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Raising Atlantis? Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited, Sean Matgamna. Workers’ Liberty. 2015.

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Raising Atlantis?

Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Workers’  Liberty. 2015.

“Les bruits lointains d’une atlantide disparue, de cette ville d’Ys engloutie que chacun porte en soi.”

The distant sounds of a vanished Atlantis, of that sunken city that everybody carries inside.

Ernest Renan. Souvenirs d’enfance et de Jeunesse. 1883.

Ten years after the 1989-91 fall of Soviet-bloc Communism, Perry Anderson wrote, launching the Second Series of New Left Review (NLR) that, there was “no longer any significant oppositions” “within the thought world of the West”. The governing and intellectually dominant neo-liberalism had no rival on the radical left. Amongst the aftershocks of the collapse of the USSR, “Virtually the entire horizon of reference” for his generation on the left, “the landmarks of reformist and revolutionary socialism”, Bebel, Bernstein, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Jaurès, Lukács, Lenin, Gramsci and Trotsky, have been “wiped away”. For students they had become “as remote as a list of Arian bishops.” (1)

The second volume of The Fate of the Russian Revolution is, like the first, aimed at re-establishing, in the face of Anderson’s verdict, the present day importance of one of those distant figures, Leon Trotsky In his Introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Sean Matgamna draws how own parallel with the heresiarch Arias and his followers. The reference is not, as one might expect, to the unequal contest between the founder of the Fourth International’s circle of supporters and Stalin’s Established Marxism-Leninist Church. It is to disputes within the Trotskyist movement, “The Heterodox were the Arians, and the Orthodox the Catholics of post-Trotsky Trotskyism.” The leader of the – ‘heterodox’ Trotskyist – Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) argues that this division, which originated in the 1940s, amongst those who “embodied the great truths of Marxism” the only “authentic Marxist-communist tradition” was of lasting significance. Revolutionary socialists, “must go back to re-examine the old debates and the flaws and lacunae in the political legacy which Trotsky left at his death – back to 1940.”(2)

Apart from Matgamna’s lengthy Introduction we are offered an extensive – over 600 pages long – selection of original articles from 1939 to the early 1950s, by Trotsky, his ‘orthodox’ champions, and those expressing opposing views on the errors and gaps in their political approach. The present work aims to present a demythologised account of the raucous debates of the Trotskyist movement inside the American Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP –henceforth the SWP referred to) during the 1940s – placing the heretics on an equal, if not superior, footing to the Orthodox. The texts are not always easy reading. Anybody unused to the disputes of hard-core Trotskyism will find the often wildly intemperate language unattractive – the suffix “ite” for opponents’ standpoint, “deviation”, and “petty bourgeois individualism”- gets freely aired. The articles range from the ‘Shachtman” opposition to Trotsky call for defence of the Soviet Union, to the scepticism of Felix Morrow, a leading American Trotskyist and author of an orthodox account of the Spanish Civil War, who became sceptical about the Fourth International’s prediction of post-war European revolutions. Morrow by contrast could see that it was more probable that,  “bourgeois” democracy would be restored, and advocated a left-wing democratic response. Morrow was the main subject of an important 1970s, Where Trotskyism Got Lost. (Peter Jenkins. 1977), which might also seem an appropriate sub-title for The Two Trotskyisms.

The first thought of the reader is to ask whether it is worth the time and effort to look into this literature. Are we delving into the “archives” of a lost Atlantis, as former Fourth Internationalist Tariq Ali, prefacing the philosopher and life-long Trotskyist activist Daniel Bensaïd’s An Impatient Life  (2015) has described records of the Trotskyist movement? Are they files of failure swept into the depths by the Triumph of Capital? A more urgent task might be to respond to the post-Communist “lucid recognition of defeat”- as NLR Editorialised a decade after Perry Anderson’s verdict. The “archipelago of a thousand Marxisms”, the research programmes of the academic left which the same Bensaïd saw flourishing in Marx for our Times (2002), and which has not ceased bearing fruit, might seem to offer more fertile soil on which Trotskyists too can plant their seeds. There is indeed debate on collective agencies, opposed to capitalism, in which this left could intervene. If it often, as indicated by the writings of those associated with groups like the British Socialist Workers Party and its Diaspora, or from those associated with Red Pepper, of uneven quality, dominated by “movementist” ideas based on the most recent wave of protests, that sparkle briefly and then are forgotten (remember anti-Globalisation, anti-capitalism, and Occupy?). But for Matgamna at least the original City of the Trotskyist movement has not been submerged in the deluge following the Fall of Official Communism. We should first of all, like a modern Montaigne, return to the library in its principal Tower. (3)

In this respect a useful contrast might be made with Lars T. Lih’s influential Lenin Rediscovered (2005). Lih argues that Lenin’s politics developed in the shadow of German Social Democracy, and its chief theorist, Karl Kautsky. A strategic emphasis on the importance of political liberty, as a condition for the development of the movement, was grounded on a “world historical epic about the coming of socialism”. The task of the left was to bring the “Good News” of socialism to the working class, merging intellectual resources and the labour movement. But for Trotskyists in the 1940s, after two decades of Stalinist rule in ‘socialist’ Russia, forced collectivisation, famine, the Great Terror and the Gulag, there was little tangible to evangelise about. The German Communists had lost to the National Socialists; the Spanish Civil War had ended with defeat for the Republic and the left. Nazi and Fascist tyrannies were now poised to turn Europe into a totalitarian Empire. The old colonial powers of France and Britain, they considered, looked only to protect their own interests, as were the Americans. There was, in short, an abundance of very Bad News. The Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin’s years of leadership during the founding of the USSR, and Trotsky’s battle against Stalin’s rule, remained, for them, touchstones, but their faith in the future of socialism had returned to belief in “things unseen”.  (4)

It could be argued that the left has yet to settle accounts with Stalinism. While High Stalinism, beyond the borders of North Korea, may have vanished, there it ample evidence that its outlook continues to leave its imprint on the left, not least in “anti-imperialist’ quarters. That if there is to be a democratic socialist strategy that could succeed in winning political power it can learn much from those who refused to compromise with totalitarianism. That at least some Trotskyists, the ‘heterodox’, have something to offer in outlining ways in which the left can be both opposed to capitalism and democrats, above all in the way in which they confronted a much stronger ‘socialist’ power that had dispensed with all pretensions to democracy. That in facing up to this “bad news”, the 1940s dissidents offered signposts for the future. That, at last, is the implication of Matgamna’s arguments. For that reasons alone Matgamna’s case should be taken extremely seriously.

The Rise of the Heterodox.

Our knowledge of the heterodox side in the early centuries of the Christian Church comes from fragments of their documents, and the commentaries of the victorious Catholics. Backed by Emperors the Orthodox considered the Arian congregations to be rebels against the supreme powers of Heaven and Earth. Although the analogy is perhaps strained those who criticised Trotsky and the leadership of the American Trotskyists, the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1930s and 1940s, are like Arian ecclesiastics, largely known through the literature of their adversaries.

Max Shachtman (1904 – 1972), a founder of that SWP, and a member of the Executives Committee of the Fourth International, has, to Matgamna, suffered the worst from the “handed down” and “apparatus historiography” of Orthodoxy. A Pride’s Progress, from criticisms of Trotskyism to support for American imperialism, was his, and the majority of his comrades’ their fate. This parable was part of the consoling “revolutionary mythology” that helped the Orthodox stand together against an assortment of enemies on the left and survive the ascendancy of Official Communism. For Matgamna declarations of doctrinal righteousness did not prevent them from chasing after the radical causes of the moment, including “alien political movements”, and, above all, becoming “critical supporters of varieties of Stalinism.” (5)

The Two Trotskyisms, with its companion volume, Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, presents a rich selection of articles and other material. Matgamma – one assumes, or hopes,  half-jokingly – referred in the first book to them as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls” of this movement. Unlike the Essenes, the Heterodox manuscripts have not been buried for a couple of millennia. But The Two Trotskyisms presents together texts that have, up till now, only been available, but still in dispersed existence, to a limited readership. Following the first Volume’s publication of writings on, amongst other topics, the Stalinist Counter-Revolution and the Third Period ultra-radicalism that swept the world’s Communist parties, the present work assembles the efforts of small Trotskyist groups to grapple with the Second World War, and the expansion of the USSR into Eastern Europe in its aftermath. (6)

Sean Matgamna reminds readers, a few of whom may need this underlined, that Trotsky – by definition the lodestar of Trotskyism – was not infallible. Over the period leading up the War he presented a “large quiver of half-evolved and half-eroded “positions”, ambivalences, and contradictions. He is keen to make one point clear. The founder of the Fourth International did not lay down a hard and fast ‘line’ on the central issue of the controversies. “While defending the view that the totalitarian regime created over the foundation the October Revolution laid down, in nationalised property and planning may have been evolving as “transitional society” into a new social formation. He admitted, in effect, the theoretical possibility that the USSR was already established as a new exploitative class society, a semi-slave society.” We would also note that Trotsky’s frequent use of the term “totalitarian” – a word first used in Marxist circles by the dissident’s dissident Victor Serge – would raise hackles amongst those who have consigned it to Cold War political ‘science’.  (7)

That 1940s Trotskyism divided into two strands is a claim that rests on an account focused on North America. In the 1940s the SWP (US) was the largest Trotskyist group in the world, whose several thousand members had played a substantial part in the trade union movement. The publication by Shachtman of criticisms of dialectical materialism from a ‘pragmatist’ philosophical standpoint by James Burnham in the party’s theoretical journal, New International in 1938 was not universally welcomed.  Trotsky came down hard on the “anti-dialecticians”, harbingers of open ‘anti-Marxism’. Broader political differences emerged. What Trotsky and his immediate supporters called the “petty bourgeois” opposition began to engage in open factional warfare with the majority. This bitter quarrel was less over the value of the ABC of Materialist Dialectics than on the nature of the Soviet Union and the SWP’s policies towards Stalinism.

Specialists in this history would no doubt observe that by the late 1930s there as indeed a shift in parts of the American left from an interest in Marxism, including Trotskyism, towards democratic “anti-totalitarianism’ inside the American radical intelligentsia affecting figures such as Max Eastman and Edmund Wilson. Sidney Hook, a more substantial intellectual figure than Burnham, author of the still read, From Hegel to Marx (1st Edition, 1936), a student of the pragmatist philosopher and educationalist John Dewey, Chair of the Dewy Commission (1937) which condemned the Moscow Trials and their accusations against Trotsky, perhaps symbolises this change. By the end of the decade Hook had moved from the traditions inspired by Marx, including a period of “Trotskyesque” anti-Stalinism, towards a rejection of historical and dialectical materialism, and anti-communist (big and small ‘C’) support for the American Constitution and liberal democracy. (8)

Inside the SWP rifts hardened during the first years of the Second World War. The SWP minority recoiled from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. Shachtman, Martin Abern and other dissenters began to question the policy of “Defence of the USSR”. The SWP majority accounted that on the basis of the economic foundations laid down by the October Revolution it was their duty to back the country. For the majority Stalin’s occupation of half of Poland, the invasion of Finland and other Soviet manoeuvres in Eastern Europe, found them “partisans” of the USSR side, to the point of calling for the people in occupied territory to back the Red Army.

From the Bad News of the Gulag there was soon even worse news about the conduct of the Soviet invasions and fresh slaughters. For the dissidents these actions proved that Russia had acted as “imperialist” power – acting with a brutality which no slogan could cover up for. The claim that at least something of a workers’ state remained in the country, however “degenerated”, rang hollow. Russia was not in a “transition”, however unstable, towards socialism. Unrestrained violence was embedded in “bureaucratic collectivist” society; its apparatus was marked by exploitation of the workers, tyranny and mass murder. It would be simpler to recognise that there was nothing worth defending about the ‘Soviet’ State. Amongst the Heterodox the contours of what became known as the ‘Third Camp” position, standing neither with the Soviets nor the Imperialists but for international socialism, began to see the light of day.

These opinions were met with unrelenting hostility by the SWP leadership around James P. Cannon. Trotsky’s interventions, in the early stages of the dispute – attacking the Heterodox in his own right – give it lasting importance. He did not condone the full scope of the actions of the “Kremlin oligarchy”, but considered that the “nationalisation of the means of production” called for defence of the USSR, coinciding with “preparation of the “world proletarian revolution”. For his biographer, Pierre Broué, every declaration that Trotsky made has to be seen in the light of his priority: building a Fourth International that would play a leading role in this upheaval. In Poland and Finland (1939) he began by proclaiming, as a would-be commander of his own revolutionary forces, that the Kremlin, with the “Red Army on the side of the workers in a civil war”, would be “forced to provoke a social revolutionary movement.” With more information to hand, and faced with Shachtman’s criticisms, he announced a few months later that the USSR was planning to ‘Sovietise’ the country, under bureaucratic command and police repression. This is the “revolution”, which. Matgamna does not fail to emphasise, that became the norm in post-45 Eastern Europe. (9)

The murder of the leader of the recently founded Fourth International in August 1940, during the early stages of the Second World War, indicates that these views had importance in more than the limited circles of the SWP, not least for the Kremlin’s chief critic. This extension of ‘side-taking’ to something close to support stands out. Matgamna observes that as the war developed the Orthodox party paper praise for the Soviet Armed Forces appeared as the war. This reached an apogee with SWP columns glorifying “Trotsky’s Red Army”. The ‘progressive’ Revolutionary foundations of the ‘workers’ state became, for a time, more important than its ‘degeneration’.

The minority was expelled from the SWP in the same year, 1940, as Trotsky’s assassination. They took 40% of the membership with them and a majority of the youth wing. SWP leader James P. Cannon’s account in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, absorbed by generations of Trotskyists, and percolating through the wider left, presented the conflict, as a battle between a “shabby crew” of “adventurers, careerists, self-seekers, dilettantes quitters-under-fire” and serious proletarian revolutionaries. Outside of the material in The Two Trotskyisms we know, from the SWP’s own publications, that Cannon and his earnest allies dispensed with “formal” democracy in order to effect the exclusion. That is, bluntly, he ignored the party’s own statues in order to be rid of the minority. This could be considered evidence in support of a frequent charge against Trotskyists: that they are democrats to the tips of their toes, except when democracy is an obstacle to their factional manoeuvres.  (10)

The new Workers’ Party (WP) of the minority engaged, Matgamna observes, in serious trade union work. But years of this activity in Cold War 1950s America drained their politics of distinctive themes. Apart from a radical minority, whose best-known figure was Hal Draper, author of the landmark democratic Marxist Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (3 Vols. 1977), most of the remaining members drifted from revolutionary Marxism towards the Democratic Party. Shachtman’s evolved towards the “liberal anti-Communism” of that Party – in 1961 he refused to condemn the Bay of Pigs Invasion and later supported the US over Vietnam. With Burnham’s rightwards turn, after swiftly exiting the WP, the later careers of the main supporters of the Shachtman current are presented as proof that the Heterodox can be dismissed. This tale has had a long life. Alex Callinicos has offered a version of the “inevitable fate of those who stray from orthodoxy” position. In his account of Trotskyism he stated, “in the absence of an articulated theory of the new mode of production, the concept of bureaucratic collectivism has acted primarily as a means whereby its adherents could adapt to the prevailing mood on the local Left.” (11)

Whether the failure to have a substantial – ‘correct’ – line on the USSR was a factor in the group’s evolution, or whether bureaucratic collectivism was the nearest label at hand for the Workers’ Party leadership to justify its – decade long- evolution towards the American political mainstream is hard to determine. For Matgamna the original arguments of this dissenting strand of Trotskyism did not stray into the ideology of the “petty bourgeoisie”, or owed their origins to fashion. It can be argued that the bare bones of the theory of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ was part and parcel of a political response to the Soviet state, principally the actions just described in the early years of the War. This political legacy is important for the renewal of revolutionary Marxism. Indeed, In the 1940s, the Heterodox “elaborated a politics of consistent anti-Stalinism as well as consistent anti-capitalism.”  (12)

Armed Bureaucratic Collectivism.

The debates in this volume centre, as we have indicated, on the political actions – the armed foreign policy – of the USSR. But behind this is the issue of the nature of that regime. Some might consider that arguments about the character of the former Soviet Union – whether it was a workers’ state, a degenerated workers’ state, state capitalist, bureaucratic collectivist, a “new class society” – resembles discussion on the Trinity. If some Trotskyists have sunk into religious veneration for Trotsky a more common fault is scholasticism – “proof” of any view by appeal to the authority of quotations from the Old Man, Marx, Engels and Lenin.  But there is little doubt that when it comes to working out what was wrong with Stalinism, the economic and social framework of the former Soviet Bloc, the several decades of Trotskyist, orthodox and heterodox reflection and debate, play a substantial, essential, part in the effort to develop a socialist alternative today.

Differing stands on these issues, examining Trotsky’s and many other views, is explored more widely in Marcel van der Linden’s Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (2007). In this context the clash between the ‘Orthodox’ and the ‘Heterodox’ Trotskyists is only one of many, more or less intense, debates. Few would be as confident that one position is the only viable theory. Linden notes that Shachtman initially prepared to give some credit to Soviet nationalised property forms, and regarded bureaucratic collectivism as a temporary, unstable domination based on property relations. Shachtman, one would conclude did not a particularly coherent theory – what exactly distinguished forms from relations? As Charles Bettlelheim much later would put, it, property forms are the embodiment of social relations, extraction of the surplus is not distinct from the way rights over fixed and moveable goods are established. But Shachtman’s critical view of the USSR was, as the debates primarily political: the working class had no handle on the State, and in this respect had become a “reactionary obstacle” to socialism. Above all, as Martin Thomas of the AWL observes, it was the “movement of the USSR into imperialist expansion” already outlined above, which prompted his interest, use and development of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. (13)

With the benefit of hindsight more general conceptualisations may have been a better way to approach the nature of Official Communism. The political character of high Stalinism, its dissolution of independent Law, the boundaries between power, civil society and the state, and the concentration of that force in the hands of an Egocrat meant the destruction of politics as an open clash of different interests and opinions. In this respect the ‘heterodox’ Trotskyists produced evidence of totalitarianism sprung to life – the actions of the USSR in the first years of the Second World War, that show a state prepared to override democracy and basic human rights, beyond and above the demands of armed conflict, in order to further its own interests. On the wider theory of bureaucratic collectivism our present judgements are mixed. Were these forms a “freak” of history, as Shachtman sometimes argued?  The persistent idea that these societies were, as Linden summarises, arranged in a sequence from capitalism to something new, whatever we label it, also seems to have outlived its use. But the USSR’s statist planning and mobilisation of ‘labour armies’, including forced labour in the Gulag, its “socialist primitive accumulation” may be considered, as Martin Thomas argues, not as a leap out of the capitalist world at all. It was “a compressed, intensified version of the use of direct extra-economic force’ in the ‘historic genesis of capitalist production’”. In other words, the mode of production was not really transformed by the Bolshevik Revolution at all. If this was an oddity, normality eventually reasserted itself. (14)

There is a vast space for more detailed accounts of the mechanisms of these social formations, from their initial creation, growth, expansion, and, decisively, the dissolution of an all-powerful repressive-ideological apparatus. The narrowing of politics into ‘monolithic’ unity simply could not be imposed on society without enormous human cost, and even then, lasted in its pure form until Stalin’s death. Rival interest groups, effectively differing political ‘factions’ within a still authoritarian and repressive regime, as the “pluralist” school of Soviet Studies, then re-merged. The economic transformations that have taken place in the former Eastern Bloc since 1989 may have caused massive social shake-ups. But they have been achieved remarkably swiftly and without mass resistance.

The study of the collapse of Official Communism, after full-blown Stalinism had long been tamed by bureaucrats, as the planned economy became ever more ramshackle and unable to deliver Red Plenty, continues. It raises much more profound issues than a clash between Marxist interpretations, let alone rivalry between ‘two Trotskyisms’. How can socialisation of the means of production take place in a different form? How can democratic control over the economy replace the market? Post-Communism also leaves open the issue, which is in the belly of the of Matgamna’s case for the Heterodox, of Stalinist imperialism. Whether, as the last echoes of Isaac Deutscher in New Left circles were wont to argue, the USSR was in the post-War period, a progressive international force through its support for national liberation movements, or that this too was pure Realpolitik, remains a live topic. There are those on the left who consider that Russian President Putin and a host of other non-Western powers represent today a kind of necessary ‘counter-balance’ to the US-led Imperium.  This might be considered, recalling Alex Callinicos’ words, to be an example of the use of a  theory, clutched to and adapted to the needs of local lefts desperate to discover some “resistance” to the American hegemon.

Two Trotskyisms?

 The Two Trotskyisms presents a view of the history of the Trotskyist movement. Any account on this topic, by the established rules of the genre, has to be controversial. Matgamma succeeds in demonstrating that there is a value in looking at the critical stand of the ‘Heterodox’ towards the SWP leadership, and the orthodoxy associated with Trotsky. Yet it is a mental wrench for the reviewer, politically brought up on British and other European left-debates, including Trotskyist ones, to enter the political and cultural world of the 1940s American SWP. This was Trotskyism with a capital T. This is a group that George Orwell described in 1945 as having “a fairly large number of adherents” with a “petty fuehrer of its own” with an “essentially negative inspiration.” Left political culture in Europe, while containing a few organisations of the same stripe, had and has much broader influences. From social democrats, Communist thinkers, democratic socialists, autonomists and anarchists, Western Marxists, non-Trotskyist Leninists, not to mention activists and writers directly involved in the trade unions. Some of these would challenge Matgamna’s claim to ownership of the Revolution. Others would find the assertion empty. But, to be brief, the US SWP even at its height is a party on the margins of our mental horizon. (15)

It is harder still to associate ‘orthodoxy’ with the main Fourth International, figures such as Ernest Mandel or Michel Rapitis, charged with apostasy by the same James P Cannon in the 1953-4 split in the Fourth International, accused of straying from Trotskyism for their support for Third-World movements of national liberation, not to mention the 1970s controversies on guerrilla warfare. To reverse the argument: to claim that the various ‘orthodox’ French Trotskyist parties led by Pierre Boussel (‘Lambert’) were pro-Stalinist ignores their intimate association with the American funded post-War break-away from the Communist led trade union federation, the CGT, Force Ouvrière, not to mention their actual writings – virulently hostile – on the Eastern Bloc. (16)

The history of Trotskyism indicates other directions. Bensaïd called the Trotskyists’ splintering into mutually antagonistic tendencies, in the aftermath of the Second World War the creation of that Eastern Bloc, and the victory of the Chinese Communists, the “scattering of the tribes”. At the Second Congress of the Fourth International in 1948 the Workers’ Party and Shachtman were still present. In a protest at the lack of clarity and democracy during the conference he united with one faction, represented by Cornelius Castoriadis. The Franco-Greek theorist’s subsequent history went beyond heterodoxy – designating the USSR as ‘bureaucratic capitalist’ – to rejection in the name workers’ self-management of all the main tenets of Trotskyism, except Revolution. (17)

Castoriadis’ small group (never more than a 100 members, though with some significant working class activists), Socialisme ou Barbarie, took a root-and-branch stand of opposition to all forms of Stalinism. They split from the FI came in the wake of the majority’s decision to side with Yugoslavia against Stalin. Their journal published some of the most revealing accounts of Stalinism, from East Germany to China as well as the USSR, available in the 1950s left press. But their political practice, based on unremitting hostility to Stalinism social democracy, Parliamentary politics, all existing trade unions, and even participation in the French system of workplace representation, left them isolated. That Castoriadis has enjoyed some posthumous fame as a philosopher of ‘autonomy’ – the democratic self-creation of social forms, may be some comfort to his admirers. But the failure of Socialisme ou Barbarie to make any real impact on French political life in the 1950s, and its own history of divisions, indicates one direction that principled hostility to Stalinism in this period could lead. (18)

French Trotskyism is significant in that during the German occupation the policy of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ was put into practice, in different ways by its already divided forces. Trotskyist histories of the period glorify efforts to convince German soldiers to unite with French working class and other internationalist actions. They tend to look with suspicion on any ‘nationalist’ support for the Resistance – that is when a small number of Trotskyists joined the armed fight against Pétain and the German occupation. (19)

Yves Craipeau – acknowledged by the AWL as an early ‘bureaucratic collectivist’ – recounts one important part of that history. When the Allied forces landed in Normandy his faction, probably the largest, published in its underground paper, La Vérité, a headline, “ils se valent” – they’re the same.  (June 1944) It went on to read, “En réalité, la libération de Roosevelt vaut tout autant que le socialisme de Hitler’. In reality the liberation of Roosevelt means as much as the socialism of Hitler. The divisions within the Greek Trotksyists were even more severe. One wing, already in conflict with the other, refused the ‘defence’ of the USSR and spent the War violently hostile to the other. The Stalinists physically liquidated  some of them, though reliable estimates give the total at 50 (both groups together) not the total, 300 – Matgamma asserts. (20)

In post-war the Fench Trotksyists briefly united in the Parti Communsite Internationaliste. The majority view, set out much later by Ernest Mandel was that they had has called the  electoral strength of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF)  and, one hopes, with some due modesty to the  legacy of the Communists’ role in the Resistance. Part of the ‘scattering of the tribes’ Craipeau left the Fourth International in the belief that there were forces on the left, outside the PCF and the Socialist SFIO, who could form an independent left party. The long story of efforts to create one, up to the radical ‘new left’ democratic socialist Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU), in which Craipeau played a significant part, indicate another direction that the ‘heterodox’ could take.  (21)

Going back to Sources.

For many on the left Trotskyism is a by-word for factionalism, of the single-transferable speech and sloganeering.  They have been criticised for trying control everything, for expressing open contempt for their opponents and adept at underhand organisational methods to win and hold onto organisational power. These accusations are not aimed at the 1940s SWP leadership or culled from accounts of present-day British Trotskyist groups, but were amongst those made in 1939 by Marceau  Pivert originally the leader of the Gauche révolutionnaire the left tendency of the French Socialists, the SFIO. He moved from the SFIO and became subsequently chief of the ‘centrist’ (that is ‘in-between ‘revolutionary; and ‘reformist’ politics) party, the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan ( PSOP), Pivert experienced the methods of the French Trotksyists (after the famous ‘French turn’ of 1936 when they jo0ined the SFIO, and then tried to move into the PSOP). Pivert was eventually forced to remove these hectoring groupuscules.  (22)

But there are different voices. Pierre Broué, once an Orthodox activist in the French Lambertists who became respected historian of the movement, left this statement in his Memoirs. Reflecting on the Fall of the Soviet Bloc and the faults of the organisation which expelled him, he wrote in conclusion, “We must return to our sources, become again the ‘party of communists’ which only marks itself out from the mass of people with whom we live by our devotion, our continuous thinking, our openness to the world, our capacity to struggle, our will to clarify, to help the masses see things through their own eyes.”  (23) By its important indications of democratic and serious thought on some of the most serious issues of the 20th century the Two Trotskyisms has contributed to these generous aims.

 

References:

(1) Page 17. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. Second Series No 1. 2000.

(2) Page 98 The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Second Edition. Workers’ Liberty. 2015. (TTCS) Vol. 2 of The Fate of the Russian Revolution Workers’ Liberty. Page 133

(3) A Letter from Atlantis: Remembering Daniel Bensaïd. Tariq Ali. Introduction to An Impatient Life. Daniel Bensaïd. Verso.  Editorial. Shifting Sands. Susan Watkins. Page 23. New Left Review 61 Second Series 2010.

(4) Pages 42 –3. Lars L. Lih. Lenin Rediscovered. Brill 2005.

(5) Page 97-8. TTCS. 

(6) Sean Matgamna Introduction. Lost Texts of Critical Marxism. Vol. 1. The Fate of the Russian Revolution. Workers’ Liberty.

(7) Pages 5-6. TTCS. On Serge and Totalitarianism see: Victor Serge: totalitarisme et capitalisme d’État. Philippe Bourrine   Fundación Andreu Nin. 2001.

(8) Chapter Five. Young Sidney Hook. Marxist and Pragmatist. Christopher Phelps. Cornell University Press. 1997.

(9) Pages, 268 –9, and Page 280. Pierre Broué. Trotsky. Chapter LIX. La Ive at la guerre.  1998. Marxist Internet Archive.

(10) Part 1. The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. James P. Cannon. 1943. Marxist Internet Archive. “Perhaps it is not generally known in the International that in the 1940 struggle in the SWP, the Burnham-Shachtman minority was supported by the majority of the resident IEC of the Fourth International, at that time located in New York. … They claimed the formal right to spoke in the name of the Fourth International” “The Convention of the SWP (April, 1940) paid no attention to the formalistic arguments which were undoubtedly in their favour.” Letter from James P. Cannon to Leslie Goonewardne. February. 23. 1954. Towards a History of the Fourth International Part 3. Volume 4. Part 3. International Committee Documents. 1951 – 1954. Socialist Workers Party. 1974.

(11)  Chapter 4: 1. Heresies: Max Shachtman and the evil empire. Trotskyism. Alex Callinicos. Marxist Internet Archive.

(12) Page 3. TTCS. 

(13) Shachtman and his critics’ views are covered in: Chapter 3 From Stalin’s ‘Great Leap Forwards’ to the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (1929–41) Marcel van der Linden Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. Brill 2007. Three Traditions? Marxism and the USSR. Martin Thomas. Historical Materialism. Vol.14.3. 2006.

(14) For these political conceptualisations of totalitarianism see: Claude Lefort. Un homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Goulag. 1976 (2015). Belin. Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique. Edition de Seuil. 1986. Martin Thomas. Ibid.

(15) Page 370. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. Political Writings. George Orwell. 2001.

(16) On the Lambertists see the hostile account, in great, if contentious, detail: Les Trotskistes. Christophe Nick. 2002.

(17) Strategies of Resistance and ‘Who are the Trotskyists?’ Daniel Bensaïd. Resistance Books. 2009. Max Shachtman. The Congress of the Fourth International. An Analysis of the Bankruptcy of “Orthodox Trotskyism (October 1948) Marxist Internet Archive. Chapter 6. From the Second World Congress to the 1953 Split. The Long March of the Trotskyists, Pierre Frank. 1969.  Marxist Internet Archive.

(18) Francois Dosse. Castoriadis Une Vie. La Découverte. 2014.

(19) Ian H. Birchall. With the Masses, Against the Stream. French Trotskyism in the Second World War Revolutionary History, Vol.1, No.4, Winter 1988-89. See also: Ernest Mahttps://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1948/10/fi.htmndel. A Rebel’s Dream Deferred. Jan Willem Stuje. Verso. 2009. The Meaning of the Second World War. Ernest Mandel. Verso. 1986. The less than clear history of Continental Trotskyism during the Second World War is defended in the same writer’s interviews published as Revolutionary Marxism Today, ed. by Jon Rothschild. New Left Review. 1979

(20)  Yves Craipeau. Mémoires d’un dinosaure trotkyste. L’harmattan. 1999. This total of deaths and on the tangled history of Greek Trotskyism: Alexis Hen. Les trotskystes grecs pendant la seconde guerre Mondiale Cahiers balkaniques 38-39 (2011)

(21) Further material on Craipeau in English: The Third Camp in France. Workers’ Liberty 2#2. This, a small but important part of the majority view on Stalinism was given by Ernest Germain (Mandel) Stalinism – How to Understand it and How to Fight it. April 1947. Marxist Internet Archive. On the wider revolutionary expectations in France in this period amongst intellectuals – a significant constituency for French Trotskyists – see this useful study:  La Révolution rêvée. Pour une historie des intellectuels et des oeuvres révolutionnaires. 1944 – 1956. Michel Surya. 2004.

(22) Le P.S.O.P. et le trotskysme. Marceau Pivert Juin (Journal) June, 1939. One should note however that for modern Trotsksyist writers the problems that arose in this encounter (in the wake of the Front Populaire and its impasse) were everything and everybody’s fault but the Trotskyists. Unfortunately this has included Broué :  P. Broué, N. Dorey. Critiques de gauche et opposition révolutionnaire au front populaire (1936-1938). La crise sociale de 1938. (1966)

(23) “nous devons revenir à nos sources, être de nouveau ce “parti des communistes” qui ne se distingue de la masse où il vit que par son dévouement, sa réflexion permanente et son ouverture au monde, sa disponibilité à lutter, sa volonté d’éclairer et d’aider les masses à voir de leurs propres yeux.” Pierre Broué. Mémoires politiques. Fayard, 2005. Sections circulated in PDF form.

Circulated  as text  2014/5

Update:

Reviews of “The Two Trotskyisms”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

February 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Galloway Faces Strong Left Challenge as Communist League Silberman Stands for London Mayor.

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Silberman Threatens Galloway’s ‘left’ Mayor Campaign. 

The newshounds of the IBT had a scoop a few days ago.

Viva! Jonathan Silberman – Communist London Mayor hopeful dreams of Cuban revolution in Britain

Jonathan Silberman was a teenager when he and his friends sketched out their plan for global revolution – half a century later the factory worker and veteran Communist is still waiting.

But unlike so many other teenage revolutionaries, Silberman, 64, has not lost his zeal in the years in between. He is currently running for London mayor under the banner of the Communist League. He is a few days away from his annual trip to the Havana Book Fair as IBTimes UK meets him in a north London pub.

Ace-reporter Orlando Crowroft continues,

Founded in 1988, the Communist League grew out of one of many schisms in the British socialist left, remaining close to the American Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP) which, in typical fashion, is a mortal enemy of the UK party of the same name. Silberman is rarely seen without a several copies of the party’s magazine, the Militant, under his arm and a selection of books from US-based radical publishing house, Pathfinder.

The influence of this group, the Socialist Workers Party (US) on the British Communist League (Wikipedia)  is clear -in fact it derives from a  faction inside the International Marxist Group which was essential a branch of the American organisation with, how can I put it tactfully, certain ‘special’ characteristics of their own. Okay – a slightly cultish obnoxious  groupuscule.

…neither that nor the bloody authoritarian nightmare that the Soviet Union had become after Stalin served to change Silberman’s mind about revolution. There was a still a shining light for him in the form of Cuba which, even now, he defends as a true a socialist revolution. A fluent Spanish speaker, Silberman still visits Cuba annually and speaks glowingly about the country’s health care system and Che Guevara, the late revolutionary and global icon.

In truth much to admire in Jonathan.

I recall him in the International Marxist Group as a sensible (in IMG terms that is) and dedicated bloke. Despite being in a rival faction (Tendency ‘B’ – led by Livingstone’s economics Guru, John Ross), he was one of the few able to have a rational conversation with his opponents – in this case me. The drift to the US SWP is something I know little of, for the good reason I was living in France when this happened. His views on Cuba aside (although given the ‘new thinking’ that began in the 1980s from his group’s New York HQ and Jack Barnes it’s hard to ever  put Cuba to one side) he has lived the life of somebody who followed the “turn to industry” in all seriousness – working in factories.

Silberman sees trends that bode well for working class consciousness in this country and, to be fair, as a worker at a factory in Hertfordshire he actually comes into contact with workers on a daily basis – unlike the massed ranks of the radical London left, content to cheer the revolution from posh North London cafes.

Silberman spends the bulk of his Saturdays knocking on doors in working class housing estates, and finds the respondents receptive.

“I’ll tell you something interesting, it doesn’t matter if someone is Labour, Tory or Ukip. It makes no difference to their interest in our politics. Supporting Ukip doesn’t signify some big right wing ideology. I don’t think that there is a massive anti-immigrant sentiment in the working class,” he said.

Silberman, who visited Calais last year and believes in open borders, said that when people do express anti-immigration views he is often able to convince them that far from being divided from workers from abroad, they should be joining with them to fight for better pay and conditions.

“Our proposal is to use the unions to organise a real campaign to recruit workers, foreign-born workers, through militant struggle and through defence of our rights. Why don’t we fight for massive rise in the minimum wage that would benefit all workers? Why don’t we fight for more housing?” he said.

In the article Silberman professes not to know how many members the Communist League has. Which is surprising since I saw them at a TUC Demonstration a couple of years ago – around 7 – around a stall in Hyde Park. Somebody a lot more familiar with the group than I am  pointed them out by name. He suggested that perhaps there were a couple absent that day, no doubt drawn by the rival attractions of a Derby and Joan dance.

Despite the loyalty towards Cuba the SWP (US) is not universally loved, admired, or even given the time of the day by much of the left, anywhere.

Here are some of many accounts of the disputes which have left the ‘party’ with reportedly under 100 members: What happened to the SWP (U.S.)?: Recent memoirs stir discussion by Dayne Goodwin

Silberman stood in last year’s General Election in Hackney North, and got 102 votes, which if repeated across the country means that the Communist League had potentially  66,300 ballot papers.

 His election leaflet (view here) contained this comment,

Working Farmers – Allies of the Working Class Dairy farmers facing rising costs and cuts in the  price they get for milk have taken to the streets. Such struggles by family farmers should win the support of the workers movement.

United in struggle, workers and working farmers are stronger. And through struggle a revolutionary alliance of workers and farmers can be forged.

London farmers and revolutionary workers will no doubt respond this time round.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Jean-Luc Mélenchon Presidential at Paris ‘Plan B’ for Europe Anti-Austerity Rally.

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L’ère du peuple: The era of the People. 

At the sommet pour un Plan B en Europe in Paris over the Weekend in Paris Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who scored 11.05% of the vote in the first round of the French 2012 Presidential elections, is reported to be already gearing up for the 2016 contest.

Le Monde reports,

On Wednesday, on his blog, he explained that “the European Union remains harmful, hostile to democracy and social justice”. He developed these remarks in a small room of the Maison de la Chimie (7 th district of Paris), where he expounded the view that “in the context of the European fiscal treaty, no progressive policies are possible” and called for “break” within the framework of  the current treaties. In passing, he denounced the EU’s “rhetoric” of  “Europe that protects” noting the  “failures” of the EU in the refugee crisis.

The meeting brought together academics, researchers – largely from other European countries,  and a few not very well-known representatives of other left-wing parties such as Podemos, Izquierda Unida, the Greek Popular Unity group, The Danish Red-Green Party, Die Linke, including the respected figure of Oskar Lafontaine,

You can watch  and hear Mélenchon’s concluding speech here:

A notable absence was that of  Yanis Varoufakis. The former Greek Finance Minister was, it was claimed, unable to attend because of diary problems.

Varoufakis is engaged in a much broader pan-European movement against austerity , a ‘Plan C’. This will be launched in Berlin in February: Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, or DiEM 25, Plan C.

Here is a full list of participants (in English)  and more details: Internationalist Summit for a Plan B in Europe.

The people addressing the  session entitled, Win back our economic sovereignty included Morvan Burel who backs a return to ‘Popular sovereignty’ in place of the European Union.

Last April Burel  wrote this on the Front National’s demands: La reconquête de la souveraineté des peuples doit devenir le cœur battant de la gauche

…sortie immédiate de l’euro, rupture avec l’UE, rétablissement des frontières nationales, retour du protectionnisme, etc.

Il est capital pour la gauche radicale de ne pas refuser de s’emparer de ces revendications précisément parce que le Front national les a intégrées à son discours.

,,immediately leaving the Euro, breaking with the European Union, reestablishment of national borders, a return to protectionism. It is essential that the radical left does not refuse these demands simply because the Front National has woven them into its discourse. “

French speakers included members of Mélenchon’s own Parti de Gauche and Cédric Durand, an economist and part of Ensemble, the ‘third’ component of the Front de Gauche.

The French Communist Party (Parti communiste français. PCF) did not participate in the rally.

On Saturday Le Monde published a report on negotiations for the French 2017 Presidential campaign between forces to the left of the Parti Socialiste (Mélenchon peaufine sa candidature pour 2017 – full article read in print edition). While noting that Mélenchon continued to score well in opinion polls (over 15% favourable opinions, January 2015), his populism, calls for a ‘democratic revolution’, hostility to the European Union that focuses on German power, and many of his  personal traits are not universally popular amongst his partners on the left.

Mélenchon, a fluent Spanish speaker, has close links with the Latin American left and with Spain’s Podemos. Like the latter he has sought inspiration in left populism. In these respects his discussions with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe are of great interest  Populisme et hégémonies culturelles : débat Laclau-Mouffe-Mélenchon (2012).

During the round table debate with the academic theorists of the “radical democratic imaginary” the  Parti de gauche’s use of national symbols, including the French Flag, and references to the French Revolution which dot his appeals to a new democratic Revolution featured prominently  (See also: L’ère du peuple. 2014).  How far this populism can go is not always clear. In 2015 his book,  Le Hareng de Bismarck, le poison allemand, which attacked German ‘arrogance’ was strongly criticised for nationalism (L’Allemagne n’est pas notre ennemie).

The Communists note that one ‘anti-system’ Populist candidate, Marine Le Pen, already exists. There is little space for another.

There is continued  talk of a break up of the Front de gauche alliance between the PCF and Mélenchon.

Le Parti de gauche veut Jean-Luc Mélenchon comme candidat puis élaborer un programme, le parti communiste veut faire naître un projet d’une réflexion collective avant toute désignation: leurs stratégies pour 2017 semblent à ce stade irréconciliables.

The Parti de gauche wants Jean-Luc Mélenchon as a (Presidential) candidate, and then they will work out a programme. The Communist Party want a project born out of a collective process of careful consideration before any candidate is chosen: their strategies ap[pear at this point irreconcilable.

Libération. 23rd of January.

 

You can read more of Mélenchon’s ideas here, on his blog modestly titled, L’ère du peuple: The era of the People. 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 25, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Ellen Meiksins Wood (1942 – 2016). A Tribute.

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Ellen Meiksins Wood, the wife of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, has died of cancer at the couple’s Ottawa home at the age of 73.

Reports 

She was a noted intellectual figure on the international left, whose studies of class, politics and political ideas influenced several generations of thinkers and activists.

Wood’s writings were thought-provoking and luminous.

She first came to a wide left audience with The Retreat from Class: A New ‘True’ Socialism (1986). This was a collection of her intervention in debates, conducted through the pages of New Left Review, and the Socialist Register,  that took place in the wake of Eric Hobsbawm’s famous polemic, The Forward March of Labour halted? (Marxism Today 1978 – expanded in book form with replies from supporters and critics in 1981).

Many left intellectuals not only backed Hobsbawm’s view that the material importance of class institutions in shaping politics was declining with the drop in numbers in the industrial working class, but extended this to question the relationship between class and politics itself.

Post-Marxists began to argue that a plurality of ‘democratic struggles’ and social movements would replace the central place of the labour movement in politics. Some contrasted  ‘civil society’ a more complex and open site of democratic assembly to the alleged ‘monolithic’ vision of politics embodied in the traditional labour movement. In a diffuse way this was associated with the once fashionable idea that “a “post-modern” society dissolved reality in ‘simulacra’. Others claimed it  meant the end of “grand narratives” – or more bluntly, that the ideas of socialism and the Left was splintering so quickly that only a fragmented series of ‘critical’ responses were possible against neo-liberal regimes of ‘governance’.

Wood argued for the importance of class in shaping not just political interests but the potential constituency of  radical socialist politics. Fights over power were at the centre of Marxism and these were part and parcel with disputes over exploitation and the appropriation of the social surplus. The ‘new social movements’, the women’s movement, the rising ecological movement, campaigns for racial and sexual equality, were interlaced with class conflicts. Democracy could not be abstracted from these relations. To appeal, as writers such as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe did, to the formation of a new hegemonic strategy based on  relations of “equivalence” between various democratic demands ignored the basic facts about class and power. Like her comrade Ralph Miliband Wood saw socialism as an effort to bring together people around the central issues of exploitation and oppression in democratic organisations that could shape politics. This had historically been the result of conscious action, and this kind of collective work was needed more than even against a very real and growing grand narrative – the institutionalisation of neo-liberal economics and government assaults on working people, and the unemployed – in building a new regime of capitalist accumulation.

Political Marxism.

In academic as well as left-wing activist  circles Wood became known for her “political Marxist” approach to history. This focused on the issue of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and social property relations and the way this shaped the politics of early modern states.  The Pristine Culture of Capitalism 1992  was a summary of this approach. British merchants and agricultural  capitalists has actively determined the administrative Parliamentary forms, from Cromwell’s republic to the Glorious Revolution – the restoration of the Monarchy.

These writings were also directed against the views of Perry Anderson (Editor of New Left Review) and Tom Nairn (today best known for his Scottish nationalism). In the early days of the Second New Left they had asserted  that the so-called ‘archaic’ British state was a reflection of a an equally ‘pre-modern’ capitalism dominated not by these forces by an aristocratic surrogates for the bourgeoisie. Nairn and Anderson claimed that the ‘supine’ bourgeoisie – who abdicated political rule to the ‘aristocracy’. Their domination of UK politics  left deep traces right until the present. For this strand of New leftists the failure of the a resolute bourgeoisie to assume real power been mimicked by a “supine” working class. In later writings Anderson talked of the need for a new wave of democratic modernisation to bring the country into line with the ‘second’ bourgeois revolution of modernity.

Wood, by contrast, pointed out, had a developed capitalism, indeed it was the most ‘modern’ form of capitalism. Its state form was related to its early advance, and its allegedly old-fashioned trappings – from the Monarchy downwards – had not thwarted capitalist expansion but arisen in relation to needs of its own bourgeoisie. The labour movement had developed in struggle with these forces, not in deference to them.

In some respects this response is not unlike E.P.Thompson’s defence of the labour movement. But Wood went deeper into the mechanisms of markets and state formation. She illustrated the feeble empirical basis of the claims about UK archaism. Britain is hardly alone in having a Monarchy to begin with, and the notion that there is something specifically modern in any state-type evaporates when one looks at studies of the varieties of administrative and government forms. France, for example, remains profoundly marked by its own past ‘feudal’ administrative forms. The USA Constitution is a relic from the 18th century. On all the essential points present-day Britain was no more, no less, ‘modern’ than anywhere else in Europe or in any contemporary capitalist state. Indeed it was for long a template for bourgeois democracy. In particular Wood attacked the claims of Tom Nairn that in some fashion Ukania (his ‘funny’ word for the United Kingdom, modelled on the novelist ( 1880 – 1942) Robert Musil’s term for the Austro-Hungrian empire, Kakania – shit land) owed its economic difficulties to its constitution.  Economic problems  arose at root from the general contradictions of capitalist accumulation, in a specific form. The problems of British democracy were due to its capitalist character , not to the issues Nairn-Anderson dreamt up about its sonderweg.

Brenner thesis.

More widely Wood is known, in developing these writings, as an advocate of a version of the ‘Brenner thesis’ (after Robert Brenner’s article, Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe“1978). The creation of market relations in British agriculture were considered to be the foundation of modern capitalism. The essential condition was separation from non-market access to the means of subsistence, the means of self-reproduction. Wood argued that it was the capitalist transformation of agriculture, followed by the rise of merchant class expanding these forms through international trade, created the ground of Western capitalism.  It was also responsible for the distinctive state forms that emerged in Britain.

In the Agrarian Origins of Capitalism (1998) Wood summarised her views,

The distinctive political centralization of the English state had material foundations and corollaries. First, already in the 16th century, England had an impressive network of roads and water transport that unified the nation to a degree unusual for the period. London, becoming disproportionately large in relation to other English towns and to the total population of England (and eventually the largest city in Europe), was also becoming the hub of a developing national market.

The material foundation on which this emerging national economy rested was English agriculture, which was unique in several ways. The English ruling class was distinctive in two major and related respects: on the one hand, as part of an increasingly centralized state, in alliance with a centralizing monarchy, they did not possess to the same degree as their Continental counterparts the more or less autonomous “extra-economic” powers on which other ruling classes could rely to extract surplus labor from direct producers. On the other hand, land in England had for a long time been unusually concentrated, with big landlords holding an unusually large proportion of land. This concentrated landownership meant that English landlords were able to use their property in new and distinctive ways. What they lacked in “extra-economic” powers of surplus extraction they more than made up for by their increasing “economic” powers.

Wood’s political stand was firmly within the Marxist ambit. In 1999 she stated (The Politics of Capitalism) ,

…all oppositional struggles—both day-to-day struggles to improve the conditions of life and work, and struggles for real social change—should be informed by one basic perception: that class struggle can’t, either by its presence or by its absence, eliminate the contradictions in the capitalist system, even though it can ultimately eliminate the system itself. This means struggling for every possible gain within capitalism, without falling into the hopeless trap of believing that the left can do a better job of managing capitalism. Managing capitalism is not the job of socialists, but, more particularly, it’s not a job that can be done at all.

The broader  focus on the links between capitalism and state forms continued in her study Empire of Capital (2003). This analysed how the “empire of capital” (rather than the vague ‘globalisation’ or the rhizome of Hardt and Negri’s  ‘Empire’) shapes the  modern world through “accumulation, commodification, profit maximization, and competition.”

Wood’s later works, Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (2008) and Liberty & Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renaissance to Enlightenment  were ambitious attempts to narrate and analyse Western political thought in the light of class categories.

Wood had a profound influence on countless people.

She was a democratic Marxist, a feminist, a perceptive writer and a force for good.

Homage to her memory.

Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood.

Ellen Meiksins Wood — Her Importance to Me. by Ursula Huws (Monthly Review). 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 15, 2016 at 1:09 pm

Momentum: New Politics Foundering?

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Yes: But can Momentum Help?

Many on the left, including this Blog, welcomed the attempt to create new spaces of activism and debate on the left, outside of traditional political structures. But some people expressed the fear that Momentum, set up to expand Jeremy Corbyn’s political support, and to create a “new politics” would run quickly into the biggest reef of the British left-wing: the activities of small leftist organisations, parties and factions.

The wrecks littering these rocks are too numerous to count, but it was  obvious that the intention of the Socialist Workers Party |(SWP) and the Socialist Party to get involved in Momentum would not be universally greeted.

Apart from the fact that the SWP is soemthing of a bugbear on many parts of the left, the SP’s belief that it had a right, indeed a duty, to participate oin Momentum to inform its supporters of the correct views of the party, which stood, with the SWP and others, as part of TUSC in the General Election, against Labour. They won, 36,327 votes, or 0.1% of the popular vote.

Both parties also backed the No2EU slate in the European Elections 2014 which totaled 31,757 votes or 0.2%. It declared it was an “internationalist platform. The UK state, free of the capitalist EU and in control of its own destiny, would means more solidarity with workers overseas.  Some of the forces involved in the later bloc are known to be ‘sceptical’ about the free movement of labour inside the European Union.

One can see the potential there for disputes about Labour’s position in the coming referendum on membership of the European Union.

When efforts to thwart the possibility of small left wing groups lecturing Labour party members on how they act, run councils (setting illegal ‘anti-cuts’ budgets), remove right wing Labour MPs (deselection) the Socialist Party replied by stating,

If they exclude real fighters against austerity with experience on the ground – particularly Socialist Party supporters and others – they will weaken the ability of Corbyn and his forces to defeat the right. They will not succeed in fully harnessing the huge pro-Corbyn anti-austerity mood outside, which is not yet a real organised movement.

Socialist

This letter appeared in the Weekly Worker seven days ago.

As part of the ongoing coverage of the divisions in the Labour Party over the issue of air strikes on Syria, Nancy Taaffe of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (formerly known as the Militant Tendency, covertly as the Revolutionary Socialist League) was interviewed on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on December 3.

Comrade Taaffe hardly helped dispel the common image and depiction of the far left in this country as a bunch of swivel-eyed loons. Her facial expressions switched constantly between one of apparent ferocious hostility and a version of the rictus grinning we perhaps last saw from Gordon Brown. Although her head remained aimed at the camera, her eyes and attention seemed to be constantly distracted by something happening very high to her left, which added to the unsettling effect.

Comrade Taaffe identified herself a number of times as a member of the Socialist Party and that she had stood as a candidate in the general election on behalf of “Tusc” (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), without explanation of what that was or stood for, which must have confused and mystified the audience.

She ‘demanded’ that the Labour Party deselect the MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, and went on to ‘demand’ that Labour convene an immediate special conference to reintroduce mandatory reselection for MPs, and also that the Socialist Party be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party in the same way as does the Cooperative Party.

The breathtaking hypocrisy, impertinence and arrogance of the ultra-left never fails to astonish me. SPEW was formed after its leading members were out-performed by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s and expelled from Labour as a ‘party within a party’. They then declared that Labour was henceforth dead as a bourgeois workers’ party with any potential for being transformed into a workers’ party (because they were no longer in it!), and took no part whatsoever in the recent Corbyn leadership campaign, on the basis of that being a complete waste of time, it being impossible to “resurrect a corpse”.

Having been proved completely and utterly wrong, you might have expected some humility and reflection, but, no, SPEW is apparently now placing demands on how the Labour Party should conduct its internal democracy, calling on individual CLPs to deselect their MPs, and for it be allowed to affiliate.

It all reminded me of the set-piece debate of the decade in the early 1980s between the self-styled ‘revolutionary left’ and the then Bennite Labour left, when people like Paul Foot and Tariq Ali were demanding the Labour Party transform itself into a socialist party, get rid of rightwing Labour MPs, adopt in effect Trotsky’s Transitional programme and then, after doing all that hard work, open it up to allow outside groups like the SWP and International Marxist Group to come in and join. As Audrey Wise MP, speaking for the Labour left at the time, said, “Big deal, big deal, big prizes … Not.”

Tony Benn during that debate denounced the “socialist groups” as not being genuine revolutionaries at all, but as “left-talking revolutionists” – ie, they talk the talk, shout and criticise from the sidelines, raise ‘demands’ which can never be met, but have very little connection or engagement with the very real and ‘actually existing’ labour movement and wider social forces which will be required to bring about genuine social change and revolutionary transformation.

I think socialists and revolutionaries who are outside the party should treat the Labour membership – especially its new membership – with considerable respect. It is fine to have political, strategic and tactical differences, but these need to be debated and worked through in a spirit of constructive engagement, and not through the placing of impossible ‘demands’.

This may allow some of the socialist groups to become part of the Labour Party, providing they show respect and adherence to its aims and values, as well as its constitution, and do not try and subvert its democracy, or its basis as the mass political party of the organised labour movement.

As Chris Knight suggested in the recent reprints of his two extremely interesting and thought-provoking articles (September 24 and October 8), the Labour Party can and should become the “parliament” of the labour and working class movement. It cannot itself become the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, and the socialist groups should not attempt to make it so.

We should also be aware the Labour Party needs to increase its support by millions of votes by the time of the next election, if it is to form a government, and these millions are likely to be people who are motivated by values of respect, tolerance and solidarity, rather than by hostility, aggression, dog-fighting and point-scoring between the sects and factions.

Andrew Northall

There have been many reports of “problems” in Momentum groups – difficulties which are not the invention of those hostile to Jeremy Corbyn.

This has just appeared.

Structurelessness: Organisation in organisation

The first meeting in Manchester of ‘Momentum’ may be the last. We hope not, and many there meant well, but activists who have lived in the Labour Party a long time as well as the hopeful newcomers were caught in a contradiction, between structure and an attempt to avoid it. A young career-track politician from London called ‘Sam’ quickly told us what we all knew – that Momentum was set up to organise in the Labour Party in support of the new Jeremy Corbyn leadership – and then the splits started to open up. Each division revolved around the very questions of democracy and ‘new politics’ that Corbyn’s election promised. And each bitter attack was made in the name of a new ‘openness’ in the Labour Party that recalled the old debates prompted by anarchist feminist activists nearly half a century ago over the nature of ‘structure’ and what Jo Freeman in a classic little pamphlet once called ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’.

An apocryphal story is circulating now in the north of Britain about a young woman comrade who joined a Left Unity branch to find that many of the activists were there to promote their own little organisation. Escape from this wretched situation opened up with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, so she gave up on Left Unity and joined her local branch of the Labour Party to find that same little organisation spouting the same line, they had now moved in with a new front organisation. There were those who ridiculed ‘safe spaces’ in Left Unity, and put their theory into practice in almost every meeting, ensuring that only those with very thick skins – or those with bodyguards around them who were from their own organisation – returned after being subjected to what these very structured sectarians like to call the ‘cut and thrust of political argument’. These people can be friendly enough chatting before and after the meeting, but behave very differently when following orders from the leading group inside their own organisation when they think they should be implementing a ‘line’

No further comment is needed.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 17, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Hundreds March to Oppose Syrian Bombing.

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Stop the War Coalition Protest in London, Saturday.

Hundreds of anti-war protesters have taken to the streets to oppose Britain’s bombing campaign in Syria.

Demonstrators calling for an immediate halt to air strikes in the war-ravaged country are marching through central London towards Downing Street.

They gathered in Portland Place outside the BBC headquarters, New Broadcasting House, before setting off at about midday.

Air strikes were launched after MPs voted 397 to 223 in favour of military intervention on December 2.

Evening Standard.

Russia Today (called ‘RT@) reports:

Thousands of people have marched in London to protest against UK intervention in Syria and the airstrikes which have recently been launched. Anti-war activists also demanded a full stop to other UK military campaigns abroad.

Slogans like “MPs who voted to kill people #stop bombing Syria”, “Bombing for peace is like f**king for virginity,” and “Syrian lives matter”, were visible on flags and banners carried by the pacifists. The protest closed streets as it weaved along Regent Street, past Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square.

“Stop the war” as well as “Boycott ISIS,” were also seen among the banners in the crowd.

We say no to the continued violence, we say no to the terror and we say no to the racism that is the fallout of this war,”Nancy Taaffe, from the Socialist Party, told the Daily Mail.

Addressing the crowd outside Downing Street, deputy leader of the Green Party, Shahrar Ali, urged the UK government to accept more Syrian refugees. Some 20,000 Syrian refugees are due to arrive in Britain over the next five years.

Peter Tatchell at Stop Bombing Syria Rally London

Peter Tatchell. (from Demotix)

Tariq Ali, (Friday) “I hope there will be a large turnout on Saturday.”

Without comment.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 13, 2015 at 11:54 am

Islamic State: Fascism, Totalitarianism and Evil.

with 92 comments

 

Islamic State, Fascism, Totalitarianism and Evil.

The decision of the British Parliament to back Prime Minister David Cameron and join an alliance of forces to fight the Islamic State (Daesh) in Syria has aroused great emotion. Hilary Benn and others have described these Islamists as fascists. They are therefore in the class of the wicked against whom we can all unite.

Others notably supporters of the Stop the War Coalition, assert versions of Terry Eagleton’s different view in On Evil (2010) While the “lethal fantasises” of Islamic fundamentalists (his term) may be “vicious” and “benighted” Jihadist acts of mass murder, like the destruction of the Twin Towers, arise from the “Arab world’s sense of anger and humiliation at the long history of its political abuse by the West.” Terrorism, the cultural thinker opined, has its “own momentum”. – to meet it with violence is to “breed more terror”. (1)

The traction of the ‘anger and humiliation” motor was much used in these quarters in the wake of the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Cacher last January. Rules for the correct and authorised use of satire were drawn up, excluding being rude about the humiliated. Little power in this ready-made explanation was left over for the Paris massacre last month. That was simply to be condemned. Much liberal reaction, while often shy of the fascist label, tends to agree that Daesh is uniquely evil. We “all” denounce this barbarity – including within this all, Muslim voices underlining their profound horror at ISIL.

So Daesh is both exceptional, and fascist. Or not, as those keen to proclaim, from an anti-imperialist and Marxist standpoint, that the West has committed worse crimes, not least in the Middle East, and the difference that this “state” “created” by Western intervention in Iraq shows from European fascism and Nazism. Daesh is not, they have discovered, on scholastic authority, a “battering ram” against the workers’ movement; it does not mobilise the “petty bourgeoisie” behind Monopoly Capital, to destroy bourgeois democracy. It is not a response to a crisis of capital accumulation and a strong labour movement challenge to capitalism. It is has little beyond fringe support in the imperialist nations. The priority is the fight against the imperialists, to work together for their defeat. There is no need for a united front in the “struggle against Islamist fascism”. (2)

Fascism and Islamism.

Comparisons with the 1930s, not to mention contemporary far-right populism in Europe, are self-evidently hard to make. The differences between Daesh and European fascism are perhaps better illuminated by Michael Mann in Fascists (2004) tired to draw out common features of these far-right movements and states. In doctrine, he observed, they are marked by: 1) Thus, nationalism, the “organic, integral unity of the nation”, rebirth, 2) Statism, “Fascists worshiped state power”. 3) Transcendence: they attacked both capital and labour, with the objective of the “supposed creation of a new man”. The nation and state comprised their centre of gravity: they hoped to subordinate capital to their goals. 4) Cleansing, “because opponents were seen as ‘enemies’, they were to be removed, and the nation cleansed of them.”5) Paramilitarism, a key value and organisation form, popular, vanguard of the nation. “Violence was the key to the ‘radicalisation’ of fascism.”(3)

Mann argued that Islamism has many common features with European fascism, “The new jihadis (popularly called ‘fundamentalists’) do seek to create a monocratic, authoritarian regime that will enforce a utopian Koranic ideal. This regime will create a new form of state and a new man (and woman), Its predominant organisation is the paramilitary taking various but always dominant forms – guerrilla international brigades in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, armed bands of terrorising enforcers under the Taliban and Iranian Islamists (rather like the SA or SS), and clandestine terrorist networks elsewhere, All this is decidedly fascist.”(4)

Nevertheless they are not nationalist and the state is not an end in itself: its role is to enforce the Sharia. Mann concluded, “Unlike fascism, they really are political religions. They offer a sacred, but not a secular ideology. They most resemble fascism in deploying the means of moral murder but the transcendence, the state, the nation, and the new man they seek are not this-worldly. We might call this sacred fascism; of course though perhaps it is better to recognise that they human capacity for ferocious violence, cleansing, and totalitarian gaols can have diverse sources and forms, to which we should give different labels – fascist communist, imperialist, religious, ethno-nationalist, and so on.”(4)

Mann did not anticipate the more recent argument that Daesh and other jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda, recruiting from dislocated social layers, in war-torn Syria and Iraq, have created a “religion de rupture” based on a cultural and generational break. The Islamic State, from this standpoint, is, the specialist in Islamism, Olivier Roy argues, “nihilist”. (Le djihadisme est une révolte nihilste. Le Monde 25.11.15) they are “more Muslim than the Muslims”. The ideology, their ‘imaginary’, of Daesh dwells on death and war, the extermination or enslavement of the non-Muslim Kufur, and the killing of Muslim heretics (in Takfir terms, all non-Sunnis, and all Sunnis who do not accept their doctrine). Their objective is less a utopian society, the recreation of an ancient Caliphate, than the Nothingness that Terry Eagleton identified with the Death Drive – a desire hinted in Nazi extermination. (5)

Genociders.

Richard Rechtman traces Daesh’s practice, from the creation of disciplinary machine that enforces the Sharia in all aspects of life, to genocide. He calls them simply, “génocidaires” (genociders), who mark a line between the “pure” and the “impure” – eliminating all who are unclean. (La Violence de l’organisation Etat islamique est génocidaire. Le Monde. 28.11.15) Daesh has “deterritorialised” its genocide. The Charlie Hebdo journalists, the Jewish customers of the Hyper-Cacher, the tens of thousands of martyrs in Iraq, Syria and Africa, are murdered for what they “are”.

Daesh, may have grown as a ‘state’ in the wake of the conditions of the Iraqi invasion and the Syrian civil war and the failure of the democratic aspirations on the Arab spring in that region and elsewhere. It may be marked by its genocidal ambitions. But it is clearly part of a much broader current of political Islam. Gilles Kepel has described the search for divine sovereignty in the aftermath of the First World War and the break up of the Ottoman Caliphate. He states that the central Islamist belief is that sovereignty belongs to Allah only. As developed in what are widely considered the founding writings of modern Islamism by the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb during the 1950s, ““The Muslim umma is a collectivity (Jama’a) of people whose entire lives – in their intellectual, social, existential, political, moral and practical aspects – are based on Islamic ethics (mihaj). Thus characterised, this umma ceases to exist if no part of the earth is governed according to the law of God any longer…”(6) The task of Islamists is to restore this society.

Four Horsemen.

Some commentators assert that Daesh is a new millennialist movement, evoking images of a final battle with the forces ranged against Islam. In this it is clearly not alone. Kepel noted a widely shared Islamist list of enemies, signs of the end times: the “ four horsemen of the apocalypse (who) were: ‘Jewry’, the ‘crusade’, ‘communism’ and ‘secularism’.” He continues, “’Jewry’ is the ultimate abomination. The word ‘Jew’ (yahud) is used in indifferently to apply to both Israeli citizens and other Jews. Israeli citizenship, in fact, is seen as merely an attribute of the Jew, defined ontologically on the basis of racial, historical and religious criteria.” As we have just seen, Daesh has found it easy to move from identifying these ‘attributes’ to calls for genocide. (7)

From the 1928 foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hassan-Al-Banna, already stamped with hostility to democratic “division”, to Qubt’s ideas, and to the present-day forms of Salafism, Al-Qaeda and Daesh, Islamism is no longer “one” politics or ideology. The Muslim Brotherhood is said to have developed an Islamist ‘constitutionalism’, which incorporates a degree of popular consultation underneath of the rule of religious experts. The Islamic State of Iran is totalitarian in some respects (no political freedom for parties that are not Islamic, interference in private lives, mass political killings) but has a degree of “pluralism” within its oligarchy.  Saudi Arabia is totalitarian but traditional, a ‘kingdom’. Boko Haram is genocidal in way that parallels movements of ethnic extermination. Somalian Islamists are war-lords – a pattern repeated on a smaller scale amongst the smaller Syrian movements. Al Qaeda has attempted to wage a global war to defend the “umma” from Western aggression, although its affiliate in Syria, Al-Nusra, appears fixed on creating something not dissimilar to Daesh, the reign of men working in the Shadow of god over the country. Daesh may be said to be “glocal” – global and local – fighting across the world, and restoring the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria (Genèse du dijhadisme. Nabil Mouline. Le Monde Diplomatique. December 2015).

These are only some indications that Daesh is not cut off from the mainstream of Islamism. Perhaps, if we wish to clarify the nature of these forms of actually existing Islamism, it would be better to use the broad expression “totalitarian” to describe them. We have seen how ‘fascism’ is not a useful term in itself – only to help highlight some common features and to make differences stand out. Specifically no form of Islamism is organised around what Claude Lefort called an “Egocrat” – a Fascist or Nazi ruler who lays down the interests of the Volk or Nation, or the Stalinist ‘Marxist-Leninist’ line. Lefort, abstractly and probably too generally, cited the breaking of a division between civil and political society, and mechanisms to make world ‘transparent’ to the Eye of the Egocrat’s rule. There is no protection against terror; ‘law’ is a constantly shifting game of paranoia and factional dispute. (8)

Islamism has led to new forms of totalitarianism. Worship of state power, and the organic unity of the community have different sources. They could be said to try to restore a pre-modern unity of unquestioned belief and society. But if their sights are set on ‘otherworldly’ goals, they have the presence of scripture, the Qur’an, to rule intermundane existence; they have a ‘law’, the Sharia, which binds the “umma” together without class or other division. This is, as Mann states, a political religion, reliant on modern mechanisms of power to achieve its aims. All wish to encourage virtue, and punish vice, not only by preaching but also by physical coercion. Not only the divine state but god is said to peer into the private lives and minds of their subjects. It can be considered, in its materialised shape, as a political religion wrapped in totalitarian mechanisms.

Contradictions.

The contradictions within the forms of Islamist totalitarianism are marked. How far can they restore the Golden Age of Islam? Maxime Rodinson signaled the problems any form of political Islam faces in trying to reconcile ‘justice’ with the recreation of the mercantile capitalism idealised in their portrait of the early years of the Prophet’s rule (Islam and Capitalism. 1973). This ideal looks even more absurd, amongst the oil, contraband and extortion revenues of the Islamic State.  And what of their ‘moral’ regulation. Islamists insist on the subordinate but cherished place of women, but only some wish to recreate the benign forms of slavery practiced in early Islam. They show degrees of intolerance towards non-believers, the ‘impure’, from accepting the rights of lesser faiths to exist, to Daesh’s programme of all out war. And who indeed has the right to make the rules of the state, from commerce to administration. Is this to be decided by their own reading or by the studies of learned scholars, skilled in deciphering ancient manuscripts?

Is Islamism related to a crisis of capitalist development, its ‘uneven’ growth and the failure of democratic or nationalist regimes to govern in countries with a majority Muslim population? If this is so, it is the case for all political movements in, to start with, the contemporary Middle East. Efforts to claim that it some kind of “diverted” form of class struggle tend to rely on the notion that an ideal ‘revolutionary’ movement is just waiiting there, ready to leap forward when the time is right.

But what is Islamism’s class basis? From the pious bourgeoisie that backs the various wings of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Turkish AKP, the ‘popular’ masses who see in them a rampart against the destructive effects of the modern world and globalisation, to those fearing rival Muslim – Shiite – bands in Iraq to the ‘dislocated’ individuals prepared to martyr others for their own glory – about the only clear thing we can say is that it is not the working class in the traditional or “globalised” sense of neo-liberalism.  If it is opposed to class struggle and its ‘anti-capitalism’ goes with capitalist economics – with Islamic ‘justice’ – these are not salient points in its politics.The key issue remains ‘divine’ sovereignty against secular authority, either democratic or authoritarian.

Islamism, as we have stated, is not ‘one’ movement. There are major and irreconcilable rivalries between those pursing a ‘Gramscian’ strategy of winning ideological hegemony on the road to power, and those who use terror. Above all, there are fights within material organisations, the Islamic State, the ‘micro-powers’ within communities – ‘radical’ Mosques, Islamist and Salafist associations, Islamic courts, official or unofficial, and the Einsatzgruppen prepared to kill across the planet. These are all part of the wider Islamist ‘mouvance’. To claim that there are sharp distinctions between the distinct elements is to ignore the areas of convergence, notably the practice of violently enforcing a code personal mores – which extends to these small-scale centres across the world, including Europe.

Islamist totalitarianism is a real political threat, not an ‘ontological’ evil, a rent in the world, the tragic side of history. Nor is the problem limited to  nihilistic warriors. These forms of totalitarianism have material weight. They are a major political challenge. They are deeply opposed to the notion of ‘human’ rights, the bedrock ideology of most sections of the left, from liberalism to the defenders of workers’ democracy.

Fight Against Islamism.

Those who make alliances with the ‘moderate’ wings of Islamism align with the enemies of socialism and liberal freedoms.  Those who state that they stand with the Islamists ‘against’ the State or ‘against’ imperialism’ are collaborating with our worst enemies. But there are not only attempts at compromise and accommodation, or leftist manipulation in the belief that the experience of the ‘struggle’ will win their new friends over to their side. A fight is developing, from the fighters of the Kurdish led groups in Syria, to the democrats, leftists and secularists combating Islamism on the ground across the world. Our objective is free societies, in which the democratic movement for socialism can organise, develop and win power. In this battle there is one force we cannot rely on: the Western powers, locked into an alliance with totalitarian Islamist Saudi Arabia and with the authoritarian Islamists of Turkey.

Human rights are universal: they are not subordinate to political calculation in the conflicts unfolding in the Middle East. The popular struggle against Islamism is only beginning.

*****
(1) Pages 157 – 159. On Evil. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2010.
(2) See: The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany. Leon Trotsky. Pathfinder Press. 1972.
(3) Page 16. Fascists. Michael Mann. Cambridge University Press. 2004.
(4) Page 373. Mann Op cit.
(5) Page 374. Mann Op cit.
(6) Page 112. Eagleton Op cit.
(7) Page 43. The Roots of Radical Islam. Gilles Kepel. Saqi. 2005
(8) Page 113. Gilles Kepel Op cit.
(9) Essais sur le (yes it is ‘le’) politique. Claude Lefort. Seuil 1986. Un Homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Goulag. Claude Lefort. Belin. 2015 (1976).