China Mieville’s The City and The City Coming to BBC

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/03/2018 - 6:33am in

Yesterday I caught a very brief trailer for what looks like a forthcoming Beeb adaptation of China Mieville’s The City and The City. This is a murder mystery set in a fictional eastern European country, and the Amazon review of it declares that stylistically it resembles Raymond Chandler and Orwell’s 1984, amongst other classic authors. Mieville’s an SF author, so it’s no surprise that this not going to be a straightforward thriller, but involves weirdness.

I’ve got a feeling that the book won at least one SF fiction award, though I could be wrong. Mieville himself is actually very left. He edited a book on Marxism and Science Fiction, which I found in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s a couple of years ago. He and the late, great Ian M. Banks also gave a very interesting interview to the small press SF/genre fiction magazine The Edge back in the 1990s, where they made it very plain that they disliked the Tories and had absolute contempt for New Labour for their cuts to the welfare state.

Some of the attempts the Beeb has made in recent years to do proper SF or Fantasy dramas have been rather disappointing. But this could be worth watching.

Dissecting Bernstein: Was Bernstein Marx's Literary Executor?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/03/2018 - 9:42am in


history, Marxism

According to Matt, Bernstein was one of Marx's literary executors. Is Matt right?

The short answer:
Wrong beard, Matt (Freudian slip?). Bernstein was one of Engels’ literary executors. Marx’s literary executor was … drum rolls, please … Engels!

I can, however, be generous to Matt. So, to save time, I'll put it plainly: that's just a brain fart, embarrassing, but by itself it doesn't demolish the whole of his argument. It does say something, however, of his and Bernstein's credibility.

I can afford generosity, because what's telling is how I learned the right answer. Rather funny, actually.

The longer answer:
To learn that Bernstein was one of Engels' literary executors (which I didn't know, to be honest) I did the unexpected, what workers are supposedly unable to do. I actually followed one of Matt's reading recommendations: I read Preconditions entirely.

First things first. Unless both Google Books and the Library of Congress online catalog are badly mistaken, there's only one English translation of Bernstein's 1899 Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie entitled The Preconditions of Socialism (there's another, earlier translation, entitled Evolutionary Socialism, published in 1907).

Published in 1993 by Cambridge University Press as part of the series “Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought”, Preconditions (ISBN: 0521391210, hardback; and 9780521391214) was edited by Henry Tudor.

With that established, I can say that Tudor contributed substantially to that volume: 49 of the 270 pages in Preconditions. He did his homework, too. Whatever you think of Preconditions, Tudor's work deserves praise. I’ll borrow Matt’s words: “Really very good and very unjustly ignored”. Particularly his Introduction, which provides “excellent discussion of this”, including the making of Preconditions:

“Starting in 1896, the year after Engels died, Bernstein developed these views, partly in a series of articles published in Die Neue Zeit under the tide ‘Problems of Socialism’ and partly in an extended polemical exchange with the English socialist, Ernest Belfort Bax.” (p. xxi).

Note the years.

A “very unjustly ignored” part of Tudor’s contribution is the timeline of Bernstein’s life. One of the events listed (p. xxxvii): “1895 Engels dies. Bernstein, with Bebel, named as literary executor.”  (See also footnote 12, page 7).

Clear as a day … to any who’s read the “really very good and very unjustly ignored” Preconditions.

Assuming Matt actually read it (he’s an educated critic and faithful interpreter of socialism’s spirit, yes?), he didn’t pay much attention to details. “Unjustly ignored” book, indeed.

That brain fart is not an isolated thing. In this series I'll document  a pattern of undiluted sloppiness characterising his two short comments (217 words altogether).

Bernstein's out of copyright Evolutionary Socialism (the older version of Preconditions) is freely available online. The Marxists Internet Archive has it (credits due to Edith C. Harvey, Ted Crawford, and Einde O’Callaghan). I haven't checked carefully, but it seems quite like Preconditions. Tudor explains the differences between them.

By themselves, I think those differences don’t justify buying Preconditions. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it.

I was serious when I praised Tudor's contribution. If you are a Marxist tired of pseudo-intellectual bullying and can afford the expense, his material, specially his Introduction, is worth it. You must read it with as much care as the care Tudor himself put in his work. I did and this series is deeply indebted to his insights.

Let’s talk now about one of those evidently absurd notions “mainstream Marxists” stubbornly entertain against their betters’ debunking: Marxists believe that debates -- the good ones, at any rate -- generally involve more than one party. Imagine that!

Matt’s one-sided account notwithstanding they further believe they actually replied to Bernstein. They call that the Revisionist Debates.

Delusional? Judge by yourself. Matt ignored it (justly, no doubt), but Tudor included a short list of “Bernstein’s critics” (p. xl).

Bernstein considered Rosa Luxemburg one of his ablest critics (p. xxxi and p. 200) and Tudor briefly contrasted their arguments. Further, it’s easy to get her 1900 Reform or Revolution. MIA also offers it (credits due to Integer and A. Lehrer) for free. If one were to keep things simple and picked just one champion for the “mainstream Marxist” side, she seems like a good choice.

So, MIA offers both sides of the debate. Talk about absurd “mainstream Marxist” notions, eh Matt?

I’m done with Claim 1. Time to move on to something meatier: Bernstein in the 1910s.

On Realism, Theoretical Modesty, Systematicity, and Prefiguration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/03/2018 - 10:39pm in

We have now seen how realists, especially through their focus on legitimacy, tend to be committed to strongly contextual approaches to political normativity. Contextualism also provides a way into the last and so far least developed focal point of realism, namely, the rejection of ambitious attempts to formulate grand theories from which to derive prescriptions for any possible political scenario and in reference to which we can judge political behaviour, in favour of a normativity that is appropriately sensitive to the specific conditions under which political decisions are taken and agents act. Enzo Rossi & Matt Sleat "Realism in Normative Political Theory" Philosophy Compass (2014), 694.+

l have noted before (recall here and here) the realist suspicion of theory as a set of systematic relations that can guide policy. By 'realist' I mean the tradition of thought that takes its immediate cue from Bernard Williams and Raymond Geuss, but that purports to find its world-historical inspiration in Machiavelli, Thucydides, Hobbes, and Schmitt. If Rawls and/or ideal theory is the only conception of grand theory that's available, and these, in turn, are constructed in terms of a (technocratic) ideal of consensus formation,* one can understand the realist distaste (given their other commitments), especially if such theories are (exclusively) -- to quote another, more recent paper by Rossi --  "inferred from overarching, pre-political values or principles.

Now, one may wonder why this prevents one from embracing grand theories that are inferred from or constructed with attention to political values and principles (if one grants the realist that there is a distinction between ethical and political values). To the best of my knowledge, this is not addressed by contemporary theorists, but one can infer the suspicion of it from the following passage quoted approvingly and commented on by Rossi:

we cannot describe, that is, picture, in the concrete, any state of society of which the world has had no experience. For into the reality of a society, even in its broader details, there enters a large element of contingency, of alogicality, of unreason, with which no general principles will furnish us. (Belfort Bax 1891, Preface)**

radical realism is empirically informed, and so while it can let the political imagination run free of feasibility constraints, it is wary of letting it go down the dark alleys of precise prescriptions that balance an unwieldy amount of variables. The realist can be politically ambitious but must be theoretically modest enough to leave those details to politics: there are aspects of politics not amenable to philosophical domestication.--"Being Realistic and Demanding the Impossible"

We see here that Bax embraces a number of interrelated points: first, the embrace of radical (Knightian) uncertainty in political life; second, the idea that society itself contains internal contradictions, even (third) non-eliminable superstition. Fourth, that because of these facts any coherent and systematic theory of what an as-of-yet-non-existent society should look like, will be, as it were, falsified by the new world.

Rossi's endorsement of Bax infers from Bax's diagnosis that one should reject a baroque theory (with many variables [there are shades of Duhem here]) that purports to offer detailed policy prescriptions either to get from the bad status quo to the desirable end-state or to legislate the character of the end state. From the vantage point of realism, such Baroque theory is comic. Now, from the rejection of "blueprints" (technocratic and utopian), Rossi's recent work does not end up with mere (Schmittian) decisionism, nor with a focus on contextual judgment (which he had seemed to endorse while writing with Sleat); rather Rossi recognizes, that his rejection of grand theory still allows some place for (ahh) small theory (in the sense of 'small is beautiful'). He does so in describing so-called 'prefigurative politics' in sympathetic fashion:

one can create microcosms supported by alternative, not (or less) ideologically flawed legitimation stories, irrespectively of whether similar structures are feasible at the level of the whole society. To be sure, prefiguration is often understood as a way to enact what one hopes or expects to eventually extend society-wide. But it doesn’t need to be understood that way. Small-scale structures may simply be the best we can hope for, and that is all the more reason to pursue them.

I agree with Rossi (who himself aspires to a more Maxist position than I would) that realists should not reject prefigurative politics out of hand. But it is peculiar that Rossi does not stop to pause at the danger that small scale improvements may well entrench larger scale (bad) structures (say, by making these more robust). This is not a mere oversight. From the contemporary realist's perspective, there is no theoretical ground to make the evaluative claim (or prediction) about the effects on the larger structure. That's because he (and contemporary realists more generally [with the notable exception of our colleague, Paul Raekstad]) have rejected grand theory. I want to close today's post by gesturing at what I mean.

As regular readers know, I share much of the grounds that lead the realist to reject of Baroque theory (of both the technocratic and utopian kinds) with its detailed blueprints. But it does not follow that the realist must reject non-Baroque grand theory that sketches a politically desirable end point without offering a detailed recipe. So, for example, at the end of the Prince, Machiavelli proposes a plan for Italian unification:+

Italy, left as without life, waits for him who shall yet heal her wounds and put an end to the ravaging and plundering of Lombardy, to the swindling and taxing of the kingdom and of Tuscany, and cleanse those sores that for long have festered. It is seen how she entreats God to send someone who shall deliver her from these wrongs and barbarous insolencies. It is seen also that she is ready and willing to follow a banner if only someone will raise it.

The unification of Italy is an ideal that means to combine (i) the elimination of really existing  injustices ("ravaging and plundering;" "swindling and taxing;" "wrongs and barbarous insolencies") and so be an enteprise that really is "great justice" and (2) a call to a magnanimous soul to engage on a great heroic enterprise worthy of lasting fame. While much of the Prince is full of insight on how to go about such a great enterprise, it does not go into the details how to get from here to there. 

There are two features worthy of comment here. First, Machiavelli recognizes that ideals, including highly normative ideals, are politically motivating. Unlike more modern realists, which (to simplify) tend to embrace a kind of political facts vs ethical ideals distinctions, Machiavelli recognizes that values (and ideologies) motivate (great) collective action that, second, may themselves become constitutive of political union. Obviously, Machiavelli's ideal is rooted in already existing (geographic and historical) realities, but these do not predetermine the shape of the ideal. There is a more important point lurking here. Once such an ideal is motivating, then it creates a whole bunch of conceptual-social necessitations that constrain future paths while recognizing that in practice politics will be full of contingency.

Now, Machiavelli's sketch of a grand theory is extremely thin. And I mention it only because Machiavelli is a realist in excellent standing. But a realist grand ideal can be elaborated systematically and immodestly without falling into the trap of an overly detailed, Baroque blueprint. (I have analyzed in my book such a realist, but relatively un-Baroque grand theory by Adam Smith; I have in mind not his argument for the system of natural liberty, but rather his plan to 'complete' the constitution of the United Kingdom in order to ameliorate the wrongs done to the Irish wrongs and to prevent war with the American colonies.) Such a systematic theory, which -- let's stipulate in honor of the realist demand to respect facticity-- should not go against robust findings of social sciences, is required because of its political virtues (recall also this piece on Adam Smith and Jacob Levy):   

  1. A system can allow one to limit the risks of always acting in ad hoc fashion and, thereby, allow one to grasp which compromises are worth accepting and which undermine one's political, strategic, and (yes) moral  aims.
  2. Some kind of system is required to guide (not control) long-term planning and to allow trade-offs to be modeled (say, between short-term gains and long-term goals) and, where possible, foreseen. 
  3. Being guided by a system generates the possibility of consistency (maybe even accountability) over time. 


+Full disclosure, Rossi and I are colleagues.

*In the 2014, Rossi & Sleat almost seem to treat the aspiration to construct a politics, even a public sphere, of (overlapping) 'consensus and neutrality' (695) as instrinsic to liberalism. But this is only so of the technocratic branch of liberalism.

**Apparently, Bax coined the term 'alogicality.'

++I leave a side how sincere Machiavelli is. Also, note that Machiavelli here introduces a secular form of (proto-Nietzschean) secular theodicy of the sort I diagnosed in Rousseau yesterday.

Channel 4 Report into Italian Hipster Fascists

After the Fascistic policies and behaviour of the Israeli state and its advocates over here, there’s the return of Fascism proper to Europe. I found this Channel 4 report into the Italian Fascist party, CasaPound, on YouTube. CasaPound is a miniscule Fascist party, which takes its name from the American Modernist poet and Fascist, Ezra Pound. Casa is Italian for ‘house’, so I suppose you could translate the party’s name as ‘Pound House’ or ‘House of Pound’. They seem to have been founded by an extreme right-wing rock singer, shown growling out his wretched songs at one of his concerts. The party holds rallies, at which their squadristi respond with the Roman salute. And the iconography of Italian Fascism – the Fasces – the bundle of sticks with the axe projecting from it – and Mussolini’s ghastly fizzog are everywhere.

The reporter is shown round their headquarters by a woman. On one wall, when you go in, are the names of various prominent Fascists, written in different colours and sizes. The reporter’s guide tells him that they have this put there, as their counterpart to the Roman household gods that guarded their homes. One of the names on the wall is that of the notorious British Fascist, Oswald Mosley. The building also acts as a hostel, putting up the homeless – but only if you’re Italian. By which, presumably, they mean ‘White Italian’. The party also runs food banks and provides free medical care, such as health check-ups and electro-cardiograms. Again, only for Whites. As the woman explains in the video, only full Whites can be members of the organisation. A White person married to an immigrant cannot be a member, each of whom pays a subscription to the organisation. Along with the names of prominent, infamous Fascists, there’s also their flags and insignia, including that of the infamous Golden Dawn, responsible for the beatings and murder of immigrants and leftists in Greece.

The reporter comments that the place is very military, like a barracks. And it almost goes without saying that Casapound is viciously anti-immigrant. There’s a clip of a rally at which one of their speakers states he wants two ships in the Mediterranean to intercept the migrant vessels and send them back to Libya. The reporter also makes the point that they are trying to exploit the death of a young girl for their political gain. It’s not certain whether the girl died of a drug overdose, or was murdered, but three immigrants were arrested in connection with her death after her dismembered body was found deposited in two suitcases. The next day, a man with very extreme right-wing views opened fire and killed six migrants. The stormtroopers of CasaPound state very clearly that they don’t want immigrants coming to Italy bringing drugs and crime, and that if they had been in power, the girl would still be alive.

At the moment, CasaPound are politically negligible. They need to get three per cent of the vote before they get anywhere the Italian parliament, and there are many other Fascist parties. But the video does show the return of the blatantly Fascist right into Italian politics, even though it’s currently at the fringes.

The video’s important, not just for showing the re-emergence of proper Fascism in Italy, but because it also shows and confirms some of the observations the American radical journalist, Chris Hedges, has made about the way Fascism returns after the liberal elite abandon the working class. Hedges stated that the new Fascism in America took the form of complete little worlds, in which a person could become completely immersed. He was talking about the religious right, and the megachurches, which provide a more-or-less complete environment separate from the secular world outside. CasaPound offers much the same. It’s a lifestyle, as much as a political party.

As well as watching the emergence of Fascism in America, Hedges himself saw it appear during the civil war in Yugoslavia. He states that when the liberal elite abandon the working class to pursue neoliberal policies, which benefit only the business elite, the working class not only turn against them, but against the liberal values of multiculturalism, anti-racism, feminism, gay rights and so on. And again, you can see that here. The welfare services provided by CasaPound for the racially pure show this clearly. Healthcare has been cut, so that many Italians cannot get a doctor. So CasaPound provides one. The party’s squadristi state that the Communist party used to do this, but they don’t appear in the communities any longer. And so their place has been filled instead by CasaPound. Again, the organisation is providing a total social environment, including welfare support, that the state and the supposed parties of the Left have retreated from under the assault of neoliberal free trade dogma. This also affected the Communist Party in Italy, which in the 1980s began to explore other paths to power rather than the methods dictated by Russian experience. In doing so, they became much less radical, despite their Marxist ideology. I can remember the Financial Times in the 1990s stating that they were no more left-wing than the SDP in Britain, the right-wing Labour splinter group that amalgamated with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems.

I don’t know how much of a threat Fascism actually poses in Italy. It’s certainly there, at the margins. But CasaPound are nowhere near as powerful as the Alternative fuer Deutschland, who are also real Nazis with a bitter hatred of Jews and immigrants, and which have just managed to get themselves into the Bundestag. At the moment the major populist force in Italy seems to be Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Party. But this does indicate the way the country could move, if something is not done to bring down the rise in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hostility on one hand, and destroy the neoliberalism that is impoverishing people across the world, and creating such anxieties on the other.

An Online Argument for Bernstein's Resurrection: a Dissection.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/03/2018 - 11:05am in


history, Marxism

To critique something, one must first understand what we are critiquing: what does what, how things fit together, what goes where.

That's what we are going to do now with Matt's comments.

Below I numbered and emphasised some astonishing claims he made in one of his two comments I reproduced earlier. They are key for his argument:

“More generally, I think it's worth it for people to look at Eduard Bernstein's mostly forgotten _The Preconditions of Socialism_. Not because Bernstein, who (1) had been one of Marx's literary executors, has the magic formula for today, but because it's useful to see the ways that (2) he had noted, as early as the 1910's that many of the economic predictions of Marx had not happened, and that the world had changed in ways Marx had not predicted, and that therefore (3) people wishing to be loyal to the spirit, and not the text, of Marx needed to change, too. Unfortunately, (4) he was more or less run out of the "mainstream" Marxist/socialist movement for this heresy, but a significant part of European social democracy was built along the lines he suggested. For the general moral it is still worth reading.” (June 21, 2015)

Before tackling them, we must understand how they structure Matt's argument:

    • (1) is meant to convey Bernstein’s bona fide as a Marxist theoretician, so much so that Marx himself allegedly trusted him as literary executor. Moreover, it goes to establish Matt's own credibility: he's an educated critic, who's read "really very good" books, "unjustly ignored"; indeed, he's familiar with Marxism and the minutiae of Marx's personal life.
    • (2) goes to explain Bernstein's change of mind, "as early as the 1910's". Implicit is that a careful, dispassionate, careful comparison of predictions vs facts forced that change upon him. Matt is a positivist. So was Bernstein and, by implication, so must his readers be. Bernstein and Matt are not Marxists, his readers mustn't be either.
    • (3) is both a claim and a plea. The claim: like Bernstein, Matt knows best what the spirit of the Marxist/socialist movement is (It must be pretty evident, too: he saw no need to spell that out). The plea: let’s just bury the Marxist/socialist movement’s body and set its spirit free (it shall speak to us, presumably through learned interpreters like Matt).

    So far things seem rather simple. Indeed, they are so simple that now one stumbles upon a difficulty: how come “mainstream Marxists” couldn’t understand that back then? It's not rocket science. The decision is obvious, isn't it?

    Claim 4 is Matt's answer: because it was a heresy (Personally, I can’t blame “mainstream Marxists”: the disembodied spirit of socialism speaking to us through a psychically-gifted Matt-lookalike?). Everybody loves the underdog, particularly lefties. Matt gave them one. In his narrative Bernstein was Jesus, “mainstream Marxists” were the Pharisees: thank God Bernstein avoided crucifixion. Sadly, he couldn’t avoid being almost "run out" (or fully “drummed out of the International”, in his other comment).

    Readers may say that my mockery is uncalled for. Fine. Let’s be charitable, then, and pick his other explanation. "Mainstream Marxists" were not happy, he wrote in his earlier comment, because “piecemeal reform could work and was infact (before WWI), working”.

    Why wouldn't they be happy? Weren't they getting what they -- in Matt's authoritative opinion -- wanted? Bismarck really gave them "piecemeal reform" in Germany during the 1880s-1890s: "Staatssozialismus", he called it, for Christ's sake!

    I know readers have already guessed Matt's answer to those questions, but please don't tell me just now. I think I'm able to guess it by myself (I'll leave it for later).

      That's how the pieces of Matt's argument, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, are supposed to fit together.

      In truth both comments contained other claims (particularly an appeal to iconoclasm for its own sake, something apparently irresistible to the petty bourgeois liberal/leftish intellectual), but we'll leave things at that.

      The truly remarkable thing is that every single one of those four numbered claims is demonstrably false. Worse, they border idiocy.

      This is gonna take time, so get comfy. There’s material enough for a series. We’ll deal first with Matt’s claims in succession. Then it'll be Bernstein's turn and we'll review his "really very good and very unjustly ignored" book.

      The next post is about the literary executor thing. (God, give me strength!)

      The CAA and the JLM are the Israel Lobby’s Version of the ‘Anti-Paki League’

      Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/02/2018 - 10:07pm in

      The Anti-Paki League were another bunch of extreme right-wing racists, who goose-stepped up and down our green and pleasant land in the 1970s campaigning against coloured immigration, and terrorising Blacks and Asians. They had an ugly name, which exactly expressed the ugliness of the organisation. I first became aware of the Leagues existence when I saw a book on them in the former Midland Educational bookshop in Bristol’s Broadmead in the ’70s or early ’80s. The cover showed a crowd in Klan robes about to behead a prone and screaming Black man.

      I’ve chosen the Anti-Paki League to focus on here, rather than other, larger anti-immigrant and racist organisation, like the National Front or BNP, because their name also carries with it undertones of Islamophobia. Pakistan is a Muslim state. It was explicitly set up to be the country where Muslims, who felt excluded by the dominant Hindus in India, could live in according with Qu’ran and the Sunna. Not all Pakistani immigrants are Muslim, however. Many of them have been Christians, who have left their homeland because of the increasing violence and intolerance of their Muslim compatriots.

      And Islamophobia and connections to other, nakedly Fascistic British anti-Muslim organisations, run right through the Israel lobby and its organisations like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement. The racism and Islamophobia at the heart of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is very clear in its statement that Muslims are more likely than the rest of the British population to be anti-Semitic, whom they also smear as sharing the same Jew hatred.

      As for the JLM, their head, Jonathan Newmark, an unconvicted embezzler from Jewish charities, if the allegations against him are true, turned up to disrupt a film on the sufferings of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, held at the SOAS university. They did so in the company of the Jewish Defence League, the Jewish branch of the Fascist English Defence League, screaming, hurling abuse and waving flags.

      Mike’s been unfairly accused of being an anti-Semite, because the uncomfortable facts he covered about Shai Masot’s attempts to plot the removal and replacement of prominent cabinet ministers, which he rightly described as a conspiracy, was held to be an ‘anti-Semitic trope’.

      Well, turning up to a screening of film to disrupt it by flag-waving racial nationalists is a Fascist trope. Since the time of Mosley’s BUF, the stormtroopers of the British Nazi right have used appropriated the Union Flag and other emblems of Britishness for their insignia and rallies. The National Front despised Mosley, but they adopted the same tactic to try to win over members.

      And Fascists also aggressively disrupt anti-racist and left-wing gatherings, including films. The parallel to their JDL’s disruption of the film on the Palestinians that comes to my mind is the attack Christian Fascists in France in the 1920s made on the screening of Bunuel’s and Dali’s Surrealist film, L’Age d’Or. As Marxists, the Surrealists were extremely anti-religious with a bitter hatred of Christianity. The French Christian far right objected to the film because it showed a monstrance being thrown into a river, and ended with a group of skeletons lying on a rock wearing clerical vestments such as bishop’s mitres.

      And the Israel lobby’s connection to mainstream British Islamphobic Fascism don’t end there. A few months ago Jonathan Hoffman, another prominent member of the Israel lobby was photographed getting very chummy with Paul Besser, the intelligence officer of Britain First, if ‘Intelligence officer’ in this context isn’t a contradiction in terms.

      These are fake anti-racist organisations. They don’t exist to protect Jews from real anti-Semitism. They exist to defend Israel and its racist oppression of the Palestinians by pretending to defend Jews from anti-Semitism. And they do this by smearing Israel’s critics, including self-respecting secular and Torah-observant Jews, as anti-Semites.

      They are Fascists. The CAA should lose its charitable status, and the Jewish Labour Movement, as a Fascist organisation, should be closed down. Real socialists and anti-racist activists should not be tolerating any racist organisation, no matter what it’s ethnicity is, in their party.

      Taking a Stroll Down Memory Lane (iii).

      Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/02/2018 - 9:04am in

      I suspect one must be really interested in Marxist and socialist history for the name Eduard Bernstein to ring a bell. I am and I have already written about him, without focusing specifically on him.

      The bottom line is that Bernstein has been forgotten, but he would be a case study in the unintended consequences of the kind of charlatanry the liberal/leftish intelligentsia mastered.

      You can imagine, then, my surprise some three years ago, when I found these gems left in comment threads of another blog:

      “The main debate is, of course, old. Eduard Bernstein got drummed out of the International for arguing that piecemeal reform could work and was infact (before WWI), working. The mainstream Marxists at the time were not happy to hear this claim. Bernstein's book, _The Preconditions of Socialism_, however, is really very good and very unjustly ignored. There's excellent discussion of this in Sheri Berman's really very good book, _The Primacy of Politics_. I'd highly recommend it (and Bernstein's book.)”

      And again:

      “More generally, I think it's worth it for people to look at Eduard Bernstein's mostly forgotten _The Preconditions of Socialism_. Not because Bernstein, who had been one of Marx's literary executors, has the magic formula for today, but because it's useful to see the ways that he had noted, as early as the 1910's that many of the economic predictions of Marx had not happened, and that the world had changed in ways Marx had not predicted, and that therefore people wishing to be loyal to the spirit, and not the text, of Marx needed to change, too. Unfortunately, he was more or less run out of the "mainstream" Marxist/socialist movement for this heresy, but a significant part of European social democracy was built along the lines he suggested. For the general moral it is still worth reading.”

      In situations like these I avoid naming names or providing links. This time I will make a partial exception. The author of those two comments identifies himself as Matt. I don't think under the present circumstances that information could be misused.

      We don't know who Matt is in real life, but I do know something about him from this attempt to resurrect Bernstein: he's full of shit. The difference between him and Bernstein is that Bernstein was an opportunist and a slanderer who knew he was lying and betraying the socialist movement as a whole and a man much better than himself.

      Matt may not know it.

      Whatever the case might be, it doesn't really matter. Because his two comments give me an opportunity to set the historical record straight. Friedrich Engels deserves better, and so do socialists.

      But there's more. There's much wisdom in Faulkner's remark: "The past is never dead. It's not even past". This is a current political issue and it's been one for a while. No better example than that of Germany itself, where an irresponsible attempt is being made to "reform" the image of the SDP.

      Those corpses must be re-buried.

      This is going to be a long and unpleasant journey, but necessary nonetheless.

      Podcast: A rough guide to anti-politics

      Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/02/2018 - 8:16am in


      Featured, Marxism

      By @Dr_Tad

      I recently appeared on the Living The Dream podcast hosted by Jon Piccini (@jonpiccini) and Dave Eden (@withsobersenses), talking about the concept of anti-politics that Elizabeth Humphrys (@liz_beths) and I developed over the last five years here at Left Flank. I also responded to some of the misunderstandings and criticisms of the concept.

      As Jon and Dave wrote on the blog The Word From Struggle Street, “Tad argues that politics is increasingly detached from society and what this means and how communism as ‘the real movement’ can and should related to politics. Tad argues that this analysis has serious and devastating implications for what we call The Left and Activism. We debate if there is any role, before the emergence of social movements, for the agency of anticapitalists.”

      You can listen here Download this episode (right click and save)

      Or subscribe via iTunes here.

      Jon and Dave are currently trying to raise some cash to improve their recording capabilities. You can donate here.

      Suggested further reading:



      The post Podcast: A rough guide to anti-politics appeared first on Left Flank.

      Taking a Stroll Down Memory Lane (ii)

      Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/02/2018 - 12:15pm in

      Resuming from last time: Signs that things weren't fine for capitalism and that people started to notice didn't end with a few scattered economists discussing things among themselves, or some economics students demanding unspecified changes in academic syllabi. Not even with the mega rich performing their annual rituals at Davos.

      The electoral victories (2007 and 2008, respectively) of Kevin Rudd (Australia) and Barack Obama (the US) are further signs, particularly with the unleashing of a campaign representing Keynesian economics as a sort of "progressive" economics.

      There's more, if that doesn't convince you: the Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn phenomena are other, clearer, examples. Indeed, in their cases the backlash by the Democratic and Labour mainstreams against even the modest shifts leftwards those two guys represent fits in well with the main topic of this post (more on this later).

      In fact, the rise of the loony far right, however troubling, also points to dissatisfaction with the current situation.

      On top, there's the growing talk of an uninhabitable Earth. (On the other hand, things in Ethiopia are going mighty fine, or so I've been told. So, capitalism's fans can breath again).

      Amidst the mounting disappointment with capitalism and globalisation and now with inequality (both of which Labourites and Democrats contributed to create), since at least the 1990s an academic movement sprang out not so much to rehabilitate reformist social democracy, but to resurrect it altogether from its grave.

      The idea seems to be to try and remove the Blairite-Clintonite taint hanging over it.

      That’s, more or less, when long-forgotten names started to pop up around in popular media.

      Karl Polanyi, for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing bad -- or good, for that matter -- to say about that Karl: although I’ve started reading about him and his ideas, I’m not ready to make any pronouncement, yet. This jury is still out.

      The reactions to Polanyi, however, puzzle me. On the one hand, people whose opinions I respect seem to think highly of him. A point goes to Polanyi.

      The obsessive ill-will others demonstrate towards him suggests he might have been onto something, too. Believe it or not, that kind of thing may not make Polanyi's case, but it still helps it.

      On the other hand (you know what they say about economics) other things seem less favourable to Polanyi. I got a feeling of almost back-handed compliment when I saw ultra-Keynesian Brad DeLong, a self-described “neoliberal freak” who flies his flag high for globalisation, singing the praises of Polanyi and Alexis de Tocqueville …  at the same time, in the same sentence, for Christ’s sake! One suspects that maybe is not so much what Polanyi wrote that recommends him to DeLong and that Polanyi was indeed elusive, as Daniel Luban said:

      “To some extent Polanyi’s current popularity reflects the desire of the non-Marxist left for a champion of its own to compete with that other Karl.”

      If that's not a sign something's wrong with capitalism, I don't know what is.
      This leads us to the subject of revisionism. Just like Karl Polanyi may have gained new fans at least in part because his surname is not Marx, I’ve seen others going even further back in time in search for an anti-Marx champion. (The good and wise like to identify ideologies and philosophies with names: Hayek becomes synonymous with "liberalism", Marx with "socialism", Keynes with whatever it is Keynesians believe, and so on).

      Like I said, I'm not ready to make pronouncements about Polanyi, but I'm more than ready in Eduard Bernstein's case.


      The Rural Idiocy of Sacks of Potatoes.

      Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/02/2018 - 5:18pm in



      Whether one likes it or not, Marx and Engels didn’t think much of rural life.

      This is an early example (1848):

      “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”

      Now, let’s pause. Those guys used the word “rescued”. It’s there. You can see it: I emphasised it.

      Time to use our noodles. Marx and Engels used the word rescue and we know that to rescue something is to save that something from a danger or a difficult situation. Right?

      I never thought we’ll need to discuss this, but it seems we Marxists must think seriously about that. So, before jumping at my throat, hear me out first. Trust me, I haven’t lost my mind … yet.

      Ready or not, here goes. Can we safely conclude from that that, according to Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie did the rural population a favour: it allowed them to move to the big smoke? And them hillbillies, of course, were happy or at least happier than they were before: they no longer were idiots (from the Greek idios "own, private")?

      Can we conclude that?

      Or, think of it this way: according to Marx and Engels, with his brand new proletarian rank insignia attached to his shoulder mark, the formerly humble hillbilly, standing at ah-ten-SHUN! salutes the capitalist with barely dissimulated pride (woo hoo!).

      Breath deeply and count to ten before answering.

      I don't know about you, but I most emphatically don’t think so. But, believe it or not, that may be how some Marxists think. (UPDATE: In case you've been wondering who that peculiar Marxist was who thinks primitive accumulation made people happy)

      I'll tell you why I don’t think so. Because to accomplish that “promotion” it took the bourgeoisie, according to Marx (and probably to Engels, too):

      “[T]he expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence, and from the means of labour, this fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people forms the prelude to the history of capital. It comprises a series of forcible methods, of which we have passed in review only those that have been epoch-making as methods of the primitive accumulation of capital. The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless Vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious.”

      I never thought I’d have to explain that, but Marx and Engels called that Primitive Accumulation: the forced mass transformation of peasants into proletarians.

      It wasn't a happy experience then and it's never been one since, least of all for the former hillbillies and I’d bet given the choice many would have chosen their rural idiocy, thank you very much. But they weren't given a choice. Marx and Engels knew that, even if some Marxists forgot all about it.

      But, but, but … didn’t they -- the newly “promoted” proletarians, that is -- gain anything from that?

      Why, yes. Yes, they did. But it wasn’t “happiness” of some sort that Marx and Engels had in mind. It was another thing much more important. What they gained was breaking free from isolation, getting in touch, establishing relations with others in the same circumstances. They became a class, the proletariat; no longer were they like potatoes in a sack:

      “The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse.”

      That’s a slightly later example (1852).

      Makes sense now, comrades?