April , 2019

People Aur Politics

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

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Adorno’s Concept of Life Continuum, New York and London, 2007. 163 pp., £70 hb   Reviewed by Rich ...

Archive for July, 2018

Elections in Pakistan: Ali Wazeer, a Marxist in the parliament dominated by feudal lords and capitalists-Farooq Tariq  

Posted by admin On July - 29 - 2018 Comments Off on Elections in Pakistan: Ali Wazeer, a Marxist in the parliament dominated by feudal lords and capitalists-Farooq Tariq  

July 28, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal —

Ali Wazeer, a central committee member of The Struggle group, has won a seat in the national parliament with 23530 votes and his closest rival from religious alliance MMA got 7515. Thus winning the seat with a majority of 16015.

Ali Wazeer was one the main leader of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement and during this year, mass meetings were organised in major cities to raise voices for the fair compensation to the victims of the war on terror” and to demand the release of all “missing” persons or to bring them to the courts if they are guilty.

Two other leader of this PTM also contested for the national parliament and one of them Muhsin Dawer also won the seat after a close competition. Mohsin Javed Dawer got 16526 votes while Aurangzeb of Imran Khan PTI got 10422. However the MMA candidate Mufti Misbahudin MMA got a close 15363.

These two PTM leaders contested from South Wazeeristan, an area dominated by religious fanatics. However, a strong movement for civic rights of Pashtuns had cut across the influence of the fanatics and Pashtuns voted despite all the threats to elect their mass movement leaders.

Two main leaders of PTM presence in the parliament has given a hope to many in Pakistan that at least there would be peoples voices in a parliament dominated by feudal lords, corrupt capitalists and stooges of the military and judicial establishment.

Who is Ali Wazeer
Ali Wazeer is a very special person. His personal ordeal best illustrates what prompted his demands. Ali Wazeer was pursuing a degree in law at the turn of the century when his hometown, Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan agency, became the epicenter of global terrorism when a host of Taliban-allied groups sought shelter in the communities.

No doubt the terrorists had some individual local facilitators, but ultimately it was the state that failed to prevent them from using the territory. When his father, the chief of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, and other local leaders complained of their presence, government officials ignored and silenced them. Instead, Islamabad spent years denying the presence of any Afghan, Arab, or Central Asian militants.

By 2003, the militants had established a foothold in South and North Waziristan tribal agencies and were attempting to build a local emirate. Ali Wazeer elder brother Farooq Wazir, a local political activist and youth leader, became the first victim of a long campaign in which thousands of Pashtun tribal leaders, activists, politicians, and clerics were killed with near absolute impunity. Their only crime was to question or oppose the presence of dangerous terrorists in our homeland.

In 2005, Ali Wazeer was in prison when his father, brothers, cousins, and an uncle were killed in a single ambush. He was there because a draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) law holds an entire tribe or region responsible for the crimes of an individual or any alleged crime committed in the territory.

Ali Wazeer had committed no crime, never got a fair trial, and was not sentenced, yet he was prevented even from participating in the funerals for his family.

In the subsequent years, six more members of our extended family were assassinated. The authorities have not even investigated these crimes let alone held anyone responsible.

Ali Wazeer and his family faced economic ruin after all of the notable men in our family were eliminated. The government failed to prevent the militants from demolishing his family owned gas stations. They later used the bricks to build bathrooms, claiming they were munafiqin (hypocrites) so even the inanimate materials from his businesses were not appropriate to build proper buildings.

His family owned apple and peach orchards in Wana were sprayed with poisonous chemicals, and tube wells were filled with dirt to force them to surrender to the forces of darkness.

In 2016, his family owned market in Wana was dynamited after a bomb blast there killed an army officer which was an accident. They nevertheless destroyed their livelihoods under the FCR. After the demolition, the government prevented the local community — mostly members of our Ahmadzai Wazir tribe — from collecting donations to help them. They were told it would set an unacceptable precedent because the government cannot let anyone help those it punishes.

So all together 16 members of his family, including his father, two brothers were killed by Taliban during these years.

He was one of the main leader of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement, a civic rights movement for the rights of the victims of war on terror. Recently he toured around the country and organised mass rallies in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Swat. Lahore Left Front was the host of Lahore public meeting which was formally not permitted by the authorities, we were not allowed to campaign, no posters stickers were allowed to be spread in the city, Ali Wazeer and seven more were arrested a night before the public meeting and after a massive immediate response, they were released before the rally. Yet, over 10,000 participated in this public meeting.

In April this year, dozens of of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) supporters were injured and 10 were killed as a result of an attack on PTM leader Ali Wazir by the “pro-government militants”, also known as Peace Committee.

However, the PTM sympathisers gathered to welcome Ali retaliated, upon which the militants fled, leaving Ali’s cousin and a Voice of America VOA journalist injured among others.

In an interview during April 2018, Ali Wazeer said,
“The past few months have transformed my life. Amid the agonies I have endured and the threats, suspicion, and accusations I face, the love, support, and respect I receive is overwhelming. Since February, when we began protesting to draw attention to the suffering of ethnic Pashtuns — among the worst victims of terrorism — I have learned a lot about the potential of ordinary Pakistanis. Their thirst for change is inspiring and heralds a peaceful, prosperous future we must build for generations to come”.

During those difficult years, he didn’t lose faith in mass movement and remained committed to politics of class struggle. He ran in the parliamentary elections in 2008 and 2013.

In 2013 general elections, his victory was changed into a defeat at gunpoint. He lost the election for just over 300 votes after the Taliban intimidated voters and tortured his supporters and campaign volunteers.

Amid the volcano of violence, thousands of civilians have disappeared, and thousands have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings. The leaders of PTM are profiled as suspected terrorists across the country, face humiliation at security check posts, and innocent civilians face violence during security sweeps and operations. As the world’s largest tribal society, the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, commitment, and valor, yet they were falsely reduced to terrorist sympathizers despite the fact that they are their worst victims.

Ali Wazeer belongs to The Struggle Group, of Pakistan Marxists.

The group has joined Lahore Left Front, a united platform of several Left groups and parties. However, Lahore Left Front has organised some mass activities where Ali Wazeer participated.

The general election of 2018 was the most rigged elections in the history of Pakistan. The society has moved further to the right with Imran Khan Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf coming to power. Imran Khan called Ali Wazeer prior to the elections and offered him PTI nomination from the area which Ali politely refused. However such a respect of Ali Wazeer that Imran khan told him that in any case we will mot put up our candidate against you.

Prior to the general elections, a whole sale rigging took place on the behest of the Establishment. PMLN candidates were threatened, forced them to change loyalties and so on. PTI had an open support of the most of the state institutions.

In this background when a more right wing party PTI, than the previous ruling party PMLN
Has come to power, a Marxist in the parliament would be a wave of fresh air from the stinking parliament.

Although other Left groups also contested including Awami Workers Party and had launched a tremendous election campaign, however, the election campaign of Ali Wazeer was of some special characteristics. He addressed every day few public meetings, went door to door with his meagre resources. Thousands cheered him all the times. We were all sure that he will win but were afraid of any incident that could cancel the elections from this constituency.

Ali Wazeer has opened the gates for the entire Left. He is loved by most of social activists as well, a sober person who is always down to earth in his presentation in workers meeting but speaks like a lion when he is addressing the ruling class. A fearless class fighter who has emerged as the one of the most respected Left leaders in recent working class history.

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.

One hundred years on, the Great October Revolution is alive and calls for a revolutionary proletarian international!

Posted by admin On July - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on One hundred years on, the Great October Revolution is alive and calls for a revolutionary proletarian international!


by The 4th Euro-Mediterranean Conference
June 23, 2017
This year being the centenary of the Great October Revolution, the 4th Emergency Euro-Mediterranean Conference, held in Athens on 26-28 May 2017, adopted a declaration on this so far the most significant socialist revolution in world history, assessing its meaning for the 20th century and for the future and affirming its actuality.

The 4th Euro-Mediterranean Emergency Conference has conducted its deliberations on the Centenary of the Great October Revolution. The Conference wholeheartedly and unwaveringly declares its conviction that the October Revolution is the most important emancipatory event of the modern era and summons the forces of the working class and all progressive movements to follow in its footsteps and to bring to completion its unfinished mission.

The modern epoch, starting from the first Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, brought humanity an immense leap in the spheres of science, technology and the productive forces. Ironically, the very socio-economic system that made this leap possible, the capitalist mode of production, also made exploitation, unemployment, economic insecurity, poverty in the midst of plenty, and war of unprecedented dimensions and cruelty inescapable facts of life. By putting an end to capitalist private property and showing in practice that a different economic and social order based on common property in the means of production and distribution and conscious planning of production, the October Revolution showed, for the first time in a durable manner, that humanity would be able to put the advances in the productive forces to use without the attendant scourges characteristic of capitalism. Whatever criticism may be levelled at Soviet society and those that followed later in its footsteps, nothing can obliterate the fact that the combination of modern productive forces and common property in the means of production can provide the economic basis for a society that shares and cares for its members, without leaving any in fear for their future. This is a feat that no capitalist country, not even the most advanced and powerful, has been able to achieve on a durable basis.

The October Revolution is not solely a Russian revolution. It is the first revolution through which the only modern social force, the international proletariat, itself a specific product of capitalism, rose to power, albeit at first in a single country. It is from this first great leap forward that the other socialist revolutions of the 20th century, from the Chinese and Vietnamese to the Yugoslav and the Cuban, drew their inspiration and lessons. It is thanks to the support received from this revolution and the Soviet state, its most important product, that the colonial and semi-colonial peoples around the world rose and thus emancipated themselves from abject poverty and national oppression. It is under the whip of the threat of socialism, especially after the extension of the socialist revolution to other countries, that the bourgeoisie of imperialist countries and even of some dependent ones, gave in to the struggles and demands of their working masses, creating thus the highly ideological concept of the “welfare state”, which they hurried to dismantle as soon as the workers’ states started to collapse after 1989. In short, the October Revolution, which brought the proletariat into power for the first time, was in effect the trendsetter of the 20th century all around the world. In this sense and in the historic sense that it still shows us the future, the Great October Revolution and its sequel, the other socialist revolutions of the 20th century, as well as Marxism, the guide to these revolutions, are as much French and Italian and British as they are Russian, as much Balkan or Middle Eastern as they are Chinese or Vietnamese, as much African and surely Latin American as they are Cuban.

The Conference also expresses its conviction that the collapse of the workers’ states that were born in the 20th century is by no means a defeat and bankruptcy for the Marxist idea and programme of socialism, but the product of concrete circumstances that led, first, the Soviet state and, later, those that were born in its footsteps down paths that represented the abandonment of the genuine, revolutionary Marxist programme of proletarian democracy and internationalism. It was not the Marxist programme that failed but an aberration that pretended to be Marxist whereas it was only a caricature of it. The celebration with which the international bourgeoisie greeted the collapse of the workers’ states, producing intellectual stupidities of the type “the End of History” was consigned to the dustbin of history as rapidly as it was greeted. Capitalism has once again brought humanity to the threshold of barbarism in the form of an immense economic crisis, war, and an impending environmental catastrophe. Socialism is once again called to save humanity!

When Lenin arrived from his Swiss exile at the Finland Station in Petrograd, he finished his address to an excited crowd of workers gathered in front of the station by calling for the “World Socialist Revolution”. When approximately one month later Trotsky arrived in Russia from his exile in the United States, the day after his arrival he was invited to speak to the Petrograd Soviet in his former capacity of the President of the same soviet in 1905 and, unaware of what Lenin had said a month before, he closed his address by calling for the “World Socialist Revolution”! This is what the Bolshevik leadership was fighting for in the run up to the October revolution and after. It was for this reason that they formed the Communist International in the difficult days of the Civil War. This is what we should be striving for today: an international organisation that will bring together the revolutionary parties that are fighting for workers’ power in each and every country of the world.

The Communist International was not built overnight: it was the result of the groundwork that started during World War I in the form of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal Conferences. On this Centenary of the Great October Revolution, let us create our own Zimmerwald. Let us turn the Centenary Conference to be convened by our Russian comrades on the exact hundredth anniversary of the revolution, on 5-7 November 2017, in the very city where the Russian working class took power a century ago into our own special kind of Zimmerwald! Let us march together to stop an end to this drift into barbarism imposed by a capitalism in decline and build a world party that will unwaveringly strive for workers’ power all around the planet!

Voted unanimously, 28 May 2017

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.

Join Links’ Facebook group Follow Links on Twitter Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box Home Lenin and the Bolshevik Party: A revolutionary collective-Paul Le Blanc  

Posted by admin On July - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on Join Links’ Facebook group Follow Links on Twitter Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box Home Lenin and the Bolshevik Party: A revolutionary collective-Paul Le Blanc  


The Russian Revolution of 1917 clearly reveals the complexities of Bolshevism – Lenin’s party – as a revolutionary collective. In fact, there is a convergence of complexities related to several different factors I would like to touch on in these remarks. These include party structures, personalities, and outlooks.

One set of complexities involves the organizational conceptions that animated Bolshevism, involving democratic centralism, an interplay of democracy and cohesion, as well as an interplay of centralized leadership and relative local, on-the-ground autonomy. Another involves the pulls and tugs of the diverse and vibrant personalities among the Bolsheviks – particularly at the leadership level. Experienced and articulate individuals powerfully influencing the thinking and actions of a layer involving hundreds and thousands of Bolshevik activists, who in turn influenced the thinking and actions of thousands and millions of workers, sailors, soldiers, peasants, intellectuals, and others. Yet another sub-set of complexities involves the employment of a relatively complex ideology (Marxism), which in itself is open to divergent interpretations, and which can be applied in different and sometimes contradictory ways to political, social and economic realities that are themselves complex and ever-changing. There is also a complexity in the ongoing tension between those leaders engaged in developing and adapting Marxist theory on the one hand, and the practical on-the-ground organizers on the other – and among these practical organizers we can perceive tensions between those whose primary focus is to maintain the organizational structures and cohesion of Bolshevism, and others whose primary focus is to influence and lead mass struggles and mass movements. We could go on and on with this – defining further complexities within each of the complexities.

The point is that we cannot really understand the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 with conventional but simplistic conceptualizations which focus on a Heroic Lenin (or an Evil Genius Lenin) leading an abstract entity – The Party, or Party-and-Soviets – to take political power. There is no doubt that Lenin’s role in history merits a focused study of who he was, and what he thought and wrote and said and did. But Lenin cannot be understood as the personification of the Bolshevik party. What he thought and wrote and said and did cannot be comprehended if we abstract these things, and the man himself, from those who were his comrades. If we fail to understand Bolshevism as a revolutionary collective that was an integral part of a broader working-class movement, and as a vibrant and complex living entity, we will not be able to comprehend the actualities either of Lenin or of the Russian Revolution.

This comes into better focus if we engage with some of the historical specifics. Let us start with “the Word” – Marxist theory and analysis as developed by the Bolsheviks – before we move on to the Flesh and the Bone (the personalities and the structure) of the Bolshevik party.

The theoretical orientation of Marxism was grounded in a dialectical, materialist and humanistic methodology, one that viewed history as being shaped by economic development and class struggle. It saw an increasingly dominant capitalism as immensely productive and dynamically creative, but also as compulsively expansive and exploitative, and as a violently destructive global system. Yet capitalism was proletarianizing more and more people in society and throughout the world, creating an ever-growing working class of people dependent on the sale of their labor-power. Such laboring people potentially would have the need, the will, the consciousness and the power necessary for effectively challenging the oppressiveness of capitalism and replacing it with the humanistic economic democracy of socialism.[1]

Of course, Marxism is far more complex than this, with more than one interpretation being possible, and more than one way of applying this complex and sophisticated approach to the specifics of late 19th and early 20th century Russia. Marxists in Russia generally agreed that the country’s small but growing working-class was the hope for the future in both challenging the Tsarist autocracy, and helping to overthrow it in what they termed a “bourgeois-democratic revolution.” The development of capitalism after this democratic revolution would, most agreed, create the preconditions for a socialist revolution. But there were disagreements over how this working-class scenario would relate to the peasant majority. Marxists in the Menshevik faction argued that the peasants were too backward-looking to be a reliable ally, and that the obvious partner in overthrowing Tsarism would be pro-capitalist liberals. The Bolsheviks led by Lenin insisted that the principle of working-class hegemony would be most consistent with a worker-peasant alliance for a democratic revolution. Menshevik spokesman Raphael Abramovitch was not the only one to scoff that this added up to “a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie, against the bourgeoisie, by means of a dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie” – but Lenin and his comrades called for a revolution that would culminate in what they termed “a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.”[2]

We should linger over an ambiguity in Lenin’s position, as articulated in 1905. On the one hand, he was inclined to agree that the democratic revolution must usher in capitalist economic development, in order to establish wealth and productivity, and a working-class majority that would make socialism possible. In his polemic Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, he argued that because the democratic revolution was, in fact, a “bourgeois-democratic revolution,” it would “for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid … development of capitalism,” and would “for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.”[3]

On the other hand, Lenin seemed to leave open the possibility that some variant of Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” scenario might be possible – that (as Lenin put it in his article “Social Democracy’s Attitude Toward the Peasant Movement”) “from the democratic revolution we shall at once, and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organized proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way.”[4]

This openness to the possibility of the democratic revolution flowing into the socialist revolution expanded with the explosion of the First World War. As Lenin emphasized time and again, this was a war “waged ‘for the sake of the profits of the capitalists’ and ‘the ambitions of dynasties’ on the basis of the imperialist, predatory policy of the great powers,” and that it must be opposed with “the tactics of revolutionary struggle by the workers on an international scale against their governments, the tactics of proletarian revolution. … Socialists must … take advantage of the governments’ embarrassments and the anger of the masses, caused by the war, for the socialist revolution.”[5]

According to his companion Nadezhda Krupskaya, during the war Lenin “spoke a lot about the questions that occupied his mind, about the role of democracy,” arriving at “a very clear and definite view of the relationship between economics and politics in the epoch of struggle for socialism.” Krupskaya elaborated:

The role of democracy in the struggle for socialism could not be ignored. “Socialism is impossible without democracy in two respects,” Vladimir Ilyich wrote … “1. The proletariat cannot carry out a socialist revolution unless it has prepared for it by a struggle for democracy; 2. Victorious socialism cannot maintain its victory and bring humanity to the time when the state will wither away unless democracy is fully achieved.”

These words of Lenin’s were soon fully borne out by events in Russia. The February Revolution [of 1917] and the subsequent struggle for democracy prepared the way for the October Revolution. The constant broadening and strengthening of the Soviets, of the Soviet system, tends to reorganize democracy itself and to steadily give greater depth of meaning to this concept.[6]

Krupskaya went on to quote at length from one of Lenin’s war-time polemics:

We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with a revolutionary program and tactics in respect of all democratic demands, including a republic, a militia, election of government officials by the people, equal rights for women, self-determination of nations, etc. So long as capitalism exists all these demands are capable of realization only as an exception, and in incomplete, distorted form. Basing ourselves on democracy as already achieved, and showing up its deficiency under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism and expropriation of the bourgeoisie as an essential basis both for abolishing the poverty of the masses and for fully and thoroughly implementing all democratic transformations. Some of those transformations will be started before the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, others in the course of this overthrow, and still others after it. The social revolution is not a single battle but an epoch of a series of battles on all and every problem of economic and democratic transformations, whose completion will be effected only with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It is for the sake of this ultimate goal that we must formulate every one of our democratic demands in a consistently revolutionary manner.[7]

To sum up Lenin’s orientation, he believed that the revolutionary party must interweave socialism with working-class consciousness and struggles, that it must emphasize struggle for full democracy as pathway to socialism, and that it should press for working-class hegemony, predominance, in the struggle for a democratic revolution – with no confidence in pro-capitalist liberals. Related to this was the distinctive Bolshevik perspective of a worker-peasant alliance in the struggle against Tsarism. The anti-bourgeois orientation was further intensified with the eruption of World War I, as opposition to the imperialist war was accompanied by an intensified revolutionary internationalism and class struggle thrust. The heightened concern to interweave struggles for democracy and socialism, and the conviction that the conflict would facilitate the spread of socialist revolution in various countries, strengthened the inclination to consider the possibilities of “uninterrupted revolution” in Russia.

Much of this orientation was the collective product and property of the Bolsheviks as they evolved from 1905 to 1917, shared (sometimes with significant nuances of difference) among various comrades. Its contours and specifics are particularly well explained by Krupskaya, in her Reminiscences of Lenin.

The crystallization of the Bolshevik political perspective of a worker-peasant alliance to push forward the democratic revolution was collective, as was the translation of that perspective into social and political action. This brings us to the organizational structures that made this so. Krupskaya emphasized that Lenin “always, as long as he lived, attached tremendous importance to Party congresses. He held the Party congress to be the highest authority, where all things personal had to be cast aside, where nothing was to be concealed, and everything was to be open and above board.”

The “Draft Rules of the RSDLP,” which Lenin wrote in 1903, establishes the party congress, or convention, as the “supreme organ of the Party.” Composed of representatives of all units of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the congress was to meet “not less than once in two years” and was to be responsible for determining party policies and perspectives and for appointing a central committee and an editorial board for the party’s central organ (its newspaper). The central committee “coordinates and directs all the practical activities of the Party,” while the editorial board “gives ideological guidance.”

The draft rules suggest a balance between democracy and centralization. For example: “Each committee … organization or group recognized by the Party has charge of affairs relating specifically and exclusively to its particular locality, district or national movement, or to the special function assigned to it, being bound, however, to obey the decisions of the Central Committee . . .” Most important, however: “All Party organizations and collegiate bodies decide their affairs by a simple majority vote …”[8]

Lenin’s organizational perspective could be summarized in this way:

• Members are activists, who agree with the basic Marxist program of the party and are committed to collectively developing and implementing the program, and who collectively control the organization as a whole.

• The party functions openly and democratically, with the elective principle operating from top to bottom. All questions are decided on the basis of democratic vote, and the decisions are carried out.

• The highest decision-making body is the party congress, made up of democratically elected delegates.

• Between congresses, a central committee (elected by and answerable to the congress) ensures cohesion and coordinates work on the basis of the party program and the decisions of the congress.

• Local units of the party operate within the party program and decisions of the party as a whole, but within that framework they operate under the democratic control of the local membership.

It is interesting to consider the conception of the Bolshevik party which John Reed’s old friend, Max Eastman, had absorbed through his studies in Soviet Russia. In his 1926 book Marx, Lenin, and the Science of Revolution, Eastman wrote:

It is an organization of a kind which never existed before. It combines certain essential features of a political party, a professional association, a consecrated order, an army, a scientific society—and yet it is in no sense a sect. Instead of cherishing in its membership a sectarian psychology, it cherishes a certain relation to the predominant class forces of society as Marx defined them. And this relation was determined by Lenin, and progressively readjusted by him, with a subtlety of which Marx never dreamed.[9]

In fact, there were different personalities and personality types giving life to the Bolshevik organization. Of course central from beginning to end was Lenin, who by most accounts combined in his person considerable warmth, humor, selflessness, zest for life, and tactical flexibility interwoven with revolutionary intransigence.[10]

Women were a minority among the Bolsheviks in patriarchal Russia. Among those who played central roles were Krupskaya and Alexandra Kollontai. Krupskaya, an educated Marxist and devoted revolutionary activist, deployed her considerable talents and energies in the practical work of building up and maintaining Bolshevik communications and organizational functioning. This enabled her to write her authoritative Reminiscences of Lenin, which surveys Lenin’s development very much within the revolutionary collective that was Bolshevism. Playing a more public role, Kollontai channeled her keen intellect and passion into theorizing and organizing around the so-called “woman question” – pushing hard against male chauvinist attitudes and patterns within the revolutionary movement. Her contributions bore fruit as increasing numbers of women workers flowed into the revolutionary movement. This was an essential development. International Women’s Day in 1917 helped spark the upsurge that overthrew the Tsar.[11]

The two brothers-in-law, Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev, were incredibly different in multiple ways. While Kamenev was a capable speaker, writer, organizer, and political analyst, in each of these realms Trotsky could be incandescent. Kamenev was extremely sociable in ways that Trotsky could not be, yet he was also prone to be influenced by others – including political opponents – in ways that, also, Trotsky could not be. Yet Trotsky (a relative newcomer to Bolshevik ranks) had a reputation for arrogance, and his immense popularity and demonstrated ability to work with people was offset by an often prickly personality. Kamenev’s charm could often be a valuable asset – and it matched epicurean tastes that Trotsky found repellent. Trotsky’s combination of energy, brilliance and Spartan inclinations served him well as he organized the October 1917 insurrection, and also when he assumed the role of organizer and commander of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War.[12]

Gregory Zinoviev, often associated with the far steadier and more consistent Kamenev, sometimes could match Trotsky in oratory and arrogance, but like Kamenev he was one of Lenin’s closest collaborators over many years. All three (Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev) – at various moments, and on different issues – were also in open conflict with Lenin amid the hurly-burly of internal democracy within Bolshevism. Zinoviev’s intellectual breadth and feel for revolutionary politics come through clearly in his valuable popularization History of the Bolshevik Party. His organizational abilities were certainly greater than those of another popular figure, the youthful and impetuous Nikolai Bukharin. Bukharin was an innovative theorist who proved more than once quite willing to challenge Lenin from the left. Both Zinoviev and Bukharin were to play important and influential roles in the Communist International that would be formed after the Russian Revolution. But in 1917 as well, although in quite different ways and from different standpoints, the influence of these two prominent Bolsheviks had significant impact.[13]

Two eminently practical organizers – not inclined to be distracted by theoretical fireworks – were Alexander Shlyapnikov and Joseph Stalin. A worker-Bolshevik par excellence, with a reputation for courageous and principled action, Shlyapnikov’s strength was organizing among factory workers and in trade unions. A former divinity student, inclined to be blunt and sometimes brutal, Stalin’s specialty was as an organization man devoted to building and maintaining Bolshevik structures. Shlyapnikov’s qualities brought him close to Lenin’s intensified revolutionary-democratic drive predominant from 1914 to 1917. With Lenin’s turn to more authoritarian expedients (temporary as they were supposed to be) amid the horrific difficulties of civil war and social collapse in 1918-1921, Shlyapnikov’s qualities put the two at loggerheads. With assistance from Kollontai, he formed the Workers’ Opposition. Other Bolsheviks also formed oppositional groups to defend the revolutionary-democratic goals of the October Revolution. Stalin’s inclinations, of course, went very much in the opposite direction – to the point of developing a bureaucratic-authoritarian apparatus that would eventually destroy the revolutionary collective that had been Bolshevism. This process unfolded with increasing velocity from the mid-1920s to mid-1930s.[14]

The cause was the isolation of the revolution, turned in on itself in an economically backward Russia. As Lenin explained more than once, “we are banking on the inevitability of the world revolution,” and “we are now, as it were, in a besieged fortress, waiting for the other detachments of the world socialist revolution to come to our relief. These detachments exist, they are more numerous than ours, they are maturing, growing, gaining more strength the longer the brutalities of imperialism continue. … Slowly but surely the workers are adopting communist, Bolshevik tactics and are marching towards the proletarian revolution, which alone is capable of saving dying culture and dying mankind.”[15]

In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, then, we can see the attempt to internationalize Bolshevism, with the creation of a global revolutionary collective, or a centralized network of such collectives – the Communist International. By the time of the Second World Congress in 1920, the assembled delegates from revolutionary organizations proclaimed: “The Communist International has made the cause of Soviet Russia its own. The international proletariat will not lay down its sword until Soviet Russia is but a link in the world federation of soviet republics.” Comintern President Zinoviev, optimistically suggested that “probably two or three years will be needed for the whole of Europe to become a Soviet republic.” According to a retrospective account by two participant-observers (Julian Gumperz and Karl Volk), “hundreds of delegates came from all countries of the world: real labor representatives elected and re-elected a hundred times [to mass workers’ organizations], revolutionaries and opportunists, workers from the factories and shrewd attorneys, terrorists and elegant Socialists from the salons of Europe.”[16]

Another eyewitness, Alfred Rosmer, would recount: “There was something intoxicating about the atmosphere of Moscow in that month of June 1920; the quiver of the armed revolution could still be felt. Among the delegates who had come from every country and every political tendency, some already knew each other, but the majority were meeting for the first time. The discussions were heated, for there was no shortage of points of disagreement, but what overrode everything was an unshakable attachment to the Revolution and to the new-born communist movement.” The history of this movement contains much that has the quality of comic opera, also much that constitutes deep and sometimes horrific tragedy, but also – despite its ultimate failure – a remarkable heroism, with lessons to be learned.[17]

Those who not only wish to understand what happened in history – but also how a world (badly in need of change for the better) might actually be changed – will need to wrestle with and learn from the convergence of complexities that add up to Bolshevism as a revolutionary collective.

[This was one of the keynote presentations opening the International Conference on Russian and Soviet History – “The Centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution(s): its Significance in World History” – at Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University, May 15-16, 2017. It was also presented in a panel on the Russian Revolution at the International Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam, November 4, 2017, and at the fourteenth annual Historical Materialism conference in London, November 9-12, 2017.]


[1] For an extensive introductory survey of Marxism, with a sampling of writings from prominent figures associated with it, see Paul Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci, A Reader in Revolutionary Marxist Politics (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016).

[2] Raphael Abramovitch, The Soviet Revolution 1917-1939 (New York: International Universities Press, 1962), p. 214.

[3] Lenin, “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution,” Collected Works, Volume 9 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1962), p. 48.

[4] Lenin, “Social Democracy’s Attitude Toward the Peasant Movement,” Collected Works, Volume 9 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1962), pp. 236-237. Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is summarized in Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci, pp. 46-47, 94-96.

[5] Lenin, “Socialism and War,” in Lenin, Revolution, Democracy, Socialism: Selected Writings, ed. by Paul Le Blanc (London: Pluto Press, 2008), p. 227.

[6] N.K. Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin (New York: International Publishers, 1970), p. 328.

[7] Ibid., pp. 328-329.

[8] Paul Le Blanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), p. 48

[9] Max Eastman, Marx, Lenin and the Science of Revolution (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1926), pp. 159-160.

[10] Outstanding sources presenting an array of prominent Bolsheviks can be found in Anatoly Vasilievich Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968) and Georges Haupt and Jean-Jacques Marie, Makers of the Russian Revolution: Biographies of Bolshevik Leaders (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974). Efforts which focus on presenting Lenin in his actual context can be found in Lars Lih, Lenin (London: Reaktion Books, 2011), Paul Le Blanc, Unfinished Leninism: The Rise and Return of a Revolutionary Doctrine (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), especially pp. 25-75, and Tariq Ali, The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution (London: Verso, 2017).

[11] On Krupskaya and Kollontai, in addition to Haupt and Marie, pp. 156-158 and 353-360, see Robert H. McNeil, Bride of the Revolution: Krupskaya and Lenin (London: Victor Gollancz, 1973) and Cathy Porter, Alexandra Kollontai, A Biography, Updated Edition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014). Also see Barbara Evans Clements, Bolshevik Women (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,1997) and Jane McDermid and Anna Hillyar, Midwives of the Revolution: Female Bolsheviks and women workers in 1917 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1999).

[12] On Kamenev, in addition to Haupt and Marie, pp. 41-47 and 100-106, see Leon Trotsky, Portraits Personal and Political (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977), pp. 164-173, 179, 180; on Trotsky, see Paul Le Blanc, Leon Trotsky (London: Reaktion Books, 2015).

[13] Gregory Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party from the Beginnings to February 1917, A Popular Outline (London: New Park, 1973) remains a valuable source on the history and nature of Bolshevism. On Zinoviev, in addition to Haupt and Marie, pp. 95-106, and Lunacharsky, pp. 75-82, see Lars T. Lih, “Zinoviev: Populist Leninist,” in Ben Lewis and Lars T. Lih, eds., Zinoviev and Martov: Head to Head in Halle (London: November Publications, 2011), pp. 39-60. On Bukharin, in addition to Haupt and Marie, pp. 31-40, see Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1988-1938 (New York: Vintage Books, 1975).

[14] On Shlyapnikov, in addition Haupt and Marie, Makers of the Russian Revolution pp. 212-221, see Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016). On Stalin, in to addition Haupt and Marie, pp. 65-75, see Robert C. Tucker, Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879-1929 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1974).

[15] Lenin, “Letter to American Workers,” in Lenin, Revolution, Democracy, Socialism, pp. 299-300.

[16] Ypsilon, Pattern for World Revolution, (Chicago: Ziff-Davis, 1947), p. 19.

[17] Alfred Rosmer, Lenin’s Moscow (Chicago: Haymarket Books 2016), p. 46.


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The League Against Imperialism (1927-37): An early attempt at global anti-colonial unity-John Riddell

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July 13, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from John Riddell’s Marxist essays and commentary —


The League Against Imperialism was launched in Brussels in 1927 with the goal of forging unity between colonized peoples and workers in the colonizing countries. Initiated by a wing of the Communist International, it was the first attempt to structure international anti-colonial unity. This brief presentation will focus on its origins and the causes of its decline.

An initial wave of anti-imperialist uprisings took place in the first years of the twentieth century (China, Iran, Mexico), but these events did not evoke significant expressions of solidarity in Europe. The situation was changed, however, by the impact of World War 1 and the Russian revolution of 1917. In particular, the new Russian Soviet government stood for liberation of peoples subjected to direct or indirect colonial oppression, which then afflicted almost all of Asia and Africa. Indeed, the Russian uprising was itself in part a revolt of Asiatic peoples oppressed by tsarism.

The Soviet government’s proclamation in 1917 of the right of peoples to self-determination had immense global impact. Self-determination was also a guiding principle of the Communist International (Comintern) from its founding in 1919. The following year the Comintern convened the first transnational gathering of colonized peoples: the First Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Baku Congress in 1920, attended by almost two thousand delegates from Central Asia and the Middle East, adopted resolutions to orient the anti-colonial struggle. In 1922, a similar conference was held for delegates from the Far East.

In 1925, a revolutionary upsurge in China found expression both in mass strikes and in a broad student mobilization. When these two forces came together in joint action in Shanghai, they suffered a lethal attack by the British army, which claimed 52 Chinese fatalities. The International Red Aid, established by the Comintern in 1922, launched a vigorous protest. The campaign was headed by a gifted German Communist, Willi Münzenberg, who insisted on the need for effective educational work among masses of working people who were not yet Communist and not politically aware.

But could working people in Germany, who had suffered so much at the hands of the Treaty of Versailles, be persuaded to take an interest in the fate of the impoverished and despised masses of China?

‘Hands off China!’
Aiming to turn that hope into reality, International Red Aid founded the League against Colonialism, based in Berlin, to collect material aid for the working people of China. The League collected donations, explaining that an amount equal to the price of six cigarettes could cover the needs of a striking Chinese worker for a day. A conference in Berlin brought together more than 1,000 participants to demand, “Hands Off China!”

“We want to form a holy alliance, we, the white, yellow, black, and different-coloured underdogs… for the liberation of all those who suffer,” Münzenberg declared.[1]

Chinese socialists addressed workers meetings in Germany, while in Beijing a rally of 100,000 Chinese workers greeted a European socialist speaker with passionate enthusiasm. Thanks to the work of International Red Aid, working people of Europe and the Third World joined hands for the first time in opposition to colonialism.

Red Aid also campaigned at this time to aid Arab rebels in Syria and Morocco who were at war with the colonial powers, France and Spain. Red Aid mounted a broad campaign to denounce French massacres in Syria, where 10,000 Arabs were killed during French bombardment of Damascus. A broad, independent committee was formed to organize solidarity with Syria.

Material aid
Solidarity found expression not only through words but in practical terms. The Communist parties in France and Spain campaigned for independence for these countries’ colonies. The Communists encouraged soldiers in their countries’ colonial armies to fraternize with the rebels, and such incidents did occur. One deserter from the French Foreign Legion, for example, became an officer and strategist of the Moroccan rebel army. There were mutinies in the French navy, and 1,500 sailors faced courts martial. Meanwhile, 165 French Communists were imprisoned for anti-war activity. During this time, the Second International, made up of reformist socialists, still mostly abstained from anticolonial solidarity. The initiatives of Red Aid, by contrast, had become a genuine force in the political life of the colonial powers.

But these campaigns were still separate and temporary. How could they be brought together in a unified, ongoing effort? Achieving that goal was the purpose of the Congress against Colonial Oppression and Imperialism that gathered in Brussels, after extended delays by both the Belgian government and Comintern Executive, on 10 February 1927. The 174 delegates represented 134 organizations in 34 countries. The celebrated physicist Albert Einstein, honorary chairman, expressed the hope that “through your congress the efforts of the oppressed to win independence will take tangible form.”[2]

Among the delegates, in addition to revolutionary socialist leaders from many continents, were an array of prominent trade unionists from Europe, well-known leaders of the Second International’s left wing and representatives of influential bourgeois parties in the colonies, such as the Guomindang in China, the Sarekat Islam in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress; and Raul Haya de la Torre’s APRA in Peru.

During six days of debate 16 reports were heard on tasks in different geographic regions and strategic aspects of anti-imperialist struggle. The second session proposed the foundation of the League Against Imperialism and National Oppression, which was to be an independent alliance with autonomous branches in countries around the world.

The German historian Kasper Braskén has summarized the message of the Congress in these terms: “Wherever on the planet there were proletarians living in misery, this would be a matter for the workers’ international solidarity, forging the belief in transnational workers’ community on a global scale.”[3]

The League’s creation inspired enthusiasm beyond its founder’s wildest expectations. Historian Frederick Petersson tells us the Congress conveyed “the feeling of a spiritual bond and the expressions of collective joy” – a mood of “self-sacrifice and euphoria” that later, however, degenerated into “resignation and dejection.”[4]

Causes of decline
Despite the League’s initial momentum, the hopes of its founders did not become reality. Three years later, the League had lost its dynamic vigor and included only groups of Communists and their sympathizers. Rather than narrate this unfortunate decline, I will focus on its causes, and here I see three basic factors.

1. The League was not a united front of the type proposed by the Comintern since 1921. True, it claimed to be autonomous and independent. The Comintern Executive Committee’s confidential instructions spoke of creating “a neutral intermediary between the anti-colonial movements and the Comintern.”[5] But in reality the League was administered by the Comintern apparatus concealed backstage. This contradiction was perceived by leaders of the Second International, who utilized it to force all their adherents in the League to resign.

2. The united front that the Comintern proposed in Lenin’s time provided for an alliance with national revolutionary forces. Let me take a more recent example: the insurrectionary movement in Cuba led by Fidel Castro in the 1950s, which grew over time into a fusion of both national-revolutionary and socialist forces. By contrast, however, the movements linked with the League that I mentioned previously: the Guomindang, the Indian Congress, and Sarekat Islam, they were what Communists of the day termed reformist bourgeois movements.[6] Their representatives quickly withdrew from the League, and the Guomindang launched a murderous counter-revolution against Chinese workers. By Comintern principle, forming a temporary alliance with such bourgeois nationalist forces was certainly permissible, but structuring them into an organization of struggle such as the League was questionable, to say the least.

3. A year after the foundation of the League, Comintern policies suffered a reversal linked to the onset of what Communists termed the Third Period. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928 proclaimed that the world had entered a period of global revolutionary uprisings and overturns where it was wrong to form united fronts with non-revolutionary organizations. The Comintern went so far as to brand Social Democrats as representing a new form of fascism.The French historian Pierre Broué has commented that this policy was “an absolute guarantee of defeat,” referring to the triumph of Hitler in Germany in 1933. Willi Münzenberg opposed this ultra-leftist turn but was unable to block it. Given this new policy, Broué says, the League’s policies were “condemned to defeat” and, moreover, that “all its achievements were shattered by the abruptness of the turnabout and the abusive use of ultimatums.” All the non-Communist groups of any significance within the League resigned or were expelled.[7]

After gaining power in 1933, the Nazis shut down the League’s Berlin-based headquarters and disrupted its operations. Munzenberg withdrew from the League that same year. The Comintern carried out another sharp policy reversal in 1935, and the League was formally disbanded two years later. Subsequently, the International worked for an alliance with supposedly progressive bourgeois forces in the imperialist countries – a goal that became known as the “popular front.” This orientation conflicted with Comintern efforts for colonial liberation. The Comintern itself was dissolved in 1943.

The League’s legacy
In balance, the League’s legacy is thus mixed. At its inception, it represented an influential expression of the Russian revolution’s anti-imperialist and anti-colonial spirit. The difficulties it encountered, in turn, reflected distortions of Soviet Communist policy as it entered the Stalinist era, when Comintern policy came to reflect the shifting exigencies of the bureaucratized and Stalinized Soviet state.

But that is not the end of our story. During and after World War 2, a number of countries in Asia shook themselves free of colonial domination. This overturn took place along two different paths. In a number of countries, such as India and Indonesia, the independence movement was led by bourgeois forces, and the independent state was capitalist in character. In China, Vietnam, and Korea, by contrast, the independence struggle was led by Communist parties formerly part of the Comintern, and the revolution ended in the abolition of capitalist rule.

The gains of this anti-colonial struggle found expression in 1955 in a historic conference in Bandung, Indonesia, attended by delegations of 29 decolonized countries of Asia and Africa, whose peoples made up an absolute majority of humanity. The resolutions adopted at Bandung proposed neutrality in the Cold War and the rapid elimination of all still-existing colonies. In his closing remarks at the conference, President Sukarno of Indonesia referred to the 1926 Brussels congress. It was the inspiration and sacrifices of the alliance formed at that time, he stated, that have made it possible “that we are now free, sovereign, and independent…. We do not need to go to other continents to confer.”[8]

The Bandung conference gave birth to a grouping of countries of the Global South, the Non-Aligned Movement, which played a modest but positive role in several contexts and which still exists. But to see an authentic reflection of the League Against Imperialism, we must turn, as my co-panelist Ameth Lô has suggested, to the initiatives of revolutionary Cuba, such as its participation in the anti-apartheid struggle in Africa or its more recent participation in ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.

Almost a hundred years after the foundation of the League Against Imperialism, its liberatory spirit continues to find expression in new contexts and new forms.

This talk, given on 20 May 2018, was one of a hundred panels at the Montreal conference “The Great Transition: Preparing a World Beyond Capitalism.” The conference attracted more than 1,500 participants. The talk was given in French; what follows is a translation. It formed part of a panel, “The Dawn of Our Liberation,” which also included talks by Aziz Fall, Ameth Lô, and Daria Dyakonova.

A note on sources

Major sources for this talk include:

Adi, Hakim, Pan-Africanism and Commuism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939, Trenton: Africa World Press, 2013.

Braskén, Kasper, The International Workers’ Relief, Communism, and Transnational Solidarity: Willi Münzenberg in Weimar Germany, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Broué, Pierre, Histoire de l’Internationale communiste 1919-1943.

Gross, Babette, Willi Münzenberg: A Political Biography, Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University Press, 1974.

Communist International, The First Congress of the Peoples of the Far East 1922, London: Hammersmith, 1970 (1922).

Petersson, Frederick, We Are Neither Visionaries Nor Utopian Dreamers: Willi Münzenberg, the League against Imperialism, and the Comintern 1925-33, unpublished dissertation.

John Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, New York: Pathfinder, 1991.

John Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn: Baku 1920, First Congress of the Peoples of the East, New York: Pathfinder, 1993.


[1]. Braskén, p. 160.

[2]. Gross, p. 189.

[3]. Braskén, p. 161.

[4]. Petersson, p. 540.

[5]. Petersson, p. 246

[6]. The distinction between “national-revolutionary” and “bourgeois reformist” movements in the colonial world was explained by Lenin to the Comintern’s Second Congress in 1920 and shaped Communists thinking in the following years. There was disagreement among Communists, however, on whether the Guomindang was a “national-revolutionary” movement in the sense intended by Lenin.

The Guomindang’s counterrevolutionary attack on Chinese workers a few months after the Brussels conference proved that it was not “national-revolutionary” in this sense. For more on the evolution of Comintern China policy on this website, see “Should Communists Ally with Revolutionary Nationalism” and “Fruits and Perils of the ‘Bloc Within’.” For the Second Congress debate, see Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite, vol. 1, pp. 211-90.

[7]. Broué, pp. 493-514.

[8]. Petersson, p. 546, fn. 1272.

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Sheikh Bedreddin: A Greco-Turkish Communist Internationalist Avant la Lettre-  Sungur Savran

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To draw the net from the water together
while singing a song in unison,
to forge together the iron fine like lace,
to be able together to cultivate the land,
to be able to eat the honeyed figs together,
to be able to say: “all together in everything,
save the cheek of the beloved”…

Nâzım Hikmet
From the poem “The Legend of Sheikh Bedreddin” (1936)

The press reports that during a visit to Western Thrace, where a sizeable Turkish minority lives, Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, evoked the name of Sheikh Bedreddin, praised him and said that he should be a source of inspiration for all of us today. So, who is this Muslim sheikh whom a nominally leftist Greek Prime Minister, avowedly atheist, recommends as a source of inspiration to all Greeks, irrespective of their religion? A most ticklish remark at first sight. We should be thankful to Tsipras for having raised the topic, hastening to add that he personally, given his record in office, is absolutely unfit for inspiration by the grand old man.
Sheikh Bedreddin (1359–1420) lived in the second half of the 14th and the first two decades of the 15th centuries, the latter period being one in which the fortunes of the rising Ottoman state came to a temporary halt under the impact of the Ankara war of 1402, in which the armies of Tamerlane, the Mongol nomadic emperor, routed the Ottomans. The next decade and a half saw civil war between the different contenders to the throne raging on the territory of the Ottoman state in Asia Minor and the Balkans. Bedreddin’s deeds of historic importance had this civil war as their background.

His life is a web of contradictions. He was both a fakih, i.e. a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, one of the best ever even by
the admission of his ideological opponents, and a sufi, one who lives religion more according to its inner meaning than
according to outward rules. He spent long years in Cairo, the major learning centre of the epoch, and was converted to Sufism by a
certain Shikh Ahlati. He was never the same man again after that conversion. He visited Khorasan and Aleppo and finally returned home to Ottoman territory.

But make no mistake. Bedreddin, despite his Muslim credentials was half-Greek from his mother’s side, allegedly converted to Islam
when she married Bedreddin’s Turkish father. Their son was born in Dimoteka (Greek: Didymóteicho) in 1359 and died in Serez (Greek: Serres) in 1420, both localities being Greek territory today, but were under
Ottoman rule back then. So it is a great shame that this great man of Greek descent as well as Turkish has not been sufficiently cherished
jointly by our two nations in a manner that befits his legacy. For he himself was not only a communist, but an internationalist as well.

A Communist Revolutionary
This, of course, is the pinnacle of the web of contradictions that form Bedreddin’s life. This man of high religious standing, who had been
given a hand by his sheikh, Ahlati, as the latter was dying and was therefore the sheikh of a religious order, was also a communist. He
and his disciples, among whom Börklüce Mustafa, an illiterate Turkish peasant from the Aegean region of Anatolia right across the
island of Chios and a Jewish convert, Torlak Kemal, from a region slightly more to the northeast, but still in the Aegean region,
defended common property in the means of production, land and farm buildings and beasts of burden and agricultural implements. Their
programme is sometimes misinterpreted as the “distribution of land.” No, it is common property, abolishing all private holdings.

The other aspect of their programme is internationalism. Of course, at that time different ethnic groups were more commonly identified by their respective religion. Bedreddin and his disciples stood for the unity and fraternity of all religions, Muslim, Christian and Jewish
alike. It is a well-established historical fact that Bedreddin, during one of his multiple visits to the Aegean region of Anatolia, crossed over, in company of Börklüce Mustafa, to the Greek island of Chios to have long talks with the local notables of the Orthodox
church there and with ordinary peasants, which no doubt was part of their preparations for an uprising. In fact, some evidence exists to
suggest that the influence of the Bedreddin movement extended all the way from Enez (Greek: Ainos) in continental Eastern Thrace (today part of Turkey) to Crete, evidence that is worthwhile to pursue by historians from both Greece and Turkey.

How is it that a theologian became a revolutionary internationalist communist? How, in particular, did his very advanced conception of common property emerge? And how did a religious order act like a revolutionary organization? I have explored all these questions in an
article published at the beginning of this year to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Bedreddin’s revolutionary uprising against the Ottoman state. I cannot go into the details of the answers to all these questions. Suffice it to say that Bedreddin was a materialist
in disguise, that common property in the means of production was not exceptional among the dervishes of the period, leading to the formation of farmsteads that functioned on what can only be depicted as communistic principles, and that religious orders were, as a rule,
class organizations.1

6th Centenary of the Revolution of 1416
When that revolution erupted in 1416, it was far from being local as many jacqueries are. It extended across a vast geographical area from the Turkish Aegean and Chios all the way to Deliorman (Bulgarian: Ludogorie) in Bulgaria at present and Serez (Serres) in Greece, both in Western Thrace. There were three uprisings at least, with tentative evidence of other centres of insurrection. Börklüce and his ten thousand combatants, Turkish and Anatolian Greek landless peasants, Turkoman nomads and Greek islander seafarers, routed the Ottoman army twice before being defeated in the end at the hands of a huge army. Börklüce himself was crucified on the back of a camel, no doubt to
affront the synchretic nature of the religious faith of the Bedreddin order. The second insurrection was that led around Manisa by Torlak Kemal, which also ended in a debacle.

Perhaps the most massive participation was in the third insurrection, this one led by Bedreddin himself. He had been kept under forced residence in the Marmara region and, having eloped, he moved to Deliorman in what is Bulgarian territory today and roused the masses to
insurgency. The insurrection spread like wildfire. However, the more shaky allies within the revolutionary camp secretly made a pact with
the Sultan and betrayed the cause. Bedreddin was abducted and taken to the Sultan’s court where he was tried and convicted to death. He was hanged in the marketplace of Serez (Serres) on 18 December 1420.

This is the 600th anniversary of that great internationalist communist revolution. Obviously the revolution came before conditions were mature for communism. It was bound to fail, if not before taking power, then after it. However, that it should have erupted in a geography that
now harbours the two nations of Greece and Turkey is a great honour for us. We will strive on both sides of the Aegean to create the conditions of such an internationalist revolution once again within the framework this time of 21st century capitalism, much more favourable to the rise of the working class to power and the building of a classless society. •



Unfortunately, for the evidence regarding all of this, I have to refer the reader to the original article: Sungur Savran, “İki Devrimin Hikâyesi: Nâzım, Bedreddin ve 1416 İhtilali”, Devrimci Marksizm, no. 26, Spring 2016, pp. 107-158.
Sungur Savran is based in Istanbul and is one of the editors of the newspaper Gercek (Truth) and the theoretical journal Devrimci Marksizm (Revolutionary Marxism), both published in Turkish, and of the

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Turkish elections, looming fascism and left politics-Baris Karaagac

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Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Socialist Project

— The elections on 24 June in Turkey for a new president and parliament, which took place under a state of emergency, constitute an historic moment in Turkish republican history with important consequences.

Firstly, it has institutionalized and consolidated the regime change put in place by the controversial 2017 referendum. The Turkish political system has successfully transitioned from a parliamentary to an executive presidential one.

Secondly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the incumbent president and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has come out even stronger with new powers, which are likely to bolster his authoritarian tendencies.

Thirdly, Erdogan’s presidency and the victory of the coalition of the AKP and the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the most prominent fascist actor in Turkish politics, should and will revive a debate on states of exception in general, and fascism, in particular.

Last, but not the least, the failure of a reinvigorated opposition to dethrone Erdogan and a likely more authoritarian – or worse – fascist future have exposed the necessity for a different kind of politics on the left.

Challenging the pillars of the current regime
It is imperative for the Turkish left to produce an alternative and inclusive socio-political project that challenges the pillars of the current regime, i.e., crony neoliberalism, increasing authoritarianism, chauvinistic nationalism and social conservatism. Such a project cannot be confined to electoral politics only and requires organizing and resistance in various forms and spaces that are outside those dominated by the ruling bloc. It also requires the inclusion – if not leadership – of the Kurdish movement, which has emerged as the most organized and the only mass political actor able to challenge the dominant structures of oppression in Turkey and beyond.

The AKP was founded in 2001 as a coalition of mostly conservative groups and individuals, and constituted the last representative of a series of legal Islamic parties since the 1970s. The main constituent elements of the party were twofold: the Fethullah Gulen community and a group around the future prime minister and president, Tayyip Erdogan, who had broken away from the Milli Görüş (National Vision) movement and its last political party, i.e. Fazilet Partisi (the Virtue Party), that was shut down in 2001 by the Constitutional Court. These two groups converged on a neoliberal, socially conservative and majoritarian project. This was the marriage of a relatively ‘liberal’ version of Islam with neoliberalism, and this combination made the AKP quite popular on the global stage. The party’s popularity was mostly thanks to its two achievements: (1) It was able to defeat the old secularist guard, which was seen as increasingly unreliable by the West; and (2) it marginalized the radical Islamic groups while sustaining the Western-Turkish alliance in the Middle East. The AKP was viewed by many as an antidote to the revolutionary Islam of Iran and violent Sunni movements/organizations.

The party came to power following the financial crisis of 2001 and only one-and-a-half years after it was founded. Its initial electoral base was composed of those who were demoralized and impoverished by two decades of brutal neoliberalism, corruption, economic crises, instability and rigid secularism. In terms of its relationship with capital and capital fractions, the party’s initial base was the internationalizing medium-sized capital groups located mainly in Anatolia. As soon as it came to power, the AKP also won the support of big domestic (mostly Istanbul based) and foreign capital through its refusal to deviate from the neoliberal trend set earlier and by its willingness to strengthen the integration of the Turkish economy into global markets.

Since 2011, which more or less marks the beginning of the authoritarian turn in the country, there has been tension at times between big capital and its organization, TUSIAD (Turkish Industry and Business Association), on the one hand and the AKP, on the other. The main causes of the tension have been twofold: concerns about secularism and increasing authoritarianism, and the deteriorating and unstable relations with the EU, into which Turkish capital has firmly integrated. Despite the ongoing tension, one of the major outcomes of the 16-year old AKP rule has been the creation of conditions most conducive to capital accumulation at the expense of the labouring masses in the country. The current state of emergency, too, has a strong class character, which has empowered capital vis-à-vis labour.[1]

The AKP came to power for the first time with a sweeping victory in 2002. Despite getting only 34.3 per cent of the popular vote, the party captured 327 of the 550 seats in parliament thanks to the extremely high threshold of 10 per cent. In the 2007 and 2011 elections, the AKP increased its popular support, acquiring 46.7 and 49.8 per cent of the votes respectively. The drop to 40.8 per cent in the June 2015 election was remedied in the November 2015 election after the AKP ended the peace process and resumed its war with the Kurds. The reversion to the nationalist discourse and militaristic policies were rewarded by the electorate with an almost 9 per cent increase in the polls. The most recent election marks a drop in the support for the AKP but the party was still able to garner the majority as a result of its alliance with the fascist MHP.

Although the most recent elections were originally due on 3 November 2019, early elections were called on 18 April 2018 by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was getting anxious to institutionalize and consolidate the regime change put in place by the 2017 referendum.

The controversial referendum, which succeeded with only 51.41 per cent of the popular vote, endorsed a number of constitutional changes, which abolished the then existing parliamentary system of government and strengthened the position of the president, who used to be a rather symbolic figure for most of the republican era.

The president was given powers that included, among others, directly appointing ministers and vice-presidents, imposing a state of emergency, and increased control over the appointments to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). These changes were criticized by both the domestic opposition and international observers for removing some of the critical checks and balances in the Turkish political system and concentrating power in the hands of the president.

The June 24th elections were thus a rushed and pre-emptive effort by Erdogan to consolidate this regime change and secure his power while denying the opposition an opportunity to organize and rally support. Due to widespread corruption involving himself and his inner circle as well as the heavy toll of his authoritarian rule on tens of thousands of people, loss of power is not an option for Erdogan. Becoming stripped of his current immunity would mean years of prison for the Turkish president and his cronies.

Two new developments
There were two important developments on the part of the opposition in this short period. The first was the foundation of a new party Iyi Parti (Good Party), by those who broke away mostly from the fascist MHP due to the latter’s alliance with Erdogan’s AKP.

The second was the candidacy of Muharrem Ince, an MP from the Kemalist, social democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party). Ince’s charismatic personality and campaign came as a surprise to the ruling party, as Ince pushed Erdogan onto the defensive for the first time in sixteen years while gathering large crowds across the country (the one in Istanbul was possibly the largest rally in Turkish history). Despite his subscription to Kemalist nationalism and coalition with nationalists (i.e. Iyi Parti), his rather inclusive discourse and attitude toward Kurds made the latter more receptive to his message and led many Kurds to vote strategically for him in the presidential election instead of for Selahattin Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish HDP’s (People’s Democratic Party) candidate.

Ince’s campaign rejuvenated a dormant and hopeless opposition, which brought together different segments of Turkish society. Although he failed to offer a clear and coherent alternative social project, Ince’s clean record, communication skills, and criticism of the AKP’s corruption, crony neoliberalism, religious conservatism and increasing authoritarianism made him a beacon of hope for a significant part of the population.

Various colours of the left, too, threw their support behind Ince despite serious reservations about his religious references and nationalism; he was seen as the lesser evil versus a power-hungry warmonger.

The results, however, were quite disappointing. Under a state of emergency and amidst serious allegations of fraud and voter intimidation, the AKP-MHP coalition captured 53.66 per cent of the popular vote and 344 out of 600 seats in parliament. The Nation Alliance, led by the CHP, on the other hand, received 33.94 per cent of the vote with only 189 seats. The HDP managed to pass the undemocratic 10 per cent threshold and increased its vote to 11.7 per cent. The HDP’s entrance into parliament played the key role in preventing an AKP majority, which rallied some Turks – mostly on the left – behind the party.

As regards the presidential vote, Erdogan won it comfortably in the first round frustrating all expectations that there would be a second round. There are still conspiracy theories and some controversy regarding the vote-counting process and its aftermath. The former include alleged threatening of the rival candidates by the AKP-controlled state, which led them to concede victory to Erdogan prematurely and disappearing from the public eye for hours, which demoralized and demobilized the opposition.

Notwithstanding these yet unknowns, what is clear is that Erdogan has secured his position as the most powerful political figure in post-war Turkey with even more constitutional powers and a tighter grip over the Turkish state and society. Although his victory is not complete, as the AKP will need the support of the fascist MHP in parliament for a majority, the latter’s almost unconditional recent support and the increased powers of the president point to a more authoritarian future for the country.

The dependence of the AKP on the MHP for a parliamentary majority will also likely sustain the nationalist and militaristic approach to the Kurdish issue (and foreign policy in general) and prolong the devastating war between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerillas. It will also strain relations with Turkey’s neighbours, who are already quite critical of the aggressive so-called neo-Ottoman turn in Turkish foreign policy in recent years.

The current political and social situation in Turkey calls for a rigorous debate on the new regime and the corresponding state-form that has been in the making for some time. This task becomes even more urgent in the face of a looming economic crisis that will likely lead to tremendous social and economic dislocation, paving the way for even more authoritarian and repressive responses from the state and Erdogan at its helm.

An accurate analysis of the ongoing restructuring and the emergent regime are critical, as it will inform the type(s) of resistance by the progressive forces in the country. What is worrisome is that the regime and the state-form in Turkey display features characteristic of fascism. This does not mean that Turkey is a fascist state at the moment. Nevertheless some of the features of fascism are in place currently and the rise of a truly fascist regime and state is a possibility in the near future.

Fascism, as a modern phenomenon, has been discussed in the literature mostly as an exceptional regime confined to the inter-war period; that is, a one-time only deviation in the development of capitalist states and regimes. This is an erroneous conceptualization and study of fascism. Rather than being a deviation and buried in the ashes of a bygone era, fascism should be studied as a regime whose seeds are present in capitalist social relations and their contradictory nature. It corresponds to a response to a specific political crisis under capitalism and is an outcome of specific class/social relations. At the same time, as opposed to some left analyses, there is no automatic/mechanical relationship between the liberal democratic state and its crisis on the one hand, and the rise of fascism, on the other.

As regards the features of fascism that are existent in the Turkish context currently, we can observe the following:
the disciplining of the military accompanied by an increase in the power of the police and intelligence service;
the decrease in the autonomy of the media and academia vis-à-vis the executive (this has gone hand in hand with rising anti-intellectualism);
restructuring of the judiciary – the implementation of exceptional law(s) has been normalized (particularly via the state of emergency declared following the 2016 coup attempt);
the emergence of a new power-bloc composed of a powerful executive, the police, the intelligence service and a restructured judiciary;
an increase in the autonomy of the state from the dominant classes (in particular from the TUSIAD) as well as global powers (in particular the U.S. and the European Union);
the emergence or creation of paramilitary forces supported and armed by the state;
a leadership cult created around the leader, i.e. Erdogan.

To these, we need to add two more features which should be emphasized as arguably the most salient and distinctive features of fascism: chauvinistic nationalism/racism and (attempts at) mass social mobilization aiming at reshaping society in accordance with a particular worldview. This worldview or ideology in the current Turkish context has taken the form of the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, which has its roots in the junta of the early 1980s.

With fascism – or if not fascism, a nevertheless very repressive regime – looming on the horizon, the critical question for the left is that of resistance.

Only a few days after the elections, the incumbent minister of the interior has given the first signals of what is awaiting Turkey in the upcoming months. He has already threatened the leaders of the pro-Kurdish party, HDP, with death and given orders to keep members of the main opposition party, the CHP, from funerals of the military personnel killed in the war against Kurdish militants, which insinuates an association between the CHP and so-called ‘terrorism’ – a common form of ‘othering’ by the AKP of the opposition since the end of the peace process in 2015 and during the most recent electoral campaign.

Left opposition
Under these circumstances, it is imperative that the left, ranging from the reformist social democrats to the communists, form a united front around an alternative social project which has the potential to bring together the broad segments of the population that have been hurt by the AKP’s rule.

This is not a time for sectarianism. This social project should be based on the following:
defense of secularism (not the rigid French laïcité and its bastard version of the republican era);
inclusion of and equal status for ethnic and cultural groups, and genders;
an end to the aggressive foreign policy and military interventions in neighbouring countries;
a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question;
an immediate end to the state of emergency and restoration of the liberal democratic institutions and rule of law;
an end to neoliberal restructuring and policies in favour of a more equitable redistribution of wealth.

Resistance based on such a political project cannot and should not be confined to electoral politics only. It should combine electoral politics with long-term grassroots politics involving creating solidarity networks and alternative spaces to the ones controlled by the regime. There are millions of young people in the country who have never lived under a different government and are thus unable to imagine a society beyond the one created by the AKP.

The new left politics requires a long-term and patient approach to build the structures through which a new, progressive social imaginary can emerge and ultimately by which state power can be claimed.

This process must also include the Kurdish movement that has risen in the past decade in particular as the most organized and progressive force in the Middle East. The HDP under the leadership of the currently imprisoned Selahattin Demirtas has made a genuine bid to embrace all ethnicities and the labouring classes in Turkey, and voice their concerns and desires within a left program. This should be taken seriously by skeptical Turks, who have not been able to break free from the nationalist propaganda with colonial undertones.

The most recent elections has made it clear that the natural ally of the Turkish social democrats under the current circumstances is the Kurdish left, not the ultra-nationalists nor the dissident Islamic conservatives they entered into an electoral alliance with.

The elections further empowered the AKP and its leader Erdogan despite a drop in the party’s popular vote. It also opened the way for the ruling party to strengthen and extend its grip over the Turkish state and society. In the face of deepening divisions exacerbated by the exclusionary politics of the AKP and an approaching economic crisis, it is quite likely that the authoritarian tendencies already inherent in the ruling-bloc will grow stronger.

The June 24th elections have led to tremendous (and rightful) frustration and disappointment among the progressive forces in the country. However, with fascism hovering above like the sword of Damocles, there is no time for grief nor hopelessness. It is time for a new politics that overcomes sectarianism and challenges the pillars of the current regime in favour of all the labouring and marginalized segments of Turkish society. While our intellect may fall into pessimism, the past struggles of the honest and brave people of Turkey (and Kurdistan) should keep our optimism alive.

Baris Karaagac teaches international political economy and economic development at Trent University and researches European social democracy, state theory, and Turkish political economy. He is the editor of Accumulations, Crises, Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism (2013).


“Erdoğan’dan itiraf: OHAL’den istifade ederek grevlere anında müdahale ediyoruz,” Cumhuriyet, 12 July 2017. Accessed on 28 June 2018.


[1] A speech by Erdogan from 11 July 2017 is noteworthy. At a meeting with foreign investors, Erdogan identified investors, entrepreneurs and international capital as the main pillars of development. He further stated: “When we came to power there was a state of emergency in Turkey but all factories were under the threat of strikes. Remember those days. But now we intervene wherever there is the threat of a strike by virtue of the state of emergency” (Cumhuriyet, 12 July 2018).

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.

On Marx and Epicurus

Posted by admin On July - 3 - 2018 Comments Off on On Marx and Epicurus


Originally published: International Communist Current by ICConline (February 17, 2018)
Under the heading ‘Readers’ Contributions’ we aim to encourage our readers and sympathisers to write texts and articles which can go into greater depth than is possible in our discussion forum, and so stimulate a longer term reflection. These articles, while being broadly based on proletarian politics, need not fully represent the positions of the ICC, or may deal with issues on which the ICC does not have a collective view.

Some notes on elements of Marx’s 1841 doctoral thesis on The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature and the profundity of the Epicurean “swerve”

Given the fragments, literally, of the works of Epicurus available to Marx at the time, the materialist analysis that he manages to develop from them is pretty amazing. After Marx’s demise much more evidence of Epicurus’ philosophy has been found: on charcoal remains of papyri in Philodemus’ library in Herculeum, on the wall of Diogenes of Oenoanda and writings kept in the Vatican for whom Epicurus was strictly taboo. The mere mention of Epicurus (or Lucretius) led to torture or imprisonment by the Inquisition in Naples and all of their followers were consigned to the Sixth Circle of Hell. Marx was also assisted in this work on Epicurus by the poem On the Nature of Things and works of the aforementioned Roman poet Lucretius.

Titus Lucretius Carus was a great influence on the Enlightenment Italian materialist Giambattista Vico, and an even bigger influence on the workers’ movement. He developed the idea of descent with modification, and understood that energy could neither be created nor destroyed. His poem was the basis for Lewis Henry Morgan’s great work, Ancient Society… and thus Engel’s work The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State.  He laid out the tenets and philosophy of Epicurus in his poem. The renowned Epicurean scholar, Cyril Bailey who translated his work into English, said in 1928: “Looking back on his (Marx’s) work now it is almost astonishing to see how far he got considering the materials then available and he was probably the first person to see the true distinction between the Democritean and Epicurean systems“. And to a large part he did this by focusing on the meaning of the Epicurean swerve.

Epicurus’ study of the atom allowed him to delve into “the nature of human sensation and existence”. Benjamin Farrington, noted scholar of Greek philosophy, wrote: “Oddly enough it was Karl Marx in his doctoral thesis… who first took the measure of the problem and provided the solution… making Epicurus the deeper of the two (in comparison to Democritus) inasmuch as he laboured to find room in his system both for animate and inanimate being, both for nature and society, both for the phenomena of the external world and the demands of moral consciousness” (From Marx’s Ecology, materialism and nature by John Bellamy Foster).

Epicurus’ work removes the gods (almost entirely) and the fear and terror that they inspire in mortal man, opening the way for chance, possibilities and freedom: “That which is abstractly possible, which can be conceived constitutes no obstacle to the thinking subject, no limit, no stumbling-block”.  Continuing from this, only Marx could say from the fragments that he knew of: (that) “Epicurus therefore proceeds with boundless nonchalance in the explanation of separate physical phenomena” and this from the possibilities that brought them about. In contrast to Democritus, who also contributed to a materialist analysis, Epicurus posed the question of a tiny “swerve” in the atom against the straight, deterministic lines of the former. Cicero ridiculed this idea calling it “disgraceful” and said it was “entirely impossible” that the universe came about by “complexities, combinations and adhesions of the atoms one with another”. Hegel suggested that he had nothing useful to say; similar criticisms were levelled against Epicurus by the 17th century French philosopher Pierre Bayle, but the strange reality of the quantum nature of the atom is now beyond doubt. Lucretius understood this: “… if the atoms never swerve so as to originate some new movement that will snap the bonds of fate” nothing would change, but this process does take place “in time unfixt, imperceptible to the senses and in the smallest possible space“. The further relevance to quantum mechanics is evident. For Marx the swerve represents “the soul of the atom, the concept of abstract individuality”.

Epicurus suggests qualities to the atom, size, shape and weight whose declination (swerve) opposes any determinism: (the atoms) “are therefore opposed to one another as immediate realities”. Marx agrees with Lucretius, saying that “the declination breaks the fati doedra (bonds of fate)”, and applied to consciousness “the declination is that something in its breast that can fight back and resist”. The declination lifts the atom out of the domain of determinism. If atoms didn’t swerve they could neither repel nor attract, and it’s from this repulsion and attraction that, according to Epicurus with Marx: “the world of appearance emerges“, appearance that is transformed by consciousness from essence. Repulsion and attraction go beyond Democritus’ determinism, just as the swerve of the atom goes beyond the relative existence of atoms falling in fixed lines. Democritus assumes an infinite number of shapes of the atom up to infinite size. But according to Lucretius, “it is rather by a definite and finite number of shapes that the atoms are differentiated from one another”, which is also another way of expressing the modern theory of the conservation of energy.

As for weight, in the view of Epicurus it exists only as a different weight and the atoms themselves are substantial “centres of gravity” with weight existing in respect of repulsion and attraction. In this way Epicurus anticipates the fact that all bodies, whatever their weight and mass, have the same velocity when they fall through space. Time is discussed by these Greeks in some ways similar to that of modern-day physicist Carlo Rovelli, and both Democritus and Epicurus agree that time is excluded from the atom. For the latter, infinite time exists within infinite space comprising infinite worlds, giving rise to free-will against superstition and fear of the gods. Following Epicurus, Lucretius writes: “… time by itself does not exist… It must not be claimed that anyone can sense time by itself apart from the movement of things or their restful immobility… accidents of matter, or of the place in which things happen”. Marx calls this “the ‘accidens’ of accidens”. Time is in opposition to space, time is change as change, and further for Marx, it is the “fire of essence” which can only be seen through reason: “… this reflection of appearance in itself which constitutes the concept of time, has its separate existence in the conscious sensuous. Human sensuousness is therefore embodied time, the existing reflection of the sensuous world itself”.

There’s a chapter called “The Meteors”, by which Epicurus means all celestial bodies; and this is doubly important for the Greeks because their “philosophers worshipped their own minds in the celestial bodies” (like a “cult” according to Marx) and this was another factor in the elevation of the gods that Epicurus flatly rejected. Once the myth is removed from the heavens everything is possible, every explanation is sufficient. For example, there’s not one explanation to a lightning strike but a number of interacting properties and reactions, and the task for Epicurus is to “trace their cause and banish the source of disturbance and dread”. He takes comfort in the fact that everything is impermanent and unstable, not eternal and immortal. Marx says that Epicurus “in wrath and passionate violence” rejects those that propose one method of explanation of the Unique, Eternal and Divine in the heavenly bodies. The irregularity of orbits, the number of multiple possibilities involved in heavenly phenomena, the multitude of explanations is for Epicurus the road to calm, understanding and freedom. For Marx the contingency and freedom espoused by Epicurus, which before him was mechanical determinism, brought out the “active side”.

Marx’s materialism has strong roots in the swerve of Epicurus, showing that it could be an element in human emancipation from the material conditions of a world characterised by the development of human relations to its basic needs, from which consciousness develops. Chance and contingency play a part in this along with human ethical considerations. Marx wasn’t uncritical of Epicurus since he was only interpreting the world, but his interpretation gave the world a direction and in the thesis Marx builds on some of his contradictions. He criticised his ideas of too many possibilities and his individualism but, again, these were part and parcel of the outcome. Engels, up to his death, was, enthusiastically with Marx all the way on the materialism of Epicurus. Engel’s himself rejected much of bourgeois materialism in favour of the Greek “enlightenment”, particularly Epicurus and Lucretius. He continued Marx’s work on Epicurus and praised what he called the latter’s “immanent dialectics”. Epicurus recognised the estrangement of human beings from the human world in the shape of religion, now reinforced by the alienation of the labour-capital relationship, and had profound concerns about the well-being of the earth and the relationship of nature to man, points which Engels picked up and expanded on along with Marx.

A final quote from Marx in the thesis on Epicurus: “When human life lay grovelling in all men’s sight, crushed to the earth under the deadweight of religion whose grim features loured menacingly upon mortals from the four quarters of the sky, a man of Greece was first to raise mortal eyes in defiance, first to stand erect and brave the challenge. Fables of the gods did not crush him, nor the lightning flash and growling menace of the sky…. Therefore religion in its turn lies crushed beneath his feet, and we by his triumph are lifted level with the skies.

The difference between Democritean and Epicurean philosophy of nature which we established at the end of the general section has been elaborated and confirmed in all domains of nature. In Epicurus therefore, atomistics with all its contradictions has been carried through and completed as the natural science of self-consciousness. This self-consciousness under the form of abstract individuality is an absolute principle.

Epicurus has thus carried atomistics to its final conclusion, which is its dissolution and conscious opposition to the universal. For

Democritus, on the other hand, the atom is only the general objective expression of the empirical investigation of nature as a whole.

Hence the atom remains for him a pure and abstract category, a hypothesis, the result of experience, not its active [energisches] principle. This hypothesis remains therefore without realisation, just as it plays no further part in determining the real investigation.”

We are conscious now that far from being crushed, religion, particularly its fundamentalist versions in both east and west, has been fed and invigorated by decomposing capitalism. The task is to overcome this along with all the divisions that emanate from the breakdown of ruling class ideology and to this effect we have to salute the groundbreaking work of Marx on Epicurus.

Marx’s appendix on Plutarch

At the end of Marx’s dissertation is an appendix called: Critique of Plutarch’s Polemic against the Theology of Epicurus, of which, like much of the latter’s work, only fragments survive. Nevertheless, even here, Marx makes some significant points and looks at some new areas in these fragments that we can return to in the context of the whole. It’s also worth remembering that this work of Marx developing on Epicurus showed his gradual independence from Hegel and demonstrated to him in the process the importance of religion and the unfolding necessity to try to develop a profound understanding of what religion meant for humanity and its emancipation, while contending that “No good for man lies outside himself”.

For Plutarch, God was on the side of good against the wicked – the powerful nature of this aspect of religious ideology shouldn’t be underestimated even to this day. Against Epicurus, Plutarch argued that if there was no God there was no joy or happiness. According to him, belief in God, as well as bringing relief from pain, fear and worry “indulges in a playful and merry inebriation, even in amatory matters!” Marx responds on the proof of God that gods are like imagined money – in the end there will be a price to pay. And anyway, proof of ‘your’ God is a disavowal of others and vice-versa. Plutarch divides society into the good, decent, intelligent and the bad and uncivilised whereas, according to Marx, Epicurus deals with the “essential relationship of the human soul in general“. For Marx, Plutarch’s objection to Epicurus’ ungodly atomism poses the question of the eternal, unchangeable characteristics of man against those of change, free-will and self-consciousness. Plutarch’s view of religion is based on the reform of the wicked by, first of all an animal-like fear and secondly, sentimentality: “There is no qualitative difference between this and the previous category. What in the first place appeared in the shape of an animal fear appears here in the shape of human fear, the form of sentiment. The content is the same” (Marx). After talking about sentiment Marx goes on to briefly talk about the “… naked, empirical ego, the love of self, the oldest love…”.

Marx certainly has plenty of criticisms of Epicurus on the questions of mechanistics and “accidents” but wholly supports his view that events of human history are neither mere accidents nor merely arise out of necessity. Epicurus recognises and never denies necessity or subsistence but always insists that the bounds of both must be broken and this by the means of human reason and human consciousness.

In the dissertation Marx argues that Epicurus goes beyond the sceptical world of the Democratean atom and its “subjective semblance” by positing its “objective appearance”. “Implicit in Epicurus’ philosophy was the notion that knowledge both of the world of the atom (imperceptible to the senses) and of sensuous reality arose from the inner necessity of human reason embodied in abstract individuality and freedom (self-determination).” Marx’s Ecology materialism and nature, John Bellamy Foster.

In his appendix on Plutarch Marx also takes aim at the German idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling, whose positions degenerated into a defence of religion and from this a cock-eyed vision of nature. Schelling’s appointment as Rector at the University of Berlin indicated the closing off of universities to the Young Hegelians and a definite turn by Marx into further profound applications of his work.

Marx took what was best about the enlightenment of Ancient Greece and defended and refined the analyses of Epicurus against the determinism of Democritus; and then he defended the materialism of the modern Enlightenment against the reactionary views of Schelling. Marx went beyond Epicurus while underlining his importance for a materialist analysis. He reined in some of his “exaggerations” and sharpened up his innate dialectics.
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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