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Cable Street and Anti Fascism in the US Today.

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No, Antifa, This is Not the 1930s and We Don’t Need to Punch a Nazi

It is not often, indeed it has not been never, when I commend an article in Counterpunch, but this is important, if contentious, contribution to what is a very divisive debate in the US today.

The author draws on Daniel Tilles, “The Myth of Cable Street.” History Today, and does not refer to other critical sources well-known to the British and Irish left such as Out of the Ghetto  by Joe Jacobs. His account of his involvement in the famous defence of the East End against an attempted march by Mosley’s fascists is important and a different version to that published by Communist leading figure on the day, Phil Piratin (Our Flag Stays Red, 1948).

Joe describes events leading up to the march, including the changes in the CP leadership’s tactics as they finally realised their calls for a peaceful demonstration elsewhere would be ignored. His account “corrects false impressions later created by official Communist versions of the events”. The Battle of Cable St, 1936 – Joe Jacobs.

The “Battle of Cable Street” is a key event in the “creation myth” of the anti-fascist movement. It goes like this:

On Sunday, October 4, 1936, about 5,000 members of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by Sir Oswald Mosley, planned to march in full Blackshirt regalia through several Jewish neighborhoods in London’s East End. Six thousand police were assigned to protect them from about 100,000 anti-fascist protesters. The anti-fascists fought the police and erected barricades to block the marchers. When the fascists saw there was no possibility of moving beyond the barricades, they abandoned the march and dispersed. [1]

Some accounts of the battle claim that the fascists and anti-fascists fought hand-to-hand, but Reg Weston, a journalist who was in his early twenties when he actually participated in the battle, makes it clear that the two sides never clashed. The police and barricades kept them apart. It’s a myth, Weston says, “that the ‘battle’ was between the protesters and the Blackshirts. It was not — it was a battle with the police.” [2]

Nevertheless, the crowd celebrated that day. The “Battle of Cable Street” went down in history as a victory for anti-fascist forces and to this day is part of the heroic mythology of the ultra-left: “For many members of contemporary anti-Fascist groups, the incident remains central to their mythology, a kind of North Star in the fight against Fascism and white supremacy across Europe and, increasingly, the United States.” [3]

I am less than sure that European leftists outside of the Isles are aware if Cable Street (see this very small Wikipedia reference in French. The German Wiki entry signals the passing of the Public Order Act as the main result). Anybody familiar with the violent clashes that took place in France in the 1930s, which led to dissolution in 1936 of the far-right, Croix de Feu, Ligue d’Action française, Parti Franciste, and the Camelots du roi, would be tempted to  consider it a sideshow, above all since those groups would be part of the reigning power a few years later under Vichy.  If “white supremacy” enters into accounts of the Battle against Nazism and Fascism, in the shape of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), I have only just heard of it. Finally, if the British Left considers Cable Street, for all its importance, does not generally consider it something of a significance on a par with, say, the International Brigades, or the Resistance.

Yet Contursi asks a relevant question.

But was it really a victory?

After the battle the fascists grew stronger 

Unfortunately, the anti-fascists celebrating their victory in 1936 couldn’t have known that their actions would ultimately do nothing to stop either the Nazi juggernaut that descended upon Europe three years later, or the immediate popularity of the BUF. In fact, the BUF benefitted from the violence and became even stronger over the next four years, until 1940, when it was banned by the government.

What the anti-fascist forces did achieve at Cable Street was a singular victory in stopping a single march. But at what price? In the aftermath of that action, membership in the BUF grew. Rather than smashing fascism, the battle turned out to be a recruitment tool for the BUF. The organization gained an additional 2,000 members immediately, and its membership continued to climb steadily. Seven months before the battle, BUF membership was around 10,000; one month after the battle, it rose to 15,500. It continued to rise until, by 1939, the BUF had about 22,500 members. [4]

The anti-fascist actions didn’t dampen the peoples’ enthusiasm for Mosely’s message. In the weeks after the battle, pro-fascist crowds in the thousands turned out for BUF meetings, listened to Mosley’s fascist proselytizing, and marched through London without much opposition. [1] An intelligence report on the battle noted that afterwards, “A definite pro-Fascist feeling has manifested itself. The alleged Fascist defeat is in reality a Fascist advance.” [1]

Violence, it seems, provided free publicity for the fascists. The BUF “thrived off the publicity that violent opposition produced. The national media, under pressure from the government, largely avoided reporting on Fascist activity other than when disorder occurred. A leading Mosleyite lamented the ‘total silence’ in the press when BUF events passed without incident, complaining that only after disruption by opponents did newspapers show any interest.” [1]

So,

The lesson from Cable Street is clear—the anti-fascists succeeded in shutting down one march. But in the aftermath of that action, fascist membership grew and, within a few weeks, the BUF was marching again—with little or no opposition.

It is a long piece and the rest has to be read in full.

There is discussion of  the experience of Nazism, but no reference is made to early battles with Mussolini’s squadristi, (we used to call street fighting antifafs ‘squadists’) of the importance, in the context of Cable Street of the start of the defence of the Spanish Republic.

We learn that the 1930s were a different time……where Nazism and Fascism were in power  in Europe.

That said, it is easy to sympathise with those making a stand against the ‘anti-fascist’  hysteria which apparently has gripped sections of the US left.

Whether ” Nonviolent direct action” is the answer is open for them to answer.

Janet Contursi makes her case clear:

1) Violence is not an effective long-term tactic against Nazi hate groups. When Mosley’s fascists were perceived to be the victims of violence, their membership grew; but when they were perceived to be the perpetrators of violence, it dropped.

2) What does work, but is more difficult for peace groups to achieve, is applying economic pressure to the fascists’ financial base and swamping their propaganda with truth. This requires a long-term organizing strategy beyond the occasional demonstration or peace march (a good example of a long-term nonviolent strategy is the BDS movement).

To repeat, it is hard to disagree with the view that the US far-right, fragmented and marginalised, is not about to be a major threat that needs the kind of violent tactics that some indicate.

But others believe that they must be confronted. 

Nevertheless, since Contursi  draws parallels between our very different societies and politics (to say the least: there is no equivalent of the Labour Party or the socialist inclined trade unions in the US), can one say that mass street action has always been ineffective against the British far-right?

What of the conflicts between the British far-right and left  in the 1970s and later?

Contursi neglects any discussion of the British experience of fighting the National Front in the 1970s, not to mention subsequent battles withe British Movement, the BNP and, more recently, the English Defence League.

There is a good case that the street activism of the 1970s, which was centred on the goal of confronting the far-right,  helped, in the context of a much wider cultural anti-fascism and a grass-roots movement, the ANL, local anti-racist and anti-racist committees,  and Rock Against Racism, had it place in preventing a ‘break through’ of the far-right into national politics at the time, for all that people will cite Thatcher as the ultimate benefactor of the racist undercurrents at work.

Since that time European far-right groups have grown in a number of countries.

Nobody could have prevented the rise of UKIP – which is clearly far-right – by street battles, nor would this have been desirable for democratic socialists intent on challenging their ideas, not physically standing up to their  members.

It would equally be ridiculous to imagine that any large-scale street fighting could have defeated the French Front National.

When their first electoral successes happened in the mid-1980s I was met with laughter by my French left-wing comrades when I suggested similar tactics to the ANL and anti-fascists, anti-racist street campaigning groups. In fact what happened in France was SOS-racisme which – with something like Rock Against Racism’s cultural approach, moblised people against racialist ideology.

The legacy of SOS racisme has been contested, involving a whole series of cultural issues which we, and others, have taken up (La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa: ‘Manufacturing Muslims’.).

Clearly the very  the possibility of the far-right winning substantive political power in France, and elsewhere in Continental Europe, is of a different degree and nature to the problems US anti-fascists face.

But anybody interested in more than “myths” about the extreme right and their opponents should be more concerned with looking at these developments than backwards to the 1930s.

 

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

September 19, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Two Years of Wandering. A Menshevik Leader in Lenin’s Russia. Fedor Il’ich Dan. Review.

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Two Years of Wandering. A Menshevik Leader in Lenin’s Russia. Fedor Il’ich Dan. Translated, Edited and Introduced by Francis King. Lawrence and Wishart.

Fedor (Theodore) Dan was a leading figure in Russian social democracy. A prominent Menshevik during the 1917 Revolutions, he had chosen their side after the 1903 split with the Bolsheviks in the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Workers; Party). During the Great War, King notes, Dan was a “Siberian Zimmerwaldist”, that is he opposed the conflict while under administrative exile in Russia’s far East and during his compulsory mobilisation as a Doctor in Turkestan. King writes, that Dan was described by Nikolai Sukhanov as, “one of the most major figures in the Russian revolution, one of the most outstanding actors in both the Russian workers’ movement and the events of 1917.” (Page 9)

Known to many on the left as the author of The origins of Bolshevism (in English, 1964), this is the first translation into any language of Dan’s Two Years of Wandering. Francis King is the Editor of Socialist History. His introduction outlines Dan’s background and his role in the crises of 1917. Dan, in conditions of political freedom, was part of the leadership of the Petrograd Soviet. Still calling for a “general peace” he took the Menshevik line of ‘revolutionary defencism”, which committed the country to continue fighting until this could be reached and support for a coalition Provisional Government.

This policy, opposed by its left wing around Martov, played a key role in the ‘end’ of Dan’s career in Petrograd. Bolshevik victory in October was not the only indication of their political dead-end. In the All-Russia Constituent Assembly elections of 1917 they won just 3% of the vote.

Continuing to support, “the idea of popular sovereignty, universal suffrage, and the Constituent Assembly” and demanding an end to terror for economic liberalisation, the Mensheviks tried to work within the new soviet structures. But what had begun in the Spring and Summer of 1918 with the “arrests and harassment of non-Bolshevik activists”. In June 1918, they, and the Socialist revolutionaries, were removed from the Soviet CEC. Yet they continued political activity. They focused on the defence of “the rights of labour” and the “defence of trade unions, with as a backdrop plans to make unions agents of “labour discipline” and “compulsory labour service” or the “militarisation of labour” exalted by Trotsky in Terrorism and Communism (1920). With their position set out in What is to be done: The Menshevik Programme July 1919 they had had a wider echo, Marcel Liebman and others record, within the official bodies (1)

For Trotsky the Mensheviks had in 1917, “together with the bourgeoisie, declared civil war against the Soviets”. In the Winter of 1920-1 the Mensheviks were systematically suppressed. (2)

In Lenin’s Gaols.

Dan’s serious travails began in 1919, when he spent 3 months in the Butyrka prison. Mobilised, again, in his medical capacity, he was put in charge of the Surgical Subsection of the Department of Medical Supplies. This was impossible task, faced with general chaos, the “constant inference of organs of the Cheka”, the sabotage of those who hoped for a return to private ownership and the prevalence of bribery. After protests, in an atmosphere of increasing hostility to the Mensheviks, Dan was reposted in what he describes as “official exile” to Ekaterinburg (Yekaterinburg), where he continued his “work service”. Further “wanderings”, which took him back to Moscow, then to Minsk and the Front in assault on Warsaw and finally to Petrograd, his native city, where Dan was finally caught in the Bolshevik repression and sent to Peter-Paul Fortress.

Two Years of Wandering is shot through with insights into those years of upheaval, the gaoling and exile of “thousands of socialists and non-party workers who (had) been so bold as to doubt the divine infallibility of the Bolshevik authorities, with all their fantasies, scandals, petty tyranny and occasional 180-degree turns. “(Page 53) From the famous 1920 visit of the British delegation to a meeting addressed by Printers’ leaders and Mensheviks, which criticised the “terrorist dictatorship of the minority”, the last Congress of Soviets at which the opposition was reluctantly tolerated, to the crackdown after the Kronstadt (1921) which marked the beginning of systematic elimination of dissent, the Mensheviks were disorganised. (3) A party that “had adapted all its tactics to the struggle for an open existence despite the Bolshevik terror.” was unable to mount any effective challenge (Page 98).

Dan was in prison during the Kronstadt revolt, which, when the news of this, following a strike wave, reached them, convinced those arrested that they were about to be shot. There were indeed mass killings. A gaoler, ‘S’ regaled Dan with tales of massacring whites. He also had this anecdote, “some Jewish trader they had arrested on suspicion that the leather he was carrying in his cart had concealed weapons under it. There were no weapons, but before letting the trader go, he wanted to have his ‘little joke’ at the expense of the ‘bourgeois’ so he stood him against a wall and ordered that he be shot – but they fired blanks. They did this three times – just to they could bring a little happiness to their prisoner when they told him he was free to go – although he could easily have died of heart failure.”(Page 121)

Sent to Remand gaol, Dan observed waves of new arrivals. Protests and demonstration were followed “on each occasion, a few intellectuals and party workers, together with hundreds of grey, non-party workers, would pass through the prison. There were tramway workers, workers from the Skorokhod, Obukhov, Putilov and Rechkin factories – all of working class Petersburg.”(Page 138) Conditions deteriorated, but perhaps what was most striking is that “once entering a Soviet prison, nobody can know even approximately how long he will be in there and how the imprisonment will end.” (Page 142)

Dan met an American ‘K’, identified by King as Adolf S Carm, arrested at the Third Congress of the Communist International “According to him he had been arrested on the strength of a denunciation by another American delegate, Haywood, in revenge for a polemical pamphlet K, had published against him in America. K was obviously very frightened and repeatedly stressed his devotion to everything the Bolshevik government did, including the practices of the Cheka.”(Page 155) Carm was released a couple of months later….

Dan was then sent to Butyri, a Cheka ‘internal prison’, a place where the “smell of human blood” was in the air. “the most dreadful aspect of it is the ordinariness of the circumstances in which this mass slaughter of people is taking place, where it has become an everyday occurrence.” (Page 145)

Hunger Strike and Exile.

For Two Years of Wandering hunger strikes, and a campaign “waged in the workers’ parties and working-class press of Europe” rather than kindness towards people who “had been in the same organisation at the Bolsheviks” The first response of the Bolshevik leadership came to them in the shape of the news that the All-Russia Cheka Presidium had sentenced all Mensheviks to be exiled for one year, and members of the party Central Committee for two years. As negotiations proceeded, their strike ended with the alternatives of, for imprisoned Mensheviks, either administrative exile in remote areas, or departure from Russia (Pages 179- 80) He chose Germany and arrived in Berlin in the winter of 1922.

As Francis King writes in his introduction – a significant contribution to the history of Menshevism in its own right – “it is the immediacy of this book which makes it so valuable” (Page 36). Dan shows understanding towards a variety of people, including anarchists, and a grasp of the plight of even imprisoned ‘whites’, that demonstrates the highest “common decency”. But Two years of Wandering is more than a personal memoir; it illustrates the “creation of a “large body of political of political police, operating with few constraints” built to enforce the governing monopoly of one party, the Bolsheviks” (Page 37).

Nevertheless, the Menshevik project of creating a ‘bourgeois’ democratic regime without a bourgeoisie that backed it was far from a viable alternative to the Bolsheviks, lacking, as King observes, both the “will” to govern and the instruments to do so. Dan’s evolution towards a form of “reform communism” also missed the tide of history. Yet, apart from its striking honesty, the book, smoothly translated, is a powerful antidote, written from the losing side of history, to the view that the early years of Bolshevik rule were only a joyous carnival of the oppressed.

********

(1) Trotsky’s reply to the Menshevik was, “If it were true that compulsory labour is unproductive always and under every condition, as the Menshevik resolutions says, all our constructive work would be doomed to failure. For we can have no way to socialism except by the authoritative regulation of the economic forces and resources of the country, and the centralised distribution of labour-power in harmony with the general state plan. The labour state considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary.” Page 153. Terrorism and Communism. Leon Trotsky. New Park Publications. 1971. Pages 249 – 251. Leninism Under Lenin. Marcel Liebman. Merlin. 1980.

(2) Page 15. Social Democracy and the Wars of Intervention. Russia 1918 – 1921. Leon Trotsky. New Park Publications. 1975.

(3) King reproduces the speech of the Socialist-Revolutionary leader Viktor Chernov to this meeting with the British Labour delegation in Appendix 1. Liebman called his invitation ”an act of provocation” Liebman. Op cit. Page 251.

See Socialist History Society Newsletter.

Also, What is to be done: The Menshevik Programme July 1919

Economic Measures

1. The peasants should retain, on a collective or individual basis as they may freely decide, the public and privately owned lands which they seized and parcelled out at the time of the Revolution. Other lands, not as yet distributed, should be leased on a long-term basis to needy peasants and peasant associations, except for those lands on which large-scale model husbandry is being, and can continue to be, carried out by the state or by leaseholders. The decrees abolishing the Committees of the Poor should be put into effect without exception.

Agricultural communes should not be established by force, either directly or indirectly. Government-held supplies, agricultural implements and seed should be equitably distributed not only among communes but to all peasants who need them on communes and soviet lands.

2. The present food supply system should be replaced by one on the following basis:
a. The state should purchase grain at agreed prices involving a large application of the barter principle; it should then be sold at low prices to the poorest dwellers in town and country, with the state making up the difference. The state should make purchases through its agents, co-operatives or private traders on a commission basis.

b.  The state should purchase, at a price equal to the cost of production, a certain proportion of the grain surpluses held by the better-off peasants in the more fertile provinces, the proportion being decided with the advice of freely elected representatives of the local peasantry.

c. Grain should be purchased by co-operatives and workers’ organisations, who should at the same time make over the stocks they have procured to government organs concerned with food supply. The state retains the right to requisition supplies from large landowners who are deliberately hoarding them for speculative purposes. Transport arrangements are under the primary control of the state, co-operatives and workers’ organisations. All anti-profiteer detachments should be disbanded. The transfer of foodstuff from a particular locality shall not be prohibited save in exceptional circumstances and by a decision of the central legislature.

The state shall assist, materially and by administrative measures, the transfer of workers and their families from places where food is scarcest and their resettlement in fertile areas.

3. The state should retain control of major industrial enterprises that are fundamental to economic life, such as mines, metallurgical plant, the chief branches of the metal-working industry, etc. However, in all places where this seems likely to improve or animate production or to extend its range, recourse may be had to organising such enterprises by a combination of state and private capital, by the compulsory formation of a trust under state control or, in exceptional cases, by means of a concession.

All other large industrial enterprises except where state control is desirable for fiscal or other reasons and would not be deleterious to production, should as a rule be gradually transferred into private hands, by leasing to a co-operative or a new entrepreneur, or to the former owner on  condition that he accepts the obligation to restore and organise production. The state shall regulate the distribution of fuel and raw materials to different branches of production, enterprises and areas.

4. Small-scale industry should in no case be nationalised.

5. The state shall regulate the distribution to different areas, in accordance with a fixed plan, of the chief articles of mass consumption such as textiles, farm implements, salt, lighting materials etc with the aid of co-operatives and private traders.

6. As regards trade in other articles of the firs necessity and also in luxuries, the state should refrain from imposing restrictions and should allow co-operatives and private enterprises to function freely except in cases where regulation or even monopoly is desirable on account of the extreme scarcity of the product, e.g. medical supplies.

7. The credit system should be so reorganised as to facilitate in every way the use in trade and industry of available funds accumulate by producers in town and country and to afford scope for private initiative in trade, industry and agriculture.

8. The repression of speculation and trading abuses should be left to the courts and governed by specific legal provisions. All arbitrary acts of requisition, confiscation and the detention of goods should be punished. The law should protect rights of ownership in the case of all industrial and commercial concerns that are released from nationalisation. In future, when expropriation is required by the public interest it should take place on the basis of a decision by the supreme legislative bodies and on conditions determined by them.

9. Workers’ unions, in addition to taking a direct part in the work of regulatory bodies, are also and primarily representatives of the interests of the proletariat vis-a-vis the sate and private entrepreneurs. In this latter capacity they should be wholly independent of any state bodies.

10. Wage rates in state enterprises should be raised and minimum rates fixed for private enterprises in accordance with the commercial price-level for necessary goods….

11. The decree on consumers’ communes should be revoked. Workers’ and general co-operatives should be preserved as autonomous organisations, without the imposition of appointees or other interference in their internal affairs. They should also have the right to carry on non-commercial activity such as publishing, education, etc.

Political Measures

The right of voting for members of soviets should be extended to all workers of both sexes. Town and village soviets should be elected by all workers, with a secret ballot and freedom of canvassing by word of mouth and by the press. Soviets and Executive Committees should be subject to re-election at fixed intervals. Soviets shall not be entitled to exclude individual members or groups from their midst on political grounds. All officials and public bodies shall be subordinate to local soviets and Central Executive Committees.all workers of both sexes. Town and village soviets should be elected by all workers, with a secret ballot and freedom of canvassing by word of mouth and by the press. Soviets and Executive Committees should be subject to re-election at fixed intervals. Soviets shall not be entitled to exclude individual members or groups from their midst on political grounds. All officials and public bodies shall be subordinate to local soviets and Central Executive Committees.

2. The Central Executive Committee of Soviets should once more function as the supreme legislative and administrative body, its proceedings being open to public observation. NO law shall come into force without being discussed and approved by the CEC.

3. Freedom of the press, of assembly and of association should be restored, and any party representing the workers shall have the right and be allowed to use premises for meeting, paper supplies, printing workers. Etc. Any restriction of this right that may be necessitated by the war against counter-revolution shall be established and clearly defined by the legislature; it shall not infringe the basic liberty and shall be applied only by the courts and institutions under their direct control.

4. The Revolutionary Tribunals shall be reorganised in such a way that the judges are elected by all the workers. Together with their subordinate investigatory commissions they shall have sole responsibility for combating counter-revolution. All officials should be directly liable to prosecution before these Tribunals for illegal acts committed in the execution of their duties, at the suit of the injured party in each case. Terror shall be done away with as an instrument of government; the death penalty be abolished , and likewise all investigatory and punitive organs independent of the courts, such as the Extraordinary Commission (CHEKA).

5. Party institutions and cells should be deprived of state authority, and party members of all material privileges.

6. The bureaucratic apparatus should be simplified by the extension of local self-government.

7. A policy of understanding should be pursed vis-a-vis the nationalities which have for any reason broken away from Russia, in order to put a speedy end to the Civil War an restore the unity of the state on a basis of national self-determination. The Cossack districts – Don, Kuban, Tersa, The Urals, Astrakhan, Orenburg, etc – should be allowed the widest possible autonomy and there should be no interference in their internal affairs or system of land tenure. Siberia should have regional self-government, and the independence of Finland and Poland should be recognised.

Central Committee of the RSDLP, 12 July 1919
Sotsial-demokratiia i revolutionsiaa. Sbornik dokumentov (Odessa, 1920), pp 9-15.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 17, 2017 at 12:28 pm

John Ross: from the International Marxist Group to defending “politically socialist” Chinese regime.

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Still Around as John Ross Sings Praises of Chinese “Xi’ism”.

John Ross was one of the main figures  in the leadership of the International Marxist Group in mid01970s, elss well known than say Tariq Ali, but considered the main figure.  By the early 1980s when it became known as Socialist Action, but he gradually lost the support of much of its membership. Ross was leader of one of three groups which emerged from the crisis of this group in the mid-1980s, the one which retained the name Socialist Action. They increasingly ceased to function as a normal left-wing group and became a group of advisers to Livingstone, or as critics said, a kind of high-level entryist group  who provided the inner core of  the Mayor’s team.

I write the above as a one-time member of the Opposing Faction to Ross in the 1970s IMG, Tendency A.

Reasons to distrust the groupuscule are many but  this sentence sums up their kind of politics, “Socialist Action also participated in Respect – The Unity Coalition after the 2007 split in that party. Several of its supporters became members of the party and one served as its national treasurer.” They are now said to have influence on Jeremy Corbyn.

The group still has a, kind of, site: Socialist Action.

We cannot dislike  them too much at present  since this is one of their recent policies:  There is no ‘People’s Brexit’

The development of Ross is, which ever way you look at it, curious.

A famously ‘Orthodox’ Trotskyist, who knew his Lenin better than Jesuits know their Thomas Aquinas he has been working in China as an academic economist,   Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China- paid for by the state –  for some time and sings the praises of the government’s ‘socialism’.

He has been posting material like the below, all over Facebook for the last few weeks.

How China’s Socialism Outperforms Capitalist Development Strategies. John Ross.

China has followed an economic development strategy, as analyzed below, that is radically different from the neo-liberal “Washington Consensus” advocated by the IMF. The latter is the dominant development strategy advocated by capitalist countries. This article therefore factually compares the results of what will be termed China’s “socialist development strategy” versus the Washington Consensus.

The reasons for making such a factual comparison are clear. The basis of any serious or scientific analysis is that if facts and theory do not coincide it is the theory that has to be abandoned, not the facts suppressed. This is equally expressed in the Chinese dictum “seek truth from facts.” Anti-scientific “dogmatism” consists of clinging to a theory even when the facts contradict it.

Despite this requirement for factual study, supporters of the Washington Consensus appear to dislike making systematic factual comparisons of the two development approaches. The reasons for this will become evident from the data below. This shows that China’s “socialist development strategy” far outperforms the Washington Consensus. The emphasis placed by China on development strategy and its socialist orientation has obvious implications for other countries.

The term “Washington Consensus” was first coined in 1989 by U.S.-based economist John Williamson – although the actual practical policies were commenced in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The Washington Consensus is a classic form of neo-liberalism. It advocates in terms of economic policy privatization and minimization of the state’s economic role. Its social policy may be described as “trickle down” – a belief that if there is economic growth all layers of society will automatically benefit as the benefits “trickle down” from the richest to poorest. Legally the Washington Consensus states that the overriding goal is the strongest guarantee of private property. Politically, although claiming to be neutral, this combination of policies evidently favours capitalist and conservative political parties.

China’s “socialist development strategy,” which commenced with its 1978 economic reforms, is radically different in its entire framework, and directly counter-posed on key policy issues. China used, in Xi Jinping’s phraseology on economic policy, both the “visible” and the “invisible hand” – not simply the private sector but also the state. Indeed, in China itself, as the Communiqué of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC stated: “We must unswervingly consolidate and develop the public economy, persist in the dominant position of public ownership, give full play to the leading role of the state-owned sector.”

..

In social policy China, in line with its socialist approach:

  • undertakes conscious programs deliberately aimed at eradicating poverty – these are to be completed in the 13th Five-Year Plan by 2020 by lifting the remaining 70 million people out of poverty;
  • deliberately promotes development through urbanization as a way of moving the population into higher productivity economic sectors;
  • deliberately seeks to narrow the income gap between rural and urban areas;
  • does not rely exclusively on “the market” but deliberately uses state infrastructure spending to raise the economic level of its less developed inland provinces;
  • legally guarantees private property but a key economic role is assigned to the state sector;
  • is politically socialist

China’s Upcoming Communist Party Congress Will Formalise ‘Xi’ism’

John Ross. August the 30th.

Xi Jinping is therefore the first Chinese leader facing a simultaneous combination of China’s transition to a high-income economy with low Western growth. This combination, therefore, produces China’s new policy configuration – ‘Xi’ism’.

Xi Jinping’s organisational position was already consolidated by his official designation as the ‘core’ of China’s leadership. But the previous most powerful leaders of China, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, are also officially designated in terms of their analysis of the periods of their leadership in terms of ‘Mao Zedong thought’ and ‘Deng Xiaoping theory’. It is therefore likely that China’s Communist Party Congress will also ideologically and in policy terms formalize Xi Jinping’s position in terms of what amounts to Xi’ism.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 8, 2017 at 12:03 pm

When the Tory Students and British State Backed the Islamist Mujahidin – Secret Affairs. Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam. Mark Curtis.

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Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s.

With Activate making a splash (We warned CCHQ that something like ‘Activate’ would happen) people may recall these campaigns the Tory yoof backed in the 1980s.

In addition to supporting no-holds-barred privatisation, controversial positions embraced included the support for American intervention in GrenadaRENAMO, the UNITA rebels in Angola, and the Contras in Nicaragua.[14] “Hang Nelson Mandela” slogans[17] were apparently worn by some leading members.

In the case of their support for the Mujahdin in Afghanistan there is a lot of background to fill in.

Training in Terrorism: Britain’s Afghan Jihad

This is an edited extract from Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam

Mark Curtis

The war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s was to mark the next phase in the development of global Islamic radicalism, building on the Islamic resurgence during the previous decade. Following the Soviet invasion of December 1979, tens of thousands of volunteers from around the Muslim world flocked to join their Afghan brethren and fight the communists. During the course of the war, they went on to form organised jihadi militant groups that would eventually target their home countries, and the West, in terrorist operations. These mujahideen, and the indigenous Afghan resistance groups to which they were attached, were bolstered by billions of dollars in aid and military training provided mainly by Saudi Arabia, the US and Pakistan, but also by Britain.

Britain already had a long history of supporting and working alongside Islamist forces by the time the Soviets crossed the Afghan border, but the collusion with the mujahideen in Afghanistan was of a different order to these earlier episodes, part of Whitehall’s most extensive covert operation since the Second World War. The problem with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it after six months in office, was that ‘if its hold on Afghanistan is consolidated, the Soviet Union will, in effect, have vastly extended its borders with Iran, will have acquired a border more than 1,000 miles long with Pakistan, and will have advanced to within 300 miles of the Straits of Hormuz, which control the Persian Gulf.’

In public, the prime minister and other British leaders denied British military involvement in Afghanistan and claimed to be seeking purely diplomatic solutions to the conflict. In reality, British covert aid to the Afghan resistance began to flow even before the Soviet invasion, while Whitehall authorised MI6 to conduct operations in the first year of the Soviet occupation, coordinated by MI6 officers in Islamabad in liaison with the CIA and Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. British and US covert training programmes were critical, since many of the indigenous Afghan forces, and the vast majority of the jihadi volunteers arriving in Afghanistan, had no military training. It was a policy that was to have profound consequences.

Review .Originally published in 2011, that is, before the Arab Spring Turned to Winter and Daesh took off on its genocidal path.

 

Secret Affairs. Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam Mark Curtis. 2010. Serpent’s Tail.

Hat-tip to Paul Flewers who suggested I read this book.

“Egypt’s future is uncertain after the death or fall of Mubarak and, whether there is a revolution or not, the Brotherhood could play a role in government or in the transition….Britain is the largest foreign investor in the country, amounting to around $20 billion. British elites want to be in a better position than after the fall of the shah of Iran in 1979 in 1979, and cultivating the Islamists is likely regarded as critical.”

“Britain likely sees the Brotherhood – as it did from the 1950s to the 1970s – as counter to the secular, nationalist forces opposition in Egypt and the region….” (Pages 308 – 9. Secret Affairs. Mark Curtis. 2010.)

Secret Affairs is a pioneering and unsettling study. It unravels how British officials have worked with apparently ‘anti-imperialist’ Islamists that they have found “useful at specific moments.” It sheds light on one of the less publicly acknowledged sides of British global policy – its “collusions” with Islamist groups and parties. Mark Curtis writes, “With some of these radical Islamic forces, Britain has been in a permanent, strategic alliance to secure fundamental long-term policy goals; with others, it has been a temporary marriage of convenience to achieve specific short-term outcomes.” (Page xi) Two geo-political aims have guided this policy, to keep control over energy sources in the Middle East and maintain the City’s place in a stable international financial system. More than out of sheer delight in the undercover world British intelligence agencies have pursued these rational, foreign policy, objectives.

For many it will be a mental wrench to consider that the British State could be complicit with Islamism. Islamists, in all their heterogeneous forms, are, according to a refrain that tends to drown out all others, a real or exaggerated threat. To the right they are from a civilisation out to clash with the West; to most of the left, a riposte to its imperial, Crusader, ambitions. After digesting Secret Affairs the claim that the West has declared a no-holds barred ‘war’ on Islam, sounds hollow.

On occasion even the most extreme Salafist inspired Islamists have been in the loop of the secret services, though more public state policy has been to nurture “moderate” Muslims, a moderation that exists sometimes only in comparison with the most violent Jihadists. If one turns the study’s conclusions upside down, one can also see some interesting aspects of Islamist politics: why, and how, they expect to use their contacts, half-hostile, half-respectful, with countries like Britain. Mark Curtis equally offers important signposts to the future direction Whitehall policy will take towards a key Islamist actor in post-Mubarak Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood.

State Islamist Sponsors.

The thread tying together Secret Affairs is an account of its relations with “the two most significant sponsors of radical Islam” – Pakistan, which promoted “the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the terrorist cause in Kashmir and its surge in central Asia” and Saudi Arabia, “the largest financier of the Islamist cause worldwide. “(Page 223 – 4)

Mark Curtis is a master of weighing up what governments have considered to be the national interest beyond alliances with these states. He enters the murky intelligence world without his vision becoming darkened by the complexity of the dealings involved. The author argues that Britain has “long connived with Islamist forces and their Pakistani state sponsors.” (Page 293) He cites Martin Bright, “it is depressing that so few of the left have been prepared to engage with the issue of the Foreign Office appeasement of radical Islam except to minimise its significance.” (Page 307) He comments, that this is not so much appeasement, as an effort to “achieve key British foreign policy goals” (Ibid).

In 2011 the arguments of Secret Affairs are extremely important.  The euphoria surrounding the popular uprisings against the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, and the demonstrations unrolling from Algeria and Tunisia to Libya, Jordan, Yemen, and the Gulf States with its waves reaching Tehran, has spread across the world. It is more than welcome. Liberals and the left have greeted the democratic aspirations and secular demands of the protesters.

Some ‘anti-imperialists’ consider the unrest to be the much-waited-for blowback to a Western ‘crusade’ against Islam that carries social opposition in its train. Its client dictators, Mubarak and Ben Ali, gone, they hope for a more radical moves, revolutions with wider ambitions, social and international. They may even be, it is often whispered, occasionally said out loud, radical forces, potential allies in a push for deeper change. Comforting stories, about veiled women involved in the struggle, have circulated, sometimes designed to demonstrate the irrelevance of religion, other times to indicate its ‘progressive’ role.

Islamist groups, swathes of which have, on Curtis’s evidence, had ambiguous contacts in the past with Western states, are now held to be potential allies of the left. In the Iranian revolution, and its aftermath, such a common front has functioned to political Islam’s advantage and has not benefited any popular interest. If some Islamist groups have been prepared to work with Britain in the past, one wonders what kind of present-day agreements rival leftist suitors will reach, and what will be the result.

Divide et Impera.

Mark Curtis (interview here) takes us back to Britain’s colonial empire and its mid-twentieth century dissolution. The Raj was, he alleges (on the balance of evidence), kept in control by a strategy of divide and rule, between different groups in the sub-Continent. In the 19th century “promoting communal divisions” was deliberate policy. (Page 5)

Religious identity, a kind of ‘multiculturalist’ separate development, as promoted. From its 19th century origins in the Aligraph movement, the British looked favourably on the party that drove the demand for partition and the formation of Pakistan, the Muslim League. The ‘Muslim card’ was used against the Indian National Congress. After Indian independence the Pakistani glacis was a “strategic asset” for the Anglo-Americans. “Narenda Sarila notes that ‘ the successful use of religion by the British to fulfil political and strategic objectives in India was replicated by the Americans in building up the Islamic jihadis in Afghanistan’. (Page 34)

Geopolitics and high strategy are a specialist area, subject to infinite shifts, changing alliances, and differing judgements. But Secret Affairs unearths some coherent policies towards Islamism. In the post-Great War Middle East Britain the manager of ‘protectorates’ such as Palestine and Iraq, pursued such a complicated strategic course that there will never be a consensus about its course. Faced with the creation of the State of Israel at the end of the Second World War, “there remains disagreement as to whose ‘side’ Britain was really on ..”(Page 41) One theme however did emerge. As Curtis notes, it was during this period that British officials began to regard Islamists, of various stripes, as “bulwarks” against communism. (Page 43)

This has been a long-standing reason to collaborate with Islamism. Readers will stop at particular details of this history. Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of a galaxy of anti-communist causes (including those of the international far-right, and outright anti-Semitism), in tandem with its promotion of the “global Islamic mission” has been given free reign from the Cold War onwards. Curtis describes Indonesia’s Western endorsed massacre of up to a million ‘communists’ in 1966. “Islamist groups, trained and equipped by the Indonesian army, played a critical role in the slaughter.” (Page 97)

Britain Sends Communists to their Death.

One specific example sticks in my mind. In 1982 the Khomeini regime was brutally repressing the left, and executing thousands of them. The British obtained a list of members of the Tudeh (Iranian Communist Party) members from a Soviet defector, Vladimir Kuzichkin. MI6 and the CIA jointly decided to pass on this list to Tehran. Dozens of alleged agents were executed and more than a thousand arrested, while the party was banned. There were show trials of a 100 members (where some were sentenced to death). The British operated “in pursuit of specific common interests – the repression of the left – even though Iran was by now considered a strategic threat and overall anti-Western force.”(Page 130)

Back in the ‘sixties Islamism was also opposed to a far greater perceived threat, Arab nationalism. This is a tangled tale, with the British sometimes trying to use the Muslim Brotherhood against pan-Arabism, yet often being repulsed by the organisation’s ingrained hostility to the ‘Crusaders’. The pro-Western Egyptian President, Sadat, went with the grain in using Islamists to smash his country’s Marxist and nationalist student groups. Islamic parties and groups attracted the “urban poor”, and, more significantly, “the devout bourgeoisie, a class hitherto excluded from political power.” (Page 108)

Encouraging Islamisation turned out to be double-edged sword. Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel further pushed them towards maximalism; he ended up assassinated by al-Jihad in 1981.

The alliance between the Western powers and Islamism formed during the Afghan jihad against the rule of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was infinitely more solid and direct. Britain appears to have helped the Afghan opponents of the left before the Soviets sent in troops in 1979. When tanks rolled in Margaret Thatcher gave full backing to those fighting the “godless communist system.” US allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt (sending Islamists radicalised under Sadat) and Pakistan undertook the practical organisation of the war against the PDPA and their Soviet backers. This shored up the Saudis, already funding Islamist causes around the world, and Pakistan, then promoting an Islamisation programme and boosting its domestic far right (notably the Jamaat-i-Islami), under General Zia.

Muscular Liberals for Islamism.

Many of the ‘muscular liberals’ who now frenetically oppose Islamism, were as enthusiastic as Thatcher for the Afghan jihad. French nouveaux philosophes (such as the ubiquitous Bernard-Henri Lévy) saw it as the high-point of the fight for freedom against Moscow. There were also ‘leftists’ who saw the Mujaheddin as combatants against ‘Russian imperialism’.

They failed to foresee the fruits of their surrogates’ victory. As is well-known the fall-out from this war, which created a pool of violent Islamist activists ready for global combat, led to the Taliban regime, and, ultimately, provided a base for al-Qaeda, neither bolstered liberalism nor the left.

Amongst the Mujaheddin supporters, whether Tory, liberal or leftist, few seem to have taken seriously the ideologues who would eventually emerge to announce, that, “This [Clash of civilisations] is a very clear matter, proven in the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet, and any true believer who claims to be faithful shouldn’t doubt these truths, no matter what anybody says about them.” That “we are in a strong and brutal battle, between us and the Jews, with Israel being the spearhead, and its backers among the Zionists and Crusaders.” (Messages to the World. The Statements of Osama Bin Laden. Edited by Bruce Lawrence. 2005).

Londonistan.

Many recent theatres of war, Bosnia, Albania, and Algeria, are covered in Secret Affairs. Again the traces of Western co-operation with various Islamists, and the half-wary, but intimate, relations between them are described. But perhaps the most memorable chapters are concerned with those at a distance from the battle-fields, in ‘Londonistan’. “London in the 1990s was one of the world’s major centres for radical Islamic groups organising terrorism abroad.” (Page 256)

Hw could this happen? It is claimed that a “covenant of security” was reached: that as long as the Islamists did not commit acts of terrorism in the UK, they would find this country a “safe haven”. Readers of the French press will be well aware of the anger felt in that country at the UK’s sheltering of brutal Islamic activists in the Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé). – responsible for attentats in Europe and sadistic murder in Algeria.

Other lands, where it could legitimately be shown that these refugees faced considerable danger, were also vociferous in complaining about the UK authorities’ tolerance. At times this lenience reached extraordinary levels. In 1994 Osama Bin Laden had a London office, even visiting that year. His Advice and Reformation Committee were permitted to continue (despite its transparent violent intentions) until Al-Qaeda’s East African bombings in 1988. (Page 182) There was little outrage in Britain at the murder of 224 people, mainly Africans, in these attacks on US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The policy did not end there. In the late 1990s Abu Hamza, a Special Branch contact was allowed to organise military training in England for his Supporters of the Sharia organisation. (Page 267)

Why would the British authorities have allowed Londonistan to develop? Curtis considers the view that it enabled the intelligence services to monitor and infiltrate Islamist groups. It may have been a way of cultivating relations “with possible future leaders”, help give the British a certain “influence” or “leverage” “over the internal politics” of Arab and other states. More crudely, “another major advantage of hosting radical Islamist groups in London, linked very closely to fundamental and current British foreign policy aims – the promotion of international divide and rule.”(Page 265)

The Raj and the Middle East were templates of a kind. But in present conditions encouraging divisions between states, and the Balkanisation of existing states (literally in the case of the former Yugoslavia), may be also factors. Some people in the “intelligence community” many have, even if not by formal policy, have therefore continued the policy of diviser pour mieux régner.

The public side of the British state, and the ordinary population, not to mention the left, only seem to have become concerned about Islamism in the wake of 9/11 and London’s own carnage on 7/7. The assault on the Twin Towers, that led, after the ousting of the Taliban to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was followed in 2005 by the London massacre. Suddenly heavy-handed anti-terrorism legislation was passed. the Labour government began to differentiate between ‘good’ moderate Islamists and ‘bad’ ones.

On the left some claimed that Britain was indeed at “war with Islam.” Sections of the left expressed at least “understanding” of why people would want to murder Londoners as a “legitimate target”. This is a sordid evasion of reality. Curtis remarks that, “The bombings were, to a large extent, a product of British foreign policy, not mainly since they were perpetuated by opponents of the war in Iraq, but because they derived from a terrorism infrastructure established by a Pakistani state long backed by Whitehall and involving Pakistani terrorist groups which had benefited from past British covert action.”(Page 285) Britain, he observes, prepared the ground. It “has helped marginalise secular nationalist and democratic forces within the country..”(Page 294) In the political void the Islamists have grown. Its goals, and its targets, have no anti-imperial core: they are directed towards creating a purified Islamic state and against all who will not fit into this vision. The present vicious reaction in Pakistan in favour of killing ‘blasphemers’ illustrates the priorities of this movement.

Britain and Islamism’s Future: Slouching Back to Egypt.

Secret Affairs is an eye-opener. It is primary an investigation, that rarely gets an airing, into British Realpolitik towards Islamism. It dredges up its deep roots in Britannia’s imperial past. It is also thoroughly modern. Not only are the UK’s declining international strategic interests at stake, but far-from shrinking financial ones, including Saudi financial investment and the City’s part in so-called Islamic banking and ‘Islamic finance’.

There is much further light shed on the complexities of British and American alliances, and hostilities, with Islamist forces in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. Relations with regional competitors, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, and US patronage of regional insurgency against Tehran, are given due weight. From geopolitical analysis Curtis moves to political judgement. Here we find an underling continuity, not rupture between British Cabinets’ approach to Islamism. That is, its willingness to negotiate as well as threaten, to use, to co-opt the most acceptable elements, as well as imprison the recalcitrant.

Curtis has his finger on the faults in this approach. He  points to the foolhardy agreements made with Islamists who operated on British soil, and the failure to grasp how the intelligence and diplomatic services’ strategies overseas can literally ‘blow back’ towards home. Internationally, collusion with radical forces has contributed to “the rise of radical Islam and the undermining of secular, nationalist, more liberal forces…”(Page 346) If one would wish for a wider explanation of the crisis of anti-colonial nationalism, and the decline of the left in countries with Muslim majorities, Curtis’s observations should play a major part in building up a fuller left picture of the place of Islamism.

Secret Affairs has been listened to in some expected quarters. Even some who generally subscribe to the Crusader view of the West’s role in the Orient, such as John Pilger and the SWP’s Socialist Review, have reacted positively to its analysis. But how far have they thought it through ? An obvious conclusion is that Islamism has gained more from its dealings with the British state than Whitehall has.

Operating with much weaker forces, the small factions of the pro-Islamic left, if they ever reach agreements with them, will see their interests overshadowed. Strong parties, notably those in the ‘International’ of the Muslim Brotherhood, who intend to use the state as a moral actor to enforce Islamisation on people’s private lives, may find some minor advantage in encouraging a radical veneer. Justice, as for political religions of all faiths, is a slogan that only lightly covers a commitment to free-markets. The Brotherhood apparent liberal and democratic Constitutionalism has made them politically acceptable, their liberal economic policies, potential partners. *If they have some support from the urban poor, it is their base in the pious bourgeoisie that counts. They play little role in the social unrest sweeping the working class (here).

It much more likely that they will return, strengthened by the crises sweeping the Middle East, to the High Table of global politics, to negotiate, this time openly, with the British and Americans.

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* See their attempts to whitewash their racist and totalitarian past here.

See: Margaret Thatcher praised jihadists in Afghanistan

Written by Andrew Coates

September 2, 2017 at 11:29 am

October. The Story of the October Revolution, China Miéville. Critical Left Reflections.

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October. The Story of the October Revolution, China Miéville. Verso. 2017.

Autumn and the 100th Anniversary of the October Revolution are drawing closer. The harvest of books on the new Soviet Power is still being gathered. It is, no doubt somebody has written, the duty of socialists to study, and this crop comes, for many, at the top of the left’s reading list. Should we begin with Lenin and the debates that have arisen after the publication of Lars Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What is to Be Done’ in Context (2008)? The 17th century Jansenist theologian, Saint-Cyran, claimed to have gone through Saint Augustine’s writings, 22 volumes, ten times, and his writings against the Pelagian heretics thirty. (1) There are Leninists whose familiarity with the Collected Works of Lenin  exceeds that modest accomplishment. Far better, if we are to grasp what was a stake in Russia in 1917, to start first with accounts of events: the contending politics and theories, Bolsheviks and their opponents, are embodied in the acts of the revolution.

China Miéville’s contribution is, as he announces, “a short introduction for those curious about an astonishing story, eager to be caught up in the revolution’s rhythms. (Page 2). If it is more than as a “story” that he tells the tale, Miéville, from the radical left, and the accomplished author of the BasLag weird fiction trilogy, brings a freshness and enthusiasm to the narrative, which begins in the 19th century Tsarist Russian opposition, the 1905 Revolution, and above, all the immense tragedy of the Great War which overshadowed the events that unfolded. October leaves little doubt that the immediate alternative to All Power to the Soviets was not a coalition of the left, but the threat of a successful far-right coup that would have accomplished what General Kornilov had failed impose. Miéville has both charmed and irritated those already familiar with the plot, and, one hopes, instilled both interest and caution in those not.

The Saint-Cyrans amongst the left have not been slow to argue about the take on Lenin’s Letters from Afar (March 1917), which called for the Bolsheviks to take state power. For some this remains a “bombshell”, advocating an accelerated move towards a socialist regime, telescoping previous alliances and revolutionary ‘stages’ into an immediate drive towards something close to socialism. But Miéville claims (following Lars Lih) that, “His argument that the revolution must continue remained clear, as did his exhortation to worker, ‘you must perform miracles of proletarian and popular organisation to prepare for your victory in the second stage of the revolution’ – a stage not of socialism, he would soon clarify, but of taking political power, of winning over the Soviet, to ensure the victory of the (necessarily bourgeois, democratic) revolution (Page 98). It was “continuity Bolshevism, and yet contained the seeds of a distinct and more trenchant position”. (Page 99) Readers who wish to make their own judgement can follow debates on the relationship between socialism, the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry and other aspects of Bolshevik programme and doctrine.

Defending the Revolution.

Of far greater interest are Miéville’s defences of the Revolution. In a concluding chapter there is a series of reflections on its outcome, to put it simply, Stalinism. The state organised Red Terror was, in a manner familiar to anybody acquainted with Miéville’s former organisation the Socialist Workers Party, explained as a result of external circumstances. The Civil War was the cause, ““Under such unrelenting pressures, these are months and years of unspeakable barbarity and suffering, starvation, mass death, the near-total collapse of industry and culture, of banditry, pogroms, torture and cannibalism. The beleaguered regime unleashes the Red terror.”(Page 312). Yet, ““there is no doubt that its reach a depth expand beyond control; that some agents of the Cheka the political police, seduced by personal power, sadism or the degradation of the moment are thugs and murders unconstrained by political conviction and wielding new authority. There is no shortage of testimonials as to their dreadful acts.”(Ibid).

October does not examine the view that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” unconstrained by the rule of law is fertile ground for abuse, thugs and murders. One may disagree with Kautsky’s critique of Bolshevism. But if Lih is correct that Lenin accepted the view that the democratic republic was an important stage in the “ripening of the proletariat” it is not the view that this is a “stage” “the essential basis for building up a Socialist system if production” that favours the eventual conquest of political power, that strikes us most today. It is his opinion that “people’s rights” such as “the protection of minorities” are the bedrock of socialism. (2)

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. 

Was Soviet Power, on the basis of interpreting Lenin’s reflections in State and Revolution (1917), made up of “working bodies, executive and legislative at the same time” a vehicle for these rights? Could take the state and politics back into the hands of the – restricted – electorate who controlled them? Lenin’s model was the barely over a couple of months long Paris Commune (8 Mar 1871 – 28 May 1871), a pluralist assembly, a heroic stand,  but which ended in a deep split between the patriotic majority of Blanquists who wished to fight by any means to the end, and an opposition of Proudhonists  and supporters of the First International (Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, Histoire de la Commune de 1871,  Published, 1876 and a standard source for Marxists for many years). Its own administrative achievements – contested – aside, this perhaps illustrates the difficulties of revolutionary democracy in war.

As Isaac Deutscher memorably commented, the Bolsheviks refused to allow the “famished and emotionally unhinged country to vote their party out of power and itself into a bloody chaos” are not hard to grasp. (3)

They had always tacitly assumed that the majority of the working class having backed them in the revolution, would go on to support them unswervingly until they had carried out the full programme of socialism. Naïve as the assumption was, it sprang from the notion that socialism was the proletarian idea par excellence that the proletariat, having once adhered to it would not abandon it. (Ibid)

The Russian Dictatorship of the Proletariat had immense ambitions. Soviet power was a lever to the transition towards socialism. But disagreements arose over the methods used to that aim. Those opposed to the militarisation of labour in War Communism, to the One Man Management that emerged, Taylorism, and what is called ‘bureaucracy’ indicated that the content, the social institutions, of ‘socialism’ were not something that was already there in the “programme”. No number of warnings about external threats can retrospectively annul the fact that the dissident voices within the left, the critics of Bolshevism whose views were far from the ‘formalism’ of Kautsky and the social democrats who rejected the revolution en bloc,

In a more open-minded fashion than many who wish to defend Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ state of grace,  Miéville says, Those who count themselves on the side of the revolution must engage with these failures and crimes. To do otherwise is to fall into apologia, special pleading, hagiography – and to run the risk of repeating such mistakes.”(Page 317) But without human rights, how can we judge such abuses? Without such standards – not trumped by the necessities of the moment – what do we have left? This is more fundamental than the ban on Bolshevik “factions” that took place at the  10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) 1921, that is –initially limited – clamp down on the freedom of inner-party debate. But even if the Party had reached agreements to tolerate loyal extra-party opposition, say with left Mensheviks and ‘non-party’ representatives in the Soviets – that is accepting disagreements in terms that they set, there was no prospect of accepting pluralism as such, that is the right of an opposition to say what they wish. As the twenties wore on this was no longer a matter of the external constraints of civil war, ‘temporary measures’, but became a matter of doctrine.

The Russian Revolution, it is customary to say, contained many potentials. Miéville points to the sense of popular power that it unleashed. Government decrees, on women’s rights, decriminalising homosexuality, and the recognition of national rights as the USSR was formed from different ‘republics’, and – within the limits of the censorship – artistic creatively briefly flourished. But the strategy of a ‘transitional dictatorship’ was the worm in the fruit.

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(1) Page 293. Tome l. Port-Royal. Sainte-Beuve, Charles-Augustin. 3rd Edition. 1867.

(2) The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Karl Kautsky. Ann Arbor. 1964 (1919)

(3) Page 505, The Prophet Armed. Trotsky 1879 – 1921. Isaac Deutscher. Oxford University press. 1979.

Perry Anderson and the French Left After Macron.

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PERRY ANDERSON AND THE FRENCH LEFT AFTER MACRON.

Part Two of a response to The Centre Can Hold.

In Part One of this critique we suggested that Perry Anderson’s analysis of the result of the French elections barely proceeded further than the affirmation that the “centre left” was a lieutenant of capital, that he lacked any notion of the specificity of different French government ‘neoliberal’, pro-capitalist politics, that his account of Macron’s victory was barely more than a tale of how the electorate was hoodwinked by the media and the establishment.

We noted that Anderson’s analysis of the role of France as a ‘hinge’ in the European Union, which he permits himself some meagre speculation on the potential effects of Macron’s Presidency on the EU. If as he claims these changes will be largely ‘cosmetic’, though one would not imagine that measures resulting from France pressure, to ensure debt relief for Southern Europe would not look like face paint to those affected, what is then the role of oppositions? Our conclusion, which dwelt on the radical utopian alternative of Dardot and Laval, suggested the ambitious scope of radical alternatives to the existing EU.

Anderson’s assumptions about the EU underpin much of The Centre Can Hold. One can note that the theme, clearly stated in 2012 against his critics, that Brussels, led by Germany, “corralled” EU members into fiscal “stability. One of his critics, Jan-Werner Müller, offered at that time an account of the “conscious delegation” of powers that constitute the inter-state body. It may be, Müller indicates, that Germany could, if the will were there, shift towards a more open system of EU decision-making. (1) This premise suggests that rather less than a total rejection of the existing institutions – reform – might be possible. That Europe is indeed a changing body is further indicated in the fate of Anderson’s speculation about the Union as “deputy Empire” of the US. Here does this stand now? No doubt the reign of Emperor Trump, who promoted Brexit, requires a further analysis.

The Jargon of Resistance.

But when it comes to looking at French elections perhaps this is not the point. New Left Review, we have to remind ourselves, has turned into the Organ of Resistance. In an Editorial in 2016 we were treated to a lengthy treatise on Left Oppositions (I will not refer to the article on Poetic Resistance in the same issue). Susan Watkins indicated that “in the last few years” “left oppositions started to produced national political projects with an impact at state level”. This covered Greece’s Syriza, Italy’s Five Star Movement (…), Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and apparently, Scottish independence campaigners.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 4 million Presidential votes in 2012, as the candidate of the Front de gauche (FdG), a bloc of his own group, the French Communists and leftists involved in groups such as Ensemble, figured on this list. He features equally amongst the “charismatic leaders” with his old style “oratory”. A paragraph, informed by sources which can guess not unfavourable to the leader of what was then the Parti de Gauche (PdG) complained of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). It was “mummified”, a “ball and chain”, and, over egging this already egg splattered account, amongst the faults of the PCF, “In the National Assembly it regularly supports the Socialist government against the positions of the Parti de Gauche.” Writing in this vein the Mélenchonistas were given star rating, along with the thousands attending Nuit Debout rallies – over the, unmentioned, trade union led millions-strong campaign against the El Khomri labour reforms.

With the NLR condescension Mélenchon was judged “in part” social democratic, but with more ‘heterodox elements” “including sweeping constitutional change – not a social-democratic trait”. Those familiar with the Journal’s views on such issues, will realise that the importance they attach to the calls for a 6th Republic, although the Editor fails to mention that the same banner has been raised by a number of the left inside the Parti Socialiste (2014: Appel de socialistes pour une sixième République).

La France insoumise.

Shift forward a year, the formation of La France insoumise (LFI), the effective end of the Front de Gauche, and the 2017 Presidential elections. Against the ‘pale figure” of Benoît Hamon. We have the Grand Orator Mélenchon standing with the backing of hundreds of thousands of on-line supporters and – on the ground – “groupes d’appui”, organised supporters.

“..the change was more than just organisational. Fascinated for some time by the success of heterodox governments in Latin America, he drew particular inspiration from the example of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, like him a former minister of a social-democratic party, who had pioneered the idea of a ‘citizen’s revolution’, rewriting the constitution, redistributing wealth and protecting the environment. This was the way forward, to abandon the exhausted schemas of the traditional European left for a radically progressive populism, summoning the people to battle against the elites in control of a bankrupt political and economic system. Impressed with the strategic insight of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, encountered in Argentina in 2013, Mélenchon set about applying their lessons at home.”

We pause for a moment to consider this.

A Movement not a Party.

La France insoumise is a “movement”, not a party. Mélenchon declares, “Il peut disposer des moyens d’être représentatif de cet ensemble globalisant quest le peuple en réseau de notre époque That is, it can be a network that represents the people globally in our era. Is it democratic? Le mouvement na pas à être « démocratique » au sens basiste que souvent on donne à ce mot dans les organisations politiques où lon doit alors affronter le climat de confrontation des courants et des textes qui les fondent avec les votes contradictories. The movement is not ‘democratic’ in the the grassroots sense of the word in political parties, where different tendencies and resolutions are presented confrontationally, or with oppositional voting. The movement is as collective as possible (cest d’être aussi collectif que possible) In other words, there is no formal debate over competing views, or, more significantly, any means to do so – LFI operates internally through cyber-space with the direction set by.the leadership. For his supporters Mélenchon is the “embodiment” of the programme; there is no need for opposition to him. Inside La France insoumise there are, as yet, not plans for a place for a democratic opposition or channels for one to exist. It is run, as report after report indicates, by a core of close Mélenchon advisers from the PdG.. (2)

A further pause, La France insoumise its admirers claim, is not a tactic, a political start-up adapted to the new era of personalised politics. But what is it? The organisation is more that symbolically linked to other models – we shall discard the reference to Ecuador (which few will have heard of and which counts for even less than erstwhile evocations of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela), but to Podemos. LFI is not, nevertheless, the product of a French Moviemento 15 Mars, no mass street protests preceded its launch, and only the figure of the producer of Merci Patron François Ruffin stands in for the brief flash of the Nuit Debout square occupations.

La France insoumise was first and foremost the vehicle for Mélenchon’s Presidential ambitions. It was a temporary body, It is secondly an ambitious claim to federate the people into something resembling the left populism of Laclau and Mouffe. Although one should be wary of politicians claiming intellectual authority from fashionable figures (Hamon has also claimed to be influenced by Mouffe: Benoît Hamon, Inspirations au programme), there is more than a little of a demand for “equality and popular sovereignty in LFIs version of agonistic (conflictual) democracy to feel an imprint. In place of class conflict in the sense of a contradiction rooted in a mode of production, classic social classes, we have the opposition between the People (demanding equality and sovereignty) and the Elite/Oligarchy. We have an even more rudimentary opposition between Friend and Foe (Carl Schmitt), beneath this. Political reform, sweeping constitutional change, a citizens insurrection through the ballot box, are designed to clean the institutions of the corruption of the oligarchs and to bring alive the general will inside a new Republic, one that can (and this is repeated) ensure French independence (3)

Le Grand Replacement ..of the Left.

It is finally, a movement whose central strategy is to replace the existing left, not to unite it, not to bring together it for common objectives, but to call for traditional left-wing parties to sod off (dégagez!) For those wishing to pursue this analysis from the numerous criticisms levelled at Mélenchon and LFI, they will find many more critical accounts, so abundant that one might have thought a reference or two might have crossed Anderson’s mind.(4)

LFIs patriotism, and rejection of any reference to class in favour of the conflict between the People and the Oligarchy, can hardly escape the casual observer.

La France insoumise banned red flags and the Internationale for the tricolour and Marseillaise at its meetings, appealing to all patriots regardless of class or age to rise up against the decaying order of the Fifth. Borrowing the cry that drove out Ben Ali in Tunisia, Dégagez!—‘Clear out!’—became the leitmotif of the campaign.”

It takes a strong stomach to digest this, one no doubt fortified by memories of 1950s PCF tricolours and references to national liberation heroine Jean darc. Is there more criticism, at least more than implicit, from Anderson? Perhaps this sentence could still be expanded In reality, the two anti-systemic forces, rather than aggregating to a common populist insurgency, largely cancel each other out. However similar their critiques of the social and economic system, insuperable moral and ideological differences on immigration hold them apart at opposite ends of the political spectrum, where each freely demonizes the other.” Immigration, FN as a ‘scarecrow’ used to rally people behind the Macron and the Republic……..and there it ends…

Or not. Anderson is soon bored by French Politics and drifts back to geopolitical, European, issues. He notes that, “the balance of forces in a  neoliberal but not yet neo-federal system of power militates against dramatic changes”. The final paragraph of The Centre Can Hold talks of the single currency, the Euro, and the possibility of a French exit from it. Recasting monetary union, is, Anderson pats Mélenchon on the back, a “geopolitical” issue, not a technical one. Of that, all we hear that can be brought down to immediate relevance is the question: can there be an effective means to compel Germany to help a reform of the EU?

The future of La France insoumise, as it announces a Convention in the autumn, remains to be analysed. Will it become a real party? Where will it go? Many suggest that Melenchon has still not come to terms with the idea that he will not be President. In the National Assembly, having made a splash, there are strong independent figures in the group of 17   who may have their own ideas about the direction it should take. One thing is certain, neither the PCF (10)  the PS (45 seats), nor the rest of the left, including Hamon’s own new movement, the mouvement du 1er Juillet  nor the extra-parliamentary  left, nor the union federations,  look ready to be “replaced” by Mélenchon. The failure of LFI’s stunt this week, holding on its own, without trade union backing, rallies against Macron’s new labour reforms, indicates the limits of how far its “recuperation” of social movements can go.  (5)

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(1) After the Event Perry Anderson. Beyond Militant Democracy. Werner Müller. New Left Review. No 73. 2012.

(2) Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Le peuple et le ‘ mouvement ‘ November 2016 

(3) The Democratic Paradox. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. 2005. A much more detailed critique of Laclau and Mouffe’s influence on ‘left-populist’ politics is in preparation. The motif of French independence, militarily, economically, and related themes, such as “producing French”, stand out in the pages of La France insoumise’s programme,  L’Avenir en commun. 2017.

(4) See: La France insoumise – « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ? jeudi 3 novembre 2016, par JOHSUA Samuel, MELENCHON Jean-Luc Rousset provides the best summary. Mélenchon, France insoumise, populisme : questions sur la séquence électorale 2016-2017 et ses implications ROUSSET Pierre.

(5) La France insoumise se met en chantier – Vers une convention fin octobre ? BESSE DESMOULIERES Raphaëlle

Miguel Abensour. 1939 – 2017. Radical Left ‘Insurgent Democracy”.

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Miguel Abensour. 1939 – 2017.

The radical left-wing political philosopher Miguel Abensour passed away on April the 22nd. From a Jewish family, and a childhood spent hidden from the Vichy regime in the countryside, Abensour began to teach political science in 1962. The young teacher, who had early discovered the division between “friends” and “enemies”, remained haunted not only by the experience of Nazism, but also by Stalinism. (1)

The Algerian war of independence and de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic saw the young university teacher’s involvement in the anti-bureaucratic and anti-capitalist left. Abensour’s ideas were influenced by Castoriadis and the review Socialisme ou Barbarie (1949 – 1967) During the sixties he was as founder of Utopie, whose other best known figure was Jean Baudrillard. The title of the journal could stand for a life-long interest in utopian thought, from Thomas More, William Morris, Walter Benjamin the anthropologist Pierre Clastres who speculated on societies without states, to Ernst Bloch and the Frankfurt School. He admired Hannah Arendt, her critique of totalitarianism, the destruction of pluralism, and her writing on the “hidden treasure” of the direct democracy of the workers’ councils. Unlike those, who in the wake of François Furet’s Penser la Révolution française (1978) saw in all radical revolutions the germs of totalitarian tyranny, he continued to defend a Marxist inflected “insurgent democracy”.

Tributes to Abensour have described his contributions to other journals, such as the 1970s anti-totalitarian Textures (to which Castoriadis and Claude Lefort contributed), and his publishing work in the collection, Critique de la politique.

La Démocratie contre l’État

Abensour’s La Démocratie contre l’État (2004) remains his most significant contribution to the independent critical left. Subtitled Marx et le moment machiavélien it is a reflection on Marx and Machiavelli. The work is informed by J.C.A Pocok’s account of how the Florentine’s idea of political Virtue might impose on Fortune and the form of the republic and Fortune, with sociology of liberty (The Machiavellian Moment. 1975). In the discussion of Marx Claude Lefort’s reading of Machiavelli come to the fore. For Lefort the description of the class divisions in Italian city-states, perennial conflicts, a refusal to be commanded or to be oppressed, were the foundation of liberty (Le Travail de l’oeuvre Machiavel. 1972/1986).

But Lefort, Abensour observed, had not stayed there. The former Socialisme ou Barbarie member’s defence of “démocratie sauvage”, heterogeneous movements for human rights, fights for legal rights in the sense also advanced by E.P.Thompson. After the 1970s vogue for ‘anti-totalitarianism’ in France Lefort had moved further into considering that “democratic revolution” could be focused around the “lieu vide” of power, the acceptance that there is a way of institutionalising contestation, pluralism, in a political place that remains “empty. That is, unoccupied by individuals, forces or ideas that impose a single social order. In other words, democratic societies are grounded on the acceptance of division. By contrast Abensour defended Marx. Against the charge that he wished to end this ambiguity in a society of total transparency and harmony. Marx did not imagine a return to ancient republicanism, a world of public lives under constant surveillance and ‘unity’. Insurgent democracy fuelled by such as sense of class conflict, closer to the spirit of anarchy, the “withering away of the state”, not only refuses totalitarianism, but also the structures of the state. Abensour thus rediscovered the possibility of radically new “espaces d’invention, d’évasion” – disorder that Lefort had turned away from. (2)

At a time when National Sovereignty is brandished by those who wish to occupy the space of democratic power, when the ‘federated’ People replaces for Class, and some would wish to claim the ‘independence’ of the Nation against the ‘Elites’ and ‘Oligarchs’, Abensour’s insurgent democracy stands as a rebuke to the narrow goals of populism, right or left. Yet perhaps there is some virtue in keeping the reins of power out of the hands of a single General Will. Those on the British left, now offering to fight to the last French person against Le Pen and Macron, might also reflect on those, like Michael Abensour, who have had more fecund dreams of a utopian future without domination and Sovereignty. He deserves to be as widely read as possible.

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(1) Les guerres d’Abensour.

(2) Page 184. La Démocratie contre l’État le Felin. 2004

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Written by Andrew Coates

April 28, 2017 at 11:45 am