reminiscent of Gramsci’s notion of “cultural hegemony” and can be understood as a deepening exploration of how hegemony functions to maintain dominant authority. But Gramsci understood that people can be capable of creating “counter-hegemony” or a “contradictory consciousness” in a movement for self-transformation. Thus Gabel, like Gramsci, presents us with a profound and contemporary dialectic notion of “being” in that he sees people as agents of their own self-transformation even while inhabiting their false selves. The push toward authenticity, despite the power of the false self and despite fears of rejection, cannot be completely suppressed—it manifests itself, it expresses itself when we feel safe, loved…and when we are in the midst of social movement.

For anyone who has been a part of a social movement, the antiwar movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the movement for LGBTQ liberation—all movements which challenge the apparent hegemonic definition of reality–that feeling of being connected with others, of feeling that one’s being was meaningful and purposeful and appreciated is something that will never be forgotten. Gabel refers to this feeling as “the ricochet of mutual recognition.” He gives the example of Rosa Park’s action and the resulting Montgomery bus boycott— how her action became meaningful because of all the precedent small acts of civil disobedience, the culture and songs of the civil rights movement. Her action “had opened up a new possible space, as yet not fully revealed before Park’s action…the notion that “the colored section” might not be a fact, and by extension, that all such racial segregation might not also be “the way things are.” A new perceptual universe is opened.

Gabel states that his theory calls for a “spiritualized politics”, with an analysis that does not deny the importance of economics, but does not restrict itself to economics. The desire for mutual recognition, for that “vibrant life force that unites us,’ requires that we push beyond the limits of an economic transformation of society to allow a “psychospiritual strategy that elicits from each of us the capacity to sustain mutual recognition.” And this is where Gabel moves beyond Marcuse, Gramsci, and yes, Marx too, in that his critical theory is not for the use of leaders, or a vanguard, to reach and mobilize or educate a mass movement—rather, this critical theory is for the leaders themselves as well as those who make up the rank and file of a movement—it is for all of us to confront our fear-dominated heritage, in order to create what Gabel calls a “spiritually redemptive socialism.” If we do not attend to this psychosocial and spiritual dimension of our existence, if we remain tied only to the material and external aspects of society, we will be unable to sustain the “ricochet of mutual recognition” and our movements will, as they have, succumb to inertia, pessimism, cynicism, and a loss of their redemptive and transformative spirit.

There is ample historical evidence for Gabel’s point. We need only look at the model of the Russian Revolution, from its dynamic and creative beginning, in 1917, with art, poetry, theater, feminism stimulated by revolutionary élan, succumbing to the suffocating stranglehold of Stalinism. The same can be seen in the Chinese revolution, ending with the oppressiveness of the Cultural Revolution. The economic struggle was not enough. As each of these revolutions faced external challenges, the mutuality of presence that had been there in the beginning gave way to the alienated status quo of authoritarian control, with its attendant fear of the other.

We, of the 60’s generation, have witnessed the same process in our own movements as they dissolved, frantically pursuing an external task, becoming more and more dogmatic, relying on leaders who became increasingly autocratic, suppressing dissenters, degenerating into sects, undermining group confidence. The decline of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as described by Mark Rudd, offers a chilling example of what happened: “We de-organized SDS while we claimed we were making it stronger; we isolated ourselves from our friends and allies as we helped split the larger antiwar movement around the issue of violence…Gone permanently was the sense of experimentation and openness of the early SDS.” And later, “If it was going to be a war between Marxist factions, we would not shrink from the battle of correct words and ideas.” (My Life with SDS and the Weather Underground, 2009) As Michael Lerner recalled of those times, “Watching the competing factions tear the organization apart at its June 1969 convention was a heartbreaking experience” Millions of activists, Lerner remembers, lost all confidence and felt “they had accomplished nothing” and that the only “real” struggle would be one modeled after the Soviet seizure of power, or the revolutions led by Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, or Mao Tse Tung.”(“Reflections on NAM”, Works and Days, 2010)

It is distressing that we can already see some of these tendencies emerging in the fledgling movement of today. Michael Hirsch described his perceptions of the 2018 DSA convention in New York, noting that most of what we see in the major positions of DSA , Medicare for All, free education, rent control, while important, do not go beyond a limited economic analysis, offering moderate ethical reforms, at best. And he noted the beginning of in-fighting: “A lot of discussion at the NY DSA convention seemed to be battling shadows. Some chastised others for being insufficiently Marxist…Others treated Marxist categories as so much empty rhetoric that got in the way of real organizing.” (Michael Hirsch, “Connecting Reform and Revolution: Socialists in the Mist”, New Politics, 2018) Further, women are becoming concerned about gendered divisions of labor within DSA chapters, noting that the “inability of men to listen to womens’ feedback…threatens the success of the entire progressive movement.” (“Statement on Women in DSA Leadership”, Rosie Bz and Annie DF, @bread and roses, 2018)

Gabel addresses these issues–why movements lose confidence, why so many of these movements deteriorated into soulless and hierarchical organizations, or worse, into in-fighting and vitriolic dissolution. They succumb to the fear of that which wages war against them. And those forces are real—as we experience daily the assaults of Trumpism on people of color, women, immigrants, gay, lesbian and transgender groups. To avoid these historic pitfalls in face of such assaults, Gabel calls for a spiritualization of political and social activism, in ways that are thought provoking, creative, and above all doable. He writes:

“…if we are to transcend our alienation so as to actually “change society”, we must heal and repair the life-world that we ourselves are living, rather than fix it as if it were something outside of us. This means that social activism must be…a transformation and elevation of social space that brings us into authentic contact with each other, and makes us present to each other while also enabling us to know that this is occurring and gradually become what we are intending.”

To “become what we are intending”–This is a profound declaration, and one that really makes Gabel’s theory revolutionary in ways not anticipated by his precursors. Here, he is closest to the thinking of Grace Boggs’ humanitarian Marxism, when she said, “To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions. They must make a philosophical/spiritual leap and become more “human” human beings. In order to change, transform the world, they must change/transform themselves” (Grace Boggs, Living for Change, University of Minnesota Press, 1998)

Gabel challenges us to transform ourselves. He challenges us to understand our own internal contradictions between desire and fear, to confront our own false selves. He challenges us, even in the degrading midst of a Trumpist world, not to lose confidence in our abilities to create alternative social spaces that negate the apparent reality of “what is.” And finally, he challenges us to evoke and live to the best of our abilities in our vision of the world to which we aspire, to avoid anger filled “us vs. them” discourse and dehumanization of others struggling with us, lest we “flatten out” the world we want to create. How we behave, Gabel says, toward ourselves, toward others in our lives, in our movement, as well as toward those who may oppose us, is as critical, may be more critical, to social transformation as the goal we are trying to achieve. I hope that The Desire for Mutual Recognition, is carried around in the backpacks of DSAers, that it will be promoted, read and discussed by this newer generation of activists, (and by the older generation as well!) , because this book can help activists consciously understand what it means to be a part of a movement. This book can provide insights about the transformative changes they are realizing and experiencing, and hopefully, help them avoid the demoralizing effects the legacy of fear can have in undermining social movements. In these times dominated by small mindedness, fear, racism, chauvinism, injustice and inequality, Peter Gabel’s book provides an inspiring reminder that while the current situation may be real, it is not inevitable, and that social transformation is possible.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog
10
Sep

Higher education has historically been a bulwark against authoritarianism — or its pawn. What’ll it be this time?

By Jason Stanley

The Chronicle Review 

Sept 02, 2018  – In recent years, several countries across the world have been overtaken by a certain kind of far-right nationalism; the list includes Russia, Hungary, Poland, India, Turkey, and the United States. The task of generalizing about such phenomena is always vexing. But such generalization is necessary now, when patterns have emerged that suggest the resurgence of fascist politics globally. Increasingly, attacks on universities and conflicts over their policies are a symptom of this phenomenon.

I use the label "fascism" to describe any ultranationalism — ethnic, religious, or cultural — in which the nation is represented by an authoritarian leader who claims to speak for the people. As Donald J. Trump declared in his Republican National Convention speech in July 2016, "I am your voice." In particular, my interest is in fascist politics as a mechanism to achieve power. Once those who employ such tactics come to power, the regimes they enact are in large part determined by particular historical conditions. What occurred in Germany was different from what occurred in Italy. Fascist politics does not necessarily lead to an explicitly fascist state, but it is dangerous nonetheless.

Honest politics needs intelligent debate. One of the clearest signs of fascist politics, then, is attacks on universities and expertise — the support systems of discussion and the sources of knowledge and facts. Intelligent debate is impossible without access to different perspectives, a respect for expertise when one’s own knowledge gives out, and a rich enough language to precisely describe reality. When education is undermined, only power and tribal identity remain.

This does not mean that there is no role for universities in fascist politics. In fascist ideology, only one viewpoint is legitimate. Colleges are meant to introduce students to the dominant culture and its mythic past. Education therefore either poses a grave threat to fascism or becomes a pillar of support for the mythical nation. It’s no wonder, then, that cultural clashes on campuses represent a true political battleground and receive national attention. The stakes are high.

For at least the past 50 years, universities have been the epicenter of protest against injustice and authoritarian overreach. Consider, for example, their unique role in the antiwar movement of the 1960s. Where speech is a right, propagandists cannot attack dissent head-on; instead they must represent it as something violent and oppressive (a protest therefore becomes a "riot"). In 2015 the Black Lives Matter movement spread to university campuses. Given that Black Lives Matter gained strength after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., it is no surprise that the first campus it touched was the University of Missouri at Columbia. The Missouri student movement was named Concerned Student 1950, after the year in which the University of Missouri was desegregated. Among its aims was to address the incidents of racial abuse faced by black students on a regular basis, as well as to change curricula that represented culture and civilization as the product solely of white men. The media largely ignored those motivations, and, representing protesting black students as an angry mob, used the situation as an opportunity to foment rage against the supposed liberal excesses of the university.

Fascist politics seeks to undermine the credibility of institutions that harbor independent voices of dissent. One typical method is to level accusations of hypocrisy. Right now, a contemporary right-wing campaign is charging universities with hypocrisy on the issue of free speech. Universities, it says, claim to hold free speech in the highest regard but suppress any voices that don’t lean left. Critics of campus social-justice movements have found an effective method of turning themselves into the victims of protest. They contend that protesters mean to deny them their own free speech.

These accusations also extend into the classroom. David Horowitz is a far-right activist who has been targeting universities since the 1980s. In 2006 he published a book, The Professors, naming the "101 most dangerous professors in America," a list of leftist and liberal professors, many of whom were supporters of Palestinian rights. In 2009 he published another book, One Party Classroom, with a list of the "150 most dangerous courses in America."

In fascist politics, universities are debased in public discourse, and academics are undermined as legitimate sources of knowledge and expertise.

Horowitz has started numerous organizations to promote his ideas. In the 1990s, he created the Individual Rights Foundation, which, according to the conservative Young America’s Foundation, "led the battle against speech codes on college campuses." In 1992 he founded the monthly tabloid Heterodoxy, which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "targeted university students whom Horowitz viewed as being indoctrinated by the entrenched Left in American academia." Horowitz is also responsible for Students for Academic Freedom, which was called the Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion in Higher Education when it was introduced in 2003. The goal of Students for Academic Freedom is to promote the hiring of professors with conservative worldviews, an effort marketed as promoting "intellectual diversity and academic freedom at America’s colleges and universities," according to Young America’s Foundation.

Some will argue that a university must have representatives of all positions. Such an argument suggests that being justified in our own positions requires regularly grappling with opposing ones (and that there was no room for those views in the first place). Anyone who has taught philosophy knows that it is often useful to confront cogent defenses of opposing positions, and universities unquestionably benefit from intelligent and sophisticated proponents of positions along the political spectrum. Nevertheless, the general principle, upon reflection, is not particularly plausible.

No one thinks that the demands of free inquiry require adding researchers to university faculties who seek to demonstrate that the earth is flat. Similarly, I can safely and justifiably reject ISIS ideology without having to confront its advocates in the classroom or faculty lounge. I do not need to have a colleague who defends the view that Jewish people are genetically predisposed to greed in order to justifiably reject such anti-Semitic nonsense. Nor is it even remotely plausible that bringing such voices to campus would aid arguments against such toxic ideologies. More likely, it would undermine intelligent debate by leading to breakdowns of communication and shouting matches.

Universities should supply the intellectual tools to allow an understanding of all perspectives. But the best way to achieve that is to hire the most academically qualified professors. No method of adjudicating academic quality will be free from controversy. But trying to evade that difficulty by forcing universities to hire representatives of every ideological position is a particularly implausible fix, one that can perhaps be justified only by a widespread conspiracy theory about academic standards being hijacked by, say, a supposed epidemic of "political correctness."

For decades, Horowitz was a fringe figure. Now his tactics and aims, and even his rhetoric, have moved into the mainstream, where attacks on "political correctness" on campuses have become commonplace. Jesse Panuccio, acting U.S. associate attorney general, began his remarks at Northwestern University in January by declaring campus free speech "a vitally important topic, and, as you are probably aware, one that Attorney General Sessions has made a priority for the Department of Justice. It is a priority because, in our view, many campuses across the country are failing to protect and promote free speech." Since then the Department of Justice has filed suits against universities for their alleged failure to protect the free-speech rights of right-wing speakers. Top officials, including the attorney general and the secretary of education, have appeared as featured speakers at a Turning Point USA conference, an organization that keeps "watch lists" of supposedly dangerous leftist professors, hardly a hallmark of free-speech advocacy.

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25
Jul

By Bill Gallegos

Over the last several weeks, the Trump Administration has ramped up its ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at the forced removal of more than 11 million undocumented workers in the US. While the overwhelming majority of this population is Mexican@, it also includes significant numbers of Centro American@s, Asian, and African peoples. It even includes about 500,000 undocumented European immigrants.

But what especially outraged the souls of most people in the US and the world is the humanitarian crisis caused by the kidnapping and incarceration of 3000 children from Latin@ families seeking refugee asylum, fleeing the danger of criminal violence or domestic violence. Jeff Sessions, the outrageously racist US Attorney General, has instructed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to no longer honor asylum requests based on such violence. With no planning, children ended up in holding centers on the other side of the country sometimes in dog-kennel like facilities, where no one spoke their language (many spoke indigenous languages) or, in the case of babies, they could not talk at all, only cry. There was no plan as to how to re-match these children with parents after the indefinite incarceration period as if that was not important.

After several months of separation, a federal court ordered the Administration to restore the children to their families post haste. But even after the July 10 deadline for children under 5, many are still misplaced, or their parents already deported. Trump’s avowed aim with this cruel policy was to discourage Latin@s from seeking refuge in the US. This is state political terror: threatening to harm a child if the adult does not cooperate. The imprisoned children are held hostage to Trump’s demands for a border wall, greater militarization of the border, and massive reduction of legal immigration. The Party of Christian and “family values,” like the slave owners of the past, do not believe non-white families are fully human.

These horrendous violations of human rights have inspired broad and sustained resistance throughout the US., spearheaded by Chican@-Mexican@s and Latin@s, but including a broad cross-section of the US population, from Black Lives Matter, to elected officials, to media personalities, to labor unions, Indigenous networks, and even the Prime Minister of Canada, who has said that Canada would accept these refugees. Literally, thousands of resistance actions have taken place throughout the US since the kidnapping began.

But while this is just the most egregious of immigration policies, and while xenophobia has found open expression and action in Trump’s administration, the detention and deportation of immigrants, often causing family separation, is not new. The Left must fight for an end not just to the kidnapping of children, but all of the injustices embedded in our immigration and refugee policies. At bottom, it is a fight against hatred, fear, and selfishness. We will win through unity, courage, and acting on our knowledge that an injury to one is an injury to all.

10 Points of Analysis

1. White supremacy is “in,” vociferous, open, encouraged, rewarded. New- Confederate ideology is dominant; that is, a belief that this is a white country, that Black and Brown lives don’t matter, and that everything and anything must be done to keep America white and unequal. This includes repression of citizens of color, making it lengthy, difficult, and expensive for legal immigrants to gain citizenship, tracking and deporting all without papers, using harsh measures such as the snatching of the children to make immigration as terrible as the situations in the home country, and stopping the entry of people seeking asylum due to documentable threats of violence from political or social oppression. continue

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22
Jul

“All revolutions go down in history, yet history does not fill up; the rivers of revolution return to whence they came, only to flow again.” – Guy Debord1

By Paul Saba

July 19th, 2018

Will the ongoing revival of American socialism stimulate interest in one of its lesser known antecedents? Verso Books certainly hopes so. That’s why they’ve reissued Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air, originally published in 2002, now with a new foreword by Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. The book chronicles the history of the US “new communist movement” (NCM) from the late 1960s through the 1980s, when thousands of young activists, radicalized by the Vietnam War, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and liberation movements in communities of color at home and abroad, embraced Marxism-Leninism and committed themselves to changing the world.
When Revolution in the Air was written, George W. Bush was President and 9/11 and the “war on terror” were still in the future. The American left was in disarray and on the defensive. Behind it were a long series of defeats – the neo-liberal transformations inaugurated by Reagan and Thatcher, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allied regimes, China and Vietnam’s increasing adoption of capitalist forms of economic development, the retreat of liberation movements across the Third World.

Nearly two decades later, the international balance of forces still favors the right, but the prospects of the US left appear to have significantly improved. Bernie Sanders’ electoral campaign saw millions of Americans voting for a candidate who openly called himself a socialist. Thousands of young people have swelled the ranks of DSA. Workers are organizing and striking. Class struggle is back on the agenda.

Elbaum wrote Revolution in the Air in 2001 to reclaim the lessons of the new communist movement for contemporary militants who, like their early sixties’ predecessors, became activists when the radical left was fragmented and weak. How relevant is this history and the lessons he draws for us now, in this new period of left upsurge?

I. Revolution in the Air’s Strength: A Clear Chronological Narrative

The greatest strength of Revolution in the Air is its compelling chronological narrative of the origins, rise and proliferation of various NCM groups and their subsequent crises and decline. Elbaum carefully tracks the arc of NCM history from the initial burst of energy that birthed the first organizations, to the stillborn unity initiatives of the early 1970s, to the growing difficulties and splits of the mid- and late-1970s, to the decline/collapse of many groups and the movement as a whole in the 1980s.

Elbaum does a good job of identifying the NCM’s strong points:

The movement’s strengths centered on three crucial issues that – albeit in altered form – remain pivotal to any future attempt at left renewal: commitment to internationalism and anti-imperialism; the centrality of the fight against racism; and the urgency of developing cadre and creating organizations capable of mobilizing working people and the oppressed.2

The NCM combined ‘60s moral fervor with a degree of ‘30s political realism. Its anti-imperialism “led to practical activity that materially and politically aided popular movements in other lands and that benefited oppressed people in the US by weakening the common enemy.” It “put the fight for equality at the center of its politics,” “insisted that challenging the oppression of peoples of color lay at the heart of the revolutionary project,” and “stressed the importance of winning whites to self-conscious opposition to racism.” The NCM demonstrated a dogged commitment to developing cadre and forming disciplined organizations. Emphasis on the vanguard nature of its organizational forms “encouraged activists to think in broad, long-range terms; to ponder all dimensions of the class struggle; to take their work and themselves seriously; to assume a great deal of responsibility and push themselves to their limits.3

These strengths enabled the NCM to both significantly influence the broader left milieu of its time and to “maintain a militant, anti-capitalist current for longer than most other tendencies that came out of the upheavals of the 1960s.”4

But Elbaum is alert to the movement’s weaknesses as well – its ultra-leftism, dogmatism and sectarianism – and its fragility. The NCM was continuously buffeted by centripetal and centrifugal tendencies. Organizations sought to come together in unifying party-building initiatives and were driven apart by numerous political and ideological differences, with many smaller groups resisting the pull of both dynamics. Of necessity in a book of this length, the focus is on the major NCM formations and their initiatives. However, something of the genuine breadth and diversity of the movement as a whole is lost in the absence of more attention to the less well known, out-of-the-way groups.

The NCM preached the importance of building multi-national organizations. Yet for much of its history, groups of white communists and communists of color evolved on separate but parallel tracks – the first primarily emerging out of student, anti-war and anti-draft movements; the second out of liberation movements in the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican and Asian American communities. The very different origins of the movement’s two components had profound repercussions for their long-term prospects.

For all groups, the challenge was to create and maintain stable and growing organizations while implanting themselves in the working class and/or local communities. Often these tasks were summed up in the slogans “unite Marxist-Leninists; win the advanced to communism.” Both tasks proved to be extremely difficult, in no small part due to the ways militants undertook to implement them.

Every serious group, no matter how small, considered itself a new communist party in embryo (or at least a part thereof). Hence the need to formulate positions on all important issues. But the more issues a group had a position on, the more opportunities existed for differences and disagreements to arise over them – internally, in relation to other groups, and in relation to the “advanced” they were trying to recruit. Elbaum puts much of the blame for the resulting disputatiousness on the NCM’s Maoism but this is a problem that has plagued every branch of the communist movement, as anyone familiar with the fissiparous history of Trotskyism can attest.

The early NCM groups strongly identified with the Chinese revolution and the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), just as the first communist parties at the dawn of the twentieth century had strongly identified with the Bolshevik revolution and the new Soviet state – and for the same reasons. The Chinese line seemed to offer the best chance of defeating imperialism and promoting world revolution, and China’s prestige and attractiveness to revolutionaries worldwide was expected to rub off on its American supporters.

Had the NCM seriously studied the lessons of the first communist parties’ unwavering adherence to Soviet policy they might have avoided the pitfalls of this model. In the early 1930s, particularly in the depths of the Great Depression, capitalism seemed to be faltering while the USSR’s economy was taking off. The Soviet example drew many Americans to communism (“I have seen the future and it works” – Lincoln Steffens) and to the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Likewise, the Soviet Union’s militant anti-fascist policies attracted opponents of developments in Italy and Germany who might otherwise have shown little interest in the communist experiment.

But as the 1930s wore on, Soviet prestige began to wane under the impact of internal purges and great power politics. The low point was reached in the 1939 with the Soviet-German non-aggression pact and the concomitant demand that the Communist International abandon its anti-fascist priorities. A close association with the Soviet Union now turned from an asset into a liability. Soviet prestige was briefly restored during the war years, but, with the onset of the Cold War, the CPUSA’s ties to the USSR became an enormous millstone around the Party’s neck, one that almost finished it off when Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech on the Stalin period became public.

A similar process occurred over the life of the NCM. China’s championing of world revolution in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the example of the Red Guards – millions of Chinese young people taking history into their own hands – initially thrilled American leftists, many of whom were being radicalized in the fight against US imperialism in Vietnam. Here, unlike the post-Stalin Soviet Union, was a country ready and willing to confront the “main enemy of the peoples of the world.”

But all too soon, things began to change. In 1974, when China first put forward its “Theory of Three Worlds,” few recognized the implications for Chinese foreign policy or the impact it would have on the NCM. Step one was elevating the USSR to a “social-imperialist superpower” on the same level as US Imperialism. From there it was only another small step to characterizing the USSR as the “more dangerous” of the two superpowers, the one against whom the main fire of revolutionaries had to be concentrated. The consequences of these formulations were profound. China, whose prestige had been tied to its anti-imperialist, revolutionary stance, was now backing reactionary regimes and movements around the world if they took up anti-Soviet positions and moving toward a de facto alliance with the United States.

These policy changes, together with the fall of the “Gang of Four” after Mao’s death and the CPC’s subsequent repudiation of the Cultural Revolution, tarnished China’s revolutionary credentials internationally and sparked an increasingly acrimonious debate, not only within the broader American left milieu, but within the ranks of the NCM itself. At issue was the extent to which the movement could continue to describe itself as Maoist or maintain its allegiance to CPC positions.

What began as debate soon became a crisis, manifesting itself in different ways in different organizations. One of the largest groups – the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) – underwent a debilitating split. Other groups, forsaking the CPC, looked for an alternative leading center for the world communist movement. When China and Albania had a falling out, some found it in Tirana. Still others, identified as “anti-dogmatist/anti-revisionists,” seized on the crisis to challenge the NCM to rethink its basic allegiances and its theoretical foundations. Line of March, Elbaum’s own former group, progressively abandoned its anti-revisionist identity and moved toward openly pro-Soviet positions. Other organizations, like the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (CPML), remained loyal to China and tried to carry on as if no crisis existed.

Had this crisis erupted at a time when NCM groups were otherwise enjoying successes in recruitment and base building its impact might have been less severe. However, in this realm, too, many organizations were beginning to experience a crisis of a different character. This one was generated by the cumulative effects of their own organizational weaknesses and isolation. Disillusionment with a lack of progress was setting in, memberships were falling, and confidence in old certainties was beginning to wane.

These twin crises hit the predominantly white NCM organizations harder than those groups composed primarily of people of color. As noted earlier, white communists in the main came out of the student, anti-war, and anti-draft struggles. These were all conjunctural struggles, born of a particular moment in history and largely disappearing once that moment had passed. By the late 1970s the two main predominantly white groups – the CPML and the RCP – were feeling the combined effects of the melting away of the mass base from which they had emerged and their lack of real successes in building a new one in the working class.

The CPML, which, of all the Maoist groups, had secured the “China franchise” from CPC leaders, was most affected by the crises.5 In 1980 it entered a terminal decline and expired the following year. The RCP, already much weakened as a result of the 1977 split, pinned its hopes on championing Mao’s legacy and defending the Gang of Four against the post-Mao Chinese leadership. But, forsaking the working class for youth and lumpen elements, its practice quickly degenerated into a series of ultra-left campaigns and media-events. Membership declined, and a growing focus on the writings of Chairman Bob Avakian pointed toward the leader-cult groupuscule the RCP would soon become. continue

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16
Jun

The Communist Manifesto foresaw the predatory and polarised global capitalism of the 21st century. But Marx and Engels also showed us that we have the power to create a better world.

By Yanis Varoufakis

The Guardian

April 20, 2018 -For a manifesto to succeed, it must speak to our hearts like a poem while infecting the mind with images and ideas that are dazzlingly new. It needs to open our eyes to the true causes of the bewildering, disturbing, exciting changes occurring around us, exposing the possibilities with which our current reality is pregnant. It should make us feel hopelessly inadequate for not having recognised these truths ourselves, and it must lift the curtain on the unsettling realisation that we have been acting as petty accomplices, reproducing a dead-end past. Lastly, it needs to have the power of a Beethoven symphony, urging us to become agents of a future that ends unnecessary mass suffering and to inspire humanity to realise its potential for authentic freedom.

No manifesto has better succeeded in doing all this than the one published in February 1848 at 46 Liverpool Street, London. Commissioned by English revolutionaries, The Communist Manifesto (or the Manifesto of the Communist Party, as it was first published) was authored by two young Germans – Karl Marx, a 29-year-old philosopher with a taste for epicurean hedonism and Hegelian rationality, and Friedrich Engels, a 28-year-old heir to a Manchester mill.

As a work of political literature, the manifesto remains unsurpassed. Its most infamous lines, including the opening one (“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”), have a Shakespearean quality. Like Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his slain father, the reader is compelled to wonder: “Should I conform to the prevailing order, suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune bestowed upon me by history’s irresistible forces? Or should I join these forces, taking up arms against the status quo and, by opposing it, usher in a brave new world?”

For Marx and Engels’ immediate readership, this was not an academic dilemma, debated in the salons of Europe. Their manifesto was a call to action, and heeding this spectre’s invocation often meant persecution, or, in some cases, lengthy imprisonment. Today, a similar dilemma faces young people: conform to an established order that is crumbling and incapable of reproducing itself, or oppose it, at considerable personal cost, in search of new ways of working, playing and living together? Even though communist parties have disappeared almost entirely from the political scene, the spirit of communism driving the manifesto is proving hard to silence.

To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. But to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century-and-a-half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. And yet Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing-all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.

Of course, the predictive failure of The Communist Manifesto has long been exaggerated. I remember how even leftwing economists in the early 1970s challenged the pivotal manifesto prediction that capital would “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere”. Drawing upon the sad reality of what were then called third world countries, they argued that capital had lost its fizz well before expanding beyond its “metropolis” in Europe, America and Japan. continue

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1
Jul

It’s a standard assumption in the West: As a society progresses, it eventually becomes a capitalist, multi-party democracy. Right? Eric X. Li, a Chinese investor and political scientist, begs to differ. In this provocative, boundary-pushing talk, he asks his audience to consider that there’s more than one way to run a successful modern nation. A rising public intellectual, Eric X Li argues that the universality claim of Western democratic systems is going to be “morally challenged” by China.

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4
May

 

Adorno and Horkheimer wrote this key text during their wartime exile, arriving at a pessimistic view of our place in a false system

Theodor W Adorno and Max Horkheimer

Theodor W Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightment is ‘perhaps the central text of the Frankfurt school’. Photographs: Getty Images

By Peter Thompson

The Guardian, UK

April 8, 2013 – The Frankfurt school came together and developed its theories in a world left shattered by the first world war. The Weimar Republic was essentially a shell-shocked society in which many of the old certainties had been smashed to pieces. Worse than that, nothing had arisen from the ruins to give anyone any hope for the future.

As liberal democracy failed and Weimar spiralled down into Nazism, this school of almost entirely Jewish-Marxist intellectuals were forced to flee a country which had turned against them for reasons of both race and politics. One of their most cherished members, Walter Benjamin, killed himself in 1940 on the French-Spanish border, an act which threw many of the remaining members into even greater depression.

Changing their country more often than they changed their shoes, as Bertolt Brecht put it, they ended up in the US during the Hitler years and although this was a refuge for them, it was not a society they felt had anything to offer humanity. Ernst Bloch described the US as "a cul-de-sac lit by neon lights" – almost a template for a David Lynch film – and they felt that a society obligated to the pursuit of individualised happiness was the epitome of a world of shallow and inauthentic surfaces and insincerity. In one of the most famous aphorisms from Minima Moralia, published in 1951, philosopher Theodor W Adorno says that it is not possible to live a true life in a false system.

Most important in this context, the thinkers of the Frankfurt school did not draw a great distinction between various forms of capitalism, be they consumerist democracies or fascist dictatorships. Although the surface appearance of oppressive mechanisms were obviously different, for them, the underlying rule of capital was the same.

Dialectic of Enlightenment, perhaps the central text of the Frankfurt school, was written by Adorno and Max Horkheimer during these years in exile. It arrives at a pessimistic view of what can be done against a false system which, through the "culture industry", constantly creates a false consciousness about the world around us based on myths and distortions deliberately spread in order to benefit the ruling class.

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