Saturday, February 26, 2011

Black Coalition calls for national conference on the “other” wars

Black Coalition calls for national conference on the “other” wars

Chiítas exigen elección de nuevo gobierno

Coffee shop conversation: Apple, Steve Jobs, and tech innovations

From a reader:

....As another coffee drinker expressed an interest in my new iPad Touch and the manner in which I was using it to study Japanese, the conversation soon turned to other devices manufactured by Apple and grew to include the young woman who was herself using an Apple laptop and expressed an interest in the iPad.

She allowed however that she would hold off until Apple (as she speculated) would do away with the display technology they are using now in flavor of some souped-up version of a Kindle-like display.

When I pointed out that this was unlikely to happen as Apple had too much invested in their current technology the conversation took an interesting turn. She proposed that Apple would drop their current display technology no matter the cost because the other technology is better and they are innovators.

I pointed out that industrial capitalists, rather than innovate, will do all they can to stifle a new technology until they have wrung every last nickel from the old one. Her answer, "Not Steve Jobs, he doesn't care about profit."

Self, "His employees in China are killing themselves for the insurance money so they can feed their family, because they can't feed them on the pittance that Steve Jobs pays them."

She, "Touché-- but he has his problems too you know."

Self, "Preserve me from the problems of billionaires, I do so weep for them."

She was by the end of the exchange owning that the perspective I brought forward was better supported by the evidence.

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's more than just Maoism





Harry Powell

Maoism in Britain – Is this the End?


First Posted: On Thursday, July 30, 2009 on the “Democracy and Class Struggle” blogsite.
Transcription, Editing and Markup:
Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright:
This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.


It is nearly twenty years since there has been a Maoist political organisation in Britain. Even during the revival of interest in revolutionary politics back in the late sixties and early seventies there were never more than a few hundred Maoists in this country and their numbers rapidly diminished after the capitalist roader coup in China in 1976. During the late eighties there were a couple of short-lived Maoist groups but since then no explicitly Maoist political organisation has existed in Britain.

On a number of occasions since that time I have called meetings of some of the few remaining Maoists in Britain to propose that we form a Maoist political organisation with the eventual aim of forming a proper Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionary party. On each occasion the response was negative with people giving no very definite reasons as to why we could not form an organisation other than vague assertions that the “objective conditions” were not favourable.

In the latter part of 2008 I was encouraged when three other Maoists invited me to join with them in convening a meeting to consider whether a MLM organisation could be formed in Britain. Since then there have been a number of meetings with a somewhat shifting range of people participating. At the last meeting I reluctantly reached the conclusion that practically all of these people had no real intention of trying to form a Maoist organisation. They don’t mind talking about the proposal in the abstract and discussing issues of the day such as the economic recession. But they are not going to take any effective political action about anything.

At first sight it seems strange that people who present themselves as Maoists – hardly a popular political affiliation – should hold back from getting organised and engaging in collective political action. An explanation of such perversity is required.

THE LONDON POLITICAL SCENE

Most of the remaining Maoists in Britain live in London, a large cosmopolitan capital city. Indeed the Maoists themselves are of an international composition, some of them being political refugees from their countries of origin. In London there is a continuous round of leftist political meetings, demonstrations and pickets. If one wants to, it is easy to spend all of one’s available time attending such occasions and this is what some of the Maoists do. A lot, but not all, of this political activity is focussed on events abroad such as developments in Nepal, India and Iran. To a far lesser degree are these occasions directly concerned with what is happening within British society. Of course, communists are internationalists and should necessarily see and conduct the struggle against capitalism on an international basis rather than a narrow national one. Even so, many of these people seem far more concerned and knowledgeable about political struggles thousands of miles away rather than on their own doorstep.

We should not forget that Lenin and Mao asserted that the best form of internationalism is to engage in and develop revolutionary struggle in whatever place one happens to be.

The effectiveness of many of these activities is questionable. For example, picketing the Indian High Commission or the Peruvian Embassy in support of imprisoned comrades in those countries almost certainly has no impact on their reactionary governments. Many of the “national demonstrations” which are held in London, to which the Maoists sometimes half-heartedly tag on, go unnoticed by the nation and the government. There is a large element of ritualism in this sort of behaviour. People do it simply because that is what they have always done. They do not reflect critically on whether these activities are achieving any worthwhile political objectives. (In this respect the Maoists are no different from most of the other leftists.)

This round of political activity in London is essentially inward-looking. On each occasion it is the same people from the same loose political network who are present. “You picket my embassy and I’ll picket yours.“ Usually there are few, if any, new faces present. Indeed, no serious efforts are made to reach out to and involve newcomers. The fact of the matter is that the great mass of the people, especially the working class, are oblivious of and untouched by such “political activity”. What is more, one gets the impression that most of the people who participate in these ritualised activities are quite content with this way of life. They like going along to a picket or “public meeting” (at which the public are not usually present). There is a large element of social activity here often involving having a chat and a drink with old friends and acquaintances. It passes the time.

Much of this political activity – if that is what it is – is poorly organised even in its most elementary aspects. It is quite typical to find that a room for a meeting has not been booked, that the event has not been properly publicised, that the speaker is late or does not turn up, that a leaflet has not been printed, that placards have not been made, etc. etc.. Most of the Maoists in Britain – with one or two notable exceptions – are organisationally incompetent even at the most basic level but they don’t seem to care.

In so far as any of the Maoists engage in any “mass work”, go out and try to reach the great mass of people, especially the working class, it takes the form of engaging in routine trade union work and participation in broad front campaigns such as the Stop the War Coalition. Obviously there are definite limitations from a Maoist point of view to these activities but most of the Maoists are not involved in them anyway. What they never do is to attempt their own initiatives in trying to stimulate class struggle. This is particularly obvious at present when the considerable weakening of bourgeois ideological presents good opportunities for interesting people in a revolutionary perspective on contemporary events.

There is one area in which the Maoists in Britain do get excited and exert a considerable amount of energy. This is in debating the correctness or otherwise of the political lines of Maoists engaged in class struggles in other countries. Much passion is aroused and much is spoken and written about the course of revolutionary struggle in Middle East countries such as Iran and in particular on the political trajectory of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Yes, it is correct for communists to assess and constructively criticise the actions of comrades in other countries. However the odd thing about the Maoists in Britain is that while they get very heated and split over these controversies they expend little energy on ideological-political struggle over how to handle the contradictions of capitalism in Britain. The reason for this is not difficult to discern. It is that the Maoists in Britain are not really interested in engaging in revolutionary struggle within the society in which they live.

MIND POLITICS

So what is going on here? What is the explanation for this odd behaviour? I have come to realise that what is important for most of the Maoists in Britain is not what is happening within the objective social reality around them but rather it is the state of their subjective consciousness which is most important for them. Their strongest desire is not to transform a world in turmoil but to feel that the political perspective they hold on it is in some sense correct. In philosophical terms these people are not materialists. Rather they are idealists because for them the most important thing is inner certainty. What is going on in the external world is entirely secondary. For them an internal ideological purity is their primary aim. That is why I call it mind politics. Indeed there is a certain latent religiosity at work here. (In my talk ’Against Religiosity in Politics’ I have discussed this quite widespread phenomenon whereby people use secular doctrines such as Marxism as substitute religions.) These people are going to do nothing except continue to pour forth a torrent of words on the internet.

IS THIS REALLY THE END?

The truth is that in Britain Marxism of any kind as a live political trend is in steady decline. The remaining revisionist and Trotskyist organisations are slowly dwindling away. People, especially young people, of radical inclinations are attracted towards anarchism and environmentalism (with all their obvious limitations) but not to Marxism. What is more, this is happening at a time when capitalism is embroiled in major economic difficulties and debilitating imperialist wars. The reason that Marxism in general, and Maoism in particular, is on the way out in Britain is because communists are failing to seriously address, both in theory and practice, the major issues of our time. These include the impact of new productive forces, changes in class structure, environmental degradation, the quality of life, etc. (See my talk ’The Death of Marxism?’ for more on these issues.)

I remain convinced of the essential correctness of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism but it is not a fixed formula set in tablets of stone. For MLM to be of any use in making the world a better place it needs to change and develop in intimate response to the contemporary world. In this part of the world this is not happening. My reluctant conclusion is that Maoism in Britain is finished.

Convince me that I am wrong.

Two hundred thousand workers march to parliament in India - International Metalworkers’ Federation

Two hundred thousand workers march to parliament in India - International Metalworkers’ Federation

трейлер фильма Брестская крепость

"Mao's famine" -- because imperialism never starved anyone to death

Joseph Ball: Mao’s Great Famine. The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 by Frank Dikotter. Some Initial Comments

Mao’s Great Famine. The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 by Frank Dikotter. Some Initial Comments By Joseph Ball

(llco.org, republish from maoists.org)

Mao’s Great Famine is a sensational account of China during the Great Leap Forward. It argues the death toll in the Great Leap Forward was at least 45 million. It also claims that 2.5 million of these died due to violence. Most bizarrely, it makes the claim that 30-40% of all homes in China were demolished during the Great Leap Forward. This book depends largely on quotations from documents found in local Chinese Communist Party archives. Dikotter treats these documents as authentic and their content as correct, without a great deal of analysis of the question. Without some acquaintance with the documents Dikotter’s book is based on, a proper review is not possible. It is not possible for this evidence and by extension, Dikotter’s book, to be reviewed properly without examining and authenticating these documents. I am only able to give my initial comments here, therefore, rather than a more final assessment of the book.

I would ask readers of this book to heed a general warning about all evidence given by the Chinese Communist Party in the post-Mao era concerning the Great Leap Forward. As I said in my article ‘Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?’, there was a sustained campaign by the Chinese government after Mao’s death to create a negative historical verdict about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Therefore statistics and documents, relating to these periods, compiled in the post-1976 era should not simply be taken at face value. They need to be authenticated and corroborated. However, another point needs to be remembered too-it should not be just assumed that because a government document has been found in an archive, even from before 1976, that its content must be true. From the late 1950s a big struggle in the Communist Party took place between the right-wing and the left-wing, this went on right until 1976. For long periods of time the right were in the ascendancy in different areas and in the central government itself, even before Mao’s death. Reports drawn up by different factions in this struggle may well contain large doses of ‘political truth’. China has gone through massive turmoil since 1949, this has included complete reversals in political line by the Communist Party and related radical changes in the Party’s verdict on historical events. It would be wrong to assume any historically contentious document in a Chinese Communist Party archive is genuine without properly determining its authenticity and that it is what it purports to be. In addition reports of historical events in archival documents need to be corroborated from other sources such as mutually supporting witness accounts and physical evidence.

The first step would be to assess how well Dikotter has interpreted the archival sources he cites in his work. This is likely to be a problem. According to Dikotter, he had to sign a contract promising not to lend the documents he found to anyone else or let them be copied, as a condition of access to the archives. I have reproduced Dikotter’s email statement regarding this in an appendix to these comments. Only those judged by the authorities to be professional historians can get access to the archives. As there are only a limited number of professional historians in the world with an interest in the Great Leap Forward, it may be quite some time before we get a second opinion on these records. So, in the main, all we have for now is Dikotter’s interpretation of what he saw.

However, Dikotter did let two correspondents of mine have an informal look at one crucial document in his office. This is Mao’s speech on 25 March 1959. On p.134 of Mao’s Great Famine, Dikotter quotes Mao as saying during the Great Leap Forward ‘When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.’

My correspondents saw the document and confirmed the document contains meeting notes of Mao’s speech in a meeting in Shanghai on March 25, 1959. It does not list who attended the meeting. The file runs to 8 pages long in its entirety and the quotation (which they translate as “If there is not enough to eat, all will be starved. Rather, let half of population die so the other half can have their fill.”) is toward the end of the meeting notes. The entire meeting covered quite a lot of issues, mainly agrarian issues and food supply. My correspondents remember the following points from the document.

(1) Mao urged other officials to set the grain collection quotas as early as possible. He is recorded as saying “If grain collection does not exceed 1/3 of the harvest, peasants will not rebel.” However, this must be seen in the context of a lot of other comments. He also said ”Set the quota earlier so peasants can be relieved. Even if peasants want to give us their surplus, we will not accept it [because the quota has been set]. It is better to leave more grain to peasants.” Mao asked local officials not to set the goal too high like before. It must be stressed Mao seemed to be setting limits here, not minimum standards. Presumably in areas of food shortage, the quotas could have been set lower.

(2) Although the new quotas are still very possibly too high, the main tone of the speech, according to my correspondents, is to protect the peasants’ interests, stabilise people’s life at the time of food shortage, further expand mass participation in decision making, etc.

(3) The quotation “If there is not enough to eat…” , in the view of my correspondents, is said in a rhetoric tone, not as a serious command. My correspondents felt the quote is a kind of isolated comment within the speech, with no obvious connection to what is being said above and below. However next to this quote is one sentence about not pursuing the Great Leap Forward in all areas, which I imagine may be related.

Given my correspondents could not take the document away to study it, we cannot say anything conclusive about its authenticity or indeed its overall content. The quotes above should not be regarded as fully verbatim for the same reason. If the whole document is authentic, we must wonder why Mao made such a comment about half of the people dying, especially when he had been so adamant at the Wuchang Conference, a few months earlier, that there should be no deaths at all due to the Great Leap Forward. Mao is quoted as saying at the Wuchang Conference:

‘In this kind of situation, I think if we do [all these things simultaneously] half of China’s population unquestionably will die; and if it’s not a half, it’ll be a third or ten percent, a death toll of 50 million?… If with a death toll of 50 million, you didn’t lose your jobs, I at least should lose mine; [whether I would lose my] head would be open to question. Anhui wants to do so many things, it’s quite all right to do a lot, but make it a principle to have no deaths.’ (1).

The quote suggests another possibility about Mao’s alleged comment about half the people dying so the other half could eat their fill in Shanghai. It might be regarded as a sarcastic statement, as when Mao said at Wuchang ‘Half of China might have to die…’, when he was warning others about over-ambitious economic plans. We must also remember that these were minutes of a meeting, and presumably not something written by Mao himself. It could well have been that Mao was simply repeating the kind of warning that he made at Wuchang and the statement was not fully minuted, leading to a misleading impression. Dikotter’s approach in simply quoting this alleged statement, without taking an overview of all Mao’s statements on the issue and other statements made in the document is one-sided to say the least.

Some might argue, that setting any grain quota at all, at a time of food shortage was in some sense a ‘crime’. However, this would be very simplistic. For one thing, food had to be redistributed to areas most in need. Han Dongping, a Professor at Warren Wilson College in the USA did some research into the effects of the famine in the Great Leap Forward in Jimo county in Shandong. On the subject of famine relief he noted that:

‘In 1960, six southeast provinces donated 215,000 kilos of grain, 650,000 kilos of dried vegetables and large quantities of winter clothes to Jimo County…In the same year, Qingdao municipal government provided Jimo County with …. 125,000 kilos grain, and over half of the households in Jimo County benefited…In November of 1960, a Shanghai municipal delegate brought to Jimo 60,000 kilos of grain, 650,000 kilos dried sweet potatoes and other relief materials.. In 1961, Shandong provincial government donated 15,000 tons of grain to Jimo and provided 200 grams of grain per villagers each day before the next harvest.’(2).

Han Dongping’s evidence comes from interviews with local farmers and local official records that he studied.

It is true that not all of the grain collected from rural areas was redistributed to famine areas. However, urban dwellers had to be fed. Some food exports were necessary to buy the raw materials and machinery needed to prevent industry and transportation collapsing. A collapse of the transportation system and the urban economy would have just made famine relief and recovery harder while creating more hunger in the urban areas. If the record of Mao’s speech is authentic, it may be that Mao believed that some reduction in quotas would be enough to allow a fairly high quota for famine relief and for the needs of the cities and industry, without the quotas themselves leading to more hunger. (Whether this was objectively speaking correct is a question beyond the scope of these comments.)

Any statements made here about the other documents Dikotter quotes from have to be even more tentative, as these were not viewed by my correspondents. However, I believe that something can still be said about how Dikotter evaluates them. Dikotter (p.328) writes that investigation teams fanned out over the country from October 1960, to investigate the behaviour of provincial leaders during the Great Leap Forward. These investigations led to the removals of many provincial leaders. The rightists, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, Peng Zhen and Liu Shaoqi made investigations at this time. We must remember that Liu Shaoqi was in charge of the day to day running of the government by 1960 and would have overseen the process of ‘investigation’.

The majority of the allegations Dikotter makes regarding atrocities committed during the Great Leap Forward, such as beatings and torture, appear to be taken from these documents. This leads to two problems. Firstly, although Dikotter lifts a great many anecdotes and statistics from these documents, his direct quotes from them tend to be rather brief. In addition, Dikotter does not tell us very much about the particular document he is quoting from at any one time. This makes any kind of evaluation of them, very difficult. Rather worryingly, some of the documents Dikotter quotes from were bought in ‘chaotic flea markets’ (page 345). He says that he only quoted ‘very few’ of these but we really need to know which of his quotations do come from the documents he acquired in this way. In addition there would be nothing to stop Dikotter putting these documents on the internet or circulating copies.

Also, assuming that the evidence Dikotter cites of atrocities are taken from the results of investigations, what we have are indictments used in a series of political struggles, with Liu Shaoqi ultimately presiding over the whole process of the investigation. The purpose of these indictments, according to Dikotter, seems to have been to get rid of local leaders blamed for implementing Mao’s line in an over-zealous manner. One possible thesis is that the intended effect of these removals would have been to oust more left-wing leaders in favour of more right-wing leaders, which would increase Liu Shaoqi’s power base. Overall, a stream of reports from the investigation teams to the centre documenting atrocities would clearly strengthen Liu and the political line he represented, while weakening Mao. Of course, bourgeois authors tend to argue that Liu Shaoqi only became a rightest, once he saw that the Great Leap Forward was a failure. But this begs the question somewhat. Could it not be that when he saw problems with the Great Leap Forward occurring he sensed that he could use this in a competition for power with Mao? Could not encouraging investigation teams to exaggerate the failures of the Great Leap Forward have been part of his strategy? Dikotter should at least consider such possibilities but he does not.

Dikotter presents documentary accounts that he believes show evidence for very serious crimes. He claims that mass violence was used against the population in the Great Leap Forward by local officials and their militias. This charge simply cannot be upheld without corroboration. Such allegations could only be proved if they were backed up by a sufficient quantity of mutually corroborative witness statements and by forensic evidence such as mass grave evidence. Without such evidence it is not possible to ‘convict’ any individual or a political regime of mass murder or genocide. Indeed the lack of such evidence, at least of a sufficient quantity of documented witness evidence, would give good reason for doubting the archival evidence. It must also be said that some of the stories that have emerged from purported Party documents in the past have been outlandish in the extreme. For example, Jasper Becker unearthed a ‘party record’ that claimed a Party Secretary in Qisi, Henan had boiled 100 children to make fertilizer. He quoted this in his book Hungry Ghosts This prompted Berlusconi’s infamous jibe at a political rally in 2006 about the Chinese ‘boiling babies for fertiliser’ that led to censure from the Chinese government.

Having said all this, the existence of the local party documents Dikotter has found is a matter of some interest and it must be hoped that the current onerous conditions on access and reproduction will be eased in the future. If nothing else, they may help illustrate the line of thinking and the different world-views of the two lines of the Chinese Communist Party during the Great Leap Forward.

Another positive feature of the book is the way Dikotter puts his own ideological cards on the table when he states in his preface that:

‘In a far more general way, as the modern world struggles to find a balance between freedom and regulation, the catastrophe unleashed at the time [of the Great Leap Forward] stands as a reminder of how profoundly misplaced is the idea of state planning as an antidote to chaos.’ (p.xii).

All historians can and should strive for objectivity. However, history can never be an exact science, so it is always very useful to know the political leanings of any historian when evaluating their work. Dikotter’s honesty about his right-wing ideological framework is genuinely refreshing.

However, little positive can be said about the aspect of his work the reviewers have got most excited about-his Great Leap Forward ‘statistics’. The national figures Dikotter tries to come up with for deaths by hunger and violence and figures for the destruction of housing are frankly of little value.

Dikotter wants to establish a new ‘headline’ figure for Great Leap Forward deaths of 45 million. To understand how Dikotter tries to do this it must be understood that he is discussing two separate sets of documentary evidence concerning the death toll. One is an estimate of 32 million excess deaths by Cao Shuji, who bases his figure on a survey of reports drawn up by local Communist Party branches into Great Leap Forward deaths. These reports were produced in 1979, when the Party line had swung decisively and finally against the principles of the Great Leap Forward. The second set of documentary evidence consists of the documents in the local Party archives that Dikotter himself has discovered, that were discussed above-the reports of the investigation teams sent by the central government to investigate the provinces from 1960-62. Dikotter calculates that the excess death tolls he has found in the local Party archives, compiled from 1960-62 tend to be 50% higher than those in the reports Cao Shuji cites, which were compiled in 1979. Therefore Dikotter decides the death toll must have been 45 million. Dikotter favours the reports he has found from 1960-62 from the investigation teams over the reports given by the local branches of the Communist Party in 1979 because he believes the latter would have given more conservative figures for deaths, as they were trying to hide things.

This reasoning is not very convincing. Why would there have been any remaining reason for local Party officials to try to hide the figures in 1979, if the Great Leap Forward deaths had supposedly been investigated nearly twenty years before by the central government? Moreover, the Party as a whole was in no way trying to hide Great Leap Forward deaths in 1979. As I said in ‘Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?, senior Party leaders openly attacked the Great Leap Forward. Marshal Ye Jian ying made a speech about disasters in the Great Leap Forward in 1979. A Party resolution talked of ‘serious losses to our country and our people between 1959 and 1961’. Local party organisations would certainly have been aware of the new line when compiling their 1979 reports and would have known that they were expected to go along with the new political line on the Great Leap Forward. If the choice really was between endorsing a figure of 32 million and a figure of 45 million, then Dikotter’s book really gives us no real reason for choosing one figure above another.

However, the main problem is the reliability of any death rate estimate at all for China from 1958-1961. This point is illustrated by Dikotter’s rather selective faith in the available demographic data for the Great Leap Forward. Dikotter decides to round up Liu Shaoqi’s baseline figure of 0.8% deaths a year before the Great Leap Forward to 1% (p. 329). Dikotter decides that any number of deaths above this figure in the Great Leap Forward, were excess deaths. By extrapolating the excess deaths he finds on a local level to the country as a whole he calculates the 45 million deaths figure. Dikotter’s figures seem to be based on figures gathered by the local investigation teams. ‘Liu Shaoqi’s 1%’ is more or less the ‘baseline’ death rate figure in the demographic figures released in the early 1980s by the Deng Xiaoping regime. The Deng Xiaoping figures show up to 16.5 million excess deaths, due to increases from the baseline figure in 1959-1961 (with a high of 2.5% in 1960). The death rate figures were presented at a public academic gathering in China in 1981. ‘Liu’s 1%’ might be seen as corroboration of the Deng Xiaoping figures that emerged more than twenty years later. But Dikotter cannot accept the Deng Xiaoping figures in full, as the Deng Xiaoping figures for 1959-1961 imply a death toll a lot smaller than the one he is proposing. So Dikotter has a problem. If Dikotter believes Liu knew a true death rate figure for years prior to 1960, he must also believe a comprehensive system of death registration was in place during the Great Leap Forward, despite the fact that the records of these death registrations seem to have been hidden from all eyes ever since. Therefore Dikotter must accept the baseline figure of 1% given by Liu Shaoqi but then assume that the death registration information that shows 45 million deaths for 1958-1961 has been deliberately hidden by the Chinese authorities. But if the Chinese authorities are in the business of hiding and manipulating population figures about this period, why does Dikotter insist that the 1% baseline figure must be true? What are his grounds for saying that the one figure should be accepted, while the other Deng Xiaoping figures must have been falsified? It might be said that the other documents Dikotter has found corroborate the 45 million figure but this is not really so. As Dikotter book illustrates, Liu stated openly in a speech that 0.8% should be used as the baseline when making calculations of excess deaths that occurred in the Great Leap Forward. Therefore the figures that appear in the documents Dikotter has seen in the archives, cannot be used as any kind of corroboration as they were probably drawn up following Liu’s instructions. The investigation teams most likely came up with a total number of deaths in a province-by whatever means-and then subtracted ‘Liu’s 1%’ to get a figure for excess deaths.

As I showed in ‘Did Mao Really Kill Millions…’ it is not clear at all where death rate figures for the Great Leap Forward came from. This makes any of the figures given for the Great Leap Forward death toll, from the 16.5 million figure, to the estimates of local investigation teams, to Dikotter’s 45 million, mere speculation. Judith Banister, a leading western demographer of the Great Leap Forward period, expresses severe doubts about death rate figures for China in the 1950s and 1960s (3). It does not seem that there was anything like a comprehensive national death registration scheme at this time. People who have examined local population records for the Great Leap Forward seem to have found records of population changes but I have not seen examples of locally kept death toll figures (4). Could it be that when asked for death toll figures, local officials simply offered some variant on population change figures, having nothing else at their disposal? But a population change figure for a given locality provides absolutely no guide to the number of deaths in the Great Leap Forward. This was a time of massive movements of population as workers migrated from their villages to the towns or to construction sites or left their locality to find food when famine struck. If you just take figures for every area where population decreased and assume that this was part of a national death trend, then you might come up with a figure of 45 million. Overall, then, it must be asked where the local investigation teams got all their death rate figures from, given the lack of comprehensive death registration.

I think there is a much more sensible account of what happened in the Great Leap Forward, than the apocalyptic version given by the Jasper Becker, Jung Chang and Frank Dikotter side of the debate.

Firstly, we should, like Banister, accept that the 1% baseline figure is too low. Banister discusses the official figure of 10.8 deaths per thousand in 1957, given in 1981. She writes:

‘This is an unrealistic claim. Of course, the PRC made great strides in mortality reduction in the 1950’s. As of 1957, the patriotic public health campaigns had reduced the level of filth and the number of disease-carrying pests. A large proportion of China’s midwives had received instruction in modern midwifery. There were many epidemic-control stations monitoring infectious diseases and specialized centers attacking particular diseases….Yet underlying health conditions in China remained poor…This population might have achieved a crude death rate below 20 per thousand by 1957, but not nearly so low as the official death rate of 10.8.’ (5).

We can perhaps speculate a little about why Deng Xiaoping figures give such a low death rate figure for 1957 and such a high rate for 1960. Liu Shaoqi announced his ‘1%’ (or 0.8%) in a speech in his home town, just as he was starting his political campaign against the line of the Great Leap Forward. Once Deng Xiaoping consolidated his power after the death of Mao he asked for statistics to be put together concerning Great Leap Forward deaths. The workers compiling the statistics would have known of Liu’s 1% baseline figure and this became their own baseline for the figures released in 1981. This is not necessarily a matter of complete conspiracy. Maybe Liu said the figure was 1% because this had been the figure the Party had wanted to give in the late 1950s to celebrate its achievements. Maybe given the euphoria of the time the Party thought they actually had achieved such a low figure. However, maybe Liu just invented it in 1960 because it made the death rate figures look worse than they were, thus undermining his political rival Mao. When it came to compiling population statistics in the late 1970s, perhaps researchers, finding nothing else to work on, came back to Liu’s low figure and decided to adopt a figure that was roughly equivalent. It was after all a figure that had been endorsed by the Head of State at the time. Demographers can make assumptions on thinner grounds than this when faced with a paucity of hard evidence. Once the 1% is accepted as a baseline, demographers have the problem of trying to come up with a series of birth rate and death rate figures that in some way correlates with the census figures of 1953 and 1964. The obvious solution is to push all the deaths which you cannot account for, given the 1% baseline rule, into the famine periods. Thus the researchers came up with the death rate figures in 1981 which gave rise to the 16.5 million death toll statistic.

Writers on the Great Leap Forward are routinely taking these figures and extrapolating from them to reach even higher figures, which they then give the status of fact. Without some idea of how the 1981 death rate figures were actually calculated, they are of little use for such purposes. Once you adopt a sceptical attitude to the Deng Xiaoping figures, other death rate figures such as Dikotter’s and Banister’s begin to look unconvincing too (6).

Dikotter’s figures for deaths by violence and home demolitions are certainly the weakest part of the book. Dikotter states that 2.5 million people died of violence during the Great Leap Forward. His evidence again comes from the ‘investigation teams’. The figure appears to come from an extrapolation from figures given for one region (Xinyang) and two counties (see page 297-8). Dikotter tells us that as ‘rough approximation’ 30-40% of all houses were turned to rubble in China in the Great Leap Forward. Dikotter’s source for this astounding figure is, Liu Shaoqi again, who apparently claimed that 40% of all houses in Hunan had been destroyed (p.169). The other main source is a figure that 45-70% of homes in ‘the most affected counties’ of Sichuan were demolished (p. 170). Even if both these reports were completely true, one could hardly extrapolate from these two figures and say that 30-40% of homes in the whole of China were destroyed. These were just two provinces and we do not even have an estimate for the total number of home demolitions in Sichuan, just those for the allegedly most affected counties.

The question we have to ask about the figure for home demolitions is, again, where is the witness evidence? Of course the media in China is fairly stringently censored. But especially in the last three decades millions of people have travelled into and out of China. If 40% of all homes had been demolished in the whole of China in the Great Leap Forward, would not this fact have come out before now?

Other somewhat strange claims in Dikotter’s book would also bear further analysis, no doubt. He writes of the Ming Tombs (Shisanling) Reservoir, that was built in 1958. Dikotter states (page 30) : ‘As the reservoir was built in the wrong location, it dried up and was abandoned after a few years.’

Anyone who was been there recently will testify that it is actually rather full of water. The fact is that Dikotter just assumes the whole project must have been a total failure because it was carried out during the Great Leap Forward. Such errors illustrate the need for rather more even-handed historians to go over the evidence that Dikotter has presented in more detail than I am able to do here.

Overall, Dikotter’s book is, on the face of it, unconvincing. His claims are just too exaggerated and his analysis of the veracity of his sources is just too underdeveloped. It is part of a trend towards ‘death toll inflation’ which sees the numbers of those allegedly killed by Mao increase year after year as ‘new historical evidence’ is published. Deng Xiaoping released figures that gave rise to the 16.5 million death toll. Judith Banister raised this to 30 million. Now, Dikotter has taken Banister’s 30 million and raised it to 45 million. But this of course is only ‘a minimum’, some historians put the figure at 50 to 60 million, Dikotter tells us (page 333). But as the death rate totals inflate, it will get harder and harder to fit in all these excess deaths between the figures provided by the two censuses of 1953 and 1964, unless the death toll in the non-Great Leap Forward years is pushed down to a ridiculous level. This will not bother Dikotter as he seems to be a sceptic about all the Chinese demographic data. This position is a perfectly acceptable one to take but where will it leave ‘Liu’s 1%’ baseline on which all Dikotter’s figures are based? You cannot state that a death rate figure is credible when you believe that all the available population figures are completely false. The death rate is a percentage of the population after all. Presumably at some point the death rate figures will have been thrown out too. When we get to 60 million, there will be no real reason left not to allow the death figure to rise ceaselessly up towards the 100 million mark and beyond.

Of course, there is a real story about the Great Leap Forward buried under all the nonsensical ‘death toll figures’. Certainly, that story includes the tragedy of the famine that occurred in China in the Great Leap Forward. The story must include the fact that the deaths that occurred were due to policy errors, as well as the very adverse natural conditions of the time. However, it is also a story of a nation surrounded by adversaries, desperately trying to pull itself out of the economic backwardness that had repeatedly condemned it to famine in the past.

(1) R. MacFarquhar, T. Cheek and E. Wu (eds) The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward, p.494-5. Harvard University Press.

(2) Han Dongping, ‘The Great Leap Famine, the Cultural Revolution and Post- Mao Rural Reform: the Lessons of Rural Development in Contemporary China.’’ http://www.chinastudygroup.org/article/26. 2003.

(3) Banister, J. (1979), China’s Changing Population Stanford University Press, p.87-8.

(4) See for example, Endicott (1988) Red Earth Revolution. In a Sichuan Village, p.55-6 and Han Dongping (2003).

(5) Banister, J. (1987), p.80-81.

(6) See Banister, J. (1987), p.114-119. Banister’s own figure of 30 million deaths is just a variation on the Deng Xiaoping figure. Banister gets her figure by using a significantly higher figure for the number of births between the censuses of 1953 and 1964, than the official figure, given by the Deng Xiaoping regime. The higher rate of births, combined with the census figures imply a higher rate of deaths, than the official figures show, otherwise the 1964 population figure would have been greater. Banister then apportions the extra death according to proportions derived from the death rate figures for this period released by the Deng Xiaoping regime.

Appendix

Correspondence between Frank Dikotter and Joseph Ball

Dear Mr Dikotter

I am currently studying your book Mao’s Great Famine. I would very interested to know how I could access some of the documents cited in your work. The one I am most interested in is the document which includes Mao’s speech on 25 March 1959. You give the reference as Gansu 19-18-494,p.48. You give this reference on p.379, its note 13. I am very interested in the quote you give on p.134 from this speech where Mao says ‘It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.’ It’s interesting because in November 1959 Mao made a speech (in ‘Mao’s Secret Speeches’ p.494-5) where he gives orders that no-one should die as a result of the Great Leap Forward.

The other documents I’m interested in are: Xinyang diwei zuzhii chuli bangongonshi…etc. p.1-2 cited on page 378, note 6. This is the reference for the figure of 66,000 clubbed to death in Xinyang. Also the documents Sichuan May-June 1962, JC 67-4 and JC 67-1003, p.3. cited in note 16 on page 403. This is the reference for deaths in Sichuan. I hope you don’ regard my requests as too much of an imposition.

Obviously, I would find it very useful if I could access scanned versions of these documents. Do you put your sources on the internet? I haven’t been able to find them. Please note: as I always say I regard information on the accessibility of sources in works I discuss as information I need to share with my readers. Therefore I will quote from your reply to my enquiries in any review or article I publish about your book. Please be aware of this and do not say anything in an email that you do not want to be shared with the public.

Yours sincerely
Joseph Ball

Dear Joseph,
The answer to this is quite simple: when I use party archives, I have to sign a contract, as I am sure you know, to the effect that I will not duplicate or circulate any of the files I see. If I send them to you I have no idea where they will end up and I will be in breach of contract, resulting, possibly, in a ban from the archives in future And of course you have not been able to find these sources on the internet, how would that be possible? You need to go to the archives I cite, i.e. Lanzhou, Chengdu ad Xinyang. However, my colleague Zhou Xun is in the process of publishing documents, including the ones you cite,for a documentary history of the famine. This may take another year or two. I would be happy to show you these documents in my office if you have time.

With best wishes,
Frank

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Koch Whore: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

The "living and dead" in Hegel's thought

Hegel's hard work


Columnist: Todd Chretien

Marx looked to Hegel's original method for thinking about society's problems.

"IF THERE should ever be time for such a work again," said Marx to Engels amid a flurry of letters in January of 1858, "I should greatly like to make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence, in two or three printer's sheets, what is rational in the method which Hegel discovered but at the same time enveloped in mysticism." (From The Selected Correspondence of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: 1846-1895, New York: International Publishers, 1942, p. 102.)

Sadly for us, he never got around to it. However, even Marx's extra-ordinary intelligence may have had a hard time condensing Georg Friedrich Hegel into a couple pages. And as we will see, Hegel would have rejected the very notion that it could or should be tried.

I will attempt here to accomplish the more modest goals of addressing several important ideas credited to Hegel, explain why they mattered so profoundly to Marx as a student, and then point to some places to learn more for those who are bitten by the Hegel bug.

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Hegel's world

Hegel was born in 1770. That's important because it means he was 19 years old when the French Revolution broke out about 350 miles to the east in Paris. Democratic-minded European youth stood in awe of the power of the French and American Revolutions to sweep away monarchies.

Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is titled Ode to Joy, after a poem by Friedrich Schiller from the time, which sings, "Be embraced millions. This kiss to the entire world!" The English poet William Wordsworth penned the famous lines, "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!" They were both born within months of Hegel.

In 1791, Hegel even joined fellow students in a May Pole dance, reciting Schiller's poem. All very subversive, according to the authorities in Berlin.

But the revolution did not come to Germany, and Hegel spent the next 15 frustrating years tutoring the children of aristocrats and working as unsalaried part-time lecturer. He struggled to master the greats of European philosophy and to write something that would make enough waves to land him a full-time job.

He finally hit pay dirt in 1806 when he published his groundbreaking Phenomenology of Spirit. The same day that he sent the proofs to the printers, French troops under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, passed through Jena, the German city where Hegel was teaching, on their way to setting up a puppet regime in southwest Germany.

From his window, Hegel got a glimpse of Napoleon and was overcome with admiration. It seemed to him that the French Revolution was washing away the petty world of German princes. In fact, the French-backed government did enact important anti-feudal reforms over the decade or so it survived.

Hegel was well placed to take advantage of this opportunity. His new book celebrated radical philosophical and intellectual change and articulated a new way to understand history.

It also helped that the French supported liberals in the educational bureaucracy, assisting Hegel in wining appointment as the headmaster of a prestigious high school, then to a chair of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, and finally the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, where he taught until his death in 1831.

To put it bluntly, Hegel owed his career to revolution...even if it was second-hand.

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Hegel's big ideas

Hegel is hard to read. Often really hard. In fact, sometimes nearly impossible. Especially if, like nearly everyone on the planet, you are not familiar with late 18th century German philosophy. Hegel's philosophical contemporaries developed a highly formalistic language (making up new meanings for common words, for example) and built an intellectual universe based on detailed references to each other's work.

To be clear, you do not need to read lots of Hegel to understand Marx; however, doing so (at least a little) can give you an insight into how Marx developed his own revolutionary theories and, I think, provides you with a richer appreciation for his views on social change.

In my last column, I suggested reading the first four paragraphs of the Phenomenology of Spirit. Here we see that not only is Hegel unapologetic about his book's density, he explicitly justifies it, saying that it is "even inappropriate and misleading" to give a simple summary of his philosophy, because boiling it down to its essence "does not comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth, but rather sees simple disagreements."

Hegel is arguing that genuine knowledge can never be simply passed along from teacher to student as a finished product, as a passive gift (or even a burden as many students might feel). Real learning is a process that requires sustained effort that must get beyond the "mere beginnings of cognition." Simplifying ideas to the point of oft-repeated slogans only creates

an impression of hard work and serious commitment to the problem. For the real issue is not exhausted by stating it as an aim, nor is the result the actual whole, but rather the result together with the process through which it came about.

If you stop and think about it, this is really interesting. Hegel is arguing that the journey is just as important as the destination--it is a necessary part of the whole. In fact, if you become fixed only on trying to remember where you're going, you'll never learn to get there. (In philosophical terms, Hegel believed he had discovered the solution to the object-subject divide that Kant stumbled over.) This view of knowledge as a process is one of the most important things that Marx took from Hegel.

In those same paragraphs, Hegel puts forward one of the best examples of what he would come to call dialectics. To begin with, the word itself originally (from the Greek) simply meant a dialogue between two people who were trying to arrive at a common understanding of the truth.

So every time you and a friend talk about what to eat for dinner, you are practicing dialectics. Chinese, no. Italian, no. Sushi, yes! Of course, Hegel gives a broader meaning to the term as he shows with this example from nature:

The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one might say that the former is refuted by the latter; similarly, when the fruit appears, the blossom is shown up in its turn as a false manifestation of the plant, and the fruit now emerges as the truth of it instead. These forms are not just distinguished from one another, they also supplant one another as mutually incompatible. Yet at the same time, their fluid nature makes them moments of an organic unity in which they not only do not conflict, but in which each is as necessary as the other; and this mutual necessity alone constitutes the life of the whole.

The basic ideas contained here make up the building blocks of Hegel's specific notion of dialectics: change through conflict (the fruit consumes the blossom); quantity changing into quality (incremental growth within the bud suddenly "bursts-forth" into something entirely new); and the importance of understanding the totality of a process and not simply partial stages ("moments of an organic unity").

Hegel then applies this insight over the course of nearly 500 pages to supposedly show how all of previous thought and culture, covering thousands of years, was really a process by which the "fruit" (something he called "Absolute Knowing," which seems very much like God) became self-aware...and how Hegel was the only one clever enough to realize it.

Here is why Marx said that Hegel's version of the dialectic is "enveloped in mysticism." For Hegel, all human ideas and history are only projections--"spirits"--of the various moments or stages in Absolute Knowing/God's quest for self-consciousness. (Phenomenology, p. 493)

Hegel continued to develop his unique perspective in several other imposing works, in which he traced the development of state (government and civil society) forms, the stages of history, economics, art and even the structure of thought itself.

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Hegel's theory and practice

UNFORTUNATELY, HEGEL the man was not nearly so revolutionary as Hegel the philosopher. Once ensconced in his well-paid chairs of philosophy, he made his peace with the German princes (or at least bit his tongue often enough to protect his position). Toward the end of his career, he pointedly argued that "what is rational is real and what is real is rational."

This was during the period when the authorities, especially the Prussian monarchy, were reasserting their power, purging liberal thinkers from the universities and clamping down on all forms of political dissent. Although Hegel himself spoke out against anti-Semitism and opposed a return to pre-Napoleonic royal despotism, he did make himself into a kind of (distant) intellectual advisor to the throne.

Hegel's ideas would soon inspire a generation of writers and political activists (who would salvage his emphasis on transformation, fluidity, conflict and change), but the great philosopher himself never attempted to engage in the struggle.

In his youth, he hoped that his new way of thinking was the intellectual forerunner, a natural reflection, of the revolution that Napoleon would bring to Germany. In his later years, he retreated to trying to make philosophical sense of the gap between the democratic ideals of his youth and the growing conservatism of German politics.

In the preface to his Philosophy of Right in 1820, he wrote:

When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.

For Hegel, Minerva (knowledge) always comes too late to change social conditions--it can only ever be written in hindsight. This belief provided the ideological justification for accepting the status quo because any attempt to change the present was necessarily made from a position of ignorance and was therefore futile...if not downright wrong-headed.

Yet if Hegel failed to find the solutions he sought along the long road between Wordsworth's "blissful dawn" and his own "grey dusk," Marx would soon appreciate the groundbreaking contribution he made in developing an original method for thinking about society's problems and attack them in ways Hegel never dreamed.

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FOR FURTHER reading on Hegel, find Introducing Hegel, written by Lloyd Spencer, with illustrations by Andrzej Krauze. And for more of Hegel himself, finish the preface to Phenomenology. It's about 45 pages long.

Next time, we'll take up the beginning of Marx's career as a revolutionary journalist. To get a jump on it, read "Debates on the Law on Theft of Wood" in the Rheinische Zeitung newspaper, October 25, 1842.

Saudi Arabia

Thousands of workers strike in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia is now being rocked by strikes as the mood of resistance spreads across the region. A socialist in Saudi Arabia reports on how struggles in the Middle East are even spreading to the most vicious dictatorship, which is sponsored by the US

‘I went to my workplace on Thursday of last week, and I found out that there were over 3,000 workers demanding their rights before they called a general strike in the construction site in Saudi Binladin Group. The workers were very angry. Their workplace is one of the largest construction projects in the country, which is worth SR.100 billion.

However, they live in a terrible conditions. One of the workers told me, “I live in a room four metres by three metres with eight people, and for every ten people there is only one toilet.” Another Egyptian worker told me about the working conditions and the restriction of religious freedom: "They are Zionists, they don’t even allow me to pray on time!"

And another worker was speaking about the water at the site, which is infected and full of filth and insects: "The managers wouldn’t even wash their hands with it, but for us we have to drink it because it is the only drinking water at the site.” The others talked about the delayed salaries and the unpaid overtime: "Van you believe that some of the workers here are paid only 700 riyals a month, and I am paid 1,000 riyal. How would we survive?"

They couldn’t continue in the old way. They organised themselves and decided to do a demonstration at the site, to demand their rights immediately. It was the most interesting scene that I have witnessed in my life. When a group of coordinators and security guards tried to persuade them to go back to work the workers replied by smacking their hats on the walls and they shouted we demand “food, money, accommodation – we need to be respected”. All the managers, for the first time since the start of the project four years ago, took the workers seriously.

The police force couldn’t control the workers. When a police officer told the workers that they need to return to their accommodation and their issue will be solved later, the worker replied by throwing stones at him, and they managed to frighten all the police officers around him. The stones missed the police officer, but unfortunately it did not miss his car! It was the first time in my life I saw a police car smashed in Saudi Arabia.

When several coordinators, sent by the managers, tried to promise the workers change, I and several other socialists pushed for the occupation of the construction site, though that did not work. However, when one of coordinators said, "We will give you a new accommodation with a football pitch," one of the workers replied, “How would we play football after 13 hours of work with an unpaid overtime?" Then the coordinators promised that every worker will be paid after five days. Someone replied, "What would we do with today’s bread after five days, we need it now, we are sick of excuses, a billionaire cannot pay his workers today?"

In the end, the owner promised the workers that they will pay them on Saturday. The workers went back, and on Saturday they received an extra SR, 500 on top of their salary and the owners promised them that they will improve their accommodation and they will pay them 100 hours for their overtime each month.

The workers started to organised with a sister company, which belong to the same owners to start a new wave of strikes in different parts of the construction site. Through this week, there were several strike actions in King Fahad Library and in a construction sites in King Saud University.’


© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabweans face possible death sentence for discussing Egyptian Revolution

by Yuri Prasad

A group of socialists in Zimbabwe face a possible death sentence for watching a video about the Egyptian Revolution.

Some 52 activists were charged with treason and “subverting a constitutionally elected government” in a Harare court yesterday (Wednesday).

The attack is part of a general clampdown organised by the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in advance of possible elections later this year. He fears that the wave of uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa could spread south.

Police arrested the group on Saturday of last week following a raid on a meeting to discuss the implications of the Egyptian Revolution for Zimbabwe that was organised by the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

The accused were led into court on Wednesday hand cuffed and in leg irons.

Many had sustained injuries while in detention, and all—including those who are HIV positive—have been prevented from receiving medical attention and drugs.

One of those charged has only recently been discharged from hospital following brain surgery. Another detainee who broke her leg after being thrown down a two-storey stairwell during the raid is also being denied proper care.

State prosecutors allege that leading ISO activist and former opposition member of parliament, Munyaradzi Gwisai, and other participants at the video showing were planning to “organise, strategise and implement the removal of the consitutional government of Zimbabwe… the Egyptian way.”

Defence lawyer Alec Muchadehama said he has been denied access to the detainees since they were taken into custody.

Outrage at the arrests, torture and the charges is spreading across Africa and around the world.

Bongani Masuku of the 1.8 million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has pledged the support of his organisation.

He said, “It is no doubt that the Egyptian and Tunisian experiences have inspired many workers and poor people all over the world to stand up and demand an end to dictatorship, corruption and injustice of whatever kind.

“The Cosatu condemns the continued persecution of political activists in Zimbabwe and the never improving situation in that country.

“The detention of about 52 activists of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) in Harare on baseless charges of plotting to topple the government indicates the state of insecurity in that country.”

The Commonwealth Policy Studies Institute yesterday added its name to calls for “unconditional release” of those who have been jailed.

With stakes this high, activists in Zimbabwe are urgently calling on for statements of protest to be rushed to the addresses, phone and fax numbers below:

Imperialism & War - Harpal Brar

"The Cannery Ship" -- proletarian content meets manga

"Every once in a while the curtain get pulled back and you get to see how things really work"


By Staff

Madison, WI - The struggle at the Wisconsin State Capitol to defeat the union-busting Budget Repair Bill held strong through its 9th day, Feb. 23. The state Capitol remained occupied and as early as 7:30 a.m. the chants of "Kill the bill" could be heard from all over. Over 50 Sheet Metal workers, many laid off, came marching up to the capitol at 8:00 a.m., chanting "Union Power!"

The State Assembly met today amidst loud protests and chants, discussing amendments to the bill.

Protesters in the hundreds followed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to the Monona Terrace today, a building a few blocks from the Capitol where Walker was to meet with the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce annual business day participants. Led by the Wisconsin Wave and Defend Wisconsin, the protest was a way of drawing attention to the corporate backers behind Scott Walker's anti-union agenda.

The high level of organization within the Capitol Building is one example of the protesters’ determination to continue with the occupation. The building is clean because a rotating team of volunteers mop and pick up trash. A food table on the third floor offers donated breads, cheeses, vegetables and drinks. Early risers this morning got a scoop of an egg scramble and a hot cup of coffee. A pharmacy exists around the corner, with donated vitamins, band aids and toothpaste. The second floor has an information station where students and visitors may check in to share events, fliers and events.

The entire building is coated with posters, banners and leaflets. At 3:00 a.m. one morning, patrolling police tore down all posters from the Capitol walls, but in the morning the protesters put them right back up.

In the early afternoon today, as people began to mobilize for larger rallies and marches, news arrived of a prank call to Gov. Scott Walker. A caller posing as a major contributor to Walker’s campaign recorded Scott Walker likening his union busting efforts to that of Ronald Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers in the early 1980s. Walker also revealed his consideration of sending in protest wreckers and a plan to trick the 14 State Senate Democrats who fled Wisconsin to come back to session in order to ram his union-busting bill through.

"Every once in a while the curtain get pulled back and you get to see how things really work," commented one protester after listening to the 20-minute prank call.

Day in day out, it becomes more apparent than ever that Gov. Walker's Budget Repair Bill is nothing more than a shameful attack on workers and their organizations.

A US general strike?

USA: Wisconsin Unions Preparing a General Strike


After more than a week, demonstrations by public sector workers defending their pay, benefits and their right to union representation continue to grow. The struggle in Wisconsin is rapidly becoming a nation-wide struggle, a kind of American "Tahrir Square," a point of reference for workers under attack around the country.

22 February, union rally in the occupied capitol building. Photo: Nickolas Nikolic.
Demonstrations against similar cuts have spread to Ohio and Indiana, both states where unions have traditionally been very strong. Dozens, if not hundreds, of solidarity actions have taken place around the country. In a development that would have seemed unthinkable just 2 weeks ago, Wisconsin unions are now preparing for a state-wide general strike if Governor Walker’s bill is passed by the state legislature. While this struggle has only just begun and is far from finished, it marks an important turning point in the U.S. -- the class struggle is back!

Wisconsin workers have also received solidarity from a place where the workers' mass struggle recently led to the overthrow of an unpopular leader: Egypt. On Monday, Kamal Abbas of Egypt's Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services, a participant in the 1989 strike at the Helwan Steel works, which was brutally repressed by the now-defunct Hosni Mubarak regime, wrote:

"We want you to know that we stand on your side. Stand firm and don't waiver. Don't give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights...Today is the day of the American workers. We salute you American workers! You will be victorious. Victory belongs to all the people of the world, who are fighting against exploitation, and for their just Rights.”

The revolutionary events in the Middle East have clearly had a big impact on the consciousness of workers and youth everywhere. The capitalist system connects every country into the world market, but it also creates a world working class that shares the same interests. The victories of workers in one country are an inspiration to workers everywhere! The main lesson to be drawn from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions is that mass action, with the working class at the head of the movement is the way forward. This is the way forward here too!

On Thursday, 3,800 union members and supporters filled the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus as hearings began on a bill which if passed, would deprive all state workers of collective bargaining rights. Following Wisconsin's lead it is possible that other public sector struggles will erupt in Indiana, New Jersey, Missouri and Iowa in the coming weeks. A call has gone out for a national day of action on March 2nd to defend the public sector, which is sure to be taken up around the country.

The Indiana legislature is due to begin discussing a bill that would deprive teachers of union rights. New Jersey Governor Christie has for weeks been telling public workers that they “have to face reality” and prepare for cuts. Iowa Republicans have said that the state’s collective bargaining agreements with public sector unions are “too expensive.” Missouri, which has a Democratic Governor, may soon see a referendum on a “right to work” law, which if approved would mean that both public and private sector workers employed at a union organized workplace would not be required to pay dues, which would hamper unions’ ability to struggle against the bosses by taking away their economic base.

Photo: d76
Meanwhile, the crowds outside the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin grew from 40,000 on Friday to 60,000 or more on Saturday. Despite the largest outpouring of the working class in the US for decades, Walker and the Republicans have refused to back down and continue the push to break the public sector unions.On Tuesday, February 21st, the South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL), the umbrella organization of southern Wisconsin unions, voted to prepare a general strike if the state legislature approves Walker's bill. This is the resolution they passed:

"Motion 1: The SCFL endorses a general strike, possibly for the day Walker signs his 'budget repair bill,' and requests the Education Committee immediately begin educating affiliates and members on the organization and function of a general strike.

"Motion 2: The SCFL goes on record as opposing all provisions contained in Walker’s 'budget repair bill,' including but not limited to, curtailed bargaining rights and reduced wages, benefits, pensions, funding for public education, changes to medical assistance programs, and politicization of state government agencies."

The mass demonstrations in Wisconsin are inspiring millions of other workers to fight against the barrage of cuts. Without thousands and millions of working people standing up and saying “enough is enough!” things will never change. But as important as these mobilizations are, they are only one component part. The experience of the class struggle in the US and around the world shows that it is not enough for masses of ordinary working people and youth to hit the streets; it is also necessary that the movement have a leadership that is willing to fight the bosses and their political representatives "no-holds-barred."

SCFL’s call for a general strike is a huge step forward. Walker is single-mindedly intent on breaking the public sector unions, not working with them, and a general strike is the only way to defeat “Hosni” Walker. Victory in Wisconsin would set the tone for other public sector struggles getting ready to erupt across the country.

The Democrats’ Role

However, it must be said that the call for a general strike wasn’t made by the union leaders as a recognition of the movement’s strength, but rather as a last resort. On Friday, the day before the SCFL’s announcement of preparations for a general strike, the leaders of two of the largest public sector unions, Mary Bell of WEAC and Marty Beil of AFSCME Council 24, announced that they were willing to accept all of Walker’s demands for pay and benefit cuts (totaling $30 million), if only he would withdraw his demand to dismantle collective bargaining. True to form, and fully supported by the billionaire Tea Party-backers the Koch brothers, Walker rejected their offer.

AFSCME's Beil said afterwards that this position was “not a compromise,” but the union’s original bargaining position. With tens of thousands of workers and supporters surrounding the Capitol, why bargain for concessions in the first place? With meetings, marches and other events taking place all day, Beil and Bell should have instead organized a mass meeting of workers and supporters to discuss the terms to present to Walker and point the way forward, including the preparation of a state-wide general strike. Instead, it seems their concession-laden "compromise" was proposed without seriously consulting the thousands of workers who would be affected.

Unfortunately, Beil and Bell‘s concessions offer shows that if public sector workers are called out on a general strike, these leaders cannot be counted on to take the struggle to the end. It is therefore absolutely necessary that the strikers have complete, direct and democratic control over the struggle. SCFL must urgently organize a mass “town hall” meeting of Madison public and private sector workers, students, and community suporters, to begin planning how the general strike will be carried out, and make a call for the formation of coordination and action committees in every factory, workplace, and school, linked up centrally and governed by democratically elected representatives.

The union leaders are under tremendous pressure, not just from below, by the thousands of rank and file union members at the Capitol who are ready to struggle and are pushing the leadership forward, but also from above, specifically from the Democratic National Committee (DNC,) which has sent dozens of its members and operatives to Madison. Their intervention is being backed up in the media, with Obama speaking against Walker’s assault on the unions. Beil and Bell’s line is the same as the line of the Democrats in the state legislature, who returned from a four day boycott to move amendments to the bill which would keep Walker’s pay and benefit cuts but maintain the right to collective bargaining.

Neither the Democrats or Republicans represent the working class majority; they represent the interests of the big banks, the Fortune 500, and the wealthiest in society. Unlike the working class in many countries, US workers lack a mass Labor party that can represent our class interests. In such a situation, two parties representing the same tiny minority in society have to lean on the vast majority of the population to maintain the status quo. Both the Republican and Democratic parties engage in different forms of populism to do this, with the Republicans leaning on conservative churches, the Tea Party, etc., and the Democrats leaning above all on the unions for support, not in the unions’ interest but in their own.

The two parties, while representing the same capitalist class, defend this tiny minority in very different ways. The Republicans are using the budget crisis as a cover to attack the unions directly, hoping to weaken them in both the public and private sector. The Democrats, on the other hand, jump to “support” the unions by pushing a “compromise” in the "middle." The Democrats would like not just to lead the movement in Madison, but to more importantly to use it. The Republican and Democratic proposals in the state legislature have one thing in common: cuts. This is because the crisis of the system demands it. The difference is that the Democrats are seeking a roundabout way of pushing them through.

This has been their strategy for decades, and was seen most recently in the auto industry bailouts where the Obama administration offered GM and Chrysler a financial rescue package, leaning on former UAW President Ron Gettlefinger to force concessions on the membership in exchange. But this old relationship between the unions and Democrats will be increasingly difficult to maintain, as evidenced by events unfolding in Wisconsin, with SCFL being pushed to call a general strike.

Make the rich pay for the crisis!

Photo: Emily Mills
Across the country, Republican public officials and the media have been howling after public sector workers, pointing to their pay and benefits as the cause of state budget deficits. After almost four years of recession and a "jobless recovery," with millions still unemployed, this does not fool many people. Instead, it justifiably angers most working people. As one sigen held by a protester said: "Attacking Workers Doesn't Create Jobs!" It is insult added to the injury of the economic dislocation, uncertainty and hardship of the vast majority since the “Great Recession” began in 2008. An article on the first demonstration inside the Ohio Statehouse from Bloomberg Online gives a glimpse of what many public sector workers think of the Republican attacks:

"Joe Rugola, the former president of the Ohio AFL-CIO who also is executive director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said he represents bus drivers and janitors who earn about $24,000 a year. 'I’m still looking for this privileged class of workers,’ Rugola said in an interview while waiting to testify.’ This is just part of a national attack on working people.'"

Almost every state in the US is either in debt or will be soon. State Governors and legislatures are presenting the situation as an "open and shut" case. They say that the only choice is between layoffs and job cuts or massive concessions. But the leaders of public sector unions would not be good "lawyers" if they simply accepted the other side’s argument (even if they do call for demonstrations and even strikes)! The union leaders have to answer all the lies of Big Business.

The budget crisis is the result of the weakened economy, massive military spending, and the huge tax breaks and give-aways to big corporations and the wealthy, not the salaries and benefits of public workers. For the past 30 years there has been a colossal transfer of the division of national income in the United States, from the working class to the capitalist class. In 2010, a Duke University study found that the top 20% of earners controlled more than 84% of the nation’s wealth. From 1979 to 2005, the after-taxes earnings of the top 1% of earners increased by 175%. Between 1998 and 2009, 57% of all US corporations did not pay any Federal taxes for at least one year. At the same time, state and city governments have for years been sucked into a downward spiral of tax incentives and breaks to get these same large corporations to move businesses to their areas, which then proceeed to lay off workers and shutter operations once the tax and other incentives run out. At the same time, average inflation-adjusted wage levels for workers have not risen since 1975!

Despite growing profits and massive cash reserves of the largest corporations during the recent "recovery," these same capitalists are not investing and creating jobs, but are instead squeezing more productivity from fewer workers. These corporations have more than $2 trillion in funds and assets, but they still refuse to invest. Librarians, teachers, and firefighters did not cause the economic crisis -- the slump is a result of the inherent problems of the capitalist system. If the union leaders are to address the root causes of the public sector struggle, they cannot ignore this fact.

The resources exist to maintain public sector workers' jobs, pay and benefits, and to continue to provide much-needed public services. The resources are also there to provide quality union wages and conditions for workers in the private sector. There is also more than enough to go around to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed, and to provide free, quality education for students, who will be tomorrow's workers. The problem is that both major political parties are firmly wedded to the big banks and corporations and they refuse to make real inroads against the wealth and privileges of the tiny handful of capitalists -- the top 1% -- who really "call the shots" in US society. The Labor movement will always be fighting with one hand tied behind its back as long as the leaders of the unions continue to support the Democratic Party, which is just as tied to the big banks and corporations as the Republicans.

So let's be clear: the capitalists, not the workers are to blame for the crisis. Instead of supporting the Democrats and hoping for better times, the unions should break with the Democrats and form a Labor party. Instead of parceling out the scraps left over from the table of the 1%, a Labor party should demand that the rich pay for the crisis. A Labor party would be able to fight in Congress and in the state legislatures alongside the unions in the streets and in the workplace for a massive program of public works, to build schools, universities, and repair the country’s aging infrastructure, all of which could provide millions of jobs. Last but not least, these jobs should be 100% unionized and pay a living wage.

The cost of such a program should not come in the form of higher taxes or reduced public services for working people but should come from the top 1%, the big banks and the Fortune 500 companies, not just in the form of higher taxes but also by instituting an “open book” policy to make the banks’ and corporations’ finances public knowledge. Then much of the colossal wealth that has been siphoned off by this tiny minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority could be put in public hands, to be democratically administered in the interests of all. This is a critical fight for labor movement, both in the public and private sector. The victory of the public sector workers will strengthen the unions in the private sector, while the defeat of the public sector workers will weaken the position of these unions.

  • An injury to one is an injury to all! Full solidarity with Wisconsin's public workers!
  • No to concessions! For an all-out one-day general strike in Wisconsin to stop the cuts!
  • Break with the parties of Big Business! For a mass party of labor based on the unions!

Source: Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (USA)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Olivier Besancenot : Karl Marx en manga

The Capitalist Dictionary: "Just in Time"

The following definition is quoted from:
The Xsters Unabashed Dictionary of the Capitalist Language, by tov. X

Just in Time (also as JIT)

  1. Practice by which large industrial capitalists avoid the consequences of their bad decisions by foisting off those consequences on workers and small jobbing shops (a small “jobbing shop”, aka “subcontractor” is some guy with a lathe who perhaps employs 5 machinists who are desperate for work because he and those 5 machinists have been crowded off the shop floor and marginalized into this “small business” by the large industrial capitalist ).
  2. When specialized to inventory Just in Time refers to the alacrity with which the cheap chiselling capitalist absconds with all the profit while the poor bastard with the lathe (i.e., “subcontractor”) and his further exploited workers get squat. The aforementioned cheap chiseller had this in mind from the start and wrote it into his order to the subcontractor, “you must deliver 500 Left Whatsit units to me to within 30 seconds of the time that my workers are to bolt them to the Framistan Assembly. Don't call me. I'll call you.”
  3. Though most often specialized to inventory in the public ruminations of bourgeois “economists”, Just in Time generalizes to a host of such slippery manoeuvres covering the whole field of labour relations and commerce and is talked of in this way by capitalists as in, “I say Jeeves-- I dropped that hot potato Just in Time, what!” Said spud being perhaps the company that was left bankrupt Just in Time for the cheap chiseller that owned it to abscond with the cash on deposit that was to cover wages owed his workers, and for him to stay a step ahead of the banksters that backed his action.

Was Lukacs a "purely verbal Marxist"?

Lenin versus the early Lukács

Lenin
Lenin

By Brian Williams

The political current Counterfire, which has its origins in the SWP, has chosen to produce as one of its first publications Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukács by Chris Nineham (Nineham, 2010). Such a choice is highly interesting in placing theoretical concepts developed by Lukács in the early 1920s as a basis for the approach of Counterfire. These concepts were specifically rejected by Lenin in very strong terms – he referred to Lukács’s views as ‘purely verbal’ Marxism. As ideas of, or similar to, the early Lukács are the basis not only of Counterfire but of other currents, and as they reveal more generally a misunderstanding of Marxism, analysing why these ideas are wrong and why Lenin so specifically rejected them is of importance to more than simply small circles.

Counterfire and Lukacs

To take first Counterfire specifically, the central role ascribed to Lukács by the leading theorists in it is explicit and emphatic. According to Counterfire’s website: ‘Georg Lukács was the great theorist of revolution in the 20th century’ (Counterfire, 2010). This claim is repeated on the cover of Chris Nineham’s book.

It is hard to believe that such a characterisation has been thought out seriously. It would entail elevation of Lukács above Lenin, Trotsky, and Gramsci, for example. One assumes that it is actually intended as an (over-)emphatic assertion of the importance of Lukács’s writings in the early 1920s, and not such an elevation of Lukács above these other great revolutionary theorists. But it does indicate an exaggeratedly high regard for early Lukács.

A similar view was expressed by John Rees, another leading figure of Counterfire, who writes in the introduction to Lukács’s Tailism and the Dialectic: ‘in his [Lukács’s] last years, his old revolutionary ardour began to glow in the fire of the world-wide revolt of 1968 and the years that followed. It is the great radicalising impulse of those years that lies behind the modern recovery of the full meaning of History and Class Consciousness... So long as that crisis continues, those who want to resist its ravages will find sure guidance in [Lukács’s books] History and Class Consciousness and Lenin (Rees, 2002, p. 35).

Nineham and Rees’s extraordinarily high assessment of Lukács’s writings of the early 1920s was diametrically opposite to that of Lenin. Here is Lenin’s characterisation of one of Lukács’s articles: Its Marxism is purely verbal; its distinction between "defensive" and "offensive" tactics is artificial; it gives no concrete analysis of precise and definite historical situations; it takes no account of what is most essential' (Lenin V. I., Kommunismus, 1920b, p.165).

It is therefore worth analysing why Lenin specifically, and rightly from the point of view of Marxism, rejected the ideas which Nineham and Rees elevate to such a height.

The interrelation of all classes

Lenin insistently asserted that the political line of the working class must be based on an analysis of the relations between all classes and groups in society. This is a necessary application of the Marxist concept of the totality. As Lenin put it in Left-Wing Communism: ‘the Communist Party… must act on scientific principles. Science… demands that account must be taken of all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses operating in a given country’ (Lenin V. I., 1920a, p.81).

As an example of this, Lenin noted: ‘The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the “lower classes” do not want to live in the old way and the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph' (Lenin V. I., 1920a, p.84).

As the early Lukács utilised a terminology specifically derived from Hegel to discuss such issues, to see what is wrong with the early Lukács’s theories we will therefore translate Lenin’s point into the terminology used by Lukács. For Lenin the ‘subject’ of the revolutionary process (that which acted, that which needed to achieve class consciousness) was naturally the proletariat. But Lenin pointed out that what the proletariat needed to understand and therefore to act on, that is the ‘object’, was not only itself but the interrelation of ‘all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses’ – i.e. the whole of society. ‘Subject’ and ‘object’ therefore were not the same and consequently could not be identical.

Lukács and Hegel

Lukács

As opposed to the insistence of Lenin that a political line had to be based on analysis of the interrelation of all classes, Lukács put forward the concept that what was required was the knowledge by the working class of itself. This is formulated in terms, derived from Hegel, that the ‘subject’ (that which knows, that which acts etc) must be the same as the ‘object’ (that which is known). As Lukács put it in History and Class Consciousness: ‘the proletariat is at one and the same time the subject and object of its own knowledge’ (Lukács, 1922, p.20). Or, referring to the working class, that: ‘the fact that a class understands itself means that it understands society as a whole and when, in consequence, the class becomes both the subject and object of knowledge’ (Lukács, 1922, p.2). Therefore, if for Lenin the subject and the object could not coincide, for Lukács the subject and the object were identical.

Outlining why Lukács wanted to make such an assertion, why it is wrong, and where such terminology and concepts come from, involves a short detour via early 19th century German philosophy but, as will be seen, this will lead directly to much more practical misunderstandings today.

Hegel and the identical subject object

The formulation of the concept of an identical subject-object (that which knows is that which is known) was derived by Lukács directly from Hegel who, as Nineham points out, set about establishing ‘a philosophical system that could overcome the separation between thought and reality’ (Nineham, 2010, p.31).

The concept of an identical subject-object is indeed a fundamental cornerstone of Hegel – the final sentence of his Science of Logic ends with the concept of ‘the self-comprehending pure Notion’ (Hegel, 1831, p.844). Or as Hegel put in the final chapter of that work, ‘The Absolute Idea’, it is the concept of ‘self-knowing truth’ (Hegel, 1831, p. 824).

The concept of an identical subject-object necessarily means that thought (‘the Notion’) and reality coincide – indeed are the same. Therefore Hegel speaks of: ‘the self-knowing Notion that has itself, as the absolute, both subjective and objective, for its subject matter, consequently as the pure correspondence of the Notion and its reality’ (Hegel, 1831, p.826). Nothing exists separate from this identical subject-object: ‘since it is the absolute form, the Notion that knows itself and everything as Notion, there is no content that could stand over against it and determine it to be a one sided external form’ (Hegel, 1831, pp. 839-840). This identical subject-object is consequently itself the totality: ‘the Notion that comprehends itself, being as the concrete and also absolutely intensive totality’ (Hegel, 1831, p. 842).

Hegel held that such unity of subject and object was arrived at through a process: ‘in the Idea of absolute cognition the Notion has become the Idea’s own content. The Idea is itself the pure Notion that has itself for subject matter and which, in running itself as a subject matter through the totality of its determinations, develops itself into the whole of its reality, into the system of science [of logic] and concludes by apprehending this process of comprehending itself.’ (Hegel, 1831, pp. 842-843)

These theories were for Hegel necessarily and explicitly idealist. As that which is knowing (the idea) must be the same as that which is known, the latter must therefore also necessarily be an idea. ‘The Idea, namely, in positing itself as absolute unity of the pure Notion and its reality’ (Hegel, 1831, p.843). Consequently: ‘the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and is all truth’ (Hegel, 1831, p.824).

For Hegel, therefore, the identical subject object was necessarily an idealist subject-object.

Lukács’s twist to Hegel

Turning now to Lukács, evidently no self-proclaimed Marxist could put forward an explicitly idealist concept as Hegel could. For a self-proclaimed Marxist an identical subject-object had to have a materialist and not an idealist meaning. Lukács therefore attempted, in History and Class Consciousness, to formulate this concept of an identical subject-object in materialist terms.

Definition of the subject was evident. Lukács clearly held that what must be the subject of history in a Marxist analysis was the proletariat. But if the subject and object were to be identical, therefore the object must also be the proletariat. Consequently that which knew (the working class) was must be identical to that which it was required to know – which must also therefore be the working class. To uphold the concept that subject and object were to be identical Lukács therefore had to maintain that both the subject and the object of knowledge were the working class – that which knew was the proletariat and that which was known was the proletariat. To maintain the identity of subject and object, Lukács in History and Class Consciousness therefore necessarily had to arrive at the concept that: ‘the proletariat is at one and the same time the subject and object of its own knowledge’ (Lukács, 1922, p.20). And that: ‘when the fact that a class understands itself means that it understands society as a whole and when, in consequence, the class becomes both the subject and object of knowledge’ (Lukacs, 1922, p.2). This concept, however, is in direct contradiction with the point made by Lenin that a political line had to be based on analysis of ‘all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses operating’.

If that which had to be known was more than the working class, if it included the ruling class and all the other strata of society, then subject and object could not be identical. In short, Lenin’s insistence that ‘the Communist Party… must act on scientific principles. Science… demands that account must be taken of all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses operating in a given country’ (Lenin V. I., 1920a, p. 81) was entirely incompatible with Lukacs concept that the proletariat was a subject-object in which, therefore, it was adequate that the working class had knowledge of itself.

This is why, to put it in philosophical, as opposed to political, terms, Lukács claimed that the subject and object, the working class, were identical, Lenin on the contrary insisted that the subject (the working class) and the object (the interrelation of all classes and groups) could not be identical.

Politics

The relation between these apparently abstract philosophical points and politics may now be outlined. Given the concept of an identical subject-object formulated by Lukács in the early 1920s, self-knowledge by the working class of itself was what was required to determine political line and tactics. As Lukács formulated it: ‘Because of their mechanical notion of the class struggle, opportunists and putschists alike are bound to have a static concept of the class, seeing it as a once-and-for-all, unalterably given fact, and not as something dynamic which emerges, grows and brings itself to life in the course of the struggle. However, it is only when the constitution of the proletariat as a class is regarded as the goal and the tendency of the revolution that we can discover a firm basis for the constantly changing tactics of communist activity. The economic, scientific reality of the class is of course the starting point for tactical considerations’ (Lukacs, 1920a, p.79).

This latter formula, ‘The economic, scientific reality of the class is of course the starting point for tactical considerations’ is of course directly opposed to Lenin’s: ‘the Communist Party… must act on scientific principles. Science… demands that account must be taken of all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses operating in a given country.’

Lukács’s formulation that what the proletariat requires is knowledge of itself (‘the economic, scientific reality of the class is of course the starting point for tactical considerations’) makes no analysis of, for example, the degree of resistance and strength of the ruling class and therefore was connected to ultra-left tactics which underestimated of the degree of resistance of the ruling class. This is, for example, precisely the meaning of Lenin’s insistence that even if oppressed classes are completely unwilling to go on in the old way this is not at all sufficient for a revolution. Only if in addition the ruling class is also unable to go on in the old way could a revolution occur. As we already cited, in Lenin’s formula: ‘The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the “lower classes” do not want to live in the old way and the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph' (Lenin V. I., 1920a, p.84).

In contrast to Lenin’s insistence on analysing the interrelation of all classes and groups, Lukács on the contrary presented the matter in terms of the identical subject-object, i.e. that what the proletariat required was knowledge of itself: ‘The economic, scientific reality of the class is of course the starting point for tactical considerations. But the other reality, the living reality of the class effected by the proletariat this is possible only as a goal of revolutionary action. Every genuine revolutionary act diminishes the tension, the gulf between economic being and active consciousness of the proletariat. Once this consciousness has reached, penetrated and illuminated being, it is immediately possessed of the power to overcome all obstacles and to complete the process of revolution’ (Lukács, 1920a, p.79). This formula, ‘Once this consciousness has reached, penetrated and illuminated being, it is immediately possessed of the power to overcome all obstacles and to complete the process of revolution,’ that is an analysis only of the situation of the working class, is directly counterposed to Lenin’s: ‘for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way.’

In short the different philosophical concepts of Lenin and Lukács were connected to political differences. They also make clear why Lenin so sharply rejected Lukács’s views. He was evidently right to do so. The Marxist concept of totality necessarily means that a political line can only be derived from the analysis of ‘all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses operating’. It cannot be derived only from one element – that of the situation of the working class itself. Lukács’s false philosophical concept of an identical subject-object led to wrong, to be precise, ultra-left, political views. It is not simply that there is this or that mistake in History and Class Consciousness, its theoretical framework is wrong.

Ramifications of Lukács’s views

Finally, all this is of wider interest because it does not relate simply to historical debates of the 1920s, or the ideas of Counterfire today. Lukács is significant and despite the criticisms made above he is a highly interesting writer, among other reasons precisely because it was he that gave a properly theorised form to what otherwise were simply a series of confused and incoherently thought out ideas.

To take an example, one popular misunderstanding which parallels Lukács’s concepts, is the idea that Marxism has the same concepts as ‘history from below’ – a subject which has formed an entire field of research. ‘History from below’ confuses two different ideas. One, which is entirely correct, is that because the ruling class wishes to deny that the mass of the population, who are oppressed and exploited, can play any role in shaping society, their historical activity has been completely grotesquely under researched. In the words of probably the most famous work of history from below, E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class it is necessary to understand the real role played not just by ‘great figures’ (of the ruling class) but, for example: ‘the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-weaver, the “utopian” artisan and even the deluded follower or Joanna Southcott’ (Thompson, 1963, p.13).

So gigantic has been the suppression of the real history of the ‘below’, i.e. of the activity of the exploited and oppressed, that overcoming this lack of knowledge, that is to really understand historically ‘all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses’, and not simply to be presented with a history of the ruling class, requires a gigantic field of research on the ‘below’ of society. The entire record of history must be reworked, and the adding of the knowledge of the ‘below’ is a factual key to it.

But a second, wrong, idea is that Marxism is only the study of the ‘below’ – i.e. precisely the concept, paralleling Lukács, that all that is required by the working class is knowledge of itself, or more loosely, all that is required by the oppressed is knowledge of the oppressed. This, as we have seen, is not a Marxist concept. The Marxist concept of history, as of politics, is not to replace the knowledge of ‘the above’ with the knowledge of ‘the below’ but to understand the relation of ‘all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses’ – that is the totality of society.

Lukács’s Lenin

There are other ideas in the early 1920s writing of Lukács which flow from the fundamentally ultra-left concepts rejected by Lenin. For example, Lukács in his book Lenin A Study on the Unity of his Thought, states that ‘the core of Lenin’s thought’ is ‘the actuality of the revolution’ (Lukács, 1924, p.11).

This terminology of ‘actuality’, which was never centrally used by Lenin (who was rather good at explaining his ideas clearly!) is an ambiguous concept because it can mean two entirely different things. One is that Lenin regarded the present epoch as revolutionary and was always guided by the final goal of the revolution in matters of tactics, organization and political line – the revolution was the goal and entirely ‘actual’ in that sense. The second is that the revolution is ‘actual’ in the sense that it is here now – that is that the situation is revolutionary not merely in the sense of the character of the epoch but in a more immediate sense. Precisely because it is ambiguous is probably one of the reasons such a concept was not used by Lenin – who aimed at clarity, not ambiguity, in concepts.

However these are secondary matters. The real core of Lukács’s thought, so much so that he put it as the first chapter in History and Class Consciousness under the title ‘What is Orthodox Marxism,’ is the concept of the identical subject-object constituted by the working class. This idea was profoundly wrong for the reasons already outlined. It is why Lenin categorised Lukács’s views not as ‘the great theorist of the revolution’ but as 'its Marxism is purely verbal’.

Lenin was strictly right. Lukács’s vocabulary was Marxist but his actual central concept was not Marxist at all.



Appendix – A review of Georg Lukács’s political writings from the 1920s

The following review of Georg Lukács’s political writings from the 1920s appeared in International Volume 4 Number 1 Autumn 1977. This focussed at greater length on the political discussions of that period and their relation to issues of Marxist theory dealt with above. Apart from altering the style of presentation of footnotes and book titles the article is reproduced without alteration.

* * *

Lukács Political Writings 1921-29 (Lukács, 1972)

The appearance in a paperback edition of this important volume of Lukács's early writings is a welcome event. It is of course well known that in its first years the Communist International had a major debate around the question of 'ultra-leftism', and that several of the chief leaders of this latter trend wrote important and controversial books on Marxist philosophy notably Lukács History and Class Consciousness (Lukács, 1922), Karl Korsch Marxism and Philosophy (Korsch, 1923), and, somewhat later, Pannekoek Lenin as Philosopher (Pannekoek, 1938). However, while the writings on this subject of Lenin, Trotsky and the majority of the Russian leadership have long been available in English most notably, of course, Lenin's Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder the political writings of the opponents of the Bolsheviks in this discussion are only now becoming available. In addition to the Lukács volume reviewed here, important recent translations include material in International Communism in the Era of Lenin: A Documentary History edited by Gruber (Gruber, 1972), a presentation of Bordiga's positions in Gwyn Williams's Proletarian Order: Antonio Gramsci, Factory Councils and the Origins of Italian Communism (Williams, 1975), and a number of Bordiga articles in Antonio Gramsci: Selections from Political Writings 1910-20 edited by Quintin Hoare (Gramsci, 1910-1920).

The appearance of this new material does not alter the estimate as to the political outcome of the debate on ultra-leftism. On the contrary, it increases respect for the arguments produced by the Comintern. But, as always, the ability to make an examination of both sides of the polemic gives a much more rounded and clearer conception of the issues involved. Not merely does this increase the political lessons which may be drawn, but in this case it also reveals that the discussions involved issues which remain strikingly relevant today.

It is on this aspect of the Lukács volume that we want to concentrate here. This is not because there is not much else which is valuable in the collection on the contrary, some of the philosophical writings, including the famous review of Bukharin's Historical Materialism (Bukharin, 1921) and the essay ‘Moses Hess and the Problem of Idealist Dialectics’, are amongst the most important Lukács ever wrote. However, the real fascination of the book is that it gives an insight into a very different political debate, and a very different Lukács, than that which is generally familiar.

The first conception that may rapidly be dispensed with through a reading of Lukács's essays of the 1920s, and of the other material available on the early debate in the Comintern, is any idea that the Bolsheviks' opponents on this issue were some sort of ideological primitives simply marching around the streets screaming 'Dictator­ship of the Proletariat Now'. It is true that a few of the groups and theorists of Comintern ultra-leftism were marked by really primitive conceptions the German Communist Workers' Party (KAPD) in its opposition to trade unions, or the ideas of Sylvia Pankhurst, for example. But in general the outlook of the European opposition to Lenin was theoretically sophisticated and not at all patently stupid in its argumentation. Certainly Lukács is profoundly thought provoking and penetrating in this volume, even in his most erroneous positions. Far from defending boycotts of parliament and elections from the point of view of abstract principle, as is frequently assumed in accounts of this period, the ultra-lefts invoked virtually every argument except abstract principle.

Herman Gorter, a Dutch ultra-leftist, explicitly declared for example that the tactics of the Bolsheviks in standing in parliamentary elections in Russia had been entirely correct: 'Your tactics were brilliant for Russia, and the Russians were victorious because of them' (Gorter, 1920, p.222). Gorter's argument against standing in elections was posed at the level of differences in concrete class relations between Russia and Western Europe an interesting ultra-left twist to a distinction which is today invoked by the West European CPs to justify reformism. Gorter wrote: 'When you say you did thus and such in Russia... it does not mean very much and therefore neither is nor has to be correct. For Western European class relations in the revolutionary struggle are entirely different from those in Russia' (Gorter, 1920, p.218).

Differing from Gorter, but again not raising abstention from elections and parliament to a principle, was the position of the Austrian Communist Party. They in fact went so far as to declare that in general participation in parliament was entirely correct in Western Europe including in Germany. The argument of these ultra-lefts was based on the concrete situation then existing in the country on the fact that in Austria the struggle had gone beyond the stage of mass working class demonstrations and strikes and had arrived at a situation of workers councils. They wrote: 'Parliament is important to Communists only as a platform for propaganda. We in Austria have the Council of Workers' Deputies as a platform for propaganda. We therefore refuse to take part in elections to the bourgeois parliament. In Germany there is no Council of Workers' Deputies that could be taken in earnest' (cited in Lenin V. I., 1920c, p. 268).

What could be more apparently Marxist than that? When the class struggle has passed to the formation of workers councils, surely the time has come to boycott the parliamentary fraud and pass directly to the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat?1 Given that the Workers Council which was formed following the fall of the Hapsburg Empire lasted right through to 1922 (admittedly in a diminishing form), this did not appear at all a preposterous position on the face of it.2 Indeed, it could be argued that it was correct on the basis of certain formal analogies with the positions of the Bolsheviks on the boycott in 1905 and Lenin's call for the boycott of the pre-Parliament in 1917.

Lukács himself, at that time a theoretical leader of Hungarian ultra-leftism, also avoided any argument 'on principle' against participation in parliament. On the contrary, he declared that in certain circumstances, namely that of defensive struggles, parlia­mentary participation was an extremely important tactic: 'if it [the Communist Party] is forced onto the defensive, by all means let the proletariat use the form of parliament for agitational and propagandistic purposes; let it exploit the possibilities afforded members of parliament by bourgeois "freedom" as substitute for forms of expression otherwise denied it; let it make use of the parliamentary struggles with the bourgeoisie in order to gather its own forces, in preparation for the really basic struggle against the bourgeoisie. Clearly, such a phase may well last for a considerable period of time' (Lukács, 1920b, pp.55-56).

All Lukács asserted was that, 'parliamentary activity can never be anything more than a preparation for the real struggle, can never be the actual struggle itself' (Lukács, 1920b, p.56). He too stated that a decisive criterion in calling for a boycott was whether or not alternative forms of workers democracy were already emerging: 'Theoretically and tactically, then, we have defined the respective roles of workers council and parliament: where a workers' council (on however modest a scale) is possible, parliamentarianism is redundant' (Lukács, 1920b, p.63).

All these positions of Lukács again sound apparently Marxist and Leninist to utilise participation in parliament as a subsidiary tactic to prepare the decisive (and therefore necessarily extra parliamentary) clashes with the bougeoisie. After all, didn't Lenin correctly write even in Left Wing Communism that, 'action by the masses, a big strike, for instance, is more important than parliamentary activity at all times' (Lenin V. I., 1920a, p.60)? And, far from being by-passed, such arguments have an extremely familiar ring in the positions taken by ultra-left organisations in Portugal, for example.

It is not possible in a short review to deal with the political arguments which were raised against the writings of the ultra-lefts. These are best followed through reading the relevant works of Lenin and Trotsky in reply to Lukács, Korsch, Pannekoek, Gorter et al. Lenin's own summary on Lukács's position was: 'Its Marxism is purely verbal; its distinction between "defensive" and "offensive" tactics is artificial; it gives no concrete analysis of precise and definite historical situations; it takes no account of what is most essential (the need to take over, and learn to take over, all fields of work and all institutions in which the bourgeoisie exercises its influence over the masses, etc.)' (Lenin V. I., 1920b, p.165).

Against the Austrians and Lukács on workers' councils and parliamentary boycotts, Lenin pointed out that the relevant issue was not whether such bodies existed but whether they were strong enough to overthrow the bourgeois system: 'As long as we lack the strength to disband the bourgeois parliament, we must work against it from within and without. As long as any considerable number of working people (not only proletarians, but also semi-proletarians and small peasants) still trust in the bourgeois-democratic instruments employed by the bourgeoisie for deceiving the workers, we must explain this deception from the very platform which the backward sections of the workers, and particularly of the non-proletarian labouring masses, consider most important, most authoritative'3 (Lenin V. I., 1920c, p.268).

All in all, the ultra-lefts received one of the most thorough political drubbings which anyone has ever taken while simultaneously, incidentally, Lenin fought a major struggle against elements such as Paul Levi to try to keep the 'infantile-leftists' (such as the KPD) within the Communist International.

If, however, the errors of Lukács and others on the political plane were dealt with relatively early, the controversy has nevertheless continued as to the exact relation between their positions in the debate in the Comintern and their views on philosophy. It is hardly likely to be coincidental that writers with such distinct political positions as Lukács, Pannekoek and Korsch should also have had extremely similar concepts on the field of philosophy. At the same time, however, there is no systematic study of the precise connections between the two. Lukács himself initially stressed as the source of his errors a failure to situate his work in any systematic economic theory and analysis. Finally he reached the conclusion that the correct line of approach to theoretical questions lay via ontology.4 Other recent studies have seen his challenge to Marxist materialism as the chief link between Lukács's philosophical and political positions of that period.5 Gareth Stedman Jones, in a striking analysis, has stressed Lukács's concept of a working class ideologically dominated through commodity fetishism, and his inability to analyse the complexity of modes of production and of the capitalist State, as the decisive elements (Jones G. S., 1971).

All these conclusions, particularly that of Stedman Jones, undoubtedly provide elements of an explanation of the theoretical roots of Lukács's positions on the Comintern debates. However, this present collection of his writings suggests a very clear political deviation whereby Lukács arrived at his wrong positions although it is undoubtedly an error connected to his early 1920s theoretical concept of class consciousness. Despite the incessant talk of 'the totality' which runs throughout these essays, in reality Lukács never attempts to derive a political line from the inter-relation of all elements of capitalist society but takes it solely and exclusively from the state of the proletariat itself.

This concept, which in fact runs throughout the collection of writings, is stated most clearly of all in the essay on the question of 'Opportunism and Putschism'. Here Lukács states: 'Because of their mechanical notion of the class struggle, opportunists and putschists alike are bound to have a static concept of the class, seeing it as a once-and-for-all, unalterably given fact, and not as something dynamic which emerges, grows and brings itself to life in the course of the struggle. However, it is only when the constitution of the proletariat as a class is regarded as the goal and the tendency of the revolution that we can discover a firm basis for the constantly changing tactics of communist activity. The economic, scientific reality of the class is of course the starting point for tactical considerations. But the other reality, the living reality of the class effected by the proletariat this is possible only as a goal of revolutionary action. Every genuine revolutionary act diminishes the tension, the gulf between economic being and active consciousness of the proletariat. Once this consciousness has reached, penetrated and illuminated being, it is immediately possessed of the power to overcome all obstacles and to complete the process of revolution’ (Lukács, 1920a, p.79).

Even leaving aside the evident errors of the 'philosophy of action' contained here, the entire way in which the question of the basis of tactics is formulated is, in terms of class relations, totally different from that displayed by Lenin. For Lukács the political tactics are derived from the situation of the proletariat 'the economic, scientific reality of the class is of course the starting point for tactical considerations.' For Lenin, on the contrary, tactics can only be derived from the relation of all the forces and classes of capitalist society 'the Communist Party... must act on scientific principles. Science... demands that account must be taken of all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses operating in a given country' (Lenin V. I., 1920a, p. 81).

For Lukács it is simply the achievement of consciousness by the proletariat which suffices for the revolution: 'Once this conscious­ness has reached, penetrated and illuminated being, it is immediately possessed of the power to overcome all obstacles and to complete the process of revolution.' For Lenin, on the contrary, achievement of consciousness by the working class is not at all, in itself, a sufficient condition for revolution: 'The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way ' (Lenin V. I., 1920a, p.84).

Indisputably, of course, the positions Lukács took on materialism, economics, and the 'power'of commodity fetishism led to the particular deviation outlined above. In particular, the extremely under-developed concept which exists in Lukács's work of any specifically political structures plays a crucial role.6 It is only at this specifically political level that the relation of all classes could have been analysed.7 However, no matter what its theoretical origin, in these 1920s essays the operative element which comes over in Lukács's political positions is the continual attempt to derive a line from the situation of the working class alone. In this concept also, of course, the early Lukács's positions again clearly link up with contemporary ultra-left concepts.8

Finally, it is worth noting that, in the period following the debates in the Comintern, Lukács pulled back from ultra-leftism and moved sharply towards more correct conceptions. In 1924, in his book on Lenin, Lukács was already able to make a clear self-criticism: that 'the slogan of left wing radicalism was the rejection in principle of any compromise. Lenin's polemic shows... that this rejection contains an evasion of decisive struggles, behind which lies a defeatist attitude towards the revolution. For the genuinely revolutionary situation... expresses itself in the fact that there are no areas of the class struggle in which revolutionary (or counter­-revolutionary) possibilities are not present' (Lukács, 1924, p.82).

Unfortunately, however, Lukács collided with Stalin in this process. As he recalled in 1967: 'In the debate in the Russian Party I agreed with Stalin about the necessity for socialism in one country, and this shows very clearly the start of a new epoch in my thought' (Lukács, 1967, p.xxviii).

The outcome of this 'new epoch in his thought' is clearly revealed in Lukács's final article in the present collection the so-called 'Blum Theses'. These theses, which constitute Lukács's last major political writings, are a clear expression of a theory advocating a Popular Front. Lukács was to support and give gloss to this political line in his philosophic and aesthetic works throughout the Stalin era. The sole originality of the Theses is that they were produced not in the mid 1930s but in 1928 at the start of the ultra-left ravings of the Comintern's Third Period. Lukács paid the price for having anticipated the turn of Dimitrov and Stalin by six years by making a public 'self-criticism' and withdrawing from explicitly political writing.

Even this capitulation of Lukács however has its interesting political lessons. The difference between the types of qualities needed to be a theoretician and those needed to be a political leader are well summed up in the reasons Lukács gives to explain his capitulation:

'When I heard from a reliable source that Bela Kun was planning to expel me from the Party as a "Liquidator", I gave up the struggle, as I was well aware of Kun's prestige in the International, and I published a "self-criticism". I was indeed firmly convinced that I was in the right but I also knew for example, from the fate that had befallen Karl Korsch that to be expelled from the Party meant that it would no longer be possible to participate actively in the struggle against Fascism. I wrote my self-criticism as an "entry ticket" to such activity'.

Not merely did this reveal a total lack of the human qualities that are needed to make a political leader try telling a Left Oppositionist of the 1930s, dying in a labour camp, murdered by the GPU, or even merely struggling to produce a newspaper, that such a prospect of merely being expelled from the party was too much to ask anyone to bear but it was political bankruptcy. The idea that the political line of an organisation is fundamentally wrong but that this can be compensated for by personally valuable work is, in the strictest scientific sense, a typical concept of petty-bourgeois individualist intellectualism. As to what Lukács really bought an 'entry ticket' to, this was well summed up in one of the obituaries following his death in 1971: 'Lukács recanted... because a refusal an act of resistance would have resulted in his expulsion from the Comintern. If this were to happen... he could not join the "anti-fascist struggle". What concrete insight! What brilliance! We are well acquainted with the Comintern's brilliant record in the "anti-fascist" struggle. The string of its victories echoes with the hollow laughs of gravestones in the history of the proletariat Germany, Spain, France' (Rosemont, 1973).

No matter what his personal intentions, Lukács became in reality a political appendage of Stalinism and all the more dangerous because of his brilliance. Even leaving aside the purges and Popular Fronts, someone who could write that, 'the real dilemma of our age is not the opposition between capitalism and socialism, but the opposition between peace and war' (Lukács, 1957, p. 92)9, can in no serious political sense be said to represent anything remotely resembling the interests of the working class. It is true that at the very end of his life Lukács did once again begin to take a certain position to the left of Stalinism on issues such as the student revolt, but this cannot be said to mark a radical break.10

Undoubtedly throughout the forty years following his capitu­lation of 1928-29 Lukács produced Marxist writing of truly outstanding quality. Works such as The Young Hegel, Goethe and His Age, and various of the aesthetic essays are, no matter what specific criticism may be made, amongst the finest writings produced since the 'classic period' of Marxism was closed by Stalinism. Lukács provides an outstanding example of the fact that in Marxism there is no simple one-to-one relation between theoretical brilliance and political position in defence of the interests of the working class.11 However, in Marxism it is the political position and not the individual theoretical brilliance that is the most decisive criterion. On that level, Lukács was a failure. The person who is revealed in the essays of the 1920s to have been a powerful and original political thinker even when profoundly wrong was irrevocably destroyed by Stalinism.

To read this present volume is not merely to enter into debates which still have contemporary relevance but is to come face to face with one of the major problems and political 'might have beens' in the history of Marxism. To discover that a person who served the Stalinist bureaucracy for forty years could be a Marxist writer and theoretician of stunning brilliance is a salutary lesson to all philistine and reductionist revolutionaries. To realise that a near genius could still adopt a political position completely opposed to the interests of the working class should provide food for thought for those intellectuals who think that the degree of personal intelligence is the surest guide to the class line. Either way the experience, and the quality of Lukács's ideas, is well worth £3.

ALAN JONES

Notes

1 Such a concept will of course be well known to those, such as the PRP and the Socialist Workers Party, who advocated the slogan in Portugal of 'Dissolve the Constituent Assembly' in summer 1975.

2 On the situation in Austria at the time, see (Braunthal, 1963, p. 202f) and (Rosdolsky)

3 Lenin, of course, also stressed that in some circumstances, such as that of the Constituent Assembly in Russia, it might even aid in the dispersing of bourgeois parliamentary bodies to have the elections to them while of course in other conditions, such as 1905 and the pre-Parliament of 1917, Lenin advocated a boycott (as did Trotsky, for example, in relation to the 1931 elections in Spain).

4 Lukács states: 'Once I had gained a definite and fundamental insight into what was wrong with my whole approach in History and Class Consciousness this search became a plan to investigate the philosophical connections between economics and dialectics. My first attempt to put this plan into practice came early in the Thirties, in Moscow and Berlin, with the first draft of my book on the young Hegel (which was not completed until Autumn 1937). Only now, thirty years later, am I attempting to discover a real solution to this whole problem in the ontology of social existence.' (Lukács, Preface to the New Edition (1967), 1967, p. xxxv)

5 See (Novack, 1972a) and (Novack, 1972b). This latter issue also contains 'A Criticism of George Novack's Stand on Lukács' by Etienne Abrahamovici.

6 Stedman Jones correctly puts it when he states: 'Lukács' conception of class power is so totally confined to an etherealised ideology that it not merely passes over the whole array of cultural apparatuses whereby the bourgeoisie exercises its ideological dominance in capitalist social formations, but it also largely neglects the political apparatus of capital par excellence: the State. There is very little in the main essays of History and Class Consciousness on the bourgeois State... there is no real mention of that State apparatus which Marx and Lenin taught had to be broken physically by the working class... (op. cit., pp51-52).

Perry Anderson has made the same point in terms of a more general theoretical framework in 'The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci' (Anderson, 1976-1977).

7 'Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships of all classes and strata to the state and to the government, the spheres of interrelations between all classes.' (Lenin V. I., 1902, p. 422)

8 Again Portugal provides the classic contemporary case of these errors. During the summer of 1975 a whole section of the ultra-left attempted to develop its line simply from the relation of forces amongst the proletariat of Lisbon. This method, which totally left out of account the situation of the peasants in the north of the country and the state of the bourgeois forces themselves, inevitably led to disastrous ultra-left conceptions of the relation of forces Socialist Worker of 6 December 1975, for example, believed that insurrection had only been 'some weeks' away prior to 25 November. (For a critique of these conceptions, see (Jones A., 1976)

9 At least in the case of Lukács and the above quotation of 1955 is merely the expression of his essential political development for 20 years previously it is not possible to accept the assessment of Perry Anderson on 'Western Marxism' that: 'Despite everything, its [Western Marxism's] major thinkers remained immune to reformism' (Anderson: Considerations on Western Marxism, p.93).

10 Michael Löwy: 'Lukács and Stalinism', in New Left Review 91, attempts to make out a case for a final political regeneration of Lukács (Lowy). However, the absolutely meagre evidence which is all that even this heroic effort can bring shows how thankless the task is. Apart from various criticisms of US imperialism, which were standard even in the most 'peace-oriented' period, the most that Löwy can dig out of real criticism of the Stalinist system (as opposed to the Stalin individual) is that Lukács apparently said in a conversation with one of his ex-students that the invasion of Czechoslovakia was 'the greatest disaster for the communist movement since the social-democrats approved the Kaiser's war credits in 1914' (cited in ibid., p.38).

Doubtless it is interesting to know that Lukács opposed the invasion as certainly he was disgusted at the time by much of Stalinism. However, on the basis of this and a few other phrases, Löwy comes out with the following amazing statement: 'On 4 June 1971 death cut short, at its outset, this astonishing "return to first principles"; after half a century of "reconciliation" and "lost illusions", Lukács had, in the last three years of his life, begun to rediscover the intense hopes, the red flame of the People's Commissar of 1919' (ibid., p.41). In his admiration for Lukács's theoretical gifts, Löwy has unfortunately lost all sense of political proportion. Even completely non-Marxist and humanist dissidents in Eastern Europe at least visibly demonstrated and acted on the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Trotskyists denounced as scoundrels all those who did not. Does Lukács, on the basis of a private conversation of dissociation, become 'the red flame of the People's Commissar'? If so, we must assume that the cellist Rostropovich, who greeted the invasion by at least giving a performance of Dvorak's music, must be the Trotsky of our time. The reality is that Lukács, whose fame would have protected him and would have made world wide impact if he had spoken out, remained publicly silent on this 'greatest disaster to the communist movement since 1914'. Just as, throughout the preceding 50 years, Lukács moaned and groaned a bit but did precisely nothing. If Löwy wants to try to suggest anything different he has in reality abandoned all serious political standards. To take an obvious analogy, Lenin might well have admired Plekhanov's philosophy greatly, but he would never have dreamed of covering up for his rotten politics.

11 In that sense and respect the present author must make a certain self-criticism for the obituary written at the time of Lukács's death (Jones A., Georg Lukacs Fate of the Unattached Intellectual, 1971). This article committed the opposite error to that of Löwy above. In the name of a (perfectly justified) attack on Lukács's political record, it attempted to deny virtually any theoretical merit to the work produced following his capitulation to Stalinism. Such a reduction of Marxist theory to politics is not merely wrong but positively harmful in that through denying any merit to that which evidently possesses real value it only diverts attention onto false debates. The real point which has to be made is the distinction and relative autonomy between politics and theory and, within that, the primacy of the political criterion.


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