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Archive for October, 2016

Egypt: In the heart of the struggle-Philip Marfleet

Posted by admin On October - 17 - 2016 Comments Off on Egypt: In the heart of the struggle-Philip Marfleet

A review of Maha Abdelrahman, Egypt’s Long Revolution: Protest Movements and Uprisings (Routledge, 2015), £34.99

This book was written as the Egyptian Revolution unfolded. Its author experienced the hopes and anxieties of tens of millions of people, sharing “moments of soaring elation, periods of uncertainty and self-doubt, instances of retreat and dark days of potential defeat” (pvii). Her analysis of rising opposition to the Hosni Mubarak regime, of the mass uprising that began in 2011 and of the military coup of 2013 is especially important for activists seeking to understand these tumultuous events. Her conclusion is notable: quoting Lenin, she observes that despite all difficulties, those prepared to “preserve their strength and flexibility”, learning from experience and pursuing their aims with vigour, can anticipate new opportunities to effect change (p142).

When the uprising against Mubarak began in January 2011 most journalists and many academics expressed surprise, even astonishment. It seemed to them that an Egyptian population they viewed as docile and compliant had overnight discovered an appetite for change—for what millions were already calling a “revolution”. The uprising promptly deposed Egypt’s dictator but when the dictatorship proved more resilient these pundits were quick to assert that the movement had failed. There were soon many obituaries for the revolution, reflecting on its abrupt rise and fall. Maha Abdelrahman takes a different approach, seeing Egypt’s revolution as a process—part of a struggle for change that began long before the uprising in Tahrir Square and one that continues as the regime of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi grapples with economic crisis and popular hostility to its own intense repression.

Abdelrahman is precise, asserting that: the revolution “did not start in Tahrir” (p29). She rightly identifies the solidarity demonstrations launched in September 2000 by supporters of the Palestinian intifada as a key development. These protests created space for public action soon occupied by ­anti-globalisation and anti-war activists, then by the Egyptian Movement for Change (the democracy movement known by its slogan Kifaya!—Enough!), and in 2006 by workers’ struggles on a scale not seen for 60 years. Abdelrahman describes the cumulative impact of “a tidal wave of protests” (p55) that set the scene for the uprising of 2011.

These struggles were invisible to most academic experts. Concentrating on institutional matters and above all on the apparent resilience of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, they ignored politics from below. This approach reproduced the policies of colonial and post-colonial regimes that for decades practised a politics of denial. British rulers of Egypt maintained that Egyptians were passive and incapable of organising for change. Gamal Abdel Nasser, first president of an independent Egypt, saw slothfulness and lassitude among the masses who, he said, required to be led. His successors Anwar Sadat and Mubarak were contemptuous of the people, viewing them as bystanders to their projects of personal enrichment and monopolisation of power.

Abdelrahman is focused on the mass of people and their creative energies. She addresses the innovative methods of the pro-democracy movement and the “organisational ingenuity and professionalism” of workers in struggle (p61). Tracing in detail the interlocking struggles of 2000 to 2010, she identifies a “normalisation of protest”, as struggles in workplaces, campuses, schools and neighbourhoods embraced millions of people, so that subversive action became “part of everyday lived reality” (p69).

Unlike almost every other academic analyst Abdelrahman is interested in relationships between activist groups and political organisations including nationalists, Islamists, Communists of the old left, and a new generation of revolutionary socialists. She notes that most activists rejected the established parties of the left: rigid and highly centralised, these inhibited mobilisation against the regime. The most effective campaigns against Mubarak “aimed to be everything these formal groups were not” (p49), operating with fluid structures, participatory decision-making and forms of public protest that proved effective in the face of the regime’s clumsy methods of repression.

Abdelrahman examines the problems faced by activist networks under Mubarak and the innovative means used to maintain the momentum of the movement. She highlights the role of the Cairo Conference, an event held annually between 2002 and 2008, at which Egyptian activists coordinated with anti-war movements in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, and which served as what she calls “a network of networks” for dissident Egyptians (p35). The conference was indeed significant, not least because it provided a rare opportunity for members of the Muslim Brotherhood to engage systematically in debate with the secular left. Some readers of International Socialism who attended these events will recall unprecedented discussions in which young women and men of the Brotherhood engaged with revolutionary Marxists on subjects including the meaning of democracy, the labour theory of value, women’s rights and the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Abdelrahman is not wide-eyed about the activists of 2011. Unlike some recent assessments influenced by autonomist and libertarian traditions, she addresses the limitations of their networks, especially after the fall of Mubarak. The key issue at stake, she suggests, was that of finding a means to facilitate self-expression and, at the same time, to ensure “sustainability” (p83)—to provide coherence and leadership. The ingenuity of activists who challenged Mubarak was not enough, she suggests, to provide a focal point for a revolutionary movement that, after February 2011, confronted the core of the state apparatus in the form of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). In order to resist the generals’ repression and to advance the movement’s aim of achieving social justice, activists urgently required new forms of coordination; their failure to collaborate, she maintains, undermined the whole revolutionary project.

The revolution did indeed require coordinated leadership—but why was this not forthcoming? Abdelrahman does not address this question directly. She highlights issues of party loyalty and practical problems of coordination but does not get to the heart of the matter—the tortured history of the established left in Egypt and its willingness to accommodate to the state and to capitalist agendas.

Egypt’s Communists had played a significant role in struggles against the colonial power, Britain. However, inhibited by Stalinist obsessions with the search for “progressive” bourgeois allies, they failed to accept opportunities to challenge the colonial state and the pro-British monarchy. When the army under Nasser seized power in 1952 most Communists celebrated a “revolutionary” initiative. Although they experienced severe repression under Nasser, they later joined his state capitalist regime. In 1965 the Egyptian Communist Party dissolved itself on the basis that Nasser had met its aspirations for change. Deserting the workers’ and students’ movements, it handed the initiative to Islamist currents, soon established as a key pole of attraction for activists.

Presidents Sadat and Mubarak adopted neoliberal policies, supervising the transfer of public assets to private hands, greatly increasing inequality and making the apparatus of the state—al-nizam (“the order” or “the system”)—an object of hatred for most Egyptians. The established left remained a tame reformist lobby, joining the regime in its assaults on the Islamists, whom Communists dubbed a “fascist” menace. When it became clear that the uprising of 2011 might challenge the state itself, the left—including Communists and radical nationalists of the Nasserist current—joined the generals in an outright assault on the Muslim Brotherhood and subsequently upon the revolutionary movement.

The failure of the popular movement to coordinate an effective leadership was less an organisational matter than an outcome of an orientation by ostensibly radical currents upon the state itself. In 2013 Communists and radical nationalists joined with liberals, social democrats, bourgeois parties and feloul (“leftovers” or remnants” of the Mubarak regime) in an alliance with the generals. Some, used and abused by the el-Sisi regime, have since come to regret their naivety as they too are swept up by the current repression.

These largely secular parties were not alone in their embrace of the generals, however. In 2011 leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood entered what Abdelrahman calls an “uneasy marriage of convenience” with SCAF (p79)—one that led not merely to divorce but to a murderous assault on the Brotherhood’s members. Abdelrahman might have analysed these developments more closely. The Brotherhood was not the iron-clad organisation described by many analysts of Egyptian affairs, in which the blind obedience of members guaranteed support for the leadership. Nor was it ideologically homogenous and unaffected by changes in wider society. As with her treatment of the left, Abdelrahman might have used historical materials to contextualise the agendas of the organisation’s leaders. Why were they so firmly oriented on the state? What were their political aspirations? How did they envisage their relationship with the mass of people?

The Muslim Brotherhood, says Abdelrahman, had long been largely stable—a closely knit group held together by complex economic and social ties. It was in fact deeply affected by the uprising of 2011, experiencing a series of splits and losing a number of high profile figures and some of its most determined young activists. Its relationship with the armed forces and crude attempts to control the movement resulted in a huge loss of support among those who earlier backed the organisation against Mubarak—the latest chapter in the Brotherhood’s history of complex shifts and changes in fortune.

Notwithstanding these reservations Egypt’s Long Revolution is an important assessment of the revolutionary process by an acute and supportive observer of struggles for change. It draws extensively on the testimony of activists and provides key insights into their motivations, dilemmas and successes. It concludes persuasively that millions of people eager for social justice will continue to ­challenge the prevailing order.

Philip Marfleet is a professor in the School of Social Sciences at the University of East London and the author of Egypt: Contested Revoluion (Pluto, 2016).

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.

Revolution besieged-Review by Amy Muldoon

Posted by admin On October - 17 - 2016 Comments Off on Revolution besieged-Review by Amy Muldoon

In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, Odysseus faces a perverse choice between letting six of his crew be eaten alive by a hideous monster or chancing the wreck of his boat and the loss of his entire crew in a whirlpool created by another monster. Though written thousands of years earlier, it serves as an apt allegory of the experience of the Russian Communists after the 1917 October Revolution. Steering between the White counterrevolution and famine, foreign intervention, and political schisms, the Russian Communists fought valiantly but in conditions that required constant retreat and sacrifice. The brutality of the times is usually laid at the feet of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Victor Serge’s masterful Year One of the Russian Revolution chronicles the first year of their attempt to build and stabilize the new Soviet republic and provides a sympathetic, but not sanitized, accounting.

Written between 1928 and 1930, much of it while he was still in the Soviet Union, Serge unambiguously sides with the Bolshevik Party (which changed its name to the Communist Party in 1918) in its project, and unlike apologists for the later crimes of Stalin, does not shy away from the less inspiring and harsh realities of

Bolshevik policy. Only by seeing the situation in its totality is it possible to grapple with, and understand, the policies of the Bolshevik government. It is a period utterly unlike our own but worth close study.

Serge’s book ranks with Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution for its ability to depict complex situations and provide theoretical insights into the inner workings of classes, parties, and armies in motion. Serge’s book has a longer historical sweep, including a short summary at the beginning of Russia’s revolutionary movement up to 1917, the period of the revolution itself, and the first year of Soviet power, which takes up most of the book. Drawing on hundreds of works of history, memoirs, and the press, the more than a hundred pages of footnotes alone are worth reading for the parade of colorful biographies of otherwise unknown Bolsheviks and socialists they contain.

Under the slogans “Bread, peace, and land,” and “All power to the soviets,” the Bolshevik Party led an insurrection in October 1917 overthrowing the bourgeois provisional government that had assumed power when the tsar fell the previous February. The party’s perspective was that in backward Russia, the “weak link” of international capitalism, the task of building socialism could begin but not be completed or survive without the revolution spreading to more capitalistically advanced neighboring countries, particularly Germany. Compromising or abandoning power in Russia would serve a significant blow to the advance of world revolution, so all efforts were bent toward survival of the fledgling state. The cost of surviving, however, was incredibly high. Though beautifully written and full of piercing insights, Year One’s recounting of the human toll of the post-October civil war that ravaged Russia is sobering.

Basic survival for the young Soviet state required strategic vision, self-sacrifice, and an unbending will. Serge, himself an anarchist his entire adult life before moving to Russia in 1918, depicts those characteristics as the lifeblood of the Bolshevik Party. The revolutionary party is the embodiment of seeing both the ultimate aim and the immediate action. In the economically devastated conditions of civil war Russia, the scientific detachment and discipline that allowed the Bolsheviks to navigate the changing moods of revolutionary Russian politics became something much more severe:

In a word, they must see reality, grasp possibility, and conceive the action which will be the link between the real and the possible. In doing so, the only vantage-point they can ever adopt is that of the proletariat’s own higher interests. Their whole thinking has to be that of the proletariat, with the advantage of scientific discipline. Proletarian class-consciousness attains its highest expression in the leaders of the organized vanguard of the working class. As personalities, they are great only in the measure that they incarnate the masses. In this sense only they are giants—anonymous giants. In voicing the consciousness of the mass they display a virtue which, for the proletariat, is sheer necessity: a terrible impersonality.

After taking power, the Bolsheviks faced innumerable counterrevolutionary threats. The “terrible impersonality” of the party was tested again and again, and as in 1917, the success of the party depended on an internal culture that was rife with debate. Serge pointedly includes debates in which lower ranking party members challenge Lenin’s positions openly, even placing him in the minority at key times. While readers will be largely aware of the eventual erosion and then destruction of this culture, that outcome was still largely in the party’s future.

The October revolution came in a context in which World War I had already ravaged Russia. Sabotage, foreign intervention, civil war, and blockade unfolded against this backdrop. Famine became widespread as grain production fell to less than half of prewar levels. Industrial production collapsed—for example, coal and oil fell to about one-third of prewar production, and steel fell to less than 5 percent. Industrial shortages compounded the crisis in transport, as the railways could not get the repairs or fuel necessary, adding a crisis of distribution that worsened the famine. The collapse of industrial production meant the closure of factories and a sizeable evacuation of the cities—which had devastating effects for the politics of working-class power.

If the crisis of production were the only challenge thrown down to the Bolsheviks, it would have been substantial. However, the new state was wracked by overlapping assaults and conflicts: Germany, its armies still intact, immediately threatened invasion and the Soviet government had no army, the old one having collapsed; hostile states declared independence in the Don, the Ukraine, Transcaucasia, and the Volga; a legion of Czechoslovak soldiers returning home on the Trans-Siberian railway took up arms against the Bolsheviks in the spring of 1918. Remnants of the tsar’s court and military, within and outside Russia, and with international backing, formed counterrevolutionary White armies to attack the new republic, at one stage of the conflict reducing Soviet-controlled territory to the old borders of the Principality of Moscow.

The class war was transformed into a military contest; but quelling the internal threats had to come before any open conflict with neighboring armies. Because the new government had torn apart the old bureaucracies and hierarchies, they were building from scratch in many instances. Stiff resistance and outright sabotage came from all quarters of the skilled layer of urban technocrats and military personnel.

The inevitability of civil war didn’t mean the new state was in any rush to engage in a major conflict. Negotiating peace with Germany at Brest-Litovsk was necessary to buy time for the new republic to get organized. Controversially, Lenin pushed for immediate peace under harsh German terms. Trotsky’s “neither war nor peace” position supported delaying open war and served the Soviet Republic’s need for stability at the same time it allowed the nascent German revolution time to mature. Within the Soviet, a vocal minority of Left Communists and Left Socialist Revolutionaries maintained opposition to peace, wanting instead to wage a revolutionary war to spark revolution in Europe. Lenin argued that refusing to sign meant, given the strength of the German army and the collapse of the army in Russia, certain defeat:

If we really believed that the German revolution was likely to break out after the collapse of the negotiations, we ought to sacrifice ourselves, since the German revolution is superior to our own. But it has not even begun yet. We have to hold on until the general Socialist revolution, and we can only do this by concluding peace.

Dissent within the Communist Party did not diminish with the signing of the peace; the Left Bolsheviks led by old cadre Bukharin, Radek, and Preobrazhensky fought what they saw as a “Right deviation” on the part of Lenin and the majority of the party leadership. They continued to criticize the willingness to negotiate with imperial powers, as well as what they saw as too slow a pace of nationalization, and a creeping dominance of petty-bourgeois elements. They threatened withdrawal from the party’s Central Committee, raising the specter of a split. Lenin, while steadfast in rejecting their thesis, reminded his comrades that being elected to the Central Committee “did not mean that all its members had to have the same opinions.” It was only natural, he argued, in a country dominated by petty-bourgeois producers (which was only compounded by sharing out large landholdings to poor peasants in the revolution) that the pace of nationalization and economic transformation to socialism would be slower than in European economies. Ironically, despite maintaining a theoretical majority within the leadership of the party, Lenin’s majority was forced to enact some of the Left’s proposals, such as increased nationalization, purely from the pressure of the civil war. The result was more chaos in the economy as the inexperienced new government—already stretched beyond its capabilities—was forced to try to administer large enterprises. But Serge rightly points out that the intensity of the debate was a testament to the internal culture of the party:

Suppose the party had signed the “infamous peace” of Brest-Litovsk without reacting painfully, had accepted the suspension of the revolutionary offensive in total unanimity, without any repercussions in its membership, and in a crisis as grave as this, had been quite devoid of ideological struggles, with all that these imply in the way of restless critical thinking, passion, and the search for new solutions—would such a party have been alive and healthy, truly capable of confronting its huge responsibilities?

The conclusion of peace with Germany hardly meant a period of calm. It wasn’t even a period of peace. The reactionary forces that wished to turn back the clock of the revolution, either to restore tsarism or establish a military dictatorship, known as the Whites, scored a major victory in Finland in the late winter and early spring of 1918. Destroying the radical democracy established in January, they established the pattern all White victories would follow:

The victors massacred the vanquished. It has been known since antiquity that class wars are the most frightful. There are no more bloody or atrocious victories than those won by the propertied classes. Since the bloodbath inflicted on the Paris Commune by the French bourgeoisie, the world had seen nothing to compare in horror with what took place in Finland . . .

This fact permits us to draw an important theoretical deduction on the nature of the White terror, which has been confirmed since by the experience of Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, etc. The White terror is not to be explained by the frenzy of battle, the violence of class hatred or any other psychological factor. The psychosis of civil war plays a purely secondary role. The terror is in reality the result of a calculation and a historical necessity. The victorious propertied classes are perfectly aware that they can only ensure their own domination in the aftermath of a social battle by inflicting on the working class a bloodbath savage enough to enfeeble it for tens of years afterwards. And since the class in question is far more numerous than the wealthy classes, the number of victims must be very great.

The casualties in Finland numbered between 10 and 20,000; while the Whites never made an exact count of casualties, they did record the number interned in concentration camps: 70,000.

The alliance at the heart of the October Revolution had been between the peasantry and the working class, expressed in the Soviet organs as a bloc between the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and expressed by the Bolshevik slogans, “Bread, peace, and land.” With the basic demand of redistribution of land met—large landholdings were broken up and distributed to the poor peasants, creating millions of newly independent producers—tensions came to the fore. “Once the bourgeois revolution carried out by the rural masses had run its course,” writes Serge, “the contradiction between these aims and the aims of the Socialist revolution made itself felt with increasing cruelty. The ideologues of the petty-bourgeoisie, torn by contradictory interests and sentiments, split from the party of the proletariat, not without much inner turmoil. It is the moment chosen by influences from abroad to intensify their pressure.”

Following the peace with Germany in March, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (SR)—who had split with their party and joined the Soviet government—left the executive body of the Soviet in July of 1918. Denouncing Bolshevik policy, particularly the treaty with Germany, they broke with the Bolsheviks and declared war on the government during the Fifth Soviet Congress. Using their positions within the government to leverage their attack, they initiated a brief but doomed uprising in Moscow. The central point of disagreement was upon which section of the peasantry Soviet policy should rest: the poorest peasants, or the middle peasants? Because of famine conditions, free trade in grain was banned and government requisitioning reduced all peasants to the condition of subsistence (which, it’s worth noting, while harsh, still kept their caloric intake above that of workers in the cities).

In July 1918, the peasantry, which had from July the previous year up till January and February supported the Bolsheviks as instruments for the expropriation of the landlords, had now as a whole become hostile to them. On the key question of the trade in grain, peasant interests allied the middle peasants with the kulaks. The Left S-R party, whose leading circles were made up of sincere Socialist intellectuals, had by now lost its social base. Between the intentions of its leaders and the aspirations of the class which lent it strength, the gap was widening. All that could issue now was some kind of adventure. In such situations all that remains for revolutionary idealists is to try their luck for the last time, to fall and break their necks.

Similar tensions were developing with the other Russian socialists. Believing Russia unready for socialism, the moderate socialists stood against the Soviet system in the name of “democracy.” The Menshevik Party in November declared its intention to fight the Communists who incited the workers to attempt socialism “prematurely,” in order to create a Russia where capitalism could take its natural course—this despite the grotesque reprisals against insurgents, their families, towns, and Jewish villages across Russia. (White forces were known to incite pogroms against Jews who played no role in the resistance.) In the winter of 1917, the Socialist Revolutionaries attempted to convene the Constituent Assembly (a bourgeois parliament) as a counterweight to the Soviets, and later attempted to establish mini-parliamentary states under the wing of foreign occupation. Failing to accomplish this, the SR National Council declared at their party conference in May their support for “the immediate liquidation of the Bolshevik government” and its replacement by one that “could permit, for purely strategic purposes, the entry of Allied troops onto Russian territory.”

The dominant form of political radicalism before the era of Marxism in Russia was populism with a liberal dose of terrorism. The Socialist Revolutionaries were the direct descendants of this current and very ably applied their terrorist skills against the government. The escapades of the SRs, and one leader in particular, Boris Savinkov, provide enough intrigue to fill volumes of spy thrillers. He alone was part of three anti-Bolshevik counterrevolutionary adventures, as well as having a hand in multiple assassination plots.

Both Left and Right SRs engaged in terrorism against Soviet leaders. Attempts on Lenin and Trotsky failed (although Lenin was shot in the neck), but a Left SR plot to assassinate Count Mirbach, who had negotiated for the Germans at Brest-Litovsk, succeeded. Right SRs assassinated V. Volodarsky, one of the Communist Party’s best-known street orators in Petrograd; later the SRs would murder the captain of Petrograd’s secret police, or Cheka, on the same day Lenin was shot.

It’s worth noting that the success of the Left SR attempts came in part because as members of the Soviet government for the first seven months of 1918, they held appointments to the Soviet secret police, which granted them access to secure locations, like Count Mirbach’s lodgings where they shot him. But this period was also one in which the political mood was still very lax—Lenin did not even have a bodyguard and was shot while leaving a public meeting.

The myth that the Bolsheviks came into power fully militarized, intending to rule in a single-party state falls apart reading Serge’s account of the Bolshevik’s relationship to the other socialists, and the Left SRs in particular. He also points out repeatedly their naïveté in dealing with counterrevolutionaries, preferring to arrest and release them, rather than imprison or execute them. They learned this lesson the hard way, and instituted the Red Terror in the summer of 1918 in response to the rise of coordinated, military challenges to Soviet power. Serge writes scoldingly of how in the initial weeks after taking power, the Bolsheviks let go counterrevolutionaries who took up arms against them based on assurances that they would not do it again. “Foolish clemency!,” he writes. “These very Junkers, these officers, these students, these socialists of counter-revolution, dispersed themselves throughout the length and breadth of Russia, and there organized the civil war. The revolution was to meet them again, at Yaroslavl, on the Don, at Kazan, in the Crimea, in Siberia and in every conspiracy nearer home.”

Serge recounts multiple examples of the socialists in the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary parties in Finland, Samara, the Ukraine, and Moscow acting either under the illusion that bourgeois democracy was actually possible at the height of a class war, or quite openly as allies of White reaction (some of whom clamored for a restoration of the monarchy).

Point for point, the experience of the Ukraine, where the democratic parties of the middle classes could do nothing except open the path for black reaction, is repeated in Siberia. Such, indeed, is the inevitable function of these parties in civil wars, since the peculiarity of the petty-bourgeoisie is to have no politics of its own. It is always situated between two dictatorships—that of the proletariat, or that of reaction; its destiny is to prepare the latter, up to a certain point, and then to submit to it.

The small, embattled working class, with the Communist Party as their standard bearers, now stood alone within a sea of hostile class forces. The weakness of the working class played a decisive role in the chaos that issued forth following the revolution. Serge makes clear that it was not the objective strength of the Russian workers that brought about the revolution, but the weakness of its bourgeoisie. Always a numerical minority, the working class’s social weight collapsed during the course of the ensuing years. Already in 1918 the cities were emptied by both the voluntary departure of the best ranks of the revolutionaries into the Red Army, as well as the desperate fleeing to the country of those escaping famine. The Communist Party, increasingly unable to give the class political coherence by distilling its best thinking and organization from within, gave the class shape largely by coercion from without. This process was stretched over years, but begins quite clearly in 1918, for no other reason than necessity.

It was June 1918 before the Red Army was at a rudimentary level of functioning. Russia had suffered large territorial losses from incursions by Czechoslovakian troops in Siberia, and claims of “independence” from imperial-backed “democrats” in the south and west. Resistance to White advance was widespread but before June ineffective, as disorganized partisan units and guerrilla bands could not resist larger, better disciplined armies backed by the Western powers. Serge’s account of the first engagement of the new army with Trotsky at its head (drawn largely from a female partisan’s memoirs) is both inspiring and gut wrenching. Welding exhausted, poorly trained forces together into a more or less disciplined force able to withstand assault at a critical juncture, the Red Army turned the tide and reclaimed the southern reaches of the Republic.

Little by little, faith in victory, against an enemy who had been enormously superior in numbers, arms and organization, began to crystallize: we could capture Kazan again! Fresh troops were arriving; a small airfield was laid down, though the aircraft at its disposal numbered only a squadron. The enemy began to realize that a force was being assembled at Sviazhsk that might soon prove formidable. The White attacks were regularly beaten back.

This anecdote also describes the first instance of the Red Army executing its own members for breaking in the face of enemy advance.

The Petrograd partisans, who had perhaps imagined that their status as volunteers from the capital would give them some indulgence, were sternly dealt with by a military tribunal: several dozen of them were sent to their deaths.

No army on active service has ever avoided measures of such rigor: war has always forced men to stand between the bullets of the enemy and the bullets of their comrades if ever through faint-heartedness they become the enemy’s allies. The collective’s instinct for self-preservation needs this iron law in order to vanquish the individual’s identical instinct. And so these actions require no comment. At the very most we are bound to emphasize once again the nature of the conditions in which the discipline of the Red Army was forged.

Serge underlines again and again the “terrible impersonality” of the Bolsheviks in power, but makes an undeniable case that this wasn’t cruelty or disregard for life: the terms were dictated by the stakes of the civil war. If anything, the Bolsheviks were overly optimistic: in the first several months of the new Republic they threw themselves into every breach, be it military, diplomatic, or technical. It is all too easy to over-romanticize the self-sacrifice and draw from this period the lesson that what is missing in today’s radical movement is a willingness to throw ourselves without reservation into the machinery of the system and disrupt it no matter what the conditions or the cost. In fact, this was the attitude of the Left Communists who rejected Brest-Litovsk:

The statement of doctrine was: No compromise! The revolution must not manoeuver, nor retreat, nor agree to compromises. The only tactic it must apply was that of maximum intransigence. Better perish than live at the cost of a compromise! This was the basic doctrine of Left Communism, and one must give it the credit of a healthy reaction against opportunist tendencies.

Serge’s account is unique for sympathizing with the left critics of Communist policy while still defending the necessity of the decisions made by the majority of the party. While most commentators saw the Left’s ideas as “petty bourgeois distortion,” Serge saw how the tendency had roots in the party’s long history of struggle:

Doubtless, too, the sentiments of wounded pride, outraged patriotism and heroic sacrifice (the “Death before Dishonor” school) are much more congenial to the mentality of the middle classes, and particularly of the intellectuals, than to the realistic, utilitarian, dialectical and deeply revolutionary spirit of the proletariat. But it is, as I see it, no longer deniable that this Left-wing tendency also represented something else: a reaction against the danger of opportunism . . . However, up till the time of Lenin, all the points at which men had opted to “manoeuver” in the name of revolution had been occasions for them to fall straight into opportunism. We must also remember another essential fact. Never before had there been a successful proletarian revolution. Some of the best revolutionaries now became inclined to continue the tradition of heroic proletarian defeats, by means of a sacrifice whose fruitfulness for the future deeply and understandably impressed them. It was, however, one of Lenin’s great merits to have insisted that this tradition must be broken with.

The drama and heroism of the Bolsheviks was less a product of personalities (though personality is a factor), and more a result of the precarious balance internationally that followed the world war. Governments fell, workers revolted, borders were redrawn. The lack of a Bolshevik-style revolutionary cadre in each country saved capitalism. In the penultimate chapter on the German Revolution, Serge describes the murder of two of the greatest heroes of that generation in a premature rising in Berlin: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, who lacked neither leadership ability, nor daring, nor intellect. What they lacked were replacements: the legions of what Serge describes as “anonymous giants” that existed throughout Russia.

In Serge’s “Postface,” written in 1947, the author takes stock of the degeneration of the revolution and points to what he sees as critical errors that allowed bureaucratization to advance unnecessarily, particularly the Cheka’s lack of public trials and the imperious handling of the Kronstadt rebellion, which led to thousands of deaths. Here I believe he takes a too-linear view of the fate of Soviet society. While Serge is absolutely correct in renouncing the arrogant and suspicious reaction to the Krondstadt sailor’s demands and pointing out the brutal tragedy that resulted, very soon after the Soviet state had made a number of retreats and changes in an attempt to normalize society.

The Cheka was disbanded in 1922; its functions were transferred to the State Political Directorate, or GPU, which lacked the powers and size of its predecessor. Prisons were emptied to a low of 12,000 prisoners as the threat of military attack and sabotage diminished. The New Economic Policy established free trade in agriculture to soothe the explosive friction between the peasants and the Soviets.

Serge is right to point out the substitutionism of the party for the class and the habits of brutality that accrued during the civil war. But it is wrong to dismiss the possibility of a working-class revival—if there had been a successful revolution in Germany or elsewhere—which could have produced new leadership in concert with the ongoing opposition movements within the Communist Party after 1921.

Despite these critiques, Serge never abandons his conviction that the Bolsheviks were sincerely committed to the self-emancipation of Russia’s oppressed and exploited classes:

The Bolsheviks took power because, in the process of natural selection that took place among the revolutionary parties, they showed themselves the most adept at expressing in a coherent, far-sighted and determined manner the aspirations of the mobilized masses. They held on to power and won the civil war because, in the last analysis, and despite many hesitations and conflicts, the masses supported them from the Baltic to the Pacific. . . . Thus until the end of the civil war, in 1920–21, the Russian Revolution took on the aspect of an immense popular movement, to which the Bolsheviks provided a brain and nervous system in the form of leaders and cadres.

This is not the common-sense view of the the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks. To this day history is held hostage to the lies and distortions heaped upon it by both Stalin’s justifications of his crimes, and the West’s need to demonize revolutions. As Serge’s “Postface” argues in the immediate aftermath of World War II:

It is entirely natural that the falsification of history should now be the order of the day. Among the inexact sciences, history is the one that threatens the most interests, both material and psychological. Myths, errors, tendentious interpretations swarm about the Russian Revolution, although the facts are easily available. Obviously it is simpler and more attractive to talk and write without informing oneself first.

It is imperative that the new Left incubating today not fall prey to the facile path of remaining ignorant of history’s only successful workers’ revolution. An understanding of the conditions and forces that took the revolution from the heights of human liberation to the horrors of totalitarianism is essential if we are not to become either dismissive of the revolution’s achievements or apologists for its degeneration.

Year One of the Russian Revolution is a rich chronicle of that period that moved from the direct and forcible entry of the masses into running society, to that moment, through no fault of the revolutionaries themselves, when the Communist Party began to be “hung in mid-air” (in Lenin’s words), with no working class to drive society forward. Every decision carried the fate not just of Russia’s population, but of the aspirations of workers worldwide. In turn thrilling, terrifying, and inspiring, Year One is a must-read for anyone seriously engaged in changing the world.

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 October - 17 - 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.
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 and Russia are enjoying a second honeymoon-M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

Posted by admin On October - 17 - 2016 Comments Off on India and Russia are enjoying a second honeymoon-M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

Over the past decade or so, the annual India-Russia summit meetings have tended to become boring events – like a jaded marriage drained of romance. However, this year’s, slated for the weekend on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Goa, promises to be exciting.

To continue with the metaphor, one of the partners has been seen as consorting with an unsavory character and the discovery of the dalliance has overnight electrified the wedlock. The partners are called upon to make an existential choice – rediscover their old mutual ardor comes to terms with the new reality.

This would just about sum up the dilemma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.


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No doubt, the recent Russian-Pakistani military exercise signifies a quickening of the ‘thaw’ in the relations between the two countries in recent years.

It was slow in coming and Indians shouldn’t have been taken by surprise – except that in their obsessive focus on their partnership with the United States, they had taken the eye off their ‘time-tested’ friend, Russia.

Ironically, it is also the pro-US lobbyists ensconced in Delhi’s think tanks, including some former diplomats, who appear most perturbed today that Russians have ‘cheated’ on India. This is not surprising. Russia has become a factor in India-US relations. This is one thing.

What gives impetus to Russia-Pakistan relations? Three main reasons can be identified.

First and foremost, Russia cannot afford to overlook the centrality of Pakistan in relation to the upcoming struggle against the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Central Asia, which also happens to have a geopolitical dimension, given the US’ strategy of ‘encirclement’ of Russia with hostile entities.

Simply put, Russia feels the compulsion – rightly or wrongly – to neutralize the US’ capacity to create security threats.

While for India, IS could still be an esoteric phenomenon, for Russia it is a monster in flesh and blood. In the Russian estimation, IS cadres in Afghanistan have exponentially increased from 100 in number to 10,000 in just this past year.

The Kremlin’s special envoy Zamir Kabulov pointed out recently that the “Afghan branch of the IS is definitely specialized against Central Asia. Russian is even one of their working languages. They are being trained against Central Asia and Russia.”

Second, Pakistan is about to enter the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as full member, which requires Russia to create new security underpinnings with that country. Delhi is slow to grasp that SCO membership is going to put similar obligations on the Indian army too to hold military exercises with the Pakistani army on regular basis.

Third, Russia has traditionally kept an eye on developing business ties with Pakistan. Suffice it to say, Karachi Steel Mills was built with the contributions of the Soviet Union in the seventies, during the halcyon days of Soviet-Indian friendship.

Quite obviously, it is not lost on Moscow that Pakistan is becoming a hugely interesting economic partner once the US$46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor gains traction and new market conditions appear in the region.

The heart of the matter is, Moscow does not see any contradiction here in terms of its relations with India. Neither does Russia make any demands on India to cool down its ardor for the US nor will it countenance any attempt by India to add caveats to its regional policies. An analogy exists.

Both the US-Indian ‘defining partnership of the 21st century’ and the Sino-Russian ‘comprehensive strategic cooperation and partnership’ are at their all-time high level historically.

Yet, US-Russian relations are touching a new Cold War level and the Sino-Indian relations are caught up in a ‘competition-cum-cooperation’ syndrome.

It’s just as well that Russia and India do not make exacting demands on each other in regard of the strategic choices they make in a highly volatile regional and international environment.

Paradoxically, this is not too difficult an equilibrium to reach, because in both India and Russia, it is the ‘westernists’ who in any case happen to dominate the post-Cold War strategic discourse.

Having said that, Russia-Pakistan military exercises have served a useful purpose. Unwittingly, perhaps, Moscow administered a ‘shock therapy’ to the Indian ruling elites, reminding them that strategic ties need constant nurturing and even benign neglect could have deleterious consequences over time.

To be sure, one thing about the Delhi durbar is that everything works top-down. Once the emperor cracks the whip, the retinue scrambles. Thus, in record speed, Delhi has assembled a movable feast for Putin.

An agreement has been finalized on a US$4.5 billion deal to buy Russia’s S-400 ABM system; fresh life may be breathed into a potential US$6 billion deal that was moribund to jointly develop with Russia a fifth-generation fighter aircraft; an $1 billion deal will be implemented to produce in India Kamov 226T light utility helicopters; an agreement will be signed for the construction of two more nuclear power plants costing anywhere around $30 billion; decision will be taken to lease a second Akula-class Russian nuclear attack submarine at a cost of $1.5; and, a multi-billion dollar deal may be swung for four Admiral Grigorovich-class guided missile stealth frigates from Russia (outright purchase of 2 and co-production of two more in India.)

Putin’s passion for adventure sports is legion. Goa would have been terrific for surfing if the BRICS summit had been planned a couple of months earlier when there were big waves and the surf would range up to 15 feet or even bigger – with super glassy offshore winds and world class waves.

The big swells have declined by October. Nonetheless, Modi has ensured that this October visit to Goa promises to be exciting for Putin.

India is enveloping Russia with rings of engagement that neither China nor Pakistan could possibly match.

Of course, such engagement restricted to defense and energy would have limits, when systemic deficiencies continue. Incredibly enough, Russian-Indian bilateral trade is still struggling beneath the $10 billion water mark. (India’s trade with China or the US would be six or ten times bigger respectively.)

However, the mother of all ironies is that it will not be Beijing or Islamabad that would have cause to worry as much as Washington could be.

The Reuters reported only ten days ago that US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is planning one more visit to India in the final months of the Obama administration, “eager to get as much done as humanly possible” by way of arms deals, predicated on the assessment that “the conditions and the personnel in both capitals are uniquely favorable at the moment, and are eager to consolidate and institutionalize the progress” in the US-Indian arms deals.

According to Reuters, the US “has dislodged Russia as the top arms supplier to India”.

Did it speak too soon?

For the present, the Modi-Putin meeting in Goa is all set to underscore that India-Russia defense ties remain as robust as ever.

What cannot be overlooked is that India-Russia relationship, like any other profound relationship between two vastly different countries, has had its ups and downs but ultimately the trust and mutual confidence remained as its bedrock.

In a world wracked with uncertainties and hidden dangers, they have high stakes in the relationship. India’s ties with China are under stress while the tensions with Pakistan are cascading.

For Russia, too, it is no small matter that India showed understanding over its annexation of Crimea or is supportive of the war in Syria.

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.

The roots of 1917: Kautsky, the state and revolution in Imperial Russia-Eric Blanc

Posted by admin On October - 14 - 2016 Comments Off on The roots of 1917: Kautsky, the state and revolution in Imperial Russia-Eric Blanc

October 14, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from John Riddell’s blog with permission — Abstract: This article reexamines the perspectives on the state and revolution advocated by the early Karl Kautsky and revolutionary social democrats across the Tsarist Empire. Contrary to a common misconception, these “orthodox” Marxists rejected the possibility of a peaceful and gradualist utilization of the capitalist state for socialist transformation. I show that Second International “orthodoxy” proved to be a sufficiently radical political foundation for the Bolsheviks and Finnish socialists to lead the Twentieth century’s first anti-capitalist seizures of power.


Ever since the publication of Lenin’s The State and Revolution in 1918, socialist theorist Karl Kautsky’s views on this topic have often been equated with the advocacy of a gradualist utilization of the capitalist state for socialist transformation. Lenin’s influential pamphlet has cast a long shadow backward, leading many scholars and socialists to assume that the fatal flaw of Second International socialism was a fundamentally un-Marxist approach to state power.

The Bolshevik leader’s 1917 call to smash the capitalist state, the argument goes, constituted a pioneering rupture with the prevailing stance of “orthodox” social democracy (i.e., Marxism). According to one recent account, “the practice of these [non-Bolshevik Second International] socialist parties was informed by an important break with Marx’s theory of the state.” Kautsky is blamed for this development as he supposedly “disregard[ed] Marx’s critique of the Gotha Programme and Engels’s similar critique of the Erfurt Programme—in which they insisted it was a grave mistake for the German party to claim that the transition to socialism could be won without smashing the old state through a revolution.”[1]

As Ben Lewis’s important pioneering work on Kautsky has clearly demonstrated, such a critique is factually inaccurate and problematically obscures the actual state perspectives of revolutionary social democrats in Germany, Tsarist Russia, and beyond.[2] Leaning on and developing some of Lewis’s findings, I will show that early social democratic “orthodoxy” represented a ruptural anti-capitalist strategy that shared more in common with the orientation of the early Communist International than it did with post-1914 class-collaborationist reformism.

Though Kautsky adopted a distinct stance on state power after 1910, his earlier orientation – i.e., the strategy that trained a generation of revolutionary Marxists, including Lenin – rejected the possibility of a peaceful utilization of the capitalist state and consistently called for the destruction of the standing army. In line with the model of the 1871 Paris Commune, the “orthodox” advocacy of a democratic republic pointed not only to the overthrow of monarchies, but to the establishment of workers’ rule. Unlike Kautsky himself, the most consistent Marxists in the Russian Empire upheld this radical stance during the 1917 revolution.

Reading pre-1918 history through the lens of Lenin’s The State and Revolution, moreover, has problematically turned our attention away from examining the main strategic debates between Marxists in the Russian empire up through the end of 1917. Under Tsarist absolutism, there were no major conflicts over the gradual transformation of the state, because virtually all social democrats saw the need to violently overthrow the absolutist Tsarist regime.[3] After the overthrow of Tsarism in February 1917, the defining question of political power became whether or not to build a coalition government with the bourgeoisie or to establish some form of independent workers’ and peasants’ regime. And on this question – the major point of political contention during the 1917 revolution – revolutionary social democracy was unequivocally committed to a sharp class line.

It was the reformists – including Kautsky, post-1909 – who broke in theory and/or practice from the longstanding “orthodox” stance on the capitalist state and workers’ revolution during 1917-23.[4] Though the hegemonic revolutionary Marxist approach to state power evolved after the October Revolution, the political continuities outweigh the divergences with Kautsky’s early stance on the state and revolution. Whatever criticisms one might have of early revolutionary social democracy, it proved to be a sufficiently anti-systemic political foundation for the Bolsheviks and Finnish socialists to lead the Twentieth century’s first anti-capitalist seizures of power.

Kautsky’s influence in Tsarist Russia and Germany

If political practice is the ultimate criteria for revolutionary theory, then Kautsky’s strategy should be judged by the concrete political practices of the parties that sought to implement this perspective. And to see what a party led by “orthodox” Marxists looked like in practice, one must examine the Russian Empire, not Germany.

Nowhere in the world were Kautsky’s writings more popular and influential than in the lands ruled by the Russian Tsar, where his works effectively served as the main foundation for the empire’s most radical Marxist parties among all nationalities. Kautsky was particularly important in the Tsarist empire above all because interest in revolutionary politics was so high. Lenin noted this phenomenon in The State and Revolution:

It is not without reason that some German Social-Democrats say in jest that Kautsky is read more in Russia than in Germany (let us say, in parenthesis, that this jest has a far deeper historical meaning than those who first made it suspect. The Russian workers, by making in 1905 an unusually great and unprecedented demand for the best works of the best Social-Democratic literature and editions of these works in quantities unheard of in other countries, rapidly transplanted, so to speak, the enormous experience of a neighboring, more advanced country to the young soil of our proletarian movement).[5]

As Lenin implied, Kautsky’s writings had more of an impact in the Tsarist Empire than in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) itself. It is essential to emphasize this point from the outset, as Kautsky’s theories have frequently been framed as causing and/or reflecting the German party’s abandonment of revolutionary politics, culminating in its support for World War One and its strangling of the 1918–23 German Revolution.

According to Paul Blackledge, for example, Kautsky “subordinate[d] all politics to parliamentarianism such as to effectively excuse the way German social democracy became tied to the German capitalist state in the decades leading up to 1914.”[6] Such an interpretation fundamentally misdiagnoses the content of Kautsky’s early politics and the reasons for the SPD’s degeneration. In reality, the SPD leadership, from at least 1906 onwards, was not comprised of “orthodox” social democrats, but rather an officialdom of full-time party, union, and parliamentary functionaries who were wary of socialist theory generally and Kautsky’s writings in particular.

As Gilbert Badia has explained, “the new leadership of the party (and in the unions even more so) demonstrated an indifference, indeed a growing mistrust towards ‘political theory’ and towards those who brought it to the fore.”[7] By 1909 – well before the SPD’s historic capitulations – Kautsky’s political influence in the party was in sharp decline. In the words of historian Hans-Josef Steinberg, the story of the German Social Democracy from 1890 to 1914 is “the history of the emancipation from theory in general.”[8]

The SPD bureaucracy’s “non-theoretical” pragmatism, combined with their distinct material interests as a caste of functionaries, facilitated an unconscious absorption of bourgeois liberalism and a practical integration into the capitalist regime. It was above all the emergence of this conservative (and a-theoretical) officialdom which transformed the German party, like so many of its Western European counterparts, into a prop for bourgeois parliamentarism. For this unprincipled SPD leadership, it mattered little that its decision to support World War One in 1914 and head a capitalist republic in alliance with the bourgeoisie after 1918 flagrantly violated the traditional stances promoted by Kautsky and the SPD as a whole.[9] That Kautsky eventually caved to the pressures of the SPD bureaucracy after 1909, reversed many of his earlier positions, and actively opposed the October Revolution, need not lead us to ignore what he actually said and did before this time.

Clarifying the content of Kautsky’s stance on the state and revolution is essential for understanding why the radical orientation of imperial Russia’s Marxists was not due to a misunderstanding about the nature of Second International “orthodoxy.”

Kautsky versus revisionism

It is more than a little ironic that Kautsky is today frequently associated with a gradualist vision of socialist transformation, given that his contemporaries saw him as the foremost advocate of the exact opposite position. In the Second International’s ongoing debate between “orthodoxy” and “revisionism” over the conquest of power, Kautsky was without a doubt the most influential theorist of a ruptural approach.

The stance of the reformists was straightforward. Many denied altogether the need for workers to take power: social equality and justice, it was argued, could be reached through the gradual extension of democratic rights, public services, and working-class organizations (trade unions, co-ops, etc.). Other “revisionists” were in favor of the workers’ conquest of power, but argued that such an objective must only take place peacefully, gradually, and through elections in the existing democratic institutions. In conditions of political freedom and parliamentary democracy there was no need for a revolution. As reformist theoretician Edward Bernstein famously declared, “the final aim of socialism, whatever it may be, means nothing to me; it is the movement itself which is everything.”[10]

Though the Tsarist empire’s Marxists were quick to charge their factional opponents with “revisionism,” readers should keep in mind that this debate on the transformation of the capitalist state was largely irrelevant for the immediate context of Tsarism. In the absence of political freedom or a parliament, all the illegal Marxist parties at this time agreed that the existing state had to be smashed through violent revolution. In 1903, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) noted that, unlike in Western Europe, “the socialist parties of all nationalities in Russia agree that the first step must be to lead a violent revolution to clear away the main obstacle – Tsarism.”[11] As Kautsky explained in 1904, the particular cautious tactical stances he advocated for Germany were not necessarily relevant for the absolutist context of imperial Tsarism, where the workers “find themselves in a state in which they have nothing to lose but their chains.”[12]

Until February 1917, the main controversy on state power in imperial Russia was between the socialist call for a democratic republic through armed struggle and the liberal advocacy of a constitutional monarchy and peaceful pressure tactics. Only after February 1917 and the establishment of the Provisional Government did the question of how to relate to a bourgeois government become a pressing issue in most of the empire.

In the face of Tsarist absolutism, it is unsurprising that it was only in the autonomous grand duchy of Finland – the only region of the Russian empire with a parliament, relative political freedom, and a legal socialist party – where “revisionist” state perspectives were influential and a question of practical politics. Before the 1905 revolution, the Finnish workers’ party was openly reformist; “orthodox” Marxists were a rarity and class-collaborationism was hegemonic. Thus the founding 1899 program of the Finnish Workers’ Party (whose name was changed to the Finnish Social Democratic Party in 1903) eschewed a call for the conquest of power; instead, its leaders declared the need to “strive for participation in the power in the communal and state field.”[13]

Marxist “orthodoxy” was sharply counterposed to such moderate perspectives. The working class, it affirmed, could free itself and all the oppressed only through seizing all political power. Along these lines, the 1892 founding program of the Polish Socialist Party declared that it set “as its primary goal the conquest of political power for the proletariat and by the proletariat.”[14]

According to Kautsky, state power could not be shared by the exploited and exploiters, given the depth of their class antagonism. A gradual conquest of political power by the proletariat was impossible: “The idea of the gradual conquest of the various departments of a ministry by the Socialists is not less absurd than would be an attempt to divide the act of birth into a number of consecutive monthly acts.”[15] The 1900 founding program of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania succinctly summed up the “orthodox” consensus:

The state today is an organization which is at the service of capital, its every move is dictated by the interests of capital; governments today only implement the will of the capitalist class. The task, therefore, of the working class must be to abolish this form of state, to wrest the state from the hands of capitalism, to transform it in such a way so that it can begin to serve the interests of the people. Only by breaking the political power of capitalism, only by defeating the political state, can workers attain their goal: the abolition of exploitation, ensuring the welfare of the entire mass of working people.[16]

Rejecting Bernstein’s advocacy of a gradual transition to socialism, Kautsky and other radicals argued that solely through a revolutionary break could workers seize state power and overthrow capitalism. Such a rupture was required to defeat “through a decisive struggle” the inevitable resistance of the ruling class.[17] Like so many other socialists in the empire, Polish Marxist Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz praised Kautsky’s influential 1902 pamphlet The Social Revolution for initiating a serious socialist discussion on the proletarian conquest of power.[18] Indeed, Kautsky’s long pamphlet was almost immediately translated, republished, and illegally distributed by the most radical of the Tsarist empire’s Marxist parties.

Critique of bourgeois democracy

Kautsky and his co-thinkers’ insistence on the need for revolution was bound up with their critique of the bourgeoisie and capitalist democracy. According to socialist “orthodoxy,” the capitalist class had long ceased to consistently defend (let alone fight for) democracy. Finnish “orthodox” Marxist Edward Valpas characteristically declared that “the bourgeoisie has no democratic attitude.”[19] Given the increasingly anti-democratic politics of the bourgeoisie, the fight for democracy would place the proletariat on a collision course with capitalist rule.

In Kautsky’s opinion, parliamentary democracies under capitalism were corrupted mockeries of real democracy and true parliamentarism. One reason for this was that the social and economic influence of the capitalists fatally undermined the democratic process:

The bourgeoisie is anxious to use all means the republic offers it to suppress the proletariat. It engages in the much-vaunted ‘duping the workers’ on the most tremendous scale … by systematically corrupting the masses, by flooding the country with a commercially bribable press, by buying votes in elections, by winning over influential labour leaders. …These efforts are nowhere more successful than in the republic.[20]

No less contradictory with democracy was the growth of the state bureaucracy – what Kautsky called “bureaucratic parasitism.” The proliferation of “superfluous categories of officials” and the increasing power of the executive branch and non-elected governmental bodies undermined the power of democratically-elected parliaments.[21] Thus Kautsky argued that “one of the most important tasks of the working class in its struggle for the achievement of political power is not to eliminate the representative system, but to break the power of government vis-à-vis the parliament.”[22] Along similar lines, The Erfurt Program – as well as subsequent revolutionary Marxist programs in Tsarist Russia – called for the election of all state officials and the institution of broad local self-government.[23]

Even more threatening to democracy, according to “orthodox” Marxists, was the massive expansion of the armed forces of the state, i.e., “militarism.” Following Kautsky’s analysis, Marien Bielecki of the PPS argued that the “ominous growth of militarism” precluded the peaceful democratic transformation of European states.[24]

Given the anti-democratic nature of modern governments, Kautsky concluded that the main existing state forms and institutions could not be used by the proletariat for its own liberation:

The proletariat, as well as the petty bourgeoisie, will never be able to rule the state through these institutions. This is not only because the officer corps, the top of the bureaucracy and the Church have always been recruited from the upper classes and are joined to them by the most intimate links. It is in their very nature that these institutions of power strive to raise themselves above the mass of the people in order to rule them, instead of serving them, which means they will almost always be anti-democratic and aristocratic.[25]

Two key tactical conclusions flowed from this overall analysis. First, Kautsky did not argue that parliaments under capitalism could be utilized to gradually push through socialist transformation. In fact, he repeatedly denounced the reformist belief that the path to socialism could peacefully pass through the election of a socialist majority to the existing state. And though Kautsky’s stress on parliamentarism seemed to carry with it the assumption that socialist overturn required winning the support of the majority of the population, in the years before 1910 he did not generally posit that Marxists had to first win a majority in parliament before socialist transformation could be undertaken.[26]

The bourgeoisie, he explained, would very likely resort to force to prevent or annul the election of a socialist government through parliament, making a moment of political and institutional rupture, of revolution, to be expected. Arguing against German reformist Max Maurenbrecher, Kautsky wrote: Does he expect the exploiters to look on good-naturedly while we take one position after another and make ready for their expropriation? If so, he lives under a mighty illusion. Imagine for a moment that our parliamentary activity were to assume forms which threatened the supremacy of the bourgeoisie. What would happen? The bourgeoisie would try to put an end to parliamentary forms. In particular it would rather do away with the universal, direct and secret ballot than quietly capitulate to the proletariat. So we are not given the choice as to whether we shall limit ourselves to a purely parliamentary struggle.[27]

Whether the resulting revolution would be peaceful or violent, Kautsky argued, depended on circumstances, though his hope and preference was explicitly for the former option. While reformist socialists insisted that it was absolutely impermissible for the proletariat to ever employ armed force, Kautsky consistently affirmed that “orthodox” Marxists desired and advocated a peaceful revolution, but they must be prepared to use violent means if necessary.[28] He noted that capitalists would not renounce violence even if the socialists did: “For those who renounce in advance the use of violence, what remains beyond parliamentary cretinism and statesmanlike cunning?”[29]

By organizing a general strike and winning over the military’s rank-and-file soldiers, Kautsky argued, a peaceful socialist revolution was possible.[30] Whether the revolution would result in violence could not be predicted as this depended on the response of the ruling class. Either way, workers would need arms, because:

Now, as in the past, Marx’s saying remains true: force is the midwife of any new society. No ruling class abdicates voluntarily and nonchalantly. But that does not necessarily mean that violence must be the midwife of a new society. A rising class must have the necessary instruments of force at its disposal if it wants to dispossess the old ruling class, but it is not unconditionally necessary that it employ them.[31]

Such an orientation was hardly reformist, though it should be noted that, unlike the strategy of the early Communist International, Kautsky often implied that a ruptural battle would only take place after the ruling class moved against democratic institutions or political freedoms. Such a relatively defensive orientation, in turn, was bound up with Kautsky’s strong stress on sticking if possible to legal and peaceful tactics, so as to not give the regime a pretext to clamp down and destroy the accumulated power of the proletariat before it was strong enough to defeat its enemies. A revolutionary crisis would eventually arise and pose distinct political tasks for socialists, but in the interim the party should do everything possible to avoid any premature clashes with the ruling class. Missing from this perspective was a strategic understanding of the centrality of mass action and “spontaneous” upsurges in revolutionary processes – insights most famously articulated by Rosa Luxemburg after 1905 and implemented by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

There were also earlier Marxist precedents for this divergence from Kautsky’s stance. As early as 1904, in an important but forgotten polemic, PPS leaders Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz and Marien Bielecki argued that Kautsky’s approach was overly-defensive and that Marxists in parliamentary democracies (not just Tsarist Russia) had to actively promote and prepare for mass general strikes and armed uprisings against the capitalist state.[32]

A second crucial tactical conclusion advocated by Kautsky and revolutionary social democrats from 1903 onwards was that under no circumstances should socialists seek to participate in a capitalist government. For the anomalous context of Russia, some “orthodox” Marxists such as Kautsky and the Bolsheviks argued in favor of a provisional revolutionary government of workers (or workers and peasants) that, while not overthrowing capitalism as such, would lead the democratic revolution to victory. Others, like the Mensheviks, generally opposed such a perspective, arguing that a workers’ government would necessarily lead to the overturn of capitalism, for which Russian social conditions were not ripe. The crucial point to stress here is that all currents of revolutionary social democracy opposed the establishment of a joint coalition government with the capitalist class and the liberal parties.[33]

The significance of this opposition to “ministerialism” can hardly be overestimated, as it was precisely this issue that proved to be the central governmental question in 1917 and well beyond. Far more than debates over the use of violence, or the best forms for a workers’ state, divergences over whether or not to participate in a coalition regime with the bourgeoisie constituted the fundamental dividing line between reformists and radicals on the question of state power during the 1917 revolutionary wave in the Russian empire.

The roots of this fundamental debate over what would later become known as a “Popular Front” go back to 1899. That year, following the anti-Semitic “Dreyfus Affair,” socialist Alexandre Millerand joined the French government in the name of saving the republic against the threat of the right wing. Reformist socialists like French leader Jean Jaurès argued in favor of Millerand on the grounds that democratic gains could best be defended through an alliance with the progressive bourgeoisie; socialist participation in government, moreover, was a strategic step towards the gradual transformation of the state in the direction of socialism.[34]

A heated struggle immediately erupted between “orthodox” and “revisionist” socialists over this move and its strategic implications. Kautsky, Luxemburg, and other radicals argued against the possibility for piecemeal conquest of power and declared that democracy could only be defended and extended by the working class on a sharp class line, i.e., by maintaining its political independence from the bourgeoisie and its state.

After multiple years of conflict and controversy, the radicals secured the adoption of their position. The 1903 German SPD Dresden congress and the 1904 Amsterdam congress of the Second International adopted the historic resolution – written by Kautsky – banning socialists from seeking entry into any capitalist government:

The congress rejects in the most energetic manner all revisionist efforts to change our tried and tested tactic based on the class struggle and to replace the conquest of political power through lofty struggle against the bourgeoisie with a policy of making concessions to the established order. The consequence of such a revisionist tactic would be to transform a party that pursues that most rapid possible transformation of bourgeois society into a socialist society – i.e., a party that is revolutionary in the best sense of the word – into a party content to reform bourgeois society. That is why the congress – which, contrary to revisionist tendencies, is convinced that the class antagonisms, far from diminishing, will be deepened – declares that: 1) The party rejects any responsibility at all for the political and economic conditions based on capitalist production and cannot, therefore, approve any measures that serve to maintain the ruling class in power. 2) The social democracy cannot accept any governmental participation in a bourgeois society.[35]

In an important series of essays on Marxism and the republic written in 1904–05, Kautsky defended and elaborated on the strategy underlying this resolution. Since many of the key points of these articles have already been cited above, here I want to particularly highlight Kautsky’s pioneering – and prophetic – analysis of the indispensable role of reformists for propping up the capitalist state at a moment of crisis.

Kautsky argued that the roots of Millerand’s entry into government lay in the weak French bourgeoisie’s inability to rule without the support of socialists:

The colossal growth of proletarian socialism made ‘duping the workers’ urgently necessary for the bourgeois republicans – more than ever before. … But they had already given up on formally winning the workers from socialism through these means and shackling the workers to their tatty banner. They were compromised too much and had lost all credibility amongst the proletariat. There was now only one way of exploiting the proletariat’s power for bourgeois ends – to win the socialist parliamentary deputies to carry out those bourgeois policies which the bourgeois republicans had already become too weak to carry out by themselves. Since they could no longer kill off socialism, they sought to tame it and make it subservient to them.[36]

As historical evidence demonstrating that the reformists’ bloc with the bourgeoisie would ultimately place them on the wrong side of the barricades in a revolutionary crisis, Kautsky pointed to moderate French socialist Louis Blanc’s role in squashing the 1871 Paris Commune:

His illusory belief that the proletariat had to collaborate with the most advanced and noble parts of the bourgeoisie in order to liberate itself culminated in his collaboration with the most backward and brutal elements of the country squires in order to defeat it. In doing so his theoretical views and sympathies had hardly changed. But class divisions were stronger than his pious wishes. Anybody who, coming over from the side of the bourgeoisie, does not possess the courage and abjuration to join the fighting proletariat against the bourgeoisie wholeheartedly and break all ties with it can eventually, notwithstanding his proletarian sympathies, all too easily be pushed onto the side of the proletariat’s opponents at the decisive moment.[37]

The course of events in 1917–23 in Russia and across Europe vindicated this analysis. Ironically and tragically, Kautsky – like Louis Blanc and Alexandre Millerand before him – also eventually ended up on “the side of the proletariat’s opponents.” Kautsky became, to quote Lenin, a renegade; in other words, he reneged on his earlier radicalism. Capitulating to the SPD bureaucracy and dropping his former intransigent stance, the “Pope of Marxism” after 1917 likewise advocated a bloc with the German capitalists and defended the SPD’s participation in their state.[38] The results would prove to be catastrophic for the German, Russian, and international working class.

Whether to follow the path of Millerand’s “ministerialism” would also become the defining political issue in the Russian empire following the February 1917 revolution. Yet in the preceding years, the weight of absolutism precluded even the possibility of a socialist entry into government. Only in Finland could this debate be posed as an immediate issue – and on this question the reformist and “orthodox” wings of Finnish socialism clashed sharply and repeatedly. Yrjö Makelin and other collaborationist activists in the party advocated that socialists look to participate in a national Finnish government, praising and promoting Millerand’s entry into the French government as a positive example to emulate.[39] In response, Finnish “orthodox” leader Edvard Valpas sharply denounced the idea of a coalition government between socialists and the bourgeoisie. The experience of Millerand, he argued, clearly demonstrated that it was “a deception” to believe that participating in a capitalist government would further the workers’ cause – in practice, it could only serve to shield the capitalist state from the proletariat’s independent class struggle.[40]

This became a burning practical issue when a moderate head of the Finnish Social Democracy, J.K. Kari, joined the Finnish government in November 1905. In response, the ascendant “orthodox” wing of the Social Democracy led a successful charge at the next party congress to demand that Kari be expelled from the party, declaring that joining a bourgeois government contradicted the central tenets of Marxism.[41]

As the Kari expulsion illustrates, the Finnish Social Democratic Party, unlike the German SPD, did not slowly evolve in an integrationist, class-collaborationist direction. Finland’s Social Democracy was unique among Europe’s mass socialist parties operating in contexts of political freedom in that it became more committed to revolutionary social democracy after 1905.

Had Finland not been part of the Tsarist Empire, it is likely that the Finnish Social Democracy would have evolved down an accomodationist path similar to that of so many Western socialist currents, in which increasing bureaucratization and parliamentary integration relegated radical leaders to an internal minority by the eve of World War One. Yet, unlike every other legal socialist party in Europe, the Finnish social democracy directly took part in the 1905 revolution. The general strike in the fall radicalized urban and rural proletarians in Finland, sparking an explosive mass upheaval that swept out much of the party’s old guard leadership and brought in a new group of dedicated Marxists, committed to implementing a strict independent class perspective.

So while the spread of revolutionary social democracy came relatively late to Finland, it played a pivotal role in breaking the workers’ movement from a longstanding tradition of alliances with the upper class. From 1905 onwards, the experience of Finnish socialism constitutes a particularly revealing test case for analyzing the political dynamics and possibilities of patient “orthodox” social democracy in a context of political freedom and parliamentary democracy.

The democratic republic and proletarian rule

In the previous section we saw that “orthodox” socialists opposed existing capitalist states for being insufficiently democratic. But what exactly did they propose to replace these with? The short answer is a republic. It is crucial to clarify what Kautsky and his comrades envisioned such a democratic republic to be, as this term has become associated with bourgeois parliamentary democracy and the simple absence of a monarchy. But for revolutionary social democrats, real democratic republicanism, true parliamentarism, was a radical and ultimately anti-capitalist perspective. Unlike in many post-1917 Marxist writings, the concepts of “republic” and “democracy” in this period were not seen as intrinsically linked to the bourgeoisie or capitalism. For Frederick Engels, “one thing that is absolutely certain is that our party and the working class cannot achieve rule except under the form of the democratic republic. This latter is even the specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution already showed.”[42]

Far more than simply eliminating the monarchy, according to Kautsky, a real republic required dissolving the standing army, electing all state officials, devolving administration to local self-government, and subordinating “all members of representative bodies to the control and discipline of the organised people.”[43] Thus Kautsky argued that though the American and French governments claimed to be republics, they were not so in actuality.[44] As a model for “the ideal of the democratic republic,” Kautsky’s important 1904-05 essays on the republic pointed to the 1871 Paris Commune:

Because we attribute great importance to the state form for the class struggle of the proletariat, we have to fight against a state form such as the [French] Third Republic, in which the class currently ruling is armed with all the centralised monarchy’s instruments of rule. Smashing these to bits, not strengthening them, is one of the most important tasks of French social democracy. The Third Republic, as presently constituted, offers no ground for the emancipation of the proletariat, but only for its oppression. It is only when the French state is transformed along the lines of the constitution of the First Republic and the Commune that it can become that form of the republic, that form of government, for which the French proletariat has been working, fighting and shedding blood for over one hundred and ten years.[45]

Like Lenin in The State and Revolution, Kautsky explicitly cited and praised Marx’s “classical description” of the Commune, with its famous call for the “destruction of the state power”: “While the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority usurping pre-eminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society.”[46] Kautsky drew from his analysis of the undemocratic nature of existing state institutions the following conclusion:

The conquest of state power by the proletariat therefore does not simply mean the conquest of the government ministries, which then, without further ado, administers the previous means of rule – an established state church, the bureaucracy and the officer corps – in a socialist manner. Rather, it means the dissolution of these institutions. As long as the proletariat is not strong enough to abolish these institutions of power, then taking over individual government departments and entire governments will be to no avail.[47]

Contrary to the impression given by Lenin’s The State and Revolution – which omits any mention of these explicit calls by Kautsky to dissolve the existing state structures – I have found no evidence that Second International Marxists saw a call to smash these capitalist state structures as somehow novel or “unorthodox.” Kautsky’s 1904-05 writings on the republic were re-published as a pamphlet in German in 1905 and immediately translated and published in Russian and Polish.

Thus Mikelis Valters of the Latvijas Sociāldemokrātiskās savienība (Latvian Social Democratic Union) in 1905 likewise explicitly quoted and praised Marx’s declaration that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”[48] Social and national liberation, he argued, could only be won through dismantling the capitalist state:

This new society in the Baltic can only be created through the conscious work of the Latvian national proletariat and this work can only be carried out if the proletariat governs the political activity in our land. We strive to show the working class that this can happen only by destroying the bourgeois state, that only establishing a proletarian state – i.e., by sharpening and furthering the class war to its conclusion – will make possible the founding of a new society in the Latvian land, where there will be no exploiters or exploited. It will be a new Latvia, a Latvian state, a Latvian democracy.[49]

Valters, like Kautsky, did not claim that these arguments were a break from the prevailing stance of revolutionary social democracy. Latvian socialist Jānis Bērziņš-Ziemelis’ article “Long live the democratic republic” similarly echoed Kautsky’s analysis of the nature of real republicanism. His conclusion was that no Western republic “is democratic in the proper sense of the word” and that the socialist ideal was a republic on the model of the Paris Commune.[50]

It is true that explicit praise for the Paris Commune state model was not a major or ongoing theme in Kautsky’s writings, but the same cannot be said about his stance on the military and militarism. And it was on this point that his state perspective was most radical. This topic has received surprisingly little attention by scholars and socialists, even though the question of the state and revolution ultimately comes down to which social class can wield a monopoly of violence in society.[51]

A historiographic focus on Marxist debates over the political form of a workers’ state – parliamentary or soviet, centralized or decentralized, with or without previous state functionaries, etc. – has obscured a more fundamental point: all “orthodox” social democrats called for the destruction of the ruling-class’ military machine. This was hardly a secondary point, because, to quote Kautsky, the army was “the most important” means of rule.[52] As Marx had stressed, and Kautsky positively reiterated, the demand for the standing army’s elimination and its replacement by a popular militia was “the first decree of the [Paris] Commune.”[53]

Readers should recall that Kautsky and other revolutionary socialists saw the growth of militarism as one of the fundamental trends of modern capitalism – and the major threat to democracy. A call for the end of the standing military and the arming of the people was a central plank in the 1892 Erfurt Program; as historian Nicholas Stargardt notes, the early SPD “stationed the militia at the centre of its political, social and fiscal critique.”[54] According to Kautsky, “the arming of the people” was “the only means which could put an end to the regime of the sword for ever.”[55] Luxemburg likewise declared that “the power and domination of both the capitalist state and the bourgeois class are crystallized in militarism … To abandon the struggle against the military system leads in practice to the complete renunciation of any struggle against the current social system.”[56]

Testifying to the weight of revolutionary social democracy in the Tsarist Empire, all “orthodox” socialist parties called for the dissolution of the standing army and its replacement by a militia as one of their immediate (minimum) demands. The Revolutionary Ukrainian Party’s 1903 minimum program typically proclaimed that “we must destroy the present standing army and establish people’s militia.”[57]

German “revisionists,” in contrast, called on the SPD to drop this position, prompting a major 1899 debate on this issue between Kautsky and his opponents in Die Neue Zeit. That same year in Finland, the reformist founding program of the Workers Party significantly omitted this position. Instead it declared only that the “military burden must be greatly reduced and the ideals of peace advanced and realized in practice.”[58] In 1903, the Finnish party’s leftwards turn was reflected in its adoption of the standard social democratic militia-army position. And in 1917, now under a “orthodox” leadership, the fight for this plank would play a central role in thrusting the revolution forwards towards anti-capitalist rupture.

Experience in 1905, 1917, and beyond would show that breaking up the ruling-class’ army constituted a precondition for establishing any form of workers’ government. While Lenin and his comrades’ later views on the form of proletarian and peasant rule – in regard to utilizing old state functionaries, levels of centralization, the role of parliamentary institutions, etc. – often evolved quite dramatically during and after 1917, the political constant underlying all of their stances was that the old state’s repressive apparatus must first be smashed. As the March 22, 1917, resolution of the Bolshevik party declared: “The only guarantee of victory over all the forces of counter-revolution and of the further development and deepening of the revolution is, in the party’s view, the general arming of the population and, in particular, the immediate creation of a workers’ Red Guard throughout the country.”[59]

The “orthodox” position on the army – and republican democracy generally – undermines the frequently made assertion that Second International Marxism fatally separated its minimum and maximum programs. Pierre Broué, for instance, argued that “this separation was to dominate the theory and practice of social democracy for decades.”[60] There is much merit to this criticism in regard to moderate socialists and the bureaucratized party leaderships. But it does not necessarily apply to Kautsky, as he did in fact often articulate what would later become known as a “transitional” approach.

Highlighting the increasingly conservative nature of the bourgeoisie, Kautsky frequently argued that democratic planks of the minimum program, such as the elimination of the standing army, could only be achieved by the proletariat against the ruling class and likely only be won through revolution. Against Rosa Luxemburg’s argument that Polish independence should not be demanded because it could not be won under the current system, Kautsky replied that by the same logic the SPD would have to drop its demands for a democratic republic and the election of state officials – “nobody indulges in the illusion that the election of state officials by the people is achievable under the existing political relations.”[61] To dissolve the standing army in Germany similarly presupposed “a radical transformation of state relations.”[62] Marxists, he argued, should raise the demand for the establishment of an armed militia and national federalism notwithstanding their likely incompatibility with the current order: “When drawing up its programme, social democracy does not ask whether the ruling classes and parties can win it, but rather if it is necessary.”[63]

According to Kautsky, while specific demands raised by socialists might be shared by other parties, and though some of these might on their own be compatible with capitalism, “what distinguishes [the Social Democracy] from the other parties is the totality of its practical demands” and “the aims to which these demands point.”[64] As early as 1893, Kautsky had already concluded that “the bourgeoisie in Europe east of the Rhine has become so weak and cowardly that it seems that the regime of the bureaucrat and the sabre cannot be broken until such a point when the proletariat is able to conquer political power, and that the overthrow of military absolutism will lead directly to the proletariat’s encroachment on political power.”[65] In short, for “orthodox” Marxists the fight for democracy constituted an indispensable revolutionary bridge between today’s struggles and the workers’ conquest of power.

The state and the 1917 revolution

Socialist debates on state power in 1917 did not revolve around the utilization or destruction of the existing state apparatus. The old Tsarist state structure was largely broken up by the February revolution. The new Provisional Government was an extremely weak institution that never possessed firm control over the repressive apparatus, let alone a monopoly of violence over society; its tenuous popular legitimacy largely rested on the support given to it by moderate socialists.

In such a context, the state question became concentrated in the issue of whether working people should bloc with the upper class or set up some sort of independent power. In 1917, this issue tended to over-determine the other major political debates of the revolution. To end the war, implement agrarian reform, grant national self-determination, or meet the pressing economic demands of workers and peasants required a “break from the bourgeoisie.” The fundamental commonality in the state project and strategy of the Bolsheviks, Finnish radicals, and other revolutionary social democrats was a shared commitment to working-class independence and hegemony in the fight for political power, manifest above all in a strategic rejection of alliances with bourgeois parties and a rejection of cross-class coalition governments.

While most Mensheviks, right Socialist Revolutionaries, and other moderate non-Russian socialists dropped their parties’ longstanding “orthodox” opposition to participation in coalition governments in 1917, the Bolsheviks and other radicals upheld this stance. As historian Michael Melancon notes:

Suspicion toward or outright opposition to a bourgeois-oriented government or a coalitional socialist-bourgeois government did not arise in association with Bolshevik agitation but existed from the outset as part of the outlook of most socialists and their laboring constituencies. Bolshevik agitation’s role was in placing that party in a position to reap organizational benefits from the existing popular attitudes toward the Provisional Government when it failed to live up to what were perceived as minimal demands made upon it and when SR and Menshevik leaders disastrously associated themselves and their parties with it.[66]

The popular demand for “All Power to the Soviets” concentrated the widespread desire for a political rupture from the bourgeoisie. To quote Rex Wade: “Excluding the upper- and middle-class elements from power and the demand for radical change were both neatly summed up in the call for ‘All Power to the Soviets,’ which both the Bolsheviks and growing numbers of the population embraced but which the Revolutionary Defensist leaders stubbornly rejected.”[67] The October Revolution above all represented the concretization of this anti-bourgeois break – and a vindication of the revolutionary content of a core principle in social democratic “orthodoxy.”

Despite the overall continuity between Kautsky’s early state perspectives and those articulated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks after 1917, there were also incontestable divergences. Certainly one of the most significant of these was Kautsky’s view that a parliament based on universal suffrage would be a central component of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In contrast, the soviet (council) model of state power in the Russian empire excluded the bourgeoisie and landlords from the vote, and sought to base itself on a more direct participation and representation of toilers. Like Lenin, many Marxists from 1917 onwards argued that this structure was more democratic than traditional parliamentarism. As PPS-Left leader Maria Kozutzka wrote in 1918:

The current parliamentary system does not enable the masses to participate actively in public life. … These shortcomings are removed by the new state organization [of councils], which connects all cells of social life into a whole, which removes older artificial dividers, which makes local government bodies a component part of the overall state body, which establishes a close connection between legislative and administrative authorities, which introduces the principle of frequent elections and so forth. The Constitution of the Russian republic is the first major attempt to organize the life of the working population on the basis of real self-government – it means governing oneself, rather than being subjected to government enforced from above.[68]

As an extended discussion of the role of soviets during and after 1917 is beyond the scope of this paper, I will limit myself to a few comments. First, while the soviets represented a more direct form of democracy than envisioned even by the early Kautsky, the extent of the divergences should not be overstated. As we saw earlier, Kautsky similarly rejected bourgeois parliamentarism as a sham and called for a republic in which the separation between working people and the state would be broken down through the election of all state officials, the arming of the people, the extension of local self-government, and merging of executive and legislative powers. Such a proletarian parliamentary republic resembled the soviet model far more than any existing capitalist democracy.

Second, it must be underlined that the central political debate in the Russian empire in 1917 was not over soviets versus parliaments. Apart from Finland, there were no existing national parliaments in the empire against which the soviets could be counterposed – the new Provisional Government was a self-appointed, unelected institution that lost much of its support precisely for constantly delaying the convocation of a Constituent Assembly. Early “orthodoxy” had always argued that the distinct context of Tsarist absolutism meant that the revolution in Russia, and the appropriate Marxist tactics and strategy for its conditions, would be quite different than in Western bourgeois democracies. This analysis continued to be relevant during the 1917 upheaval, which took place in a polity that remained profoundly marked by the autocratic legacy.

In the absence of any existing national parliament, the soviets from the outset represented the dominant democratic expression of working people, into which they increasingly invested their participation and aspirations. Throughout 1917, revolutionary Marxists in both the centre and periphery generally saw the existing soviets and a future Constituent Assembly as complementary institutions to establish workers’ and peasants’ power.[69] This stance changed when it became clear that the newly-elected Constituent Assembly – which finally convened in January 1918 – was being counterposed by the moderate socialists and liberals to the new Soviet government.

Seeking to defend and deepen the revolution and its gains, Bolsheviks and Left SRs dispersed the Constituent Assembly after it refused to recognize the political authority of the Soviet regime. As Alexander Rabinowitch and many other historians have noted, the “most important” reason for the victory of soviet power over the Constituent Assembly in 1918 was “the Russian people’s fundamental indifference” toward the latter.[70] This particular political context helps clarify why the dispersal of the Assembly was not, as claimed by so many liberals and reformists, an expression of “Leninist authoritarianism.” But the virtual absence of a strong parliamentary institution or tradition in the Russian Empire should also be kept in mind when weighing the extent to which Bolshevik strategy in 1917 marked a break or continuity with social democratic “orthodoxy,” which had always approached the Russian Revolution as a rather unique historic phenomenon.

Ultimately, the post-1917 international significance of Lenin and the early Comintern’s stance on councils was above all that it posed a new strategic path towards the workers’ conquest of power. In contrast with Kautsky’s stance on parliamentarism and his stress on defensive tactics, positing workers’ councils as the necessary form of the dictatorship of the proletariat went hand in hand with an unprecedented strategic emphasis on extra-parliamentary mass action and the mobilization of the broadest layers of workers beyond the organized ranks of the party and trade unions. Similarly, the new stance legitimized a more offensive, more insurrectionary strategy towards winning state power – no longer was socialist revolution foreseen primarily as a defensive reaction against attempts by the bourgeoisie to eliminate democratic freedoms or to overturn the election of a socialist majority in parliament. For Marxists unwilling to postpone the overthrow of capitalism to the indefinite future, winning a majority of working people organized into councils proved to be a more realistic benchmark for revolutionary–democratic legitimacy than gaining an electoral majority of the entire population under conditions of capitalist rule. In 1918 Rosa Luxemburg drew the following strategic conclusion from the Russian Revolution:

German Social-Democrats have sought to apply to revolutions the home-made wisdom of the parliamentary nursery: in order to carry anything, you must first have a majority. The same, they say, applies to a revolution: first let’s become a “majority.” The true dialectic of revolutions, however, stands this wisdom of parliamentary moles on its head: not through a majority, but through revolutionary tactics to a majority – that’s the way the road runs. Only a party which knows how to lead, that is, to advance things, wins support in stormy times.[71]

Such a stance was certainly distinct from, if not necessarily contradictory with, the Marxist “orthodoxy” promoted by Kautsky in his revolutionary period. That said, it doesn’t follow that the earlier stance was inherently reformist. Here the revolution in Finland serves as an important point of comparison. On the whole, the Finnish Revolution, like the October Revolution itself, confirms the anti-capitalist potentialities of Kautsky’s early stance on the state and revolution.[72]

By 1917 the leadership of the Finnish Social Democracy was hegemonically (though not homogeneously) committed to revolutionary social democracy and, with some real equivocations, sought to implement this approach throughout the year. A strong Finnish parliament and parliamentary tradition posed obstacles and opportunities that socialists did not face in the rest of the empire. Unlike in the other regions of imperial Russia, there was a long tradition of political freedom and a parliament in Finland; as advocated by “orthodox” doctrine for such conditions, the Finnish Social Democracy had a strong focus on parliamentary activity. In fact, the party won an absolute majority in the Finnish parliament in 1916 and sought (ultimately without success) for much of 1917 to use this institution to meet the basic demands of the working class. In such a context, it is not surprising that among neither the Finnish socialists nor the working class did there emerge a push to build workers’ councils in 1917.

Late in the summer of 1917, the Russian Provisional Government in alliance with Finnish conservatives illegally dissolved Finland’s socialist-led parliament and called for new elections. In response to this anti-democratic bourgeois “coup,” the Finnish socialist leadership protested sharply – and then prevaricated for months. Though conditions of crisis and counter-revolution now put insurrection firmly on the agenda, it remained very hesitant to break from the parliamentary arena. At the same time, however, it fought hard against any attempts by the Finnish bourgeoisie to establish a police force and army to prop up its rule (the old repressive apparatus in Finland had also been destroyed in February 1917).

After considerable delay, and under pressure both from its radical rank and file and the revolution in Central Russia, the Finnish Social Democracy did eventually overcome its hesitations, which had been particularly pushed by the party’s moderate parliamentary wing. In January 1918 the Finnish socialists seized power through armed insurrection. Though the initial state objective of the Finnish revolution did not go beyond establishing a more democratic parliamentary government based on universal suffrage, the new Finnish workers’ regime, like its counterpart in Russia, was pushed by circumstances and counter-revolution to move further on the road to socialist transformation than it originally intended. Only after a bloody civil war and a foreign invasion by imperial Germany was the workers’ regime swept away in May 1918.[73]

Finland in many ways confirms the traditional view of revolution espoused by Kautsky: Through patient class-conscious organization and education, socialists won a majority in parliament, leading the right wing to dissolve the institution, which in turn sparked a socialist-led revolution. The Finnish party’s “orthodox” preference for a peaceful, defensive, and parliamentary strategy did not ultimately prevent it from violently overthrowing the existing capitalist state and taking steps towards socialism. In contrast, the bureaucratized German Social Democracy actively upheld capitalist rule in 1918–19 and violently smashed efforts by revolutionary workers and socialists to overturn it.

My argument is not that the Finnish experience shows the path that all workers’ revolutions will take in conditions of bourgeois democracy. Nor does it follow that Marxists must always seek to win a parliamentary majority before attempting to overthrow a bourgeois-democratic state or that soviet-like bodies cannot arise in parliamentary polities. The lessons of the 1918-23 German Revolution and other subsequent working-class upheavals undercut any simplistic schemas along those lines. Moreover, Finland showed not only the strengths but also the potential limitations of social democratic “orthodoxy”: a hesitancy to abandon the parliamentary arena; a tendency to be overly-defensive; an overemphasis on peaceful tactics; and an underestimation of mass action.

Marxism necessarily evolves over time through the lived practice of class struggle. The unprecedented revolutionary upheaval across imperial Russia and the globe in 1917-1923 led the early Comintern to build off many of the best traditions of revolutionary social democracy and develop a sharper conception of state power and political strategy.

Without denying these important evolutions, the fact remains that the politics of revolutionary Marxists in and after 1917 reflected far more continuity than rupture with social democratic “orthodoxy.” It is true that Kautsky capitulated to reformism after 1909 and played a reactionary role during the post-war socialist insurgencies. But his early theories trained the Bolsheviks, Finnish Marxists, and other radicals who led the first victorious assaults on capitalist rule. As we approach the centennial anniversary of the Russian Revolution, it is well past time to acknowledge that the roots of 1917 lie firmly in the legacy of revolutionary social democracy.

I would like to thank John Riddell, Lars Lih, Charlie Post, Todd Chretien, and David Walters for their comments on this article.

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[1] Blackledge 2011. For a scholarly account arguing that Kautsky did not seek to smash the capitalist state, see Van Ree 2002, pp. 31–2.

[2] See, for example, Lewis 2011. I would like to thank Ben Lewis for generously allowing me in this article to excerpt from his upcoming collection of Kautsky’s writings on democracy and republicanism.

[3] The only significant exceptions were the reformists in the moderate wing of the Finnish Social Democracy and the Russian Menshevik liquidationists after 1905.

[4] Due to space constraints in the present piece, I will take up in a separate article the debates among imperial Russia’s Marxists concerning “the agrarian question” and whether the forthcoming revolution could directly overthrow capitalism.

[5] Lenin, V.I. 1964 [1918], p. 481–2.

[6] Blackledge 2013.

[7] Badia 1975, p. 140.

[8] Steinberg 1967, p. 124.

[9] On the bureaucratization and political evolution of the SPD, see Schorske 1955.

[10] Cited in Luxemburg 2004 [1900], p. 129.

[11] A.W. 1903, p. 247.

[12] Kautsky 2009 [1904], p. 215.

[13] Cited in Martin 1971, p. 248. My emphasis.

[14] Polska Partia Socjalistyczna 1975 (1892), p. 252.

[15] Kautsky 1902, p. 19.

[16] SDKPiL 1934 [1900], p. 185.

[17] Kaustky 1996 [1909], p. 5.

[18] Kelles-Krauz 1904, p. 560.

[19] L’internationale Ouvrière & Socialiste 1907, p. 158.

[20] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 177.

[21] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 222.

[22] Kautsky 2017 [1893], p. 155.

[23] See, for example, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands 1891, p. 5. and ‘Latviešu Sociāldemokrātiskās Strādnieku Partijas Programa’ [1904] in Latvijas KP CK Partijas Vēstures Institūts 1958, p. 13.

[24] Bielecki 1904, p. 157.

[25] Kautsky 2017 [1905], pp. 191–2.

[26] Waldenberg 1972, pp. 409–11, 530-1.

[27] Kautsky 1908, p. 456.

[28] Kautsky 1902, pp. 98-99.

[29] Kautsky ‘9 June, 1902’ in Adler 1954, p. 405.

[30] Kautsky 1902, p. 88.

[31] Kautsky 2009 [1904], p. 247.

[32] Kelles-Krauz 1904; Bielecki 1904.

[33] On these questions, see Larsson 1970.

[34] Frölich 1940, p. 81.

[35] Secrétariat Socialiste International 1904, pp. 114–15. The 1903 Dresden and 1904 Amsterdam resolutions marked a harder line than the initial positions of Kautsky, Luxemburg, and Plekhanov. Initially, each of these leaders opposed Millerand’s entry into the French government and rejected the possibility of a peaceful transformation of the capitalist state, but nevertheless did not absolutely preclude the possibility for socialist participation in capitalist governments in “exceptional” circumstances.

[36] Kautsky, Karl 2017 [1905], pp. 279-80. My emphasis.

[37] Kautsky, Karl 2017 [1905], p. 210.

[38] On Kautsky’s ideological turn to the right after 1909, see Volume 2 of Waldenberg 1972.

[39] Soikkanen 1961, p. 109.

[40] Valpas 1904, pp. 60–3.

[41] Soikkanen 1961, p. 261–66.

[42] Cited in Lenin 1964 [1918], p. 450. Despite Lenin’s citation of this quote, he nevertheless immediately goes on to claim that a democratic republic necessarily only represented “the nearest approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat,” which did not “in the least [mean] abolishing the rule of capital.” (Ibid. My emphasis).

[43] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 259.

[44] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 225.

[45] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 286.

[46] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 214.

[47] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 192.

[48] Valters 1905, p. 18.

[49] Valters 1905, p. 20. My emphasis.

[50] Cited in Treijs 1981, p. 188.

[51] Stargardt 1994 provides a useful overview of German socialist debates on militarism, but his brief analysis of Kautsky’s stance is politically confused.

[52] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 224.

[53] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 213.

[54] Stargardt 1994, p. 45-46.

[55] Kautsky 2017 [1905], p. 225.

[56] Luxemburg 1971 [1899], p. 147.

[57] Гермайзе 1926, p. 171.

[58] Suomen Työväenpuolueen 1899, p. 30.

[59] “On the Provisional Government” [1917], p. 205 in Elwood 1974.

[60] Broué 2005, p. 17.

[61] Kautsky 1896, p. 514.

[62] Kautsky 1899 pt 2., p 645.

[63] Kautsky 1898, p. 724.

[64] Kautsky 2017 [1893], p. 163.

[65] Kautsky 2017 [1893], p. 169.

[66] Melancon 2004, p. 156.

[67] Wade 2004, p. 212.

[68] Koszutska 1961 [1918], p. 252.

[69] Throughout 1917 the call for “All Power to the Soviets” was not generally seen by Lenin or the Bolsheviks as counterposed to the calling of a Constituent Assembly. The latter was a prominent demand of the party during the bulk of the year, though there were often major internal political differences between different wings of Bolsheviks concerning the potential political relationship between such an Assembly and the soviets. Most Bolsheviks saw an important role for both bodies in their perspective for post-bourgeois rule. Some Bolshevik leaders, like Lenin, viewed soviets as the highest form of republic from early on in 1917; a Constituent Assembly would at best be a supplement and legitimization to a soviet government. Other Bolshevik leaders did not share Lenin’s advocacy of a council “commune-state” and looked to the establishment of a socialist-majority Constituent Assembly as the crucial foundation for the new workers’ and peasants’ government. On the evolution of the post-October Bolshevik positions on these questions, as well as the broader popular (and non-Bolshevik) views on the Constituent Assembly, see Rabinowitch 2007, pp. 62–127, passim.

[70] Rabinowitch 2007, p. 127.

[71] Luxemburg 2004 [1918], p. 289.

[72] For a detailed account of the politics of the Finnish Social Democracy in 1917–18, see Carrez 2008.

[73] On the Finnish workers’ government in 1918, see Rinta-Tassi 1986.

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When Jai Bhim meets Lal Salaam-G. SAMPATH

Posted by admin On October - 14 - 2016 Comments Off on When Jai Bhim meets Lal Salaam-G. SAMPATH

“Sheer political logic dictates that Dalits look for allies who share their social, political, and material predicament — in other words, look beyond identity politics.” The Dalit Asmita Yatra in Una, Gujarat.
Dalit politics cannot move forward unless it is willing to articulate the material aspirations of the dispossessed. Similarly, Left politics has no future unless it recognises that annihilation of caste is vital for any progressive politics.

On September 16, Parliament Street near Jantar Mantar witnessed a Dalit rally that was unlike other such events in the recent past. What set it apart was the number of speakers from the Left. Sharing the stage with Prakash Ambedkar, Radhika Vemula and Jignesh Mewani were the likes of Sitaram Yechury, Sudhakar Reddy and D. Raja. And surprisingly, for a gathering that self-identified as ‘Dalit’, the rallying cries of “Jai Bhim” were accompanied by a slogan rarely heard outside Left circles, “Lal Salaam”.

Such an alliance of Jai Bhim and Lal Salaam, if translated into a political programme, could mark a significant departure for both Left and Dalit politics. The recent Dalit agitations in Gujarat offer a glimpse of what may be possible if a fusion of Jai Bhim and Lal Salaam were to go beyond sloganeering into the realm of praxis.

Lessons from Gujarat

The mobilisation in Gujarat following the Una incident, in which Dalit youth were assaulted by cow vigilantes, has already achieved two substantive victories. First, the protesters successfully pressured the State administration to initiate the process of distributing 220 bighas of government land to 115 landless Dalit families of Saroda village in Dholka taluka of Ahmedabad district.

The second success came from the 6,000 safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), who went on strike for 36 days. Their demands included regularisation of contract workers, provision of provident fund (PF) scheme and health benefits, guaranteed minimum wage, safety equipment for all workers, job for kin in case of accidental death or injury, and clearance of PF arrears from 2011. Every one of these is a material demand, and they were all accepted by the AMC.

These are two instances where Dalit anger was channelled into pragmatic political projects by identitarian outfits such as the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch and Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti, as well as trade unions such as Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions and Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha, along with civil rights bodies such as Jan Sangharsh Manch. While the beneficiaries of this mobilisation were Dalits, the demand-making was premised not on identitarian but a material basis. Land ownership and permanent employment with social benefits make a big difference to the material existence of Dalits. But a militant articulation of material demands has rarely been a consistent feature of Dalit politics.

This lacuna finds an inverse parallel in Left politics as well, which has never seriously taken up caste issues — neither atrocities against Dalits, nor casteism in general. It has restricted itself to class politics without challenging the caste underpinnings of class exploitation. A major reason, apparently, was the fear of dividing the working class along caste lines.

But the Indian working classes were already split along multiple identitarian axes, most prominently caste. The Left’s failure to counter this caste-based division is one of the reasons for its marginalisation in Indian politics. Ambedkarite critics blame the upper-caste domination of Left leadership for its blindness to caste exploitation. Indeed, there are few Dalits, if any, in the political bureaus or central committees of the Left parties.

At the same time, the Left’s criticism of Ambedkarite identity politics is not without substance. This critique was best expressed by Anuradha Ghandy in an essay on the “caste question”, where she writes that “the ruling classes have consciously sponsored an elite among the Dalits who have consciously appealed to Dalit solidarity and a sectarian approach, while denying any unity with other exploited sections and parties representing them.”

Limitations of identitarianism

Ms. Ghandy’s fundamental point that Dalit-OBC unity is “practically impossible to sustain” due to class contradictions has been borne out by recent events. In different parts of the country, the dominant agricultural castes have begun to mobilise — not against the upper castes who own land or capital, but against Dalits. After the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, Jats in Haryana, and Patels in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra have now taken to the streets demanding reservations. Plus they have another demand: dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Not surprisingly, there is a creeping realisation among a section of Dalits — most visibly in Gujarat, where they constitute a minuscule 7 per cent minority — that identity politics can only take them so far. This realisation entails grappling with three painful truths about the Indian political reality.

First, within the electoral system, identity politics can only yield brokers of Dalit votes, who can, at best, extract minor concessions for Dalits without challenging the caste order, and at worst, pass off personal aggrandisement as empowerment of the community. Leaders like Ramdas Athawale and Udit Raj exemplify this phenomenon. As for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), its political potential has been curtailed by an extreme concentration of power in one individual — a disease endemic to political parties in India.

Second, Dalit-OBC unity — a minimum requirement for identitarian Dalit politics to gain critical mass — is a non-starter due to class contradictions. A glance at the castes of the accused in atrocity cases would be enough to put the idea to rest.

Finally, with public sector disinvestment and privatisation becoming official government policy, reservations can no longer be the answer for the vast majority of Dalits. This is a reality that other dominant castes agitating for reservations are yet to come to grips with. But they, too, will have to, sooner than later. If we think beyond reservations, what else can identity politics promise, let alone deliver?

Sheer political logic therefore dictates that Dalits look for allies who share their social, political, and material predicament — in other words, look beyond identity politics. For, on their own, they do not have the numbers — either to retaliate in kind against their caste oppressors or to avoid being reduced to vote banks for parties controlled by their caste oppressors.

To take a recent example, the violence sparked by cow vigilantism targeted both Muslims and Dalits. It even prompted calls for Dalit-Muslim unity. But Muslims are a minority identity too. This alliance is fraught with not just class but also caste contradictions that could easily undermine it, as the failed attempts to forge Dalit-Muslim unity in Uttar Pradesh show.

Dalit politics at the moment does not have an answer to class collaboration between their own elites and their caste oppressors; nor to caste collaboration between the poor and wealthy classes of their caste oppressors. It cannot move forward unless it is willing to articulate the material aspirations of the dispossessed — not only among the Dalits, but also the OBCs and the upper castes. These would include the landless, the contract workers, indebted farmers, and migrant workers.

Similarly, Left politics has no future unless it serves the democratic aspirations of the socially oppressed, and recognises that annihilation of caste is the condition of possibility for any progressive politics. In a semi-feudal, partially modernised nation like India, anti-capitalism has little transformative potential without anti-casteism. Such an understanding would entail the Left joining hands with Dalit forces, and attacking casteism with the same kind of energy it reserves for condemning imperialism.

Natural affinity of interests

A convergence of Left and Dalit politics is hardly new though. Marx and Ambedkar have come together before, especially in the 1950s when Ambedkar, together with the Communist Party of India, led struggles for distribution of government land for landless Dalits. Then in the 1970s came the Dalit Panther movement in Maharashtra. It took a combination of state repression, upper caste violence (led by the Shiv Sena) and co-option through prizes and electoral tickets to neutralise this wave of militant left-wing Dalit assertion.

Today, a confederacy of casteist forces with control over capital and the state apparatus are on one side, and a mass of socially oppressed and economically marginalised are arrayed on the other. The ruling elite, as ever, are conscious of their class interests cutting across caste lines. But the working classes, especially the Dalits and OBCs among them, stand divided into a great number of identities that are locked in mutual antagonisms, designed to ensure that their identity as a class remains buried.

The Dalits need the Left because there is no other political formation that programmatically raises working class issues such as a living wage, job security, pensions, and abolition of contract labour. As for the Left, sheer survival requires it to raise Dalit issues. Given that the overwhelming majority of Dalits are working class, there is a natural affinity of political interests.

Of course, the two have fallen out in the past, and Dalits have bitter memories of betrayal by the Left. Past disappointments notwithstanding, in the current vacuum of political representation vis-à-vis Dalit-working class interests, a partnership between Jai Bhim and Lal Salaam may yet be an experiment worth revisiting.

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WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange ‘We Believe in What We’re Doing’-Interview Conducted by Michael Sontheimer

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2016 Comments Off on WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange ‘We Believe in What We’re Doing’-Interview Conducted by Michael Sontheimer
(FILES) This file photo taken on February 05, 2016 shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) addressing the media and supporters from the balcony of Ecuador's embassy in central London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faced another setback in his legal stand-off with Sweden Friday after an appeals court rejected his request to lift an arrest warrant for him over a 2010 rape accusation. / AFP PHOTO / Jack Taylor / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY Pia OHLIN

(FILES) This file photo taken on February 05, 2016 shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) addressing the media and supporters from the balcony of Ecuador’s embassy in central London.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faced another setback in his legal stand-off with Sweden Friday after an appeals court rejected his request to lift an arrest warrant for him over a 2010 rape accusation. / AFP PHOTO / Jack Taylor / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY Pia OHLIN

WikiLeaks is now 10 years old. SPIEGEL met with founder Julian Assange, 45, to discuss the whistleblower platform’s achievements and whether recent criticism leveled at the site is justified.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Assange, 10 years after the founding of WikiLeaks, the whistleblower platform is again being criticized. WikiLeaks is said to have put millions of Turkish voters in danger. What is your response?

Assange: A few days after the publication of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, an entirely false story was put out that we had published the names, addresses and phone numbers of all female voters in Turkey. It is completely false. And it was and is simple to check. Power factions fight back with lies. That’s not surprising.

SPIEGEL: Quite a few German journalists have long sympathized with WikiLeaks and also with Edward Snowden. But they aren’t impressed with the publishing of the DNC emails. Are you campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump?

Assange: Our publication of the DNC leaks has showed that the Democratic National Committee had effectively rigged the primaries in the United States on behalf of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. That led to the resignation of leading members of the DNC, including its president Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

SPIEGEL: People within the Clinton campaign have suggested that the DNC emails were given to you by the Russian secret service.

Assange: There have been many attempts to distract from the power of our publications. Hillary Clinton is the favorite to win. As always, most media aligns with the presumptive winner even though their claimed societal virtue is to investigate those in power.

SPIEGEL: The fact is, WikiLeaks is damaging Clinton and bolstering Trump.

Assange: We’re not going to start censoring our publications because there is a US election. Our role is to publish. Clinton has been in government so we have much more to publish on Clinton. There is a lot of naivety. The US presidency will continue to represent the major power groups of the United States — big business and the military — regardless of who the talking head is.

SPIEGEL: If someone submitted internal documents from the Trump campaign or the Republican Party, you would publish that as well?

Assange: Yes, of course. That’s what we do.

SPIEGEL: The German newsmagazine Focus has even has accused WikiLeaks of publishing NSA documents and other documents that have been forged by the Russian secret service. What’s your comment on that?

Assange: The claims are not credible. Even the US government had to come out and say that they have no evidence of a link to WikiLeaks. I exposed the same German magazine back in 2008 as having been extensively penetrated by the BND (Eds. note: Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German foreign intelligence agency). We listed the times and dates of 58 contacts that a Focus journalist had with the BND.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t WikiLeaks vulnerable because it isn’t possible for you to check and verify every single document submitted and to find possibly forged documents?

Assange: We have a perfect record in detecting forgeries and, unlike the traditional press, we publish every document so everyone else can check too. WikiLeaks is literally the worst place in the world to try and plant a false story.

SPIEGEL: Would WikiLeaks publish material about corruption in the Russian leadership?

Assange: Yes. In fact we have already published more than 650,000 documents on Russia and President Vladimir Putin, most of which was critical. A number of highly critical books were written using this material, like “The Mafia State” by the Guardian journalist Luke Harding. The documents have also gone on to be used in a number of significant litigations, including the Yukos case.

SPIEGEL: How can you prevent WikiLeaks from being taken advantage of in the global war of information?

Assange: Our editorial criteria are public and they have been the same for about eight years. If a source gives us material that is of political, diplomatic, ethical or historical significance that has not been published before and is comprised of official documents or recordings, then we will publish it. Is the majority of our material in English? Yes. But that is a resource constraint. Most of our submissions are in English because most of our readers speak English.

SPIEGEL: On Oct. 4, 2006, you registered the domain name www.wikileaks.org. What have you accomplished since then?

Assange: WikiLeaks has published over 10 million documents in 10 years. Most have been published over the last six years, during which time I have been illegally detained, without charge, in the United Kingdom.

SPIEGEL: You have received political asylum from the government of Ecuador, but have been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last four years. British authorities would like to arrest you and extradite you for interrogation to Sweden. Hasn’t this situation handicapped WikiLeaks?

Assange: While many of the established media make losses or go bankrupt, WikiLeaks has survived a major conflict with a superpower, including an unlawful economic blockade by its banks and credit card companies and the detention of its editor. We have no debts. We have not had to fire staff. We have never lost a court case related to our publishing. We have never been forced to censor. Adversity has hardened us. We’re 10 now. Just wait until we’re teenagers.

SPIEGEL: What has been WikiLeaks’ most important publication?

Assange: The most important publication of WikiLeaks is that it has published more than 10 million documents. The most important single collection of material we have published is the US diplomatic cable series. We started with 251,000 in 2011, but are up to 3 million now and have more coming.

SPIEGEL: What have been the shortcomings of WikiLeaks? What would you like to improve?

Assange: Resources. Has WikiLeaks been forced to do one thing rather than another in response to resource constraints? Yes. Constantly.

SPIEGEL: For example?

Assange: For example, resource constraints forced us to deal with politically compromised publications like the New York Times in order to harness their distribution networks.

SPIEGEL: Do you regret the fact that you no longer have a cooperation with established papers like the New York Times or the Guardian — and that WikiLeaks is even criticized by liberal papers?

Assange: We have subsequently worked with journalists from both papers. Liberal papers are not necessarily liberal. We have excellent relations and contracts with more than 110 media organizations from all over the world. We aggressively enforce our agreements.

SPIEGEL: Your source Chelsea Manning, a US soldier, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Edward Snowden is stuck in Moscow. And you are stuck here in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. How can whistleblowers come to terms with such setbacks?

Assange: Let us not compare Edward Snowden’s situation with that of Chelsea Manning or Jeremy Hammond, who is also imprisoned in the United States. As a result of WikiLeaks’ hard work, Edward Snowden has political asylum, has travel documents, lives with his girlfriend, goes to the ballet and earns substantial speaking fees. Edward Snowden is essentially free and happy. That is no coincidence. It was my strategy to undo the chilling effect of the 35 year Manning sentence and it has worked.

SPIEGEL: Given all the pressure that you and those you work with are facing, how do you keep going?

Assange: We believe in what we are doing. It’s very satisfying. It’s extremely interesting intellectually. Sometimes great moments of justice come out of it. In one case, a man falsely accused left prison thanks to a publication of ours. A lot of people who work for WikiLeaks have the same instinct as me: If you are pushed you push back.


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Althusser, ideology, and Stalinism-Jordan Humphries

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2016 Comments Off on Althusser, ideology, and Stalinism-Jordan Humphries


A response to Andrew Ryder
The revival of interest in French Communist philosopher Louis Althusser is reopening a series of old debates, albeit in a new context. Andrew Ryder’s review of the recent Verso edition of Althusser’s On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, in ISR Issue 99 (“Althusser’s theory of ideology”) repeats the arguments made by those who think that his theory, or at least part of it, is compatible with the politics of revolutionary Marxism.1 Ryder argues that Althusser’s theory of ideology should be seen as a contribution to the strategy of socialism from below, and that while Althusser remained a member of the French Communist Party (PCF), critics have been too quick to tar him with the brush of Stalinism.

However, while Althusser was critical of aspects of the PCF’s policy and practice, he was never capable of fully breaking with Stalinism, and his theoretical project remained deeply enmeshed in a framework that was hostile to the core tenets of the revolutionary socialist tradition.

Althusser and ideology

What underpins the recent interest in Althusser has not been his most anti­humanist statements such as “history is a process without a subject,”2 or his hostility to Hegel and Lukacs, but his later work, particularly on ideology. Ryder claims that “without a theory of human alienation, [Althusser’s] approach risked positing the eternity of capitalism. His work in the wake of 1968 was meant to remedy this and to explain cultural struggles in terms of a new understanding of ideology.” The publication in English of On the Reproduction of Capitalism, from which his famous essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” is taken, offers us an opportunity to look at these claims more closely.

Althusser locates the material basis of ideology in various structures of society: the education system, religious institutions, and mass media, and conceptualizes these structures as ideological state apparatuses (ISAs), in contradistinction to the repressive arms of the state. On a surface level this can seem fine; Marxists often have to argue against the essentially liberal view of ideology in which it is conceived as having an independent existence from social structures, or even a determining role. In terms of the debates about the source of various forms of oppression, for instance, we have always asserted that it is not a question of just “bad ideas” floating around in people’s heads but how the structures in society reinforce the material interests of the ruling class by promoting sexism, racism, homophobia, and other pro-capitalist ideas.

This does not, however, answer the question of what the roots of ideology are, for we must explain not only why people accept ideology, but also how they can break from it. This in turn also affects how we understand the structures that promote ideology in the first place.

When Althusser attempts to answer the question of why workers accept bourgeois ideology, he rejects Marx’s theory of alienation. While he acknowledges that “ideology represents individual’s imaginary relations to their real conditions of existence,”3 he argues against the conception that ideology is rooted in “the material alienation reigning in people’s very conditions of existence.”4 Instead he seeks to resolve this question by showing “the mechanisms by means of which ideology makes people, that is concrete individuals, ‘march.’” Key to his argument is the idea that “ideology interpellates individuals as subjects.”5

It is through ideology that concrete individuals are transformed into “subjects,” he argues, and thus embedded into capitalist relationships. “Interpellation” is the process by which workers, simply by going through the motions of living under capitalism, reinforce their own place within the system. This begins before we are even born; Althusser uses the example of a child’s development and the way in which various ideologies structure its development (familial, religious, legal, moral) to make the case that “ideologies never stop interpellating subjects as subjects, never stop ‘recruiting’ individuals who are always-already subjects.”6

This explanation fails to answer the question of why workers accept ideologies that go against their material interests. Althusser sidesteps the question by arguing that ideology does not represent in a distorted fashion people’s actual relationship to society, but rather represents people’s false idea of that relationship to society. This definition is shaped by Althusser’s contention that ideology is not simply the product of class-based social relations, but is an inescapable condition present in all societies—a point to which I’ll return.

On one level Althusser is right, in that people’s alienated consciousness does not simply reproduce their material conditions under capitalism in an ideological form, and there is plenty that is false about such consciousness (i.e., that it does not accurately represent their actual relationship to capitalism). However, the point that Marx makes is that distorted consciousness is not simply the product of the ideas being fed to people by the structures of the system; it is that there is something distorted about their relationship to society itself.

This is the basis for the theory of alienation as established by Marx, and later built upon by the Hungarian revolutionary philosopher Georg Lukacs.7 They placed the material roots of ideology not only in the structures of society, but also in how the experience of life under capitalism shapes our consciousness. Key to their argument is the way in which the labor process under capitalism alienates workers from society, from each other, and from the products of their work. Lukacs expanded this concept to explain how this alienation at the site of production results in what he called the reification of society as a whole. John Rees summarizes the argument. Lukacs’s

essential point was that the transformation of labor power into a commodity, the very foundation of capitalist production, atomizes workers and works to prevent them from grasping the nature of the system that exploits them. The capitalist system treats wage labor as something to be bought and sold on the market like any other commodity. This induces the sensation in workers that they are simply individual atoms whose fate is dependent on a force—the market—over which they have no control. And this is actually true in so far as workers remain isolated individuals.8

Hence ideology can be accepted, or at least partially accepted, because it appears to be true; it matches concrete experiences under capitalism, which in turn masks underlying contradictions.

However, precisely because that acceptance is based on the alienation of human self-activity, anything that undermines the alienation of labor also undermines the basis for the acceptance of bourgeois ideas. As one writer puts it, “The reified objective world appears like a hostile natural environment with laws that may be studied but never altered . . . The objective side of reification requires the subjective: without subjects who reproduce it, the objective world wouldn’t stand for a day.”9

It is through struggle that alienation can be overcome. As Marx puts it in the Theses on Feuerbach, “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.” This theoretical point has been given life in revolutionary upheavals time and time again, but there are elements of it in every social confrontation that gives its participants a sense of power over their own lives. 10 However, as the root of people’s alienation is in their lack of power at and during work, it is only through movements that challenge capitalist control over production that alienation can begin to be overcome in a more serious way. Thus the theory of alienation explains the reproduction of bourgeois structures and ideologies while retaining a central role for human agency.

Althusser, with his narrow focus on the structures of society, can only produce an elitist conception of the struggle against ideology. Ryder dismisses this charge of elitism, arguing that “Althusser’s entire project is rooted in the recognition and advocacy of organized struggle against oppression and exploitation, and the means by which class struggle appears in less economically based forms of oppression and subject formation.” It is true that Althusser repeatedly talks about the struggle of the working class, proletarian struggle, and revolution in On the Reproduction of Capitalism. However, what matters is not formal adherence to the terminology of Marxism, but the content behind those terms.

Because Althusser rejects the theory of alienation as a liberal perversion of Marxism, he is unable to put forward a strategy for working-class struggle that is not imbued with an elitist approach. This is not just because he cannot construct a relationship between subjects and ideology that does not simply posit it as an external relationship between the two. It is also because in his concept of interpellation workers reproduce the system that then dominates them, and fails to locate any mechanism within this framework by which workers can challenge the hold of the ISAs.

This leads to several equally elitist options for defeating the hold of ideology. One can capture the existing structures in order to use them to promote a different ideology. The Spanish Eurocommunist theorist Santiago Carrillo used Althusser’s theory to justify such a strategy.11 Or one can get rid of those structures and replace them with new ones that promote a different ideology or even a “science.” Althusser, committed formally to the terminology of the Communist movement, holds for the most part to this second conception. But neither explains how it is that the working class liberate themselves through revolutionary struggle, and therefore both conceptions are essentially varieties of what Hal Draper called “socialism from above.”

This elitism is reinforced by yet another option that lurks in Althusser’s thinking. What if the masses can’t escape ideology at all? What if this is possible only for a tiny minority of the intellectual elite? This tendency is revealed most clearly whenever Althusser discusses the question of ideology in a socialist society, and this question also shows how Stalinism shaped his theory. Althusser always believed, whatever their bureaucratic distortions, that the USSR and China were socialist. These societies depended upon enormous propaganda machines to disguise oppression, exploitation, and state violence using socialist rhetoric. This brings us back to Althusser’s hostility to the theory of alienation—a hostility mirrored in the ideology of the Soviet Union. As the independent Marxist Henri Lefebvre wrote, the Marxist theory of alienation was “treated with . . . mistrust” in the Soviet Union, where “by order from above, for reasons of State, the concept had to disappear.” Not because alienation had really disappeared. “The divorce between Stalin’s decree and the reality,” wrote Lefebvre, “between ideology—brought into line with propaganda—and the objective truth, could only get wider.”12

Althusser solved this problem by arguing that ideology is a feature of all societies, and a socially useful one at that. “In a society without classes, just as in a class society,” he wrote, “ideology has the function of securing the bond between men in the ensemble of the forms of their existence, the relation of individuals to their tasks fixed by the social structure.”13 For Althusser, “the permanence of ideology as a lived medium of delusion was . . . a necessary consequence of its social function, which was to bind men together into society, by adapting them to the objective positions allocated them by the dominant mode of production.”14

Althusser did hold out that a section of society could escape ideology. Alongside his skepticism towards the ability of the working class to overcome ideology was a vastly inflated understanding of the role of intellectuals. This is probably most apparent in his concept of “theoretical practice,” in which he conceived of theory as an autonomous mode of inquiry separate from and superior to the world of practical politics—an idea itself rooted in an acceptance of the capitalist division between mental and physical labor.15 This was coupled with the argument that Marxism was a science precisely because it wasn’t based upon any one class in society, but like other sciences was the product of theoretical research.16

Althusser and Stalinism

Ryder spends a lot of time trying to distance Althusser from the charge of Stalinism, but this can only be done if you have a very narrow interpretation of Stalinism. The triumph of the counterrevolution in Russia, and the Stalinization of the international Communist movement transformed the way in which socialism had been understood by the generation of revolutionary activists forged in the immediate post-1917 period. It involved a total rewriting of the content of socialist strategy and Marxist theory, even as it retained some of its form and terminology. This affected not just the Communist parties and their supporters but had a lasting impact on the broader left and the workers movement.17 In many countries there were deep ties between the left wing of social democracy and the Communist parties;18 even the Trotskyists weren’t immune to the impact of Stalinism.19

Socialism became associated with state planning, and with the struggle of the “socialist” countries against the imperialist bloc. Socialist strategy swung from the sectarianism of the Third Period to the building of popular fronts with a range of reactionary forces, and Marxist theory languished as it became subordinated to finding a few choice quotes to back up the latest twists and turns demanded by Moscow. Above all, Stalinism destroyed the idea, beyond platitudes, that the struggle for socialism was the act of the working class. Instead, various other social forces and organizations were substituted for the working class.

The postwar period saw a dramatic evolution for Stalinism. The rise of “polycentrism,” first articulated within the Italian Communist Party and later the development of Eurocommunism, and the splits within the Communist bloc, particularly between China and Russia, led to various internal oppositional tendencies and eventually open splits. The best-known and most dramatic was that between the Maoists and the traditional Communist parties. As many CP leaderships embraced “destalinization” and began to embrace something closer to social-democratic politics, more hard-line Stalinist but not necessarily pro-China, currents developed. These were often sectarian with the veneer of ultraleftism, but just as profoundly conservative. The remnants of this current can be seen today in such organizations as the Communist Party of Greece. These developments resulted in the breaking up of the monolithic nature of Stalinism, without altering the underlying gulf between it and genuine revolutionary politics.

Althusser doesn’t fit neatly into any one current of Stalinist politics; he was influenced by several. In particular, he was torn between his support for the Stalinist critics of Khruschev’s “destalinization,” his sympathy for Mao, and his loyalty to the French Communist Party—a conflict further complicated by the move of the French Communist Party away from orthodox Stalinism toward an acceptance of a version of Eurocommunism, and the opposition to this within sections of the party. 20

Ryder argues that despite the fact that Althusser underestimated how degenerated the PCF had become, he should still be “credited with articulating perspectives that he hoped could win predominance in a political institution supported by the French labor movement.” Is this the case, though, when both his practical and theoretical perspectives were still hopelessly lost in the labyrinth of Stalinism?

Ryder acknowledges that Althusser was influenced by Stalinism and Maoism but then writes, “His interest in Mao . . . was fairly superficial, and his ideas can be assessed on their own merits. While he remained limited by his inheritance of Stalin’s notion of socialism in one country and his failure to fully consider the criticisms of Stalinism made by Leon Trotsky and his tradition, Althusser’s theory of ideology remains useful.”

We have already assessed Althusser’s theory of ideology on its own merits; it is a retreat from the breakthroughs of Marx, and those revolutionary socialists who have built upon his work. It is deeply marked by the Stalinization of the left and the impact that had on the development of Marxist theory. Similarly, Althusser’s attempt to create what he claims is the first “left-wing critique of Stalinism” offered no serious explanation for the roots of Stalinism, or a way out of its crippling influence. What this critique consisted of was an acknowledgement of the problems of the “personality cult” around Stalin, and the general dogmatism around theoretical questions within the PCF. Althusser saw Stalinism not as a social system or political body of thought, but as a deviation from Marxism that could be corrected.21

This was coupled with a furious assault on “right-wing deviations” from Marxism—a useful category that managed to contain Khrushchev and the various shades of Eurocommunism that were abandoning traditional Communist terminology for humanism on the one hand, and left-wing critics of Stalinism from Trotskyism to the New Left on the other.  Althusser’s utter hostility towards Trotsky’s critique of Stalinism, or even the more left-wing variants of Maoism, meant that even when he took a more critical stand towards the PCF in his later writings, he was still totally incapable of breaking with his Stalinist heritage. This inability to break with Stalinism was reinforced by his illusions in Mao and the Chinese Communist Party.

While he criticized the Twenty-Second Congress of the PCF for abandoning support for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and for advocating the “democratization” of the capitalist state, Althusser also rejects the idea that the capitalist state had to be destroyed. In his view, Marx and Lenin argued for “a very special kind of ‘destruction’, not at all an annihilation, but the reorganization, restructuring, and revolutionization of an existing apparatus, so that the rule of a new class, profoundly linked to the mass of the people, is successfully established in it.”22 So despite Althusser’s hostility to Eurocommunism, his views on the state were similar. As Alex Callinicos noted, “Althusser occupies a space within the political universe of Eurocommunism. A Left Eurocommunism it may be, but Eurocommunism it remains none the less.”23

In response to the breakdown of the Socialist-Communist electoral front in 1978, Althusser again raised criticisms of the direction the PCF was taking. However, as Ernest Mandel, who is highly supportive of this later period in Althusser’s life acknowledges, “Having denounced a deep-seated and institutionalized evil, he concludes with two very modest proposals: 1) opening up the pages of the communist press to debate, and 2) securing the right to obtain information horizontally in order to guarantee a truly democratic debate.”24

Faced with the growing crisis not only of the PCF, but of the international Communist movement, Althusser like many slipped into theoretical confusion. Having tied his project, qualifications notwithstanding, to the Stalinist masthead, he could not help sinking along with it. In 1977 he announced that not just Stalinism, but Marxism itself had entered a profound crisis.25 And contra Ryder, the influence of Mao and the Chinese regime on Althusser’s thought was revealed, as the crisis of Maoism removed for Althusser any alternative pole of criticism from within the Communist world.

As Althusser’s biographer Gregory Elliott puts it, “The collapse of Althusser’s elected alternative had an influence on him as strong as its emergence. Formerly he had taken refuge from Stalinist practice in Marxist theory, while reading into the Maoist Cultural Revolution a Leninist ‘letter from afar’. . . Henceforth his confidence in that theory was profoundly shaken and his thinking infected with a pessimism.”26

The return to a period of capitalist crisis and the reemergence of movements against austerity since 2008 has resulted in a revived interest in radical and socialist theory. Some people looking for a more rigorous understanding of the dynamics of capitalism and Marxist strategy have returned to the writings and debates from the last major period of radicalization in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is undoubtedly a positive thing, for Althusser was right that a revival of the revolutionary movement is intertwined with a revival of revolutionary theory. However Althusser’s theory and politics are not a contribution to such a revival; they are an obstacle to it. His philosophical system is ultimately a barrier to any serious conception of revolutionary agency. His rejection of the importance of alienation, reification, and commodity fetishism for Marxist theory means he is incapable of understanding the material roots of ideology or how it can be overcome.

As Ryder points out, Althusser’s ideas both in his time and since have been met with resistance not only by members of the International Socialist tradition but other revolutionary and socialist critics as well,27 and for good reason. As his own one-time student, the then-Maoist theorist Jacques Ranciere put it, “The Marxism we had learned at Althusser’s school was a philosophy of order whose every principle served to distance us from the uprisings which were then shaking the bourgeois order to its core.”28

I would like to thank Omar Hassan, Chloe Rafferty and Paul D’Amato for their comments on a draft of this article.

See for example Richard Seymour, Louis Althusser and Socialist Strategy, November 2011, http://www.leninology.co.uk/2011/11/loui….
Louis Althusser, “Lenin before Hegel,” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971) https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1969/lenin-before-hegel.htm.
Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (London: Verso, 2014), 181.
Ibid., 182.
Ibid., 180–181.
Ibid., 193.
Marx’s writings on alienation are scattered through a number of his works. The German Ideology contains an early statement on his views after he had broken with the crude materialism of Feuerbach and the idealism of the young Hegelians. The section in chapter 1 on commodity fetishism in Capital is a mature statement on the problem. Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness also discusses both Marx’s theory and outlines his own contributions. Dan Swain’s short Alienation: An Introduction to Marx’s Theory (London: Bookmarks, 2012) is a useful starting point.
John Rees, introduction to Georg Lukacs, A Defense of History and Class Consciousness: Tailism and the Dialectic (London: Verso 2002), 12–13.
Daniel Lopez, “Georg Lukacs’s theory of revolution,” Marxist Left Review 8 (Winter 2014), http://marxistleftreview.org/index.php/no8-winter-2014/113-georg-lukacss-theory-of-revolution.
Sandra Bloodworth draws this out in relation to Lenin and the Russian Revolution. See Sandra Bloodworth, “Lenin and a Theory of Revolution for the West,” Marxist Left Review 8 (Winter 2014), http://marxistleftreview.org/index.php/no8-winter-2014/114-lenin-and-a-theory-of-revolution-for-the-west.
Santiago Carrillo, Eurocommunism and the State (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1977). See Chris Harman, “Eurocommunism: the State and Revolution,” International Socialism 1:101 (September 1977), 11–14. https://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1977/09/eurocomm.htm.
Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life: The One-Volume Edition (London: Verso, 2014), 75.
Louis Althusser quoted in Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (London: NLR Books 1974), 84.
Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, 84.
On “theoretical practice” see the introduction to Louis Althusser, For Marx (London: Verso, 2013); for a critique see Jacques Ranciere, Althusser’s Lesson (London: Continuum Books, 2011), 24.
Louis Althusser, “On Marxism,” The Spectre of Hegel: Early Writings (London: Verso, 2013). For an alternative argument for Marxism being a science see John Molyneux, “What is the Real Marxist Tradition,” International Socialism 2:20 (July 1983).
The following account draws on Ian Birchall, Workers against the Monolith (London: Pluto Press, 1974).
In the Australian Labor Party, for instance, splits in the Communist Party over questions such as the Sino-Soviet conflict often led to similar divisions within the ALP Left. See Corey Oakley, “The Rise and Fall of the ALP Left in Victoria and NSW,” Marxist Left Review 4 (Winter 2012), http://marxistleftreview.org/index.php/no4-winter-2012/80-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-alp-left.
Alex Callinicos, Trotskyism (London: Open University Press, 1990).
Gregory Elliott, Althusser: The Detour Of Theory (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009), 1–23.
See Valentino Gerratana, “Althusser and Stalinism,” New Left Review I/101-102 (January–April 1977) and chapter 5 of  Elliott, Detour Of Theory for a discussion of Althusser’s evolving understanding of Stalinism and its limitations.
Louis Althusser, On the Twenty-Second Congress of the French Communist Party (1977). https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1977/22nd-congress.htm.
Alex Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism? (London: Macmillan Press, 1982), 79.
Ernest Mandel, “Mandel on Althusser, Party and Class,” Against the Current 1:4 (Spring 1982).  https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1982/xx/althusser.htm.
For Althusser’s growing pessimism and the crisis of the Althusserian system see Elliott, Detour Of Theory, 254–300.
Elliott, Detour of Theory, 253.
Chris Harman, “Philosophy and Revolution,” International Socialism 2:21 (1983): 58-87 https://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1983/xx/phil-rev.html; Henri Lefebvre, The Ideology of Structuralism (Paris 1975); E.P Thomspson, The Poverty of Theory (Merlin 1978).
Jacques Ranciere, Althusser’s Lesson, xix.

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Hungary 1956: a socialist revolution-G M Tamás

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2016 Comments Off on Hungary 1956: a socialist revolution-G M Tamás


We tend to forget the importance of the experience of people participating in historical events. The mainstream political literature presents 1945 in Eastern Europe as a Russian occupation that gradually forced a rootless system on a reluctant and recalcitrant population who obeyed out of fear. But almost nobody seems to have taken the pain to explain why even conservative or monarchist contemporaries called 1945 not only “liberation” but “revolution”. The new system—at the beginning pluralist and democratic—found in Hungary tens of thousands of surviving volunteers of the Red Army in 1919 and hundreds of thousands of participants of the 1919 revolution and of the Council Republic, hundreds of thousands of trade unionists trained by the slightly rigid and old-fashioned Marxism taught by social democracy.1

What is being currently emphasised is the fact that the formerly illegal Communist Party had only a few hundred members. This is small wonder if you consider that membership entailed heavy prison sentences; two of the main leaders of the party spent 16 years in jail each. But the Communist milieu—and the independent hard left harboured by the social democrats and by the more radical trade unions such as the metal workers and the typesetters—of sympathisers, from unskilled labourers to avant-garde artists, was enormous. These groups were immediately joined by millions of peasants mobilised by land reform. The voters of the agrarian parties were not anti-Communist, anything but.

1945 meant the end of the old ruling classes and political elites, the end of the landed aristocracy, of the immensely rich and rather unpopular Catholic Church with its feudal customs and giant estates, of the old officer corps and of the state bureacracy staffed by the gentry, an end to the feared gendarmerie which had terrorised the countryside without regard for legality or humanity, and an end to racial laws and to ethnic and gender discrimination.

Spontaneous communist experiments started by Council Republic veterans (not to speak of the former prisoners of war who took the Bolshevik side in the Russian civil war in 1918-20) were suppressed by the party and the Soviet military authorities. But it was plain that socialist and Communist workers and peasants wanted socialism, not some half-baked people’s democracy. They wanted an immediate Commune order (this was the popular name of the Council Republic, spelt “Kommün”), total socialisation of all means of production, consumer equality, free state education for all, abortion and divorce on demand, a citizens’ army and police and a council system in workplaces and localities. We know what the Stalinists did with all this. They were always fighting the left—and people tend to forget that in the 1940s social democracy was to the left of the Communist Party; this is why it was so mercilessly persecuted.

Nevertheless, by 1950, the anti-feudal and anti-theocratic measures were in place and redistribution favoured the urban proletariat. Tyranny, police state, censorship, brutal conformism, fanaticism and poverty, yes, but also a clear social bias to the advantage of the lower strata. There was also a cultural revolution of sorts. Free education, cheap books, a modern publishing industry for the first time, cheap—frequently free—theatre, concert and cinema tickets, free museums, kindergartens, very modest social housing, together with the terrible shortages, with an ill-fed and ill-clothed nation, looking awful in the faded black and white photographs of the period, crazy industrialisation and the rest. It was made abundantly clear that physical work was at the pinnacle of the social and moral value scale—for the first time in world history. (It was no longer “spirit” embodied by the church, or “blue-blooded” caste excellence represented by royalty, the aristocracy and nobility, or the bourgeois superiority of wealth.)

These socialist thoughts and practices were not questioned basically by the unrest that went with the unravelling of the Stalinist regime after the dictator’s death in 1953. The brief course of reforms then, led by prime minister Imre Nagy (a veteran Communist who returned in 1945 from exile in Moscow), aimed at the re-establishment or establishment of “true socialism” including plenty of food, proper heating, full shops, less work and no innocents in jail. And especially, an end to the propagandistic mendacity that got on the nerves of the working people—“truth” was one of the most important demands.

Following the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956 Nikita Krushchev’s so-called secret speech about Stalin’s crimes was read to millions of party members in closed meetings across Russia and beyond, and disseminated by the BBC Hungarian programme, The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe and by the Yugoslav state radio’s Hungarian-language broadcasts. After this and the resignation of Stalinist leader Mátyás Rákosi and reappointment of the reformer Imre Nagy as prime minister (he was fired in 1955), the most important event was the rehabilitation and the solemn reburial of László Rajk, a former secretary of the Central Committee. Rajk was the executed defendant in the main show trial in 1949. He was reburied on 6 October 1956 in a dramatic, torch-lit mass meeting of hundreds of thousands of people in Budapest. 6 October is a significant day in Hungary: 13 generals of the Hungarian rebel army were executed by the Habsburg counter-revolution on the same day in 1849 (and, separately, Count Batthyány, one of the prime ministers of the revolution in 1848, was also shot in Pest).

In this way, the re-establishment of truth, the identification of true socialism with justice, a total rejection of Stalinism and a solemn oath next to Rajk’s catafalque, “Never again”, went hand in hand to constitute the ideology of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

The revolution of bad conscience

Again we must keep in mind that the anti-Stalinist rebellion was started and sustained by the generation of 1945, by those who wanted social equality, that is the end of the semi-feudal ancien régime, and who wished for the political supremacy of the working class, socialisation of the means of production, state ownership of the banks, public transport, housing, egalitarian redistribution, workers’ co-management in the entreprises, a multi-party system for the anti-fascist forces, friendship with the formerly hostile Eastern European nations, anti-imperialist solidarity, internationalism, freedom of expression, wage equality for women, free education and retraining for adults and so on. These demands were denied by the Stalinist one-party state and they were immediately resurrected as the repression was alleviated.

In party cells, trade unions, student associations and intellectual circles a feverish wave of debates and discussions took the place of the deathly silence of the dictatorship. One of the most conspicuous features of these months was the repentance and self-criticism of Communist intellectuals who rejected the slavish, uncritical, fanatical and quasi-religious fervour of the Stalinist period and their own complicity in the reprisals and the inhuman savagery of Stalinist state capitalism. The “Never again!’’ of 6 October was prepared for by this extraordinary re-examination of the revolutionary conscience, the recapture of the pathos of freedom characteristic of both revolutionary moments, 1945 and 1956. Famous poems, essays, confessions, pamphlets—still remembered today—inflamed the imagination of society. Responsibility assumed by the self-critical Communist intellectuals was extended to the party leaders, and innocent leftists just freed from the Stalinist prisons reappeared as the ghosts of liberation, demanding not revenge but justice.

The wavering party leadership hesitated between being seduced to join either the movement or its violent suppression. All the grand ideas of socialist revolution reappeared. There was a permanent mobilisation of rational debate—reminiscent of the Nuit debout conversations in Paris this year, but on a much larger scale—that promised an authentic renewal of socialism. It was perfectly clear that nobody desirous of being heard would advocate capitalist or reactionary restoration; the masses would not hear of it. There was a passionate interest in parallel phenomena in Poland, a great curiosity concerning Yugoslav experimentations with workers’ self-management and Third World ideas of democratic socialism.

But most of all this was a moral uprising, a rejection of Stalinism, of ­nomenklatura privileges, of militarism and xenophobic isolation from the rest of the world. What has later been dubbed “nationalism” by outside observers was nothing more than the principle of equality between socialist nations—which meant, of course, the repudiation of Russian control—in other words, internationalism. But the essence was the strong disgust for official lies, a powerful desire for honesty, sincerity and responsibility, for revolutionary purity.

This moral rejuvenation of socialism has also meant forgiveness for those who were innocent dupes of Stalinist propaganda—and indeed, many intellectuals and activists, guilty of shameful acts of obeisance in the 1950s, had become subsequently heroes and martyrs of the anti-Stalinist revolution.

Social discontent and moral revulsion characterised this first episode of 1956. It developed into a fully fledged revolutionary movement only after the attempts to repress it.

The socialist democratic revolution

On 23 October 1956 a huge demonstration took place in Budapest. The special forces fired on the crowd, as a result the government fell, Imre Nagy returned, a multi-party system was declared and the Soviet troops withdrew. The centre of power was in the hands of the proletariat, of the swiftly formed workers’ councils. But the focus was on political liberty, pluralism, freedom of expression and on a new constitutional republic.

It was made clear, once again, that the nationalised and socialised enterprises and institutions would remain in the hands of the people, but ruled by the people, not by the apparat. No significant force demanded joining the Western alliances. Privatisations and the introduction of a market economy were deliberately and decisively rejected. At the same time, people demanded the departure of the Russian troops and true national independence. The spectre of counter-revolution appeared, too, in acts of summary justice and a few cases of lynching of party officials and of special forces. This, however, was greeted with indignation and revulsion by the majority.

The Communist Party dispersed and, although at the helm of the state, the surviving organisation understood that it had no chance of winning the coming elections. A separate social democratic party was again becoming stronger, and it might have become the leading force in society, given the opportunity. The newly formed Politburo and the Nagy government—with members such as the celebrated Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács—advocated a pluralist socialist democracy, based on the collective ownership of the means of production and on democratic planning, subject to the free decision of the nation in multi-party elections and workplace democracy.

There seemed no risk of a move to Western-style free market capitalism. Nevertheless, the rest of the Soviet bloc had decided that the Hungarian Revolution was not to be tolerated. A Russian military attack was launched on 4 November, and the Hungarian revolutionary government quit the Warsaw Pact and declared Hungary’s neutrality. The country was occupied and the revolutionary leadership arrested and deported. Formally, a Quisling government headed by János Kádár (who, until that moment, was a loyal member of the Nagy government and was no different from the rest of the democratic Communist leadership) was supposed to take over, but the real power belonged to the KGB and to the Russian military.

The Hungarian people’s resistance was unanimous; the Kádár clique was totally isolated; there was no trace of treason. Hundreds of thousands fled through the Austrian frontier. The foci of armed struggle were very difficult to subdue. The Hungarian army, trained and armed by the Soviet Union—many officers were heroes of the clandestine anti-fascist resistance during the war—all refused to participate in the occupation and the repression. The special forces were disbanded, and the police were passive or hostile to the Russians. The semi-legal press kept to the popular line of neutrality, independence and socialist democracy. It was the Soviet Union that was accused of betraying socialism, as indeed it had. The quiet heroism and the patience of the population were extraordinary.

And the most wonderful chapter of the revolution was only to come with the beginning of the general strike.

The revolution of the workers’ councils

Workers’ councils were formed in all factories, entreprises and state institutions before 4 November. Then they shared their influence with the “reform Communist” government, with the newly formed or reborn democratic parties and with the trade unions. As these latter were all banned by the Russian military authorities and the local puppet government, the councils found themselves to be the only remaining legitimate political institution in Hungary. Their weapon—and a formidable one—was the general strike which was observed in spite of the curfew and of the state of siege, as millions of Hungarian workers and other employees simply did not turn up at work.

In all revolutionary moments, from the Paris Commune to the October Revolution, Munich and Budapest in 1919, Barcelona, Canton and Shanghai, the proletarian state form has always been and remains the form of non-representative, direct democracy at the workplace. Solidarność, the Polish resistance that is supposed to have put an end to Soviet-style state “socialism”, was no trade union as it was not organised according to crafts and professions, but as a territorial network of workers’ councils and factory cells, akin to the original communist party idea. Even if Solidarność was ideologically and rhetorically conservative, its formal principle—direct workplace democracy—was fundamentally proletarian and communist.

I recall talking to Sándor Rácz, the chairman of the Greater Budapest Workers’ Council, one of the leaders of the resistance, in 1992. He was by then a deeply reactionary public figure and a brave and honest Hungarian patriot. I asked him whether he thought his present role was consonant with his past. He said, laughing, “No, in 1956 I was a Communist; I became a Catholic and a nationalist only in prison”. He was 23 years old during the revolution, a convinced far-left figure and a cunning, clever negotiator who managed to stay the outbreak of state violence for months. For a long time the Hungarian proletariat has kept the idea of social ownership and of free socialism alive, against the strongest military power on earth—and against the indifference and connivance of the “liberal” West.

And this is what they call an anti-communist revolution, a vindication of an authoritarian past, a nationalist uprising and even, according to the far-right historian David Irving, an anti-Jewish rebellion, while many of the hanged revolutionaries were Jewish communists. After the defeat of the general strike the Kádár regime executed only the leftists—the conservatives who joined the people’s cause were already being given literary prizes and medals in 1957, when the firing squads were still busy pacifying Hungary. They knew exactly who the real enemies were. They were people like you, dear reader.

G M Tamás is a Hungarian philosopher and public intellectual. A dissident before 1989, he was a Member of Parliament (1990-94) and the Director of the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy. His latest book is Kommunismus nach 1989 (Vienna, 2015).


1 The Hungarian Council Republic was set up in March 1919 and overthrown by a Romanian invading army in August.

Imperialism: novel forms, old problems-Adrian Budd

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2016 Comments Off on Imperialism: novel forms, old problems-Adrian Budd


A review of John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-first Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (Monthly Review Press, 2016), £18.99

The significance of John Smith’s book lies in his powerful critique of mainstream economics and official statistics as he attempts a renewal of dependency theory. Mobilising Marxist value theory to this end he argues that the Global South’s formal independence masks an abiding economic and political subordination to the imperialist powers and powerful Northern capitals. The book’s impact is reflected in the critical commentary that it has provoked, including on Michael Roberts’s blog.*

Smith’s opening chapters highlight the devastating impact of globalisation on Southern labour. His initial focus is on iconic global commodities—T-shirts, iPhones and coffee—and Smith emphasises the disparity between the wages of those producing values and the retail prices and profits in the advanced importing countries. Thus, while the numbers employed in iPod-related activities in China and the United States are broadly similar, total wages in the former in 2006 were $19 million but $719 million in the latter (p28). Smith argues, therefore, that value produced in the South is disproportionately captured as profit in the North. Meanwhile, the horrors of globalisation, including environmental devastation and the deaths of workers in unsafe factories and dormitories, are concentrated in the Global South.

Smith argues that the scale of transnationalised production is understated by foreign direct investment (FDI) data since transnational corporations (TNCs) increasingly organise global production chains via arms-length relations with independent Southern firms, rather than investing directly in overseas production. These relations have grown dramatically in recent decades: export processing zones, home to much Southern manufacturing, now exist in over 130 countries and in 2010 there were 541 million industrial workers living in the Global South compared to 145 million in the imperialist countries (p101). The share of wages in national income is falling everywhere (more rapidly than official figures indicate since, as Smith points out, the stratospheric pay packages, bonuses and stock options of employers and managers are included as income to labour). But for Smith the low wages of workers in the Global South are at the heart of imperialism.

Global labour arbitrage involves the shift of production to low-wage economies, where it is reinforced by factors such as repressive labour regimes and huge flows of female workers and workers from the countryside into factories. The consequence is “super-exploitation”, defined as the payment of wages below the value of labour power. Increases in absolute and relative surplus value (by extending working hours and increasing productivity respectively) persist, but Smith argues that “super-exploitation” is increasingly dominant in the Global South and key to explaining the changing form of imperialism.

However, while it is clear that powerful capitalist forces have restructured global capitalism to enable massive exploitation of huge numbers of new workers, the concept of “super-exploitation”, and the political consequences that Smith sometimes suggests, are problematic. The value of labour power is the socially necessary labour time required to produce and reproduce that labour power. But how is social necessity defined? Smith rightly highlights the migration controls that keep Southern workers largely confined to national labour markets and maintain downward pressure on wages, and for most of the book it seems that national yardsticks of social necessity apply. Yet, rather late in his analysis, he quotes Andy Higginbottom—who has promoted the importance of “super-exploitation” in Marxist analysis—that Southern workers are super-exploited because they are “systematically paid below the value of labour power” of Northern workers. But despite deepening global economic integration, there is no international value of labour power; the production and reproduction of Southern labour power are not easily related to the value of labour power in the North. Meanwhile low wages, casualisation and youth unemployment continue to characterise advanced capitalism. What is more, Smith rightly argues that despite a gradual movement up the value chain, Southern manufacturing produces low value-added commodities and is heavily reliant on imports of high value technologically advanced inputs from the rich countries. This suggests that he should not rush to the conclusion that Southern workers’ low wages confirm “super-exploitation”.

The key political problem with Smith’s analysis concerns the beneficiaries of Northern transnationals’ profit capture. The equalisation of profit rates entails a transfer of value from less to more productive capitals, and at the global level Northern capitalists may gain at the expense of Southern. But it is difficult to discern benefits to Northern workers, particularly in industries where production has shifted to the South. Indeed, Southern manufacturing jobs, for example in Latin America and Africa, have also been lost as a result of Chinese competition. Yet Smith quotes Tony Norfield that there “is a direct economic benefit for the mass of people in the richer countries” (p14), and argues that there is a “distribution of some of outsourcing’s bounty to increasingly wide sections of the working class through falling prices of consumer goods” (p41). Certainly, falling consumer prices cushion the blow of unemployment and wage restraint, and lower the value of Northern labour power, but if “super-exploitation” does exist it is better understood as involving a transfer of value to capital rather than to Northern workers.

Smith’s work grapples with the contemporary dynamics of imperialism, which no longer centres primarily on advanced capitalist exploitation of Southern primary products. It is thought-provoking and should be widely read. But the key problems of dependency theory remain and cannot be side-stepped by disdainfully, and occasionally moralistically, labelling its Marxist critics as “Euro-Marxists” (writers from the Socialist Workers Party are among Smith’s chief targets), as if the argument that Northern workers may be more exploited than Southern workers entails an insensitivity, or even blindness, to Southern labour’s exploitation and associated horrors. If Marxism is adequately to grapple with contemporary imperialism, it is imperative to reject Smith’s argument that since Lenin wrote on imperialism there have been no additions to the imperialist club (p226). China’s role in Africa, for instance, demonstrates that imperialism cannot be reduced to the issue of Northern oppressor nations feeding off the oppressed of the South.

Adrian Budd teaches politics at London South Bank University, where he is active in the UCU. He is the author of Class, States and International Relations: A Critical Appraisal of Robert Cox and Neo-Gramscian Theory.

* Go to https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/imperialism-and-super-exploitation/
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.

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