Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: "The Philosophy of Praxis" from Notre Dame Phiosophicl Reviews

An interesting review by Timo Jütten to which I have added some observations -tr, and used bold to highlight parts of especial interest-- Thomas Riggins

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Andrew Feenberg, The Philosophy of Praxis: Marx, Lukács and the Frankfurt School, Verso, 2014, 252pp., $29.95 (pbk), ISBN 9781781681725.
Reviewed by Timo Jütten, University of Essex
This is a thoroughly revised version of Andrew Feenberg's first book, Lukács, Marx and the Sources of Critical Theory (1981).[1] In the Preface to the new version Feenberg writes that he often has looked back to the original version, based on his doctoral dissertation supervised by Herbert Marcuse, "with a mixture of pride and dismay" (viii). On the one hand, Feenberg is proud of the fact that the original volume has helped people understand the complicated arguments of Lukács' History and Class Consciousness. On the other hand, he has long recognized that there were problems with the original version, and in this new one he aims to solve these problems. As someone who has profited from the original volume in the way that justly gives Feenberg pride, I am happy to report that the new version is a very worthy successor and will be indispensable for a new generation of students and scholars as they try to make sense of the intellectual background of Frankfurt School critical theory.
The book can be divided into three parts. Feenberg devotes three chapters each to Marx's early writings and to Lukács' History and Class Consciousness (including some discussion of his recently published defense of this controversial book), and two chapters on how members of the Frankfurt School, in particular Adorno and Marcuse, have taken up and transformed their legacies. There also is a substantial conclusion and an Appendix, which condenses two chapters from the earlier version. Feenberg has thoroughly revised the book throughout. For example, there is a new discussion of the influence of the neo-Kantians on Lukács (e.g., 73-78), a more extended discussion of the Kantian and Hegelian background, and a new focus on the critique of science and technology, which became an important theme in Feenberg's work following the publication of his first book. Finally, the two chapters on the Frankfurt School are all new. I won't be able to do justice to all of this material, so will focus on what I consider to be the book's major strengths.
Students of Frankfurt School critical theory often are confronted with an approach to philosophy that is very alien to the mainstream but can be rendered intelligible, if its Marxist and Lukácsian background is brought to the fore. For example, consider the cryptic opening sentence of Adorno's Negative Dialectics: "Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on, because the moment of its realization was missed."[2] It is with understanding sentences like these that Feenberg's book really helps. Both the obsolescence of philosophy and its possible realization are problems that arise in Marx's early writings and in Lukács' History and Class Consciousness, in the context of a philosophy of praxis that aims to overcome the antinomies identified by modern philosophy through collective social action and to realize the level of rationality that has been attained through theoretical reflection in social practices and institutions. For Marx and for Lukács (who didn't know Marx's early writings when he wrote History and Class Consciousness in 1923 but developed very similar arguments), the German idealist tradition had reached an impasse in Hegel, who thought that the antinomies of modern philosophy had to be resolved by speculative thought. In contrast, Marx and Lukács believed that these antinomies ultimately could not be resolved either critically, as Kant thought, or speculatively, as Hegel thought, but only metacritically. Such a metacritique of philosophy would amount to a "sociological desublimation of the concepts of philosophy" (12). It would demonstrate that seemingly philosophical problems are rooted in social reality, and that only social change will resolve the antinomies. Feenberg's discussion of Lukács' metacritique of philosophy in Chapter Five is particularly insightful. As he explains,
For Lukács, traditional philosophy is in essence philosophy of culture that does not know itself as such. Philosophy reflects on cultural structures -- forms of objectivity -- that it misinterprets as eternal principles disconnected from the accidents of history and social life. (91)
Lukács' discussion applies this insight to a practical and a theoretical antinomy. Considered from a practical perspective, the antinomial conflict between freedom and determinism characterizes the social experience of modern subjects in their everyday lives. Forty years later Adorno would make the same point in his lectures on Kant and in Negative Dialectics.[3] Subjects face a practical antinomy, because their inner sense of agency and freedom is incompatible with the social determinism that they experience as a natural law in modern capitalist society. According to Lukács, Kant's moral philosophy reflects this antinomy, but its proposed resolution, the distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal realms, reifies moral freedom and cannot explain how the free subject can act in a world that is governed by the seemingly natural laws of economics. Considered from a theoretical perspective, the antinomial conflict is generated by two incompatible philosophical commitments that concern the nature of our knowledge of reality. On the one hand, the subject stands in a contemplative, passive relationship to the world when it seeks to control it. The world is governed by natural laws that exist independently of the empirical subject, and the subject must comprehend these laws in order to dominate nature[WE HAVE TO GET OVER THE IDEA WE CAN DOMINATE NATURE-tr]. Thus, "the reified is the rational" (97). On the other hand, the subject stands in an active relationship to its world. As a transcendental subject it creates the world by imposing the form of reason onto it, and the intelligibility of the world to the subject is explained by this imposition [THIS IS IDEALISM: MATERIALISM DISCOVERS THE REASON IN NATURE IT DOES NOT IMPOSE IT FROM OUTSIDE-tr]. Lukács traces the philosophical attempts to reconcile these commitments from Kant to Hegel, but, ultimately, he argues that such a reconciliation requires a change of perspective that overcomes the dualism of humanity and nature, history and ontology.
Both the early Marx and Lukács attempt such a reconciliation, and Feenberg devotes Chapters Three and Six to these attempts. These are important parts of the book, because Feenberg grapples with problems in Marx's and Lukács' thought that long have perplexed commentators. The question is whether either operates with a concept of subject-object identity, which denies the ontological independence of nature. Thus Marx seems to argue that humans produce nature through their labour, and that, therefore, "under the appropriate social conditions it will be possible to recognize the essence of nature as human activity" (44). As Feenberg points out, this argument is implausible, because nature is not just raw material for human labour, and labour is not the only way in which humans engage with nature. In any case, Marx abandoned this whole line of thought in his writings immediately following the Manuscripts. Lukács often has been criticized for a similar approach to nature, and Feenberg offers a detailed analysis of History and Class Consciousness that aims to show the mistakes in these criticisms. In particular, he disposes of the "absurd" thesis that nature "is a purely social category, and the natural world therefore has no independence of humanity and human understanding" (129), by showing that Lukács actually talks about our knowledge of nature, rather than about nature itself. Moreover, Feenberg tries to show that Lukács is not committed to the implausible view that there is a specifically capitalist science that is reified and would be replaced by a communist science after the revolution. As I understand Feenberg's argument, science and technology always progress through a dialectic of reification and de-reification. To be sure, under capitalism the reifying aspects of science and technology, which undermine our lived experience of nature, are foregrounded due to capitalism's "formal bias" (145; cf. 166) in favour of an abstract and disembodied approach to nature that focuses on its domination and exploitation. But it is a mistake to believe that a "communist science" would not be reifying. The reification of nature in science differs from the reification of society.
This is an original way of solving a problem that has been discussed in the literature on Lukács and the Frankfurt School.[4] However, it also raises new questions, to which Feenberg could have devoted more space. For example, one may ask how exactly reification comes about and what its relationship is to market exchange in capitalist societies, given that reification and de-reification now seem to be necessary moments of social practice. I think that the concept of formal bias could potentially be extremely fruitful in answering these questions, but it remains underdeveloped in this book.
In Chapters Seven and Eight Feenberg turns to the Frankfurt School, which inherits the legacy of the philosophy of praxis from Marx and Lukács but differs from them on two very important points. First, Adorno and Marcuse place central importance on the domination of nature as a source of social pathologies that affect modern subjects. Second, they formulate their critical theories of society at a time when the "unity of theory and practice" has broken down, that is, when it has become clear that the proletariat in Western Europe is not on the verge of staging a revolution to overthrow capitalism.[The 'unity of theory and practice' boils down to : we should spend as much time thinking about what we are doing as doing in order to avoid antagonistic contradictions-tr]Of course, Adorno's and Marcuse's theories are very different. Feenberg characterizes this difference in terms of the concepts that they inherit from Marx and Lukács. Whereas Adorno takes the theory of commodity fetishism as his starting point, Marcuse's emphasizes the experience of alienation (158, 175). Feenberg's discussion of Adorno suggests that he considers him an outlier in the philosophy of praxis. His negativistic philosophy eschews the appeal to concepts such as emancipation, progress or revolution. Instead, Adorno uses the concept of reification in order to explain why no such appeal is possible. His criticism of identity thinking demonstrates the reification of reason in capitalist society, but it abstains from formulating a positive alternative. As Feenberg puts it, negative dialectics "does not resolve the antinomies but rather identifies them as such and suspends all premature resolutions. It is the logic of immanent critique and not a constructive alternative" (155).
I found Feenberg's discussion of Adorno the least satisfying. Perhaps it is unsurprising that a volume devoted to the philosophy of praxis will find Adorno's approach wanting, but once it is included, it may be worthwhile to explain in more detail what exactly Adorno thought the prospects for political action were, and why he thought that they were so restricted.[5]
Feenberg's discussion of Marcuse is much more sympathetic; he emerges as the true heir of the philosophy of praxis in whose work "the Frankfurt School returns to its sources" (155). More specifically, Marcuse returns to the problem of the reconciliation of humanity and nature. To this end, he elaborates a dereifying attitude, which reveals a dimension of lived nature that is occluded in the merely instrumental attitude that is characteristic of modern subjects who fear nature and aim to dominate it. This dereified dimension includes aspects of nature such as aesthetic beauty and potentialities of development that Marcuse conceives of as objective. The purpose of Marcuse's critical theory is to explain how the restricted instrumental rationality in modern societies prevents modern subjects from having access to this dimension of nature. The liberation of humans and that of nature go hand in hand. It is only once we are freed from capitalism, considered not only as an economic system but also as a comprehensive worldview (180), that we will be free to relate to nature in a non-dominating way. As is well known, Marcuse was much more optimistic than Adorno about the potential for political action to achieve such liberation. Feenberg sides with Marcuse on this question and argues for a conception of social change that does not put its hopes in revolution as it is traditionally conceived but in small-scale local resistance to domination that can create spaces of freedom (219­-20).[WE TRIED THIS-- IT'S CALLED THE 60s AND IT DID NOT WORK. IT IS NO THREAT TO CAPITALIST DOMINATION.-tr] This is partly motivated by the recognition that no large-scale revolution is on the horizon, but also by Feenberg's insight that reification cannot be overcome by a revolutionary event but rather needs to be combatted permanently through ongoing practice.
In conclusion, Feenberg's book is admirable in the clarity that it brings to one of the most complex strands of Marxist thought. It defends the viability of the philosophy of praxis approach and connects it to current concerns about science and technology. I recommend it to everyone interested in these topics or in the intellectual background of Frankfurt School critical theory.

[1] Andrew Feenberg, Lukács, Marx and the Sources of Critical Theory (Totowa NJ, Rowman and Littlefield, 1981; paperback edition, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).       
[2] Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1966), p. 15 (my translation).
[3] For Adorno’s interpretation of this Antinomy see my "Adorno on Kant, Freedom and Determinism", European Journal of Philosophy 20:4 (2012): 548-74.
[4] See, for example, Steven Vogel, Against Nature: The Concept of Nature in Critical Theory (Albany NY: SUNY Press, 1996).

[5] For more on this see Fabian Freyenhagen, Adorno’s Practical Philosophy. Living Less Wrongly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) and his "Adorno’s Politics: Theory and Praxis in Germany’s 1960s", Philosophy & Social Criticism 40:9 (2014): 867-93.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is Russia a Kleptocracy

Is Russia a Kleptocracy?
Thomas Riggins

A kleptocracy is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed." Many anti-Russian commentators today have no problem with classifying Vladamir Putin's government as kleptocratic but Richard Sakwa, a Russian expert at the University of Kent, is not one of them. He gives his reasons in "Grey - area Gold," an analysis of Putin's Keleptocracy: Who Owns Russia a book by Karen Dawisha, published in the TLS of February 6, 2015. What follows are some comments and observations on Sakwa's article. I have italicized my own views to avoid confusion.

Dawisha obviously thinks Russia is a kleptocracy. She paints a picture of rampant corruption and abuse of power by those involved in the overthrow of soviet power and the transfer of the collective wealth and property of the soviet people into the hands of private individuals. The security forces of the soviet state played a major role in this betrayal. Sakwa says her arguments are so "incendiary" that Cambridge University Press backed off from publishing the book and it cannot be bought in the UK. It is available in the US from Simon and Schuster.

"The fundamental picture that emerges," Sakwa writes, "is of a Russia that has been hijacked by an elite that quite consciously set out from the beginning of its rule to increase its wealth, and needed to take over full political control to safeguard this process." In Marxist terms this would have been a counter-revolution led by elements of the leadership in collusion with the state security apparatus. However, it does not account for the acquiescence of the Red Army nor the passivity of the soviet people.

Dawisha's picture shows that Putin and his circle have certainly taken advantage of the end of soviet power and have enriched themselves at the expense of the general population (''behaviour typical of nouveaux riches throughout the ages") and have supported acts of corruption but her analysis also results "in obscuring complexity and counter trends."

That is to say, Sakwa contends, there is more to Putin's Russia than just the kleptocractic features Dawisha highlights. When then bigger picture is taken into consideration Russia turns out to be, while having some of the kleptocratic features found in many other countries [including the United States ] "not a kleptocracy tout court."

This is because the Putin government plays a much bigger role than just the enrichment of its elite supporters. It maintains social peace at home and is active on the world stage supporting Russian interests and "meets the basic needs of the Russian people" by furthering a "dirigiste" model of capitalism. Instead of hiding its revenues overseas the Russian government invests its tax money and oil revenues in public works projects and investments "for a rainy day."

That day is here, Sakwa says. Since Russia is being run in the interests of the Russians rather than the Germans or Americans this has caused the "west" to over react and initiate policies against Russia with which the Russians cannot possibly  comply. One of these is the "sanctions" regime imposed on "Putin's cronies" (and now the threat of directinvolvement in the Ukrainian civil war by arming the Kiev regime). These will have no effect on the Putin leadership but are now "affecting the whole population in a form of collective punishment". As could have been expected (If Obama and the American leadership knew anything about the real history and sentiments of the Russians) these ham fisted reactions have only increased Putin's popularity at home and "the people have rallied around the flag." The US is on a collision course of its own choosing with Russia.

Sakwa lists four reasons why Dawsha’s book as well as the so-called liberal domestic opposition to Putin (and the Western supporters of anti-Putinism allied with them) should not be taken at face value. They are:

1.) The portrait of Putin presented “is often circumstantial, conjectural,
      and partial.” Do we really want to base our foreign policy on this
      kind of evidence?
2.) There is evidence of a “deep state” at work in Russia [we have one 
     too] made up of sections of the military and security operatives (the          
     “siloviki or (‘force-men’)” and “former Party resources” but the 
     evidence given does not prove that it functions simply as a force 
     for “kleptocracy.” It has been used against the Russian “mafia” and
     for the creation of state owned enterprises which “struggle to 
     achieve at least a modicum of good corporate governance.” 
     Western sanctions actually thwart the forces that are trying to
     integrate Russia into the international system.
3.) Unlike what is to be expected from kleptomaniacs, the Putin 
     government has “delivered significant public goods” and supported
     “neoclassical liberal nostrums.” Russia followed policies that allowed
      it to get through the  2008-09 world economic downturn and has 
      since begun “to invest in some major infrastructural projects". All
      in all we see “a developmental dynamic” which “does not look like 
      the policies of a kleptocracy” but, Sakwa says, the country might 
      have been in even better shape without the elite skimming off  
      social wealth for itself (this includes Putin) and “the misguided 
      dirigisme.” [Since the alternative to “dirigisme” is unregulated
      privatization I can’t agree with this last suggestion.]
4.) Russian foreign policy is not conducted on the basis of what is good 
      for kleptocrats but rather on the vision that Russia is a “great  
      “power and should be “an equal partner of the West.” Needless to   
       say “the West” [ i.e., basically the  US ] doesn’t want to accord  to
       Russia “equality.” [Russia is treated as a second rate power that
       must comply with US dictates. The Ukraine is a test case and the
       Russians must be seen to give in to American demands. This 
       fully accords with the dynamic of inter-imperialist rivalry  which has   
       come to the fore since the collapse of the Soviet Union and has 
       been so well described by Lenin in his work on “Imperialism the
       Highest Stage of Capitalism.” American “over-reach” here could 
       result in Obama’s policies leading to an unprecedented flare up of
       violence and destruction on a continental scale, or worse.]

In concluding his review, Sakwa says Dawisha’s book “is one of many books that contribute to a misleading paradigm of how Russia actually works.” The reality is more complex. Dawisha’s book will give you a good insight into the elite and how their wealth was acquired but there is much more going on in Putin’s Russia than you will find in this book, so “when it comes to shaping policy towards Russia, it is a deeply deceptive guide.” Well, it seems this is not the book to read if you really want the dope on what’s going on in Russia. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's "World Order" (Part Five and Last)

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger’s World Order (Part Five)
Thomas Riggins

We conclude with Ferguson’s opinions considering Kissinger’s views on what the real lessons are concerning world order that we have learned from the practice of American foreign policy since 1945. Basically we learn that American idealism + traditional balance of power = world order (as far as possible). Kissinger writes:

“Calculations of power without a moral dimension will turn every disagreement into a test of strength; ambition will know no resting place; countries will be propelled into unsustainable tours de force of elusive calculations regarding the shifting configuration of power. Moral proscriptions without concern for equilibrium, on the other hand, tend towards either crusades or an impotent policy tempting challenges; either extreme risks endangering the coherence of the international order itself.”

This is a rather garbled mess and it is difficult to understand what Kissinger is trying to say.  Ferguson , explicating Kissinger, comments that America’s “bloodiest failures” [bloodiest for the victims not for us by the way] resulted from the US putting moral considerations “above the balance of power.”  The defeats he refers to are those of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Can this be what Kissinger or Ferguson really believe?  If so they do not even have the simplest idea of what morality is. What was "moral" about dropping Napalm, Agent Orange and other chemicals on Vietnamese children?

I can believe that Kissinger is totally amoral and I hope Ferguson has a shred or two of the moral sense here and there.The mass slaughter of the civilian population in both Korea and Vietnam carried out by the US in truly Hitlerian proportions, the war of choice waged by Bush in Iraq and the current droning of women and children in the fields, at wedding parties and funeral processions, the obscene ratio of “collateral damage’’—i.e., murder of innocent civilians, perpetrated by the US in Afghanistan (and Pakistan and Yemen where children were deliberately targeted) is the morality of the SS and the Wehrmacht of WW II— it is not an example of “American idealism.”  

I can’t think of any instance in which, since 1945 (or even before)  the US has put moral considerations above realpolitik considerations concerning the “balance of power.” It’s not  just the US. I can’t think of any nation, with the exception of Cuba since 1959, that has done so.

To protect US interests Kissinger proposes a secret treaty with China and uses nineteenth century models (the Treaty of 1839 on the neutrality of Belgium) to put forth deals with all of Afghanistan’s neighbors to keep it it from being controlled by “jihadists.”

For someone influenced by Kant’s Perpetual Peace Kissinger seems to forget that Kant rejected secret treaties as a violation of the rights of the citizens of a state to have sufficient knowledge of their constitution to be able act as free citizens and participate in the social life of their country rather than be used as means instead of as ends by their rulers. No treaty that needs secrecy to succeed is moral for Kant.

Anyway, Ferguson points out these suggestions would only be workable in a broader context both realistic (a workable balance of power) and idealistic. The ideal of preventing a third world war may be more important than avoiding climate change, we are told. There are two things wrong with this. First, even contemplating the need to prevent a third world war is to reveal a subtext that sees China, and perhaps Russia as well, as existential threats to US interests and that the balance of power the US aims at will be weighted in its favor. This is the same old imperialist junk Kissinger has always pushed. Second, climate change poses an existential threat to the whole planet which is just as threatening as a third world war, maybe more so as climate change is happening now and a third world war is a future speculation based on viewing the world through nineteenth and twentieth century lenses by which we can only see the world as dark and blurred.

Kissinger advocates, as he says, “a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary reality.” But the contemporary reality is an über-powerful US which basically does what it wants and only gives lip service to the idea of a World Order in which it is not the dominant and all determining power. No “Westphalian” system can be so based. World Order is only possible by a strengthened United Nations in which the US is willing to share power with the rest of the world  and submit itself to universal rules to which all are subject. What could induce the US to do this— to actually put moral considerations on the same level as brute power considerations? 

Kissinger says the next president must answer this basic question; “What is the nature of the values that we seek to advance?”  But this is a question for the American people to answer. Right now they are so divided and kept ignorant of the realty of the world they live in (state secrets, rotten education, semi-literacy, news networks that only spew forth propaganda, crazy religious illusions, you name it) they are incapable of arriving at a consensus. In reality the 1% will continue to answer the question with a president that represents their interests primarily.

But this is the fundamental question. Until the American people unite around their interests, the interests of the 99% (metaphorically speaking) and arrive at a consensus about the sort of country and world they want to live in— one that fosters the well being of all working and laboring peoples and not just the tiny group at the top of society, until then the US will have a foreign policy geared towards war and domination as it has at least since 1945, and the Kissingers of the future  will ensure that there will be no chances of a world order based on human dignity and peace.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lenin State and Revolution Today Chapter Six [Part 2] (Part Seven and final of the series)

Lenin State and Revolution Today Chapter Six  (Part Seven and final of the series)
Thomas Riggins

3. Kautsky's Polemic Against Pannekoek

The Pannekoek in question was Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960) a Dutch Marxist who in later life became one of the leaders of "Council Communism" a tendency which developed out of the "Left Wing Communism" considered by Lenin to be an infantile disorder.  However, long before this, in 1912, he published an article in Neue Zeit  called "Mass Action and Revolution."  In this article he criticized Karl Kautsky's views on the nature of the state in relation to the coming revolution. He pointed out that workers have to overthrow both the ruling class and their state. "The struggle will not end until, as its final result, the entire state organization is destroyed."

Lenin says Pannekoek's article has defects, is imprecise, and not very concrete  but is clear enough in advocating both the overthrow of the ruling class and the state that it controls replacing it with a working class state. But Lenin is really interested in Kautsky's reply which, he says, betrays Marxism on this issue -- i.e., the fate of the bourgeois state.

Kautsky wrote: "Up till now the difference between Social Democrats and Anarchists has consisted in this: the former wished to conquer the state power while the latter wished to destroy it. Pannekoek wants to do both." Lenin says this distinction is a vulgar distortion of Marxism. Lenin was not always very subtle in his critiques.

Pannekoek is the one who is correct, not Kautsky and for the following three reasons which differentiate Marxists (M) from Anarchists (A):
1. M- the state withers away after the revolution and the creation of Socialism: A- the   
    state is abolished immediately and permanently after the revolution .
2. M- the state that withers away is the new form of the state. based on the Paris   
    Commune, which the workers create after the revolution to replace the bourgeois 
    state: A- the old state is abolished and nothing is put in its place to direct and
    channel the newly won power of the working class-- the dictatorship of the
    proletariat (the necessary first form of worker's power after the fall of the working  
    class) is rejected.
3. M- use the currently existing state (as far as is possible) to educate and train the 
    working people for revolutionary activity: A- reject this notion.

Lenin also objects to Kautsky’s taking quotes out of context from Marx and using them against Pannekoek when they are not at all germane to the argument (a fate all too soon to befall quotes from Lenin himself).

Kautsky talks about the party being in opposition to the capitalist state now and wants to put off discussions about the nature of the state until after the workers come to power. He doesn’t want to talk about the nature of the revolution— which is one of the main features of opportunism.

It’'s all well and good to make general comments about opposition and democratic struggle but we must always be clear about how this struggle must eventuate.  “A revolution must not consist in a new class ruling, governing with the help of the old state machinery, but in this class smashing this machinery and ruling, governing by means of new machinery.”

Kautsky ignores this because he maintains there must be officials and experts just as much after the change of power as before. Lenin agrees but insists, based on the lessons of the Commune, that the officials and experts will be under the direction of the working class and not be responsible to the bureaucratic structures of the old capitalist state which is kept around and is supposedly supervised by the working class.

Capitalism has enslaved the working people and bourgeois democracy, which we may now live under, is, Lenin says, crushed and mutilated by the wages system, poverty and “the misery of the masses.” This fake mutilated pseudo-democracy is the reason why, in our day the Tea Party has such influence and the Republican party can take control of the levers of power in the US.  And, Lenin says, it is the source of corruption in the political parties and the trade unions, and fuels the tendency for the “leaders” of the people to turn into bureaucrats— “i.e., privileged persons detached from the masses, and standing above the masses.” This is just the nature of democracy under capitalism and until capitalism is overthrown even the leaders of the working people “will inevitably be to some extent ‘bureaucratized.’” 

In attacking Pannekoek, Lenin says, Kautsky is only repeating the views of Bernstein (“the ‘old’ views”) as expressed in Evolutionary Socialism. Bernstein had rejected many of Marx’'s positions concerning workers democracy versus bourgeois democracy on the idea that after 70 years or so “in complete freedom” the British union movement had given up on the idea  as “worthless” and had settled on a model based on bureaucracy  and regular parliamentary practice. 

As against this Bernstein-Kautsky assertion Lenin says it is not the case that the British unions have developed “in complete freedom,” but they had rather developed in an atmosphere of “complete capitalist enslavement.”  Of course, in such an atmosphere, it made no sense to try to create a working class democracy  along Marxist lines that had presumed a post- revolutionary environment in which the working class was the new ruling class.

The two great errors we must avoid are: First, thinking we have to just take over the presently existing state machinery by means democratic elections or parliamentary procedures and then employe it to build socialism, and Second, to take the Anarchist position of just smashing the presently existing state and then letting the working people decide what happens next (i.e., no pre-planning for a temporary worker’s state until conditions of socialism are firmly established.)

The Anarchist view is not really taken very seriously within the working class, but Kautsky’s view (or some modern day descendent ) still has its supposititious appeal. Lenin quotes Kautsky: “never, under any conditions can it [a working class victory] lead to the destruction of the state power; it can lead only to a certain shifting of forces within the state power....
 The aim of our political struggle then, remains as before, the conquest of state power by means of gaining a majority in parliament and a conversion of parliament into the master of the government.”''

Lenin says this is an example of “vulgar opportunism” i.e., of abandoning the principles of  Marxism and the real long term interests of the working people and tailoring your program to take ephemeral advantages of historically temporary social and economic conditions. It is a confusion between strategy  [the what, the goal, the end result, socialism] and tactics [the how, what must be done, the present step in the democratic struggle]. 

Of course in the present day and in the non revolutionary conditions temporally instantiated in the US and most of Europe there is no sense in calling for the destruction of bourgeois democracy, of coining a lot of "revolutionary" slogans about the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalists by the armed workers, etc.  "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

Our current struggle is to defeat the ultra-right politically and work with progressive groups and others to build a meaningful coalition of forces able to protect already existing democratic rights and to extend them, and fight for new ones, for the benefit of the working people and their allies.

Nevertheless, in the realm of theory we should not forget the ultimate destiny of the capitalist system and become so blinded by the present transient stage in history that we become as those "socialists," condemned by Lenin, who rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat in theory because it "contradicted" democracy. Lenin thought that ridiculous; it contradicted only the pseudo-democracy used by the ruling class to befool the workers, and of those so-called "socialists," he said there "is really no essential difference between them and the petty-bourgeois democrats."  This may have no sting today, but it may in the nearer than we think future.

State and Revolution ends here and chapter seven, the last ("Experience of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917") was never written. The October Revolution broke out and Lenin wrote: "It is more pleasant and useful to go through the 'experience of the revolution' than to write about it."

I hope people will find this commentary useful.


New York, January 31, 2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Lenin: State and Revolution, Chapter 6: Vugarisation of Marx by the Opportunists (Review, Part 1)

Thomas Riggins

 This chapter is a polemic against the "best known theoreticians of Marxism" namely Georgi Plekhanov (1856-1918) and  Karl Kautsky (1857-1938) who were the leading thinkers of the Second International (1888-1914). Basically it is against Kautsky  (13 pages)-- Plekhanov gets 1 page. Lenin thinks the collapse of the Second International was brought about by opportunism (abandoning the long term goals of the party for short term advantages) which was fostered by the evasion of discussion on the relation of the state to the social revolution and vice versa. This "evasion" has persisted to the present day. The well known A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second Edition) edited by Tom Bottomore, for example, has no entry on "opportunism" and does not even list it in the index. The entry on The State and Revolution does not even mention it.

The chapter is divided into three sections: a short one contra Plekhanov and two long ones dealing with Kautsky. This article will deal with the first two sections.

1. Plekhanov's Polemic Against the Anarchists

This section deals with Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov’s 1894 work Anarchism and Socialism.  Lenin says in this work Plekhanov doesn’t even mention the most important issue between these two ‘isms’ — namely the nature of the state and the revolution’s relations to it. The work has two parts: the first, or historical part, Lenin approves of because it has useful information for the history of ideas, especially regarding Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) and Max Stirner (1806-1856). The second, or “literary” part Lenin calls “philistine.” This part is a “clumsy” attempt to equate anarchists with “bandits.”

After the Paris Commune the anarchists had tried to claim that the commune and its history was a vindication of their views. Lenin of course rejects this claim and maintains that the true understanding of the meaning of the Commune is to be found in the writings of Marx and Engels, especially Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme.

Neither the Anarchists, nor Plekhanov in his polemic, have grasped the main issue presented by the history of the Paris Commune i.e., “must the old state machinery be shattered, and what shall be put in its place.”

By completely ignoring this issue Plekhanov, whether he knows it or not, has fallen into opportunism because opportunists want us to forget all about this question and not even discuss it all. It would seem that opportunism flourishes best where the working people are ignorant of Marxist theory and concentrate exclusively on short term goals and struggles.

2. Kautsky’s Polemic Against the Opportunists

Lenin says the most important German opportunist was Bernstein whom Kautsky criticized in his first foray against opportunism: Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm. Bernstein had charged Marxism with “Blanquism” [ Louis Auguste Blanqui, 1805-1881- advocated a coup by a small group who would then turn the government over to the people after they had instated socialism] in his great revisionist opus Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus. Bernstein particularly likes Marx’s conclusion (based on his study of the Paris Commune) that “the working class cannot lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it to its own purposes.” But he has his own interpretation of the meaning of Marx’s dictum which is exactly the opposite of what Marx intended.

Marx meant, according to Lenin (following Engels), that the working class had to destroy the bourgeois state and replace it with a working class state. Bernstein says it means that the working class should cool it after the revolution and try and reform the state rather than getting carried away and trying to smash it. “A crasser and uglier perversion of Marx’s ideas cannot be imagined,” Lenin says.

So, how did Kautsky deal with this crass opportunistic formulation in his critique of Bernstein?   He glosses over it. Kautsky writes: “The solution of the problem of the proletarian dictatorship we can safely leave to the future.” Lenin says the since opportunists want to defer to the future all talk about a working class revolution this is not a real critique of Bernstein but “ a concession to him.” 

Kautsky himself is thus an opportunist and, Lenin points out, as regards Marx’s understanding of how the workers should be educated with respect to a working class revolution and Kautsky’s understanding “there is an abyss.”

In 1902 Kautsky wrote a more mature work, The Social Revolution. Lenin says there is a lot of valuable information in this work but the author still evaded the vital question of the state. Again, Kautsky ends up giving de facto support to the opportunists because he writes about the possibility of the working class taking state power without abolishing the currently existing state. This view, which derives from The Communist Manifesto of 1848 Marx had declared “obsolete” in 1872.

Kautsky writes about democracy and that the working class will come to power and “realise the democratic programme” but he never mentions the lessons of the Paris Commune and the conclusions  Marx and Engels drew from them that bourgeois democracy had to be replaced by working class democracy.

Here is a quote from Kautsky: “It is obvious that we shall not attain power under the present order of things. Revolution itself presupposes a prolonged and far-reaching struggle which, as it proceeds, will change our present political and social 
structure.” While this is even too much for some present day “socialists” to stomach, Lenin thought it was as banal and obvious as “horses eat oats.” Lenin wanted this “far reaching struggle” spelled out so that working people would understand the difference between a working class revolution and the non working class revolutions of the past.

Kautsky wars against opportunism in words, Lenin says, but actually promotes it in the way he expresses himself. Here
is an example from The Social Revolution: “In a Socialist society there can exist side by side, the most varied forms of economic enterprises — bureaucratic trade union, trade union, co-operative, private…. There are, for instance, such enterprises that cannot do without a bureaucratic organization: such are the railways. Here democratic organisation might take the following form: the workers elect delegates, who form something in the nature of a parliament, and this parliament determines the conditions of work, and superintends the management of the bureaucratic apparatus. Other enterprises may be transferred to the labour unions, and still others may be organized on a co-operative basis.” Lenin says this quote is not only wrong headed but is a backward step from the ideas Marx and Engels elaborated in the 1870s as a result of their study of the Paris Commune. 

Of course modern industrial production in general, not just railroads, needs to be conducted under rigid work rules and regulation but after the workers come to power they won’t be organized on bureaucratic lines overseen by “something like” the old bourgeois parliaments. There will no bureaucrats as such. The workers will directly control their industries and delegates will be subject to instant recall, no one will earn more than ordinary workers, and the old state will be replaced by a new worker’s state where everyone will gain experience in administration and planning so that “bureaucrats” in the sense used by Kautsky will no longer exist. Kautsky has not paid attention to the words of Marx: “The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.”

Lenin next takes up Kautskys short work The Road to Power [ Der Weg zu Macht ]. Lenin thinks this is the best of Kautsky's writings against opportunism, yet it too is found wanting and for the same reason "it completely dodges the question of the state." It is this constant dodging that Lenin thinks weakened the German Social Democrats theoretically, led to the growth of opportunism, and ultimately to the great betrayal of socialist principles: the support of the German imperialists in the Great War.  These three short works of Kautsky came out in 1899, 1902, and 1909 respectively but it was not until 1912 that Kautsky's opportunism became explicitly expressed. We will deal with this in the next and (por fin) last installment of this review, Kautsky's polemic against Pannekoek.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's World Order [Part Four]

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's World Order  [Part Four]
Thomas Riggins

Ferguson now criticizes the ideas expressed by Obama in his New Yorker interview. Obama said a “new equilibrium” could be reached if Iran would be more cooperative so it could work with the Sunni Gulf States [what about Saudi Arabia and the US being more cooperative vis a vis Iran as well] and if the Palestinian  “issue” could be “unwound’’ [all the US has to do to do this is put some real pressure on Israel to follow international norms and obey UN resolutions]. Then Israel could work towards alliances or normal relations with the Sunni states [why not with the Shia as well; all Israel’s problems stem from its oppression of the Palestinians].

Ferguson rejects Obama’s ideas because, he asks, why would the states in the region cooperate to produce equilibrium when any of them might attain “hegemony” over the others. This is a really lame objection to Obama’s ideas— it stems from the knee jerk reaction that anything Obama does or says must be criticized. There is no evidence that any of the states in the region is striving to attain “hegemony” — they are all trying to defend themselves and their internal status quo but their own internal policies generate opposition which they all try to lay on their neighbor’s doorstep. The only country trying to exert hegemony in the region is the US as the following quote from Kissinger reveals (which Ferguson thinks is directed at Obama): 

“Even were such a constellation [equilibrium] to come to pass, it could only be sustained by an active American foreign policy. For the balance of power is never static; its components are in constant flux. The United States would be needed as a balancer for the foreseeable future. The role of balancer is best carried out if America is closer to each of the contending forces than they are to each other …. America can fulfill that role only on the basis of involvement, not of withdrawal”

This is just a modernized version of the old British policy of divide and rule which was used to pacify India and other colonial regions. It is ridiculous because the US is one of the contending parties itself and it can’t be a balancer because all its policies are imbalanced in favor of Israel and its own imperial economic interests in the region. There will never be peace in the region as long as the US is actively involved. 

Why anyone takes Kissinger seriously is a mystery. Of those he has influenced it can truly be said: “Devastation and destruction are in their highways. They do not know the way of peace, And there is no justice in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, Whoever treads on them does not know peace.’’

At this point Ferguson moves from considering Kissinger’s views on the Middle East to his views on developments in Asia. Here again Kissinger (and Ferguson) demonstrate their (and presumedly the foreign policy establishment’s) complete
lack of understanding of what is happening in the world and why.

Kissinger sees two balances of power forming in Asia; one in the south the other in the east. Here is his quote: “Under contemporary conditions essentially two balances of power are emerging: one in South Asia, the other in East Asia. Neither possesses the characteristic integral to the European balance of power: a balancer, a country capable of establishing an equilibrium by shifting its weight to the weaker side.”

It is the rising power of China in East Asia that is problematic. Kissinger attempts to understand balance of power possibilities in this region by harking back  to nineteenth century European balance of power deals. He writes, “the United States is an ally of Japan and a proclaimed partner of China [they are actually rivals] — a situation comparable to Bismarck’s  when he made an alliance with Austria balanced by a treaty with Russia.” 

This was a complex secret treaty arrangement whereby Russia and Germany would remain neutral if one of them went to war with a third party— unless France was attacked by the Germans or Austria-Hungary by the Russians. This treaty was signed in 1887 and Kissinger says its later abandonment led to World War I. The question is, can such a secret treaty (that will protect Japan) be made with China? [That is all we need, a secret treaty between the US and China of which the American people will be ignorant!— and Wiki Leaks is the enemy?]. 

The only thing that would prevent this secret deal, at least on the US side is, Kissinger says, according to Ferguson, the “pernicious legacy of Woodrow Wilson.” This legacy, Kissinger writes is “an elevated foreign policy doctrine unmoored from a sense of history or geopolitics.”  Wilson gave Americans a false sense of security in the belief that they could avoid foreign entanglements due to his views on collective security. 

The only thing “pernicious” here was the US’s failure to join the League of Nations and make it robust enough to have prevented Italian and German aggression, not Wilson’s ideas. Here is a quote from Kissinger illustrating his critique of Wilson (the ellipses are due to Ferguson):

“Collective security … is a legal construct addressed to no specific contingency. It defines no particular obligations except joint action of some kind when the rules of peaceful international order are violated. In practice, action must be negotiated from case to case …. The idea that in such situations countries will identify violations of peace identically and be prepared to act in common against them is belied by the experience of history …. An alliance [by contrast ] comes about as an agreement on specific facts or expectations. It creates a formal obligation to act in a precise way in defined contingencies. It brings about a strategic obligation fufillable in an agreed manner. It arises out of a consciousness of shared interests, and  the more parallel those interest are, the more cohesive the alliance will be.” 

This quote shows why we need a supra-national organization to enforce world order, an ideal that Bertrand Russell advocated for many years. One of the reasons world order collapsed the way it did in the wake of World War I may have been the weakness of the League of Nations not the concept of collective security. 

There are design flaws in the UN which prevent it from being an effective supra-national origination that could maintain world order. These have to do with the Security Council with its veto wielding five permanent members who think of the UN as an organization to further their particular national (i,e, class) interests. The US, especially, as the number one rogue nation, ignores the UN and world opinion in general whenever it decides its own interests trump what the majority, even when the overwhelming majority of humanity, thinks it is violating what is right and decent (its treatment of Cuba [recently modified for the better], its oppression of the Palestinians, its unilateral interventions in other countries, its support of fascist regimes repressing their own people, its use of the veto to defy world opinion, are only the most prominent examples that come to mind.) This behavior is due to the use of alliances and treaties so beloved of Kissinger rather than honestly working within the UN framework as it was envisioned to maintain a peaceful world order through collective security. [The larger explanation for US behavior is to be found in Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, but that is a different review all together.]

Ferguson says that in all of Kissinger’s works there is a recognition that realpolitik doesn’t always work and that successful foreign policy can’t be based solely on pragmatism. Kissinger says that we must make “conjectures” when we engage in making foreign policy we “need to gear actions to an assessment that cannot be proved when it is made.” In other words Kissinger advocates a foreign policy based on pragmatism plus folly. It was surely folly to assess that the Vietnamese would welcome the US and reject Ho Chi Minh, that Iraq was responsible for 9/11, that we could transplant “democracy” to the Middle East and to Afghanistan, that Fidel would be overthrown by his own people if we invaded at the bay of Pigs, that Allende was a soviet style communist— the list goes on.

Ferguson thinks Kissinger is a mixture of idealist and realist, and more similar to the idealism expressed in Kant’s essay Perpetual Peace than the realism of Machiavelli. I don’t think anyone reading Kant would conclude that Kissinger was anything other than the thug and goon type of statesman Kant was horrified by and who was portrayed so accurately by Christopher Hitchens in The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

In our next, and last, installment we will look at Kissinger’s views on American “idealism” as expressed more in his actions than his words.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lenin: State and Revolution: Chapter 5 - Withering Away the State (Part Three) -- Review

Thomas Riggins

Chapter 5 of State and Revolution  has a brief introduction and four sections. Part Three of this review covers section four. 

4. Higher Phase of Communist Society

This is a very important section and should dispel many incorrect notions about the nature of socialism, the level of development towards communism in the former and current socialist states, and the possibility of creating any kind of society that brings freedom and justice to humanity as long as capitalism exists and a state is necessary to regulate social life.

This section is an extended commentary by Lenin on the following quote from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme: “In the higher phase of Communist society, when the enslaving subordination of individuals in the division of labour has disappeared, and with it also the antagonism between mental and physical labour; when labour has become not only a means of living, but itself the first necessity of life; when, along with the all-round development of individuals, the productive forces too have grown, and all the springs of social wealth are flowing more freely— it is only at that stage that it will be possible to pass completely beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois rights, and for society to inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.”

Lenin says that in light of this quote we can understand why Engels mocked those who conjoined the notions of “freedom” and “state.” Lenin frankly remarks that: “While the state exists there is no freedom.” There can only be relative degrees of repression. 

Today we are faced with the issue of increasing inequality between the citizens in the various states that presently exist on the world stage.  A recent book by Thomas Piketty (Capital in the 21st Century) has brought this issue to the forefront of political discussion. But nowhere in his discussion  does he deal with one of the major causes of social inequality. This is, Lenin points out “the antagonism between mental and physical labour” which is “one of the principal sources of modern SOCIAL inequality.” 

Under capitalism, as a matter of fact, inequality can never be eliminated. Some will always be “more equal than others.” This is because under capitalism the division of labor cannot be abolished. Nor can it be removed simply by eliminating the capitalists. It is “impossible to remove immediately by the mere conversion of the means of production into public property, by the mere expropriation of the capitalists.”  No one should be surprised  that social inequality existed in the former socialist states and still exists in countries today calling themselves socialist.

These states only provided or still provide the foundations for the possible future social conditions whereby this division could be eliminated. The development of industrial technique must attain a level where a super abundance of social wealth will be available for social distribution and universal education will eliminate the separation between physical and mental labor and the inequality that it breeds. Capitalism retards this growth in technique but the elimination of capitalism presents the possibility for its growth. 

How this future possibility will eventually present itself and exactly when such industrial growth will ever become so developed that all human beings can equally share in its benefits, Lenin informs us “we do not and cannot know.” But we do know there will be no “withering away of the state” before this time comes. One of the points of this  for us is that all criticism of socialist states, past and present, for not bringing about some sort of equalitarian worker’s paradise is based on ignorance of the actual social realities the founders of Marxism discussed  concerning the prospects of a future communist society.

Lenin points out that those bourgeois critics of socialism who sneer at its claims of liberation and label as Utopian dreams the ideals of a society of complete social equality in which people create social wealth according to their abilities and share it according to needs only display “their ignorance and their-self seeking defense of capitalism.”

Lenin calls them ignorant because while this highest stage of Communism has been discussed  by the founders of Marxism as a theoretical possibility “it has never entered the head of any Socialist to ‘promise’ that the highest phase of Communism will arrive.” This phase would require people quite unlike the common run of humanity today— people raised and educated to share and live lives of unselfish devotion to their common humanity as well as developing their individual talents and abilities with no desires to do so at the expense of other human beings. They would be living in a society capable of producing and sharing social wealth unlike any society of the past or present. Foreseeing this possibility is not the same as “promising” it will ever come about but it is a possible future to keep in mind and for which we can strive.

Until that day comes, when the state as we know it has “withered away,” Lenin says that “Socialists demand the strictest control, by society and by the state, of the quantity of labour and the quantity of consumption.” But this control has to begin not in the present society but with the overthrow of capitalism and the capitalist state— “a state of bureaucrats”— and its replacement by “a state of armed workers” (the Second Amendment will have some use after all).

Lenin has in mind soviets of  workers and soldiers as they appeared in Russia in 1905 and 1917. He thought of these soviets as models of real democracy (and by a dialectical inversion as a “democratic dictatorship”— a term which confounds many socialists today who have forgotten what is “dialectical” in dialectical materialism).

This new post capitalist state will turn all the citizens into workers of one gigantic syndicate or monopoly — “the whole state” — controlled and governed by the workers themselves by means of the soviets. The reality, however, turned out differently from Lenin’s ideas expressed here in chapter five. No actually existing socialist state was ever capable of existing as a state based on the “armed workers” and they all ended up with professional standing armies and administered  by bureaucrats. 

These states were handicapped by developing in industrial backwards, or devastated, areas and were never able to create enough social wealth to advance beyond the most rudimentary socialist beginnings  even though they brought about giant leaps forward in education, economic and social well being, literacy, and health to the populations living in them. The surviving socialist states are still grappling with many of these problems while simultaneously furthering the well being of their citizens.

Lenin wants to be clear on the scientific difference between Socialism and Communism. Socialism is the first and lower phase of Communism-- but it is not full Communism. Socialism has succeeded in turning the means of production, formerly owned and controlled by capitalists, into socially owned public property. This is technically "Communism" but it is not completely evolved mature Communism, hence this lower phase is best dubbed Socialism and the term "Communism" reserved for the more advanced and higher phase into which Socialism will hopefully evolve. 

Marx, basing himself on materialist dialectics, sees Communism evolving out of capitalism via Socialism. The Socialist stage still has many capitalists "taints" associated with it and retains, in Marx's words, "the narrow horizon of bourgeois rights." Bourgeois rights still predominate in the creation and distribution of wealth-- goods and services are dished out, in the main, to each according to his/her work. 

There must still be a state apparatus to ensure that rights are preserved and recognized. In the beginning of the establishment of Socialism then the new state will be charged with defending bourgeois rights-- it will be, in fact, a bourgeois state administered by workers. Lenin puts it this way, "for a certain time not only bourgeois rights but even the bourgeois state remains under Communism [i.e., the first phase--tr], without the bourgeoisie!" Capitalism without the capitalists!-- or least without them in control. There are "socialist" countries today still evolving along these lines.   

Lenin says this view of a bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie may look like a paradox but Marx held that it was inevitable “in a society issuing from the womb of capitalism.” Nevertheless, democracy is absolutely necessary for the working class but it is only a stage along the road from feudalism to capitalism and on to Communism.

Democracy is seen by the workers as leading to equality and ''equality'' is “a useful slogan” as long as we remember that we mean by it “the abolition of classes.” But we get only formal not real equality under democracy. We get real equality only under Communism when distribution is ruled by needs not work. 

Lenin admits that“we do not and cannot know” how Socialism will transform itself into this future higher state but it will come after the workers have smashed to bits the current form of the bourgeois state and substituted a higher form of state (still a state) based on a people’s militia of “universal participation.”  [Bill of Rights Socialism based on the Second Amendment ?]

 At this stage quantitative changes will lead to qualitative changes. By this Lenin means that the vast numbers of the formerly oppressed are now directly involved in ruling and administering the economy and the state and this changes the way democracy functions— no longer a tool of the bourgeoisie to control the people but a tool used by the people to take charge of their own lives. The recent midterm elections in the United States, giving control of the Senate to the right wing reactionary Republican party, serves as a reminder of how democracy serves as a tool of the bourgeoisie (not that a Democractic victory would have changed this relationship but it would have appeared less sharply). 

All this depends on the advanced stage that capitalism has reached where universal literacy has been attained (“already realised in most of the advanced capitalist countries”) and the workers and been “trained” in how to operate the vast complexities of the capitalist industries and factories already “socialised” put presently still owned by the capitalist class. The specialized workers—i.e., trained economists, agronomists, scientists and engineers will, Lenin says, work “even better” for the workers than for the capitalists. 

 I am not so sure how the “specialists” would have reacted to getting “equal” pay with the workers under the new system as Lenin says everyone will be a state employee all of whom will “do their share of work” and “should receive equal pay.”  It is moot anyway as this program never got off the ground as it required revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries to succeed as well as what was going on in Russia. I don’t think Lenin, at this time, thought the Russian Revolution was going to be left high and dry on its own.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see what he thought the first stage, the socialist stage, would be like after the revolution. The new socialist state would convert the capitalists into employees and the workers themselves would run all the economic institutions in the state— everyone would be a state employee. The result of this would be that: “The whole of society will have become one office and one factory, with equal work and equal pay.” If this is the practical realistic outlook for the lower stage, the socialist stage, of Communism it is just as well the founders did not engage in “Utopian speculations” concerning what the “higher stage” would be like.

Lenin says that this lower stage of “‘factory’ discipline” is not the ideal goal of the revolution but a necessary foothold to overcome “all the hideousness and foulness of capitalist exploitation in order to advance further.”  Once this first stage has been achieved and the human collective of the new order has learned to work and share without the selfishness, greed, and alienation from its humanity that capitalism fosters and practicing human decency has become a habit, then and only then will it be possible to begin to transition to the higher stage of Communism and the withering away of the state and our motto can truly be Novus ordo seclorum.

Coming up: the sixth and last chapter of State and Revolution—“Vulgarisation of Marx by the Opportunists” ( plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.)

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's "World Order" [Part Three]

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's World Order  [Part Three]
Thomas Riggins

Ferguson points out a basic question that Kissinger asks regarding our ability to understand international order. “Is there a single concept and mechanism logically uniting all things, in a way that can be discovered and explicated … or is the world too complicated and humanity too diverse to approach these questions through logic alone, requiring a kind of intuition and an almost esoteric element of statecraft?”  

This is a meaningless jumble of words. Logic is a method for determining the validity and soundness of arguments not a method for discovering how the world works. Discovery is basically an empirical affair of data collection from which generalizations can be made based on the coherence and correspondence of the data to our experience and understanding of its significance.

Kissinger does not think that "logic" can do the trick of understanding the world order but his alternative is not likely to do the trick either. Ferguson says Kissinger opts for “intuition” (the Muslims are yearning for us to intervene in their part of the world—oops wrong intuition) and the almost “esoteric” or the secret mysterious  ways of seeking out the truth. If we follow these ideas, I don’t think we will be seeing an improvement in US foreign policy any time soon.

Ferguson gives an example of Kissinger’s intuition— it can’t be demonstrated, but here it is. The “players” in “the great game of foreign policy” make their moves based on their understanding of history made by a “deep study of the past.” Since the US has made so many foreign policy mistakes it must be due to a “shallow” study or no study of the past. But wait— it doesn’t seem to be the history of the world or other countries that is the issue, but rather “self-understanding “ of your own history.

The US only needs to know its own deep history not, for example, the history of the Middle East to play the game there. Kissinger says, “For nations, history plays the role that character confers on human beings.” So don’t trust those Germans, Adolf, you know who, is still there lurking about in their esoteric intuitional subconscious. This is bad intuition. We get nowhere with the equation Tsar = Stalin = Putin or Russian Empire = Soviet Union = Russian Federation. 

Nations are not people anymore than corporations are and the human character cannot be applied to them. It is not an esoteric element we need to master but concrete social forces that can be studied in a scientific way. Looking at class struggles and economic interests and who wants to exploit whom will better explain how the “great game” is played. 

At this point there follows a long section about earlier works by Kissinger and more indulgent fawning over his ideas. To show what a great thinker Kissinger is I will resume this review with Ferguson's discussion of his views on Islam. 

From it's very beginnings Islam was, Kissinger says, "a religion, a multiethnic superstate, and a new world order."  In dealing with the Islamic Middle East today Ferguson says he has never seen Kissinger so critical of Bush and Obama as well as of Saudi Arabia. Here is his critique of the Saudis. The Saudi's have a very reactionary fundamentalist form of Islam as their state creed (Kissenger calls it "austere") and they have been supporting jihadists and fundamentalists around the world (some of whom are enemies of the US).

Kissinger says they have been making a great "error" in thinking they could support reactionary Islamist groups abroad and not have these groups also turn against them. The US, by the way, had this experience: it supported the most horrible Islamist terrorist groups you could imagine against the Soviets in Afghanistan only to have them turn against it after the Soviets were gone. 9/11 was an act of the US's Frankenstein's monster. The Saudi's can expect the same.

What isn't mentioned in this review is that Saudi Arabia is a medieval despotism that denies even basic democratic rights to its citizens. But the US is an ally of the Saudi state and thus itself a big supporter, de facto, of medieval despotism. Kissinger's criticism of the Saudis applies as well as to his and his successors attitudes toward that barbaric kingdom. It is love of oil, however, that is the true religion motivating US policy not engaging with  Islam.

Ferguson says Kissinger thinks the greatest problem for world order today is the sinking of the Middle East into sectarian strife. He doesn't mention that US policy is one of the major causes and supports of this strife which it promotes to justify its continued political (and military) interference. War and war profiteering is big business domestically. 

Instead, Ferguson says, regarding Kissinger's views,  "Even as the Sunni monarchies struggle to defend themselves against a rapidly metastasizing jihadist 'cancer'  that is in a large measure their own creation, Shia Iran edges steadily closer to being a nuclear-armed power."  What does one have to do with the other?

The main struggle of the Sunni monarchies is, however, against their own people who want democratic rights--- a struggle the US does not support as the case of Bahrain shows. The  "jihadi" threat is a cover for the repression of democracy. All talk about Iran's drive for nuclear weapons is meaningless blather as long as Israel is allowed to have nuclear weapons with no protest from the West.  


We will continue this review in part four.