Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Asiatic Mode of Production

From Chapter 8 of Ernest Mandel's The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx: 1843 to Capital.

8. The Asiatic Mode of Production and the Historical Pre-Conditions for the Rise of Capital

* must carefully distinguish what Marx and Engels meant by this expression, the distortion that it subsequently suffered at the hands of some of Marx’s disciples and some of his opponents, and the way it is used today by historians and sociologists inspired by Marxism. For this purpose, a brief review of the origin of the idea in the thought of Marx and Engels seems useful.

Without wishing to go back to the origin of the expression “Oriental despotism,” which dates from the seventeenth century, or to Montesquieu, who made extensive use of it,13 it is likely that Marx and Engels worked out their theory of the Asiatic mode of production under the influence of three currents of thought: first, economists like John Stuart Mill and Richard Jones, whom Marx had studied or was studying in 1853, and who employed similar expressions;14 then, accounts of travels, memoirs, and monographs devoted to Eastern countries, which Marx and Engels read at about this time;15 finally, special studies they made of village communities in other parts of the world which led them to recognize the importance of this type of community in the countries of the East.16

All of these studies were at bottom by-products of a constant and minute analysis Marx and Engels were making of Britain’s foreign trade and economic situation. The markets of the East were increasingly important as outlets for British industry. The expansion of British exports was causing profound upheavals in Oriental society—the Taiping rebellion in China and the Sepoy mutiny in India were reactions, directly or indirectly, to this disintegrating influence. Fascinated by revolutions, whether they occurred in the West or in the East, Marx and Engels set themselves to study the structure of the societies that were being shaken. This was how they came to formulate the working hypothesis of an Asiatic mode of production.

The fundamental characteristics of this mode of production were set out exhaustively enough in the three letters of June 1853 already mentioned, and in four articles published in the New York Daily Tribune. They can be summarized thus:

(1) What is above all characteristic of the Asiatic mode of production is the absence of private ownership of land.17

(2) As a result, the village community retains an essential cohesive force which has withstood the bloodiest of conquests through the ages.18

(3) This internal cohesion of the ancient village community is further increased by the close union of agriculture and craft industry that exists in it.19

(4) For geographical and climatic reasons, however, the prosperity of agriculture in these regions requires impressive hydraulic works: “Artificial irrigation is here the first condition of agriculture.”20 This irrigation requires nearly everywhere a central authority to regulate it and to undertake large-scale works.21

(5) For this reason, the state succeeds in concentrating the greater part of the social surplus product in its own hands, which causes the appearance of social strata maintained by this surplus and constituting the dominant power in society (whence the expression “Oriental despotism”). The “internal logic” of a society of this kind works in favor of a very great degree of stability in basic production relations.

We find all these characteristics mentioned in the Grundrisse, including the importance of hydraulic works.22 At the same time, however, we find a number of additional ideas which enable us to define more exactly what Marx and Engels meant by the Asiatic mode of production.

In the first place, the quite accidental and secondary development of the towns in Eastern countries, and their strict subordination to the heads of state or their satraps, are stressed several times.23 This meant that production remained almost exclusively production of use values.24 Now, it is the development of the production of exchange values in the towns that makes possible preparation for the predominance of capital. When the power of money becomes predominant in non-industrial societies, it leads to the domination of the country over the town.25 In other words, the distinctive structure of the Asiatic mode of production—the subordination of the towns both to agriculture and to the central authority26—implied that capital could not fully develop. That meant not stagnation of the productive forces (which cannot be proved in a case like that of China) but retarded development, which in the end proved fatal to the nations based on this mode of production.27

The dissolving effect which the development of trade and a money economy had on the Asiatic mode of production is shown in numerous examples from the history of ancient Mesopotamia, China, and India. The Hungarian sinologist Ferenc Tökei uses, for China, the expression “pre-capitalist development.” It is undeniable that under the Ming dynasty China experienced—like India at the height of the Mogul period—an expansion of luxury production and private trade that brought the country to the threshold of manufacturing and commercial capitalism.28 But it is the peculiar structure of the Asiatic mode of production that enables us to explain why this threshold was not crossed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Objections by bourgeois economists to the labor theory of value

From Chapter 6 of Mandel's The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx.

....It is interesting to examine some of the objections that have been raised in recent decades against the labor theory of value as perfected by Marx.36 In this connection I will deal with the observations of Frank H. Knight, Joseph Schumpeter, Oskar Lange, and Joan Robinson.

According to Knight,37 a labor theory of value would be justified only if labor were a rigid and non-transferable “factor of production.” But the mobility of “labor,” associated with the mobility of “other agencies of production,” leads to a situation in which various combinations of these “agencies” are possible, and this entails determining their value by their “marginal productivity.”

The only trouble is that the value of machines—their cost of production—is perfectly well known.38 It is wholly independent of the number or value of the commodities these machines can produce. No industrialist, when he buys a piece of equipment, calculates the “surplus of value” that it will bring him. What he calculates is the saving that it will enable him to make in his costs of production (or, if you like, in his net cost per unit). And if one were to question industrialists, nine times out of ten they would say spontaneously that what interests them is “saving labor” (in the United States, machines have long been described as “labor-saving devices”).

Every industrialist likewise knows that machines that just lie in the factory without moving do not produce a particle of value; for them to serve in production they have to be set in motion by living labor.39 It is the latter, and the latter alone, that incorporates new value into the commodity; as to the value of the machines and other “agencies,” that is merely conserved by living labor, which transfers the equivalent value (wholly or in part) into the commodities it produces. This is also known to industrialists and statisticians, since they speak of an “added value” which is shared between the capitalists and the workers, and which is added to the “conserved value” (raw materials and machinery). The secret of this “added value” must therefore be found in labor alone. And Marx discovered this when he formulated his law of surplus value.

Schumpeter’s argument against the labor theory of value and in favor of the theory known as that of “factors of production” is of the same sort. He reproaches supporters of the labor theory of value with being inspired by “ethical philosophies and political doctrines” that have nothing to do with economic reality as such. “In other words, they failed to see that all that matters for this purpose is the simple fact that, in order to produce, a firm needs not only labor but all the things that are included in land and capital as well, and that this is all that is implied in setting up the three factors [of production].”40

To be sure, if one wishes to come down to this level of commonplace it should be added that in order to produce a “firm” needs not only labor, land, buildings, machinery, raw materials, and money, but also an organized society, police protection, a state system that includes means of communication, an infrastructure, etc., and many other things as well. Why arbitrarily isolate “three factors of production”? Why not talk of five “factors of production”: labor, land, machinery, reserves of liquid money, and state organization, and then discover five “incomes” corresponding to these “factors”: wages, ground rent, profit, interest, and taxes?

The capitalists and their ideologues raise a weighty objection to this: no “real contribution” is made by the state or by organized society to the new value created within the enterprise; they merely provide “external savings,” an indispensable general framework. But then one is equally justified in asking whether “land” or “machinery” (not to speak of “liquid money”) make any “real contribution” to the creation of new value within the enterprise, because it is recognized by implication that not everything that is a “factor indispensable for production” is thereby ipso facto a “source of new value.” And we are thus brought back to the problem of the ultimate origin of the value “added” in production, which can only come from living labor.41

A more serious and more sophisticated objection is advanced by Oskar Lange in one of his early writings.42 Lange’s argument can be summarized thus: Though Marxist theory has been able to predict correctly the laws of capitalist development, it has not proved able to supply an adequate theory of prices (and especially of monopoly prices), or an adequate theory of the optimum use of resources in a socialist society, or, above all, a theory of crises, because it is fundamentally a “static theory of general economic equilibrium.”43 Moreover, the labor theory of value is incapable of explaining the nature of wages and the survival of profit, which are supposed to be determined by the technical progress inherent in the capitalist system. But this “dynamic” element is not so much a result of the internal logic of the labor theory of value as of the institutional framework of capitalism revealed by Marx. And it is his analysis of this institutional framework, rather than the labor theory of value, that is the source of Marxism’s superiority as a tool of analysis for discovering the laws of capitalist development.

It seems to me that Lange’s very starting point is mistaken. The labor theory of value cannot be considered a “static theory of general economic equilibrium.”44 The labor theory of value, as corrected and perfected by Marx, is indissolubly linked with the theory of surplus value. The two theories taken together, far from constituting a “static theory,” form by definition a dynamic theory. They are in fact a synthesis of two opposites, a conception of equal exchange linked with a conception of unequal exchange. It is above all the exchange between labor and capital that possesses this dual quality.

Consequently, the “Marxist model” is by nature dynamic, since it leads to the conclusion that the production of new value, the increase in value, economic expansion, economic growth are inherent in the capitalist mode of production. This same Marxist model is not a “theory of general equilibrium” but, again, a synthesis of two opposites, a demonstration of the fact that the permanent (and apparent) disequilibrium of capitalist economic life is based on a more profound equilibrium, which in its turn gives rise to necessary and inevitable disturbances of this equilibrium (periodic crises, tendency of the average rate of profit to fall, concentration of capital, intensification of class struggle) that end by undermining the system.

Lange’s idea that the dynamic element (economic evolution) results from the institutional framework rather than from the internal logic of the labor theory of value is also based on a mistake. According to Lange, the element of “technical progress” is necessary if we are to understand why wages do not “threaten to annihilate the employers’ profits”;45 capitalist profit could not go on existing except in a setting of technical progress. Lange forgets that, even without technical progress, wages cannot abolish profits because the capitalists stop hiring workers long before this point is reached. They prefer in this situtation to shut down their factories and thereby also re-establish an industrial reserve army—even without “technical progress.” This is indeed what happens in all the more or less “prefabricated” recessions of neocapitalism. The capitalists can wait, whereas the workers cannot because they possess neither the means of production nor the means of subsistence.

Besides, it is not only the competition between capital and labor but also the competition among capitalists that explains technical progress, according to the Marxist model. Both forms of competition result from the twofold necessity of accumulating capital and realizing surplus value under economic conditions in which the quantity of labor socially necessary to produce a commodity manifests itself only a posteriori, and is unknown a priori. It is these two reasons, which relate to the fundamental character of the capitalist mode of production—that is, of a system of generalized commodity economy—that are the ultimate root of the “dynamic” element in Marxist economic theory. They both follow from the very nature of the labor theory of value.

I will mention in conclusion the criticism of the labor theory of value which Joan Robinson formulated soon after the Second World War.46 In her view, Marx, like Ricardo, was mistaken in seeking an intrinsic value of commodities “analogous to weight or color.” And Marx, like Smith, sought “a measure of value which would be invariable,” which he found in labor. The labor theory of value constructed on these theoretical foundations was useless, and Marx could have explained all the laws of development he discovered in much less complicated terms without resorting to the labor theory of value.

As Roman Rosdolsky has shown in detail,47 these arguments reflect an astonishing failure to grasp Marx’s ideas, although he expounded them clearly enough. Marx explicitly denied that the exchange value of commodities was an “intrinstic quality” of commodities in the physical sense; on the contrary, he showed that the common “quality” that makes commodities commensurable is not physical but social in nature. What Joan Robinson has not grasped is the difference between concrete labor, which creates use values and the physical properties of products, and abstract labor, which creates exchange value. Nor did Marx set out to discover an “invariable measure of value.” On the contrary, he showed that the measure of exchange value must itself be a commodity, that it must itself be variable. It is just because exchange value presupposes a common quality in all commodities—the fact that they are all produced by abstract labor, by a fraction of the total labor potential at society’s disposal—that it is at once social and variable, and not physical and immutable!

What all these critiques have in common is their inability to grasp the level of abstraction to which Marx ascended in order to discover the socioeconomic problems underlying the problem of exchange value....

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Alyson Kennedy video

Workers World Party supports UK big capital against "Brexit" voters

Left hysteria against the results of the UK "Brexit" vote continues. It converges quite clearly in this case with the broad anti-worker media propaganda campaign we've seen around the Trump vote in the U.S.
If WWP can endorse the Remain vote for UK workers, can an endorsement of Democratic Party lesser-evil be far behind?

A few excerpts:
....racist character of the Leave vote.
....From the anecdotes and statistics above it would seem clear that it was better to vote Remain while giving an anti-imperialist, anti-EU explanation that showed solidarity with the oppressed than to remain silent and abstain, leaving your position unknown. Also, whatever anti-imperialist arguments are made, it is clear that the Leave movement is a right-wing movement with a flagrantly racist agenda.
....To be sure, the Leave vote struck a blow at the EU. But that blow is hardly to the advantage of the working class, even if it brings havoc to imperialist commerce and finance capital. The British vote to Leave the EU is now being hailed by the National Front in France, by the Alternative for Germany, by the rightist Democratic Party of Sweden, by the right wing in the Netherlands, Austria and Hungary and by Donald Trump....

Talcott Parsons: a Marxist view

From Chapter 4 of Mandel's The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx. After a discussion of Marx's economic theorizing from 1846 to 1848, Mandel writes:

....The synthesis of sociology and economic science that Marx endeavored to accomplish derives its enormous superiority from the fact that it is based on a synthesis of the logical (dialectical) method with the historical method.37 No other theory has so far achieved a synthesis which comes anywhere near the practical success of the Marxist method.

Recently the American sociologist Talcott Parsons has tried to effect a comparable synthesis. Within the framework of a highly formalized sociology and a general theory of action, he treats the economy as a special feature of a “social system” specialized in increasing the “adaptability” of the wider system.38 This attempt at a synthesis can be considered a failure for three fundamental reasons: its largely unhistorical character, its inability to grasp the basically contradictory nature of every “social system” (and of all reality), and its rather clearly apologetic tendency in relation to the reality of present-day capitalism (monopoly capitalism, which has closely integrated the state with itself, or neo-capitalism).

Talcott Parsons alleges, to be sure, that his analysis applies to “any society” and “any” social system.39 But this ambitious claim does not stand up to historical criticism. When Parsons says that the state of demand and conditions of production change continuously, in all societies, except in “highly traditional” primitive economies,40 he overturns the teaching of economic history. In fact, these “continuous” changes in demand and conditions of production are only the product of generalized commodity economies—which fill only a very small part of the total history to date of homo sapiens. Parsons discovers the origin of “capital” (defined, in the usual way of apologetics, as the totality of society’s “fluid” resources: as if a primitive village’s stock of seed, or the flocks of a nomadic tribe living at the stage of gentile communism, were “capital”!; as if capital were not a social relation!) in the links between the economy and the political collectivity, through generalization of the role played by credit in the epoch of the decline of monopoly capitalism. How then is one to explain the “normal” accumulation of capital in large-scale industry at the dawn of Britain’s age of laissez-faire, when the role played by credit was clearly secondary, and when, moreover, credit was largely private?

The unhistorical nature of Talcott Parsons’s functionalist schema is obvious when one notes that most of his definitions in the economic field are only generalizations (made hardly even a little abstract) of the essential features of a capitalist economy, and even of a capitalist economy in a particular phase of its development. Thus, his definition of the economy as striving to attain the “goal” of maximizing production within the framework of the system of institutionalized values41 (as if there had not been a series of modes of production whose “institutionalized values” implied precisely deliberate refusal to “maximize production”!). Or his definition of the “contract” as the central economic institution (as if the contract were not the offspring of commodity production).42

His inability to grasp the contradictory character of “social systems,” and a fortiori of “economic systems,” is the most important of the three weaknesses of Talcott Parsons’s schema. By eliminating conflicts between social groups from the foundation of his analysis; by considering the “systems” as tending to “integration,” to “lessening of tensions”; by concealing the fact that the dominant “values” of a system do not at all correspond to the interests of all its members but only to those of the dominant minority, Parsons renders himself incapable of explaining either the driving force of historical evolution, which passes from one social and economic system to another (the periodical conflict between the level of development of the productive forces and the relations of production), or the concrete form that historical evolution takes (the struggle between antagonistic classes and social forces). Whereas the Marxist system enables us to explain historical phenomena as different as the origin of the Asiatic mode of production, the decline of the Roman Empire, the rise of the cities in the Middle Ages, the coming of large-scale industry, the wiping-out of free competition, the outburst of Fascism and its defeat, we would search in vain in Talcott Parsons’s formulae for the elements needed in order to understand these varying phenomena. The few remarks about pre-capitalist social contradictions that can be found in Economy and Society reveal a lack of understanding which is sometimes almost grotesque.43

Talcott Parsons’s fundamental thesis comes to grief through his incomprehension of social conflicts and their economic roots. Every “economic system,” when it reaches a certain point of development, does not increase but, on the contrary, greatly reduces the adaptability of its “larger social system.” The evolution of the Roman Empire after the second and third centuries A.D., or the evolution of China in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, provide striking examples in disproof of Parsons’s schema.

As for the apologetic character of Talcott Parsons’s theory, this is shown especially in the way he deals with the institutional framework of capitalist society. Labor makes the decision—within the workers’ “households”!—to offer its “performance” to the “organizations,” in exchange for and in consideration of “remuneration” and other “satisfactions.” This decision is taken primarily(!) on the basis of a “general socialized motivation.”44 And so on. The fact of a social class with neither resources of its own nor access to means of subsistence, one which thereby suffers an economic constraint precedent to any “socialized motivation,” any “acceptance of the fact of labor”—the only other solution being death from starvation!—has no place in Parsons’s “institutional” analysis. Similarly, one looks in vain for the slightest explanation of the fact that feudal ground rent obviously represents a product of labor not paid for by the nobility, which the latter appropriates, or the slightest attempt to disprove the analogy which can be perceived between the social surplus product in pre-capitalist times and the surplus value produced under the capitalist mode of production.

Militant Labor Forum on "Brexit" announced

Monday, June 27, 2016

Eruptions versus revolution: social weight of the industrial proletariat

From Chapter One of Mandel's Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx:

....The Condition of the Working Class in England is not a work of historial materialism in the strict sense. It is still moral indignation rather than understanding of the social process that inspires the young social critic. But this moral indignation is already revolutionary, already linked to a boundless devotion to the class exploited and crushed by capital, the class which has created all that wealth whose enjoyment capital reserves to itself.40 Most important, the book already leads to the realization that the actual struggle of the proletariat is the only possible vehicle for socialism. In this sense it marks Engels’s definitive break with utopian socialism and forms at the same time an essential weapon against it.

In recent years this conception has been subjected to critical examination because of the obvious historical delay in the victory of socialism in the industrially developed countries of the West. Some of the critics—either explicitly, as with Frantz Fanon, or implicitly, as with the theoreticians of the Chinese Communist Party—strive to show that the revolutionary potential of the peoples of the Third World is greater than that of the Western proletariat. Moreover, within the peoples of the Third World they assign the chief role in the revolution to the peasantry and the revolutionary intelligentsia, and consider that in those countries the industrial proletariat is to some extent a privileged social class in relation to the landless peasants.41

Other critics question not the revolutionary capacity of the Western proletariat in comparison with that of the peoples of the Third World, but its revolutionary capacity as such. They regard the Western proletariat as being in practice integrated into capitalist society, especially through its atomization (in semi-automated industry), the growth in its consuming capacity, and the opportunities that exist for manipulating its ideology and its needs.42 They do not deny that the mass of those who are obliged to sell their labor power continues to increase both in absolute numbers and relative to the total working population. They do deny that this numerical increase strengthens, either directly or indirectly, the challenge to Western capitalism or even the likelihood of seeing it overthrown by the Western proletariat.

Both types of critic tend to refer more often to the youthful writings of Marx and Engels than to the writings of their maturer years. In these youthful works, and in particular in the Introduction to the Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, the revolutionary role of the proletariat is essentially deduced from the negative characteristics of this class in bourgeois society. It is presented as the culmination of a Hegelian triad, as a veritable “negation of the negation.” It is because the proletariat’s chains are radical that it can get rid of them only through a radical revolution. This leads contemporary critics to conclude that since the proletariat’s chains have today become a great deal less radical, the hope of a radical revolution being carried out by this class has become largely utopian.

A more critical analysis of the youthful writings of Marx and Engels—and especially of the origin of their ideas regarding social revolution—shows, however, that behind the brilliant style there was still, at that stage, a lack of empirical knowledge. A remark Engels formulated forty years later, writing about The German Ideology, applies equally to the famous phrase about “radical chains”: “The finished portion consists of an exposition of the materialist conception of history which proves only how incomplete our knowledge of economic history still was at that time.”43 The modern proletariat is not, in fact, the social class which has borne the heaviest chains in the history of the world. That definition would better fit the Roman slaves between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD. History has shown that it is not enough for a class to have nothing more to lose, and not to possess private property, for it to be capable of carrying out a social revolution abolishing all private property. When they later made their diagnosis more precise, Marx and Engels assigned the proletariat the key role in the coming of socialism not so much because of the misery it suffers as because of the place it occupies in the production process and the capacity it thereby possesses to acquire a talent for organization and a cohesion in action which is incommensurable with that of any oppressed class in the past.

There is no reason to deny the revolutionary capacity of the landless peasantry of the countries of the Third World or to doubt the fact that these countries have brought forward the largest number of participants in the revolutionary struggle, on the world scale, during the past twenty years. Two points need to be made, however, if this fact is not to be transformed into a false picture of the overall reality. First, this peasantry, as the Marxists foresaw, is in itself unable to take power and found new states; for this it needs a leadership which, by origin, composition, and inspiration, is proletarian.44 Further, this poor peasantry alone is unable to build a socialist society in the sense that Marx understood it—that is, a society which insures a full and complete blossoming of all human potentialities. It is precisely because the infrastructure of such a society can only be the product of modern large-scale industry, brought to its highest level of development, that the socialist revolution, conceived as a worldwide process,45 though it may begin in underdeveloped countries, cannot be completed—that is, assume its full development—until it embraces the countries that are most industrially advanced.

Furthermore, when various sociologists and economists express doubt as to the role of the proletariat as the vehicle of socialist transformation in the West, they usually make one of two mistakes: they either presuppose Marx guilty of alleging an automatic relationship between the degree of industrial development and the degree of class consciousness,46 or they consider the development of this class consciousness (and, in general, of the subjective conditions needed for the overthrow of capitalism) as proceeding in a straight-line fashion.

It is obvious that when Marx and Engels reached maturity they clearly grasped the dialectical relationships between the level of development of the productive forces and that of class consciousness.47 What Engels wrote about the British proletariat of the nineteenth century applies, mutatis mutandis, to the American proletariat of the twentieth century. In order to show that the latter will prove unable to fulfill its revolutionary mission, it is not enough to describe the present mechanisms of integration, ideological manipulation, and so on. It is necessary to show that the factors which, in the long run, work in the opposite direction—increasing international competition, which operates to erode the American monopoly on high productivity and the superiority in wages that the American workers enjoy as a result of this monopoly—will not alter the behavior of the proletariat of the United States. It is above all necessary to show that automation, which is merely the most radical form assumed by the historical tendency of capital to substitute dead labor for living labor,48 will in the long run be accompanied by full employment and will not lead to recessions that growing inflation will be unable to hold in check. This has not yet been shown.

As to the hope of seeing the emancipating role of the proletariat carried out by “unintegrated minorities” (radical minority groups, students, the infra-proletariat, or even elements which are plainly anti-social), this comes up against the same obstacle on which the slave revolts of ancient Rome stumbled and fell. These groups are capable, at best, of desperate outbreaks. They do not possess either objective social power (either to insure or to paralyze production as a whole) or the lasting ability to organize themselves collectively—two characteristics which are necessary if they are to transform present-day society.

We shall see later that Marx and Engels quickly became convinced that the objective and subjective conditions favorable to the overthrow of capitalism do not develop in a straight line, but follow a curve which is distinctly influenced by the fluctuations of the industrial cycle (both the seven-year cycle and the long-term cycle).49 What is essential is not to know whether or not the working class of a particular country or group of countries is temporarily passive,50 but to know whether the objective and subjective conditions under which it lives impel it periodically to take the road of a general challenge to the capitalist order.

The objective conditions for such a challenge are those that result from the very functioning of capitalism—in particular, the regulation of wages by means of the industrial reserve army, the resulting insecurity, the inadequacy of wages in relation to the needs aroused by social circumstances, the alienating nature of work, and so on. The subjective conditions are, in the last analysis, those which cause the worker to regard his situation as inferior and unsatisfactory. A mass of recent publications shows that this is true in the society called the “consumers’ society” no less than in the nineteenth century.51

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The "battle to throw off the self-image the rulers teach us"

Have "manual workers" been sold on racism because of their precarious situation under capitalism?

Are workers who vote for Trump or "Brexit" all chauvinists? Are they a brake or roadblock to solidarity and independent labor political action?

I do not think workers (including Caucasian workers in imperialist countries) are moving lockstep and in unison to the right of the bourgeois political spectrum.

And for those who are, I do not think the discussion is over.

Quote from Are They Rich Because They're Smart?:

.... there is growing confidence and openness among workers everywhere in the United States to discuss and debate the broadest social and political questions, including the stakes for the working class in organizing the unorganized and rebuilding our unions as instruments of solidarity and struggle.

These political opportunities are not an impression from outside the working class. They’re the practical conclusion from half a decade of efforts by members and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party going door to door in working-class neighborhoods of all kinds across the country to talk with and exchange experiences and views with fellow workers.

The heart of these discussions — whether on a porch, at an apartment door, at a strike picket or social protest, or life on the job — is never simply about “issues,” even political questions of great importance to the working class. It’s about the way forward. It’s about what Jack Barnes points to in the closing article in this book as “preparing the working class for the greatest of all battles in the years ahead — the battle to throw off the self-image the rulers teach us, and to recognize that we are capable of taking power and organizing society.”

That’s the conclusion that’s decisive for workers everywhere today. To act on the necessity, as we gain confidence and experience fighting alongside each other, for the working class to recognize our humanity, our capacities, and the traditions our class has forged during well over a century and half of struggles, including revolutionary battles and victories. “To broaden our scope,” to discover our “own worth,” as Malcolm X was always explaining.

The European Union: a personal selection of articles from

A selection of communist articles on the European Union

Recognizing, organizing, and acting

5 years ago

....At the closing conference rally, Gerald Sanderson from the Communist League in the United Kingdom described the sale of 25 subscriptions to workers in Dagenham, a working-class area of East London, who are contemptuously written-off by middle-class radicals as a hotbed of anti-immigrant sentiment and votes for Conservative, not Labour Party candidates.

Selling the Militant in working-class communities “helped me get a better understanding of the paper” and “breaks down stereotypes,” Sergio Zambrana told the Militant.

....the measure of success of the door-to-door sales of Militant subscriptions was not just numbers but, above all, what the effort registers and helps advance in politically leading and transforming the ongoing, weekly activity of party branches.

The party’s members were “transformed by and began transforming others in the conscious layers of the working class,” Barnes said. What was accomplished registered the response by growing numbers of working people to the accumulating consequences of crisis-wracked capitalist rule—from rising joblessness, to brutal imperialist wars in which the sons and daughters of workers and farmers are sent to fight and die.

“Big turning points for the party come when we recognize broad shifts such as this in our class, anticipate what’s coming, and begin to organize and act accordingly—with no guarantees, no IOUs, no due dates,” Barnes said. “It’s an act of imagination about the political changes as workers fight through the horrors capitalism is bringing—horrors that have already begun.

“And the political conclusion is always the same,” Barnes said. “Go more broadly into the working class, with confidence that we have no monopoly on imagination among workers, no monopoly on recognizing our own worth. And with the knowledge that as we fight alongside other working people, the party will begin to shake off the effects of a long political retreat of our class.”

Testing this increased responsiveness to the party’s course, Barnes said, means taking the Militant and books more broadly into the working class than the party has been doing in recent years, including to rural areas and to neighborhoods where there are concentrations of workers who are Caucasian as well as Black, Latino, and immigrant.

It requires overcoming a “union bias,” recognizing that as a result of the procapitalist course of the labor officialdom, a large and still growing majority of workers are unorganized today. It means understanding that resistance to the bosses’ assaults will begin in the working class—among both the unorganized and the organized—and, as that happens, pose the need and opportunities to rebuild and politically transform the unions....

Bureaucracy: apparatus of privilege and compulsion

Workers need state power that 
fights bureaucracy, dies away 
(Books of the Month column)
The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for June. In the excerpt printed here, author Leon Trotsky takes up the challenges facing the victorious October 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia in consolidating a state power of a very different kind, one that represented the political power of the toiling majority that would advance the struggle for world socialism and lay the basis for its own withering away. But with the victory of the Stalinist counterrevolution the opposite happened. Workers were pushed out of politics and the state apparatus was reinforced and expanded to serve the interests of a privileged bureaucracy. Copyright © 1937 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 

Lenin, following Marx and Engels, saw the first distinguishing feature of the proletarian revolution in the fact that, having expropriated the exploiters, it would abolish the necessity of a bureaucratic apparatus raised above society — and above all, a police and standing army. “The proletariat needs a state — this all the opportunists can tell you,” wrote Lenin in 1917, two months before the seizure of power, “but they, the opportunists, forget to add that the proletariat needs only a dying state — that is, a state constructed in such a way that it immediately begins to die away and cannot help dying away.” (State and Revolution.) This criticism was directed at the time against reformist socialists of the type of the Russian Mensheviks, British Fabians, etc. It now attacks with redoubled force the Soviet idolators with their cult of a bureaucratic state which has not the slightest intention of “dying away.”

The social demand for a bureaucracy arises in all those situations where sharp antagonisms require to be “softened”, “adjusted”, “regulated” (always in the interests of the privileged, the possessors, and always to the advantage of the bureaucracy itself). Throughout all bourgeois revolutions, therefore, no matter how democratic, there has occurred a reinforcement and perfecting of the bureaucratic apparatus. “Officialdom and the standing army —” writes Lenin, “that is a ‘parasite’ on the body of bourgeois society, a parasite created by the inner contradictions which tear this society, yet nothing but a parasite stopping up the living pores.”

Beginning with 1917 — that is, from the moment when the conquest of power confronted the party as a practical problem — Lenin was continually occupied with the thought of liquidating this “parasite.” After the overthrow of the exploiting classes — he repeats and explains in every chapter ofState and Revolution — the proletariat will shatter the old bureaucratic machine and create its own apparatus out of employees and workers. And it will take measures against their turning into bureaucrats — “measures analyzed in detail by Marx and Engels: (1) not only election but recall at any time; (2) payment no higher than the wages of a worker; (3) immediate transition to a regime in which all will fulfill the functions of control and supervision so that all may for a time become ‘bureaucrats’, and therefore nobody can become a bureaucrat.” You must not think that Lenin was talking about the problems of a decade. No, this was the first step with which “we should and must begin upon achieving a proletarian revolution.”

This same bold view of the state in a proletarian dictatorship found finished expression a year and a half after the conquest of power in the program of the Bolshevik party, including its section on the army. A strong state, but without mandarins; armed power, but without the Samurai! It is not the tasks of defense which create a military and state bureaucracy, but the class structure of society carried over into the organization of defense. The army is only a copy of the social relations. The struggle against foreign danger necessitates, of course, in the workers’ state as in others, a specialized military technical organization, but in no case a privileged officer caste. The party program demands a replacement of the standing army by an armed people.

The regime of proletarian dictatorship from its very beginning thus ceases to be a “state” in the old sense of the word — a special apparatus, that is, for holding in subjection the majority of the people. The material power, together with the weapons, goes over directly and immediately into the hands of workers’ organizations such as the soviets. The state as a bureaucratic apparatus begins to die away the first day of the proletarian dictatorship. Such is the voice of the party program — not voided to this day. Strange: it sounds like a spectral voice from the mausoleum.

However you may interpret the nature of the present Soviet state, one thing is indubitable: at the end of its second decade of existence, it has not only not died away, but not begun to “die away.” Worse than that, it has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion. The bureaucracy not only has not disappeared, yielding its place to the masses, but has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses. The army not only has not been replaced by an armed people, but has given birth to a privileged officers’ caste, crowned with marshals, while the people, “the armed bearers of the dictatorship,” are now forbidden in the Soviet Union to carry even nonexplosive weapons. With the utmost stretch of fancy it would be difficult to imagine a contrast more striking than that which exists between the schema of the workers’ state according to Marx, Engels and Lenin, and the actual state now headed by Stalin. While continuing to publish the works of Lenin (to be sure, with excerpts and distortions by the censor), the present leaders of the Soviet Union and their ideological representatives do not even raise the question of the causes of such a crying divergence between program and reality. We will try to do this for them.

The proletarian dictatorship is a bridge between the bourgeois and the socialist society. In its very essence, therefore, it bears a temporary character. An incidental but very essential task of the state which realizes the dictatorship consists in preparing for its own dissolution.

Friday, June 24, 2016

U.S. two-party system

....What is the stance of revolutionaries toward the Democratic and Republican parties? This is not a matter of tactics but a more fundamental question of strategy. It begins not with elections but with the historic line of march of the working class. Wars of plunder, exploitation, racist oppression, the second-class status of women, the destruction of the environment, and other social ills are all inherent to capitalism—they cannot simply be reformed out of existence. Working people must lead a socialist revolution to eliminate capitalism: a struggle by millions to take power out of the hands of the ruling capitalist class, establish a government of workers and farmers, and create a different kind of state—a workers state.

In this epoch of imperialism that has existed worldwide since the 1890s, as V.I. Lenin explained in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, there is no progressive wing of the capitalist class in the United States or any other country. Today, as capitalism slides toward a worldwide economic catastrophe because of its built-in contradictions, the ruling class as a whole is driven to try to reverse the long-term decline of its system. To do so they have no choice but to launch increasingly brutal assaults on the living standards and rights of working people at home, while unleashing wars of conquest abroad. The U.S. government serves as the executive body for this capitalist class. No matter who occupies the presidency, whether a Democrat or a Republican, their job is to continue to enforce the interests of the real, unelected rulers.  
Two-party system 

The capitalist ruling families have two parties who work in cahoots with each other to try to hoodwink working people into thinking they have a democratic choice. The outstanding revolutionary leader Malcolm X explained well the dead-end trap of backing either capitalist party. In the 1964 presidential elections, when liberals and most radicals supported “peace” candidate Lyndon B. Johnson against Republican Barry Goldwater, Malcolm noted that “the shrewd capitalists, the shrewd imperialists, knew that the only way people would run towards the fox [Johnson] would be if you showed them the wolf.” At that very moment, he noted, Johnson “had troops invading the Congo and South Vietnam!” Once elected, of course, Johnson brutally escalated the imperialist war against Vietnam.

Just as working people need to organize independently of the bosses in the economic arena by forming trade unions—rejecting company “unions”—our class must organize independently of the bosses in the political arena. An “all-people’s front” based on supporting the Democratic Party is like a company union on a political level.

This stance is based on the approach revolutionary socialists have always taken in the United States—since Karl Marx and Frederick Engels collaborated with the young communist movement in the late 1800s, arguing for the building of an independent working-class political party. “Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organization to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power, of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against this power and by a hostile attitude toward the policies of the ruling classes. Otherwise it remains a plaything in their hands,” wrote Marx in a Nov. 23, 1871, letter to Friedrich Bolte, a communist working-class leader in New York. Lenin continued along these lines, explaining in a Nov. 9, 1912, article on the U.S. elections that year, “This so-called bipartisan system prevailing in America and Britain has been one of the most powerful means of preventing the rise of an independent working-class, i.e., genuinely socialist, party.” The U.S. Communist Party in its early years rejected supporting any capitalist party. And since its founding in 1938, the Socialist Workers Party, following this political continuity, has maintained the perspective of independent working-class political action. I urge Brinton and other readers to study these rich lessons in the two-volume Revolutionary Continuity: Marxist Leadership in the U.S. by Farrell Dobbs; Labor’s Giant Step: The First Twenty Years of the CIO, 1936-55 by Art Preis; andThe Changing Face of U.S. Politics by Jack Barnes.

Brinton says, “I certainly agree that the Democratic Party is both reactionary and a party of capitalism.” He says that workers “are becoming increasingly dissatisfied,” but that the majority are “sticking with the Democratic Party.” Therefore, he argues, a “tactic” of supporting the Democratic Party in the elections is necessary for workers to “have their own political experience” and for communists not to be isolated from the masses.

To the contrary. The “political experience” of remaining tied to the Democratic wing of the exploiters’ party has been a trap for working people. What our class needs is not dependence on the bosses but a truthful explanation and a political course that raises its class consciousness and trust in its own forces.

In reality, it’s the capitalist minority that needs the support of working people, not the other way around (in fact, the majority of working people simply don’t vote, because they don’t see much difference in choosing between one or the other big-business party). The so-called all-people’s coalition is “a coalition between the owners of American industry and finance, and…the professional ward-heelers and politicians who keep the [Democratic] party machinery oiled, and, on the other hand, the various trade union bureaucrats and leaders of protest movements in American society, whose job it is to bring out the ranks of the coalition at voting time to guarantee the continuance of the rule of this party as opposed to the Republican Party,” said Jack Barnes in a 1965 debate with social democrat Stanley Aronowitz, published in the Pathfinder book The Lesser Evil? Debates on the Democratic Party and Independent Working-Class Politics. Barnes added that when dissatisfaction among working people toward Democratic politicians and the bipartisan system grows, “it’s those boys who whip things into shape, who go to the workers, to the Negroes, to the socialists, and say, ‘Look, it’s in your class interests, it’s in your interests as socialists, to come out and vote from this group, as a tactic’—in order, of course, to defeat the ‘greater evil.’”

This is the same argument the Communist Party USA has promoted since the 1930s, after the party became Stalinized and abandoned Lenin’s revolutionary course. And this election year, once again, we are warned by Stalinist, social democratic, and centrist groups that the Republican wolf, George W. Bush, is akin to “fascism” and that we should go running toward the Democratic fox—John Kerry or whoever gets nominated.

Explaining this revolutionary course is the opposite of sectarian isolation. Precisely because of the dissatisfaction among many workers that Brinton points to, there are greater opportunities than ever for communist workers to discuss a class-struggle perspective with fellow working-class militants as we join with them in battles against the bosses and other social struggles.

Working people and youth do have a clear class choice in the elections—the Socialist Workers candidates, who put forward a revolutionary working-class alternative to the twin capitalist parties of imperialist war, exploitation, racism, and depression. They will be campaigning over the coming months at union picket lines, factory gates, campuses, on the job, at labor and political actions. Joining with campaigners for the socialist alternative is one of the most effective ways to get a broader hearing for a working-class political perspective and to build a party that will be capable of leading workers and farmers to make a revolution in the United States and join the worldwide struggle for socialism.

EU referendum: Workers face growing social crisis

....The referendum debate is sharpening factional tension within the Labour Party. The party’s recently elected London mayor Sadiq Khan has joined with Cameron to campaign for Remain. While party leader Jeremy Corbyn has demurred sharing a platform with the Conservative leader, he argues that EU regulations protect workers and are the road to “a real social Europe.”

Leaving would lead to a “bonfire of rights,” says Corbyn. This rings hollow in light of the assault on workers underway in France today led by the Socialist Party government of Francois Hollande (see article on page 4).

Similar developments are fueling political crisis across the continent. The two dominant capitalist powers, the rulers in Germany and France, push for greater European political integration as they squeeze weaker countries such as Greece, with devastating consequences for working people and much of the middle classes. Meanwhile from Germany to France to Italy to Austria, anti-EU parties and movements are growing. Attitudes to the EU differ between and within the traditional capitalist and bourgeois labor parties.

Despite “stimulus” measures, growth remains sluggish across the eurozone. While unemployment averages over 10 percent, there are vast regional differences. Germany’s official unemployment rate is 4.5 percent; Greece’s stands at a quarter of the population.

Whatever the outcome of the UK referendum, further fracturing pressures will dominate the EU.

Working class answer to European Union

....“There is no class-neutral ‘thing’ called Europe. The EU is a bosses club,” Silberman tells workers as he campaigns at their doorsteps, political events and actions to back workers’ struggles. “It was established to strengthen the propertied rulers against their capitalist rivals, against working people, and to bolster imperialist interests against the oppressed peoples of the semicolonial world. We urge workers to vote for an end to the U.K.’s membership.

“Both the government-led ‘yes’ campaign and the ‘no’ campaign are nationalist and anti-worker,” he says. “They start from what’s in the interests of ‘Britain.’ Class-conscious workers start from what’s in the interests of working people.

“The challenge facing workers is not to look to the capitalist rulers for protection — be they inside or outside the EU,” says the Communist League candidate, “but to fight for independent political action and international working-class solidarity, to forge a labor party that can mobilize working people in a revolutionary struggle for a workers and farmers government.”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Sit-down strike" against Bill of Rights in Washington

Note from a comrade today on Facebook:

Cop-loving politicians disrupt the People’s House, demand more denial of due process.

These liberal swine are trampling over all kinds of rights.

They want to take one unconstitutional list – the cops' secret racist ‘No-Fly’ list – and copy it to a ‘No Gun’ list. Both lists are based on the cops’ claimed “suspicion” that someone is a terrorist. But there’s no way to challenge their claim -- and the U.S. Bill of Rights outlaws that.

The Constitution also establishes the right of the people to elect representatives.



Another comment:

Democrats in congress are protesting to replace "Due Process" with "Secret List" in the text of the 5th amendment to the constitution. They are sitting in to demand an unprecedented expansion of the authority of America's secret police, the FBI, to decide who should be granted constitutional rights based on "suspicion of potential terrorist activity". It used to be that such conduct would conjure public fears of an Orwellian nightmare, but a great deal of my friends are cheerleading this sort of political theater as an act of bold heroism.

I'm very troubled by that, and I hope a few of those friends will take the time to read my thoughts on the matter. Because I'd like to earnestly defend the importance of protecting the bill of rights, including the "right of the people to keep and bear arms".

To be clear off the bat, I don't subscribe to any absurd vigilante myths about "good guys with guns". I don't want to live in the wild west, and I think what's promoted by those on my side of this argument is often profoundly irresponsible. I don't believe nor will I make the case that "lone wolves" with guns make anyone safer. Admittedly, public safety is not my chief concern.

I do care about the right and ability of a section of the population to *organize* armed defense of their communities, churches, assemblies etc without depending on a police force and federal government that has an enormous track record of ignoring such obligations. On that subject, I consider this book required reading:

The events of the civil rights movement are not the distant past. Communities under threat of vigilante terrorism have a right and obligation to take up the task of their defense and security. Such actions *prevent* violence, as they did during the "non-violent" movement for civil rights.

Today's victimized and threatened communities, Muslims for example, have a right and duty to organize for the defense of their homes and houses of worship, which will no doubt increasingly face the threat of vigilante terrorism and a failure of local and state law enforcement to adequately protect them. 

I also fundamentally believe that an armed portion of the population is a check and balance on the protection of all other civil liberties. All the comparisons to other "developed" countries are moot as far as I'm concerned, because such countries don't have anywhere near the scope of political space granted to US citizens by the bill of rights (which was won in a revolution). Such protections are unique in the world. I will not trade them in for a vague sense of security from something that was never going to happen to me anyway. 

If I can accept the probability that I may lose my life in a fatal car crash (I've witnessed far too many of such tragedies for comfort) as the price for my freedom of movement, than I can accept the much less statistically significant probability that I will be murdered by a lunatic as the price for the bill of rights.

It does not diminish my pain and outrage at senseless violence to hold that view. For a sense of proportion, 880 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean the same week as the massacre in Orlando. The United States government has accepted only 10,000 refugees of the over 2 million displaced by the war there, which has taken over 200,000 lives. Where is that outrage and sense of human solidarity? Where is the demand to open the doors? I can't help but feel that the difference is just a sense of fear that "maybe I'll be killed in a mass shooting but I'll never be a Syrian refugee". It mitigates my sympathy for the chorus against guns and it makes me doubt that such a fervor is rooted in a genuine outrage at senseless human tragedy. It strikes me that it's rooted in fear, and I will choose to remain an enemy of fear.

Note on Weinstock's "Zionism: False Messiah"

So glad I read this 1979 translation of Weinstock's 1969 book. Just finished it. 

Visitors to this blog will find several posts made in the last week of my reading notes.

The book is an excellent overview of Palestine from 1888 to 1948.

At every turn during that period, for a variety of objective and subjective reasons, there was no revolutionary worker-peasant leadership developing broadly to meet the three forces imposing their contradictory capitalist solutions on the region: Arab feudalism; British imperialism; and Zionism.

Each of these forces interacted with the others to intensify capitalist development, wage labor, national and communalist chauvinism, and attacks on any motion toward unity of action between Jewish and Arab workers.

Txt of the book here:

Reading notes on Chapters 12 and 13 of Weinstock's "Zionism: False Messiah"

Available here

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

U.S. Bill of Rights: a Marxist view

U.S. Constitution: a Marxist view

1974: Arafat at the United Nations

Histadrut's job-trust chauvinism & the struggle for a communist party in Palestine

Reading notes on

Chapter 10. The Working-Class Movement in Palestine from 1918 to 1939

….Throughout this period, the Communists were the only party to organise Jews and Arabs, side by side in an internationalist spirit. Incidentally, the Palestinian Communists played a role well beyond their numbers and the borders of their country. They contributed not a little to the emergence of a Communist movement in the neighbouring Arab countries, and quite a few Palestinian Communists achieved high rank within the Comintern.

….After the disastrous tactics of the Third Period, the Party adopted a position of blind support for the most extreme wing of the Arab national movement. In general, the PCP tailed behind the Istiqlal, which was held to represent the most advanced tendency in the Arab movement, and it refused to recognise the “feudal” character of that party s leadership. This opportunism was to cost it dear. During the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, the Communists launched the watchword “Join the Arab liberation movement”. At that point the Party had a thousand members. But the PCP gave unqualified support to the Mufti and the reactionary leadership of the Arab nationalist movement, even calling on the Yishuv to participate in anti-Jewish terrorism. Now the policy of terror directed against the Jewish community was obviously a deviation which had nothing to do with consistent struggle against imperialism and Zionism. The Arab organ of the Party published the Mufti’s racist manifestos without comment. The PCP itself staged attacks on the Histadruth headquarters in Haifa as well as in Tel-Aviv! Thus a circular addressed by the Central Committee to all Party branches in July 1936 stated, “The bomb attack on the workers’ hostel in Haifa was carried out by members of the PCP on the orders of the Central Committee of the Party.” [53]

Naturally this led to mass resignations of Jewish Communists. In 1937, the policy of unconditional support for the Mufti resulted in the Party’s virtual disintegration. Just as after the 1929 riots, entire branches, including the Tel-Aviv branch, rebelled against the line of the Central Committee and were expelled for insubordination. The tailist attitude of the PCP towards Arab reaction was so marked that its Arab cadres abandoned the Party for the Istiqlal….

….the anti-Jewish deformation of the Arab national liberation struggle reinforced the collaboration of the Jewish workers with the colonial rulers.

….although the sacrifices and the socialist convictions of its militants are not open to doubt, the kibbutz movement has never, for all that, represented a threat of any sort to the Zionist bourgeoisie; quite the contrary….

….we have seen that the Jewish working-class movement was led to substitute itself for a Jewish bourgeoisie which was almost non-existent as a class in Palestine in the Twenties in order to lay the foundations of Zionist capitalism through the economic organisations of the Histadruth.

….Although the party participated in the Histadruth, it fought this trade union’s collaboration with the bourgeois Zionists as well as its policy towards the Arab workers. As a result, Left Poale-Zion was not particularly popular and the Zionist bureaucrats made every effort to deny entry certificates for Palestine to its militants.

….In a statement issued on this question on July 25th, 1922, the Executive Committee of the Communist International denounced the diversionary role played by Zionism in relation to the class struggle, adding: “A condition of admission to the Communist International is the abandonment of the nationalist opportunist Palestine programme and the dissolution of the world federation and the entry of the Jewish proletarian communist elements into the national sections, the communist parties; [further, that] the CI was prepared to make great concessions in the sphere of propaganda and organisation in order to facilitate, the development of the backward section of the Jewish proletariat towards communism.”

….the Labour wing of the Zionist movement engaged in permanent “sacred unity” with the bourgeoisie. None of the socialist Zionist parties questioned the colonial status of the country – since the realisation of Zionism required the continuation of the Mandate. None of them proposed to wage a struggle for power in the immediate future. All of them united with the ruling class….

….Excluded from the Jewish organisations, the Arab workers inevitably fell back under the hegemony of the fanatical effendis. Only the organisation of the Arab workers against the super-exploitation to which they were subject would have made it possible to eliminate low-wage competition for good. The few mixed trade unions created during the Twenties, in the civil service, the public services, and the towns, remained totally marginal, though it should be mentioned that the joiners’ union and railway workers’ union – both internationalist in spirit – helped to sow the seeds for a common anti-Zionist proletarian struggle of Jewish and Arab workers….

….Not one Zionist party – not even the most extreme “left” of Hashomer-Hatzair, now Mapam – opposed the boycott of Arab workers and peasants. In not one case did they fight the picket organisers, who were preventing Arab workers from going to work in Jewish plants, building sites or orchards.

….Histadruth grew quickly, and its membership leapt up from 15,275 in 1926 to 25,378 in 1930 and 85,818 in 1936. [9] It extended its activities to all areas of the economy and became the backbone of the Zionist enterprise.

….Histadruth proposed not only to defend the interests of the Jewish workers, but above all to carry through Zionist colonisation. It was therefore essentially a nationalist, settlers’ trade-union, a conscious instrument….

….comparison that one might be tempted to draw between Zionism and classical colonialism is mistaken. Owing to the original course taken by the Zionist enterprise after the second wave of immigration, Zionist settlement tended to replace the Arab population with Jewish labour. Consequently, Zionism involved the formation of a Jewish working class but excluded, by its nature, the exploitation of the Arab proletariat. Jewish immigration fitted into the colonial context as an element of the process of dispossession of the indigenous population which took place under the complacent eye of the British authorities. However, this spoliation was not accompanied by a social stratification comparable to that which occurred in settlers’ colonies such as Algeria or South Africa, where the economy of the colonial sector rested entirely on the exploitation of the natives. Far from constituting a class of foreign oppressors, the Palestinian Jews gradually became transformed into a new Hebrew nation, structured in accordance with the classical capitalist schema: a ruling bourgeoisie and an oppressed proletariat. Of the 212,000 Jewish workers in Palestine in 1943, 28.8 per cent worked in industry and handicrafts. The wage earners of the Arab industrial sector numbered 21,000 at that time.

….The colonial Administration acceded to Zionist demands for two different wage scales. The Arab workers and, it appears, some of the Jews of Oriental origin, who were generally unorganised, were not able to get an equivalent wage to that of the Jewish workers of European origin, organised into the powerful Histadruth.

….Subject to the competition of “cheaper” indigenous labour, the Jewish workers were brought to struggle against the employment of Arabs in “ Jewish” branches of industry and, in the end, to superimpose a closed-circuit Jewish economy onto the Arab economy, thereby eliminating competition.


Monday, June 20, 2016

1988: the Rainbow diversion from independent labor political action

This 30 December 1988 column by Doug Jenness strikes a chord.  I'm sure many Sanders supporters are struggling to maintain their Democrat Party illusions right now, dreaming up gimmicks and constructing pipe dreams.

The Arab National Movement in Palestine between the Two World Wars cont'd

Conclusion of reading notes on Weinstock Chapter 9.
The Arab National Movement in Palestine between the Two World Wars

....leadership of the Palestinian Arab national movement remained wholly in the hands of the big landowners of the a’yan stratum (urban notables).

....Taken as a whole, Moslem society was “atomised by clannish separatism”. [10] This quasi-feudal mentality permeated Palestinian politics. The precarious foundation of the bourgeoisie, its organic links with the landowning stratum, and the persistence of the patriarchal structures ensured the continuing hegemony of the landed aristocracy even after it had liquidated its traditional sources of revenue by selling its lands. It was for the same reasons that the urban Christian elite did not manage to assert itself as the ruling class....

....The distinctive feature of the Palestinian economy was the partitioning of the country into two separate economies, one Jewish and the other Arab. This economic segregation was so pronounced that, in the opinion of the Special Committee of the United Nations, the economic life of the country presented “the complex phenomenon of two distinctive economies … closely involved with one another and yet in essential features separate”.

....The occupational structure of the Jewish population is similar to that of some homogeneous industrialised communities, while that of the Arabs corresponds more nearly to a subsistence type of agricultural society.”

....In the absence of a real Arab national bourgeoisie.... the effendis retained their authority unchallenged. Precisely because of this archaic structure of Palestinian society and the fragmentation of the agrarian population into a multitude of isolated villages, the Palestinian national movement proved incapable, during the period which concerns us here, of raising itself to the level of similar currents in neighbouring countries and establishing real political parties. Thus an absolutely anachronistic leadership of the reactionary gentry was superimposed on the nascent Arab working class, which was concentrated in the public services and concessionary enterprises, but remained generally unorganised. Arab political life was merely a reflection of the petty rivalries between the big families. During the Twenties, it boiled down in essence to a veiled struggle for influence between the Husseini clique, which secured the office of Mufti (renamed “Grand Mufti” during the Mandate), and the Nashashibi clique, which managed to have its leader appointed Mayor of Jerusalem.

....whilst in public these leaders stepped up their incendiary attacks on Zionism, denouncing any transfer of ancestral soil to the Jews as a betrayal, they secretly enriched themselves by means of the very operations which they so furiously attacked. The fanatical braggadocio was designed for the gallery. It made it possible to win the support of the masses. It also, no doubt, served other less avowable goals. Under nationalist pressure, the small Arab landowners no longer dared to sell their land openly to the Jews. [32] During the 1936-1939 Revolt Husseini’s guerillas actually executed “traitors”, but “at the same time a close relative of the Mufti was doing a brisk trade in precisely such allegedly criminal deals, but with a notable difference, for this person used to force sales from Arab smallholders at niggardly prices and then resell to the Jews at the usual exorbitant rates …” [33] In other words, hyper-nationalist propaganda became a lucrative industry, indeed even an American-style racket, for the Arab gentry.

....Let us now move on to a study of the Palestinian national movement. This current should be placed in the context of the general awakening of the Arab world which took place in the Middle East at the end of World War I.

....whilst in the neighbouring count-tries, the struggle was consciously directed against Anglo-French colonialism and took the form, in particular, of strikes, the Palestinian anti-colonialist movement was deformed by racism. The distorted national struggle expressed itself in anti-Jewish slogans (“Palestine is our country and the Jews are our dogs”), followed up by attacks upon Jewish passers-by and store-owners, and eventually in mob violence akin to the all-too familiar pogrom. These attacks cannot, however, in any way be assimilated to straightforward antiSemitic outrages which had their source in the classical European coordinates of the Jewish problem, but should be seen as a deformed expression of national consciousness,, all the more understandable as the Zionist leaders clearly allied with the British while the latter encouraged this distraction from the antiimperialist struggle.

....It goes without saying that this explanation cannot in any way serve to Justify or condone the annihiliation of entire peoples and it is furthermore obvious that racist deformations of the struggle for national emancipation reflect the reactionary character of the social forces who have assumed the leadership of it.

....The first period of the Palestinian national movement was characterised as we have seen, by anti-Jewish riots. But the legitimate hatred felt by the masses for Zionism diverted into an epiphenomenon, a struggle which, to be consistent, would have had to challenge British imperialism and its feudal allies who were sustaining the political structure making the realisation of Zionist objectives possible. Worse still, the chauvinist and racist excesses of the Arab masses, under the influence of fanatical reactionaries, threw the Jewish workers into the arms of their Zionist leaders and precluded any possibility of rapprochement between Sephardi Jews and the Palestinian movement. In the particular context of Zionist colonisation which aimed to establish a Hebrew nation in Palestine with its own working-class base, and not to exploit the natives in accordance with the usual colonial model, the Arab “pogroms” compromised the historically progressive character of the Palestinian people’s liberation movement. On the contrary, this anti-Jewish violence fitted into the diversionary plan so useful to British imperialism, local Arab reaction and even, in the final analysis, the Zionist leaders themselves, insofar as it perpetuated the British presence in Palestine. (In this respect the inter-communal conflict played the same role as the antagonism between Hindus and Moslems in India or Greeks and Turks in Cyprus; an instructive parallel can also be drawn with the Irish question, with respect to the Six Counties).

The Arab National Movement in Palestine between the Two World Wars

Reading notes from Chapter 9. The Arab National Movement in Palestine between the Two World Wars

....The Revolt began after the murder of two Jews by Arab brigands on April 15th, 1936.

....Zionism turned out to be a powerful stimulus to nationalism in the area. The practical goals of the strike were to paralyse economic life and the means of communication. It was accompanied by a boycott of the Jewish community. Once again it can be seen that Palestinian nationalism was unable to rid itself entirely of its chauvinistic aspect. the absence of a working-class political leadership, the band was not transformed into a stable form of revolutionary peasant organisation: it did not become a real guerrilla movement. [55] This form of struggle reflected precisely the mutation of Palestinian Arab society, on the way to capitalism but still firmly anchored in its traditional rural past.

....Drastic measures were decreed as early as April 15th, involving, in particular, the principle of the collective responsibility of Arab villages and districts for the actions of unidentified inhabitants, the obligation to lodge punitive police detachments, martial law, the destruction of houses in which rebels were sheltered, and administrative detention.

....The escalation of repression continued, according to the familiar Black-and-Tan techniques the Palestinians had already been subjected to after the 1921 riots. Military courts punished the carrying of firearms with the death penalty, while the masses suffered a renewed outbreak of British terror in the villages and the Air Force was used in operations against the maquisards.

....From December 1938 onwards (reconquest of the Old City of Jerusalem), the British regained the upper hand. The offensive, conducted by 17 infantry battalions, was accompanied by the hanging of arrested partisans, collective punishments inflicted on the fellahin, the large-scale demolition of dwellings, the arrest of some 2,500 Arabs and the bombing of insurgent villages by the Air Force. This bloody repression smashed the rebellion, already weakened by internal dissensions and the extreme poverty of the villagers. In the long run, the unemployment, the destruction, the guerrilla campaign and the mutual Arab-Jewish boycott inevitably caused severe damage to the Arab economy. Meanwhile, in May and July 1938, the Irgun, initiated its terror campaign against Palestinian civilians (Haifa fruit market outrage: 74 Arabs killed and 129 wounded).

....At the beginning, the 1936 rising had been an alliance of the big landowners, the middle class and the intellectuals, supported by part of the working class but guided by the religious and quasi-feudal conceptions of the effendis. [67] The “feudal” and bourgeois leadership of the movement had led the insurrection to defeat. The Palestinian cause had been betrayed by the 1936 armistice, the fighting fellahin abandoned by the urban middle class. The antiimperialist struggle had been diverted into an inter-communal conflict and deformed into a venture in support of fascism. (The Mufti had grown closer and closer to the Nazis.) Seen in this light, the evolution of the Arab Revolt
appears as a negative confirmation of the theory of permanent revolution. “With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially in colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as leaders of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses”, writes Trotsky. [68] We shall see later that to a certain extent the working-class vanguard bore the responsibility for the continued leadership of the national struggle by the big landowners and the bourgeoisie. But here again what was involved, ultimately, were the effects of Zionist colonisation: the Arab proletariat was still too weak to assert its leading role in the national struggle.

....As the Mufti succeeded in taking the national movement fully in hand again, he injected a blatantly antiSemitic content, directly inspired by Hitler’s Germany, into the press and his propaganda (during the World War he recruited Moslem regiments for the Axis in Yugoslavia).

Why the German Revolution of 1848 went down to defeat

Amazon review of Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany by Engels:

In 1848 bourgeois-democratic revolutions broke out in much of Europe. In France a Republic was proclaimed again, but still, the working class was dealt a heavy blow. Germany then consisted of 36 principalities, but only two major powers—Prussia and Austria. The bourgeoisie had an opportunity to get rid of feudalism, unite the nation, and establish a democratic republic.

It is necessary for revolutionaries to draw a balance sheet of defeats as well as victories, so Engels writes: “But how it came to pass that thirty-six millions were at once called upon to decide for themselves which way to go, although partly groping in dim twilight, and how then they got lost and their old leaders were for a moment allowed to return to their leadership, that is just the question.”

“If, then, we try to lay before the readers of The Tribune the causes which, while they necessitated the German Revolution of 1848, led quite as inevitably to its momentary repression in 1849 and 1850, we shall not be expected to give a complete history of events as they passed in that country. Later events, and the judgment of coming generations, will decide what portion of that confused mass of seemingly accidental, incoherent, and incongruous facts is to form a part of the world's history. The time for such a task has not yet arrived; we must confine ourselves to the limits of the possible, and be satisfied, if we can find rational causes, based upon undeniable facts, to explain the chief events, the principal vicissitudes of that movement, and to give us a clue as to the direction which the next, and perhaps not very distant, outbreak will impart to the German people.”

Later Engels writes:

“On February 24th, 1848, Louis Philippe was driven out of Paris and the French Republic was proclaimed. On March 13th following, the people of Vienna broke the power of Prince Metternich, and made him flee shamefully out of the country. On the 18th of March the people of Berlin rose in arms, and, after an obstinate struggle of eighteen hours, had the satisfaction of seeing the King surrender himself into their hands. Simultaneous outbreaks of a more or less violent nature, but all with the same success, occurred in the capitals of the smaller States of Germany. The German people, if they had not accomplished their first revolution, were at least fairly launched into the revolutionary career.”

Marx and Engels both took part in the revolution: Marx as a revolutionary writer and editor; Engels as a military officer in the revolutionary forces. The bourgeoisie proved to be more afraid of the working class, which together with the students played the leading revolutionary role, than it was of the feudalists. The Austrian peasants succeeded in largely smashing feudal relations in the countryside, but otherwise the revolution went down to defeat. Marx and Engels wound up in England, and many other revolutionaries also had to flee, some ending up in the United States, where they played a big role in the labor movement and in the Union Army in another bourgeois-democratic revolution.

This is an analysis of what happened and why. In the course of it, the national question in Eastern Europe, and many other questions are explored. Marx and Engels supported independence for Poland and Hungary, but they mistakenly thought that the smaller national groupings would fade from history. With the passage of time, this didn’t happen, and Lenin later set this question right in his works; see National Liberation, Socialism and Imperialism and Lenin's Final Fight: Speeches and Writings, 1922-23, among other sources.

The amount of writings by the two revolutionaries is enormous, some books to start with after this and the Manifesto are: The German IdeologyCapital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics);Socialism: Utopian and ScientificThe Paris Commune: Including the "First Manifesto of the International on the Franco-Prussian War," the "Second Manifesto of the International on the ... "the Civil War in France" (Classic Reprint)Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
This book may also be the first time the expression “parliamentary cretinism” is used. There’s a lot of it in the US, especially during pre-election periods.