Saturday, September 25, 2004

Left Atlanticism...

I've always found it odd that Leftists are often vehemently anti-Europe (in the UK). Admittedly, there is history - originally Pro-Europeanism was a Tory policy very much opposed by Labourites with their commitment to the Commonwealth (now, where did that go?). But I find it odd all the same.

Likewise much anti-Americanism. Admittedly, that too has a cause, largely, I think, the spite of the lover spurned. Many leftists probably once believed the aspirations the US said it held, for freedom and Democracy, only to see them betrayed by the discovery of the hidden history of Empire (you know, tanks on the streets of DC, massacres and frame-ups of trade unionists, etc.) Largely because, once, America was the palce where democracy was practised (at least nominally) in the way Europeans aspired to. I know I've aften felt that way.

Indeed, the British Labour movement, particularly the likes of the T&G owe much to the American trade unionists in the Knights of Labour for their support and foundation. At least according to Coates & Topham

Anyway, I was amused to see Norm posting this caustic - and sarcastic - response to a claim to a say in the US presidential elections.

See, I've been reading an (Old-ish) Socialist Labor Party (DeLeonist) pamphlet about the US constitution. It quotes Benjamin Franklin - I don't have it to hand, I mighht transcribe the quote later in the week - who apparently aspired, upon presentation with the original design for the stars'n'stripes, that one day every nation might be represented by a star on that flag. If true, a truly inspiring piece of Universalism from the old radical.

Why is there not, I thought, a left Atlanticism - a radical call to actually encourage not just Britain but all Europe to become states of the Union? mad, I know. But the idea struck me as truly progressive in the usual sense, Marxist within Charlie's own tactics (i.e. recognising the fact of US hegemony and seeking to accomodate within it and change it, rather than waging a futile fight against reality) and likely to at least challenge a few settled ideas about the world and the hold of the capitalists both sides of the Atlantic. A fun game in my own head, anyway.

But, I think that something like that - a big picture - is missing. The left is now entirely oppositional - against war, against privatisation, against merger, ageainst, against, against. There is no idea, no vision of a totality of society for the left to pursue anymore.

As an ending note, I originally went to the SWP's website to get a gobbett about their anti-Europeanism; but they don't actually have any policies on their website. Never mind no vision, nothing, zip, zilch...

Couple of quotes, again...

My Bob am I lazy.

Anyway, here's a couple of tasty quotes, arising from discussion in comments.

From the Manifesto...

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole super incumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air...


The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

What could be a clearer and more revolutionary commitment to democracy and the emancipation of Labour, rather than its subordincation udner The Party?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Leviathan's birth

Last night I was skimming through Liebknecht's Militarism, again, and ran across some wise words with regards to the Marxian notion of the origins of the state.

In the last resort the basis of every social relation of power is the superiority of physical force, which as a social phenomenon does not appear in the form of the greater physical strength of individuals, since as far as this relation is concerned, one human being is worth as much as any other, and a purely numerical majority is decisive. The relation of numbers with which we are concerned does not simply correspond to the numerical relation between groups of persons with contradictory interests, but is determined – since not everyone is conscious of his own real interests, especially not of his fundamental interests, and above all since not everyone recognizes or acknowledges the interests of his class as his own interests – essentially by the level of intellectual and moral development of each class, by which is decided the extensive and intensive degree of class-consciousness. This intellectual and moral level is itself determined by the economic position of the individual interest groups (classes), while the social and political position represents rather a consequence, though of course one which is very strongly retroactive, and an expression of the relation of power...

But even the numerical ratio so determined does not decide absolutely the relation of power. An armed man increases his physical strength by many times through his possession of a weapon. The degree of the increase depends upon the development of the technique of arms, including fortification and strategy (whose form is essentially a consequence of the technique of arms). The intellectual and economic superiority of one interest group over another is turned into a simple physical superiority through the possession of arms, or of better arms, on the part of the ruling class. The possibility is thus created of the complete domination of the class-conscious majority by a class-conscious minority...

Even when the division into classes is decided by the economic position, the political relation of power between the classes is determined by the economic position of individuals only in the first place; in the second place it is determined by the countless intellectual, moral and physical means of power at the disposal of the economically dominant class through its economic class position. The fact that these instruments of power exist cannot affect class divisions, since these are created by a quite independent set of conditions which, with a power like that of nature, forces certain classes, which may well represent a majority, into economic dependence on other classes, which may represent a tiny minority – a dependence which neither the class struggle nor any means of political power is capable of eliminating. The class struggle can therefore only be a struggle to develop class-consciousness among class comrades – which embraces a readiness for the performance of revolutionary deeds and for sacrifice in the interest of one’s class – and a struggle to capture those means of power which are of importance with regard either to the creation or to the suppression of class-consciousness, as well as those physical and intellectual means of power whose possession means the multiplication of physical strength.

A stirling piece of writing,a nd one that emphasises nicely the role of class cosnciousness in revolution along with numbers and force of arms. Perhaps more on class consciousness another time, but do read the whole chapter and perhaps contemplate the relation of these ideas to modern terrorism, and Liebknecht's sadly disproved thesis that technological advancement in slaughter may prevent war.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

This free...

Norm has a series of posts on the Marxcian concept of a stateless society. Trailer, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4. Read them all, and in that order.

I have to admit to being disappointed. Norm could have saved a lot of time, as well as the lives of countless electrons, by simply saying " Hobbes was right y'all."

To quickly reply.

Geras notes but then ignores a central feature of the Marxian definition of the state as being its class basis. Pace Hobbes, Marxists do not consider the state to be the natural combination of individuals from a state of nature for mutual protection, but, rather, the interloping interest of a class within a society combined to dominate the rest of the community. Without this recognition, Norm's articles are directed more at anarchists than they are at Marxists, who have always acknowledged the need for authority up to an including some element of force within socialism.

So far as Marxists are concerned at the minute, the state is not a force for mutual protection, except in as much as the Mafia is - a protection racket. So long as the state is owned and controled by a section in society, so much is it used to dominate and subordinate the rest of society. At present the capitalist class collectively own the state through a combination of the national debt, funding of political parties and their common ownership of the means of communication through advertising funding.

Just as there is, of course, a difference between a mafia protection racket and an insurance firm, or between the former and a neighbourhood watch, so too is there between state enforced laws and community enforcement. The principle of exclusivity needs to be lost, i.e. enforcement of rules/decisions is not the exclusive privilege of a special body of people but of the people in a community generally.

At present police have powers of arrest far and above that enjoyed by the rest of us under common law, and there is no need for that, a sufficiently rigorous concept of arrest could allow police to use the same as the person on the street, in the same way as I have as much right to bake bread as a baker, but I leave it to them generally because that is their chosen vocation.

I would generally expect an outcome like Geras's (2/3)topia, with sporadic and infrequent infraction of rules (the evidence is clear that change in social conditions would radically cut the number of crimes outright). Such crimes in a society where the population generally works a ten hour week could easily be accomodated into ad hoc democratic practises of the local community for dealing with, leaving no need for a full-time police or judiciary. This would even be beneficial, given Condorcet's jury theorum which suggests that the more people involved in deciding a case the more likely the correct outcome is going to be obtained. Given we have now about one murder per parliamentary constituency per year, we can hardly expect to be overwhelmed.

Further, I would suggest that our emphasis would be on eliminating the causes of crime. Norm is right, Marxists are good at spotting the venality of humans, but we don't, I don't think, attribute that to external cause, but, rather, look at it in terms of opportunity (what is the rational way to behave? what is the most effective way to prosper?) and see how that links in with social structures. We would seek to harness selfishness, lust, greed, etc. by making co-operation the rational choice, the most cost effective choice. We would aim for (1)topia, by using scientific knowledge of the way society actually is when undistorted by class divisions.

Where liberalism sees the existential hero as free as they are unhindered or encountered by society, socialism sees freedom in people being able to define themselves through society. The understanding that life is a collaborative effort.

Certainly, Marxists seek some of the promises of liberalism. IIRC C.L.R. James talked of early America, where the Americans were doing the democracy - elected Sheriffs and the like - that Europeans only talked of. Liberalism has failed to deliver on that promise, only the abolition of class will enable us to take democratic authority into the hands of the community as a whole, and out of the hands of the state.

Ah thangyow...

Monday, September 06, 2004


Given that Harry is restricting comments, I'll just post-up the e-mail I sent him in response to Here.

Dear Harry,

as you say, thousands were trained in those camps. But, likewise, there were thousands trained in the School of The Americas, or even at Sandhurst, running around, out of control and capable of the most terrible crimes. They form a network too, in as much as the Thatcher case shows they move in similar circles, that doesn't make them a tangible entity, more a phenomenon. A phenomenon, moreover, that is linked to the Jihadist network, in as much as Osama et al. are blowback from the CIA training programme themselves.

Now, I want to be clear, I'm not blaming the west or Amerikky or Gross Britainia, but, rather, illustrating that there is a bigger observation to be drawn from your post.


Bill M.

I should add, that there is a 'murky world' of military and paramilitary types, for whom human life is cheap.

My musings on Beslan later, I hope.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Death of the Left.

I'm joining in late, but Norm, SIAW, Oliver Kamm and Paul Anderson have all been discussing 'the death of the left' (a sort of precis of debate on Anderson's blog).

My take, verrrry briefly.

I had been going to make the link by reference to certain historical events, teh French and Russian Revolutions, that have largely determined the nature of the left. We are still, IMNSHO, awaiting events. Certainly, relations to the very real movements that arose from those revolutions determined the shape of much of the left. People knew who was on their side because they were fighting shoulder to shoulder on the streets.

Such a view is contained also in Marx's career, initially defined by teh uprisings of 1848, there followed a twenty-odd year lull until the Paris commune, and the same people found themselves on the same side again.

But, looking at my examples deaper, I was struck by the underlying social and ideological perspective. Anti-feudalism. These were the two great anti-feudal revolutions.

Of course, the term 'left' derives from the Estates General where the Aristo's sat on The King's right, and the commoners on The King's left. The left was thus defined by not being the aristocracy. And so, I would contend, that continued. Hence why the left has included liberals and members of the workers movement, so many divergent interests but all opposed to actual existing feudalism. I've noted before, Conservatives have it easy, they are defending what exists now, radicals have it harder, not only attacking what exists now, but defending what they want to come, and of course, since that isn't concrete, it's very easy for radical movements to fracture into distinct and different ends.

If we look further, we see that the other great left/right split also stems from anti-feudalism. Tradtionally, the left were on the side of I 'Industrial Capital' against 'Finance Capital', concrete production versus living off interest. Obviously, a great many of the haute aristocracy converted themselves into haute bourgeopisie by virtue of their having spare money lying around. Hence fincannce capital became the domain of many aritsos, and the left could unit against these parasites.

Now, with sufficient numbers of nouveaux riches rising up, they have made the jump into the finance capital world, that great split within the national bourgeoisie has vanished, and the old aristocrats are increasingly side-lined by the meritocrats. In effect, Thatcher the revolutionary destroyed the rights, as poart of a petite bourgeois assualt on entrenched privilleges, and in so doing fractured the left which stood against that right edifice.

Now, her assualt also left many of the left on the defensive. You can hear it in SWP slogans today 'Stop Privatisation' 'Defend COuncil Housing' - i.e. not a positive programme of opposition to existing society, but a defence of what already is. Likewise, the mob at Harry's Place take sides in the war on terror by defending actual existing liberal democracy (against, significantly, the feuddal threat of 'Islamofascism').

The left is a victim of it's own success, the aristocracy is out, feudalism is defeated, the popular front against feudal reaction is over. Perhaps the death of the left, then, will allow clearing space for the rise of socialism in it's stead. The 'stopper' left is nto in favour of actual existing society, as such, but treats 'Imperialism' in teh same way the anti-feudalists fought Russian Feudal Tyranny, with nationalist movements - i.e. they are trying to recreate ourgeois revolution. hence the difference, and their willingness to collaborate with ermergent bourgeois forces (like the Saudi Capitalist Bin Laden) against the established capitalist class.

Left-wing, right-wing. Both parts of the same damn capitalist bird.