Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro with Marta Harnecker at the award ceremony.
The speech was given by Marta Harnecker on August 15, 2014, accepting the 2013 Liberator’s Prize for Critical Thought, awarded for her book, A World to Build: New Paths towards Twenty-first Century Socialism; translated by Federico Fuentes
By Marta Harnecker
August 24, 2014 – I completed this book one month after the physical disappearance of President Hugo Chávez, without whose intervention in Latin America this book could not have been written. Many of the ideas I raise in it are related in one way or another to the Bolivarian leader, to his ideas and actions, within Venezuela and at the regional and global level. Nobody can deny that there is a huge difference between the Latin America that Chávez inherited and the Latin America he has left for us today.
That is why I dedicated the book to him with the following words:
To Commandante Chavez, whose words, orientations and exemplary dedication to the cause of the poor will serve as a compass for his people and all the people of the world. It will be the best shield to defend ourselves from those that seek to destroy this marvellous work that he began to build.
When Chávez won the 1998 presidential elections, the neoliberal capitalist model was already foundering. The choice then was whether to re-establish this model, undoubtedly with some changes such as greater concern for social issues, but still motivated by the same logic of profit-seeking, or to go ahead and try to build another model. Chávez had the courage to take the second path and decided to call it “socialism”, in spite of its negative connotations. He called it “21st century socialism,” to differentiate it from the Soviet-style socialism that had been implemented in the 20th century. This was not about “falling into the errors of the past”, into the same “Stalinist deviations” which bureaucratised the party and ended up eliminating popular participation.
The need for peoples’ participation was one of his obsessions and was the feature that distinguished his proposals from other socialist projects in which the state resolved all the problems and the people received benefits as if they were gifts.
He was convinced that socialism could not be decreed from above, that it had to be built with the people. And he also understood that protagonistic participation is what allows people to grow and achieve self-confidence, that is, to develop themselves as human beings.
I always remember the first program of “Theoretical Aló Presidente”, which was broadcasted on June 11, 2009, when Chavez quoted at length from a letter that Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, wrote to Lenin on March 4, 1920:
Without the participation of local forces, without an organization from below of the peasants and workers themselves, it is impossible to build a new life.
It seemed that the soviets were going to fulfil precisely this function of creating an organization from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic in name only. The party’s influence over people … has already destroyed the influence and constructive energy of this promising institution – the soviets.
That is why very early on I believed it necessary to distinguish between the socialist project and a model. I understood project to mean the original ideas of Marx and Engels, and model to refer to one form that this project has historically taken. If we analysis Soviet-style socialism, we see that in those countries that implemented this model of socialism, one that Michael Lebowitz has recently called the socialism of conductors and conducted based on a vanguardist mode of production, the people were no longer the protagonist, organs of popular participation were transformed into purely formal entities, and the party was transformed into an absolute authority, the sole depositary of truth that controlled all activities: economic, political, cultural. That is, what should have been a popular democracy was transformed into a dictatorship of the party. This model of socialism, that many have called “real socialism” is a fundamentally statist, centralist, bureaucratic model, where the key missing factor is popular participation.
By John Ross
China.org.cn, August 22, 2014
August 22, 2014 is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping. Numerous achievements would ensure Deng Xiaoping a major position in China’s history – his role in shaping the People’s Republic of China, his steadfastness during persecution in the Cultural Revolution, his extraordinarily balanced attitude even after return to power towards the development and recent history of China, his all-round role after 1978 in leading the country.
But one ensures him a position among a tiny handful of people at the peak not only of Chinese but of world history. This was China’s extraordinary economic achievement after reforms began in 1978, and the decisive role this played not only in the improvement of the living standards of Chinese people but the country’s national rejuvenation. So great was the impact of this that it may objectively be said to have altered the situation not only of China but of the world.
China’s economic performance after the beginning of its 1978 reforms simply exceeded the experience of any other country in human history. To give only a partial list:
• China achieved the most rapid growth in a major economy in world history.
• China experienced the fastest growth of living standards of any major economy.
• China lifted 620 million people out of internationally defined poverty.
• Measured in internationally comparable prices, adjusted for inflation, the greatest increase in economic output in a single year in any country outside China was the U.S. in 1999, when it added US$567 billion, whereas in 2010 China added US$1,126 billion – twice as much.
• During the beginning of China’s rapid growth, 22 percent of the world’s population was within its borders – seven times that of United States at the beginning of its own fast economic development.
Wholly implausibly, it is sometimes argued that this success was merely due to "pragmatism" and achieved without overall economic theories, concepts, or a leadership really understanding the subject (particularly with no knowledge of U.S. academic economics!). If true, then the study of economics should immediately be abandoned – if the greatest economic success in world history can be achieved without any understanding of the subject, then it is evidently of no practical value whatever.
In reality this argument is entirely specious. Deng Xiaoping’s approach to economic policy was certainly highly practical regarding application – the famous "it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white provided it catches mice." But it was extremely theoretical regarding foundations – as shown clearly in such works as In Everything We Do We Must Proceed from the Realities of the Primary Stage of Socialism, We Are Undertaking An Entirely New Endeavour, and Adhere to the Principle to Each According to his Work. Deng Xiaoping’s outstanding practical success was guided by a clearly defined theoretical underpinning, which can be understood particularly clearly in its historical context and in comparison with Western and other economists.
As is generally known, after 1949 the newly created People’s Republic of China constructed an economy, fundamental elements of which were drawn from the Soviet Union. It is important to understand that there was nothing irrational in this – the USSR, up to that time, had the world’s most rapidly growing economy.
Indeed, the immediate post-1929 success of the USSR was of extraordinary dimensions. During 1929-39 the USSR achieved 6 percent annual GDP growth, which until then was by far the fastest ever achieved by a major economy, and almost twice the historical growth rate of the United States. Despite colossal destruction in World War II, by 1949 the USSR had already regained its prewar production level.
The elements which produced such historically unprecedented economic growth were clear. From 1929, Stalin, with the First Five Year Plan, launched the USSR on an economic policy never previously attempted in any country – construction of a national basically self-enclosed administered economy. Resources were not allocated by price but by material quantities – a steel factory did not buy iron ore on the market but had it allocated by administrative decision. Foreign trade was minimized. State ownership was applied even to small scale private enterprises such as restaurants. Farmers’ small holdings were eliminated and agriculture organized into large scale collective farms.
Despite verbal claims that this policy was "Marxist," Stalin’s economic structure was in fact radically at variance with that of Marx himself. To use the Marxist terminology common to both China and the USSR, Soviet economic policy in 1929, in a single step, replaced economic regulation by prices (exchange value) by allocation by material use (use value).
Schafik Handal, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro and Evo Morales, in Havana in 2004
By Roger Burbach
Telesur, July 1, 2014
Something remarkable has taken place in Latin America in the new millennium. For the first time since the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, radical left governments have come to power in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, raising the banner of socialism. The decline of the US empire, the eruption of anti-neoliberal social movements, and the growing integration of the region on its own terms have created a space for the rejuvenation of socialism after the dramatic setbacks of the last century. Cuba is part of this transformative process as its leadership moves to update the country’s economy while the Cuban people experience new freedoms.
In what follows, the theoretical debates and the praxis of socialism in the twenty-first-century socialism will be explored. The intent is not to provide a singular theory of the new socialism, but to put forth some of the interpretations of the contemporary struggles that are taking place in Latin America.
Theories of Twenty-First-Century Socialism
Drawing on the wide-ranging discussions of twenty-first-century socialism taking place in the hemisphere, political theorist Marta Harnecker, who served as an informal adviser to Hugo Chavez, outlines five key components of what constitutes socialism. First, socialism is “the development of human beings,” meaning that “the pursuit of profit” needs to be replaced by “a logic of humanism and solidarity, aimed at satisfying human needs.” Secondly, socialism “respects nature and opposes consumerism – our goal should not be to live ‘better’ but to live ‘well,”’ as the Andean indigenous cultures declare. Thirdly, borrowing from the radical economics professor Michael Lebowitz, Harnecker says, socialism establishes a new “dialectic of production/distribution/consumption, based on: a) social ownership of the means of production, and b) social production organized by the workers in order to c) satisfy communal needs.” Fourthly, “socialism is guided by a new concept of efficiency that both respects nature and seeks human development.” Fifthly, there is a need for the “rational use of the available natural and human resources, thanks to a decentralized participatory planning process” that is the opposite of Soviet hyper-centralized bureaucratic planning.(1)
To construct a socialist utopia along these lines will be a long endeavor, taking decades and generations. Today different explorations, or counter-hegemonic processes, are at work throughout the hemisphere. As Arturo Escobar – a Colombian-American anthropologist known for his contribution to post-development theory– writes in ‘Latin America at a Crossroads’:
“Some argue that these processes might lead to a re-invention of socialism; for others, what is at stake is the dismantling of the neo-liberal policies of the past three decades – the end of the ‘the long neo-liberal night,’ as the period is known in progressive circles in the region – or the formation of a South American (and anti-American) bloc. Others point at the potential for un nuevo comienzo (a new beginning) which might bring about a reinvention of democracy and development or, more radically still, the end of the predominance of liberal society of the past 200 years founded on private property and representative democracy. Socialismo del siglo XXI, pluri-nationality, interculturality, direct and substantive democracy, revolución ciudadana, endogenous development centered on the buen vivir of the people, territorial and cultural autonomy, and decolonial projects towards post-liberal societies are some of the concepts that seek to name the ongoing transformations.” (2)
Orlando Núñez, a leading Marxist theorist from Nicaragua, amplifies our understanding of the long transition to socialism with a more orthodox approach. Rejecting 21st century socialism as a concept to describe what is occurring in Latin America today, he asserts that the region is in a very preliminary phase of “transitioning to socialism in which we should not pretend we are constructing socialism.” Rather we are confronting neoliberalism and each country in Latin America is “facing different conditions.” He adds, “new flags are appearing in the social struggle against the dominant system that cannot be resolved by the logic of capitalism.” It is “a post-neoliberal or post-capitalist struggle” against woman’s inequality and patriarchy, racial and ethnic discrimination, and the degradation of the environment. More fundamentally it is against “savage capitalism,” and “neo-colonialism,” both internally and externally. (3)
The Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader, in The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left, argues that the setback for socialism in the 20th century was so severe that it is still recuperating to this day. Socialism can be part of the agenda, but the priority must be on forming governments and political coalitions to dismantle neoliberalism, even if that means accepting the broader capitalist system for the time being.(4) This in part explains why the construction of socialism in the coming years and decades will be a diverse process – differing widely from country to country. There is no single definition or model–we are indeed witnessing, two, three, many transitions to socialism..
Part 2: Rise of the Social Movements and New Theories of Social Struggle
The origins of twenty-first century socialism are found in the wave of social movements led by peasants and indigenous organizations that swept the rural areas of Latin America as state socialism was collapsing. By the mid-1990s they had assumed the lead in challenging the neoliberal order, particularly in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. These new organizations were generally more democratic and participatory than the class-based organizations that traditional Marxist political parties had set up in rural areas in previous decades. In general, they came to fill the gap left by a working class that was fragmented, disoriented, and dispersed due to the assault of neo-liberalism. With a broad range of interests and demands, including indigenous and environmental rights, these new social movements transcended the modernist meta-narratives of both capitalism and traditional socialism.
Return to the Source, May 20, 2014
Deng Xiaoping: A People’s Hero
After the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the socialist countries tragically fell to the onslaught of Western imperialism. Among the horrific blows dealt to the international communist movement, five socialist states resisted the tide of counterrevolution and, against all odds, maintain actually existing socialism in the 21st century.
Though each face very specific obstacles in building socialism, these five countries–the Republic of Cuba, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the People’s Republic of China–stand as a challenge to the goliath of Western imperialist hegemony. Among them, however, China stands unique as a socialist country whose economic growth continues to supersede even the most powerful imperialist countries.
Though an embarrassing number of Western “left” groups challenge the designation of any of these five countries as socialist, no country raises greater opposition than China. Many Western “left” groups claim that modern China is a full-fledged capitalist country. Owing their ideological heritage to bogus theoreticians like Leon Trotsky, Tony Cliffe, and Hal Draper, some groups argue that China was never a socialist country, claiming instead that the Chinese state is and has been state capitalist.
I counter their outrageous reactionary assertions with six theses:
First, Chinese market socialism is a method of resolving the primary contradiction facing socialist construction in China: backwards productive forces.
Second, market socialism in China is a Marxist-Leninist tool that is important to socialist construction.
Third, the Chinese Communist Party’s continued leadership and control of China’s market economy is central to Chinese socialism.
Fourth, Chinese socialism has catapulted a workers state to previously unknown economic heights.
Fifth, the successful elevation of China as a modern industrial economy has laid the basis for ‘higher’ forms of socialist economic organization.
And sixth, China applies market socialism to its relations with the Third World and plays a major role in the fight against imperialism.
From these six theses, I draw the conclusion that Marxist-Leninists in the 21st century should rigorously study the successes of Chinese socialism. After all, if China is a socialist country, its ascension as the premiere world economic power demands the attention of every serious revolutionary, especially insofar as the daunting task of socialist construction in the Third World is concerned.
Market socialism is a method of resolving the primary contradiction facing socialist construction in China: backwards productive forces.
Comrade Deng Xiaoping
The Chinese revolution in 1949 was a tremendous achievement for the international communist movement. Led by Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) immediately charted a course of socialist reconstruction in an economy ravaged by centuries of dynastic feudalism and imperial subjugation from both Europe and Japan. The CCP launched incredible campaigns designed at engaging the masses in constructing socialism and building an economy that could meet the needs of China’s giant population. One can never overstate the incredible achievements of the Chinese masses during this period, in which the average life expectancy in China rose from 35 years in 1949 to 63 years by Mao’s death in 1976. (1)
Despite the vast social benefits brought about by the revolution, China’s productive forces remained grossly underdeveloped and left the country vulnerable to famines and other natural disasters. Uneven development persisted between the countryside and the cities, and the Sino-Soviet split cut China off from the rest of the socialist bloc. These serious obstacles led the CCP, with Deng Xiaoping at the helm, to identify China’s underdeveloped productive forces as the primary contradiction facing socialist construction. In a March 1979 speech at a CCP forum entitled “Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles,” Deng outlines the two features of this contradiction:
First, we are starting from a weak base. The damage inflicted over a long period by the forces of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism reduced China to a state of poverty and backwardness. (2)
While he grants that “since the founding of the People’s Republic we have achieved signal successes in economic construction, established a fairly comprehensive industrial system,” Deng reiterates that China is nevertheless “one of the world’s poor countries.” (2)
The second feature of this contradiction is that China has “a large population but not enough arable land.” Deng explains the severity of this contradiction:
When production is insufficiently developed, it poses serious problems with regard to food, education and employment. We must greatly increase our efforts in family planning; but even if the population does not grow for a number of years, we will still have a population problem for a certain period. Our vast territory and rich natural resources are big assets. But many of these resources have not yet been surveyed and exploited, so they do not constitute actual means of production. Despite China’s vast territory, the amount of arable land is limited, and neither this fact nor the fact that we have a large, mostly peasant population can be easily changed. (2)
Unlike industrialized Western countries, the primary contradiction facing China was not between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie–the proletariat and its party had already overthrown the bourgeoisie in the 1949 revolution–but rather between China’s enormous population and its underdeveloped productive forces. While well-intended and ambitious, campaigns like the Great Leap Forward would continue to fall short of raising the Chinese masses out of poverty without revolutionizing the country’s productive forces.
From this contradiction, Deng proposed a policy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” or market socialism.
By Harry Targ
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)
For presentation at the upcoming “Moving Beyond Capitalism” Conference, Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico July 29-August 5, 2014
The deepening 21st century crises of capitalism-from growing economic impoverishment to neo-fascism to literal destruction of planet earth-demand movements and visions of change unparalleled in quantities and qualities of response. Anti-capitalist responses to these crises range from helplessness to spontaneous activism. Often political reactions ignore the history and context of the crises and the movements that have come before that have planted the seeds of fundamental social change. This paper will survey movements of social change in the era of neoliberal globalization suggesting both the breadth of such movements and the historical context from which they came. The tasks for today still require an analysis of the nature of existing systems and responses, visions of desirable alternatives, and contextualized discussions of moving from here to there. “Moving Beyond Capitalism” requires such a grounding of the future in the past and the present.
21st Century Imperialism: Post-Cold War Perspectives on Global Political Economy
The collapse of the Soviet Union transformed world affairs, scholarly analyses of international relations, punditry, and rationales for imperial foreign policies. A new buzzword became part of political discourse to describe the international system: “globalization.” Almost immediately a large literature was generated suggesting that the world had changed. Globalization was replacing the system of often hostile nation-states that had characterized the world since the sixteenth century.
While interpretations of globalization varied, the common conception of the term suggested that a process of relations was occurring in which interactions between nations, business and financial organizations, groups, and peoples had become so frequent and intense that they were creating one global society. Major globalizing institutions included multinational corporations, especially the 200 largest global corporations with production, distribution, and decision-making facilities in many countries, and international financial institutions engaged in speculative activities all across the globe. At the cultural level a handful of media conglomerates produced a large percentage of the cultural products, images, artistic endeavors, and print and electronic information that the world consumed. Finally, international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the newly created World Trade Organization brought international influence to bear on states that resisted the globalization process.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari
June 24, 2014 – TEHRAN (FNA)- Prominent American sociologist Prof. William I. Robinson believes that the United States government is the biggest perpetrator of terror in the world and its military adventures across the globe have claimed the lives of millions of innocent citizens.
According to Prof. William I. Robinson, “if we define terrorism as the use of violence against civilians for political objectives, then the US state is the world’s leading terrorist.”
“US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire – claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries,” said Prof. Robinson in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.
Prof. Robinson also went on to say that capitalism, which is the predominant economic and political worldview of the United States and other imperial powers is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, even worse than the crisis in the 1930s, “because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states.”
William I. Robinson is a professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book entitled “Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity” was just published in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked as a journalist in the war-torn Nicaragua. From 1984 to 1990 he was a member of the Union of Nicaraguan Journalists. His articles and writings have appeared on such news websites as Al-Jazeera, Huffington Post and Truth Out.
Prof. Robinson took part in an exclusive, comprehensive interview with FNA and responded to our questions about the demise of capitalism, the future of globalization, the setbacks and failures of the US foreign policy and the human consequences of Washington’s military adventures. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the consequences of the US military expeditions across the world, including the devastation of the natural resources of the countries that are attacked, the killing of the unarmed civilians, the forced migration and displacement of the war-hit population, the pollution of the air, the infliction of irretrievable damages on the environment and the erosion of democratic institutions in these countries? Who is going to compensate for these losses?
A: The US state is acting as the gendarme for global capitalism at a time when global capitalism is in deep crisis. It is the core institution in what I have referred to as the transnational state, and in my view it represents at this time the interests of transnational capital, of a transnational capitalist class.
The United States has committed successive war crimes and crimes against humanity in recent years. However, let us recall that this is the continuation of a long historical pattern, what we used to call imperialism, and some still do refer to as imperialism. The United States as a country was born on the basis of the slavery of Africans and other peoples and genocide against the native populations of North America.
Expansion from the original East Coast colonies began from the very inception of the Republic. Texas was annexed from Mexico in 1836 by white Southern slavers who were seeking to expand cotton plantation based on the slavery of Africans. This expansion continued in 1848 as the United States annexed one half of Mexican territory in a war of aggression justified by “Manifest Destiny”. US rulers then launched extra-territorial expansion, starting with the invasion, occupation, and colonization of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba in 1898, and followed by literally hundreds – perhaps thousands – of interventions in the 20th century, including convert operation, the orchestration of coup d’etats, counter-insurgencies, military invasions, occupations, and so forth – throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but also in Southern and Eastern Europe. US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire – claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries – yet US rulers had the arrogance and cynicism to claim that its aggression against the world’s people was in the name of freedom and democracy.
Of course the United States does not hold a monopoly on such expansionism and interventionism in the modern era of capitalism. Over the past two centuries, and even earlier, England, France, Spain and other European powers were carving out their own colonial empires, unleashing unfathomable brutality and suffering. The culprit here, beyond a particular nation-state, is an outwardly expanding capitalism involving imperialism and colonialism. The United States stands out because it became the dominant world power in the wake of World War II and set about to construct a truly global empire, the likes of which the world had not previously seen.
However, and this is the key point I wish to highlight here, US intervention around the world clearly entered a qualitatively new period after September 11, 2001. This new period should be seen in the context of emergent 21st century global capitalism. Global capitalism is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, and in many ways the current crisis is much worse than that of the 1930s because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states. On the other hand, global inequalities have never been as acute and grotesque as they are today. So, in simplified terms, we need to see the escalation of US interventionism and the untold suffering it brings about, including what you mention – the killing of unarmed civilians, the destruction of the environment, forced migration and displacement, undermining democracy – as a response by the US-led transnational state and the transnational capitalist class to contain the explosive contradictions of a global capitalist system that is out of control and in deep crisis.
You ask me who is going to compensate for these losses. That will depend on how the world’s people respond. There is currently a global revolt from below underway, but it is spread unevenly across countries and has not taken any clear form or direction. Can the popular majority of humanity force the transnational capitalist class and the US/transnational state to be accountable for its crimes? Mao Zedong once said that “power flows through the barrel of a gun.” What he meant by this, in a more abstract than literal way, I believe, is that in the end it is the correlation of real forces that will determine outcomes. Because the United States has overwhelming and “full spectrum” military dominance, it can capture, execute, or bring to trial people anywhere around the world… it has “free license”, so to speak, to act as an international outlaw. We don’t even have to take the more recent examples. In December 1989 the United States undertook an illegal and criminal invasion of Panama, kidnapped Manuel Noriega – whether or not he was a dictator is not the point, as the United States puts in power and defends dictators that defend US and transnational elite interests, and brought him back to US territory for trial. What country in the world now has the naked power “flowing through the barrel of a gun” to invade the United States, capture George Bush, Dick Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other war criminals, and bring them somewhere to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity?
Q: In your writings, you’ve warned against the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the slant accumulation of the global wealth in the hands of an affluent few and the impoverishment of the suppressed majority. What do you think are the reasons for this stark inequality and the disturbing dispossession of millions of people in the capitalist societies? You wrote that the participants of the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos were worried that the current situation raises the specter of worldwide instability and civil wars. Is it really so?
A: We have never in the history of humanity seen such a sharp social polarization between the haves and the have-nots, such grotesque levels of inequality, within and among countries. There have been countless studies in recent years documenting the escalation of inequalities, among them, the current bestseller by Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” The pattern we see is that the notorious “1 percent” monopolizes a huge portion of the wealth that humanity produces and transnational corporations and banks are registering record profits, but as well that some 20 percent of the population in each countries has integrated into the global economy as middle class and affluent consumers while the remaining 80 percent has experienced rising levels of insecurity, impoverishment, and precariousness, increasingly inhabiting what some have called a “planet of slums.”
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By Kyle Chayka
Pacific Standard, May 28, 2014
“To the disappointment of my friends … I seem to have become a Marxist public intellectual,” begins the introduction of the novelist (and erstwhile Marxist public intellectual) Benjamin Kunkel’s new book, Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis. The short collection of essays introduces readers to a clutch of writers, economists, and philosophers who are pioneering what Kunkel sees as the next generation of Marxism, a rejuvenated wave of political thought focused on providing an alternative to the ideology of neoliberalism and the “going capitalist crisis,” which, to Kunkel’s eyes as well as those of a number of other observers, is a visible failure that will only fail harder in the future.
“Most of my youth went by during the end of history,” Kunkel continues, referencing Francis Fukuyama’s 1990s formulation that Western liberal democracy constituted a final step toward a peaceful, level world without conflict (spoiler: It didn’t). That end of history, Kunkel writes, “has itself now come to an end.” He structures his depiction of this post-non-apocalyptic purgatory around two decisive events: 9/11 and the financial crisis. The former knocked Western hegemony off the seemingly inexorable victory that Fukuyama prophesied while the latter underlined the global economy’s ballooning inequality, prompting new social movements like Occupy and disenfranchising the young generation, of which Kunkel is both a leader and a chronicler (see his gently mocking portrayal in New York magazine for a depiction of that role). “It will probably be decisive that capitalism has forfeited the allegiance of many people who are today under thirty,” he writes.
While unemployment remains in the double digits, corporations sit on trillions of dollars in cash, Kunkel explains. This run-up in both capital and labor is the “present crisis” of the book’s title—the problem is that while capitalism creates an ongoing expansion of the two, the world is increasingly unable to turn the capital factors and labor into profit at the same rate that it used to, like a factory with a broken-down assembly line. Income from capital is reproducing faster than income from profit, breeding inequality. So what should be done to solve this problem?
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Karl Marx: The Revolutionary as Educator
Springer, New York, 2013. 85pp., £44.99
Reviewed by Patrick Ainley
This book meets a need illustrated by a recent poster advertising a meeting for students at the London University Institute of Education that asked ‘Who was Karl Marx?’
Such is the repetitive diet of Foucauldianism, augmented by the latest academic fashion for Deleuze and Guattari, that even postgraduate students of education are unaware that Marx was, as this book begins by asserting, ‘an important educational thinker’.
Although Marx wrote before the modern state school system was established, Small states ‘He is the greatest theorist of the society that gave rise to schools as we know them – and this is the society we still live in’ (1). As he adds, Marx wrote for people who needed to find out what was wrong with the society they lived in, and how to change it for the better, and so he was also an educator. More importantly, ‘Marx is an educator for us. He challenges us to develop our capacity to think critically about our own society’ (2). This is the seminal Marx presented in this book.
Robin Small, a philosopher of education at Auckland University who has previously written Marx and Education (Ashgate, 2005), is well qualified to introduce new readers to Marx’s revolutionary education in the concise form intended by Springer’s series on ‘Key Thinkers in Education’, edited by Paul Gibbs, in which each chapter is separately downloadable, although the overall price – in virtual form or hard covers – is exorbitant. Hopefully, however, the book will make its way into libraries, because it is an introduction to Marx’s life as well as to his thought. So Small begins with Marx’s own education at the Trier Gymnasium, quoting Marx’s prize-winning essay `Thoughts of a Youth on Choosing a Vocation’, which insists ‘worth can be assured only by a profession in which we are not servile tools, but in which we act independently in our own sphere’ (5). Then, in Bonn and Berlin Universities, Small introduces the ideas of Bauer, Feuerbach and Stirner, which influenced Dr Marx before ‘the theoretical mind, once liberated in itself, turns into practical energy’ (quoted 9) in the form of ‘Marx as Journalist’.
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April 9th, 2014
Family of African American slaves on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O’Sullivan | learnnc.org
Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.
At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” The luxury-commodities of the seventeenth century became integrated into the new middle-class rituals like tea-drinking in the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, these commodities became a caloric and stimulative necessity for the denizens of the dark satanic mills. The New World yielded food for proletarians and fiber for factories at reasonable (even falling) prices. The “industrious revolution” that began in the sixteenth century set the stage for the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Book cover of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz © Penguin Books | Amazon.com
The systematic application of African slaves in staple export crop production began in the sixteenth century, with sugar in Brazil. The African slave trade populated the plantations of the Caribbean, landing on the shores of the Chesapeake at the end of the seventeenth century. African slaves held the legal status of chattel: moveable, alienable property. When owners hold living creatures as chattel, they gain additional property rights: the ownership of the offspring of any chattel, and the ownership of their offspring, and so on and so forth. Chattel becomes self-augmenting capital.
While slavery existed in human societies since prehistoric times, chattel status had never been applied so thoroughly to human beings as it would be to Africans and African-Americans beginning in the sixteenth century. But this was not done easily, especially in those New World regions where African slaves survived, worked alongside European indentured servants and landless “free” men and women, and bore offspring — as they did in Britain’s mainland colonies in North America.
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Youth rebellion in the ‘banlieues’ of Paris
Interview by Filippo Del Lucchese and Jason Smith
FILIPPO DEL LUCCHESE and JASON SMITH: We would like to begin by asking you to clarify the relation between philosophy and politics. What do you mean when you speak, for example, of a militant philosophy?
ALAIN BADIOU: Since its beginnings, philosophy’s relationship to the political has been fundamental. It’s not something invented by modernity. Plato’s central work is called The Republic, and it is entirely devoted to questions of the city or polis. This link has remained fundamental throughout the history of philosophy. But I think there are two basic ways of structuring this relationship.
The first way assigns philosophy the responsibility for finding a foundation for the political. Philosophy is called upon to reconstruct the political on the basis of this foundation. This current argues that it is possible to locate, for every politics, an ethical norm and that philosophy should first have the task of reconstructing or naming this norm and then of judging the relation between this norm and the multiplicity of political practices. In this sense, then, what opens the relation between philosophy and politics is the idea of a foundation as well as an ethical conception of the political. But there is a second orientation that is completely different. This current maintains that in a certain sense politics is primary and that the political exists without, before, and differently from philosophy. The political would be what I call a condition of philosophy. In this case, the relation between philosophy and politics would be, in a certain sense, retroactive. That is, it would be a relation in which philosophy would situate itself within political conflicts in order to clarify them. Today, in the extremely obscure situation that is the general system of contemporary politics, philosophy can attempt to clarify the situation without having any pretense to creating it. Philosophy has as its condition and horizon the concrete situation of different political practices, and it will try, within these conditions, to find instruments of clarification, legitimation, and so on. This current takes seriously the idea that politics is itself an autonomy of thought, that it is a collective practice with an intelligence all its own.
It is quite clear that today the question is particularly difficult because we are no longer in a situation in which there is a clear distinction between two opposed political orientations—as was the case in the twentieth century. Not everyone agreed on what the exact nature of these opposed politics was, but everyone agreed there was an opposition between a classical democratic bourgeois politics and another, revolutionary, option. Among the revolutionaries, we debated spiritedly and even violently what, exactly, the true way was but not the existence itself of this global opposition. Today there is no agreement concerning the existence of a fundamental opposition of this sort, and as a result the link between philosophy and politics has become more complex and more obscure. But, fundamentally, it’s the same task. Philosophy tries to clarify what I call the multiple situation of concrete politics and to legitimate the choices made in this space.
DEL LUCCHESE and SMITH: So you see your own philosophical interventions as taking place within this new situation that you describe as “more complex and more obscure” than the classical confrontation between two opposed political orientations?
BADIOU: Definitely. As a result, I see my philosophy as an inheritor of the great contestatory movements of the sixties. In fact, my philosophy emerged out of these movements. It is a philosophy of commitment, of engagement, with a certain fidelity to Sartre, if you like, or to Marxism.
What counts is that the intellectual is engaged in politics and commits to or takes the side of the people and the workers. I move in that tradition. My philosophy tries to keep alive, as best it can (it is not always easy), the idea that there is a real alternative to the dominant politics and that we are not obliged to rally around the consensus that ultimately consists in the unity of global capitalism and the representative, democratic state. I would say, then, that I work under the condition of the situation of political actuality, with the goal of keeping alive, philosophically, the idea of the possibility or opening of a politics I would call a politics of emancipation—but that could also be called a radical or revolutionary politics, terms that today are debatable but that represent all the same a possibility other than the dominant one.
DEL LUCCHESE and SMITH: You mention Sartre in this context where the name Althusser might have been expected. What is your relation to the Althusserian tradition?
BADIOU: The Althusserian tradition is extremely important, and I’ve devoted several texts to Althusser. If I mention Sartre it is simply because my philosophical youth was Sartrean before my encounter with Althusser. I think the Althusserian current was a particularly important one because it gave a new life and force to the link between philosophy and politics and in a less idealist mode—that is, a relation that no longer passed through the form of consciousness. In Sartre, of course, we still find the classical model of the intellectual understood primarily in terms of consciousness—an intellectual must make contact with the struggle and the workers’ organizations, be they the unions or the communist parties. Althusser’s greatness is found in the fact that he proposed a new schema in which the relation between philosophy and politics no longer passed through the psychology of the form of consciousness as it still did with Sartre. Althusser begins with the conviction that philosophy intervenes in the intellectual space of politics. When he proposes the formula “philosophy is the organization of class struggle in theory,” what does he mean? That class struggle exists and that philosophy certainly didn’t invent it. It exists and cuts across intellectual choices. Within the struggle between these choices, philosophy has a special role. It is to intervene and therefore to name, norm, classify, and finally choose in the field of intellectual or theoretical class struggle. Sartre and Althusser are very different, even opposed. But you can reconcile them on one point, namely, that philosophy is nothing if it is not linked to political commitment.