Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sin, Socialism, and Sacilege

Sin, Socialism and Sacrilege
Thomas Riggins

In some ultraconservative circles as well as groups of  “Christians"  and other misguided religious zealots the issue of gay marriage has become the cause célèbre  du jour. [I use the term ‘misguided’ to refer to bigoted and backward thinking not in tune, in my view, with modern religious and philosophical opinions.]  I propose to discuss a typical article from the right casting aspersions upon the concept of gay marriage as a constitutional right that must be respected under the law and protected from bigoted attacks disguised as authentic religious beliefs claiming also to be constitutionally protected. I will attempt to demonstrate that gay marriages should be constitutionally protected and that no religious objections to it are worthy of respect on legal, ethical, or moral grounds.

The article in question is by an ultra-right political "journalist" Charlotte Allen and was published on May 1 on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal: "Modern Sin: Holding On to Your Belief." What is the belief at issue? Socialists and other progressives don't usually think in terms of "sin." The term "politically incorrect" is the one that we prefer. To hold on to, and act upon, discredited beliefs such as racism, sexism, fascism, xenophobic nationalism, chauvinisms of all kinds including religious chauvinisms, and certain kinds of behaviors that are dishonest, socially destructive of people's well being, and many more too numerous to list here are considered not to be politically correct [PC]. 

So the question to be addressed by the WSJ article should really be what beliefs are people holding on to, and acting upon, that are not PC and, in religious jargon, are "sins" against other human beings  and hurtful to them. If your notion of the deity includes the idea that It wants you to act in a hurtful way to other human beings, attacking their rights and happiness in order to make you feel better about your own, my article will hopefully convince you that you are wrong and have a false notion of what "sin" is all about. 

Ms. Allen’s article is a sympathetic account of the trials and tribulations of small business owners whose bigoted interpretation of religion has led them to discriminate against gay couples who wish to marry. Their arguments are not unlike those given a few generations  ago by those who also discriminated against interracial couples on religious grounds.

There are, Ms. Allen points out, a small group of [ misguided Christian] “bakers, florists, and photographers’’ who maintain that “their Christian beliefs in man-woman marriages preclude their providing services to same-sex marriages.” Well, “Christian beliefs” are also opposed to pagan ceremonies and polytheistic worship but they don’t seem to preclude people from baking, taking pictures or providing flowers for Hindu wedding ceremonies. There are “Christian beliefs” against divorce but are divorced people getting married again refused these services?

Businesses open to the public must serve the public in a non discriminatory way.
A misguided Christian restaurant owner is not entitled to tell a couple of same sex individuals they will not be served if he overhears that their meal is a wedding brunch. Or is he? This is the issue. Does freedom of religion include the freedom to discriminate and impose your beliefs on others in the public arena?

It seems that these “Christian” business people are committing acts of common bigotry under the guise of “acts of [selective] conscience.” Ms Allen supports the business people involved. She presents the case of a Southern Baptist florist who was fined for refusing to serve a gay wedding because she claimed to have a personal relationship with [an imaginary friend called] “Jesus” who, it appears, is anti-gay marriage. This defense against anti-discrimination laws did not impress the lower courts in Washington State and is now on appeal. Her case would be strengthened if she could present her friend as a witness. But I doubt “Jesus” will appear since his constituency includes both gay and non gay people which makes this not a question of “Christian” belief so much as one of personal interpretation.

Ms Allen thinks holding misguided “Christians” responsible for their bigoted actions (no one  should object to their  private or public beliefs only their public activities if they impinge upon the rights of others under the law) goes against former California Supreme Court Justice Ronald M.George’s statement that: “Affording same-sex couples the same opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official or any other person.” Ms. Allen is, of course, wrong and the Judge is right.

“Religious freedom” is not absolute in the U.S. It is freedom to practice your religion under the law. For instance, American Muslims don’t have the freedom to marry four wives, people can’t practice human sacrifice, people of one sect are not free to behead those of a different sect, and Amish elders don’t have the right to debeard their opponents, and people considered to be heretics, sacrilegious, or blasphemous cannot be burned at the stake or otherwise dispatched.

 All of these practices are, be it noted, sincerely held religious beliefs, some of them by Christians, and to the list should be added discriminatory practices and hateful deeds directed against gay people or any other subsections of society which lawfully seek to enjoy life and peacefully practice their beliefs and life styles in ways not detrimental to the legally protected rights of others.

 Businesses serving the public whether they be caterers, bakeries, florist shops, photo stores and studios, wedding planners or any business permitted to engage in services by the state should not, and generally cannot, discriminate against people based on their race, religion (or lack of religion), sex, gender preferences, ethnic origins, looks or age, etc. This means that individuals or groups, including institutionalized religious organizations cannot engage in discriminatory practices against others based on their own shared and practiced beliefs and feelings. They can do as they please as long as it is legally permitted and does not infringe upon the legal rights of others. If there are existing laws permitting such discriminatory actions they must be repealed.

If you have a sincerely held religious belief that same sex marriage is immoral and against the will of God (although God is quite capable I should think to see to it that his will is not violated without any help from humans)  then no one can force you to marry someone of the same sex. It is wrong, however, for you to seek to prevent others from engaging in same sex marriage or refuse to serve them if you have a business open to the public.

Ms. Allen fears that if the Supreme Court finds that gay marriage is a constitutional right  then a “persecution of Christians” will follow. All that will follow is that Christians, and others, who have a long history of persecutions against others themselves will find it more difficult, if not impossible, to engage in the hate crimes and discriminatory behavior against gay people that they believe their Imaginary deity requires of them. I say “imaginary” because no purportedly perfect and good deity would countenance such behavior and truly religious persons should consider it a sacrilege to believe otherwise.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Conclusion: Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part Two)


Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part Two: Conclusion)
Thomas Riggins

This article picks up where Part One left off and explains in more detail the two conceptions of Ukrainian statehood discussed by Richard Sakwa in his new book Frontline Ukraine

First the 'monist' conception of Ukraine. In this view Ukrainian culture and statehood had been held back for the past several hundred years. In fact, ever since the Treaty of Pereyaslavl of 1654. This was a treaty between the ruler of much of what is now Ukraine and Russia in which Russian suzerainty became established. A program of Russification had been undertaken in the 1800s. Basing themselves on the primacy of the Ukrainian language as the official national language the monists seek to undo the Russification they think has been imposed on them in the past. This will entail their imposing monist values in turn on those segments of the population not sufficiently infused with their version of Ukrainian nationalism-- especially those who speak Russian as their first and preferred language.

One of the major influences on this outlook was Dmytro Dontsov (1883-1973). Dontsov had been a Marxist in his youth but morphed into an ultra-right Ukrainian nationalist after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. He became a Russophobe who wanted Ukraine to become a major nation on the European model. Sakwa quotes him as follows: we want, "unity with Europe, under all circumstances and at any price -- that is the categorical imperative of our foreign policy."

The most important monist organization was (and is) the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) a home spun fascist group which has integrated the teaching of Dontsov into their ideology. Dontsov was never a member but he wrote for them and provided a fascist outlook of his own creation distilled from the Italian and German (NAZI) models he had studied.

The OUN’s ideology is based on something called “integral nationalism.” This ideology views the nation as an organic whole— the state is supreme and superior to the individual. There is a supreme leader, a totalitarian one party state, and hostility to all forms of socialism (especially communism) as well as to bourgeois democracy. The Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine describes it as follows : “The nationalists insisted on the primacy of will over reason, action over thought, and practice over theory. Their doctrine of nationalism was infused with aspects of the irrational, voluntaristic, and vitalistic theories popularized in Western Europe by such philosophers as Henri Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gustave Le Bon, Georges Sorel, and Oswald Spengler. In the place of objective scientific discovery the nationalists propagated myths and favored an ideologically ‘correct’ image of the Ukrainian past.”

 The same source describes their political program as follows: “The political order of the future Ukrainian state was to consist of a one-party system and would be based on a principle of supreme leadership (vozhdyzm). There would be only one political organization, which would consist of a supraclass of ‘better people.’ The state [i.e., the OUN] structure would be formed from a hierarchy of leaders under the supreme leader (vozhd), who would function both as leader  of the movement and head of state. Propaganda and educational materials for young cadres would consistently underline the role and authority of the leader.”

In the late 1930s Stepan Bandera became the leader of the OUN. During World War II the OUN alternated between working with the German occupation and participating in the massacre of Jews, Poles, and Russians, and fighting against it, depending on its perceptions as to whether or not the Germans would go along with an independent OUN run Ukraine or not. In 1943 Bandera’s followers massacred 70,000 Poles the majority of whom were unarmed men, women, and children (the future Ukrainian state was for Ukrainians). This mass killing took place in Volyn in the Western Ukraine. Also, Sakwa says, by 1945 the OUN had, in Eastern Galicia, killed 130,000. Many people had their eyes gouged out (including women and children) and were then hacked to death. This was the fate of suspected “informers” and their families.

This was massive ethnic cleansing. Russians and Jews were also targeted. One can perhaps understand why many Russian speakers in the eastern Ukraine took up arms in 2014 when they saw the flags of the OUN proudly displayed in Kiev after the overthrow of the elected government.

After WWII the OUN kept fighting against the forces of the USSR and People’s Poland until 1949. Bandera had been imprisoned by the Germans during the war when he was no longer useful and had started to fight against them when he saw they would not support an OUN run independent Ukraine but had been released towards the end of the war to fight against the USSR.  He stayed on in West Germany and was eventually hunted down and assassinated by the KGB in 1959. 

When Ukraine became independent in 1991 liberal-democratic forms of government and a market economy began to replace the Soviet forms that preceded them, but they have not really taken root. It turned out that all the old animosities and contradictions from the past had not been overcome but had only lain dormant.

After 2007 statues in honor of Bandera started cropping up in cities in the western Ukraine. The home grown fascism and ethnic hatred of the OUN was on the march again. The Maidan demonstrations in early 2014, which led to the overthrow of the legally elected Ukrainian government, even witnessed 15,000 people marching in celebration of Bandera’s 105th birthday. The Svoboda Party, a neo-fascist mass party tinged with anti-semitism along with the Fatherland Party of Yulia Tymoshenko (a right-wing anti-Russian pro NATO nationalist mass party) both supported this commemoration of the former Nazi ally and war criminal.

The Russian speakers in the eastern Ukraine who saw the Soviet era in a positive light were shocked. They were the core of the original Soviet Ukraine to which much of the western Ukraine was added as new territory after WWII and which had been been ruled until then as parts of other European states (Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland). These new areas are part of the heartland of the OUN and are permeated with fascist ideology left over from their pre Soviet experiences. It is in these troubled waters that US imperialism and its NATO puppets are currently fishing.

Sakwa sees the core of the problem between the Donbas area rebellion (eastern Ukraine) and the western Ukrainian integral nationalists as primarily ideological. The Kiev government and rebels represent opposite world views. Basically, Kievian monism has an idealized conception of a pure Ukrainian nationalism that must be imposed on the country. It denies the reality on the ground of a pluralistic national population and seeks to make reality conform to its vision rather than adapt its political outlook to reality. (Sakwa points out this is also going on in the Baltic states.)

So what does the pluralist view entail? Due to all the changes in the boundaries of Ukraine over the last hundred years or so— territories switching back and forth due to wars and then to governmental policies-- the borders of the Ukraine today are very different than they were before WWII. 

There are other peoples, nationalities and languages in Ukraine besides the Ukrainians (even though they are the vast majority). About 78% of the people are Ukrainian, 17% Russian and 5% are others (about seventeen different ethnic groups). About 7 million Russians live in the country and they want their language and customs respected— as do the other ethnic groups as well. [The 2.4 million people in the Crimea are included in the above breakdown.]

The official national language is Ukrainian with 18 regional or territorial languages also recognized. The pluralists want Russian also recognized as a national language while also agreeing that Ukrainian has pride of place— i.e., should be taught to all. 

As Sakwa puts it, “The pluralist model argues that all the people making up contemporary Ukraine have an equal stake in the development of the country, and thus opposes the nationalizing strain, although without repudiating some of its concerns.”

The reason there is a rebellion going on in parts of the eastern Ukraine is that the extreme nationalists who are in the western Ukraine (although monists and pluralists are to be found everywhere they do predominate in some regions) feel that since they are the majority they can force their views on all the other people in Ukraine (the others are not “true” Ukrainians).

As V. Goldstein writes (pointed out by Sakwa) in Forbes magazine (5/19/14) “the culture, language and political thinking of western Ukraine have been imposed  upon the rest of Ukraine.” Dr. Goldstein (who teaches Slavic studies at Brown University) also explains why this imposition was attempted (rebellion was the backlash): “the objective has been to humiliate and put down Ukraine’s Russian speaking population. The radical nationalists of western Ukraine, for whom the rejection of Russia and its culture is an article of faith, intend to force the rest of the country to fit their narrow vision.”

It is this vision, with its roots in irrationalism, fascism and the anti-Semitism and ethnic massacres  of  WWII, that President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and NATO along with the leaders of the EU, as well  our domestic right wing jingoists and puppet mass media are defending as “democracy, freedom, and national sovereignty.”  Blut und Bodin.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part One)

Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part One)
Thomas Riggins

The crisis that struck Ukraine last year-- the overthrow of the elected president, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the rebellion in the Russian speaking eastern provinces— was the result of problems that had been festering, not only in Ukraine but all along the former frontiers of the USSR since the end of the cold war and the collapse of eastern European socialism over twenty some years previously. 

There were many pressure points and areas of potential conflict along this defunct border. Over the years they became more and more exacerbated mainly as a result of the triumphalist attitude of the US and its allies over the end of the Cold War which they considered as a "victory" of their side over the Russians and their allies.

Meanwhile the Russians and their remaining close allies had considered the end of the Cold War as a cooperative undertaking in which, with western help, the leadership of the USSR would dismantle the Warsaw Pact and replace state socialism with a European style market economy thus eliminating the threat of nuclear war and allowing for the eventual flourishing of a united European civilization stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The "we won, you lost" attitude assumed by the US (and its NATO puppet) along with the EU has led to economic and political actions the Russians and their allies believe threaten their interests and rights. This is the theses of professor Richard Sakwa of Kent University (UK) in his new book Frontline Ukraine. This article will attempt to highlight the fateful steps that have led to the current crisis as professor Sakwa annunciated them (any misinterpretations or errors are mine).

One of the major steps was the growth of NATO right up to borders of Russia after the Russians had been given assurances by the US that that would not happen. The US now argues that the growth of  NATO  was necessary due to the 
security problems along its borders. This overlooks the fact that it is the new borders that are the location of these problems. As Sakwa puts it, “NATO’s existence became justified by the needs to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” This kind of mendacious logic is typical of the US ’s (and to a lesser extent the EU’s) dealings with Russia. Echoed by the corporate media in the US, it is one of the main reasons the American people are ignorant of the true causes of the Ukraine crisis and for their antipathy toward Russia.

The reason there are so many problems between the US (and its satellites) and Russia is because there are many systemic contradictions between them left over from the end of the Cold War and there has been little, if any, attempt by the West to  seriously try to resolve them by good faith negotiations. When a problem boils over, as in the Ukraine (and earlier in Georgia), all the blame is put on Russia and the solution is framed as the need for the US and the West to make the Russians back down. This, Sakwa points out, only makes the contradictions between the interests of the Russians and the US side worse. 

A major consideration with regard to the West’s relations with Russia is that after the collapse of the USSR Russia was economically in turmoil and politically weak. The West could pretty much do as it wanted as Russia, as well as Ukraine, were dominated by corruption, oligarchs calling the shots, and the need to concentrate on internal problems not foreign affairs.

Russia  was able to economically benefit during the early years of the 2000s, due to high profits of oil, and Putin was able, despite democratic short comings, to curtail the power of the oligarchs, reassert state ownership in many strategic areas of the economy, and reinvigorate the Russian economy and state. This allowed the Russians to reengage in foreign affairs and begin to reassert their perceived interests vis a vis those of the West once they realized it was not part of the West’s intentions to work in partnership with them to peacefully resolve contradictions to the mutual benefit of all concerned. If not a cold war the US was starting a “Cool War.” In contrast Ukraine remained mired in corruption and the control of oligarchs
despite a democratic facade.

Another important point made by Sakwa concerns the makeup of the Ukrainian nation. There are two contradictory views which he calls the monistic and pluralistic views. In short, the monistic view, held by the Ukrainian government and the ultra nationalist faction which dominates western Ukraine is that the country is a unique cultural whole bound together by its national language which has its own historical destiny to fulfill as part of the European continuum and is thus more closely bound to the EU than to Russia which is seen as an alien foreign influence.

The pluralistic view, which dominates in the eastern Russian speaking Ukraine, maintains that the peoples of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are related by a common cultural ancestry born of their participation in a common early state and religion (orthodox Christianity since 988 AD). The common state (Kievian Rus) was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in 1240, nevertheless the common cultural unity persists and the three peoples are more closely bound to one another than to the EU and its people. This is admittedly simplified and Sakwa will expand upon it later.

Surveys and polls show that as late as 2005 around 67% of eastern Russian speaking Ukrainians identified with Ukraine as their country and there was no great feeling to join with Russia or become independent. There were major problems, however, which included worries and complaints about the status and use of Russian, negative attitudes towards NATO and no desire to identify with Europe and the West at the expense of Russia. 

All of these issues could have been dealt with democratically within Ukraine by means of parliamentary processes and constitutional guarantees. What has led to the present crisis in Ukraine was the perception by the Russian speaking east that the undemocratic overthrow of the elected government in February 2014 brought to power ultra-nationalist forces that were seeking to force their views on the east and that eastern concerns, beliefs, and rights were being ignored and even abrogated.

This eastern crisis is a separate issue from the Crimea. The Russians in the Crimea were never happy about being separated from Russia due to the fact that in 1954 the USSR transferred the area to Ukrainian administration for purposes of cost efficiency. No one then even dreamed of the possibility that the Crimea would be cut off from Russia in an independent Ukraine. Sakwa points out that the Crimea, after all, "is the heartland of Russian nationhood." 


The annexation of the peninsula  by Russia was welcomed by the majority of people living there and while its return to its motherland set off the storm that has now descended upon US and European relations with Russia (totally provoked by the West and its backing of the overthrow of the constitutional government of Ukraine) it is unlikely to be reversed. The issues in the eastern provinces of Ukraine have to be settled independently of those of the Crimea which is now a part of Russia and likely to remain so. (To be continued.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Prolegomena to Any Future Understanding of the Crisis in Ukraine

Thomas Riggins

The political and military maneuvers now going on in the Ukraine have the potential of escalating out of control. If we don't understand the actual reality that has brought about this crisis there is no hope of being able to prevent this escalation. In order to understand this reality we must refrain from simple minded finger pointing at one side or the other and assigning complete responsibility for the crisis to one of the parties in the dispute, although one side may be disproportionately responsible.

The establishment media in the West (reflecting the position of the US and the EU) seems to have arrived at a consensus that the crisis is the result of a revanchist foreign policy initiative of the Russian Federation and its president Vladimir Putin on the one hand and the aspirations of the Kiev government to build a democratic Ukraine based on the western European model and free of undue Russian influence and domination on the other.

This has been simplified by many to a proxy war between a dictatorial undemocratic Russia out to eventually recreate the defunct USSR's boundaries and the Western democracies led by the US once again called upon to defend the Free World. The phrase "a new cold war" encapsulates this position.

That this is a warped view of the Ukrainian crisis is suggested by a reading of a new book, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (Tauris, 2014) by Richard Sakwa, an expert at the University of Kent in the UK. The "Preface" to this book presents the following historical background to the current crisis which goes back many decades to a time before there was any Vladimir Putin, Russian Federation or independent Ukraine.

When the cold war ended with collapse of the Soviet Union and east European "socialism"  there was a possibility of establishing a pan-European order that would have provided for peace and security for all European countries. However, the EU and NATO made no provision for the inclusion of Russia in a common European "defense" alliance. This resulted, according to Sakwa, in numerous "stress points" along the borders of the EU and the former USSR.

One major stress point was the fact that NATO, a military anti-Soviet (anti-Russian) alliance which had faced off against the Warsaw Pact during the cold war, now had lost its raison d'être and with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact should have also come to end. The US however decided not only to keep NATO in existence but to enlarge it-- clearly an aggressive and hostile act no matter how it is presented.

As a result two different visions of Europe's future developed, Sakwa says. The two are that of a "Wider Europe" and a "Greater Europe." The former represents the EU with France and Germany (basically Germany) at the core and its extension eastward incorporating former Warsaw Pact countries and parts of the old USSR. [A 21st century version of Drang nach Osten.]

The latter represents a vision of "one Europe" but is inclusive of all parts of Europe and not dominated by "Brussels, Washington or Moscow." It would be "multi-polar and pluralistic.'' Both Russia and the Ukraine (both pluralistic) would be part of it. This is the vision favored by the Russians. Sakwa says these visions are not necessarily stark alternatives: with good will some kind of synthesis could be reached.

The US and EU have decided against "Greater Europe" and seek to construct the vision of "Wider Europe" leaving the Russians as odd man out. This decision [based on the interests of US and Western capital] and being implemented by stoking old historical grudges going back to the first world war and even earlier, is the background to the current crisis.

The different factions in the Ukraine are  (unscientifically) being associated with colors-- primarily orange, blue, and gold. The Kiev government, backed by the EU and US, is the "orange" faction. Its basic desire is to form an Ukrainian national Slavic government with one official language (Ukrainian), culturally homogeneous and identified as far as possible with the EU and NATO. 

There are millions of Russian speaking Slavs within the boundaries of Ukraine that do not share this orange outlook. They make up the "blue" faction which points out that different regions of the country have different linguistic, cultural and historical experiences and if the Ukraine  is to work these realities have to be taken into consideration and respected. As it stands, the orange and blue factions don't seem suited for co-existence in the same political framework. To make things more complicated both factions are being supported and aided by outside players.

One last major faction is the "gold" faction. This is the faction representing the new billionaires (the oligarchs) that arose out of the collapse of the USSR and through corruption and undemocratic machinations have attained unprecedented political power in the country and can manipulate the Ukrainian "political class." 

Sakwa says the country has produced "no visionary leader" who  has been able to command the loyalty of all these factions  and unite them around a project of successful nation building.

These are, more or less, the major ideas in the preface to Sakwa's book. It will impossible to understand the crisis going in the Ukraine without keeping them in mind. For those who think the crisis is the result of the big bad Putin and Russian "aggression" there is no hope at all of their understanding anything that is going on in Ukraine.

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.