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Archive for September, 2018

Socialism and Gay Liberation: Back to the Future-Doug Ireland

Posted by admin On September - 7 - 2018 Comments Off on Socialism and Gay Liberation: Back to the Future-Doug Ireland

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(DOUG IRELAND, a veteran radical journalist, is the U.S. correspondent and a columnist for the French political-investigative weekly magazine Bakchich and the International Affairs Editor of Gay City News, New York’s largest LGBT weekly ne)
Doug Ireland
IN 1865, WHILE MARX, IN HOLLAND, was playing the Victorian parlor game “Confessions” with his daughter Jenny, when asked for his favorite maxim he replied, “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” or “nothing human is alien to me,” a dictum he had lifted from the second century B.C. Carthaginian slave-turned-playwright Terentius (Terence.)

Unfortunately, this admirable and inspiring attitude was never extended by either Marx or Engels to same-sexers. Well before the invention of the word “homosexual” by Karoly Maria Kertbeny in 1869, the correspondence of Marx and Engels is riddled with what we would now characterize as unmistakable homophobia of a vicious character. When the pioneering German homosexual liberationist Karl Ulrichs sent Marx one of his books on the subject, which Marx forwarded to his collaborator, Engels described Ulrichs’ platform of homosexual emancipation from criminal laws as “turning smut into history.” Marx, in commenting on Karl Boruttau’s Gedanken über Gewissens Freiheit (Thoughts on Freedom of Conscience), disparaged the author as “this faggoty prick” (Schwanzschwulen) The homophobia of Marx and Engels has been meticulously documented by Hubert Kennedy of San Francisco State University, Ulrichs’ U.S. biographer, in his es-say“Johann Baptist von Schweitzer:The Queer Marx Loved to Hate,” which is included in the anthology Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left, edited by Gert Hekma, Harry Oosterhuis, and James Steakley (Haworth Press) and is also available online.

Notwithstanding this unfortunate lapse into prejudice by socialism’s two most famous names, virtually all of the early important figures who worked for homosexual liberation were socialists. John Addington Symonds, the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness, was a radical socialist; he helped found several “Walt Whitman Societies” in the north of England—the first recorded English groups of gay men founded explicitly to discuss same-sex love—wrote the pro-homosexual A Problem in Greek Ethics, published in 1883, and circulated privately printed essays in defense of homosexuality that were very influential. Edward Carpenter, the libertarian socialist poet and essayist who played a significant role in making possible the birth of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party, took up Symonds’ homosexual liberationist mantle on the latter’s death in 1893, and his 1908 book on the subject, The Intermediate Sex, would become a foundational text of the gay liberation movements of the 20th century. Oscar Wilde, who wrote The Soul of Man Under Socialism and joined the agitation in favor of clemency for the Haymarket Martyrs, was profoundly influenced by the writings of Ulrichs and adopted his “Uranian” terminology. Wilde and his friends referred in their letters to the campaign for legalization of homosexuality as “the Cause,” joining a secret Uranian organization, the Order of Chaeronea, to fight for it (Wilde’s position as an important precursor of gay liberation was solidly documented by Neil McKenna’s groundbreaking 2003 revisionist biography, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde.) The Order of Chaeronea’s founder, George Ives, also thought of himself as a socialist.

In Germany, the pioneer sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a member of the Social Democratic Party, founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in 1897 to fight for repeal of the statute criminalizing homosexuality, and he was able to secure public support for repeal from socialist leaders like Karl Kautsky, Edouard Bernstein, and the SDP’s parliamentary leader August Bebel (who introduced the repeal bill into the Reichstag). The man who became Hirschfeld’s deputy and eventually his successor as head of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in 1929, Kurt Hiller, was a well-known radical socialist essayist who coined the slogan, “The liberation of the homosexuals is the task of the homosexuals themselves.” When the pacifist novelist Henri Barbusse became the editor of the French Communist Party’s newspaper, l’Humanité, in 1926, and — well before Stalin’s recriminalization of homosexuality in 1933 — began polemicizing against homosexuality as the product of decadence in the bourgeois sector of society and a perversion favored by fascism in articles widely reprinted in the world Communist press, it was Hiller who provided the most stinging rebuttal to Barbusse in a famous gay liberationist speech, the “Appeal on Behalf of an Oppressed Human Variety,” written for the Second International Congress for Sexual Reform held in Copenhagen in 1928. Thanks to the work of Hirschfeld, Hiller, and their colleagues in the early German homosexual rights movement, the German Communist Party was the only one in the Western Hemisphere to reject Barbusse’s bigotry.

In the United States, however, both Socialists and Communists bought into the “homosexuality-is-capitalistdecadence” argument and used homosexual stereotypes to attack their enemies. It was thanks to American anarchist writers and propagandists that the defense of homosexuality developed in Europe by the likes of Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, Carpenter, and Symonds crossed the Atlantic to these shores — at a time when no other political movement or notable public figure in the United States dealt with the issue of same-sex eroticism and love, as Terence Kissack has detailed in his important 2008 book, Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States, 1895-1917.

“THE ANARCHIST SEX RADICALS,” Kissack writes discerningly, “were interested in the ethical, social, and cultural place of homosexuality within society, because that question lies at the nexus of individual freedom and state power.”Thus the American anarchists were virtually alone here in the States in defending and iconizing Wilde (who had said he was “something of an anarchist”) after his trial and imprisonment, at a time when his plays were banned and his books removed from library shelves. The towering figure of American anarchism, Emma Goldman, an extremely charismatic public speaker, spoke repeatedly to large audiences all over the United States about homosexuality in the first two decades of the last century, devoting whole lectures to the subject. And Alexander Berkman’s Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, a best-seller published by Goldman’s Mother Earth publishing house in 1912 (with an introduction Goldman had solicited from Carpenter and a frontispiece excerpt from Wilde‘s “Ballad of Reading Gaol”), was one of the most important political texts dealing with homosexuality to have been written by an American before the 1950s.

When Harry Hay, who’d been influenced by Carpenter’s writing, led a group of queer Communists and fellow travelers in founding the “Bachelors for Henry Wallace” during the 1948 Progressive Party presidential campaign, that pioneering (if closeted) effort at starting a gay organization became the nucleus for the creation of the Mattachine Society in 1950 as the earliest lasting homophile organization. But if Mattachine’s roots in the radical left have long been well-documented, Christopher Phelps, in his essay which appeared in the last issue of New Politics, has performed a singular service of historical excavation in demonstrating that there were similar homosexual liberationist stirrings in a parallel time frame in Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party. (Phelps gets extra points for understanding the importance of his discovery because he is not homosexual himself.)

When Sylvia Rivera and other transgendered and gender rebels launched the fight-back against a brutal police raid at New York’s Stonewall Inn 38 years ago, that sparked the birth of a radical gay liberationist rebellion — against the State, which made us criminals; against the medical and psychiatric professions, which declared us sick; and against the culture of heterotyranny which made us the targets of disdain, ridicule, opprobrium, hate, and violence. Born in the wake of the Stonewall rebellion, the gay liberation movement insisted — to borrow from the title of an early film by the gay German cinéaste Rosa von Praunheim — that “it is not the homosexual who is perverse, but the society in which he lives.”

Drawing from feminist critiques of the tyrannies of patriarchy and the family, gay liberation rejected the white, middle-class culture’s patriarchal rigidities, hierarchies, and rituals; homophobia and misogyny were seen as two sides of the same coin. Gay liberation insisted on the right to plural desires and opposed “any prescription for how consenting adults may or must make love,” as the historian and gay activist Martin Duberman then put it. Gay liberation was, he wrote, “a rite of passage — not into manhood or womanhood as those states have been traditionally defined; not sanctioned by supernatural doctrine; not blueprinted by centuries of ritualized behavior; not greeted by kinship rejoicing and social acceptance; not marked by the extension of fellowship into the established adult community,” but rather placing “ourselves in the forefront of the newest and most far-reaching revolution: the re-characterization of sexuality.”

In the early seventies, when I came out, gay liberation saw itself as “a paradigm of resistance” to the stultifying political culture of the Nixon years, and was infused with a sense of commitment to unleashing the collective energies of a hitherto invisible people as part of the much larger effort to maximize social justice and human liberation for all. The early cadres of gay activists were almost always graduates of the sixties struggles on the left — for civil rights, against the Vietnam war and the “corporate liberalism” that dominated the large multiversities. Since official liberalism of that day rejected gay liberation as a “pathetic” celebration of “perversion,” we felt it was doubly subversive, and were proud of that.

The accomplishments of the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement were many. It shattered forever the silence that had imprisoned same-sexers in untenable solitude and alienation; its raucous, media-savvy confrontations changed the nature of public discourse on homosexuality — symbolized by the insistence on the word “gay,” a code word for same-sex love for more than a century, instead of the clinical, one-dimensional “homosexual.” The most significant victory was the successful fight to have the American Psychiatric Association drop same-sex attraction from its catalog of “disorders” in 1973. And, of course, gay liberation made coming out — the most radical act in a homophobic society — not only the basis of mental and emotional health for gay people, but the imperative for creating the political movement that could carry through the fight for civil rights.

AS MORE AND MORE PEOPLE BEGAN TO come out, thanks to the liberationists’ clamorous visibility, the out gay community increasingly began to reflect the demographic, political, and cultural makeup of the society as a whole. And thus the gay liberation movement was replaced by what Jeffrey Escoffier, in his seminal 1998 book American Homo: Community and Perversity, called “the gay citizenship movement.”

Gay liberation considered innate homosexuality as much a challenge to a suffocating and unjust social order as the political radicalism that many of its proponents, including myself, embraced. But it was transformed in a relatively short time into a more limited quest for gay citizenship.

Or, as Escoffier wrote, the liberation movement “celebrated the otherness, the differentness, and the marginality of the homosexual; whereas the gay politics of citizenship acknowledges the satisfaction of conforming, passing, belonging, and being accepted.”

The de-radicalization of the gay movement was accelerated by a number of factors. For one thing, gay liberation was largely the work of people who had been participants in or influenced by the sixties movements for black civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, or by labor or radical campus struggles. As the first generation of activists began to burn out, the movement was populated with younger people with little or no previous history of political protest. Simultaneously, the fulgurant rise of the commercial gay ghetto and the emergence of the gay market contributed to the rapid growth of an out gay middle class, which saw itself as having more of a stake in the dominant culture than did the young marginals and intellectuals who made up the movement’s first wave.

Finally, the backlash against visible homosexuality and against the demand for full gay citizenship drove the movement to seek political advances through a more traditional form of interest-group politics. The need to appeal to the non-gay electorate helped water down and eventually extinguish the radical liberationist discourse; in this, the gay movement did not escape the similar fate of other initially radical social protest movements.

AND THEN CAME AIDS.

From 1981, when it was first identified as a “gay cancer,” until well into the ’90s, AIDS was used to stigmatize homosexuals, especially gay males, by the political homophobes of the right. And whatever shards of liberationist thinking and attitudes that remained in the gay community were effectively snuffed out.

First, the epidemic and the social opprobrium it brought with it forced the gay community to turn back in upon itself in a struggle to survive. Government was entirely absent from the fight against AIDS in the Reagan years, so the burden of prevention, education, and even care for the sick fell upon gay people themselves. AIDS consumed an enormous amount of the gay community’s money and energies, as we took day-to-day responsibility for our afflicted “extended families” of friends and lovers.

Worst of all, this grimmest of reapers also took away forever thousands of gay liberation’s most original and tireless activists, a hemorrhage unparalleled in the history of any other U.S. social movement. I always think of my late, dear friend Vito Russo, the epitome of radical gay and AIDS activism and the author of The Celluloid Closet (a history of gays in film) as symbolizing the enormity of this lethal hemorrhage of irreplaceable talent.

Finally, any radicalism that still existed in the gay community was increasingly channeled into the fight against AIDS with the founding of ACT UP. The struggle for simple survival took primacy over the larger issues of social and sexual transformation.

By the end of the nineties, the institutionalization of the gay movement was complete. The Human Rights Campaign, the wealthiest national gay organization with the largest staff, some 114 people now — to which today’s corporate media invariably turn for the “gay view” on issues — adopted a top-down, corporate structure that demands little more of its members than writing a check or attending a black-tie dinner, or occasionally writing a letter (or more likely sending an e-mail) to a public official. In their endless search for corporate sponsorships for gay events and activities, in their insistence on presenting a homogenized and false image of gay people, the gay institutions like HRC and their access-obsessed gaycrats are committing serious strategic and tactical errors — like acquiescing in a truncated version of the still-to-be-passed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act for gays and lesbians that excludes the transgendered — which play into the hands of our heavily funded and organizationally sophisticated enemies on the right.The lack of attention paid to queers in the Black and Latino communities by the institutional gay movement, and their invisibility in the image of homosexuality portrayed by HRC and much of the gay media, also works to our detriment. (Witness the fact that in all the November, 2008 state referendums to ban gay marriage, those communities of color voted overwhelmingly against marriage equality for same-sex couples.)

Yes, the political center of gravity in this country has moved significantly to the right in the decades since Stonewall — and with it the political center of gravity of the out gay community. But now that three and a half decades of struggle have created an ever-enlarging cultural and political space for LGBT people, I’m sensing a hunger for a return to some of the earlier principles of sexual liberation for all with which our movement began, not just here at home but abroad — and that includes a growing demand for our gay institutions to abandon their navel-gazing isolationism and embrace international LGBT solidarity.

In the long term, developing new strategies of resistance and liberation will require the gay movement, which has become so embourgeoisé, to begin a serious and radical rethinking of homosexualities and gender identities so as to understand at a deeper level why the fear and loathing of same-sex love and gender variants are so deeply engrained in society and culture not only here in the United States, but around the world. This also means breaking the forms of social control implicit in the gay market ideology. And re-connecting to other movements for social justice who should be our natural allies — all the while remembering the dictum of a great black civil rights organizer who also was gay, Bayard Rustin, who taught us that “all successful coalitions are based on mutual self-interest,” which means embracing the struggles of others as we ask them to embrace ours.

But, as important as the demands of the gay citizenship movement are, ultimately one cannot change minds and hearts simply by legislation alone. Only a fundamental redefinition of human freedom that includes a re-characterization of human sexuality in all its glorious varieties — the original project of gay liberation — can do.

http://newpol.org/content/socialism-and-gay-liberation-back-future-0

 

Gramsci on Tahrir: EGYPT AND THE DIALECTIC OF PASSIVE AND PERMANENT REVOLUTION-Brecht De Smet

Posted by admin On September - 6 - 2018 Comments Off on Gramsci on Tahrir: EGYPT AND THE DIALECTIC OF PASSIVE AND PERMANENT REVOLUTION-Brecht De Smet

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EGYPT AND THE DIALECTIC OF PASSIVE AND PERMANENT REVOLUTION
by Brecht De Smet on March 21, 2016

Although it is always difficult, if not impossible, to clearly discern the emergence of a new epoch when you find yourself right in the middle of the process, there are strong indications that we are experiencing a watershed moment in the development of capitalism. Conjunctural crises such as the 2008 financial meltdown reveal the structural instabilities of the neoliberal system of deregulated capital flows, while the tendency toward increased authoritarianism and securitisation in both core and peripheral capitalist countries show the limits of bourgeois democracy to absorb mass discontent. At the same time, episodes such as the ‘Arab Spring’ sharply posit the relevance of ‘old’ categories such as revolution and counter-revolution for the 21st century. As moments of political hope and despair, optimism and pessimism, succeed one another rapidly, activists’ consciousness and understanding of unfolding events often tail-end the almost bipolar ebb and flow of popular initiative. In order to intervene successfully, activists have to make sense of the direction of the process as a whole and of the various instances of agency at work – their own included. Therefore, radical theory has to extend beyond the sphere of mere philosophical, political or economic critique – the unveiling of relations of power – and into the ‘interventionist’ domain of concrete emancipatory strategies and imaginaries.

Arguably Antonio Gramsci is one of the key figures within this revolutionary tradition. His notion of a ‘philosophy of praxis’ challenged the rigid and mechanical framework of the dominant stream of Marxism in the late 1920s, advocating the development of an intellectually sophisticated, but also practice-oriented theory of social change. The last decade has witnessed a renewal of Gramscian theory in the Anglophone world. Key works such as Adam Morton’s Unravelling Gramsci (2007) and Peter Thomas’s The Gramscian Moment (2009) are moving away from leading postwar interpretations that cast the Sardinian Marxist in the restricted role of a ‘reformist’ and of a ‘cultural’ or ‘postcolonial’ thinker, re-appropriating his thought within the context of a new era of global capitalist crisis and struggle. My book Gramsci on Tahrir is a humble contribution to this ongoing debate. I investigate the process of revolution and counter-revolution in Egypt and its relation to the broad historical development of capitalism through the combined lens of permanent and passive revolution. Conversely, the Egyptian experience is deployed as a means to think about general changes in state and class power.

Passive revolution is a concept that basically “captures various concrete historical instances in which aspects of the social relations of capitalist development are either instituted and/or expanded, resulting in both ‘revolutionary’ rupture and a ‘restoration’ of social relations”. In spite of the adjective ‘passive’ this process of ‘revolution-restoration’ does not exclude sudden outbursts of street politics ‘from below’ and even mass uprisings. The concept draws our attention to the political initiative of dominant groups and their capacity to maintain power, through a ‘revolution from above’, in the sense of a gradual, elite-driven transformation of society, and/or by the deflection, fragmentation, and appropriation of popular movements. Faced with the stubborn survival of capitalism in the face of mass revolution and its rebirth in Fordism and Fascism, Gramsci formulated his theory of passive revolution as a “critical corollary” to Marx’s Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859). Put simply: what if, indeed, the relations of production began to “fetter” the productive forces and “an era of social revolution” ensued, but the revolutionary proletariat was unable to conquer and transform the bourgeois state? Could this period of non-transition lead to anything else than the apocalyptic choice between “socialism or barbarism”?

Gramsci turned to the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy, as a historical case study to ‘work out’ the concept of passive revolution, which, in turn, allowed him to understand the emergence of Fascism. Hence the concept of passive revolution does not function as a discrete political ‘form’, situated somewhere between ‘active’ revolution and counter-revolution, but, as a heuristic that “reveals specific class strategies and spatial practices that characterise capitalist society and how these have changed with the further development of capitalism.” It is, in Gramsci’s own words, a “criterion of interpretation”: a methodological searchlight that reveals the agency, agility, and adaptability of dominant groups that are able to survive their own hegemonic crises. Thus a nation’s history can be comprehended as a series of discrete revolutionary and passive-revolutionary episodes that are incorporated within long-term transformations of global capitalism.

In this regard “Gramsci on Tahrir” functions as a reading of Egypt’s modern history through the lens of its revolutionary upheavals and their displacements: the 1882 Urabi uprising; the 1919 revolution; the 1952 Free Officer coup; the 1977 ‘bread riots’; and the recent mass movements. Here the concept of passive revolution is complemented with Trotsky’s notion of ‘uneven and combined development’, for in the colonial and postcolonial world moments of capitalist constitution and reconstitution become a contemporaneous and protracted process – with important implications for emancipatory struggles. Even after formal independence was declared in 1922 Egypt remained a society in crisis, unable to free itself from its political and economic bondage to imperialism. The interventions of British capital and its alliance with the Egyptian crown and landlords blocked the formation of a capitalist ‘historical bloc’ and a transformation ‘from above’. Conversely, enduring conflicts and cleavages between subaltern groups prevented an alliance that could effectively overthrow state power. The process of permanent-passive revolution became itself deflected through the 1952 Free Officer coup. The military appeared as a neutral, third party that forcefully solved the Egyptian stalemate. However, despite its autonomy, the military did not act in a class vacuum. State power remained rooted in class power, which slowly shifted from the industrial bourgeoisie in the 1950s to the ‘popular classes’ in the 1960s – only to root itself back into parasitic rentier classes from the 1970s onward.

The Egyptian case indicates that the concept of passive revolution offers much more than a heuristic device, for it also probes into the very nature of capitalist class and state power. In his prison notebooks, Gramsci often returns to the case of the French Revolution, which poses the riddle of bourgeois hegemony (and its subsequent demise) – a riddle that Gramsci, in my opinion, never completely solves. In his “Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (1844) Marx mentions how the political revolution of the French bourgeoisie in 1789 created:

…a moment in which this class fraternises and fuses with society in general, becomes identified with it and is experienced and acknowledged as its universal representative; a moment in which its claims and rights are truly the rights and claims of society itself and in which it is in reality the heart and head of society.

Gramsci elaborated upon this idea, adding that:

The previous ruling classes were essentially conservative in the sense that they did not tend to construct an organic passage from the other classes into their own, i.e. to enlarge their class sphere ‘technically’ and ideologically: their conception was that of a closed class. The bourgeois class poses itself as an organism in continuous movement, capable of absorbing the entire society, assimilating it to its own cultural and economic level. The entire function of the State has been transformed; the State has become an ‘educator’.

The French Revolution destroyed the ‘mechanical’ ensemble of feudal society, which consisted of self-contained corporate estates. Whereas feudal dominant classes ruled society almost ‘from the outside’, the bourgeoisie ruled by becoming society and, conversely, by offering the other classes a pathway to become bourgeois.

Although much has been written about ‘the state as educator’ in the above excerpt, the interesting concept of ‘organic passage’ (passaggio organico) itself has not been discussed at length. The importance of the concept cannot be underestimated, because the promise of an ‘organic passage’ of the broad population to the bourgeois class has been capitalism’s mobilising myth, functioning as the origin of the bourgeoisie’s hegemony – and of its systemic crisis. As Marx explains, the universality of the bourgeois project remains abstract, realised by separating a ‘political society’ from ‘civil society’ in which all citizens are equal before the law. Marx distinguishes between this restricted, abstract form of political emancipation and human or social emancipation, which liberates humanity from class society and alienation. At its core, the permanency of revolution in the modern, bourgeois age is the always-present, immanent possibility of social revolution to spring from the conditions of political revolution. Marx quipped in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that: ‘The parliamentary regime leaves everything to the decision of majorities; how shall the great majorities outside parliament not want to decide?’ and, later in the Economic Manuscripts that, ‘[t]he political rule of the producer cannot coexist with the perpetuation of his social slavery’.

The 1848 revolutions and the Paris Commune of 1871 confirmed the thesis of permanent revolution in Marx’s eyes. Even if they ended up merely reconfiguring political relations, revolutions – in the sense of mass mobilisations from below contesting existing state power – always contained a ‘social soul’: concrete emancipatory practices that prefigured new social forms in the womb of capitalism. Functioning as passive revolution’s mirror heuristic, the concept of permanent revolution teases out the immanent social soul in a nation’s historical trajectory. In the case of Egypt, Tahrir is revealed as much more than a ‘democratic’ struggle against dictatorship. A desire for social justice and human dignity coincided with practices of popular self-organisation, which embodied the seeds of an alternative society based on equality, diversity, cooperation, and joyful labour. My book shows that these practices have lineages in earlier struggles, reaching back to the early twentieth century.

In its most radical, Jacobin, moment, the French Revolution already showed the fundamental contradiction at the heart of bourgeois hegemony: the promise of an organic passage of the whole of society into the state can never be fulfilled. As Peter Thomas argues, the key term ‘hegemony’ in Gramsci’s writings is not a concept of a neutral political science that describes bourgeois and proletarian leadership in the same terms. The content of bourgeois and proletarian hegemony and its concrete methods of coercion and consent differ fundamentally. Nevertheless, despite this crucial distinction, Gramsci himself is ambiguous about the organic quality of bourgeois leadership at its earliest historical phase, positing a political homology between ‘bourgeois’ Jacobin and ‘proletarian’ Leninist class leadership. Echoing Marx, Gramsci is keen to point out that the progressive role of the bourgeoisie is already exhausted in the revolutions of 1848, as it began to forge alliances with Ancien Régime elites against the emerging proletariat and the spectre of social revolution. However, one could argue that the French Revolution’s  radical Jacobin moment, which created the myth of a bourgeois organic passage was already transgressing the bourgeoisie’s traditional strategy of class rule. Compromise, co-optation, fragmentation of the opposition, and molecular, gradual change engineered ‘from above’  – i.e., passive revolution – appear as the true hallmarks of capitalist state formation. In fact, the English Revolution or German unification are better archetypes of bourgeois state formation than the French Revolution as they show how dominant Ancien Régime groups were gradually transformed into fractions of capital.

Hence the premise of Gramsci’s investigation into the concepts of passive revolution and the ‘integral state’ is that, even though the bourgeois state is not a mechanical state, it is not genuinely organic either. Making a slight detour to Hegel I underline that the bourgeois state in fact supervises a “chemical” ensemble of classes, meaning that there is an apparently neutral relation between the bourgeois class and other social groups on the basis of their shared property as citizens or belonging to ‘the people’. As the late Ellen Meiksins Wood underlined, the history of class society is the history of the differentiation of class and state power, which reaches its pinnacle in bourgeois society. Here state power functions as a ‘middle term’ that mediates class relations, but this representative function is merely a means to the end of achieving bourgeois class power. In other words, it is due to the separation and autonomy of the state that the bourgeoisie is able to rule. Similarly, the ‘organic intellectuals’ of the bourgeoisie emerge mostly in separation of the class itself, within the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie or ‘middle classes’.

Two important conclusions can be drawn from the ‘chemical’ make-up of bourgeois state power. First, the rather common sense and self-evident deduction that bourgeois hegemony is inherently unstable and limited. Second, that political forms that appear historically as aberrations of bourgeois class rule – Bonapartist or Caesarist régimes –are in fact the purest expressions of bourgeois state power. Marx did not conceive of the Bonapartism and empire-crafting of Napoleon III as a regression to a pre-bourgeois phase, but as a development of modern capitalist class power. For the bourgeoisie it was much easier to be a ruling class that appeared to suffer the shared fate of all classes in society – to be subjugated in equal measure by imperial power – than to face the reality of being a class that cowardly refrained from completing its own democratic project. Thus the political dispossession of the bourgeoisie from state power guaranteed its class power. Likewise, Gramsci considered Fascism and parliamentary forms of ‘civil Caesarism’ as modern expressions of bourgeois domination. With this in mind, capitalism’s historical anomaly is not the authoritarianism of the interwar years, but the postwar democratisation of Western Europe’s institutions and the rise of the welfare state. This ‘counter-revolution in democratic form’, a defensive passive revolution sui generis, was rendered possible and necessary in unique circumstances of a powerful labour movement, discredited capitalist parties, a bipolar world order, and an economic boom sustained by a Fordist accumulation strategy.

Similarly, the rise of Nasserism in Egypt and of the ‘developmental state’ in much of the Global South was the unique and contingent result of national and global geopolitical and economic conditions. Decolonisation struggles in the 1950s and 1960s often deflected processes of both permanent and passive revolution, dethroning traditional elites and pushing back the forces of imperialism, but also preventing farmers, workers, and other subaltern groups from taking power. The use of a ‘blocked dialectic’ to describe this process – drawing from Christine Buci-Glucksmann – would be incorrect, as the crisis of imperialist capitalism in core and peripheral countries produced new (capitalist) social forms that did not represent either “socialism or barbarism” and which actually developed the means of production.

The emergence of neoliberal capitalism in the 1970s is a reiteration of prewar imperialism, complete with novel forms of Caesarist state power, which undermine the democratic institutions of bourgeois democracy, for example by relocating political and economic decision-making to supranational entities such as the IMF and the elusive ‘financial markets’. In Europe the recent Greek debt crisis illustrates how capital is able to subdue recalcitrant bourgeois parliaments and a national, sovereign, popular will by international and transnational coercive forces such as the ECB. In Egypt, popular initiative was displaced twice, in 2011 and 2013, by the military apparatus that, in a classical Caesarist way, had to affirm the independence of the state in order to assure the rule of rentier capital. The ‘deep state’ has been coated with a thin layer of democratic legitimacy, which cannot contain the lingering contradictions of the Mubarak era: how can economic development, social justice, and political democracy ever be achieved by a dependent, rentier capitalist class that still operates as a client state for US-imperialism in the region? President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s charismatic leadership of the counter-revolution is already waning in the face of subsidy cuts and increasing police violence. From the perspective of the ruling elites, in order to deflect the dialectic of permanent revolution in a structural manner, Egypt’s political and economic system has to be reformed and important concessions have to be made to the farmers, workers, unemployed youth, street vendors, et cetera, who risked their lives during the uprising. However, the enduring crisis of global capitalism and the arrogance and unwillingness of the dominant groups to engage in a ‘revolution from above’ that offers different goals and recipes than an iteration of the Washington consensus means that in the middle-long term the country is heading to a new bifurcation: either a reassertion of open dictatorship that violently represses the existing political and social movements; or the revival and triumph of the struggle from below.

This analysis has immediate repercussions for an emancipatory politics today. Firstly, it concedes that authoritarian state power is not an expression of an ‘incomplete’ or ‘developing’ capitalism, but the very essence of a mature bourgeois society. Secondly, it understands the specific and local process of counter-revolution in Egypt as part of a general and global process of capitalist crisis and resistance. From these two conclusions we can deduce that any ‘stage theory’ and transitology that demands the construction of a (bourgeois) democratic framework before the implementation of radical social reforms is inherently reactionary. The brief ‘democratic’ episode of the presidency of Muhammad Morsi illustrates the impossibility of ‘democratisation’ without the revolutionary overthrow of the ‘deep state’ and a fundamental change of power relations – not only within Egypt, but also between national and regional and international forces (e.g., USA, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia). At this point Gramscian theory reveals its interventionist character. Permanent revolution and subaltern hegemony offer not only a methodological tool for political science, but also a conscious strategy for social change.

—–Brecht De Smet
Brecht De Smet (MA, PhD) is a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Conflict and Development Studies, Ghent University, where he teaches ‘politics of globalisation’ and ‘politics of the contemporary Middle East’. Since 2008 De Smet has conducted fieldwork in Egypt, investigating the relation between political activism and independent trade unionism from a broad Gramscian perspective. De Smet has written on the workers’ movement, the concepts of hegemony and passive revolution, political pedagogy, and social and political protest in Egypt. His recent books are “A Dialectical Pedagogy of Revolt. Gramsci, Vygotsky, and the Egyptian Revolution” (Brill, 2015) and “Gramsci on Tahrir. Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt” (Pluto http://ppesydney.net/egypt-and-the-dialectic-of-passive-and-permanent-revolution/

http://ppesydney.net/egypt-and-the-dialectic-of-passive-and-permanent-revolution/
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
–Editor

-Brecht De Smet

Posted by admin On September - 6 - 2018 Comments Off on -Brecht De Smet

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EGYPT AND THE DIALECTIC OF PASSIVE AND PERMANENT REVOLUTION
by Brecht De Smet on March 21, 2016

Although it is always difficult, if not impossible, to clearly discern the emergence of a new epoch when you find yourself right in the middle of the process, there are strong indications that we are experiencing a watershed moment in the development of capitalism. Conjunctural crises such as the 2008 financial meltdown reveal the structural instabilities of the neoliberal system of deregulated capital flows, while the tendency toward increased authoritarianism and securitisation in both core and peripheral capitalist countries show the limits of bourgeois democracy to absorb mass discontent. At the same time, episodes such as the ‘Arab Spring’ sharply posit the relevance of ‘old’ categories such as revolution and counter-revolution for the 21st century. As moments of political hope and despair, optimism and pessimism, succeed one another rapidly, activists’ consciousness and understanding of unfolding events often tail-end the almost bipolar ebb and flow of popular initiative. In order to intervene successfully, activists have to make sense of the direction of the process as a whole and of the various instances of agency at work – their own included. Therefore, radical theory has to extend beyond the sphere of mere philosophical, political or economic critique – the unveiling of relations of power – and into the ‘interventionist’ domain of concrete emancipatory strategies and imaginaries.

Arguably Antonio Gramsci is one of the key figures within this revolutionary tradition. His notion of a ‘philosophy of praxis’ challenged the rigid and mechanical framework of the dominant stream of Marxism in the late 1920s, advocating the development of an intellectually sophisticated, but also practice-oriented theory of social change. The last decade has witnessed a renewal of Gramscian theory in the Anglophone world. Key works such as Adam Morton’s Unravelling Gramsci (2007) and Peter Thomas’s The Gramscian Moment (2009) are moving away from leading postwar interpretations that cast the Sardinian Marxist in the restricted role of a ‘reformist’ and of a ‘cultural’ or ‘postcolonial’ thinker, re-appropriating his thought within the context of a new era of global capitalist crisis and struggle. My book Gramsci on Tahrir is a humble contribution to this ongoing debate. I investigate the process of revolution and counter-revolution in Egypt and its relation to the broad historical development of capitalism through the combined lens of permanent and passive revolution. Conversely, the Egyptian experience is deployed as a means to think about general changes in state and class power.

Passive revolution is a concept that basically “captures various concrete historical instances in which aspects of the social relations of capitalist development are either instituted and/or expanded, resulting in both ‘revolutionary’ rupture and a ‘restoration’ of social relations”. In spite of the adjective ‘passive’ this process of ‘revolution-restoration’ does not exclude sudden outbursts of street politics ‘from below’ and even mass uprisings. The concept draws our attention to the political initiative of dominant groups and their capacity to maintain power, through a ‘revolution from above’, in the sense of a gradual, elite-driven transformation of society, and/or by the deflection, fragmentation, and appropriation of popular movements. Faced with the stubborn survival of capitalism in the face of mass revolution and its rebirth in Fordism and Fascism, Gramsci formulated his theory of passive revolution as a “critical corollary” to Marx’s Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859). Put simply: what if, indeed, the relations of production began to “fetter” the productive forces and “an era of social revolution” ensued, but the revolutionary proletariat was unable to conquer and transform the bourgeois state? Could this period of non-transition lead to anything else than the apocalyptic choice between “socialism or barbarism”?

Gramsci turned to the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy, as a historical case study to ‘work out’ the concept of passive revolution, which, in turn, allowed him to understand the emergence of Fascism. Hence the concept of passive revolution does not function as a discrete political ‘form’, situated somewhere between ‘active’ revolution and counter-revolution, but, as a heuristic that “reveals specific class strategies and spatial practices that characterise capitalist society and how these have changed with the further development of capitalism.” It is, in Gramsci’s own words, a “criterion of interpretation”: a methodological searchlight that reveals the agency, agility, and adaptability of dominant groups that are able to survive their own hegemonic crises. Thus a nation’s history can be comprehended as a series of discrete revolutionary and passive-revolutionary episodes that are incorporated within long-term transformations of global capitalism.

In this regard “Gramsci on Tahrir” functions as a reading of Egypt’s modern history through the lens of its revolutionary upheavals and their displacements: the 1882 Urabi uprising; the 1919 revolution; the 1952 Free Officer coup; the 1977 ‘bread riots’; and the recent mass movements. Here the concept of passive revolution is complemented with Trotsky’s notion of ‘uneven and combined development’, for in the colonial and postcolonial world moments of capitalist constitution and reconstitution become a contemporaneous and protracted process – with important implications for emancipatory struggles. Even after formal independence was declared in 1922 Egypt remained a society in crisis, unable to free itself from its political and economic bondage to imperialism. The interventions of British capital and its alliance with the Egyptian crown and landlords blocked the formation of a capitalist ‘historical bloc’ and a transformation ‘from above’. Conversely, enduring conflicts and cleavages between subaltern groups prevented an alliance that could effectively overthrow state power. The process of permanent-passive revolution became itself deflected through the 1952 Free Officer coup. The military appeared as a neutral, third party that forcefully solved the Egyptian stalemate. However, despite its autonomy, the military did not act in a class vacuum. State power remained rooted in class power, which slowly shifted from the industrial bourgeoisie in the 1950s to the ‘popular classes’ in the 1960s – only to root itself back into parasitic rentier classes from the 1970s onward.

The Egyptian case indicates that the concept of passive revolution offers much more than a heuristic device, for it also probes into the very nature of capitalist class and state power. In his prison notebooks, Gramsci often returns to the case of the French Revolution, which poses the riddle of bourgeois hegemony (and its subsequent demise) – a riddle that Gramsci, in my opinion, never completely solves. In his “Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (1844) Marx mentions how the political revolution of the French bourgeoisie in 1789 created:

…a moment in which this class fraternises and fuses with society in general, becomes identified with it and is experienced and acknowledged as its universal representative; a moment in which its claims and rights are truly the rights and claims of society itself and in which it is in reality the heart and head of society.

Gramsci elaborated upon this idea, adding that:

The previous ruling classes were essentially conservative in the sense that they did not tend to construct an organic passage from the other classes into their own, i.e. to enlarge their class sphere ‘technically’ and ideologically: their conception was that of a closed class. The bourgeois class poses itself as an organism in continuous movement, capable of absorbing the entire society, assimilating it to its own cultural and economic level. The entire function of the State has been transformed; the State has become an ‘educator’.

The French Revolution destroyed the ‘mechanical’ ensemble of feudal society, which consisted of self-contained corporate estates. Whereas feudal dominant classes ruled society almost ‘from the outside’, the bourgeoisie ruled by becoming society and, conversely, by offering the other classes a pathway to become bourgeois.

Although much has been written about ‘the state as educator’ in the above excerpt, the interesting concept of ‘organic passage’ (passaggio organico) itself has not been discussed at length. The importance of the concept cannot be underestimated, because the promise of an ‘organic passage’ of the broad population to the bourgeois class has been capitalism’s mobilising myth, functioning as the origin of the bourgeoisie’s hegemony – and of its systemic crisis. As Marx explains, the universality of the bourgeois project remains abstract, realised by separating a ‘political society’ from ‘civil society’ in which all citizens are equal before the law. Marx distinguishes between this restricted, abstract form of political emancipation and human or social emancipation, which liberates humanity from class society and alienation. At its core, the permanency of revolution in the modern, bourgeois age is the always-present, immanent possibility of social revolution to spring from the conditions of political revolution. Marx quipped in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that: ‘The parliamentary regime leaves everything to the decision of majorities; how shall the great majorities outside parliament not want to decide?’ and, later in the Economic Manuscripts that, ‘[t]he political rule of the producer cannot coexist with the perpetuation of his social slavery’.

The 1848 revolutions and the Paris Commune of 1871 confirmed the thesis of permanent revolution in Marx’s eyes. Even if they ended up merely reconfiguring political relations, revolutions – in the sense of mass mobilisations from below contesting existing state power – always contained a ‘social soul’: concrete emancipatory practices that prefigured new social forms in the womb of capitalism. Functioning as passive revolution’s mirror heuristic, the concept of permanent revolution teases out the immanent social soul in a nation’s historical trajectory. In the case of Egypt, Tahrir is revealed as much more than a ‘democratic’ struggle against dictatorship. A desire for social justice and human dignity coincided with practices of popular self-organisation, which embodied the seeds of an alternative society based on equality, diversity, cooperation, and joyful labour. My book shows that these practices have lineages in earlier struggles, reaching back to the early twentieth century.

In its most radical, Jacobin, moment, the French Revolution already showed the fundamental contradiction at the heart of bourgeois hegemony: the promise of an organic passage of the whole of society into the state can never be fulfilled. As Peter Thomas argues, the key term ‘hegemony’ in Gramsci’s writings is not a concept of a neutral political science that describes bourgeois and proletarian leadership in the same terms. The content of bourgeois and proletarian hegemony and its concrete methods of coercion and consent differ fundamentally. Nevertheless, despite this crucial distinction, Gramsci himself is ambiguous about the organic quality of bourgeois leadership at its earliest historical phase, positing a political homology between ‘bourgeois’ Jacobin and ‘proletarian’ Leninist class leadership. Echoing Marx, Gramsci is keen to point out that the progressive role of the bourgeoisie is already exhausted in the revolutions of 1848, as it began to forge alliances with Ancien Régime elites against the emerging proletariat and the spectre of social revolution. However, one could argue that the French Revolution’s  radical Jacobin moment, which created the myth of a bourgeois organic passage was already transgressing the bourgeoisie’s traditional strategy of class rule. Compromise, co-optation, fragmentation of the opposition, and molecular, gradual change engineered ‘from above’  – i.e., passive revolution – appear as the true hallmarks of capitalist state formation. In fact, the English Revolution or German unification are better archetypes of bourgeois state formation than the French Revolution as they show how dominant Ancien Régime groups were gradually transformed into fractions of capital.

Hence the premise of Gramsci’s investigation into the concepts of passive revolution and the ‘integral state’ is that, even though the bourgeois state is not a mechanical state, it is not genuinely organic either. Making a slight detour to Hegel I underline that the bourgeois state in fact supervises a “chemical” ensemble of classes, meaning that there is an apparently neutral relation between the bourgeois class and other social groups on the basis of their shared property as citizens or belonging to ‘the people’. As the late Ellen Meiksins Wood underlined, the history of class society is the history of the differentiation of class and state power, which reaches its pinnacle in bourgeois society. Here state power functions as a ‘middle term’ that mediates class relations, but this representative function is merely a means to the end of achieving bourgeois class power. In other words, it is due to the separation and autonomy of the state that the bourgeoisie is able to rule. Similarly, the ‘organic intellectuals’ of the bourgeoisie emerge mostly in separation of the class itself, within the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie or ‘middle classes’.

Two important conclusions can be drawn from the ‘chemical’ make-up of bourgeois state power. First, the rather common sense and self-evident deduction that bourgeois hegemony is inherently unstable and limited. Second, that political forms that appear historically as aberrations of bourgeois class rule – Bonapartist or Caesarist régimes –are in fact the purest expressions of bourgeois state power. Marx did not conceive of the Bonapartism and empire-crafting of Napoleon III as a regression to a pre-bourgeois phase, but as a development of modern capitalist class power. For the bourgeoisie it was much easier to be a ruling class that appeared to suffer the shared fate of all classes in society – to be subjugated in equal measure by imperial power – than to face the reality of being a class that cowardly refrained from completing its own democratic project. Thus the political dispossession of the bourgeoisie from state power guaranteed its class power. Likewise, Gramsci considered Fascism and parliamentary forms of ‘civil Caesarism’ as modern expressions of bourgeois domination. With this in mind, capitalism’s historical anomaly is not the authoritarianism of the interwar years, but the postwar democratisation of Western Europe’s institutions and the rise of the welfare state. This ‘counter-revolution in democratic form’, a defensive passive revolution sui generis, was rendered possible and necessary in unique circumstances of a powerful labour movement, discredited capitalist parties, a bipolar world order, and an economic boom sustained by a Fordist accumulation strategy.

Similarly, the rise of Nasserism in Egypt and of the ‘developmental state’ in much of the Global South was the unique and contingent result of national and global geopolitical and economic conditions. Decolonisation struggles in the 1950s and 1960s often deflected processes of both permanent and passive revolution, dethroning traditional elites and pushing back the forces of imperialism, but also preventing farmers, workers, and other subaltern groups from taking power. The use of a ‘blocked dialectic’ to describe this process – drawing from Christine Buci-Glucksmann – would be incorrect, as the crisis of imperialist capitalism in core and peripheral countries produced new (capitalist) social forms that did not represent either “socialism or barbarism” and which actually developed the means of production.

The emergence of neoliberal capitalism in the 1970s is a reiteration of prewar imperialism, complete with novel forms of Caesarist state power, which undermine the democratic institutions of bourgeois democracy, for example by relocating political and economic decision-making to supranational entities such as the IMF and the elusive ‘financial markets’. In Europe the recent Greek debt crisis illustrates how capital is able to subdue recalcitrant bourgeois parliaments and a national, sovereign, popular will by international and transnational coercive forces such as the ECB. In Egypt, popular initiative was displaced twice, in 2011 and 2013, by the military apparatus that, in a classical Caesarist way, had to affirm the independence of the state in order to assure the rule of rentier capital. The ‘deep state’ has been coated with a thin layer of democratic legitimacy, which cannot contain the lingering contradictions of the Mubarak era: how can economic development, social justice, and political democracy ever be achieved by a dependent, rentier capitalist class that still operates as a client state for US-imperialism in the region? President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s charismatic leadership of the counter-revolution is already waning in the face of subsidy cuts and increasing police violence. From the perspective of the ruling elites, in order to deflect the dialectic of permanent revolution in a structural manner, Egypt’s political and economic system has to be reformed and important concessions have to be made to the farmers, workers, unemployed youth, street vendors, et cetera, who risked their lives during the uprising. However, the enduring crisis of global capitalism and the arrogance and unwillingness of the dominant groups to engage in a ‘revolution from above’ that offers different goals and recipes than an iteration of the Washington consensus means that in the middle-long term the country is heading to a new bifurcation: either a reassertion of open dictatorship that violently represses the existing political and social movements; or the revival and triumph of the struggle from below.

This analysis has immediate repercussions for an emancipatory politics today. Firstly, it concedes that authoritarian state power is not an expression of an ‘incomplete’ or ‘developing’ capitalism, but the very essence of a mature bourgeois society. Secondly, it understands the specific and local process of counter-revolution in Egypt as part of a general and global process of capitalist crisis and resistance. From these two conclusions we can deduce that any ‘stage theory’ and transitology that demands the construction of a (bourgeois) democratic framework before the implementation of radical social reforms is inherently reactionary. The brief ‘democratic’ episode of the presidency of Muhammad Morsi illustrates the impossibility of ‘democratisation’ without the revolutionary overthrow of the ‘deep state’ and a fundamental change of power relations – not only within Egypt, but also between national and regional and international forces (e.g., USA, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia). At this point Gramscian theory reveals its interventionist character. Permanent revolution and subaltern hegemony offer not only a methodological tool for political science, but also a conscious strategy for social change.

—–Brecht De Smet
Brecht De Smet (MA, PhD) is a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Conflict and Development Studies, Ghent University, where he teaches ‘politics of globalisation’ and ‘politics of the contemporary Middle East’. Since 2008 De Smet has conducted fieldwork in Egypt, investigating the relation between political activism and independent trade unionism from a broad Gramscian perspective. De Smet has written on the workers’ movement, the concepts of hegemony and passive revolution, political pedagogy, and social and political protest in Egypt. His recent books are “A Dialectical Pedagogy of Revolt. Gramsci, Vygotsky, and the Egyptian Revolution” (Brill, 2015) and “Gramsci on Tahrir. Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt” (Pluto http://ppesydney.net/egypt-and-the-dialectic-of-passive-and-permanent-revolution/

http://ppesydney.net/egypt-and-the-dialectic-of-passive-and-permanent-revolution/
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We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
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From deflected permanent revolution to the law of uneven and combined development-

Posted by admin On September - 6 - 2018 Comments Off on From deflected permanent revolution to the law of uneven and combined development-

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From deflected permanent revolution to the law of uneven and combined development
Neil Davidson

“Trotsky is the one for whom there is no room either in pre-1990 Really Existing Socialism or in post-1990 Really Existing Capitalism, in which even those who are nostalgic for Communism do not know what to do with Trotsky’s permanent revolution”.1 Slavoj Zizek wrote these words at the beginning of the millennium and, in this case, he expresses a sentiment with which readers of International Socialism are likely to agree. The question of “what to do” with the concept of permanent revolution is one which this journal first addressed in a systematic way with the publication of Tony Cliff’s major reappraisal of 1963, in which he augmented Trotsky’s original concept with that of “deflected permanent revolution”.2 Cliff’s article was part of a wider revisionist project. In the two years before his assassination in 1940, Trotsky made a number of claims about the world system and committed himself to a series of predictions about its future development. These included: that global capitalism had entered a period of permanent and irreversible decline, that the Russian Stalinist regime was an inherently unstable and historically unique formation which was doomed to collapse, and that the coming revolutions in the colonial and semi-colonial world would be led by the working class, as the Russian Revolution had been in 1917.

In fact, following the Second World War capitalism entered the greatest period of growth in its history; Stalinist Russia not only expanded territorially through conquest, but its basic structures were independently replicated by Stalinist parties in the Third World; and—as this outcome suggests—the revolutions which occurred there were led not by the working class, but by elements of the middle class who then became the managers of a new bureaucratic state. Given these outcomes, some revision of Trotsky’s final perspectives was inescapable but, short of abandoning them altogether, this could be done in one of two ways.

One way, ultimately adopted by adherents of what Isaac Deutscher called orthodox Trotskyism, was effectively to revise reality so that it corresponded with the theory—a necessary consequence of treating particular judgements by Trotsky as beyond falsification. In Alasdair MacIntyre’s words, “It transformed into abstract dogma what Trotsky thought in concrete terms at one moment in his life and canonised this”.3 Canonisation involved two strategies of reality-avoidance. The first was the recategorisation of social classes: a party led by petty-bourgeois intellectuals and consisting of militarised ex-peasants could, for example, be described as representing “the Chinese working class” and its victory in 1949 hailed as a socialist revolution. But even those Trotskyists who treated Marxist class theory with greater seriousness than this could still avert their gaze from the truth with a second strategy, namely the adoption of an arbitrary formal definition of a “workers’ state”, where state ownership of the means of production became the only deciding factor, although the working class had neither led nor even participated in the revolution, did not in any sense control the new state and was subjected to a ruthless police dictatorship.

The second way, taken by Cliff and his initially small band of followers, was to revise the theory in the light of reality. Cliff held fast, not to specific judgements by Trotsky, but to the central tenets and methods of historical materialism that underpinned the latter’s greatest achievements. Above all, Cliff cleaved to the self-activity of the working class, not as an optional if desirable extra, but as the indispensable core of Marxism as a theory of socialist revolution. In his autobiography Cliff recounted how, starting from this perspective, he “devoted a lot of time and effort to developing three interlinked theories to deal with the three areas of the world” where Trotsky’s predictions had proved false, “Russia and Eastern Europe, advanced capitalist countries, and the Third World”: “The three theories were: state capitalism, the permanent arms economy, and deflected permanent revolution.” This “troika”, Cliff writes, “makes a unity, a totality, grasping the changes in the situation of humanity after the Second World War”.4

Cliff was therefore responding to changes in the world capitalist system that orthodox Trotskyism refused to recognise; but there have been similarly dramatic shifts since Cliff concluded his reconsideration of the Trotskyist legacy. State capitalism still exists as a policy option for governments, as the quasi-nationalisation of banks during the financial crisis of 2007-8 has shown, but the era of state capitalism as a general tendency within the system ended between the emergence of neoliberalism in the mid-1970s and the fall of the Stalinist regimes in 1989-91. Vast sums are still wasted (in economic as well as moral terms) on arms, but military expenditure no longer acts to stabilise the system.5 What then of the third component of the “troika”? Has deflected permanent revolution also become an essentially historical category?

In International Socialism 126, Leo Zeilig argued that deflected permanent revolution remains relevant today, despite the declining significance of the other component of the troika most closely related to it: “While the central role of the intelligentsia in the absence of a self-conscious working class subject is an absolute law in Cliff’s theory, the importance of state capitalism for the deflected permanent revolution is neither absolute nor a requirement”.6 Zeilig applies the concept to Africa, a continent which, with the partial exception of Egypt, Cliff himself did not discuss, but the individual countries which Zeilig considers do fall into one of Cliff’s categories, that of “deviations from the norm” of deflected permanent revolution.7 The “norm” was established by those revolutions which had resulted in the most complete state capitalist outcomes under Stalinist leadership independently of Russia, particularly those in China and Cuba, although at the time when Cliff was writing in the early 1960s he could also have referred to North Vietnam, Albania or Yugoslavia. The “deviations” were those, actually the majority of cases, where the outcome was a mixture of state and private capitalism under radical nationalist leadership that may have been influenced by Stalinist ideas and organisational methods, but which often—as in the cases of Egypt or Iraq—oscillated between trying to incorporate the local Communist Party and trying to suppress it. With the very important exception of India, the most typical examples of the “deviations” were to be found in North Africa and the Middle East. Zeilig’s use of the concept is illuminating in relation to those African states in which liberation movements were either completed (Ghana) or at least begun (Zimbabwe) within the post-war period of decolonisation which formed the context of Cliff’s argument, but is it also the case that the theory can be applied to contemporary Africa and, by extension, the rest of the Global South?

I remain unconvinced. Not because I disagree with, for example, Zeilig’s analysis of the recent events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—quite the contrary; but rather because these seem to me to have little to do with permanent revolution, deflected or otherwise. Trotsky saw permanent revolution as a strategy which would enable the less developed countries to decisively break with feudal, tributary or colonial rule under working class leadership and move directly to socialism as components of an international revolutionary movement. Cliff saw deflected permanent revolution as the process which ensues when the working class does not carry through that strategy and another social force takes on the role of leadership, enabling the break with pre-capitalist modes of production or foreign domination to take place, but only in order for the countries in question to become parts of the capitalist world system. Although Cliff did not use the term, he effectively treated deflected permanent revolution as the modern version or functional equivalent of the bourgeois revolution.8 Both the original and the revised concept therefore involved fundamental social transformations leading to either socialism (permanent revolution) or state capitalism (deflected permanent revolution).

Yet the term now tends to be used, as in Zeilig’s article, to mean political events of far less significance. That this can be done without undue conceptual stretching suggests, at the very least, that there was always an ambiguity in Cliff’s revision of Trotsky, which I think has two sources. One, which Cliff directly inherited from Trotsky, is the presence of an outstanding set of bourgeois revolutionary “tasks” which can be carried out by either the working class (permanent revolution) or the middle class “intelligentsia” (deflected permanent revolution). Much of the continued validity of both concepts therefore depends on how these tasks are defined and whether they are still outstanding. The other is the absence of any discussion of the
relationship between permanent revolution and the prior process of uneven and combined development, which was central to Trotsky’s original conception. Nor did Cliff deal with the subject in later writings. Despite describing uneven and combined development as “the essence of the permanent revolution” in the first volume of his biography of Trotsky, the discussion is confined to a mere five pages across that work as a whole, all relating solely to Russia.9 Yet, as we shall see, reintegrating the law of uneven and combined development with the strategy of permanent revolution will help answer many of the unresolved questions raised by its “deflection”.

From bourgeois to permanent revolution

Trotsky was not alone in arguing that, by the beginning of the 20th century, the bourgeoisie was no longer capable of carrying out the revolution which bore its name.10 Where he went far beyond his fellow-revolutionaries was in claiming that the Russian Revolution could lead, not only to the overthrow of absolutism, the establishment of representative government and the capitalist development of the productive forces, but to socialism itself. This was conditional, however, on the Russian Revolution being assisted by the revolutionary movement in the advanced West, whose own success could provide the material resources for socialist development that Russia lacked as an individual state. Trotsky was later to generalise this conception of permanent revolution, describing it as “the general trend of revolutionary development in all backward countries”.11 He also made what seemed at the time to be minor qualifications in relation to the two main social classes, but these contained possibilities, the realisation of which formed the background to Cliff’s article.

On the one hand, Trotsky thought that even where foreign dominance was “concealed by the fiction of state independence” the ruling bourgeoisie was capable of resisting imperialism, at least up to a certain point.12 This tended to be the case in countries which had never been formal colonies, or which ceased to be during the era of classic bourgeois revolutions. The most obvious examples of this were in the first and last destinations of his final exile: Turkey and Mexico. In this context he described the period of the 1930s as generally being one “in which the national bourgeoisie searches for a bit more independence from the foreign imperialists” and that revolutionaries were “in permanent competition with the national bourgeoisie as the one leadership which is capable of assuring the victory of the masses in fight against the foreign imperialists”. As the notion of “competition” suggests, although the organisations of the national bourgeoisie were in some senses “the Popular Front in the form of a party”, they played a different role from the entirely reactionary popular fronts in Europe and North America: “It can have a reactionary character insofar as it is directed against the worker; it can have an aggressive attitude insofar as it is directed against imperialism”.13 Trotsky had written off the possibility of decolonisation without permanent revolution, seeing the relative freedom of states like Turkey or Mexico as exceptional; but what were the implications of states with a similar relationship to the world system (ie backward capitalism) multiplying, as they did from 1947 onwards with the creation of India and Pakistan?

On the other hand, Trotsky was also aware that the level of capitalist economic development, “the hierarchy of backwardness”, varied enormously across what we now call the Global South.14 As a result, the size of the working class and its ability to influence events was also subject to massive differentiation. Trotsky was the opposite of a utopian voluntarist and he accepted that a certain degree of social weight was necessary on the part of a working class before it could aspire to taking power; what was possible in India and China would not necessarily be possible in Equatorial Africa or Afghanistan. It was always necessary to establish working class organisational and political independence, but: “The relative weight of the individual and transitional demands in the proletariat’s struggle, their mutual ties and their order of presentation, is determined by the peculiarities and specific conditions of each backward country and—to a considerable extent—by the degree of its backwardness”.15 However, even in those countries where the working class was much smaller than the Russian in relative terms, the global nature of the socialist project would enable them to overcome this obstacle. But what could the role of the working class be if the objective changed from international socialist revolution to national capitalist development?

Social or political revolution?

What were the “tasks” which Trotsky thought had to be accomplished in the process of passing from the bourgeois to the proletarian revolution? In Cliff’s summary, the bourgeoisie is “incapable of carrying out the thoroughgoing destruction of feudalism, the achievement of real national independence and political democracy”, which he treats as the main tasks of the bourgeois revolution: “A consistent solution to the agrarian question, of the national question, a break-up of the social and imperial fetters preventing speedy economic advance, will necessitate moving beyond the bounds of bourgeois private property”.16 A more orthodox Trotskyist, Michael Löwy, similarly concluded from a study of Trotsky’s works that what he calls the “democratic tasks” of the bourgeois revolution are “the agrarian democratic revolution”, “national liberation” and “democracy”.17 These are potentially very demanding criteria indeed, many of which remain unmet throughout the entire Global South and indeed beyond today. In some places Trotsky seemed to realise that this was a problem. He was reluctant to describe the Japanese Meiji Restoration 1868, for example, as a bourgeois revolution, referring to it instead as “a bureaucratic attempt to buy off such a revolution”, while at the same time acknowledging that the Meiji regime had accomplished in a matter of decades what it had taken Russia 300 years to achieve.18 But if the notion of “tasks” were taken seriously in the case of the Japan, then this would mean that the bourgeois revolution was only consummated when agrarian reform and representative democracy were imposed by the US occupiers between 1945 and 1955. Unfortunately this introduces further problems since the American Revolution itself was presumably unfinished until the black population achieved full formal civil rights with the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Amendment Act, the 1967 judgment in the case of Loving versus Virginia allowing “mixed” marriages, and so on.

The question of democracy is particularly important here, since with the partial exception of France, even the classic bourgeois revolutions did not lead to the installation of representative democracy. In fact, if we take bourgeois democracy to involve, at a minimum, a representative government elected by the adult population, where votes have equal weight and can be exercised without intimidation by the state, it is a relatively recent development in the history of capitalism. Far from being intrinsic to bourgeois society, representative democracy has largely been introduced by pressure from the working class, often involving the threat of revolution, and extended by pressure from the oppressed.19 To insist that countries in the Global South are only completely capitalist when they have achieved stable representative democracy, apart from committing a category mistake (capitalism=economy; democracy=polity), is to expect a more complete outcome there than was achieved in the countries of the developed world. There are still important unresolved democratic issues in many countries, but they have nothing to do with the accomplishment or consolidation of capitalism.

This is what Cliff seems to have been implying in an important article from 1950 where he wrote of German unification “from above” during the 1860s: “The ‘Bismarckian’ path was not the exception for the bourgeoisie, but the rule, the exception was the French revolution”.20 The general conclusion was drawn by Alex Callinicos in this journal in 1982, when he noted the problem of making “an identification of bourgeois-democratic revolution with merely one of its cases”, which is of course the French, “and making its specific features…necessary components of any ‘genuine’ bourgeois revolution”: “Surely it is more sensible, rather than invoke the metaphysical concept of a ‘complete and genuine solution’ [to the tasks of the bourgeois revolution], to judge a bourgeois revolution by the degree to which it succeeds in establishing an autonomous centre of capital accumulation, even if it fails to democratise the political order, or to eliminate feudal social relations”.21 I agree with these conclusions, but they have certain implications for the theory of deflected permanent revolution that we have not considered. “Deflection” originally involved shifting from proletarian to bourgeois revolutionary objectives, but what can it mean if the real task of the bourgeois revolution has largely been accomplished on a global scale? In any case, “establishing an autonomous centre of capital accumulation” is scarcely an outcome which the working class can be expected to accomplish in the absence of the bourgeoisie!

The root of the problem is illustrated by the two main cases that Cliff discusses: China and Cuba. From the evidence of Cliff’s autobiography, China seems to have been the main model for deflected permanent revolution; indeed he describes the 1963 article as being a “distillation” of his earlier book Mao’s China (1957), with additional material on Cuba which, at that time, was the most recent addition to the roster of state capitalist regimes.22 Before 1949 China stood historically before the completion of the bourgeois revolution: there was effectively no central state, the agrarian sector still contained tributary and feudal relations and it was subject to oppression by several competing imperialist powers. Cuba by 1959, on the other hand, was a bourgeois state—a very weak one, of course, overawed by the US and penetrated by organised crime, but it seems to be an abuse of language to say that it was in any sense pre-capitalist, nor was the working class striving for power in the 1950s in the way that the Chinese working class had in the 1920s. In order to understand the difference between these two revolutions, we need to establish an important distinction first made by Marx in the 1840s and later adopted by Trotsky: that between social and political revolutions.23

Political revolutions sometimes have social aspects and social revolutions always have political implications, but the terms nevertheless indicate an essential difference. Political revolutions are struggles within society for control of the existing state, but which leave the social and economic structure intact. These revolutions have been relatively frequent in history, from the Roman Civil Wars, which led to the abandonment of Republican rule for the Principate in 27 BC, to the Eastern European revolutions of 1989-91, which swept away the Stalinist regimes and began what Chris Harman called the “sideways” movement from Eastern state capitalism to an approximation of the Western trans-state model.24 They may involve more or less popular participation, may result in more or less improvement in the condition of the majority, but ultimately the class that was in control of the means of production at the beginning will remain so at the end (although individuals and political organisations may have been replaced on the way), and the class that was exploited within the productive process at the beginning will also remain so at the end (although concessions may have been made to secure its acquiescence or participation). Social revolutions, however, are not merely struggles within existing society, but result in the transformation of one type of society into another and, as such, are extremely rare—so rare that we only know of two and one of these has not yet succeeded: the bourgeois revolution and the socialist revolution.

The relation between these two types of revolution is complex. Some revolutions which, taken by themselves, appear to be merely political revolutions, are in fact part of a more extended social revolution. In relation to the bourgeois revolution, the English revolution of 1688 has this relationship to the revolution of 1640; similar cases could be made for the French revolution of 1830 in relation to that of 1789 or, reversing the chronological order of importance, the American Revolution of 1776 in relation to the Civil War of 1861-5. More importantly in the context of this discussion, some revolutions end up as political revolutions because they are failed social revolutions. In relation to the socialist revolution, this is clearly the case with the German Revolution of 1918. As Trotsky commented, “It was no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution, it was proletarian revolution decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counter-revolution, which was compelled to preserve pseudo-democratic forms after its victory over the proletariat”.25 A similar case could also be made for the Portuguese Revolution of 1974—and indeed most of the so-called “democratic” revolutions to have taken place since, above all that of Iran in 1978-9.

China experienced a social revolution in 1949: it could have been the socialist revolution, if the movements of the mid-1920s had succeeded, but ended up instead as the functional equivalent of the bourgeois revolution instead—a lesser but still decisive systemic shift. Cuba only experienced a political revolution, which did not fundamentally change the nature of the economic system, and represented—using Harman’s term, but reversing the direction of movement—a sideways shift from a highly corrupt market capitalist economy to one on the state capitalist model. This would have been more obvious if US paranoia about encroaching “communism” had not effectively forced the new Cuban regime to ally with Russia and adopt state capitalist forms of organisation—which was certainly not Castro’s original intention. There were, in other words, two different types of revolution encompassed by the term “deflected permanent revolution” from the very beginning. As capital increasingly sweeps away even the remnants of previous modes of production and the social formations which include them, the pattern of revolutions has increasingly tended towards the “political” rather than the “social” type—the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe; the subsequent displays of “people power” in the Philippines, Thailand and Serbia; and the “colour revolutions” in the former republics of the USSR. Capitalism endlessly reproduces differences in power and autonomy—the
“unevenness” which I discuss below. Except in a handful of cases (Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet) the unstable but structured inequality which results is not an unresolved issue from an earlier period, not a remnant of feudalism or colonialism, but a result of the normal operation of competitive accumulation expressed at the level of nation-states.

At least one leading thinker in the International Socialist tradition did argue that none of the cases of deflected permanent revolution involved social revolutions, although without using the latter term. Discussing the same examples as Cliff in an article for this journal written during the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, Harman noted:

In none of these cases was there a shift from one mode of production to another. In each case those who had control of the existing state apparatus used it to reorganise industry, reducing internal competition to a minimum to accumulate in the face of external pressures. That does not mean that there was never any opposition to such a move—”police” actions of various sorts were often taken against old, “private” capitalist interests who resisted the changes. But these were possible without any mobilisation of the mass of the population for full blooded social revolution, indeed in some cases without any mobilisation of the mass of the population at all.26

This perhaps goes too far, not only in respect of the Chinese Revolution of 1949, but a minority of the revolutions which followed it. Before the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, for example, feudal social relations were still dominant and the state was the nearest to the European absolutist model of any remaining in the world.27 Nevertheless, Harman’s central point about the non-social nature of the revolution, like the majority of its predecessors, is correct, but does raise the question of whether retaining the term “deflected permanent revolution” has any benefits other than providing the consolations of familiarity. It is possible, of course, to explicitly detach it from the “tasks” of the bourgeois revolution, real or imagined, and instead relate it to the possibility of working class leadership in accomplishing democratic tasks (as in Thailand) or anti-imperialist struggle (as in Iraq) on the road to socialism—and this is more or less how the term tends to be used, but this has the danger of obscuring what is at stake.

Political revolutions, changes of regime by non-constitutional methods, are a fact of life in the Global South and likely to remain so, but these can take place without involving any independent working class intervention. If one Russian-backed gang of scoundrels replaces another US-supported collection of villains (or vice versa) in, say, Kyrgyzstan, and some working class people take part in accompanying demonstrations, this is not an example of deflected permanent revolution. There are of course very important recent examples where the working class has irrupted into what would otherwise been an inter ruling class dispute, thus opening up the possibility of social(ist) revolution, and again Iran in 1978-9 is the key example, but their failure to seize power meant that the revolutions remained at the political level. Again this is not an example of deflected permanent revolution: Iran was a capitalist state, the working class was defeated and one wing of the bourgeoisie emerged triumphant over another on the basis of a different strategy for accumulation. The alternatives, of social revolution based on the working class or political revolution involving the ascendancy of a different section of the bourgeoisie organised by political Islamists, still pertain in Iran and also in Egypt, the two areas of the Middle East where new upheavals are most clearly being prepared—although as we shall see in due course, they are not alone. Before turning to the question of what is generating these potentially revolutionary situations, however, we need to address the nature of the class, or class fraction, which Cliff argued had replaced the working class, allowing the process of “deflection” to take place.

The incapacities of the bourgeoisie

Cliff identified the “revolutionary intelligentsia” as a substitute for the revolutionary bourgeoisie in the Global South. No summary can substitute for actually reading his exemplary analysis of this group, but the main characteristics that he ascribed to it are important to note here. As non-specialists, members of the intelligentsia can offer to represent the “nation” against other merely sectoral groups. The backwardness of their nation offends them, not simply as a matter of civic pride, but because in material terms it means they are unable to find work—or at least work in the state apparatus at a level appropriate to their education. As the traditional aspects of their society are increasingly destabilised by the irruption of capitalist development, they find it hard to maintain its values, but look instead to those of efficiency, modernisation, industrialisation, all of which are apparently embodied in the USSR. They claim to love “the people”, but simultaneously feel guilty at their relative privilege and distrustful of those less educated or intelligent than themselves. Above all, they are hostile to democracy and strive to exclude the masses from their strategies of transformation, except in a subordinate or supportive role, which is why their preferred method is one of military struggle on a guerrilla or even conventional basis.28

Harman subsequently extended the argument in an important article on political Islam. Although Cliff’s category was originally used with reference to “Stalinism, Maoism and Castroism”, Harman now claimed that it was equally applicable to “the Islamist intelligentsia around Khomeini in Iran”, who “undertook a revolutionary reorganisation of ownership and control of capital within Iran while leaving capitalist relations of production intact”.29

The brilliance of this collective portrait is not in doubt, but was the class fraction it describes a new development in the history of capitalism? The classical Marxist tradition was more sceptical than is generally thought about the extent to which the bourgeoisie had been at the forefront of revolutionary struggle, even in 1640 or 1789.30 Trotsky tended to regard the petty bourgeoisie as the driving force behind successful bourgeois revolutions up to and including the French.31 He also recognised, however, that other social groups had played this role, including feudal landlords in Prussia during the 1860s and—potentially at least—the working class in the Chinese Revolution of the 1920s. He did not, of course, claim that the bourgeoisie had never played a revolutionary role: simply that this was not a necessary condition for a revolution to qualify as bourgeois.32 But in the cases where the bourgeoisie did lead, it is important to understand which sections were involved.

The bourgeoisie does not only consist of capitalists, in the literal sense of those who own or control capital. Hal Draper describes the class in this larger sense as involving “a social penumbra around the hard core of capitalists proper, shading out into the diverse social elements that function as servitors or hangers-on of capital without themselves owning capital”.33 The components of this “penumbra” are not, in fact, members of the petty bourgeoisie, who stand outside the capital-labour relationship and “earn their living by dint of their own labour and their own property”, although they have often provided the foot soldiers for the struggle with feudal absolutism.34 On the contrary: according to Perry Anderson, the peripheral membership of the outer bourgeoisie “is typically composed…of the gamut of professional, administrative and technical groups that enjoy life-conditions similar to capitalists proper—everything customarily included in the broader term ‘bourgeoisie’ as opposed to ‘capital’.”35 Michael Mann has suggested that a variation of the schema erroneously ascribed to Lenin, whereby ideological leadership can only be brought to the working class “from outside”, might in fact be relevant in relation to the bourgeoisie: “Left to itself the bourgeoisie was only capable of economism—in the 18th century of segmental manipulative deference”.36 It is in any case historically demonstrable that, down to 1848 at least, the most decisive leaderships tended to emerge from those sections of the bourgeoisie without direct material interests in the process of production, who were simultaneously less concerned with the destructive effects of revolutionary violence, but more able to overcome the competitive economic divisions within their class.

Are the leaders of the “deflected” revolutions so very different from those who led them between 1789 and 1848? Guevara trained as a doctor, but Robespierre was a lawyer, Danton a journalist, Roux a priest; only a very few, of whom Roederer was the most important, could seriously be described as capitalists. In some respects the parallels are nearly exact. As Eric Hobsbawm notes of the radicalism of students and intellectuals in 1848, “it was largely based on the (as it turned out temporary) inability of the new bourgeois society before 1848 to provide enough posts of adequate status for the educated whom it produced in unprecedented numbers, and whose rewards were so much more modest than their ambitions”.37 John Rees once observed that the intelligentsia “had, in an earlier incarnation, often been a crucial element of the practical leadership of the classical bourgeois revolutions”, without however drawing any conclusions.38 But if the above argument is correct, then the bourgeoisie’s supposed abdication of its revolutionary role after 1848 was in fact simply an expression of the hostility which the core membership of this class had always displayed towards plebeian intervention, now heightened by the even greater threat posed by the working class.

The two real changes after 1848 lay elsewhere. One was that the non-capitalist sections of the bourgeoisie, which had previously given revolutionary leadership and which might have been less paralysed by fear of the working class, were increasingly integrated into a society in which their former frustrations and humiliations were rapidly becoming things of the past. The other was that sections of the existing ruling classes of Europe and Japan, such as the Prussian landlords to whom Trotsky refers, which had previously resisted revolution, now embraced a top-down version in order to make their states capable of military competition with their rivals—or in the case of Japan, to avoid the fate of colonisation and dismemberment that had befallen China. In the case of the colonial world after 1945, the core bourgeoisie had inherited the traditional fear of revolution from their predecessors, but the “revolutionary intelligentsia” were not in the position of their European equivalents after 1848 and far more closely resembled them before 1789: they could not look forward to wealth, power and recognition without a revolution. In some cases they did not need to take action for themselves because the process of transformation was initiated by an army coup.

This type of event, distantly related to the “revolutions from above” in Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1860s, had of course begun before the advent of Stalinism with the Turkish Revolution of 1919, and were led by groups which Ellen Kay Trimberger calls “autonomous military bureaucrats”.39 This is one area in which Cliff’s account needs to be qualified as it is not entirely clear that “intelligentsia” is sufficiently broad a category to include the leading social forces involved in these revolutions, at least two of which, those led by Nasser in Egypt and Mengitsu in Ethiopia, were among the most important of the “deviations from the norm” of deflected permanent revolution. Military leaders, who are quite often junior officers, do of course have one important characteristic in common with members of the intelligentsia, in that they can also claim to represent “the nation” beyond mere factional interests. In the majority of cases where the military solution was not available, however, the intelligentsia needed to mobilise themselves. What is new in these situations was not therefore the existence or activity of a “revolutionary intelligentsia” hitherto unknown: both were already familiar from the history of the 19th century. It was rather that this class fraction felt able to take action in the knowledge that they did not need to fear the working class. Why not?

Cliff offers a number of reasons why the working class in the Global South did not play the role envisaged by Trotsky. Of these, the general influence of ruling class ideas and the illiteracy and inexperience of the workers are clearly relevant, but this was also true of Russia in 1917 and China in the 1920s; they are not in themselves an explanation. Other reasons have genuine explanatory power and remain extremely pertinent even today. Many workers in urban industry retain links to smallholdings in the countryside, to which they return in times of unemployment, making the permanent formation of class consciousness and organisation difficult. Conversely, those workers who are in stable employment can have relatively higher living standards than the rural masses, making the possibility of alliances with them less likely. Those trade unions or community groups which do exist are often led by non working class elements, “outsiders”, with different interests and political goals, and are heavily reliant on support from the developmental state, which tends to impose an apolitical agenda acceptable to the regime. Both these leaderships and the personnel who run the state apparatus are influenced by Stalinist politics, the key subjective element in controlling and lowering the aspirations of the working class.40 But many of these characteristics were also present in pre-revolutionary Russia: workers with links to the countryside; trade unions established by agents of the state; and industries where trade unions did not exist even before the ban which followed the Revolution of 1905.41 Some deeper level of explanation is required.

The absence of the revolutionary party is clearly part of the explanation, but parties themselves can only have a meaningful existence where certain determinate conditions allow them to form and grow. Lack of revolutionary leadership can explain the outcome in China during the 1920s or in Iran in 1978-9, where major upheavals took place and Cliff’s other inhibiting conditions were overcome, but not where such situations did not arise. At the end of his discussion of workers in the Global South, Cliff writes, “An automatic correlation between economic backwardness and revolutionary political militancy does not exist”.42 But Trotsky never argued that such an automatic correlation did exist; for him it was conditional and Cliff does not refer to, let alone discuss, the enabling condition which Trotsky saw as fundamental to its establishment: uneven and combined development.

From uneven to combined development

The radical novelty of what Trotsky meant by uneven and combined development is often underestimated. The most common mistake is to reduce it to, or confuse it with, the longstanding theory of uneven development.43 The most famous (and certainly the most often quoted) passage in Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution is an expression of this position: “The privilege of historic backwardness—and such a privilege exists—permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages”.44 But if all that Trotsky had proposed was a schema in which the “advantages of backwardness” allowed less developed nation-states to adopt the most modern available technologies he would have remained within the established limits of unevenness and, indeed, would not have distinguished himself from Stalinist usage of the same concept. As Ernest Mandel once wrote, part of the “magnificent theoretical achievement” represented by the law of uneven and combined development is precisely that it is “quite distinct from the law of uneven development familiar to all Marxists”.45 Why was the distinction necessary? What was missing from Trotsky’s account of permanent revolution was any explanation for the origin of the revolutionary process, for the revolutionary militancy of the Russian working class and, by extension, at least some of the other working classes in the underdeveloped world.

Until the First World War uneven development had been a largely descriptive concept, without specific political implications. As Neil Smith notes, it “was first examined in any depth by Lenin, who tried to sketch some of the economic and geographical outlines of the process”.46 In Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) Lenin wrote, “The uneven and spasmodic development of individual enterprises, individual branches of industry and individual countries is inevitable under the capitalist system”.47 Essentially, he argued that by the beginning of the 20th century uneven development had acquired three main aspects. One was the process by which the advanced states had reached their leading positions within the structured inequality of the world system. During the late 19th century the “skipping of stages” had been the experience of several states, notably Germany, Italy and Japan. The pressure of military and commercial competition between the actual or aspirant Great Powers forced those which were still absolutist states based on the feudal mode of production—or at least those which were capable of doing so—to adopt the current stage of development achieved by their capitalist rivals, if they were to have any chance, not only of successfully competing, but of surviving at the summit of the world order. In very compressed timescales they had been able to adopt the socio-economic achievements of Britain to the extent that they became recognisably the same kind of societies, without necessarily reproducing every characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon pioneer: where backwardness remained it tended to be in the nature of the political regimes led by monarchs or emperors supported by a landowning aristocracy.

By the outbreak of the First World War membership of the dominant states was essentially fixed. What remained was the second aspect of uneven development: the ongoing rivalry between the great powers which involved them constantly trying to “catch up and overtake” each other in a contest for supremacy that would continue as long as capitalism itself. This rivalry led in turn to a third aspect: the developed imperialist states collectively, but competitively asserting their dominance over two other types, described by Lenin as “the colonies themselves” and “the diverse forms of dependent countries which, politically, are formally independent but, in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence”, like Argentina and Portugal.48 Colonial expansion prevented some of the societies subject to it from developing at all, and in the case of the most undeveloped, the peoples involved suffered near or complete extermination and their lands were taken by settlers. More often the peoples survived, but their social systems were immobilised by imperial powers interested in strategic advantage or plunder, or both.

Trotsky certainly took uneven development in these three senses as his starting point—as is suggested by the word order in the title of his own theory: “I would put uneven before combined, because the second grows out of the first and completes it”.49 How then does the concept of uneven and combined development differ from uneven development as such? The main difference is that it takes account of the internal effects of uneven development.50 To explain the link between the advanced nature of Russian industry on the one hand, and the militancy of Russian workers on the other, Trotsky had to transcend the theory of uneven development, a process he did not complete until the early 1930s. The inability of uneven development to fully encapsulate these phenomena is what appears to have made Trotsky search for a new concept with which to supplement it. It took a political crisis to provoke this conceptualisation.

During the Chinese Revolution of 1925-7 the emergent Stalinist regime in Russia ordered the local Communist Party to subordinate its own organisation and demands to those of the bourgeois nationalists in the Guomindang. The ultimately disastrous outcome for the Chinese working class movement was the catalyst for Trotsky to generalise the strategy of permanent
revolution from Russia to sections of the colonial and semi-colonial world, not indiscriminately—since some were still untouched by capitalist development and had no working class of any size—but where conditions similar to those in Russia prevailed. Due to a common set of circumstances, the working classes in these countries had far greater levels of both consciousness and organisation than the proletariat in the more developed countries where Marxists had traditionally expected the socialist revolution to begin. Trotsky claimed that “the prediction that historically backward Russia could arrive at the proletarian revolution sooner than advanced Britain rests almost entirely upon the law of uneven development”.51 But uneven development was not the sole basis for this prediction, as we can see by contrasting actual Russian development with two possible alternatives.

One was the path of the advanced capitalist states. The pace of development was relatively faster in most of the countries that followed Holland and England, partly because of the urgency of acquiring the attributes of capitalist modernity, partly because the long period of experiment and evolution, characteristic of the two pioneers, could be dispensed with. In the case of Scotland in the 18th century or Prussia in the 19th century, this led to enormous tensions which resolved themselves in moments of class struggle foreshadowing the process of permanent revolution, above all in the 1820 general strike in the former and the 1848 revolution in the latter. But because these societies did make the transition to the ranks of the advanced societies, either as the centre (Prussia/Germany) or a component part of another national formation (Scotland/Britain) these moments passed with the tensions that caused them.

The other was the path of the colonies or semi-colonies. What Peter Curtin calls “defensive modernisation” was not enough to protect these societies from Western incursions. In the case of the Merinian monarchs of Madagascar, for example, “They not only failed to modernise beyond adopting Christianity and superficial European fashions, they failed to build a kind of society and government administration that would perpetuate their own power”.52 Colonial rule could even throw societies backwards, as in the case of British-occupied Iraq. Ruling through the Hashemite monarchy after 1920, the regime deliberately rejected any attempts at modernisation, except in the oil industry. Instead it reinforced disintegrating tribal loyalties and semi-feudal tenurial relationships over the peasantry. Peter Gowan describes the British initiatives as “the creation of new foundational institutions of landownership in order to revive dying traditional authority relations, resulting in economically and socially regressive consequences, undertaken for thoroughly modern imperialist political purposes—namely, to create a ruling class dependent upon British military power and therefore committed to imperial interests in the region”.53

A further group of states embodied “combination”. These were unable to reproduce the level of development attained by the advanced capitalist states, but were nevertheless able to “unblock” themselves to the extent of making partial advances in specific areas. There were essentially three sub sets in this group. The first were feudal-absolutist or tributary states, like Russia or Turkey, which, under pressure from the Western powers, were forced for reasons of military competition to introduce limited industrialisation and partial agrarian reform. The second were still more backward states like China or regions like the post-Ottoman Arab Middle East, which had been broken by imperialist pressure, but which, instead of being colonised, were allowed to disintegrate while the agents of foreign capital established areas of industrialisation under the protection of either their own governments or local warlords. The third were colonial states like British India, and to a lesser extent French Algeria, where the metropolitan power was unwilling to allow full-scale industrialisation in case it produced competition for its own commodities, but was prepared to sanction it in specific circumstances for reasons of military supply or where goods were not intended for home markets. Tsarist Russia neither emulated the process of “catch up and overtake” among the advanced countries nor suffered that of “blocked development” within the backward ones, but instead experienced a collision between the two.

It was in relation to developments in China that Trotsky finally moved beyond uneven development. He continued to employ the term between 1928 and 1930, most importantly in the articles collected in The Third International after Lenin, and in Permanent Revolution and its various prefaces. In these texts his main emphasis is still distinguishing his use of uneven development from that of Stalin, for whom countries developed at different tempos and must therefore advance through a series of stages—including that of socialism—at their own individual pace. Trotsky highlighted instead the “unity” of the world economy and the “interdependence” of the imperial powers and the colonial and semi-colonial world. Unevenness in this sense means simultaneously that individual countries could leap over the capitalist stage of development, as Russia had done and as China might have done, but would still be unable to complete the transition to socialism while the world economy as a whole remained dominated by the capitalist mode of production: the international system was both a spur at one moment and a block at another.54 Yet these important insights still did not address the question of how the first part of this process, the revolutionary moment, was possible. Trotsky needed a new concept, incorporating uneven development, but deepening its content.

It was in the first volume of The History of the Russian Revolution (1932) that he first outlines this new concept: “From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which, for want of a better name, we may call the law of combined development—by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms”.55 The precise forms which combination took obviously varied depending on whether the country involved was a formal colony controlled by a single imperial power, like India, or one nominally independent, but actually subdivided between several warlords and imperial powers, like China. Clearly there were differences. Unlike Tsarist Russia, neither Imperial nor Republican China was in a position to stimulate capitalist industrial growth. Where similarities did exist was in the role of foreign capital and imported technology and in the limited geographical implantation of capitalist industry. Nevertheless it was possible to generalise in relation to the effects:

Historical backwardness does not imply a simple reproduction of the development of advanced countries, England or France, with a delay of one, two, or three centuries. It engenders an entirely new “combined” social formation in which the latest conquests of capitalist technique and structure root themselves into relations of feudal or pre-feudal barbarism, transforming and subjecting them and creating peculiar relations of classes.56

Uneven and combined development affects the totality of a national society, not merely the economy. Trotsky was not saying that forms characteristic of different stages of development simply coexist alongside each other in striking or dramatic contrasts, although that could be true. Nor was he just emphasising the existence of transitional modes of production, although he recognised that these could exist. Uneven and combined development usually involves what Michael Burawoy calls “the combination of the capitalist mode of production with pre-existing modes”.57 Jamie Allinson and Alex Anievas too have written of how the “logics of different modes of production interact with one another in consequential ways in backward countries”.58 But a process that permeates every aspect of society, ideology as much as economy, must involve more than this. The “articulation” of capitalist and pre-capitalist modes had, after all, been progressing slowly in the Russian countryside since the abolition of serfdom in 1861, and had led to many complex transitional forms, as Lenin documented.59 None by themselves led to the type of situation Trotsky was seeking to explain: “At the same time that peasant land-cultivation as a whole remained, right up to the revolution, at the level of the 17th century, Russian industry in its technique and capitalist structure stood at the level of the advanced countries, and in certain respects even outstripped them”.60

The detonation of the process requires sudden, intensive industrialisation and urbanisation, regardless of whether the pre-existing agrarian economy was based on feudal or capitalist relations. Burawoy is therefore right to describe uneven and combined development as a product of “the timing of industrialisation in relation to the history of world capitalism”.61 Here too the Chinese experience was important. Trotsky was quite insistent—perhaps over-insistent—on which mode dominated the Chinese social formation. He rejected Communist International claims that feudalism predominated in the Chinese economic base and political superstructure: “Of course, matters would be quite hopeless if feudal survivals did really dominate in Chinese economic life,” he wrote in 1929. “But fortunately, survivals in general cannot dominate.” Instead he emphasised the extent of market relations and influence of different forms of mercantile and banking capital. Rural social relations “stem in part from the days of feudalism; and in part they constitute a new formation”, but within this formation:

it is capitalist relations that dominate and not “feudal” (more correctly, serf and, generally, pre-capitalist) relations. Only thanks to this dominant role of capitalist relations can we speak seriously of the prospects of proletarian hegemony in a national revolution.62

Whatever the extent of Trotsky’s exaggerations, it is important—not least in relation to modern China—that uneven and combined development can take place where the capitalist mode was already dominant. The archaic and the modern, the settled and disruptive, overlap, fuse and merge in all aspects of the social formations concerned, from the organisation of arms production to the structure of religious observance, in entirely new and unstable ways, generating socially explosive situations in which revolution became what Georg Lukács termed “actual”.63 It is tempting to describe these as mutations, except that the inadequacy of the language led Trotsky to reject the biological metaphors in which stages of development had been described from the Enlightenment to the Third International in its Stalinist phase: “The absorptive and flexible psyche, as a necessary condition for historical progress, confers on the so-called social ‘organisms’, as distinguished from the real, that is, biological organisms, an exceptional variability of internal structure”.64

These new combined formations gave rise to conflicts unknown in earlier historical periods. On the one hand: “The [backward] nation…not infrequently debases the achievements borrowed from outside in the process of adapting them to its own more primitive culture”.65 From 1861 Tsarism established factories using manufacturing technology characteristic of monopoly capitalism in order to produce arms with which to defend a feudal absolutist state.66 On the other hand, by doing so they bring into being a class more skilled, more politically conscious than that faced by any previous absolutist or early capitalist states.67 All subsequent non-Marxist theories of “the advantages of backwardness” assumed that technological transfers had a limited, or at least delayed, impact on other aspects of social life.68 Against this Trotsky argued that these transfers could in fact quicken the pace of change more generally, so that they attained higher levels of development than in their established rivals. As an example of this he drew attention to the greater implantation of Marxist theory among the working classes of Russia and, later, China than in that of Britain. Thus, for Trotsky, the most important consequence of uneven and combined development was the enhanced capacity it gave the working classes for political and industrial organisation, theoretical understanding and revolutionary activity:

When the productive forces of the metropolis, of a country of classical capitalism…find ingress into more backward countries, like Germany in the first half of the 19th century, and Russia at the merging of the 19th and 20th centuries, and in the present day in Asia; when the economic factors burst in a revolutionary manner, breaking up the old order; when development is no longer gradual and “organic” but assumes the form of terrible convulsions and drastic changes of former conceptions, then it becomes easier for critical thought to find revolutionary expression, provided that the necessary theoretical prerequisites exist in the given country.69

But uneven and combined development can also work, as it were, in reverse: “debased adaptation” is not only a feature of backward societies. Here too the opening of the age of imperialism is decisive. Between 1870 and 1914, for example, imperial Britain, Germany and Japan all consciously emphasised the role of their monarch-emperors; in each case, the pre-existing symbolism of the crown being used to represent national unity against two main challenges: external imperial rivalry and internal class divisions.70 But Trotsky saw this as a much more general phenomenon, necessarily caused by the need to maintain bourgeois hegemony over the exploited and oppressed in an era of revolution and which reached its apogee in the US:

It is considered unquestionable that technology and science undermine superstition. But the class character of society sets substantial limits here too. Take America. There, church sermons are broadcast by radio, which means that the radio is serving as a means of spreading prejudices.71

Trotsky’s argument suggests two questions about the character of uneven and combined development. One is whether it applies to all periods in human history. Trotsky himself tended to think that it did. His claim that “the entire history of mankind is governed by the law of uneven development” can certainly be defended.72 He later extended this, writing in The Revolution Betrayed (1937), “The law of uneven development is supplemented throughout the whole course of history by the law of combined development”.73 Whether this is equally defensible is, however, another matter.74 Trotsky did not attempt to demonstrate his claims for the transhistoricity of uneven and combined development, but Justin Rosenberg has attempted to do so with examples from the Russian state after 800 AD, which he claims show three aspects of combination.

First, “the course of Russian development was ‘combined’ in the sense that at every point it was causally integrated with a wider social field of interacting patterns of development”.75 By this he means that Russia was subject to “inter-societal causality”, an environment in which the endless interplay of other states or social forces shaped its internal structure in a way that could never be completed. Second, combination also involved “structures” which “extended beyond Russia itself”. Among such structures Rosenberg includes “regional political orders, cultural systems and material divisions of labour”. The third, “yet deeper” dimension is the consequence of the first two, the creation of a “hybrid” social formation, “a changing amalgam of pre-existent ‘internal’ structures of social life with external socio-political and cultural influences”. Consequently, there “never existed a ‘pre-combination’ Russia”; at every point its existence was traversed by these influences: “combined development identifies the inter-societal, relational texture of the historical processes within which the shifting meanings of the term ‘Russia’ crystallised and accumulated”. In general terms, Rosenberg invites us to “abandon at the deepest theoretical level any notion of the constitution of society as analytically prior to its interaction with other societies”.76

The inseparability of the international from the social is, however, inscribed in historical materialism from the moment of its formation, notably The German Ideology. But in this moment, Marx and Engels were also clear that “history becomes world history” only as a result of capitalism.77 Why? Before capitalism all class societies, with the exception of those based on slavery, were based on variations of the same mode of production, involving surplus extraction from a class of peasants and taking either a “feudal” or “tributary” form depending on whether the main agent of exploitation was a class of local landlords or the state bureaucracy.78 There were important differences between them, particularly in terms of how the ruling classes organised, but most pre-capitalist societies seem to have involved elements of both, with one or the other achieving dominance at different times. Those cases which were the purest examples of one variant or the other (for example, feudal England or tributary China) had quite different possibilities for capitalist development. Until that development took place, however, societies could borrow from each other, influence one another—particularly in the field of culture and philosophy—but were not sufficiently differentiated from each other for elements to “combine” to any effect. The very terms that Trotsky uses in describing
combination—”archaic and more contemporary forms”—were unthinkable until capitalism defined what it meant to be “archaic”.79

We therefore need to draw a distinction between Trotsky’s general account of Russian development, which, as Rosenberg correctly says, was always subject to external influence, and the specific moment at which these influences were not merely successfully absorbed into an endlessly mutating social form, but set up a series of tensions which threatened to, and eventually did, tear the fabric of Russian society apart in 1917. The moment of uneven and combined development, in other words, only arrives with capitalist industrialisation and the historically unique society to which it gave rise. The immense difference between industrial capitalism and previous modes of production meant that, from the moment the former was introduced, combination became possible in a way that it had not been hitherto; but the structural dynamism of industrial capitalism compared with previous modes of production also meant that combination became inescapable, as all aspects of existing society registered the impact on them, to differing degrees, of this radically new means of exploitation. “In contrast to the economic systems that preceded it,” wrote Trotsky, “capitalism inherently and constantly aims at economic expansion, at the penetration of new territories, the conversion of self-sufficient provincial and national economies into a system of financial interrelationships”.80 Rosenberg himself notes that, “for Trotsky, capitalism did not just change the world: it actually changed the overall nature of historical change itself”.81 I think he has insufficiently incorporated this insight into his own work.

The second question is whether uneven and combined development is a process necessarily confined to individual states. Rosenberg argues that, for Trotsky, “’combined development’ was a phenomenon not of individual societies alone, but of the evolving international social formation as a whole”.82 In a discussion of Marx’s original plan for the structure of Capital, he further claims that if we “neglect the significance of uneven and combined development” at the level of those determinants which apply to all societies, then the result will ultimately be either economic reductionism or a version of Realist International Relations theory in which states appear as sovereign actors seeking—insofar as they are able—advantage and security within the global system.83 Colin Barker has reached similar conclusions to Rosenberg, suggesting that an “extended” concept of uneven and combined development is implicit in Trotsky’s own work, “Only from the angle of world economy, of the combined development of the different countries within it, do words like ‘advanced’ and ‘archaic’ have any meaning, as measures of coercive comparison within a larger system of competitive transactions”.84

I have more sympathy with these arguments since, as I have argued above, uneven and combined development is produced by the impact of different aspects of the international capitalist system (economic competition, military rivalry and colonial rule) on the societies constitutive of it. It is important, however, not to confuse the sources of a particular historical process with the process itself. Trotsky famously wrote, “Marxism takes its point of departure from world economy, not as a sum of national parts, but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labour and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets”.85 Uneven and combined development is a consequence of the world economy, but it is played out within the component parts of the states system: the territorial confines of these states are where the specific combinations take place. Indeed, it is difficult to see how any analysis of a “concrete situation” can be undertaken while remaining at the level of “the international”. If the writers quoted in the previous paragraph are right, and what happened in Russia was merely an example of a universal process, then what remains of the “peculiarities” of Russian development which Trotsky took as the basis of his theory, and which he later extended to other areas of the colonial and semi-colonial world? If everywhere is subject to uneven and combined development then it clearly explains nothing in particular about Russia, or anywhere else for that matter, and we must search for another theory to achieve what Trotsky sought to do.

Uneven and combined development is a feature of certain societies: unlike the world economy of which Trotsky spoke or the states system, whose interaction gave it birth; it does not constitute “an independent reality” greater than its component parts. Uneven development occurs at the international level, but it is meaningless to talk about combined development in this respect. The significance of the process is precisely the tensions and conflicts to which it gives rise within the territorial boundaries of particular states, not least because the state itself is a combined formation. In Russia after 1861, for example, the state apparatus remained staffed by members of the landed aristocracy, but these were not, as in England after 1688 and Germany after 1871, essentially agrarian capitalists, but feudal landlords presiding over a complex set of class relationships in various early stages to the transition to capitalism. The absolutist state nevertheless needed to industrialise in order to remain on a position of military parity with its rivals, but the reliance that it placed on the landlord class meant that industrialisation could not be financed through taxation or by using the appropriation of agricultural surpluses. This in turn compelled the state to borrow foreign capital, above all from France, with contradictory effect. Industrialisation took place rapidly and intensively, but without leading to the creation of a powerful native bourgeoisie. In order to sustain it the state needed to export grain in order to service its foreign debt repayments, leading, as grain prices fell, to greater pressure on the peasantry to deliver more grain without providing them with the means to increase productivity, thus leading to growing peasant unrest. And since industrialisation effectively coincided with the transition to capitalism, the proletariat was formed without intermediary stages, making it more volatile from the start, in a situation where the state could afford less in terms of making concessions over wages, conditions or political rights.86

Trotsky, who emphasised more than any of his contemporaries the reality of the world economy, was also the thinker who refocused attention from “the international” in general to its impact on individual nation-states. He never faltered in his belief that the socialist revolution could only ever be accomplished on a global basis, but was equally forceful in arguing that the strategies adopted by revolutionaries outside the developed West had to be based on an assessment of the extent of combined development and the specific forms which it took.

We can now return to the central absence in Cliff’s revision of Trotsky. The theory of uneven and combined development explained what occurs when the process of “overleaping” takes place in the colonial or neo-colonial world, where it is impossible to fully “catch up” with, let alone “overtake” the developed West, but to do so instead in a fragmentary or partial way. But the resulting combined forms, because of their inbuilt social instability, paradoxically made revolutionary outbreaks more likely than in the developed world, with its greater levels of stability and reformist traditions. In other words, the presence of uneven and combined development made it possible for a strategy of permanent revolution to be pursued with greater likelihood of success; its absence made it, not inevitable, but less likely that such a strategy would be pursued in the first place, thus leading to the process of “deflection” highlighted by Cliff.

Conclusion

Permanent revolution, and consequently deflected permanent revolution may now be historical concepts, but uneven and combined development is not, with important implications for the possibility of socialist revolution beginning in the Global South. Following Trotsky, Tim McDaniel argues that there were four reasons why what he calls the “autocratic capitalism” of Tsarist Russia tended to produce a revolutionary labour movement. First, it eliminated or reduced the distinction between economic and political issues. Second, it generated opposition for both traditional and modern reasons. Third, it reduced the fragmentation of the working class, but also prevented the formation of a stable conservative bureaucracy, thus leading to more radical attitudes. Fourth, it forced a degree of interdependence between the mass of the working class, class-conscious workers and revolutionary intellectuals.87 McDaniel claims that a comparable situation has arisen since only in Iran, but this seems to unnecessarily restrict the applicability of the model to situations which resemble pre-Revolutionary Russia closely in formal terms.88 In fact, the relentless expansion of neoliberal globalisation, and the consequent irruption of industrialisation and urbanisation into areas they had previously bypassed, often under conditions of intense state repression, means that the responses identified by McDaniel are being reproduced places as distinct as China and Dubai.89 But these are only the most extreme examples of a general trend that is the most characteristic of the current phase of capitalist development. Two points need to be made in relation to the process.

One is that it is not limited to the Global South, but to the relatively undeveloped parts of the First and former Second Worlds. As Beverley Silver writes:

Strong new working class movements had been created as a combined result of the spatial fixes pursued by multinational capital and the import substitution industrialisation efforts of modernising states. In some cases, like Brazil’s automobile workers; labour militancy was rooted in the newly expanding mass production consumer durable industries. In other cases, like the rise of Solidarno´s´c in Poland’s shipyards, militancy was centred in gigantic establishments providing capital goods. In still others, like Iran’s oil workers, labour militancy was centred on critical natural resource export industries.90

Take, for example, the Italian Mezzogiorno, where Italian unification was followed by a pronounced process of deindustrialisation, which led to a steady drain of capital to the North, with a long-term reservoir of cheap labour-power, cheap agricultural products and a docile clientele in the South; here the process of uneven and combined development led to similarly high levels of militancy to that seen in countries characterised by more general backwardness, the key episode being the revolt of the Italian in-migrants against their living conditions and low pay during the “industrial miracle” of the late 50s and early 60s. What is interesting about the Italian example, however, is that the process has continued, in different forms until the present day.91

The second point to be made is that, in the Global South proper at least, the process is still unable completely to transform those societies. The state “containers” within which the process of uneven and combined development unfolds, including China, will never achieve the type of total transformation characteristic of the states that formed the original core of the capitalist world system, at least in any foreseeable timescale. One intelligent conservative commentator, Edward Luttwak, has referred to “the perils of incomplete imitation” whereby developing world ruling classes “have been importing a dangerously unstable version of American turbo-capitalism, because the formula is incomplete”. What is missing? On the one hand, the legal regulation to control what he calls “the overpowering strength of big business”, and on the other, the internal humility of the winners and acceptance of the essential justice of their personal situation by the losers from the system.92 Uneven and combined development is therefore likely to be an ongoing process, which will only be resolved by either revolution or disintegration. But in the meantime, China and other states like India and Brazil where growth has been less dramatic remain both inherently unstable in their internal social relations and expansive in their external search for markets, raw materials and investment opportunities. It is in this inherent instability that the possibilities for permanent revolution lie. This does not mean that wherever uneven and combined development exists today the working class movement will automatically adopt what Trotsky called the “boldest conclusions of revolutionary thought”. In circumstances where Marxist ideas (and those of secular radicalism more generally) are either unavailable or discredited after the experience of Stalinism, movements will reach for whatever ideas seem to assist them in their struggle, regardless of their antiquity—but they will transform them in the process, contrary to what is asserted to the contrary by reactionaries in the West.

The late Fred Halliday once expressed his own disillusionment after the fall of the Soviet Empire, rejecting the revolutionary possibilities of uneven and combined development:

The insight of Trotsky was that of locating the history, and revolution of any one country in a broader, contradictory context, in seeing how ideas, and forms of conflict, like forms of technology or economic activity, could be transposed to contexts very different from that in which they originated. The mistake of the Marxist approach was to conclude that, in the end, the combination would prevail over the unevenness. The unevenness, evident above all in the widening income gaps between rich and poor on a world scale, has continued to grow, and is replicated dramatically in an era of capitalist globalisation. But because of the fragmentary character of states, the spatial and political distributor of that unevenness, the combination, the world revolutionary cataclysm, did not occur.93

To this we reply: combination is not “the world revolutionary cataclysm”, it is the objective enabling condition for it to take place. And if the cataclysm has not yet occurred, this is largely because of the absence of the missing subjective condition, which Trotsky recognised in 1917, and which Cliff highlighted back in the 1960s: the revolutionary organisation capable of giving focus to the social explosions which the process of uneven and combined development brings in its wake. In that respect, whatever else may have changed since both men wrote, the necessity for the party remains, if the incredible energies unleashed by uneven and combined development are not to be wasted yet again, with terrible consequences for the world and those who live in it.

Notes

1: i-ek, 2002, pp305-306. Thanks to Alex Callinicos, Joseph Choonara, Gareth Dale and Gonzalo Pozo for comments on the first draft.

2: Cliff, 2003.

3: MacIntyre, 2008, p275.

4: Cliff, 2000, pp42, 48.

5: Pozo, 2010.

6: Zeilig, 2010, p182.

7: Zeilig, 2010, p163. The article is part of a growing and impressive body of work by the same author on the rich and complex history of African politics. See also Zeilig, 2007, Zeilig 2008, and Zeilig, 2009.

8: Other writers in the International Socialist tradition have subsequently made this more explicit. See, for example, Callinicos, 1989, pp159-160, and Harris, 1978, pp261-282.

9: Cliff, 1989, p128. For his entire discussion see Cliff, 1989, pp126-128 and Cliff, 1993, pp164-165.

10: See Day and Guido, 2009; Geras, 1976; Larsson, 1970, pp252-304; Löwy, 1981, chapter 2.

11: Trotsky, 1977b, p138.

12: Trotsky, 1976c, pp581, 582-583.

13: Trotsky, 1979a, pp784-785.

14: Trotsky, 1976c, p582.

15: Trotsky, 1977b, p138.

16: Cliff, 2003a, p188.

17: Löwy, 1981, p89.

18: Trotsky, 1972c, p291.

19: Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000, pp1182-1186; Therborn, 1977, pp4, 17.

20: Cliff, 1984, pp65-66.

21: Callinicos, 1982, p110.

22: Cliff, 2000, p227.

23: Marx, 1975, pp419-420; Trotsky, 1937, p288. Much the clearest discussion of the subject is in Draper, 1978, pp17-21.

24: Harman, 1990, pp64-71.

25: Trotsky, 1969b, p131.

26: Harman, 1990, p38.

27: Halliday and Molyneux, 1981, pp62-74.

28: Cliff, 2003, pp196-198.

29: Harman, 2010, p344.

30: Davidson, 2005, pp21-27. I discuss this issue in more detail in Davidson, 2011a, chapter 2.

31: Trotsky, 1976c, pp581, 583-584.

32: For discussions of this “consequentialist” position, see Callinicos, 1989, pp124-127 and Davidson, 2005, pp27-32.

33: Draper, 1978, p169.

34: Draper, 1978, p289.

35: Anderson, 1992, p112.

36: Mann, 1993, p229.

37: Hobsbawm, 1975, p21.

38: Rees, 1999, p28; Rees, 2006, p155.

39: Trimberger, 1978, pp4-5, 41-45. Trimberger identifies the Meiji Restoration as the first revolution of this type.

40: Cliff, 2003, pp194-195.

41: Gatrell, 1994, p93; Koenker and Rosenberg, 1989, pp103-110; Schneiderman, 1976, pp69-140.

42: Cliff, 2003, p196.

43: For examples of these mistakes and a sketch of the history of the theory of uneven development, see Davidson, 2006a, pp10-20, and Davidson, 2009, pp10-11. For a more detailed discussion, see Davidson, forthcoming in 2011b, chapter 1.

44: Trotsky, 1977a, p27.

45: Mandel, 1995, p1.

46: Smith, 1990, pxiv.

47: Lenin, 1964, p241.

48: Lenin, 1964, pp263-264.

49: Trotsky, 1979b, p858.

50: The only real forerunner here is Rosa Luxemburg in a brilliant article from 1896 on the Ottoman Empire-see Luxemburg, 2003, pp38-40.

51: Trotsky, 1969b, p241.

52: Curtin, 2000, p150.

53: Gowan, 1999, p167.

54: Trotsky, 1969b, pp148-150, 252-260; Trotsky, 1974b, pp14-19.

55: Trotsky, 1977a, pp27-28.

56: Trotsky, 1976c, p583.

57: Burawoy, 1985, p99.

58: Allinson and Anievas, 2009, p52.

59: Lenin, 1960, pp191-210.

60: Trotsky, 1977a, p30. And see, for example, Reiber, 1982, p224.

61: Burawoy, 1985, p99.

62: Trotsky, 1974b, pp159-160.

63: Lukács, 1970, chapter 1.

64: Trotsky, 1972b, p251.

65: Trotsky, 1977a, p27.

66: Treblicock, 1981, p208.

67: Trotsky, 1977a, p55. And see, for example, Gatrell, 1994, p15.

68: See, for example, Gerschenkron, 1962, pp127-128.

69: Trotsky, 1972a, p199. See also Trotsky, 1977a, p33.

70: Cannadine, 1983, pp120-150; Bayly, 2004, pp426-430.

71: Trotsky, 1994, p257.

72: Trotsky, 1974b, p115.

73: Trotsky, 1937, p300.

74: James Allinson and Alex Anievas also have concerns with claims for the transhistorical nature of uneven and combined development, although for different reasons from those expressed here. See Allinson and Anievas, 2009, pp62-63.

75: Rosenberg, 2006, p321.

76: Rosenberg, 2006, pp321-325.

77: Marx and Engels, 1976, pp50-51.

78: Haldon, 1993, pp63-69; Wickham, 2005, pp57-61.

79: Trotsky, 1977a, p28.

80: Trotsky, 1974b, p15.

81: Rosenberg, 2007, p456.

82: Rosenberg, 2005, p41.

83: Callinicos and Rosenberg, 2008, p99.

84: Barker, 2006, p78. See also Allinson and Anievas, 2009, p54.

85: Trotsky, 1969b, p146.

86: Looker and Coates, 1986, pp112-113; Schwartz, 2000, pp95-96.

87: McDaniel, 1988, pp41-47.

88: McDaniel, 1988, p407.

89: Davis, 2007, pp53-54. Indeed, in the case of China, it might be said that the neoliberal turn after 1978 actually resumed the process of uneven and combined development originally detected by Trotsky in the 1920s, which had been consciously halted by a Maoist leadership only too conscious of the explosive effects of uncontrolled urban expansion. See Davidson, 2006, pp214-222.

90: Silver, 2003, p164.

91: Ginsborg, 1990, pp223-9, 47-53; Hardt and Negri, 2000, pp287-289.

92: Luttwak, 1998, pp25-26.

93: Halliday, 1999, pp320-321.

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“Marxism and Freedom” After Sixty Years, For Yesterday and Today- Kevin B. Anderson

Posted by admin On September - 6 - 2018 Comments Off on “Marxism and Freedom” After Sixty Years, For Yesterday and Today- Kevin B. Anderson

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Kevin B. Anderson teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the co-editor (with Peter Hudis) of The Rosa Luxemburg Reader (2004) and the author of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study (1995), and Marx at the Margins: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Non-Western Societies (2010).

 

This article is based on a presentation given in Paris on the occasion of the reissue of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom by Éditions Syllepse; it was published in French, in Entre les lignes entre les mots, on January 19, 2018.

“Marxism and Freedom” After Sixty Years, For Yesterday and Today
by Kevin B. Anderson

 
It is the sixtieth anniversary of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom, a work both of its time and ahead of its time.

First published in 1958, at the height of the Cold War but not long after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, it was one of a number of writings in the period that put forth a democratic, humanist, and revolutionary Marxism, both against the Russian Stalinist system and against the “liberal democratic” capitalism of the United States and Western Europe. This was the same period when E. P. Thompson broke away from the British Communist Party over Hungary, and when Edgar Morin and others formed the Arguments Group in France, both of them reacting against the brutal Russian intervention in Hungary.

However, Dunayevskaya had broken with Stalinism some thirty years earlier and gone on in the 1940s to write economic analyses of the USSR as a totalitarian state-capitalist society. For her, therefore, the newness of Hungary 1956 lay not so much in any proof of the reactionary, anti-worker character of the Russian and East European Stalinist regimes as in the proof it offered that (1) contra Orwell and Arendt, totalitarianism could never extinguish the struggle for human liberation, and (2) contra the Hungarian Revolution’s liberal supporters, the emergence of workers councils and of the Marxist intellectuals of the Petofi circle showed that a third way was possible—a socialist humanism that was entirely different from both Stalinism and Western liberalism. As she wrote with respect to the workers councils, “When all said that everything was over, the Hungarian Workers Councils sprung up. … They began to fight in the factories, which they were using as their places of refuge. … The workers evolved new ways of fighting, both on the job and when they walked out on strike” (256).

Another mass movement of the period, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 in Alabama, also figured prominently in Marxism and Freedom. In her treatment of what is now seen as an epochal event that launched the civil rights movement, Dunayevskaya stressed its grassroots character, rather than the leadership of the newly prominent Martin Luther King Jr. She noted that the movement had no visible hierarchy, but was governed by mass meetings held as often as three times per week. She also singled out the fact that in boycotting the buses for over a year, the Black working class had to arrange its own informal transportation networks in the face of threats and repression from the state and the Ku Klux Klan.

In declaring, “Clearly, the greatest thing of all in this … spontaneous organization was its own working existence,” she was pointing to its revolutionary potential (281). For that phrase, “its own working existence,” was the same one that Marx had employed in The Civil War in France, his seminal analysis of the Paris Commune: “The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence” (www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm). So too for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the movement that launched over a decade of revolutionary activity on the part of African Americans and their allies, much of it based upon grassroots political activism and organizing rather than hierarchical forms of organization.

Dunayevskaya also singled out the new stage reached by the U.S. labor movement in the period just before the book appeared. On the one hand, workers were increasingly distancing themselves from the newly powerful labor bureaucracy, which stifled union democracy and had tied labor to the state ever since World War II. On the other hand, at a time of Fordist high wages in some major industries, the new stage of production represented by automation became a dividing line between rank-and-file workers and the political and economic establishment. And as she saw it, that establishment included not only the corporations, the government, and the liberal social scientists who advised capital and the state from the universities, but also the labor bureaucracy itself. For their part, rank-and-file workers feared and opposed automation both because it was creating mass unemployment and because it was heightening the alienated labor in their workplaces. Workers, Dunayevskaya held, were demanding nothing less than the end of the division between mental and manual labor. She summed this up with a reference to the young Marx: “Thus, the workers, the American workers, made concrete and thereby extended Marx’s most abstract theories of alienated labor and the quest for universality” (276).

To Dunayevskaya, these three movements, the Hungarian workers councils, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the stirrings of rank-and-file labor against both automation and the labor bureaucracy, revealed a new stage of opposition to the rule of capital. This new opposition was emerging not from organized parties of the left or from inspiration from leftist intellectuals, but from the grassroots participants’ own life experience, from practice. Implicitly referring not only to Stalinism, social democracy, and liberalism, but also to orthodox Trotskyism, Dunayevskaya concluded with regard to these kinds of new social movements, “In truth, while the intellectual void today is so great that the movement from theory to practice has nearly come to a standstill, the movement from practice to theory, and with it, a new unity of manual and mental labor in the worker, are in evidence everywhere” (276; here and below, emphasis in original).

This “movement from practice to theory” was the underlying theme of Marxism and Freedom. It captured the spirit of an era that was to see mass social movements, many of them marked by spontaneity, in the 1960s and since. It was obviously a repudiation of the top-down politics of both social democracy and what is usually termed the Leninist vanguard party. In this sense, it anticipated not only the 1960s, but also events like the wave of revolutions and protests that have impacted so many countries since the Arab revolutions of 2011, from the Indignados in Spain to Occupy Wall Street in the United States, and from Gezi Park in Turkey to Nuit Debout in Paris.

However, while Dunayevskaya believed firmly in the creativity of spontaneous, sometimes leaderless movements, she did not, either in Marxism and Freedom or in her writings afterwards, ever argue that the Marxist theoretician was therefore irrelevant or a mere bystander. It was, she held, a movement from practice to theory, not a spontaneous movement that had no need for Marxist theory. What she did argue was that the greatest revolutionary thinkers had absorbed into their philosophical perspectives the creativity of the movements from below of their times, while at the same time offering those movements some theoretical and political direction. And this had organizational implications as well. It differentiated Dunayevskaya from her erstwhile U.S. colleague, the great Afro-Caribbean Marxist C.L.R. James. Despite many commonalities with Dunayevskaya, James hewed to a more spontaneist position, as did other contemporary groups with positions similar to Dunayevskaya’s, like Socialisme ou Barbarie, and later, the Italian operaïstes. As Frédéric Monferrand notes in his well-researched new preface to the 2016 French edition, “Thus, where C.L.R. James called after 1955 for the abolition of ‘the distinction between party and mass,’ the author of Marxism and Freedom never seems to have really renounced the need to form a revolutionary organization relatively autonomous from the social movements” (22).

With those kinds of questions in mind, let us look briefly at some of the key theoretical junctures in Marxism and Freedom.

The chapter on Hegel and the French revolution that begins the book is heavily indebted to the anarchist thinker Daniel Guérin for its account of the sans-culottes as part of a creative movement from below, to the left of the Jacobins, that conceptualized and fought for a popular democracy:

Democracy, thus, was not invented by philosophic theory nor by the bourgeois leadership. It was discovered by the masses in their method of action. There is a double rhythm in destroying the old and creating the new which bears the unmistakable stamp of the self-activity which is the truly working class way of knowing. This, in fact, was the greatest of all the achievements of the great French Revolution—the workers’ discovery of their own way of knowing. (30-31)

In her brief account of Hegel, a real gem of compression that illuminates the truly revolutionary aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, Dunayevskaya stresses the impact of the French Revolution—and its aftermath—on the German inventor of the modern form of dialectics. She also notes how the young Hegel singled out the alienated condition of the modern factory worker but could not yet discern—because it was too early—the yearning for a creative and non-exploitative form of labor that was to imbue the modern working-class movement in its most revolutionary moments. That would have to wait for Marx. What Hegel did discern in his published work—and here the influence of the French Revolution was obvious—was that the quest for freedom and emancipation marked the entire course of human history. Additionally, in seeing the social world not only as substance, but also as subject, Hegel paved the way for the Marxian concept of the collective revolutionary subject.

According to Dunayevskaya, Hegel also elaborated, above all in his Absolute Idea, which he saw as the unity of theory and practice, the dialectical relationship between the social and the individual:

For in Hegel’s Absolute there is embedded, though in abstract form, the full development of the social individual, or what Hegel would call individuality “purified of all that interferes with its universalism, i.e., freedom itself.” Here are the objective and subjective means whereby a new society is going to be born. That new society, struggling to be born, is the concern of our age. (39)

For Dunayevskaya, the key here was not so much the rather banal notion that individuals must become social to fully realize themselves as individuals. Her point centered on something slightly different: how the quest for individual self-development and freedom could link up with broader epochal movements for human emancipation in such a way that both were deepened, in a truly dialectical relationship. Thus, when Rosa Parks sat down on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and defied the system of racial segregation, her quest for individual emancipation managed to link up with the universal in such a way that it helped touch off a whole era of revolutionary radicalism.

Dunayevskaya noted as well that Marx drew his concept of the negation of the negation from Hegel, whom he praised in 1844 for having uncovered “the dialectic of negativity as the moving and creative principle” (34). At the same time, Dunayevskaya critiques the retrogression into statism in the later Hegel, while also maintaining the enduring influence of the German idealist on Marx. Finally, the discussion of Hegel turns toward the Stalinist rejection of Hegel, especially his concept of negativity.

With Marx, Dunayevskaya stresses the fundamental continuity of the young Marx of 1844 with Capital, not only in Volume 1, but also in Volumes 2 and 3. I know of no other serious analyst of Marx who swam so easily in both the humanist/dialectical aspect—alienation, fetishism, dialectic, and so on—and in concepts like the tendential decline in the rate of profit as the foundation of Marx’s theory of crises and depressions.

In its original 1958 edition, Marxism and Freedom contained as an appendix the first published English translations of two of the most important of Marx’s 1844 Essays, “Private Property and Communism” and “Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic.” The theme of Marx’s revolutionary humanism continues through one of Dunayevskaya’s four chapters devoted to his magnum opus, “The Humanism and Dialectic of Capital, Vol. I.” In the 1844 Essays, Dunayevskaya sees Marx as having put forth his own version of the dialectic, as having not only “stood [Hegel] on his feet,” but also as having separated himself from “vulgar communism” (85), which Dunayevskaya traces back to some of the communist sects of Marx’s own time, albeit with a clear contemporary target, the vulgate of Soviet Marxist-Leninism. Here she connects philosophy and economics, in the sense that vulgar communism sought to change property relations but not production relations, not the actual daily life of the worker: Marx was strongly “opposed to anyone who thinks that the ills of capitalism can be overcome by changes in the sphere of distribution” (59). As for the Russian Stalinist ideologists, they focused on the merits of state property and they “spend incredible time and energy and vigilance to imprison Marx within the bounds of the private property versus state property concept” (63). This was also an implicit critique of classical Trotskyism, with its focus on nationalized property as the dividing line between capitalism and a workers’ state.

Throughout, Marx is presented as a revolutionary activist as well as a thinker, even during his supposedly cloistered British Museum years when he immersed himself in political economy. Not only was he an activist as well as a thinker, but world events and his engagement with them decisively shaped his greatest theoretical work, Capital. Here the kinds of themes alluded to at the beginning of this essay—the new forms of emancipatory struggle found during the 1950s in the Hungarian revolutionaries, Alabama Black activists, and rank-and-file workers—emerge as central to the book’s underlying theoretical premises.

Thus, the decisive impact of the U.S. Civil War on Capital Volume 1 is elaborated not just as political background, but as having had a decisive theoretical importance. Dunayevskaya’s chapter covering these issues begins with Marx’s applauding from afar the incipient slave insurrection he was hoping for in the wake of John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry. Marx not only differed with Engels on the potentially revolutionary character of the Civil War, but he also strongly attacked the non-revolutionary Lincoln’s reluctance to issue an emancipation proclamation. In addition, Dunayevskaya stresses Marx’s strong support, in his letters and journalism, for the British workers who sided with the North even as the British establishment took the opposite position. In a remarkable display of proletarian internationalism, those workers kept up their support even when told that a British intervention on the side of the South might quickly end the war and the cotton blockade that had led to mass layoffs in the textile industry. She also notes how language about race, class, and the fight for the eight-hour day found its way into Marx’s text, as in this often-overlooked passage from Capital:

In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the Black it is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new life again arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight hours agitation, that ran with the seven-leagued boots of the locomotive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New York to California. (84)

Thus, the dialectics of race and class was no mere sideshow, but a crucial aspect of the struggle for the emancipation of labor.

But there were other theoretical stakes here as well. Dunayevskaya also makes the argument that the very structure of Capital changed as a result of Marx’s engagement with the U.S. Civil War. Based upon a study of the early drafts of Capital, she concludes that it was only after he became engaged with the Civil War that Marx added an entire chapter on “The Working Day,” apparently completed as late as 1866. This chapter is one of the book’s most crucial, not because it exposes the oppression of the worker, which many had done before, but because it shows how the lengthening of the working day constituted the breaking point that produced the modern labor movement. Capital’s chapter on the working day contains the most detailed treatment of working-class resistance to capital of the entire book, as it chronicles the struggle for a shorter working day, first in Britain, and then in France, and then in the United States, where it became intertwined with the dialectics of race and class.

But Marx is not only describing, but also prescribing. For he is suggesting in this chapter that, short of actual proletarian revolution, the fight for a reduced working day challenges capital in a fundamental way, more than that for higher wages. Moreover, this was something that Marx put forward in the First International, helping to place it on the agenda of the working class across Western Europe and North America. Turning to our own times, I would like to note that in recent decades, the French working classes have been carrying out the fight for a shorter working day, but in isolation from other highly developed economies like Britain or the United States, where the issue has lain dormant, or worse. As a result, French workers have been sometimes forced to retreat.

Dunayevskaya conceptualizes a similar process concerning the relationship of the Paris Commune to Capital. Following the framework of Marx’s Civil War in France, she outlines what he saw as the Commune’s revolutionary features: its grassroots democratic character, its destruction of a modern bureaucratic state, its development of worker self-rule in some of the factories. Dunayevskaya added a point not stated explicitly by Marx concerning the leading role of female workers, milkmaids, in touching off the insurrection early in the morning of March 18, 1871: “As in every real people’s revolution, new strata of the population were awakened” (95).

Next, Dunayevskaya argues that several important formulations in Capital were added only after the Commune. The last version of Capital Volume 1 that Marx personally vetted before it was published was the French edition, issued in serial form from 1872 to 1875. Although it was translated by Joseph Roy, Marx’s correspondence shows that he went over every page and reworked many parts of the text. Few except specialist scholars are aware that the 1867 version of Capital was quite different from the text we know today. Most importantly, the first chapter did not exist in its present form. Only after the Paris Commune did Marx reorganize the book, creating for the first time a separate first chapter ending with a discussion of commodity fetishism. Some of the material on fetishism was already there in 1867, but some was added after the Paris Commune. This was because the Commune had illustrated in concrete form what Marx for years had been referring to as free and associated labor. Dunayevskaya argues that after 1867 Marx moves the focus in the discussion of commodity fetishism from “the fantastic form of appearance,” wherein human relations took the form of relations between things, toward “the necessity of that form of appearance,” given that the reification of human relations was “in truth,” the form taken under capitalism of “what relations between people are at the point of production” (100).

This is not only an example of revolutionary events influencing and deepening Marx’s theorization of capitalism, but it is also an example of Marx carrying out some of his most original theoretical labor under the impact of the Commune. In carrying out this work, he developed further a book that aimed not only to reflect, but also to shape the consciousness of the working class, in order for it to carry out the struggle for its self-emancipation more effectively. And it was not Marx’s fault that post-Marx Marxists, beginning with Engels, virtually ignored the crucial section on commodity fetishism until the 1920s.

Dunayevskaya’s discussion of V.I. Lenin as thinker and as revolutionary takes a similar form. The early Lenin’s notion of the vanguard party as elaborated in 1902, in What Is to Be Done?, is seen as undergoing modifications under the impact of the creativity and self-organization displayed by the working class in 1905 and 1917. Moreover, in anticipation of many recent discussions by Lars T. Lih and others, that early form of vanguardism is shown to have been not that different from the prevailing concept of organization in the Second International. Thus, Lenin in 1902 “merely brought to its logical conclusion Karl Kautsky’s formulation” to the effect that workers on their own could achieve trade union but not socialist consciousness, with the latter having to be brought to them by radical intellectuals (179).

World War I undermines Lenin’s support for Kautsky and the other chief theoreticians of the Second International, leading him to embark upon, for the first time, the elaboration of general and global, rather than only Russian, Marxist perspectives. Was this a result of a steadfast adherence to earlier revolutionary principles or a new departure for Lenin? Dunayevskaya holds more to the second possibility, underlining Lenin’s in-depth study of issues he had largely avoided up until then: Hegel and dialectics, imperialism, and the state and revolution.

One major departure, still controversial even today, is Dunayevskaya’s elaboration of a philosophical break in Lenin’s thought as a result of his 1914-1915 notebooks on Hegel’s Science of Logic. This meant an implicit repudiation of his crudely materialist and reductionist 1908 treatise on Marxist philosophy, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Singling out revolutionary Hegelian concepts like self-movement and contradiction, Lenin also embraces aspects of Hegel’s philosophical idealism as superior to crude materialism, writing, “Intelligent idealism is nearer to intelligent materialism than is stupid materialism” (207). Moreover, in an implicit self-critique, Lenin holds that one cannot understand Capital without having studied Hegel’s Logic and that “consequently, none of the Marxists for the past half-century have understood Marx!” (171). Henri Lefebvre translated Lenin’s notebooks on Hegel and introduced them to the French public over two decades earlier, but he did not, until 1959, acknowledge a break in Lenin’s philosophical thought after 1914. Dunayevskaya, on the other hand, had developed her concept of such a break in a dialogue with C.L.R. James in the 1940s. (I discuss Lefebvre, Althusser, James, Dunayevskaya, Lukács, and other commentators on Lenin’s relation to Hegel in my 1995 book, Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism.)

As Dunayevskaya saw it, Lenin took up the development of the capitalist economy into its monopoly stage, and the concomitant emergence of imperialism, soon after his study of Hegel, in part on the basis of the new dialectical insights he gained there. At this point, Lenin became dissatisfied with Rudolf Hilferding’s non-dialectical presentation of monopoly capital, first because it underplayed how competitive capitalism was transformed. Dunayevskaya writes that for Lenin, it was the result of a “development through contradiction, through transformation into opposite” (208).

Second, Lenin taxed Hilferding, and even some of his Bolshevik comrades like Nikolai Bukharin, for not addressing changes brought about by imperialism at the subjective level, that of the working people in both the imperialist lands and the colonies. In terms of the working class at home, imperialism led to a deep internal contradiction, with a small part transforming into an aristocracy of labor that benefited from colonial exploitation. As Lenin saw it, that stratum also formed the core of those elements of the working class that supported World War I. It is a concept that Dunayevskaya connected to racial segmentation within the U.S. working class.

In terms of the colonies, imperialism unleashed modern, progressive nationalist movements. Here Lenin singled out the Easter Uprising in Ireland of 1916, in the middle of the war and up to that point the most serious blow against imperialism and the war anywhere in the world. Ireland was the harbinger of a new form of consciousness and struggle that came to be called national liberation movements. In supporting the Irish uprising, and in polemicizing with less supportive or even hostile class-reductionist perspectives from Karl Radek and Leon Trotsky, Lenin underlined the dialectical underpinnings of his position, referring to the Irish events as part of the “dialectics of history,” wherein colonized nations fighting for their national emancipation can take the lead, moving ahead of the international working class in the struggle against imperialism, and ultimately, capitalism itself.

Here again, Lenin’s originality lay not only in grasping new subjective developments like the development of the labor aristocracy and of the national liberation movements, but also in conceptualizing the relationship of those forces to the overall working-class movement. He incorporated the peasantry as well, especially in his discussions of major countries in the Global South like colonial India and semi-colonial China.

Whatever his flaws as a Marxist thinker and revolutionary leader, which have been pointed out by other revolutionary thinkers ever since Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin’s two major insights—on Hegel and dialectics, and on imperialism and national liberation—are still fruitful theoretical resources today. For Dunayevskaya, Lenin’s Hegelian Marxism was more attractive than that of Lukács or Marcuse because he reached political and economic conclusions on the basis of his dialectical investigations. He was therefore able to elaborate a dialectical theory of the emergence of imperialism and of the contradictions within it, most prominently its giving the impetus to national liberation movements across the colonial and semi-colonial world. Lenin’s great sensitivity, as well, to national and ethnic oppression inside large countries like Russia was an important and related insight that he was to develop in terms of groups like African Americans in the years following his Hegel notebooks and his book on imperialism.

Dunayevskaya took from Hegel, Marx, and Lenin two conceptual threads: on the one hand, a certain type of dialectics of revolution, and on the other hand, a sensitivity to new social forces and movements with revolutionary potential. These two threads of analysis enabled her to conceptualize a new form of capitalism, automated state capitalism, in which workers faced the state, capital, and their own union bureaucracy, and where new social movements like the Black movement in the United States were emerging. At the same time, events like Hungary 1956 showed not only the bankruptcy of the Stalinist regimes, but also that the working people and youth under those regimes shared similar aspirations with those in radical social movements across the world.

While Marxism and Freedom was published six decades ago, it still speaks to us today, when grassroots social movements for radical change have covered the globe in a way not seen since the 1960s, and yet at the same time, the economic and political contradictions of capitalism are more glaring—and ominous—than at any time since the 1930s. This unprecedented situation compels Marxists of the twenty-first century to rethink our old categories, especially those inherited from either social democracy or Stalinism.

Category: Socialism – Left Politics –       Whole Number: 65

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