Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 12, 2016

What is to be done

Filed under: ussr — louisproyect @ 1:18 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 8.15.10 AM

Dr. Michael Welton,

In your long diatribe against Lenin on CounterPunch today, you turn “What is to be Done” into some kind of original sin:

In his educational treatise What is to be Done? (1903), Lenin formulates the pedagogical relationship between educator (socialist intellectual) and those to be educated (peasants and proletariat) in bluntly instrumental and directive terms.

This famous (or infamous) text can be situated in the years between 1872 and 1905 that were marked by the absence of revolution. The existing revolutionary parties held gradualist and economistic beliefs, and Lenin could not see any way forward without “vanguard” subordination of the working class to the Leninist educator.

You don’t seem to understand that Lenin’s ideas on the revolutionary party were a direct application of the model of the German Social Democracy. Lenin wrote:

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.

Lenin’s main point is that the Social Democrat should not aspire to be a trade union secretary, but instead the “tribune of the people.” This tribune will “react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum of people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”

Lenin’s example of one such tribune is the German Social Democratic leader Wilhelm Liebnecht. The German Social Democracy was Lenin’s model for what was needed in Russia. This type of party did not exist in Russia and it was his goal to build one.

You cite a number of enemies of Lenin in your diatribe including Maurice Brinton whose citation of Lenin’s 1918 article “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government” supposedly indicated that the fate of the Russian Revolution was sealed therein–thus making an amalgam of Lenin and Stalin: “Revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process.”

I am not sure what it is that you teach but history does not seem to be your forte. Lenin’s article was written during the civil war when the USSR was invaded by 8 imperialist armies, including the USA. This resulted in the death of 7 to 12 million people, mostly civilians, according to the Wikipedia article on the Russian civil war.

Once the civil war was over, the Soviets dropped war communism like a hot potato and moved toward the NEP which hardly maps to Maurice Brinton’s nightmare. Of course the NEP led to a series of other problems that arguably strengthened Stalin’s hand. In any case, the best way to understand what happened in the USSR is not by quoting libertarian communists like Maurice Brinton that sound great on paper. Rather it requires an engagement with the social and economic forces that acted mercilessly on Lenin and all attempts in the 20th and 21st century to build an alternative to capitalism. The lesson that can be drawn is that socialism requires a global framework if it is to succeed. Lenin’s writings and even the fitful attempts of the Comintern to provide such a framework are still useful for those of us who remain inspired by the 1917 revolution.

Although I am happy to see CounterPunch–a website that unfortunately gives far too much space for people who obviously admire Stalin and Stalin Jr. (Vladimir Putin)–publish your article, it is a disservice to socialism. My recommendation to you is to read Neil Harding’s “Lenin’s Political Thought” to get a handle on what Lenin believed as opposed to the funhouse mirror image of Lenin and the USSR by Maurice Brinton et al.

Have a nice day.

February 11, 2016

Democracy, the Democratic Party, and superdelegates

Filed under: democracy,electoral strategy,liberalism,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 7:56 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 2.53.01 PM

What the fuck?

Although I plan to vote for Jill Stein, I sympathize with his supporters who are repelled by the underhanded tactics of Hillary Clinton and her mouthpieces. Besides the constant barrage of propaganda from the likes of Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman, there are institutional barriers to him becoming the DP candidate for president, especially the “superdelegates” who are free to vote for Clinton even if she loses a primary as was the case with New Hampshire. Despite being in a dead heat with Clinton in Iowa (and on the losing side arguably through fraud orchestrated by her minions) and having won in New Hampshire, the delegate count is 394 delegates for Clinton, both super and earned through the ballot and only 42 for Sanders.

The superdelegates for Clinton are a kind of rogue’s gallery for the DP (which I suppose is a kind of redundancy.) Like Andrew Cuomo, the CNN reporter, and his brother Mario who is the neoliberal dirtbag governor of NY state. Historically the superdelegates were a reaction to the hiccup of democracy that emerged in the DP during the 1960s radicalization. In 1968 the DP convention nominated Hubert Humphrey for president even though the delegate count for Robert F. Kennedy was 393.5 and 258 for Eugene McCarthy. The combined total for the two antiwar (sort of, anyhow) candidates was 651.3 while Humphrey had 561.5. With Kennedy’s death, the only fair outcome would have been a McCarthy nomination but LBJ pulled strings to make Humphrey the nominee.

With outrage against the proceedings exacerbated by the continuing war, party bosses decided to introduce a bit more democracy to placate the masses. A commission headed by Senator George McGovern and Representative Donald Fraser recommended that party bosses be curtailed of their power and that restrictions on voter registration be lifted. All this threatened the corporate domination of the party so a new commission headed by North Carolina (you were expecting Massachusetts maybe?) governor Jim Hunt drafted the superdelegate rules.

There’s a useful history of the superdelegate system on CounterPunch by Eva Liddell. Written in 2008, it has the benefit of sizing up Barack Obama correctly:

During the Reagan years when the Democratic party propped up a presidency reminiscent of its current antics in the George W. Bush years, the Democratic party elites bestowed upon themselves five hundred and fifty “super-delegates.” They announced it was imperative to alter the rules to “make it easier for the party to consolidate around front-running candidates.” Meaning that it would make it a lot easier for party leaders and the party’s money backers to rally around the candidate of their choice putting all the resources of the party behind him, to beat out insurgents and foist the guy they owned onto the voting public.

The surprise ascendancy of Barack Obama, interestingly backed by the old Carter hand Brzezinski along with numerous financial backers, has him facing competition from another party insider, Hillary Clinton, along with her own big money people. The super-delegates are finding themselves in the position of having to pick one or the other candidate in what might be an internecine falling out among thieves which only aggrandizes their own power within the party as the two candidates are made supplicants for their votes while promising them rewards.

Delegate State Group Candidate
Alma Adams[4] NC Representative Clinton
Pete Aguilar[5] CA Representative Clinton
Maggie Allen[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jill Alper[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Archer[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrice Arent[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Ashford[8] NE Representative Clinton
Jon M. Ausman[9] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carrie Austin [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Shawn K. Bagley[11] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Baldwin[12] WI Senator Clinton
Nick Balletto[13] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Bass[14] CA Representative Clinton
Jan Bauer[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Beatty[16] OH Representative Clinton
Xavier Becerra[17] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Bennet[18] CO Senator Clinton
Ami Bera[19] CA Representative Clinton
Bret Berlin[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeff Berman[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Don Beyer[22] VA Representative Clinton
Gus Bickford[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Erin Bilbray[24] NV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Stephen Bittel[25] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Bloomingdale[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Blumenauer[27] OR Representative Clinton
Richard Blumenthal[28] CT Senator Clinton
Dean Boerste[29] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
James Boland[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Suzanne Bonamici[30] OR Representative Clinton
Anita Bonds[31] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cory Booker[32] NJ Senator Clinton
Madeleine Bordallo[18] GU Representative Clinton
Muriel Bowser[33] DC Gov. Clinton
Barbara Boxer[34] CA Senator Clinton
Carolyn Boyce[35] ID Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandra Brandt[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Bremer Muggli[37] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Scott Brennan [38] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doug Brooks[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Boyd Brown[40] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Corrine Brown[41] FL Representative Clinton
Sherrod Brown[42] OH Senator Clinton
Julia Brownley[43] CA Representative Clinton
Jocelyn Bucaro[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tonio Burgos[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cordelia Burks[46] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cheri Bustos[47] IL Representative Clinton
Laphonza Butler[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
G.K. Butterfield[48] NC Representative Clinton
MaryEva Candon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Cantwell[50] WA Senator Clinton
Lois Capps[51] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Capuano[52] MA Representative Clinton
Tony Cardenas[53] CA Representative Clinton
Ben Cardin[54] MD Senator Clinton
Maria Cardona[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Carney[55] DE Representative Clinton
Tom Carper[55] DE Senator Clinton
André Carson[56] IN Representative Clinton
Karen Carter Peterson[57] LA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Matt Cartwright[58] PA Representative Clinton
Bob Casey, Jr.[59] PA Senator Clinton
Barbara Caspar Silperstein[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Cassidy[60] VT Democratic National Committee Sanders
Joaquín Castro[61] TX Representative Clinton
Mitchell Ceasar[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Judy Chu[62] CA Representative Clinton
David Cicilline[63] RI Representative Clinton
Katherine Clark[64] MA Representative Clinton
Yvette Clarke[65] NY Representative Clinton
William Lacy Clay, Jr.[66] MO Representative Clinton
Emanuel Cleaver[18] MO Representative Clinton
Alan Clendenin[67] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Clinton[68] NY DPL Clinton
Tony Coelho[26] DE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Larry Cohen[1] DC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Steve Cohen[69] TN Representative Clinton
Rickey Cole [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheila Comar[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Connolly[72] VA Representative Clinton
John Conyers[73] MI Representative Clinton
Chris Coons[74] DE Senator Clinton
Jim Cooper[75] TN Representative Clinton
Maria Cordone[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry Costello [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeannette Council[76] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Courtney[77] CT Representative Clinton
Jeffrey David Cox[78] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joseph Crowley[79] NY Representative Clinton
Henry Cuellar[18] TX Representative Clinton
John Cullerton [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elijah Cummings[80] MD Representative Clinton
Ana Cuprill[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jennifer Cunningham[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Andrew Cuomo[82] NY Gov. Clinton
Maria Cuomo Cole[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Melba Curls[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Currie[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Cusack[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Danny Davis[18] IL Representative Clinton
Wendy Davis[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Dayton[17] MN Gov. Clinton
Howard Dean[85] VT DPL Clinton
Diana DeGette[86] CO Representative Clinton
John Delaney[18] MD Representative Clinton
Lizette Delgado Polanco[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rosa DeLauro[87] CT Representative Clinton
Suzan DelBene[88] WA Representative Clinton
Ted Deutch[18] FL Representative Clinton
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy DiNardo[89] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Dingell[18] MI Representative Clinton
Arrington Dixon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kate Donaghue[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ronald Donatucci[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Donnelly[90] IN Senator Clinton
Joanne Dowdell[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Duckworth[18] IL Representative Clinton
Dick Durbin[92] IL Senator Clinton
Jess Durfee[93] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Echaveste[94] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Donna Edwards[20] MD Representative Clinton
Joyce Elliott[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Keith Ellison[96] MN Representative Sanders
Eliot Engel[97] NY Representative Clinton
Akilah Ensley[98] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Reni Erdos[99] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Anna Eshoo[5] CA Representative Clinton
Lily Eskelsen García[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elizabeth Esty[100] CT Rep Clinton
Joe Falk[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Herman Farrell[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chaka Fattah[71] PA Representative Clinton
Dianne Feinstein[101] CA Senator Clinton
Rajiv Fernando [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Foster[18] IL Representative Clinton
Donald Fowler[102] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Fowlkes[103] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lois Frankel[104] FL Representative Clinton
Isabel Framer[105] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Franken[106] MN Senator Clinton
Marcia Fudge[107] OH Representative Clinton
Kate Gallego[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ruben Gallego[109] AZ Representative Clinton
John Garamendi[110] CA Representative Clinton
Montserrat Garibay[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dick Gephardt[39] MO DPL Clinton
Penny Gerber[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Germond[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Gierau[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kirsten Gillibrand[28] NY Senator Clinton
Emily Giske[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Angel Gomez[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barry Goodman[112] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billi Gosh[39] VT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Green[113] TX Representative Clinton
Darlene Green[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gene Green[18] TX Representative Clinton
Amanda Green-Hawkins[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vallena Greer [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Raúl Grijalva[114] AZ Representative Sanders
Marcel Groen[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Michael Gronstal[116] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stanley Grossman[117] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Grossman[23] MA DPL Clinton
Luis Gutiérrez[118] IL Representative Clinton
Debra Haaland[119] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Halpern[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Janice Hahn[18] CA Representative Clinton
Mary Hales[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maggie Hassan[120] NH Gov. Clinton
Alcee Hastings[104] FL Representative Clinton
Denny Heck[88] WA Representative Clinton
Martin Heinrich[121] NM Senator Clinton
Heidi Heitkamp[12] ND Senator Clinton
Luis Heredia[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Hickenlooper[122] CO Gov. Clinton
Brian Higgins[43] NY Representative Clinton
Tony Hill[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rubén Hinojosa[43] TX Representative Clinton
Jim Himes[123] CT Representative Clinton
Mazie Hirono[19] HI Senator Clinton
Marge Hoffa[124] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eleanor Holmes Norton[21] DC Representative Clinton
Danny Homan[125] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Honda[126] CA Representative Clinton
Steny Hoyer[18] MD Representative Clinton
Fred Hudson[127] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Huffman[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jared Huffman[128] CA Representative Clinton
Harold Ickes[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vince Insalaco[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Inslee[88] WA Gov. Clinton
Steve Israel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Troy Jackson[129] ME Democratic National Committee Sanders
Sheila Jackson Lee[18] TX Representative Clinton
Jay Jacobs[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Hakeem Jeffries[65] NY Representative Clinton
Eddie Bernice Johnson[18] TX Representative Clinton
Hank Johnson[130] GA Representative Clinton
Lacy Johnson[131] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barbara Jones[119] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ray Jordan[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gale Jones Carson[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Kaine[133] VA Senator Clinton
Elaine Kamarck[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Kaminski[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Keating[135] MA Representative Clinton
John Keller [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Randy Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Unzell Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Robin Kelly[137] IL Representative Clinton
Joseph P. Kennedy III[138] MA Representative Clinton
Ruben Kihuen[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Kildee[18] MI Representative Clinton
Derek Kilmer[18] WA Representative Clinton
Paul G. Kirk[140] MA DPL Sanders
Ann Kirkpatrick[108] AZ Representative Clinton
Amy Klobuchar[141] MN Senator Clinton
Kaye Koonce[142] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sarah Kovner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Caitlin Kraft-Buchman[143] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ann Kuster[144] NH Representative Clinton
Jim Langevin[145] RI Representative Clinton
Linda Langston[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rick Larsen[18] WA Representative Clinton
John B. Larson[100] CT Representative Clinton
Brenda Lawrence[146] MI Representative Clinton
Gerald Lawrence[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrick Leahy[147] VT Senator Clinton
Sunita Leeds[148] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Leone[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cindy Lerner[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Levin[18] MI Representative Clinton
John Lewis[18] GA Representative Clinton
Yvette Lewis[149] MD Democratic National Committee O’Malley
Ted Lieu[19] CA Representative Clinton
John Litz[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dave Loebsack[150] IA Representative Clinton
Zoe Lofgren[151] CA Representative Clinton
Martha Love[152] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Myron Lowery[153] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nita Lowey[18] NY Representative Clinton
Michelle Lujan Grisham[18] NM Representative Clinton
Stephen F. Lynch[18] MA Representative Clinton
Mark Mallory[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Malloy[154] CT Gov. Clinton
Carolyn Maloney[155] NY Representative Clinton
Sean Patrick Maloney[18] NY Representative Clinton
Joe Manchin[156] WV Senator Clinton
Jack Markell[157] DE Gov. Clinton
Ed Markey[158] MA Senator Clinton
Ken Martin[159] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Trudy L. Mason[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doris Matsui[18] CA Representative Clinton
Janet May[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jayne Mazzotti[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Terry McAuliffe[161] VA Gov. Clinton
Claire McCaskill[162] MO Senator Clinton
Jennifer McClellan[163][164] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Betty McCollum[165] MN Representative Clinton
Dustin McDaniel[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jim McDermott[18] WA Representative Clinton
Jim McGovern[166] MA Representative Clinton
Joseph McNamara[167] RI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry McNerney[5] CA Representative Clinton
Gregory W. Meeks[17] NY Representative Clinton
Shari Mellin[90] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Grace Meng[79] NY Representative Clinton
Barbara Mikulski[80] MD Senator Clinton
Breanne Miller[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy Mills[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stephanie Miner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Walter Mondale[168] MN DPL Clinton
Gwen Moore[17] WI Representative Clinton
Minyon Moore[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bruce Morrison[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Seth Moulton[168] MA Representative Clinton
Dorothy Mrowka[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bob Mulholland[46] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chris Murphy[170] CT Senator Clinton
Patrick Murphy[171] FL Representative Clinton
Ian Murray[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patty Murray[172] WA Senator Clinton
Jerrold Nadler[173] NY Representative Clinton
Grace Napolitano[174] CA Representative Clinton
Katie Naranjo[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Neal[176] MA Representative Clinton
Bill Nelson[177] FL Senator Clinton
Jadine Nielsen[148] HI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Nixon[177] MO Gov. Clinton
Chad Nodland[178] ND Democratic National Committee Sanders
Rick Nolan[179] MN Representative Clinton
Michael Nutter[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
David O’Brien[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Blanca O’Leary[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Olsen[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Opstvedt[181] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Owen[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Pallone[182] NJ Representative Clinton
Bruce Palmer[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Pascrell[183] NJ Representative Clinton
Donald Payne, Jr.[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Gregory Pecoraro[149] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Pelosi[126] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carol Pensky[185] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Perlmutter[18] CO Representative Clinton
Gary Peters[186] MI Senator Clinton
Scott Peters[17] CA Representative Clinton
Pedro Pierluisi[187] PR Representative Clinton
Chellie Pingree[18] ME Representative Clinton
Redding Pitt[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stacey Plaskett[4] VI Representative Clinton
Jared Polis[18] CO Representative Clinton
Karen Pope-Onwukwe[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
DuBose Porter[188] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steven Powell [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
David Price[189] NC Representative Clinton
Carrie Pugh[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Querry[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Quigley[190] IL Representative Clinton
Jake Quinn[191] NC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Evie Rafalko McNulty[192] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gina Raimondo[193] RI Gov. Clinton
Andres Ramirez[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rion Ramirez[194] WA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jack Reed[195] RI Senator Clinton
Kasim Reed[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Regenstreif[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Rendell[196] PA DPL Clinton
Rory Respicio[197] GU Democratic National Committee Clinton
Laura Ricketts [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Rivera[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
José R. Rodríguez[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mannie Rodriguez[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Roy Romer[180] CO DPL Clinton
Carol Ronen[198] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ellen Rosenblum[199] OR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sally Rosser[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lucille Roybal-Allard[174] CA Representative Clinton
Charles Rangel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Chris Regan[200] WV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Kathleen Rice[18] NY Representative Clinton
Cedric Richmond[18] LA Representative Clinton
Raul Ruiz[187] CA Representative Clinton
Dutch Ruppersberger[20] MD Representative Clinton
Bobby Rush[201] IL Representative Clinton
Tim Ryan[18] OH Representative Clinton
Gregorio Sablan[202] MP Representative Clinton
Linda Sánchez[203] CA Representative Clinton
Loretta Sanchez[174] CA Representative Clinton
Raymond Sanchez[204] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bernie Sanders[1] VT Senator Sanders
Keelan Sanders[70] MS Democratic National Committee Sanders
John Sarbanes[20] MD Representative Clinton
Lee Saunders[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Peggy Schaffer[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jan Schakowsky[18] IL Representative Clinton
Brian Schatz[205] HI Senator Clinton
Adam Schiff[18] CA Representative Clinton
Kurt Schrader[75] OR Representative Clinton
Nancy Schumacher[206] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chuck Schumer[207] NY Senator Clinton
Bobby Scott[36] VA Representative Clinton
David Scott[17] GA Representative Clinton
José E. Serrano[208] NY Representative Clinton
Terri Sewell[17] AL Representative Clinton
Lottie Shackelford[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billy Shaheen[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeanne Shaheen[18] NH Senator Clinton
Garry Shay[209] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Sherman[210] CA Representative Clinton
Peter Shumlin[211] VT Gov. Clinton
Louise Slaughter[212] NY Representative Clinton
Leslie Small[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Adam Smith[213] WA Representative Clinton
Hilda Solis[214] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lenora Sorola-Pohlman[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jackie Speier[5] CA Representative Clinton
Dennis Speight[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Stabenow[215] MI Senator Clinton
Kathy Sullivan[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eric Swalwell[216] CA Representative O’Malley
Susan Swecker[217] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Sweeney[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Annette Taddeo[218] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Takai[205] HI Representative Clinton
Mark Takano[19] CA Representative Clinton
Allison Tant[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Marian Tasco[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bennie Thompson[219] MS Representative Clinton
Mike Thompson[43] CA Representative Clinton
Krystal Thrailkill[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dina Titus[18] NV Representative Clinton
Paul Tonko[97] NY Representative Clinton
Niki Tsongas[220] MA Representative Clinton
Tom Udall[221] NM Senator Clinton
Chris Van Hollen[222] MD Representative Clinton
Marc Veasey[18] TX Representative Clinton
Filemon Vela, Jr.[223] TX Representative Clinton
Nydia Velázquez[18] NY Representative Clinton
Brian Wahby[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
George Wallace[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Walz[159] MN Representative Clinton
Carolyn Warner[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Warner[224] VA Senator Clinton
Maxine Waters[53] CA Representative Clinton
Bonnie Watson Coleman[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Randi Weingarten[225] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Royce West[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheldon Whitehouse[18] RI Senator Clinton
David Wilhelm[44] OH DPL Clinton
Alan Williams[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nikema Williams[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frederica Wilson[104] FL Representative Clinton
Sylvia Wilson[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Wisniewski[226] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Tom Wolf[17] PA Gov. Clinton
David Worley[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Wyden[227] OR Senator Clinton
Rosalind Wyman[228] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Yarbrough[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Yarmuth[229] KY Representative Clinton
Laurence Zakson[230] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patricia Zieg[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rob Zimmerman[231] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton


February 10, 2016

Tensions between Upton Sinclair and the Socialist Party

Filed under: electoral strategy,third parties,two-party system — louisproyect @ 12:05 am

Norman Thomas

This is from Greg Mitchell’s “Change of the Century”. It will remind you of debates now taking place about the Sanders’s campaign today. It is clear that Mitchell’s sympathies are with Sinclair. I should add that the SP grew rapidly in the 1930s, largely because Thomas was very involved with labor struggles such as in Flint, Michigan and because many workers were turned off to the CPUSA. I am not sure if the EPIC campaign helped to torpedo the SP but I am damned sure that James P. Cannon’s entryist tactic surely did.

* * * * *

Norman Thomas, arriving in Milwaukee for a meeting of the Socialist party’s executive committee, knew that disaster for his party in California could no longer be averted. Upton Sinclair, the party’s most famous deserter, had rolled up an astounding vote, and he had done it with the aid of vital California Socialists like J. Stitt Wilson (the mayor of Berkeley), young schoolmaster Jerry Voorhis, and ACLU activist John Packard. Membership in the California party, which tripled between 1931 and 1933, had been reduced by half since that fateful day last September when Upton Sinclair changed his party registration from Socialist to Democrat. Thomas, the party’s candidate for president in 1932, tried to stop the hemorrhaging, denouncing Sinclair’s switch in no uncertain terms, but with absolutely no success. Had Sinclair lost on August 28, Thomas might have been exonerated: See, he would have said, a Socialist can sell out and still not win a major-party nomination. Instead, it was his dear friend and colleague Upton Sinclair who earned vindication.

Like nearly everyone on the Left, Norman Thomas considered Sinclair an early influence, and he loved Uppie as a friend. The feeling was mutual. Practically from the moment he declared his candidacy, Sinclair cultivated Thomas’s support. Yet Thomas let him down. His opposition was based purely on means, not ends. Thomas remained convinced that Sinclair was “still a Socialist at heart and in intention” but was doomed to failure. A separate EPIC economic system within capitalist California could not work; even if California went entirely socialist, “in blissful disregard of other states,” it would fall apart. The reason? The economy of the country was too intradependent. Socialism had to reign everywhere or nowhere. Despite these reservations, Thomas informed Sinclair, he would have welcomed the EPIC experiment “if you still held aloft the banner of Socialism.” Instead, he wrote, Upton had chosen to wound the Socialist cause:

Words are symbols. You alone, or you with the help of a certain number of California voters, cannot make the word Democratic a symbol for Socialism. That word with its capital D is a symbol for the party which bitterly discriminates not only against Negroes but white workers in the South, for the party of Tammany Hall in New York, and Hague in New Jersey. There are not words enough in the dictionary for you to explain to the great masses of common folk who have looked to your books for leadership the different sense in which you are Democrat. Still less will you be able to explain your defection to the multitudes in Europe who have hailed you as prophet and spokesman of their hopes.

In a letter to a comrade, Thomas insisted that it was “infantile” for Sinclair to feel he could “conquer poverty in two years. . . . You can’t beat capitalism by colonizing the unemployed.” When other candidates in California publicized these views, Sinclair protested that it was Thomas who was setting back socialism. This thought weighed heavily on Norman Thomas. He assured Sinclair that he felt “nothing but goodwill and friendship” for him. He even wrote, quite movingly: “Above all, let me tell you how very keenly I feel your loss.”

Nothing much had changed since then—except that Sinclair had swept the Democratic primary, and hundreds more Socialists had left the party to join EPIC. Thomas had been hearing it loudly and often all week. Letters arrived from across the country. Now what do you think? a party member from Ardsley, New York, wondered. A man in Salt Lake City pointed out that Sinclair had proved that a socialist can win as a Democrat. A woman in Los Angeles begged Thomas not to say another bad thing about Upton. “He is our emancipator,” she wrote. Others pointed out that Sinclair, running for governor of California on the Socialist party line in 1926 and 1930, had amassed only around fifty thousand votes each time.

Thomas, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York this fall, admitted that there was something appealing about Sinclair’s triumph. “There are good and bad elements in his victory,” he told reporters upon arriving in Milwaukee today. “He is not a socialist and is not supported by the Socialist party. But it is encouraging that a state cursed by reaction and industrial feudalism should nominate for governor a man like Sinclair.”

Still, Thomas wouldn’t, or couldn’t, admit that the Socialist party’s opposition to EPIC was wrong or should be modified. Jerry Voorhis, now an EPIC candidate for the California state assembly, had petitioned for a change of heart months ago. “My conviction is that the Socialist Party as such will never gain power in America,” Voorhis told Thomas. “I feel that we are in a great crisis right now and that only the most bold and unfettered action can possibly save us. We never know when we may be passing up the great opportunity. And the Sinclair movement is the nearest thing to a mass movement toward socialism that I have heard in America.”

Most of the SP members sympathetic to Sinclair had already left the party. Those who remained were staunch in their opposition, and they controlled the party mechanism. The SP’s state leadership had issued its strongest attack on EPIC yet, asserting that Adolf Hitler “promises to achieve by dictatorship what Mr. Sinclair promises to achieve peacefully.”

Still, Thomas was unsure of what to do next. But as the executive committee convened in Milwaukee, it was apparent that self-discipline would prevail. Party leaders declared that Sinclair was not a Socialist and that he had neither the open nor the tacit support of the party. The SP would stand by its nominee in California, Milen Dempster, a Unitarian minister.

Out in Stockton, California, Milen Dempster wasn’t so all wanted all this support. Just last year, Sinclair had let Dempster, visiting Pasadena on Socialist business, sleep in his bed while Upton and his wife were out of town. Now Dempster was thinking of writing Norman Thomas, a man he idolized, asking for permission to quit the race and throw his support to Upton Sinclair.


February 9, 2016

A return to the question of whether Russia is imperialist

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 9:54 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 4.45.01 PM

One of the main talking points of the pro-Kremlin left is that Russia is not imperialist. This goes hand in hand with an analysis claiming that Putin’s intervention in Ukraine was purely defensive, a move against the genuine imperialists in Washington, London and elsewhere.

The last time I dealt with this question was in June 2014 when I replied to Roger Annis, a tireless defender of Kremlin foreign policy. Annis has once again made the same arguments on Links magazine in Australia in an article co-written by Renfrey Clarke who shares his orientation to Russia. Titled “Perpetrator or victim? Russia and contemporary imperialism”, it rehashes many of the same arguments that are supposedly based on Lenin’s “Imperialism, the final stage of Capitalism”.

As I indicated in a commentary on John Clegg’s article “Capitalism and Slavery”, I find social science definitions of terms like capitalism, socialism and imperialism problematic. To start with, they are describing economic systems that are global in character so when they are used to taxonomically describe a particular country, they are strained to the breaking point. When Trotsky took up the question of whether the USSR was socialist, he answered in terms that defied the formal logic of the social scientist: “To define the Soviet regime as transitional, or intermediate, means to abandon such finished social categories as capitalism (and therewith “state capitalism”) and also socialism. But besides being completely inadequate in itself, such a definition is capable of producing the mistaken idea that from the present Soviet regime only a transition to socialism is possible.”

When it comes to a term like imperialist as a category that applies to a particular country, there is little doubt that the USA, Great Britain, or Germany qualify. This is made clear in page after page of Lenin’s essay. But using the search tool available on the Marxist Internet Archives, you will find Lenin referring to “Russian imperialism” on many occasions:

Have the socialists of France and Belgium not shown the same kind of treachery? They are excellent at exposing German imperialism, but, unfortunately they are amazingly purblind with regard to British, French, and particularly the barbarous Russian imperialism. They fail to see the disgraceful fact that, for decades on end, the French bourgeoisie have been paying out thousands of millions for the hire of the Black-Hundred gangs of Russian tsarism, and that the latter has been crushing the non-Russian majority in our country, robbing Poland, oppressing the Great Russian workers and peasants, and so on.

The European War and International Socialism, 1914

The attitude of the Soviet Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic to the weak and hitherto oppressed nations is of very pradtical significance for the whole of Asia and for all the colonies of the world, for thousands and millions of people.

I earnestly urge you to devote the closest attention to this question, to exert every effort to set an effective example of comradely relations with the peoples of Turkestan, to demonstrate to them by your actions that we are sincere in our desire to wipe out all traces of Great-Russian imperialism and wage an implacable struggle against world imperialism, headed by British imperialism. You should show the greatest confidence in our Turkestan Commission and adhere strictly to its directives, which have been framed precisely in this spirit by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.

To the Communists of Turkestan, 1919

You speak about the revolution in Russia, but, Citizens Chernov, Chkheidze, and Tsereteli [Menshevik politicians], you have all studied socialism, and you realise only too well that so jar your revolution has only put the capitalists in power. Is it not trebly insincere, when, in the name of the Russian revolution, which has given power to the Russian imperialist capitalists, you demand of us, Germans, a revolution against the German imperialist capitalists? Does It not look as if your “internationalism”, your “revolutionism” are for foreign consumption only; as if revolution against the capitalists is only for the Germans, while for the Russians (despite the seething revolution in Russia) it is agreement with the capitalists?

Chernov, Chkheidze, and Tsereteli have sunk completely to the level of defending Russian imperialism.

An Unfortunate Document, 1917

This is what crops up when you do a search on the exact term “Russian imperialism”. It is also worth examining “Imperialism, the final stage of Capitalism” to see if there are any references to Russia there. While Lenin takes care to single out British and German domination of the financial sector, even to the point of specifically pointing to Deutsche Bank’s penetration of Russian “holding companies”, he does not let Russia off the hook in chapter six titled “The Division of the world among the great powers”. In a chart titled COLONIAL POSSESSIONS OF THE GREAT POWERS, Russia is in second place behind Britain:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 4.50.32 PM

He even makes comparisons between England and Russia in their pursuit of colonial exploitation:

The British capitalists are exerting every effort to develop cotton growing in their colony, Egypt (in 1904, out of 2,300,000 hectares of land under cultivation, 600,000, or more than one-fourth, were under cotton); the Russians are doing the same in their colony, Turkestan, because in this way they will be in a better position to defeat their foreign competitors, to monopolise the sources of raw materials and form a more economical and profitable textile trust in which all the processes of cotton production and manufacturing will be “combined” and concentrated in the hands of one set of owners.

It is of course of some interest that Lenin refers once again to Turkestan, one of those regions that were seized by Catherine the Great and that were victims of the Great Russian Chauvinism that Lenin fought from his sick bed until the day he died. Like Ukraine, these regions never felt like they were truly free in the USSR. It is most unfortunate that people like Annis and Clarke are essentially seeing things the same way that Stalin did in the 1920s even though they supposedly got their political training in the Trotskyist movement.

On a more fundamental level, I find the term “imperialist” as an adjective for a particular country problematic when it functions in the same way that the term mammal applies to a kind of animal or perennial to a type of flower. A bear is always going to be a mammal while a zinnia will never be a perennial. These are fixed categories. When it comes to social and economic entities, it becomes a lot more problematic. What criteria do we use? Lenin thought that the size of financial holdings was key. For Annis and Clarke, this means that Russia is not a player: “A mass of evidence shows that in terms of the financial instruments ‒ stocks, bonds, derivatives, bank deposits, money-market funds ‒in which wealth is mostly held within modern capitalism, the finance capital of present-day Russia is startlingly weak.”

Let’s look at fascist Italy for comparison’s sake. In the 1930s, the three largest banks had a capitalization of about 500 million lira each. Since one dollar was equal to 20 lira at the time, this meant that they were worth about $25 million each. On the other hand, the five largest banks in the USA were all worth over a billion dollars each in 1935 according to a January 21, 1936 NY Times article. So Italy was not even in their ballpark. Does that mean that Italy was not an imperialist nation?

In fact, it was the very weakness of Japan, Italy and Germany in 1939 that made them more aggressive. When you are top dog, you don’t go out and pick fights with those trying to overtake you as the alpha male after all. You don’t pay them any attention except when they looking to displace you. That’s when you defend your pack. That is why the “pacifist” and “democratic” nations like the USA and Britain could scold the aggressive fascists even though they were far more harmful to people living in vast empires covering the globe.

This brings us to Putin’s Russia. Perhaps finally recognizing that when the Kremlin sent its troops to Donetsk and Luhansk or its bombers to Syria might compromise them in the eyes of a few Marxist malcontents, Annis and Clarke try to excuse this bad behavior. Boys will be boys, after all.

Meanwhile, are Russian interests taken into account when the “rules of the game” of the capitalist world-system are determined? By no means. For years after the dissolving of the USSR, Russian elites held out hopes of joining NATO. Instead, NATO has been expanded to the point where Russia now faces a threatening arc of U.S.-aligned states, on or near its borders, from Turkey to Estonia. The clear goal of imperialist policy is to pressure and intimidate Russia, so as to deepen its peripheralisation and in the longer perspective, to force its break-up.

 In these circumstances, what can one say about the Western denunciations of “Russian imperialism”? Rarely have such fervent protestations been so wide of the mark, or backed by so little substance.

 Does all this matter? If a country uses its armed strength to meddle in affairs outside its borders, doesn’t that make it imperialist per se? The trouble with that line of reasoning is that it quickly leads to absurd conclusions. Countries of the periphery commit armed aggression against one another with horrible regularity. The Ogaden War of 1977-78 began when Somali forces invaded Ethiopia. Did that make Somalia an imperialist power?

This, of course, is what the article is really about, not trying to pin down the exact character of the Russian economy. It is really about what Clausewitz referred to as “warfare being a continuation of politics by other means”. Annis and Clarke essentially view Ukraine’s Euromaidan as an encroachment on legitimate Russian interests in the same way that JFK viewed Soviet missiles in Cuba. Just as was was the case with any former colonial nation seeking support from the Kremlin, Ukraine or any of the Eastern European “buffer states” naturally would have developed an orientation to any global power that could give them some leeway against the Kremlin. Those are the realities of global politics.

Finally, what I found most telling is the comparison with Somalia invading Ethiopia. I wonder if this was subconsciously an admission on the part of Annis and Clarke that they felt guilty serving as Putin’s attorneys. If you want to make comparisons, you start with the fact that Ethiopia—like Tsarist Russia in the 18th century—was a precapitalist empire. The Ethiopian emperors colonized the Oromos to the south and the Eritreans to the north. It also colonized the Ogaden region in between Ethiopia and Somalia that was home to people of Somalian ethnicity and who were practicing Muslims. In 1977, Somalia “invaded Ethiopia” only in the sense that it sought to reassert control over territory that had been seized by Menelik II in the 19th century just as he had conquered the Oromos and the Eritreans.

Very soon the conflict became enmeshed with the Cold War as the USSR gave its backing to the Ethiopian Dergue that supposedly was evolving in a “Marxist-Leninist” direction while Jimmy Carter threw his support behind the Somalians. If your tendency is to choose sides based on who the West was supporting, naturally you would back the Ethiopians even if the Dergue was rapidly transforming itself into a military dictatorship with scant regard for human rights or economic justice.

Interestingly enough, CounterPunch has been a mainstay of the rights of the Ogaden people largely through the various articles published over the years by Graham Peebles such as this:

The ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front] is cast as the enemy of the state, and regarded, as all dissenting troublesome groups are, as terrorists. They in fact won 60% of seats and were democratically elected to the regional parliament in the only inclusive open elections to be held, back in 1992. Civilians suspected, however vaguely of supporting the so-called ‘rebels’, are forcibly re-located from their homes. The evacuated villages and settlements, emptied at gunpoint HRW (CP) record, “become no-go areas” and in a further act of state criminality, “civilians who remain behind risk being shot on sight, tortured, or raped if spotted by soldiers”. Children, refugees report are hanged, villages and settlements razed to the ground and cattle stolen to feed soldiers: HRW record (CP), “water sources and wells have [also] been destroyed”. Systematic, strategic methods of violence and intimidation employed by the Ethiopian regime, that has, Genocide Watch (GW) state, “initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogaden Somali population”.

It is regrettable, of course, that there are so few people writing about Ukraine for CounterPunch who have the political and moral clarity of Graham Peebles who can see through Cold War or New Cold War nostrums of the sort associated with Roger Annis. Neither the Ogaden people nor the Ukrainians are pawns in a chess game. They have a right to national independence and social justice whichever side gives them a momentary advantage in a struggle against the oppressor. If Lenin could come to Russia in a railway car provided by the Kaiser, why would we expect long-suffering colonized peoples to act any differently?

February 7, 2016

Painting Imperialism and Nationalism Red: The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist Rule in Ukraine, 1918-1925

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 9:27 pm

The last thing I would expect from a knucklehead Putinite like Mike Whitney or Pepe Escobar is any kind of engagement with the history of Ukrainian national oppression but it never fails to amaze me how little interest there is for the Marxist traveling circus consisting of people like Roger Annis, the ex-Trotskyist in Canada, Renfrey Clarke, the Socialist Alliance member in Australia, sect leaders Alan Woods and Jeff Mackler et al. Most of these people probably were exposed to what the Fourth International said about Ukraine in the 1960s and have either forgotten it in their dotage or more likely sweep it under the rug. If there’s anybody who can be called the leader of this new breed of Great Russian Chauvinism, it is Boris Kagarlitsky who has a material incentive to be Putin’s spin doctor. His think-tank is funded by the Kremlin.

Stephen Velychenko

There’s one man who has their number. He is Stephen Velychenko, the chair of the Ukrainan studies at the University of Toronto who wrote a two-part series on the traveling circus. This is from part one:.

Kargalitsky’s pro Kremlin audience finds his worker revolution scenario appealing. But given their preconceptions, ignorance of Russian and Ukrainian, and minimal knowledge about either country, they either cannot, or choose not to, know what he omits from his articles. For example, he makes no mention of Russian imperialism, great power chauvinism, non Russian national movements, linguistic and cultural russification of non Russians, or the link between the national and the social questions. He does not dwell on how his imagined “working class” movement was aided and funded in its origins by Ukraine’s pro Russian capitalists (oligarchs); in particular, Rinat Akhmetov, nor that the local Russian extremist leaders are not interested in nationalization – least of all Akhmetov’s holdings. He does not mention either the small size of the neo-Nazi section of the Ukrainian right nor how few Ukrainian citizens support the Russian neo nazi right. [9] For all their Marxist rhetoric neither Kargalitsky or his likeminded reflect on why the Russian neo-Nazi leaders of Ukraine’s imagined proletarian revolution do not associate themselves with Marxism of any kind, why they sport double headed eagles and tsarist colours, rather than hammers and sickles and red banners, why they use Orthodox symbolism, or, why they wax nostalgic over the tsarist empire rather than the short-lived Russian Bolshevik Krivoi-Rog Republic of 1918.

In order to correct the “preconceptions” and “ignorance” that plagues so much of the left, Velychenko has just written a book titled “Painting Imperialism and Nationalism Red: The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist Rule in Ukraine, 1918-1925” that demonstrates in copious detail how the Bolsheviks treated the Ukrainians just like the British treated the Irish. Lenin was probably the most committed to breaking with Great Russian Chauvinism and probably would have been a force for combatting Stalin’s open embrace of it but even he was not immune.

What you can read below is the first nineteen pages of chapter one, a section titled historical background. For people committed to understanding the roots of Ukrainian resistance to Russia domination, even when expressed in a distorted form, Velychenko’s book is essential.

 * * * * *

We propose Union and they want to dominate.
Letter to the editor, Chervonyi prapor, 25 February 1919

In the early twentieth century, the people we now call Ukrainians were much like other peoples in the world. Most were rural, did not live in independent national states, and had little influence on politics. Ukraine, like Poland, was not on any political map of Europe. There were eight Ukrainian provinces in the Russian empire, all centrally administered units with common characteristics that distinguished them from Russian territories. Like Ireland in the United Kingdom between 1801 and 1918, they retained regional particularities that allow them to be classified as a “mixed settler” colony. Ukrainian peasants spoke Ukrainian and did not practice land repartition. In 1900 the numerically small but economically powerful Polish nobility still dominated the three western provinces of Kyiv, Volyn, and Podillia.

The first significant Russian settlement into Ukrainian territories, comprising merchants, administrators, and soldiers, dated from the eighteenth century. Massive settlement of Russian migrant workers, began in the late nineteenth century. By 1900 approximately 2 million Russian speakers, most of whom were Russian, were concentrated in Kharkiv and Katerynoslav provinces. This averaged 10 per cent of the total population of the Ukrainian provinces. Declared Russians constituted 33 per cent of Ukraine’s total urban population, 43 per cent of the population in its eight largest cities, and 52 per cent in its four largest cities. Between 40 and 50 per cent of government administrators were Russian speakers. There was no controlled border between the Ukrainian and Russian provinces to hinder Russian inmigration as there was between the Duchy of Finland and Russian provinces. No border and a century of direct rule by Saint Petersburg, during which time education, administration, the print media, and high culture were all in Russian, meant that Russian settlers had no sense of themselves as immigrants or colonists. They did not become an immigrant minority whose social mobility depended on learning a foreign language and assimilating into the host community. Nonetheless, the Ministry of the Interior in the 1897 census clearly identified Ukrainians (Malorossy) as the “native [korennoe]” population in Kharkiv province and Russians (Velikorussov) as the “immigrant population [prishlym naseleniem].”1

The Ukrainian provinces had fewer industrial workers than Russian provinces because state policy developed Ukraine’s extractive industries and agriculture while neglecting its manufacturing sector. Also factory owners tended to hire incoming poor but semi or highly skilled Russian peasants, whom they preferred to local poor but unskilled Ukrainian peasants. Many of the latter, in turn, preferred to take government subsidies and migrate to Siberia rather than risk going to a nearby factory. Of all workers, 17 per cent came from non-Ukrainian provinces, and of these, 70 per cent were Russian in 1897. Ukrainian speakers were on average 73 per cent of all workers and between 30 and 50 per cent of all urban industrial workers. Twenty per cent of all Ukrainian-speaking workers were urban industrial workers, and Ukrainians were 70 per cent of all workers in settlements not classified as “cities” in the census. In terms of linguistic and socio-economic structure, “the Ukrainian proletariat was totally unlike the Russian proletariat.”2

Although at the turn of the century, Russians who had no sense of themselves as immigrants in the Ukrainian provinces did not have to learn or use the local language, and few assimilated into the host com-munity, the question of whether Ukraine’s urban population would Ukrainianize or Russify was still open. Bilingualism, diglossia, and intermarriage kept boundaries porous and identities ambiguous, and almost half of all incoming workers were from Ukrainian provinces.3 Nor was there yet direct correspondence between language use and political allegiance. Much would depend on future governmental policies. The Polish landowning nobles and urban Russians were a dominant settler-colonist minority on Ukrainian territory. Although Polish nobles initially supported Ukrainian autonomy, it should be noted that that support had faded by the end of 1917 as rural social radicalism brought latent mutual hatreds to the boil.4 Rural Polish and Russian peasants tended to assimilate into the Ukrainian majority; urban Russian dwellers did not. Living in cities with no Ukrainian-language schools, churches, businesses, mass-circulation newspapers, or government offices, they had no need to learn Ukrainian or to culturally assimilate in order to obtain services, an education, a good job, and status. Most Russians, Poles, and assimilated Ukrainians, like settler-colonists and assimilated natives in any colony, looked down on unassimilated Ukrainians. Few among the Russian intelligentsia applied their humanist standards and sensitivities to Ukrainian national issues or supported Ukrainian political demands. It was the dominated indigenous majority-Ukrainian nationality for whom social mobility was contingent on learning a foreign language and adopting foreign cultural norms. All had to learn some Russian, many changed their surnames, many internalized “the colonizer’s image of the colonized” by perceiving themselves as “Little Russians.” Many eventually assimilated and considered themselves Russian. Many of the socially mobile ethnic Ukrainians who admired European modernity and equated it with Russian national identity, linked their own identity with the rural backwardness and poverty they were seeking to escape. Divisions ran within families: one brother might become a Ukrainian nationalist, another a Russian imperialist. Jewish political elites, for their part, by 1917 supported Ukrainian autonomy but, that support did not extend far among their compatriots, who were mostly sceptical or indifferent. “That attitude was reflected not only in comic dismissal of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-language signs; they also passively opposed Ukrainization.” Jewish workers in 191718 volunteered for the Red Guard. None volunteered for Ukrainian units.5

Some bilingual Ukrainians became administrators, traders, manufacturers, patrons of the national movement, and millionaires, but they did not constitute a national capitalist class. Most of Ukraine’s overwhelmingly non-Ukrainian industrialists and bankers identified with the empire. In 1920, the émigré left-SR Mykyta Shapoval noted that Russian, Polish, Jewish, Hungarian, Czech, Rumanian, Belgian, French, and English capital ruled: “In its organization form [sic] this is not Ukrainian but colonial [sic] capital. It is also colonialist [sic] in terms of its economic aim [sic]. It reflects the interests of the metropole and treats Ukraine only as the object of terrible exploitation.” “Colonialist capital has never, in any place, built an independent state from a colony.” He observed that in Ireland, “a colony of intelligent and humane English capital,” the Irish had no option after more than one hundred years of struggle but to engage in “terrorist partisan war.”6

In general, people most of the time do not think about their nationality, and before the war, linguistic-cultural borders were fluid. Educated urban elites had only begun to politicize national identities and draw boundaries between loyal “Russians” or “Little Russians” and disloyal “Ukrainians.” Not every non-Ukrainian shared the anti-Ukrainian Russian-slavophile-based attitudes of the extremist imperial loyalist parties known as the “Black Hundreds.” Ethnic Ukrainians and Russians who supported a loyalist “Little Russian” cultural autonomy could simultaneously condemn Ukrainian political autonomy. Difference did not disrupt everyday life. In 1917 in the town council of Vinnytsia, a typical provincial capital of around 60,000 people, of whom almost 40 per cent were Jewish, “[deputies] spoke in all languages: Polish, Ukrai-nian, Hebrew, various jargons, sometimes Russian, and the spokesman [of the Jewish faction] Spivak spoke in a mix of all of them.”7

Rival elites successfully politicized identities during the revolution as attitudes hardened. Weak Ukrainian governments were too short-lived to appreciably change the views of urban dwellers with Russo-centric preconceptions of eastern Slavic and imperial political unity, who viewed Ukrainians as second-rate, inherently rural, backward, and seditious. As far as is known, most such persons after 1918 still considered Russian a higher culture, which they identified with loyalty to the Bolshevik regime, or the White one. When Anna Dobrovolska in July 1919 faced having to attend church services in Ukrainian in the reestablished Ukrainian Orthodox church subject to Constantinople rather than Moscow, for example, she refused. Her imperial identity trumped her religious convictions, and she denounced the new Ukrainian church to the atheist Bolshevik government as a treasonous organization because it was linked to the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR).8 The Ukrainian-born Russian monarchist Vasili Shulgin was extremely pleased when on his visit to Kyiv in 1925 he heard no Ukrainian in the streets. On visiting Odessa in 1921, a Ukrainian communist reported that “the Ukrainian population is small and totally terrorized … The fear is so great that they are afraid to speak Ukrainian and ask about what is happening in Ukraine in corners.” When he began giving public lectures in Ukrainian, he was considered heroic “because everything Ukrainian is slandered as “Petliurism.” In Mylokaiiv, another Ukrainian communist observed that for local Bolsheviks, “there is no such thing as a Ukrainian revolution [and] the Ukrainian Communist Party is a petite-bourgeois chauvinist national organization.”9

The leaders of the national movement were bilingual political moderates, and after 1905 they could legally form political parties. At the turn of the century, they began to disseminate the idea that the ethnically Ukrainian provinces of the tsarist empire (Rossiia) constituted a political, cultural, and economic entity called “Ukraine,” which was distinct from Russia (Velikorossiia). The leaders began to build a middle-class infrastructure of literate peasants, retailers, and white-collar workers. These people began to wonder why business, education, government, and high culture in “Ukraine” had to be in Russian and not in Ukrainian.10

While the moderate majority of Ukrainian national activists regarded linguistic and cultural assimilation as more significant indices of Russian imperialism than economic exploitation, radicals drew attention to the latter and to the impact of industrialization and commercialization. The Jewish-Ukrainian activist Maksym Hekhter labelled Ukrainian agricultural workers “white niggers.”11 While most national leaders, like their Irish counterparts, considered capitalist urban industrial modernity a threat to Ukrainian nationality, a Marxist minority argued that Ukrainian nationality could only develop alongside capitalist modernity.12 Before the war, self-awareness and self-assertion on the whole remained muted, although antagonisms occasionally surfaced. Ukrainian nationalists focused on cultural-linguistic rather than economic issues and were not extremists; most literate educated Russian speakers, urban white-collar professionals, and industrial workers tolerated “Little Russians” and their folk songs. Some regarded them with condescending contempt, but only the extremist imperial loyalist minority was openly hostile towards the national movement. Russian urban settlers and Polish landowners in the Ukrainian provinces, for their part, did not develop a “creole/mestizo” separatist nationalism as did European colonists in Latin and North America. Urban Russians overwhelmingly identified with the imperial metropole politically and culturally, much as Anglo-Scot loyalists in Ireland, Germans in Bohemia, and French settlers in Algeria did, rather than with their place of residence. Polish nobles, profoundly alienated by peasant land seizures in 1917, opposed Ukrainian independence (unlike their Swedish counterparts in Finland, who backed Finnish independence).

National leaders in Kyiv formed the Central Rada in March 1917 13 That November, its moderate socialist majority proclaimed the UNR an autonomous part of Russia. Instead of declaring independence after the Bolsheviks took power, the Rada sought a federation with the Provisional government then represented by General Kaledin in southern Russia.14 This prompted the Russian Bolsheviks to invade UNR territory in January 1918 in support of their comrades in Kharkiv, who had already on their own initiative occupied UNR cities. The Rada initially enjoyed the support of the 85 to 90 percent of peasants who were poor or struggling and who hoped it would enact land reform. The Rada’s hesitation on this issue led to civil war by early 1918, which Russian Bolsheviks turned into a national war when they invaded on the side of Ukraine’s Bolsheviks. The invasion prompted the Rada to proclaim independence and sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers (see figure 4, illustration section). In April 1918, with German support, landowners and industrialists overthrew the UNR and installed Pavlo Skoropadsky as Hetman of the Ukrainian State. His regime fell in November with the collapse of Germany and was succeeded by a renewed UNR under the temporary rule of a Directory led by the centrist Simon Petliura and the leftist Volodymyr Vynnychenko. The UNR and its army collapsed in December 1919 after a second Bolshevik invasion that established the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, but, a vicious partisan war that had begun in 1919 raged on until 1922. The major Ukrainian partisan groups were affiliated with either the SRs, the SDs, the UNR, or Makhno, although they did change sides. The UNR attempted to coordinate and control as many partisan groups as possible, without much success.15

Russians and Russified non-Russians dominated the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic and Labor Party (RSDLP) in the Ukrainian provinces as a “centralist” majority. The many culturally Russified ethnic Jews in that party were secular apostates who were not representative of the religious Jewish majority. As a culturally and politically Russian party in Ukraine, the RSDLP was not a party of an oppressed nation. The provincial party organizations had no ties with one another. The most important branch was in Kyiv province, but almost 65 per cent of party members were in Kharkiv and Kateryno-slav provinces. By December 1917, the Bolsheviks did not yet dominate Ukraine’s approximately three hundred soviets. In 1917 they controlled the soviets only in the large cities – they were 88 per cent of members in Luhansk, 60 per cent in Kyiv, 48 per cent in Kharkiv, 47 per cent in Katerynoslav, 40 per cent in Odessa. Only forty of Ukraine’s soviets present at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets approved the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd. Only ninety of Ukraine’s soviets ratified their seizure of power in Kharkiv.16

Among the Kyivan bolsheviks were some later termed “federalists” who differed with the “centralist” majority regarding the degree to which Ukraine was to be subordinated to Russia. Both groups cooperated conditionally with the Rada, much like communists were later to cooperate with “revolutionary anti-imperialist nationalists,” until 26 October, when they declared the Rada a “counterrevolutionary bourgeois” organ. This was in reaction to the Rada’s refusal to recognize the authority of Lenin’s Soviet government because it represented only a minority among the country’s left-wing revolutionary democrats.17 Thereafter, Ukraine’s Bolsheviks called for single-party rule in Ukraine, which they claimed was necessary to fight “Ukrainian nationalism.”

Ukraine’s Bolsheviks took power in Kharkiv in December 1917 with approximately 4,500 troops and Red Guards, of whom roughly 2,100 had arrived from Moscow the previous week.18 This group, which garnered only 10 per cent of the vote in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, and which represented less than 30 per cent of Ukraine’s soviets, claimed to be the government of the five Ukrainian provinces that the Provisional Government had formally subordinated to the Central Rada. Bolsheviks in Katerynoslav, Kherson, and Taurida provinces remained formally under Petrograd, not Kharkiv. The Kharkiv government arrived in Kyiv on 30 January (12 February) 1918 in the wake of the Russian Red Army (see figures 7 and 8, illustration section).The allied Ukrainian and German armies expelled it from the city in March. Ukraine’s first Bolshevik government included Ukrainian-born Russians, Germans, secular Jews, some Ukrainians, a few Russians from Russia and was subordinated to Lenin’s plenipotentiary in Ukraine, Sergo Ordzhonikidze.19 This government sought more power than its central leaders were prepared to allow it, and some of Ukraine’s pro-Bolshevik workers supported it as a Ukrainian and not as a Russian soviet government (see figure 5, illustration section). On 1 January 1918, the Kharkiv Bolsheviks declared: “The centre of Soviet power in Ukraine is the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Ukraine and its People’s Secretariat … All military units arrived in Ukraine from the north must put themselves under the authority of CEC [Central Executive Committee] of Ukraine and the activities of their commander in Ukraine can be carried out only in the name of Ukraine’s CEC and the People’s Secretariat. “20 Pro-Bolshevik ethnic Ukrainians in partisan units, meanwhile, may not all have been nationally conscious Ukrainians, but they did know their villages were not in Russia and, they refused to fight in Russia. They had been prepared to fight for soviet rule and land but, they mutinied or deserted when they learned that party committees had displaced the soviets, had collectivized land and, (after May 1919), had begun folding their regiments into the Red Army. “We will not fight for Russia,” they told Bolshevik commissars. “But we will fight for [soviet] Ukraine.”21

Most of Ukraine’s soviets had Russian SR, Ukrainian SR, or Ukrainian SD majorities. This diversity was reflected for the last time in Ukraine’s Second Congress of Soviets, held in March 1918. The Bolsheviks had not had time to stack the local assemblies that sent delegates; consequently, that Congress passed pro-Bolshevik resolutions primarily thanks to the presence of armed Russian Red sailors, who denied non-Bolsheviks the floor and threatened to shoot them. From the podium, Bolshevik delegates threatened to shoot the ninety quarrelsome Ukrainian SD representatives, which prompted fifty-five of them to leave. The Congress opened and closed with the singing of the Internationale, but delegates also sang the Ukrainian patriotic song “Zapovit” and the Ukrainian National Anthem.22 In 1919, on arriving in Kyiv, the new government imposed on Ukraine the Russian Soviet constitution, which heavily weighted representation in favour of urban workers and soldiers. Given that the overwhelming majority of these groups in Ukraine were Russian or Russified, Bolshevik rulers thereby effectively disenfranchised the Ukrainian majority. That year, the Bolsheviks also had enough time to ensure that the people voted for them in elections. They could subsequently dominate the Ukrainian-majority villages and small towns and minimize the non-Bolshevik presence in soviets. Moreover, even though the Russian constitution stipulated proportional elections, which in November 1917 Bolshevik leaders had declared “more democratic” than majoritarian ones, in Ukraine they imposed majority voting to eliminate large non-Bolshevik minorities from the soviets.

Local agents did not refrain from force. For instance, in the village of Merefa in Kharkiv province in February 1919, the local Cheka agent referred to “my use of repression” in ensuring that a fourth round of voting established a pro-Bolshevik soviet. In the central provincial town of Horodyshche that spring, a 150-strong Cheka detachment with six machine guns arrived in the wake of the Red Army. Its commander presented the locals with lists of candidates they had to vote for.

Only one list included town residents – local Bolsheviks, who were overwhelmingly Jewish. Instead of electing outsiders, the inhabitants elected the Jewish Bolsheviks.23 As a consequence of such measures, Ukraine’s Third Congress of Soviets in March 1919 was stacked with a 78 per cent Bolshevik majority, who dutifully booed one of the two Ukrainian left-SD delegates who tried to make a speech condemning centralization, Russification, and economic exploitation, forcing him to step down. Only after they had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918 did Lenin’s Bolsheviks recognize that the eight provinces claimed by the UNR constituted “Ukraine.” They then ordered their Kharkiv, Katerynoslav, and Taurida (the Crimea) provincial branches to submit to Ukraine’s secretariat rather than to Russia’s. That same month, the Bolsheviks renamed themselves the Russian Communist Party (RCP) and permitted their branches in Ukraine to form a single territorial subunit dominated by its Russian centralist majority. The “Kyivan” minority, led by Mykola Skrypnyk, decided that April to establish instead a Ukrainian Communist Party independent of the Russian party. However, Skrypnyk backed down in May after a meeting with Lenin for which there are no minutes. Afterwards, Pravda (9 May 1918) proclaimed that “the Russian Communist Party Central Committee … has no objection to the formation of a Ukrainian Communist Party in as much as Ukraine is an independent state.” That statement was issued only to prevent a German invasion, however. In reality, Ukraine’s party remained subordinated to Moscow. This was confirmed in July, when representatives of the “provincial committees of the territories in South Russia occupied today by Germans,” at a meeting attended by Lenin’s deputy Iakov Sverdlov, passed a resolution specifying that Ukraine’s Communist Party was to be subordinated to the Russian party. A few days later, Ukraine’s Bolsheviks adopted the name Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine at a secret session of their First Congress. Senior leaders there explained that now that “the proletariat,” meaning the Bolsheviks, had taken power, “the right of self-determination” and national independence were counter-revolutionary and a threat to the working class. Skrypnyk claimed that with the Bolshevik seizure of power, the period of national states had passed and nationalism had become “reactionary.” He stated that the Russian party remained Ukraine’s mentor: “That is why in practice the situation [of dependency] remains as it was.” He added that his earlier proposal for a separate UCP belonging to the Communist International would now involve merely “formal” status. In practice, there was now an informal “unwritten constitution” that dictated that “we belong to a communist party that is one for all countries” — the Russian party. Of the CPU’s 4,314 members at the time, 7 per cent were Ukrainian speakers.24 In January 1919 the CPU proclaimed the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic.

Bolshevik leaders, like Russian liberals and monarchists, sought to preserve the territorial integrity of the tsarist empire. Lenin, however, was flexible. Faced with the military power of the revolutionary Ukrainian national movement, Lenin, in his celebrated “On Soviet Power in Ukraine” and “Letter to Ukrainian workers” of December 1919, offered what he regarded as cultural-linguistic “concessions” along with governmental positions to leaders of the left-wing factions of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) and SDs. This did much to end resistance, for opposition leaders no longer saw the need for it.25 The armed resistance that did continue, until 1922, was uncoordinated.

In early 1919 the left-wing faction of the Ukrainian SRs renamed themselves the Ukrainian Communist Party (Borotbists) and allied themselves with the Russian Bolsheviks, claiming that the excesses of the latter were but “isolated incidents” that would not have serious consequences.26 The Borotbists had hoped to establish a Ukrainian Army, but the centralization of the Red Army limited their access to Ukrainian soldiers. On 4 May, Trotsky had ordered all Red military formations subordinated to Moscow; three days later, he ordered Red Ukrainian partisans to be either disbanded or reorganized as subunits of the Red Army. By September he had probably ordered the death of at least three Bolshevik Ukrainian commanders, who died under mysterious circumstances within weeks of one another.27 In March 1920 the Borotbists dissolved their organization and approximately 5,000 of their 15,000 I members joined the CPU. Some were given ministerial positions in May 1920.28 Lenin admitted them into his party, but only as individuals, and he secretly instructed his people to harass Borotbists and remove them from their positions on minor or spurious legal charges. To ensure that the few who did join the CPU would have little influence, the Kremlin ordered its local leaders to form a special “temporary Central Committee” to register and exclude undesirables. By 1922 only 188 former Borotbists remained in the CPU. Similar tactics were later applied to the UCP, which also dissolved itself. As of 1924, only 23 per cent of the CPU and 18 per cent of its central committee were Ukrainians.29

Ukrainian communists emerged from the left wing of the Ukrainian SDs and the “Kyivans” within the CPU. The first theoretical exposition of Ukrainian communism, Do Khvyli, was written in December 1918 by the Ukrainian Bolsheviks Shakhrai and Mazlakh. In January 1919, left-Ukrainian SDs separated from their parent party and renamed themselves “Independentists.” In January 1920 they adopted the name Ukrainian Communist Party. The head of the UNR’s counter-intelligence considered Mykhailo Tkachenko, a co-founder of the UCP who died in December 1919, “the Ukrainian Lenin.”30 The UCP stood for a sovereign Ukrainian communist state with its own party independent of the Russian communist state and party. It demanded independence on the basis of categorical right, not Bolshevik imperial pragmatism. This distinguished them from the Borotbists, who, like moderate Irish nationalists, hoped only for autonomy in return for loyalty.

In 1919, pro-Bolshevik Ukrainians wanted national independence and social justice — in other words, national and social liberation within a socialist Ukraine ruled by its own party and ministries, within a supra-national socialist confederation. Bolshevik leaders for their part regarded their “Ukrainian Republic” as little more than a Russian province; they did not dismantle their pre-1917 centralized party structure or the single imperial economic system inherited from the tsars. In 1923 they offered Ukraine only cultural autonomy within a nominal federation administered from Moscow as a single centralized economic and political unit through ministries controlled by a single Russian-speaking party. This was less than Ukrainians had anticipated but more than the Entente had offered the UNR — that no Entente member-state recognized. Under immense pressure, Bolshevik leaders agreed to linguistic and cultural concessions. In early 1921 they faced the Kronstadt and Tambov revolts, conflicts in Transcaucasia, and opposition from the left and urban workers. Beginning in 1921 they had to keep almost 20 per cent of the Red Army, a million soldiers, in Ukraine; only in 1922 did the army destroy the last bastion of partisan resistance in southern Kyiv province. According to Emma Goldman, who was in Kyiv that year: “Here the very atmosphere was charged with distrust and hatred of everything Muscovite … In Kiev there was no attempt to mask the opposition to Moscow. One was made to feel it everywhere.”

The incomplete statistics available at the time suggested that war and revolution had not markedly changed the national character of the cities, but that the pre-war mass migration of Russians into those cities would likely end while that of Ukrainians would continue.31

Perhaps such figures played a role in Stalin’s decision to extend the concessions first announced in 1919, when in the Tenth Party Congress Resolutions of March 1921, he stated that Ukrainian cities would “inevitably” become Ukrainian. The village as the “guardian of Ukrainian” would enter all Ukrainian towns “as the dominant element — just as Latvian and Hungarian in the end dominated Latvian and Hungarian cities.” There was nothing artificial in supporting this process, he stressed. Rakovskii and Skrypnyk, meanwhile, were complaining about centralization and seeking maximum autonomy for their republic. In the summer of 1922 they blocked an attempt to divide Ukraine into separate economic zones. In October of that year, a CPU plenum called for the broad use of Ukrainian in schools and government: “The Ukrainian proletarian state faces a difficult and complex task: the creation of Ukrainian soviet statehood, Ukrainian schools, the equalization of the rights of Ukrainian with Russian and of the language of the Ukrainian peasant with that of the Ukrainian proletariat, hindering the Ukrainian counter-revolution, and using the Ukrainian national school for its class purposes.”32

Against this background, the Twelfth Russian Party Congress in 1923 sanctioned extensive cultural concessions to all non-Russians under a policy labelled “indigenization.” During the 1920s many viewed this as a long-term strategy to transform the Ukrainian Republic into a national republic free at last of the cultural legacies of Russian domination. Russians would thereby be transformed from settler-colonists into an acculturated immigrant minority.

Stalin hoped to destabilize Poland and Romania, both allied with France, and to that end he supported the creation of a culturally thriving Ukraine to attract the disgruntled Ukrainian minorities in those countries. Stalin, however, in the Enlightenment tradition that separated culture from market, did not match cultural and linguistic concessions with economic decentralization. Moreover, the New Economic Policy (NEP) proclaimed in March 1923 was not implemented in Ukraine until the following year.33 CPU leader Volodymyr Zatonsky, who also saw Russification as a cultural matter unrelated to economics, avoided the colony analogy in his speeches and did not criticize economic centralism. Supposedly, Russification required only an ideological solution: make comrades stop associating the Soviet federation with Russia!34 Some of those who opposed indigenization considered it absurd precisely because it divorced language use and culture from economics and administration. In their view, Lenin’s notion of national self-determination was nonsense as well, because it contradicted his plan for a centralized economic and ministerial system. Among those who backed national rights but realized that indigenization as implemented would never work was the Georgian Marxist Mdivani, who dismissed the official discourse about cultural and linguistic rights as meaningless. Without a national economy there could be no national culture or language, nor any need within the non-Russian republics to learn languages other than the one used in economic relations – which in the USSR was Russian because all the ministries were centralized. Khristian Rakovskii, a Bulgarian who in 1919 ruthlessly imposed Soviet Russian rule in Ukraine as CPU chairman, had become by 1921 an advocate of Ukrainian rights. He noted that Russian imperial tendencies could be combated only if 90 per cent of Moscow’s commissariats were dissolved and their functions placed under the control of the republics. Rakovskii did not doubt the existence of Russian chauvinism, but he now considered it more than an expression of pre-revolutionary attitudes. For him, it was also the product of economic and administrative centralization, and its agents were ministry personnel: “Russian[s] and Russified Jews who [in your Ukrainian ministries] are the most consistent champions of Russian national oppression.” These people’s opposition to “the simple matter” of learning and using another language in addition to Russian was intense.35 UCP spokesmen complained that indigenization was superficial. They explained in 1924 that while linguistic and cultural concessions satisfied the intellectuals, for peasants and workers the real issues were economic, political, and party organizational. It was on these that cultural and linguistic matters were based, yet the indigenization policy ignored all three.36

What Ukrainian communists had called Bolshevik Russian colonialism during the revolution, official representatives discussed and categorized during the 1920s as “errors” or “Luxemburgism” that “the party” and “Leninist policy” had “corrected.” Even Trotsky admitted that extreme conditions had obliged him to commit excesses in Ukraine. After 1923 he opposed the imposition of Russian in Ukraine on the grounds that it would impede Ukrainians’ access to world culture and the ability to learn in their own language. He favoured locating manufacturing industries near resources. At the 1923 CPU conference he said that unless people who understood Ukrainian were placed everywhere, the soviet regime faced collapse.37 In 1924, party leaders explained that it was the pressure of war, not ideology or imperial preconceptions, that had prevented them from eliminating national oppression as soon as they came to power.38 In June 1926 a Ukrainian party plenum resolution included even the proletariat among the guilty and Russian nationalism as a culprit. Some comrades had incorrect views on national issues, and the party underestimated their significance, that resolution stated. It named the majority of the urban population and the considerable number of Russian proletariat and party members as the source of Russian chauvinism.39 Stalin’s deputy, Lazar Kaganovich, strongly condemned Russian nationalism in a CPU Central Committee Resolution of 1928, which listed seven manifestations of Russian and Ukrainian nationalism. Russian party members and bourgeoisie were explicitly identified as the ones who wished to retain Russian domination in Ukraine, who refused to learn Ukrainian, who wanted to restrict Ukrainian identity to villages, and who exploited mistakes to condemn indigenization as a policy that “oppressed” Russians.

But neither set of “errors” was condemned as “counter-revolutionary.” The critique did not label Russian Bolshevism as a form of colonial rule, and sanctions or punishments were never meted out to Russians. Key Ukrainian critics who thought the concessions did not go far enough were not arrested, though they were transferred out of Ukraine.40 Significantly, except for some among the latter group, those involved had treated national-cultural issues as intellectual-political matters associated with “class enemies.” None linked them to economic structures or centralization, except UCP critics, who applied Lenin’s Imperialism to Soviet Russia and analysed the Russian-Ukrainian relationship in terms of empire-colony discourse. Many cultural /linguistic proposals made their way into indigenization policies, but few of the political and economic demands contained in the UCP critiques did so. Economic centralization was not among the officially admitted “errors.”41 Ministries remained centralized, planning regions ignored national borders, and central officials refused to function in any language other than Russian. The 1929 Ukrainian constitution did not give Ukrainian official status; that same year, the All-Union Central Committee directed that all government correspondence, even at the level of the republic, be in Russian. In 1923, Rakovskii noted that anyone waiting for the comrades in Ukraine’s party school to voluntarily learn Ukrainian would wait a long time. Those who worked for central ministries in Ukraine considered learning Ukrainian a waste of time. By the end of the 1920s, 43 per cent of the staff of eighteen ministry branches in Ukraine and 49 per cent of the staff of republic ministries were still totally ignorant of Ukrainian. In 1929, 85 per cent of government bureaucrats still could not function in Ukrainian.42 Much like other colonies, Ukraine was a place where officials were ignorant of their subordinates’ languages, because they expected the ruled to learn the ruler’s language.

Rakovskii and Skrypnyk in 1922 well knew that a hard core of Ukraine’s urban Russians were ignoring or resisting party measures intended to limit if not curtail Russian cultural domination. By that year, hundreds of requests had come in from party members ignorant of Ukrainian requesting to leave the country. Mikhail Frunze, at a 1922 CPU plenum, realized the threat this posed: “In the end everybody would leave.”43 Skrypnyk, like Galiev, asked why those “Russian chauvinists” did not argue their case publicly. In Ukraine, after voting in favour of Ukrainian-language resolutions at the 1923 Party Congress, delegates in the corridors would reply, when addressed in Ukrainian: “Talk to me in a language I can understand.” Senior leaders knew that Ukraine’s Russian and Russified Jewish bureaucrats were strongly opposed to learning and using Ukrainian on the job, that most delegates in Moscow for the Twelfth Congress had no conception of the national issues involved, and that Congress corridor talk was dismissing the debates as theatre. The overwhelmingly Russian or Russified delegates simply voted during the Congress as their patron Stalin had instructed them. Two years earlier, Mikhail Tomsky, at the Eighth Congress, had identified their true opinions: “I think that we will not find in this hall anyone who would claim that national self-determination and national movements are normal and desirable. We regard these as a necessary evil.” At the 1923 CPU conference, Zatonsky observed that “If all comrades spoke their minds there would be a Russian stink impossible to imagine [Russkim dukhom zapakhlo chto i govorit nichogo].”44 A few weeks later, the resolutions of the secret Fourth Conference of senior party activists in Moscow specified that Russian nationalists were to be dismissed from party and government posts, but made no mention of the danger of imperial Russian “great power chauvinism” that Grigorii Zinoviev had castigated during the sessions. In 1925 the purging of “great power chauvinists” from the Red Army, initiated by Trotsky two years earlier, was halted.45 One of Stalin’s assistants at the Nationalities Commissariat wrote in 1930 that in its earlier work, the commissariat “systematically violated the Leninist line [Twelfth Congress resolutions] on the national question.”46

Indigenization was only beginning to overcome Ukraine’s colonial legacy when it was halted. In 1927, Russian in Ukraine’s public communications sphere had only begun to recede from its pre-1914 dominance. Only 8.5 per cent of all published titles in the USSR were in Ukrainian – well below that language’s share of the USSR’s total population. In terms of titles per capita, Russians in Russia had 2.4 books in Russian, while Ukrainians had 1.6 in Russian and Ukrainian. Throughout the 1920s, declared Russians averaged 10 per cent of Ukraine’s population yet more than 40 per cent of published books in Ukraine were in Russian. In 1927, 4,687 titles were published in Ukraine, of which 2,135 were in Russian. Russia that same year published 21,772 titles, of which only 13 were in Ukrainian. Printed Russian books in Ukraine comprised more than 50 per cent of total copies. When broken down by subject and audience, the disproportions are stark and reflect the pre-1917 colonial reality in which Russian was the language of urban modernity. Of 1,174 titles published during the first half of 1927, 43 per cent were in Russian. However, while the number of academic titles in each language was almost equal, of the 508 Russian books, 58 per cent were for children, 37 per cent for workers, and 1 per cent for peasants. The numbers for the 603 Ukrainian books were 36 per cent, 7 per cent, and 44 per cent respectively.47

In 1922, 54 per cent of CPU members were Russian speakers and 11 per cent were Ukrainian speakers. At the 1923 Congress, 47 per cent of the delegates were declared Russians and 20 per cent were Ukrainians As of 1926, 44 per cent of the members were declared Ukrainians, 30 per cent were Ukrainian speakers, and 21 per cent used Ukrainian at work.48 An early 1926 report to Ukraine’s Central Committee reported that of all Ukraine’s industrial and white-collar workers, 59 per cent and 56 per cent respectively did not speak Ukrainian. In addition, 78 per cent of the former and 33 per cent of the latter were literate only in Russian. Also, 35 to 40 per cent of Ukraine’s 49,689 government bureaucrats and 25 per cent of its seventy-one top ministerial personnel were totally ignorant of Ukrainian.49 Urban Russian and Russified white-collar professionals, whose attitudes towards the majority Ukrainians were not unlike those of European settlers in Africa towards Africans and Arabs, voiced their opposition to learning and using Ukrainian throughout the 1920s in Enlightenment/imperialist Russian slavophile terms: “Ukrainian is only a language for songs”; “[the language] is vulgar and unsuited for a subject like physics … Ukraine now is nothing but a part of Russia”; “I won’t Ukrainianize – the Revolution was in Russian”; “Ukrainian is a dog’s language, I won’t study it.” Some employees who knew Ukrainian refused to use it, while a considerable number did not know it at all. While employees could be fired for ignorance of Ukrainian, apparently few were. In a letter from a Luhansk miner, we learn that in fifty-six mines in the region, where Ukrainians averaged 57 per cent of the workforce, Ukrainian was forgotten after speeches were made. Privately, officials said there was no one to Ukrainize because “all our workers are Russians.” Mine committees functioned in Russian, and when Ukrainian workers complained, they were told: “Go to your honkie land [khokhlandiia] and talk your dog-language there.” Cultural clubs functioned in Russian, and there were no Ukrainian-language manuals. Ukrainian posters and announcements were systematically torn down.50

In general, more Ukrainian-language materials were published after 1922 than before 1914, and the government did establish Ukrainian schools and universities. The lower the level within the government and the party, the higher the percentage of declared Ukrainians or Ukrainian speakers, and with each passing year an increasing percentage of these two groups rose through the hierarchy. Perhaps this trend would have dominated in the long term. But there would be no long term. Indigenization was never formally condemned, but it stopped being enforced after 1933. After that year, as before 1917, Russians in Ukraine would no longer face the fate of immigrants everywhere – learning foreign languages and acculturization. They remained settler-colonists. The change was reflected in two speeches by Zatonsky that gave different characterizations of Russian settler-colonists in Ukraine. In 1926 he had considered Ukraine to be undoubtedly a colony of the Russian tsars and bourgeoisie. Both tsarism and capitalism had Russified Ukraine, and the latter had also brought skilled Russian workers into Ukraine. “The Russian proletariat went to factories built in Ukraine.” In 1933 he stated that “the theory that the proletariat in Ukraine, or its majority, came from Russia is totally false.”51 Condemnation of Russian chauvinism ceased that year. Support from Russians and Russified non-Russians opposed to learning and using Ukrainian compensated Stalin for the loss of support from Ukrainian party leaders – although his elimination of the “left opposition” meant in any case that he no longer needed national republic leaders as allies. In 1923, Sultan-Galiev strongly condemned Stalin’s public rationalization of indigenization. It was absurd, he pointed out, to label opposition to Russian great-power chauvinism as “local nationalism” and then claim that the latter was the opposite of the former. Opposition to great-power chauvinism was not “nationalism” – it was simply opposition to great-power chauvinism. It was absurd, he continued, to expect the “young Russian party comrades” who staffed local administrations to fight “local nationalism” if they were “infected” with great-power chauvinism. They would only fan the flames of chauvinism while “beating” local non-Russian communists on the spurious grounds that they were “nationalists.” 52 These remarks infuriated Stalin, but he did not dispense with his false syllogism. In January 1934 he declared that the “greatest enemy” in the non-Russian republics was no longer Russian chauvinism but “local nationalism,” and in 1938 he ordered that Russian be made compulsory in all Ukrainian schools.53 Policy reversals were presented as “correcting errors” – but those reversals reflected Stalin’s thinking as expressed in a September 1922 letter to Lenin.

By 1939, Russian dominated in urban schools, the media, and administration. Massive inmigration of Russians had begun anew. Russians and Russian speakers did not have to learn Ukrainian to receive a job, a promotion, or government services, or to be educated, informed, or entertained. Russian language use still gave status and prestige. Ukrainian language use was relegated “things spiritual” – to ethnography, rural media, scholarship on Ukrainian subjects, and private use. Moscow ministries controlled an economy they administered in Russian. The Ukrainian communist criticism of Russian Bolshevism became relevant again.


February 6, 2016

Capitalism, slavery and the search for definitions

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

I finally got around to reading John Clegg’s article “Capitalism and Slavery” that appeared in the Fall 2015, Critical Historical Studies. Like practically all such articles dealing with Political Marxism except for those that appear occasionally in the ISO’s International Socialist Review, it is behind a paywall. I had heard that the article defended the idea that the slave-owners of the Deep South were capitalists while at the same time it defended the Brenner thesis that capitalism began in the British countryside. To put it mildly, this is about as unusual a combination of positions as can be imagined given that the Political Marxism catechism sees slavery = precapitalist as sacrosanct.

I first heard Clegg speak at a HM conference last April where he argued that chattel slavery was a form of exploitation consistent with Marx’s value theory. For Clegg, the chief difference between a wageworker and a slave was that the class relationship was based in the first instance on a contract between the buyer and seller of labor power but not in the second. Aside from that, there is really no difference since both types of labor are being exploited in order to produce commodities for sale on the capitalist marketplace for a profit.

The brunt of the article was a critique of three of the most noted historians writing in the Eric Williams tradition–Edward Baptist, Sven Beckert and Walter Johnson—for failing to provide a definition of capitalism in their various books. Although I have not read any of their books from cover to cover, I did find it interesting that when I went to the index I could find hardly any pages devoted to a theorization of capitalism. Clegg writes:

The problem is not that they lack the “correct” definition of capitalism. The problem is that by dodging the problem of definition altogether they fail to provide a coherent account of capitalist slavery. One doesn’t need to believe in such a thing as “pure” capitalism in order to recognize that modern capitalist societies have certain core features in common. Nor does one have to be a structuralist to see that capitalism lends itself to systematic analysis. Yet these authors fail to explain how the various features of the antebellum economy that they identify form part of a coherent capitalist system.

In this essay I argue that Robert Brenner’s conception of capitalism as generalized market dependence may provide the theoretical framing that is largely missing in these works. Brenner points out that while markets have existed in all known societies, only in capitalism are productive agents dependent on the market for their survival. This is because producers in capitalist societies have no direct (nonmarket) access to the means of production, including their own means of subsistence, and must therefore sell to survive. Since prices will be determined by the interaction of many producers in the market, producers in capitalist societies are compelled not only to sell but also to produce at a competitive cost.

So there you have it. A rejection of one core belief of Political Marxism while embracing another. That’s something you don’t see every day.

In his exegesis of the three historians, Clegg places them in the legacy of Fogel and Engerman’s “Time on the Cross”. This was a book that argued for the capitalistic logic of slave plantations where profit governed every calculation, even more so than in northern factories. While Fogel and Engerman made some useful arguments supported by extensive documentation, they went overboard and argued that productivity breakthroughs in the south led to improvements in the lives of slaves to the point of making them materially privileged in comparison to many wage workers.

Against these two stood Eugene Genovese who claimed that the plantation owners had much more in common with feudal lords, a point made essentially by Brenner and Charles Post. It is obviously wrong. In his own way, Genovese shared Fogel and Engerman’s dubious support for the idea of slave owner beneficence. For them, it flowed from their commitment to the idea that a happy worker was a productive worker, while for Genovese it was much more of a function of precapitalist paternalism of the sort that allowed serfs to have more than a hundred days of religious holidays per year.

While nominally in the Fogel and Engerman camp, the three historians considered by Clegg all subscribe to the notion that it was violence that increased productivity on the plantation—not adroit management or time and labor-saving technologies. This is something Clegg regards as exaggerated:

The point is not that violence was an ineffective means of extracting surplus labor from slaves. If the whip hadn’t worked, it wouldn’t have been so widely used. Baptist and Johnson are right to emphasize, against the neoclassical assumptions of Fogel and Engerman, that market competition most likely increased rather than moderated slave owner violence. The point is rather that slave owners subject to a competitive constraint can always be expected to use violence to whatever extent it is profitable. They will use violence to extract the maximum output when cotton yields and pickability are low, and they will continue to use violence to extract the even larger output when yields and pickability rise due to changing soils and seeds. Thus it is implausible that increased violence alone could account for a fourfold increase in productivity from 1805 to 1860. For it would suggest that market-dependent slave owners in 1805 were either too ignorant or too kind to take advantage of a relatively simple way to make a lot of money.

Up till this point, there’s not much for me to disagree with. I would only add that I would tend to hold off final judgement on the three historians until I have had a chance to read their books from beginning to end. My suspicion is that I will take a somewhat different tack than both Clegg and the others. Isn’t it the case that social control is not just a function of violence but the threat of violence? People were obedient in Nazi Germany because the threat of violence was omnipresent. The same thing was likely true in the Deep South.

Clegg has a section in his article titled “The Problem of Origins” that I dare say is problematic. It is there that he calls upon the Brenner thesis to “fix” what was wrong in the three historians, namely their belief that without American slavery there would be no British capitalism. In other words, they were wrong to either explicitly or implicitly base themselves on Eric Williams. While no doubt accepting the possibility that cotton from the south was a key and necessary raw material for the textile industry, Clegg argues that it is impossible to prove that British capitalism or that of the northern states was “dependent’ on it.

I will reserve judgement on this until I have had a chance to evaluate Clegg’s claim that “while cotton represented a large share of US exports, exports were a small share of the antebellum US economy, averaging 6 percent of GDP from 1800–1860.” To my knowledge GDP data does not exist prior to 1870 but maybe Clegg has a better handle on this.

What I am more qualified to render an opinion on is the echt Brennerite claim that “The Spanish, Portuguese, and French often had richer colonies, but none experienced either large scale industrialization or an industrial revolution.” By now you should be familiar with the idea that it was only Britain that had made a transition to capitalism so the plunder of gold and silver, the slave trade, the genocide against the Indians, etc. was “squandered” everywhere except England.

To a large extent, Clegg’s flawed thinking on this is a function of relying simultaneously on both Brenner and Wallerstein, who seem to serve as ideological boundaries for his understanding of the origins of capitalism. Despite their furious debates over the years, both scholars accepted that capitalism began in England as a consequence of contradictions internal to feudalism. Once it was established there, it diffused outwards but for Wallerstein was utterly reliant on colonization for its ability to become hegemonic.

Political Marxism and world systems theory both have a Eurocentric outlook although in Wallerstein’s case it was meliorated by his steadfast engagement with those who existed on its periphery—the “people without history” as Hegel put it.

Missing from Clegg’s analysis is the place of England within an ensemble of class relations existing inter-societally vis-a-vis the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Chinese and the Indians. As a ‘backward” country on their periphery, England was able to leapfrog over them through a series of policies that exploited its geographical position, its military superiority, its access to New World bullion and other factors identified in Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule”. None of this is reflected in the traditional axis of the debate as constituted by Brenner on one hand and the dependency theorists on the other.

However, the biggest problem for me is Clegg’s use of the term capitalism firstly as an adjective to describe a particular country like England and secondly the usefulness of the term in conventional social science terms, which he seems to employ unfortunately.

Referring to another scholar’s problem with the new historians’ avoidance of a definition for capitalism, Clegg writes: “It is true that terminological debates can have a pedantic tone, and it is unlikely they will be resolved anytime soon. However, if the new field is to last, it cannot avoid the question of definition.”

This leads us to the interesting question of whether Marx ever defined the term himself. In fact if you do a search on it on MIA, you will find not a single attempt to do so. Mostly you see him grappling with the problem of defining capital, such as in “Wage Labor and Capital”: “Capital consists of raw materials, instruments of labour, and means of subsistence of all kinds, which are employed in producing new raw materials, new instruments, and new means of subsistence. All these components of capital are created by labour, products of labour, accumulated labour. Accumulated labour that serves as a means to new production is capital.”

Sometimes Marx refers to “the capitalist system” but without taking any particular pains to clarify what that means. Usually it is something like this: “The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labour”, something just about everybody can agree with.

However, the problem arises when you try to use such terms both as a social science type definition and as a historical term for the simple reason that when capitalism is coming into being (to put it in Hegelian terms), it has only a relative “separation of the labourers from all property” as the presence of a dominantly self-husbanding peasantry in late 18th century France would indicate. Was France capitalist at this point or was it feudal? I suppose the only way to answer that is like Faye Dunaway answering Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown”. “Who was she?” “She was my daughter”. Slap. “She was my sister”. Slap. “All right. She was my daughter. She was my sister”. Aaah!

Was there any way to answer this question of defining capitalism in the early stages other than how Trotsky answered the question of whether the USSR was socialist? I don’t think so. The sooner the Brennerites begin to use the same kind of language with respect to early modern European economic history, the better off we will all be.

To define the Soviet regime as transitional, or intermediate, means to abandon such finished social categories as capitalism (and therewith “state capitalism”) and also socialism. But besides being completely inadequate in itself, such a definition is capable of producing the mistaken idea that from the present Soviet regime only a transition to socialism is possible. In reality a backslide to capitalism is wholly possible. A more complete definition will of necessity be complicated and ponderous.

The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena.

Doctrinaires will doubtless not be satisfied with this hypothetical definition. They would like categorical formulae: yes – yes, and no – no. Sociological problems would certainly be simpler, if social phenomena had always a finished character. There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it. In our analysis, we have above all avoided doing violence to dynamic social formations which have had no precedent and have no analogies. The scientific task, as well as the political, is not to give a finished definition to an unfinished process, but to follow all its stages, separate its progressive from its reactionary tendencies, expose their mutual relations, foresee possible variants of development, and find in this foresight a basis for action.

The Revolution Betrayed, 1936 (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/ch09.htm#ch09-3)

February 5, 2016

California snapshots from “Campaign of the Century”

Filed under: electoral strategy,New Deal — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

Reading Greg Mitchell’s “Campaign of the Century” provides insights not only into Upton Sinclair’s 1934 DP “EPIC” campaign for governor of California but the social history of the Great Depression as well. In the first excerpt, you will see the ramifications of Upton Sinclair becoming a Democrat. It is relatively easy to understand why one might make that mistake during the New Deal.

The second excerpt is a fascinating account of the rightwing politics of Earl Warren and Robert Sproul. Warren served as a 3-term Republican governor of California starting in 1943 and would be appointed to the Supreme Court by Eisenhower in 1952 in the expectations that he would move it in a liberal direction. In fact, for the average person Earl Warren is a name associated with progress but as Attorney General of California in 1941 he was responsible for rounding up Japanese-Americans and putting them into concentration camps. I guess he and the great New Deal president saw eye-to-eye on constitutional rights.

The excerpt also has some interesting things to say about Robert Sproul, the head of the U. of California. This is the same Sproul whose name adorns Sproul Hall and Sproul Plaza at Berkeley. Sproul was a member of the notorious Bohemian Club, where rich bastards would walk around naked and discuss how to rule the world without interference from the unwashed masses.

Upton Sinclair becomes a Democrat

It was almost one year to the day since Upton Sinclair set a remarkable social movement in motion, simply by changing his registration from Socialist to Democrat. A group of Democrats in Santa Monica led by Gilbert Stevenson, former owner of the landmark Miramar Hotel, had insisted that Sinclair run for governor. On four previous occasions in two states he had failed to tally more than sixty thousand votes running for office on the Socialist line, but now California seethed with discontent and Stevenson argued that Sinclair might be able to win as a Democrat. Sinclair, a constant crusader, could not resist the siren call. “I seem to have lost interest in novels,” he wrote to a friend, Fulton Oursler, back East. “That Hitler thing has made me realize the serious-ness of our danger.” He had written enough; what the world needed now, he said, was a deed.

So, on September I, 1933, Sinclair quietly switched his party affiliation from Socialist to Democrat, and started constructing a platform to run on, drawing on the writings of Edward Bellamy and some of his own books, from The Industrial Republic (1907) to The Way Out (1933). A few days later he completed a fable entitled I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty. It pictured a certain well-known California writer rallying a mass movement behind a twelve-point EPIC plan, which spurs him to victory in the 1934 governor’s race. Putting his platform into practice, Governor Sinclair eradicates poverty without much fuss (the only poor person left is a religious hermit who lives in a cave) and retires after one term in office to resume his career as a novelist.

By the time Sinclair had finished the manuscript, the story was becoming more and more real to him, so he self-published ten thousand copies of I, Governor and officially announced his candidacy. This marked “the first time an historian has set out to make his history true,” Sinclair boasted. Within weeks, I, Governor had become the hottest-selling book in California it was sixty-four pages long and sold for twenty cents and eager Sinclairites had organized several dozen End Poverty League chapters across the state. A few months after that, sales of the book topped ninety thousand and EPIC clubs exceeded a thou-sand.

Now, I, Governor read more like prophecy than fantasy. Congratulatory telegrams arrived at the Sinclair household in Pasadena from Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, and Edward M. House, former adviser to Woodrow Wilson. One of the great American attorneys, Samuel Untermyer, wired from New York that he had analyzed Sinclair’s platform and found his policies “sound and workable.”

Even more significant was a wire from Dr. Michael Shadid, a member of the executive committee of the national Socialist party. For nearly a year, the SP had been in an uproar over Sinclair’s change in allegiance. (Among those denouncing Sinclair’s switch: his own son, David.) Even alter Tuesday’s landslide, Socialist leader Norman Thomas termed the Sinclair campaign a “tragedy to himself and to the cause of radicalism.” U pton was getting it from all sides. Democrats accused him of being a Socialist, and the Socialists disowned him for running as a Democrat. Politicians said he should stick to writing, and writers charged that he was selling out his art to politics.

From Dr. Shadid, however, came this profound expression of forgiveness: “You have justified your ‘defection,’ ” he wrote. Perhaps other SP leaders would jump on the bandwagon, recognizing that the Sinclair heresy might just be the greatest thing to happen to the Socialist cause since the days of Eugene V. Debs.

The most fervent testimonial, however, came from Mr. and Mrs. Clyde C. Marshaw, a Los Angeles couple on relief who on primary day became parents of a baby boy and named him Upton Sinclair Marshaw.

Night fell. Dressed in a gray three-piece suit and topcoat, Sinclair gathered up his battered suitcases and bid fond farewell to his wife, Craig, who was so self-conscious about her appearance she was no longer a Southern belle she would neither pose for photographers nor see her husband off at the station. When Sinclair, accompanied by two young assistants, met the train at midnight, he found a mob waiting to wish him well. Reporters cried out questions. Did he think Merriam would put up much of a fight? Yes, because Wall Street would send ten million dollars to California to destroy EPIC. Did he still consider himself a Socialist? “I’m through theorizing; I’m a Democrat now. I consider the President my boss.” Sinclair pointed to Roosevelt’s speech t hat afternoon as proof that Socialists were being invited into the party to push FDR’s “big program.”

Then, with a wave to the crowd, Upton Sinclair disappeared into a Pullman car, and at twelve-fifteen the Santa Fe Chief rumbled off into the black of night, New York bound.

Earl Warren and Robert Sproul

Earl Warren took a break from his duties as Alameda County district attorney to accompany Robert Gordon Sproul, president of the University of California, to the American Legion’s noontime anti-Communist rally at Oakland’s Municipal Auditorium. He could have skipped the evcnt; Warren had only token opposition in his race for a third term in office. But the forty-three-year-old D.A. was a rising star in the Republican party, and a new state chairman would be named within a month. According to party rules it was time for a Republican from northern California to get the nod.

It shaped up as an important autumn for tall, strapping Earl Warren. With his reelection assured, he campaigned to put on the ballot an Amendment to the state constitution extending the civil service system. For Republicans, whose one-party rule in the state was drawing to a dose, this was more of a necessity than an exercise in good government. Patronage was wonderful so long as the GOP held power, but no one wan led to give Upton Sinclair a chance to play God.

Back in his law-school days at Berkeley, Warren had considered Sinclair one of his favorite authors. He used to go down to the First and East Chance Saloon, the hangout for sailors on the Oakland estuary frequented by Sinclair’s friend and fellow socialist Jack London. Earl would buy a glass of beer, sit down at a rickety card table, and listen to London talk about his experiences in the far north and the South Seas. Warren, still known to his old school friends as Pink or Pinky because of his complexion, not his politics had no use for radicals now. Last week, in fact, he had sent a form letter to some of his constituents thinking them for joining with other citizens “in protecting life and property from the activities of Communists during the recent general strike.”

Public speaking was not one of Warren’s strengths, so he was happy to let Bob Sproul, another young man in a hurry, step front and center at the rally. Sproul, a gifted orator, had considerably more experience dealing with Communists than Warren. The University of California, by some accounts, was infested with Reds. Whether this was true was beside the point: it was the public perception, the newspapers exploited it, and so Sproul had to confront it daily.

For the past month, Sproul had been summoning professors to his office and gently telling them that he had received information that they were members of pro-Communist groups or were taking part in the activities of the Social Problems Club, which he had banned from campus. Sproul notified the president of the Alumni Association that he had been identified as a Red sympathizer and suggested that he “vigorously combat” that perception. The intimidation tactics worked. Most of the suspects promised to sever their links to leftist groups, and some even offered to act as informers. Others felt so threatened they confessed they favored Upton Sinclair apparently wishing to come clean before an informer fingered them.

The university-wide crackdown did not remain secret for long, al-though no one suspected Bob Sproul of taking part in it. In mid-August, The Nation reported that “liberal professors are terrorized with threats of expulsion” as part of the current witch-hunt in California. This meant trouble for Sproul, who in just four years as head of the university had established himself, along with the University of Chicago’s Robert M. Hutchins, at the forefront of the enlightened new generation of college leaders.

Sproul had managed to steer clear of the California governor’s race so far, but Upton Sinclair alarmed him. Years ago, Sinclair had referred to Sproul’s domain as the University of the Black Hand, dominated by “sycophants” and “sluggards” where immorality “is more common than scholarship.” Just yesterday, Sproul informed an adviser to the Daily Californian that it would be “unfortunate” if the student newspaper ran an interview with Sinclair, which would provide a “sounding board” for the EPIC candidate on campus.

The Oakland Municipal Auditorium was hopping this afternoon. The American Legion had lately earned notoriety for supporting (and in some cases leading) vigilante bands that beat up hundreds of labor organizers in California. According to this week’s Nation, “thousands” of workers had “been gassed, had their skulls cracked, been trampled upon and shot. . . . The class-conscious workers of California are living in terror today Except in Los Angeles, their movement has been driven underground.” Just this morning two farm workers were shot and scores more injured in clashes with police and self-styled security per-son nel in Salinas. A Legion official recently insisted that his group did not intend to “go out and string up anybody, but it wouldn’t affect my eyesight if it did.”

For Robert G. Sproul, the Legion’s anti-Communist rally represented a splendid opportunity to reason with his university’s harshest critics. It might be indiscreet to boast about intimidating radical professors, so Sproul took the high road of principle instead. On campus, no one is punished for his beliefs, Sproul told the crowd, and every ism is taught: from socialism to nudism. Freedom of thought, speech, and assembly is revered, and despite all of this freedom only a tiny number of faculty members and students chose to be Communists. “The University,” Sproul said, “respects personal belief as the private concern of the individual.”

In case this sounded a little too liberal, Sproul eagerly assured the a whence of his own patriotism. “I am no flag-waving Jingo,” Sproul insisted, “but I have grown infinitely weary of the deprecation of America and American institutions during the past few years. We are not even approaching political, economic or social bankruptcy.” The path out of he Depression did not veer to the left but “lies straight ahead,” Sproul declared. That seemed to make clear where this “sluggard” stood on Upton Sinclair, and it surely satisfied his friend Earl Warren, whose future as a statewide candidate might hinge on how ruthlessly this sentiment could be exploited over the next nine weeks, perhaps even by Warren himself.



February 3, 2016

The specter that is haunting Vivek Chibber: combined and uneven development

Filed under: Academia,subaltern studies,transition debate — louisproyect @ 11:07 pm

Vivek Chibber

Leon Trotsky

It would appear that Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development informs not only Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule” but four articles I recently read that are critical of Vivek Chibber’s “Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital”. This might lead one to believe that no matter how failed a project the Fourth International was, Trotsky’s ideas remain current especially for scholars grappling with the Eurocentrism of Political Marxism, a tendency that includes Vivek Chibber as one of its most truculent spokesmen.

Vivek Chibber stormed on the scene in 2013 with the publication of “Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital”. It created the same kind of stir as Alan Sokal’s Social Text hoax in 1996 that was greeted ecstatically by virtually the entire left, including me. We saw him as our Marxist savior against postmodernist obfuscation. Not two years after the hoax, I discovered that Sokal had never read Richard Lewontin and writing partner Richard Levins, who were included in the very issue that Sokal sought to discredit.

It is entirely possible that the bloom has also begun to fade from the Chibber rose. For the Marxist wing of the postcolonial academic discipline, many see him as an interloper who did more damage than good. Indeed, the complaint heard from all four of his critics considered here is that he was not very knowledgeable about his subject. To start with, his polemic was directed against Subaltern Studies that he suggested was the dog wagging the tail of postcolonial theory when in fact postcolonialism appeared on the scene a full decade before Subaltern Studies and actually was responsible for it gaining any kind of traction. Furthermore, there was a reductionist element to his attack on Ranajit Guha, Partha Chatterjee, and Dipesh Chakrabarty that despite slaking his polemical appetite gave short shrift to the complexity of their ideas.

Let me start with Tim Brennan’s article “Subaltern Stakes” that appeared in the September-October 2014 New Left Review. (It is a sign of the generally academic provenance of these debates that all of the articles under consideration here are behind a paywall.)

Brennan, who I rubbed shoulders with in the NY headquarters of the SWP when he was briefly a member of the Young Socialist Alliance in the mid-70s, is more generous to Chibber than any of the other authors but regards him as a kind of a bull in a china shop with respect to the highly allusive literary style of the authors he pillories:

So, to demolish the pretensions of the subalternists’ ‘infelicitous terminology’, in Chibber’s words, is at least in part to miss the point. He says he finds the formulations of Chatterjee and Chakrabarty elusive, vague, obscure, and difficult to understand. But this is a little like finding geometry abstract or obituaries brief. The manner is intrinsic to the project. The methods of this kind of cultural theory—and we can by now agree that Subaltern Studies falls within their orbit—are based not on historical accuracy, context or intention, but on the production of political outcomes by way of a textual occasion.

Since Brennan can be “elusive, vague, obscure and difficult” himself, I can understand why he would have a problem with Chibber’s Sokalesque premium on plain language. What interested me more was this:

Chibber mentions in passing Karl Kautsky, Leon Trotsky, and others who explored the dynamics of agrarian economy and uneven development, but the sense of this broader politico-cultural history is missing, and its vexing relationship to theory and method goes undiagnosed.

Maybe Brennan and to some extent the other three critics I will be turning to in this article should have been a bit more skeptical about Chibber’s understanding of Trotsky:

Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development was an explicit rejection of the argument that later developers would simply replicate the developmental path of the early ones. For Trotsky, the fact of their later insertion into the capitalist vortex meant that such societies would be able to import the most recent innovations in certain spheres, while preserving a whole gamut of older social relations in others. There is no implication of homogeneous time, no historicism, no “stageism”—indeed, the theory is immune to virtually every accusation that Subalternist theorists make against the Marxian tradition. (p. 292 of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital)

It strikes me that Chibber might have confused Trotsky’s theory with the letters Karl Marx wrote to Vera Zasulich warning against a Plekhanov type “stagism” that necessitated a capitalist development prior to struggle for socialism in Russia. Trotsky’s theory was much more about understanding the co-existence of apparently opposed socio-economic institutions in Czarist Russia as he put it in chapter one of “History of the Russian Revolution”:

Savages throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling the road which lay between those two weapons in the past. The European colonists in America did not begin history all over again from the beginning. The fact that Germany and the United States have now economically outstripped England was made possible by the very backwardness of their capitalist development.

In other words, combined and uneven development applies to both the transition from feudalism to capitalism as well as the transition from capitalism to socialism. The existence of slavery, a “backward” institution in the USA, was essential to the creation of its textile industry. In Germany, the Junkers were the shock troops of a bourgeois revolution that preserved feudal relations in the countryside. And if serfdom had been abolished in Russia in 1861, the peasants in 1917 were hardly profit-seeking yeomen of the kind found in 18th century England. Trotsky wrote:

The law of combined development of backward countries – in the sense of a peculiar mixture of backward elements with the most modern factors – here rises before us in its most finished form, and offers a key to the fundamental riddle of the Russian revolution. If the agrarian problem, as a heritage from the barbarism of the old Russian history, had been solved by the bourgeoisie, if it could have been solved by them, the Russian proletariat could not possibly have come to power in 1917 [emphasis added].

Julian Murphet as well as the other two authors I will now consider are not familiar to me. He teaches cultural studies in Australia, a discipline that presumably gives him the background to evaluate Chibber. In September 2013, he wrote “No Alternative: On Vivek Chibber,” for the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, a journal one supposes that Chibber would regard as enemy territory. Speaking probably for those who identify with such a journal, Murphet described the impact of Chibber’s book as entering “this fractured terrain with all the diplomacy of a stinging backhand across the face.” Well, that’s probably the way that Verso intended it.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 4.21.41 PM

Like Tim Brennan, Murphet finds Chibber’s approach to Subaltern Studies woefully reductionist:

[I]t could be argued that Chibber’s book is one long, distemperate construction of an imago of Subaltern Studies that flattens it into a caricature, a negative imprint of what this work is offering us. Deaf as Chibber is to what theory and the dialectic have to offer social cognition, those elements of postcolonial theory are either dismissed as so much irrationalism and obfuscation, or simply not registered—a result that renders the opponent as one-dimensional as the Weberian analytic Marxism championed by Chibber. As many readers will be aware, that is to strip the work of Charkabarthy, Chatterjee, and others of precisely their dialectical spark and agility; and so to misread their analyses.

In contrast to a “Weberian analytic Marxism”, Murphet advocates the Marxism of Leon Trotsky:

Consider one of the most important Marxist concepts to have emerged après Marx: the notion of “uneven and combined development” as this was first sketched by Trotsky and filled in by later theorists such as Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Fredric Jameson, and Perry Anderson. It is a concept only in fetal state on the pages of Capital, but under this subsequent nurturing, seems best qualified to account for much of what Chibber’s book wants to reprimand the subalternists for ignoring: the economic pressures put on nation states by a world market in which each is inserted differently; the frequent maintenance of distinct, precapitalist modes of production within and alongside advanced industrial production; the distinction between real and formal subsumption within the capitalist economy; and the readiness of capital to accept differential wage rates in different geographical locations. And yet this concept, so useful to the kind of critique Chibber seems to want to make, is only mentioned once, five pages from the end of the book, and gestured at in passing on page 245. The reason is surely that, for all that the concept illuminates precisely the terrain covered in this book, it does not do so in a compatible way. When Bloch writes about various temporalities beating in the heart of the present, or Jameson about the social and cultural dissonances that arise from uneven development, what is most evident is that there is no way of representing this imbrication of modes of production effectively without employing a dialectical style. Only a dialectical presentation can capture the acute existential and epistemological torsion at stake in the palimpsest-like social formation of capitalist India or communist Russia—and a dialectical style is what Chibber’s method is dedicated to invalidating. Sociological and analytic Marxism of this sort is incompatible with the giddy transformations of an idea as it passes back and forth between the specific conjuncture and the universal frame; between the local situation and the global trend; between the particular product and the universal equivalent; between the superstructural detail and the economic ground. Where the style of an Adorno or a Jameson is tailored to these vertiginous shifts up and down the scale of social reality, Chibber’s is myopically trained on the “clear and distinct” idea itself; a Cartesian prejudice of the Enlightenment that sees all deviation from rational method as inherently reactionary.

Moving from Australia to Norway, we encounter Alf Gunvald Nilsen who tends to be as generous with Chibber as Tim Brennan. He teaches at the University of Bergen where he lists his pursuits on his web page.

  • Social movements in the global South
  • The political economy of capitalism
  • Critical development research
  • Marxist theory
  • Postcolonial theory
  • all with special reference to India and Asia.

Writing an article titled “Passages from Marxism to Postcolonialism: a comment on Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital” for the December 2015 issue of Critical Sociology, Gunvald, like Brennan, agrees with the basic thrust of Chibber’s critique:

Whereas my point of departure is that of agreement with Chibber’s basic claims, the ensuing discussion also carries the imprint of a view that I share with many others – namely, that there is more mileage in postcolonialism than what Chibber allows for, and that consequently, Marxist inquiries in the field of historical sociology are likely to gain from a willingness to reflect on the foundational theoretical assumptions that guide the study of capitalist development in light of some of the critical insights that postcolonialism has yielded.

While Gunvald sympathizes with Chibber’s critique of the subalternists’ tendency to essentialize the East and West, he also faults him for universalizing the capitalist mode of production in a manner that flattens the difference between the two regions:

As much as Chibber is correct in arguing that Marxists have devoted much time and energy ‘to understand the peculiar effects of capitalist development in the non-West’, these interrogations have often proceeded from a vantage point in which capitalism is posited as a mode of production that emerges in and emanates from. Moreover, within Marxist historical sociology, there is also a tendency to conceive of colonialism as something that is ‘consequent to capitalism’ rather than ‘constitutive of it’. Ultimately, these historiographical parameters are Eurocentric in the sense that they result in ‘the eradication of the role and effect of the non-West in engendering both conjunctural and epochal transformations, some of which are essentially constitutive of the emergence of the modern capitalist economy and the international state-system’.

As an antidote to this kind of Eurocentrism, Gunvald recommends the theory of combined and uneven development as mediated by Jairus Banaji and Justin Rosenberg. I am well aware of Banaji’s work but much less familiar with Rosenberg who I do remember being cited favorably in the Anievas and Nisancioglu book. Gunwald convinces me that more attention should be paid to Rosenberg:

One of the most significant resources for the construction of a relational ontology for the study of the historical development of capitalism is arguably to be found in Justin Rosenberg’s reconstruction of Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development. This reconstruction starts from the claim that there is no sociological definition of the international due to the fact that the classical social theorists failed to systematically incorporate ‘inter-societal coexistence and interaction into their theoretical conception of social causality’. Working towards such a definition in turn entails that we have to abandon ‘at the deepest theoretical level any notion of the constitution of society as analytically prior to its interaction with other societies’.

Finally, we turn to Neil Lazarus, an English literature professor and self-described postcolonialism specialist at the University of Warwick, who is the most hostile to Chibber but never threatened to beat him up as far as I know. His article “Vivek Chibber and the spectre of postcolonial theory” appears in the Jan.-Mar. 2016 “Race and Class”. Unlike all the other authors considered above, Lazarus enjoys hitting below the belt—turning Chibber into a comical figure:

I’m not opposed to the genre of the long rant as such. Some long rants are very much worth reading: Marx and Engels’s The Holy Family, for instance – a text bearing the rather wicked subtitle, Critique of Critical Criticism – is almost as long as Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. But Vivek Chibber is no Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels. He reminds me, instead, of the protagonist of the ideal-type of the literary genre of the novel, as famously analysed by Lucien Goldmann in Toward a Sociology of the Novel: a hero, torn from community, who goes in search of authentic values in a degraded world. Dogged, unafraid and unamused – our solitary hero ventures forth in his modern epic onto the blasted heath of postcolonialism with an avenger’s zeal, to fight the good fight against Subaltern Studies all by himself, but on behalf of all of us.

I rather like that sort of writing. I only wish that more academics could master it. Perhaps Lazarus’s classes include close readings of Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell, who despite their ideological differences were very good at mockery.

One can understand Lazarus’s antagonism toward Chibber. For his entire academic career, Lazarus has stood up for a class analysis in a field that is dominated by postmodernists. He openly admits to being resentful about being taken for granted by Chibber who slights him and a number of others like him who have labored in the trenches for a Marxist analysis for the past three decades at least. Of course, given Chibber’s legendary arrogance, that might have been expected.

While generously giving Chibber credit for taking up the cause of Marxism in the academy, Lazarus like all the other critics above returns once again to the theory of combined and uneven development as a tool perfectly suited to explaining the differences between India and Britain that Chibber tends to push to the side in his pursuit of “universalist” themes consistent with the Enlightenment. Lazarus writes:

Marx’s identification of unevenness then received notable amplification in Trotsky’s writings of the 1930s, in which he formulated his theory of ‘uneven and combined development’, by way of analysing the effects of the imposition of capitalism on cultures and societies hitherto un- or only sectorally capitalised. In these contexts – properly understood as imperialist – Trotsky observed, the imposed capitalist forces of production and class relations tended not to supplant but to be conjoined forcibly with pre-existing forces and relations. The outcome, he wrote, was a contradictory ‘amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms’ – an urban proletariat working in technologically advanced industries existing side by side with a rural population engaged in subsistence farming; industrial plants built alongside ‘villages of wood and straw’, and peasants ‘thrown into the factory cauldron snatched directly from the plow’.

Lazarus is somewhat puzzled by Chibber’s Eurocentric tendencies in light of the credit to Trotsky on page 292 of his book cited above. After reproducing it, Lazarus scratches his head over how Chibber can “make no use of the theory of uneven and combined development in the main body of his study” despite the nod to the theory. This, to Lazarus, is “a failure that simply baffles understanding.”

I sent him a note yesterday explaining the discrepancy:

Hi, Neil

Really enjoyed your article that Alex Anievas alerted me to, especially on the Combined and Uneven Development angle. You probably know that Anievas and Nisancioglu base their critique of the Brenner thesis on Trotsky’s theory.

I come at this as a former member of the American SWP where I learned about the theory in classes with people like George Novack rather than in academia so when I first encountered the Brenner thesis in the mid-90s when Jim Blaut subbed to a listserv I moderated, my reaction was that Brenner was a kind of new-fangled “stagist”. The idea that capitalism sprang up in the mid 1500s like Athena being born from Zeus’s forehead struck me as rather undialectical.

I suspect that people in the PM camp, no matter how much Trotsky they have read, tend to see things through Brenner’s stagist perspective. You are absolutely right that Trotsky’s writings (or Marx’s 18th Brumaire for that matter) are key to understanding the co-existence and mutual reinforcement of apparently opposed social forces and that this methodology would be of great benefit to those investigating postcolonial studies, I simply think that Chibber was paying lip-service to Trotsky in those quotes you included in your article.




Baathists emulate Israel’s war on Gaza

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:34 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 12.28.33 PM


The Syrian army has warned residents of Aleppo they face “bloodshed”, “destruction” and the death of their loved ones if they do not expel rebel fighters from the city within 48 hours, in leaflets dropped from government helicopters.

Pro-opposition news sites published one of the leaflets, which they said were dropped on Tuesday night over rebel-held districts of Aleppo.

The leaflet told residents: “The war is coming to its end. It will be tragic for all of us if it ends with the death of your loved ones and the destruction of your homes,” the Arabic leaflet read.

“The leaders of the Arab Syrian Army are proposing [either] bloodshed or [a chance to] avoid this fate by expelling the foreign and intruding fighters from your area – safe passage for their exit will be arranged.”

The leaflet offered safety to local fighters provided that they hand over their weapons and all foreigners fighting in their ranks – it did not specify which specific groups or nationalities it addressed.

See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/leaflet-dropped-aleppo-warns-bloodshed-or-withdrawal-foreign-fighters-753915475


Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 12.30.50 PM


Thousands of people are fleeing a border town in the Gaza Strip after Israel dropped leaflets warning of stepped up attacks on the sixth day of an offensive. Meanwhile, an Israeli commando squad crossed into Gaza today to destroy a Hamas rocket-launching site.

The commando raid is the first incursion of Israeli troops into Gaza since the beginning of the offensive, which Palestinian health officials say has killed 170 and wounded more than 1,100 others.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro, reporting from Jerusalem, says that up until now, it’s been entirely an air war. The deployment of the Israeli commandos, who arrived from Gaza’s Mediterranean side via an amphibious operation, represents “a significant shift, but it’s not yet the all-out invasion that many fear,” Ari tells Weekend Edition Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Sunday that the Israeli army was “prepared for any possibility.”

“I don’t know when the operation will end, it might take much more time,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks before his weekly Cabinet meeting.

The air-dropped leaflets warned Gaza residents that failure to comply with instructions to evacuate “will endanger their lives and the loves of their families,” according to Reuters. The area is home to at least 100,000 people.


Apparently the Russians used the same tactic in their genocidal-like war:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 7.11.46 PM

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:18 am

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.