Marxism

Getting all Tied Up (2)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/05/2019 - 6:00am in

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Economics, Marxism, MMT

This series considers Paul Mason’s “Risks are ‘a Thing’… and so is the Death of Capitalism”, a critique of MMT.

The previous post discussed Mason’s political doubts about tying the Green New Deal to MMT. Although that is evidently an urgent concern, by itself it has little theoretical implications for Marxists. The focus of this and the next posts are the two subheadings “What does MMT say?”, “What’s wrong with MMT?”, where Mason expresses his views on what MMT is.

Before proceeding, disclosure is in order. I claim no expertise on MMT. My level of involvement is that of an experienced hobbyist, which means that I have been following -- as a non-professional observer -- those I call MMT founders for some ten years and reading the material they make freely available online. Occasionally I’ve dwelt in the more strictly academic literature, but only that closely related to Marxist theory. In this sense I’ve written about the relationship between the labour theory of value and fiat money, about difficulties I find in the Kalecki profit equation and about the Confidence Fairy. In particular, I haven’t read the latest MMT texts.

If that more technical literature contradicts what I write here, I appreciate readers letting me know.

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Under those two subheadings Mason explains what, in his views, MMT says and where it goes wrong. His largely unfavourable assessment, however, is not my concern.

What concerns me as a Marxist is his claim that MMT has a theory of value. Out of several instances, this is the most elaborate and unequivocal expression of his belief:

“What the MMT-ers have uniquely done is elevate a theory of money into a theory of value: the state, by creating money, creates value. If this were true it would annul all the risks involved in the biggest peacetime borrow-and-spend programme ever attempted. It would also, as we shall explore below, provide a neat way to abolish capitalism without class struggle.”

That startled me because, in all these years following MMT, I’ve never seen any Founder ever making that claim at all, let alone making it “explicit”, as Mason writes somewhere else. Not once. To be clear: maybe individual Founders have their personal theories of value, but I’ve never seen one pointing to a set of theoretical propositions and calling it “The MMT Theory of Value ©”.

Perhaps the best example is Prof. Bill Mitchell, Founder whom I follow more closely. There’s no need to argue he isn’t a neoclassical: that’s evident. He also writes highly of Marx. That shows intellectual integrity. He refuses to pile up on Marx, although it is de rigueur in his milieu. Much more importantly, he is knowledgeable and understands key Marxist notions, including exploitation (see also).

All that must be credited to him. Justice demands Marxists respect him for that. But that doesn’t make a Marxist of him. In fact, I’ve never seen him endorse (or disendorse, for that matter) Marxism, especially its theory of value, or commenting on their compatibility or not with MMT, let alone him calling himself a Marxist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it makes it risky to associate him with any theory of value.

The lack of a theory of value is not peculiar to MMT, it’s common to all post Keynesianism (larger school of economic thought usually said to include MMT as a branch). More recently things may have changed radically without my knowing it, but by 1998 it was no well-guarded secret that,

“Post Keynesian price theory has no real existence beyond the idiosyncratic writings of various Post Keynesian economists, its various renditions are theoretically incompatible to a lesser or greater degree, and it has not been entirely freed from neoclassical concepts and terminology.”

The author of that quote was the late Prof. Fred Lee, who in life taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (one of two/three top MMT academic strongholds).

If I were Mason, I’d give Lee the benefit of the doubt.

The next post shows where Mason took a wrong turn.

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A caveat is required. Economist Peter Cooper, PhD, whom I also follow regularly, is extremely qualified and he’s both a Marxist (specifically, a TSSIer) and an MMTer (see also). I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but he seems to believe Marx’s ideas, including his law of value, and MMT are fairly compatible (for what it’s worth, so do I).

That said, he’s what I call an enthusiast, not a Founder. As valuable as his views are, they are not the official MMT stance.

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UPDATE:

Fairness imposes a correction. There are some economists (which I failed to mention above), generally considered post Keynesians who -- much like Mitchell -- have high views of Marx. Like Mitchell, they also are knowledgeable about Marx’s theories. Normally they describe themselves as Sraffians. Unlike Mitchell, they unambiguously adopt a variation of Marx's theory of value, although it's unclear to me how much more of Marxism they retain. A blogger in this category is Robert Vienneau.

At least a member of this subset, Prof. Matías Vernengo, describes himself as a friendly critic of MMT.

Book Review: An Anthropology of Marxism by Cedric J. Robinson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/05/2019 - 8:49pm in

In An Anthropology of Marxism, reissued posthumously, Cedric J. Robinson provides a novel lens for deconstructing the work of Karl Marx by challenging Marx’s assertion that capitalism is an essential precondition for socialism. Robinson’s account holds great potential as a tool of political praxis, writes Eric Loefflad, and its critique of Marxism offers a new dimension of Marxist strategy for today’s world. 

An Anthropology of Marxism. Cedric J. Robinson. Pluto Press. 2019.

In the decade following the 2008 financial crisis, global inequality is rising, climate disaster is impending and far-right authoritarianism is enjoying one political victory after another. As existing institutional logics fail to explain, let alone rectify, these situations, it is unsurprising that Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism, long marginalised after the fall of the Soviet Union, is experiencing a resurgence. However, this renewed Marxist interest is accompanied by claims that Marxism is prone to rigidity/exclusionism in its theory of universal emancipation. Diverse in its manifestations, this line of critique has portrayed the Marxist tradition as flawed in its primary location of transformative agency in a predominantly white male industrial working class whose exploitation is facilitated by their status as formally equal agents. What is lost in this account is capitalism’s reliance on inequality-based structures that include: the uncompensated labour of women in the domestic sphere, racialised colonial dispossession and the coerced extraction of value from slaves, serfs and peasants.

Against this backdrop, Cedric J. Robinson’s An Anthropology of Marxism (hereinafter ‘Anthropology’) provides a novel lens for deconstructing the work of Marx and the critiques lodged against it. Reissued from its original 2001 edition with a foreword from HLT Quan and a preface by Avery Gordon, the central argument of the now deceased Robinson is that Marx was incorrect in his assertion that capitalism is an essential precondition for socialism. Here he frames Marx’s theoretical synthesis of German philosophy, English political economy and the French revolutionary legacy as failing to interrogate its own cultural and intellectual presumptions. Rather, by rejecting pre-Enlightenment emancipatory endeavours as inconsequential instances of ‘primitive socialism’, Marx embraced the very conceits of bourgeois ideology he purported to critique.

From this premise, Robinson offers an alternative genealogy of socialism by turning to eleventh-, twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe. According to this narrative, peasant uprisings against the power of merchants, feudal lords and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church were driven by interpretations of Christianity that, in varying form, called for radical distributional and gender equality. This foundational eruption of socialism prompted the existing order to suppress these efforts through a reconfiguration of previously pluralistic Christian doctrines that labelled these popular movements as ‘heretical’. Yet, despite this concerted suppression, a formative socialism lived on through religious orders such as the Franciscans, and later the Jesuits, who attained influence as dispute resolvers and charity-providers throughout Europe and later its overseas colonies.

Image Credit: Karl Marx statue (Jörg Schubert CC BY 2.0)

From here, Robinson shows how the legacies of formative socialism shaped the thought of both Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel, yet were excluded from Marx’s depiction of these theorists. Following this, Anthropology turns to Marx’s usage of Aristotle. Here Robinson claims that Aristotle’s conception of a political society of formally equal citizens, and its erasure of women and slaves, is reproduced in Marx’s conception of proletariat agency and its emphasis on formal equality as constitutive of capitalist social relations. For Robinson, this exclusion of medieval socialist formulations that centred the plight of formally unequal subjects was symptomatic of Marx’s investment in bourgeois Enlightenment conceptions of linear progress through rationality. Thus, under Marx’s influence:

the originated discourse in Western socialism became subjugated knowledges. In their place socialism acquired an alternative and secularized natural history, one drawn from the discursive practices of scientific discourse and bourgeois hagiography (111).

In evaluating Robinson’s argument, we must understand the intervention he was making in the context of Anthropology’s original 2001 publication. As Quan notes in the foreword, Robinson can be read as a response to the anti-socialist ethos of the post-Cold War era that purported to discard Marxism into the world-historic repository of failed ideas. Thus, in continuing the socialist project by unmooring it from its Marxist baggage, Robinson’s claim was ‘an unwavering act of faith in the ability and role of ordinary women and men to make their society anew’ (p. ix, notes omitted). While this may clarify Robinson’s purpose, it raises the question of how his analysis should be treated in our current moment in which Marxist critique has regained its relevance.

That said, one means of engaging Robinson’s Anthropology is to understand it through the same modes of Marxist analysis it critiques. While Anthropology decries dialectical materialism as bourgeois intellectual arrogance that deprived socialism of its original promise, ironically Anthropology can be interpreted as presenting an extraordinarily innovative dialectic in its own right.  Here, if socialism, i.e. spiritual anti-hierarchical medieval communalism, was a ‘thesis’ that found its ‘antithesis’ in the individualistic rationality of the bourgeois Enlightenment, then Marxism can be understood as a ‘synthesis’ of the socialist ethic with Enlightenment analytical methods.

This interpretation is supported by William Robert’s recent contextualisation of Capital within the workers’ movement of Marx’s time, which shows how Marx’s theory stemmed from claims that labour’s political goals required a sufficiently radical understanding of its distinct arena of struggle. If the medievally-rooted socialist ethic informed this backdrop of labour activism, then, far from ‘intellectual conceit’, Marx’s mastery over bourgeois theory for the purpose of levying an all-pervasive critique acted to prevent workers’ assertions from being co-opted by ultimately futile capitalist offerings of reform. While this view preserves Robinson’s premise that the existence of socialism is not contingent on the emergence of capitalism, it does add the caveat that perhaps socialism, at least in Marx’s context, required Marxism to resist capitalism.

Nothing about this interpretation should detract from Robinson’s overarching point that we must decentre the agency of Marx’s privileged white male industrial working class when theorising anti-capitalist resistance. Although the Marxist tradition is certainly not without chauvinism in this regard, it has also been remarkably adaptive to self-critique. A key illustration of this is Onur Ince’s demonstration of how capitalist domination is a globally interconnected force, but its exploitation is experienced (and resisted) in different ways across varying temporal and spatial contexts that include wage labour, involuntary servitude and colonial dispossession. In taking this multi-layered perspective to the next level, Anthropology shows how postcolonial/decolonial critiques of Marxist orthodoxies regarding the non-European world also apply to Europe itself.

Beyond its analytical value, Robinson’s account holds great potential as a tool of political praxis.  For what Anthropology confronts is the question of how exactly are we to make sense of the cultural and political significance of Europe’s medieval period in our current global moment? Especially in Europe and settler offshoots, this historical period is susceptible to being problematically invoked by both the liberal centre and the far right. For liberal centrists, this era can be characterised as an alleged ‘dark age’ of ignorant barbarism, and the fact that it was transcended justifies the narrative of linear progress. For the far right, this era acts as an alleged ‘golden age’ of pure white Christian identity that justifies the resurrection of violent, and potentially genocidal, fascism. Both of these narratives mischaracterise the material dynamics of the current global crisis and, in varying capacities, both are rooted in the belief in Western superiority over all other peoples. Through Robinson’s account, we are provided with a third option for understanding the contemporary meaning of Europe’s middle ages: a legacy of ordinary people struggling for emancipation against unjust material conditions. Thus, paradoxically, Anthropology’s relentless critique of Marxism offers great potential in forging an entirely new dimension of Marxist strategy in the actually-existing world.

Eric Loefflad is a PhD candidate in Law at the University of Kent, Canterbury. His current research focuses on the intertwined material histories of law, empire and the emergence of modern political consciousness.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


On Freud, Rawls, Rose, the contrast between Analytic/Continental Philosophy, and Lewis-Kripke

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/05/2019 - 10:01pm in

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freud, Marxism

Behind one half of Ferrante’s pen name, Elena, is a tale from Greek mythology. According to a relatively little-known version of the story, Zeus rapes and impregnates, not Leda the swan, but Nemesis, who turns herself into a goose to escape him. She then lays an egg, found by a shepherd and handed to Leda, who nurtures it and out of which Elena is born, who is then raised by Leda, in Ferrante’s suggestive formula, as ‘her daughter-non-daughter’.4 It must be one of the earliest stories of surrogacy, as well as offering a model of motherhood without vested interest because it has embraced a stranger.--Jacuqeline Rose, Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty, p. 146.

One important feature of the distinction between analytical and continental philosophy is that analytical philosophy is when not outright hostile to Freud/Freudianism, in its indifference to it, purportedly untouched by it.* This is most evident in the brief spectacle of the late twentieth century flowering of analytical Marxism--these hard-nosed men (it was really a boys club), which self-consciously set itself against the mushy forms of Marxism found in Paris and Frankfurt (and elsewhere). What's conspicuous about their (the analytical marxist) work is not the elegance and wit of their writings, but their inability to make visible how oppression as a social phenomenon generates, through violence and lies/ideology, the deformation, material and psychic, at the heart of of everybody's lives.+ (Of course, one can state and argue this without Freudian theory, but often without fertility.)

I think I can explain what I have in mind: John Rawls (to be sure no analytical Marxist), who read more widely than most analytic philosophers, discusses Freud briefly several time in Theory of Justice in the context of the significance of moral education. For Rawls Freud is somebody who, first, offers cautionary warnings about taking moral sentiments at face value due to their being rooted in processes of "conflict and stress" (TJ, 459); second, he treats Freud as, we may say,  a Nietzschean, who offers a kind of error theory for the sense of justice (and, in so doing, mistakenly conflates envy and resentment). (Susan Moller Okin has also noticed the first passage. She treats it as evidence of Rawls's blindness to Freud's sexism.) Rawls treats the grounds of the "conflict and stress" as mere psychological process to be overcome in adulthood (with the help, surprisingly enough, of "sound principles" that is, political philosophy) and not as expressing the effects of (ahh) a badly functioning basic structure(s) of society.**  

I have come to think it's not Freudianism's dubious character as a science that accounts for analytic philosophy's hostility/indifference (or early analytic philosophy's flirtation with behaviorism), but rather something that G.A. Cohen mislabels as "acid Freudian skepticism:" that all given identities are at once (too) robust in their fixity and fragile in their vulnerability to fracturing. The effect of this acid is that identity becomes liquid. Such liquidity is played with in Derrida and embraced by Deleuze, and treated at arm's length in the analytic mainstream. For, while one may think that political philosophy and moral education are at the margin's of analytic philosophy's self-understanding -- despite the fact that (recall) the Strawson-Carnap debate pivots on it-- identity is central. I can't, of course, prove this point to you.

However, I think I can make it arresting. I hope you will forgive me if I use Kripke as a representative agent, as an exemplar. I want to return to Kripke's response to Lewis's counterpart theory. This response exhibits more than dispassionate philosophical disagreement. I reproduce most of the relevant footnote from Naming and Necessity:

Lewis's elegant paper also suffers from a purely formal difficulty: on his interpretation of quantified modality, the familiar law (y) ((x)A(x) ⊃ A(y) falls, if A(x) is allowed to contain modal operators. (For example, (∃y) ((x) ◊(x ≠y) is satisfiable but (∃y) ◊ (y ≠ y) is not.) Since Lewis's formal model follows rather naturally from his philosophical views on counterparts, and since the failure of universal instantiation for modal properties is intuitively bizarre, it seems to me that this failure constitutes an additional argument against the plausibility of his philosophical views. There are other, lesser, formal difficulties as well. I cannot elaborate here.

Strictly speaking, Lewis’s view is not a view of ‘transworld identification’. Rather, he thinks that similarities across possible worlds determine a counterpart relation which need be neither symmetric nor transitive. The counterpart of something in another possible world is never identical with the thing itself. Thus if we say ‘Humphrey might have won the election (if only he had done such-and-such), we are not talking about something that might have happened to Humphrey but to someone else, a “counterpart”.’ Probably, however, Humphrey could not care less whether someone else, no matter how much resembling him, would have been victorious in another possible world.
Thus, Lewis's view seems to me even more bizarre than the usual notions of transworld identification that it replaces. The important issues, however, are common to the two views: the supposition that other possible worlds are like other dimensions of a more inclusive universe, that they can be given only by purely qualitative descriptions, and that therefore either the identity relation or the counterpart relation must be established in terms of qualitative resemblance.

Many have pointed out to me that the father of counterpart theory is probably Leibnitz. I will not go into such a historical question here. It would also be interesting to compare Lewis's views with the Wheeler-Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics. I suspect that this view of physics may suffer from philosophical problems analogous to Lewis's counterpart theory; it is certainly very similar in spirit.

Notice that Kripke repeatedly treats Lewis' position as bizarre. (It is quite amazing, actually, to see a formal difficulty itself be explicated in terms of what seems intuitively bizarre.) The one other time (right at the start) in Naming and Necessity where Kripke treats a view as bizarre is  the denial of the indiscernability of identicals. (Notably he treats the denial of it as on par as the denial of the 'law of contradiction.') My point here is not to claim that Kripke's critique of Lewis isn't well motivated or un-argued.++ Kripke is not cheating. And my present purpose is not to defend Lewis (although regular readers know I think counterpart theory grasps something fundamental about self-identity.)

Rather, I am marking that Kripke's hostility (the repeated bizarre) expresses something that goes beyond mere disagreement. As Freud notes in a very different context (dreams, etc.), treating something as bizarre is a mechanism by which we allow ourselves to ignore something important. It's to Kripke's credit that he explains why Lewis' position must be set aside. Kripke says that the most important point (of disagreement) is that for Lewis the identity relation, including self-identity, must be established in terms of qualitative resemblance.*** Kripke's emphatic ''bizarre" betrays how he recoils from the (ahh) instability this generates. 

 

 

*Yes, I am familiar with much of Jonathan Lear's work (even studied with him) and David Velleman's writings.

+G.A. Cohen does engage with Freud, but he treats Freud, I think, primarily as (a misguided elitist) theorist who emphasizes the coercive social mechanisms required to make people work because would not wish delaying gratification of desires.

**I can't do justice to all of Elster's reflections on Freud, but crucially he treats these stresses not as caused by capitalism, but as rooted in biology. With enemies like these the bourgeois does not need friends! (He also treats psychoanalytic theory as fundamentally about the individual.) 

++One does wonder how one would read this passage in the world where Wheeler-Everett has become standard?

***This point is much remarked upon; and nearly always it is said that the fact that such resemblance is hard to measure or establish is treated as a problem (not a virtue). I think the point is well taken given Lewis's particular commitments. 

Getting all Tied Up.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 6:34pm in

(right-click to open a larger image in a separate tab)
The big and tiresome MMT versus everybody else punch-up seems to be abating. Finally. Readers may guess the whole thing has left me unimpressed.

But my expectations about the part of the debate involving mainstream economists were low to begin with, so their bit in the debate didn’t surprise me. What surprised me, in the worst possible way, was how awful the MMT/Marxists debate was.

Commenting recently on that, Prof. Bill Mitchell, one of MMT founders, writes that Marxists are getting all tied up on MMT.

As both a Marxist and a sort of MMT sympathiser, I reached the conclusion he is right, unfortunately. But there’s more to that.

That’s why I decided to write this. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly and I suspect I won’t be making new friends in either side. In my opinion, Paul Mason’s “Risks Are ‘a Thing’ and so is the Death of Capitalism” (April 27, Medium), without falling in the gratuitous nastiness I witnessed in both Marxists and MMTers, illustrates that.

I start today a series considering his article.

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Mason opens his piece referring to the political inconvenience he sees in “hitching” the American Green New Deal -- which he supports -- to MMT ahead of the 2020 US elections. That shall be the focus of this post.

Our own Australian federal elections could be considered a dress rehearsal for next year American elections, as the Australian Labor Party has included in its platform strong redistributive measures and a more decided effort to control climate change, much like the Democratic Socialists of America intend to do.

Here our unnamed version of the GND is being the target of intense scaremongering from the ruling COALition. But our “GND” has not been hitched to MMT. Instead, it has been premised on raising taxes to pay for the expenses, much to Bill Mitchell’s disapproval.

Based on local experience, to me it’s unclear whether hitching the GND to MMT in the US shall hinder or not. Would a reference to MMT (and a consequent relaxation of “fiscal rectitude”) have weakened Labor’s position or strengthened it?

The organised labour movement, represented locally by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is strongly behind the Labor campaign, but neither its “GND” component, nor “fiscal rectitude” seem to be determinant. Instead ACTU spokespeople constantly mention as motivation the wage increases Labor promised. The ACTU militancy has the COALition hyperventilating.

Moreover, I’ve only heard of a union branch moving openly against Labor’s climate change action proposals: the CFMEU-QLD (union covering miners). That had nothing to do with large economic concerns (fears of inflation or recession), but with the immediate need for well-paying jobs (which Indian coal mining giant Adani -- surprise, surprise -- has promised to deliver in spades) in a region with high unemployment. (See also)

In Australia MMT would have likely attracted unanimous condemnation from economists, as it did in the US; but the COALition didn’t need that to mount an as strong as fraudulent scare campaign targeting … the upper middle-class and wealthy retirees who see themselves as “battlers”. In fact, the pretext here has been precisely the increased taxation “fiscal rectitude” entails.

(source, image courtesy of George “Nasty Porky Pig” Christensen)
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Next posts in this series shall dwell on matters more substantial to Marxists.

Private Eye on Brexit Party’s Claire Fox’s Support for Murderous Fascists

The furore over UKIP’s lurch to the far right and Batten’s recruitment of such controversial, deeply bigoted YouTube personalities and activists like Sargon of Akkad, Count Dankula, Paul Joseph Watson and Tommy Robinson has somewhat obscured the issue of just how politically extreme Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party is. The Brexit party seem to be eating UKIP alive at the polls, but although it’s somewhat more moderate than UKIP, Farage himself was credibly accused of racism and Fascist sympathies when he was in charge of the party. He also wants to privatise the NHS and carry on the other Tory policies of destroying the welfare state and impoverishing its working people. All for the benefit of the extremely rich, like himself. And when he was in charge of UKIP, it also was full of racists, anti-feminists, those, who bitterly hated gays and Muslims. And his Brexit party also contains its fair share of very offensive characters.

One of these is Claire Fox, formerly of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who, like the rest of her comrades, ditched Marxism and moved to the libertarian extreme right. Zelo Street have published a series of pieces refuting her claims to have joined the Brexit Party from the Left, and revealing her disgusting comments supporting IRA terrorism at the time of the Warrington bombing. Fox, then in the RCP, wrote a piece justifying the atrocity, declaring that Irish nationalists had the right to use all and every means necessary to achieve freedom for Ulster. Which meant the right to kill innocent men, women and children. When she was asked about these remarks a few days ago, rather than disavow them she doubled down and confirmed her support. And she isn’t alone in supporting Irish Republican terrorism either. Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, one of the Brexit party’s candidates in London, was also a member of the RCP, which as a whole supported Irish nationalist terrorism.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/05/nigel-farages-terrorist-sympathisers.html

Private Eye has also published a piece about Fox’s offensive views in its current issue for 3 – 16 May, 2019, ‘Outfoxing Nigel’, on page 10. It’s written by ‘Ratbiter’, otherwise known as the Absurder journo Nick Cohen, who has taken time off from ranting about how Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite. His accusations there are rubbish, and some of his claims are seriously skewed. But in this instance he may well be right. The article runs

“I’ve been a left-wing campaigner for 35 years,” Claire Fox wrote in the Daily Mail after posing alongside Nigel Farage to announce her candidacy for the Brexit Party. “You’d struggle to find a pair of more unlikely political bedfellows.”

Apart from Brexit, is there anything the “left-wing” Fox and the right-wing Farage have in common? Just about everything, as it turns out.

Fox’s Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was one of the weirdest sects on the far left. Its leading cadres – Frank Furedi, Mick Hume, Brendan O’Neill and Fox herself – decided in 1997 that there was no future in Leninism, since “the working class has no political existence”, and tried their luck with the media class instead.

The RCP’s successor organisations, the Institute of ideas and Spiked magazine, exploited the limitless appetite of the BBC and Tory press for “contrarian” opinions. Such was their success in thinking the unthinkable and saying the unspeakable they drew a $300,000 donation from the billionaire Koch borthers, who fund dozens of right-wing causes.

Farage could not fail to be impressed. He and his former Ukip colleagues opposed attempts by the EU to improve ‘elf and safety, and the rebranded RCP had little time for public safety either. Fox denounced the mollycoddling of the “anti-bullying industry”, arguing that teachers who tried to protect children were sapping their “resilience”.

Famously, Farage doesn’t much like East Europeans. At times, it seems as if the only East Europeans he can stand are dictators: Viktor Orban may have censored the media, packed the judiciary and presided over epic corruption, but to Farage he is a “defender of Hungarian culture” against the EU.

Although Fox told the Mail she disagreed with Farage’s demands for immigration conrols, she and her old RCP comrades have had no problems with the most brutal controls imaginable in on Europeans who stay in their own countries. When Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic organised rape and death squads in the 1990s to “cleanse” Bosnia’s Muslims, they had no more loyal defenders than the RCP’s magazine Living Marxism.

After Penny Marshall of ITN and Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian revealed the appalling conditions in Serb prison camps at Omarska and Trnopolje, Living Marxism declared that the journalists had faked the pictures. Fox and friends and offered no defence of their story when ITN sued for libel. They did not recant when survivors gave testimony in the Hague or when mass graves were found near Omarska. Last year the journalists who run London’s Frontline Club considered inviting Fox to speak. Vulliamy insisted she apologise to the camp victims first, but Fox refused to back away from the modern equivalent of Holocaust denial. Naturally, the BBC thinks she is the ideal person to have as a regular panelist on the Moral Maze.

To be fair to Farage, he has never endorsed bullying children, indeed he broke down when describing how his own children had been bullied. He may have won the Brexit referendum by demonising East European immigrants but he has never covered up their murder. And although he endorses Orban, he has yet to act as a propagandist for Balkan strongmen who have been convicted of crimes against humanity.

The question is now how Fox can bear to be in same party as Farage, but how Farage can bear to in the same party as her.

Francis Wheen on RCP Violence

I’m not surprised the LM/Spiked crowd support bullying children. Francis Wheen in his book on paranoia in the 1970s, Strange Days, describes how the international training camps the Revolutionary Communist Party ran were rife with violence. One girl was raped in one, and a young Black American stabbed to death in another. But the Party’s leader refused to do anything about it, and indeed approved of the violence, because he felt it would toughen the working class up for revolution.

Fox and Ulster Terrorism

As for Fox’s support for IRA terrorism, I’m also disgusted, but not surprised. I think there were quite a few on the extreme left like her. But the murder of innocent civilians is utterly disgusting no matter who does it, whether it’s the IRA, Ulster Loyalists or the British state. And it’s an insult not just to the victims of terror, including the mothers who reached across the aisle in Ulster to demand an end to the violence. I’ve also met plenty of Roman Catholic Northern Irishmen, who would like a united Ireland, but thoroughly reject sectarianism and violence.

Serb Atrocities in Bosia

I’ve also come across allegations that some of the stories about Serb atrocities in the war in Bosnia were falsified by the media and British state in order to provide a pretext for keeping British and other NATO troops stationed in the Balkans. However, the carnage inflicted on the Bosnian people was quite real. Way back in the 1990s Mike spent a week as a guest of a Bosnian Muslim family in a visit arranged by a human rights organisation to show the destruction caused by the war in the Muslim region. Mike enjoyed his stay and his hosts were great people. But the damage caused by the Serb assault was everywhere. Although the war was over by that time, conditions were still very dangerous as the retreating Serbs had left booby traps.

I also used to do voluntary work with a former member of the British armed forces and the British diplomatic team sent to negotiate an end to the war. He told me that, although all the parties in the war, Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs, committed atrocities, on the whole most of them were committed by the Serbs. I’ve also spoken to British army officers, who were sent into Bosnia as part of the peacekeeping forces, and they described some of the atrocities that the Serb forces committed.

Zelo Street in their article on Fox’s disgusting views quoted Times hack Otto English, who wondered how James Glancy, another Brexit candidate in the Euro elections and former member of the SBS felt about Fox celebrating the murder of his comrades. Or Ann Widdecombe about rubbing shoulders with the people, who supported the Brighton Bombing that killed and maimed so many of the Tory party.

Farage’s Brexit Party is far Right, and so should be kept out of power. They aren’t quite a revolting as Claire Fox, whose disgusting views mean that she should be kept out of any party that’s trying for electoral respectability, and definitely not be given a platform on radio or TV to broadcast them.

Nicos Poulantzas: Philosopher of Democratic Socialism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/05/2019 - 8:30am in

In his final years, Poulantzas seemed to be straining against the seams of his thinking— and perhaps even against the Marxist tradition itself.

Poulantzas tried to envision how the left could simultaneously champion rank-and-file democracy at a distance from the state and push for radical transformation from within it.

Dissent  Spring 2019

As Marxism’s old messianic character faded in the late twentieth century, too many forgot that wandering in the wilderness is often the precondition of a prophet’s appearance. With the collapse of “really existing” socialism came what seemed like a permanent triumph of capitalism and the slow, grinding destruction of whatever resisted the market’s advance. But the far-too-unexpected renaissance of socialism in the twenty-first century reveals not only how much ground has been lost, but how much baggage has been shed. The presence of an authoritarian communist superpower was not only an ideological ball and chain for left politics outside the Eastern bloc, but also a real geopolitical straitjacket: at the electoral peak of European communist parties in the 1970s, the Soviet Union never kept secret that it preferred reactionaries in power in the West.

Now that this old shadow has passed and socialists are making a slow exit from the desert, they have a chance to redefine themselves for a new century. That involves taking bigger and more difficult steps, and it is not surprising that the effort has sent contemporary democratic socialists back to the 1970s, the last historical moment when socialist thinkers enjoyed even the illusion of political possibilities. In the brief window before the neoliberal era, socialists were just beginning to ask what a left politics that could win elections in a democratic system would look like. Who would its base be—what sort of alliance between classes and identity groups would it appeal to? How would it act toward a “bourgeois” political system that communists had always seen as an unredeemable instrument of class domination? Is it even possible to be a democratic revolutionary?

These questions came together in the work of Nicos Poulantzas, a Greek thinker who spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in Paris. There, Poulantzas argued that a sophisticated understanding of the capitalist state was central to a strategy for democratic socialism. Pushing as far as possible toward a Marxist theory of politics while still holding onto the central role of class struggle, Poulantzas tried to combine the insights of revolutionary strategy with a defense of parliamentary democracy against what he called “authoritarian statism.”

Recent signs of a Poulantzas renaissance, including the republication of several of his books in French and English, have a lot to do with the fact that his dual strategy for democratic socialism resonates with the task of today’s socialists: to understand how to use the capitalist state as a strategic weapon without succumbing to a long history of failed electoral projects and realignment strategies. The tensions in Poulantzas’s thinking resemble the current tensions within the left: is winning back power a matter of casting the oligarchs out of government and restoring a lost fairness, or is a more radical transformation of the state required?

It is an open question whether Poulantzas himself was able to articulate a satisfying vision for democratic socialism. His work, nevertheless, goes straight to the heart of the problems that twenty-first-century socialism must face.

Toward a Structural Theory of the Capitalist State

Nicos Poulantzas was born in Athens in 1936. In his twenties, he began a law degree at the University of Athens as a back door into philosophy. Jean-Paul Sartre’s writings became a conduit for Marxism among young Greek intellectuals since, as Poulantzas later explained, it was difficult to get the original canonical Marxist texts in a country that had suffered Nazi occupation, then civil war, then a repressive anticommunist government. After a brief stint in legal studies in Germany, Poulantzas made his way to Paris, where he was soon teaching law at the Sorbonne and mingling with the editors of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’s journal Les Temps modernes. Poulantzas was drafted among a crop of new, younger writers for the journal, which published his earliest writings on law and the state and his engagements with British and Italian Marxists, including the Italian Communist Party’s in-house theorist, Antonio Gramsci. His 1964 doctoral thesis on the philosophy of law was broadly influenced by Sartre’s existentialism and the thought of Georg Lukács and Lucien Goldmann, who harmonized with the Hegelian Marxism dominant in France.

Louis Althusser, then a more marginal French philosopher but soon to be famous across Europe, dissented from this Hegelian turn. Althusser’s 1965 seminar, “Reading Capital,” was a curious event in the history of Marxism that marked the intellectual itineraries of well-known theorists like Étienne Balibar and Jacques Rancière. The framework it launched into Marxist theory, usually described as “structuralism,” was inextricable from Althusser’s dual opposition to Stalinist economism and the humanism of thinkers like Sartre. In the classic Marxist schema, the economic “base” gives rise to political and ideological “superstructures”—in other words, most everything about capitalist society, from its political institutions to its culture, are ultimately fated by the laws of economics. The Althusserians argued that, on the contrary, all of the domains of capitalist society operate quasi-independently of one another in order to more flexibly reproduce capitalist domination. Of course, they are tightly interrelated, and the economic decides “in the last instance” whether economics or something else will take priority, but, according to Althusser himself, “the lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes.”

Poulantzas was not a major participant in the “Reading Capital” seminar, but applied some of its theoretical principles to his own thinking about law and the state. Like Marx and Engels before him, Poulantzas believed that the fundamental role of the state is to defend class power. But the capitalist state, he argued, does this in a complex way that is obscured both by liberal and traditional Marxist theory. The capitalist state is not merely, as liberals imagined, a political structure that represents the unity of the individual members of a “civil society.” Nor is it, as in base-and-superstructure Marxism, simply an outgrowth of capital’s economic domination of labor, a straightforward tool of class power. On the contrary, liberal ideals—popular sovereignty, individual rights—are what enable the capitalist state to act in the interests of the dominant classes. Because it can pose as the representative of the people, the capitalist state is the ideal manager of the interests of the capitalist class. It can arrange compromises with the “dominated classes” necessary to establish the legitimacy of the social order while maintaining a distance from the most venal and short-sighted fractions of the capitalist class, whose natural instinct is to pursue what Marx called “the narrowest and most sordid private interests” over the well-being of the dominant classes as a whole.

Poulantzas’s shift of emphasis away from the struggle between capital and labor required him to rethink the nature of “class” and “class struggle.” Classes, he argued, are born in traditional “economic” confrontation over wages, time, and working conditions, but they are also made politically, depending on how they organize themselves and exert pressure on the political system. Poulantzas argued that the political in capitalist society in fact “overdetermines”—establishes a kind of complex, contradiction-riddled hierarchy over—other kinds of class struggle by rigging things from the beginning against the dominated classes. The same legal setup that enables the capitalist state to “organize” the interests of the dominant classes simultaneously disorganizes the dominated classes: it recognizes them, legally and politically, only as isolated individuals, with no recognition of the economic position into which they have been sorted. The capitalist state’s separation of the political from the economic isolates class struggle in factories and workplaces while the real battle has already been decided in the very functioning of the political system.

As a work of militant Marxist sociology, Political Power and Social Classes struck out onto a terrain that, since the end of the Second World War, had grown over with new liberal theories of social groups, bureaucracy, and “industrial relations” that celebrated the postwar order as an era of growing social integration and declining class conflict. Liberal sociology tended to see the growth of bureaucracy in both private firms and state administration as an inevitable result of the complexity of social organization, a new era of “managerial” or “industrial” society that was, for some, a welcome overcoming of the competition and conflict of laissez-faire capitalism. Many, though certainly not all, liberal social scientists and technocrats took an elitist view of postwar society: the Keynesian compromise delivered real gains to the masses while keeping political power safely in the hands of rational experts.

Poulantzas was not the only figure of the late 1960s to sense that Marxist theory had to advance in order to demonstrate what most everyone to the left of social democrats believed: that the liberal orthodoxy of the epoch was a delusional obfuscation of the real nature of the new technocratic Keynesian state. In The State in Capitalist Society, published just months after Poulantzas’s book, the British political scientist Ralph Miliband demonstrated empirically that the transition from the more limited liberal state to the interventionist, managerial state, had done nothing to threaten the ruling class’s consolidation of power. In many cases, he argued, it wasn’t even true that big business kept a distance from the state—in fact, it had a direct and constant presence in executive cabinets and the apparatuses of financial governance and economic planning. Influenced by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills, who tried to diagnose the tight interlocking of the American ruling classes in The Power Elite (1956), Miliband assembled a mass of evidence that different kinds of elites share social origins, cultural backgrounds, educational trajectories, and mentalities, and the exceptions were subtly indoctrinated into conforming to the rules. Whatever its compromises with the working class, the capitalist state was still the instrument of the dominant classes.

Miliband’s approach to the capitalist state had certain affinities with the communist view that was Poulantzas’s other primary target. For Poulantzas, this view mistakenly saw the state as a neutral infrastructure that was corrupted by who had power over it. On the contrary, he argued, it made zero difference who was in charge because the capitalist state was already a highly calibrated machine for manufacturing class domination. This was a theoretical point with big strategic consequences, Poulantzas argued: if the left imagined the state could be left intact and steered toward socialism, it was in for a rude awakening.  “Lenin said that it was necessary to win state power by smashing the state machine,” he declared, “and I need say no more.”

Authoritarian Statism, or How We Got Neoliberalism All Wrong

As Poulantzas was debating the nature of the state in the late sixties and seventies, the postwar, post-ideological consensus was coming undone. Left-wing movements with new ideas sprouted everywhere at the same time traditional social democratic and communist parties’ memberships swelled, apparently putting them on the path to electoral power. But almost everywhere, socialism’s steps toward power were answered by brutal reaction. Fears of a left-wing government led to a military coup in Greece in 1967, and the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile was crushed by a similar—and equally U.S.-supported—coup in 1973. By the end of the decade, economic crisis had further complicated the situation, heralding a long period of retreat from the use of state power for redistributive and egalitarian projects.

Poulantzas stood out among 1970s thinkers in seeing military dictatorship and the beginnings of neoliberalism as part of a single menu of options capitalist governments had in response to economic and political crisis. There is a doggedly persistent view that the post-1970s political-economic order involved a weakening of the nation-state: that big business demanded a retreat from state intervention in the economy, while the increasingly global system enabled capitalists to circumvent national government. For Poulantzas, neoliberalism was only one facet of a broader turn he called “authoritarian statism”: a combination of the managerial powers of the Keynesian state with a strategic retreat from some of its former economic functions. New state tactics included deliberate submission to anti-democratic international institutions, economic policies that made life more atomized and precarious, and intensified surveillance and repression. In extreme situations, especially in countries dependent on larger “imperialist” powers, economic crisis could lead to “exceptional forms” of capitalism, like fascism or military dictatorship. In advanced liberal-democratic countries it was likely to look like a subtler combination of selective internationalism, intensified technocracy, and police violence.

Early in his trajectory, Poulantzas had highlighted the importance of locating each nation’s position in a global “imperialist chain” to make sense of the particular form its state needed to take to reproduce capitalist class power. In the 1970s, he focused particularly on the emerging dependence of European states and their dominant classes on U.S. imperialism, expressed in the growing investment of American capital in Europe during the 1960s. It was not enough for the European left to conclude that the crises of “monopoly capitalism” were destined to destroy it from within, as many communist parties held. For strategic reasons, they needed to understand the specific relations of imperialism and the crises they produced, including the relations between the “imperialist metropoles” of the United States and Europe. American capital, Poulantzas argued, had increased its hold over Europe through direct investment in sectors where American corporations already exercised highly consolidated international control. By doing so, they were able to exert even broader economic influence, setting the standards for raw materials, insisting on reorganizing the labor process, and imposing certain management ideologies.

The answer to Europe’s new dependence, or “satellite imperialism,” was not, as even some French liberals argued, one of the nation-state versus “multinational corporations,” or, as some leftists imagined, the chance for a coalition that aligned a national bourgeoisie with the left against the dominating forces of international capital. Despite the internationalization of the economy and the growth of supranational institutions like the European Economic Community, Poulantzas insisted that the national state was still the primary site of the “reproduction” of capitalism. The rise of supranational institutions itself was merely a part of the national state’s transformation of its role in managing the economy, facilitating economic internationalization as part of its efforts on behalf of its national ruling class.

But acting as the primary agent of internationalization put the capitalist nation-state in a position particularly vulnerable to crisis and with a limited range of responses. Internationalization weakened the unity of the domestic ruling classes, as the state acted on behalf of certain fractions of capital at the expense of others. It put the ideological unity of the nation in jeopardy by supporting lopsided economic development within its own territory—as illustrated by our current situation where booming mega-cities power the global economy while small towns and rural areas suffer painful depopulation and decline. Such contradictions are certain to cause political tension and revolt because they shatter the myth that the state is a neutral arbiter on behalf of the whole nation. (They, might, for example, get people thinking about “nationalists” versus “globalists.”) “In a certain sense, the state is caught in its own trap,” Poulantzas writes. “It is not an all-powerful state with which we are dealing with, but rather a state with its back to the wall and its front poised before a ditch.”

“Authoritarian statism,” then, was a general term for the type of capitalist governance that had emerged in the postwar period and only been accentuated by the political and economic crises of the 1970s and the upsurge of popular militancy. He deliberately intended the term as a broad stand-in for what seemed to be the transformation of capitalist government: the massive shift in power from parliaments to the executive, the decline of traditional political parties, the shift of more and more functions of governance from representative institutions to permanent bureaucratic apparatuses controlled by executive power. It also had dimensions of direct repression: the increased use of police and military violence against domestic populations, arbitrary curtailments of civil liberties, and the rise of government on an emergency basis that transcended—sometimes permanently—the normal “state of law.”

State, Power, Socialism (1978) was Poulantzas’s last major update to his theory of the capitalist state, in which one of his major tasks was to think through the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s theory of power, and to articulate how authoritarian statism, as he later put it, brought a shift from “organized brute force to internalized repression.” Unlike Foucault, however, Poulantzas insisted that such disciplinary techniques, even though they are laundered through the state, are ultimately linked back to economic exploitation and class power. Poulantzas had already argued that the separation of the political from the economic, with its attendant creation of atomized legal individuals, was part of the infrastructure of the capitalist state. In State, Power, Socialism, he reiterated that dividing up individuals for domination in the economy is the liberal state’s “primal” role; it continually institutionalizes that fracturing, reinforcing it both ideologically and materially. In other words, the state uses its own practices to make the neoliberal individual. Old markers of social hierarchy and relationships are replaced with scientific-bureaucratic norms that classify and measure people and remind them of their status as individualized social atoms.

Poulantzas’s conception of the state had grown progressively more dynamic: where he had initially emphasized its functional, machine-like qualities, he now dramatized its internal fractures and divisions, and the contingencies introduced by its vulnerability to crisis and its tight links to class struggle. The state, in Poulantzas’s most famous formulation, was “the condensation of a relationship of forces between classes. . . . Class contradictions are the very stuff of the state: they are present in its material framework and pattern its organization.” Poulantzas’s insistence on the materiality of the state’s apparatuses and their reproduction of class power was thus a direct challenge the Foucauldian theorization of power as the all-encompassing fabric of society, a kind of game in which every act of resistance was a strategic “move.” “Power always has a precise basis,” Poulantzas countered. The state “is a site and a center of the exercise of power, but it possesses no power of its own.”

Inside and Outside the State: The Democratic Road to Socialism

Poulantzas’s evolution toward a more dynamic conception of the state had important implications for socialist strategy, one of the features of his thought that has attracted the most attention from contemporary democratic socialists. In his early work, the central argument of his theory of the capitalist state—that it was a structural device for reproducing class domination—led him to affirm a traditional Leninist strategy of “smashing the state.” But as Poulantzas got more specific about the complexity of the state’s apparatuses and their status as a force field of class struggle, he reached a new conclusion: if the state was a set of relationships rather than a “thing,” could it really be encircled or charged like a fortress?

There was no question that, in its current form, the state acted as the organizer of class domination. But a crucial dimension of Poulantzas’s theory was that, in nontrivial ways, the dominated classes were already a part of the state. In the twentieth century, the capitalist state’s fundamental task of “organizing” class struggles had forced it to take major steps—not least the creation of the welfare state—toward accommodating working-class demands. While such achievements were always under threat from capital, they were still achievements that had become a real part of the state infrastructure. In the mid-1970s, as the dictatorships of Southern Europe transitioned to democracy, and as the Italian and French Communist parties wrestled with how to participate in parliamentary politics, Poulantzas began to think about how the balance of power between classes could be radically shifted so that the weak and marginal positions the dominated classes already held in the struggles over the state could be turned into bases for rupture and transformation.

For both theoretical and strategic reasons, Poulantzas reconsidered the relevance of Leninist “dual-power” strategies that aimed to build working-class counter-institutions that would eventually grow strong enough to “smash” the capitalist state. This strategy had originated in a rather ad-hoc fashion in the run-up to the Russian Revolution in 1917. For Poulantzas, looking at the political systems of Western Europe in the late 1970s, it was impossible to imagine a position entirely outside the state. While the dominated classes could and should build rank-and-file institutional power at a distance from the state, they could never be truly outside its field of power. “Today, less than ever is the state an ivory tower isolated from the popular masses,” he wrote. “The state is neither a thing-instrument that may be taken away, nor a fortress that may be penetrated by means of a wooden horse, nor yet a safe that may be cracked by a burglary: it is the heart of the exercise of political power.”

The rhetoric of “smashing” the state not only failed to see that the state was not a “thing” to smash, but also implied—as it ultimately had in the October Revolution—a suppression of institutions of representative democracy that could serve as a defense against an authoritarian statism under new management. Poulantzas tried to envision a way that the left could simultaneously champion both rank-and-file democracy at a distance from the state and a push for radical transformation within it. Working within the state would aim to produce “breaks” that would polarize the highly conflictual state apparatuses toward the working class, assisted by external pressure from rank-and-file organizations. “It is not simply a matter of entering state institutions in order to use their characteristic levers for a good purpose,” Poulantzas wrote. “In addition struggle must always express itself in the development of popular movements, the mushrooming of democratic organs at the base, and the rise of centers of self-management.”

Poulantzas’s attempt at an internal-external strategy aimed to walk a narrow line between a social democratic reformism that merely practiced parliamentary politics as usual and a Leninist revolutionary strategy that he saw as potentially authoritarian and in any case doomed to perpetual isolation from really-existing paths to socialism. Revolutionary critics from the 1970s to the present have argued that this was merely a reformism in disguise. Poulantzas agreed that the risk of falling into reformism was real, but suggested that such a risk was endemic to every revolutionary position in the late twentieth century. “History has not yet given us a successful experience of the democratic road to socialism,” he wrote. “What it has provided—and that is not insignificant—is some negative examples to avoid and some mistakes upon which to reflect. . . . But one thing is certain: socialism will be democratic or it will not be at all.”

A Marxism for the Twenty-First Century?

Poulantzas threw himself from a window in Paris in 1979. In his final years, he seemed to be straining against the seams of his thinking—and perhaps even against the Marxist tradition itself. He had tried to remake the theory of the capitalist state for the twentieth century and socialist strategy for an era of democratic politics. Fellow Marxists have accused him of every transgression in the book: of “scholasticism,” of reformism, of abandoning the concept of class, of remaining too attached to class struggle and the determining power of the economic. He considered his own position as far as one could go toward a Marxist politics without abandoning the fundamental commitment to the determinant role of the relations of production. “If we remain within this conceptual framework, I think that the most that one can do for the specificity of politics is what I have done,” he confessed to the British journal Marxism Today in 1979. “I am not absolutely sure myself that I am right to be Marxist; one is never sure.”

The ambiguities of the final Poulantzas could stand for the whole of his work. Is it possible to square a structural theory of the capitalist state with a dynamic sense of class struggle? Can the vision of a machine-like state whose infrastructure unfailingly spits out class domination be reconciled with one that has “no power of its own,” that merely reflects the balance of class forces in society? Can we really think about class struggle without attention to historical subjects, to the consciousness of all the past discriminations and defeats that, as Marx put it, “weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living?” Is the strategy of combining struggle within the capitalist state with popular movements outside it any less of a pipe dream than all the revolutionary strategies that went before?

There is certainly no question of Poulantzas answering all, or even most, of the questions that democratic socialists face today. If nothing else, his at times maddeningly abstract and incantatory writing style make his work a forbidding thicket for a reader of almost any level of preparation to penetrate. But it is also possible to argue that his very contradictions and ambiguities, which reflected an era of uncertainty that strongly resembles our own, are precisely what makes Poulantzas a provocative source today. Even if he failed to provide satisfying answers to the challenges of the 1970s, he did a great deal to highlight them.

Above all, Poulantzas draws attention to what the British political theorist Ed Rooksby calls “one of the oldest and most fundamental controversies in socialist thought”—that is, “how, and to what extent, capitalist state power might be utilized for socialist objectives.” Poulantzas’s conception of the capitalist state reveals the clear limits of the view typical on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, likely to be on full display in the 2020 election campaign, that reversing American oligarchy is primarily a matter of restoring smart governance and rolling back the grip of the wealthy on the political system. At the same time, however, it is skeptical that unreconstructed revolutionism, which has a small but vocal presence in the resurgent American left, is anything but a fantasy and a path to continued marginality. A nuanced theoretical understanding of the state could serve as an antidote to both kinds of error.

Relatedly, Poulantzas’s sense of the modulations of the capitalist state through its succession of crises are a welcome challenge to simplistic narratives that have colored even left-wing understandings of twentieth-century history. By trying to understand the phases and crisis forms of a fundamentally continuous capitalist state, Poulantzas is a helpful corrective to the notion of a mid-century Keynesian period of strong state interventionism followed by a deregulated neoliberal period marked by a weakened and undermined national state. For strategic reasons, it is important that the contemporary left understand neoliberalism as neither an overall weakening of the nation-state nor a decline in in its strategic importance. Technocratic statism is, rather, a combination of state practices developed during the twentieth century, including the selective delegation of governing powers to international bodies, that have both effectively disorganized the dominated classes and provoked social resistance that now makes them sites of controversy and struggle.

And then there are his writings on the democratic road to socialism, sketches that, while providing no answers in advance, leave a series of suggestive blanks begging to be filled in. “There is only one sure way of avoiding the risks of democratic socialism,” Poulantzas concluded his final book, “and that is to keep quiet and march ahead under the tutelage and the rod of advanced liberal democracy.” We know that path has frightening risks of its own.

David Sessions is a doctoral candidate in European history at Boston College and a graduate fellow at the Clough Center for Constitutional Democracy. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New RepublicJacobin, Commonweal, and elsewhere.

A Class Perspective on the 'Women Question'

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/04/2019 - 12:42am in

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We cannot talk about proletarian and communist revolution if it does not express both the emancipation of the proletariat from class exploitation, and, on the same basis, the emancipation of women from gender oppression.

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Unfrequently Asked Questions: What’s the Lumpenproletariat?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/04/2019 - 3:56am in

Reading Marx and Engels one sometimes find the terms “Lumpenproletariat” and “Aristocracy of Labour”. In some ways the mirror image of each other, those concepts seem to be much more prominent in the writings of later Marxists than in those of Marx and Engels. To the best of my knowledge, the main references in the works of Marx and Engels are (in chronological order): The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), The Class Struggles in France (1850) and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852).

But what are they? We’ll leave Aristocracy of Labour for another opportunity. So, what is the Lumpenproletariat?

In Marx’s account of the development of capitalist society the two main dramatis personae are the Proletarian and the Bourgeois. The latter owns the means of production (the firm, the legal embodiment of fixed assets -- installations, machinery, equipment, raw materials -- cash, intangible assets -- rights, patents). The former owns only its labour power. In a capitalist society, therefore, the former gains his/her livelihood by working for the latter.

That’s no revelation. There’s, however, much more than that.

For good or ill, work constrains, shapes, structures, a worker’s whole life. Workers, I suspect, shall need little convincing, but I’ll say a few words to those more skeptic. Let’s say it’s Wednesday. The alarm goes off. One tries to fool oneself thinking: “Well, at least it isn’t Monday” (have you noticed people seem happier on Fridays?). Time to go to work. And one goes, even if one is sleep-deprived, even if one actually hates one’s job. There are bills to pay. Deep down, one knows it: it could be worse.

For the Lumpenproletariat, for instance. The Lumpenproletarian is a member of the supporting cast acting alongside the Bourgeois and the Proletarian. We’ll come to back to this soon.

It’s when faced to those constrains that one understands how boneheaded is that absurd notion of  “human agency”, beloved of idealist philosophisers. Let’s face it, individual workers are essentially powerless. If you are a worker, you know it. If you aren’t, I don’t care enough to convince you.

Work determines the clothes one wears and even one’s vocabulary at work (try using with a customer/client the same cuss words you freely use with your mates). Indeed, from the day one gets one’s first job to the day (increasingly distant now) one retires, week after week, month after month, year after year, the best part of one’s life is spent doing things one despises (and in some cases may actually kill us). Bullshit jobs. Upward income/wealth mobility has never been great, but as inequality increases, it’s getting worse: kids have a way to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Indeed, even before getting one’s first job, the need to earn a living already shapes one’s education. That’s one, if not the main, function of school.

One makes friends (often even finds one’s better half) at work. Had a bad day at work? Upon looking at one’s face, one’s partner can tell: “Oh! Poor baby”, he/she says. “Bad day, uh?”

One shares all those experiences and frustrations and even occasional good moments with one’s workmates: whether one likes them or not, whether one’s aware of it or not, we workers are all in the same boat. Sure, some are more prosperous, but things can change with a bout of bad luck.

At the very least, we all share the same need to make our work safer and less exhausting and soul-crushing, to shorten our working time and to increase our wages/salaries.

All of which is expensive to our employers and they know it. That’s the bottom line.

As individuals, we workers are powerless, our only hope to get what we need is by banding together. Together, we can deny our employers what they need: our labour power. Strike. I’ve written how, in the Manifesto, Marx and Engels, with astonishing prescience described how that tendency would lead to the formation of the SPD, in Germany, and Labour, in Britain.

There, Marx and Engels for the first time (that I know) compared Proletariat and Lumpenproletariat: the unlucky ones. Normally lacking a fortune, they don’t have the one thing it takes to be capitalists. Worse, for some reason they either fall out of the Proletariat or never managed to be there, in the first place.

Let’s say a once gainfully employed worker loses her job. Maybe free trade made her employer uncompetitive. Recession, technological change, disease, family complications can all play a part. Migrants and ethnic/racial or religious minorities often find it difficult to insert themselves into the working class. Alternatively, once a small farmer, she moves to the city searching for a better life.

Whatever the case, she joins another Marxist aggregate: the Reserve Army of the Unemployed.

Whatever the cause, savings dwindle and any labour skills become obsolete; when you need them, if they ever existed, professional networks vanish. Temporary unemployment becomes permanent. Higher wages, shorter working hours, and occupational health and safety legislation means little to her personally now, much less working class politics. She is no longer a worker. She is no longer in the same boat workers are.

To survive, at first she may rely on the goodness of strangers: public or private charity. But beggars can’t be choosers: there’s no strike for her. As a wise old man once told me: “the shit well is surprisingly deep, son”. There’s no telling how far she shall fall.

Charity dries up. Even friends and family eventually move on. One day she’ll find herself alone. She’s left with her own individual wits: she may be about to enter the worlds of criminality and addiction. Her children, like the children of workers, may follow in her footsteps.

That is not an Iron Law. There are personal variations, of course. Some will not sink so deep and may get a break: recessions don’t last forever; some may be exceptional (that’s as far as “human agency” goes). In general, however, the final destination of the chronic members of that Reserve Army is, as Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire:

“[V]agabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither”.

They are the ones who hit rock bottom. Think of Oliver Twist’s London. Visit a food truck for the homeless in Sydney. They are damaged goods: the tomatoes that found no buyers and were left to rot at the end of the fair (using a simile that should be clear to economists, always fond of little models).

----------
Although overwhelmingly affecting former workers, the Lumpenproletariat is not just a matter of class origin, lack of labour skills, or poverty. In The Class Struggles, Marx writes:

"The finance aristocracy, in its mode of acquisition as well as in its pleasures, is nothing but the rebirth of the lumpenproletariat on the heights of bourgeois society."

Just like not every capitalist is a billionaire, not every poor or unskilled person is a lumpenproletarian. Conversely, the wealthy can also belong in the Lumpenproletariat: organised and white collar crime.

The Lumpenproletariat is a matter of being at the fringe of society, looking into society. That’s a frightful, hopeless place to be. It breeds humilliation and resentment and violence. For all its dysfunctionality, in many ways even the Lumpenproletariat can be functional in a capitalist society: they justify police repression, they can be mobilized by demagogues.

But, most of all, they are there as a warning to workers: this could be you.

On the Crisis of Liberalism IV: Can the History of Defeated Marxism Teach Liberals Anything?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/04/2019 - 12:12am in

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Marxism, Politics

[This is part of an ongoing series of occasion pieces on the crisis of liberalism, recall here, here, here; see also here--ES

Some general facets can be discerned at once. Western Marxism, as we have seen, was progressively inhibited from theoretical confrontation of major economic or political problems, from the 1920s onwards. Gramsci was the last of its thinkers to broach central issues of class struggle directly in his writings. He too, however, wrote nothing about the capitalist economy itself, in the classical sense of analysing the laws of motion of the mode of production as such. After him, an equivalent silence typically shrouded the political order of bourgeois rule, and the means of overthrowing it, as well. The result was that Western Marxism as a whole, when it proceeded beyond questions of method to matters of substance, came to concentrate overwhelmingly on study of superstructures. Moreover, the specific superstructural orders with which it showed the most constant and close concern were those ranking 'highest' in the hierarchy of distance from the economic infrastructure, in Engels's phrase. In other words, it was not the State or Law which provided the typical objects of its research. It was culture that held the central focus of its attention.--Perry Anderson (1976) Considerations on Western Marxism, pp. 75-6. [A neat footnote on Sraffa and Gramsci has been omitted--ES.]

Anderson writes before the fall of the Berlin Wall. But his Considerations is a history of defeat in two senses: first, where the revolution occurred and succeeded (Russia and those countries conquered/inspired by it), Marxism itself (or true Marxism) was defeated by what Anderson sometimes calls 'Stalinism' and sometimes call  'bureacratization' (that is, the capture of the party by the bureaucratic interests and the suppression of worker freedom). Second, in lots of places -- including the 'Western' lands that are the focus of his Considerations -- the forces of capital (sometimes in alliance with fascism) were objectively stronger than the would-be-marxist forces. My interest here is not about the sources of defeat, but the sources of the inherent limitations of western Marxism diagnosed by Anderson.

For, Anderson's book is not meant to be defeatist. It is written after the events of 1968, and he has hopeful due to the "re-emergence of revolutionary masses outside the control of a bureaucratized party rendered potentially conceivable the unification of Marxist theory and working class-practice again." (95) This sentence makes clear what Anderson takes to be the source of these inherent limitations: the split between theory -- primarily developed (by philosophers) within the university -- and working-class praxis. (Gramsci is treated as a partial exception.)  

It would be interesting to learn from more knowledgeable others which social movements today have managed to overcome the split between theory and practice. My lack of familiarity with the details with various social movements prevents me from pontificating on this (but recall this post on Dotson; and this guest post on Graeber.)

But Anderson's book did get me thinking about the shortcomings of liberalism of the last few decades. If Marxism became too much of an academic enterprise dis-associated from movement building (and too focused on epistemological and methodological issues), could the same be said about recent liberalism? Surely, the now stalemated debate over ideal/non-ideal theory reflects something of a similar unease. 

From a historical perspective, in the first wave (recall) of liberalism (roughly, recall, 1776-1914), there were many major liberal thinkers who were also active in politics (one just has to mention Mill and Tocqueville, but the list is much longer). During the second wave (from 1945-2008), plenty of liberal thinkers were influential on policy through their status as professional economists or through their role in shaping jurisprudence. But even so, starting perhaps with Max Weber, the major political philosophers/theorists of second wave liberalism (Rawls, Nozick, Raymond Aron, Habermas, etc.)* were not especially active in government.** 

One clear problem that liberals have is our inability to mobilize as liberals against the illiberal (nationalist, racialist, authoritarian) encroachment on liberal practices. This is no surprise because liberal political theory of the second wave is not just an academic enterprise, but one that is, by and large, a liberalism that (as its critics argue) assumes it's the only live option (even Rawlsian political liberalism assumes liberals are hegemonic). Now critics of liberalism have noticed that this has created the tendency of liberals of treating illiberal positions as fundamentally irrational. While I think this is a huge problem, today I ignore it. Rather, I want to call attention to three bad effects.

First, liberal theory has ignored the significance of leadership and mobilization. As I have noted before, modern liberals tend to dislike talk of leadership--we prefer rules, procedures, impartial laws, and public reason. But a lot of collective action and mobilization problems require some kind of organizing and leadership. In addition, the maintenance of a liberal public culture and institutions, even the transmission of power, also requires leadership (recall this post). 

Second, because liberals prefer (emancipatory) rules, procedures, impartial laws, and public reason, we have too often ceded 'democracy' to populists and nationalists. (It has not helped that Stateside, one of the main parties, the Republicans, as Jacob Levy has argued, has also had undemocratic instincts when it comes to dis-enfranchisement, while the other party, the Democrats,  has been eager to work with the courts when it could to achieve major policy ends.) This means that fundamentally illiberal conceptions of democracy in terms of unconstrained majoritarianism or 'the people' have been gaining ground.+ In so far as liberals have a theory of (voter) mobilization, it's a negative one in terms of rent-seeking/capture of special interests (recall here and here). 

The two bad effects combine, third, in the tendency of second-wave liberalism to treat voters as ignorant and to embrace either (among mainstream liberals) technocracy or (among libertarian friendly types) markets (or both) as an alternative to democracy. It's hard to see how to make liberalism a popular political program if it insults those on whose good opinion and support it would have to rely in a crisis. This is not to deny that liberalism is (recall) rooted in the thought that political life requires institutional response(s) to human imperfection (including immorality). But each of these responses/institutions (rule of law, separation of powers, international treaties, role of markets, etc.) could be defended on positive grounds in terms of important values and consequences (without, as it were, reminding the voters of their own immorality/ignorance). In political practice, there is little defense of them.++ 

That liberals lost the political ability to defend their liberal values in the political arena has, I think, become most clear by the authoritarian and polarizing responses to the tendency of some Muslim citizens to radicalize. Rather than treating such radicalization as an invitation to reflect on the ways in which liberal society fails to due justice to the aspirations of its own citizens and falls short of its own ideals, we have welcomed a robust defense of 'Western' culture that through its various manifestations (war on terror, state of emergency, etc.) is increasingly encouraging rejectionism of liberal values by the electorate. We are routinely asked, in zero-sum fashion, to pick sides in a clash of civilizations, rather than (as the liberal sensitivity demands) looking for win-win futures.

Winning the cold war, and the passage of time, left liberalism unprepared for its own fragility. By this I do not mean that liberalism would be un-competitive in great power rivalry with, say, China. But rather, that liberal theoretical development became, in part, unmoored from liberal political practice (in so far as that liberal practice became too closely identified with economic theory/jurisprudence). And while such division of labor is itself a consequence of liberal success, I fear it has also encouraged the idea that we can muddle our way through, each of us doing our own thing.   

 

 

*The same can be said for many of the critics of liberalism, Foucault, Arendt, Chomsky, Mouffe, Iris Marion Young, etc. 

*Isaiah Berlin, Bernard Williams, and Martha Nussbaum may be partial exceptions to this list. Surely there are more? 

+ Stateside, the attack on the electoral college, while completely understandable, will also lead to a more majoritarian culture. 

++In Europe, the EU institutional design has many imperfections. But the worst is that it incentivized national politicians and entrenched economic actors, to blame the liberal institutions (of the EU) for (any) existing problems (while the politicians could take credit for any successes or 'opt out'), while creating no mechanisms by which voters could be jointly responsible for European outcomes. I am not denying that there has been successful, partial mobilization against some authoritarian tendencies. That's for a different post. 

Book on the Plight of the Embattled Christians of Palestine

Said K. Aburish, The Forgotten Faithful: The Christians of the Holy Land (London: Quartet 1993).

Aburish is a Palestinian, born in Bethany, and the author of several books about the Arabs and specifically the Palestinians and their persecution by the Israelis – A Brutal Friendship, Children of Bethany – The Story of a Palestinian Family and Cry Palestine: Inside the West Bank. In The Forgotten Faithful he tackles the problems of the Christians of Palestine, talking to journalists, church official, charity workers, educationalists, businessmen and finally of the leaders of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi. Christians used to constitute ten per cent or so of the Palestinian population before the foundation of Israel. Now they’re down to one per cent. Much of this decline has been due to emigration, as educated, skilled Christians leave Israel to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and the indigenous Christian future in the Holy Land, the in which Christianity first arose, is uncertain.

Said states clearly the issues driving this decline early in his book – persecution by the Israelis, and particularly their attempt to wrest the lucrative tourism industry from them on the one hand, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the other. He writes

Twenty-five years of Israeli occupation have been disastrous for Palestinian Christians. In addition to the widely known closures of schools, imprisonment and torture of children, deportation of dissenters and activists, the expropriation of land owned by individuals and church-owned property, the Christians’ primary source of income, tourism and its subsidiary service businesses, have been the targets of special Israeli attempts to control them. In other words, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, the Christians have suffered more than their Muslim countrymen because they have more of what the Israelis want.

Furthermore, the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism is confronting the Christians with new problems against most of which they cannot protest without endangering the local social balance, indeed their Palestinian identity. Muslim fanatics have raise the Crescent on church towers, Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, the statues of the Virgin Mary destroyed and, for the first time ever, the Palestinian Christians are facing constraints on their way of life. In Gaza a Muslim fundamentalist stronghold, Christian women have to wear headscarves and long sleeves or face stoning, and Christian-owned shops have to close on the Muslim sabbath of Friday instead of on Sunday. 

These combined pressures come at a time of strain between the local Christian communities and both their local church leadership and the mainline churches of the West. The mainline churches in the West are accused of not doing enough to help them financially or drawing attention to their plight, for fear of appearing anti-Semitic and to a lesser degree anti-Muslim. The local church leaders are caught between their parishioners’ cry for help and the attitude of their mother churches and have been undermined by their identification with the latter. In addition to problems with the mainline churches, Christian evangelist groups from the United States, Holland and other countries support the State of Israel at the expense of local Christians. The evangelists accept the recreation of Israel as the prelude to the second coming to the extent of ignoring local Christian rights and feelings, a fact overlooked by Muslim zealots who blame the local Christians for not curbing their insensitive pro-Israeli co-religionists.

Two subsidiary problems contribute towards closing the ring of helplessness which is choking the local Christian communities of the Holy Land. The suffering inflicted on them by others and the direct and indirect results of the neglect of outside Christianity still haven’t induced their local church leaders to cooperate in establishing a common, protective Christian position. The traditional quarrel, alongside other disputes between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, continues and its stands in the way of creating a constructive Christian front. Furthermore, the Israelis make the appearance of favouring them against their Muslim nationals, a divide-and-rule policy which contributes towards inflaming the feelings of ignorant Muslims who do not understand the reasons behind the Israeli actions and use them to justify whatever anti-Christian feeling exists. (pp. 2-4).

The Palestinian Christian community has largely been middle class, assimilated and patriotic. They have provided the Palestinian people with a large number of businessmen and professionals, including a significant part of the membership and leadership of Palestinian nationalism and the PLO, as well as the civil rights lawyers working to defend the Palestinian people from persecution by the Israeli state and military. They have also been active establishing charities to provide for the Palestinians’ welfare. Said visits one, which specialises in rehabilitating and providing training for people physically injured and mentally traumatised by the Israeli armed forces. Visiting a Palestinian hospital, he also meets some of the victims of the IDF wounded and crippled by the IDF, including a young man shot by a member of the Special Forces simply for spraying anti-Israeli graffiti on a wall.

This isn’t an anti-Semitic book, as Aburish talks to sympathetic Israeli journalists and academics, but he describes very clearly the violence and bigotry that comes not just from the Israeli state and army, but also from Jewish religious fanatics. In the first chapter he describes a group of Israeli soldiers sneering at Christian Palestinians, and how he deliberated placed himself between a group of Jewish schoolboys and an elderly Ethiopian nun going through one district of Jerusalem. The boys had first started insulting her, and then began throwing stones at her and Aburish before the local, Jewish inhabitants rushed into the street to drive them away. The churches and monasteries in that part of town are close to an area of Jewish religious extremists. They’re not usually physically aggressive, but they make it very clear they don’t like Christians being there.

Nor is it anti-Muslim. The Christians community itself sees itself very firmly as part of the Palestinians. Many Christian men have adopted the name Muhammad in order to show that there is no difference between themselves as their Muslim fellow countrymen. And historically they have been fully accepted by the Muslim community. Aburish talks to the headman of a mixed Christian-Muslim village. The man is a Christian, and historically Christians have formed the headmen for the village. The Christians also point with pride to the fact that one of the generals of Saladin, the Muslim leader who conquered Palestine back from the Crusaders, was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Aburish is shocked by how extremely religious the Muslim community has become, with Friday services packed and one of his aunts traveling to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to pray. This, like the less obvious religious revival among the Christians, is ultimately due to Israeli pressure and the failure of secular Palestinian politicians. There is no truth in politics, so they seek it instead in Islam and the pages of Qu’ran. And behind this rise in Islamic intolerance are the Saudis. Aburish recommends better Muslim-Christian dialogue to tackle this growing intolerance.

Aburish hears from the Palestinians how their land is seized by the Israelis for the construction of new, Israeli settlements, how people are shot, beaten, injured and maimed, and the attempts to strangle Palestinians businesses. This includes legislation insisting that all tourist guides have to be Israeli – a blatant piece of racism intended to drive Christians out of the tourist business through denying them access to the many Christian shrines, churches and monuments that are at the heart of the industry. Christian charities and welfare services don’t discriminate between Christian and Muslim, but they are oversubscribed and underfunded. And the churches are more interested in defending their traditional institutional privileges than in helping their local flock. They look west, and are more interested in promoting and defending the churches’ response to the worlds’ problems as a whole, while the Palestinians are also being pulled east through their Arab identity. Senior Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clergy are often foreigners, who cannot speak Arabic and may be to a greater or lesser extent indifferent to the needs and problems of their congregations. The Palestinian Christians are also hampered by the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that they have specific problems as a minority within the wider Palestinian nation, partly for fear of further antagonising the Muslim majority.

Nevertheless, some Palestinian Christians choose to remain, stubbornly refusing to emigrate while they could get much better jobs elsewhere. And all over the world, expatriate Palestinian communities are proud of their origins and connection to the land. Aburish even talks to one optimistic Palestinian Christian businessman, who believes that Cyprus provides the model for a successful Palestine. There local people have built a thriving commercial economy without having the universities and educational institutions Palestine possesses. And some Palestinian Christians believe that the solutions to their crisis is for the community to reconnect with its oriental roots, reviving the traditional extensive Arab family structure, which has served Arabs so well in the past.

The book was published a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, and I’ve no doubt that things have changed since then. But not for the better. There have been recent magazine articles by National Geographic, among others, that report that the Palestinians are still suffering the same problem – caught between the hammer of the Israeli state and the anvil of Islamic fundamentalism. Christian Zionism, however, has become stronger and exerts a very powerful influence on American foreign policy through organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Netanyahu’s vile Likud is still in power, and Israeli politics has lurched even further to the right with the inclusion of Fascist parties like Otzma Yehudat – Jewish Power – in the wretched coalition. And some British churches maintain a very determined silence on the problems of the Palestinians. According to one anti-Zionist Jewish blog, the Methodist Church has passed regulations at its synod preventing it or its members officially criticising Israel. Because of the church’s leaders was friends with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I am very well aware of the long, shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and how real, genuine Nazis have also criticised Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and claimed that they’re just anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to provoke further bigotry against the Jewish people. But Israel is oppressing the Christians of Palestine as well as the Muslims, but we in the West really don’t hear about it. And I’m not sure how many western Christians are really aware that there is a Christian community in Palestine, or how its members largely identify totally as Palestinians. Certainly Ted Cruz, the American politico, didn’t when he tried telling a Middle Eastern Christian group that they should support Israel. He was shocked and disgusted when they very firmly and obviously didn’t agree. He made the mistake of believing they had the same colonialist attitude of western right-wing Christians, while Middle Eastern Christians are very much the colonised and know it. Hence the fact that according to Aburish, many Palestinian Christians look for theological support to South American Liberation Theology and its Marxist critique of colonialism. And they also supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, as a secular Arab state that would allow them to maintain their religious identity and culture.

The book’s dated, and since it was written the Christian presence in the Holy Land has dwindled further. Aburish describes in strong terms what a catastrophe a Palestine without indigenous Christians would be. He writes

The growing prospect of a Holy Land Christianity reduced to stones, a museum or tourist faith without people, a Jerusalem without believers in Christ, is more serious than that of a Rome without a Pope or a Canterbury without an archbishop. It is tantamount to a criminal act which transcends a single church and strikes a blow at the foundations and the very idea of Christianity.

I thoroughly recommend this book to every western Christian reader interested in seeing an alternative view of the religious situation in Palestine, one of that contradicts the lies and demands of the right-wing press. Like an article by the Torygraph’s Barbara Amiel back in the 1990s, which quoted a Christian mayor as stating that the Christian community welcomed the Israeli occupation. His might, but as the book shows, most don’t. Or that scumbucket Katie Hopkins telling us that we should support Israel, because it represents Judaeo-Christian values and civilisation, a claim that would outrage many Jews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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