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Archive for September, 2016

Behind the scenes of the cross-LoC surgical strikes-SUHASINI HAIDAR

Posted by admin On September - 29 - 2016 Comments Off on Behind the scenes of the cross-LoC surgical strikes-SUHASINI HAIDAR


Operations launched after Pakistan refused to take action against terror launch pads, say officials

In the overnight operation of attacking terror “launch pads” in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, para-commandos of the Army, struck at as many as seven locations, possibly more, and exacted casualties in “double digits”, officials privy to the operations tell The Hindu. Photographs and videos of the operation will be released soon, sources confirmed.

According to officials present at one of several briefings given by the military, MoD and MEA in the course of Thursday morning, the Army was given the go-ahead for a “counter-terror operation” in the aftermath of the Uri attack.

“The government gave the Army a free hand to plan and carry out the attack,” a senior member of the government said. Even before the Uri attack, the Army was concerned by what they saw as a build-up at the terror “launch pads” just across the LoC.

“Despite repeated requests from the government to Pakistan’s High Commissioner, the warnings were not taken seriously,” MEA officials said. The government has pointed to 19 infiltration attempts in the past two months along similar routes in four sectors along the LoC, but say they met with no support from Pakistan.

“This was in response to specific intelligence inputs. No aerial strikes were undertaken. The Pakistan Army has accepted that they lost two of their soldiers and that nine were injured. Usually, the Indian Army fires from the Indian side of the LoC on such infiltrators after they cross over the LoC. The launch camps are temporary in nature, unlike training camps. It is where infiltrators gather before crossing over,” Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore told The Hindu shortly after the DGMO announced the strikes to the media.

Officials said heavy casualties were inflicted on the militants present in the terror camps. According to one source, some of the troops crossed the LoC on foot, while others flew in on Mi-17 gunship helicopters that also gave the Indian commandos cover from fire. However, Rathore denied the story, saying helicopters had not crossed the LoC and were not involved in the operation.

Meanwhile, with dawn and the safe return of the para-commandos, the government began to work the phones, DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh called his Pakistani counterpart to say that the strikes were over and India didn’t intend to escalate the conflict. The Prime Ministeri and the Cabinet Committee on Security were briefed, as were President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke to their counterparts in all Security Council member countries and key countries in West Asia to inform them of the operation.

According to Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khwaja Asif military spokesperson, two Pakistani soldiers were killed and 9 were injured. Pakistan’s DG, Inter Services Public Relations, said they hwere killed in crossfire at the LoC. “There has been no surgical strike by India, instead there had been a cross border fire initiated and conducted by India which is existential phenomenon,” the spokesperson said.

(with inputs from Puja Mehra)

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

India planning a ‘separation wall’ in Kashmir-Baba Umar

Posted by admin On September - 29 - 2016 Comments Off on India planning a ‘separation wall’ in Kashmir-Baba Umar


Taking a cue from Israel’s proposed separation wall along the Jordanian border, India plans to build a similar but higher 179km long wall in the Indian-administered Kashmir to separate the southwestern portion of the disputed region from Pakistan.

Pakistan and rebel groups fighting in the disputed Himalayan region have, however, warned against such a move.

According to Indian officials, the wall would pass through 118 villages within the three districts of disputed Kashmir and would be 41 meters wide and 10 meters high to accommodate bunkers and check posts.

“It would be one of the most significant Border Guarding System in the country which has not been experimented or created in India before,” Dharminder Parikh a top official of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) told Al Jazeera.

The BSF official said the fence would help “stop the illegal crossing by militants” and the requisition of land was sent to the Indian-administered Kashmir government in 2012 but “we have come to know that they there is still some land which has to be bought from the villagers for construction purposes.”

Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region, is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan by a de facto border called Line-of-Control (LoC) and further in the Southwest by a serpentine Ceasefire Line which New Delhi calls the International Border with Pakistan.

The LoC has been coiled by India with several metres high double-row concertina-wire fencing to block armed rebels from entering and launching attacks on Indian soldiers inside Indian-administered Kashmir. The wall always remains electrified and is linked with what many believe are Israeli-made surveillance devices.

Both the South Asian rivals have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Muslim-majority territory and have yet to tackle the core issues of the Kashmir dispute, control and sovereignty of the Himalayan region.

India’s plan of construction of a concrete wall  on pattern of Berlin Wall is unacceptable.

– Shabir Shah, Kashmir pro-independence leader
Pakistan controls almost 33 percent of Kashmir, India about 45 percent and China the rest.

Muslim-armed rebels from almost 14 groups are fighting Indian soldiers in Kashmir since 1989 in a confrontation aimed at independence of Kashmir or merger of the territory with Pakistan.

New Delhi often accuses Islamabad of fomenting unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir – a charge Islamabad denies.

Pakistan says it offers moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris fighting against Indian rule.

Both countries have held the decade old ceasefire but sporadic skirmishes are common. Recently both countries traded blame over ceasefire violations along the de facto border in Kashmir.

On September 26, at least 12 people, including four policemen, six army personnel and a colonel were killed when armed rebels raided a police station in Kathua district and later an army camp in the adjoining Samba district. The attackers were believed to have snuck through the Ceasefire Line.

On October 23, Indian officials said Pakistani rangers fired at over 50 positions in the Samba sector, where the wall is coming up, which was “the most extensive ceasefire violation in one night in the past two decades”.

Thwarting infiltrations

Indian officials say they plan to dig a parallel trench along the wall and add a multi-tier screening system to thwart “infiltrations and ceasefire violations” in the area.

An official of Indian interior ministry confirmed to Al Jazeera that the barrier will come up because of security issues and the total cost is still under consideration.

“Security is the most important aspect of it [the fence]. It is a joint project of the Home Ministry, Defence Ministry and the government of Jammu and Kashmir. The total cost on the project is yet to be outlined,” said K S Dhatwalia, Additional Director General (Media) of the Indian Home Ministry.

An email questionnaire sought by Dhatwalia for more details on the project, however, elicited no response. But there are growing fears that farmers will be losing prime land to the fence.

“They have already built a fence on the zero line. Now they want to build this wall very much inside the Indian territory which will not benefit the farmers,” says Sham Lal Chowdhary, a pro-Indian politician in the region.

“The farmers have not been compensated for the lands under [existing] fencing and mining areas. They cannot grow crops. This embankment would further squeeze their earnings,” he added.

Replica of Israeli separation wall

The plan to erect an all-weather fence along the 740km long LoC that divides mountainous region into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Indian-administered Kashmir was also presented to then India’s Home Secretary R K Singh in 2012, according to defence sources.

That year, a top police officer – who visited Israel and observed the efficacy of the fence along Israeli-Palestine barrier – insisted that the replica of such a fence in disputed Kashmir was possible.

The Berlin wall fell like a pack of cards and occupation of Palestine has not made the citizens of ‘Israel’ any safer than before.

Abdul Majid Zargar, a Kashmiri columnist
“But the plan was disliked by the Indian army,” sources say adding, “Army officials present in the meeting raised concerns. Their point was that an all weather fencing would isolate villages permanently along the LoC and would also mean giving away large tracts of land along the border.”

Officials of the Indian army, sources say, had argued that the terrain and geography in Kashmir makes it much “tougher to replicate” the Israeli-Palestinian separation wall.

The new wall, which is coming on the largely flat areas of the disputed region, has, however drawn criticism from various groups including rebel groups and pro-independence political parties in the disputed Kashmir.

“India’s plan of construction of a concrete wall on pattern of Berlin Wall is unacceptable,” said Shabir Shah, a pro-independence leader in India-administered Kashmir.

Shah, who is also known as the “Nelson Mandela” of Kashmir for having spent over 25 years in Indian jails said, “The 21st century is not for building political walls along borders but to dismantle them.”

The chief of United Jihad Council (UJC) – an umbrella of 14 rebel groups fighting against New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir – Syed Sallah-ud-Din, in a statement, said that the move “aimed at converting Kashmir into a prison”.

“Construction of the wall along LoC is like the Berlin wall and is aimed to make the occupation of India permanent in Kashmir but the move will be opposed on all the fronts,” the group’s statement said.

Others have called New Delhi’s move a “regressive nostalgia”.

“India’s fresh bid to construct a long wall along the divided border is a sign of regressive nostalgia. History is replete with instances where walls have been built to preserve occupied lands but without any success. The Berlin wall fell like a pack of cards and occupation of Palestine has not made the citizens of ‘Israel’ any safer than before”, argues Abdul Majid Zargar, a Kashmiri columnist.

Pakistan too has warned that such a move by India will be a “unilateral” one. On Thursday, the Pakistan PM’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz said, “Any unilateral action in this regard by India cannot declare the LoC as permanent border.”

The state-run Radio Pakistan quoting Aziz said Pakistan has not received any information from India about the construction of a structure like the Berlin Wall along the LoC.

—Al Jazeera, 29-9-2016
Additional reportage by Wasim Khalid

Follow Baba Umar on Twitter: @Babaumarr

Source: Al Jazeera
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

A story to two caste struggles-SHIV VISVANATHAN

Posted by admin On September - 28 - 2016 Comments Off on A story to two caste struggles-SHIV VISVANATHAN


Members of Maratha community during a silent rally in Pune. Photo: Dattatraya Adhalge.(HindU)

The Dalit fighting for rights still upholds the universality of citizenship. The dominant castes insisting on consolidating their privileges reduce democracy to the worst kind of parochial politics.

Politics cannot be studied as a mere set of facts as if they are little nuggets to be polished and examined on their own. Politics needs frameworks which provide ways for interpretation and understanding. One senses the need for this when one watches the sudden explosion of upper caste agitations. An ethnography of these demonstrations alone is not enough. One has to see them as statements of values, of the manner in which democracy is seen and assessed. One can see three visions of democracy contesting and overlapping with each other.

A politics of anxiety

The early socialist vision saw democracy as a place where rights to quality were worked out, where the marginal and minority groups used the democratic process to be empowered as citizens. Such a vision is captured in the careers of B.R. Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia. The second kind of vision inaugurated after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power was a majoritarian vision, where electoralism was a consolidation of numbers. The transition from democracy as a value to a fact of demography becomes obvious here. There is a third kind of contest emerging where democracy, like the market, becomes a competitive game, where right loses to might and democracy becomes a fragile Hobbesian word.

Here the battle is not for justice to the downtrodden but a search for consolidation and privilege. Quotas and reservation no longer embody a search for justice, but an interest group politics where the powerful seek to accumulate more power. There is a mirror inversion of concepts like justice, victimhood, fairness as these same concepts are used by higher castes in a new “Alice in Wonderland” way, where they insist words mean what they say.

There is a politics of anxiety played out by the upper class who see democracy not as a framework of universal values but as a basis for consolidating a parochial world. The contrast is stark between a Dalit or tribal battling for rights and the demands of upper castes such as Patels, Jats and Marathas. The logic of the scripts and the nature of political dramas is radically different. First, the Dalits’ protests for rights have the character of an appeal. They are seeking to go beyond deprivation. The upper caste protests convey a sense of threat, of aggression and violence. For Dalits, democracy is a value; for upper castes it appears relevant as long as it sustains them instrumentally in power. If democracy does not work, it can be discarded like an old piece of tissue or a rag.

The body languages of the two dramas are different. One acts as a shareholder threatening to sell his shares or dismiss the directors if the firm fails to show profit. The marginals speak the language of suffering, deprivation and pain. The dominant castes utter the language of privilege, of consolidation. Rights meet a mentality of consolidation. One creates a politics of consensus, protest and persuasion, the other engages in a game of threat, preferring democracy as a zero-sum game. The Dalit fighting for rights still upholds the universality of citizenship. The dominant castes insisting on consolidating their privileges reduce democracy to the worst kind of parochial politics, a bullyboy spectacle which makes democracy appear empty and ironic. One sees this drama enacted with ruthless clarity in the recent protest of Marathas.

Their political script is simple. On Sunday, September 11, lakhs of Marathas poured out into the streets of Pune, paralysing the city. They had two demands. The first was a demand to repeal the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the second a demand for a greater share in the reservation. The power of the Maratha groups is seen not only in their hold on the city but also in the indirect endorsement of Sharad Pawar, the Maratha leader, and Raj Thackeray, chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. An endorsement of the two leading godfathers of Maharashtra speaks of the sheer power of the community.

And of atrocity

Central to the first of the demands is what one calls the politics of atrocity. Critical to this is a categorical act of denial of caste atrocity. The scenario of violence is typical and predictable. A Dalit youth is usually stoned or lynched on grounds of suspicion. His alleged crime is an illicit relationship with an upper class/caste girl. When investigated, the allegations hide deeper conflicts over grazing land. Such Gairan land often cultivated by landless Dalits has now been regularised by the Maharashtra government.

The upper castes feel the Atrocities Act is often misused and want it repealed. Yet what few talk about is a stranger legal battle where upper castes in turn file counter-cases of robbery and dacoity embroiling Dalits in the entrails of law. What is clear in discussions about these battles is that there is little respect for the rule of law. By turning the question of atrocity into a law and order problem, Marathas hope to get the Act repealed.

There is a strange reversal of victimology with upper castes almost amnesiac about their own atrocities and vigilantism. They are demanding justice for a 14-year-old girl who was raped and killed allegedly by three Dalit youths. It is almost as if history is inverted and the roster of atrocities against Dalits forgotten.

A misleading silence

The second demand is that Marathas as a caste community be brought under the reservation category. It is almost bizarre to watch a dominant community with roughly 33 per cent of the population — and which has electorally dominated State politics, virtually controlled the powerful cooperative movement — now play helpless and vulnerable, demanding reservation. As a wag put it, they are demonstrating a politics of anxiety about their various fiefdoms, signalling a future decline in power. The electoral frame which they dominated almost zero-sum style is now fragmenting as Other Backward Classes and Dalits enter the power game. It is an attempt to buy insurance for the future realising full well that the current quotas are a bit inelastic and that the Supreme Court has not looked kindly at their demands.

Currently the protests involve a series of silent marches as a statement of their problems. But the silence is misleading. What one senses behind it is the need to use violence to reassert power. One senses that a dominant caste community which feels threatened acts as if it is far more vulnerable than the communities it has exploited. There is a double danger here. First, that the silence so far is staged and temporary. Second, it is clear that what is being signalled is the possibility of violence as dominant groups which lorded over electoral democracy now feel threatened. It is not rights one is worried about but the very fabric of democracy. An electoralism which tends to go beyond the constitutional rules of the game negates democracy.

Such an attitude is not peculiar to the Maratha struggle. A contempt for law and order, the threat of violence and the rise of violence have marked all these dominant caste battles. The horrendous violence inflicted by Jats on other communities and on property was the hallmark of the recent struggles for reservation in Haryana. The second factor which has not been fully investigated or publicised is the full involvement and connivance of the local police in the agitation. It is almost as if law and order and justice are the preserve of dominant castes. Democracy as an aberration cannot or should not alter the dominant structures of power radically.

Between the appeals and protests of Dalits and tribals and the arrogant demands for continued dominance lies the new problematic form of democracy in India. Democracy as a way of life is threatened by electoral democracy as a rule game. First, majoritarianism threatens the pluralism of Indian democracy. Second, dominance of castes in the system threatens any hope for rights, for a more equalitarian system. The challenge of the future lies in how democracy reinvents itself to handle these two contradictions. Otherwise, India faces the final irony — that of democracy as a mechanism quietly corroding the institutional values of democracy as a value system.

Shiv Visvanathan is Director, Centre for the Study of Knowledge Systems, O.P. Jindal Global University.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Salafi-jehadism and its cohorts-TALMIZ AHMAD

Posted by admin On September - 28 - 2016 Comments Off on Salafi-jehadism and its cohorts-TALMIZ AHMAD


Two books attempt to explain the apparent contradiction between Islam’s precept and its practice in the context of the wanton destruction and violence being perpetrated in its name. By TALMIZ AHMAD
ALMOST every day, there are reports of a jehadi organisation perpetrating some atrocity or the other in which several innocent victims are killed or badly injured. Images of widespread carnage at airports, shopping malls, concert auditoria, hotels, restaurants and busy streets fill our television screens while solemn reporters inform us that security agencies suspect this to be an attack by the Islamic State (or I.S., also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) or its local affiliate or even an individual, a “lone wolf”, who was indoctrinated to carry out a suicide attack by I.S. propaganda on social media. Over the past five years, these attacks have led to a beefing up of security organisations and an increase in intrusive security checks at public places and have generated a climate of fear and uncertainty among ordinary people across the world.

This jehadi violence has also inculcated a deep suspicion and distrust of Muslims, who are increasingly being seen as possible terrorists, so much so that they can be offloaded from domestic and international flights if even one of their co-passengers is uncomfortable about their presence. The problem of “Islam” has now become central to the contentious politics of Europe and the United States, with politicians seeking electoral office competing with each other in xenophobic anti-Muslim posturing and proclamations. Most people are just bewildered about how so much wanton destruction can be perpetrated in the name of a world religion, most of whose adherents claim is a faith that preaches moderation, peace and mutual understanding and accommodation. The two books reviewed here attempt to explain this apparent contradiction between Islam’s precept and its practice.


Shiraz Maher’s work on Salafi-jehadism is a timely and substantial effort to explain the roots of the ideology of jehad. He traces its principal ideas to their origins in Islam’s first texts, the Quran and the Hadith (the “traditions” of the Prophet Muhammad, referring to his words and actions), and the commentaries of the early scholars, and then explains how jehadi ideologues have reinterpreted these ideas to analyse Muslims’ present-day predicament and provide justification for contemporary confrontations between Islam and its enemies. For, he points out at the outset, the ideology of jehad and its modern-day protagonist, the I.S., “sits within the mainstream tradition of Salafi-Jehadi thought”, but whose roots have been shaped “by the experiences of Sunni Islam over the last century and beyond”.
“Salafism” refers to the thought and conduct of the first three generations of Muslims, a period that roughly covers the first 200 years of Islam. On the basis of a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, these first Muslims are said to reflect the characteristics of the best Muslims and hence are worthy of emulation by later generations in order to realise the perfect Islamic life. Thus, as Maher notes, Salafism provides “an idealised version of Islam that enshrines both authenticity and purity”. All through the 19th and 20th centuries, as Muslims experienced defeat and despair, it is to these “righteous ancestors” that their intellectuals turned, seeking to derive from their words and deeds the ability to cope with the present-day dilemmas of their community through a fresh interpretation of their early conduct and precepts.

Their understanding was of course largely influenced by the political context in which the academics or activists were placed. Thus, their first tracts were impacted on by the experience of colonial domination, while in the 20th century the intellectuals responded to Western control over their political order and, later, the installation of authoritarian rule in most Arab polities, with their rulers suborned by Western powers. The understanding that these intellectuals derived was extraordinarily varied, stretching from the extremely conservative and revivalist to very modern and liberal and accommodative of most of the ideas of Western Enlightenment, but it was rooted in the same concern: how to reconcile the beliefs and precepts of Islam to the needs of modern times.

In terms of their political orientation, these Salafi intellectuals have traditionally been divided into three groups: quietists, those who decry political activism by the citizenry and leave decision-making to the ruler, who is then expected to rule according to Islamic precepts; activists, those who advocate an active role for citizens in shaping their political order on Islamic lines; and jehadis, those who are willing to use violence to realise a society that is based on God’s law. The latter approach is clearly explained in a statement by Al Qaeda, the world’s first transnational jehadi movement: “We believe that the ruler who does not rule in accordance with God’s revelation, as well as his supporters are infidel apostates. Armed and violent rebellion against them is an individual duty on every Muslim.” This category of Salafism is referred to as “Salafi-jehadism”, which is the subject of Maher’s investigation in the book under review.

Salafi-jehadism has had numerous ideologues over the past 70 years who have described its various characteristics on the basis of their interpretation of Islam’s texts and the later commentaries on these texts. In so doing, they frequently stretch the limits of old texts and imbue them with meanings that support their present-day interests, even as they compete vigorously with each other to uphold the value of their own offering.
Five attributes

From this copious body of competitive literature, Maher has derived five attributes that define Salafi-jehadism: jehad; takfir, excommunication of those guilty of apostasy; al-wala al-bara, the concept of “avowal and rejection” for Allah; tawhid, the idea of oneness or unity of God; and hakimiyya, the establishment of Allah’s sovereignty in a political order. Each of these concepts is rooted in Islam and has been discussed by scholars for centuries; what makes them relevant in the context of Salafi-jehadism is the unique meaning that jehadi ideologues have imparted to them. Such meanings have usually been derived in periods of conflict and reflect the sense of being at war with dangerous enemies.

Jehad has been a central part of Islamic faith; rooted in the Arabic term that means labour or struggle or effort, it has traditionally meant the individual’s personal struggle against temptation and sin. But, it has also referred to a struggle against the enemies of Islam to defend the faith from external threat. It is the latter meaning that has motivated jehadis, so much so that their ideologues such as Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) and Abdullah Azzam in the 20th century have placed it as the foremost obligation for a Muslim after belief in Islam. Jehad, Azzam says, should be seen as an “ordinary act of worship” on a par with prayer and fasting. The current head of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has said that jehad “takes precedence over feeding the hungry, even if the hungry would starve as a result”.

Contemporary thinking on jehad by its ideologues was fine-tuned on the battlefields of Afghanistan during the “global jehad” of the 1980s. It was here that Osama bin Laden and his companions imbued jehad with its fierce anti-Western value, seeing the U.S. in particular as the evil power behind the thrones of the Arab autocrats, a view that was consolidated when the Gulf countries sought Western help to overturn Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. Later, as the jehadi assaults on their near and far enemies became more vicious and widespread, the ideologues readily found in Islamic texts justification for the killing of security personnel, government officials, women and children and fellow Muslims. In this war, there were no “innocents”.

Thus, the Quranic injunctions of qisas, the law of equal retaliation, and qital, killing of the protected ones among unbelievers, for which stern rules are provided in traditional texts, have now been expanded to embrace all the victims of jehadi violence on the basis that the West and Arab regimes are the enemies of Islam; hence the killing of all their supporters is divinely sanctioned, so much so that in democratic countries the very act of voting makes the citizens of that nation collectively culpable and hence worthy of annihilation. As Maher has noted: “… it appeared as if Al Qaeda was prepared to develop its own understanding of the rules relating to jehad in such a way that they could license almost anything at all.”

Takfir and tawhid
Similarly, the concept of takfir, declaring a Muslim an apostate, is being used to sanction violence against other Muslims in the name of protecting Islam from unbelievers. Ibn Taymiyya used this idea to vilify the Mongols who had destroyed the Abbasid caliphate and threatened his own home, while 20th century ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb and Shukri Mustafa used it to describe their entire society as un-Islamic and thus make jehad a legitimate weapon against the rulers.

Later, takfir became a potent instrument in jehadi hands after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when the country’s jehadis, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, used it to target the Shia community, describing it pejoratively as rafida (rejectionist), those who have left the fold of Islam and are now collaborating with the U.S. occupiers of their country. This was thus a powerful weapon against attempts by U.S. occupation forces to overturn the historical political order in Iraq and empower Shias.

On the same lines, Salafi-jehadis have used the concepts of al-wala al-bara and tawhid as instruments of war, taking them far beyond their original meanings. The former, which referred to “loyalty and disavowal” for the sake of Allah, had traditionally referred to the personal conduct of Muslims. Over the past two centuries, its meaning has expanded steadily to separate the believing and practising Muslim from “the Other”, the non-believer. More recently, ideologues have imparted to it a “muscular and aggressive” character, positing, in the words of Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi, that “[t]he Muslim has not openly declared his religion until he opposes every assembly in whatever disbelief it is famous for, while declaring his enmity towards it”.

Similarly, tawhid, which initially merely referred to the oneness or unity of God, has acquired a strong political connotation in that ideologues now insist that it requires not just belief in God’s oneness but that this belief should constantly be manifested in action. This means the rejection of all those actions that constitute association with God or seeking intercession (e.g., of a saint or an amulet or an incantation) to reach God. What the jehadis have done is take this idea to an extreme by insisting that Islam as a “living ideal” demands that acceptance of tawhid inform and be apparent in every action of the Muslim.

For instance, if Western powers are accepted as tyrants, it is the duty of the Muslim to be always in conflict with them; if Arab states are hostile to “godless” communism, they cannot support the interests of communist parties in south Yemen; even Saudi attempts to bring Fatah and Hamas together were not acceptable to Al Qaeda since they were supported by the U.S., thus tainting them as a “secular” U.S. project. Tawhid, thus, has become in jehadi thought “a rigid doctrine of political absolutism” that cannot countenance any compromise or accommodation.

This brings Maher to the last attribute of Salafi-jehadism, hakimiyya, the realisation of God’s sovereignty in an Islamic political order. Maher makes the interesting point that this is one idea that is not Salafi in that it is not derived from Islam’s first texts. Also, the idea was not developed in West Asia, like other Salafi-jehadism concepts, but in South Asia. Here, Maher gives due credit to the pioneering contributions of the philosopher-poet Mohammed Iqbal, the ideologue-activist Abul Ala Maududi and the quietist-intellectual Abul Hassan Ali Hasani Nadwi.

The author points out that Nadwi used to translate Maududi’s writings into Arabic, which were then read by Sayyid Qutb. But, Nadwi made his own contribution to Qutb’s thinking by introducing him to the idea of the contemporary Muslim world being in a state of jahilliyya, an age of ignorance, reminiscent of the era that the Prophet Muhammad had corrected with the message of Islam.

Briefly, the concept of hakimiyya posits an Islamic political entity that has God as the sovereign authority, thus providing no space for a constitution, a democratic order or popular sovereignty, all of which suggest a secular system of governance. This approach is thus founded on a sharp separation between an Islamic and a Western political order; indeed, it places the two in confrontation with each other. Maher explains Qutb’s view thus: “Islam would have to survive within its own silo: isolated, distinct, and diametrically estranged from anything other than Islam itself.”

While Salafi-jehadism has thus placed itself in a straitjacket by denying itself any flexibility in shaping its political order, a number of non-jehadi Islamist writers have put forward a wide variety of options to achieve their Islamic state. This is in fact one of the most exciting areas of contemporary Islamist discourse after the debacle of the Arab Spring, when Salafi intellectuals and activists are coming up with ideas to replace the decadent and sterile authoritarian systems in West Asia with alternatives based on new social contracts between rulers and their people, which would provide for participatory forms of government.
Given this background, it is surprising that Maher should assert that “[t]he suspicion of modern politics is perhaps one of the most pervasive and enduring features of Islamic political thought today”, and then go on to say that Arab thinkers, while rejecting their colonial experiences, “were casting aside everything associated with Western political structures”. Maher would have done well to recall that, even as long ago as 1983, Albert Hourani had devoted his book Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 to a study of several Arab scholars “who saw the growth of European power and the spread of new ideas as a challenge to which they had to respond by changing their own societies… through acceptance of some of the ideas and institutions of modern Europe”. Later works by Anthony Black, Hamid Enayat, Larbi Sadiki and Suha Taji-Farouki and Basheer Nafi discuss Islamic political thought nearer our time. Nowhere do we have the impression that Islamist intellectuals have been reluctant to marry Islamist principles with Western political norms. In fact, even Arab activists such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s and the Sahwa in Saudi Arabia more recently have agitated for a constitution, political parties, elections, responsible government, human rights, gender sensitivity, etc. Salman Awda and Abdallah Nasir al-Subayh, both quoted in the book, have advocated a fresh social contract that would accommodate “God as hakim (ruler) and safeguard an individual’s human rights, justice and security”.

To summarise, in response to contemporary political challenges facing the Arab and Muslim people, Salafi-jehadi ideologues, in the well-established Salafi tradition of the past 200 years, have attempted to reconcile their faith with the demands of contemporary times. In their view, their faith, as defined by the first three generations of Islam, is under threat from the allure of a secular order that removes religious belief from the public space, replacing it with materialism and immorality. Linked with this, they see an even more dangerous challenge: that the Islamic realm is in danger of being overwhelmed by Western powers, led by the U.S., that seek to subjugate Muslim lands, plunder their wealth and subvert their political, economic, cultural and spiritual order.

Thus, in their view, Muslims have no choice but to defend themselves from this onslaught, which is being organised by the West with the full connivance of their own tyrannous rulers. The Salafi-jehadi ideologues see a permanent state of confrontation and conflict with these enemies of Islam. They have therefore gone back to the fundamental tenets of their faith and have drawn from them a new belief system that defines the Muslim identity in the narrowest possible terms and sharply separates this Muslim from the apostate and unbelieving “Other”, and by an extraordinary and unprecedented effort of interpretation they have obtained divine sanction for a war that, they believe, permits the use of all instruments of violence against the rest of mankind. The I.S. is the latest movement espousing this belief system.

I.S. literature
Unfortunately, while discussing hakimiyya, Maher does not do justice to the “caliphate” of the I.S., the first instance of a “state” set up by a jehadi group. (The state the Taliban set up in Afghanistan was an “emirate”, and though Mullah Omar referred to himself as “amir ul-momineen”, he did not call himself caliph.) Maher refers to the critics of the I.S. among the jehadi ideologues and, at the beginning of the book, even quotes the I.S. spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani as saying that a meeting of senior scholars had been convened to approve the setting up of the caliphate, but does not provide any insights into this significant development in Salafi-jehadi politics.

For a study of the I.S., we now have a new book by the distinguished West Asia scholar Fawaz Gerges, titled ISIS: A History. This book joins a number of recent works on the I.S. by well-known writers: Abdel Bari Atwan’s Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger’s ISIS: The State of Terror, Jason Burke’s The New Threat from Islamic Militancy, Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan’s ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror and David Kilcullen’s Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror. Each of these works provides a distinctive perspective on the I.S.: while Atwan has focussed on the I.S.’ use of social media to lure members, Jessica Stern and Berger have anchored the I.S.’ violence in messianism. Burke has placed the I.S. in the broad tradition of Islamist militancy and ruminated on the various ramifications of the I.S. phenomenon, particularly its outreach to Africa and how it is a source of inspiration for “lone-wolf” jehadis. Finally, while Weiss and Hassan provide a detailed background to the rise of the I.S., Kilcullen is critical of Western efforts to confront this scourge.

So, what new perspectives does Gerges add to the I.S. discourse? At first sight, the book does not make for an easy read: the text is densely packed and the paragraphs are long, sometimes going over two or even three pages. Also, the book could have been better edited; the same ideas, at times the same words, are repeated at different places, suggesting that separate essays have hurriedly been put together. Again, not surprisingly, there is a lot of overlap between this book and earlier works, particularly with regard to the origins of the I.S., since very little material is available and all writers have to depend on the same sources, many of them of doubtful authenticity.

Still, it is worth putting up with these shortcomings for Gerges has relied mainly on Arabic sources and has personally interviewed a number of people associated with the principal developments and personalities in the narrative. He is particularly good on the complex situation in Iraq in Saddam Hussein’s last years and the U.S. invasion, which spawned the I.S.’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the movement he came to head; the role players in the Iraqi Sahwa movement of 2007-10 that defeated the then Islamic State of Iraq and why its members went over to the I.S. a year later; the I.S.’ ties with Baathists from Saddam Hussein’s era; and, finally, the outlook for this lethal organisation that is reshaping the political order in West Asia.

I.S. and identity politics
The I.S. is of course anchored in mainstream Salafi-jehadism, so much so that its ideologues have satisfied themselves with short pamphlets and have not bothered to produce detailed tracts to explain their thinking as earlier ideologues have done. But, it has also been shaped by specific developments in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, particularly the deliberate U.S. policy of defining Iraqi politics in sectarian terms, which was specifically aimed at promoting divide-and-rule policies rather than building a multicultural and united nation. Hence, as Gerges says, besides the Salafi-jehadi tradition, the I.S. is also influenced by “a hyper-Sunni identity driven by an intrinsic and even genocidal anti-Shia ideology”.

Gerges points out that the I.S. has sought to distinguish itself from other jehadi groups “by attempting to revive traditions, rituals and practices that have been dormant for over a thousand years in Muslim history”. For instance, it has revived slavery. One of its booklets cites the Prophet’s sayings relating to the treatment of slaves and recommends that female slaves should not be separated from their children, but they can be used for sex and subjected to rape; this has been the plight of several Yazidi women captured by I.S. forces in Iraq. (In fact, Gerges has dedicated his book to the Yazidi women, applauding their courage “in the midst of the sea of savagery”.)

However, while the I.S. may seek sanction for its excesses from ancient sources, Gerges points out that its unrestrained violence has more recent roots, such as the harsh Baathist order of which it is a legatee and the wanton cruelty of its ideological and organisational ancestor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as also generally the deep sense of exclusion, victimhood and sectarian prejudices of its rural cadres.

Like other jehadi groups in the region, the I.S. too has taken advantage of the prevailing political scenario: the U.S.’ divisive politics in Iraq and the robust sectarian approach of the country’s Shia leaders gave rise to a Sunni backlash that spawned the I.S.’ ideological and organisational ancestor, the Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), headed by the Afghan veteran and zealot Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In spite of this, it is noteworthy that in 2007-10 the Sunni community rose up against the excesses of the Islamic State of Iraq —which had been set up in October 2006 to replace the AQI with a coalition of tribal and insurgent militia, signalling the rupture with Al Qaeda and the aspiration for an Iraqi “state” —and nearly annihilated the jehadi group in the country. However, the robustly sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed the Sunnis, tribal chiefs, Saddam Hussein loyalists and resistance militia back to jehad and gave the Islamic State of Iraq a new lease of life.

The ‘caliphate’

In 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over the leadership of the Islamic State of Iraq at a time of grave crisis for the movement. Gerges applauds him for his “strategic foresight to transform a fragile organisation on the brink of collapse into a mini-professional army, an army capable of waging urban and guerrilla warfare as well as conventional warfare”.
The I.S. clearly benefited from the breakdown in state order in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, from 2011 onwards, it quietly built up support among the disgruntled Sunnis of Anbar province, from where, in June 2014, it launched its dramatic attack on Mosul, which had about 20,000 Iraqi soldiers, who fled from this city of a million leaving behind their uniforms, the treasury and a frightened population. From the pulpit in Mosul’s main mosque, al-Baghdadi proclaimed his caliphate on July 4, 2014.

In Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq began as a small group that tentatively probed the ground situation in late 2011 and within a year emerged as a formidable militia, the Jabhat al-Nusra (Victory Front), by working closely with local communities and providing them with much-needed aid, services, employment and security. In early 2013, al-Baghdadi reclaimed his leadership of this militia from its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, by proclaiming the merger of the two entities. This led to the emergence of the renamed I.S. as a powerful player on the regional stage, and the separate Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra that remains focussed on the Syrian theatre, frequently aligning with other Islamic militia in the fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime. (In the last few weeks, Jabhat al-Nusra has announced its formal delinking from Al Qaeda under the new name of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham [Syrian Victory Front]; this is generally seen as a tactical move to avoid U.S.-led attacks as it is a designated a “terrorist” grouping.)

Led by the charismatic al-Baghdadi, the I.S. by end-2014 had captured huge swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria, the size of the United Kingdom and a population of around eight million. This caliphate had the attributes of a proto-state, with an army of 30,000 men; a top decision-making leadership; a financial organisation that, until last year, had assets estimated at $2 trillion and generated revenues of about $2.9 billion a year; and security, judicial and bureaucratic systems capable of providing law and order, justice, education and municipal services.

Gerges points out that in Iraq and Syria, the I.S. —following its predecessors, the AQI and the Islamic State of Iraq—has built itself up on the support base of a largely rural and small-town constituency. Outside Iraq and Syria, its appeal has emerged from its dramatic military successes and the imaginative declaration of the caliphate. Its main appeal is to Muslim youth in Arab and Western countries. Gerges points out that “the lure of the caliphate …imbues [them] with a greater purpose in life: to be part of a historical mission to restore Islamic unity and help bring about redemption and salvation”. The I.S.’ appeal has had particularly lethal consequences when it has inspired individuals to extraordinary acts of violence merely on the basis of powerful messages sent through the Internet.

The outlook
Today, the I.S. is clearly at a crossroads: while, on the one hand, it has expanded territorially and in influence and a number of major jehadi groups (or their splinter groups) have pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi, on the other, its successes on the ground and its barbarity have helped unite the U.S., Russia and all the regional states to put together a coalition to crush it militarily. As a result, it has lost about 40 per cent of its territory in Iraq and about 20 per cent in Syria, including some major towns at the Turkish border, to Kurdish forces, which has severely limited the flow of new recruits. However, as the I.S. has lost ground in its home territories, its adherents have fanned out across West Asia, North Africa and Europe to establish new bases and carry out lethal acts of violence against local peoples to terrorise them and demoralise and discredit their governments.

What then is the outlook for the I.S. and, indeed, for Salafi-jehadism in general? Both Maher and Gerges are not particularly reassuring in their responses. Gerges points out that the I.S. “does not offer a positive programme of action, only a bleak future”; its weakest link, he says, is “its poverty of ideas” and opines that over the long term its anti-Shia genocidal ideology “cannot serve as a basis for legitimation”. But, he adds, the I.S. is hardly likely to disappear as a result of military action; it will “mutate and go underground”.

This is because the I.S. and Salafi-jehadism in general have emerged from the “organic crisis” in the Arab political order that is made up of an authoritarianism that is often paternalistic but turns severely tyrannical when challenged, that consists of subjects with no rights of citizenry, that does not foster national unity in an accommodative multicultural way but encourages divisions on ethnic or sectarian basis, that operates in near-total opacity and provides for no accountability regarding state resources or national decision-making, and that provides no opportunity for popular participation in national assemblies or in legislation. It is this political order that imparts resilience to Salafi-jehadism as an alternative idea, a force for dissent and opposition in the sterile cesspool of authoritarian Arab politics and has the advantage of being rooted in the people’s authentic and revered tradition. The I.S., Gerges says, is “a symptom of the broken politics of the Middle East [West Asia]”, particularly after the coalition of autocrats stifled the Arab Spring at birth.
‘Social movement’

Gerges points out that Salafi-jehadism has now “evolved into a powerful social movement with a repertoire of ideas, iconic leaders, worldwide support, theorists, preachers, and networks of recruiters and enablers”. He concludes that regardless of the fortunes of the I.S., this ideology “is here to stay and will likely gain more followers in politically and socially polarised Arab and Muslim societies”. Maher notes that Salafi-jehadism is “extremely resilient” and has survived “three decades of forceful repression”, even when several of its leaders are killed, for it inspires its adherents with the I.S.’ strident slogan: “We remain and we expand.”

Talmiz Ahmad is a former diplomat and the author of Islamist Challenge in West Asia: Doctrinal and Political Competitions after the Arab Spring.

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Walter Benjamin, Louis-Auguste Blanqui and the apocalypse-Doug Enaa Greene

Posted by admin On September - 28 - 2016 Comments Off on Walter Benjamin, Louis-Auguste Blanqui and the apocalypse-Doug Enaa Greene


September 27, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Red Wedge with the author’s permission — In the Spring of 1940, as the Nazis conquered France and were the dominant power on the European continent, the exiled German Marxist philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote his final work, Theses on the Philosophy of History. In a moment of political defeat, with fascism triumphant, the parties of the far left lying prostrate and subjugated, Benjamin penned the following words:

The subject of historical cognition is the battling, oppressed class itself. In Marx it steps forwards as the final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion. This consciousness, which for a short time made itself felt in the “Spartacus” [Spartacist splinter group, the forerunner to the German Communist Party], was objectionable to social democracy from the very beginning. In the course of three decades it succeeded in almost completely erasing the name of Blanqui, whose distant thunder [Erzklang] had made the preceding century tremble. [1]

Why would Benjamin invoke Louis-Auguste Blanqui, who’s very name is the embodiment of “ultra-leftism,” violence, illegality and a failed revolutionary path? Benjamin recognized that Blanqui, despite his very real faults, was an antidote to leftist ideas of progress, fatalism, passivity, and opportunism that always guarantee defeat. Both Benjamin and Blanqui recognize that there will be no single breakdown or catastrophe that will deliver humanity from injustice, but rather that the catastrophe is the very existence of capitalism and class society. For Blanqui, deliverance from catastrophe would never passively occur due to “progress” or come down from on high, rather it was necessary to go to war against an exploitative and oppressive world by proclaiming and organizing around a new politics of truth. Thus, Blanqui represents the primacy of politics, strategy and the willingness to act, no matter how dire the situation or impossible the odds.

I. The impasse of the Left

The imagery of the revolutionary apocalypse has always stirred our imaginations with images of heroic fighters on the barricades storming the bastions of power in order to bring crashing them down. The nineteenth century not only saw the rise of modern industrial society, but was the epic age of barricade fighting as sturdy workers and idealistic students during the revolutions of 1848. No image better captures the romanticism of revolution than Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple) which commemorated the July Revolution in France which toppled the Bourbon King Charles X. “Liberty” is portrayed as a young and vigorous woman wearing a Phrygian cap which was worn by the sans-culottes during the 1789 Revolution as a symbol of freedom. Following “Liberty” are three figures: a well-dressed member of the bourgeoisie, a student, and an urban worker carrying two pistols. The “Three Glorious Days of July” are idealized here as a common struggle undertaken by members of different social classes mounted the barricades of Paris in pursuit of “liberty” and the realization of the enlightened liberty ideals of the First French Revolution.

This same revolutionary romanticism can be found in Sergei Eisenstein’s October, a cinematic dramatization of the Bolshevik Revolution. The climatic scenes show masses of workers and soldiers firing volley upon volley of cannon upon the Winter Palace, tossing down the gates and asserting their power while Lenin and Trotsky proclaim the installation of a new socialist order. Then there is Alberto Korda’s iconic portrait of Che Guevara – symbolizing his readiness to fight for revolution at any point throughout the world. The revolutionary apocalypse can be found in the stirring marching songs, the clenched fist and the militant slogans found at any protest.

While the revolutionary apocalypse motivated those early barricade fighters, by the late nineteenth century, things began to change with the formation of the Second International. While the Second International claimed to be committed to the revolutionary transformation of society and socialism, their practice was decidedly reformist. Social democracy believed that their victory would inevitably result from the numerical growth of the working class and the steady increase of their political representatives in parliament. Although the Second International had popularized socialism for millions of workers, it was in reality a very vulgarized Marxism that viewed the triumph of socialism to be the inevitable result from the breakdown of capitalism and not a deliverance of humanity from oppression. A central theme of Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History is its critique of leftist ideologies of progress manifested by Second International and its flagship party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany.

Second International Marxism took it for granted that the contradictions of capitalism would cause the system to break down. Although capitalism brought with it the accumulation, centralization and concentration of capital, the growth of the working class, and the sharper division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – but, ultimately – the relations of production would cease to foster the development of productive forces, and this would cause the system to fall into crisis. According to Marxist economist Paul Sweezy, the Second International believed that “this is not a process which may happen; it must happen with all the inevitable force of a natural law.” [2] In the end, the capitalist parties would be unable to rescue the system from its internal contradictions, and it would fall upon the working class and social democracy (duly elected with a majority plus one in parliament) who would use the state to bring about the transition to socialism.

For social democracy, the triumph of socialism was the final result of “scientific” laws, so its leaders believed there to be little need to develop a specifically socialist politics, strategy or analyzes of the conjuncture. Even the standard-bearer of Second International orthodox Marxism, Karl Kautsky could say that the socialist party was “a revolutionary party, but it is not a party that makes revolutions.” [3] Social democracy’s lack of a revolutionary strategy to reach the goal gave way to a belief that the steady accumulation of forces would solve this problem. This amounted to a reformist practice, an increasing accommodation to the system and opportunism from the party machines, parliamentary representatives and the trade unions. The gulf between Second International theory and practice was starkly revealed in 1914, when socialists across Europe voted in support of the war aims of their respective countries. In the end, ten million soldiers were slaughtered to determine which colonies would be enslaved by a particular group of capitalist vampires.

For Benjamin, social democracy’s belief in progress was “a fundamental cause of the later collapse.” [4] The elements of social democratic progress that Benjamin identified as the most corrupting was that “they were swimming with the tide.” [5] Swimming with the tide for social democracy, meant that the stable growth of the productive forces, factories and proletarianization of the population, promised their inevitable victory. A narrow focus on the industrial working class also caused the SPD to ignore other oppressed and exploited sectors of society, meaning that they were unable to develop the necessary political alliances to build a counter-hegemonic alternative and make a bid for power. A belief in progress encouraged fatalism and passivity in social democracy and the working class as opposed to an activist approach of taking advantage of revolutionary opportunities when they appeared. For instance, when the German Revolution occurred in 1918, the SPD could not envision going beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy, since they argued that socialism was on the historical agenda. Therefore, the SPD condemned communists such as the Spartacists who said the contrary as anarchistic, ultra-leftist, and Blanquist. Furthermore, the SPD organized right-wing death squads to crush any hopes of a socialist revolution.

Indeed, passivity would become the hallmark of the SPD, who throughout the Wiemar era were a stalwart party of government that refused to break with legality in order to mobilize the masses to fight the growing Nazi threat. When the capitalist “breakdown” occurred in 1929 with a state unable to function, unemployment rising and the fault lines of capitalism laid bare – this opened the door to the possibility of revolution – but the SPD did not take advantage of it. The SPD was paralyzed due to decades of opportunistic practice, defense of the law and the state, and a fatalistic belief in progress, all of which guaranteed their defeat. Economic collapse can provide an opening for revolutionary politics, but only if there is a party on hand able and willing to take advantage of the opportunity, otherwise victory for the far right is the likely outcome. As Benjamin recognized, the breakdown does not herald the end of capitalism, “the experience of our generation: that capitalism will not die a natural death.” [6] Ultimately, without the development of politics and strategy to guide revolutionary practice, there could be no victory. For Benjamin, progress was not determined by the growth of capitalist enterprises, but a conscious act of will and “progress” was when “the first revolutionary measure [is] taken.”[7]

In contrast to this, the Russian Revolution, Leninism and the emerging communist parties broke with Second International economism and fatalism, putting forth the primacy of politics, strategy and the active role of a revolutionary party. Lenin himself pioneered Marxist approaches on conjunctural analysis, exploiting weak links and the development of strategy. His creative thinking was a profound break with social democracy and re-invigoration of Marxism. Yet as time passed, it became clear that the communist parties suffered from their own forms of fatalism and economism. As the American Marxist Paul Costello observes,

beginning in the 1920s the Comintern enshrined a theory of the “general crisis of capitalism” in its place. This theory held that since World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution international capitalism was experiencing a permanent “general crisis,” for which socialism alone was the solution. In some ways this was only a more sophisticated version of the “breakdown theory” of the Second International…The Comintern framework, like that of its predecessor, defined this crisis in economist fashion as a manifestation of capitalism’s alleged inability to further develop the productive forces of society. Needless to say, time and time again throughout this century, capitalism has proven itself more than capable of enormously advancing the productive forces and of overcoming crises, “general” or otherwise, the Comintern notwithstanding. [8]

In Germany, the Communist Party (KPD) believed that the Great Depression brought the final crisis of capitalism onto the historical agenda, and they did organize unemployed workers and fought Nazis in the streets, they ultimately possessed no political strategy of their own. For the KPD, the catastrophe itself was proof that “history was on their side” and they needed to just wait for the situation to mature so they could take advantage of it. This led the KPD to minimize the dangers of the Nazi threat, believing that it was only a matter of time before it was swept away and the communist party came to power. While the KPD had a solid revolutionary core amongst the working class, they were unable to make inroads amongst other sectors of the population and build the necessary alliances. The sectarianism of their identification of the SPD as “social fascist” helped to further compound their isolation. In the end, the SPD and KPD were both thrown into prison by the Nazis, who emerged victorious in Germany.

Exiled and underground members of the KPD and other anti-fascists such as Walter Benjamin tirelessly agitated and organized against fascism. They also looked to the USSR, with all its faults, as the last bulwark against the Nazi dictatorship, while the western “democracies” colluded with it. However, the USSR was itself succumbing to its own version of the ideology of progress as they developed a centralized planned economy with its nearly singular focus on building the productive forces (as part of the march of history). The USSR also grew more conservative as previous gains in culture, education, and women’s liberation were rolled back. Soviet socialism became less and less focused on emancipation from age old oppressions, but more and more concentrated on the increase in the number of factories and steel output. Furthermore, the leadership of the party and state became divorced from the masses and bureaucratized.

As the communist horizon receded, the USSR and the Comintern yielded to realpolitik, replacing the revolutionary apocalyptic vision of the third period with the Popular Front in 1935 – which caused the communist parties to abandon revolutionary goals while the USSR sought alliances with Britain and France to contain fascism. However, as the possibilities for an anti-fascist alliance faded, since Britain and France were more concerned with the threat of the Soviet Union, Stalin sought to prevent war in the east, signing a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939. Suddenly, representatives of the great historical rivals – USSR and Germany were shaking hands and seemingly burying the ideological hatchet. For millions of communists and anti-fascists such as Benjamin, the pact was a horrible blow.

Benjamin condemned the pact as Soviet betrayal of the struggle against fascism that paralyzed the actions of the various communist parties who upheld it. He also decries the illusory promises of Soviet-line CPs – with their blind faith and submission to the party apparatus (divorced from the masses), the ideology of progress – all of which bred passivity in the masses:

It has the intention, at a moment wherein the politicians in whom the opponents of Fascism had placed their hopes have been knocked supine, and have sealed their downfall by the betrayal of their own cause, of freeing the political child of the world from the nets in which they have ensnared it. The consideration starts from the assumption that the stubborn faith in progress of these politicians, their trust in their “mass basis” and finally their servile subordination into an uncontrollable apparatus have been three sides of the same thing. [9]

II. Fascism

Both social democrats and communists viewed fascism as a phenomenon that was contrary to progress. In the case of the SPD, they believed that fascism could not take root in a modern industrial society such as Germany and was an aberration. Similarly, the KPD and Comintern saw fascism as a passing phase that was only tied to the most reactionary sectors of finance capital.

However, Benjamin viewed fascism not as something outside of modern civilization, but embedded within it. Unlike notions of history that saw progress as a good thing without contradictions, Benjamin believed that progress was riven with contradictions and was a deadly “storm.” As Benjamin noted, even in so-called civilized society, “There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. And just as it is itself not free from barbarism, neither is it free from the process of transmission, in which it falls from one set of hands into another.” [10]

The great works of art, architecture, culture, etc. found within imperial countries such as France, the USA, Britain, and Germany were products not only of the ruthless exploitation of workers, but of the worst forms of colonial violence and domination in the periphery. The wealth that imperialism leeched from workers and colonial peoples allowed for modern civilization to develop in all its glory. Marx himself noted that the great advances of “progress” were conditioned by barbarism since the very beginning of capitalism:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, etc.[11]

Therefore, fascism itself, despite its seemingly pre-modern reactionary ideals of returning to blood and soil, was also marked by great technical advances particularly in the military field. Benjamin understood that fascism was not a break with progress, but an organic part of it. The revolutionary left’s notions of progress had to be discarded in order to recognize “that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.” [12] For Benjamin, the struggle against fascism and the monstrosity of capitalism had to be waged not as something in line with progress or the upward march of history, but rather that the revolution needed to break with a conception of history that had produced fascism in the first place. Revolution would not be in line with progress, but would end it once and for all, by settling accounts with the past and carrying “out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion” to usher in a new age that finally abolishes class society. [13]

III. The apocalypse

For Walter Benjamin, the triumph of fascism was not an interruption of the onward progress of humanity, rather as the Marxist theorist Michael Lowy says, “it is the most recent brutal expression of the ‘permanent state of emergency’ that is the history of class oppression.” [14] Indeed, the social democratic ideologists of progress saw bourgeois democracy as normal and in line with history and that fascism was just a “temporary state of emergency.” On the contrary, Benjamin argued, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule.” [15]

Since the dawn of class society at the beginnings of recorded history, the lower classes have been living under the yoke of the most ruthless exploitation. Most people have lived and died in abject poverty, misery and obscurity. The great achievements of the ruling classes are built on mountains of corpses. The struggles of the oppressed for a better world (ranging from Spartacus to Blanqui) have all gone down in defeat. Yet these struggles of the nameless are forgotten in the annals of history written by the rulers, since as Benjamin reminds us, “even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.” [16] Therefore, the mere existence of the reigning system is the real state of emergency.

And in our own time, the “state of emergency” remains. Capitalism ravages the planet, threatening the environment with climate change and ecological collapse. Billions live in dire poverty. Twenty thousand children die daily from preventable diseases. Workers go to alienating and exploitative jobs with no purpose, save to get by, and their labor enriches the ruling class, whose sole interest is profit and endless accumulation.

The state exists to protect this system and as Blanqui says, it is “the gendarmerie of the rich against the poor” as graphically shown by recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore. Wars launched by imperialist powers such as the United States kill millions in order to secure access to vital resources and maintain their hegemony. Patriarchal systems continue to oppress women throughout the world. And economic crises seek to roll back the few genuine gains of workers to restore capital’s profitability. As Marx said of crises, “capital not only lives upon labour. Like a master, at once distinguished and barbarous, it drags with it into its grave the corpses of its slaves, whole hecatombs of workers, who perish in the crises.” [17] The catastrophe is already upon us. “The concept of progress must be grounded in the idea of catastrophe. That things are “status quo” is the catastrophe.” [18]

For Benjamin, who was influenced by Jewish theology and mysticism along with Marxism, all of the suffering and exploitation that humanity has endured in class society showed that people needed to be rescued from this condition via a revolutionary apocalypse. For deliverance, Benjamin looked to the apocalypse as “a messianic zero-hour [Stillstellung] of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for the suppressed past. He perceives it, in order to explode a specific epoch out of the homogenous course of history; thus exploding a specific life out of the epoch, or a specific work out of the life-work.” [19] At the moment of zero-hour, the “march of history” would be halted and a day of reckoning would be at hand. History would be broken in two – before and after. In the apocalypse, the oppressed would finally take revenge for the wrongs inflicted upon them throughout history. “Indeed, the past would fully befall only a resurrected humanity. Said another way: only for a resurrected humanity would its past, in each of its moments, be citable. Each of its lived moments becomes a citation a l’ordre du jour [order of the day] – whose day is precisely that of the Last Judgment.” [20] Judgment Day would be the redemption of the hopes of the past and reverse the verdicts of history on past struggles and rebellions.

Benjamin’s conception of the revolution as an apocalyptic event that convicted the ruling class and redeemed all past struggles was far removed from “revolutions” based on the ideology of progress. Benjamin argued that the proletariat was the “final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion.” The ideology of progress cut off the working class from the “It contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the savior of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs. ” [21] Benjamin’s vision of class struggle is not one of higher wages and the steady march of the productive forces, but of a working class fostered by its rage for past suffering and its revolution was motivated by the “fine and spiritual…They are present as confidence, as courage, as humor, as cunning, as steadfastness in this struggle, and they reach far back into the mists of time. They will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question.” [22] This remembrance of the victims of the past was not just in line with the principles of solidarity, but with the Jewish imperative to remember their enslaved and martyred ancestors. [23]

The struggle of the present needs to be tied to those that have come before. It is no accident that US socialists/communists have linked their struggles to those of slaves, labor unions, the civil rights movement, and to other struggles internationally whether in Russia or Vietnam. Yet the revolutionary apocalypse is not just about linking the present movements to their predecessors, but involves a different conception of time from that of “progress.” As Lowy argues, the apocalypse means “the return of all things to their original state – in the Gospels, the re-establishment of Paradise by the Messiah…[in] the Jewish messianic tradition: it is animated both by the desire for the restoration of the original state of things and by a utopian vision of the future, in a kind of mutual illumination.” [24] Just as the Russian Revolution continued the struggle begun by previous generations of anti-Tsarist rebels, they also envisioned the creation of a modern industrial socialist society that would establish a world free of exploitation.

Benjamin defines the revolutionary event as, “the consciousness of exploding the continuum of history is peculiar to the revolutionary classes in the moment of their action.” [25] The revolution is thus a forceful interruption with what has come before and consciously breaks history in two to wipe out all traces of an unjust world. For example, the French Revolution not only defended their new society on the battlefield against the combined royalist armies of Europe, but they broke with the past by creating a new calendar which marked the beginning of a new historical epoch with the foundation of the republic, renaming buildings and streets, destroying monarchist symbols and settling accounts with counterrevolutionaries and aristocrats with the guillotine. In pursuit of the aim of creating a new just world, the First French Republic was guided by the highest ideals and the determination to achieve them with the most ruthless means. Robespierre put this contradiction as follows: “If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue.” [26] And however limited the French Revolution and the First Republic’s break with the past may have been, there is no denying that it opened a new era of history.

For Benjamin, the instrument of deliverance from an unjust world and the interruption of the progress of history is the arrival of the Messiah. Yet Benjamin sees the Messiah, “not merely as the Redeemer; he also arrives as the vanquisher of the Anti-Christ.” [27] While the Messiah in Jewish and Christian tradition was a divine and supernatural figure, Benjamin saw the proletariat as a secular Messianic figure and the ruling class as the anti-Christ.[28] Benjamin did not see the proletariat as gods or knights in shining armor, free from all blemishes (as some self-styled revolutionaries do), but as an avenging angel filled with the accumulated rage and hate of all past exploitation and struggles, including their own, determined to finally end the history of oppression.

As Marx says, the proletariat, which is central to the reproduction of capitalist society and due to the conditions of its existence, is compelled to take up the struggle not only against their own exploitation, but all the wrongs of society:

In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title…finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat. [29]


Since in the fully-formed proletariat the abstraction of all humanity, even of the semblance of humanity, is practically complete; since the conditions of life of the proletariat sum up all the conditions of life of society today in their most inhuman form; since man has lost himself in the proletariat, yet at the same time has not only gained theoretical consciousness of that loss, but through urgent, no longer removable, no longer disguisable, absolutely imperative need – the practical expression of necessity – is driven directly to revolt against this inhumanity, it follows that the proletariat can and must emancipate itself. But it cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions of its own life. It cannot abolish the conditions of its own life without abolishing all the inhuman conditions of life of society today which are summed up in its own situation. Not in vain does it go through the stern but steeling school of labour. It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will historically be compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today. [30]

A revolutionary apocalypse is the only thing which can interrupt the never-ending victories of the ruling classes. Just as the Messiah settles accounts with the wicked and the unrighteous, the proletariat will pass judgment on class society. For Benjamin, “without some sort of assay of the classless society, there is only a historical accumulation of the past. To this extent, every concept of the present participates in the concept of Judgment Day.” [31] All the revolts and struggles throughout the course of history are thus events or moments which “while effecting a fleeting interruption of historical continuity, a break in the heart of the present. As fragmentary, partial redemptions, they prefigure and herald the possibility of universal history.” [32] Ultimately, it falls to the universal class, the proletariat, to bring full realization of these messianic moments of revolt, reverse past verdicts on failed struggles and rebellions by establishing the final goal of a classless society and communism.

For Benjamin, history was not a steady and onward march of progress. Progress was marked by contradiction and contained within it unspeakable monstrosities. Rather, history is not the inevitable result of the advance of the productive forces, but was radically open. The future is not known in advance and not given according to the dictates of “progress” that act as natural laws. History, while shaped by economic and social conditions can exceed its limits since human action can create something new. For orthodox Marxists, the Russian Revolution was a premature event and deserved only condemnation since it did not conform to the “laws of history.” Yet as the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci said of the Bolshevik Revolution:

Events overcame ideology. Events have blown out of the water all critical notions which stated Russia would have to develop according to the laws of historical materialism. The Bolsheviks renounce Karl Marx and they assert, through their clear statement of action, through what they have achieved, that the laws of historical materialism are not as set in stone, as one may think, or one may have thought previously.

Yet, there is still a certain amount of inevitability to these events, and if the Bolsheviks reject some of that which is affirmed in Capital, they do not reject its inherent, invigorating idea. They are not “Marxists.” that’s what it comes down to: they have not used the Master’s works to draw up a superficial interpretation, dictatorial statements which cannot be disputed. They live out Marxist thought… In this kind of thinking the main determinant of history is not lifeless economics, but man; societies made up of men, men who have something in common, who get along together, and because of this (civility) they develop a collective social will. [33]

For the objective circumstances are eternally fixed against us, rather our own efforts can shift them in our favor.

And while we live in an age of catastrophe, where the very existence of capitalism is a disaster, the nature of history leaves open the possibility of emancipation. Thus, the triumph of fascism and the destruction of the world by capitalism is not unavoidable, but through human effort and will, we can change interrupt the course of history. And past moments of struggle show us that the rule of the dominant classes can be challenged and these moments contain within them glimpses of an emancipated society. The struggle of the proletariat will be a messianic event that will finally stop the continuity of history and end the catastrophe of capitalism.

However, Benjamin’s conception of history only allows for the possibility of averting disaster. It does not guarantee it. Benjamin recognized that while history contained cracks that could be forcibly opened, emancipation would take more than a single spontaneous event. And here lies the importance of Louis-Auguste Blanqui. It is to him that we now turn.

IV. Louis-Auguste Blanqui [34]

a. Eternity by the Stars

In Benjamin’s 1939 work, Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century, he said of Blanqui that “no one else in the nineteenth century had a revolutionary authority comparable to his.”[35] This was a bold claim to make by Benjamin, whom as we noted in the opening quotation, remarked that Blanqui’s name was erased from the annals of revolutionary history by social democracy. Indeed, the term “Blanquism” was mainly used by both social democrats and Soviet-line communists (particularly after the early 1930s) to stigmatize those revolutionaries who thought seriously about the means and strategies necessary to win and opposed gradualism and reformism. Yet Benjamin, writing in the 1930s, as midnight descended upon Europe, turned to the maligned figure of Blanqui. Benjamin discovered in Blanqui’s life and thought (particularly the 1872 work, Eternity by the Stars) an antidote to the ideology of progress and a desire to fight no matter the odds. By building upon Benjamin’s insights, we can say that Blanqui understood the need for the primacy of politics that was guided by truth, and the need for organization and strategy.

Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) was the consummate professional revolutionary and man of action. He was one of the loudest and uncompromising voices in nineteenth century France calling for class war and the violent overthrow of capitalism. And Benjamin was correct: he meant it. From 1830 to 1870, he organized innumerable secret societies and participated in at least five revolutions to bring about the advent of communism. The only method of action open to Blanqui was an elite and tight-knit conspiracy which would strike capital at the appointed time to bring about communism. Each time he failed. And he paid the price for that failure by spending more than three decades in prison. His eagerness to rush into revolutionary battle caused him to act before the time was right. In 1848 and 1870, premature action resulted in him caused him being imprisoned before the June Days and the Paris Commune (arguably two events where he could have provided the leadership necessary for victory).

Blanqui did not see the need for theory to grasp the inner dynamics of capitalism (his own views on economics and general social theory were quite eclectic and superficial) nor did he appreciate the possibilities of mass independent political action by the working class to bring about revolutionary social change (most clearly manifested in the Paris Commune). It would be Marxism that would provide the necessary theory to understand capitalist dynamics and proletariat struggle that would supplant Blanquism in the aftermath of the Commune and the emergence of mass socialist parties across Europe.

Throughout his life, Blanqui had shown himself to be more of a man of action than a social thinker. While he could write ably on military tactics and methods of armed struggle, Blanqui saw the decisive lever of action as lying in a conspiracy and practically excluded the role of the working class in their own liberation.

In 1872, Blanqui’s imprisonment gave him time to reflect on a lifetime of failures. By this time, he was an old man. Many of his comrades had just been massacred with the defeat of the Paris Commune. The French Third Republic had him locked safely away in the fortress of Chateau du Taureau in Brittany. His cell was constantly cold. He was forbidden to speak with anyone. The authorities, who knew of Blanqui’s many previous escape attempts, were prepared to shoot him if he so much as looked out of a window. During this, his final imprisonment, Blanqui penned Eternity By the Stars, an extended treatise on astronomy and the possibilities for revolutionary action.

Benjamin discovered Blanqui’s work in 1938, while conducting his own research on 19th century Paris. In a letter to Max Horkheimer, he said that

Blanqui’s last work, written during his last imprisonment, has remained entirely unnoticed up to now, so far as I can see. It is a cosmological speculation. Granted it appears, in its opening pages, tasteless and banal. But the awkward deliberations of the autodidact are merely the prelude to a speculation that only this revolutionary could develop. We may call it theological, insofar as hell is a subject of theology. In fact, the cosmic vision of the world which Blanqui lays out, taking his data from the mechanistic natural science of bourgeois society, is an infernal vision. At the same time, it is a complement of the society to which Blanqui, in his old age, was forced to concede victory. What is so unsettling is that the presentation is entirely lacking in irony. It is an unconditional surrender, but it is simultaneously the most terrible indictment of a society that projects this image of the cosmos-understood as an image of itself-across the heavens. With its trenchant style, this work displays the most remarkable similarities both to Baudelaire and to Nietzsche. [36]

The vision laid out in Blanqui’s work, based on dubious science, begins by describing the nature of the universe as “infinite in time and space: eternal, boundless, and undivided.” [37] According to Blanqui, space is material and infinite, with matter also infinite. At the same time, all matter is also the result of a limited number of elements. [38] All matter can only be organized into solar systems. Thus worlds are constantly being born, grow, decay and die. However, due to the limited set of elements, and because the combination of these elements was finite, “resorting to repetition becomes necessary.” [39]

According to Blanqui, every person and, creature, and event is repeated on a different world. “We are, somewhere else, everything that we could have been down here. In addition to our whole life, to our birth and death, which we experience on a number of earths, we also live ten thousand different versions of it on other earths.”[40] Following Blanqui’s logic, right now on different worlds the pyramids are being built, Louis XVI is being beheaded by the Republic, and the Bolsheviks are storming the Winter Palace.

Yet due to the finite combination of matter, Blanqui says that “mankind does not have the same personnel on all similar globes, and each of the globes have, as it were, its own particular Mankind, each of them comes from the same source, and began at the same point, but branches out into a thousand paths, finally leading into different lives and different histories.” [41] Blanqui imagines alternative realities where the English lost at Waterloo and the French defeat the Prussians in 1870. What accounts for this great variation of worlds with their own alternate histories?

Blanqui believes that while “nature has inflexible and immutable laws” [42], human with their particular wills can introduce variation into an equation. While humanity “never affect the natural working of physical phenomena a great deal…they do turn their own kind upside down.”[43] Despite the repetition of history which exists on countless other worlds, there still a space to be created for a radical act.

Yet there is a tension in Blanqui’s work. While he wants to leave the room open for choice, he also believes that due to a finite number of worlds existing that “no one escapes fatality.” [44] And that “every man possesses an endless number of doubles across space, and they live his life exactly like he lives it himself.” [45] Everything we have done has already been done and will be done. For Blanqui, this means that we have is “ever-old newness and ever-new oldness.” [46]

If everything in the universe is a ever-repeating circle, this leads Blanqui to declare in despair that:

So many identical populations come to pass without having suspected each other’s existence!…Moreover, so far the past represented barbarity, and the future meant progress, science, happiness and illusion! This past has witnessed the disappearance of the most brilliant civilizations on every one of our globe doubles, they disappeared without leaving a trace, and they will do so again, without leaving more of a trace….What we call progress is locked up on each earth and disappears with it. [47]

And it is here that Blanqui offers his critique of the ideology of progress. Blanqui could not conceive of progress in a universe when his civilization had already vanished. How could he envision progress when everything had already been repeated billions of time before? In fact, in this haunting vision, humanity was condemned to the same labor of Sisyphus. Yet Blanqui hastened to hold the door open for hope and action, despite it all.

As he says:

For tomorrow, the events and the people will follow their course. For now on, only the unknown is before us. Like the earth’s past, its future will change direction a million times…the future shall come to an end only when the globe dies. Until then, every second will bring its new bifurcation, the road taken and the road that could have been taken. [48]

The view of history Blanqui outlines in Eternity by the Stars means the following in regards to political action: that while the objective conditions are overwhelmingly stacked against revolutionaries, this does not mean that there is no space to be created for an act. Rather, revolutionary effort, the will to fight and to win against insurmountable odds can unveil unseen roads to communism. And these roads are not given to anyone in advance but are revealed in the course of struggle.

Benjamin found much to relate in Blanqui’s critique of progress, stating:

In L’Eternite par les astres, Blanqui displayed no antipathy to the belief in progress; between the lines, however, he heaped scorn on the idea. One should not necessarily conclude from this that he was untrue to his political credo. The activity of a professional revolutionary such as Blanqui does not presuppose any faith in progress; it presupposes only the determination to do away with present injustice. The irreplaceable political value of class hatred consists precisely in its affording the revolutionary class a healthy indifference toward speculations concerning progress. Indeed, it is just as worthy of humane ends to rise up out of indignation at prevailing injustice as to seek through revolution to better the existence of future generations. It is just as worthy of the human being; it is also more like the human being. Hand in hand with such indignation goes the firm resolve to snatch humanity at the last moment from the catastrophe looming at every turn. That was the case with Blanqui. He always refused to develop plans for what comes “later.’ [49]

b. Communist truth

As Blanqui and Benjamin recognized, passivity and a belief in progress is not the proper view of a revolutionary. Nothing guarantees the success of revolution. Rather the odds are always against victory. So what is the approach which should be taken? It is a leap of faith and to act, despite everything. As Blanqui says, “”Revolutions desire men who have faith in them. To doubt their triumphs is to already betray them. It is through logic and audacity that one launches them and saves them. If you lack these qualities, your enemies will have it over you; they will only see one thing in your weaknesses — the measure of their own forces. And their courage will grow in direct proportion with your timidity.” [50] If you lack faith in the revolution, if you are unwilling to do what is necessary to win, then you will not only lose, but you are a traitor to the cause that you claim to serve.

Blanqui’s desire to fight against the odds, to conduct revolutionary work in the darkest moments and his unapologetic and fierce advocacy for communism that tolerates no compromises with the old order is an example of what Alain Badiou would call a communist invariant, or a “pure Idea of equality,” that has been represented in mass revolts, whether by slaves, peasants and workers, throughout history. [51] A communist invariant is also an example of a political truth “in which the radical will that aims at an emancipation of humanity as a whole is affirmed.” [52] The name of Blanqui, like the names of other revolutionaries represents “the anonymous action of millions of militants, rebels, fighters, unrepresentable as such, is combined and counted as one in the simple, powerful symbol of the proper name. Thus, proper names are involved in the operation of the…. Idea of communism at its various different stages.” [53] In other words, the name of “Blanqui” stood not just for him, but as a symbol of the suffering of the proletariat and their dream of revolution and communism. To the bourgeoisie, the name “Blanqui” was the name of they gave to their fear of the “dangerous classes.”

And Badiou would certainly identify Blanqui as a faithful subject to the communist Truth who could never be conquered. Blanqui did not doubt the justice of communism. Whereas, the bourgeoisie proclaims that there is no alternative and condemns communism as the denial of freedom, Blanqui turns the tables on them. He recognizes that the reigning order is not freedom for workers at all, but only for the masters. “We know that the freedom that argues against communism is the freedom to enslave and the freedom to exploit. That freedom, the people call oppression and crime.”[54] For Blanqui, the bourgeois “freedom” to invade countries, force children to work in fields and sweatshops, and for the profit of a few at the expense of the toil of the many. And Blanqui states unapologetically and proudly that bourgeois “freedom” is to be denied, and to be replaced by the armedpower of the risen masses. He could broker no compromise with defenders of the old order. Blanqui believed that once the masses arise, the possibilities are endless: “Certainly after a revolution, there is no sudden transformation. Men and things are the same as before. But hope and fear have changed sides, the chains have fallen, and the horizon opens … ” [55] Benjamin would surely have agreed.

c. Organization is Victory

Yet Blanqui recognized that it was not enough to be inspired by an idea, however righteous. As a veteran of the many street battles in revolutionary Paris, he was not in doubt of the valor and courage of barricade compared to the soldiers of a regular army. In fact, he went out of his way to praise them, stating:

In civil disorders, with rare exceptions soldiers march only with loathing, by force and brandy. They would like to be elsewhere and more often look behind than ahead. But an iron hand retains them as slaves and victims of a pitiless discipline; without any affection for authority, they obey only fear and are lacking in any initiative… In the popular ranks, there is nothing like this. There one fights for an idea. There only volunteers are found, and what drives them is enthusiasm, not fear. Superior to the adversary in devotion, they are much more still in intelligence. They have the upper hand over him morally and even physically, by conviction, strength, fertility of resources, promptness of body and spirit, they have both the head and the heart. No troop in the world is the equal of these elite men. [56]

However, every popular insurrection in Paris succumbed to the enemy despite their heroism. Looking at their failures, Blanqui concluded, “So what do they lack in order to vanquish? They lack the unity and coherence which, by having them all contribute to the same goal, fosters all those qualities which isolation renders impotent. They lack organisation. Without it, they haven’t got a chance. Organisation is victory; dispersion is death.” [57] For faith in the revolution is not enough, it needs a unified organization, a clear chain of command and an overall strategy.

Blanqui understood that revolutionary strategy needed to avoid the pitfalls of utopianism and reformism, which were dead ends. The advocates for these failed roads were not simply another section of the working class, seeking a different route to the same end, rather they were its enemies and executioners. Blanqui believed that victory would come by striking the centers of political and repressive power of the ruling class and distributing arms to the people. While we can rightfully criticize Blanqui’s conspiratorial mode of operation for being cut off from the masses, there are certain truths of his strategy. History has proven, time and time again, that the ruling class will not abdicate peacefully to the working class, but that the force of arms is the only way to power: “Arms and organization, these are the decisive elements of progress, the serious method for putting an end to misery. Who has iron, has bread.” [58]

d. The primacy of politics

Blanqui’s emphasis on the importance of organization, primacy of politics, and the will to act put him squarely at odds with not only the apostles of “progress,” but the utopians and reformists of his era. The utopians, who correctly recognized the division of society into classes, believed that this situation could be remedied by appealing to the better nature of the ruling class. Furthermore, the utopian blueprints for socialism were divorced from the existing class struggle. And their plans for cooperatives and mutual aid were not meant to aid the class struggle of the working class, but to take the place of it. Blanqui went so far to say of the utopians, “Those who pretend to have in their pocket a complete map of this unknown land – they truly are the madmen.”[59] Blanqui insisted not on appealing to the rulers, but declaring war upon them. Communism would only come via revolutionary struggle, not by utopian plans divorced from the material conditions. Rather, independent political action by the working class was essential: “Communism must abstain from straying into utopian byways and must never diverge from politics.” [60]

Although Blanqui did not possess a clear theory of political economy or class struggle (as Marx did), he did recognize the unbridgeable chasm between workers and capitalists that characterized society:

Undoubtedly, in the present constitution of things, it is quite clear that the workers can not endure 24 hours without the instruments of labor that are in the possession of the privileged, but to conclude why there is community of interest between these two classes is odd reasoning. We see this union only as an alliance of lion with a lamb, it exists only on condition that there is a boundless tyranny on the one hand and total submission on the other side. [61]

And while it was true that the reformist socialists of Blanqui’s day (and their successors) have shrunk from the implications of that truth. Rather, they not only believed in appealing to the ruling class for crumbs, but to peacefully take over the state via elections. Blanqui, as we have seen, was under no illusions that the state served the dominant classes. And while he did not scoff at reforms, he recognized that they were ultimately inadequate to overcome capitalism:

The extension of political rights, electoral reform, and universal suffrage can be excellent things, but only as means, not as goals. What our goal is the equal sharing of the charges and benefits of society, is the total establishment of the reign of equality. Without this radical reorganization all formal modifications in government will be nothing but lies, all revolutions nothing but comedies performed for the benefit of the ambitious. [62]

Reformists from Louis Blanc to the German SPD to contemporary social democrats, when they have not given up on socialism as a goal. They have only pursued a failed strategy of reforms as opposed to developing the means necessary to win and to end the rule of capital. Their efforts have barely mitigated the exploitation of capitalism. However, it is not that social democrats were pursuing a different road, a reformist one, as opposed to a revolutionary one to the communist goal. Rather, the social democrats have shown time and time again, that they are the guardians of capital and the murderers of revolutionaries and communists.

As Blanqui said in an 1851 work, “Warning to the People”

What reef menaces tomorrow’s revolution?
The reef that broke that of yesterday: the deplorable popularity of bourgeois disguised as tribunes of the people….The crime is that of the traitors the trusting people accepted as guides, but who instead gave them reaction.” [63]

To Blanqui, the utopians while well-meaning, diverted the working class from independent political action, while the reformers (despite their claims to the contrary) protected the capitalist order and were the merciless enemies and gravediggers of revolutionaries.

Blanqui was under no illusions that what was needed was not only the use of organization and arms to achieve communism, but a frontal assault on the bastions of the old regime. Although Blanqui’s particular method proved futile, he was correct on the main point– the ruling class has never, nor will it ever, surrender power peacefully but with the armed and organized working class can victory be assured. The working class not only needed to overthrow the power of capital, but set up their own state in its place (he used the term Committee of Public Safety) which would “dissolve the means of action of the enemy, and to organize and to ensure those of the Republic.” [64] This new state would not only break up the police and army of the enemy, but arm the proletariat. Furthermore, the revolutionary state would seize, whole-scale and without compensation, the property of the capitalists, which would then be used for the benefit of the people. And the working class would defend the new regime because the revolution showed with deeds that it defended their interests. [65]

e. Rupture

The type of revolutionary measures advocated by Blanqui (and later by Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, etc.) were by their very nature “despotic.” They were not in line with the ideology of progress or the smooth upward curve of history, rather they necessitated a break with it. A revolution, as Benjamin saw it, was not done in accordance with the law, but by suspending it. Can a revolution be “legal” when bourgeois freedom protected by law? Blanqui saw through this facade, saying “that freedom, the people call oppression and crime”? [66] When the laws are unjust, every revolution will be illegal. No revolution will ever be legal, since it will not be done according to the dictates of progress or to perpetuate the old order. A revolution is a rupture with what is, a shattering of historical progress, legality, and the whole edifice of oppression and exploitation. Rather than depend on legality or progress, the revolution will have right and justice on its side. The revolution is the rising of the wretched of the earth, who will finally pass judgment on their oppressors and end class rule. [67]

V. Conclusion

For Blanqui and Benjamin, the revolution involves a rupture. This rupture is not only with the previous regime, but with the nature of history itself. All of recorded history has been the triumphant march of the dominant classes from the Pax Romana to the Pax Americana – their freedom and progress which is built on unbearable enslavement and exploitation. The revolution is not guaranteed by progress or the laws of history, but through faith in the idea of communism and the desire to rescue the dominated classes from the catastrophe that they have always been condemned to live in. The revolution would be a Day of Judgment when as the Bible verse says “the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16) Even the dead would rise. The verdicts of history delivered and enforced by the dominant classes that have condemned rebels and martyrs from Spartacus to Blanqui would be reversed. The revolutionary apocalypse would stop the progression of history – it would take away the power and privileges of the ruling class, tear down their monuments, and erase its symbols. But more than that, it would be the beginning of a new age for humanity – an age free at last from exploitation and oppression.

Doug Enaa Greene is an independent historian living in the greater Boston area. He is a volunteer at the Center for Marxist Education in Cambridge and is the author of a forthcoming book Specters of Communism on the French communist Louis-Auguste Blanqui.


[1] Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm

[2] Paul Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development: Principles of Marxian Political Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1962), 190.

[3] Massimo Salvadori, Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution 1880-1938 (New York: Verso Books, 1979), 40. See Karl Kautsky, The Road to Power (Alameda: Center for Socialist History, 2007), 41.

[4] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 667.

[7] Ibid. 474.

[8] Paul Costello, “Antonio Gramsci and the Recasting of Marxist Strategy,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/theoretical-review/19833101.htm

[9] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1). See also Michael Lowy, Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the Concept of History’ (New York: Verso, 2005), 68-71.

[10] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1).

[11] Karl Marx, “Das Kapital Volume One,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm

[12] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1).

[13] Ibid. Also Lowy 2005, 59-60.

[14] Ibid. 58.

[15] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Karl Marx, “Wage Labor and Capital,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/ch09.htm

[18] Benjamin 1999, 473.

[19] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Lowy 2005, 79.

[24] Ibid. 35-6.

[25] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1).

[26] Maximilien Robespierre, “Justification of the Use of Terror,” Marxist Internet Archive. http://marxists.org/history/france/revolution/robespierre/1794/terror.htm

[27] “On the Concept of History,” (footnote 1).

[28] Lowy 2005, 45.

[29] Karl Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” Marxists Internet Archive. Introduction https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm

[30] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The Holy Family,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch04.htm

[31] Quoted in Lowy 2005, 99.

[32] Ibid. 101.

[33] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Political Writings 1910-1920 (New York: International Publishers, 1977), 11.

[34] For this section, I have freely borrowed (often with little alteration) my previous writings on Blanqui. Aside from my book, Specters of Communism: Blanqui and Marx (forthcoming from Haymarket), see “The will to act: The life and thought of Louis-Auguste Blanqui,” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4115; “Despite It All: Blanqui’s Eternity By the Stars,” Counterpunch. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/12/13/blanquis-eternity-by-the-stars/; “The First Words of Common Sense,” Kasama Project. http://k2.kasamaproject.org/threads/entry/the-first-words-of-common-sense; “Because We Want to Win, We Want the Means,” Kasama Project. http://k2.kasamaproject.org/threads/entry/because-we-want-to-win-we-want-the-means; “The Historical Memory and Legacy of Louis-Auguste Blanqui” (forthcoming); “Blanquism and Leninism,” Cultural Logic. http://clogic.eserver.org/2012/Greene.pdf

[35] Benjamin 1999, 21.

[36] Benjamin 1999, 112.

[37] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Eternity By the Stars (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013), 66.

[38] Ibid. 72-3, 113, 119.

[39] Ibid. 113.

[40] Ibid. 125-6.

[41] Ibid. 136.

[42] Ibid. 133.

[43] Ibid. 134.

[44] Ibid. 125.

[45] Ibid. 142.

[46] Ibid. 146.

[47] Ibid. 148-9.

[48] Ibid. 125.

[49] Benjamin 1999, 339.

[50] The Imaginary Party Party Introduces Blanqui. “Not Bored.” http://www.notbored.org/blanqui.html.

[51] Alain Badiou, Meaning of Sarkozy (New York: Verso Books, 2008), p. 100.

[52] Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds: Being and Event 2 (New York: Continuum, 2009), 27.

[53] Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis (New York: Verso Books, 2010), 250-1.

[54] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Le communisme, avenir de la société,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/francais/blanqui/1869/communism.htm (My translation).

[55] Ibid. (My translation).

[56] Blanqui, “Manual for Armed Insurrection,” Marxists Internet Archive, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/blanqui/1866/instructions1.htm

[57] Ibid.

[58] Blanqui, “Warning to the People,” Marxists Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/blanqui/1851/toast.htm

[59] Benjamin 1999, 736.

[60] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Critique Sociale Volume 1 (Paris: Fexix Alcan, 1885), p. 196.

[61] Quoted in Andre Marty, “Figuras do Movimento Operário: Alguns Aspectos da Atividade de Blanqui,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/portugues/marty/1951/02/06.htm (my translations).

[62] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Democratic Propaganda.” Marxist Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/blanqui/1833/democratic-propaganda.htm [Accessed February 1, 2013].

[63] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Warning to the People.” Marxist Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/blanqui/1851/toast.htm [Accessed February 1, 2013].

[64] Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Instructions pour une prise d’armes,” Marxist Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/francais/blanqui/1866/instructions.htm (my translation)

[65] Needless to say, Blanqui did not advocate a dictatorship of the proletariat (as a class). He did not use the term. Rather, he believed that the workers were too corrupted by the church and the aristocracy to govern themselves. What he did argue for was a dictatorship of a revolutionary elite who would rule in their place and proceed to educate the people in the values of a new order: Can the people immediately govern themselves immediately after the revolution? The social state being gangrened, heroic remedies are required to pass to a healthy state; the people will need, for a certain period of time, a revolutionary power. See Louis-Auguste Blanqui, “Reception Procedure of the Society of the Seasons,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/blanqui/1830/seasons.htm

[66] “Le communisme, avenir de la société,” (footnote 54).

[67] Daniel Bensaïd and Michael Lowy, “Auguste Blanqui, heretical communist,” Radical Philosophy 185 (May/Jun 2014): 34.

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1916: Use workers’ power to end the war-Käte Duncker, introduction by John Riddell

Posted by admin On September - 28 - 2016 Comments Off on 1916: Use workers’ power to end the war-Käte Duncker, introduction by John Riddell


September 21, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/John Riddell: Marxist Essays and Commentaries — 100 years ago today, a leading antiwar socialist in Germany explained the need for revolution to end the First World War. Her audience was delegates to the last unified national conference of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), held in Berlin on September 21-23, 1916.

The vote by SPD parliamentary representatives in support of German war spending on August 4, 1914, had split the party. At the September 1916 conference, the right-wing pro-war Majority Socialists were opposed by the Working Group (later USPD – a centrist grouping), as well as by the revolutionary current, the International Group (later the Spartacus League), led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. In November 1918, supporters of the USPD and Spartacus League led a workers’ revolution that overturned the German emperor and brought the war to an abrupt end.

Duncker was another leader of the Spartacus League and the German Communist Party formed later (KPD). She was born and raised in Thuringia in 1871, and worked as a teacher. She met Clara Zetkin at a union congress and joined the SPD in Leipzig in 1898. As an SPD member, she was a prominent speaker and writer, an assistant editor of the SPD publication for women Gleichheit, and a part of the SPD educational committee with Rosa Luxemburg. During the war, she co-founded the International Group and was arrested in 1916 and banned from speaking publicly. As a leader of the KPD, she was forced into exile by the Nazis and lived in New York—during the Second World War, her third child became a victim of the Stalinist regime in the USSR. She died in 1953.

This speech forms part of a series of documents on socialist resistance to World War 1, each published on the 100th anniversary of their origin.

* * * * *

Comrades! The International (Spartacus) Group asked me to speak here today because we not only sharply disagree with the SPD Majority’s policies, but are also in disagreement with the Working Group on significant issues. This applies above all to our position on the International and to “defense of the fatherland.”

To the extent that the Working Group and its members’ positions are not limited to rejection of war credits, they strive to restore the party and the International to the point of view they maintained before August 4, 1914, and to take up again its prewar policies, supposedly tried, true and triumphant.

But what August 4 really showed was that these policies had utterly failed. They had led us not to victory but to a devastating defeat precisely on the issue that put them to the test. (Interjection: “Very true”)

In our opinion, the Second International collapsed irretrievably on August 4, 1914. It was fated to collapse, because—despite all the fine speeches and decisions at its congresses—it was not an organic whole but only a loose structure with no internal cohesion. The national parties were autonomous. The German party in particular was unwilling to see its freedom of action restricted by any solid international agreements. Every attempt to convert the International into a genuine force shattered against the German delegation’s response: “Unacceptable.”

The International that we are striving for will stand above the national parties. It must be both the goal and the fulcrum of proletarian class organization. It must make the decisions on all questions whose significance extends beyond national frontiers, such as military and naval policy, colonialism and, above all, the policy to be adopted in case of the outbreak of war.

After the war, we want to build the International on a more secure foundation and make it a real political force. To that end, it is above all essential that the concept of the International, and along with it that of the class struggle, becomes the very essence of our educational work across the country. Every party member in every village must feel and understand that proletarians on the other side of our borders are our brothers, our working-class comrades. They stand closer to us than the ruling classes of our own country, and so too our obligations to workers abroad are much greater.

Against the ideology of nationalism, before which the Party capitulated in 1914, we uphold that of internationalism. Organizationally, we do not conceive of the new International as a loose structure of autonomous parties with some office in Brussels or The Hague, where comrades gather for inconclusive discussion of international issues. Nor do we imagine it, contrary to what was said of us in a Working Group publication, as a general staff commanding from on high, above the clouds, and sending down orders to the international proletarian multitudes from above.

On the contrary, we conceive of the organizational ties as much closer, as an ongoing structure that is equipped with decision-making power. It will have this capacity because it is based on the internationalist consciousness of the masses in all capitalist countries, and because its decisions are thus binding for Social Democracy in all these countries. (Interjection: “How will you manage that?”)

What we are asking is, so to say, that the “alliance of provinces” that existed in the past be transformed into a “federal state.”

Our position on national defense flows from our positions on the International and on the imperialist nature of the war. As we know, every war begins with the battle cry, “The fatherland is in danger.” This is a marvelous way to deceive the less informed masses. This slogan of the endangered fatherland was already a conscious swindle in most earlier wars; it is all the more inapplicable in the era of imperialism regarding relations among the leading imperialist great powers.

There is no longer any such thing as a defensive war among the imperialist great powers. The claim to be going to war in defense of national frontiers and national independence is now simply outright deception. (Interjection: “How’s that again?”)

When one pirate ship attacks another in order to seize its booty, we don’t talk about justified self-defense. The imperialist states always seek to expand, to seize more booty. Their wars are about conquest from the very beginning. (Interjection: “Very true!”)

It makes no difference on whose territory the war is fought. When a war breaks out, it must be fought out somewhere. (Laughter) Just where it takes place depends on the fortunes of war, but that is not the basis on which we determine the war’s character. (Interjection: “Very true!”)

As a human being and a socialist, I am just as pained and shocked by the killing of a French, Belgian and Russian proletarian as I am when the victim is German. “Sound the alarm: They’re killing our brothers”: This principle holds true for internationalist socialists no matter where war breaks out. And that is why we cannot base our stand on the war and the approval of war credits on the state of the war at any given moment, as the Working Group did in its December 21 statement and influential comrades have done in various speeches.

Imagine: If we were now in France’s situation; if large portions of Germany were occupied by enemy troops, who knows—the Social Democratic Working Group might not even exist. (Loud laughter)

Let me repeat: Our position on the war is not dependent on the state of the fighting at any given moment. This way of thinking would always block any chance for unified action against the war by the international proletariat. In any given war, the Social Democrats of a country would pursue a policy based on the success of their country’s armies, and thus necessarily opposed to that of their counterparts in another country. That would amount to an admission of bankruptcy as regards any international proletarian policy.

A member of the Working Group reproached us for an attitude of so-called “defense-nihilism.” That term is quite inapplicable. We stand on the foundations of the Stuttgart resolution,[1] which laid on us the obligation, if we were unable to prevent war, not to defend the fatherland but to use every means to end the war rapidly and to utilize the crisis it creates in political and economic life to speed the abolition of the capitalist order.

If socialists achieve power in a given country, they will have to use against invading enemies, just as the revolutionaries of the French revolution defended their bourgeois freedom against feudal Europe, and the fighters of the Paris Commune in 1871 defended their commune against the Prussian troops.

Henke[2]: And that is precisely what our program says.

Duncker: I will refrain from taking up here the other points of disagreement between us and the Working Group. These include disagreements on taxation, submarine policy and the party executive’s appeal for peace. With regard to taxation, let me just say that we reject war credits regardless of whether they are paid for out of the slim wallets of the masses or directly from the wealth of the propertied. They provide resources for war regardless.

This brief outline of the differences between us and the Working Group aims not at involving ourselves in a polemic with them but rather at showing why our group has to act independently and to refute the concept that the opposition is united. We will march separately, but we will unify to deal blows to our opponents, and the main task today is to deal that unified blow.

Delegates of the SPD Majority: “Aha” and laughter.

Duncker: We, too, have to settle accounts with the party executive, with the so-called Majority. But not with the social imperialists. We do not discuss with Kolb, Lensch, Cohen, Heine, Heilmann and the like. Nor do we discuss with those who, like Konrad Haenisch,[3] sing the “Workers Marseillaise” to the tune “Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles”—

SPD Minority delegates: “Very good” and laughter.

Duncker: —because these people have moved outside the framework of the party program and its convention decisions. Almost every comrade understands this.

Minority delegates: “Very true.”

Duncker: Keeping them in the party would require a complete transformation of its program. (Interjection: “Very true.”)

Duncker: Or we could take a shortcut here and simply adopt the program of the National Liberals,[4] adorned by a few socialist turns of phrase. So long as our present party program is in force, these social-imperialists and their supporters are outside our party’s framework. We have nothing in common with them.

Ledebour[5]: Not with us either.

Duncker: They have belonged for a long time to the bourgeois camp and are intruders in the house of socialism. When the day of reckoning comes, then those who adhere to the party’s program, tradition and decisions will exercise this authority by throwing out these intruders.

Minority delegates: “Very good” and loud laughter.

Duncker: These people desecrate the temple of socialism and the socialist world outlook.

Ebert[6]: I must request that the speaker frame her remarks in a fashion consistent with debates among party comrades.

Ledebour: If you followed the example of Heine and Timm, the Chair would not call you to order!

Ebert: Silence, please. What I have just said applies to all party comrades and has always been the procedure at party congresses. (Interjection: “Very true.”)

Duncker: We are dealing today above all with comrades who claim to adhere to the party’s program and statutes but are in fact trampling program and statutes underfoot. They misuse the words “internationalism,” “party unity,” and “party discipline” in order to consciously deceive comrades across the country.

Despite the incontestably imperialist nature of the war, comrades of the party executive and the official (Majority) parliamentary fraction continue to call for “holding out to the end” and approve war credits, despite the unambiguously imperialist nature of the war. They continue to support and defend the government despite its open calls for annexations. They therefore have no right to speak of working to reestablish international relations (among socialists) and peace. (Interjections: “Aha!” and “Very true.”)

Duncker: The first precondition for resumption of international relations is to stop making charges against the parties in other countries, and clean up one’s own backyard (Interjection: “That means the defeat of Germany.”) and to break with the policy of August 4…

We call on all those who uphold the class struggle and international socialism not to be deluded by fanatical uproar about violations of party unity and discipline but to defend the integrity of our principles and to be disciplined in defending our world outlook.

That means we must also renounce obedience to the policies of the party’s leading bodies. We must put an end to half-measures and abandon illusions that it is simply a matter of resolving the purely parliamentary issue of approval or rejection of war credits. The task is rather to call on the masses to wage a mighty struggle against imperialism and against the war.

Let us be clear on one thing: If the war ends as it began, as a gift from on high without the proletariat’s involvement, as a result of diplomatic negotiations, then peace on that basis will seal the defeat dealt to socialism during the war.

Let this peace be achieved by utilizing all the proletariat’s instruments of power. In that case, such a peace will prepare the road for the victory of socialism and shape the International into a power that will prevent any repetition of such horrendous genocidal slaughter for all time.

Source: Dokumente und Materialien zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, series 2, vol. 1, pp. 457-63.


[1] The Stuttgart Resolution was adopted by the Socialist (Second) International’s congress of 1907. See “1907: The Birth of Socialism’s Great Divide” by John Riddell.

[2] Alfred Henke (1868-1946) was a member of the Working Group.

[3] The named figures formed part of the SPD’s extreme right wing, which openly embraced the aims of German imperialism and expressed confidence in the German emperor and his government. The “German Marsaillaise,” written 1864 by Jacob Audorf, was a socialist poem sung to the tune of the French revolutionary anthem.

[4] The National Liberals were the main political party of the German bourgeoisie.

[5] Georg Ledebour (1850-1947) was a member of the Working Group and a prominent supporter of the Zimmerwald Manifesto.

[6] Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925) was the SPD’s chair from 1913 and president of the German republic (1919-25).


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How the Indus Treaty was signed-K. V. PADMANABHAN

Posted by admin On September - 28 - 2016 Comments Off on How the Indus Treaty was signed-K. V. PADMANABHAN


Notes from the unpublished diary of India’s Acting High Commissioner in Karachi, Pakistan, during the signing of the Indus Water Treaty in September 1960.

Amongst the more prominent of the problems that bedevilled relations between India and Pakistan was the Indus Waters dispute. This was a legacy of the Partition. The line dividing the two Punjabs cut right across the Indus canal systems developed over a hundred years. Pakistan found that the headwaters of the main canals were on the Indian side of the border. All the five tributaries of the Indus also originated in India and flowed through Indian territory in the upper reaches. Even before Partition, Sindh and Punjab had witnessed wrangles over the sharing of the waters of these rivers.

The situation worsened after the holocaust of the Partition. There were hysterical cries in Pakistan for taking up arms to defend their rights over the waters. Fortunately, an arbiter came forward in the garb of the World Bank that eventually succeeded in thrashing out a settlement. The main credit should go to Eugene Black, the World Bank president.

Demarcating boundaries
While the negotiations about the sharing of the canal waters were going on, officials from both countries were grappling with the demarcation of boundaries that had defied solution all those years. These disputes had arisen over the interpretation of the award of Radcliffe. Two teams were sent out by India to tackle the thorny problem [in 1959]. The discussions the Indians held with their Pakistani counterparts were in a spirit of friendship and cordiality hitherto unheard of in Pakistan. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that the leaders of the respective teams were old friends and college mates from pre-Partition Lahore. The leader on the Indian side was Sardar Swaran Singh; General Khalid Shaikh led the Pakistani team. Once these two men established their rapport, they left the details to their principal advisors: on the Indian side M.J. Desai, and on the other side Sikander Ali Baig. Once it was established that the main purpose of the exercise was to achieve maximum agreement and that neither side was out to steal an unfair advantage, it was easier to work out a solution. It was found that neither India nor Pakistan had an overwhelming case to be made on its stand on a particular dispute. One side gracefully conceded the other’s claim were valid, and that was that. In this way the two negotiating teams were able to settle a number of irritants in this field and pave the way for a period of real détente between the two countries.

However, some [issues] proved to be intractable. One of these was the dispute regarding the Rann of Kutch. As neither side gave way, it was decided to leave it for further negotiations through routine diplomatic channels. Subsequently, Pakistan was to take the law into its own hands and send a raiding force into the territory only to be halted by Indian Army units. The dispute was then put to international arbitration, as a result of which India agreed to give up a part of the disputed area to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Ayub Khan had taken another bold step. This was the decision to stop over at Palam airport in New Delhi [in September, 1959] during one of his periodic visits to Dacca, to meet the Indian Prime Minister. He was no doubt prompted to do so by Rajeshwar Dayal, the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan who had received prior approval from Delhi. The Pakistani President deserves full credit for following it through with good grace and aplomb. The Palam meeting, that lasted for nearly two hours, went well. At the end, a brief statement was issued in which the leaders emphasised the need to conduct relations in a rational and planned manner. It was also agreed that outstanding issues should be settled in accordance with justice and fair play, in a spirit of friendliness and cooperation. Later, when speaking to the Press, Ayub Khan stressed the need for re-appraisals, for forgetting and forgiving, and for a more realistic and rational approach to settling disputes that had tarnished relations between the two neighbour states. For a few moments, the ice seemed to be broken. Right-thinking people on both sides appeared to heave a sigh of relief.

Nehru’s visit to Pakistan
Soon it was clear that bigger things were in the offing. The protracted negotiations about the distribution of the canal waters were drawing to a close. The agreement on the canal waters was the biggest single achievement to date between the two countries, and it was decided to have it signed with due pomp and show. This provided an appropriate opportunity for the Indian Prime Minster to reciprocate Ayub Khan’s stopover at Palam and to demonstrate the friendly relations that were developing between the two countries. The historic visit of Pandit Nehru from September 19 to September 23, 1960, was to be his last visit to Pakistan.

While the arrangements of the visit were under discussion, Rajeshwar Dayal had to leave Pakistan. The task of organising Panditji’s visit fell on my shoulders. Fortunately, I had very able colleagues to help me.

Prime Minister Nehru’s visit commenced on a rather low key. The welcome at Karachi was formal and correct, but not enthusiastic. The decorations along the route from the airport to the presidential palace were minimal. By contrast, a lot of the local populace had gathered along the streets to have a glimpse of Panditji. But they did not cheer him. It was evident that the military authorities had ordained it that way.

The same evening was the signing of the Indus Waters Treaty. This was done with due decorum and solemnity. Nehru signed on behalf of India, Ayub Khan on behalf of Pakistan, and William Iliff, the vice-president of the World Bank, on behalf of the Bank. The treaty was based on the principle that after a transitional period of 10 years, extendable to 13 at the request of Pakistan, the three eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, would be exclusively allocated to India, while the western rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, would be allocated exclusively to Pakistan except for certain limited uses by India in the upstream areas. During the transition period, Pakistan would undertake a system of works, part of which would replace from the western rivers such irrigation uses in Pakistan as had hitherto been met from the eastern rivers. While the system of works was under construction, India would continue to supply water from the eastern rivers according to the agreed programme. The Indus works programme was estimated to cost around $1,070 million, of which $870 million was to be spent in Pakistan. It was a colossal undertaking.

Once the signing ceremony was over everyone breathed a sigh of relief. What had been an insurmountable problem was out of the way. Could one proceed to other items on the agenda? This was the nagging question that troubled the advisers on either side. Panditji had brought a team of advisers that included Desai, the Commonwealth Secretary, an able administrator, and a tough negotiator. Ayub Khan had great respect for his abilities.

However, the discussions that followed proved to be desultory and unproductive. It was clear that neither side was prepared for any major concessions. We talked primarily of trade between the two countries and for cooperation in economic spheres. A number of ideas were thrown out. Ayub Khan in a generous mood offered to divert the waters of the Indus River to the parched areas of Rajasthan by erecting a barrage in the lower reaches of the river; also to supply the Sui natural gas from Balochistan to the Bombay area.

The Indian side in its turn agreed to consider sympathetically the proposal enabling Pakistan to run a through-train across India connecting Lahore and Dacca. Even cooperation and co-ordination in the military fields came under discussion. India expressed concern about Chinese activities on the northern border of Kashmir and emphasised the concern they felt about a possible threat to Pakistan also from them.

Ayub Khan, without batting an eyelid, shook his head gravely and promised to study the question with his military advisors. Little did the Indian side suspect that Pakistan would be handing over to the Chinese sizeable chunks of the territory in the northern part of Kashmir in return for China’s support of Pakistan’s claim for the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir.

In fact, all our bilateral discussions and grandiose schemes came to practically nothing because of Pakistan’s insistence that India should make substantial concessions with regard to Kashmir. Thereby ended another chapter in the unfulfilled agenda of cooperation between India and Pakistan.

K.V. Padmanabhan was in the Indian Foreign Service. Born in 1911, he passed away in 1992.
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