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Archive for March, 2013

Divided they fell: the German left and the rise of Hitler-Florian Wilde

Posted by admin On March - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on Divided they fell: the German left and the rise of Hitler-Florian Wilde


Eighty years ago, on 30 January 1933, President of Germany Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler to the position of Chancellor of the Reich.1 In the years preceding Hitler’s appointment the Nazis and their paramilitary units, the SA and SS, had already been engaging in a steady campaign of terror against the labour movement while the state looked the other way. On 30 January 1933 this terror was made legal. By February SA and SS units were being deployed as auxiliary police officers and given official powers. Their fight against the labour movement had become an officially sanctioned state policy.

Brutal attacks and murders of well-known anti-fascist activists followed immediately after Hitler’s ascension to power. Hit most quickly and most heavily by Nazi repression was the Communist Party (KPD). Nazi thugs stormed and closed the KPD headquarters, the Karl Liebknecht House, on 23 February 1933 and banned their newspaper, Die Rote Fahne, a few days later. The burning of parliament on 27 February was used to justify yet another wave of terror against the left. Over 1,500 Communists were arrested that night in Berlin alone. Unable to fit so many political prisoners into the existing prison system, the Nazis erected the first concentration camps during this wave of repression. The last federal elections were held on 6 March: despite the Nazi repression, the KPD still received 12.3 percent (4.8 million votes) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) 18.3 percent (7.3 million votes). The Nazis had not received an absolute majority, but were able to form a cabinet together with a right wing party. Hitler forced through the so-called “Enabling Act” in the same month, giving the government the right to pass laws contrary to the constitution. The Communists were not able to participate in parliament by that time, as most deputies had either gone underground or had already been arrested by the Nazis. As it was, the SPD was the only party in parliament to vote against the Enabling Act—every bourgeois party voted in favour. Germany’s march towards a fascist dictatorship could no longer be halted.

The trade unions were expropriated and disbanded on 2 May and in July the SPD was banned as well. The Nazis had reached their first goal: the destruction of Germany’s Marxist labour movement. Breaking the back of labour was the first necessary step towards the Nazis’ other goals: the re-arming of Germany in preparation for the most destructive war in history, the construction of a classless Volksgemeinschaft (national community) and the destruction of all “enemies of the people”—a campaign that would end in the industrial murder of millions of European Jews.

The German left was largely powerless to act against the Nazi assumption of power. This was a cause for great concern and international debate at the time: how could fascism take power in Germany, the birthplace of Marxism and a country endowed with powerful trade unions, a strong Social Democratic Party and the largest Communist Party outside of the Soviet Union? How was Hitler able to take power without causing a civil war, or even a general strike? How could both the SPD and KPD be destroyed without massive resistance?

Swastikas flew in front of the Brandenburg Gate for the first time in 1920, when reactionary military officers attempted a coup against the young post-war republic: the so-called “Kapp Putsch”. The SPD-led government at the time retreated to Stuttgart without a fight, as the army was unwilling to defend the government from a right wing attack. The German workers, however, were willing. A spontaneous uprising erupted against the coup, climaxing in a nationwide general strike encompassing 12 million workers—the largest in German history. The leaders of the putsch had lost control of the telegraphs as well as the railways. In many cities workers formed militias to attack brigades of monarchist soldiers. Faced with nationwide popular resistance, the Kapp Putsch collapsed after a matter of days.

This article seeks to explain why 1933 did not witness similar levels of resistance from the German labour movement. It will address the dynamics of socialist and fascist organisation in the context of global economic crisis, and what lessons the German experience can offer anti-fascists today while developing strategy in the midst of the deepest economic crisis since 1929.

Global crisis and the rise of the Nazi Party
The rise of the Nazi Party cannot be understood outside the context of the world economic crisis that broke out in 1929. Prior to the crisis, Weimar Germany’s fascist movement was a marginal phenomenon consisting of various competing factions. They were prone to street violence against leftists and Jews but remained by and large politically irrelevant. Electoral success also proved elusive for the fascists before the economic crisis began. The Nazi Party received only 2.8 percent (810,000 votes) in the 1928 federal elections. This would only change as the economic crisis and the German government’s harsh austerity measures brought unbelievable suffering to the population. Unemployment skyrocketed from 1.2 million in June 1929 to 6 million in January 1932. In addition to this were 2 million unregistered unemployed and 6 million short-time workers. Production dropped 41.4 percent from 1929 to the end of 1931, resulting in greatly increased poverty, suffering and desperation for the masses. Virtually the entire youth population was unemployed. Spending hours in soup kitchen lines became a daily reality for millions of Germans.

The German population quickly lost hope in bourgeois democracy and the capitalist system’s ability to improve their situation. The Nazis were able to profit from this disillusionment by deploying propaganda against “money-grubbing financial capital” and the parliamentary system, in addition to Jews and Marxists. By September 1930 they had won 18.3 percent (6.4 million votes) and in July 1932 37.4 percent (13.8 million votes)—in only four years the Nazis had increased their support by 13 million votes. Their membership rose from under 100,000 in 1928 to 850,000 by 1933. The Nazi paramilitary wing, the SA, grew from 60,000 to 400,000 members.

The depth of the crisis and the rapid growth of the Nazis caused more and more German capitalists to take notice of them. The captains of German industry and finance feared a social revolution in the country, and hoped to use the Nazis to smash the labour movement. They were also interested in starting a war to avenge the dishonour of Versailles—and to increase their profits. Here their interests converged with those of the Nazis, who already enjoyed the support of Prussian landowners, military officers and other sections of the German elite. While currying the favour of the German ruling class behind closed doors, the Nazis employed an economic populist and ultra-nationalist rhetoric to build their mass base. They were able to take advantage of and build upon the nationalism proffered by conservative politicians. Many Germans perceived their country to have been the victim of the First World War, and the Nazis together with the bourgeois parties used this issue to deflect class anger away from German capital and towards perceived foreign enemies. The Social Democrats (SPD) contributed to this nationalist fervour by refusing to discuss Germany’s own role in causing the war to break out. Having supported the war themselves, the SPD could not afford to condemn it retrospectively.

With the state until the bitter end—the role of the SPD
The SPD were the political party that identified most with the Weimar Republic. They committed themselves to defending the republic “from attacks by both left and right”. The party had already shown its readiness to crack down brutally on the radical left after the November revolution in 1918 and the ensuing civil-war-like battles around local revolutionary councils. At that time the SPD had allied with the old economic and military elites of imperial Germany to defeat the revolutionary upsurge and establish a democratic republic with some social reforms, but also ensured that capitalist property relations remained untouched. Because of this historic compromise, the Weimar Republic found itself burdened with a broad layer of military officials, judges and government clerks opposed to the republican reforms. It was precisely this layer that was open to fascist politics and moved closer and closer to the Nazis after 1929.

The SPD’s identification with the Weimar Republic became increasingly problematic for the party as the crisis deepened. As the majority of the population increasingly lost hope in capitalism and the republic, millions searched for a political alternative. Because the population identified the SPD with the republic it proved impossible for it to capitalise on this widespread radicalisation, let alone channel it in a socialist direction. The Social Democrats became victims of the economic, social and political crisis that racked the Weimar establishment and were dragged down with it.

The SPD participated in a governing coalition with bourgeois and conservative parties from 1928 to 1930. From 1930 to 1932 they tolerated the authoritarian, right wing government by decree of Heinrich Brüning as a sort of lesser evil opposed to the Nazis. Brüning’s solution to the economic crisis was austerity and deflation. He savaged the welfare state, raised indirect taxes and pushed down wages. These measures spelled untold suffering for the millions of workers who supported the SPD. Government employees found their wages cut by 25 percent, unmarried adults were forced to pay an additional tax of 10 percent and workers’ pension contributions quadrupled; simultaneously, social spending was reduced by two thirds. Illness increased as more and more people could no longer afford to see a doctor. The SPD, having campaigned on the left but governed on the right, were punished at the polls. Their lack of credibility led them to go from 30 percent of the vote in 1930 to only 18 percent in 1933. The party leadership steadfastly refused to engage in extra-parliamentary mobilisations or workplace struggles to defend workers’ standards of living.

The party’s self-identification with the Weimar Republic also led it to the mechanical conclusion that all opponents of the republic, ie the Communists and the Nazis, were to be treated the same. Socialist historian Wolfgang Abendroth described the situation as such: “’No difference between Thälmann [the KP leader] and Hitler, between Nazis and Communists’—these were the wretched slogans of the SPD leadership with which they deepened the split in the labour movement”.2 The strategy that was needed—a united front with the Communists against capitalist austerity and fascist terror—was considered unthinkable. The split in the labour movement between the SPD and the KPD and the lack of a united response to the capitalist crisis drove more and more of its victims into the arms of the Nazis. In 1931 the SPD formed the “Iron Front” together with trade unions and athletic clubs numbering 3.5 million members. At its core were a quarter of a million fighters active in the brigades of the Reichsbanner SchwarzRotGold, a paramilitary organisation designed to protect the republic against subversion. However, its fixation on parliamentarism and legality hindered an effective struggle against the Nazis, who did not respect the trappings of bourgeois democracy in their own quest for power.

Militant but sectarian: the KPD
The Communist Party emerged out of the radical left wing of the SPD in response to the said party’s support for German involvement in the First World War. By the early 1920s the KPD had become a mass party characterised by a high degree of internal democracy and freedom of discussion; different currents competed for influence within the party. One of the central controversies between these currents was how to relate to the Social Democrats, the party responsible for the deaths of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and hundreds of revolutionary workers: should they struggle head-on against them, as the “left” Communists demanded? Or should the party initiate united fronts with them against the capitalists? The united front was predicated upon the idea that the mass of Social Democrats’ interests diverged from those of their leadership. Even if one detested the SPD, they were still the largest political party of the working class and it was vital to prove to the membership that their leadership was not prepared to fight for them. The initiation of united fronts would bring SPD and KPD members together in common struggle, allowing the radicalising dynamic of mass movements to push Social Democrats to the left and into the arms of the Communists. This strategy was designed to win a majority of the working class over to the Communist Party—a necessary prerequisite for a successful workers’ revolution.

The Communist Party organisation began to change fundamentally in the mid-1920s. Concomitant with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, Stalinisation of the KPD began under the leadership of Ernst Thälmann. Freedom of discussion and internal democracy were replaced piece by piece by a mood of unquestioning discipline and authoritarian leadership. Oppositional currents were discouraged from speaking openly and eventually forced out of the party. No longer held politically accountable to the membership, in 1929 Thälmann and Stalin agreed upon an ultra-left course against the SPD, concluding that the Social Democrats represented a form of “social fascism”. This disastrous line would eventually prove fatal for both the Social Democrats and the Communists.

The theory of social fascism dictated that Nazis and Social Democrats were essentially two sides of the same coin. The primary enemy of the Communists was supposedly the Social Democrats, who protected capitalism from a workers’ revolution by deceiving the class with pseudo-socialist rhetoric. The worst of them all were the left wing Social Democrats, whose rhetoric was particularly deceptive. According to the theory, it was impossible to fight side by side with the SPD against the Nazis under such conditions. Indeed, the KPD declared that defeating the social fascists was the “prerequisite to smashing fascism”. By 1932 the KPD began engaging in isolated attempts to initiate broader anti-fascist fronts, most importantly the Antifascischistsche Aktion, but these were formulated as “united fronts from below”—ie without the leadership of the SPD. Turning the logic of the united front on its head, SPD supporters were expected to give up their party allegiance before joining, as opposed to the united front being a first practical step towards the Communist Party. Throughout this period the leaderships of both the SPD and the KPD never came to a formal agreement regarding the fight against Nazism.

Another fatal consequence of the KPD’s ultra-leftism was that the term “fascism” was used irresponsibly to describe any and all opponents to the right of the party. The SPD-led government that ruled Germany until 1930 was considered “social fascist”. When Brüning formed a new right-wing government by decree without a parliamentary majority in 1930, the KPD declared that fascism had taken power. This went hand in hand with a deadly underestimation of the Nazi danger. Thus Thälmann could declare in 1932: “Nothing could be more fatal for us than to opportunistically overestimate the danger posed by Hitler-fascism”.3 The KPD’s seeming inability to distinguish between democratic, authoritarian and fascist expressions of capitalist rule proved to be its undoing. An organisation that continually vilified bourgeois democratic governments as fascist was unable to understand the true meaning of Hitler’s ascension to power on 30 January 1933, the day the KPD infamously (and ominously) declared: “After Hitler, we will take over!”

The KPD was able to grow tremendously during the economic crisis. Its radical anti-capitalist rhetoric proved attractive to a large minority of the working class. In elections the KPD went from 10.6 percent (3.2 million votes) in 1928 to 16.9 percent (6 million votes) in November 1932. Its membership doubled in the same time, from 130,000 to almost 300,000. Most of this growth came from the ranks of the unemployed. But despite its phenomenal growth, the KPD was never able to unleash the German proletariat’s revolutionary potential or fundamentally challenge the capitalist system. Its confrontational stance towards the SPD prevented a united struggle against the Nazis as well as the austerity imposed by the capitalist parties. The KPD’s strategy also prevented the development of a realistic socialist perspective that could have pulled many of the Nazis’ unemployed and petty bourgeois supporters back towards the labour movement.

It should be noted that despite employing a strategy that prevented an effective, united struggle, the Communists were at the same time those who fought the Nazis the hardest: hundreds of Communists fought in the civil-war-like street battles that became a common sight in Germany from 1929 to 1933, costing the lives of a hundred Nazis and even more KPD members. After Hitler’s ascension to power no group resisted harder or paid as high a price in blood as the KPD. Nearly every third KPD member went to prison under Nazi rule and thousands were murdered.

A fruitless struggle for unity: the independent left
The smaller, independent radical left groups between the SPD and KPD saw the danger posed by the Nazis much more clearly than either of the large parties did. They tried desperately to convince the leaderships of both to join in a united anti-fascist front. The most important of these groups was the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (SAP), counting roughly 25,000 members. The SAP had been founded by left wing SPD members who rejected their party’s compromises with the right wing government in 1931.4 The SAP saw the struggle against fascism and the struggle against capitalism as interrelated, arguing that it was the crises of capitalism that allowed the Nazis to gain support in the first place. They put forward the argument for a united front of the entire left against the Nazis and against austerity. In 1932 they issued a public appeal to the KPD, the SPD and the trade unions in which they stated: “The divisions in the labour movement run deep, but not as deep as the desire, in this hour of imminent danger, to temporarily overcome these divisions in order to prevent the labour movement, regardless of our strategic and tactical differences, from being defeated entirely. There is unity in the desire to push back fascism, to push back wage decreases, to defend the welfare state and to prevent war. Therefore we suggest to you [leadership of KPD, SPD and trade unions] to take these four points as the basis for a common struggle involving all of the organisations of the working class”.5 The SAP saw the fight against the Nazis as an opportunity to bring the deeply divided labour movement back together and give workers a feeling of strength again. Thus it was stated in their action programme: “The most important task is, through united action, to bring the working class back to its senses and make it conscious of its own power once again”.6 Successful fightbacks against fascism were a necessary prerequisite to developing the self-confidence necessary to defeat capitalism and thereby removing the social basis upon which fascism could grow.

Precise analyses of fascism and wise strategic proposals for the German left were also to be found from the KPD (Opposition), the expelled oppositional group around August Thalheimer and Heinrich Brandler; as well as from Leon Trotsky’s followers in Germany. They both encouraged the leaders of Germany’s major workers’ parties to begin a common and decisive struggle against Hitler’s victory, which by now was fast approaching. Trotsky issued desperate warnings from his exile in Turkey about the fatal danger the Nazis posed for the labour movement. Against this danger, only a united struggle of all workers could succeed: “’The policies of our parties are irreconcilably opposed; but if the fascists come tonight to wreck your organisation’s hall, we will come running, arms in hand, to help you. Will you promise us that if our organisation is threatened you will rush to our aid?’ This is the quintessence of our policy in the present period”.7

The concept of the united front that the SAP and other independent left groups presented was based upon two assumptions: firstly, that a direct confrontation with the Nazis demanded complete unity of the working class in order to be successful; secondly, that the Nazis could only be defeated if the left provided the victims of the economic crisis with a positive and realistic socialist alternative to both capitalism and Nazism—otherwise the Nazis would continue to grow, regardless of how strong the united front was. A socialist alternative only seems plausible if it is accompanied by mass struggle. The main workers’ organisations have to be engaged in a united fight to defend and improve workers’ standards of living. Thus the united front against the fascists and the fight for socialism had to go together.

The potential for the united front to unleash far greater political forces had been seen in 1926, when the KPD initiated a referendum calling for the expropriation without compensation of the German princes, who had already been removed from power in the aftermath of the First World War. Unity committees were founded and led campaigns all across Germany. The pressure exerted on the SPD was so strong that the party was ultimately forced to support the referendum. 14.5 million voters supported the referendum as well—more votes than both parties combined had ever received in an election. Even after 1929 many rank and file members of both parties ignored the confrontational policies of their leaderships and formed neighbourhood and shop floor anti-fascist defence squads.

The independent left proposed the only strategy with any chance of defeating the Nazis: the united front. In the last free federal elections in November 1932 the KPD and SPD together still received 1.5 million votes more than the Nazis. Because these other groups remained relatively small throughout the period, they have been reduced to a footnote in the history books. They were never large enough nor was their influence strong enough to turn the SPD and KPD away from their disastrous policies, and thus were condemned to understand and anticipate the coming victory of fascism without being able to prevent it.

Relevance for today
The German experience of fascism is not only interesting from a historian’s perspective, but is also an important reference while developing socialist strategy in Europe today. The continent is undergoing an economic crisis similar in intensity to that of 1929. Greece, Europe’s neoliberal laboratory, shows particular parallels to Germany after 1929. Similar to the Germany at the time, Greece’s economy has shrunk by over 20 percent. The austerity measures imposed by the Troika also resemble those pursued by the Brüning government in Germany: drastic curtailments in government spending, cuts in pensions and increases in indirect taxation. These policies have already affected Greece now as badly as they did Germany then: unemployment stands at 25 percent—for young people it even reaches 50 percent; the suicide rate is exploding; many Greeks can no longer afford to visit a doctor; poverty and homelessness are becoming widespread phenomena. More and more Greeks are losing their faith in capitalism as a result. Political polarisation has also increased exponentially and Pasok, the social democratic formation similar to the German SPD, has already seen its support collapse to under 10 percent. This polarisation brings encouraging developments on the left, such as the massive growth of the left-wing coalition Syriza. Simultaneously Golden Dawn, an openly fascist party that spent years as an obscure sect (as did the Nazis before 1929), received 7 percent in the June elections and is already reaching over 10 percent in the polls now. Fascist thugs are beginning to patrol the streets of Greece in a way eerily reminiscent of the Nazi brownshirts.

Given this context it is vital to learn from the German left’s failure to stop the rise of the Nazis between 1929 and 1933, as it continues to offer critical lessons for today. For example, it is crucial to realise that fascism poses a potentially deadly threat to the entire labour movement, as well as to all other social movements and minorities (religious, ethnic, etc). The grim lesson offered by the German experience is that once fascism takes power there is no turning back. Fascism destroys any and all opposition and thus is life-threatening for all organisations of the left. Under no conditions may the rivalries and differences among left organisations be allowed to block the united struggle against the Nazis. Building broad and united anti-fascist fronts has to be the priority of every socialist organisation. To trust the police and the state to stop the fascists is as foolish today as it was then. Time and time again we have seen how the state and the police protect fascist demonstrations, undermine anti-fascist activities and sometimes even support fascists outright—Greek readers know this all too well. The task of an anti-fascist movement is to encourage self-activity and self-organisation against the Nazis, to allow them no space in society and to combat them on all levels and with all necessary means whenever and wherever they show their faces.

The task of socialists within the movement, however, has to go beyond simply defending the status quo against fascist encroachment. The repeated crises of capitalism are what drive people to such desperation that they will even listen to racists and fascists in the first place; thus socialists have the responsibility to develop and present a realistic alternative: namely a socialist alternative. This alternative must be positive and appear convincing; it must be grounded in solidarity, cooperation and class struggle and emphasise a democratic, socialist response to capitalist crisis.

We should take the experience of the SPD before 1933 as a warning: a workers’ party that allows itself to become an administrator of the capitalist system by joining or supporting bourgeois governments—and thereby providing left wing cover to austerity—runs the danger of becoming identified with the system itself. It risks discrediting any claim to be an alternative to the status quo. In times of economic crisis like 1929 in Germany or today in Greece, however, millions begin to turn their backs on a status quo that no longer offers them a future. It is precisely then that a credible socialist alternative is needed to channel the anger of the masses in an emancipatory direction. The building of such an alternative is a task the importance of which must not be understated, particularly in the midst of the deepest economic crisis since 1929.


1: Originally published in German as “Gespalten in den Untergang. Die Linke und der Aufstieg Hitlers”, in Block Fascism! Geschichte, Analysen und Strategien für Eine antifaschistische Praxis (Linksjugend/Die Linke.SDS). Translation by Loren Balhorn with financial assistance from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

2: Abendroth, 1997, p253.

3: Meyer-Leviné, 1977, p177.

4: A core of the SPD left and later the SAP was the current around Paul Levi, former KPD chairperson who rejoined the SPD together with his supporters in 1922 and died in 1930.

5: Winkler, 1987, p617.

6: Niemann, 1991, p267.

7: Trotsky, 1930.


Abendroth, Wolfgang, 1997, Einführung in die Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung: Von den Anfängen bis 1933 (Distel).

Drechsler, Hanno, 1983, Die Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung am Ende der Weimarer Republik (SOAK-Verlag).

Meyer-Leviné, Rosa, 1977, Inside German Communism: Memoirs of Party Life in the Weimar Republic (Pluto).

Niemann, Heinz, 1991, Auf verlorenem Posten? Linkssozialismus in Deutschland. Zur Geschichte der Sozialistischen Arbeiterpartei (Dietz).

Seydewitz, Max; Adler, Max, 1931, Die Krise des Kapitalismus und die Aufgaben der Arbeiterklasse (Verlag der Marxistischen Büchergemeinde).

Trotsky, Leon, 1930, The Turn in the Communist International and the Situation in Germany, www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1930/300926.htm

Wilde, Florian, 2010, “’Den nach Hoffnung hungernden Massen den Sozialismus als einzig mögliche Rettung aus der Krise zeigen.’ Die Entwicklung der SPD-Linken von der Klassenkampf-Gruppe zur Sozialistischen Arbeiterpartei (SAP)”, in Marcel Bois and Bernd Hüttner, Beiträge zur Geschichte einer Pluralen Linken,Heft 1: Theorien und Bewegungen vor 1968 (Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung).

Winkler, Heinrich August, 1987, Der Weg in die Katastrophe. Arbeiter und Arbeiterbewegung in der Weimarer Republik 1930-33 (J H W Dietz).
All articles copyright © International Socialism unless otherwise stated

Hegemony and mass critical intellectuality-Panagiotis Sotiris

Posted by admin On March - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on Hegemony and mass critical intellectuality-Panagiotis Sotiris


During the past years there has been an impressive wave of student movements.1 What has been distinctive about them is their tendency to be more radical politically in comparison to most forms of student protest in the 1980s and 1990s. They did not limit themselves to protesting against the various student grievances (higher tuition fees, diminished value of degrees, etc), but also have presented themselves as part of a broader movement against neoliberalism and the current form of capitalist politics. This was facilitated by student participation in the various forms of the movement against globalisation, from the first campaigns against sweatshops to the big international demonstrations. This renewed politicisation of student protest has been even more evident in most post-2005 movements (the 2006-2007 Greek student movement, the 2005-2006 French mobilisation, the December 2008 explosion of the Greek youth, the 2009 wave of occupations in California, the 2010 student demonstrations in Britain and the 2012 student movement in Quebec).2

What has also been distinctive has been the emergence along this movement of a new wave of critical theorising. This has been facilitated by the fact that many faculty or junior faculty members and postgraduate students have supported and taken part in the movement (exemplified in the presence of radical academics in the movement in both Britain and the United States). This has also led to a new flourishing of theoretical debate and production by students and academics, that tend to combine political activism and theoretical work.

This is a very important development. On the one hand, we should stress the renewed interest in the political importance of theory. This has not only the sense of an apprehension of the politics of the theory, something evident in the 1980s and 1990s in disciplines such as poststructuralist literary and cultural studies, radical feminism and gender studies and postcolonial studies, but also in the importance of theory for radical politics today. On the other hand, we can see the emergence of new militant forms of theoretical production on the margins (or even outside of) academia. It is obvious that the divorce between theory and practice that Perry Anderson presented in the 1970s as the distinctive feature of “Western Marxism”,3 and as the condensation of the crisis of the Communist movement, for the first time shows some signs that it can be overcome.

That is why we need to think of new forms of militant collective intellectuality, new ways to articulate militant practice and theoretical work, new synergies between theory and the movement. However, in order to do that we need to go back to the traditions of the revolutionary movement and radical theory and revisit their attempts to come to terms with these major theoretical and political questions. That is why in this paper we will try to discuss attempts at presenting a theory of critical intellectuality.

The Workers’ Inquiry: from Marx to the workerists.
The first has to do with the concept of workers’ inquiry. Karl Marx first thought about a novel way to inquire about the actual condition of the working classes. The result was a big questionnaire written by Marx and circulated through La Revue Socialiste, a French socialist journal.4 The aim was to gather as many completed questionnaires by workers, and then use them to study their condition. The use of a militant journal, the attempt to get the help of the workers themselves, making them active subjects and not simply “objects under observation”, the form of the questionnaire that was designed to help the researcher and at the same time to help the worker gradually come by himself to the realisation of the conditions of exploitation, mark the distinctive characteristics of Marx’s Enquête Ouvrière.

In the 1960s this theme of the “workers’ inquiry” was taken up by the workerist tendency of Italian Marxism.5 The first forms of expression of the workerist tendency, organised through the reviews Quaderni Rossi and La Classe Operaia, were based on the combined work of academics and political and trade union activists. They were oriented mainly to an audience of union activists and not necessarily academics, despite the theoretical richness and profundity of the texts appearing there, especially by Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti. It is here that the very concept of workers’ inquiry became a central tenet of workerists, both as a theoretical concept but also as a particular practice.

In the case of the workerists, the workers’ inquiry served a double purpose. On the one hand, it served the attempt actually to study the condition of the working classes, the forms of neo-capitalism, the operations of capitalist power within the workplace and especially the modern factory, and the forms of resistance. This created the conditions for a militant sociology of advanced capitalism. At the same time, it stressed the importance of workers’ resistance as the driving force of capitalist rationalisation and modernisation. On the other hand, it served the attempt actually to relate to the workers, to create a form of a common practice that would be not only theoretical or research oriented but also deeply political, a new way to help the formation of political vanguards deeply rooted in the workplace and to overcome the exteriority of politicised students and researchers to workers. As Stephen Wright has shown, taking the work of sociologists oriented toward field researches, interviews and life stories, such as Danilo Dolci and Danilo Montaldi,6 the workerists thought of the workers’ enquiry as both an analytical and a political tool. In the case of Panzieri this was linked to his conception of Marxism as a sociology conceived “as a political science, the science of revolution”.7 The aim of the inquiry must be to investigate the balance of forces but also to track the changes and the new tendencies. The same conception is obvious in Dario Lanzardo’s long excursus on Marx’s “Enquête Ouvrière” in Quaderni Rossi, still one of the most interesting readings of workers’
inquiry.8 For Lanzardo the object of workers’ inquiry is exactly to help the workers understand that the capitalist reality is historical and not natural.9 This was exemplified by the pioneering research by Romano Alquati in workplace conditions and struggles in companies such as Fiat and Olivetti.10 The long cooperation of students, academics and workers around the big chemical complex in Porto Maghera in the Veneto area and other sites of struggle exemplified this tendency.11 It was also expressed in the richness of reviews such as Primo Maggio that combined militant engagement and political oriented interventions with highly sophisticated inquiries into questions of theory of value, history of the labour movement, analyses of the changes and restructurings of capitalism.12

Foucault and “specific intellectuals”
Another example, contemporaneous to the long experience of the workerist tendency, was Michel Foucault’s insistence on the need for a new form of specific intellectuals. Foucault in his long interview “Truth and Power” made a distinction between the figures of the traditional intellectual as “the bearer of the universal”,13 as a “universal consciousness”,14 with writing as the principal form of expression, and the new emerging figure of the specific intellectual. Although he admits the radicalisation of traditional intellectuals expressed in the “relentless theorisation of writing we saw in the sixties”,15 he points to a new figure of politicised intellectual emerging after the Second World War. He calls this figure the “specific intellectual”, and thinks that it was the nuclear physicist that offered the first such example of an intellectual that constituted a threat to political power “no longer on account of a general discourse he conducted but because of the knowledge at his disposal”.16 He also attributes this to the rising importance of the “technico-scientific structure” in modern life. Foucault is aware of the dangers specific intellectuals can face in their political intervention: the risk of engaging in partial struggles, the risk of manipulation, the risk of isolation for lack of a global strategy or outside support.17 At the same time, he insists that we cannot go back to the nostalgia for a universal intellectual, nor can we attack specific intellectuals as serving the interests of capital. On the contrary, we must see how intellectuals can intervene in the specific “politics of truth”18 in modern capitalist societies, which for Foucault is a battle “about the status of truth and the political and economic role it plays”.19 Although Foucault insists—as in many other instances—on opposing any global and all-encompassing project of emancipation, he nevertheless stresses the need for radical intervention:

It’s not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural, within which it operates at the present time.20

It is obvious that what Foucault had in mind is a whole wave of militant scientists and researchers connected to radical social movements, especially in relation to struggles around nuclear energy, pollution, the state-prison complex, psychiatric power, feminism. Contrary to the traditional left’s conception of science as being inherently progressive (as opposed to the supposed tendency of capital to fetter the development of science, an assumption that ran contrary to the very development of science under capitalism) Foucault offers a much more complex conception of the politics of science. It is important that in this conception we treat militant scientists and researchers as active subjects engaged in struggles and not as passive savants simply waiting for the labour movement to liberate them and their respective role.

It is also important to note that part of the impetus for this conceptualisation of the specific intellectual came not only from the experiences of critical sciences and movements challenging the neutrality of science, but also from Foucault’s own engagement in militant scientific practice around the Groupe d’Informations sur les Prisons, part of which was also the drafting of a questionnaire for prisoners.21

Bourdieu and the need for a scholarship with commitment
In the 1990s Pierre Bourdieu emerged as one of the vocal proponents of the need for socially and politically engaged public intellectuals. In a series of interventions,22 exemplified in his support of the 1995 French strike movement—a rare exception in the French theoretical landscape, he opposed all forms of current neoliberal ideology and particularly the accommodating positions adopted by most prominent French intellectuals. For Bourdieu, in a period of neoliberal attack on social rights intellectuals have an obligation to support social movements, instead of being ideologues of the capitalist politics.

What is particularly interesting in the interventions by Bourdieu is that he did not limit himself simply to calls for a return to the figure of the public intellectual as bearer of social and political virtue, in the classical sense of the term, what Foucault would have called a universal intellectual. Bourdieu also insisted on the need for a new engaged, collective intellectual effort, the creation of a collective intellectual in collaboration with the movement, including new forms of collaboration between activists and intellectuals. The following passage summarises the exigencies especially for social scientists:

Social scientists are not fellow-travellers, in other words hostages and guarantors, figureheads and alibis who sign petitions and who are disposed of as soon as they have been used; nor are they Zhdanovian apparatchiks who come in to exercise apparently intellectual powers within the social movements which they cannot exercise in intellectual life; nor are they experts coming in to give lessons—not even anti-expert experts; nor are they prophets who will provide answers to all questions about the social movement and its future. They are people…who can point out that the people here are not present as spokespersons, but as citizens who come into a place of discussion and research, with ideas, with arguments, leaving their slogans, platforms and party habits in the cloakroom.23

Gramsci, hegemony and intellectuality
Finally, I come to a theorist who preceded the interventions discussed so far: Antonio Gramsci. I believe that in Gramsci’s work one can find the most advanced confrontation with the question of a new militant intellectuality able to serve the purpose of social emancipation. Gramsci in such a reading was not simply a theoretician of the role of intellectuals. He was a theoretician of the articulation of politics, culture and knowledge, exemplified in the richness and complexity of the theory of hegemony as a theory of social and political power in modern capitalist societies. Moreover, the question of mass militant intellectuality was for Gramsci one of the main challenges for emancipatory politics:

For a mass of people to be led to think coherently and in the same coherent fashion about the real present world is a “philosophical” event, far more important and “original” than the discovery by some philosophical “genius” of a truth which remains the property of small groups of intellectuals.24

For Gramsci the question of proletarian hegemony also entailed the emergence of new forms of mass intellectuality, a transformed common sense, and new strata of intellectuals. Gramsci was led to this position by his study of the emergence of bourgeois hegemony, the importance of mass cultural forms, the role of intellectuals and the institutions responsible for their reproduction but also for the dissemination of their work and ideas. However, he insisted that these new intellectuals could not be in simple continuity to traditional intellectuals: “If the ‘new’ intellectuals put themselves forward as the direct continuation of the previous ‘intelligentsia’ they are not new at all”.25 Moreover, for Gramsci the emergence of new types of intellectuals was the manifestation of the ripeness of the new historical situation. This demand for new intellectuals formed within the workers’ struggle for hegemony, but also within the practical effort for new forms of social organisation and production, is exemplified in the complexity of extracts such as the following:

The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, “permanent persuader” and not a simple orator (but superior at the same time to the abstract mathematical spirit); from technique-as-work one proceeds to technique-as-science and to the humanistic conception of history, without which one remains “specialised” and does not become “directive” (specialised and political).26

What is interesting about this conception of the militant intellectual is that Gramsci seems to overcome the universal-specific dichotomy evident in Foucault’s theorisation of the specific intellectual. For Gramsci the new intellectuals must be at the same time specific, linked to particular practical questions, immersed in practical questions of politics, science, economy (hence the acceptance that they should be “specialised”), and have a broad and critical ideological and cultural orientation, able to facilitate the struggle for hegemony.

For Gramsci this process of the forming of new intellectuals is a collective process. The political party is responsible for the formation of new intellectuals. Moreover, Gramsci insists that all members of a political party should be treated as intellectuals. In the words of Gramsci: “That all members of a political party should be regarded as intellectuals is an affirmation that can easily lend itself to mockery and caricature. But if one thinks about it nothing can be more exact”.27 This collective conception of the emergence of mass forms of militant intellectuality is made evident in Gramsci’s conception of the political party as laboratory.

One should stress the importance and significance, which, in the modern world, political parties have in the elaboration and diffusion of conceptions of the world, because essentially what they do is to work out the ethics and the politics corresponding to these conceptions and act as it were their historical “laboratory”… The relation between theory and practice becomes even closer the more the conception is vitally and radically innovatory and opposed to old ways of thinking. For this reason one can say that the parties are the elaborators of new integral and all-encompassing intellectualities and the crucibles where the unification of theory and practice understood as real historical process takes place.28

This is also evident in Gramsci’s reference to the figure of the democratic philosopher. Gramsci suggested that the need for a different practice of philosophy would lead to the need for a new type of philosopher, the “democratic” philosopher who “is a philosopher convinced that his personality is not limited to himself as a physical individual but is an active relationship of modification of the cultural environment”.29 The figure of the democratic philosopher suggests the need for a new form of intellectuals where the important distinction has exactly to do with their awareness of the limits of their subjectivity and the need for them to engage in collective political and knowledge practices that are the necessary conditions for their critical intellectual activity. This is a highly original conception of a non-subjective or post-subjective condition of intellectuality

The notion of the democratic philosopher is one of Gramsci’s most insightful moments, because it grasps not only the relation between philosophy, history and politics, but also the need for a relational and transformative conception of philosophy as social practice and not only as subjective thinking, a conception also evident in Gramsci’s treatment of man as “historical bloc”.30

It is obvious that with Gramsci we have a much more elaborated conception of the need for new militant forms of mass intellectuality. His conception encompasses both the need to work side by side with the movement in practical relations of knowledge, collective self-awareness and common struggle that was evident in the practice of workers’ inquiry, and also the need to combine militancy with knowledge, including technical knowledge, as envisaged by Foucault in his conception of the specific intellectual. Moreover, Gramsci’s conception also includes the need for profound changes and a radicalisation of the institutions producing intellectualities along with the need for new institutions. At the same time, he avoids certain dangers: the danger of particularism, the identification of specificity with the academic division of labour (something evident especially in the way Bourdieu treats intellectuals as specialists in their field), the refusal to engage in collective forms of militancy.

Militant intellectuality today
All these examples show us that there can be militant forms of intellectuality, both in the sense of critical and politically engaged theoretical production oriented towards projects for emancipation and in the sense of mass intellectuality and a change in common sense and mass ideological practices. At the same time, we have to confront the whole process through which 1960s and 1970s theoretical radicalism lost both its momentum and its political engagement. The well-known story about radical academics becoming self-entrenched within the confines of academia and all the rituals of formal academic research, losing touch with urgent social and political exigencies, although in most aspects a distortion of reality, did indeed capture some of the problems of post-1970s radical theorising. Even today, with an impressive wave of young Marxist or more generally radical academics (mainly in junior positions) in place, one can still sense the gap separating theoretical and political activity or participation in movements. The standardisation of academic research, the quantification of research assessment, both individually and institutionally, the pressure for immediate results, papers and quantifiable research outcomes surely contributes to this.

However, there have also been other forms. To give one example: The edu-factory network has been more than instrumental in promoting both a radical anti-capitalist agenda regarding the entrepreneurialisation of higher education and forms of coordination between activists and activist networks.31 To give another example: all the international networks of economists helping movements against globalisation, against Third World Debt, in favour of debt-auditing processes.32

Recently the notion of mass intellectuality has gained new interest, especially in the work of writers working in a post-workerist direction such as M Lazzarato and Paolo Virno.33 According to this theme, the importance of intellectual “immaterial” labour in post-Fordist capitalism makes mass intellectuality even more important, as is evident in the intellectual (in the sense of non-manual) character of many work processes and in the need for capital to exploit not just labour time but also collective knowledge, skills, representations. This follows the workerists’ emphasis on the “Fragment on Machines” from the Grundrisse where Marx refers to the General Intellect.34 For this tradition mass intellectuality is an analytical concept, a description of the objective and subjective conditions for post-Fordism, and follows the workerist tendency to ground insurrectionary tendencies in the ontology of labour. However, it is not a concept that can account for the complexity of the division between intellectual and manual labour in capitalist production, of the recurring tendency both of the incorporation of scientific knowledge and technique in the production process and of the trivialisation of tasks, and of the forms of the transformation of science into a productive force. It is also a one-sided reading of Marx that stresses the importance of the Grundrisse but tends to leave aside Marx’s more elaborate confrontation with questions of science and technology, especially in the Economic Manuscript of 1861-63.35 In those notes a more complex conception emerges of the relation of science to capitalist production, one that, instead of a simple image of a collective intellectual capacity being put under the command of capital, stresses the importance of technology and machinery on the transformation of science into a production force and the processes of skilling and deskilling associated with this process. Moreover, the post-workerist emphasis on immaterial intellectual labour as the “hegemonic form”,36 can easily lead to an underestimation of all other forms of labour and misrepresent capitalist exploitation as mainly some form of blocking the creative capability of the multitude.

By contrast, I am using intellectuality here much more in the sense that Gramsci uses it, as a strategic concept describing a condition to be attained, the result of (counter)hegemonic apparatuses and projects, the outcome of struggles and new forms of collective organisation. We have to see how this increased importance of intellectual labour in modern capitalism (something that Gramsci also stressed) creates conditions for collective practices and networks of militant intellectuality. In this sense mass intellectuality is not something given in advance; it is a political stake of social and political antagonism and of the collective practices of social movements.

In the light of the above, we can discuss some of the tasks facing us today. We need more examples of critical intellectuality and of politically engaged theoretical production. We need radical academics and researchers providing theoretical material to activists. We want activists and militants to have a much more theoretical background acquired not only through formal academic channels. We want radical social movements to become also theoretical sites, to develop their own knowledge institutions, both in the sense of producing and of disseminating knowledge and critical theory. The current protest cycle can only help this process. Social movements, especially when they are politicised in a collective and non-hierarchical manner, are also knowledge processes. People engaging in them have to know things, have to form arguments, and at the same time they learn from the very collective experience of struggle. The presence of radical theorists and researchers alongside militants surely helps, but this is not enough. We need to go beyond this relation of externality between the movement and critical theory and build new institutions of knowledge within the movement itself, new knowledge practices, and new forms of militant research. Only in this way will it be possible to actually not only produce new readings of the conjuncture but also discuss new projects and alternative social forms and arrangements, exactly what is more needed in order to galvanise support for radical politics and social change. We also need a new ethics of research and scientific engagement, stressing the importance of independence from corporate interests, the work alongside the movement, the timely publication of results, especially regarding dangers for society, the need for a critical popularisation of scientific findings, the acceptance of the questions and needs of people from the movement as legitimate concerns.

Such a conception also offers a way out for that growing segment of highly trained scientific and technical workforce, employed in corporations or the state, that in a period of radicalisation wants to find an outlet not only for political activism, but also for its knowledge and expertise (a small example being all those corporate economists who used intensive blogging in the period after the eruption of the current economic crisis as a means to offer to the general public a critical perspective on economic developments, based on their knowledge and expertise). The same goes for teachers in both primary and secondary education, whose scientific training is usually used only for the reproduction of the curriculum, whereas they could be at the forefront of community based and localised collective forms of mass intellectuality.

Such a collective work will help us change the way people think and consequently act. The emergence on a mass scale of new collective representations, mentalities, worldviews and discursive practices, of new ways for working people to understand social reality and their place within it and realise the collective potential to transform it, can never be simply a question of effective propaganda. It must also be a collective effort to change “common sense”, putting into practice the necessary dialectic of revolutionary theory on the one hand and the knowledge and collective experience that working people get from their participation in struggle, in order to achieve new forms of hegemony in the fight for radical social change. This is an indispensable aspect of revolutionary politics today.

Above all we must think of radical left parties, political fronts and organisations as knowledge practices and laboratories of new forms of mass critical intellectuality. In a period of economic and political crisis but also of new possibilities to challenge capitalist rule, questions of political organisation gain new relevance. Thinking of organisation simply in terms of practical or communicative skills for mobilisation, or of electoral fronts and tactics is not enough. It would be better, in order to build today’s parties and united fronts, to revisit Gramsci’s (and Lenin’s) conception of the party as a democratic political and theoretical process that produces knowledge of the conjuncture, organic intellectuals, new worldviews, social and political alternatives, as a potential (counter)hegemonic apparatus. We need forms of organisation that not only enable coordination and networking, democratic discussion and effective campaigning, but also bring together different experiences, combine critical theory with the knowledge coming from the different sites of struggle, and produce both concrete analyses but also mass ideological practices and new forms of radical “common sense”.

Mass radical intellectuality is at the same time a prerequisite and an expression of a new hegemony emerging. Contrary to the tendency of many people on the left to think simply in terms of electoral dynamics, we need to start thinking in terms of hegemony and the construction of an alternative.


1: The first version of this text was presented at the Second International Conference on Critical Education, Athens, 10-14 July 2012, and has benefited by the comments made in its presentation. The writer also wants to thank Alex Callinicos for his comments and suggestions.

2: On the recent wave of student movements, see Solomon and Palmieri, 2011.

3: Anderson, 1976.

4: Marx, 1997.

5: For an overview of Italian workerism see Wright, 2002.

6: Wright, 2002, pp22-23.

7: Panzieri, 1965, p110.

8: Lanzardo, 1965.

9: The openly political character of the workers’ inquiry is exemplified in the following passage from a text by Antonio Negri in the 1970s: “Workers’ inquiry is a political battle right from the start: it is a political battle on the side of theory as well as praxis”-Negri, 2005, p72.

10: Alquati, 1985; Armano and Sciortino, 2010; Wright, 2002, pp42-58.

11: Wright, 2002, pp110-114.

12: A full series of Primo Maggio in pdf format can be found at www.autistici.org/operaismo/PrimoMaggio/La%20rivista/

13: Foucault, 2002, p126.

14: Foucault, 2002, p127.

15: Foucault, 2002, p127.

16: Foucault, 2002, p128.

17: Foucault, 2002, p130.

18: Foucault, 2002, p132.

19: Foucault, 2002, p132.

20: Foucault, 2002, p133.

21: Brich, 2008. The Groupe d’Informations sur les Prisons (Group for Information on Prisons) in the early 1970s tried to bring attention the horrible conditions in the French penal system and to defend the rights of prisoners and was based on the work of both intellectuals and activists.

22: Bourdieu, 1998, 2001, 2002.

23: Bourdieu, 1998, p56.

24: Gramsci, 1971, p325.

25: Gramsci, 1971, p453.

26: Gramsci, 1971, p10. We should note that for Gramsci directive refers to the essence of revolutionary politics, the ability to lead a social class in the struggle for self-emancipation.

27: Gramsci, 1971, pp5-6.

28: Gramsci, 1971, p335. I have slightly altered the translation. Hoare and Nowell Smith translate as “elaborators of new integral and totalitarian intelligentsias”. However, in the Italian original Gramsci refers to political parties as “elaboratori delle nuove intelletualita integrali e totalitarie” (Gramsci, 1977, p1387), so I choose to translate intelletualita as intellectualities, following here the French translation of the Prison Notebooks (Gramsci, 1978). Moreover, since totalitarian had a different meaning in the early 1930s than its post Second World War meaning, I translate totalitarie as all-encompassing.

29: Gramsci, 1971, p350. For a reading of the importance of the concept of the democratic philosopher, see Thomas, 2009, pp429-436.

30: Gramsci, 1971, p360.

31: See Edu-factory Collective, 2009.

32: See, for example, the work done by the Committee to Abolish Third World Debt
(www.cadtm.org) or the work of the Initiative for the Greek Audit Commission (www.elegr.gr).

33: Lazzarato, 1996 and Virno, 2004.

34: For the “Fragment on Machines”, see Marx, 1973, pp690-712.Marx refers to the general intellect in the following phrase: “The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it”-p706. On the concept of the general intellect in the Grundrisse and its subsequent use by post-workerists see Haug, 2010.

35: Especially in Marx’s extended notes on machinery and the utilization of the forces of nature and society (Marx, 1989, pp318-346; Marx, 1991, pp372-501; Marx, 1996, pp8-61).

36: On this see Hardt and Negri, 2005, pp103-115.


Alquati, Romano, 1985 (1962-3), “Organische Zusammensetzung des Kapitals und Arbeitskraft bei OLIVETTI”, Quaderni Rossi, www.wildcat-www.de/thekla/05/t05_oliv.pdf

Anderson, Perry, 1976, Considerations on Western Marxism (New Left Books).

Armano, Emiliana, and Raffaele Sciortino, 2010, “In Memory of Romano Alquati”, www.generation-online.org/p/p_alquati.htm

Bourdieu, Pierre, 1998, Acts of Resistance: Against the new Myths of Our Time (Polity).

Bourdieu, Pierre, 2001, Contre-feux 2. Pour un Movement Social Européenne (Raisons d’agir).

Bourdieu, Pierre, 2002, “The Role of Intellectuals Today”, Theoria volume 49, number 99.

Brich, Cecile, 2008, “The Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons: The Voice of Prisoners? Or Foucault’s?”, Foucault Studies, 5.

Edu-factory collective (ed), 2009, Towards a Global Autonomous University (Autonomedia).

Foucault, Michel, 2002, Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, volume 3 (Penguin).

Gramsci, Antonio, 1971, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Lawrence and Wishart).

Gramsci, Antonio, 1977, Quaderni del Carcere, 4 volumes (Einauidi).

Gramsci, Antonio, 1978, Cahiers de Prison, 4 volumes (Gallimard).

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri, 2005, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (Hamish Hamilton).

Haug, Wolfgang Fritz, 2010, “General Intellect” (from the Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism), Historical Materialism 18:2.

Lanzardo, Dario, 1965, “Marx et l’Enquête Ouvrière”, in Quaderni Rossi, 1968, Luttes Ouvrières et Capitalisme d’Aujourd ‘hui (Maspero).

Lazzarato, Mauricio, 1996, “Immaterial Labor”, in Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds), Radical Thought in Italy. A Potential Politics (University of Minessota Press).

Marx, Karl, 1973, Grundrisse (Penguin), www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/

Marx, Karl, 1989, 1991, 1996 [1861-63], Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, in Marx – Engels Collected Works, volume 30, 33, 34 (Progress/Lawrence and Wishart).

Marx, Karl, 1997 [1880], “A Workers Inquiry”, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/04/20.htm

Negri, Antonio, 2005, Books for Burning. Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970s Italy (Verso).

Panzieri, Raniero, 1965, “Conception Socialiste de l’Enquête Ouvrière” in Quaderni Rossi, 1968, Luttes Ouvrières et Capitalisme d’Aujourd ‘hui (Maspero).

Solomon, Clare and Tania Palmieri (eds), 2011, Springtime. The New Student Rebellions (Verso).

Thomas, Peter 2009, The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism (Brill).

Virno, Paolo, 2004, A Grammar of the Multitude (Semiotext(e)).

Wright, Steve, 2002, Storming Heaven. Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism (Pluto).
All articles copyright © International Socialism unless otherwise stated

Obama resets Middle East compass-M K Bhadrakumar

Posted by admin On March - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on Obama resets Middle East compass-M K Bhadrakumar


The spin given to United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel last week was that it could be a kiss-and-make-up trip aimed at improving Obama’s personal chemistry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If so, the mission succeeded. The surprise element came dramatically at the fag end of the visit just as Obama was about to get into the presidential jet at Tel Aviv airport on Friday.

Right there on the tarmac from a makeshift trailer, he dialed up Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and after a brief
exchange of pleasantries he handed the phone to Netanyahu, who promptly went on to do what he had adamantly refused to do for the past two years – render a formal apology over the killing of nine Turks in 2010 who were traveling in a flotilla on a humanitarian mission to the Gaza enclave.

This is probably the first time in Israel’s history that it apologized to a foreign country for a sin committed.

The Gaza incident ripped apart Turkish-Israeli relations. The breakdown in ties with Turkey left Israel stranded and helpless in a region caught up in the throes of an upheaval it has never known before. The alliance with Turkey is of vital importance to Israel.

In his statement welcoming the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation, US Secretary of State John Kerry noted that this ”will help Israel meet the many challenges it faces in the region” and a full normalization will enable Tel Aviv and Ankara to ”work together to advance their common interests.”

But the telephone conversation at Tel Aviv airport was a premeditated theatrical act, which Obama wanted the entire region to witness. It carried much symbolism that the captain was taking the US ship in a big arc into new directions.

The senior Turkish editor Murat Yetkin cited ”high-ranking sources” to disclose that Washington had approached Ankara a few weeks ago with the proposal that Obama wished to work on a rapprochement between Erdogan and Netanyahu and hoped to utilize his Israeli visit to that end. Yetkin wrote:
As Ankara said they could accept the good offices of the US to have an agreement with Israel, based on an apology, the diplomacy started. Before the start of Obama’s visit on March 20, diplomatic drafts about the terms of a possible agreement started to go back and forth between Ankara and Jerusalem under the auspices of US diplomacy.
Why is Turkish-Israeli normalization so terribly important for Obama – and, equally, for Erdogan and Netanyahu? The answer is to be found in the testimony given by the head of US European Command and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s top military commander, Admiral James Stavridis, before the US Senate Armed Services Committee last Monday on the eve of Obama’s departure from Washington for Israel.

Stavridis advised the US lawmakers that a more aggressive posture by the US and its allies could help break the stalemate in Syria. As he put it, ”My personal opinion is that would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the [Syrian] regime.”

The influential US senator John McCain pointedly queried Stavridis about NATO’s role in any intervention in Syria. Stavridis replied that the NATO is preparing for a range of contingencies. ”We [NATO] are looking at a wide range of operations, and we are prepared if called upon to be engaged [as] we were in Libya,” he said.

Stavridis went on to explain that the NATO Patriot missiles now deployed in Turkey ostensibly for the sake of defending Turkish airspace have the capability also to attack Syrian air force in that country’s air space and that any such a NATO operation would be a ”powerful disincentive” for the Syrian regime.

Tell-tale signs
Equally significant is that the NATO warships of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 [SNMGI], which arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean in late February, visited the Turkish naval base of Aksaz (where Turkey’s Southern Task Group maintains special units such as ”underwater attack”) last fortnight en route to joining last week the US Strike Group consisting of the Aircraft Carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower and escorts.

The SNMGI forms part of the NATO Response Force, which is permanently activated and is held at high readiness in order to respond to security challenges.

Thus, the picture that emerges – added to other recent tell-tale signs – is that a Western military intervention in Syria could well be in the making. Obama is moving carefully, and the commitment of US troops on the ground in Syria is just out of the question. But the US and NATO (and Israel) can give valuable air cover and can launch devastating missile attacks on the Syrian government’s command centers.

The Western powers would rather focus on eliminating President Bashar al-Assad rather than physically occupy the country. If ground forces need to be deployed inside Syria at some stage, Turkey can undertake that mission, being a Muslim country belonging to NATO.

This is where the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation comes into play. A close coordination between Turkey and Israel at the operational level can be expected to pulverize the Syrian regime from the north and south simultaneously.

But the revival of the Turkish-Israeli strategic axis has major implications for regional security. Erdogan has thoroughly milked the last ounce, politically speaking, out of his grandstanding against Israel and Zionism through the past two-year period to bolster his image in the ”Arab Street”.

Erdogan lost no time to brag that the Israeli apology signaled Turkey’s growing regional influence. ”We are at the beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that it will again have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the past,” he said alluding to Turkey’s ambitions to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians.

He announced that he plans to visit the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, next month. But, having said that, Erdogan also can do with some timely help from Israel. The point is, he is currently pushing for a negotiated deal with the Kurdish militants belonging to the PKK. Last week, the PKK leader who is incarcerated in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, called for the vacation of the Kurdish militia from Turkish soil.

Turbulent times
Turkey has traditionally depended on Israel to provide it with intelligence on the Kurdish militant groups. Quite obviously, Erdogan hopes to revive the Turkish-Israeli intelligence sharing, which would work to Turkey’s advantage.

The Turkish-Israeli coordination in Kurdistan could buy peace for Turkish armed forces, which has been facing a surge in the Kurdish insurgency, and in turn the Pashas to concentrate on the Syrian front. At a broader level, Turkish-Israeli reconciliation will also help NATO’s future role in the Middle East as a net provider of security in the Levant. Massive energy reserves have been discovered in the Levant Basin in the recent years.

NATO’s efforts in the past four to five years to coordinate with Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean as a partner country hit the bump of the Turkish-Israeli rift. Turkey doggedly blocked NATO’s dealings with Israel and even prevented the alliance NATO from inviting Israel to its gala summit in Chicago.

Suffice to say, Turkish-Israeli reconciliation impacts the overall strategic balance in the Middle East. Turkish-Israeli collaboration at the security and military level has profound implications for the Iran question. Turkey sees Iran as a rival in the Middle East, while Israel regards Iran as an existential threat. Both estimate that Iran’s surge poses challenge to their regional ambitions. Thus, the Turkish-Israeli axis is destined to play a crucial role if the US ever decides to attack Iran.

In sum, Obama’s mediatory mission to Israel and his stunning success in healing the Turkish-Israeli rift resets the compass of Middle Eastern politics. The American regional policies are returning to their pristine moorings riveted on the perpetuation of its hegemony in the Middle East with Turkey and Israel acting as the key local agents.

While in Israel, Obama didn’t show any sense of urgency about the Middle East peace process. Indeed, turbulent times lie ahead for the Middle East.

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

(Copyright 2013 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd.

The Real Reason Putin Supports Assad-Fiona Hill

Posted by admin On March - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on The Real Reason Putin Supports Assad-Fiona Hill


A Russian soldier in Chechnya, November 1999 (Courtesy Reuters)
Mistaking Syria for Chechnya
Few issues better illustrate the limits of the Obama administration’s “reset” with Russia than the crisis in Syria. For more than a year, the United States has tried, and failed, to work with Russia to find a solution to end the violence. Moscow has firmly opposed international intervention to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, arguing that the conflict must be resolved through negotiations and that Assad must be included in any transitional arrangement leading to a new government. Although the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, reached out recently to the leaders of the Syrian opposition, these talks produced no indication that the Kremlin is seriously recalibrating its positions on Syria. And that’s hardly surprising: the main obstacle to any shift in Russia’s calculations is President Vladimir Putin himself, whose aversion to forcible regime change is intense and unwavering.

Why has Putin offered such steadfast support to Assad? On the surface, Moscow seems to profit from exporting arms to Syria, and it depends on the regime’s good will to maintain Russian access to a naval facility at the Mediterranean port of Tartus. But these are marginal and symbolic interests. Putin is really motivated to support the Assad regime by his fear of state collapse — a fear he confronted most directly during the secession of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, which he brutally suppressed in a bloody civil war and counterinsurgency operation fought between 1999 and 2009. (In Russia, the republics are semi-autonomous federal units comprising the historic territories of the country’s non-ethnic Russian groups.) In a series of interviews he gave in 2000 for an authorized biography, Putin declared that “the essence of the … situation in the North Caucasus and in Chechnya … is the continuation of the collapse of the USSR…. If we did not quickly do something to stop it, Russia as a state in its current form would cease to exist…. I was convinced that if we did not immediately stop the extremists [in Chechnya], then in no time at all we would be facing a second Yugoslavia across the entire territory of the Russian Federation — the Yugoslavization of Russia.” And we know how Putin feels about the demise of the Soviet Union; in 2005 he called it “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [twentieth] century,” a comment that was meant to bemoan the collapse of the Soviet state rather than the demise of communism.

For Putin, Syria is all too reminiscent of Chechnya. Both conflicts pitted the state against disparate and leaderless opposition forces, which over time came to include extremist Sunni Islamist groups. In Putin’s view — one that he stresses repeatedly in meetings with his U.S. and European counterparts — Syria is the latest battleground in a global, multi-decade struggle between secular states and Sunni Islamism, which first began in Afghanistan with the Taliban, then moved to Chechnya, and has torn a number of Arab countries apart. Ever since he took office (first as prime minister in 1999 and then as president in 2000) and was confronted by the Chechen war, Putin has expressed his fear of Sunni Islamist extremism and of the risks that “jihadist” groups pose to Russia, with its large, indigenous, Sunni Muslim population, concentrated in the North Caucasus, the Volga region, and in major cities such as Moscow. A desire to contain extremism is a major reason why Putin offered help to the United States in battling the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. It is also why Russia maintains close relations with Shia Iran, which acts as a counterweight to Sunni powers.

The conflicts in both Chechnya and Syria pitted the state against disparate and leaderless opposition forces, which over time came to include extremist Sunni Islamist groups. In the case of Chechnya, Putin made it clear that retaking the republic from its “extremist opposition forces” was worth every sacrifice. In a speech in September 1999, he promised to pursue Chechen rebels and terrorists even into “the outhouse.” He did just that, and some opposition leaders were killed by missile attacks at their most vulnerable moments. The Chechen capital city of Grozny was reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, along with jihadist fighters who came into Chechnya with the encouragement of extremist groups from the Arab world, including from Syria. Moscow and other Russian cities endured devastating terrorist attacks. Putin’s treatment of Chechnya became a cautionary tale of what would happen to rebels and terrorists — and indeed to entire groups of people — if they threatened the Russian state. They would either be eliminated or brought to their knees — exactly the fate Putin wishes for today’s Syrian rebels.

After two decades of secessionist strife, Putin has contained Chechnya’s uprising. Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched his allegiance to Moscow, now leads the republic. Putin granted Kadyrov and his supporters amnesty and gave them a mandate to go after other militants and political opponents. Kadyrov has rebuilt Grozny (with ample funds from Moscow) and created his own version of an Islamist and Chechen republic that is condemned by human rights organizations for its brutal suppression of dissent.

For the past two years, Putin has hoped that Assad would be able to do what he did in Chechnya and beat back the opposition. Based on the brutal record of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, in suppressing uprisings, Putin anticipated that the regime would have no problem keeping the state together. But now Assad seems to have failed, and Putin is not one to back a losing horse. He and the rest of the Russian leadership are well aware that their staunch support for Assad has damaged Russia’s standing in the Arab world, but they have no alternative plan to get out of the stalemate. Putin is still not ready to sanction an intervention that could lead to the dismantling of the Syrian state and to risk creating a situation akin to that in Afghanistan in the 1990s, when warring groups of extremists fought each other and created a breeding ground for global jihadism. In Putin’s view, lawless post-Qaddafi Libya, which has become an exporter of guns, fighters, and refugees to its neighbors, only further underscores the dangers of international intervention.

Before abandoning Assad, Putin will need to have answers to some pressing questions: Who will be responsible for the fallout from the regime’s collapse? Who will keep Sunni extremists in check? Who will keep extremists away from the North Caucasus and other Russian regions with large Sunni Muslim populations? And finally, who will ensure the security of Syria’s chemical weapons? Putin certainly does not trust the United States to play this stabilizing role: as he sees it, when the United States pulled out of Iraq, it left behind a Shia strongman, Nouri al-Maliki, to suppress the Sunnis; the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is leaving only uncertainty in its wake. In short, Putin doubts that the United States and the international community can deliver stability to Syria, so he continues to stand by the flailing regime as the only means of avoiding the collapse of the state altogether.

Although Putin looks at Syria and sees Chechnya, the situations are quite different. All of Syria is in the throes of civil war, and Assad does not have the same resources that Putin had in dealing with Chechnya. He cannot eliminate key representatives and supporters of the opposition abroad as Putin did with the Chechens, including by assassinating the former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar in 2004 to stop his fundraising and recruiting activities. Unable to crush or co-opt the opposition, Assad has taken Syria over the precipice. Syria is also bristling with conventional weaponry along with an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that pose a significant threat to neighboring states. Those neighbors — Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, and Iran farther afield — have been engulfed in the conflict. In contrast, in spite of the flows of money and men into Chechnya and the spillover of refugees and terrorist acts into the rest of Russia (and sometimes into Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey), there was no similar proliferation threat in the Chechen war, and no outside powers ever became heavily involved. Chechnya is in a bad neighborhood, but Syria is in a terrible neighborhood, and the effects of the Syrian conflict cannot be contained in the way that Chechnya’s were.

Neither these differences nor the scale of the humanitarian tragedy will convince Putin to change his mind on Syria. The Russian president will continue to hold out against intervention and insist that negotiations with Assad must be part of the way forward, until some strongman can be found to restore a semblance of order to Syria’s chaos. If, by some miracle, Syria does not turn into a full-scale regional disaster, Putin will pat himself on the back and say it was thanks to him because he prevented an intervention. If the more likely scenario plays out, Putin will blame Washington. He will hold the United States responsible for destroying Syria and empowering Sunni Islamist extremists by championing democracy and the Arab revolutions. Meanwhile, Putin’s obstinacy is already turning his worst nightmare — the fracturing of a geopolitically important state — into a reality.

To be, or not to be: that is the question — II —Dr Saulat Nagi

Posted by admin On March - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on To be, or not to be: that is the question — II —Dr Saulat Nagi


Religious wars make the task of hegemonic designs easier to implement, but are hardly ever without repercussions. In commodity production, religion itself becomes an alienated object

The people of Pakistan along with the ruling class which, in this case, is the amalgamation of army, feudals and the weak bourgeoisie are equally estranged from the reality. It falsely boasts about the strategic knowledge that it thinks it has skilfully mustered, but the fact of the matter is quite the contrary. From the very day of its inception, this state has been soiled and polluted by the molestation of the crafty hands, which have frequently rocked the democracy. For Bonaparts, to attain absolute power is an irresistible temptation. The army finds it easier to fill the vacuum, especially when the crumbling system needs resuscitation and the ruling class is alienated. Along with the bureaucracy and the judiciary, it constitutes the state. Here the hegemonic factor comes into play.

During the post world war era, western democracies were undergoing a phase of expanded reproduction. Hence, launching the concept of a welfare state was possible. The Cold War initiated by the west was a key factor behind this fanciful mirage. At this juncture, the marriage of capitalism with democracy was taken for granted, an illusion that is being brought to grief by the western world, given that capitalism now finds itself under a siege. In industrialised states, the army establishment quietly accepted the backseat though the arm twisting of the political segment apparently running the affair remained in vogue. The McCarthyism, the Korean and then Vietnam wars, the adventure of Bay of Pigs in Cuba and the death of John F Kennedy in mysterious circumstances were all-too-important signs of the decisive role being played by the military industrial complex. But the western armies continued to refrain from directly taking over the reins of power. However, in the Third World, the matter was quite different. Here the hegemonic interest prevailed and, hence, all sorts of ‘unethical’ governments were not only tolerated but, in fact, were encouraged. Akin to many other counties, Pakistan’s army, almost immediately after its inception, scent the blood and seized control of the state. Since then, it considers itself to be the guardian of this unfortunate country. Perhaps no one owes the responsibility of the shambles this state is in more than the guardian itself.

Prior to the WWII, the situation in Germany was summarised by A J P Taylor in the following words: “Who ruled in Berlin? The answer was the same: no one. Germany was administrated, not governed. At the head, there was a void, an interregnum, an empty chair. The only authority in Germany was the army… No one would demand an account of their stewardship from the old governing classes who had brought Germany to this plight and who even now were exploiting her weakness and confusion to consolidate their power.” Doesn’t it sound all-too-familiar? Perhaps this is what truly reflects the situation of present-day Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the ‘invisible’ powers have quite frequently, and often unscrupulously, played the religious card. Some four decade ago, the hegemonic powers relentlessly used it in the eastern wing through its auxiliaries against those belonging to ‘an inferior race of insurgents’. Later on, an overt genocide was attempted, and consequently, 90,000 saviours had to surrender meekly before the enemy. The Soviet legacy left Pakistan’s army in a state of euphoria, but, in that process, a Frankenstein was created, which is now haunting its mentor. However, as they say, old habits die hard. Once again, history is being repeated in the biggest province of the country where a class war has been muzzled. The resistance has changed its hue and is now confronting the state as a nationalist/separatist insurgency. Not to mention, the time-tested tactic of pitching one (religious or ethnic) sect against the other has been brought to the fore. A spiteful attempt to portray this bloodletting as an ethnic-religious war is in offing. Behind this smokescreen, the Baloch can be bled without much duress. Religious wars make the task of hegemonic designs easier to implement, but are hardly ever without repercussions. Given the changing global scenario, a single wrong move can change the realities indefinitely. In commodity production, religion itself becomes an alienated object. According to Fritz Pappenheim, there is “an attitude for which the object of faith or belief is not God, but rather the utility of faith or belief. In recent years many theologians have been troubled by this development, which has led many people to consider faith in God to be mainly a way to achieve personal happiness or peace of mind, a mere tool, as important for our spiritual health as technological gadgets may be for our physical welfare… as long as religion itself is invaded by forces which grow out of the dominance of the commodity structure, the return to religion will be nothing but the return to the alienated forms of religion.” In these circumstances, religion becomes a tool for escapism, another state of illusion within an illusionary state. In Bengal, however, given that insurgents had the same faith, they rejected it as a premise to stay united. In fact, it is not even working in Afghanistan. For the hegemonic designs, the success of religion has only limited prospects. The only aptly suggested solution to this dilemma is provided by Herbert Marcuse: “If the human existence is no longer objecti?ed, and no longer exhausts itself, in alien and alienable things, the way is opened for the mutual recognition of men as free individuals.”

The neo-colonised people of Pakistan are going through the same ordeal that was narrated by Sartre during the WWII when Nazi Germany had colonised France: “Never were we more free than under the Germans. We had lost all our rights, first and foremost the right to speak; we were openly insulted daily, and we had to remain silent; we were deported en masse, because we were workers, because we were Jews, because we were political prisoners. Everywhere we looked — on the walls, in the newspapers, on the movie screens — we kept seeing that foul and insipid image that our oppressors wanted us to believe was the way we really were. Because of all this we were free. Since the Nazi poison was seeping into our very thoughts, each accurate thought was a victory; since an all-powerful police was trying to coerce us into silence, each word became as precious as a declaration of principle; since we were hunted, each gesture had the weight of a commitment. The choice that each of us made of his life was an authentic choice because it was made face to face with death.” Sartre goes on to say that “the very cruelty of the enemy drove us to the extremities of this condition by forcing us to ask ourselves questions that one never considers in time of peace. All those among us… asked themselves anxiously, ‘If they torture me, shall I be able to keep silent?’ Thus the basic question of liberty itself was posed, and we were brought to the verge of the deepest knowledge that man can have of himself. For the secret of a man is not his Oedipus complex or his inferiority complex: it is the limit of his own liberty, his capacity for resisting torture and death.” Courtesy, capitalism and religious fascism, people of Pakistan are entitled to the same freedom that only allows the choice of subservience and death.


The writer is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history. He can be reached at saulatnagi@hotmail.com

Marxists in the State Department-Gordon N. Bardos

Posted by admin On March - 23 - 2013 Comments Off on Marxists in the State Department-Gordon N. Bardos


Don’t laugh—but maybe Joe McCarthy was on to something. And the problem might be even more serious than he realized. Stepping back from contemporary policy debates reveals that Marx’s materialist view of history and Lenin’s voluntarism have been the ideological basis for many of our imperial misadventures from the Balkans to the Mideast to Central Asia.

Actual commies are probably not crawling Washington’s hallowed halls. But a very Marxist-Leninist understanding of human nature and historical change has nevertheless had a significant impact on U.S. foreign-policy making in recent decades. Some forty years ago, Walker Connor, one of the deans of the study of ethnic nationalism, had already observed (and decried) the ”propensity on the part of American statesmen and scholars of the post-World War II era to assume that economic considerations represent the determining force in human affairs.” This “unwarranted exaggeration of the influence of material factors” on the world is of course a direct outgrowth of Marx’s belief that existence determines consciousness.

Lenin, in turn, supplemented Marx’s materialism with a voluntaristic view of history, believing that his elite, enlightened Bolshevik vanguard could accelerate historical change to bring about the communist utopia.

The consequences of such worldviews are profound. In Marxist materialism and one of its latter-day intellectual heirs, liberal internationalism, things such as ethnicity, culture, and religion become mere epiphenomena of what are “really” economic problems, problems we can solve given enough money. Thus, centuries-old loyalties and identities can, according to this school of thought, be erased with IMF loans, increasing incomes and international donor conferences. And if the locals don’t see the folly of their ways, a few cruise missiles or a quick military intervention should do the trick.

The functional contemporary equivalent of Lenin’s Bolshevik elite is what Samuel Huntington and Peter Berger have variously described as “Davos Man” and “Davos Culture”—the multilingual, globe-trotting, advanced-degree holding, CNN-watching, Hilton Hotel-staying, international organization-employed cadres who go from trouble spot to trouble spot imposing the neoliberal state- and nation-building agenda on recalcitrant and often ungrateful natives.

In this latter-day version of proletarian internationalism, the missionaries of Davos Culture believe that with an adequate budget and within the short space of their secondments (or at least between American presidential cycles) they can impose on other countries and societies the political cultures, processes and institutions that took decades and centuries to develop in the West. As Michael Ignatieff once noted, “The activists, experts, and bureaucrats who do the work of promoting democracy talk sometimes as if democracy were just a piece of technology, like a water pump, that needs only the right installation to work in foreign climes.” The most extreme and tragic example of this mindset, of course, was the belief of many of the Trotskyites-turned-neocons that we could invade Iraq, turn it into a flourishing democracy, and then begin the democratic transformation of the entire Arab world.

Thus, over the past two decades our interventions have only grown bigger, costlier, and more tragic. They have put at risk tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to test various social-science hypotheses about nation building and identity construction, all for relatively negligible results.

Bosnia received more money per capita than any country in Europe under the Marshall Plan and an international administration with dictatorial powers Erich Honecker would have envied, yet the country’s various ethnic groups still argue over the same constitutional arrangements they were arguing over before we even got there. Kosovo at one point had received twenty-five times more international aid than Afghanistan, yet a recent EU report suggests that precious little has been achieved there in terms of establishing an independent judiciary and the rule of law. The U.S. inspector general for Iraq reconstruction’s final report claimed that the $60 billion spent had had only ”limited positive effects,” and much of it had simply been wasted due to corruption.

Moreover, wasting money and effort is only half the problem. Many of our attempts to transform far-flung countries often resemble the efforts of the Soviet Politburo rather than those of democratic societies. A couple of strokes of the pen in Iraq in 2003 arbitrarily abolished the only two institutions, the Baathist party and the Iraqi military (however distasteful they may have been), that had any capacity to maintain order in the country. The result was a military insurrection against U.S. troops and a ten-year civil war. In Bosnia, various blue-ribbon international commissions and reports have found that international administration ”has outlived its usefulness” and makes Bosnia ”the worst in class,” yet just like so many East European communists circa 1989, the foreign overseers refuse to admit that the gig is up.

Remarkably, in surveying the various foreign-policy challenges confronting the country around the world, the Davos crowd’s unacknowledged, unrecognized acceptance of Marxist-Leninist tenets impels them towards arguing for more of the same: —spend more money, more time, and ultimately more American blood in places most Americans can’t even find on a map, all to mold them into our image of what we think they should be. Some even argue that we should create a new federal agency or cabinet position devoted to nation building. The alternative, as President Obama said in a speech to the nation in June 2011, is for America “to focus on nation building here at home.” Let’s hope intelligence and common sense win this policy debate.

Gordon N. Bardos is a Balkan politics and security specialist based in New York.


US Civil War: Is It Possible?-Nikolai MALISHEVSKI

Posted by admin On March - 23 - 2013 Comments Off on US Civil War: Is It Possible?-Nikolai MALISHEVSKI


By the end of 2012, the New York Times published a sensational article called “Survive Societal Collapse in Suburbia”.  It said Obama had already taken some steps to counter a massive civil war and incoming manifestation of totalitarianism. In these efforts he relies on a superagency – the Department of Homeland Security employing over 160 thousand people, having a budget measured in dozens of dollars and supervising the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, tax services and other government bodies. It can operate beyond the US borders, allowed to arrest and physically neutralize, it boasts the whole army of informers and is given a carte-blanche for following the steps and hinder the activities of those, who are involved in subversive activities and considered to be the enemies of people by the US authorities…  (1)

According to James Rickards, Doug Hagmann, Gerald Celente, many citizens could be considered as persons with terrorist organizations ties. Rickards J, advisor to the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, refers to Pentagon sources in his book called Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis, stating the issue is a real problem for US national security.  G.Celente, the founder and director of the Trends Research Institute, became famous predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union and the stock market turmoil of 1987. According to him, a large scale civil war is possible in the United States in the coming years. It could be taken with a grain of salt as something frivolous; if not some momentous events of 2012-2013 taking place after the forecast was made public.

First, two laws came into force: the National Defense Resources Preparedness (NDPP) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) making legal for the military to investigate the cases and interrogate those who are suspected in terrorist activities involvement, as well as keep those people behind bars without time limit (it’s enough for the authorities just to say the person is a terrorist).  The laws allow the President to oversee the key government functions in case of emergency, for instance, keeping the citizens in the GULAG type internment camps of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under the DHS control, A network of such camps in spread around the continental USA, their number has been rapidly increased recently going up to 800. There are over 500.000 coffins stacked in order. 

Second, the National Defense Resources Preparedness executive order was published by the US official government website on March 16 2012. (3) The president relegates to the military and other government agencies the right to expropriate and distribute food, cattle, equipment, energy and water resources, civilian transport means, including ships and aircraft, all materials, including the ones destined for construction works. It can be done everywhere. The President gets the right to control all civilian transportation of goods and state energy sources, including oil and gas.
Third, on October 31-November 1, right before the Obama’s re-election, a very special anti-terrorist exercise was held in San Diego. Hordes of animated corpses, or the Americans, who had become Zombies, tried to devastate everything on their way.  For two weeks their attacks were fended off by over a thousand of special operations servicemen, army units and police forces. A federal incident management was inserted into the scenario to make it more realistic. The exercise had been prepared by the CIA, the military, HALO Security Corporation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC top management called on the government to be prepared to repel any invasion back in 2011 (according to Brad Barker, a zombie – apocalypse will be a federal emergency).  

Fourth, some US channels, Fox News for instance, already call the citizens protesting against the government economic policy “domestic terrorists”. (4)  Allegedly they join multiple paramilitary militia structures that clash with authorities (for instance, in Texas) and include such heroes as Timothy McVeigh, the Persian Gulf war veteran,  who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma city in 1995 that resulted in the death of over 160 people.

Fifth, the DHS made a request to supply it with 450 million of expanding bullets. An expanding bullet is a bullet designed to expand on impact, increasing in diameter to limit penetration and/or produce a larger diameter wound. It is informally known as a Dum-dum or a dumdum bullet. The two typical designs are the hollow-point bullet and the soft point bullet. The agency has also made a $1.6 million acquisition of sniper rifles and wall penetration ammunition, as well as fire and bullet-proof check-point sentry-boxes and other special means to be used in internal conflicts.

Interesting to note, the US gun sales have gone up by 40% since the crisis set in. There was an abrupt hike after the Obama’s re-election. According to the Chicago Tribune, Brownells Inc., the largest arms seller,  has sold the ammunition for AR-15 rifle three times more than it usually does in three years!  According to the company’s president Pete Brownell, the mass killing of school children in Connecticut spurred unprecedented ammunition demand.  There have been over 10 million guns and more than a billion rounds of ammunition purchased across the US in 10 days! According to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the firearms sales reached peak in January (according to the FBI, the indicator could have been 10 times more if it were not for NICS, which checks criminal records and availability of reasons prohibiting arms acquisition). According to early February data, one firearm is bought every 1.5 seconds across the country… 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal 2013 has some prominent features. The House of Representative approved the expenditure exceeding what the administration asked for by $1.7 billion. The law includes allocations for the troops withdrawal from Afghanistan to be over by the end of 2014. Some US commentators think the servicemen are going to be used to quell unrest at home. The coming back of many veterans with mental disorders may negatively affect the social stability. Moreover, in 2009 the DHS sent directives to police units pointing out the intensification of right wing extremist activities spurred by economic recession, the election of  black President and the return of veterans from Iraq and other hot spots.    
1)    O’Brien K. How to Survive Societal Collapse in Suburbia // New York Times, 18.11.2012 //www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/magazine/how-to-survive-societal-collapse-in-suburbia.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
2)    Rickards J. Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis. – New York: Penguin Group, 2011. – 304 p.
3)    www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/16/executive-order-national-defense-resources-preparedness
4)    www.examiner.com/article/fox-news-host-calls-occupy-wall-street-movement-domestic-terrorists



Plenty for Few: India’s Economic Miracle Bypasses Poor-Wieland Wagner

Posted by admin On March - 23 - 2013 Comments Off on Plenty for Few: India’s Economic Miracle Bypasses Poor-Wieland Wagner


Unlike in China, India’s economic miracle has failed to benefit the poor. Instead, the rich are getting richer in this notoriously divided land, and government support fails to reach those in need.

“I’m Princess Shahnaz Husain,” India’s cosmetics diva says with a hoarse voice as she welcomes guests to her palatial villa in New Delhi and kindly invites them to sit down. Her brown-toned hair is teased into a fiery mane, and her striped red robe glitters just as golden as her high-heeled sandals.
ANZEIGEJust a few moments earlier, it seemed unimaginable that anybody could stand out against the florid splendor of this Indian living room. Gilded porcelain swans sparkle under glass coffee tables on Persian carpets. A ceramic dog crouches with its puppies in front of the fireplace. The walls gleam with brightly-colored paintings of floral arrangements in massive, ornate golden frames.

Yet, oddly enough, she alone dominates the entire scene: Princess Shahnaz, who rules over more than 400 beauty salons in India and around the world. Her name adorns beauty creams and shampoos made with ayurvedic medicinal plants, and she sells her products through upmarket stores from London to Tokyo — in packaging embellished with her image from younger days.

Shahnaz won’t reveal her age, but for over four decades she and her company have embodied the Indian economic miracle. Although she grew up in affluent circumstances — her father was a judge and her mother was allegedly a princess in a royal dynasty — she owes her commercial success to the rise of India’s middle class.

Her customers are primarily nouveau riche Indians. Shahnaz recently began to offer them a miracle cream that is supposed to stop the skin from aging. “That will be a hit,” she says.

Shahnaz belongs to India’s Muslim minority but, like her fellow Indians who are Hindus, she is making provisions for her life after death by performing good deeds that benefit the poor.

When she is chauffeured through the streets of New Delhi in her silver Rolls-Royce, beggars rush up to the vehicle at each intersection. “They are, of course, familiar with my car,” she says “and I always have a few rupees on hand for them.”

Recently, she says, she helped a man with no legs begging in front of a traffic light. She arranged a job for him in one of her cosmetics production plants. “I found him a job as a watchman at the gate where he can sit,” she says.

Shahnaz tells many such stories. For instance, there is the tale of a female road worker with dark spots on her face, who waited in front of her villa every morning until Shahnaz took pity on her. She gave the poor woman a cream for skin spots — a product that would be prohibitively expensive for the average Indian. What’s more, she financed her education in one of her cosmetics schools.

Even now, during the cold time of the year, the rich philanthropist says she has wool blankets placed at the entrance to her villa for the shivering poor. She sounds as if she were moved by her own efforts to help those less fortunate than herself.

She doesn’t see poverty as a specifically Indian problem, though. “There are beggars everywhere in the world,” she says, “even in London and Paris.”

Growing Prosperity, Persistent Poverty

An analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) finds that the blatant gap between poor and rich is growing in India almost faster than anywhere else on the globe. Although the world’s largest democracy amended its constitution in 1976 to declare that it was a socialist state, the fact of the matter is that the country is failing to give the huddled masses a fair share of the country’s economic miracle.

This is one of the main differences between India and China, its rival up-and-coming Asian economic powerhouse: In China, some 13 percent of the population subsists on the equivalent of less than $1.25 (€0.97) a day, while one-third of all Indians have to make do with the same amount.

Experts at the University of Oxford have concluded that the level of poverty in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is roughly equivalent to that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African country that has been ravaged by years of civil war. To make matters worse, if the comparison is restricted to nutrition, Madhya Pradesh is significantly worse off than the DRC.

Critics such as Atul Kohli, a political scientist who teaches at Princeton University, contend that India’s rapid economic growth, which began in the 1980s, has not led to a decline in poverty. Kohli’s 2012 book, “Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India,” has attracted worldwide attention.

Shankar Singh is one of those who dreams of a better life in vain. The 53-year-old works a few blocks from Shahnaz’ residence as a security guard at Panchsheel Park, an enclave for the rich surrounded by walls and gates. He protects the villa of a Sikh businessman.

Shankar’s boss has amassed a fortune selling sinks and toilets, but his security guard still lives with his wife and six children in an impoverished hovel right behind the gated community — beyond the walls, where stray dogs and cows rummage through the refuse of the rich.

This is where the gardeners, cooks, chauffeurs and chambermaids of the nouveau riche live. Their neighborhood may be in one of Delhi’s better slums, but they live in constant fear that they will slide back into abject poverty if they get sick or are fired. According to the results of the OECD analysis, informal jobs without any protection against dismissal are more prevalent in India than in virtually any other emerging economy.

Longing for Home

It is early afternoon, and Shankar is resting in his windowless dwelling in preparation for the night shift. He is wearing the same dark baseball cap he wears on duty. A small Hindu altar hangs on the wall. Shankar worships the god Shiva, the “auspicious one,” who brings good fortune.

Shankar and his family are still waiting for their luck to change. They do not even have a washbasin. He and his sons wash up in front of the door every morning, while his wife and daughters somehow bathe inside. Water only flows between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., so that’s when all the neighbors quickly fill up buckets and pots.

When Shankar moved to Delhi from the province of Uttar Pradesh 32 years ago, he dreamed of a better life. He hasn’t been back to his home village for seven years now because he can’t afford to travel there. Shankar earns 8,000 rupees a month, or the equivalent of €110. He pays 2,000 rupees a month in rent, and lives off the rest.

He can’t even honor the Hindu gods with a modest display of fireworks at Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Instead, he gazes in amazement at Panchsheel Park, where well-heeled Indians stage increasingly extravagant firework displays year after year.
Shankar says he longs to see his relatives back in his village. And while he talks about the mustard fields, which are currently blooming with yellow flowers, the reporter strikes upon the idea of accompanying him to his village, at SPIEGEL’s expense.

But first Shankar’s boss has to be convinced to give him one or two days off. He agrees, but only under one condition: Shankar will only be allowed to travel by train, and in the cheapest class, not by plane. He says that his employee should not be allowed to get used to a life of luxury.

The intention here is to avoid blurring the differences between poor and rich. Shankar’s family belongs to the lowest caste of farmers and, to make matters worse, he comes from Nepal, giving him an even lower status in Indian society.
Journey Back in Time
Uttar Pardesh is one of the poorest states in India, and people here are particularly trapped in their traditional dependency on large landowners. The fragmentation of Indian society into castes and religions thwarts modernization — and it prevents India’s poor from jointly rising up against the rich.

Driving through Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Shankar marvels at the monumental structures that were built by the former state governor, a woman named Mayawati. She governed here for nearly two decades before resigning in 2012. Mayawati belongs to the caste of the “untouchables,” and she is an example of how populist politicians woo the poor — and disappoint them over and over. Elephants carved in stone, the symbol of Mayawati’s centrist Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), stand guard at the gate of a gigantic new park. A few blocks down the street, there is a statue of Mayawati herself.

It’s roughly a four-hour drive on the highway from Lucknow to Rautpar, Shankar’s village near the city of Gorakhpur. There are straw huts and roadside food stalls on both sides of the highway. The only signs of India’s high-tech ambitions here are the ubiquitous mobile phone masts that dot the wheat fields. Over 800 million Indians use mobile phones, yet more than half the population has no access to sanitary toilets. That corresponds to conditions in the Central African Republic.

Shankar has to travel the last few hundred meters to his village on foot. A path between fields leads to huts made of tiles and clay. A crowd of neighbors gathers around him. They see him as the rich uncle from Delhi.

It’s like a return to the Middle Ages, as nearly everything here is made of clay: the floor, the walls and the hearth where his sister-in-law cooks outdoors. Mahatma Gandhi would have approved. After all, it was in India’s villages that the legendary freedom fighter sought a national identity. But his agrarian romanticism still continues to put the brakes on industrialization.

Shankar unpacks used clothing from his travel bag and, with a smile on his face, distributes it among his relatives. For just one moment, he is standing at the center of attention. Most of the young men here would like to follow his example and move away. However, unlike China, India has too few factories with low-paid jobs for the rural masses.

Not Poor Enough for Help

Indeed, it is the relatively well-educated who primarily benefit from the Indian economic miracle: IT engineers and college graduates who speak fluent English and work in call centers.

Out in the countryside, though, the only hope is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). This 2005 law guarantees every adult in the country 100 hours of paid work every year. Under NREGA, the government currently pays the country’s poor over $7 billion to improve roads and build bridges. That’s better than begging.

Furthermore, India helps its poor with food rations and other subsidies. But the aid often doesn’t reach those in need. In a bid to cut out corrupt middlemen, the government has been making money transfers since January. It now directly pays scholarships and pensions to the accounts of some 245,000 needy individuals in 20 districts.

But what the governing Indian National Congress party praises as a “pioneering reform” is criticized by the opposition as a political trick to buy votes in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections.

In any case, Shankar receives none of this planned bonanza. His salary is too high to benefit from this program, but it’s still not enough. In fact, he urgently needs to see a doctor and have a stubborn growth removed from his nose. “It costs roughly 4,000 rupees,” he says, “and I don’t have that much.”

The Limits of Philanthropy

Meanwhile, his rich neighbors in Panchsheel Park come up with increasingly creative ways to spend their money. Dijeet Titus, a top Indian lawyer who represents foreign clients, loves to cruise along the streets of Delhi in his 1957 red Chevrolet Bel Air. In the southern part of the city, where the local moneyed aristocracy likes to spend the weekends at lavish country residences, the 48-year-old is building a museum for his growing collection of vintage cars — a hangar with over 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet) of space.

The luxury neighborhood with the so-called farmhouses is located on a dusty road. The wealthy residents use walls and barbed wire to seal themselves off from the misery outside their villas.

“First, I bought a house, then a second one, and then I asked myself: What do I buy now?” Titus is wearing an elegant pair of gold-rimmed glasses as he caresses the shiny grill of a silver Buick 90L from the 1930s.

By collecting such fine vintage cars, he has found a hobby that attracts attention even among the affluent of India. Years ago, Maharajas had themselves chauffeured around in many of these historic vehicles. Soon, the moneyed aristocracy in today’s India will gather here under palm trees, enjoy cocktails and admire Titus’ cars. He has already collected the appropriate antique furniture and stored it in another section of the huge hangar.

Like Princess Shahnaz, Titus thinks of the poor. He occasionally visits slums to help children there receive a better education. Sometimes he invites them to his home, shows them his antique cars and delights in the wonder in their eyes.

But Titus admits that even he can’t change India. “My philanthropy is just a drop in the ocean,” he says before walking further and showing off his next vintage car, a 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25, a particularly impressive example of his exclusive collection.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen


The Year of Dreaming Dangerously-Slavoj Žižek

Posted by admin On March - 23 - 2013 Comments Off on The Year of Dreaming Dangerously-Slavoj Žižek





The Year of Dreaming Dangerously
Verso, London, 2012. 142pp., $14.95 / £7.99 pb
Reviewed by Christian Lotz
Christian Lotz is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University, East Lansing MI (http://christianlotz.wordpress.com)
ReviewŽižek’s new book, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, is a collection of essays focusing almost exclusively on what Žižek sometimes calls “shitty politics” in his interviews and public speaking engagements. As we are used to expecting from Žižek’s public engagements, the discussion of “shitty politics” in his new book is filled with many excursions through contemporary ideology. Though The Year of Dreaming Dangerously is divided into ten so called “chapters,” the essays neither hang together nor do they form a unity, despite the fact that Žižek deals with repeating themes, such as the political events of 2011, Capitalism, and new ideological expressions of the contemporary political state of affairs.

The first three chapters and the essay on Occupy (Chapter 7) are marvelous essays, however, as they display Žižek’s uncanny ability to transport well known topics found in the Marxist traditions to new, often psychoanalytical or ideological, shores. In addition, in these chapters one can study his political commitments in more detail. All texts are written from what Žižek calls the “engaged position” (129), namely, the assumption that we are unable to analyze the current political and cultural situation from a neutral standpoint – populist, determinist, or stagist Marxist positions included. Insofar as the view from nowhere, which allows us to know in advance where the historical process is going and what tools we need to push it forward, is not given to us, Žižek seems to say, we need, simply, to accept the diversity of contemporary signals and the mess we currently find ourselves in on the practical level as well on the theoretical level. A messy reality, in other words, cannot be overcome by non-messy theorizing.

Nevertheless, as he claims in the Introduction, the main task of his book is to show how the events of 2011 (to which, apparently, the TV series “The Wire” belongs, and to which Žižek devotes one essay) “relate to the central antagonism of contemporary capitalism” (1). Unfortunately, however, even after 140 pages of Žižek’s intellectual “mapping of our constellation” (3), one still wonders what this “central antagonism” precisely is, though several “guiding clues” to these antagonisms are given throughout the book. They could be summarized as follows: 1) we are confronted with new forms of Capitalism today; 2) the problem of the left is its trust in utopian concepts of the future and its attempt to rethink the idea of Communism without repeating twentieth century ideas; 3) we can observe the return of the class struggle in displaced form, and 4) left protest and democratic upheavals lead to the threat of new forms of hate and exclusion. In what follows, I shall briefly run through these four points.

According to Žižek, we can currently observe three significant changes within Capitalism: 1) the shift from profit to rent, 2) the structural role of unemployment, and 3) the appearance of the “salaried bourgeoisie” (8), all of which the author poses as critical points against Hardt and Negri’s version of immaterial labor, multitude, and biopolitics as signs of an already arriving “communism of capital.” Žižek claims that Hardt and Negri underestimate how the privatization of the common has been extended through forms of rent, that they do not see that the old capitalists reemerge as “managers” with salaries, and that unemployment becomes structural and does not lead to a general disappearance of labor itself. As a consequence, he argues, many of the recent political movements should be understood as the protest of the potentially privileged members of society: the middle class that finds itself being threatened through becoming proletarianized, or the middle class being threatened by structural unemployment, or the middle class being threatened by the lack of future employment in the case of student movements. Accordingly, for Žižek, the 2011 upheavals are not really “political” in the leftist sense, as these political movements are about the possible loss of social status and positions, but are not driven forward by the idea of a new society. The fact that many of these movements do not lead to positive political organization imply that these movements are internal to Capitalism. It remains a question of whether Hardt and Negri’s (and others’) attempt to decipher the non-capitalist seeds in Capitalism is more successful, as those authors at least look more carefully for the internal contradictions in the mode of production (including public investment and network society) as well as at other important aspects of our current situation, such as war and the overall militarization of society, whereas Žižek, at times, seems to rely solely (in line with Badiou) on a political idea of those “signs of the future.” The political, Badiou claims, cannot be reduced to the social-economic, and Žižek does not (at least in this book) have to say much about the underlying concepts of this debate from a classical Marxist point of view, such as the role of the state, state apparatuses, and the concept of value (which, in turn, Hardt and Negri no longer accept).

In one aspect, Žižek agrees with Hardt and Negri, however, namely in terms of the claim that we should not conclude from the crisis of the traditional welfare state that we should fight for fixing the welfare state; rather, we should take the welfare state as a system that was “false” from the beginning (16): “one should precisely abandon any nostalgia for twentieth-century social democracy” (113). Hence we need to think more about what is beyond Capitalism (a task that has not become easier since the invention of the modern left and utopian thinking). Unfortunately, though, Žižek does not offer much in this regard, except for a few very abstract considerations about Communism as such.

Surprisingly, in these considerations Žižek’s deeper commitments shine through, especially since one of the main themes of his analyses of the political events in 2011 (Arab Spring, UK riots, Occupy) is the ambiguity inherent in these movements and events. Should we read those events as a “sign of the future,” or should we take them to be what Marx had in mind in his early years when he defined Communism as the “real movement of history”? Žižek, as many leftists before, remains ambivalent on this question and tries to have his cake and eat it too: on the one hand, he embraces these political movements, while on the other hand, he tries to argue that they contain contradictions, are not really “political,” and will most likely fail to bring any society closer to “Communism.” Žižek is, as he has expressed elsewhere, not a friend of communally-oriented direct democracy, which has led to accusations of him playing with the idea of Stalinism and totalitarianism. As we know, Žižek rejects this critique and claims, in a Derridian fashion, that we need a “totalitarianism without totalitarianism.”

In The Year of Dreaming Dangerously the question of how to go back to Lenin and the question of how revolutions could ever be carried out with the organized discipline of a party, but without the leader who comes with it, is raised on a few occasions. On the one hand, he celebrates, rather romantically, militant and violent “radical freedom fighter[s]” (124), and on the other hand, he criticizes the Occupy movement precisely for its not being able to turn into a reorganization of the entire social reality. Simply put, it remained a “protest” movement with no base in politics (in Badiou’s sense). We might also say that the idea of Communism remains absent as a regulative idea or axiom of the political. As Žižek puts it, “it is not enough, then, to reject the depoliticized rule of experts; one must also begin to think seriously about what to propose in place of the predominant economic organization, to imagine and experiment with alternative forms of organization, to search for the germs of the new in the present. Communism is not just or predominantly a carnival of mass protest in which the system is brought to a halt; it is also and above all a new form of organization, discipline, and hard work. Whatever we might say about Lenin, he was fully aware of this urgent need for new forms of discipline and organization” (82). Given this bold statement on the misguided chaos of Occupy, the reader is even more surprised about what the author then claims not too long after the page just cited. Žižek claims that we need to practice a “Communism absconditus” and that “we should abstain from any positive imagining of the future” (131), given that “we can no longer pretend (or act as if) the Communist truth is simply here for everyone to see, accessible to neutral rational historical analysis” (131). It seems to me that this position not only is contradictory if we take into account what he says about Occupy, but that such a position is too skeptical if we compare it with how Žižek justifies the larger picture that he puts forward, especially given that Žižek, despite his play with negative theology, often hints at many aspects of what “Communism” in a positive sense means. For example, he refers to the public use of reason with which Communism begins (3), the sense in which Communism seems to be a form of egalitarianism (3), how Communism is based on a proletarian position (4), the way in which Communism is based on discipline, hard work, and organization (82), that there is a communist “care about the common” (83), and, finally, that a communist ethics of giving is based on needs and abilities (118).

It is interesting to note, though, that in the context of his discussion of contemporary changes in Western Capitalism Žižek returns to a topic that Hardt and Negri and others have given up, namely, the class struggle, which, to underline this point again, implies the thesis of the primacy of the political over the social in Žižek’s overall approach to topics important for the Marxist tradition of thought. He thereby takes up and varies a theme introduced by Marx in The German Ideology, namely, the relation between a non-universal class position and the imagined representation of the whole society in the ideology of that class. We could be thinking of the contemporary rhetoric that suggests that we “all” have to share the burden of our contemporary debt problems, except for the rich (23). In addition, recent attempts to replace politicians with technocrats and administrators are based on the same logic. Whereas politicians are unable to find solutions because their views are partial, technocrats are supposedly “neutral” and represent the whole without special interests (24), which is of course a claim that is nonsense.

The class struggle, as Žižek points out, becomes “displaced” (as in Freud’s interpretation of dream work) and appears in a form that hides its origin. In a psychoanalytical move, Žižek tries to explain even the disappearance of the class struggle and its transformations into “culture wars,” racist views (such as in Brevik’s case), or religious conflicts as processes of displacement, which in turn means the displacement of the economic itself, if we assume that the class struggle is rooted in the economic opposition of labor and capital. As a consequence, “’[p]olitics’ is thus a name for the distance of the economy from itself” (27).

To sum up, Zizek’s ingenious handling of culture, films, philosophy, intellectual history, personal stories, daily politics, combined with a politically incorrect wit (especially in his lectures) is truly enjoyable. This at times overwhelming combination of ideas remains unmatched in the contemporary intellectual scene. Unfortunately, though, this pushes Žižek’s more rigorous and more theoretical engagements into the background. At one point Žižek – while discussing the ambivalent reactions of Western politicians to the events in Egypt – quotes the following motto by Mao: “There is chaos under the heaven – the situation is excellent.” We should apply this motto to Žižek himself: there is chaos in Žižek’s world – the situation is excellent.


Work: A Critique-Steven Peter Vallas

Posted by admin On March - 23 - 2013 Comments Off on Work: A Critique-Steven Peter Vallas


Work: A Critique
Polity Press, Cambridge and Malden MA, 2012. 200pp., £15.99 / $22.95 pb
Reviewed by Sean T. Murphy


Sean T. Murphy is studying for his masters in Contemporary European Philosophy at University College Dublin. He is mainly interest in the legacy of German Idealism, particularly as it appears in the work of the early Frankfurt School (especially Adorno). He has broad interests in Marxist philosophy and aesthetics.
ReviewA recent publication in the Polity Press Key Concepts series, Vallas’s book, Work, is an exhaustive study of a concept that has, over the past half-decade or so, been brought under the lenses of scholars in a variety of different fields of research, from sociology to economics, politics to philosophy. Vallas, a sociologist, notes straight out of the gate that as the study of work becomes enmeshed in disparate academic circles, it is increasingly difficult to ‘put the pieces back together,’ (3) and form a unified argument about the status of work today that is both clear and able to sidestep the jargon that each discipline has come to associate with this concept. Vallas has attempted to produce a book that answers to these misgivings. In its best moments, Work fosters a dialogue that cuts across the above mentioned disciplines by way of a general structural critique. 

The book is divided into six chapters. The Introduction acquaints the reader with some general schools of thought surrounding the sociology of work. Marxist, ‘symbolic interactionist’ (also known as the Chicago School), Feminist, and Institutionalist approaches to work are all covered in detail. Regarding the Marxist sociology of work, Vallas discusses the wage-labor relationship, as well the modern necessity for labor to be organized on the basis of commodity exchange. It is not about what a company produces, but whether or not they can exchange their products for more than it cost to produce them (20). The phenomenon of ‘labor-time’ is discussed in order to highlight the struggle that occurs within firms between workers who ‘seek to limit the exploitation of their own labor’ and employers who respond by ‘mobilizing every effort imaginable to exercise control over the labor time [of their employees] that they nominally own’ (20). As Vallas notes, a Marxist theory of work is one that persistently acknowledges the fundamentally antagonistic relationship between employee and employer. Such workplace antagonisms were later analyzed by Chicago School theorists, as they set out to define a general system of meanings common to all walks of occupational life. It was their view that such antagonisms as those unearthed by the Marxists could be resolved by breaking with two traditional notions of workers: the humble and the proud. Instead of dividing labor along these arbitrary lines, these theorists argued that noble or ‘white collar’ work manifested the same features as ‘dirty,’ ‘blue collar’ jobs. This shared sense of pride in one’s work, regardless of job content, creates a system that gives workers ‘occupationally based identities’ (24); and bestowing a universal value on work, regardless of the environment in which it is performed, readies laborers to combat the recurrent threat of on-the-job alienation and exploitation.

Feminist theories of work are outlined next, with the analysis centering on why gender inequalities at work have proven so persistent over time, despite numerous structural and legal initiatives to level the playing field. Scholars in this line of work research attempt to dispel the myth that there are ‘essential qualities of men and women workers’ (29). Vallas notes that gender inequalities at work should be studied alongside, rather than in isolation from, racial or ethnic inequalities. Racial inequality at work is a persistent problem, characterized by jobs becoming ‘racially-typed’ (124) or socially closed to certain ethnic groups. These two areas of work studies highlight reciprocal problems that are deeply embedded in the faulty structure of capitalist society (131). Finally, institutionalist approaches, in ways similar to the Chicago School, focus on ‘the myriad of ways in which organizational environments shape the structure of work, compelling managers and executives to conform to deeply held expectations rooted well beyond the organization’s walls’ (30). The point is to reveal the ‘normative orders and structural fields that exact far-reaching influence’ (32) over the work practices of different firms, thus situating the critique of work amidst a discussion of the internal flaws of late capitalism.

As we enter the body of the text, the debate surrounding work begins to develop a distinctive shape. Contemporary work scholarship has tended to focus on the consequences that have resulted from a shift in the middle of the twentieth century from ‘Taylorism,’ a euphemism referring to the idea that there is a single, ‘best’ way to perform a certain job, to ‘flexibility,’ a concept that speaks to ‘the fluid logic of work organizations that promises to free workers from the disciplining structures of the past’ (61), i.e. rigid labor-controls. The author does well to note how the formation of flexible labor regimes has led economically vibrant industries to converge with one another, a process attuned to the shifting landscape of capitalism. Flexibility enables smaller firms to establish network-based relations, which makes it easier to exchange technologies and information. Furthermore, flexibility allows firms to focus on singular product design or one particular aspect of a project. This ‘flexible specialization’ has come to replace the competition that was prevalent during previous labor regimes with a new culture of firm collaboration capable of, ‘accomplishing through network embeddedness’ what firms had ‘previously conducted in-house’ (67). 

In shifting the discussion from the organization to the worker, Vallas notes that the smaller firms embedded in these new production networks are often able to evade certain standard employment practices as they are no longer subject to the ‘vertically integrated structures’ (68) of labor control and regulation that were part of the older labor regimes. When no longer being examined under the careful eye of a major corporation, smaller firms achieve a certain level of autonomy, which they exploit by offering lower wages, fewer benefits, and harsher working conditions. Casting a negative light on flexibility, the author notes that it does not seem to have an answer to the question of gender inequality at work. The ‘gender composition’ of certain jobs has not changed, despite the flexible nature of the modern job market. Vallas cites an illusion of progress as the cause of continued gender segregation. ‘As young women have enjoyed new opportunities at work, however limited they may be, the need for continued action seems less and less apparent from their point of view’ (111). Flexibility creates the illusion that the historical nature of work is undergoing significant changes. But when viewed collectively, little has changed.

This raises the question, is there a dark side to flexibility? Vallas answers with a resounding `yes’. He cites social movements that occurred in Western Europe in 2001 as evidence to support his claim. Those workers involved in these movements targeted their protest actions against a condition of ‘precarity’ (82). This was defined as ’the condition of being unable to predict one’s fate’ or having one’s ‘life and time be determined by external forces’ (82). A number of slogans came to dominate the social and political discourse surrounding the movement, with ‘flexploitation’ being the most popular. The idea being that the flexible nature of work in late capitalist society was being exploited by employers, as firms recycled through employees, creating a wildly unstable job market. Thus, one of the major problems with the nature of flexibility, and one which is not directly touched on in Vallas’s study, is the disintegration of a strict domain of meaning surrounding the concept of work. The necessarily volatile nature of modern markets has altered the meaning of work and such an alteration in meaning has been capitalized on (literally) by large corporations and those who wield the power of labor-control.

The blame, so the author would have us believe, lies in the ‘neo-liberal formulation’ (84) of contemporary labor arrangements. Neo-liberal economics and politics have inaugurated a system that idealizes flexibility. To overcome this systematic issue, the public must be made aware that ‘the abandonment of vertically integrated structures in favor of more flexible networks and webs of capital accumulation has been politically induced’ (165) by a specific neo-liberal agenda seeking the continued production of surplus capital by whatever means necessary.

Such ideology has become a cornerstone feature of contemporary discourse surrounding the benefits of globalization. Vallas condemns neo-liberal economic policies for enabling ‘a society premised on the urge to produce’ (168). This late capitalist, neo-liberal ‘urge to produce’ has spawned the globalized world we live in today and is labeled as one of the major reasons for the continued exploitation of workers across the globe.But aside from these scathingly insightful remarks Vallas’s discussion of the relation between work and globalization is underwhelming and stale. He simply recycles the general pros and cons of globalization, arguments that can be found in any introductory textbook on world politics. He does, however, gain back some of the momentum lost in the discussion of globalization by closing his book with a profound and creative message: in order to understand the future of work and the many changes that lie ahead for this concept, scholars must develop an appreciation for work’s ‘politically under-determined’ (164) nature. That is, how are we to react now that ‘the introduction of new technologies and the global dispersion of production worldwide have eroded the very institutional platform on which the work society has historically stood?’(168). In the end, Work proves to be an ambitious critique of the current structure of global capitalism. Nevertheless, the book does not live up to its promise of escaping the jargon-laden terrain of the debate in which it is entrenched. And this, in the end, leaves the most important character behind. And so I ask: where is the worker in Work?


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