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People Aur Politics

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Archive for July, 2017

The think tank and the ashram-Shiv Visvanathan

Posted by admin On July - 11 - 2017 Comments Off on The think tank and the ashram-Shiv Visvanathan

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With think tanks technocratising knowledge, it is time to rethink the ashram as a centre for ethical invention

Anniversaries often become moments of rhetoric and hypocrisy rather than a space for recollection, a crossroads about future strategies and debates. One needs to rethink them. The more literally charismatic the person, the greater the attempt to embalm him in mothballs. The Gandhian idea suffers most from it as the regime plays officially Gandhian, even moving into the Khadi and Village Industries Commission calendar. Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the centenary year celebrations of the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Between the official rhetoric of Gandhi and the disturbing silence of the civil society lies a huge void that one needs to talk about, discuss openly, if Gandhi needs to come alive as he did in Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

The ashram and Gandhi

The relevance of Gandhi is not in doubt. What is in question is the way we articulate that relevance. The ashram as an idea, as a way of life, becomes central to this exercise. The ashram was not just the home of prayer, it was the crystal seed of ethical inventions from weaving to a dream to liberate scavenging. Gandhi’s experiments on the body had implications for the body politic which ranged from work, walking, consumption to compassion, where the ethical and the political wove together to create a theory of resistance as invention and of democracy as caring. At a recent meeting, the physicist and eco-centric technologist Ashok Khosla put it matter-of-factly. He said Gandhi was no Luddite, but a framework for the future. It is the regime, babbling about climate change and corporate social responsibility, that needs to catch up, linking lifestyle and livelihood. Gandhi was a huge catalogue of inventions where prayer, walking, weaving, writing, bhajans all had to be reworked so that the neighbourhood and the cosmos, swadeshi and swaraj, were in consonance. Central to it all was the ashram as a mode of thought and as a way of life. The futuristic implications of the ashram have not been grasped. Ask yourself, what is the ashram as an act of trusteeship?

The ashram was not a place to pickle Gandhi into potted jars of consumability. It was a centre for ethical invention, where spirituality met everyday life to enhance democratic creativity. Think of a few possibilities where civil society rewrites Hind Swaraj to answer the challenge of climate change. A Gandhian trustee would understand that responsibility needs polysemy, that sustainability is a provincial idea till it combines with plurality, justice and peace. For this, one has to go beyond odd ideas of Make in India and the vision of a national security state.

The new-age think tank

At a policy level, what is challenging the ashram, vying for cognitive space, is the think tank. There is something brutal about the idea, of knowledge in a Darwinian world, where fang and claw marginalise violence. A think tank technocratises knowledge into a domain of strategy and expertise. An ashram opens up a question to issues of ethics and cosmology. There is a Promethean hubris about the think tank, a conviction that knowledge is subject to problem-solving. An ashram understands the modesty and the limits of knowledge. A think tank invites you to a machismo of power, speaking strategy to power. With a decline of the universities and the debates on knowledge, the think tank has acquired a touch of machismo, hypothecating ethics to the margins. To policy, ashram offers prayer, an understanding of the limits and complexity of knowledge. When one watches think tanks from Observer Research Foundation, Carnegie, Vivekananda, one senses an obsession with security has dispensed with satyagraha. Non-violence is for the laymen and the illiterate. Bad ethics hide behind patriotism and expertise. Each promotes a myth — the first of the nation state, the second of the value neutrality of knowledge. One cannot think of a single think tank which has a clear-cut idea for peace. By specialising in information and expertise, the think tank has lost out on the ethics of epistemology of knowledge. Even war is seen as an act of plumbing, of balancing interests.

When one looks at a think tank and compares it to the great social movements of our time, one sees the difference between the new imaginaries of peace, democracy and the conventional ideas of policy. I remember the social scientist Rajni Kothari laughing at the idea of think tanks. He said that ours is the hospitality of democratic theory; a think tank sugar-coats knowledge in secrecy. A think tank commoditises knowledge. He told me if the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies was a think tank, it would not have challenged the Emergency. Only the combined wisdom of the chowkidar, the gardener, the senior fellows, the visitors allowed for the courage of that solidarity. For Kothari, a think tank is too seduced by power to be truly ethically autonomous. Sadly, as political scientists like him disappeared, the lack of a democratic imagination got solidified into the current fetishism about think tanks. The Gandhian ashram has to challenge the alleged efficacy of think tanks.

Revitalising the ashram

The Gandhian ashram, without playing partisan politics, can be the centre of the dissenting imagination. It can emphasise that dissent as an act of caring and conscience is always plural. The marginal, the minority, the displaced, the defeated, the informal, the alternative imagination, the subaltern in every sense represent a festival of knowledges rarely represented in constitutional law or a democratic forum. The ashram becomes trustee of the silences, the margins realising that the margin in India is huge, a continent of suffering and survival in its own right. It realises that trusteeship — unlike a bound membership — is not a comfortable chair to speculate on retirement. It is a perpetual summons to conscience and whistle-blowing. Third, it links ideas to lifestyle and livelihood so that one lives for ideas, not off them. Fourth, trusteeship cannot put that memory in mothballs but realise that memory, like language, is a perpetual source of invention. To soak Gandhi in the formaldehyde of nostalgia will not do. A Gandhi lives so long as he is reinvented by every citizen. If trustees even become a think tank, then the Gandhian idea becomes a form of secondariness ready to be museumised. Trusteeship in that sense is the ethics of memory, prayer, invention and goes beyond any official committee. Every citizen becomes a trustee and the ashram a commons for the new experiments in ethics from Irom Sharmila, the woman of Kashmir to the battle of the Narmada dam to the new controversus in agriculture, where experts look on agriculture as a ‘twilight industry’.

In fact, for me and many others of my generation, one of the greatest ashrams was a science laboratory, the photosynthesis research centre (Shri A.M.M. Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre) in Chennai under the late C.V. Seshadri dreaming dreams of alternative energy, of a poor man’s science which was not poverty-stricken in terms of ideas. The slum around the laboratory became a compost heap for ideas of fishing, wind tunnels, ventilation, waste, algae. It was probably the only science lab where the worker, the cleaner and scientist shared a patent, where work, not only science, had a dignity. Seshadri dreamt of an India where Gandhian truths collaborated with scientific truths, where knowledge and lifestyle followed collaborative strategies.

Seshadri and Kothari were intellectuals who saw the public more as a commons for ideas, not a space to be hypothecated to experts. He created an ascetic science, not dismal in its morality, but playful in its possibilities. One wishes ashrams today would reinvent that confidence.

Rethinking the ashram as a part of the future is one of the great Gandhian challenges, as civil society fights to link swadeshi and swaraj which the current regime — playing to a second-rate nationalism — has disrupted. Reinventing an ethics for the 21st century is a task for the ashram, where spirituality does not lose its sense of the sacred, or ethics its quest for a new sense of science. It is a search for new paradigms and exemplars and Sabarmati Ashram is a true heritage site because it both made history and is futuristic. On its 100th anniversary it is time to retune it, so the great rituals of freedom, faith and inventiveness can begin again.

Shiv Visvanathan is Professor, Jindal Global Law School and Director, Centre of Study of Knowledge System, O.P. Jindal Global University
http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-think-tank-and-the-ashram/article19253231.ece?homepage=true
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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Why War? Building On The Legacy of Einstein, Freud And Gandhi-Robert J Burrowes

Posted by admin On July - 9 - 2017 Comments Off on Why War? Building On The Legacy of Einstein, Freud And Gandhi-Robert J Burrowes

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In 1932, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein conducted a correspondence subsequently published under the title ‘Why War?’ See ‘Why War: Einstein and Freud’s Little-Known Correspondence on Violence, Peace, and Human Nature’. In many ways, this dialogue between two giants of the 20th century is symbolic of the effort made by many humans to understand that perplexing and incredibly damaging feature of human experience: the institution of war.

In a recent article, the founder of peace research, Professor Johan Galtung, reminded us of the legacy of Freud and Einstein in this regard and reflected on their dialogue, noting some shortcomings including their failure to ‘unpack conflict’. See ‘Freud-Einstein on Peace’.

Of course, Freud and Einstein weren’t the first to consider the question ‘Why War?’ and their dialogue was preceded by a long sequence of individuals and even some organizations, such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and War Resisters’ International, who sought to understand, prevent and/or halt particular wars, or even to understand and end the institution itself, as exemplified by the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928 outlawing war. Moreover, given the failure of earlier initiatives, many individuals and organizations since Freud and Einstein have set out to understand, prevent and/or halt wars and these efforts have taken divergent forms.

Notable among these, Mohandas K. Gandhi was concerned to develop a mode of action to deal with many manifestations of violence and he dramatically developed, and shared, an understanding of how to apply nonviolence, which he labeled satyagraha (holding firmly to the truth),  in overcoming large-scale violence and exploitation. He successfully applied his strategic understanding of nonviolence to the Indian independence struggle against British colonial rule. But while Gandhi was happy to acknowledge his debt to those who had gone before, he was not shy in proclaiming the importance of finding new ways forward: ‘If we are to make progress, we must not repeat history but make new history. We must add to the inheritance left by our ancestors.’

My own journey to understand human violence was caused by the death of my two uncles, Bob and Tom, in World War II, ten years before I was born. My childhood in the 1950s and 1960s is dotted with memories of my uncles, stimulated through such events as attending memorial services at the Shrine of Remembrance where their war service was outlined. See ‘My Brothers’ on my father’s website.

But by the early 1960s, courtesy of newspaper articles and photos, I had become aware of exploitation and starvation in Africa and elsewhere, and as a young university student in the early 1970s I was reading literature about environmental destruction. It wasn’t just war that was problematic; violence took many other forms too.

‘Why are human beings violent?’ I kept asking. Because I thought that this question must have been answered somewhere, I kept reading, including the work of Freud and Karl Marx as an undergraduate, but also the thoughts of many other scholars, such as Frantz Fanon, as well as anarchists, feminists and those writing from other perspectives which offered explanations of violence, whether direct, structural or otherwise.

By the early 1980s I had started to read Gandhi and I had begun to understand nonviolence, as Gandhi practised and explained it, with a depth that seemed to elude the activists I knew and even the scholars in the field that I read.

Separately from this, I was starting to gain asense that the human mind was not somethingthat could be understood well by viewing it primarily as an organ of thinking and that much of the literature and certainly most of the practitioners in the field of psychology and related fields, especially psychiatry, had failed to understand the emotional depth and complexity of the human mind and the implications of this for dealing with conflict and violence. In this sense, it was clear to me, few had understood, let alone been able to develop, Freud’s legacy. This is because the fundamental problem is about feeling (and, in relation to violence, particularly suppressed fear and anger). Let me explain why.

Violence is something that is usually identified as physical: it involves actions like hitting, punching and using weapons such as a gun. This is one of the types of violence, and probably the one now most often lamented, that is inflicted on indigenous peoples, women and people of colour, among others.

Separately from this, Gandhi also identified exploitation as violence and Galtung elaborated this concept with his notion of ‘structural violence’. Other forms of violence have been identified and they take many forms such as financial violence, cultural violence and ecological violence. But violence can be more subtle than any of these and, hence, much less visible. I have given two of these forms of violence the labels ‘invisible violence’ and ‘utterly invisible violence’. Tragically, ‘invisible violence’ and ‘utterly invisible violence’ are inflicted on us mercilessly from the day we are born. And, as a result, we are all terrorized.

So what are ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence?

In essence, ‘invisible’ violence is the ‘little things’ we do every day, partly because we are just ‘too busy’. For example, when we do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal communication system. When we do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioural dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do).

When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However, parents, teachers and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioural responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioural outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behaviour that is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.

However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. This has many outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for nature because the individual will now easily suppress their awareness of the feelings that would tell them how to act most functionally in any given circumstance and they will progressively acquire a phenomenal variety of dysfunctional behaviours, including many that are violent towards themselves, others and/or the Earth.

Moreover, this emotional (or psychological) damage will lead to a unique combination of violent behaviours in each case. And some of these individuals will gravitate to working in one of the social roles that specifically requires, or justifies, the use of ‘legitimized violence’, such as the violence carried out by police, prosecuting lawyers, magistrates and judges, as well as that inflicted by the military. Others, of course, will operate outside the realm of legitimized violence and be labelled as ‘criminals’.

But, you might be wondering, what is the link between what happens in childhood and war?

The answer is simply that perpetrators of violence, and those who collaborate with them, are created during childhood. And these perpetrators and collaborators are all terrified, self-hating and powerless – for much greater detail of the precise psychological characteristics of perpetrators of violence and their collaborators, see ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’ – and they go on to perform all of the key roles in creating, maintaining, equipping, staffing and legitimizing the institutions of war and in conducting it.

If it weren’t for the violence to which we are all mercilessly subjected throughout childhood, there would be no interest in violence or war of any kind. If we were raised without violence, we would be naturally peaceful and cooperative, content to spend our time seeking to achieve our own unique evolutionary potential and to nurture the journey of others as well as life itself, rather than just become another cog in someone else’s military (or other bureaucratic or corporate) machine.

If any of the above resonates with you, then I invite you to make ‘My Promise to Children’.

In addition, if further reducing the violence in our world appeals to you, then you are also welcome to consider participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’, signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ and/or considering using the strategic framework on one or the other of these two websites for your campaign to end violence or war in one context or another: Nonviolent Campaign Strategy and Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy.

A child is not born to make war. But if you inflict enough violence on a child, and destroy their capacity to become their own unique and powerful self, they will be terrorised into perceiving violence and war as their society wants them to be perceived. And violence and war, and the institutions that maintain them, will flourish.

If we want to end war, we must halt the adult war against children as a priority.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is flametree@riseup.net and his website is here.
http://www.countercurrents.org/2017/07/05/why-war-building-on-the-legacy-of-einstein-freud-and-gandhi/

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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SMOKERS’ CORNER: THE STATE VERSUS THE SUFI-Nadeem F. Paracha

Posted by admin On July - 9 - 2017 Comments Off on SMOKERS’ CORNER: THE STATE VERSUS THE SUFI-Nadeem F. Paracha

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Kathrine Pratt Ewing, a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, travelled to Pakistan in 1976 to study the interaction of the region’s historical Sufi culture and state-sponsored modernity. She continued to visit the country till the early 1990s before publishing her hefty study in the shape of an excellent book Arguing Sainthood­­­ in 1997.

Much of the book is an anthropological and even psychoanalytical examination of Ewing’s encounters with zinda pirs (living saints) and lower-middle-class families in Punjab. But she also studied the Pakistani state’s response to the social and even political influence enjoyed by these pirs or the sajjada nasheen (the respected keepers of the shrines of deceased Sufi saints).

According to Ewing, from the 14th century onward, Sufi saints, the pirs and the sajjada nasheen enjoyed widespread influence over both Muslim and Hindu populations in India. They also enjoyed patronage from Muslim rulers who reigned over India from the 13th century till the consolidation of British colonialism here in the 19th century.

How the state moulded the identity of the Sufi saints to suit its politics

This, despite the fact, that Sufism was often challenged (as an esoteric doctrine and cultural entity) by traditionalist Muslim scholars or the ulema and the clerics (mullahs). But as veteran Pakistani historian Dr Mubarak Ali has often mentioned in his writings, the ulema and the clerics did not have the kind of following as (both living and deceased) pirs did. Ali is also of the view that the Muslim rulers were often weary of politically empowering the ulema.

A Boston University Professor, Kecia Ali, in her 2016 book Many Lives writes that, in the 19th century, Indian Sufism and the region’s ‘shrine culture’ was squeezed between the ideas of rationality and ‘modernity’ being imparted by the British and the emergence of Salafism among sections of ulema and clerics. The Salafi accused India’s ‘heterogeneous’ Sufism for the downfall of Muslim rule in India.

This tension gave birth to an exclusive South Asian Muslim sect — the Barelvis — which arose to defend the doctrinal aspects of India’s shrine and pir culture.

Sarah F. Ansari in Sufi Pirs & State Power (Cambridge University, 1992), suggests that just like the Salafi, the pirs too were originally hostile towards the British and the ‘Islamic Modernism’ of 19th-century Muslim scholars such as Sir Syed Ahmad and Syed Ameer Ali who had denounced shrine culture as being superstitious.

But as Ansari demonstrates, from 1900 onward, becoming conscious of the influence the living pirs and sajjada nasheen exercised over vast swathes of India’s Muslim population, the British introduced a complex system of patronage and appeasement to ‘control the pirs.’

Ewing in her study describes the founders of Pakistan as ideological off-shoots of India’s Islamic Modernism first introduced by the likes of Sir Syed and Syed Ameer Ali and then further strengthened by poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal.
South Asian Islamic Modernism explained Islam as a rational faith having the flexibility and breadth to easily incorporate (and even inspire) modern scientific thinking and keep pace with rapid technological, political and social changes.

Ewing wrote that in 1958, when military chief Ayub Khan took power through a coup, his early speeches made it clear that he was not a great fan of pirs, the ulema and the clerics. He also detested communists.

Khan proudly explained himself as a Muslim Modernist and in a 1960 speech, he insisted that Jinnah had created Pakistan as a modern Muslim-majority state driven by a rational understanding of Islam’s Holy Book, modern science and industry.

He saw the living pirs and the sajjada nasheen as ‘spreading superstition’, and the clerics and the ulema as being stuck in a ‘frozen past’. In 1959 his government created the ‘West Pakistan Auqaf’ which put the control of the country’s mosques and Sufi shrines under state control. In her book, Ewing reproduces some of the text which appeared on pamphlets published by the Auqaf during the Ayub regime (1958-69).

The pamphlets presented the lives of popular saints in the light of ‘modernity’, explaining them as wise and sophisticated men who emphasised the importance of worldly and spiritual knowledge (as opposed to superstition). The pamphlets explained the clerics as ‘backward’ but ‘genuine ulema’ as those who encourage modern learning and the sciences. Most of the texts produced by the Auqaf during this period were derived from the writings of Islamic Modernists such as Dr Javed Iqbal (son of Muhammad Iqbal) and Dr K. Abdul Hakim.

The left-leaning regime of Z.A. Bhutto (1971-77) continued this policy, but with a twist. Ewing in her study of Auqaf texts during the Bhutto era sees the image of famous Sufi saints become more populist. They were now described as men who stood up against injustice and challenged religious orthodoxy and economic exploitation. The clerics were described as ‘being agents of capitalists and feudal lords’ and regressive.

Ewing wrote that due to the expanding powers of the Auqaf under Bhutto, many sajjada nasheen began to lose their income. So to compensate for this, they began to join Bhutto’s political party. Ewing also noted that many rituals which were once exclusively the domain of the sajjada nasheen (such as laying a chadar on the graves of Sufi saints) were transferred to government ministers.

During her visits to Pakistan in the 1980s, Ewing saw Auqaf texts changing again, this time during the conservative and theologically intransigent dictatorship of Gen Zia (1977-88). Though the texts continued to harp against ‘superstition’, they now explained the saints as those who were actually ulema before their images were distorted after their demise.

Former general manager of the state-owned PTV, the late Burhanuddin Hasan wrote in his 2003 book Uncensored that Zia was angered by the way the clerics and the ulema had been portrayed in Pakistani films, TV plays, literature and the state (under Ayub and Bhutto). Zia’s information ministry issued an ‘advice’ to PTV insisting that the role of a cleric or ulema in TV plays must always be ‘positive’.

Ewing wrote that the Zia regime tried to merge the ulema and the Sufi saint. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the saints were now presented as ulema.

I once had with me a pamphlet published by the Auqaf in 2009 — 40 years after Ayub’s fall, 30 years after Bhutto’s execution and 21 years after Zia’s demise. The text is all over the place. It explains the Sufis as ‘wise and learned heroes who stood up against injustice’ and who ‘worked closely with the ulema to impose Sharia laws.’ In other words, the Sufi had now become a jack of all trades.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 9th, 2017
http://www.dawn.com/news/1343871/smokers-corner-the-state-versus-the-sufi?preview

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.
–editor

Revolutionary betrayed;Trotsky and his biographer-Review by Tom Twiss and Paul Le Blanc

Posted by admin On July - 9 - 2017 Comments Off on Revolutionary betrayed;Trotsky and his biographer-Review by Tom Twiss and Paul Le Blanc

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LEON TROTSKY has been hated by many down through the years. He was hated because he was one of the great Marxist theorists of the twentieth century. He was hated because, along with Lenin, he was a leader of the 1917 workers’ revolution in Russia and of the worker-peasant alliance that helped make the revolution possible. He was hated because he was an organizer and leader of the Red Army that defended the new revolutionary government of councils (soviets) of workers and peasants during the horrific civil war and devastating foreign assaults of 1918–1920. He was hated because he was an opponent of the bureaucratic corruption and authoritarianism that betrayed the revolution. He was hated because he defended the heroic ideas and ideals of the Russian socialist movement’s left wing, the Bolsheviks, against the murderous dictatorship of Stalin’s “communism.” He was hated because for all of his life he labored to build a worldwide struggle against all forms of oppression and tyranny, and for working-class insurgencies dedicated to creating a socialist future. In short, for those seeking a better world, he is a person worth knowing something about.

A “definitive” biography?
Oxford historian Robert Service has now published what he describes as “the first full-length biography of Trotsky written by someone outside Russia who is not a Trotskyist”—an inflated and inaccurate claim that has, nonetheless, been repeated by numerous reviewers. In fact, the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response by most of the book’s reviewers is instructive, particularly in light of the inflated assertions and shocking inaccuracies that characterize this irredeemably shoddy scholarly performance. Before looking at the biography itself, it is worth considering the effusions of its prestigious admirers.

The Washington Times has hailed this “authoritative biography” of Trotsky as an “illuminating portrait” that “sets the record straight.”Publishers Weekly has praised it as “a pleasure to read,” adding that it “should remain the definitive work for some time.” Writing for theMinneapolis Star Tribune, Michael Bonafield, has depicted Service’sTrotsky as “iconoclastic yet rigorously balanced,” and as an “impressive book” which is “encyclopedic” and “oh, so well written.” And in the pages of Commentary, Peter Savodnik has characterized it as “fascinating, detailed, intelligent, and meticulously researched.” A reviewer in the New Yorker selects it as “the Favorite Nonfiction Book of 2009.”

In Britain, the enthusiasm hit an even higher pitch. The book has been acclaimed by the Evening Standard as one of the “best books of the year” for 2009. The Independent concurred. It was awarded the Duff Cooper Prize for the best in non-fiction writing for 2009. The Sunday Times reviewer Robert Harris has hailed Service’s work as “exemplary.” For the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer expressed deep admiration for Service’s “superb work of scholarship.” Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore lauded it in the Sunday Telegraph as “an outstanding, fascinating biography” which is not only “compelling as an adventure story,” but also “revelatory as the scholarly revision of a historical reputation.” And so on.

The scholarly apparatus that Service provides in his book certainly suggests that the author explored a wealth of sources. These include materials from the frequently examined Trotsky archives at Harvard and in Amsterdam, but also extensive materials from the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford, and from party and state archives in Moscow opened since 1991. Some of the newly uncovered materials include personal letters, party and military correspondence, medical records, memoirs, and unpublished drafts of Trotsky’s writings. Service’s labors in these archives have uncovered various quotations and anecdotes that provide occasional insights into aspects of Trotsky’s private life. (For example, there is the charming image found in the autobiographical notes of Trotsky’s wife Natalia Sedova, of Trotsky decorating a Christmas tree in Vienna, coupled with her observation that both felt distaste for “the orgy of present-giving.” No wonder capitalists hated this man!)

But, in light of Service’s claims, and the extensiveness of the research involved in producing this book, it is surprising just how few of these nuggets there are, and how little they affect what we previously knew about Trotsky’s politics.

Character assassination
Even a casual reader of this volume will get a very definite sense that its author is on a crusade. At the outset Service announces that his goal is “to dig up the buried life” of Trotsky. For Service this involves demonstrating that “Trotsky was no angel”; rather, he was a man driven by a “lust for dictatorship and terror.” As Service is reported as explaining at one promotional appearance, “I wanted to bring down the edifice…. [Trotsky’s] ideals and practices in power were an anachrony [sic] to decent values.”1

This is not to say that the biography is unrelentingly critical of Trotsky. In a display of objectivity, Service notes what he views as Trotsky’s more admirable qualities. He characterizes Trotsky as “an outstanding speaker, organizer and leader” who also had “a sensitivity…for literature.” He praises Trotsky’s physical courage, notes his modesty, and compliments his “neat handwriting.” For Service, this list essentially exhausts the inventory of Trotsky’s assets.

Instead, Service prefers to dwell on Trotsky’s shortcomings—his self-absorption, his vanity, his arrogance, and his insensitivity to the feelings of others. Of course, none of this is new. As Service emphasizes, all of these personal weaknesses were noted at times by Trotsky’s associates, friends, and family; and they have been discussed by other biographers. In fact, some, such as Trotsky’s tendency to adopt a “pedantic and exacting attitude…insufferable in personal relationships,” were conceded by Trotsky himself.2 For Service these traits were overarching character flaws that shaped Trotsky’s entire life and decisively determined his political fate.

This perception of Trotsky’s flaws underlies what one academic reviewer has described as Service’s “curiously mean-spirited commentary on Trotsky’s relationships with his parents, wives, and children.”3 One example, reiterated throughout the book, concerns the fact that Trotsky left behind his wife Alexandra Sokolovskaya and two young daughters when he escaped from Siberian exile in 1902. As Service crudely puts it, “No sooner had he fathered a couple of children than he decided to run off.” He “ditched his first wife,” and he “abandoned her and their tiny girls in Siberia.” Although Service notes that Trotsky later claimed Alexandra had “wholeheartedly blessed” his departure, he dismisses this as “hard to take at face value,” for “Bronstein was preparing to abandon her in the wilds of Siberia.” In fact, however, Trotsky’s later claim was stronger: Sokolovskaya “was the first to broach the idea.” When he raised objections that this would place a “double burden” on her in the difficult conditions of Siberian exile, she responded only, “You must,” and it was her urging that ultimately succeeded in convincing Trotsky.4 Service is entitled to his skepticism, but it is the only first-hand account we have of this episode. Furthermore, it seems entirely plausible in light of the commitment of both to the revolutionary cause, and the apparently close relationship between her and Trotsky’s family in later years.5

A second family episode that exemplifies Trotsky’s self-absorption for Service was the suicide of his daughter Zina in 1933. Service blames Trotsky directly, suggesting he could have found something for her to do around the house rather than shipping her off to Berlin for medical attention: “Zina had gone to death when a little dosing of parental consideration might have made all the difference.” But Zina was mentally ill. Service admits she was suspected of starting a series of fires in Trotsky’s homes in Turkey, and in Germany she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. What, then, is the basis for Service’s assertion that just a little “parental consideration” on Trotsky’s part could have saved her?

By 1917, according to Service, Trotsky’s character flaws had blossomed—he does not tell us how—into a fundamental “lack of humanity.” In Service’s account, this was evident in Trotsky’s advocacy of a “dictatorial and violent” regime in the months preceding the Bolshevik Revolution, in his “lust for dictatorship and terror” in the civil war, in his use of executions against deserters from the Red Army, in his call for a “total subjugation of the workers’ movement to the Soviet state” in 1920, in his “campaigns of bloody repression” against Kronstadt sailors and insurgent peasants in 1921, and in his support for the repression of opposition parties and opposition factions within the Bolshevik Party. All of this provides the basis for the central theme of the book—that there was no fundamental difference between Trotsky and Stalin: Trotsky’s “ideas and practices laid several foundation stones for the erection of the Stalinist political, social, and even cultural edifice”; and Trotsky “was close to Stalin in intentions and practice.” This story, eagerly embraced by so many reviewers, is questionable, to say the least.

Distorting the historical record to score political points
To demonstrate Trotsky’s advocacy of a “dictatorial and violent regime,” Service highlights a particularly disturbing “quotation” (frequently reiterated by appreciative reviewers) from an address by Trotsky to the Kronstadt naval garrison in 1917: “I tell you heads must roll, blood must flow.… The strength of the French Revolution was in the machine that made the enemies of the people shorter by a head. This is a fine device. We must have it in every city.” Service’s source—and the only source for this quotation—is the account of Wladimir Woytinsky.6

But Woytinsky’s memoirs are suspect. He was a former Bolshevik who went over to the Mensheviks in 1917, and as historian André Liebich has noted, in that year Woytinsky quickly “became more anti-Bolshevik than majority Mensheviks.” Liebich further observes that “Scarlet Pimpernel-like anecdotes and a curiously naive tone of self-satisfaction weaken [Woytinsky’s] memoirs’ credibility.” (One of Woytinsky’s other astounding claims was that, following the October Revolution and after Woytinsky had become a Menshevik, Lenin asked him to join the Council of Peoples’ Commissars as “War Minister and Supreme Commander”!)7

Regarding the institution of the “Red Terror” in the following year, Service argues that this was plotted in advance by Lenin and Trotsky because they wanted “to carry out the irreversible suppression of the enemies of the October Revolution.” A recent study by a more careful historian, Alexander Rabinowitch, has concluded that, on the contrary, it was not the product of “a nationwide political crackdown inspired by Lenin,” but “the culmination of a gradual process during which the moderating influence of…key individuals…was replaced by pressure for systematic Red Terror, in part ‘from below’,” in large measure due to assassinations of prominent Bolsheviks (and a nearly successful attempt which left Lenin badly wounded) that were perceived as being part of “a coordinated domestic and international conspiracy to overthrow Soviet power.”8

Aside from questionable details and interpretations, perhaps the greatest deficiency in Service’s account of the early years of the revolution is his failure to provide a sufficient historical context for Trotsky’s actions. One would hardly know from reading Service that 1918–1920 were cruel years in which the Bolsheviks and their working-class supporters found themselves engaged in a harsh struggle for survival against a vicious enemy. Some of this comes through, however, in a recent exchange between Service and the ex-Trotskyist Christopher Hitchens, in which Hitchens reminded Service that “If Trotsky’s Red Army had not won the Russian Civil War, then the word for fascism—we have to face the fact—was probably going to be the Russian word instead of an Italian word.” To this, Service was forced to concede, “It’s a little exaggerated, but it’s pretty fair that the Whites had officers who were vicious, carried out a brutal civil war against the Reds.”9

The devastation of the First World War, the Russian civil war, the foreign economic blockade and military intervention, combined with inevitable mistakes by the revolutionaries, generated additional problems. Not only did these conditions block the realization of the revolution’s goals of a genuine soviet democracy, but discontent within the revolution’s peasant and working-class base posed a tragic challenge to the Bolshevik regime. In 1920–21, just emerging from the civil war, the Bolsheviks were confronted with the rebellion of peasants in the Tambov region and of sailors at the Kronstadt naval base that threatened to reignite the civil war and open the door to renewed foreign intervention. (Interestingly, Service chastises Trotsky because he refused in his autobiography “to allow that the Kerenski regime had reason to take measures against people who were plotting its armed overthrow.” But by that logic, was it less legitimate for the Bolshevik regime to take measures against people who actually had taken up arms against it?) Subsequently, in the context of a situation made even more explosive by the reintroduction of the market under the New Economic Policy, the Bolsheviks moved in 1921 to introduce a temporary ban on opposition parties and factions.

Of course, there is no need to approve of all of these repressive and authoritarian actions, or to endorse all the arguments advanced by Trotsky and others to justify them. One could argue that many of these actions were inexcusable, and their justifications were false—yet a minimal degree of historical objectivity requires at least a consideration of the Bolsheviks’ concerns. It also requires a rejection of the double standard applied by Service. For that matter, it requires recognition of the fact that Trotsky’s own thinking regarding all of this continued to evolve in later years. In the mid- to late-1930s, for example, Trotsky came to admit that the banning of opposition parties was “obviously in conflict with the spirit of Soviet democracy” and that it indisputably “served as the juridical point of departure for the Stalinist totalitarian system.” He concluded that the “exceptional measure” of banning factions, even applied “very cautiously” had subsequently “proved to be perfectly suited to the taste of the bureaucracy.”10

Finally, historical objectivity demands some recognition of the significant contextual differences between the repression instituted by the Bolsheviks in defense of the revolution and the new Soviet state against armed enemies, and the repression implemented by the Stalinist regime against its defenseless critics in the 1930s. For Service, however, all of these measures were essentially identical: “Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin shared more than they disagreed about.” This political distortion is possible only through the distortion of the historical record.

Over and over again, Service bends his sources to score his points. He says of Trotsky that “what counted for him was world revolution, and no human price was too great to pay in the interests of the cause.” An example he cites of Trotsky’s “complete moral insouciance” was a comment to Max Eastman in the early 1920s that “he and the Bolsheviks were willing ‘to burn several thousand Russians to a cinder in order to create a true revolutionary American movement.’” Service comments archly that “Russia’s workers and peasants would have been interested to know of the mass sacrifice he was contemplating.” But if we turn to Eastman’s own account, we find that the topic under discussion was the role of Russian-American immigrants in the new Communist Party in the United States. Eastman was complaining that “the self-importance and organizational dominance of Russian-Americans in the party councils, made it impossible to get an American revolutionary movement started.” At which point Trotsky suggested with amused exasperation, essentially, that the Bolshevik regime should have the sectarian offenders burned at the stake.11 Service apparently assumes that his readers will not be inclined to check an old memoir to see whether or not he is telling the truth.

Shoddy scholarship
The entire landscape of Service’s biography is littered with basic factual inaccuracies, both small and great. The following examples, many of which have been noted by other reviewers on the left, are indicative:12

Service states that Trotsky spoke out against individual terror in 1909 when the Socialist Revolutionaries “murdered” police informant Evno Azev. In fact, Azev died in 1918 in Berlin, apparently of kidney disease.13
The author asserts that, in a significant break with Jewish tradition, Trotsky and Sedov named their first son Sergei, rather than Lev after Trotsky. Actually, Trotsky’s first son was Lev.
In his discussion of the German Revolution of 1923, Service relates that “street fighting petered out” quickly in Berlin and that in other German cities communists were even less effective until the central leadership ultimately “called off its ill-planned and ill-executed action” on October 31. In reality, the leadership of the German Communist Party called off the planned insurrection on October 21. There was no street fighting in Berlin; only Hamburg failed to receive the cancellation message and rose in revolt.14
The author states that Gregory Zinoviev was expelled from the Politburo in 1925. That expulsion occurred at the Central Committee plenum of July 1926.15
Service asserts, “There can hardly be a doubt that Stalin and Bukharin bungled by sending instructions through the Comintern for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to organize an insurrection against Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang in April 1927.” In fact, there were no such instructions and no such insurrection. In March 1927, a successful workers’ uprising against the local warlord in Shanghai transferred control of the city to Chiang’s National Revolutionary Army. Subsequently, on April 12, Chiang launched his own bloody coup against the workers. Throughout these events, the operative instructions from Moscow were for the CCP to avoid clashes with Chiang and his army.16
Service confuses the October 15, 1927, demonstration in Leningrad following the session of the Central Executive Committee of the soviets with the November 7 demonstration in honor of the tenth anniversary of the revolution.17
The author incorrectly identifies the Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928 as the Fifth.
Noting Trotsky’s appreciation in 1936 of French writer André Gide’s account of his visit to the Soviet Union, Service quips that Trotsky still “would not bestir himself to go and make Gide’s acquaintance: he expected the mountain to come to Mohammed.” But the “prophet” could not have visited Gide at home in 1936. Under a French order of expulsion, Trotsky had been forced to seek asylum in Norway in June 1935.18
Service explains that Trotsky received a French visa from Daladier’s coalition government formed at the beginning of 1934. The coalition government was formed in early 1933, and Trotsky received a French visa in July of that year.19
Service repeatedly depicts André Breton as a “surrealist painter.” In fact, Breton was a surrealist poet, critic, and theorist.
Service confuses Bernard Wolfe, briefly one of Trotsky’s secretaries and bodyguards, with Bertram D. Wolfe, a leader in the late 1930s of Jay Lovestone’s Independent Labor League of America.
Service states that “by the afternoon” of Wednesday, August 21, 1940, American radio stations “were confirming that [Trotsky] had breathed his last.” Trotsky did not die until approximately 8 p.m. that evening.20
Service asserts that Trotsky’s widow, Natalia Sedova, died in 1960. Actually, she died on January 23, 1962.21
Service incorrectly identifies Genrietta Rubinshtein and her daughter Yulia Aksel’rod as the wife and daughter of Trotsky’s older son Lev. They were the wife and daughter of his younger son, Sergei.22
This dismal list is by no means exhaustive. Of course, minor errors have a way of creeping into any manuscript. But sloppiness on this scale, in what is supposed to be a serious historical work (hailed as a “superb work of scholarship” that “sets the record straight”), is astounding. What actually happened in history seems of secondary importance to this biographer, and to his admirers, who are dedicated to revealing what for them is a larger political truth: Trotsky “fought for a cause that was more destructive than he had ever imagined.” One had best steer clear of it.

Something better
Simply cataloging and documenting the historical, factual, and interpretative limitations of this biography would require a review several times longer than this one. To the extent that this book is useful, it is primarily as a model of how not to understand Trotsky. However, for someone looking for the opposite, a reasonable place to begin may be some of Trotsky’s writings—for example, My Life, The History of the Russian Revolution, and The Revolution Betrayed. Additionally, there are informative biographies of varying lengths—by Isaac Deutscher, Victor Serge and Natalia Sedova, Tony Cliff, Pierre Broué (for those fluent in French), and Dave Renton. Even Irving Howe’s short, thoughtful, social-democratic interpretation offers a far more honest rendering than what one finds in Service. Studies by such critical-minded interpreters as Kunal Chattopadhyay, Duncan Hallas, Michael Löwy, and Ernest Mandel also merit attention.

Despite the apparent assumptions of Service and his admirers, we have not bypassed the world that Trotsky so brilliantly analyzed and so bravely struggled to change. Many of the problems Trotsky struggled with continue to plague us, while new problems generated by capitalism continue to emerge. In this context it makes sense to do the opposite of what Service seems to favor, and to continue to engage with Trotsky’s ideas and example.

 

Quoted in “Service with a snarl: Academic refuses to answer questions,” The Socialist, November 18, 2009.
Leon Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky [1937–38] (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1976), 169–70.
Juliet Johnson, “Trotsky: as bad as Stalin?; Pretty much so, according to a major new biography,” Globe and Mail (Canada), January 23, 2010.
Leon Trotsky, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 132.
See for example, Service, Trotsky, 84, 108, 166, 194, 431. See also the communications from Sokolovskaya to Leon Sedov in Leon Trotsky, Trotsky’s Diary in Exile 1935 (New York: Atheneum, 1963), 79, 159–60.
This passage appeared in 1961 Woytinsky’s memoirs, published posthumously in 1961. See W.S. Woytinsky, Stormy Passage: A Personal History Through Two Russian Revolutions to Democracy and Freedom: 1905–1960 (New York: Vanguard Press, 1961), 286. For a slightly different version of this “quotation,” see Bertram D. Wolfe, “Leon Trotsky as historian,” Slavic Review, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1961:498.
André Liebich, From the Other Shore: Russian Social Democracy after 1921(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997), 66, 341, 362; Woytinsky, Stormy Passage, 377.
Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007), 398.
“Trotsky with Hitchens and Service,” Hoover Institution, Stanford University, taped on July 28, 2009, available at media.hoover.org.
Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1937), 96; Leon Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 22.
Max Eastman, Love and Revolution: My Journey Through an Epoch (New York: Random House, 1964), 332–33.
David North has done an especially thorough job identifying factual errors in Service. See David North, “In the Service of historical falsification: A review of Robert Service’s Trotsky: A Biography,” November 11, 2009, www.wsws.org; David North, “Historians in the Service of the ‘Big Lie’: An examination of professor Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky,” December 15, 2009, www.wsws.org. See also Paul Le Blanc, “Trotsky lives!” International Viewpoint, IV Online Magazine: IV 419, December 2009, www.internationalviewpoint.org; Paul Hampton, “Review of Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky,” Workers’ Liberty, November 12, 2009, www.workersliberty.org; Peter Taaffe, “A ‘dis-Service’ to Leon Trotsky,” October 14, 2009, www.socialistworld.net; Joe Auciello, Socialist Action, January 2010, www.socialistaction.org.
Boris Nikolaejewsky, Aseff the Spy: The Russian and Police Stool (Hattiesburg, Mississippi: Academic International, 1969 reprint of 1934 edition), 286; Richard E. Rubenstein, Comrade Valentine (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1994), 302.
Pierre Broué, The German Revolution 1917–1923 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005), 805–12; Edward Hallett Carr, The Interregnum: 1923–1924 (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1954), 221–24; Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918 to 1923 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2003), 285–88.
Edward Hallett Carr and R. W. Davies, Foundations of a Planned Economy (New York, Macmillan, 1971), 2:6–9; Robert Vincent Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1960), 278–79.
Alexander Pantsev, The Bolsheviks and the Chinese Revolution, 1919–1927 (Honolulu : University of Hawaii Press, 2000), 127–36. Harold Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, second revised edition (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1961), 137–40, 156–85.
Leon Trotsky, My Life, 532–33; Edward Hallett Carr and Davies, Foundations, 2:37; Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921–1929 (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 365–66.
Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Trotsky, 1929–1940 (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), 289-290; Jean van Heijenoort, With Trotsky in Exile: From Prinkipo to Coyoacán (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978), 79.
Van Heijenoort, With Trotsky in Exile, 45–48.
Joseph Hansen, “With Trotsky to the end,” October 1940, Marxist Internet Archive, www.marxists.org. On this point Service cites “J. van Heijenoot, With Trotsky in Exile: From Prinkipo to Coyoacán, 192.” There is no page 192 in that book, and the relevant passage on page 146 says nothing about the time of the radio announcements of Trotsky’s death.
“Trotsky’s widow dies in Paris at 79,” New York Times, January 24, 1962.
Hoover Archival Documents Project, www.hoover.org.

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Hadj-Ali Abelkader: A Muslim Communist in the 1920s-Ian Birchall

Posted by admin On July - 9 - 2017 Comments Off on Hadj-Ali Abelkader: A Muslim Communist in the 1920s-Ian Birchall

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The relations between Muslims and revolutionary socialists have often been problematic. A few years ago in France there was bitter controversy in the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste when a Muslim woman who wears the hijab was selected as a candidate for the regional elections.1 Yet in the early 1920s the Communist International offered a very different approach. The Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East in 1920 attracted hundreds of Muslim delegates.2 In 1922 Willem van Ravesteyn gave a report on the “Eastern question” to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in which he stated:

The Islamic peoples have it in their power to destroy the bridge that sustains British imperialism. If this bridge falls, then this imperialism will also collapse. Its fall would have such a mighty echo in the entire world of Islam and the East that the French Empire too would not survive this blow. The liberation of the Islamic world from every form of European political domination, particularly as regards the countries of the Near East, is in the interests not only of the peoples there, the peasants and workers in the Eastern territories, not yet in the grip of capitalism. It represents also a fundamental interest of the West European and world proletariat.3

The following year Trotsky argued for “a non-uniform attitude to Great Russian and to Muslim nationalism: in relation to the former, ruthless struggle, stern rebuff, especially in those cases when it is displayed in the administrative and governmental sphere; in relation to the latter—patient, attentive, painstaking educational work.”4

But what did such statements mean for individual Muslim activists in the emerging Communist movement? It may be interesting to look at the story of a now largely forgotten figure, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader. (There is one biography.5) He played a significant role in the early years of the French Communist Party (PCF) and in the struggle for Algerian independence.

Hadj-Ali was born in 1883 in a village, Douar Ouled Sidi Ouïs, some 23 kilometers from the provincial capital Relizane, in Algeria. Algeria had been colonized by the French in the 1830s, and in 1848 it had become constitutionally an integral part of French territory. But the indigenous population were legally French subjects, not French citizens. They were subject to the notorious Code de l’indigénat (native code), which imposed a special set of laws and regulations, and which criminalized even the most minor forms of insubordination. It forbade any disrespectful act toward any representative of authority even if off duty, and any public remark intended to weaken the respect due to authority.6 The privileges and rights of French citizenship were extended only to a very small minority of the native population.

Hadj-Ali was born into a prosperous land-owning family that had a good reputation in the area and was said to be descended from a holy man. It is probable that he was called after the emir Abdelkader, a leader of the resistance to French rule, who had died shortly before Hadj-Ali was born.

At the time, educational provision for the Muslim population was poor. The French spoke a great deal about their “civilizing mission,” but in practice they had closed many of the old Koranic schools (which had ensured that most of the population before colonization was literate).7 According to one estimate, fewer than 5 percent of Algerian children attended any kind of school in 1870.8 So Hadj-Ali was part of the relatively fortunate minority who got an education. He attended a Koranic school in his village and learned to read and write Arabic. It is said that by the age of ten he could recite the entire Koran by heart. Growing up in an agricultural area he had ample opportunity to observe and participate in various aspects of farming, and he acquired a respect for manual labor.9

However, things began to go wrong for his family. First his father died, and his paternal grandfather took charge of the boy. Then, under legislation that massively favored European settlers, the family was dispossessed of 391 hectares as a result of a debt to a usurer. Suddenly the once prosperous family found itself plunged into poverty. Hadj-Ali’s grandfather was unwilling for the boy to become an agricultural laborer, so he arranged for him to be sent to the city of Mascara where he got a job in an ironmonger’s shop. At the age of fourteen he had to leave home and family and make an independent life for himself in a large town.10

Although he was very badly paid by his employer he seems to have been a model worker. He was ambitious and was prepared to sacrifice himself in the hope of becoming an employer himself. Within a few years he had saved enough money to rent premises and open his own ironmongery business. He seems to have been successful and had many customers. From serving Europeans he began to pick up the French language and made great efforts to become proficient in it.

As yet, there was no sign of any class consciousness on his part. But due to his family’s misfortunes and his experiences in the city, he was becoming increasingly aware of national oppression, and he resented French rule, especially as expressed in the form of the native code. He became increasingly resentful of this.11

The next episode in his life remains somewhat obscure. In 1904, at the age of twenty, he married a young woman from Mascara. She became pregnant; but by the time the daughter, Maghnia, was born, Hadj-Ali had left his wife and his shop, and had moved to mainland France. He never saw his daughter and seems to have made no effort to meet her. There is no obvious explanation for why the marriage broke up so quickly, or for why he decided to move to France.12

In general Algerian Muslims had to get permission to travel to the mainland. But he benefitted from a law of 1905 that exempted licensed traders from the controls on travel. He crossed the Mediterranean, a journey of some forty-eight hours, and, arriving in Marseille, immediately took a train to Paris. A new phase of his life was opening up. The rest of his life, including his remarkable political activities, would be spent in mainland France, although he never forgot his identity as an Algerian and a Muslim.

Before 1914 there were still relatively few Algerians in mainland France. Hadj-Ali quickly found work and for a short time was a peddler, which had the great advantage of enabling him to get to know the city of Paris in detail. But soon he decided to revert to the skill he had acquired in Mascara, and took a job as salesman in an ironmonger’s shop, where he stayed for several years. He lived a bachelor existence in hotels owned by Algerians and ate in Algerian restaurants, and through that he maintained contact with his compatriots.

In 1911 he applied for French citizenship, and went through the legal procedures required to obtain it. We don’t know his exact reasons for this decision, which might seem paradoxical since he was opposed to the idea then current in the French Socialist Party that the emancipation of Algerians would be achieved by assimilation into the French population. This, he believed, would mean the disappearance of the Algerian nation. But according to the native code, if he was not a French citizen, he was not allowed to engage in political or trade union organization. He was becoming increasingly interested in politics, and this was probably his main motivation.13

In April 1912 Hadj-Ali married for a second time. His wife was Adrienne Caroline Leblanc, who came from Rouen in Normandy. She was to remain his faithful companion, and it was her support that made his subsequent political activity possible.14 Yet France remained a deeply racist society determined to hold on to its empire. Despite his citizenship and marriage, Hadj-Ali was not assimilated into French society. The Jamaican writer Claude McKay told of an encounter between the Senegalese Communist organizer Lamine Senghor and a Senegalese bar owner in Marseille in the 1920s. The bar owner said: “I don’t see how you can become a great Negro leader when you are married to a white woman.” Senghor responded that he “felt even more bitterly about the condition of Negroes because he was married to a white woman.”15 Hadj-Ali may well have felt something similar.

After his marriage Hadj-Ali achieved another ambition. He had been carefully saving for some years, and perhaps with financial help from his new wife, he was able to buy his own ironmonger’s shop. This was situated at No. 39 on the Rue de l’Arbre Sec in the first arrondissement of Paris, close to the Louvre and Les Halles. His wife worked closely with him in the shop. Economically he was successful and became relatively prosperous. One of the rooms became a meeting place where Hadj-Ali entertained his Algerian friends and engaged in political discussion with them. A number of future activists—including Mahmoud Ben Lekhal—gathered here and the idea of an Algerian revolutionary party was discussed.16

From the time of his arrival in France Hadj-Ali became increasingly interested in political questions. Although he had a personal ambition to own his own shop, he soon decided to become a trade unionist and joined the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), France’s main trade union body. It was a time of intense class struggle and the army was regularly used to attack striking workers. In 1907 soldiers killed and wounded protesting vine growers in Narbonne in southern France—but one regiment mutinied rather than shoot.17 The CGT engaged in vigorous antimilitarist campaigning.18

Many of the activists in the CGT were syndicalists—that is, they believed that trade unions were an adequate political expression of the working class, and that political parties were unnecessary. Hadj-Ali was apparently unconvinced of this argument, and around 1910 he joined the French Socialist Party (SFIO), of which the most prominent leaders were Jean Jaurès and Jules Guesde; the party’s Marxist wing was led by Guesde and Paul Lafargue. Hadj-Ali was impressed by the party’s social and economic program, but perhaps less so by its attitude to colonialism. In this period there were sharp debates within the SFIO—and within the Second International to which it was affiliated—about the demand for colonial independence. As far as Algeria was concerned, the SFIO in its majority favored progress through assimilation of the indigenous population.19

In August 1914 World War I began, and in September Hadj-Ali was called up into the army. The war was clearly to defend France’s colonial empire, so he did not identify with the French national cause in any way, but he had no alternative. There is little information about what happened to him during the war years. Apparently he was sent to hospital after being injured at Bordeaux, where he remained for the rest of the war.20 Since Bordeaux was a long way from the front line we can only suppose that he got his injury during training or as the result of an accident.

The experience of military service radicalized Hadj-Ali further. He saw the very visible discrimination against soldiers from Africa and other colonial territories. They were paid less and got worse rations; they were rarely promoted to senior ranks. (Of the 197,000 North Africans who fought in World War I none held a rank higher than lieutenant.21) If wounded, they were not allowed to return to Algeria to convalesce, and if they were killed, their bodies were not returned to their native land.22 And there was little gratitude shown to colonial troops once they had served their purpose. When the Madagascan Jean Raliamongo, who had served in the army, applied for a job with a railway company after the war, he was told, “The fact of having served in the French army doesn’t mean you are French.”23

After the war Hadj-Ali returned to his political and trade union activities. He also became involved in activities within the Algerian community. Informal associations developed to raise money for those in need, to visit those in hospitals, to help the unemployed, and to hire lawyers on behalf of Algerians where necessary.24 Such activity, while clearly a response to the inherent racism of French society, was often closer to philanthropy than to politics. But it related to the needs of North Africans in France and must have seemed more concrete than the rather remote prospect of national independence.

But the war had brought about irreversible changes. At the end of the war US President Wilson excited considerable enthusiasm with his call for self-determination; many in the colonial world believed the principle should apply to them. An even greater impact was made by the Russian Revolution, which offered the possibility of a break with the old order. The Baku Congress of 1920 represented a direct appeal for the oppressed of the colonies to join forces with the European proletariat; the president of the Communist International, Zinoviev, went so far as to propose a revision to Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto. Marx had said, “Workers of all lands, unite!” but now, according to Zinoviev, this should be replaced by: “Workers of all lands and oppressed peoples of the whole world, unite!”25

In December 1920 the Congress of the SFIO voted to affiliate to the Communist International; the opposition walked out and it became the French Communist Party (PCF). One of the key issues at the Congress was the acceptance of the “twenty-one conditions” for affiliation to the Communist International. The eighth condition laid down that “Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its ‘own’ country, must support—in deed, not merely in word—every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.”26 In the course of the Congress a young Indochinese delegate Nguyễn Ái Quốc (later to be known as Hồ Chí Minh) declared that his homeland was “shamefully oppressed and exploited,” and urged that “the Party must make socialist propaganda in all the colonies.”27 For Hadj-Ali there could be no doubt. At the beginning of 1921 he joined the newly formed French Communist Party. It was a young party, drawing together the hopes of those inspired by the Russian Revolution. But it was far from homogeneous and scarcely under the control of the Communist International.

Paris in the 1920s offered a promising environment for anti-imperialist activists. It was increasingly a cosmopolitan city. After the terrible losses of the war, immigrant workers had to be drawn into French industry. By 1924 there were between 100,000 and 150,000 North African workers in France, 75,000 in the Parisian region. Generally they found themselves doing the most unpleasant, unhealthy, and dangerous jobs in mines, steelworks, and chemical factories.28 The 1920s saw the growth of cafés maures, which served North African food and where Algerian workers met to complain about their working conditions and discuss politics. There were also many students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America—among those who would later make an international impact were Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Haya de la Torre, and the Peruvian Marxist Mariátegui. The political perspective that later came to be known as “Third Worldism”—the “idea of an anti-imperialist solidarity spanning several continents”—was first developed in 1920s Paris. With some justice Michael Goebel has described the city as an “anti-imperial metropolis.”29

In order to benefit from the new opportunities the PCF established in 1921 an organization, which came to be known as the Union Intercoloniale (UIC). The aim was to bring together people from the French colonies (including Algeria, which in reality, if not technically, was a colony) now resident in France, to involve them in political and trade union activity, and to prepare them for anticolonial struggles. It was formed on the initiative of a Guadeloupian lawyer, Max Clainville-Bloncourt, and began as a small organization, with only some two hundred members by the end of 1921. They were mainly Madagascans and Vietnamese, with a few Algerians, one of whom was Hadj-Ali, who rapidly began to take a leading role and to draw his fellow Algerians into the organization. Initially Nguyễn Ái Quốc was the dominant figure, but when he moved to Moscow in 1923 Hadj-Ali took over his leading position. Hadj-Ali was thus one of the original nuclei that laid the foundations for anticolonial struggles throughout the French Empire.30

One of the main activities of the UIC was to produce a newspaper, known as Le Paria.31 It may be suspected that not all the PCF leadership were enthusiastic about the venture; its finances seem to have been precarious. In 1923 the Colonial Commission of the PCF gave the UIC a subsidy of just 100 francs—not much more than £50 in today’s money.32 (There was money in the Communist International—the German Communist Party attained finances to launch twenty newspapers (for which it could not find enough editors33—but it does not seem to have made its way to Le Paria.34) The total circulation was no more than three thousand, the majority of which was smuggled into the various colonial territories; only some five hundred copies remained for sales to students and workers in France.35 The leading figure was originally Nguyễn Ái Quốc, but in 1923 he went to Moscow to work for the Communist International. The paper was a lively propaganda sheet in which a critique of French imperialism was developed.

Hadj-Ali became a regular contributor to Le Paria. He wrote under various pseudonyms such as “Ali Baba” and “Hadj Bicot.” “Bicot” is a particularly offensive racist epithet applied to North Africans, so he was a pioneer of the technique of subverting racist language and turning it back against those who used it.

In particular he wrote a very forceful piece under the ironic title “Paris . . . City of Light” about the situation of immigrant workers in Paris; much of what he described would be recognized by many immigrant workers of later times:

And yet there are Algerians in Paris. There are tens and tens of thousands working themselves to death in the factories, rotting away in the Grenelle district, and in the slums of the Boulevard de la Gare and de la Villette.

. . . They live alone, without wives, steeped in their patriarchal habits. They cannot bring over the women they left over there. They prefer to live in abstinence, cutting away at the minimum they need to live in order to send money to their children, to the aged parents they have left behind and who are being trampled on by colonialism.36

But he did not confine himself to a description of the suffering of North African workers. He was also actively involved in trying to unionize his compatriots. In 1921 there had been a split in the CGT, leading to the formation of the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire (CGTU). Communists were active in the CGTU. An article in Le Paria, probably written by Hadj-Ali, urged immigrant workers to join the union:

In the factories of France you have learned that your material situation in no way differed from that of your brother French workers. You have seen that proletarians, whatever their race, are crushed beneath the weight of the same exploitation and reduced to the same poverty. . . . It’s time to wake up from your inactivity, stop being indifferent to the employers’ attacks, no longer accept their blows fatalistically. Organize with your French worker comrades; join the unions in large numbers to defend your wages and to demand your rights.37

He also contributed to other PCF publications. A report adopted in 1922 by the Second Communist Interfederal Congress of North Africa, largely dominated by European settlers, had argued that “what characterizes the native masses is their ignorance. This is above all the main obstacle to their emancipation.”38 Hadj-Ali replied in the Bulletin Communiste with a stinging critique:

There is an obvious danger in leaving the native proletariat of the colonies under the influence of the bourgeoisie and at the disposal of militarism and imperialism, without preparing it to refuse to let itself be recruited to come and smash the revolution if the case should arise.

Believe me, comrades, you must realize that any indifference in this respect is a mortal danger for the revolution in countries like France, Britain, and Italy.

You must realize that in all the colonies the native workers, thanks to the Russian Revolution, are awakening and beginning to rally round and to seek their way forward so as to break their chains. . . .

Believe me, comrades, the native workers are more open to our propaganda and our ideas than to those of outdated democracy; that comes from their experience. They haven’t forgotten the lying promises made to them by the bourgeois groupings during the war for the rule of law and civilization in order to send them to the slaughter.

If you really want to make the revolution, you must not only undertake to maintain the neutralization of the native proletarians, not only win their sympathy, but, by methodical and truly Communist propaganda, prepare yourselves a revolutionary guard from among them, in case the need arises.

You can do that, all the more so because all the natives, from the intellectuals to the most primitive, know that the Russian Revolution has liberated many peoples who were under the yoke of Tsarism. . . .

So what are we asking for?

That the party should lay down a general line of conduct for its militants and federations in the colonies;

That it should assign to them, in precise fashion, the aim to be achieved; to make propaganda and to recruit among the natives and, in order to achieve this, to adopt as a platform the immediate demands of the natives, namely:

Suppression of the native code; the rights of French citizenship for all; abolition of the repressive courts; equality before the law; abolition of the arbitrary administrative measures which impose on the mass of native peasants and workers all sorts of forced labour and constraints which are unworthy of civilisation, etc., etc. The results will soon be visible. . . .

It is time that Communism should no longer be restricted to a few scattered Europeans in the colonies while we ignore millions of native proletarians who are reaching out to us.39

Hadj-Ali’s list of “immediate demands” focuses on questions that directly affected the lives of Algerians; it calls for “the rights of French citizenship for all” and does not mention national independence.

The first major test of the UIC and Le Paria came in 1923. The French government, in pursuit of unpaid reparations, occupied the Ruhr region of Germany. Many of the troops used in the occupation were North African or Senegalese, which provoked racist opposition from German nationalists. The PCF conducted a vigorous campaign among the French troops, arguing for fraternization with German workers. The PCF already had a soldiers’ paper, La Caserne (the barracks), which it used to make antimilitarist propaganda. A bilingual (Arabic and French) version of this was now produced (Al Kazirna) and distributed to North African troops in the Ruhr. The chief organizer was Mahmoud Ben Lekhal, but Hadj-Ali was also very much involved. Ben Lekhal was arrested and following a trial at Mainz in June 1924 was sentenced to five years hard labor. The PCF launched a major campaign for his release, including a meeting chaired by Hadj-Ali, and Ben Lekhal was released.40

The PCF combined legal and illegal activities. After his involvement in the Ruhr, Hadj-Ali’s next activity was strictly constitutional. In May 1924 the PCF presented Hadj-Ali Abdelkader as a candidate in the parliamentary elections for the second sector of Paris. (He was one of the few Algerians who had French citizenship and was therefore eligible for election.) A statement in the PCF daily L’Humanité set out the party’s aims:

All our comrades must indeed be convinced that whatever may be a worker’s origin or color, he belongs first and foremost to the working class. Racial prejudice is something that any conscious worker must totally reject. By neglecting, or even worse, despising, the worker recruited in the colonies because he has different habits, the French worker is playing his exploiter’s game.

Capitalism is precisely trying to sharpen these racial antagonisms in order to more effectively break the workers’ class action.

French capitalism is holding in reserve its colonial subjects, as strike-breakers, as troops to be used, if necessary, against French workers.41

Whether the PCF membership as a whole was as forthright in its antiracism as this statement would suggest seems doubtful. Claude Liauzu claims the decision to stand Hadj-Ali was imposed by “a handful of almost marginal activists,” and that the Communists of the second sector were unwilling to accept it.42

There is some evidence to support Liauzu’s claims. When the first list for the second sector was published Hadj-Ali’s name was not on it.43 The original intention had been that the list should be headed by Jacques Sadoul and Henri Guilbeaux, both under sentence of death in absentia. Three weeks later the authorities ruled these names ineligible, and a revised list was published, including Hadj-Ali. The initial announcement of the new list in L’Humanité gave no explanation of the addition of Hadj-Ali, and referred to him simply as a “unionized hardware representative” with no reference to his ethnicity.44 And when the PCF announced that on May Day, less than a fortnight before the elections, there would be sixteen simultaneous rallies in Paris, each with around six speakers, Hadj-Ali was not billed to speak at any of them. Only in the last week of the campaign did he speak at a number of public meetings in his own constituency.45 He campaigned in distinctive North African clothing, wearing a burnous (cloak) with a chechia on his head.46

It also appears that Hadj-Ali himself was less than enthusiastic about standing. Previously he had argued within the Algerian community that for an Algerian to stand for election to the French parliament would endorse the legitimacy of parliament and hence of Algeria’s legal status as part of France. He seems to have been put under pressure, perhaps with an intervention from the Communist International, which at this time was still more consistently anti-imperialist than the PCF leadership. Hadj-Ali’s biographer, Abdellah Righi, argues—and without further evidence it can only be speculation—that Hadj-Ali made some sort of deal with the PCF leadership that he would stand in the election if they would in return support his project of establishing an autonomous North African political grouping.47

Two Communists were elected for the eleven-member constituency; Hadj-Ali obtained the lowest total on the list. (Voting was by a complex list system. Each party presented lists for multimember constituencies. Electors voted for individuals, on more than one list if they wished. Seats were allocated proportionately on the basis of the average vote obtained by the list, but it was the individuals with most votes who were chosen to represent the list.) The two Communists elected got 41,601 votes and 40,805 votes, respectively; the average for the list was 40,781, and Hadj-Ali obtained 40,569.48 It should be remembered that very few of his voters were North Africans, since the vast majority of them did not have citizenship.

The result was quite a success. The most successful Communist candidate, Garchery, got some eight hundred votes more than anyone else on the list, doubtless due to some personal following. But Hadj-Ali achieved 97.52% of Garchery’s vote, and 99.48% of the average for the list. As Benjamin Stora points out, for Algerians in France the important thing was how well he had done.49 It now seemed quite possible to envisage an Algerian being elected to the French parliament on the basis of support from French workers.

The election campaign was to have another result, which would be of great significance, not just for Hadj-Ali but for the whole history of Algerian independence. One of those who was drawn in by the campaign was a young Algerian from Tlemcen called Messali Hadj. As he recounted in his Memoirs:

One day as I was leaving work I stopped by the election posters to read the dates of the election meetings, the names of the speakers and their political affiliations. I immediately noticed an Arab name on the list. Hadj-Ali was standing as a candidate of the French Communist Party. I was surprised and delighted. I went to the meeting that he was holding at a school on the Place de la Réunion, close to the factory where I worked. I listened to him present the political program of his party. I could see that he was very much up to the requirements of his candidacy. As I listened to him I was overcome with great pride and great joy. I applauded him sincerely. At the end of the meeting I went up to him and greeted him in Arabic. I congratulated him on his speech in which he had denounced injustice and the native code. We exchanged a few words and good wishes, then separated, after having fixed a date to meet again later.50

They and their wives soon became firm friends. Initially at least Hadj-Ali was very much the teacher and Messali, who was some fifteen years younger, the pupil. They had many discussions about Lenin and the Third International; one discussion, toward the end of 1924 lasted an entire afternoon.51 Messali was very struck by Hadj-Ali’s grasp of “Communist ideology, which he handled with great dexterity.”52

Hadj-Ali was now establishing himself as a leading figure in the PCF. In 1924 he was appointed a member of the party’s Colonial Commission. (Another member was Robert Louzon, who had been expelled from Tunisia after helping to launch the first Arabic-language Communist daily paper.) The commission was reorganized after the Fifth Congress of the Communist International and Jacques Doriot took a leading role. (Doriot is notorious for having later become a pro-Nazi, but at the time he was a rising star of the PCF and active in anticolonial campaigning.) On September 12, 1924, Hadj-Ali spoke alongside Doriot at a meeting in opposition to the Rif war. He made a rousing appeal for the unity of all the exploited, whatever race they belonged to, against all exploiters.53

Hadj-Ali had frequent disagreements with Doriot; he favored the establishment of an autonomous party of colonial subjects, rather than the Communist International’s strategy of creating a North African revolutionary nationalist party. In 1926 he was removed from the commission.54

At the party congress in January 1924 he was elected to the Central Committee, a position that he held for just one year.55 In 1925 he visited Moscow, and seems to have reacted very favorably to what he saw. Messali Hadj recalled:

On his return to Paris, Hadj-Ali gave it to be understood that he had been very impressed by what he had seen, as well as by his discussion with the Soviet Russian leaders. Everything was new, everything was splendid, everything was perfect, nothing required comment, let alone criticism. Hadj-Ali seemed to us like a pilgrim who had come back from the Holy Places with the philosophers’ stone in his pocket.56

Throughout this time Hadj-Ali remained a practising Muslim. Indeed, the defense of his native land’s religion and its cultural traditions was an important part of his defense of Algerian rights. One of his main charges against French imperialism was the way it had weakened Islam through school closures, the introduction of other religions, and the encouragement of alcohol.57 As Messali Hadj noted, “The long time he had spent in France and his membership in the Communist Party had not in any way detracted from his Arabic identity or his Islamic faith.”58

In 1924 Hadj-Ali wrote an article for Le Paria in which he argued that Communists should adopt a nonpolemical position towards Islam.59 The PCF was heavily marked by the traditions of laïcité which has been so important for the French left,60 but there seems to have been no pressure on him to disavow or play down his religious heritage. The PCF at this time seems to have considered that religious belief was a matter of personal choice. At the same time he does not seem to have been dogmatic in his religious allegiance. One account of Algerian friends visiting his home tells of fierce arguments, when some of his friends “with repeated thumps on the table . . . caused Madame Hadj-Ali to fear for her dishes, [and] tried…to convert us to a belief in the exclusive primacy of matter over ideas.61 On another occasion he advised Messali not to put too much emphasis in his speeches on religion and the history of the Arab Empire.62

By 1925 the PCF position on the colonial question was beginning to shift. Lenin was dead and Stalin was in the ascendant with his theory of “socialism in one country,” though it would take some time for all the implications to be developed. Le Paria finally ceased to appear in April 1926. Rather than a general anticolonial organization Hadj-Ali now became involved in setting up an organization specifically aimed at North African workers. This was to become the Étoile Nord-Africaine (North African Star, or ENA). There remains some historical controversy as to the precise date at which the ENA was founded, but although the origins of the organization can be traced back earlier, it would seem that it first acquired a public face at a meeting held in June 1926.63 It involved workers from Tunisia and Morocco as well as Algeria.64 (Greater numbers of Tunisian and Moroccan students were now arriving in Paris, including Habib Bourguiba, later to become the first president of independent Tunisia.65) The initial core consisted of some eight thousand North African workers who were unionized in the CGTU (out of a total of over a hundred thousand North African workers in France). That this degree of unionization had been achieved was the result of the hard work of Hadj-Ali and his comrades over the preceding three years.66

In the course of 1926 and 1927, the ENA held a number of large public meetings in the Paris area, the biggest of them attracting several hundred. There was also a banquet for students. The main campaigning issues were the abolition of the native code, free movement between Algeria and France, and freedom of the press and assembly. In 1928, as the ENA was breaking its links with the PCF, there was a shift away from large public meetings towards smaller meetings in districts with a large North African population.67

Historically the name of Messali Hadj is associated with the ENA; he was for many years its leader and the leader of its successor organizations. Hence there have been claims that he was in effect its founder. The name of Hadj-Ali has largely vanished from history. Yet it is clear that at the time of the foundation it was Hadj-Ali who played the key role, and that he was the organization’s leader in its first years. In 1948 La République Algérienne published a letter from Hadj-Ali, now close to death, in which he made a final effort to assert his historical role:

I was the one who drew up the statutes and proposed the name which was immediately accepted. . . . Messali was a recruit like all the first militants. Moreover, he was a dilettante, he wasn’t diligent in attending meetings and when he did come he was always late. Nonetheless, I considered him to be a sincere nationalist. . . . I led the association until 1928. From 1924 to 1926 Messali had never spoken in public.68

Obviously Hadj-Ali was defending his reputation, and others might have recalled events differently, but it seems clear that he did play a central role in the founding of the ENA, and that at the time he was more experienced and more politically mature than Messali.

The launching of the ENA was done with the support and encouragement of the PCF. Michael Goebel, using documents and minutes from the PCF archives, has argued that initially Hadj-Ali and Messali were more concerned with civil rights than national sovereignty, and that it was only under pressure from the PCF that they agreed to raise the demand for Algerian independence:

In July 1926 Hadj-Ali still preferred to speak of “total emancipation” instead. Employing the term “independence”, he reasoned, might alienate “bourgeois nationalists.” . . . As late as October the two Étoile founders wavered, arguing that the term “independence” risked alienating their constituency, namely North African workers in Paris, who cared about civil rights, which should flow from the French imperial state, not about Algerian sovereignty.69

PCF strategy towards North Africa was very much influenced by the positions adopted by the Communist International. In China the emerging Chinese Communist Party was instructed by the International to subordinate itself to the nationalist Guomindang. This alliance lasted until the Communists in Shanghai were massacred by Guomindang forces in April 1927.70 In the course of 1925 there were discussions in the PCF to establish a North African Guomindang, which led to the formation of the ENA.71

In particular this involved cooperation with the Emir Khaled, who was an Algerian nationalist pure and simple, but who had built up a following in Algeria by working within the electoral institutions provided by the French state for the Muslim population. Originally Hadj-Ali and the PCF had been hostile to Khaled. In 1922 Hadj-Ali had explained why Le Paria rejected proposals for parliamentary representation for the native population of Algeria:

Because we don’t want separate representation; because we consider that it is a deception to make the natives believe that when they are represented by two or three yes-men, or by an ambitious agitator like Khaled, then the task of achieving the justice to which they aspire and which we demand with all our strength will have been achieved.72

But by 1924 Hadj-Ali seems to have recognixed the need for cooperation with Khaled in the spirit of the united front. In July 1924 the PCF and UIC helped to organize two large meetings in Paris where Hadj-Ali shared a platform with Khaled.73 Khaled became honorary president of the ENA, although he played no active role in the organization.74

In February 1927 Hadj-Ali and Messali attended a world congress of oppressed peoples in Brussels, organised by the League Against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression, which was backed by the Communist International. This marked the beginning of Messali’s career as a political leader when he made a powerful speech denouncing French imperialism’s role in Algeria:

Far from giving the country the aid it could have used to develop itself, French imperialism combined expropriation and exploitation with the most reactionary political domination, depriving the natives of any freedom of condition or organisation, and of all political and legislative rights, or else granting such rights only to a small minority of corrupted natives.

To this is added systematic brutalization achieved by alcohol, the introduction of new religions, and the closing of Arabic-language schools which existed before colonization; finally, to crown its work, imperialism enrols the natives in its army to continue colonization, to serve in imperialist wars and to crush revolutionary movements in the colonies and the metropolis.

Against this colonial policy, against this oppression, the working peoples of North Africa have carried out and continue to carry out permanent action by all means at their disposal to achieve the goal which includes their aspirations at the present time: national independence.75

Hadj-Ali later claimed he had written the speech; Messali gave a somewhat different account.76 Whatever the truth, it seems clear that Hadj-Ali was still the senior figure and that he was trying to develop and promote Messali as a leader.

But already by 1926, if not earlier, divergences were appearing between Hadj-Ali and the PCF. Hadj-Ali had been a loyal and trusted member of the PCF, who combined a good grasp of Marxism within his nationalist and religious ideas. But in the last resort it was the question of Algeria, rather than anything else, that motivated him. At the same time the PCF, which initially had encouraged the self-organization of colonial activists, was becoming more manipulative, increasingly concerned to exercise party control over organizations in its orbit.

There were also important changes taking place within the Communist International. Stalin’s theory of “socialism in one country” had already led to some disorientation, notably in China, but the International’s policy still followed in the tradition of the united front as launched in 1922.77 But in 1928 the International abandoned the united front in favor of the disastrously sectarian analysis of the “third period,” which led to the claim that social democrats were really “social-fascists.” For the leaders of the ENA it meant an inevitable parting of the ways with an increasingly sectarian and manipulative Communist International.

So increasing friction between the PCF and the leaders of the ENA was becoming inevitable. It was Hadj-Ali who had encouraged Messali’s involvement in the ENA, and had arranged for him to become a full-time organizer.78 The PCF paid his wages. But in 1927, Hadj-Ali had to tell his friend and protégé that the party would no longer pay him, and Messali had to find a job working in a shop. Messali accepted the decision and remained a PCF member.79

Hadj-Ali’s position seems to have been that the ENA should be an autonomous organization independent of PCF control, while he was quite open about his own commitment to communism. The minutes of an internal PCF meeting from 1926 record him as saying that if asked, he would say: “I am a Communist, but I am also a Muslim, and that is why I have joined the ENA.”80 He continued to advocate the formation of an autonomous Communist Party, or at least a North African Communist Party in France and the creation of a revolutionary nationalist party in Algeria. But he was accused of wanting to create a party within the party. Differences with the PCF leadership became ever sharper.

There were increasingly stormy meetings of the ENA. A Renault worker, Banoune Akli, recalled:

In November 1927 there was another general meeting at 11, rue des Gracieuses. During the discussions the nationalist tendencies became clear. A motion calling for the independence of Algeria having been adopted with a large majority, all those like Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, who thought they could use the Algerians as a reserve army for the benefit of the French Communist Party, protested and then walked out. French people who supported the ENA followed them. After this the Communists began to stay away from the ENA.81

It is not wholly clear what the issues were, and it appears that Hadj-Ali was still acting as a disciplined party member. But there was obviously something deeply wrong. At another meeting of North African militants and workers in 1928 those attending were asked “Do you want to be dependent on the PCF or to form an independent organization on a national basis?” There was unanimous support for the latter formulation.82

By 1928 Hadj-Ali seems to have begun to withdraw from the activism that had consumed his life since 1921. Seeing Messali as his successor, he handed over the leadership of the ENA to the younger man.83 The PCF was withdrawing its support for the ENA and he was becoming estranged from the party. He was finally expelled from the PCF, probably in 1930, for having stood as a candidate in the municipal elections without party permission.84 There are few details known about this episode, but it was merely the final consummation of a break that had been developing for some time.

Nevertheless, Hadj-Ali remained very active in the ENA, which was facing considerable difficulties because of both state repression and the withdrawal of PCF support. In January 1929 he chaired an ENA meeting of 1200 people (attracted by a leaflet which promised that Emir Khaled would speak, though he did not turn up).85 Up to 1930 the ENA did not have a paper, and presented its policies through leaflets and public meetings. In October 1930 Hadj-Ali played a key role in the founding of the paper El-Ouma (The Nation), of which he was the first editor. However, he seems to have withdrawn from this activity by the beginning of 1932.86 In 1931 he was still a member of the leadership of the ENA.87

By 1930 Hadj-Ali’s life was changing in other ways. Despite his intense political activity his ironmonger’s shop had prospered. This was undoubtedly due to the hard work of his wife, who looked after the shop on his many absences for political duties. She also served as hostess to the numerous political contacts who visited the premises. While she does not seem to have been directly involved in political activity, she shared her husband’s commitment and made an essential contribution; without her his political career could scarcely have been possible.88

In 1928 he arranged to build a house at Brunoy, a village some thirty kilometres to the south of Paris. The couple moved there in 1930; he took great pleasure in the rural setting, which must have reminded him of the agricultural area in which he had grown up. Messali Hadj referred to this new home, perhaps ironically, as a “ranch.”89 Having sold his successful shop for a good sum, he looked for new areas of investment. He began to acquire property in Montgeron, a commune close to Brunoy. He acquired a café, a block of apartments to rent, a bus company, a large garage, and a cinema. Not surprisingly some of his political opponents described him as having become “embourgeoisé.” Yet it should be noted that he was generous with his money and donated to charities and political causes.90

As he began to move away from direct involvement in politics he also began to drift away from his friendship with Messali. Around 1930 Messali and his wife still used to stay for weekends with Hadj-Ali in Brunoy. But Messali recalled that “while remaining polite, he was embarrassed and ill at ease with me.”91

Under Messali’s leadership the ENA made good progress; successful meetings were held in various French towns, and by 1934 the circulation of El-Ouma had risen to 40,000.92 From November 1934 to May 1935 Messali was in jail, a sign that the government regarded his movement as a real threat.93 In June 1936, just after the election of the Popular Front government, the ENA held a large rally. Messali and Hadj-Ali had not met for some time, but they greeted each other cordially.94

In January 1937 the Popular Front government, backed by the Communists, took the decision to dissolve the ENA. A few days later L’Humanité published a long article criticizing the “hostility of the leaders of the Étoile Nord-Africaine to our party and to the Popular Front”; it did not condemn the dissolution.95

On February 11, a meeting was held in Paris to protest banning the ENA, with some 3500 people packed into the hall. Messali himself spoke, and among the other speakers was Hadj-Ali.96 A month later, at Nanterre in the suburbs of Paris, another meeting was held to launch a new organization, the Parti du Peuple Algérien (Algerian People’s Party, or PPA), which effectively continued the work of the ENA. Again Hadj-Ali was present, and was among the founding members of the PPA. It would be the last time he would meet Messali.97 Although he was no longer as active, Hadj-Ali had clearly not renounced the ideas he had believed in.

By now both Messali and Hadj-Ali were deeply disillusioned with the PCF. There were other forces to the left of the PCF – the grouping around Pierre Monatte and La Révolution prolétarienne, the Trotskyists, and the quite substantial left-wing current in the Socialist Party, led by Marceau Pivert. Messali had contacts with these,98 but Hadj-Ali does not seem to have looked towards them. Perhaps “once bitten, twice shy” would have summed up his feelings. In 1935 he became political editor of another journal, Le Peuple algérien, for which he continued to write until the outbreak of World War II.99

During the German occupation of France (1940–44), he seems to have been completely inactive. A few Algerian nationalists, seeing French imperialism as the main enemy, misguidedly hoped they might get some advantage from collaboration with the Nazis, but there is no evidence that Hadj-Ali had any part in this.100

Hadj-Ali’s last years were miserable. After the Liberation he bought two restaurants, but neither was a success. His commercial career came to an end as his health deteriorated seriously. He had been a heavy smoker and he now fell victim to a serious lung disease; he was hospitalized in 1947 and remained there until his death in May 1949.101

From his sickbed he wrote a final letter—in a sense his testament. This was the letter to La République algérienne, quoted above, in which he reasserted that he had been the main founder of the ENA. La République algérienne was the journal of the Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien (Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto, UDMA), led by Ferhat Abbas. (Abbas at this time was a moderate nationalist, who urged the formation of an Algerian state with French cooperation. He later joined the FLN—National Liberation Front.) In the same letter Hadj-Ali declared himself in full agreement with the doctrine and tactics of the UDMA.102 But it is clear that he defended his own past record and that he continued to support Algerian independence.

That Hadj-Ali should have mostly disappeared from history is scarcely surprising. A great many of those who played leading roles in the early years of the PCF had disappeared by 1930 and they were omitted from most histories of the party.103 Messali maintained his organization under new names,104 but in the early 1950s there was a split with the emergence of the FLN, which carried through the struggle for Algerian independence but which also fought a bitter internecine war against Messali’s organization, the Mouvement National Algérien, in which thousands died.105 As a result it was quite a long time before Messali’s role in the history of Algerian nationalism got the recognition it deserved; but today the airport at Tlemcen, Messali’s birthplace, is called the “Messali El Hadj Airport”. His mentor Hadj-Ali, though, largely disappeared from the story.

Hadj-Ali was just one of many of his generation, talented and dedicated revolutionaries whose initial hopes and aspirations were ultimately thwarted by the degeneration of the Communist International and the rise of Stalinism. But for several years he made an important contribution to the movement, and deserves to be remembered.

Thanks to Tithi Bhattacharya for encouraging me to write this article.

J. Wolfreys, “After the Paris Attacks: An Islamophobic Spiral,” International Socialism 146 (2015), http://isj.org.uk/after-the-paris-attacks/.
See John Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn: Baku, 1920, First Congress of the Peoples of the East (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1993).
John Riddell, ed., Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International 1922 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 685.
Leon Trotsky, “On the National Question,” Pravda, May 1, 1923; in In Defence of the Russian Revolution, Al Richardson, ed. (London: Porcupine Press, 1995), 181.
Abdellah Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader (Algiers: Casbah Publishers, 2006).
See Ian Birchall, “À bas l’indigénat,” Parti des Indigènes de la République, December 3, 2001, http://indigenes-republique.fr/these-sur-lindigenat-precede-dune-presentation-de-ian-h-birchall-les-communistes-contre-le-code-de-lindigenat/.
Roger Murray and Tom Wengraf, “The Algerian Revolution—1”, New Left Review 1, no. 22 (December 1963), 25.
Malika Rebai Maamri, The State of Algeria: The Politics of a Post-Colonial Legacy (London: I. B. Tauris, 2015), 3.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 37.
Ibid., 39–40.
Ibid., 41–43.
Ibid., 45–46.
Ibid., 48–50.
Ibid., 50.
M Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis (London, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 97.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 51.
Paul B. Miller, From Revolutionaries to Citizens (Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2002), 77.
See Ian Birchall, “Le Sou du soldat”, http://grimanddim.org/historical-writings/le-sou-de-soldat/ .
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 68, 77–80.
Ibid., 52.
M Kaddache, Histoire du nationalisme algérien, (Algiers: Casbah Publishers, 1981), 89.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 80–81.
Le Paria, no. 2 (May 1922,), 1.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 65–66.
Baku: Congress of the Peoples of the East (stenographic report), London, 1977, 161.
Terms of Admission into Communist International: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x01.htm.
Quoted from Ho’s Écrits (Hanoi: Editions En Langues Etrangeres, 1971), 121–22. Another version of the speech appeared in La Vie ouvrière, December 31, 1920), 3.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 63, 73.
M Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis, 279.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 86–88.
See Ian Birchall, “‘Le Paria’. Le Parti communiste français, les travailleurs immigrés, et l’anti-impérialisme (1920-24),” Contretemps, http://www.contretemps.eu/interventions/paria-parti-communiste-fran%C3%A7ais-travailleurs-immigr%C3%A9s-lanti-imp%C3%A9rialisme-1920-24.
Claude Liauzu, Aux Origines des tiers-mondismes (Paris: Parcourir les Collections, 1982), 109.
Isaac Deutscher, “Record of a Discussion with Heinrich Brandler,” New Left Review 1, no. 105 (1977).
For the Communist International’s rather stingy attitude to the financing of anti-imperialist activities, see Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism and Communism (Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 2013).
Liauzu, Aux Origines des tiers-mondismes, 110.
Le Paria, no. 22 (January 1924): 1.
Le Paria, no. 21 (December 1923), cited in Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 70–71.
Bulletin communiste, December 7, 1922. English translation in Revolutionary History 10, no. 4 (2012).
Bulletin communiste, December 14, 1922. English translation in Revolutionary History 10, no. 4 (2012).
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 163–64.
L’Humanité, April 28, 1924, 2.
Liauzu, Aux Origines des tiers-mondismes, 18.
L’Humanité, April 5, 1924, 4.
Ibid., April 25, 1924, 2.
Ibid., April, 28, 29, May 7, 8, 9, 1924.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 104.
Ibid., 100–103.
L’Humanité, May 13, 1924, 1; Le Temps, May 13, 1924, 8.
Benjamin Stora, Messali Hadj (Paris: Parcourir les Collections, 1986), 52–55.
Les Mémoires de Messali Hadj (Paris: Parcourir les Collections, 1982), 136. Messali’s Mémoires were edited and pruned after his death from an unfinished manuscript. Nonetheless they constitute a very valuable source. See J Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine (Paris: Parcourir les Collections, 2003), 292–93.
Les Mémoires de Messali Hadj, 138.
Ibid., 137.
Ibid., 2.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 92–93.
Ibid., 97.
Les Mémoires de Messali Hadj, 146.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 206.
Les Mémoires de Messali Hadj, 137.
Le Paria, no. 25, April–May 1924.
See Ian Birchall, “From the Schoolroom to the Trenches: Laïcité and Its Critics,” http://grimanddim.org/historical-writings/2015-from-the-schoolroom-to-the-trenches/.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 212.
Ibid., 185.
Ibid., 132–34, 142–46.
Ibid., 142.
Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis, 144–45.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 73.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 251–52.
La République Algérienne, December 24, 1948, cited in Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 130–32.
Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis, 203.
See H R Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010).
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 64.
Le Paria, no. 9, December 1922, 1.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 67.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 240.
Ibid., 95.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 188–89.
See Riddell, ed., Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International 1922.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 186.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 106.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 58.
Kaddache, Histoire du nationalisme algérien, 188.
Ibid., 230.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 190.
Ibid., 97–98.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 131.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 120–23.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 253.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 198.
Les Mémoires de Messali Hadj, 141.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 53–55.
Les Mémoires de Messali Hadj, 161, 168.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 161.
Ibid., 162–64.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 192–93.
J. Moneta, Le PCF et la question coloniale (Paris: Parcourir les Collections, 1971), 113–16.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 221.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 193.
Simon, L’Étoile Nord-Africaine, 308.
Righi, Hadj-Ali Abdelkader, 124–25.
Ibid., 126–28.
Ibid., 55–56. Benjamin Stora, in his Dictionnaire biographique de militants nationalistes algériens (Paris: Parcourir les Collections, 1985), 51, gives 1957 as the date of his death.
Stora, Dictionnaire biographique de militants nationalistes algériens, 55.
See Ian Birchall, “PCF: The Missing Founders,” http://grimanddim.org/historical-writings/2011-pcf-the-missing-founders/.
Le Parti du Peuple Algérien (with a legal wing Le Mouvement pour le triomphe des libertés démocratiques) and later Le Mouvement National Algérien.
See B Stora, Messali Hadj (1898–1974), Ian Birchall, “A Note on the MNA,” Revolutionary History 10, no. 4 (2012).
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Science, socialism and the Russian Revolution-John Parrington

Posted by admin On July - 9 - 2017 Comments Off on Science, socialism and the Russian Revolution-John Parrington

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Science matters to socialists.1 For one thing, it’s impossible to be an effective activist in the 21st century without having some awareness of the impact of science on society. The threat of global warming, the replacement of jobs by computers and robots, the ethical issues raised by new advances in genome editing—a response to all of these issues requires scientific understanding. It is not only new technologies that are of interest. A key aspect of the socialist view of the world is that everything—from the origin of the universe to the human mind—can ultimately be explained by science. For this reason, socialists have an interest in even the most apparently esoteric new scientific insights about the natural and social world, even if their practical importance may be some distance in the future.

At the same time, socialists have something important to offer science. A common view about science is that it is “pure” knowledge, unaffected by the society in which it originates. In contrast, socialists believe that scientific knowledge can not only be misused, for instance in the use of Albert Einstein’s discoveries to build an atom bomb, but also that scientific theories themselves reflect a particular society’s values. Since modern science grew up under capitalism, this means that it will tend to be influenced by the values of that system. In fact there is a tension between this tendency and the pursuit of truthful knowledge about the actual state of the world that is central to science. Importantly, opposition to capitalism throws up a challenge not only to the misuse of science and technology, but also to the idea that science is a value-free, neutral pursuit of truth. Such opposition has also revealed the possibility of new ways to approach science, and of harnessing technologies to benefit ordinary people, not only the privileged few. This phenomenon is particularly well illustrated by what happened to science and technology in Russia following the revolution of 1917.

In 1917 workers took control of a major country for the first time in history. The revolution led to some immediate changes in Russian society. Before the revolution, antisemitism had been rife and pogroms against Jewish people were actively encouraged by the Russian ruling class. Yet after the revolution, Russian workers recognised Leon Trotsky, a Jew, as leader of the Red Army. For the first time in history a woman, Alexandra Kollontai, became a government minister. Divorce and abortion were available on demand, and also for the first time, laws discriminating against gays were abolished. In addition, new and exciting forms of art and literature flourished, not just in the galleries, but in the streets and factories.

Such intellectual ferment wasn’t only confined to the arts. For many young scientists the revolution offered the possibility of a complete reworking of science. Their aim was not dry academic scholarship but the creation of scientific theories that would be of great practical importance for the construction of the new socialist society. The excitement among scientists at this time has been powerfully expressed by the psychologist Alexander Luria:

I began my career in the first years of the great Russian Revolution… From the outset it was apparent that I would have little opportunity to pursue the kind of well-ordered, systematic education that serves as the cornerstone for most scientific careers. In its place life offered me the fantastically stimulating atmosphere of an active, rapidly changing society. My entire generation was infused with the energy of revolutionary change—the liberating energy people feel when they are part of a society that is able to make tremendous progress in a very short time.2

Psychology was only one of the scientific disciplines transformed after the revolution. In the 1920s and early 1930s, scientists in the new Soviet Union made major contributions in genetics, evolutionary theory, ecology, materials science and cosmology.3 As well as having a major impact on science in the Soviet Union itself, the revolution also left its mark on scientific practice around the world, helped along by left wing scientists sympathetic to the ideals of the new socialist state. Tragically, the intellectual excitement and freedom that characterised Russia in the 1920s came to a juddering halt with Stalin’s rise to power at the end of the decade. Stalin’s brutal counter-revolution was coupled with the suppression of any intellectuals who disagreed with his reactionary view of the world.

In this article, I will outline some of the key ways in which both scientific theory and practice blossomed in the years following the revolution, and how these were then affected by the degeneration of the revolution under Stalin. In addition, I will seek to ground such developments in scientific theory and practice, in a wider analysis of what Marxism has to offer science, and what it can learn from the latter. Finally, I will consider how the 1917 revolution influenced science and technology at the international level, and how we might seek to use the experiences of the revolution in our debates about science in the present day.

Vygotsky, Voloshinov, and a Marxist approach to psychology

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was significant in two major respects. First, as noted above, it demonstrated the potential of ordinary workers to take power for themselves. Second, the philosophy guiding the new state was the dialectical materialist approach pioneered by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. So how did these two novel features affect scientific progress in post-revolutionary Russia? In fact the development of science in the early Soviet Union shows that even in a socialist society, the development of a truly dialectical, materialist approach to nature is far from assured and instead must be fought for, against pseudo-scientific approaches.

A fundamental issue for Marxist scientists in post-revolutionary Russia was developing a scientific understanding of the material basis of consciousness. Lev Vygotsky was particularly interested in this question. He became one of the foremost psychologists in the Soviet Union during the 1920s and up to his tragically early death from tuberculosis in 1934.4

One issue faced by those seeking to develop a Marxist psychology in the 1920s was that mainstream psychology was then, and remains today, in a state of crisis. Vygotsky recognised this with his comment that “there are many psychologies but no Psychology”.5 At that time, three particularly influential viewpoints were introspective psychology, behaviourism and psychoanalysis. Introspective psychology, pioneered by individuals such as the American psychologist and philosopher William James, brother of the novelist Henry James, sought to understand the human mind by questioning individuals about their innermost thoughts. Behaviourism was stimulated by Ivan Pavlov’s discovery of conditional reflexes. Meanwhile psychoanalysis developed from Sigmund Freud’s discovery that the neurotic individuals he analysed seemed to be supressing important thoughts and desires, leading to the idea of an unconscious mind existing alongside the conscious one of which we are aware.

Vygotsky recognised the important insights into the workings of the human mind that James, Pavlov and Freud had provided. Yet he also pointed to two problematic tendencies within their respective schools of thought. The first tendency was for each insight to develop into an all-encompassing view of the mind that tended to exclude other viewpoints; the second tendency was for this worldview to begin to collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions. The first tendency was illustrated by the way behaviourism developed into the view that all human behaviour could be seen as a series of conditioned reflexes. In contrast, Freudian psychoanalysis led to the idea that an individual’s behaviour, and even human society as a whole, could be explained as a battle between the conscious and unconscious mind. Meanwhile, introspective psychology argued that only the individual can truly assess his or her innermost feelings. These mutually exclusive ways of viewing the mind meant that “any behavioural or mental act being expressed in terms of these three systems would acquire three entirely different meanings”.6

The second tendency was shown by the different viewpoints expanding to the point that they became a parody of the original insight. So, as Vygotsky observed, Freud’s view that unconscious impulses were primarily due to repressed sexuality, led to psychoanalysis attempting to explain all of human society in this light, and the belief that: “Communism and totem, religion and Dostoevsky’s writings, occultism and commercials, myth and Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions—all of them are just a libido in disguise and nothing else”.7

Vygotsky believed that to utilise the many insights that psychological research has uncovered it is not enough simply to graft Marxist concepts on to existing theories of the mind. Instead, it is necessary first to understand the nature of the crisis, in order to reformulate a view of the mind that overcomes the splits that characterise mainstream psychology. Importantly, there are no short cuts to such an approach. As Vygotsky put it:

I don’t want to discover the nature of mind by patching together a lot of quotations. I want to find out how science has to be built, to approach the study of the mind having learned the whole of Marx’s method… In order to create such an enabling theory-method in the generally accepted scientific manner, it is necessary to discover the essence of the given area of phenomena, the laws according to which they change, their qualitative and quantitative characteristics, their causes. It is necessary to formulate the categories and concepts that are specifically relevant to them—in other words, to create one’s own Capital.8

Vygotsky argued that the essence of Marx’s method in Capital was to define a “unit of analysis”, in this case the labour theory of value, which provides a means to understand the system as a whole. He concluded that the key to understanding consciousness was to define such a unit of analysis for the human mind. A Marxist psychology can do this by taking as a point of departure those qualities that make the human mind unique. Instead of pursuing a metaphor taken from the animal world or from a machine, it is necessary go back to what it means to be human. Only Marxism provided the key to a scientific psychology because it had correctly taken historically-created humanity as its starting point.

In particular, the publication in Russia in 1925 of Engels’s Dialectics of Nature with its essay “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”,9 inspired Vygotsky to try to extend the Marxist conception. An important feature of Engels’s view of human evolution was its emphasis on the fact that labour, the capacity to act upon the world using tools, was only able to develop within a co-operative and social context.10 This led to the need to communicate while engaging in such labour, stimulating the development of that other specifically human attribute—language. These two attributes combined then led to the development of human consciousness. Vygotsky creatively elaborated on Engels’s account of how tool use allowed human beings to begin to shape the world around them. He proposed that language, through becoming internalised as thought, could itself be viewed as a tool, in this case shaping consciousness. What language and tools have in common is that they both act as mediators, except that whereas technical tools are aimed at “mastering, and triumphing over nature”, language is an “internal activity aimed at mastering oneself”.11

One phenomenon that Vygotsky focused on was the tendency for young children to talk to themselves as they play. The French psychologist Jean Piaget labelled this phenomenon “egocentric speech”, but whereas he saw it as a relic of a past developmental stage, Vygotsky believed that such speech was a vital stage in a child’s development. By studying young children, Vygotsky showed that “egocentric speech” is not only centrally involved in guiding the child’s activity but also, later, becomes internalised as “inner speech” and helps to create the thought processes of the child. In other studies Vygotsky showed that conceptual understanding is not something that comes immediately to the child. Instead, children go through a series of stages in their conceptual development. Vygotsky’s studies showed that this is an active process on the child’s part, whereby the child seeks out the words and concepts that make sense of his or her everyday practical and social experience. Continual testing of the meaning of language against reality is one of the features that allow the child to reach towards future knowledge and abilities.

Vygotsky was not the only Russian thinker at this time with such an attitude to the role of language in human consciousness. Valentin Voloshinov, a philosopher of language, was coming to similar conclusions, although there is no evidence that he and Vygotsky ever met.12 Voloshinov was more concerned with adult thought patterns. He believed that: “we do, after all, think and feel and desire with the help of words; without inner speech we would not become conscious of anything in ourselves. This process of inner speech is just as material as is outward speech”.13 But he also argued that thought and language not only share the same transmission medium, they have the same source, that is, society. Voloshinov believed that “social psychology…is not located anywhere within (in the ‘souls’ of communicating subjects) but entirely and completely without—in the word, the gesture, the act”.14 For Voloshinov every individual engages in “horizontal” social relationships with other individuals in specific speech acts, and simultaneously in “vertical” internal relationships between the outer world and their own psyche. The psyche is thus not an internal but a boundary phenomenon. As he put it: “Individual consciousness is not the architect of the ideological superstructure, but only a tenant lodging in the social edifice of ideological signs”.15

Voiced in such a way, it might appear that Voloshinov viewed language, and therefore thought, as something imposed upon the individual from the outside, like the “blank slate” theory of the mind of the behaviourists. In fact this was far from the case, since Voloshinov saw language as a highly dynamic process, in which the individual plays a highly active role. Or as he put it, each word “is a two-sided act. It is determined equally by whose word it is and for whom it is meant… A word is a bridge thrown between myself and another”.16 And it is the social relations between the two individuals taking part in a verbal exchange that influence the way this exchange develops:

The word is implicated in literally each and every act or contact between people—in collaboration on the job, in ideological exchanges, in the chance contacts of ordinary life, in political relationships, and so on… The word has the capacity to register all the transitory, delicate, momentary phases of social change.17

Such a viewpoint raises the question of how this can be so, given that all individuals in a particular society use the same words, the same language system. The reason is that words used by groups with radically different circumstances and life activities become inflected with different and competing meanings as these groups struggle to express their life situations, their outlooks and their aspirations. Because of this, for Voloshinov, language exists in “a continuous process of becoming. Individuals do not receive a ready-made language at all, rather, they enter upon the stream of verbal communication”.18

While Voloshinov viewed words as having multiple accents, he did not see this as a random process. Instead, verbal exchanges between individuals are governed by what he called “speech genres”.19 These form a crucial link in the process of moving from the abstract level of a language system to the concrete richness of speech. Speech genres come in a variety of different forms, and it is this that gives social interaction its range and dynamism. So a secretarial worker might use a formal and deferential genre while speaking with her boss, a more relaxed and humorous one while talking with workmates at lunch and a more politicised genre at a union meeting during a workplace dispute.

Importantly, being linked to organised social groups, speech genres are very sensitive to social change. Examples would be the way that the word “gay” was appropriated as a positive term for homosexuality, but also how distinctions in languages between formal and informal terms of address, for instance “vous” and “tu” in French, have disappeared in other languages such as English with its simple “you”.

Such are the surface changes that can take place during the evolution of a language, but how does this relate to what is going on in an individual mind? Importantly, in line with Vygotsky’s view that “higher mental functions appear on the inter-psychological plane before they appear on the intra-psychological plane”, or Voloshinov’s belief that consciousness is “a social entity that penetrates inside the organism of the individual person”, inner speech appears to be not so much a monologue but closer to a dialogue in character.20 As Voloshinov himself put it, “the units of which inner speech is constituted are certain whole entities somewhat resembling a passage of monologic speech or whole utterances. But most of all, they resemble the alternating lines of a dialogue”.21 When coupled with Voloshinov’s claim that different speech genres represent the interests of different groups within society, this dialogic aspect of inner speech has important consequences, for it suggests that an individual consciousness contains different perspectives drawn from different parts of society. Drawn from an individual’s development from childhood to adulthood, such inner “voices” may represent the viewpoints of an individual’s parents, siblings, schoolteachers, past and present friends, or any assortment of people who have had an influence over the years. Importantly, this dialogue may become argumentative, and it can also be influenced by new voices as an individual’s personal circumstances change.

Far from being “knowledge for knowledge’s sake”, such a view of human consciousness has very important practical consequences, for instance for education. In the same way that he saw social interaction acting as a kind of scaffolding for the development of the child, Vygotsky believed that individuals learn best when learning is part of experience. Such an approach has been vindicated by recent studies in the United States which have successfully taught literary skills precisely along the lines proposed by Vygotsky.22 One group, working in a deprived area of Chicago, situated reading and writing in everyday activities like talking, drawing and even play, while in a school in Arizona, writing classes were geared to the children’s everyday experiences outside the classroom. This took the form of project work whose content was drawn from the working class community where the knowledge of parents and other workers in the community was enlisted. In these studies, spelling and grammar were not ignored, but the emphasis was put primarily on treating reading and writing as communicative and meaningful. With such an approach even the most uninterested or apparently incapable children made dramatic improvements in their literary skills.

Vygotsky would have been highly critical of the sort of tests that recent governments in Britain—both Tory and Labour—have introduced into schools. He attacked the class and cultural bias of such tests, and argued that they tell us very little about learning potential. He proposed that a true assessment of a child’s ability should not just consider what they can achieve unaided, but also what can be achieved through collaboration with others.

In addition to this general focus on education, Vygotsky was particularly concerned with the problems faced by those with learning difficulties. Indeed, he practically founded what we call special education. He also investigated the nature of “mental illnesses” such as schizophrenia, began to look into the biological basis of consciousness and even advised the film director Sergei Eisenstein on how to portray complex ideas visually on the screen.

At their height in the late 1920s Vygotsky’s views about the mind were among the most influential in Russia. Yet after his death in 1934 Vygotsky was denounced for “bourgeois idealism”, partly due to his willingness to consider the work of psychologists such as Freud and Piaget, and his writings banned.

In place of Vygotsky and Voloshinov’s sophisticated view of the human mind, the psychological viewpoint that now became dominant in Stalin’s Russia was crude behavourism—the idea that human beings start life as “blank slates” that society then imposes a personality on through conditioned reflexes. This viewpoint was expressed in 1930 by the US behaviourist John Watson when he said: “Give me a dozen healthy infants…and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors”.23 This viewpoint fitted with the idea that anyone could thrive and find fulfilment in the socialist paradise of Stalin’s Soviet Union. The reality of course was quite different, but those who rebelled against the official viewpoint could be considered as “insufficiently conditioned”, and sent to the labour camps of the Gulag Archipelago to be “re-educated”.

Vavilov, Lysenko and genetics: a Russian tragedy

Another important area of science that blossomed after the Russian Revolution was genetics. In particular, the work of geneticist Nikolai Vavilov revolutionised our understanding of genetic diversity among plants and its implications for agriculture.24 Vavilov was born in 1887 in Moscow into a well-off, middle class family and, in 1906, entered the Petrovskaya Agriculture Academy, one of many institutes established after the devastating famine of 1892.

In the first years of the 20th century, Russian agricultural practices lagged behind those of other European countries and the United States. From the start of his career Vavilov undertook “to work for the benefit of the poor, the enslaved class of my country, to raise their level of knowledge”.25 After graduating, he spent a year researching wheat at the Bureau of Applied Botany in St Petersburg, before beginnning a two-year tour of European laboratories. His stay with William Bateson in Cambridge was particularly fruitful. Bateson was a major proponent of the new science of genetics. This science had been kick-started by the rediscovery of the significance of the scientific findings of an obscure monk, Gregor Mendel. Working in a monastery in Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic, Mendel showed that inheritance of different characteristics follows set mathematical laws.26 This insight led to the idea that such characteristics are due to inherited factors, which later became known as “genes”.

Following the revolution of 1917, Vavilov took up a post as a professor in Saratov, a large city on the Volga river some 700 kilometres southeast of Moscow. It was from here that he set out on expeditions to Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, North and South America and the Mediterranean, seeking plants that might increase agricultural productivity in Russia. As well as their importance for the development of agriculture, Vavilov’s findings were also imprtant for ecology. He was the first to demonstrate the existence of “biodiversity hotspots”—regions in the world that are centres of genetic diversity. Vavilov’s work complemented that of Vladimir Vernadsky, another Russian scientist who achieved international renown for his analysis of the biosphere—the regions of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere occupied by living organisms.27 The existence of biodiversity hotspots is now recognised as of major importance in efforts to conserve species from extinction. In fact an awareness of the need to safeguard the environment was an important feature of the early Soviet Union. Lenin insisted that a “rational exploitation” of the environment, or the scientific management of natural resources in accord with the principles of conservation, was essential. He argued for “preservation of the monuments of nature”, and the dedicated environmentalist Anatoly Lunacharsky was put in charge of conservation in the Soviet Union.28 Lenin had enormous respect for Vernadsky, and at his urging established in the southern Urals the world’s first nature reserve implanted by a government, exclusively aimed at the scientific study of nature.

In 1930 Vavilov was appointed director of the Institute of Genetics of the USSR Academy of Sciences, in recognition of his position as the country’s leading plant geneticist and his international reputation. Yet just six years later, he was in disgrace, supplanted by a man called Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko couldn’t have come from a more different background to Vavilov. Born in 1898 into a peasant family, Lysenko was only able to attend a school of agriculture and horticulture because of the new possibilities in education offered to workers and peasants after the revolution. As an agricultural researcher he first came to prominence in 1927, when the state newspaper Pravda reported his success in changing the time of sprouting in seeds by exposing them to differing periods of cold temperatures, a phenomenon known as “vernalisation”. The reporter noted that Lysenko was working for the people, not carrying out esoteric research studying the “hairy legs of flies”.29 This was a reference to those scientists carrying out research on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, a species that had been developed as an experimental organism by Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia University in New York. Far from being esoteric, such research would eventually lead to the discovery of the genetic basis of severe human diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia and haemophilia, and the award of a Nobel Prize to Morgan in recognition of the importance of his findings.30

Lysenko promoted himself as the discoverer of vernalisation when in fact it had been known about since 1858. He also claimed it could provide a solution to the Soviet Union’s chronic food shortages.31 This was a particular issue at this time as the consolidation of land and labour known as collectivisation, that began around 1929 under the new Stalinist regime, had led to a disastrous collapse of Soviet agriculture. A key aspect of Lysenko’s argument was the claim that the changes in the germination times of the plants became heritable after several generations of vernalisation—in other words that this acquired characteristic would be passed on to the plant’s offspring.

In fact recent studies have suggested that so-called “epigenetic” effects—environmentally-induced chemical changes to genes that do not involve a change to the DNA sequence—mean that the genome is far more sensitive to environmental influence than had been thought.32 Such epigenetic changes can also sometimes be inherited. For instance, after the Dutch famine during the blockade of the country in the Second World War, it was found that baby girls born to mothers who had been starved not only suffered from health problems themselves, but passed these problems on to their own children. This is thought to be due to epigenetic inheritance.

It may be that Lysenko had stumbled across a real phenomenon in his studies of plants. But if this was the case, it was not borne out by other scientists’ scrutiny of his findings, which showed these to be completely lacking in scientific rigour. A major problem was the totally unscientific way in which the effect of Lysenko’s approach was assessed by state officials. The evidence used was anecdotal, not statistical. Unfortunately, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, rationality no longer counted as much as ability to manipulate the political situation. The conflict between Lysenko and the “Mendelian-Morganists”, as geneticists were now labelled by Pravda, reached boiling point in 1936 at a conference at the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Despite many leading Soviet geneticists’ criticisms of Lysenko’s claims, the government-controlled media declared Lysenko the winner. Vavilov now came under particular attack while Lysenko consolidated his position. By this time senior scientists were falling prey to Stalin’s Great Purge, in which as many as one million “anti-revolutionaries and enemies of the people” were executed over two years. The victims included Alexander Muralov, president of the Lenin Academy. Lysenko took his place to become Vavilov’s boss.

In October 1939, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union held another genetics conference. This again ended in triumph for Lysenko. Lysenko’s ideas appealed to the Stalinist regime because he promised rapid advances in agriculture at a time when the regime’s botched agricultural policies had led to thousands of Soviet citizens dying of starvation. He promised that new strains of wheat and other crops with desirable traits could be produced within three years, much quicker than the 12 years that Vavilov required. In many ways, Lysenko’s claim that plant characteristics could be transformed merely by changing their environment, mirrored the behaviourist viewpoint that now dominated Soviet psychology, that saw human beings as blank slates whose behavior was also infinitely malleable. At a 1948 session of the Lenin Academy, Stalin himself drafted Lysenko’s opening remarks. When Vavilov tried to appeal personally to Stalin, the latter sneered: “You are the Vavilov who fiddles with flowers, leaves, grafts and other botanical nonsense instead of helping agriculture, as is done by Academician Lysenko”.33

On 6 August 1940, while collecting plants in Ukraine, Vavilov was seized by the Soviet secret police, taken to Moscow and brutally interrogated over an 11-month period. In July 1941, he was tried and sentenced to death. Later, after appeals from geneticists all over the world, the sentence was changed to one of life imprisonment. However, so bad was the treatment of Soviet prisoners at this time that Vavilov died of starvation on 26 January 1943 in a prison in Saratov, the city where he had begun his illustrious career 26 years before.

But, while Vavilov’s death marked the end of an unfolding personal tragedy, an even greater tragedy was now to engulf the Soviet Union due to the decision by its Stalinist rulers to move from a position of scientific rationalism to one of pseudo-science. The new policies in agriculture based on Lysenko’s theories had catastrophic consequences, and were one of the causes of famine in Russia in the 1930s. Even by 1948 harvests had not reached pre-revolutionary levels. In addition, the turn to pseudo-science would eventually have a negative impact on the influence of the Soviet Union on scientists in other countries.

One foreign scientist who started off as a passionate supporter of the Soviet Union, but then realised to his horror how much things had changed with the rise of Stalin, was the US geneticist Hermann Muller. Muller was a student in Morgan’s famous fruit fly genetics lab at Columbia University.34 While part of Morgan’s group, Muller made some important contributions, such as showing that mutations in one gene could alter the expression of another gene, implying that genes interact. However, Muller didn’t feel his ideas were given sufficient credit in Morgan’s publications, and he moved to set up his own lab at the University of Texas. Here he showed that irradiating fruit flies with X-rays dramatically increased the number of mutants in subsequent offspring: “In a few months Muller found more mutant genes than the total from all the Drosophila labs up to that time”, said James Crow, who was a graduate student at Texas and later became a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.35 This discovery would have a major impact on genetics, by making it possible to link a variety of characteristics to specific genes, in multiple species.

Unfortunately Muller’s socialist views led to trouble with the authorities. He helped publish a Communist newspaper at his university, and the FBI tracked his activities. In 1932 Muller moved to Russia, expecting to find himself among kindred spirits, only to find the country in the grip of Stalin’s clampdown on both personal and academic freedom. By the time he left the country in 1937, many of Muller’s students and colleagues had “disappeared” or been shipped to Siberia, and he was lucky not to meet a similar fate.36

Despite these troubles, Muller’s greatest scientific triumph was still to come. In 1945, he was awarded the Nobel Prize.37 The award not only recognised the importance of Muller’s findings for basic science. It also reflected increasing awareness of the dangerous effects of radiation on human genes, an effect that was to be demonstrated on a far greater scale by the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the same year. For the rest of his life, Muller remained a passionate advocate of the need for a socialist society, but he had realised, to his deep regret, that the Soviet Union under Stalin no longer represented such a society. Tragically, many socialist scientists outside Russia would be forced to come to a similar conclusion, based on bitter experience. This is shown by the rise, and later fall, in influence of the scientific left in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s.

Red professors in Britain

From the start, the impact of the 1917 revolution on science was far from confined to the Soviet Union. It also affected scientists in other countries, including Britain. The University of Cambridge is not generally considered a hotbed of radicalism but it became so for a brief period in the 1930s. Max Perutz, who would eventually receive a Nobel Prize for his pioneering studies on the structure of proteins, first arrived in Cambridge in 1936. Born in Vienna to a wealthy Jewish family, Perutz had been lucky to get a PhD position in the laboratory of JD Bernal, a world expert in protein structure, and thereby manage to escape the coming tide of Nazism that would lead to the deaths of so many other Austrian Jews. To his surprise, the first question Perutz was asked when he joined the Cambridge laboratory was: “Are you a Communist?” It turned out that half the lab, including Bernal himself, were Communists, and the rest were sympathetic to socialist ideas.38

There are two main factors explaining the rise of the scientific left in Britain in the 1930s. First was the economic crisis. Scientists who had been told that their work was part of an effort to make the world a better place, could only watch as the worldwide slump destroyed the industrial fruits of their scientific endeavours. In Britain, science research funding was cut while in Germany the Nazis appeared to be launching a frontal attack against scientific rationality itself.

The second important factor was the presence of the growing Communist Party.39 In the 1930s the CP was able to grow substantially and sink roots deep into the working class movement. The party also distinguished itself by its struggle against the growing British fascist movement. Linking all this together was their newspaper the Daily Worker. By 1932 the CP were selling 20,000 papers on a weekday and 46,000 of the special weekend edition. The growth of socialist ideas among workers undoubtedly helped the left in the universities. But the spark that ignited the scientific left was the growth of fascism. Horrified by Hitler’s victory in 1933 and the rising influence of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, many young scientists began to participate in anti-fascist marches and demonstrations. The scientific left’s leaflets and publications highlighted not only how fascism represented a threat to scientific rationality but also the way the Nazis used pseudo-scientific theories to back up their racist ideas.

The most celebrated addition to the scientific left was the geneticist JBS Haldane. Born into an upper middle class family and educated at Eton and Oxford, he had been a captain in the Black Watch regiment and later admitted to enjoying the First World War. But in 1938 Haldane declared himself a Marxist and a supporter of the CP. In fact Haldane had been growing steadily more left-wing since the early 1920s, being initially part of the fringes of the Labour left. But a growing disenchantment with the unwillingness of the ruling class, and the inability of the Labour Party, to resist fascism, convinced him to throw in his lot with the CP. This disenchantment reached a height during the Spanish Civil War, in which it became clear to Haldane that the policies of the Labour opposition as well as those of the Tory government favoured Franco’s fascists.

Haldane was a well-known and charismatic speaker. Whether speaking at the Albert Hall or in Trafalgar Square, he was always guaranteed to enthuse and inspire his audience. He turned up at one meeting on the Spanish Civil War wearing a beret, having come straight from the Spanish front itself. Even on the subject of “A Dialectical Approach to Biology”, Haldane could still draw a substantial crowd. His personal observation of air raid attacks in Spain turned out to be of great importance in the British scientific left’s campaign for proper air raid protection in the event of war, an issue that gained some immediacy as the Second World War loomed. The scientific left were able to make use of their scientific knowledge in a daring series of “experiments” with gas and explosives, which tested the government’s air raid protection procedures and found them sadly wanting. One of the young scientists who took part in these experiments was Maurice Wilkins, who would later receive a Nobel Prize for his role in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. These experiments and Haldane’s book, Air Raid Protection, were to be of great importance in the CP’s eventually successful campaign to get proper public provision of air raid shelters.

Another important focus for the scientific left was building trade union membership among scientists. Most scientists at the beginning of the 1930s still saw themselves primarily as “professionals” and looked to individual advancement rather than collective struggle. Continued cuts in scientific funding began to challenge this complacency. But equally important was a growing awareness among many young scientists, based on their experience of the anti-fascist movement, of the power of the collective.

Such practical interventions were only one aspect of the British scientific left’s activities in the 1930s. Ideological struggle was an equally vital component of their success. Scientists in or around the Communist Party argued that science is a product of society and that the nature of society affects science too. This approach was first developed early in the decade in the unlikely surroundings of the Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology, held in London in 1931.40 The stimulus for the new approach to the history and philosophy of science was a large delegation from the Soviet Union, led by the Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin. The Soviet delegation put forward a Marxist analysis of science. Boris Hessen, a Russian physicist, demonstrated how Issac Newton’s Principia was shaped by the social contradictions that followed the English Revolution of 1649, while Bukharin himself challenged the very notion of what we understand as science. He argued that science is primarily a social activity and one of the major forces for human progress; but its potential for transforming the world is held back under capitalism. The young left-wing scientists present at the London meeting were enthused by this approach to the history and philosophy of science. In later years they would expand and develop these insights, culminating in Bernal’s 1939 book The Social Function of Science. The success of their endeavour can be judged by the fact that, by the end of the decade, society’s influence on science was accepted not only by the scientific left but by liberals such as the biologist Julian Huxley.

Application of the dialectical method to science also resulted in some important scientific discoveries. One such discovery related to the origin of life on Earth. In the 1930s, working on the same dialectical principles, Haldane in Britain and the Russian scientist Alexander Oparin, independently argued that, originally, Earth’s atmosphere must have been quite different from now.41 Instead of the present highly oxidising atmosphere, it must have been a reducing mixture of hydrogen, ammonia and methane, together with carbon dioxide: exactly the composition that the Galileo probe has revealed on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Titan. Following Oparin and Haldane’s work, it was shown that the major building blocks of life can be created spontaneously in such conditions. The present Earth atmosphere is very different precisely because it is a by-product of life itself, in particular the photosynthesising work of plants.

Nowadays, the popularisation of science is not seen as a particularly radical activity. Newspapers publish both science news and feature articles on science. In addition to specialist magazines like New Scientist and The Scientist, there are programmes on radio and television about science, and there are hundreds of popular science books published every year. At the start of the 1930s, however, popular accounts of science were rare. Those scientists who did popularise their work were judged severely by the scientific establishment, who believed that such activities distracted from the “purity” of the scientific endeavour. It was also thought that understanding science was beyond the capabilities of ordinary workers.

The scientific left held no such prejudices.42 In 1931 the mathematician Hyman Levy, one of the first scientists to join the CP, took part in a series of BBC radio broadcasts on the subject of “Science in a Changing World”. In a later series Levy discussed scientific matters with a skilled manual worker. The seriousness with which the party regarded science was shown by its decision to ask Haldane to write a column for the Daily Worker. Before the Second World War the Daily Worker was the only newspaper to run such a weekly science column. One published collection of Haldane’s columns, called Science and Everyday Life, conveys well Haldane’s approach of linking together familiar and everyday experiences with the science that lies behind them. He managed to explain the most sophisticated scientific concepts in a way that was both informative and entertaining.

During the Second World War the influence of the British scientific left increased if anything. Yet only a few years later the movement was in disarray and its leading members were vilified in influential science magazines as opponents of scientific freedom. What had happened to cause such a turn around? The scientific left was an early victim of the Cold War. But the fact that its base turned out to be so fragile was due partly to a real change in the objective circumstances and partly to its flawed Stalinist politics. One of the strongest arguments of the left in the 1930s was that capitalism was incapable of organising science effectively. But in the short term at least, the postwar boom saw an expansion of funds for scientific research. Another problem was the fragile nature of the alliances that the scientific left had relied on in the 1930s. Its strategy was that of the popular front, which meant differences between Communist scientists and “progressive” members of the scientific establishment were played down. Such erstwhile allies were quick to abandon their association with the left once the Cold War began.

Ultimately, however, it was the equation of socialism with the Soviet Union that was the scientific left’s undoing. Reports were now coming from the Soviet Union about the repression of leading scientists in connection with the Lysenko affair mentioned previously. This “ideologically inspired” state interference in the affairs of science evoked an uncomfortable parallel between Stalin’s treatment of scientists and Adolf Hitler’s, and was the final nail in the coffin of the scientific left. Haldane, a leading geneticist, was one of the British scientists who now severed his connections with the CP.

The uncritical attitude of many of the British scientific left to Stalin’s Russia also affected their views about the history and philosophy of science. What had been a sophisticated, dialectical approach to the question of how much of modern science was about objective truth-seeking, and how much was a distorted reflection of the social values of its time, now became far more mechanical in its outlook. This was particularly shown by Bernal’s four-volume series Science in History, published in 1952.43 While this provided a very useful history of the development of science and technology throughout the ages, it suffered from insufficient recognition of the ways in which the ideology of a particular society affected the content of scientific theory. In the final volume, which looked at the modern world, Bernal was also uncritical of the way that state capitalism in the Soviet Union, with its forced industrialisation programme and arms race with the US, was distorting science and technology in the country. The consequences of this would become apparent in later years when evidence emerged about the terrible effect of industrial pollution on the environment, most catastrophically demonstrated by the Chernobyl disaster.

The 1917 revolution in Russia inspired the British scientific left but the degeneration of the revolution under Stalin eventually led to the downfall of the movement. It was only several decades later that the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s gave rise to a new scientific left, primarily in the United States.

The scientific left in the US

The scientific left of the 1960s and 1970s were part of the so-called “new left” of that period. The fortunes of the scientific left were revived by the global opposition to the Vietnam War in particular.44 Scientists were outraged that research on plant hormones had been used by the military to produce chemical defoliants such as Agent Orange, which were used to destroy the forests and crops of Vietnam. Eventually, evidence would emerge that exposure to Agent Orange was linked to major health problems including cancer in at least three million Vietnamese people, as well as affecting many US Army veterans. In the US, opposition to the Vietnam War saw the rise of left-wing scientist groups like the California-based Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action and the East Coast Science for the People. Science students in universities across the country campaigned against the large number of contracts that universities in the US had with the military, often involving the development of new and more deadly types of weapons.

But it wasn’t only students who became involved in the new movement. Academics from across different scientific disciplines started to question not only the potential for misuse of scientific knowledge, but the very basis of that knowledge. For instance, the geneticist Richard Lewontin, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and the neuroscientist Steven Rose played important roles in challenging certain racist assumptions in science.45 In 1969, Arthur Jensen, an educational psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, had published an article titled “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?”.46 Jensen argued that the poor performance of many people of Afro-Caribbean ancestry in the US was due primarily to genetic factors, and not the poverty and racism faced by so many black US citizens. Lewontin and Gould challenged the biological determinism at the heart of this argument, as well as flaws in the psychological tests designed to measure intelligence, which were standardised to a white, middle class experience of life. Later this critique of biological determinism would culminate in two influential books, Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, and Not In Our Genes,47 which Lewontin co-authored with ecologist Richard Levins and neurobiologist Steven Rose.

Female scientists played an increasingly important role in the scientific left. Psychologist Ethel Tobach, molecular biologist Rita Arditti, biochemist Ruth Hubbard and physiologist Ruth Bleier all published books exploring women’s often inferior position in the scientific hierarchy, and the use of biological determinist arguments to justify this situation.48

As in the 1930s, some scientists at the cutting edge of scientific discovery combined their studies in the lab with political activities that challenged the established order. In 1969, Harvard geneticist Jonathan Beckwith became the first person physically to isolate a gene—the so-called LAC gene, which controls the metabolism of the sugar lactose in bacteria. As a reward for his efforts Beckwith was awarded the drug company Eli Lilly’s Award in Microbiology, but in the spirit of the times he declared that he was giving the $1,000 prize money to the Black Panther Party.49

Another Harvard molecular biologist, Mark Ptashne, found fame by isolating the “LAC repressor”, the regulatory protein that switches the LAC gene on or off in response to the amount of lactose in the environment. Journalist Horace Judson, who interviewed Ptashne at this time, noted his “aviator-style spectacles, T-shirt, sawed-off blue-denim shorts, and sandals—more exposed skin than appeared prudent in a laboratory”.50 Ptashne only achieved his goal after years of trying to find a way to isolate sufficient amounts of the repressor protein to study it. The difficulty of the quest, and the hippy spirit of the times, was summed up by Ptashne’s comment that “people who claimed to be trying to isolate the repressor…weren’t really willing to take the kind of risks that were necessary…psychic risks”.51 But as well as being a scientist at the forefront of his field, Ptashne was also a committed left-wing activist, being particularly active in the campaign against the Vietnam War. Indeed, at the height of his quest to isolate the LAC repressor, Ptashne still found time to visit war-torn North Vietnam, where he gave talks about his work and his anti-war activities.52

Sadly, as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, the scientific left was largely in decline. This partly reflected the general downturn in the class struggle, and the ascendancy of right-wing governments led by Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the US. But it also reflected disagreements within the scientific left. To some extent these mirrored those taking place in the wider movement. So, for instance, some women scientists angered by sexism within the scientific left, and influenced by feminist patriarchy theory, argued that they could only win their goals by organising separately from male left-wing scientists.53

Other disagreements were more specifically related to science. A major disagreement centred on what attitude scientists should have towards the new “recombinant” DNA technology. This enabled molecular biologists to cut and paste DNA in a test-tube for the first time, and also to transform the genomes of organisms ranging from bacteria to mice.

Attitudes to recombinant DNA technology divided the scientific left. On the one hand, some scientists pointed to the possibilities that recombinant DNA technology offered to society, for instance for medical research. This potential was demonstrated by the use of the technology to produce insulin for diabetics by expressing the human insulin gene in a bacterium. On the other hand, such clinical potential was tempered by concerns about the safety of the new technology. In February 1975, a landmark conference was called at Asilomar, California by Paul Berg, one of the pioneers of recombinant DNA technology. The conference was to discuss the possibility that, while: “the new technology opened extraordinary avenues for genetics and could ultimately lead to exceptional opportunities in medicine, agriculture and industry…unfettered pursuit of these goals might have unforeseen and damaging consequences for human health and Earth’s ecosystems”.54 In line with such concerns, in the run-up to the meeting a voluntary moratorium was proposed, and despite the commercial potential of the new technology, this was universally observed not only in academia but also in the burgeoning biotechnology industry.55

The Asilomar meeting decided that recombinant DNA technology could continue, but only following strict guidelines that regulated the safe disposal of genetically modified bacteria. It also introduced genetic safeguards that limited the ability of such bacteria to survive in the wild, should any accidentally escape. A key point, according to Berg, was that the meeting agreed that: “the best way to respond to concerns created by emerging knowledge or early-stage technologies is for scientists from publicly-funded institutions to find common cause with the wider public about the best way to regulate—as early as possible”. Berg was particularly concerned that “once scientists from corporations begin to dominate the research enterprise, it will simply be too late”.56 Such concerns showed that, although the biotechnology industry had developed from academic science, already some of the priorities and interests of the two spheres were diverging, in ways that remain relevant today.

Despite the success of the Asilomar conference in providing a framework for the regulation of recombinant DNA technology, the conference marked a growing divergence between those on the scientific left who continued to oppose it as a dangerous new development, and those who saw it as an important new tool for medical research. Richard Lewontin not only opposed recombinant DNA technology but would also later become a major critic of initiatives such as the Human Genome Project. In contrast, Mark Ptashne refused to go along with the idea that recombinant DNA technology was primarily a problem, seeing it as a massive opportunity for medical research and clinical medicine. “I remained a bona fide lefty until years later when I broke with the left over recombinant DNA”, said Ptashne. “They said we should oppose the experiments because they were dangerous—mobilising the masses and all that. Trouble was that it wasn’t true”.57

In fact, despite initial fears, the risks posed by recombinant DNA technology have been shown to be negligible, partly because regulatory frameworks have been adhered to. But the argument about the technology was about more than risk. It was also based on a belief that molecular biology is so distorted under capitalism that it will always tend to hinder, rather than enhance, the interests of the working class and the socialist movement. Or at least there seems to be no other explanation for the decision by key figures of the scientific left such as Richard Lewontin and Steven Rose to oppose the Human Genome Project. The aim of this project, which cost $3 billion, was to map all the genes in the human genome and “read” their DNA sequence.

Certainly there was much to criticise in many of the claims made by top figures in the scientific establishment during their fund-raising efforts for the project. For example, Walter Gilbert, who received a Nobel Prize for his role in developing ways to read a DNA sequence, ended his seminars at this time by holding up a glittering CD and declaring: “soon I will be able to say ‘here is a human being, it’s me’”.58 Such claims grossly overestimated the extent to which it is possible to learn about a human being from a DNA sequence alone. They were also flawed in trying to reduce the human condition to biology, thereby disregarding the social aspects of being human. Yet, as I have argued elsewhere, the flawed ideology often used to justify the genome project should not detract from the fantastic resource for biomedical science that it has turned out to be.59 Importantly, both the genome project and the follow-up Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project, which sought to map all the functional activity in the genome, have provided us with a picture of the genome as far more than just a DNA sequence, but rather a complex 3D entity that includes both the DNA but also the proteins that it interacts with. Importantly, as discussed above, there is increasing evidence that changes in the environment can directly influence the activity of the genome and be passed on to future generations. Discoveries such as these are influencing not only diagnosis and treatment of disease but also our understanding of what it means to be human.

So what is the basis for the opposition of figures on the scientific left to the genome project and other recent developments in biomedical science, such as stem cell technology? An important clue is in the recent claim by the feminist sociologist Hilary Rose that science under capitalism is “not objective”.60 According to this viewpoint, modern science is so distorted by the values of capitalism that it ceases to present a truthful picture of the world. To me, this seems a departure from the classical Marxist view of science, expressed by Lenin, that “human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral”.61 As such, although modern science may sometimes present a distorted view of reality, it nevertheless provides a progressively more accurate picture.

Unfortunately, there are practical consequences of Rose’s and others’ dismissal of modern science. Currently, both healthcare and biomedical research are in crisis due to government cuts. Yet, if recent technological advances in biomedical science really are inherently flawed, then there is no point in fighting against the cuts in research funding and for new diagnostic methods and therapies to be introduced into our hospitals. Another unfortunate consequence is that scientists themselves begin to be seen as part of the problem, as individuals paid to reproduce capitalist ideology in the laboratory. Not only does this distort the reality of current life in academia, which is about falling living standards, job insecurity, and decreasing funds for research, but it also dismisses the passion with which all the academic scientists I know pursue their studies with both a desire to uncover the truth, and to make the world a better place.

Current prospects for the scientific left

Today the scientific left is a fragment of its former size and influence. The individuals that led the movement in the 1960s and 1970s are now largely retired—“emeritus” professors—or sadly passed away.62 Currently, there is no organised scientific left in either the US or Britain, although a recent welcome development is that Science for the People, which disappeared as an activist organisation in the 1980s, was reported to be reforming as part of growing opposition by US scientists to the election of Donald Trump.63

A major question then is how to rebuild the scientific left today, and what role revolutionary socialists can play in this process. In my view, an important starting point has to be the recognition that science is above all a search for the true, objective state of the world. New discoveries in fields as diverse as genetics and quantum physics are important because they further our understanding of the fabric of reality. Importantly, even the most apparently esoteric research can also lead to important practical benefits, from mobile phones and tablets to new methods for diagnosing and treating cancer.

At the same time, modern science is distorted by the values of the capitalist system under which we live. The distortion can affect science in multiple ways. For instance, some areas of research may be prioritised over others when it comes to funding. A particular issue is that while biomedical science in our universities is increasingly starved of funds, over half of all research spending goes to the military for the creation of ever-more sophisticated ways to kill people in far-off places. Ironically, the blowback from such activities is the rise in terrorist incidents in Europe and the US, with terrorists often using far more low-tech methods, like articulated lorries.

It is not only funding priorities that distort science. As we have seen, distorted views about the role of genes in determining the human condition have led to overinflated claims about the potential of genetics for treating disorders ranging from diabetes to schizophrenia, but they have also been used to justify racist, sexist and homophobic viewpoints.

In such circumstances, those seeking to build a new scientific left need to think carefully about the focus of both their theoretical and practical activities. Clearly, scientists on the left need continually to challenge the distortions of scientific findings that justify class society, inequality, and sexism, racism, and homophobia, distortions that occur not only in the media, but are also evident in some of the statements from members of the scientific establishment. But it is equally mistaken to see ordinary scientists as the enemy. Far from being corrupted by money from drug companies or the military, the reality for most senior academic scientists these days is a falling salary and pension, the threat of redundancy and diminishing funds for research. For more junior scientists, the situation is even more serious, with temporary contracts becoming the norm, and with little likelihood of a permanent job in the future. The Brexit vote has been particularly traumatic for science, since a considerable proportion of scientific researchers in Britain are from European Union countries, and they now face an uncertain future. Many scientists are also concerned at the effect leaving the EU will have on scientific research, given that many laboratories in Britain rely on EU funds.64 It would surely be a huge mistake to see scientists themselves as the enemy. Instead revolutionary socialists need to think carefully about what they can offer to scientists disgruntled by the capitalist system, and what they in turn can learn about the state of the world and the human condition from science.

An important starting point is to involve scientists in campaigns such as those in defence of academic wages and conditions, but also in anti-racist and pro-immigration initiatives. With many PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, and also senior scientists in Britain’s laboratories being from the EU, as well as further overseas, it will be important to state how important free movement of workers across borders is for science, an area of work that is heavily dependent on such free movement and collaborations between labs in different countries. There needs to be a concerted campaign to demand that UK government funding is increased to match any loss of EU funding. But this also needs to be combined with a push for increased academic science funding overall, since this is an area that has been steadily starved of funds over recent years.

Here there is the important issue of priorities to raise. For instance, imagine if the billions being spent on renewing the Trident missile system were instead used to fund medical research, and the application of such research in diagnosis and treatment in our hospitals. It is here that socialists have little to say if they take part in a blanket rejection of new technologies such as genome analysis, gene editing, or stem cell technologies. Instead socialists need to be enthused by the potential of such technologies for medicine, but also able to point to the ways that their development under capitalism distorts such technologies. Why, for instance, is a huge battle being fought by the universities of Berkeley and Harvard for the right to patent the new technology of genome editing? Here, socialists have important potential allies among senior scientists, such as Nobel laureate Sir John Sulston, who led the British component of the Human Genome Project. Sulston opposed the patenting of the genome sequence, and is now similarly opposed to the patenting of genome editing.65

Genome editing—which for the first time makes it possible to modify the DNA sequence of a living cell of any species, including the human species, with precision—looks set to transform biomedical research and clinical medicine, and also agriculture.66 As such it raises many important ethical and political issues that socialists need to be able to debate. Similar debates could be had about many other developing areas of science and technology.

In taking part in such debates, socialists have much to learn from the dialectical approach to science pioneered by people like Lev Vygotsky. The dangers of not pursuing such an approach can be seen by the way in which some contemporary socialists have responded to the so-called “nature versus nurture” debate about human characteristics and disorders. Quite rightly, socialists reject the biological reductionism that sees human characteristics like intelligence, or mental disorders like schizophrenia, as being directly determined by an individual’s genes. Unfortunately, many socialists slip into an equally erroneous social reductionist viewpoint, which is basically just a rehashed form of behaviourism.

In fact all the evidence points to mental disorders being the consequence of a subtle interaction between social and biological factors. The more we learn about the biological basis of mental conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or autism, the more it becomes clear that there is no simple genetic cause, as there is for single-gene disorders like the lung disease cystic fibrosis. But that is not to say that there is no genetic link at all. Instead, genetic differences have a role to play, but only subtly, in certain social circumstances. For instance, a recent study has found that individuals with a change in one of the regions of the genome that acts to switch on a gene called AKT, are more likely to succumb to schizophrenia, but only if they also smoke excessive amounts of cannabis as teenagers.67 Another study found that certain nine year old boys who had been subjected to extremely stressful home environments as toddlers, had significantly altered telomeres—the structures that protect the ends of chromosomes from damage.68 This is important because telomere shortening has been linked to susceptibility to disease, and to premature ageing. But this was only true of boys with a genetic difference in a gene linked to the stress response. Intriguingly, the same genetic difference in boys who had a nurturing, caring home environment, had telomeres that were longer than normal. This shows that there is no simple relationship between a genetic difference and its effects in different environments, exactly what a dialectic approach to biology would predict.

There are important practical consequences to not getting the balance right in the nature versus nurture debate, in terms of the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. On the one hand, there is increasing recognition that simplistic ideas about conditions like schizophrenia and depression being due to imbalances in particular chemicals in the brain, do not reflect the true complexity of the situation, both in terms of the biological and social basis of these conditions. This means that anti-depressant drugs like Prozac may actually be acting in a completely different way than first thought, but it also explains why such drugs have only limited effects in many patients, and none at all in so-called “non-responders”.69 At the same time, the primary focus on biology that is characteristic of psychiatry means that the social causes of such conditions, which might be explored by “talking cure therapies”, can be seen as low priority. This is a particular issue at a time when cuts in public healthcare budgets mean that such therapies are seen as too expensive compared to drug treatments that may be acting as little more than chemical straightjackets.

However, there is also a danger in assuming that mental “disorders” are purely the product of an adverse environment, and have no genetic basis. Such, for instance, is the viewpoint of psychotherapist Oliver James, author of the book Not in Your Genes, who argues that “what is crucial is how, as children, we are (or aren’t) nurtured by our parents”.70 Now, while it is certainly true that family tensions can definitely have a negative impact on mental health, to reduce the situation to one in which “children are born with brains of soft clay, their mental makeup unaffected by genes and infinitely mouldable by their parents”,71 is not only scientifically incorrect, but can also lead to a situation in which parents become the primary targets of blame for their children’s poor mental health. Notably, such a viewpoint has in the past often focused negatively on the role of women. For instance, in the 1950s, the influence of behaviourism meant that it was common to see autistic and schizophrenic individuals as the product of so-called “refrigerator mothers”, high-achieving, emotionally cold women too concerned with forging a brilliant career to give their children a loving and nurturing home environment.72

Instead of the two poles of biological and social reductionism, only a dialectical viewpoint can fully appreciate that human characteristics and disorders are the product of both biology and society, and of wider society as well as the home environment. Such a viewpoint is important if we are to identify new drug treatments based on a proper understanding of the organic basis of mental conditions, but also recognise the social character of disease in a way that does not put the blame on the sufferer or their family, but seeks to understand how social stresses can act as triggers for poor mental health. Taking this view of the mind, there is a place for both drug treatments and talking cures.

Ultimately, it is through science and technology that human beings transform their environment. But in current capitalist society, not only can scientific advances be used to fuel war and oppression, but too often new technologies that could play a positive role are only accessible to a tiny minority of the world’s population. At a time when a baby’s genome in the US can be sequenced in 50 hours to identify a life-threatening disorder, but children in other parts of the world are dying for lack of clean water, and given that uncontrolled global warming now threatens the very future of human civilisation, and perhaps life itself on our planet, the case for a socialist society is surely stronger now than it has ever been. As such, the experience of the Russian Revolution, which showed for a brief period the power of ordinary people to transform society, remains a powerful example. Ultimately, socialists need to make the case that we need a new revolution, as the only way to abolish the unplanned capitalist system, and replace it with a democratically run, socialist society. Only in such a society will science truly blossom, and only in such a society will it be possible to ensure that science is used to improve the lives of ordinary people, not just the privileged few.

John Parrington is an associate professor in molecular pharmacology and tutor in medicine at the University of Oxford. He is the author of The Deeper Genome: Why There is More to the Human Genome Than Meets the Eye (Oxford University Press, 2015) and Redesigning Life: How Genome Editing will Transform the World (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Notes

1 Gasper, 1998.

2 Luria, 1979, p17.

3 Parrington, 2016a.

4 Parrington, 1994.

5 Vygotsky, 1987.

6 Vygotsky, 1987.

7 Vygotsky, 1987.

8 Vygotsky, 1978, p8.

9 Engels, 1954, pp170-183.

10 Harman, 1994.

11 Vygotsky, 1978, p55.

12 It has been suggested that Mikhail Bakhtin was the real author of the two books—Marxism and the Philosophy of Language and Freudianism: A Marxist Critique—that are ascribed to Voloshinov. It is probable we may never know the truth but it is worth pointing out that, although this claim is now accepted uncritically by many commentators, it rests on unsubstantiated facts and contradictory assumptions, as discussed in Parrington, 1997. As such, having noted the controversy, in this article I will assume that the writings ascribed to Voloshinov were actually written by him.

13 Voloshinov, 1987, p21.

14 Voloshinov, 1987, p19.

15 Voloshinov, 1973, p39.

16 Voloshinov, 1973, p86.

17 Voloshinov, 1973, p19.

18 Voloshinov, 1973, p81.

19 Parrington, 1997a.

20 Parrington, 1997a.

21 Voloshinov, 1973, p38.

22 Parrington, 1994.

23 Parrington, 2015a.

24 Witkowski, 2008.

25 Witkowski, 2008.

26 Parrington, 2015b, pp16-18.

27 Parrington, 2000.

28 Parrington, 2000.

29 Witkowski, 2008.

30 Parrington, 2015b, pp18-23.

31 Witkowski, 2008.

32 Parrington, 2015b, chapter 9.

33 Witkowski, 2008.

34 Parrington, 2016b, p24.

35 Parrington, 2016b, p25.

36 Parrington, 2016b, p25.

37 Parrington, 2016b, p26.

38 Parrington, 1997b.

39 Parrington, 1997b.

40 Parrington, 1997b.

41 Parrington, 1998.

42 Parrington, 1997b.

43 Bernal, 1971.

44 Rose and Rose, 2012a, p5.

45 Rose and Rose, 2012a, p7.

46 Rose, 1976.

47 Gould, 1996; Rose, Levins and Lewontin, 1984.

48 Rose and Rose, 2012a, p7.

49 Parrington, 2015b, p52.

50 Parrington, 2015b, p53.

51 Parrington, 2015b, p53.

52 Parrington, 2015b, p53.

53 Rose and Rose, 2012a, p9.

54 Parrington, 2016b p38.

55 The biotechnology industry emerged when a molecular biologist, Herbert Boyer, and an unemployed banker, Robert Swanson, realised that the new technology might have great commercial potential. The pair would go on to found the first biotech company, Genentech—Parrington, 2016b, p36.

56 Parrington, 2016b, p38.

57 Gitschier, 2015.

58 Parrington, 2015b, p87.

59 Parrington, 2013.

60 Rose and Rose, 2012b.

61 Lenin, 1965.

62 Both Ruth Hubbard and Richard Levins died in 2016.

63 Mervis, 2017.

64 Shadan, 2016.

65 Parrington, 2016b, p105.

66 Parrington, 2016b, chapter 6.

67 Morgan and others, 2016.

68 Madhusoodanan, 2014.

69 Marshall, 2006.

70 Devine, 2017.

71 Ritchie, 2016.

72 Costello, 2015.

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