Saturday, August 18, 2018

Susan Sontag

https://mronline.org/2012/10/10/rothermel101012-html/

The Cologne Communist Trial

A friend's Amazon review of The Cologne Communist Trial.

Some of this book is extremely important; ‘Heroes of the Exile’ is not, but it gives a sarcastic, humorous view of the pretensions of some of the exiles of the German 1848 Revolution. Personally, I didn’t finish it, being slightly familiar with only a few of the people discussed.

The most important thing in the book is Engels’ “On the History of the Communist league,” updated for 1885 publication. I enjoyed Raoul Peck’s ‘The Young Karl Marx,’ which he says is based on letters. But I think Marx and Engels are shown in the movie as rather arrogant well-educated young men who used their knowledge and a bit of ruthlessness to take over a workers’ party. The view Engels presents is dramatically different. Engels got to know the League of the Just, as the pre-Marxist communist group was called while researching The Condition of the Working Class in England (Oxford World's Classics). He, and then Marx were early on asked to join, but although they had a keen interest in the group and its militant members, they refused to join so long as the group was based on unscientific ideas. Once their ideas caught on, they joined, and were asked to draft what became The Communist Manifesto in 1847. The next year, revolution broke out in France, Germany (including Austria), Italy, and elsewhere. The thrust of the revolution was bourgeois-democratic, and the Communists formed the extreme far left of the democratic movement. For why the German Revolution failed (mostly the cowardice of the liberal bourgeoisie and its fear of the working class) see Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or Germany in 1848 (Classic Reprint).

As is explained in the Communist Manifesto, the situation at the time was that the bourgeoisie still had a progressive role to play in parts of the world. While they didn’t live up to this in Germany, they did a lot better in the US, in the Second American Revolution, during which Marx and Engels were active partisans of the Union Army (see The Civil War in the United States). But they failed to carry through Radical Reconstruction (see Racism, Revolution, Reaction, 1861-1877: The Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction).

‘The Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial’ was written in 1852, in defense of members of the Communist League who had a propaganda group that due to Prussian law had to function underground. They were charged with (what else?) conspiring to overthrow the government. Marx writes in an 1875 postscript: “The work saw the light of day only a few weeks after the end of the trial [actually some of it appeared in newspapers while the trial was going on]. At that time the most pressing need was to make the facts known quickly and so errors of detail were unavoidable.” The errors were not significant, and it's a humorous primer on how the political police operate.

Marx felt bad that he had gone so hard on the Willich-Schapper group that the Communist League had expelled because of their continuous scheming plots in a period when revolution was not on the agenda. But the prosecution was continuously trying to tie them together, which made things difficult.

As Marx points out, “[August] Willich has shown in the American Civil War that he is something more than a visionary” becoming a Union Army brigadier general. And Karl Schapper redeemed himself as a “lifelong champion of the of the workers movement.”

Some of the people put on trial became quite important as well. Dr. Abraham Jacobi (in the book spelled Jacoby) after being acquitted, took his communist views to the United States, but is better known as the founder of American pediatrics.

Wilhelm Liebknecht, convicted in the farce of a trial, became a prominent leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), and his son Karl, after the SPD betrayed the working class by supporting Germany in World War I, was a key founder of the new Communist Party of Germany, and one of its first martyrs.

If ‘Heroes of the Exile’ is non-essential reading, the appendices are quite important; mostly writings and speeches by Marx. Unfortunately, they were printed in a tiny font size.

For the German Marxists’ role in US politics, see Revolutionary Continuity: the Early Years, 1848-1917. For understanding the role of the political police in the United States I recommend FBI on Trial: The Victory in the Socialist Workers Party Suit Against Government Spying. And for how communists defend their views in bourgeois courts, see Socialism on Trial: Testimony at Minneapolis Sedition Trial.

Primaries expose ongoing crisis wracking both capitalist parties – The Militant

Primaries expose ongoing crisis wracking both capitalist parties – The Militant

Excerpt:

....The most fervent wish of Democratic liberals is to drive Trump from office, if not into prison. They launched a witch hunt against him and hope to seize control of the House to block his administration from advancing its program, while seeking to impeach him.
The trade union misleaders offer working people no road forward politically, attempting yet again to corral us into backing the Democrats. “We’re setting our sights on November,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO union federation, said Aug. 9, urging trade unionists not to stray from the dead-end strategy of focusing their attention and energy on putting more Democrats into office.
The August primary results don’t offer them much hope either.

Crisis of capitalism

Many of the institutions and multilateral alliances that were put in place after the U.S. rulers emerged triumphant out of the second imperialist world slaughter are coming apart today, from NATO to the European Union. Trump is pushing for a series of new one-on-one deals from Korea to Moscow to the Middle East. He has wielded Washington’s military and economic dominance to sanction and bully the rulers there, then offered to sit down and talk, with “no preconditions.”
The White House aims for greater stability and less warfare to gain room for U.S. imperialism. But the administration’s course is unintentionally creating better conditions for working people to organize and press forward our struggles. Tamping down wars and war threats from Afghanistan to Korea to the Middle East is good for the working class.
Such questions are of great interest to workers as we discuss and debate how our class can fight effectively and organize together as part of an international class....

Venezuela: Workers, farmers face effects of capitalist crisis – The Militant

Venezuela: Workers, farmers face effects of capitalist crisis – The Militant


Excerpt:

....Venezuela is a capitalist country, where the government attempts to administer capitalist economic relations “for the benefit of all Venezuelans” with “a bent towards the poor.” That was the stated goal of the “Bolivarian Revolution” and what was sometimes called “21st Century Socialism” promoted by late President Hugo Chávez and the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). President Maduro has continued on this course.
While the government instituted price and currency controls and distributed part of the oil revenues in the form of welfare handouts that cut into the profits and restricted the prerogatives of some bosses and came into conflicts with Washington, it was still a bourgeois government.
The leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution never mobilized working people to take control of production and the land and replace the bourgeois government with a workers and farmers government on the road to expropriating the capitalist class. They rejected the revolutionary example set by workers and farmers in Cuba. That is the only road that offers working people the chance to confront the problems they face.

Peasants fight for land, rights

Despite the challenges and obstacles, many workers and peasants have not been pushed out of politics and are looking for ways to defend their class interests.
In July hundreds of small farmers and their supporters marched 270 miles in 20 days from Portuguesa state to Caracas. They demanded government action against big landowners who forced them off lands they won when Chávez was president. They also faced the complicity of government officials, National Guard, police, judges and prosecutors.
The peasants demanded the government take measures to ensure they can get the materials they need, from seeds to fertilizer to water pumps, to be able to grow food for the people of Venezuela.
This march was “the product of necessity,” said Arbonio Ortega, one of its leaders. “Why did we receive no support from the [PSUV] government of Portuguesa?”
The marchers demanded and won a meeting with President Maduro in Caracas Aug. 2. But hours after the meeting, three peasant leaders from Barinas state who had participated in the march were killed by masked goons. Since 2001 over 350 peasants have been killed by paramilitary thugs employed by capitalist landowners, Orlando Zambrano, a leader of the Ezequiel Zamora Peasant Front, told Radio Mundo Real May 15.
Protesting the preferential treatment given to big capitalist farmers, small farmers from the Maizal Commune, in Lara state, in June took over the premises of Agropatria, a state-run company that supplies farmers with seeds, fertilizers and loans. Their action was provoked by the arrest of small farmers for allegedly trying to buy seeds and fertilizers on the black market.

Washington seeks fall of Maduro

Meanwhile, Washington, Ottawa and governments in Europe and their allies in Latin America are pressing efforts to isolate the Maduro government and to make working people pay the price of the crisis.
“It’s time for Maduro to go,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley arrogantly said during an Aug. 8 visit to Colombia. She called on Latin American governments to step up the pressure. Washington’s goal is to replace the Maduro government with one more to U.S. imperialism’s liking, without having to intervene militarily or provoking a social explosion.
“We demand an end to Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela and its violations of Venezuelan sovereignty,” said Edwin Fruit, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Washington governor. “Hand’s off Venezuela!”

George Steiner's theory of the origins of Jew-hatred

....As the global capitalist crisis intensifies, the resurgence of Jew-hatred and attacks on Jews and synagogues is a reminder that the Holocaust and what led to it are not matters of "history." They are growing realities of the brutal imperialist world order today.


....Jew hatred is a product of capitalism in decay. Its ultimate purpose is to divert workers from a united militant struggle by promoting the poisonous lie that the problem is not capitalism, but evil Jewish capitalists. And it goes hand in hand with fascism, which proclaims that the solution is not internationalism and workers taking power and replacing the dictatorship of capital through revolutionary struggle, but "national socialism," the polar opposite of the course fought for by communists since the time of Marx and Engels.

As the worldwide capitalist crisis deepens, Jew-hatred will continue to erupt. Class-conscious workers must oppose it everywhere it rears its head.
 






Jew-hatred is the safety valve employed to blame the Jews for a decade of a slow-burning capitalist crisis. It is a default, the automatic go-to that seethes up when the capitalist ruling class begins to fear potential for independent labor political action.

This is an ABC of Marxism we forget at our peril.

There are other explanations for Jew-hatred. They are usually ahistorical and materially obscurantist. One such is the viewpoint of critic/scholar George Steiner, though I see echoes of it elsewhere, too. Steiner's explanation for Jew-hatred has, like much that he writes, a bravura intellectual elegance.

But a class perspective, not an academic petty bourgeois perspective, is the only true and reliable one.

JR

***

Expert from A Long Saturday:
Conversations
George Steiner (2017)

L.A. You reread the history of the roots of anti-Semitism in a very original way, in quite a surprising or even, for some specialists, arrogant way. You explain that the sudden rise of anti-Semitism was not because the Jews crucified Jesus but because the fact that Jews gave birth to God made Christians jealous of them—jealous to the point of extreme madness and murder.

G.S. In three instances Judaism has held mankind hostage in the most tormenting manner. First, with the Mosaic Law. Monotheism is the least natural thing in the world. When the ancient Greeks say there are ten thousand gods, it's natural, logical, delightful; they inhabit the world with beauty, reconciliation. The Jew responds: "Unimaginable! You can't have an image of God, you can't have a conception of him other than an ethical, moral one. He is an all-powerful God; he avenges himself to the third generation, etc." The Mosaic Law, the morality of monotheism, is terrible: that was the first act of blackmail.

The second instance: Christianity. You have Jesus, the Jew, who enjoins people: "You will give everything you have to the poor. You will sacrifice for others. Altruism isn't a virtue, it's the very duty of mankind. You will live humbly." This is a fundamentally Judaic message: the Sermon on the Mount is made up of quotes, you know, from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos.

And the third time you have Marx, who proclaims, "If you have a fine house with three empty rooms and there are people all around you who have no home, you are the basest swine." There is no possible defense for human egotism, greed, the lust for money, success. What did the revolutionary Saint-Just say? Happiness is a new idea in Europe. What did Marx say? Justice, a new idea in Europe. Enough of these terrible inequalities. Beggars are increasing on the sidewalks of our capitals—in Paris and in London.

Three times, Jews have demanded, "Become a person. Become human." It's frightening. And then as a side note, Freud comes and takes away our dreams. He doesn't even let us dream in peace. As for the great prophets, Isaiah declared himself the one who wakes us in the night, the one whose cries will awaken the city. Jeremiah pleads, "Wake up! Stop sleeping!" But it's really mean to deprive us of our petty bourgeois sleep. Sleeping well is the luxury of the bourgeoisie, the middle classes. People who are starving never enjoy a good sleep. And Freud comes along and takes away even that. No, really, when Hitler declared in his Table Talk (Tischgespräche) that "the Jew invented conscience," he was right. Absolutely. It was actually a profound statement from that evil man. When Solzhenitsyn, whom I consider a great man, though detestable, says that "the virus of communism, of Bolshevism, is totally Jewish and has infected the holy Virgin of Kazan and Russian theocracy," he happens to be quite correct from a historical perspective. We can be proud of this, or we can deplore it. But anti-Semitism is a kind of human cry, "Leave me alone!" It's a cry against the moral pestering Judaism represents. And I don't think it can be eliminated. The crisis in the Middle East is only getting more severe. On the one hand there is an anti-Semitic Left in the so-called liberal countries, and on the other you have the Baptists, the most fascist-leaning neo-conservatives in the United States—there are fifty million of them in the southeastern U.S.—who were sending money and arms to Sharon when he was prime minister: "Yes! Bravo! You have to keep the infidel away from the Nazarene Country." Yes, they call Israel the Nazarene Country. These are cruel, sadistic absurdities, disgusting alliances.

Once again, history is going to be very dangerous. Every person lives his life while delving into his inner world. When I get up in the morning, I tell myself this story, so I can make it through the day: God announces that he's sick of us. Really. "I'm fed up!" In ten days, the flood. The real one. No Noah this time. That was a mistake. The Holy Father tells the Catholics, "Very well. It's God's will. You will pray. You will forgive each other. You will gather your families and wait for the end." The Protestants say, "You will settle your financial affairs. Your affairs must be completely settled. You will gather your families and you will pray." The rabbi says, "Ten days? But that's more than enough time to learn how to breathe under water!" And every day that magnificent story gives me the strength and happiness to live my life. And I believe it, deeply: ten days is indeed a long time.

L.A. What do you think of the almost global rise in anti-Semitism?

G.S. I had hoped that at the end of my life (that is, now) the legacy of the Shoah would be calmed, that a certain reconciliation would have occurred naturally in Europe, but that hasn't been the case; today the waves of anti-Semitism, hatred of Jews, are cresting around us everywhere. You wouldn't have thought that possible only a few years ago. In Hungary, Romania, Poland, there are hardly any Jews anymore, but anti-Semitism has endured. And in my beloved England, I hate to tell you, the signs, indications of anti-Semitism, are increasing; there are academic boycotts against Jewish scientists, even in England. And a very profound sense of unease is developing in the face of this. And the incredible irony is that in Ukraine now it's Putin who is denouncing anti-Semitism. It's a scenario worthy of Kafka! Everywhere, the great wave is growing again, except, perhaps, in the U.S. I'm not talking about revisionism (which has followers in France); I'm talking about those who think of themselves as open-minded but feel increasingly ill at ease in the presence of Jews....

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

George Steiner on Marxism and fascism: Notes from a reading of Language and silence: essays 1958-1966 by George Steiner



Steiner is very generous in the time and thought he pays to Marxism and the writings of leaders of the communist movement.

But like many others, he takes for good coin the Stalinist claims to continuity with Lenin. Whereas Stalinism represented a murderous break with and burial of that continuity.

Still, in a piece like "The Writer and Communism" excerpted below, he demonstrates using aesthetics what Trotsky and his comrades showed in the realm of working class politics: the absolute contradiction between Marxism and fascism.

***

THE WRITER AND COMMUNISM

One of the striking differences between Fascism and Communism is this: Fascism has inspired no great work of art. With the possible exception of Montherlant, it has drawn into its orbit no writer of the first rank. (Ezra Pound was no Fascist; he used the occasions and trappings of Fascism for his own quirky economics.) Communism, on the contrary, has been a central force in much of the finest of modern literature; and personal encounter with Communism has marked the consciousness and career of many of the major writers of the age.

Why this difference? No doubt, Fascism is too vile and scurrilous an ideology to produce those charities of the imagination which are essential to literate art. Communism, even where it has gone venomous, is a mythology of the human future, a vision of human possibility rich in moral demand. Fascism is the ultimate code of the hoodlum; Communism fails because it would seek to impose upon the fragile plurality of human nature and conduct an artificial ideal of self-denial and historic purpose. Fascism tyrannizes through contempt of man; Communism tyrannizes by exalting man above that sphere of private error, private ambition, and private love which we call freedom.

There is also a more specific difference. Hitler and Goebbels were cunning manipulators of language; but they had scant respect for the life of the mind. Communism, by contrast, is a creed penetrated from the very moment of its historical origin by a sense of the values of intellect and art. In Marx and Engels this sense is explicit. They were intellectuals to the core. Lenin paid to art the supreme tribute of fear; he shied away from it, acknowledging the obscure, entrancing powers of plastic and musical form over the rational intellect. Trotsky was a littérateur in the most flamboyant sense of the word. Even under Stalin, the writer and the literary work played a vital role in Communist strategy. Writers were persecuted and killed precisely because literature was recognized as an important and potentially dangerous force. This is a crucial point. Literature was being honored, in however cruel or perverted a way, by the very fact of Stalin's distrust. And when the partial thaw came, the position of the writer in Soviet society grew once again complex and problematic. One cannot conceive of a Fascist state being shaken by a mere book; but Doctor Zhivago was one of the major crises in the recent life of the intelligentsia in Communist Russia.

Whether by instinct or meditation, writers have always been aware of their special position in Communist ideology. They have taken Communism seriously because it has taken them seriously....

Sunday, August 12, 2018

George Steiner on Marxism and criticism: Reading notes on Language and silence: essays 1958-1966 by George Steiner




Language and silence: essays 1958-1966
by George Steiner

_________


In his 1958 essay "Marxism and the Literary Critic" George Steiner gives a generous survey of the breadth of the genre at that time. He does, however, persistently portray "Zhdanovism" as consistent with Lenin, despite acknowledging early in the piece that Lenin's 1905 statements were firmly grounded in a polemical struggle of that time, and not applicable for all time.

Some underlinings from the essay  "MARXISM AND THE LITERARY CRITIC."

....Engels wrote to Minna Kautsky in November 1885:

I am by no means an opponent of tendentious, programmatic poetry (Tendenzpoesie) as such. The father of tragedy, Aeschylus, and the father of comedy, Aristophanes, were both strong Tendenzpoeten no less than Dante and Cervantes; and it is the finest element in Schiller's Kabale und Liebe that it is the first Party.

….Organization and Party Literature," published in Novaia Jizn in November 1905, Lenin wrote:

Literature must become Party literature.… Down with un-partisan littérateurs! Down with the supermen of literature! Literature must become a part of the general cause of the proletariat, "a small cog and a small screw" in the social-democratic mechanism, one and indivisible—a mechanism set in motion by the entire conscious vanguard of the whole working class. Literature must become an integral part of the organised, methodical, and unified labours of the social-democratic Party.

These injunctions were put forward as tactical arguments in the early polemic against aestheticism. But cited out of context, Lenin's call for Tendenzpoesie in the most naked sense, has come to be regarded as a general canon of the Marxist interpretation of literature.

....These injunctions were put forward as tactical arguments in the early polemic against aestheticism. But cited out of context, Lenin's call for Tendenzpoesie in the most naked sense, has come to be regarded as a general canon of the Marxist interpretation of literature.

....All great literature, in Lukács' reading has a "fundamental bias." A writer can only achieve a mature and responsible portrayal of life if he is committed to progress and opposed to reaction, if he loves the good and rejects the bad."

....Time and again the ideal of a literature in which "the opinions of the author remain hidden" has clashed with the Leninist formula of militant partiality.

....literature is centrally conditioned by historical, social, and economic forces; the conviction that ideological content and the articulate world-view of a writer are crucially engaged in the act of literary judgment; a suspicion of any aesthetic doctrine which places major stress on the irrational elements in poetic creation and on the demands of "pure form." Finally, they share a bias toward dialectical proceedings in argument. But however committed they may be to dialectical materialism, para-Marxists approach a work of art with respect for its integrity and for the vital center of its being.

....regarding as inferior the kinds of literature which, in Keats's phrase, have a palpable design upon us.

....practice the arts of criticism, not those of censorship.

....rootedness of the imagination in time and in place

....insists on the radical complexity of the ideological structure, on the fact that relationships between economic forces and philosophic or poetic systems are never automatic and unilinear.

...."Form and content constitute a unity, but a unity of contradictions," said Bukharin in a notable aphorism.

....Both as a stylist and thinker, Benjamin is difficult to characterize. In him, more perhaps than in any other Marxist, the texture of language precedes and determines the contours of argument. His prose is close-knit and allusive; it lies in ambush, seizing on its subject by indirection. Walter Benjamin is the R. P. Blackmur of Marxism—but of a Marxism which is private and oblique. Like Rilke and Kafka, Benjamin was possessed by a sense of the brutality of industrial life, by a haunted, apocalyptic vision of the modern metropolis (the Grosstadt of Rilke's Malte Laurids Brigge). He found his feelings verified and documented by Marx's theory of "dehumanization" and Engels' account of the working class. Thus, Benjamin's essay "On Certain Motifs in Baudelaire" (1939) is, essentially, a lyric meditation on the brooding immensity of nineteenth-century Paris and the concordant solitude of the poet.

....dependence of aesthetic sensibility on changes in the setting and reproduction of painting and sculpture.

....essence of Fascism to beautify the outward trappings and actual inhumanities of political life.

....Communism, on the other hand, does not render politics artistic. It makes art political.

....Theodor Adorno has observed that Benjamin injected dialectical materialism into his own system as a necessary poison; around this foreign body and creative irritant his sensibility crystallized.

....ideas can only be understood in connection with the material realities of life, and the realities of life can only be understood in terms of their inner conflicts, movement and change.

.....He seeks to distinguish between negative and positive strains in Romantic sensibility. With the former he associates Dostoevsky. This is a point of some importance. The problem of how to approach Dostoevsky is the moment of truth in all Marxist criticism. Not even Lukács has been able to disengage himself from the Leninist and Stalinist condemnation of the Dostoevskyan world-view as one implacably hostile to dialectical materialism. A Marxist critic who dealt with the works of Dostoevsky, prior to 1954, was by that mere action giving proof of real courage and independence. In reference to The Brothers Karamazov, Finkelstein says of Dostoevsky that by emphasising the irrational over the rational, hinting at subconscious drives which could be neither understood nor controlled, he led to the climax of romanticism in which the artist and human being cuts himself off completely from the world as unreal.

....varying strategies within the larger context of the Marxist tradition.

....outside the rigid bounds of Party ideology, there are numerous critics and philosophers of art whose work is either centrally or in substantial measure conditioned by the dialectical method and historical mythology of Marxism. Among them there are theoreticians and practical critics whom anyone seriously concerned with literature would be wrong to ignore.

....These injunctions were put forward as tactical arguments in the early polemic against aestheticism. But cited out of context, Lenin's call for Tendenzpoesie in the most naked sense, has come to be regarded as a general canon of the Marxist interpretation of literature.

....All great literature, in Lukács' reading has a "fundamental bias." A writer can only achieve a mature and responsible portrayal of life if he is committed to progress and opposed to reaction, if he loves the good and rejects the bad."

....Time and again the ideal of a literature in which "the opinions of the author remain hidden" has clashed with the Leninist formula of militant partiality.

....literature is centrally conditioned by historical, social, and economic forces; the conviction that ideological content and the articulate world-view of a writer are crucially engaged in the act of literary judgment; a suspicion of any aesthetic doctrine which places major stress on the irrational elements in poetic creation and on the demands of "pure form." Finally, they share a bias toward dialectical proceedings in argument. But however committed they may be to dialectical materialism, para-Marxists approach a work of art with respect for its integrity and for the vital center of its being.

....regarding as inferior the kinds of literature which, in Keats's phrase, have a palpable design upon us.

....All great literature, in Lukács' reading has a "fundamental bias." A writer can only achieve a mature and responsible portrayal of life if he is committed to progress and opposed to reaction, if he loves the good and rejects the bad."

....Time and again the ideal of a literature in which "the opinions of the author remain hidden" has clashed with the Leninist formula of militant partiality.

....literature is centrally conditioned by historical, social, and economic forces; the conviction that ideological content and the articulate world-view of a writer are crucially engaged in the act of literary judgment; a suspicion of any aesthetic doctrine which places major stress on the irrational elements in poetic creation and on the demands of "pure form." Finally, they share a bias toward dialectical proceedings in argument. But however committed they may be to dialectical materialism, para-Marxists approach a work of art with respect for its integrity and for the vital center of its being.

....regarding as inferior the kinds of literature which, in Keats's phrase, have a palpable design upon us

....practice the arts of criticism, not those of censorship.

....rootedness of the imagination in time and in place

....insists on the radical complexity of the ideological structure, on the fact that relationships between economic forces and philosophic or poetic systems are never automatic and unilinear.

...."Form and content constitute a unity, but a unity of contradictions," said Bukharin in a notable aphorism.

....Both as a stylist and thinker, Benjamin is difficult to characterize. In him, more perhaps than in any other Marxist, the texture of language precedes and determines the contours of argument. His prose is close-knit and allusive; it lies in ambush, seizing on its subject by indirection. Walter Benjamin is the R. P. Blackmur of Marxism—but of a Marxism which is private and oblique. Like Rilke and Kafka, Benjamin was possessed by a sense of the brutality of industrial life, by a haunted, apocalyptic vision of the modern metropolis (the Grosstadt of Rilke's Malte Laurids Brigge). He found his feelings verified and documented by Marx's theory of "dehumanization" and Engels' account of the working class. Thus, Benjamin's essay "On Certain Motifs in Baudelaire" (1939) is, essentially, a lyric meditation on the brooding immensity of nineteenth-century Paris and the concordant solitude of the poet.

....dependence of aesthetic sensibility on changes in the setting and reproduction of painting and sculpture.

....essence of Fascism to beautify the outward trappings and actual inhumanities of political life.

....Communism, on the other hand, does not render politics artistic. It makes art political.

....Theodor Adorno has observed that Benjamin injected dialectical materialism into his own system as a necessary poison; around this foreign body and creative irritant his sensibility crystallized.

....ideas can only be understood in connection with the material realities of life, and the realities of life can only be understood in terms of their inner conflicts, movement and change.

....Finkelstein discerns in the abstraction and "difficulty" of modern art a direct consequence of the estrangement between the individual artist and the masses. He concurs with Engels in believing that this estrangement was brought on by the commercial aesthetics of the bourgeoisie.

....He seeks to distinguish between negative and positive strains in Romantic sensibility. With the former he associates Dostoevsky. This is a point of some importance. The problem of how to approach Dostoevsky is the moment of truth in all Marxist criticism. Not even Lukács has been able to disengage himself from the Leninist and Stalinist condemnation of the Dostoevskyan world-view as one implacably hostile to dialectical materialism. A Marxist critic who dealt with the works of Dostoevsky, prior to 1954, was by that mere action giving proof of real courage and independence. In reference to The Brothers Karamazov, Finkelstein says of Dostoevsky that by emphasising the irrational over the rational, hinting at subconscious drives which could be neither understood nor controlled, he led to the climax of romanticism in which the artist and human being cuts himself off completely from the world as unreal.

....varying strategies within the larger context of the Marxist tradition.

....outside the rigid bounds of Party ideology, there are numerous critics and philosophers of art whose work is either centrally or in substantial measure conditioned by the dialectical method and historical mythology of Marxism. Among them there are theoreticians and practical critics whom anyone seriously concerned with literature would be wrong to ignore.

....Let us now ask the larger question: what have Marxism, as a philosophy, and dialectical materialism, as a strategy of insight, contributed to the resources of the literary critic?

....concept of dissociation

....a writer or poet who does not apprehend the objective significance of his own works." Between his explicit ideology and the representation of life which he in fact conveys, there may be a contradiction.

....distinction which Marxist theory draws between "realism" and "naturalism."

....In the course of their debate with Lassalle and of their study of Balzac, Marx and Engels came to believe that this problem of estrangement was directly germane to the problem of realism in art.

....The "naturalist," on the other hand, looks on the world as on a warehouse of whose contents he must make a feverish inventory. "A sense of reality," says a contemporary Marxist critic, "is created not by a reproduction of all the features of an object but by a depiction of those features that form the essence … while in naturalistic art—because of a striving to achieve an elusive fullness—the image, also incomplete, places both theessential and the secondary, the unimportant, on the same plane."

....In naturalism there is accumulation; in realism what Henry James called the "deep-breathing economy" of organic form.

....Marxism has sharpened the critic's sense of time and place.

....see the work of art as rooted in temporal and material circumstance.

....a study of the audience. What can be said, historically and sociologically, of the Elizabethan spectator? In what respect was the Dickensian novel a calculated response to the evolution of a new reading public?

....Marxist-Leninism and the political régimes enacted in its name take literature seriously, indeed desperately so. At the very height of the Soviet revolution's battle for physical survival, Trotsky found occasion to assert that "the development of art is the highest test of the vitality and significance of each epoch."

....To shoot a man because one disagrees with his interpretation of Darwin or Hegel is a sinister tribute to the supremacy of ideas in human affairs—but a tribute nevertheless.

....distinguish Marxism and the philosophy of art of Marx and Engels from the concrete actualities of Stalinist rule.

....The abandonment of values under the pressures of commercialism, the failure of the journalist-critic to discriminate between art and kitsch, does contribute to a larger decay.

....not frivolous.




Saturday, August 11, 2018

NY forum takes up crisis facing workers, farmers in Nicaragua – The Militant

NY forum takes up crisis facing workers, farmers in Nicaragua – The Militant


Excerpt:

....Today’s FSLN government is a capitalist government, “a Bonapartist regime,” Calero said. “It pretends to rule above classes and serve as an arbiter between workers and bosses” but in reality it is subordinate to the capitalist class.
“The policies implemented since 2006 were not the whim of Ortega and Murillo, his wife and vice president,” Calero noted. “They were policies supported by the main capitalist associations and families” and were considered acceptable by Washington and capitalist investors. By focusing on “Ortega” as the problem, or the “presidential couple,” capitalist sections who are part of the opposition — including those who had been in alliance with Ortega and switched sides when the protests exploded — and other political parties try to hide the fact that the problems facing working people in Nicaragua are the result of capitalism.
“There are different class forces involved — workers and farmers who are fighting for rights and better conditions, and capitalists who want to keep their system of exploitation intact, but without the baggage of Ortega, whose growing unpopularity has made him a liability for them.”
Some on the left who defend the government claim that Washington is behind the protests. “While there is no question that U.S. agencies have funneled funds to opposition groups,” Calero said, “that’s not the reason for the massive protests.”
Countless programs organized and financed by Washington to overthrow the Cuban Revolution since its triumph in 1959 have failed, Calero said, because workers and farmers have confidence in what they see as their own revolution and leadership. “The FSLN government has dug its own hole with its anti-working-class policies and course.”
Many of the protesters, Calero said, are workers who were part of the 1979 revolution and their sons and daughters who have heard the stories about the transformation their parents went through. “They reject what the FSLN has become,” Calero said, “but have not drawn the lessons of why the revolution was lost.” There is no party or organization in Nicaragua today that is fighting to get back to the working-class course laid out by Fonseca.

Debate in UK deepens over Jew-hatred in Labour Party – The Militant

Debate in UK deepens over Jew-hatred in Labour Party – The Militant

Book review: Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory by Enzo Traverso (2016).



Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory by Enzo Traverso (2016).


***

In Left-Wing Melancholia a certain eclectic and academic version of Eurocommunism has gone off its rocker.

Traverso and his petty bourgeois intellectual cohort have been crushed under the Cyclopean weight of capitalist ruling class public opinion.  They bought the "end of history" thesis that U.S. imperialism won the cold war. Their old ideological loyalty to Stalinist "actually existing socialism" dissolved overnight.

....After the shock of November 1989, however, this narrative vanished, buried under the debris of the Berlin Wall. The dialectic of the twentieth century was broken. Instead of liberating new revolutionary energies, the downfall of State Socialism seemed to have exhausted the historical trajectory of socialism itself.

What, one may ask, did their loyalty and confidence ever really amount to pre-1989? It did not amount to confidence in the international proletariat or independent working class political action. Nor to proletarian internationalism. The eyes of Traverso and his global middle class academic social layer were always on the Stalinist misleaderships of workers states, labor organizations and Stalinist parties in capitalist countries. When in 1989 the rank and file of the Eastern European workers states tore down those police regimes and established democratic space to fight for their rights, this layer tasted not victory but ashes.

And what is left for this layer today? What imp of the perverse animates their quietist anti-communist politics? Real victories and powerful struggles of the last three decades do not appear in Left-Wing Melancholia. The drawbridge has been pulled up: these academic leftists are safe within an Axel's castle of memory and symbolic connoisseurship, content to salute the bust of Walter Benjamin over their chamber door.

***

....Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung was systematically purged of any word with a radical connotation. In the revised version of Benjamin's article on the German socialist collector Eduard Fuchs, fascism became "totalitarian doctrine" and "human constructive forces" replaced the word "communism." The purpose of such semantic euphemisms was—as Horkheimer explained in 1938—to not pronounce a single word "that could be interpreted politically."

This comment by Traverso on the smothering of political discussion by Frankfurters Adorno and Horkheimer can easily be used as a comment on Left-Wing Melancholia itself.

Traverso wants to talk not about the dictatorship of the proletarian but utopia. In this he echoes yearnings for a safe, uncontroversial, and purely retrospective pre-Marxist socialism embraced by - among others - former Maoist Alain Badiou. (Strange are the final political resting places of Stalinists...)

Traverso writes of the post-1989 period:

....class memory vanished in a context where laboring men and women had lost any public visibility; it became a kind of "Marrano" memory, that is, a hidden memory (exactly as Holocaust memory was just after the war) and the European left lost both its social bases and its culture.

The supposed "invisibility" of the working class says more about the social layer for whom and about whom Traverso writes than it does about the proletariat itself. From South Africa to Asia and the Americas, militant defensive struggles have been omnipresent in the last three decades. Closer to home, Traverso might also investigate the long fight by French workers to defend their social wage.

These humdrum examples of the lawful persistence of class struggle may not achieve the sexy heights of utopian aspiration that Traverso thinks are due him and his friends. But they are the everyday reality for billions of workers, and will not cease because they do not "measure-up."

***

The reader of Left-Wing Melancholia's chapters on left memories, movies, books, and dismissals of scientific socialism as positivist teleology have a right to ask of Traverso: What is to be done?

Amidst much habitual messy rhetorical muddling and occultation, Traverso eventually bequeaths to the workers and oppressed peoples of the world:

....the rediscovery of a messianic thought excavating the memory of the century could be more profitable than the conventional schemes positing the conflict between forces and relations of production and more insightful than the "long view" of structural history, with its superposed layers and its tectonic movements reducing events to a pure superficial agitation. The twentieth
century was an age of sudden, unexpected, and shocking ruptures that escaped any deterministic causality; it created many "now-times" ( Jetzt-zeit ) in which the present met the past and reactivated it. Its end took the form of a condensation of memories in which its wounds reopened and history met its lived experience.

Melancholic memories of failed utopias are thus combined with "rejection of a unilateral conception of universal history." Quoting new and renewed avatars Walter Benjamin and Daniel Bensaid, a world of "not progress but actualization."

In place of The Communist Manifesto and the Second Declaration of Havana, Traverso promotes Bensaid's 1990 book Walter Benjamin: sentinelle messianique.

In the last pages of Left-Wing Melancholia, comes the braiding of messianism with the anti-Marxism of Adorno and Horkheimer:

....Technical, industrial, and scientific progress could transform itself into a source of human and social regression. The development of productive forces could reinforce domination and its means of destruction, as the Great War had clearly proved. Fascism was neither a reaction against modernity nor a new fall of civilization into barbarism; it was rather a peculiar synthesis of the counter-Enlightenment—the rejection of a universal idea of humankind—and a blind cult of modern technology. We could not fight against this form of reactionary modernism in the name of a progress "conceived as a historical norm."

At his book's termination and nadir, Traverso's jargon unreels a vision of passivity for his petty bourgeois social layer, who know better and are thus unmotivated and uninspired:

....a politics based on the alliance between history and memory would have been different from the politics we have known.

....In 1990, the historical dialectic between the experience of the past and the utopic projection toward the future was broken. The horizon was removed from sight and the past became a saturated memory of wars, totalitarianism, and genocides. The angel of history reappeared with his frightened sight contemplating a new defeat. In this context, Bensaïd recognized that "today the alliance between the utopic legacy and the revolutionary project has fallen apart."

It's all very negative.

***

Left-Wing Melancholia is one more acknowledgement (if that were needed) that the left academics today talking about the "idea of communism" and the "rebirth of socialism" are peddling, at best, old pre-1848 obscurantism in new bottles (dusted by Menshevism). At worst, they are deliberately establishing roadblocks to thwart independent working class political action developing a new mass communist vanguard leadership.

In 2002 U.S. communist Mary-Alice Waters wrote:

....growing numbers of workers become conscious of themselves as a social class that can be an independent political force - this class will have the capacity to unite the toilers in the struggle to establish a workers and farmers government capable of leading humanity out of the profound social crisis that is the product of the lawful, inevitable workings of capitalism in its decline.

The greatest obstacle we face to the realization of this liberating and revolutionary perspective is that working people who are fighting underestimate what we are actually accomplishing and what we are capable of. We don't yet recognize ourselves as the true bearers of culture into the new millennium. But these are things we will learn, together, in the course of battles that are coming.

Left-Wing Melancholia's politics run directly counter to this perspective. The only saving grace of Traverso's book is that it is nearly impossible to read; and if read, to comprehend.




Jay
11 August 2018