April , 2019

People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

A newly translated novel by Macedonian writer Goce Smilevski retraces the negligence of the great ...
According to the world’s media outlets and major heads of state, a new threat has ...
In Marx’s Shadow: Knowledge, Power, and Intellectuals in Eastern Europe and Russia Lexington Books, Lanham, 2010. ...
Telesur, the news channel for Latin American countries, established with enthusiastic support from Hugo Chavez, ...
Rally called by both Islamist and secular groups aimed at pressing military rulers to hand ...
There is nothing new in the opinion that has long been expressed regarding the similarity ...
A review of Peter Hudis, Frantz Fanon: Philosopher of the Barricades (Pluto Press, 2015), £12.99, ...
On 23 June the Defence and Military Analysis Programme, in collaboration with the German Ministry ...
Antonio Negri Reflections on Empire Translated by Ed Emery. Polity, Cambridge, 2008. 202pp., £15.99 pb     Antonio Negri Empire ...
Seventy years ago, Victor Serge put the finishing touches on his masterpiece — Memoirs of ...

Archive for June, 2013

Satyapal Dang :Communist legend

Posted by admin On June - 27 - 2013 Comments Off on Satyapal Dang :Communist legend


Satyapal Dang. The CPI stalwart led a political life that was ethical and meaningful.
Veteran CPI leader Satyapal Dang’s (1920-2013) political and personal life was marked by a commitment to proclaimed ideals and adherence to the core values of integrity and honesty. By VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN

THE passing away of Satyapal Dang, the 93-year-old veteran leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), on the night of June 15, 2013, virtually marks the end of an era of principled political practice in Punjab characterised by commitment to proclaimed ideals and steadfast adherence to the core values of integrity and honesty. The “Dang school” of politics has earned high praise from politicians belonging to various ideological hues, but there are hardly any real followers of the courageous and conscientious political, social and cultural interventions that Dang and his wife, Vimla Dang, espoused since their entry into Punjab’s political arena in the early 1950s. The political and personal life of this revolutionary couple was in stark contrast to the flashy and duplicitous ways that have come to dominate present-day politics. At one level, this contrast also worked as a symbol of the cynical trajectory of contemporary politics, particularly its manifestations in Punjab.

But while analysts and observers time and again sought to raise this point, Dang himself was never ready to sink into a lament over this trajectory. Rather, he sought to address this contrast symbolised by his own life using “historical analysis”, something he often referred to as his “favourite and inevitable intellectual tool”.

During the numerous interactions that this writer had with him since the mid-1980s, Dang repeatedly said that “the high courage of conviction and the level of principled involvement that one witnessed in the political practice of a large number of yesteryear politicians were basically products of the times they lived in”.

Elaborating further, he added as follows during a conversation in 1998: “Those tribulations, those challenges, those struggles and the values inherent in all this cannot be replicated. Hence, purely in terms of historical analysis you cannot also replicate or impose the political practice of those times on the present. All that is possible is to live and advance one’s interventions in such a manner that the lessons of the past, or at least some parts of them, reach the new generation of practitioners. We cannot do that without trying to understand the times through which this generation has come up, its own challenges, trials and tribulations. One needs to bring out the value of our experiences even while imbibing the present state of affairs. What we are seeking to do is to try and bring the values of our experience into the present.”

Indeed, the multitude of experiences that Dang and Vimla went through even before they made Amritsar their political station was nothing short of epochal. Those experiences were also characterised by polar opposites—of hope and despair, carrying out successful struggles and undergoing inhuman torture, the exhilaration of victory and the dejection of failure.

Hailing from Ram Nagar (Rasoolpur) village in Gujranwala district, now in Pakistan, Dang was politically precocious unlike many others of his age. Even in his early teens, as a student in Lahore, he had become part of the freedom movement. He was particularly fascinated by the Left stream in the Indian National Congress, a liking he shared with fellow activists such as Harkishan Singh Surjeet. His level of participation was such that he had become the general secretary of the All India Students Federation by the age of 25. With this role he moved into national Left youth politics and soon became part of the CPI commune in Bombay (now Mumbai).

During the early 1940s, the Bombay CPI commune was the fulcrum of several initiatives of the party on the trade union and cultural fronts. Dang had witnessed the inspirational first party congress of the CPI in 1943 in Bombay, which etched out the growing influence of Left politics in different parts of the country. His political experience of the later years also included the 1948 “revolutionary misadventure” based on the “Calcutta thesis”, which led to the banning of the CPI and torture of its cadre across the country. Dang and Vimla came to Amritsar following the collapse of the “Calcutta thesis” and the armed struggles and the consequent lifting of the ban on the CPI, which had decided to persist with revolutionary activity within the confines of the Indian democratic system. The task entrusted to Dang and Vimla by the CPI was to work among the growing working class population in and around Amritsar.

Working from Chheharta, the industrial town on the outskirts of Amritsar, Dang and Vimla soon became the “darlings” of the predominantly working-class people of the small town and its neighbourhood. In no time, this acceptance reflected as one of the first successes in the new democratic path chosen by the CPI. In 1953, Dang was elected the first president of the Chheharta Municipality. He went on to lead the local governing body for the next 14 years, until he recorded yet another famous electoral victory in 1967. It was his election to the State Assembly from the Amritsar West constituency. He defeated none other than the then Chief Minister, Giani Gurmukh Singh Mussafir, by a margin of approximately 10,000 votes. He went on to retain the seat in the next four consecutive elections held over a period of 10 years. He was a Minister during his first stint as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

Throughout these parliamentary expeditions, Dang strove, in his own way, not to succumb to what communists term as parliamentary deviation. As a Minister, he refused to occupy the official bungalow and instead lived in the MLA quarters. He used a bicycle to move around his constituency during that period. Again as the Chairman of Chheharta municipality, he led two major workers’ strikes, in 1955 and in 1965. “Throughout the 1950s and 1960s,” Dang would point out during interactions, “the leaders and MLAs of the Communist parties took care not to lose sight of the larger political role of the movement and judiciously used the governance system as well as the path of struggles to uphold the rights of the masses.”

The majority of the interactions that this writer had with Dang were during the mid 1980s and the early 1990s, when he was waging a heroic struggle against Khalistani separatist militants. The CPI and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M) had taken up this fight in earnest. Dang, who progressed to his seventies during this period, was in the forefront of the fight. Based in Ekta Bhawan, which he had built in Chheharta, the spartan leader rallied his comrades and allies to spread political and ideological awareness among the people against Khalistani fundamentalism and militancy. Most of the leaders of the Congress and other regional parties who were targeted by Khalistani militants had chosen to flee from Punjab, but Dang stood his ground. Naturally, these struggles did make a significant political contribution to the return of normalcy in Punjab.

While this contribution was indeed acknowledged by a large number of politicians, sociologists, academics, security specialists and creative writers, the Left parties could not convert this into political advantage in later years. Interactions with Dang in the late 1990s and early 2000s revolved around this point, and the veteran leader identified a variety factors that had contributed to this political predicament. He felt that while the extremist versions of Sikh identity politics had indeed been crushed militarily and politically, softer and nuanced versions of the same were gaining ground in Punjab and these influences were changing the very value system of the political structure. “It is a structure that the Left parties have failed to come to terms with. Hence, they have not been able to devise organisational and campaign mechanisms to deal with it,” he told this writer during the 2004 Lok Sabha election campaign.

After the death of Vimla in 2009, Dang virtually went out of public life, partly on account of ill health and partly on account of a conviction that elderly leaders must give way to younger ones. Vimla and Dang had no children, again on account of a decision they had taken in keeping with the traditions of yesteryear communist leaders. He lived with his nephew and under the care of the CPI during his last years.

Dang’s passing away did not attract the kind of public and media attention that a political life as ethical and meaningful as his should have. But then, there is little doubt that Satpal Dang would have had no time to lament such a thing.

Empire in espionage -VIJAY PRASHAD

Posted by admin On June - 27 - 2013 Comments Off on Empire in espionage -VIJAY PRASHAD


systems administrator blows the cover of a U.S. spying programme that routinely mines data from Internet servers and telecommunications systems used by billions of people around the planet, including all Americans. By VIJAY PRASHAD

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

—Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, 1791.

CODENAMED Verax (Truth-teller), a young contract employee with the National Security Agency (NSA) sent encrypted e-mails to two well-regarded journalists—Barton Gellman of The Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. Verax worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a private consulting firm owned by The Carlyle Group, whose entire raison d’etre was to provide services for the United States government’s myriad agencies. In less than three months at his job as Booz Allen’s systems administrator based in Hawaii, Verax uncovered documents of a massive U.S. government programme to spy on its own population—PRISM (or the more bureaucratic name, US-984XN). Verax gave documents that would have remained classified until 2038 to Gellman and Greenwald, who published their stories on June 6. Three days later, on his request, The Guardian revealed that Verax was a 29-year-old named Edward Snowden who had taken refuge in Hong Kong. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things,” he said of the PRISM programme. “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.”

The response was immediate and widespread. Outrage inside the U.S. impacted President Barack Obama’s popularity ratings, and it spurred his critics to charge him with betraying his liberal lineage. That this was a programme with origins in the George W. Bush administration, with links to other programmes from the 1950s, was of little consequence. Obama had come to office promising to undo large swathes of the Bush War on Terror approach—including warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens, the main issue that incensed the liberty-minded U.S. population.

Obama himself deflected the matter of Snowden’s leak, saying that it was important “to distinguish between the deep concerns we have as a government around theft of intellectual property or hacking into systems that might disrupt those systems—whether it is our financial systems, our critical infrastructure, and so forth versus some of the issues that have been raised around NSA programmes.”

The issue for Obama was Snowden’s leak itself (and the work of hackers in general), not what the leak showed. No wonder then that the Obama administration said that Snowden’s “reckless disclosures” had created “significant misimpressions” in the media about the programme (said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper), and that Snowden should be prosecuted for his action. Snowden, in a safe house in Hong Kong, has sought protection from the authorities of the Special Administrative Region of China.

Snowden’s documents showed how the U.S. government had strong-armed Verizon, the U.S. broadband and telecommunications company, into providing data on every single call that went through its system. Furthermore, his information showed that the NSA routinely captured material from the Internet that went through servers of nine leading U.S. companies (Apple, AOL, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, PalTalk, Skype, Yahoo and YouTube)—most of the servers used by billions of people around the planet. These companies deny they gave authorisation for such data mining.

On June 6, James Clapper released a statement defending the programme and suggesting that the leaks were being taken out of context. However, what Clapper admitted to is no less chilling: “The programme does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber. The only type of information acquired under the court’s order is telephony metadata, such as telephone numbers dialled and length of calls.”

In other words, the government is able to find out who is talking to whom without the private parties having given any cause for this information to be collected and analysed. To provide context, Clapper authorised the declassification of more documents, although these do not seem to provide the kind of justification that he sought from them. The “robust legal regime” that Clapper said constrained the programme gives cold comfort to watchdog agencies and groups committed to Internet freedom.

Clapper’s credibility is on the line. On March 12, a congressional committee asked him if the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”. He answered, “No, sir. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not willingly.” Federal legislation, he noted, provided “strictures against tracking American citizens in the United States for foreign intelligence purposes—and that’s what those agencies [the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA] are set up to do.” Clapper’s denials are part of the long history of the NSA’s shadowy existence. But they are now shown to have been false. The scandal here is partly the government’s spying on its citizenry and partly the Obama administration’s denials of these programmes, which it had come to office to end.

No such agency

The NSA was formed in 1952, with the express purpose of intercepting and analysing electronic communications in foreign countries. Initially it simply recorded radio broadcasts, but it soon morphed into an active spying agency using satellites and various technologies to listen in on telephone conversations and to intercept telegraph communications. In the era of the Internet, the NSA began to gather emails and trails left behind by users on the web. Drawing in information (1.7 billion pieces of data a day) is only half its task. The rest is analysis, which it does through complicated algorithms that sort through the data using keywords—not for nothing is the NSA known as the single largest employer of mathematicians.

Controversy has dogged the NSA since at least the 1970s. Articles in left-wing publications suggested through small-scale leaks that the NSA had drawn up a vast global eavesdropping network called ECHELON. In 1971, a 25-year-old NSA analyst, Perry Fellwock, gave an extended interview to the left-wing magazine Ramparts where he disclosed his work on the NSA spying programme (it was published using a pseudonym, Winslow Peck, as “U.S. Electronic Espionage: A Memoir”). The editor for the article, David Horowitz, wrote in his introductory note: “What we are dealing with is a highly bureaucratised, highly technological intelligence mission whose breadth and technological sophistication appear remarkable even in an age of imperial responsibilities and electronic wizardry. So that not a sparrow or a government falls without NSA’s instantaneous knowledge, over two thousand Agency field stations dot the five continents and the seven seas.” The article embarrassed the CIA, which discounted it on the basis of where it appeared (in a counter-cultural magazine). The mainstream media ignored these revelations.

In 1976, Fellwock travelled to London, where he met the investigative journalist Duncan Campbell. Campbell had been looking at the spying programme the British government was running in close alliance with the NSA. Campbell wrote about the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in another, at that time marginal magazine, Time Out (“The Eavesdroppers,” June 1976). It revealed the close nexus between the U.S. and its allies in a global electronic spying programme. Campbell elaborated on this 10 years later in New Statesman (“They’ve Got it Taped—Somebody’s Listening”, August 1988) despite being harassed by the British government (including an arrest in 1977 for meeting with a Signals Intelligence official, John Berry, in his home). Few took Fellwock’s revelations seriously. The pall of the Cold War allowed intelligence agencies and their governments to take advantage of a population that was either terrified of the Soviet Union or detached from politics by the post-War boom. Spying on the Soviets and using the NSA to undermine guerilla movements in the Third World did not seem to bother citizens in the West.

What raised the hackles of parts of the U.S. citizenry was another set of revelations: about domestic spying. In 1970, a U.S. Army instructor, Christopher Pyle, told the press that his employers were spying on civilians. Pyle’s statement attracted the attention of Senator Sam Erwin, who opened a hearing on domestic spying in his Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. In his opening statement, Erwin laid out the principles for his objection: “The dangers to privacy and the constitutional rights of expression and due process of law posed by political surveillance have been widely recognised and I will not dwell up on them here except to emphasise that political surveillance of any kind which is not directly relevant to a legitimate governmental purpose is repugnant to a free society.” The Army’s former general counsel, Robert Jordan, told Erwin’s committee that the Army went into the domestic spying business around the time that the military was called out in Detroit, Michigan, to quell civil disturbances after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Knowledge of the “enemy” was essential, said Jordan, who said that in retrospect, the spying did get “out of hand”. Who was the enemy in 1967-68? “I don’t want to suggest that the military viewed this portion of the American people as the enemy,” Jordan explained. “However, there was a short-term problem with the military on the one side and some people engaged in lawless acts on the other. Until that period of time ended, until the disorder was brought under control, the people on the other side were essentially the enemy.” It was this kind of thinking that allowed the Army to treat its own population as foreigners.

Further leaks about the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation opening the mail of U.S. citizens without warrants and of assassination plots against foreign leaders led to the empanelment of the Church Committee in 1975, whose 14 reports detailed the malfeasance of the U.S. intelligence world. The reports led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978 which sought to hem in the agencies’ ability to run wiretaps (including the requirement that the government agencies go to a secret FISA court to get warrants to do what they had been doing all along). In the aftermath of the FISA Act, U.S. investigative journalist James Bamford creatively and doggedly used the Freedom of Information Act to stitch together the workings of the NSA in his book The Puzzle Palace (1982). It showed how the NSA created intercept stations to harvest military signals and civilian telephone calls without any FISA warrant—the sheer act of drawing in these signals meant that the NSA was promiscuous with its technology, unable to previously attend to any constitutional niceties as the airwaves delivered private communications into its net. Bamford’s book was explosive, but it did not inflame a debate.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. went into overdrive. Not only did the Bush administration hasten to find targets to attack in retribution (Al Qaeda, certainly, but also Iraq was discussed within hours of the attack), but it also wanted to use every means available to ramp up surveillance against suspected terrorists. In that arsenal, the Bush administration found the NSA. Shortly before 9/11, the European Parliament had released a report on ECHELON, which found that the system carried out “quasi-total surveillance” through intercepts by satellites of “any telephone, fax, Internet or email message sent by any individual and thus to inspect its contents”. The satellite system operated on a worldwide basis with cooperation extended not only by the U.S. and its closest allies (Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), but also by other unnamed countries. The threat to privacy, the European report from July 2001 noted, was not just because of the “powerful monitoring system”, but also because it operated “in a largely legislation-free area”. The tools that Bush was to set in motion and that Obama would inherit were already known in 2001, as were their problems. It did not stop the U.S. administration.

In 2012, former NSA analyst Andrew Wiebe made a deposition before the 9th Circuit Court about the reckless abandon in the NSA (this was in Jewel vs NSA, filed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation). “Everything changed at the NSA after the attacks of September 11. The prior approach focussed on complying with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The post-September 11 approach was that NSA could circumvent federal statutes and the Constitution as long as there was some visceral connection to looking for terrorists.” William Binney, another NSA analyst, told the courts in a deposition that after 9/11 “the individual liberties preserved in the U.S. Constitution were no longer a consideration. It was at that time that the NSA began to implement a group of intelligence agencies now known as the President’s Surveillance Programme [PSP].”

The PSP emerged after 9/11 when the FBI informed the White House that nothing more could be done to collect information under existing legal guidelines. President Bush broadened the remit for the agencies, which began not only to spy on potential Al Qaeda operatives (a programme that the government has acknowledged) but also to mine e-mail message and telephone call records for data. An unclassified report on the programme was shared with congressional leaders in 2009. It is said to contain evidence of activity that goes outside the law. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said at that time: “No President should be able to operate outside the law.” What was not clear at that time was that the PSP-type programme had morphed far beyond the Bush administration and formed part of the Obama administration’s war on terror.


Objections to the NSA programmes came from those who were incensed by the loss of personal freedom. What was less considered was that the programme, among certain communities (such as Muslims in the U.S.), had become a form of repression itself. Clapper said that the NSA did not collect information randomly, but through the use of metadata, the parameters of which have not been disclosed (apart from anodyne statements such as “number, time and location of the call”). It is likely, however, that national origins (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen) and religious affiliation (Islam) would play some role in setting the factors of the metadata. The CIA-New York Police Department programme of surveillance over Muslim groups uncovered in 2011 indicates that this kind of targeted espionage is likely to frame the NSA’s approach.

When Obama emerged as the standard-bearer of liberalism, he promised to close down many of the Bush administration’s excesses, including the prison in Guatanamo, the black sites around the world, and, of course, the warrantless wiretapping that was part of the PSP programme. In 2007, Obama criticised the Bush administration for its spy programmes, saying that Bush “puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide”.

The previous year, Obama’s current Vice-President, Joe Biden, said, “The NSA collection of phone records violated the privacy of two hundred million Americans. And I think Congress should investigate this data mining.” It was based on this robust defence of civil liberties that Obama and Biden were able to galvanise the liberals in 2008. The varnish on those promises has long worn off.

It is a measure of the times that the Republican who introduced the Patriot Act in 2001, Jim Sensenbrenner, released a statement saying, “As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the FBI’s interpretation of this legislation. While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.” Obama is now saddled not only with the totality of the Bush legacy, but with having taken that legacy to much lower depths.

Meanwhile, Snowden sits in Hong Kong, worried that he might be extradited to the U.S. where he will face serious charges, akin to what is now happening to Bradley Manning in a military courtroom. Attempts to malign Snowden are ongoing, as are threats against him from government authorities. When it appeared as if the Hong Kong government would turn over Snowden to the U.S., the Foreign Correspondents Club stepped in to offer him protection. Suggestions that the government in Beijing would pressure the Hong Kong authorities to turn over Snowden to the U.S. government as a way to smooth ties with the U.S. did not occur immediately. Hong Kong requires little in the way of pressure. Duncan Campbell’s investigations in the 1970s found that the colonial government in Hong Kong under its governor Sir Murray MacLehose had created a secret Standing Committee on Pressure Groups, whose work was to spy on any opponent of the colonial regime. As Campbell put it, “Hong Kong is a dictatorship, and scarcely a benevolent one.” It is not Beijing’s pressure that will be decisive here; Hong Kong, which has an extradition treaty with the U.S. inherited from its colonial days, offers Snowden no protection.

Snowden says he would like to go to Iceland, where the protections are seen to be strong as is the culture of Internet freedom. But there are no direct flights to Iceland from Hong Kong, or to Ecuador (in whose embassy in London the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sits). Having handed over his documents, Verax is now trapped. But he is sanguine, putting his fate in the hands of the “global public”.


Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre’s Tradition-Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory- Jeffery Nicholas

Posted by admin On June - 27 - 2013 Comments Off on Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre’s Tradition-Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory- Jeffery Nicholas


Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre’s Tradition-Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory
University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 2012. 264pp., $38 pb

Reviewed by Joseph Spencer

Joseph Spencer

Joseph Spencer is Lecturer in Philosophy at Bridgewater State University. He works on contemporary phenomenology and philosophy of religion. (J1spencer@bridgew.edu)

In this highly enjoyable book, Jeff Nicholas presents a defense of what he terms “substantive reason”, as a viable alternative to other possible accounts of reason. Throughout the book, Nicholas presents different accounts of reason, mainly from Frankfurt School theorists, to better understand how we can speak of reason and what it entails. His comparisons of Horkheimer and Adorno, Habermas, Taylor, and MacIntyre are both thorough and illuminating, and they serve to set the discussion in context. Nicholas argues that philosophical accounts of reason, especially over the past 200 years, have been insufficient for understanding the concept of reason in all its aspects. In his accounts of these seemingly dissimilar philosophers, Nicholas is able to bridge some very different philosophical worlds that do not usually come into contact with one another. Here, Nicholas brings these worlds together with such force and in such a concrete manner, that any reader who is used to dry, conservatively written works of philosophy ought to be jolted awake right away by both the style and substance.

The book opens with brief examples from pop culture, science, politics and society to illustrate how reason is often viewed in our contemporary setting. This is the point where the reader realizes s/he is in for quite the journey. Nicholas’ use of examples (“Be like Mike”, scientific research that takes no account of ethics, etc.) serves to show how we have very few commonly accepted parameters for what constitutes reason and reasonable choices in contemporary society. While some Thomistic philosophers might argue that we should return to “the good old days”, as if there were a time in human history where the majority of people agreed upon how to be rational, Nicholas chooses a path that, yes, is steeped in tradition, in a qualified sense, but it is a path that is not stagnant. Before I get to his solution, however, I must first explain the accounts of reason he highlights in the book.

Nicholas deals with Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of reason early in the book. Their critique, according to both Nicholas and, as we shall see later, Habermas, is based primarily on their understanding of human consciousness. Humans make rational choices based primarily on subjective reason, but as soon as one makes a claim that she is following reason, there appears to be an objective element involved. Horkheimer and Adorno are unable to deal with the problem, however, and as we shall see, their account of reason does have its critics. Now, Horkheimer seeks, correctly in Nicholas’ opinion, an account of reason that assists us in judging ends; but, due to the fact that Horkheimer and Adorno’s account of reason in Dialectics of Enlightenment is firmly entrenched in a paradigm of consciousness, they are unable to provide an account that judges ends.

Jürgen Habermas’ critique of Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s account centers on viewing reason through a paradigm of consciousness. In place of their account, Habermas proposes an account of reason based on language. In Nicholas’ discussion of Habermas, he explains Habermas’ account of communicative rationality, but he also articulates Charles Taylor’s scathing critique of such an account. In highlighting Taylor’s criticism that Habermas’ account of reason is too formal, Nicholas draws the reader in by using an example from Plato. In the Republic, Plato justifies the fact that the guardians of the city lie to the citizens to preserve harmony within the city. This clearly flies in the face of what is rational, according to Nicholas, and so shows that a communicative rationality is insufficient for examining reason and the ends of particular actions. In the end, Habermas’ “solution”, while seemingly better than Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s, is still fundamentally flawed since there is no criterion for evaluating ends; it merely shifts reason away from a paradigm of consciousness, to one of intersubjectivity. It is here that Nicholas turns to MacIntyre for help in determining what Nicholas terms “resources for agents to judge ways of life as fulfilling or inimical to fulfillment” (82). One discovers such resources through an examination of competing traditions; this is what MacIntyre provides through his tradition-constituted reason.

Nicholas’ claim that both Horkheimer and MacIntyre share a number of similarities in their thought, specifically when dealing with an account of reason that can judge ends, is fascinating and quite helpful for those who want to interpret MacIntyre in light of a critical theory, yet this comparison alone is not enough to understand MacIntyre’s project. Nicholas’ view of MacIntyre’s project here is not that of Kelvin Knight’s “Revolutionary Aristotelianism”, where the study of practices is the most important aspect of his philosophical project. Rather, according to Nicholas, it is MacIntyre’s study of traditions that is the key to understanding this project, and because of this, Nicholas argues that MacIntyre is the best guide for any evaluation of competing accounts of reason. It is MacIntyre’s ability to assess different traditions that Nicholas argues is the tool to provide us with a way of evaluating reason itself.

In Nicholas’ account of what he terms “substantive reason”, we find the way in which he argues that we are able to identify reason within particular traditions. Because we have specific sets of beliefs, and these beliefs are colored by the traditions which we follow, it is of the utmost importance that we are able to evaluate traditions and the ordered goods, moralities, and cosmologies contained therein. To discuss these points, Nicholas uses the examples of the Roman Catholic, Lakota, and Zande traditions. He meticulously provides accounts of different details of each tradition through a method of critical enquiry, and so shows how we come to view a substantive account of reason. In the end, to be reasonable, one must be able to step outside the guidelines and limitations that society imposes, and evaluate an order of goods before one chooses what the best course of action will be in a given situation. Be a Socrates, a Francis, a Benedict (if we follow MacIntyre’s lead in After Virtue), a Marx, an Arendt, or any other historical figure who stepped outside the bounds of his or her society, and so realize what it truly means to be a rational animal.

Overall, Nicholas succeeds in articulating and defending an account of reason that deals with both objective and subjective reason. He calls on us to take up a Thomistic-Aristotelian critical theory of society so as to be able to support a substantive account of reason. The book as a whole is an intelligible account in a genre that can be highly technical, and for that, I must congratulate him. If you are looking for a “safe” read, a book that will not force you to question your own presuppositions, this is not the book for you. If, however, you are looking to be challenged and entertained, I suggest you pick up a copy of this dangerous tome and be prepared to change the way you think about reason, philosophy, and the world.

Marxist Theory, Black/African Specificities, and Racism- Babacar Camara

Posted by admin On June - 27 - 2013 Comments Off on Marxist Theory, Black/African Specificities, and Racism- Babacar Camara


Marxist Theory, Black/African Specificities, and Racism
Lexington Books, Lanham MD, 2011. 130pp., $28.99 pb

Reviewed by Guy Lancaster

Guy Lancaster

Dr Guy Lancaster has published widely on the intersection of race, class, and violence, most recently with the review essay “American Essentialism: White Supremacy and Collective Violence in the United States,” featured in the Autumn 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of History.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s novel Devil on the Cross tells the story of a competition, set in modern Kenya, “to Select Seven Experts in Modern Theft and Robbery,” with prizes, consisting of bank loans and directorships of several finance houses, awarded by a panel of American, European, and Japanese industrialists and investors. The Kenyan competitors regale the audience with stories of how they rose from humble origins into positions where they could take advantage of their own countrymen’s sense of inferiority, as well as foreign “generosity,” for their personal profit, and they also share their respective visions of future thievery—package the soil, package the air, leave to the worker nothing which is free in this life. All seems to be going well until the upstart Mwĩreri wa Mũkiraaĩ offends these foreign dignitaries by proposing that Kenyans, rather than being reliant upon imported goods, set up their own factories, create their own millionaires and billionaires: ‘I want to end with the battle cry: every robber should go home and rob his own mother! That’s true democracy and equality of nations! Per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen” (Ngũgĩ 171). His suggestion outrages the leader of the foreign delegation, who threatens to leave, accusing Mwĩreri wa Mũkiraaĩ of attempting to create divisions among the international brotherhood of thieves and robbers.

Ngũgĩ’s would-be crown thief should certainly agree with author Babacar Camara’s observation that “What the Africanist ideologies and struggles for national liberations really did was to accelerate the African countries [sic] access to capitalist modernity without the basis of a heavy industry, hence the proliferation of imported goods from anywhere outside Africa.” Where they differ, however, is on the locus of resistance. In Marxist Theory, Black/African Specificities, and Racism, Camara moves beyond the sterile framework of “Africa versus the West” to observe that the modern conditions of life overall belie any easy African specificities, which are rendered epiphenomena, such that “the same Western critical theory that explains any capitalist region, explains Africa” (xiv).

Of course, race was the original division which gave ideological backing to the plundering of Kenya and other such lands, long before folk like Mwĩreri wa Mũkiraaĩ could even dream of establishing their own bastions of native capitalism mirroring the industrial “first world.” However, current trends in academia, especially postmodernism, make it difficult to produce any analysis which might facilitate positive change; as Camara notes, “Key concepts for the comprehension of society such as alienation, politics, power, difference, identity, boredom, etc., have been diffused, separated, and turned ambiguous because they have been multisigned, thus delaying or preventing any consciousness or aspiration to totality” (3). Like Christopher Kyriakides and Rodolfo D. Torres, authors of Race Defaced: Paradigms of Pessimism, Politics of Possibility (2012), Camara decries the sterility of so much modern theory as he draws explicit connections between the production of race as a classificatory system and the practice of capitalist exploitation, insisting that colonization “is not about semantics, othering, being primitive or civilized,” as postcolonialists would have it, but rather about the destruction of traditional values or practices that “were incompatible with the new form of economy—that is merchant” (12). The author briefly summarizes the Marxian concept of ideology so as to demonstrate how race and racism serve class purposes, with special analysis given to South Africa’s apartheid system. In South Africa, the separation of races was mandated by history, religion, and law, ostensibly for moral reasons, though in reality “the fundamental capitalist socio-economic structure … need[ed] to brutally exploit the resources of the country and in order to do so safely, need[ed] to cover itself with the cape of race to hide that very exploitation” (33).

In contrast to the idea that African freedom and independence depend upon following the model set down by the economic superpowers—becoming self-sufficient in the capitalist system, as Mwĩreri wa Mũkiraaĩ dreamed—does there exist something unique in the black/African experience that offers a deeper model of resistance? The literary and philosophical movement known as Négritude attempted to reveal and celebrate a fundamental black/African culture and personality, contrasting especially the putative European proclivity for rationality with an inherent (and particular) African valuation of intuition and emotion, in extremes even understanding culture as lying more along a genetic rather than a social axis. While acknowledging that Afrocentricity can initially be justified on the basis of providing an affirmation of non-Western cultures and values, Camara warns that Négritude and similar ideologies risk fostering a collective African narcissism and can blind individuals to the oppression carried out by the local bourgeoisie, concluding that “A new criticism of Négritude is a sine qua non for a modern understanding of any product in the Black Diaspora. Otherwise, Afrocentricity stagnates and becomes an obstacle, in the sense that it tries to bury Black/African intellectual reflections under ethnophilosophical problems, entirely peripheral to the real struggle of human beings” (79). For Camara, historical specificities—especially those which give rise to yet further fragmentation of the social order—should not be given precedence over universal laws, and therefore any Afrocentric theory “that is abstracted from the historical movement is an obstacle to a proper understanding of Africans and the fate of the African Diaspora, which means the world” (88). The current trend toward compartmentalization or “ghettoization”—the ascription of impermeable cultural barriers between populations—only facilitates exploitation and allows racism to be perceived as diminishing when, in fact, it lies concealed behind a curtain of irreconcilable cultural differences, becoming understood as a psychological problem rather than as “a state of things that capitalism organizes to control the masses and perpetuate its system,” stronger now in this era of globalization than it has ever been (102).

Camara does not, however, argue for an attitude of colorblindness, or the pretense that race no longer matters, given that such an attitude simply ignores the material conditions produced by the ideology of racism. His book avoids the simplistic exclusionist and universalist ideologies trumpeted abroad, recognizing, instead, that the specificities of the black/African experience illuminate a universal struggle. It has been one of the great conquests of the ruling classes to get human beings to turn upon each other so easily on the basis of phenotypical gradations. As Martin Luther King Jr once remarked, “If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow … a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.” Recovery of that stolen world, then, depends not upon some new psychological bird which provides the illusion of cultural superiority for people black or white, but rather a recognition of shared oppression and, in that, a struggle against the original thief. This is what Camara demonstrates so deftly in Marxist Theory, Black/African Specificities, and Racism, showing how postmodernist “thought” and well-meant ethnic ideologies, rather than serving as tools of liberation, only provide an obscuring haze within which the same ruling ideas are made manifest.

Beyond the western world-Ben Selwyn

Posted by admin On June - 27 - 2013 Comments Off on Beyond the western world-Ben Selwyn


Kevin B Anderson, Marx at the Margins (University of Chicago Press, 2010), £15.00

Frederick Engels used to remark that the struggle for socialism occurs on the political, economic and ideological plains. Marx at the Margins is a valuable contribution to the latter. Ever since Marx began his ruthless critique of capitalism and advocacy of a socialist alternative, he has been attacked and distorted in almost equal measure by opponents and so-called supporters of socialism. Those coming across him for the first time are subjected to a bewildering array of claims about him—that he supported European colonisation of the non-capitalist world as a means of bringing “development” to it, that his historical materialist method represented an economic determinism, where law-like economic processes determined social and historical development, that he singled out the European proletariat as the only possible leaders of the struggle for worldwide socialism, and that he ignored other forms of oppression such as racism. Such conceptions of Marx’s historical materialism were already being made by many of his followers during his lifetime, so much so that he once quipped that “all I know is that I am not a Marxist”. An example of the ways in which Marx’s historical materialism has been distorted is gleaned from an official (1963) Soviet text, Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, which stated that “all peoples travel what is basically the same path… The development of society proceeds through the consecutive replacement, according to definite laws, of one socio-economic function by another.”

More recently academics relatively friendly to Marxism have also criticised Marx along these lines. In his Orientalism the late Edward Said criticised Marx’s early writings on India, arguing that “every writer on the Orient [including Marx] saw [it] as a locale requiring Western attention, reconstruction and even redemption”. Said’s critique is important because he has influenced the popular school of “post-colonial studies”, which emphasises the recovery, past and present, of the voices and agency of populations of the Global South, as part of an emancipatory project to combat Western racism and imperialism. Many post-colonial studies adopt a rather caricatured version of Marx, in the vein of Said’s critique.

Socialists should be the natural allies of the this emancipatory project. However, if Marx is deemed to be part of the problem, such alliances will be weakened: Socialists would be excluded, and struggles against imperialism and racism will be denied a firm class analysis. They will often be led by actors who do not conceive of capitalism as their main enemy, and seek to make alliance with “progressive” capitalists. There is a long history of such anti-imperialist movements and their disappointing outcomes, in the second half of the 20th century. The last notable one was the South African case, where, junking their prior anti-capitalist principles in favour of alliances with domestic and international capital, the leading sections of the anti-apartheid movement now preside over a hierarchical, deeply unequal nation. That is why this book is so important.

In a wide-ranging survey Anderson reveals a fundamentally different Marx to the caricature described above. His main thesis is that the young Marx, of the Communist Manifesto and other early journalistic writings, was sometimes guilty of the accusations levelled at him by writers such as Said. However, as Marx matured, his views on non-Western societies changed, and, contrary to Said’s claims, he became an active supporter and champion of their struggles against Western domination. Anderson argues that whilst in the 1840s Marx held “to an implicitly unilinear perspective, sometimes tinged with ethnocentrism…over time, his perspective evolved towards one that was more multilinear, leaving the future development of these societies as an open question” (p2). Perhaps most importantly, and certainly controversially, Anderson argues that while Marx is often understood as privileging the Western working class as agents of socialist transformation, his writings on non-Western societies demonstrate that he viewed the latter as partners, as catalysts, and eventually as potential leaders of the struggle for worldwide socialist transformation. Moreover, Anderson reveals a Marx who was concerned with and drew analytical and political connections between race, class and national liberation.

In his chapter on “Colonial Encounters in the 1850s” Anderson addresses head-on criticism from writers like Said, who claim that Marx adopted a Eurocentric understanding of “The Orient”. Said’s argument rests on Marx’s statements, in newspaper articles such as “The Future Results of the British Rule in India” (1853) to the effect that “England has to fulfil a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating.” If this was all Marx wrote on India, Said’s criticism would be well founded. But Anderson shows, with painstaking detail, how Marx’s views on India changed rapidly. By 1857 Marx was exposing the divide and rule techniques of British rule in India where “the vital principle of British supremacy” was playing off “the antagonism of the various races, tribes, castes, creeds and sovereignties”. A year later, during the huge Sepoy uprising which threatened British rule, Marx propounded a thoroughgoing anti-imperialism, noting in a letter to Engels that “India is now our best ally”.

In the chapter on “Race, Class and Slavery”. Anderson shows how Marx’s analysis of capitalism, while focusing on English industrialisation, was located in a global context, exposing the particular racial and ethnic dimensions of capital accumulation. Marx describes how:

“English modern industry, in general, relied upon two pivots equally monstrous. The one was the potato as the only means of feeding Ireland and a great part of the English working class… The second…was the slave-grown cotton of the United States… As long as the English cotton manufacturers depended on slave-grown cotton, it could be truthfully asserted that they rested on a twofold slavery, the indirect slavery of the white man in England and the direct slavery of the black man on the other side of the Atlantic”.1

Marx then describes how where workers are divided they help cement the rule of capital, but how when united they are able to change the course of world history. For example, in his discussion of working class politics Marx noted how the division of the working class in England into ethnically English and Irish sections represented a significant block on the development of a more radical and militant politics. So “every movement in England itself is crippled by the dissension with the Irish, who form a very important section of the working class in England itself”. In a similar vein, in his analysis of the utility of racism for capital in the US, he noted that “labour in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin”.

Marx also argued, however, that the First International in Britain could potentially play a central role in fostering unity within the working class: “The special task of the [First International’s] council in London is to awaken the consciousness of the English working class to the notion that, for them, the national emancipation of Ireland is not a question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment, but the first condition of their own social emancipation.” He also understood the potential of an Irish revolution and its impacts upon the working class of England. In 1869 he wrote:

“For a long time, I believed it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working class ascendancy… Deeper study has now convinced me of the opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland.”

For Anderson this and other writings reveal a “broader shift in his thinking, toward the notion that struggles on the periphery of capitalism could become sparks that might very well go off in advance of workers’ revolutions in the industrially developed societies” (p151).

In his analysis of the American Civil War, Anderson highlights Marx’s drawing together of the fight against slavery in North America to European class struggles. Marx was merciless in his criticism of the European heads of state that supported the Confederates and the maintenance of slavery. In his inaugural address to the First International in 1864, however, Marx stated: “It was not the wisdom of the ruling classes, but the heroic resistance to their criminal folly by the working classes of England that saved the West of Europe from plunging headlong into an infamous crusade for the perpetuation of slavery on the other side of the Atlantic.” Marx conceptualised international solidarity, between European industrial workers and North American slaves, as representing a foreign policy of the nascent working class.

In the final chapter Anderson documents how, after the 1872 publication of a Russian edition of Capital, volume I, and its popular reception in Russia, Marx took a particularly close interest in the country’s system of agrarian village communes. While many of Marx’s followers in Russia were already adhering to an economic determinist and linear conception of history, where Russian development was supposedly destined to follow England’s, other non-Marxists in Russia (the agrarian “populists”) argued that the commune potentially represented a basis for an alternative path of human development. Marx learned Russian and studied the Russian commune in great depth. He concluded, against his orthodox followers, that the commune potentially provided the basis for a non-capitalist development path. However, against the populists, he also argued that if such a path could occur, it would have to do so based on a twin revolution, in Russia against state and capital and internationally as part of a worldwide socialist revolution. Here Marx viewed the agricultural Russian commune as the potential vanguard of the
world revolution.

Anderson’s study is meticulous, written in a clear and accessible language, and provides readers with a valuable account of the evolution of Marx’s thought. It counters the lazy caricatures of Marx put about by his enemies and supporters alike and undercuts arguments that he held to a Eurocentric, unilinear and economic determinist conception of human development.

While Marx at the Margins is a necessary and important book, it could, arguably, be even better. The main reason for this is that it resembles a text in the tradition of Marxology, which is concerned to establish what Marx said, when, how and why. Such issues are important, in particular when engaging in ideological struggles over Marx’s legacy, but focusing almost exclusively upon them runs the risk of side lining broader theoretical issues. For example, what stands out in the above mentioned discussion of Marx’s writings on the Russian commune is that his argument, that the commune could act as the catalyst for and beginning of a worldwide socialist revolution, resembles in some respects the case made by Leon Trotsky some two and a half decades later, during the 1905 Russian Revolution. Trotsky formulated his theory of permanent revolution to explain how economically backward Russia, which had still not experienced a bourgeois revolution, could skip economic and political stages, through a socialist revolution, without waiting for further economic development or following the path already established by advanced European states.

Whilst Lenin and much of the Bolshevik Party embraced the theory of permanent revolution in 1917, with the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy from the
mid-1920s, the theory became heretical within the Marxist mainstream. Rather the “orthodox” conceptions of stagist/unilinear development, and the possibilities of socialism in one country became the official doctrine of Marxism, as reflected in the quote at the start of this review. In many respects then, Marx’s writings on the Russian agrarian commune predated Trotsky’s conception of permanent revolution. Of course, there was a major difference between the two. Where Marx viewed the Russian peasantry as potential revolutionary subjects, Trotsky identified the burgeoning industrial working class as the revolutionary vanguard. This is an important difference, explained in part at least by the transformations in Russia between the 1880s and the early 20th century—during which Russia underwent a massive industrialisation drive in order to attempt to “catch-up” with the advanced Western powers, and in the process created a new, militant industrial working class.

A second area where Anderson could have expanded his discussion is in his analysis of Marx’s 1864 Inaugural Address to the First International.www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1861/10/14.htm

Cover of issue 138

Help keep this website free
We are committed to allowing the greatest number of people access to socialist ideas and arguments. Access to this website is free. But if you have found this article useful please consider making a donation.
New Resources on this website:

For more click on the “Resources” tab above

Videos from the ISJ event on ‘Marxism and Revolution Today’ with Alex Callinicos, Claire Ceruti, Neil Davidson and others

Videos from a discussion of the crisis and the left in Europe with Charlie Kimber and Giorgos Pittas

Videos from the ISJ conference on ‘Crisis, Class and Resistance’ with Robin Blackburn, Alex Callinicos, Guy Standing and others

Why the Earth Summit Failed by David Treece – originally published in ISJ 56

Video: ISJ seminar on “Egypt, Tunisia and revolution in the 21st century” with Gilbert Achcar and Anne Alexander

“The sex work debate: a response to Jess Edwards” by Thierry Schaffauser

Video: Seminar on ‘Racism in Britain today’ with Richard Seymour”

Audio: Alex Callinicos on the International Socialist tradition in political economy

Continuing crisis in Thailand

A report on the presidential election in Cyprus

Audio: full recordings from the recent International Socialism conference Marxism and Political Economy

Audio: Harman, Brenner and Itoh discuss the world economy today at Historical Materialism’s annual conference

A report on Turkey’s recent elections

New book on Thailand’s coup

From our archives

The roots of gay oppression (Norah Carlin 1989)

The ‘workers’ government (Chris Harman 1977)

A critique of Nicos Poulantzas (Colin Barker 1979)

Theories of Patriarchy (Lindsey German 1981)

Mike Kidron on Marxist political economy (1974)

The State and Capital (Chris Harman 1991)

Gramsci versus Eurocommunism (Chris Harman 1977)

The changing working class (Alex Callinicos and Chris Harman)

All articles copyright © International Socialism unless otherwise stated

Catalonia: Left unites to pay homage to Andreu Nin-Dick Nichols

Posted by admin On June - 27 - 2013 Comments Off on Catalonia: Left unites to pay homage to Andreu Nin-Dick Nichols


It took 76 years and one day since his abduction on the orders of Stalin during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), but on June 17, 2013, all parties of the Catalan left came together in Barcelona to recognise the contribution to the Catalan and Spanish working people of revolutionary fighter Andreu Nin.

At midnight on June 16, 1937, Nin, the general secretary of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), was abducted by Stalinist agents outside the POUM’s headquarters. He was then taken to a secret prison near Madrid, where he was tortured and then murdered once it was clear he would never “confess” to being in the pay of Hitler. His remains have still to be discovered.

While Nin’s kidnapping and murder were organised by Soviet secret police operative Alexander Orlov (who later deserted to the FBI), it also involved the direct collaboration of members of the United Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) and of the Communist Party (PCE), in those days completely obedient to the dictates of Stalin in Moscow.

The attempted cover-up of the crime, which produced outrage across the European left and labour movement, went as high as the president of the Spanish Republic, Juan Negrin.
The act of homage, held in a packed central courtyard of the parliament of Catalonia, was organised by the Andreu Nin Foundation on the Initiative of United and Alternative Left (EUiA) deputy David Companyon. Companyon is the representative of the EUiA and its ally Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV) on the five-person presidency (speakership) of the Catalan parliament.

He is also a member of EUiA affiliate, the Workers Revolutionary Party (POR), which continues to champion some of Nin’s central ideas with regard to Catalonia’s right to self-determination, organisation of working-class unity, internationalism and strategies against fascism.

The moving event closed one of the most painful wounds remaining from the Spanish Civil War. All forces on the Catalan left were present to honour the outstanding Marxist thinker of his generation, including those descended from the organisations that had stood on opposite sides of the barricades during the bloody and fratricidal Barcelona “May events” that preceded Nin’s abduction and murder.

Also present, and received with the warmest applause, were veterans of the POUM, now in their nineties, who were presented to the 250-plus audience by the president of the Andreu Nin Foundation, Teresa Carbonell (“I’m only 87”, she joked).

The meeting also brought together representatives from the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), ICV-EUiA and the left-nationalist Popular Unity Candidacies (CUP). EUiA affiliates the Party of Communists of Catalonia (PCC), the United Socialist Party of Catalonia Lives (PSUC-Viu) and the POR all had a separate presence.

Extra-parliamentary left groups present were Global Revolt (aligned to the Trotskyist Fourth International), In Struggle (aligned to the British Socialist Workers Party) and Internationalist Struggle (aligned to the International Workers League).

The leaders of Catalonia’s three main trade union confederations, the Workers Commissions (CCOO), General Union of Labour (UGT) and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), also spoke, while a number of Catalan pro-independence and cultural organisations sent representatives.

The meeting was opened by Núria de Gisbert, the speaker of the Catalan parliament. From the ruling right-nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU), de Gisbert did her best to make the crowd of lefties feel at home in the “house of the people”, but only stayed around until Teresa Carbonell had ended her passionate introduction to Nin’s life with a cry of “Long live socialism!”.

A life for working people

The main presentation came from Pelai Pagès, Nin’s biographer and historian specialising in the history of the POUM. He brought to life the extraordinary achievements of the Catalan worker-intellectual, whose first effort in politics was as a 13-year-old high-school speaker championing Catalonia’s national rights and a Spanish republic.

Born in 1892 in the fishing port of El Vendrell, Nin crowded into his 45 years an amazing breadth of action: participation in the ill named “Tragic Week” workers’ uprising in Barcelona (1909); activism in and then secretaryship of the anarcho-syndicalist National Confederation of Labour (CNT), which in 1921 he vainly tried to persuade to affiliate to the Third [Communist] International; delegate to, then organiser for and secretary general of the Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern); councillor on Moscow City Council; founder of the Trotskyist Left Opposition in the Spanish State; creator of the POUM as a fusion of the Left Opposition with the Worker-Peasant Bloc (BOC) of Juaquin Maurin; editor of numerous papers and journals; and passionate exponent of working-class education.

As if all this were not enough, Nin also produced major studies on the national question, the nature of fascism and the dynamic of the revolution in Spain. To keep body and soul together he also produced the first translations into Catalan of Russian masters like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. His Catalan version of Crime and Punishment is regarded as a masterpiece and is still sold today.

With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in June 1936 Nin became member of the ministerial council for the economy in the Catalan government and, for four brief months, attorney-general. During that period he was responsible for the organisation of the system of People’s Tribunals (“to legalise and organise what the masses have won in the streets”), the appointment of Catalonia’s first woman judge, the introduction of civil marriage and the right to abortion, and the reduction of the voting age to 18.

But Nin and the POUM had to be thrown out of office and persecuted because they were convinced—contrary to the approach of the Spanish and Catalan governments and the PCE-PSUC—that the war against Francoism could only be won by defending and extending the social revolution unleashed by the people’s insurrection to stop Franco.

Pagès summed up: “We are talking about one of the most abused figures in the history of Catalonia, one whose ideas still have validity in these times of ideological confusion… Nin was the prototype of revolutionary activist who put the struggle for socialism before his own life.”


How did the representatives of political forces whose forbears had fought the POUM talk about Nin and his ideas? There was one point of agreement—with Nin’s insistence that in Catalonia the working-class struggle went hand in hand with the national resistance of the Catalan people.

However, each speaker gave that idea an inflection in accordance with their specific stance in today’s Catalan politics—as if a resurrected Nin might today unhesitatingly sign up to their organisation!

For independentist Republican Left of Catalonia deputy Oriol Amorós, Nin’s “radically Marxist way of defending the self-determination of peoples was the most just way of achieving national liberation”, while left-independentist Popular Unity Candidacies deputy Quim Arrufat praised in Nin “the indissoluble tie between social and national emancipation”.

Maurici Lucena, leader of the Party of Socialists of Catalonia parliamentary group, tip-toed past the difficult questions raised by Nin’s case—bloody divisions on the left, war and/or revolution, Catalonia’s right to decide its relationship to the Spanish state. After praising Nin’s qualities as a human being and politician Lucena dropped the observation, met with murmurs of disapproval, that “Nin was remote from Catalan political reality.”

Most anticipated was what speakers from the three forces descended from the PSUC— Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV), Party of Communists of Catalonia (PCC) and United Socialist Party of Catalonia Lives —would have to say. ICV co-spokesperson Joan Herrera went straight to the point: “Nin was the victim of the long arm of Stalinism, but also of the PCE and PSUC of the day. That has to be admitted.” As to the basic strategic conflict underlying Nin’s murder, “the debate between war and revolution was resolved badly due to an excess of intransigence”.

Joan Josep Nuet, secretary general of the PCC (and Initiative of United and Alternative Left national spokeperson) was even more blunt: “His legacy has to be recovered from two silences: on the one hand, from the oblivion of Francoism and the transition to the monarchy, on the other from that of a part of the dogmatic left, where the party of which I am secretary general has located itself on too many occasions.

He ended: “We want to recover the figure of Andreu Nin for all revolutionaries. Nin, the intellectual, the unionist, the internationalist, the convinced Catalanist, the anti-fascist too: that Andreu Nin that is for us the sum total of all these aspects, Andreu Nin, the revolutionary.”

Alfred Clemente, general secretary of PSUC-Viu, which embodies most continuity with the old PSUC, probably had the most difficult job. Openly admitting that many of his members would disagree with what he had to say, Clemente remarked that Nin “lived and died as a revolutionary”. He condemned the use of violence to settle differences within the socialist movement, and called for unity in today’s struggles against neoliberal austerity and attacks on the rights of working people.

POR spokesperson Francesc Matas repeated the question that covered the walls of Spain after Nin’s disappearance (“Where is Nin?”), and answered: “With us. With the revolution. With the struggle for a classless society.”

The other left groups present also spoke, as did representatives from three trade union confederations. Joan Carles Gallego (CCOO) recognised that Nin as union leader and fighter for working-class unity had to be integrated into the tradition and thinking of the confederation.

Afterwards, Nin’s granddaughter Cristina Simó was asked by the web-based daily Público for her opinion of the event. “It’s a first step towards honouring the memory of my grandfather, although maybe there’s more to do at a more popular level. For the family it is very important that the stain on his character arising from the accusations of collaboration with fascism be wiped away.”

Beyond the importance of rehabilitating Nin, the event had another important aspect: it saw all the forces of the Catalan left in the rare situation of being in the same room, hearing each other make similar observations about the close interconnection between the struggle against austerity and for Catalonia’s right to decide its future.

Is it too much to hope that this infrequent experience will inspire a greater effort by all to find the unity that is desperately needed to win today’s crucial battles?

[Dick Nichols is Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s and Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]

Dialogues with history – K. SATCHIDANANDAN

Posted by admin On June - 22 - 2013 Comments Off on Dialogues with history – K. SATCHIDANANDAN


Subodh Kerkar’s installations are meditations on the colonial past, nature and history where the boundary between art and life stands disrupted. By K. SATCHIDANANDAN

HISTORY is not necessarily or even primarily about rulers and reforms, but about people and civilisations and the dialogues of cultures across boundaries. And art, being a part of this dialogue, can hardly overlook history and what it does to our lives. But art also goes beyond history by establishing organic connections with the larger world of nature. Subodh Kerkar’s installations are a commentary on both history and nature, and “Pepper Cross”, his current show in Kochi, organised by ArtEstate at Pepper House, once a godown for spices, which provides the precise ambience the works on show demand, brilliantly bears this out.

“As an artist, I have a special relationship with the ocean. The ocean is my master and my muse.” This is how Subodh Kerkar prefaces his show. The ocean, he admits, has nurtured his dreams, aspirations and fantasies, his whole creativity: “The ocean is both inside and outside my creations.” In the works on show, the artist explores the ocean’s role as a medium of cultural exchange and diffusion. In a sense, he participates in that history of civilisations which originated and flourished on the seashore and impacted one another by travelling across oceans. Our navigational history goes back to the days of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Lothal in Gujarat had trade relations with the Arabs and the Africans, and the port of Muziris in Kerala, now being excavated at Pattanam, throve on trade with Egyptian and Roman cities right from the 3rd century BCE. It was between the 15th and 17th centuries C.E. that Europeans began to explore Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. They had two missions: one was trade, especially of gold, silver, opium and spices like pepper and cardamom, and the second was the spreading of Christianity.

It was during these voyages of adventure that Bartholomew Diaz from Portugal reached the Indian Ocean in 1488 C.E., voyaging along the Atlantic coast of Africa and Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa to land at Beypore in Calicut in 1498. Columbus’ Indian mission, sponsored by the Spanish monarch, that took him instead to America, also happened in the same era, in 1492, when the American Indians “discovered Columbus on the sea”, to follow the Indian perception of the foolish adventure. That was the time when objects, methods, concepts, scientific discoveries and ideas began to travel between Europe and Asia and the first phase of globalisation, followed by colonialism, really began. Subodh Kerkar, in this exhibition, focusses on the exchange between Portugal and India, with Goa at the centre. It was the Portuguese who introduced the art of baking bread, grafting mangoes and of distilling spirits in India as also the many fruits and vegetables now popular in our country, like potato, tomato, chilly, pineapple and cashew, while they took pepper and other spices from India. Subodh Kerkar’s installations are “mnemonic devices of history”, as the artist himself qualifies them. This is by no means to say that the artist is just “representing”, “mimicking” or “reproducing” these objects. He invests them with a unique civilisational and artistic significance.

For example, his series called “Pepper Cross” brings trade, represented by pepper, and religion, represented by the cross, together while also referring to the sea by using the actual hull of a century-old boat and oars, thus making a complex, if tense, symbol of cultural symbiosis. There is also an element of ritual here as one of the crosses is represented as a relic inside a wooden frame that turns it into a little icon whose divinity comes from pepper as well as from Christ, the sea connecting them. No loud heresy is meant here, but one cannot miss a subtle play of humour that hints at the way colonialism worked in an economic-religious matrix by exchanging Christ for pepper, both of which were anointed by the sea and propelled by ambition.

A similar fusion happens when he creates two series of huge chillies, one made with truck tyre and painted red, metamorphosing them into something else as chillies now are transported by trucks moving on tyres, and another, covered with many-hued Indian textiles, indicating indigenising of the imported product. This play can also be seen in installations like “Jezu-Krishna” where Krishna’s crown wears a cross in place of the peacock feather, signifying a conversation between two systems of worship, or “Colonial Rock n’ Roll”, where a toilet paper roll is placed on a swinging frame, representing the impact of colonialism at the other end of the mouth too!

Again, there are the 15 cotton pods made of fibreglass and steel mounted on a wooden podium, one of which has a sheep head on it to remind us of John Mandeville’s perception in 1350 of the cotton tree as one that bears “tiny lambs” at the end of the pliable branches “that bend down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungry”. The artist decorates the pods with patterns of crochet as the technique of knitting and lacework was introduced in India by the Portuguese. There is, too, the typical butterfly-shaped bread, baked for the first time by the Portuguese in the Goan village of Majorda that the Hindus refused to eat in the beginning as the dough was fermented and thus “polluted”. Eating it or drinking from a well where a crumb was thrown was enough to outcast a Hindu and turn him Christian. Subodh Kerkar’s bread sculpture bears on its surface the sea routes of Bartholomew Diaz, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

“The Chicken Cafreal”, represented by a rooster made from tyre, is again taken from culinary history, as Cafreal was originally a preparation with chicken made by African slaves in Portuguese army camps. It is also meant to remind the spectator of the “Rooster of Barcelos”, a national souvenir of Portugal: the rooster who, after being roasted, stood and crowed in order to prove the innocence of a young man sentenced wrongly to death.

The horse trade of ancient India—the Arab horses were a symbol of abundance and prestige for the royalty and the gentry—is symbolised by horseshoe patterns originally created on the shores of the old Goapattanam, famous for horse trade, with sea shells collected from the same beach. Indigo, another major export from India since the times of the Indus Valley Civilisation, is represented by rocks covered with indigo and also by the Portuguese fruits and vegetables like cashew, chilly, capsicum, potato and pineapple made with indigo.

There are, too, many photographs of installations Subodh Kerkar created on Goan beaches like “The Moon and the Tides” and “The Sea-horse Delivering Crescent Moons”, both made of seashells, and a whole huge circle filled with real red chillies. The “Earth Bowl” (Prithveekund) is another such work, a bowl carved out in a ramp-like rock butting into the sea where water collects during the high tide: water that dissolves all differences and predicts the possibility of one world.

Subodh Kerkar has radicalised public art in India in more ways than one. First, he involves nature and environment in a big way as land artists do. It is possible he has been inspired by artists like Richard Long, Andy Golsworthy, Michel Hazer, Robert Smithson and others; but he creates his own concept of an indigenous art using local materials and the available environment. He uses his art for a conversation with the elements where water and earth are primary. He invests the quotidian with layers of meaning, producing an art that is profoundly conceptual, thus joining artists like Anish Kapoor and Subodh Gupta in reconceptualising the world.

The way he uses materials like wood, glass, metals, seashells, rubber and fibreglass and plays with light in many of his installations—like with the crater he creates on the beach with a copperplate and light inside, creating a mysterious volcanic effect—is very untraditional. The artist de-specifies materials by using them in unexpected contexts and combinations. Art here does not become mere art or mere life. Art and non-art become indiscernible in this new aesthetic practice. He, in fact, disrupts the boundaries between art and other practices of life and unsettles traditional patterns. Art here moves from subjects to gestures. Memory plays a major role in this art, especially historical and civilisational memory. It could even be nature’s memory as in some of his works with wood and cut glass that reflect the memory of water.

Subodh Kerkar also uses his art to make political statements as when he uses hundreds of sarees hung in the sky above paddy fields to draw attention to the plight of the migrant labourers of Goa, the majority of whom are women; when he covers entire trees with newsprint to point to the peril of deforestation or when he creates an installation with 600 Tibetan prayer-flags to make us take notice of the Tibetan issue.

Art with Subodh Kerkar also becomes culture learning as he studies the ingression of alien cultures with their impact on the receiving cultures. Even while being anti-colonial, he tries to objectively grasp the meaning of such influences, looking at them without prejudice and accepting them as historical facts that can hardly be reversed—hence his objection to revivalism that once got him into trouble with the right-wing government in Goa. His is an art that draws attention to the process as much as the product, like in a Brechtian theatre production. There is, too, a strong narrative element in his art which is so evident in the works in this show. Objects here almost become words, working as signs, symbols and metaphors with great contemplative potential.

A Philosophy of Discomfort- Jacques Pezeu-Massabuau

Posted by admin On June - 22 - 2013 Comments Off on A Philosophy of Discomfort- Jacques Pezeu-Massabuau


A Philosophy of Discomfort
Translated by Vivian Sky, Reaktion Books, London, 2012. 128pp., £14.95 pb

Sheena Culley

Sheena Culley is studying for a PhD on Comfort and Modernity at the London Graduate School, Kingston University (sheenaculley@hotmail.co.uk).

At last it has been recognised that to think comfort without its relationship to discomfort is an almost impossible task. Jacques Pezeu-Massabuau’s A Philosophy of Discomfort recognises a dynamic relationship between comfort and discomfort and is therefore an important development in the study of (dis)comfort. Pezeu-Massabuau is clear that comfort and discomfort are to be understood as ‘comparative’ (13). Instead of dwelling on certain discomforts that are distressing to humanity, such as overpopulation or illness, A Philosophy of Discomfort instead seeks to interrogate the ‘quotidian ill-being’ and ‘well-being’ in the attempt to embrace discomfort. How could discomfort be grasped and utilised to our advantage? Could it be desired, or could we even develop a ‘new hedonism’ out of it? (14).These are the questions that this imaginative book poses.

Discomfort is such a broad term that can be understood as psychological, material and corporeal, that a study of such a subject runs the risk of being one of anything and everything. ‘Everything that causes friction or conflict with the material and human environment essentially fits the term ‘discomfort’’ (15). However, Pezeu-Massabuau sharply observes that comfort’s etymology relating to consolation, encouragement and fortification can be associated with the idea of ‘well-being’ and thus discomfort can be seen as a form of ‘ill-being’ (17). This reminds us of the connection between discomfort and disease, whereby disease is quite literally a dis-ease, referring to disorder and disruption in general terms. The focus on discomfort as ill-being provides a fresh perspective to the field of scholarship.

Although the title suggests that the book might present the reader with a theory of discomfort, the style is more akin to a poetics, overtly referencing the work of Gaston Bachelard, and drawing on a variety of sources from literature, architecture and contemporary culture. It is not the intention of this study to boast the ‘rustic charms of an antiquated thatched cottage’, nor to question ‘the pleasures of luxury’ (13). Nor is it the case that the home is viewed as a historical object. Due to the Bachelardian influence, home remains a central theme, but the house is to be understood as a metaphorical or imaginary space rather than a material manifestation of comfort or discomfort. Discomfort can thus be understood as a ‘topological disorder’ in terms of physical, psychological or cyber space (38, 118). As a model of discomfort, we are presented with a selection of unheimlich houses. The silent house has all the material comforts we can imagine, but prevents a connection between the inhabitant and the space; the inefficient house cannot shelter us; the half open house prevents intimacy; and the unhealthy house allows for a slow deterioration of the inhabitant’s health over time (40-41). The topology of discomfort is traced by examining the relationship of the body to the home, and both comfort and discomfort are cast as aesthetic concepts in the broadest sense of the term.

One of the most original aspects of A Philosophy of Discomfort comes from the idea of discomfort as a practice, termed ‘anti-comfort’. In one example the potential of discomfort is interrogated in the context of contemporary health and fitness practices. Pezeu-Massabuau describes his personal example of ‘anti-comfort’, setting his alarm clock early in the morning and abandoning the warmth and security of his bed for a fifteen-minute run in the cold. As a result of the discomfort experienced from the run, the comfort of the warm shower with which he is compensated is felt intensely, and is transformed from a mundane occurrence to a form of hedonistic enjoyment (58).

How much freedom can be associated with such practices? Pezeu-Massabuau recognises the influence of the media and industry in setting health and fitness ideals. Conforming to certain standards can be seen as a form of ‘pseudo-morality’ (60), and depriving ourselves of comfort for a greater reward a form of asceticism (92-3). In this example we see a tension between comfort as a form of cultural control and one of individual pleasure or satisfaction that runs throughout the book. Comfort is later posed as an ‘illusion of freedom’ (82) and is subjected to a Debordian critique, whereby it is linked to leisure time and consumption: comfort has become ‘a mirage of happiness’ (86).

The idea of using the home in an eternal rather than a historical fashion to talk about (dis)comfort is not without its problems. To see the home as an extension of the human subject is a distinctly modern phenomenon. We see a struggle to overcome this problem: ‘Comfort is reduced to a uniform representation of the home’ (84). Despite the author recognising that comfort has a hard time breaking free from Victorian ideals, a bourgeois ghost fleetingly haunts this text. At one point, ‘the contemplation or practice of art’, and ‘the leisure of travel’ are referred to as ‘the most basic pleasures’ (31). Is comfort always linked to pleasure? What is the role of class in such a discussion? The privileging of domestic space in studies of discomfort and comfort raises many questions.

The dynamic transition between states of discomfort and comfort is illuminated via a selection of literary examples. No study of comfort is complete without a discussion of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, who in this case is recalled as an example of the role of memory in anticipating comfort. Whilst stranded on the island, Crusoe’s past gives him a sense of moral well-being in a present devoid of material comforts (76). In another vivid example, Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov is stuck in a ‘euphoria in total passivity’ where he cannot tolerate discomfort, stopping him from experiencing the anticipation of comfort (73). Discomfort can lead to revelation, whereas a permanent state of comfort cannot. The temporality of comfort and discomfort examined here is another strength of this book and could be much more explicitly drawn out.

Whether discomfort can really be harnessed to our advantage remains open to question. Where hope of comfort exists, such as for Crusoe, or in the practice of anti-comfort, there is no doubt that it can. On the other hand we are also told that corporal discomforts such as ‘physical misery, hunger or illness leave us passive and discouraged, neutralize our initiative and creativity and leave us defenceless against the seductions of the world and of soothing and protective ideologies’ (33). Uncontrollable discomfort is worryingly seen as a pacifying force. This leaves the theory of anti-comfort in a somewhat limited position: it seems that discomfort is only useful when we have agency over our well-being and can choose discomfort in the knowledge that comfort will follow. The democratisation of anti-comfort does not seem possible. Discomfort may potentially lead to revelation under some circumstances, but it is far from being revolutionary.

Dialectics of Human Nature in Marx’s Philosophy-Mehmet Tabak

Posted by admin On June - 22 - 2013 Comments Off on Dialectics of Human Nature in Marx’s Philosophy-Mehmet Tabak


Dialectics of Human Nature in Marx’s Philosophy
Palgrave Macmillan, New York and London, 2012. 244pp., $85 / £55 hb

Reviewed by Chris Byron

Chris Byron is a Philosophy Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of North Florida (c.byron@unf.edu; http://www.unf.edu/bio/N00868501/)

At first glance Marx seems to have held conflicting views about human nature. In his earlier works he regularly employs notions like “species-being”, “human essence”, and “human nature”. However, after his Theses on Feuerbach, philosophers debate whether a Marxian theory of human nature is even possible given Marx’s new historical materialist framework.

Several camps have emerged within this debate. Some, like Ernest Mandel, believe that what Marx wrote in his youth is continued and further adapted in his later works. Thus, the term “species-being” may be jettisoned, but the concept remains in Marx’s mature works. Others believe that not only is a static theory of human nature impossible in any serious historical materialist account of human development, but that Marx explicitly rejected such a theory in his Sixth Thesis. There is also a camp, that I believe Sean Sayers occupies, that says that although Marx’s theory of human nature is fluid, it still ensures the retention of his humanist views, and a humanist philosophy in general. Finally, there is the camp, notably occupied by Norman Geras, that tries to show that human nature is not logically inconsistent with Marx’s Sixth Thesis, but does not offer a positive account of what Marx’s theory of human nature is. Considering these camps have been developed and fortified over several decades, it is not only surprising but also a breath of fresh air to find a completely unique and genuinely new contribution to the debate.

Even if Mehmet Tabak were to fail in his project, which he does not, the sheer ingenuity and unexplored territory he is able to develop within former traversed roads, warrants the reading of this new book (his first). Even if you disagree with him, his shrewd theorizing will force you to reflect. Tabak’s “main purpose” for writing this book is to “outline Karl Marx’s philosophical system.” This has been done before. What makes Tabak’s writing so intriguing is that for him “[h]umanism … is the basis of [Marx’s] dialectical historical materialism,” and “human nature, thus, constitutes the primary standpoint of [Marx’s] thought … because man is the subject and the main substance of the historical objective totality” (vii). Marx’s theory of the mode of production is usually and curtly presented as comprising the forces of production, which entail developed social relationships around them, giving rise to or conditioning a certain ideological superstructure. The productive relations are usually seen as the base of society. Tabak however wants to base Marx’s system on Marx’s theory of human nature. Marx has a particular view of mankind, which in relation to the material external world, conditions the entire mode of production. This leads to the further conclusion that all dialectical moments in Marx’s system (e.g., alienation, bourgeois society, the economic structures of society, and the conditioning of the superstructure), are derived from a process of mankind’s activity, and its realizations and negations.

Tabak is an adept dialectical thinker. He believes that if readers do not understand Marx’s theory of human nature, they will inevitably misapprehend his entire system. Thus, it is paramount to ascertain Marx’s theory of human nature. For Marx there are two constant determinants in history: human beings and nature. Thus Marx has to develop a theory of the human being within his theory of history. Marx’s concept of human nature “is a dialectical composite of essence and existence” (3). Essence is a permanent characteristic that gives something its identity. The essence of human beings is their active and productive powers that can shape the external world. When humans are able to exercise their essence they are “active subjects responsible for the processes of self-determination” (4). This productive and active activity changes the external world, and after a while starts to change human beings and their social relationships. This leads Tabak to conclude that “Marx’s conception of human nature … operates on two different, interrelated axes: the axis of the permanent and changing human characteristics and the axis of the inner and external characteristics” (7). Human essence is the constant “inner nature” of human beings. It exists alongside the fluctuating external world which shapes part of mankind’s overall human nature. This dialectical relationship constitutes our overall human nature. Thus Tabak is able to retain a static and a fluctuating component, vindicating the claim that Marx did hold fast to a trans-historical theory of human nature, albeit human nature in any particular historical moment would be nuanced and different.

Once Tabak has outlined his theory of human nature he employs it to resolve some of the primary debates within academic Marxism: e.g., the theory of historical materialism, determinism of structure and agency, alienation, Marx’s theory of the state, and Marx’s theory – or lack thereof – of justice and morality.

One instance of a resolution is found in his analysis of Marx’s theory of morality. Tabak suggests we see Marx’s critical dialectic as being comprised of “three interrelated … phases.” First is the criticism of actually existing society (i.e., an immanent critique). Second is the call for revolutionary action within a society. And finally, seeking a resolution “of the conflict between essence and existence” which requires an understanding of human essence and human nature (140). Each of these steps is interrelated dialectically, and thus each step requires a theory and a praxis that constantly informs the other. One can see how understanding Marx’s theory of human nature is paramount. If we are to criticize society we need a basis for our criticism (e.g., that our essence is not being expressed). And if we are to engage in revolutionary praxis that resolves the tension between essence and existence, we must understand human essence, and engage in a revolutionary praxis that seeks its realization.

To explain how he uses the theory of human nature to resolve the tensions in each academic debate is beyond the scope of this review, but even when his resolution is tentative, it is always enlightening and ingenious.

Whether or not one accepts Tabak’s conclusions about human nature, he offers enough quotations from Marx (about one third of the book in fact), to justify the claim that this was Marx’s view of human nature. Although one possible criticism is that Tabak does not spend enough time elucidating what is distinctively human in mankind’s productive activity apart from citing a few passages from Marx.

There are two other criticisms that need to be considered. First, even if he is right about Marx’s view of human nature, it does not always seem clear that human nature warrants the dominant position he gives it in certain Marxist debates. When Tabak resolves issues of historical materialism and structure and agency by placing mankind as the subject of history, with a constant human nature, he seems to be violating another one of his conclusions: his agreement with Marx that capitalism is alienating and that it involves an alienated process of production that comes to dominate the essence of man (his free productivity). If one is to be true to Marx’s historical method, then the elaboration of theories like historical materialism and Marx’s conception of structure and agency, may require the predominance – in this historical moment – of something other than the human subject, since capitalism is an alien force that mitigates the expression of our human essence. Whereas Tabak remains steadfast in retaining the human subject as the engine of Marx’s system, even when his essence is engaged in alienating activity (78, 105).

The second criticism worth mentioning concerns Tabak’s use of quotes. It is often the case that the reader is given the impression that Tabak is presenting some position of Marx’s that he held in Capital, or in his mature years, when in reality sentences are popping in from numerous other sources, like The Holy Family, or various rough drafts Marx left behind. This is not a problem if Tabak is right that the young Marx is not much different than the old Marx, and his theory of human nature is consistent throughout, but if the reader holds a different position, the quote chopping does not help his account. And even if Tabak is right that Marx’s theory of human nature remains constant, he needs to justify his interlacing of quotes on economics, the state, etc., since it is fairly clear that Marx was constantly changing his mind about these issues.

Nevertheless this is a much needed contribution to the debate about Marx and human nature. Its value lies not only in Tabak’s account of human nature, but also in the way he resolves various problems in academic Marxism. Even those readers not interested in Marx’s theory of human nature, but in Marx’s theory of the state or morality, will find fresh material in Tabak’s book.

Tim Nelson: Trotsky and Serge

Posted by admin On June - 22 - 2013 Comments Off on Tim Nelson: Trotsky and Serge


Leon Trotsky and Victor Serge are two of the most outstanding Marxist figures of the twentieth century. Trotsky was the leader of the St Petersburg Soviet in 1905 and 1917, the organiser of the 1917 October Revolution, and the founder of the Red Army. Serge, originally an anarchist, joined the Communist Party during the siege of Petrograd in 1919, and worked for the Comintern in Russia and abroad.

Both opposed the Stalinist counter-revolution, and, as a result, both died in exile. Trotsky was assassinated by one of Stalin’s agents, Serge died penniless and isolated. Both, in their different ways, have contributed as much as anybody to our understanding of the nature of the working class movement, and of revolution in particular.

They spent several years in collaboration, in resisting the bureaucracy as members of the Left Opposition in Russia, and then subsequently when both were exiled. However, during their period in exile from the Soviet Union, Trotsky and Serge found themselves in increasing disagreement, both on the tasks of the present, and the analysis of the past. These disagreements reflected a deeper division between those on the anti-Stalinist left, and would become of profound significance for the future development of the revolutionary socialist movement.

Victor Serge has always been a problematic figure for the left. Too Bolshevik for the anarchists, too anarchist for the Bolsheviks, he never attempted either to take a leading political position in the movement, or to develop an all-encompassing political doctrine. A writer first, his best works were those that sought to observe, understand and explain the movement, and the individuals who comprised it. He described his approach as his “double duty” – he would defend the movement unconditionally from its outside enemies, while being unrelentingly critical of those within, who, consciously or unconsciously, might wreck it.

It has been, for many years, commonplace for Trotskyists to dismiss Serge’s criticisms of the Bolsheviks and his arguments with Trotsky, and to put them down to a shift to the right on Serge’s part, or a step back to his anarchist, libertarian idealism. This view has been aided by misinterpretations of his arguments by Trotsky and his followers, and has meant that the valuable contribution Serge’s arguments could have played in avoiding a repeat of the mistakes of the past has never been fully appreciated.

It would be entirely incorrect to dismiss or play down the role Trotsky has played in the development of Marxist theory and practice, a role Serge always recognised. However, there were profound mistakes in approach and analysis in his later works which, when adopted uncritically by socialists, have led to some deep-rooted problems that still remain today.


The main debate within the opposition after the success of the bureaucratic coup centred on the question of at one point the revolution began to degenerate. This was not simply an abstract discussion about dates, as it led to fundamental questions as to the nature of revolutionary organisation, the role of the state, and democracy in the socialist movement.

Trotsky was exiled from the USSR in 1929, and spent the rest of his life abroad. Serge, on the other hand, remained in Russia until 1936, as part of the marginalised and oppressed Russian opposition, among whom this debate was the fiercest. Some argued that while some of the kernels of the problems may have been present earlier, the degeneration of the Russian Revolution could be traced to around 1923, when the bureaucracy began to strangle democracy in the party and seize control of the state. Others, Serge included, traced the degeneration of the revolution back to the early stages of the civil war in 1919, when the Bolsheviks used increasingly autocratic methods to defeat the reaction and remain in power. For these comrades, serious mistakes had been made from the beginning of the revolution. After the initial libertarian period of 1917, the Bolsheviks, Trotsky included, set about establishing an increasingly authoritarian state. While many of these actions could be excused as necessities in the context of the civil war, they laid the groundwork for the bureaucratic degeneration of the revolution.

For the opposition inside Russia this was an important debate. If the degeneration of the revolution was traced only to the actual event of the Stalinist coup, then not only could previous events which had caused many on the left to view the Communists as authoritarian – the establishment of a one-party state, the creation of a secret police force, the suppression of the Kronstadt Uprising – be excused or explained away, but also the politics and strategy of the opposition would be fundamentally different.

For those who did not acknowledge the earlier degeneration of the revolution, the problem was one of leadership. A bureaucratic caste had taken over the Communist Party and the workers’ state. All that was needed was a removal of this caste and the re-establishment of democracy within the Communist Party, and the revolution would be saved. For Serge and others, the bureaucratic state needed to be overthrown, and within the Russian opposition they argued for mass working class activity such as strikes to achieve this. This faction was probably a majority in the opposition within Russia, while remaining a minority within the Trotskyist movement abroad, of whom of course Trotsky himself was the most outstanding member.

Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union and its degeneration was dominant among oppositionists abroad. He argued that the USSR was a deformed workers’ state. Due to the isolation brought about as a result of the failure of the revolution to spread internationally, most notably in Germany in 1923, a bureaucratic caste led by Stalin was able to seize power, first over the Communist Party, then over the Russian state. Trotsky and his followers adamantly refused to countenance the idea that the authoritarianism of the bureaucracy had its roots in the earlier measures taken by the Bolsheviks, measures in which Trotsky had often taken a leading role.

While not denying that many of the actions of the Communist Party had been regrettable, even authoritarian in many respects, Trotsky argued that they were largely necessary in the waging of the civil war, and that in revolutions such measures were needed. They were fundamentally different to the essentially counter-revolutionary actions of the Stalinists. Furthermore, in condemning the actions of the Bolsheviks before 1923, Serge and others were lining up alongside the bourgeois critics of the revolution, who argued that the seeds of Stalinism had been sown by the Bolsheviks in order to discredit revolutionary politics. While the workers’ state may have been deformed by bureaucratism, it retained its proletarian character. In this respect, revolutionary activity was not necessarily needed to overthrow the bureaucracy – the state could be reformed.

It would be these fundamental differences that would inform all the debates between Serge and Trotsky in the 1930s, and lead to an eventual break between the two.


It is worth looking at some specific issues which Victor Serge highlighted from before 1923, which for him illustrated the degeneration of the revolution. It should be noted that, throughout this period and long after, Serge remained an avid defender, and member, of the Communist Party. For him, the defeat of the Russian Revolution by the forces of reaction and imperialism would have been an unmitigated disaster for the working class. There was no doubt in his mind that the revolution must be defended at all costs, and that the Communist Party was the only force capable of achieving this. This did not mean, however, that Serge was blind to the problems within the party. In this respect Serge was continuing in his “dual role” – defending the revolution from threats both on the outside and within.

Serge, a child of Russian migrants to France, arrived in Russia in 1919. One of the first newspapers he read had a lead article by Zinoviev entitled ‘The Monopoly of Power’, which announced that the Communist Party would be the sole power in the Soviet state. This was at the height of the civil war. The White armies, along with troops from several foreign countries including Germany, Britain, Japan, the US and Czechoslovakia, had waged an assault on the Soviet government with the aim of overturning the revolution.

The working class, such as it was in a semi-feudal country such as Russia, was on its knees, and whereas in the early days of the revolution in 1917 workers’ committees and soviets had governed, these roles were increasingly carried out by Communist Party officials. The Red Army, formed and led by Trotsky, was forced to resort to increasingly repressive measures to win the war, including the forced requisition of grain from the peasantry in order to feed the army in the cities. War Communism was instituted – a strict command economy backed by force, with the banning of internal trade and the nationalisation of all resources necessary to keep the state alive.

The state, dominated by the Communist Party and backed by the Red Army, and increasingly populated by bureaucrats, had become far and away the dominant force in Russia. This was not the workers’ state of 1917, or the state envisaged by Lenin in The State and Revolution, but an authoritarian state, dominated by one party, desperate to hold on to power in order to defeat the reaction and defend the revolution.

Serge’s background in revolutionary politics had been libertarian. He had been actively involved in anarchist groups in France and Spain. It may therefore seem surprising that he joined the Communist Party at this time. However, as has been noted above, he recognised that the Communist Party was the only force capable of defending the revolution, and therefore must be supported. He would, despite this, continue to see his role as one of alleviating any excesses within the revolution, and to criticise, though often privately, authoritarian aspects emerging within the Communist Party.

Between 1918 and 1921, the Bolsheviks resorted to increasingly authoritarian measures, culminating in 1921 in the crushing of the Kronstadt revolt. Throughout this period Trotsky was the leader of the Red Army, and was party to many of the decisions which Serge would later criticise. For Serge, one of the biggest mistakes of the Soviet government was the establishment of the secret police force, the Cheka. The Cheka was aimed to ensure the suppression of counter-revolution behind the Red Army’s lines, and was empowered with the right to hold secret trials and executions. For Serge, this was a gross error, as he believed that in the minority of cases in which there was actual counter-revolutionary activity, trial and punishment could and should be open to public scrutiny. Also, in the vast majority of cases, the Cheka were not suppressing counter-revolutionaries, but those who opposed the Communist Party. Opposition to the Communists became synonymous with counter-revolution.

Furthermore, Serge believed that the Cheka in many areas was simply out of control, with no scrutiny from either what remained of Soviet democratic bodies, or from the Bolshevik leadership, and was committing excesses way beyond the most brutal forms of revolutionary justice. When it came to the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt, these problems with the secret police took on terrible proportions. Serge used his role in the Soviet state to work as an interlocutor between dissidents in the revolutionary movement and the state leadership, gaining the release of many who had been wrongly arrested by the Cheka.

The debate between Serge and Trotsky during their period of exile can, in some respects, be explained by the different positions they were in during the civil war. Trotsky was the leader of the Red Army and a leading member of the Soviet state. Serge was a rank and file member of the Communist Party and supporter of the state, but critical of both, who never lost his links with dissident and libertarian revolutionaries. Unsurprisingly, their differences came to a head over the issue of the 1921 Kronstadt revolt – what its nature was, and what its suppression indicated about the nature of the Bolshevik regime.

By 1921, the civil war was largely over, with the Reds victorious, but the revolution was critically weakened. The working class had been decimated – many killed, with many more returning to the land to avoid starvation. Despite the war being over, War Communism continued – forced requisitions of grain, the execution of speculators and black marketeers – and the Cheka remained unrestrained. The stifling measures of War Communism, instituted to combat the dangers of famine, were now contributing to it. Peasant revolts against Bolshevik rule were growing, and in February 1921 strikes broke out in Petrograd.

Serge was an eyewitness to these events. He argued that while many of the strikes adopted anti-Bolshevik slogans, and were being organised by Menshevik sympathisers among others, they were directly the result of the lack of food; this was proven by how they were easily resolved by the delivery of food to discontented workers.

The issue escalated when sailors at the Kronstadt naval base, which had been at the heart of the revolution in 1917, mutinied in support of the strikes. The Kronstadt mutineers adopted a programme of demands which, among other things, called for an end to War Communism, and a restoration of democracy in the revolution. Serge wrote vividly about the state’s reaction to this revolt. Originally, party publications claimed that Kronstadt had been seized by the Whites. For Serge, the use of the party’s press to lie both to the class and to the party in this manner was unforgivable. The revolt was suppressed violently, and the Cheka continued to execute prisoners weeks after its suppression.

The Kronstadt rebellion, for Serge, was a dark event in Bolshevism’s history. While he acknowledged the dangers of rebellion at the time, and did not dismiss the possibility that it could open the way for reaction, he still maintained that the manner in which the uprising was suppressed revealed fundamental problems with the Bolsheviks’ rule at this time. Trotsky, on the other hand, insisted that the revolt was fundamentally reactionary in character, and those who criticised its suppression were lining up with bourgeois critics of the revolution. Trotsky argued that the class make-up of the Kronstadt sailors had changed since the 1917 revolution, and was increasingly peasant and petty bourgeois. The revolt, with its demands for an end to War Communism, represented the interests of the peasantry and the middle classes, not the proletariat. Also, whether intentionally or not, a revolt at this time against the Bolsheviks could only benefit reaction. The mutiny’s stated politics may have seemed democratic, or even revolutionary, but it was essentially reactionary.

Serge riposted that the mutiny had begun in solidarity with the strike wave in Petrograd, so to claim that it did not represent the interests of workers was plainly incorrect. He also pointed out that much of the rebels’ demands were met very quickly after the event, with the abolition of War Communism and the establishment of the New Economic Policy, so to dismiss their demands as being in the interests of the petty bourgeoisie to justify their suppression was disingenuous. Instead, Serge viewed the suppression of the revolt as a desperate act of the Bolsheviks with the aim of holding on to power.

Here is not the place to review in detail the arguments and counter-arguments regarding Kronstadt. The aim is to investigate what this debate represents in the differences between Trotsky and Serge. To Serge, the methods used against the Kronstadt rebels paved the road to authoritarianism. He agreed that the rebellion, whatever its intentions, could have opened the door to reaction, but this did not justify the nature of the repression. In this, Serge differed from other critics, including anarchists and reformist socialists, who pointed to Kronstadt and other examples of Bolshevik repression in order to discredit the role of the Bolsheviks in the revolution. He, and many other rank and file members of the Communist Party, recognised that in 1921 for the revolution to succeed the Bolsheviks had to retain power, at least until the revolution spread internationally. However, this did not excuse the Bolsheviks from criticism, nor did it justify every one of their actions.

Trotsky did not distinguish between those such as Serge who remained loyal to the revolution, and for whom any criticism of the Bolsheviks stemmed from an attempt to understand and explain how the revolution of 1917 degenerated into dictatorship, and those who sought to discredit the revolution as a whole. In ‘Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt’ Trotsky advanced the argument, cited above, that the rebellion was reactionary. He suggested that all those who disagreed with this were part of the same camp – their aim was to discredit Bolshevism, their outlook was essentially bourgeois.

It is here that we reach the significance of the debate. For Trotsky, no distinction could be made between liberals, anarchists, reformists, or even communists who questioned the Bolshevik acts of oppression before the Stalinist coup. No distinction can be made between workers and sailors who rose against the Bolsheviks to oppose starvation and the White reactionaries. This outlook was the road to sectarianism. All those who questioned the Bolsheviks’ record were essentially in the camp of the liberal bourgeoisie.

Serge responded that while people from very different political positions may criticise the Bolsheviks, they were coming from fundamentally different standpoints. He recognised that there were many anti-authoritarians who were still essentially revolutionary. To lump them in with the liberals based purely on their unwillingness to accept the more extreme aspects of the Red Terror was absurd. Furthermore, Serge worried that, despite Trotsky having led a heroic struggle against authoritarianism and dogmatism in the USSR, his rigid stance and refusal to recognise the mistakes of the Communist Party was translating into a deeply sectarian attitude among his followers.


The question of when the revolution in Russia degenerated is inextricably linked to the question of democracy inside the Communist Party. Many on both right and left argue that the Bolsheviks had always been authoritarian in character. They point to Lenin’s insistence on “centralism” in the Bolshevik Party, and his argument that the working class needed a “vanguard”. However, despite the Bolsheviks at times needing a command structure and an authoritative Central Committee due to the intensity of Tsarist oppression, the Bolsheviks were in essence a democratic organisation.

In the revolutionary period of 1905, Lenin and others argued for an opening up of the party’s structures. A similar process occurred in 1917. The ultra-democratic and libertarian nature of the soviets and workers’ committees had an organic relationship with the Bolshevik Party – the party called for “all power to the Soviets”, because its membership was very much of the class. The Bolsheviks elected their leadership, debated every line and policy, and had the freedom to form oppositional factions. Similarly, within the soviets, there was a spirit of cooperation between the Bolsheviks and others outside their party.

However, after the soviets seized power in October 1917, this changed drastically. In 1918, the remnants of the Tsarist regime launched a counter-revolution. Every major capitalist country either backed the reaction, or actually invaded Russia. The revolution was under siege. A brutal civil war began, during which the working class, which was the Bolsheviks’ base and was already suffering after three years of world war, was decimated. The libertarian spirit in the class brought about by the 1917 revolution came to an end, as in order to win the war, the Bolsheviks employed increasingly authoritarian methods. Added to this, as the democratic structures of the working class collapsed, Communist officials took their place. The bureaucracy began to take control.

Mirroring this, the previously open, democratic internal culture of the Bolshevik party gave way to an increasingly bureaucratic, top-down structure. Debate was curtailed, factions were banned. This process did not begin as Trotsky was being sidelined, but much earlier, when he was arguably the most influential party leader after Lenin. There were many factions, before they were banned, which challenged the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Communist Party: the Workers’ Opposition, the Decembrists, and others. Trotsky opposed all of these. Serge’s relationship with the democratic opposition, inside and outside the party, was far from consistent either. He supported many of the measures which later he would recognise as authoritarian. However, Serge argued that such measures, even if they could be justified in the context of the civil war, were still ultimately undemocratic.

The purpose of outlining this shift away from party democracy, and Trotsky’s support for it, is that it had a distinct impact on Trotsky’s view of party organisation. Previous to the revolution, Trotsky had argued against Lenin’s model of the party, fearing that the centralised party structure, with its powerful Central Committee and emphasis on professional revolutionaries, would lead to substitutionism and a lack of democracy. However, by 1917, after the February Revolution, the Bolsheviks had become a mass party, with grassroots democratic structures based upon the revolutionary working class. Furthermore, it was the only major party which was openly calling for the overthrow of the government and the establishment of a workers’ state. Trotsky threw his lot in with the Bolsheviks and his Mezhrayonka organisation merged with them.

As outlined above, the Bolshevik Party followed an increasingly undemocratic trajectory after 1917. Many Communists, including Trotsky, began to conflate the temporary measures that Lenin supported to keep the Bolsheviks in power with the essence of “Leninism” itself. The emphasis on centralisation and professional revolutionaries in Lenin’s earlier works was interpreted, particularly by Trotsky’s opponents Zinoviev and Stalin, as justification for a top-down party structure and increasing bureaucratisation.

Although by 1923 Trotsky began to rethink his attitude to many of these issues, and began to argue for the opening up of party democracy and an end to the ban on factions, he retained an often top-down version of Bolshevism. The organisations he and his followers founded outside of Russia in the 1930s often differed little from the Stalinist parties when it came to structure, with the exception that they usually allowed factions, and tended to be very small.


After Serge was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1936 he joined Trotsky’s new organisation, the Fourth International. After the catastrophic failure of the Stalinist Communist Party to halt the victory of fascism in Germany, Trotsky resolved that the Communist parties could not be reformed, and set about forming new parties. These tended to be small, isolated organisations, with few roots in the working class. Serge became active in France, and was aghast at what he viewed as the French section of the Fourth International’s sectarianism. He wrote about how pages of articles were written debating minor points of theory with other revolutionaries, while little was produced for the consumption of the working class.

Much of this was a result of the argument about the nature of the Soviet Union and at what point it degenerated. This was an important question, and the very nature of the question meant that it was not surprising that the debate was strained. However, for Serge, this was a grave error. He thought it essential that Trotsky’s followers unite with all those revolutionaries who rejected Stalinism. It was not enough only to work with those who they believed had the “correct” (Trotsky’s) opinion on the nature of the Soviet Union. They had to work with anarchists, libertarian socialists and anti-Stalinist Marxists of all kinds, if possible in one organisation, in order to build an alternative revolutionary party to the Stalinised Communist parties which dominated most of the far left in Europe.

This, for Trotsky, was incorrect. He argued that the Fourth International was the true inheritor of the Bolshevik tradition. The important thing was the continuation of the theory and practice of the only revolutionary party which had successfully seized power. To unite with those who disagreed on fundamental questions would be to dilute and compromise on revolutionary politics.

Much of Trotsky’s analysis came from his incorrect analysis of the social and economic situation at the time. Trotsky believed that capitalism had entered its final crisis; he believed that the Stalinist bureaucracy, being just a ruling clique over existing working class institutions, was inherently unstable and would collapse. He argued that the working class would very quickly move towards a revolutionary movement. In such a period there was no time, or need, for the careful building of united organisations which occurred before the First World War. While the majority of the politicised working class looked either to the Stalinist Communist parties or the social democratic parties, they would move rapidly away from them towards a new revolutionary leadership, and it was the role of the Fourth International to provide that leadership. A pluralistic organisation uniting all anti-Stalinist revolutionaries such as Serge envisaged would be a recipe for indecisiveness and vacillation, in a period when the working class needed clear revolutionary leadership. The most important example of these differences was over the question of the Spanish Revolution and the POUM.


The Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) was a mass socialist party in Catalonia. Built by the Trotskyist Communist Left, which joined with the Workers Peasants Bloc, it had 70,000 members at its height during the civil war in Spain in 1936. It was capable of forming its own militia to fight the fascists, and was rooted in the workers’ councils and revolutionary unions. The POUM supported the Popular Front, a tactic argued for by the Stalinists, where the social democratic and Communist organisations worked alongside anti-fascist bourgeois parties.

Trotsky correctly classified the POUM as a centrist organisation, in that it had stated revolutionary politics, and included many Marxists in its membership and leadership, but it also included reformists, and fudged the issue of revolution and reform. Ultimately, due to the vacillations produced by this unstable formulation, it fell on the side of reformism.

Trotsky’s followers in Spain, rather than participating in this mass anti-Stalinist socialist organisation (a rare occurrence in Spain at this time), instead formed the Bolshevik-Leninists, a tiny Fourth Internationalist organisation with virtually no influence over events or roots in the working class. Furthermore, Trotsky argued that in fact the POUM was the main block to successful revolution in Spain. Centrist organisations, he argued, while they contain many revolutionaries and may employ radical revolutionary rhetoric, remain essentially reformist. They hold back the struggle and tail the bourgeoisie.

Serge recognised many of Trotsky’s criticisms of the POUM, but for him the Fourth International’s stance was a disastrous example of the sectarianism which had taken over the organisation. His argument was that to abstain from a mass organisation like the POUM was to absent yourself from the struggle as a whole, which was essentially what the Bolshevik-Leninists had done. Much better to work within the POUM, and pull it in a radical direction. The Fourth International was not only absenting itself from a genuinely mass workers’ party; it was attempting to dictate strategy to that party from the outside. The International’s analysis might be absolutely correct, but that mattered little if it was completely isolated.

In relation to the POUM, Serge was once again exercising his “double duty”, pledging solidarity and support to it, and defending it against attacks from the right, while at the same time criticising it when he disagreed. However, to Trotsky this was yet another sign of Serge’s centrism. He accused Serge of wanting to “manufacture a sort of synthesis of anarchism, POUMism, and Marxism”. This was far from the case. However, Serge did aim to ensure the greatest level of unity in action between revolutionaries and always fought against divisions within the movement. He saw the increasing sectarianism of the Trotskyists as a block to building a genuinely democratic and united revolutionary party. Serge argued for a broad party uniting all the anti-Stalinist left, which was democratic and open with a collective, elected leadership. So long as the Fourth International continued to see itself as the new “World Party of Bolshevism”, and all other revolutionaries as renegades and reactionaries, it would be doomed to the sectarian wilderness.


Despite any criticisms of Trotsky expressed here, he was still far and away one of the most outstanding contributors to Marxist theory and practice. Even during the 1930s when, in my opinion, he was making serious mistakes with regard to revolutionary organisation, he was also developing a theory of what fascism was, and how to combat it – arguably his most valuable contribution to Marxist theory.

However, one of the problems with such towering figures is that their ideas cease to be just that – ideas – and become dogma. Trotsky was president of the St Petersburg Soviet, planned the October insurrection, founded the Red Army and led it to victory against the Whites, he opposed the Stalinist counter-revolution, theorised fascism and left us an invaluable guide on how to fight it – but one thing he never achieved was the building of a revolutionary party. Previous to joining the Bolshevik party in 1917, he was largely isolated with a few followers; he was capable of intervening in the movement to some degree, particularly through his writing, but limited by the lack of a proper organisation. By 1917, at the height of the revolutionary movement, his organisation, Mezhrayonka, had around 4,000 members. When it was founded, the Fourth International boasted only 7,000 members worldwide.

The sectarianism which became common in the Trotskyist movement in the 1930s has been a recurring theme throughout our history. Trotskyism to many has become synonymous with splits, isolation and hostile factions. Trotskyists have not only continued to be hostile to other strains of revolutionary thought, but are arguably even worse-behaved towards each other.

Serge developed an antidote to this. That is not to say he provided all the solutions to the problems, but his ideas can give us an insight into what has gone wrong, and provide us with some clues about how to put it right.

The Trotskyist left in Britain is currently in a state of crisis. It is failing to relate to the wider movement in any effective or meaningful way. The splits, the inability for different factions to work together, the isolation and the dogmatism have all driven us to breaking point. There is a real thirst among those of us who consider ourselves Trotskyists, among other revolutionaries and within the left as a whole for unity and new perspectives and methods of organising which will take us beyond the mistakes of the past. We need to seize on this mood and build a real revolutionary movement.

Ahmed Shawki: Perspectives for the Left - Socialism 2013 Tsar To Lenin Tariq Ali & Oliver Stone "Untold History of the US" (May, 2013) Marx's Early Writings: Once More Unto the Breach: Video 2 of 2 Marx's Early Writings: Once More Unto the Breach: Video 1 of 2 Marxism & the Legacy of Subaltern Studies Tariq Ali: the crisis in Syria - questions and answers Scotland: Tariq Ali on independence;Dismantling the British State: Strategy, Tactics and Ideology Luxemburg, Lenin, Levi: Rethinking revolutionary history The power of the people Anti Stalin Left . How should socialists organise? Paul Le Blanc, Gilbert Achcar discuss Leninism, left unity, revolutionary parties Is religion good or evil? Michael Lebowitz: Primitive accumulation versus contested reproduction Adam Hanieh: A strategic overview of the struggles in the Middle East Relevance of Marxism Today The future of the Bolivarian Revolution after Hugo Chavez Enter the video embed code here. Remember to change the size to 310 x 250 in the embed code.

Recent Comments

There is something about me..

Recent Posts