Tag Archives: Trotsky

“Enough of this UAF triumphalism!” – How to Fight Fascism.

By Chris Page

So, in the aftermath of the much-hyped EDL demonstration in Tower Hamlet’s earlier this month, the common slogan seems to be “They did not pass!” Anyone who knows their anti-fascism history will know this as a reference to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, where the noble actions of residents, activists and trade unionist stopped Oswald Moseley’s Union of Fascists from entering Cable Street.

Let’s be clear on a few things: firstly, the EDL did, essentially, march. This is in spite of Theresa May’s reactionary attempts to prevent this from occurring. The EDL travelled as a large group across London, in a procession which essentially equated to a rowdy and noisy march, as well as back to their coaches at the end of the day. Around 1000 people attended a rally at Aldgate Station, where Tommy Robinson spoke (after making a joke of dressing up as a Rabbai. He’s totally not racist, is he?) If anything, this proves that measures from the top down will not stop an Active demonstrations of fascism, something I have written on at length elsewhere.  The UAF organised demonstration certainly did march as well (good on them for doing so) but eyewitness accounts from the ground suggested that much of the anti-fascist demo was spent listening to somewhat clichéd speeches, and then a lot of waiting around, before learning that the EDL had left.

Hooray! We stopped them! They did not pass! Sitting at home, recovering from a major depressive episode, I watched the triumphalism pour over Facebook. Yet the question that came to my mind was “How?” The anti-fascists were separated from the EDL by a small army of riot police. The closest they ever got was a distant glimpse of England flags and the far-off discordant notes of “God Save the Queen.”

But let’s look at the grander picture. What did the anti-fascists achieve? Are we a step closer to stamping out the EDL? Did we win a decisive victory, or tackle a root cause of fascism – no. In fact, the UAF demo was, for want of a better word, passive. Tommy Robinson was arrested, but this will not kill off the EDL. Indeed, it seems to have galvanised support for them, as they can now claim that they have been deprived of their freedom of speech.

 A stalemate is food for thought – it suggests that it is time to reconsider tactics and ends. UAF’s response to Tower Hamlets suggests either a total divorce from reality, or a blind triumphalism. The latter is much more worrying – if the anti-fascist movement is willing to accept a stalemate as a major triumph, then it is clutching desperately at straws, albeit with a glazed and self-congratulatory smile on its face.

 THE STATE AND FASCISM

In doing so, the anti-fascist movement is entering dangerous territory, by playing into the hands of the state. Let us be clear: despite the bland assurances of mainstream politicians that they oppose fascism, it is they who are upholding, and, indeed, creating a system which breeds fascism. Even if there is genuine anti-fascist sentiment in mainstream politicians, it is almost childish in its simplicity. They are “evil” or “nazis” – whilst I would agree with both, to some extent, simple name calling does little more than de-contextualise fascism as a movement from its social circumstances.

Furthermore, it wasn’t the anti-fascists who prevented the EDL from entering Tower Hamlets, but the small army of riot police. On the surface, bravo! But on closer analysis, we see a worrying attitude by the state. Yes, the police kept the fascists out, but they allowed them to hold a large, static demo. The police, it would seem, played to role of a parent, trying to keep two feuding children apart. Credible eyewitness accounts suggest that the police were actually helping the EDL get to their demo, by giving them the monopoly over Tube travel to Tower Hamlets. When an EDL coach was targeted after driving into Tower Hamlets (not supposed to do that, are they?) the police launched a heavy crackdown in Mile End.

Can this really be called a demonstration, or simply a tame celebration of state power?

FASCISM AND THE WORKING CLASS.

A potential counter argument comes to the mind: what, exactly, am I advocating? Am I simply annoyed that there wasn’t a good old fist-fight between Red and Nazis? Not at all.

It is important that we draw a distinction between so called “classical fascism” and the EDL. Broadly speaking, there are similarities – the racism, obviously, and the strongly nationalistic world view. That said, the EDL has more been more effective at masquerading its views as those of the workers. The EDL taps into, and claims to respond to, an Islamaphobic cultural hegemony, and claim to be the voice of the “ordinary” British person against a threat to the lifestyle of the British worker, an idealised lifestyle situated within the framework of extreme nationalism. “Classical Fascism” is exclusively nationalistic; that is to say it vehemently opposes class based internationalist ideologies (socialism, communism, anarchism). It may be verbally anti-capitalist but, in practice, destroys working-class organisations and leaves capitalist power relatively unscathed. The EDL give more a primacy to ideas of race, rather than economics. But, by the very fact that they are a fascistic movement, they stand for the same things as classical fascism.

What I am saying is this: EDL fascism masquerades as a working class ideology, when it is clearly not. It attempts to appeal towards the working class by offering simple solutions to their wage slavery and alienation. As Hal Draper writes, fascism often thrives on a lack of education – a burden the working class will feel more than ever in a country which is savagely cutting funding to education. James Cannon in Fascism and the Workers Movement (1954), writes that it is workers who must force a counter-movement to fascism because of fascism’s middle class appeal:

“The workers are the strongest power in modern society. If they show a resolute will to take hold of the situation and effect the necessary revolutionary change, the millions of desperate middle-class people—impoverished farmers, bankrupt small businessmen and white-collar elements—who have no independent power of their own, will follow the workers and support them in their struggle for power. This was demonstrated in the Russian Revolution of November 1917.

On the other hand, if the workers, as a result of inadequate or pusillanimous leadership, falter before their historical task, the allegiance of the middle-classes will rapidly shift to the support of the fascists and lift them into power. This alternative outcome of the social crisis was demonstrated in Italy and Germany.”

WHY A WORKERS MOVEMENT?

Let us sum up briefly: Fascism, including the form offered by the EDL, is not a working class ideology. Fascism opposes internationalist workers unity, and it substitutes class based politics for the politics of race, and nationalism. The origins of fascism are found in capitalist system, a product of the bourgeoisie, the ultimate reactionary movement when faced with the crisis of capitalism.

The sober lesson of history shows us that where the workers do not take action, fascism flourishes. In his essay “For a Workers United Front Against Fascism” Trotsky pinpoints a similar problem with the German left’s reaction to Nazism.

“If you place a ball on top of a pyramid, the slightest impact can cause it to roll down either to the left or to the right. That is the situation approaching with every hour in Germany today. There are forces which would like the ball to roll down towards the right and break the back of the working class. There are forces which would like the ball to remain at the top…The Communists want the ball to roll down toward the left and break the back of capitalism. But it is not enough to want; one must know how.”

The tragic flaw of the German left was the belief that a) the victory of fascism was certain but that b) the ball would roll to the left and fascism would be little more than the death throws of capitalism. Whilst the modern left does not see the victory of fascism as inevitable, it is drawing a similarly conclusion to the Stalinists of the 1930s though complacently claiming victory where none can be found. We may not be under threat of a immediate fascist dystopia, but we are ignoring the reality of the situation if we claim victory where there isn’t one.

Trotsky takes his analysis of “anti-fascism” further, in his later essay “Once Again on the Causes of the Defeat in Spain” (1939):

“The very concept of “anti-fascism” and “anti-fascist” are fiction and lies. Marxism approaches all pheneomena form a class standpoint. Azana is anti-fascist only to the extent that fascism hinders bourgeoisie intellectuals from carving out parliamentary or other careers. Confronted with the necessity of choosing between fascism and the proliterian revolution. Azana will always prove to be on the side of the fascists. His entire policy during the seven years of revolution proves this.”

Trotsky’s point here is the fascism is a threat to the working class, because it is anti-revolutionary. Despite having an anti-capitalist veneer, fascism can win the support of the bourgeoisie. In this case, Manuel Azana, the republican president of the Second Spanish Republic, was seen as an ally of the communist and socialist movements when the majority of the bourgeoisie supported Franco. Trotsky bemoans this as a tactical error; not only did this allow the bourgeoisie to set a limit on the workers revolutionary movement, but actively played into the hands of the bourgeoisie. In a world where the choice is socialism and fascism, Azana and other aspects of the bourgeoisie would, and did, choose to oppose socialism, which meant that they played into the hands of the Fascists. When Trotsky says that “anti-fascism” is “fiction and lies” he does not, of course, mean the ideology itself – but that, on its own, it is not enough. If you are anti-fascist, you must be for something; for a workers revolutionary movement, a true alternative to reactionary fascism.

I do not oppose UAF at all – I merely oppose seeing a victory where there isn’t one. They are, like the SWP and SP, comrades, and we have a common ground in our battle against fascism. I would not discourage anyone from going on a UAF demo – of course we must turn out against the EDL. Indeed, I would advocate a greater involvement in the UAF, so that (*hat of optimism placed on head*) we might change the organisation and methods of UAF. We must take advantage of the structures which are already in places to fight fascism, even though they are not, at the present time, perfect.

What is victory for the anti-fascist movement? We are we aiming for? If “victory” means standing behind a line of riot police until the EDL get bored and go home, then perhaps I’m in the wrong movement. I am not satisfied with a ban on marches, or the brief prison time of Tommy Robinson. Surely, “victory” would mean the EDL and other fascist organisations withering away. This cannot be accomplished by passive measures, but by countering fascist hatred with a genuine alternative, a workers movement committed to socialism.

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Anarchism and Marxism: A discussion

by Anne Archist

The following is a very rough transcript of a discussion. I’ve tried to reproduce it as accurately as possible but some sections may be missing and I may have made mistakes at some point along the way. I gave the Anarchism section of the talk, while the Marxism section was given by Daniel Morley. I apologise in particular if I have misrepresented Daniel’s comments in any way. The debate that followed from the floor veered all over the place and plenty of it was off-topic. I haven’t included my contributions to that debate because I couldn’t write and speak at the same time.

Anarchism

The first thing I want to say is that I will be “taking sides”, and specifically I’m going to nail my colours to the mast and say that I’m not interested in any form of Anarchism that is friendly to capitalism. I’m not just fixing definitions to suit myself here; ‘anarchist’ is a label applied to many theories, but this doesn’t show that they share a common theoretical basis. I could argue at length about how so-called “anarcho”-capitalism and social anarchism have nothing in common but this is the Marxist Discussion Group, not the Adam Smith Institute, so I’ll leave it at that and hope that people are satisfied.

I want to start out by giving a brief history of anarchist thought, and though I won’t have time to go into everything, I’m going to focus on a few historically contentious discussions in ways that will hopefully undermine some of the myths spread about anarchists. My view is that anarchists and Marxists have more in common than is generally recognised, and I hope this discussion can help to break down some of the stereotypes and barriers between our traditions.

Much as Marxism was preceded by utopian, idealist and religious socialism of various forms, anarchism’s roots stretch back to Greek and Eastern philosophy. It’s generally considered to have become recognisable in its modern form in the writings of William Godwin, though he apparently drifted away from communism – later editions of ‘Political Justice’ were heavily edited. The first person to self-describe as an anarchist is Proudhon, and the key historical anarchist theorists from today’s point of view are probably Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman and Rocker.

Anarchism became an important organised political movement as a faction of the International Working Men’s Association, also known as the First International, founded in 1866. They preferred terms like “federalist” to describe their politics, and were led by Bakunin, though Kropotkin did join the International for a short period. Debates between this trend and the Marxists reached a head at the Hague Congress of 1872, and leading anarchists including Bakunin were expelled.

I want to clear up a few myths about anarchist theory. Despite its predecessors, modern anarchism rests on the same philosophical basis as Marxism – materialism. Bakunin said this in the clearest possible terms: “Undoubtedly the idealists are wrong and the materialists are right.” As for economic analysis, it is often suggested that anarchists have none, or more precisely that they have none of their own. Firstly, I’m not entirely sure why Marxists would consider it a criticism to point out that anarchists agree with the Marxist economic analysis.

Secondly, the idea that they have none at all is quickly disproven by the fact that Bakunin translated Marx’s magnum opus, ‘Capital’, into Russian (to the surprise of Marx, who overestimated the Russian working class’ backwardness); an abridged translation was published in Italian by an anarchist as well. Do we just have to admit we pinched Marx’s ideas, then? Well, no – Marx was heavily influence by Proudhon early in his career, whose book ‘What Is Property?’ was apparently the text that convinced Marx private property must be abolished. Anarchism and Marxism’s contributions to materialist analysis and anti-capitalist economics are intertwined. They form historically and conceptually inseparable parts of a whole – remove Proudhon’s ideas from Marx and you’re left with an economics not far off Adam Smith.

Don’t take it from me, though: “This work became possible only owing to the work of Proudhon himself”, say Marx and Engels in ‘The Holy Family’. They continue later: “Proudhon makes a critical investigation – the first resolute, ruthless, and at the same time scientific investigation – of the basis of political economy, private property. This is the great scientific advance he made, an advance which revolutionizes political economy and for the first time makes a real science of political economy possible.”

Proudhon’s economic theory was limited, but this is understandable given his historical circumstances; he was not a communist, preferring market-based forms of socialism that he believed could usurp capitalism through the development of co-operative industry funded through mutual free credit. This was called mutualism. The idea was – roughly speaking, since I’ve not really read any Proudhon first-hand – that workers could set up banks, creating money to fund the establishment of cooperatives and other workers’ organisations that would compete with the state and capitalist enterprises. A kind of economic dual-power would come about and then capitalism would be surpassed as the collectives would perform better on the market (due to the fact that they were under the control of the people who knew best how to run them, they re-invested money back into the business rather than cream it off in profits, they sold at a lower price, etc).

Later anarchists – those in the First International, for instance – largely sided with Marx’s economic analysis as he moved away from its Proudhonist origins. Bakunin argued that the working class should use a “revolutionary general strike” as the death blow to capitalism, seize the means of production, owning and controlling them collectively. It’s worth spending some time on this question under the current circumstances. In fact, the anarchists were advocating the general strike – and trying to turn it into reality – at a time when Engels was decrying it as unnecessary at best. At worst it was impossible, and most likely it would not result in revolution even if it could be carried out since it targeted individual bourgeois in their roles as employers, rather than the instrument of their class organised as such – the state.

Bakunin’s “federalist” inclinations led him to hold that the question of remuneration for labour was a matter to be decided by individual communities. The question of ownership was settled, but the question of distribution was a subject for experimentation; communities might choose markets with local currency, some form of labour-note based rationing, etc. This theory is generally referred to as anarcho-collectivism, or just collectivism, though distinctions are rarely drawn accurately or consistently from here on in and the term has also been applied to other socialist theories.

Some anarchists consider Bakunin’s ideas as a transitional state that will give way to full communism while others consider it an end in itself (since freedom of migration would allow people to choose which distributive system to live under, etc). Rocker suggests that the economic objectives of mutualism, collectivism, communism, and so on should be considered merely educated guesses at the best way of ensuring a free society, and says that people will likely experiment with different distributive methods.

As I said, the distinctions get less clear from this point, but Kropotkin says: “For the day on which old institutions will fall under the proletarian axe, voices will cry out: “Bread, shelter, ease for all!” And those voices will be listened to… we shall build in the name of Communism and Anarchy.” His point is that basic necessities should immediately be distributed along communist principles and be available to all without any distributive barrier. The key difference, then, is that they are willing to take sides in the debate about distribution – unsurprisingly, these people are called anarchist (or anarcho-) communists.

Kropotkin’s later thought also hinted towards aspects of syndicalism (which is not a specifically anarchist theory but anarcho-syndicalism, the anarchist version, is most common these days). He edited the passage I quoted earlier, to replace the slogan “in demolishing we shall build” with “in building we shall demolish”. This reflected what he felt were lessons learnt from the course of struggle – that simply overturning the status quo without any idea of what should follow it would leave the door open to a restoral of bourgeois order (or perhaps worse).

The syndicalist idea, like mutualism, is a strategy rather than a distributive principle.  It says that some form of industrial union organising can be used in place of a political party in the traditional sense in order to bring about revolution. Syndicalists generally conceive of their task as building organisation in industry either through federating and coordinating pre-existing unions, setting up independent revolutionary unions, or otherwise strengthening the working class’ level of economically-based organisation.

This would then allow them to wage class war using primarily economic weapons such as the strike, and to eventually use general strikes and the seizure of the means of production by force if necessary to effect collectivisation. It’s a common misconception that anarchists, syndicalists, and particularly anarcho-syndicalists, reject political struggle per se, and think that revolution will somehow come about through the economistic development of trade union consciousness.

Rocker, who is often credited as the major anarcho-syndicalist theorist, said: “If Anarcho-Syndicalism nevertheless rejects the participation in the present national parliaments, it is not because they have no sympathy with political struggles in general, but because its adherents are of the opinion that this form of activity is the very weakest and most helpless form of the political struggle for the workers…  Their method is that of direct action in both the economic and political struggle of the time. By direct action they mean every method of the immediate struggle by the workers against economic and political oppression. ”

Rocker goes on to talk about just a few methods of direct action, but makes it clear there are more. The tactic that best represents the relation between economics and politics is probably the social strike; this a strike undertaken with the interests of the whole community in mind, which may include demands such as the lowering of food prices or rent, the provision of services and welfare through employers’ acknowledgement of a “social responsibility”, etc. Similarly, the general strike was used as a weapon by the Chartists in their campaign for enfranchisement – this would presumably be a form of ‘social general strike’.

So that’s a potted history of anarchist theory – there’s a lot more I could go into but I obviously don’t have the time. I hope it’s dispelled a few myths about anarchism: that anarchists don’t have any economic analysis or that they merely piggy-back on Marxism’s in a way that demonstrates a lack of theoretical completeness; that anarchists are idealists, don’t recognise the importance of class struggle, or don’t base themselves in the working class; that anarchists have commonly advocated unrealistic spontaneity or that their strategic and tactical understanding can be reduced to wishful thinking; that anarchists are opposed to organisation; and so forth.

It’s a common misconception on the part of anarchists that Marxists all want to take state power, in their own name and for their own nefarious ends, introducing something akin to the USSR. This is, of course, totally false – take, for instance, the International Communist Group, who say “the revolutionary dictatorship of our class will abolish the state”. On the other hand, it’s a common misconception on the part of Marxists that anarchists all want to live an individualistic utopian existence of utter freedom. This is just as false – Bakunin talks about “the republic as a commune, the republic as a federation, a Socialist and a genuine people’s republic” as “the system of Anarchism.”

So how do I think we should conceptualise the relationship between Marxism and anarchism? Well, I think that there is probably a wider gap between the extremes of those calling themselves Marxists than there is between the average materialist anarchist and the average Trotskyist. We need to pay attention to what people actually think, concretely and specifically, rather than what language they use to describe their ideas. I’d suggest that the types of anarchism I’ve discussed are probably best understood as contributions to the Marxist tradition – historically, philosophically, economically, etc. Obviously though, I’d also go so far as to say that at certain historical periods anarchists have been ahead of more orthodox or mainstream Marxists and that this contribution has been a vital factor in driving Marxism forward.

Marxism

Marxism and anarchism obviously have a lot in common – they’re both theories that are against all forms of oppression and inequality, and they both aim to create a stateless and classless society in the long run. I think that the Marxist understanding of class society and the state are key to understanding the world around us. They are a theoretical focus that provides us with a guide to action; we can learn things about how to deal with them from the way we analyse and critique them. The first question we should ask is: “what are the origins and effects of oppression?” The history of human society has more or less been a list of oppression in varying different forms. Even today we are still surrounded by inequality – why is this, and why is it allowed to go on when it could be addressed so easily? So many people live below the poverty line while a relatively small number of people own vast fortunes that could easily provide for these people’s needs. Why isn’t this done?

The first antagonism was between man and nature. Human beings are poorly adapted to their environment – we can’t fly, we don’t have poisonous stings, etc. On the other hand, we are dependent on nature for our survival, since it ultimately provides our food, shelter, clothing, and so on. This is the first law of society – that we have to struggle against nature to fulfil our needs. We are materially conditioned by nature, not born free; the idea of people being totally “free” in a state of nature is a myth, because they can never be free from the demands of survival. This leads to a struggle to improve the forces of production in order to improve the conditions of existence.

How did the first state arise? Initially there was no need for a state, no state apparatus. Society was, however, divided into different groups such as tribes; these groups competed against each other in order to control resources, using trade, violence, intimidation, and so on. The struggle was both over nature’s bounty and over the subjugation of others’ labour power in the form of slavery. Often people ask about the nature of the link between this slavery and the establishment of state machinery – did classes come first and necessitate the creation of a state, or did the state come first and facilitate the subjugation of minorities into a different class? This isn’t really important. What matters is that when you strip power of its economic basis it becomes devoid of meaning, it becomes literally incomprehensible. What is the meaning of power free from exploitation of labour, control of resources, etc? Oppressing others for the sake of it is meaningless.

It follows from this that the state is not just an arbitrary evil that we can do away with once we realise its nature. It performs a certain social function – serving class interests – and it preserves the prevailing form of class rule. Marxists think that the proletarian state works in the same way – it defends the revolution by suppressing other classes. Even some anarchists would agree with this in a sense. So why did the state maintain itself historically in situations like in the USSR? What was the economic basis for this?

The USSR couldn’t produce sufficiently. The state can only be done away with once work is no longer a burden, which is brought about by the shortening of the work day due to increased employment and productivity. This allows people to take part in running their own affairs and therefore does away with the need for such centralisation and specialisation of administering society. The division of labour between mental and manual can’t just be wished away, it’s based on class inequality. Kropotkin feared that intellectuals and technicians would form a new ruling class – the division of labour provided the basis for a further class divide. Marxists, on the other hand, would identify this as a symptom of class society instead; it can be done away with as class divides are done away with.

Workers’ control failed in Russia because of the objective conditions, not because of the divide between mental and manual labour creating a new class. The workers weren’t capable of organising production properly and began to collectively exploit each other by charging high prices to other factories for their products. So is federalism or localism an answer, as a way of reducing the complexity of organising production (since each collective would only need to deal with local affairs, etc)? No, in fact the opposite. Russian workers couldn’t handle production because Russia was small and isolated – they needed to rely on a world division of labour.

[Something I didn’t really catch about medieval communes]

Potential exists to raise the standard of living internationally because of capitalism’s development of the productive forces and the process of globalisation. Today we are living in an epoch of revolution – there have been waves of unrest across the Middle East, inspired perhaps by the UK and Greece and so on. We are looking at an emerging world fightback.

Discussion.

T: You spoke about anarchism and Marxism being loose categorisations in terms of theory – I was wondering whether you could talk about the differences in praxis?

D: I think the role of party leadership is to popularise, preserve and develop theory and ideas. This is Marx did. Between the crisis periods he didn’t slog away inside pre-existing parties, he concentrated on developing theory that workers could draw on when they began to organise as a class. The chief problem of any revolutionary party is that there isn’t a revolution most of the time.

D2: The relationship of activists/revolutionaries to the working class is crucial. The other day I saw UKUncut walking through Boots, making a load of noise and so on… They alienated the workers there – I heard the workers complaining about them – and they didn’t really achieve anything. I would say to them that I agree with their aims, but I think they’d achieve a lot more if they went about it by speaking to the workers, making sure that they understand the situation, and encouraging and helping them to organise, because ultimately they’re the ones with the power in this situation. I think there’s a real divide between this – I think it’s called propaganda of the deed – kind of tactic, and the ideas of unionisation, organisation, etc.

L: I think it goes to show how loosely people use the terms these days that UKUncut could be called anarchists, I mean, they’re just not. The term propaganda of the deed comes from the sort of individual terrorism that some anarchists carried out at the end of the 19th century, but even at that time there were other anarchists who were in the International and organising in unions and so on. It’s an outdated idea – nobody really believes in it as a strategy any more – and it doesn’t reflect the greater part of the history of anarchism. It’s not something that has really been endorsed anarchists in the 20th century onwards.

D: This kind of individualism in tactics is based on objective factors like low levels of class struggle; it’s not something that inevitably stems from any theory, and it’s a pitfall that’s common to many theories, so you have groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany or the Brigate Rosse in Italy who were ostensibly Marxist groups that followed the same kind of individualistic, conspiratorial terrorist tactics rather than class struggle.  People respond to the objective circumstances they find themselves in and it’s often tempting to think that there is some kind of short-cut to revolution or class-consciousness when you’re in a lull period.

D2: You’re right about the term ‘anarchism’ losing its hard edge. I think maybe a more accurate term to describe these groups would be ‘autonomist’? I just worry that there’s a kind of logical escalation from these sort of publicity stunt tactics to terrorism and violence; they might think “oh well we did this and it didn’t work, so maybe we should try something more extreme, something that’s going to have a more direct effect or get more attention”.

T: I think the problem with trying to forego a party is that it puts the onus on the individual to do everything themselves – if you’re not in an organisation you have to try to educate yourself and so on. And maybe there’s an extent to which people who aren’t in parties treat the whole movement as a party of sorts, so instead of developing ideas and bouncing them off members of the same group, they throw them out to the movement as a whole, and so on…

X: What do people think about the election of Ed Miliband with the unions’ support? Does this provide some kind of possibility for change – I mean, he’s not been very militant so far but maybe knowing that he’s relying on the unions’ backing will motivate him to action.

H: If Ed Miliband was going to do anything, I think he would have done it by now, to be honest. I mean, he’s pretty shit.

X: I was just wondering whether maybe the economic situation made him more timid than he might otherwise be, it’s a difficult situation to be in as a leader.

H: Well, if anything the economic situation gives him more leeway, it should allow him to be more confident because everyone’s so pissed off with the tories.

D2: We have to understand the election of Ed Miliband is part of a dialectical process. He represents a move away from Blairism; the Blairites were literally weeping when it was announced that he had won the election, because they know that it represented a change of direction to some extent. If we keep applying pressure to them then we can force people in positions of leadership to step up to the plate.

D: We shouldn’t be too interested in the personality traits of this or that leader. As Marxists we base ourselves in the working class and the movement, not the figurehead that represents it in Parliament. The election of Ed does demonstrate the strength of the grassroots movement in Labour though – the unions could effectively control Labour if they wanted to, but they’re not exercising that power in a militant way and they won’t do unless their members push them to. Sadly there was no real left candidate in the election – that would have been John McDonnell, but the bureaucracy prevented him from standing – so we’ve got to put demands on the leaders to push them in that direction. Ed should have supported the student demos and he should not just march with us on the 26th but should be at the head of the march, leading it.

M: We shouldn’t underestimate the influence a mass movement can have on the leadership. Look at Chavez, he started off as (D: a follower of Tony Blair)… Yeah, but the movement pushed him to the left.

Y: As Marxists, why are we even talking about change through democratic means? Why are we even discussing the Labour Party, they’re not Marxist, they’re not Socialist and they won’t deliver Socialism. That’s not how it works, we believe in revolution, right?

A: We’re not talking about Labour getting into power to represent us, we’re talking about using Labour to build a mass movement. They are a mass organisation that we can intervene in as part of building the movement for that revolution.

Y: But why Labour? Surely there are better mass organisations?

T: There’s obviously lots of debate over the issue of Labour between Marxists, but ultimately parliament isn’t negligible. The Italian Communist Party for instance came out of the reformist Italian Socialist Party… There is potential to build something better out of it.

A: What better basis is there? I don’t see one. I mean, you can start to ask why should we still be based in the working class – some people influenced by Marxism did this, like Foucault and the Frankfurt School – but if you think the working class are the revolutionary agent then you need to base yourself in its mass organisations.

Y: But I think our key aim is to dispel false consciousness. The most important thing we can do is to make people aware of the extent of exploitation and oppression. They don’t realise how exploited they are, and they don’t realise the limitations of the Labour Party and so on. I worry that this sort of thing just reinforces these illusions.

L: Well, on the point of the Italian Communist Party and so on – building revolutionary parties out of reformist ones – they weren’t built in a party like Labour, and neither were the KPD. They aimed to pull people out of the reformist parties to build a mass movement outside them; that’s not what most socialists do with Labour. They try to fight through it and turn it into something it’s not.

D2: The only other mass party that has been to the left of Labour is the Communist Party, and their membership has fallen massively. Labour is the natural party of the working class. It’s just ultra-leftist and sectarian to try to set up a new party outside of the existing mass party of the class.

L: But wasn’t that exactly what the Third International did? And what about Die Linke in Germany? They’ve been successful following this tactic. I think there is a danger of perpetuating illusions in Labour by remaining in there long-term.

T: We shouldn’t concentrate on the snail’s-pace progress in Labour. We should look to students’ unions and trade unions. It’s dangerous to refuse to work through parliament, because people do actually have a lot of illusions in the real world. They look to parliament, they want to be represented in there. We have to work with people as they are but try to get them out of Labour in the long term.

D: Marx, interestingly, said that the working class could come to power through parliament in Britain. It’s not about putting pressure on the leaders to do this or do that; it’s about building a labour movement. There is no other organisation that can play the same role. How do you build a new mass party? It won’t be us here in this room that do it – it will be the working class. We should participate in the struggle through Labour to gain the ear of the working class. I disagree with the person that spoke before about our task being to dispel false consciousness; the working class don’t suffer from false consciousness, they know that politicians don’t do anything to help them, they know their job is shit and their boss is better off than them for no good reason. They just think that the existing structures serve them better compared to any other option they can see right now. There isn’t real mass participation in Labour, but this is just reflective of the low ebb of class struggle in general. There’s also no real participation in the unions for instance.

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A Social-Democratic Rose by any Other Name.

by Anne Archist

It’s a lamentable but long-standing fact that the public will generally lend more support, credibility and attention to a group that has a very straightforward name. The Campaign for Free Education, Stop the War Coalition, and Defend Council Housing are examples of organisations that have taken this principle on board. The General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union are an organisation that didn’t cotton on, even when they changed their name to just ‘GMB’ – apparently not an initialism, since they seem wary of telling anyone what it actually stands for.

A clear and concise name will give better access to the media (the English Collective of Prostitutes will undoubtedly be asked for comment before the hypothetical United Front Representing Proletarians In Sex Trades by most journalists) and grab the attention of the public. A well-chosen name can also be used to differentiate you from similar groups. Spot the odd one out: the Socialist Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, Workers’ Liberty, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Equality Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party.

It was precisely this that formed the fundamental concern of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky when the issue of party names arose. In the Preface to the 1888 English translation of the Communist Manifesto, Engels writes:

“[W]e could not have called it a Socialist Manifesto. By Socialists, in 1847, were understood… in both cases men outside the working-class movement, and looking rather to the ‘educated’ classes for support. Whatever portion of the working class had become convinced of the insufficiency of mere political revolutions, and had proclaimed the necessity of a total social change, that portion then called itself Communist… Thus, Socialism was, in 1847, a middle-class movement, Communism, a working-class movement… And as our notion, from the very beginning, was that ‘the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself’, there could be no doubt as to which of the two names we must take.”

Engels’ explanation is that the word ‘Communist’ was chosen to avoid confusion with those who were commonly called Socialists but who did not look to working-class self-emancipation and frequently did not acknowledge the class struggle at all.

In the April Theses, Lenin puts forward three points for immediate action in light of the developments of early 1917. One was “immediate convocation of a Party congress”, the second was “Alteration of the Party Programme”, and the third was “Change of the Party’s name”. On this third point, Lenin writes: “Instead of “Social-Democracy”, whose official leaders throughout the world have betrayed socialism and deserted to the bourgeoisie (the “defencists” and the vacillating “Kautskyites”), we must call ourselves the Communist Party.”

Furthermore, in a Draft Platform for the Proletarian Party, also written in 1917, Lenin reiterates that “We must call ourselves the Communist Party—just as Marx and Engels called themselves”, because “we shall aid and abet that deception if we retain the old and out-of-date Party name, which is as decayed as the Second International”. The deception Lenin speaks of here is the substitution of the short-term ‘Social-Democratic’ goals (a socialist economy and democratic state) with long-term Communist goals (a communist economy and no state). Almost certainly the objective factor in Lenin’s development of the party here is the Provisional Government, which represented Social-Democratic aspirations (at best), and which it was necessary to make propaganda against in order to prevent capitulation to the cabinet that was attempting to sell the revolution short.

Trotsky and contemporaries later resurrected Lenin’s concern over being confused with reactionary leaders. The Manifesto of the Comintern includes the line “Sweeping aside the half-heartedness, lies and corruption of the outlived official Socialist parties, we Communists, united in the Third International, consider ourselves the direct continuators of the heroic endeavours and martyrdom of a long line of revolutionary generations…”

The specific concern here is the inadequate internationalism expressed by the “official Socialist parties” in their attitudes towards the war, etc; the Invitation to the First World Congress states: “During the war and the revolution it became conclusively clear not only that the old socialist and social-democratic parties, and with them the Second International, had become completely bankrupt…”

The same document includes a section on “The Question of Organization and Name of the Party” that further states: “Marx and Engels had already found the name ‘social-democrat’ theoretically incorrect. The shameful collapse of the social-democratic ‘International’ also makes a break on this point necessary.” Of the 39 groups invited to participate, 12 are ‘Communist’, a handful are ‘Social-Democratic’, and a handful are ‘Socialist’ , parties whereas the rest use none of these terms (eg. IWW), are not referred to by name or are invited only in terms of their “left elements”, “the left wing” or “the revolutionary elements”.

The thread running throughout Engels, Lenin and the Comintern’s repudiation of the terms ‘Socialist’ and ‘Social-Democratic’, then, is the danger of being confused with other tendencies that call themselves by the same name. It is presumably in light of this that, now operating within a different recent history, the Trotskyist Left largely fell back to the term ‘Socialist’ as a visible indicator of their break with the official Communist parties while ‘anti-revisionist’ parties continued to call themselves ‘Communist’. It is generally true that ‘Socialist’ will get a foot in the door where ‘Communist’ might get an epithet in the face. Inaccurate and ultimately misleading though it may be, it at least gives a better idea of the principles we adhere to than would any alignment with the legacy of “official” ‘Marxist-Leninism’ as practiced by Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc. On the other hand, Anarchist-Communists have managed to bypass this difficulty to some extent precisely because Anarchist-Communist sounds to many like a paradox, and “contradictions” like this tend to invite paralysis and confusion rather than inflammation.

Existing in a period of relatively low class consciousness as we do, ‘Socialist’ should suffice for now. There is little working-class memory of the betrayals of the second international, and even scanter condemnation of them. A concern that we who call ourselves ‘Socialist’ might want to grapple with, however – when the time comes that “We must call ourselves the Communist Party—just as Marx and Engels called themselves”, will this option be open to us? Or, perhaps more likely, will we have to write “we shall aid and abet that deception [that we stand in the tradition of Stalinism] if we retain the old and out-of-date Party name, which is as decayed as the Third International”?

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The Nature of the Stalinist USSR

by nineteensixtyseven

The debate about the nature of Stalinism and the USSR is one which still takes place regularly on the Left. This is not surprising because in my experience I believe Stalinism has set back the cause of socialism by lightyears, associating the word in the consciousness of many with unbridled state power and unrivalled terror. Whilst the left-liberal intelligentsia in the West was ingratiating itself with Stalin- the Webbs, Louis Fischer, Henri Barbusse, and even Paul Sweezy for a time- theorists such as Leon Trotsky, Bruno Rizzi and others were engaged in a critical discourse on the nature of Soviet development.  I wish to discuss one particular essay, Trotsky’s 1935 work The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism and analyse how it casts light on some wider issues of Marxist theory.

Trotsky writes that:

‘There is no doubt that the USSR today bears very little resemblance to that type of Soviet republic that Lenin depicted in 1917 (no permanent bureaucracy or permanent army, the right of recalling all elected officials at any time and the active control over them by the masses “regardless of who the individual may be,” etc.). The domination of the bureaucracy over the country, as well as Stalin’s domination over the bureaucracy, have well-nigh attained their absolute consummation.’

Yet despite this:

‘At the same time, we established the fact that despite monstrous bureaucratic degeneration, the Soviet state still remains the historical instrument of the working class insofar as it assures the development of economy and culture on the basis of nationalized means of production and, by virtue of this, prepares the conditions for a genuine emancipation of the toilers through the liquidation of the bureaucracy and of social inequality.’

Trotsky, here and elsewhere, appears to be equating the concept of a workers’ state with nationalisation of the means of production with the potentiality for Socialism, conditional on the ‘liquidation of the bureaucracy and of social inequality.’  Later he writes, ‘Progress towards socialism is inseparable from that state power that is desirous of socialism or that is constrained to desire it.’  This informs his conclusion that the USSR is a form of ‘Soviet Bonapartism’ because the State, although controlled by the Stalinist bureaucracy- ‘degenerated’- is based upon the new form of property relations established by the proletarian revolution of October 1917.

Let us look at this concept of Bonapartism.  In the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, from which the term derives, Marx writes:

‘As the executive authority which has made itself independent, Bonaparte feels it to be his task to safeguard “bourgeois order.” But the strength of this bourgeois order lies in the middle class. He poses, therefore, as the representative of the middle class and issues decrees in this sense. Nevertheless, he is somebody solely because he has broken the power of that middle class, and keeps on breaking it daily.’

The Bonapartist state, therefore, is characterised by a certain independence from social classes whilst at the same time ruling in the interests of a particular class.  For Marx, because ‘state power is not suspended in the air’,  Napoleon I was ruling in the interests of the reactionary small peasant and thus acted as the upholder of the bourgeois property relations established by the first phase of the French Revolution in 1789.  Indeed, Gramsci’s similar concept of Caesarism talks about the elevation of a ‘great’ individual to a position of arbitration over warring classes, and Trotsky writes of Bonapartism ‘raising itself over the two struggling camps in order to preserve property and order.’

In this understanding of Bonapartism, it is easy to see, therefore, why Trotsky holds that despite the relative autonomy and domination of the bureaucracy, the USSR could be seen in the 1930s as a workers’ state because the bureaucracy is or can be made to be ruling in the interests of the working-class.  I would like, however, to draw what I believe to be an important distinction between Bonapartism established on the basis of Soviet-style nationalisation of the means of production and Bonapartism elevated on the base of capitalist property relations.

In his challenge to the Sonderweg (‘special path’) narrative in German history and conceptualisation of ‘bourgeois revolution’, the Marxist historian David Blackbourn draws a distinction between the changes in the mode of production from feudalism to capitalism on the one hand, and the establishment of bourgeois democracy on the other; in other words, between the economic base and the political superstructure.  He does this to argue that despite the predominance of feudal elements in the upper echelons of the Kaiserreich right up until 1914, Germany was unambiguously a capitalist economy so that it had no ‘special path’ which could account for the horrors of Nazism; and that, therefore, those horrors are not inconsistent with the development of bourgeois capitalism.  This argument was to counter historians such as Arno J Meyer whose The Persistence of the Old Regime was unclear on these points, and those historians whose understanding of a ‘bourgeois revolution’ conflated a change in the mode of production and the establishment of bourgeois democracy.  Of course, the two are often part of the same revolutionary process, and the capture of state power is often a prerequisite for the establishment of capitalist social relations (as in France) but, as the example of Germany shows, a theoretical difference can and must be drawn.

Trotsky and all good Marxists are of course aware of this distinction and indeed the notion of Bonapartism is predicated on the relative independence of the state apparatus.  Nevertheless, the basis of the distinction between the bourgeoisie as the ruling class and the bourgeoisie as the class in charge of the state apparatus rests upon the assumption that the bourgeoisie derive their power not, in the final analysis, from their direct agency as a class over the levers of state power but from their private ownership of the means of production and the concomitant social, economic and political power which stems from this fact.  Thus, despite the rule of the Kaiser, of Napoleon III, of Benito Mussolini etc, the bourgeoisie- the capitalist class- were the ruling class of their respective country.

In the USSR, however, it is by no means clear that this distinction can be made between the ruling class and the class who rule in the sense of controlling the state apparatus.  When a small group led by the Romanian Trotskyist David Korner (Barta) argued, consistent with Trotsky’s position, that ‘the USSR is a state which is based on the property relations created by the proletarian revolution and which is led by a workers’ bureaucracy in the interests of new privileged strata’, this distinction is made implicitly.  To what extent, however, can the working-class be considered the ruling class and the USSR consider a workers’ state, if the working-class have neither control of the means of production (which is controlled by the State) nor any direct political agency over that State?

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx writes:

‘The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.’

and

‘We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.’

Tony Cliff makes this point well in Trotskyism After Trotsky although I do not necessarily agree with the conclusion to which this step of his argument ultimately contributes (that the USSR was ‘state capitalist’).  Trotsky himself defined the parameters within which the USSR could be considered a workers’ state in 1931 in terms of whether ‘the proletariat of the USSR has not forfeited the possibility of submitting the bureaucracy to it, or reviving the party again and of mending the regime of the dictatorship, without a new revolution, with the methods and on the road of reform’.  This view which still retains a notion of potentiality and implicitly admits that the USSR is not a workers’ state.

Trotsky elsewhere draws a distinction between whether or not the working class require reform or revolution to change the USSR but this is unconvincing: through which avenues might this reform be carried out in the bureaucratised and Stalinised state and party apparatus?  In materialist terms, the concept of the degenerated workers’ state to which Trotsky subscribed is based on a metaphysical ‘proletarian kernel’ in the essence of the USSR which has no outward manifestation, only the potential for expression.  To hold, therefore, that the USSR remains a workers’ state is to me a form of scholasticism.  Thus, if the USSR is a form of Bonapartism, the state apparatus elevated itself so far above the working class that it snapped the gilded thread which under capitalist Bonapartism connects the state to the bourgeoisie.  In Isaac Deutscher’s elegant prose:

‘Thus the feverish economic expansion, the general unsettlement which accompanied it, the eclipse of social awareness in the masses, and the emaciation of their political will formed the background to the development by which the rule of a single faction now became the rule of a single leader.  The sheer multiplicity of the conflicts between the classes and within each class, conflicts which society itself was unable to resolve, called for constant arbitrament, which could come only from the very pinnacle of power.  The greater the unsettlement, the flux, and the chaos down below the more stable and fixed that pinnacle had to be.  The more enfeebled and devoid of will all social forces were, the more stronger and more wilful grew the arbitrator; and the more powerful he became the more impotent they were bound to remain.’

This discussions begs a major question which we must consider at another time: whether or not the bureaucracy itself constituted a ‘ruling class’ as Cliff and the International Socialist tradition would hold in their theory of ‘state capitalism’ or, following Rizzi, Max Schachtman and James Burnham would hold in terms of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’.  The latter view has some strength if we remember that it is not only capitalism, but all preceding modes of production (such as feudalism) had ruling classes.  Why, then, could a ruling class not establish itself on the basis of state-owned property?

Trotsky concluded in 1935 that:

‘Bonapartism, by its very essence, cannot long maintain itself; a sphere balanced on the point of a pyramid must invariably roll down on one side or the other. But it is precisely at this point, as we have already seen, that the historical analogy runs up against its limits. Napoleon’s downfall did not, of course, leave untouched the relations between the classes; but in its essence the social pyramid of France retained its bourgeois character. The inevitable collapse of Stalinist Bonapartism would immediately call into question the character of the USSR as a workers’ state. A socialist economy cannot be constructed without a socialist power. The fate of the USSR as a socialist state depends upon that political regime that will arise to replace Stalinist Bonapartism. Only the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat can regenerate the Soviet system, if it is again able to mobilize around itself the toilers of the city and the village.’

The question for a later discussion, therefore, is which way the USSR rolled and what sort of characterisation can we make of it?

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Summer Reading, happened so fast.

by nineteensixtyseven

As anyone who has experienced an arts degree well knows, reading for pleasure or personal intellectual fulfilment outside the parameters of one’s course is is faced with several barriers.  There is, of course, the temporal barrier; time is a precious commodity for anyone undergoing the rigours of the essay cycle and who wishes also to have any semblance of a well-balanced social existence.  Then there is a spatial barrier; initially I travelled to university by boat and car so space was not so much of an issue but subsequently I have had to rely on the restrictive dictates of budget airlines and have even resorted to posting books to myself in a cardboard box.  Finally, there is the monetary barrier which presents itself as a consequence of me not having any regular source of income.  Nevertheless, I relish the summer months as a time to catch up on some personal reading.  As I am not alone in this, I thought it would be useful to list some of the books which have caught my attention over recent weeks and readers should feel free to recommend their own.

The first thing I read this summer was ‘Results and Prospects’ by Leon Trotsky.  One of the earliest expositions of the theory of the Permanent Revolution, this short work combines a theoretical and historical analysis which, in my mind, has stood the test of time, at least in its broad contours.  Trotsky wrote this pamphlet in 1906 whilst in prison, having been incarcerated for his role in the revolution of the previous year.  Borrowing a phrase which first appeared in Marx’s vocabularly in 1850, Trotsky wrote:

“”The permanent revolution, in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in complete liquidation.”

Marx used the phrase after the failure of the revolutions of 1848, a failure most catastrophically demonstrated in Germany.  A rising of the German masses- peasantry, artisans and the nascent proletariat- in March of that year did not advance beyond the democratic stage towards social revolution and, as such, led to the temporary installation of the German bourgeoisie in a position of state power.  However, the experience of revolution was so frightening to bourgeoisie that when the reactionary absolutists regrouped over the summer, the majority of the Liberals sided with absolutism rather than the radical movements and never again had recourse to revolutionary methods.  For the historian, Trotsky’s chapter ‘1789-1848-1905′ attempts to set his theory in a broader historical context, as I tried to do, and is well worth a read.

In Trotsky’s view, therefore, when the bourgeoisie is unable to carry out the tasks of overthrowing pre-bourgeois social systems and regimes, only the proletariat and the peasantry are up to the job.  This was most spectacularly proved to be the case in Russia where bourgeois democracy never seriously looked like a likely reality; in the negative, the failure of the Chinese Communist Party- hesitantly following Stalin – to maintain independence from Chang Kai Shek’s Kuoumintang led to the tragic massacre of Chinese communists in 1927.

The second book worth mentioning is Edmund Wilson’s ‘To The Finland Station.’  Wilson, an American literary critic writing in the first half of the 20th century, produced this masterpiece in 1940.  The book is essentially a panorama of  the Left, and starts with the great French historian of the Revolution, Jules Michelet, before tracing the degeneration of the bourgeoisie’s revolutionary spirit from Hippolyte Taine through to Anatole France, and then following the contemporaneous development of Marxism, from Marx and Engels via Lenin to Leon Trotsky.  Wilson is not a Marxist, and as such has some sobering yet constructive criticism of Marxist political philosophy.  His chapter on the Dialectic is particularly challenging, alleging quite plausibly that in some incarnations the presence of dialectics in Marx’s dialectical materialism is an unwelcome hangover from the process of philosophical gymnastics which led Marxism from Hegelian German Idealism via Feuerbachian materialism to its current state.

Thirdly, Marshall Berman’s book ‘Adventures in Marxism’ is a fascinating little collection of essays from a writer who has a well-earned reputation as a leading theorist of modernity.  Although his famous essay ‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’ from the book of that name compromises a large section in the middle of this work, it was of interest to me more for the breadth of its commentary and coverage of other areas.  For instance, it was through this book that I learned of Edmund Wilson’s book and the first chapter contains a touching personal account of how the author discovered Marx.  It also contains some interesting perspectives on art criticism, especially in the essays on Walter Benjamin and Meyer Schapiro.  Berman represents a very open and pluralist position, in marked contrast to some of the smaller sects in the United States, to the extent that I am not sure whether he is involved in any particular political party or movement.  His writing is positive, optimistic and combines clarity with a fantastic prose style.  Highly recommended.

In keeping with the focus on Trotsky, I recently finished the second volume of Isaac Deutscher’s amazing biography of the man himself.  Deutscher’s book, ‘The Prophet Unarmed’ , gives a fascinating glimpse into the grim and Machiavellian power-struggles which seized the upper echelons of the Bolshevik party after, and even before, the death of Lenin in 1924.  The sinister machinations of Stalin at times defy belief, being restrained neither by scruple nor any moral system known to man.  Almost as unbelievable, however, is the tactical naivety of Trotsky, arising perhaps from a certain aloofness and a refusal to believe that Stalin, ‘the grey blur’, could succeed in the factional struggle until it was too late.  Compounding this sad state of affairs was the opportunism of Kamenev and Zinoviev, and the complete blindness of Bukharin to the true nature of Stalin until the Left Opposition was safely scattered across the world.  Deutscher combines a warm sympathy for Trotsky with an admirable objectivity in assessing the man’s foibles and errors.  On the strength of this fantastic volume, I look forward to reading the rest of the collection.

Finally, I am in the process of reading David Harvey’s ‘The Enigma of Capital.’  Harvey trained as a geographer at Cambridge and before long established himself as one of the most original and eloquent Marxist theorists of the late twentieth- and twenty-first- century.  In this new work he returns to Marx to elucidate some of the fundamental systemic reason for the current crisis of capitalism.  Harvey has been teaching Marx’s ‘Capital’ for decades and uses his intimate understanding of Marxian economics to provide an original critique of the dominant economic system.  Building upon his analysis of neoliberalism, he argues that the current crisis has little to do with a lack or excess of regulation, nor an abnormal outbreak of greed, nor any of the other dominant interpretations we are so used to reading in the pages of respectable newspapers.  Rather, the destruction of the power of labour by capital over the last three decades depressed real wages in the interests of boosting profitability to such an extent that increasing consumption rested on an unstable foundation of massive indebtedness.  This explains, too, the runaway expansion of finance and fictitious capital with which we all know so much about since 2008.

At the centre of his thesis is the contention that capitalism never really solves its crises but moves them around, spatially and temporally, leading to a new level of crisis; the crisis of profitability led to the crisis of effective demand as wages were repressed, which in turn led to the the current crisis of finance which is as we speak being converted into a crisis of sovereign debt.  This innovative analysis contains a geographical component as it analyses the barriers to capital accumulation and the uneven effect of the crisis on a variety of communities and countries.  For an deeper understanding of the current crisis you may look no further than here.

So, these are the books I have been reading lately.  Feel free to disagree with my interpretations of them and to add your own summer reading below!

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