Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Class Struggles in Southern Europe (2)

Euro-area finance ministers approved the payout of 49.1 billion euros ($64 billion) of loans through March and committed to “additional measures” in case Greece’s debt reduction veers off track.
While another cut in bailout-loan rates and an increase in infrastructure funding would top the list of extra measures, the policy makers hinted that outright debt relief -- still a taboo topic in creditor countries led by Germany -- would be on the table as well.

The failure of the bond buy out target was waived very quickly, you might say they stopped short at appearing to bend over backwards to lend Greece more money, but that's all. And they still argue that Syriza (the radical left Greek party that advocates strong negotiation) would not have (had) any leverage!

From, for instance, Merkel's recent position on Greece as well as banking supervision, you can see that she does not act chiefly for her own nation as a whole but also and predominantly for her class as a cosmopolitan European entity. This is why Greece gets the bail out despite failing (and once again defaulting) to meet the criteria of the bond buy back, and why Merkel must sell the idea that Germany will not mutualise debt to her own ordinary citizens, while making sure that this is a future possibility. Each other bourgeois leader does similar, more-or-less, and is involved in the political charade.

So what does this mean for a future Europe?

While it shows that there can be compromises between the national interests, these interests are only compromised by trading with and often away the rights and interests of the lower classes (especially in the crisis), namely the general European working class. Where their own national bourgeois interests outweigh their general interest, national interests tend to win out, but this depends on the relative national power of the competing nation too. Germany is the biggest European economic power and can therefore better defend its own national interests while also ensure its cosmopolitan elite profits from the European project too. Notwithstanding, the national interest does not always coincide with the interests of the ruling national class, which is easier to see in Greece than in Germany of course, but is also just as true in Germany.

The big problem is the reality that is the present economic crisis. The progress of the crisis has been relentless, and the politics has run kind of parallel to it in a way that is consistently only really self interested, so it uses the crisis as a means to implement measures that the European ruling classes desired anyway, it is an opportunity for it, and it takes its opportunities like any opportunist would. But in doing so it tends to ignore the reality of the crisis or give to it only a passing nod of attention. So we have two paths that, in fits and starts, are diverging. The first path is the apparent political route to financial harmonization and federalism in the Eurozone, backed up by humanist rhetorical flourishes such as the recent Nobel Prize awarded (to the EU, or to itself you might say) for 'creating peace in Europe'. As well as proving a negative this piece of ridiculous hubris is set against a reality of harsh austerity measures deriving from its neoliberal policies which have generated poverty and some extreme reactions such as the rise of fascism in Greece and extreme rightist policies in Spain.

This clash of opposites has not yet become so sharp as to be able to puncture the smug pomposity of the Eurozone apparatchiks or the club of political leaders, who only see a slow and steady progress to something ill defined that could possibly be a federal social democratic Europe, but which looks like at the moment a vehicle for the richest nations to better exploit the poor of the poorest 'peripheral' nations at the behest of their lesser endowed bourgeoisie. Yet the problem of the economic crisis is not resolved either by the austerity or the manifold agreements to unify, at some stage, Europe. In actual fact the problems are exacerbated by these, at best partial illusions under the influence of which both the club of national leaders and Euro apparatchiks can drift into the self satisfaction that they have 'acted' and so at least absolved themselves from further responsibility. That in, say, Greece people are suffering, with a lack of a social safety net, from the effects of the crisis and the failure of their policies, can be set aside as something that exists as if in another dimension which cannot impinge on theirs. Of course, the contours of this partition between the two dimensions has, as well as ideological illusions, also some real aesthetic accoutrements, the repressive state apparatus that in the end enforces the will of the state by violence, the riot cops and suchlike.

The central core of the Eurozone ideology sees itself as a hero of peaceful diplomacy and soft power (to use an appropriate phrase from Saif's LSE doctoral thesis) belonging to its humanist-humanitarian ideals, which are in fact stressed in the European Charter, but just as this document is being trampled underfoot in the rush to austerity for the workers, the reality is one of implementing by increasingly authoritarian means anti-social and anti democratic policies. It is not that the European peoples have failed to notice this disparity, they have protested vigorously as we all know; the problem is what to do about it beyond mere protest. While, say, Egyptians are strenuously trying to get a democratic government at least as democratic as exists in a few nations central to Europe, European peoples are protesting against secular democratic governments and systems that have been achieved after similar long historical struggles. These governments and their democracies still appear to be advanced; they still appear to represent the people, and to belong to the people. This is democracy, how can they attack democracy without seeming to want despotism? So protests tend to flounder on the rocks of democracy itself, and/or the question of democracy begins to loom: what is it exactly? Why are we apparently failed by this system, yet we have the vote? Have we really voted to represent us these fools who have squandered money and got into enormous debt just because we, like them, became greedy? The poor became greedy!! The people are told this is how it was, that it was their choice and so also their fault as well as the fault of democracy (and its baggage of 'entitlements', the sense of entitlement, and the dignity that goes with that) itself that the crisis led to such huge debts. There is little room left here for a critique of democracy. The bourgeoisie say it is democracy or fascism, you choose one or the other, and the people do not want fascism, so it is democracy, this democracy. The question as to whether this democracy was ever truly representative is not to be discussed, it is a taboo subject. For on this assumption, that we have such a choice, rests the whole underlying bourgeois media story of ordinary folk being to blame for the crisis.

It is not the end of the matter though, again because the crisis is just too big and too deep. It has its own reality that will trump the measures and the illusions both. At some future point we can expect the opposition between the reality and the rhetoric of power to become too sharp. Even if, for instance, a federal states of Europe becomes increasingly a genuine possibility, long before this can happen the crisis will be also visiting Germany, and with that the problem of sharing the debt, as federal partners, or not. Indeed this crisis is likely to be both the motivation for federalism as a solution to the crisis and at the same time the reason why its biggest apparent exponent does not want it to be the solution. In the process we can expect that the debts will be smuggled and dispersed even more onto the shoulders of the European working classes, but as the consequences of austerity approaches the core, so too will the protests that follow it. The European project may not be about to fail formally, but it has in fact failed as a form of social democracy, the ideals of a harmonious Europe have been shattered and left behind and what we face is not necessarily a de facto break up of the Eurozone but its repressive iron fist poking out of threadbare holes in the soft glove in order to hold it together. That it may or may not break up is therefore a merely academic question, European nations are not about to sail away from Europe, but in actual fact what has been lost is already the most important part of it, you might say, its heart. It will be the task of the European workers to start it beating again, even though it was mostly fictitious in the first place, only they can give real heart to the heart of Europe.

by Gary Tedman

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Urgent Action Needed to Combat European Climate Change by Thomas Riggins

The European Environment Agency ( EEA, an agency representing 32 member states set up by the European Union) issued a recent report entitled "Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012." The report describes shocking examples of climate change and predicts even more shocking future impacts of the changing climatic conditions in Europe. However it never spells out the real causes of the climate change (our dependence on and use of fossil fuel for example) nor does it propose any far ranging solutions. At least none are reported in the story published by ScienceDaily on November 23, 2012 covering its conclusions ("Climate Change Evident Across Europe, Confirming Urgent Need for Adaptation.")

The EEA informs us that throughout Europe extreme weather has resulted in more and more destruction from floods, droughts, heat waves and that these trends are on the increase with greater occurrences  expected in the future. Rainfall has been going up in Northern Europe and down in the South. All across Europe the temperature has been going up and new higher averages are being recorded. Not only that, but this warming trend is melting away the sea ice in the Arctic, the Greenland ice sheet and many of Europe's glaciers. Also most of Europe's permafrost is now exposed and melting  due to less snow cover.

The EEA isn't reported to be worrying to much about how this will impact the human population in Europe as such, but is warning all this climatic disaster could cost a lot of money: "If European societies do not adapt, damage costs are expected to rise, according to the report."

Granted all this extreme weather and climate change is in the works, the European Union doesn't want to go out on a limb as to the cause: "more evidence is needed to discern the part played by climate change in this trend…." Our climate deniers here in the U.S. could not agree more. Meanwhile over 95% of climate scientists are agreed that this "trend" is the the result of human caused  global warming.

The EEA also knows that humans are involved because while they need "more evidence" as regards climate change they do add that, according to ScienceDaily, "growing human activity in hazard-prone areas has been a key factor" in the rise of damage costs. But it is not just activity in "hazard prone areas" and it is not simply "human activity"-- it is the activity of the trans-national and national corporations on a world wide basis polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and the governments that refuse to take meaningful action against them-- including some European Union governments that sponsor the EEA.

The best the EEA Executive, Jacqueline McGlade, can come up with to counter the damages of climate change is to hope people can "adapt" themselves to it. This is at least the implication of the Science Daily quote attributed to her: "Climate change is a reality around the world, and the extent and speed of change is becoming ever more evident. This means that every part of the economy, including households, needs to adapt as well as reduce emissions."

What we have to do is force political actions that reign in the oil, gas, and coal industries and others who want to increase and further develop the uses of carbon based fuels. What we need is binding international agreements that reduce and eliminate the use of all chemicals that endanger the lives, health and well being of human beings and other life forms making up the biosphere. The climate change meeting in Doha this week will show how seriously the governments of the world take this challenge.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Marx and Democracy (notes)

Just as it is not in fact religion that creates man but man who creates religion, so it is not the constitution that creates the people but the people which creates the constitution. In a certain respect, Marx maintains, democracy is to all other forms of the state what Christianity is to all other religions: deified man under the form of a particular religion, and, in the same way, democracy is the essence of every political constitution: it is socialized humankind under the form of a particular constitution of the state. Marx says (note male referent) that while Hegel's idealism proceeds from the state and makes man into the subjectified state, democracy begins with man and makes the state objectified man. He directly counterpoises democracy to Hegel's idealism. From this it becomes evident that "all forms of the state have democracy for their truth, and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democracy". Marx explains that the right to pardon is the ultimate expression of contingent and arbitrary (undemocratic) choice, and significantly this is what Hegel makes the essential attribute of the monarch: he defines the source of pardon as the 'self-determined' or 'groundless' decision [die grundlose Entscheidung].

...the Estates are, according to Marx, the sanctioned, legal lie of constitutional states, the lie that the state is the people's interest or the people the interest of the state. From here he proceeds to the question of elections: staying within the critique of Hegel, he criticizes the concept of representation: in a choice of such individuals, as have a better understanding of these affairs than their electors have, it is supposed to follow that the relationship which deputies have to their electors is not that of agents. But he says it is only by means of a sophism that Hegel may declare these individuals understand these affairs 'better' and not 'simply'. His conclusion that they do understand these affairs better could be drawn only if the electors had the option of deliberating and deciding themselves about public affairs or of delegating definite individuals to discharge these things, precisely if representation, did not belong essentially to the character of civil society's legislature. But in the state constructed by Hegel representation constitutes precisely the legislature's specific essence, precisely as realized. What is significant for Marx is that Hegel here designates trust as the substance of election, as the substantial relation between electors and deputies, and trust is a personal relationship.

Excerpts from "Marx, Democracy, and the Aesthetic Level" by Gary Tedman.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lenin on "Reactionary" Trade Unions: Chapter Six of "Left-Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder by Thomas Riggins

One of the most difficult questions facing any socialist movement is its relation to the trade unions. Modern day trade unionism is an integral part of the capitalist system. It functions to further the interests of working people within capitalism by trying to get their commodity (labor power) paid for at the highest price possible in relation to its value. This price can be measured in wages as well as benefits wrested from the capitalist class by means of negotiations, demonstrations, work stoppages, sit ins, and strikes. Under capitalism unions qua unions are not revolutionary organizations. Some unions and union members are in fact even reactionary. In the U.S. for example about 40% of unionized workers voted for the Republican reactionary Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election.

In chapter six of his work "Left-Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder, Lenin address himself to the relation Marxists should have with the capitalist trade union movement. He refers to the trade unions under capitalism as "reactionary" because he was writing in a revolutionary period in which socialist as well as capitalist oriented trade unions both existed. This is not that time so I shall dispense with the term "reactionary" except in direct quotations.

At the beginning of this chapter Lenin notes that the ultra-Left in Germany consider it very revolutionary to condemn the German unions as compromising, nationalistic, and counter-revolutionary and that no communists should have anything to do with them. Lenin intends to give reasons why he thinks these ideas are wrong and are just a lot of "empty phrases."

Lenin will first make remarks about the situation in Russia. He does so to remind us
what the purpose of this work is --i.e., to apply "to Western Europe whatever is universally practicable, significant and relevant in the history and present-day tactics of Bolshevism." We may not find as many things today, ninety years later and in non-revolutionary conditions (but growing pre-revolutionary movements are afoot in the anti-austerity struggle and the fightback against the banks), as people in Lenin's day found but there still are some practicable ideas in Lenin's work.

One such idea is that as the struggle today intensifies Marxist parties will start to grow into larger and larger mass parties (as happened to the Bolsheviks after 1917) and many of the new members will be "careerists and charlatans" out to feather their own nests with no real dedication to the workers. Lenin says they only "deserve to be shot"-a la the Chinese Communist Party's response to extremely corrupt officials. This may be a little too "proactive" for our sensibilities these days, but we should be aware of such people and kick them out of the movement and warn the workers about them. If conditions become more revolutionary we can expect the working people to handle these types as they see fit.

Another point made by Lenin is really not so relevant in the current situation, but should still be mentioned in case the working class actually finds itself exercising state power in the future. That is the relation of the worker's party to the institutions of the state. We must not look at the state as some kind of independent institution that all political parties share in and whose main departments are headed now by one party, now another or a combination of parties. The bourgeoisie is an unnecessary parasitical exploiting class with no useful role to play in modern society except to oppress working people and exploit them. This class will no longer have a role to play in the political life of a state controlled by workers so no state institution will make any political or organizational decisions without consulting with and taking guidance from the worker's party.

With respect to the trade unions, Lenin says that the party "relies directly" upon them. Trade unions are formally non-party organizations but the party, in Russia (and presumably in any future worker's  state), actually controls the leadership positions in all the unions and the unions carry out the party line. There are millions of workers only a relatively small number of whom (the most class conscious) are members of the party. The trade unions are the vehicle by which the party keeps in touch with the working masses and keeps the class unified in its struggle to defeat the bourgeoisie and build socialism. Under capitalism the unions are not typically led by leaders committed to building socialism and thus the unions function to uphold bourgeois rule despite their struggles for better pay and working conditions.
Marxists should be in the union movement and hopefully get themselves elected to leadership positions by the rank and file. Marxists union members should be carrying on socialist education and agitation and explaining to workers why they will never be secure in their lives, jobs, or pensions under capitalism.

There are two main positions that the Marxists should push that will differentiate them from the opportunistic and pragmatic labor leaders. The first is to fight against the view that bourgeois democracy is the only form of democracy that should be supported. Direct worker's democracy, in whatever form it takes (worker's councils, soviets, etc.), should be the ideal. The second idea to fight is that the union movement should be politically "independent." In Russia that would have amounted to the workers having unions independent from workers political power running the state. In our pre-revolutionary situation the unions should support and be affiliated with political parties having a pro-working class agenda. An intellectually mature working class will have its own political party or parties reflecting working class values and led by working people themselves. In the U.S., I repeat, it is absolutely scandalous that forty percent of unionized workers vote Republican in general elections.

However, it is not sufficient just to maintain contact with the workers and the people in general through the trade unions. Lenin says that other types of non-party organizations have to be set up and institutions developed whose membership consists of workers and petty bourgeois elements who are not members of the party. In the West these organizations have been give the uncharitable name of "front groups" by the bourgeoisie. Their real purpose, according to Lenin, is to allow the party to understand the "temper" of the people and "to come closer to them, meet their requirements" and "promote the best among them" to leadership positions. This is a thoroughly democratic way for the people and the party to interact for the common interests of the working class and its allies.

In Russia all of this party work was carried out by means of the Soviets which Lenin
says are a form of democratic expression far superior to anything created by bourgeois democracy. While making these remarks Lenin also mentions exactly what type of workers rule is involved in the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" (DP). The DP is not a dictatorship of all the working people, or a dictatorship of workers and peasants. In Russia it is "a dictatorship of the urban proletariat" and the DP is meant to lead the agricultural population (a backward majority) towards supporting the rule of the urban working class. It has as one of its main functions to lead the mass of poor peasants  and to wage "a systematic struggle against the rich, bourgeois, exploiting and profiteering peasantry, etc." In the West of the 21st Century such a DP has no existential basis and would not make a good role model for the type of workers democracy required to establish socialism.

In Lenin's day such a DP was what was required. The Russian Marxists had arrived at these ideas after 25 years of intense struggle against the Russian feudalists and bourgeoisie and from their point of view the ultra-left antics of some German "Communists" and others of pitting "leaders" against the "masses" and advocating abandoning the trade union movement and also other forms of legal struggle sounded like "ridiculous and childish nonsense."

Lenin admitted that the old bourgeois craft unions and distinctions between workers are a legacy left to socialism by capitalism and that the trade unions too are riddled with bourgeois attitudes and prejudices. But he said this is the material we have to work with and it will take years and years of work to develop the industrial unions of the future which will represent whole industries  and lead to the abolition of the division of labor between people. This goal is the goal of fully developed Communism and in1920 only the first baby steps were being taken. Lenin warned that, "To attempt in practice, today, to anticipate this future result of a fully developed, fully comprehensive and mature communism would be like trying to teach higher mathematics to a child of four." This warning was another in the species of not trying to skip stages and prematurely try to bring about remote future possibilities. Perhaps all the errors of Soviet collectivization and also of the Great Leap Forward could have been prevented had Lenin's views been taken seriously.

Lenin here seems to reject the whole idea of "social engineering" and the idea of creating the "the new Soviet man." He says we have to build socialism with the type of people "bequeathed" to us by the capitalist system and not try to build it "with human material specially prepared by us." If Lenin's successors had followed this advice they would have been much more tolerant of the frailties of human nature and open to different ideas and notions of how to go about building on the foundations of socialism created under his direction. They could have avoided the paranoia and purges of the 1930s and 40s.

Reflecting again on the trade unions, Lenin remarks that they evolved out of the primitive isolation and disunity of the early working class and were an essential form of working class organization that developed to unify and unite workers and give to them class consciousness. Now it is the Communist Party which is the highest form of working class organization and which expresses the highest level of class consciousness and the trade union movement, born as it was under capitalist conditions has revealed that, compared to the revolutionary class conscious workers, it has backward tendencies related to narrow minded craft interests.

Lenin uses the term "Communist" in relation to the Party in a way which leads me to think he didn't really believe Communist parties had arrived at a stage of development where they deserved to be called "Communist." He says "the Party will not merit the name until it learns to weld the leaders into one indivisible whole with the class and the masses." I don't think that ever happened in the Soviet Union but the reasons for this failure to weld an indivisible whole are to complex to discuss here."

At any rate, whatever the limitations displayed by the trade union movement this movement was indispensable for the development of the working class and every capitalist country has produced trade unions which represent the interests of the working people in the economic contest with the capitalists. The unions will be necessary in the transfer of the management of the economic life of socialist countries to the working class, not to the separate unions, and eventually to all working people. For this reason Lenin calls the unions a "school of communism" that will be the training ground for workers in the building of socialism.

Nevertheless at the present time there are many backward attitudes and ideas floating about in the ranks of the trade unions and many of these attitudes will remain even if working people eventually gain state power. How should we deal them both now and in the future. Repression was not an option favored by Lenin. He says these backward attitudes are INEVITABLE considering the historical context in which the unions were formed. Not to understand this is to show complete ignorance of the role of the party. It would be "folly" to either evade this problem or try to "leap over it" [even a great leap won't work]. The role of the party is to educate and enlighten the backwardness that living under capitalism will inevitably imprint on large sections of the working people. The Party's job is to win the support of the masses and to maintain and extend that support through education and example. Obviously shooting people or sending them to the Gulag is not a good way to carry out that assignment. It will take many years of patient work and struggle to carry out that mission. Presumably the party that fails in this mission will not be around in the long run.

Paradoxically, Lenin thinks the labor leadership in the more advanced countries of the West are more opportunist and play upon the credulity of the workers than those in backward Russia. This is because Russia was going through a real revolutionary awakening and the the vast majority of the workers chose to follow the Bolshevik wing of the Marxist movement rather than the Menshevik wing which was opportunistic and social chauvinist. Lenin is particularly vitriolic when he refers to the Western labor leaders calling them "the craft-union, narrow-minded, selfish, case-hardened, covetous, and petty-bourgeois 'labour aristocracy,' imperialist-minded and imperialist-corrupted" leadership. This type of leadership has to be fought against and completely driven out of the trades union movement. Marxist trade unionists still have that daunting task before them.

Taking all this under consideration, Lenin warns that the attempt of Marxists to assume political power "should not be made" until the majority of workers are firm supporters of the Party. This stage in the struggle will vary "in different countries and in different circumstances; it can be correctly gauged only by thoughtful, experienced and knowledgeable political leaders of the proletariat in each particular country." It s thus still, it seems, the primary mission of Marxists to educate the working people and remind them that, while it is necessary to work in bourgeois trade unions, and to contest bourgeois elections (to hold off the right and protect the interests of the working class) these forms of bourgeois democracy are not a solution to the problems of exploitation, unemployment, and preventing war, and must be replaced with real democratic institutions based on working class political power. The faux democracy of the West is part of the problem, not part of the solution leading to human liberation from capital.

It is of course the case, Lenin says, that Marxists uphold the interests of the working people AGAINST the opportunistic labor bureaucrats ("the 'Labour Aristocracy'"). This is "an elementary and most self-evident truth." The ultra-left's error is to think that because some unions, or even most unions, in the West have a pro-capitalist  top  leadership that Marxists should abandon the trade unions and create ARTIFICIAL organizations to compete with them. This is infantile. The only way to help the workers better understand what the issues are is for Marxists to work in the labor movement with them and expose those "agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class movement."  Lenin particularly likes Daniel De Leon 's (the leader of the now moribund Socialist Labor Party) formulation: "labour lieutenants of the capitalist class."

Lenin maintains that Marxists cannot leave the backward workers to the mercy of these capitalist labor leaders or under the influence of those workers Engels described as having "become completely bourgeois." Lenin's reference is to a letter Engels sent to Marx in 1858 in reference to British workers. I'm going to quote it because, with a few slight adjustments, Engels' observations hold true for many workers  today in the West.

Engels wrote to Marx from Manchester on October 7, 1858 that, in effect labor leadership could move to the right, because "the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat ALONGSIDE the bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable. The only thing that would help here would be a few thoroughly bad years…." Well, the bad years are once again upon us, I hope we can make the best use of them.

With regard to the trade union movement, Lenin finds the ultra-left "Marxists" to be acting in a "frivolous" manner with regard to mass work. Their "ridiculous 'theory'" of not wanting to work in the union movement betrays a fundamental principle of mass organization which is  to WORK WHEREVER THE MASSES ARE TO BE FOUND. Marxists have a duty to work in the union movement and educate the workers by exposing the baseness and class collaborationist nature of the pro-capitalist labor leaders. The nature of this type of work has to be fine tuned and take into consideration the specific features of the working class and its history in each country but it cannot be ignored.

It is particularly childish of the "Left opposition" to demand brand new unions be set up with but one requirement for membership: accepting the Soviet system and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin says that the Communists have been running Soviet Russia for almost three years and it would be ruinous for them to make such a demand on Russian workers for union membership. "The task," he says, facing Marxists "is to CONVINCE the backward elements, to work AMONG them, and not FENCE THEMSELVES OFF from them with artificial and childishly 'Left' slogans."

Not only should Marxists work in the trade union movement, but In fact Lenin even favored Marxists, following the idea of being where the masses were, joining the Black Hundreds (the Russian KKK of the time) so as to win the backward workers and peasants away from the organization. I cannot, however, envision Leftists in the U.S. flocking to the Tea Party Movement to enlighten its working class members and win them away from the reactionary Republican party (however correct that tactic might be).

So much then for Lenin's views on the relation that a Marxist party should have with the trade union movement. I will next examine his views about working in bourgeois parliaments.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Troubled Children Adopted by Homo/Heterosexual Parents Flourish Equally Well by Thomas Riggins

Anyone who googles "anti-gay adoption" will find scores of websites dedicated to the proposition that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt children. These range from commentators equating gay adoption to "sexual abuse'' to news headlines concerning Mitt Romney's flip flops (he was for it and now is against it) and the battles going on in state legislatures to ban it: all in the name of "concern for the children."

Well, we should all be concerned for children and if being adopted by gay couples was injurious to children we should oppose it.  But children should also be protected from the actions of ignorant, bigoted, religious fanatics and hypocritical political demagogues who don't give a hoot about children and families (other than their own.)

Fortunately there is some scientific evidence available to decide if children are helped or harmed by gay adoptions. Unfortunately bigots, hate mongers and hypocritical right-wing politicians are completely immune to being influenced by science.

For those more influenced by facts than fantasy, ScienceDaily on October 18, 2012
published the following article: "Foster Kids Do Equally Well When Adopted by Gay, Lesbian or Heterosexual Parents, Study Suggests." SD always adds "suggests" because science should not be dogmatic.

Here's the deal. UCLA psychologists studied the cases of 82 high risk foster care children who were adopted by heterosexual parents (60), lesbian parents (7) and gay male parents (15). The children had an average age of 4 and the parents of 41.

The psychologists assessed the children three times  after their adoption-- at 2 months, one year and two years and also questioned the parents about any problems. What they found out was that , on average, the children had made real progress in their mental development, their behavior issues (these were high risk foster children, remember) were stable and the their IQ measurements went up an average of 10 points-- "a large increase."

The lead author of the study said "The children showed meaningful gains in heterosexual, gay and lesbian families. Their cognitive development improved substantially, while their behavior problems and social development were stable."

If the opponents of gay adoption had had their way 22 of these children would not
have been adopted and would have remained in foster care institutions (not enough heterosexuals to go around, sorry about that). Those high risk children may have been denied the positive changes in their lives that they received by means of gay adoption. It is not the children the bigots are interested in. They are only interested in their own sleazy agenda and hope to gain their ends by creating and appealing to the prejudices of a misinformed public

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Neoliberalism, Marx and the 'Marginal Revolution'

Neoliberalism is a contemporary form of economic liberalism that emphasizes the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalized 'free' trade and open markets to promote globalization (a term which might also be interpreted as neo-imperialism). Neoliberals therefore seek to maximize the role of the 'private sector' in determining the political and economic priorities of the world. Neoliberalism seeks to transfer control of the economy from 'public sector' (or state) to the 'private sector' under the belief that it will produce a more efficient government and improve the economy.

The definitive statement of the concrete policies advocated by neoliberalism is often taken to be John Williamson's 'Washington Consensus', - a list of policy proposals that appeared to have gained consensus approval among the Washington-based international economic organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Though apparently not Williamson's original intent, the Washington Consensus has anyway become synonymous with the ideas of neoliberal market fundamentalism.

Some claim that Chicago School economists are associated with Washington Consensus The 'Chicago school' of economics describes the neoclassical school of thought within the academic community of economists focusing around the faculty of The University of Chicago, sometimes referred to as the 'freshwater school' of economics in contrast to the 'saltwater school' based in US coastal universities, notably Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley; Chicago is considered one of the world's foremost economics departments; Milton Friedman taught there for more than three decades. A significant body of economists and policy-makers argues that what was wrong with the Washington Consensus as originally formulated by Williamson had less to do with what was included than with what was missing in it, arguing that it was an incomplete project, and that countries in Latin America and elsewhere need to move beyond 'first generation' macroeconomic and trade reforms to a stronger focus on productivity-boosting reforms and direct programs to support the poor.

How did we get to this point in economic science?

'Classical economics' is the term used for the first modern school of economics. The publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in 1776 is considered to be the birth of the school. Perhaps the central idea behind it is on the ability of the market to be self-correcting as well as being the most superior institution in allocating resources. The implicit assumption is: that all individuals maximize their economic activity. At the root of Smith's modernity, though, is his and Marx's philosophical attitude towards the object of their enquiry and the way this grasped the concept, crucial to economic theory, of value.

The so-called 'paradox of value', or the diamond–water paradox, is the apparent contradiction that, although water is more useful in terms of human survival than diamonds, diamonds command a higher price in the market; Adam Smith is the classic presenter of this paradox. To paraphrase Smith: the one may be called 'value in use' and the other, 'value in exchange', the things which have the greatest value in use often have little or no value in exchange; on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use; nothing is more useful than water, for example, but it will purchase almost nothing; almost nothing can be gained in exchange for it, whilst a diamond has scarce any use-value; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it. For Smith, the real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the person who wishes to acquire it, is the toil of acquiring and making it, so Smith thereby denied a necessary relationship between price and utility, and price in this view was related to productive labor. In this he was followed by Marx. Advocates of the labor theory of value saw it as the philosophically materialist resolution of the paradox of value.

The so-called 'marginal revolution' which is based on the subjective theory of value, that is understood to have occurred in Europe, led by Carl Menger, William Stanley Jevons, and Leon Walras, gave rise to what is known as the neo-classical synthesis. As we have seen, Marx had developed and used the materialist concept of use-value versus exchange value. Use-value was classically understood to give some measure of objective material usefulness. This was later 'rebranded' in the 'marginal revolution' as 'marginal benefit', which is understood as the utility of a thing counted in terms of 'common units of value', while exchange value is given as the measure of how much one good was priced in terms of another, namely what is now called relative price. The subjective theory of value identifies value as based in the inner desires and needs of the members of a society, as opposed to value being inherent to an object that exists independently of any observer or user. Once this idealist epistemology is taken as the given grounds, it is able to refer to the units of value as subjective units. Today, the marginal utility of a good or service is seen as the utility gained (or lost) from an increase (or decrease) in the consumption of that good or service, so it is the action of subjective consumption that defines the value not the objective existence of the object. Economists therefore sometimes speak of a law of diminishing marginal utility, meaning that the first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the second and subsequent units.

The concept of marginal utility played a defining conceptual role in the (so-called) marginal revolution of the late 19th century that led to the replacement of the labor theory of value of Adam Smith and Karl Marx by neoclassical value theory in which the relative prices of goods and services are thought to be simultaneously determined by marginal rates of substitution in consumption and marginal rates of transformation in production, which are apparently equal in 'economic equilibrium'. This neo-classical formulation had also been formalized by Alfred Marshall. However, it was the concept of the general equilibrium of Walras that helped solidify the research in economic science as a mathematical and deductive enterprise, the essence of which is still defined as neo-classical and makes up what is currently found in mainstream economics textbooks today. The key implication is usually that what is new (revolutionary) here is the scientific rigor, i.e. that Marx specifically is not supposed to have. In actual fact this rigor is precisely what is missing in this fudge and mystification of use value and exchange value through the concept of the marginal, which serves to obscure its idealist philosophical roots.

Macroeconomics in its modern form began with the publication of John Maynard Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1936. Keynes projected an aggregated framework to explain macroeconomic behavior, leading us to the current distinction between micro and macroeconomics. According to Keynesian theory, some individually-rational microeconomic-level actions—if taken collectively by a large proportion of individuals and firms—can lead to inefficient amassed macroeconomic outcomes, wherein the economy operates below its potential output and growth rate. Such a situation had previously been referred to by classical economists as a general glut, which in Marx is described as overproduction. Keynesian economics argues that private sector decisions sometimes lead to these inefficient macroeconomic outcomes and, therefore, advocates interventionist policy responses by the public sector, including monetary policy actions by the central bank and fiscal policy actions by the government to stabilize output over the 'business cycle'. Of special importance in Keynes' theories was his explanation of economic behavior as also being led by 'animal spirits'. In this sense, it limited the role for the so-called rational (maximizing) agent. In fact, this foundational ideology of a division of the rational ('angelic') and the irrational ('bestial') in the human subject seems to underpin the whole of modern post Smithian-Marxian economics, as well as the accepted division of macro from microeconomic theory. It avoids confronting the concept and existence of contradiction in the economic system by founding any antagonism ultimately in innate human attributes; although this underlying thesis is rarely invoked as such (it could sound racist), it is nevertheless always implied.

The neo-classical school dominated the field up until the event of the Great Depression. When the Great Depression struck, classical economists (other than Marx), had difficulty explaining how goods could go unsold and workers could be left unemployed, thus with Keynes's publication, certain of its assumptions were rejected. Keynes argued the solution to the Great Depression was to stimulate the economy ('inducement to invest') through a combination of two approaches: a reduction in interest rates and government investment in infrastructure; the theory has it that investment by government injects income, which results in more spending in the general economy, which in turn stimulates more production and investment involving still more income and spending and so on and so forth. The initial stimulation is seen as beginning a concatenation of events, whose total increase in economic activity is a multiple of the original investment; it does not explain why the situation arises in the first place, i.e. why the investments that have taken place always/already in the economy are not producing this effect, or the answer is left simply as a fault of policy. The Post-World War II period saw the widespread implementation of Keynesian economic policy in the United States and Western European countries. Its dominance in the field by the 1970s was best reflected by the controversial statement attributed to ex-President Richard Nixon and economist Milton Friedman: "We are all Keynesians now."

A central conclusion of Keynesian economics is that, in some situations, no strong automatic mechanism moves output and employment towards full employment levels. This conclusion conflicts with economic approaches that assume a strong general tendency towards 'equilibrium'. In the 'neoclassical synthesis', which combines Keynesian macro concepts with a micro foundation, the conditions of general equilibrium allow for price adjustment to eventually achieve this goal. General equilibrium theory seeks to explain the behavior of supply, demand, and prices in a whole economy with several or many interacting markets, by seeking to prove that a set of prices exists that will result in an overall equilibrium. What here seems to have been omitted is the political as such, politics is subordinated to a technical and instrumental understanding of the problem, and (for instance) an effect, prices, are treated as a cause, or as both cause and effect of its own function. Generally speaking any material foundations or groundings are lost.

With microeconomics, macroeconomics is now one of the two most general fields in economics; the fact that macroeconomics is 'smaller' than economics seems to render the terms faintly ridiculous, notwithstanding. Macroeconomics (from Greek prefix "makros-" meaning "large" + "economics") is the branch of modern economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of the whole economy. This includes a national, regional, or global economy. Macroeconomists study aggregated indicators such as GDP, unemployment rates, and price indices to understand how the whole economy functions. They develop models that explain the relationship between such factors as national income, output, consumption, unemployment, inflation, savings, investment, international trade and international finance. In contrast, microeconomics is primarily focused on the actions of individual agents, such as firms and consumers, and how their behavior 'determines' prices and quantities in specific markets.

New classical macroeconomics, sometimes simply called new classical economics, is a school of thought in macroeconomics that builds its analysis on the neoclassical framework; specifically, it emphasizes the importance of supposedly rigorous foundations based on microeconomics. Macroeconomics descended from the hitherto divided fields of business cycle theory and monetary theory. The quantity theory of money was particularly influential prior to World War II. It took many forms including the version based on the work of Irving Fisher. His work on the quantity theory of money inaugurated the school of economic thought known as monetarism. Both Milton Friedman and James Tobin called Fisher "the greatest economist the United States has ever produced." New classical macroeconomics strives to provide neoclassical microeconomic foundations for macroeconomic analysis; this is in contrast with its rival, the new Keynesian school that uses microfoundations such as 'price stickiness' and imperfect competition to generate macroeconomic models similar to earlier, Keynesian ones.

Problems arose in the Keynesian theory in the 1970s and early 1980s with the onset of 'stagflation'. Stagflation is a situation in which the inflation rate is high and the economic growth rate slows down but unemployment also remains high. The reasons for this were and are often placed upon factors such as oil. The decade of the 1970s saw rising oil prices caused by an OPEC oil embargo on the United States. This oil embargo ostensibly caused both high inflation and a steep economic downturn that in turn generated high unemployment. However, the question arises: what caused the high oil prices in the first place? Is the price of oil an extra economic factor, or totally political? And what was the politics based on which here apparently 'caused' the higher price of oil, if not economic factors? Keynesians were perplexed by the outbreak of stagflation because the original concept of the Phillips curve ruled out concurrent high inflation and high unemployment. The Phillips curve is a historical apparent inverse relationship between the rate of unemployment and the rate of inflation in an economy. Put simply, the lower the unemployment in an economy, the higher the rate of inflation should be. The new classical school emerged in the 1970s as a response to this failure of Keynesian economics to explain stagflation.

During the 1970s in the United States and several other industrialized countries, the Phillips curve concept and analysis became less popular. The new classical and monetarist criticisms led by Robert Lucas, Jr. and Milton Friedman respectively forced the rethinking of Keynesian economics. In particular, Lucas made the 'Lucas critique' that cast doubt on the Keynesian model. The Lucas critique suggested that if we want to predict the effect of a policy experiment, we should model the 'deep parameters' that govern individual behavior, because only such deep models can avoid merely aggregating previous policy; only then can we predict what individuals will do, taking into account the change in policy, and then aggregate the individual decisions to calculate the macroeconomic effects of the policy change. His idea of deep, though, only meant relating to preferences, technology and resource constraints and not a deeper theoretical model in the sense of its philosophical foundations (such as the theory of value). This nevertheless strengthened the case for macro models to be based on microeconomics.

Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 - November 16, 2006) had already proposed before the phenomenon of stagflation that the Phillips curve did not exist and would fail. On this basis he theorized the existence of a 'natural rate of unemployment' that contradicted the then accepted relationship between inflation and unemployment rate, and this became a concept fundamental to monetarist economics, on which also worked Lucas Papademos (who was to become the 'technocratic' prime minister of Greece during the 2011-12 years of the crisis,; in January 2012 he warned that workers would have to accept cuts in income for a default to be avoided, he also told business and labor leaders that the 'troika'—the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank—was looking for Greece to take steps to open up so-called closed professions, as well as adjustments to the minimum wage, abolition of Christmas and summer vacation 'bonuses' and automatic wage increases) and Franco Modigliani. As far as many economists were concerned, the Phillips curve had little or no theoretical basis anyway. Critics like Friedman argued that the Phillips curve could not be a fundamental characteristic of economic general equilibrium because it showed a correlation between a real economic variable (the unemployment rate) and an only nominal economic variable (the inflation rate). Their counter-analysis was that government macroeconomic policy (primarily monetary policy) was being driven by a low unemployment target and that this caused expectations of inflation to change, so that steadily accelerating inflation rather than reduced unemployment was the result.

In economics, 'adaptive' expectations means that people form their expectations about what will happen in the future based on what has happened in the past. For example, if inflation has been higher than expected in the past, people would revise their expectations for the future. Chicago macroeconomic theory, as above rejected Keynesianism in favor of monetarism until the mid-1970s, when it turned to new classical macroeconomics based on the concept of rational expectations. Rational expectations is a hypothesis in economics which holds that agents' predictions of the future value of economically relevant variables are not systematically wrong in that all errors are random. Equivalently, this is to say that agents' expectations equal true statistical expected values. An alternative formulation is that rational expectations are model-consistent expectations, in that the agents inside the model assume the model's predictions are valid. Since most macroeconomic models today study decisions over many periods, the expectations of workers, consumers and firms about future economic conditions are an essential part of the model. How to model these expectations has long been controversial, and it is well known that the macroeconomic predictions of the model may differ depending on the assumptions made about expectations (e.g. see Cobweb model).

To assume rational expectations in this view is to assume that agents' expectations may be individually wrong, but are correct on average. In other words, although the future is not fully predictable, agents' expectations are assumed not to be systematically biased and use all relevant information in forming expectations of economic variables. This way of modeling expectations was originally proposed by John F. Muth (1961) and later became influential when it was used by Robert E. Lucas Jr. and others. Modeling expectations is crucial to all models which study how a large number of individuals, firms and organizations make choices under uncertainty. For example, negotiations between workers and firms will be influenced by the expected level of inflation, and the value of a share of stock is dependent on the expected future income from that stock.

Rational expectations theory is the basis for the 'efficient market hypothesis' (efficient market theory). If a security's price does not reflect all the information about it, then there exist 'unexploited profit opportunities': someone can buy (or sell) the security to make a profit, thus driving the price toward equilibrium. In the strongest versions of these theories, where all profit opportunities have been exploited, all prices in financial markets are deemed 'correct' and reflect market fundamentals (such as future streams of profits and dividends). Each financial investment is as good as any other, while a security's price reflects all information about its intrinsic value.

The idea behind the natural rate hypothesis put forward by Friedman was that any given labor market structure must involve a certain amount of unemployment, including 'frictional' unemployment associated with individuals changing jobs and possibly classical unemployment described as arising from real wages being held above the market-clearing level by minimum wage laws, trade unions or other labor market institutions. Unexpected inflation might allow unemployment to fall below the 'natural rate' by temporarily depressing real wages, but this effect would dissipate once the expectations about inflation were corrected. Only with continuously accelerating inflation could rates of unemployment below the 'natural rate' be maintained. The resulting prescription was that government economic policy (or at least monetary policy) should not be influenced by any level of unemployment below a critical level, the so-called 'natural rate'.

The analysis supporting the natural rate hypothesis proved controversial, because empirical evidence suggested that the 'natural rate' varied over time in ways that could not easily be explained by changes in labor market structures. And the analysis is especially problematic if the Phillips curve displays 'hysteresis', that is, if episodes of high unemployment raise the rate. This could happen, for example, if unemployed workers lose skills so that employers prefer to bid up of the wages of existing workers when demand increases, rather than hiring the unemployed. As a result of such problems the 'natural rate' terminology was largely dropped in favor of the NAIRU (Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) , which referred to a rate of unemployment below which inflation would accelerate, but did not imply a commitment to any particular theoretical explanation, or a prediction that the rate would be stable over time. In short, the conceptual basis of the concept was left fallow, undecided, and ambiguous. There is no theoretical basis for predicting the NAIRU. The NAIRU theory was mainly intended as an argument against active Keynesian demand management and in favor of free markets (at least on the macroeconomic level).

Friedman was an economic advisor to conservative President Ronald Reagan, and his political philosophy extolled the virtues of a free market economic system with minimal intervention. In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, he advocated policies such as a volunteer military, freely floating exchange rates, abolition of medical licenses, a negative income tax, and education vouchers. His ideas concerning monetary policy, taxation, privatization and deregulation influenced government policies, especially during the 1980s, and his monetary theory influenced the Federal Reserve's response to the current global financial crisis (2008-12). The advent of the global financial crisis in 2008 caused some resurgence in Keynesian thought and the Chicago school came under attack and has been at least partly blamed for the growing income inequality in the United States. Economist Brad DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley for instance says the Chicago School has experienced an 'intellectual collapse', while Nobel laureate Paul Krugman of Princeton University, said that recent comments from Chicago school economists were "the product of a Dark Age of macroeconomics in which hard-won knowledge has been forgotten." Critics also charged that the school's belief in human rationality contributed to bubbles such as seen in the financial crisis, and that the school's trust in markets to self-regulate has offered no aid to the economy in the wake of the crisis. The 'new Keynesian' view of the backlash rests on microeconomic models that indicate that nominal wages and prices are 'sticky', i.e. do not change easily or quickly with changes in supply and demand, so that quantity adjustment prevails. According to Paul Krugman, "while I regard the evidence for such stickiness as overwhelming, the assumption of at least temporarily rigid nominal prices is one of those things that works beautifully in practice but very badly in theory." This integration is further spurred by the work of other economists that questions rational decision-making in a perfect information environment as a necessity for micro-economic theory. Imperfect decision-making such as that investigated by Joseph Stiglitz underlines the importance of the management of risk in the economy. Notwithstanding, over time, many macroeconomists have returned to the IS-LM model and the Phillips curve as a first approximation of how an economy works. New versions of the Phillips curve, such as the 'Triangle Model', allow for stagflation, since the curve can shift due to supply shocks or changes in built-in inflation. In the 1990s, the original ideas of 'full employment' had been modified by the NAIRU doctrine. NAIRU advocates suggest restraint in combating unemployment, in case accelerating inflation should result. However, it is unclear exactly what the value of the NAIRU should be—or whether it even exists.

What seems obvious to any reader of Marx is that the effort in modern economics is to avoid looking at contradictions in the capitalist mode of production and how these contradictions enter into the ideology of the economy, the illusions about what the economy is doing and how it is working. Both the Keynesian and Friedmanite economic theories tackle significant problems and proffer solutions to actual economic strife, but they do so one-sidedly so that they are still unable to explain significant factors commonly occurring in the economy: high unemployment while high inflation (stagflation) for Keynes, and now, the collapse of neoliberal economics in the same kind of crisis. Neither form of the perfect market exists in which their respective theories would make sense, yet also putting them together in their positivist (a priori pre-Marxian) synthesis provides no way out. Many other commentators have suggested going back to basics and to the concept of value to look for answers. To look at one, specifically, there are the arguments of Ecological Economics: for this understanding the primary example of the concept of value in neo-classical economics is 'market value', or 'willingness to pay', which is the principal method of accounting used in 'receiver-type' theories, where the receiver (the 'interpreter of the world') determines the value. By contrast, in Ecological Economics value theory is separated into two types: 'donor-type' value and 'receiver-type' value. Ecological economists tend to believe that 'real wealth' needs a donor-determined value as a measure of what things were needed to make an item or generate a service (H.T. Odum 1996). Marx's and the Smithian labor theory of value and the 'Energy' concept is in this interpretation 'donor-type' value theories. Energy theorists, agreeing perhaps with Marx's concept of labor power, believe that this conception of value has relevance to all of philosophy, economics, sociology and psychology as well as Environmental Science (something which Marx was of course aware of long ago).

It is worth noting finally again how these ideas of value are inevitably epistemological (theory of knowledge) definitions and these definitions have inevitable political overtones. The two great camps of philosophy are materialist and idealist. In short, materialism holds that matter exists independently of thought, while idealism takes the contrary view. Marx and Smith's concept of value in their economic theory is philosophically speaking materialist in its theory of knowledge: In this, it is not the receiver's understanding and subjective valuation on the market which determines value, or the movements of the market itself, which would only explain the market by the market and therefore be tautological, but the independent properties of the entity combined with human labor power. Marx (in Volume I of Capital) distinguishes the value of a commodity into its use-value (utility) and exchange (market) value, both of which (aside from naturally occurring use values) are produced through the labor process by labor power, human effort or energy. This division is a theoretical distinction however, and not an absolute epistemological division. A characteristic of modern economics is to take exchange value as the dominant side, to extend its dominance to include dominance over use value, and then to regard this as the actual manifestation of the truth of philosophical idealism, of abstraction and the mind over matter, which in all other respects is the dominance of capital over labor, or as Marx says the dominance of dead labor over living.

Gary Tedman

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lenin on Anarchism and Opportunism

Lenin on Anarchism and Opportunism: Chapter Four of 'Left' Wing Communism An Infantile Disorder by Thomas Riggins

In chapter four of his book "'Left Wing' Communism An Infantile Disorder" Lenin describes the struggle of the Bolsheviks to combat those enemies of the working class movement who were themselves acting within that movement ostensibly in the interests of establishing socialism. Perhaps the term "enemies" is too harsh, but the factions Lenin writes about included within their ranks both opponents of the Bolshevik line (as being not historically appropriate) and hostile elements who actively collaborated with reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie.

In any case, Lenin considered the main enemy of the workers  to be what he called "opportunism"-- the placing of the real interests on the workers on the back burner in order to pursue temporary policies which might lead to some gains in the present but which actually damaged the long term interest of the workers. He was not referring to historically necessitated retreats and compromises, but to an attitude which consistently led to cooperation and capitulation to bourgeois views where matters of principal were set aside and the long term interests of the working class ignored. The trick, as always, is to be able to spot the difference between "opportunism" and legitimate "compromise."

After 1914, the outbreak of WWI, opportunism warped into "social-chauvinism"
with so-called Marxists siding with their national bourgeoisie against the bourgeoisie AND the workers of hostile nations. Lenin thought this kind of opportunism was the "principal enemy within the working-class movement."
Even in 1920 it remained the number one enemy of the international working-class.
And here we are, 92 years down the road, and with the same enemy at work in the
working-class. Think of right-wing labor leaders who push their unions into supporting reactionary politicians because some narrow interests have temporarily benefited, say in job creation, their own union at the expense of workers elsewhere. Lenin's old enemy is still very much alive both in the socialist and union movements.

There was, however, another enemy that the Marxists had to battle. This enemy of the workers was not as well known in Lenin's day but will be recognized by everyone familiar with Marxism and the history of the 20th century worker's movement. This enemy Lenin calls PETTY-BOURGEOIS REVOLUTIONISM, a mixture of anarchism and half baked revolutionary rhetoric.

Marxist theory, Lenin maintains, has shown that the small business owner ("the petty proprietor"), independent professionals, the self employed, and other members of the so-called "middle classes" who are situated between the large capitalist corporations and the working class, are constantly finding themselves ground down economically and subject to "a most acute and rapid deterioration" of their living conditions and "even ruin."

Today this is happening throughout the capitalist world. A member of the middle class in this situation  "driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries." Unfortunately, many of these people turn to right wing extremism on the one hand and to left wing groups on the other, including Marxist organizations, where they become ultra-revolutionary but are "incapable of perseverance, organization, discipline and steadfastness."  Even today it is difficult for Marxist working class parties to always spot and rid themselves of this unstable element. In any case, Lenin thinks anarchism and opportunism are "two monstrosities" that go hand in hand-- the former being the punishment doled out to the working class for the sins of the latter.

In the Russian context the most blatant example of petty-bourgeois revolutionism was to be found in the activities of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party (neither socialist not revolutionary in Lenin's view.) The Russian Marxists waged unremitting ideological struggle against this party (objectively a false friend of working people) over three of its most significant positions. In the first place the SRs would undertake political action without bothering to fully inform themselves of the issues, the class forces at work, and what the objective alignment of forces was.
[This reminds me of a small Trotskyist party whose members once told me that Cuba had betrayed the Revolution by not attacking the U.S. Navy when Grenada was invaded by Reagan.]

In the second place, the SRs engaged in personal acts of individual terrorism and political assassination which they considered to be very "Left" and very "revolutionary" actions but which the "Marxists emphatically rejected." Finally, the SRs criticized the German Social Democrats for minor opportunistic errors while they themselves were engaged in opportunistic activities far more serious than those of the Germans.

With respect to the second objection to the SRs-- i.e.,"individual terrorism", Lenin does not say that Marxists are against "individual terrorism" per se or for any "moral" reason but reject it "only on grounds of expediency." In fact, he approvingly notes that Plekhanov ("when he was a marxist") had "laughed to scorn" those who
"on principle" were opposed to "the terror of the Great French Revolution, or, in general, the terror employed by a victorious revolutionary party which is besieged by the bourgeoisie of the whole world."

The "expediency" of terrorism is still highly contentious today, but it is safe to say that who is or is not a "terrorist" seems to be determined by which side of the barricades the one making the judgement is standing. I will make no mention of the phony "War on Terrorism" being waged by the "bourgeoisie of the whole world" against the workers and peasants of the non-industrialized world by means of drones, air raids, mercenaries, apartheid walls, and military intervention and occupation.

Lenin, by the way, points out that the Russian Marxists had been proven correct in holding the position that the REVOLUTIONARY wing of  German Social Democracy
up to 1913 (and its traditions now carried on by the Russian Marxists) "CAME CLOSEST to being the party the revolutionary proletariat needs in order to achieve
victory." [Where is the "revolutionary proletariat today?" Will the present on going decline of the capitalist world order regenerate it?]

Now, Lenin says in 1920, it is obvious that of all the Western socialist parties, after the Great War, the revolutionary German Social Democrats have the best leaders. He is referring to the Spartacists (not to be confused with the petty-bourgeois Trotskyist sect in the U.S.) and the "Left,  proletarian wing of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany". [This Left consisted of the Spartacists who had joined the moderate Independents, but later (1918) broke away and became the Communist Party of Germany.]

With respect to the anarchists, Lenin says the whole period from the Paris Commune to the founding of Soviet Russia proves that the Marxist critique of this group was correct. However, the demise of the Soviet Union will no doubt give a new lease of life to this ideological dead end. Lenin does, incidentally, give the anarchists credit for pointing out the opportunistic positions of the Western Marxists on the question of the state. On this question Lenin refers his readers to his book "The State and Revolution" [a work, I fear, that will not cheer the hearts of many who call themselves "Marxists" today.]

Lenin now turns his attention to discussing two major struggles that were carried on within the Bolshevik movement against the "Left" Bolsheviks (actually they were left deviationists) namely, the 1908 question of participating in the Duma and the 1918 struggle around the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The problem in 1908 was that the "Left" Marxists  mechanically applied the correct tactics of 1905 when the party called for a boycott of the Duma (it was completely controlled by the Tsar and was swept away by the 1905 revolution) to the situation of 1908 where the duma was not totally subservient to the Tsar and the Bolshevik delegates could openly work to influence events and educate the masses politically. The same was true of the reactionary trade unions and other mass associations. In 1905 the boycott was correct "not because non-participation in reactionary parliaments is correct in general, but because we accurately appraised the objective situation" -- that an uprising was about to occur. There was no uprising on the horizon in 1908 after the 1905 revolution had been put down so the same tactics would have been out of place.

In fact, the party was in error by continuing to boycott the Duma in 1906  but corrected itself in 1908 and was correct in expelling the "Left" Marxists when they refused to see that new tactics were called for. The 1905 boycott helped the Party and the masses learn valuable lessons regarding the rejection of legal forms of opposition such as parliamentarianism but it is "highly erroneous to apply this experience blindly, imitatively and uncritically to OTHER conditions and OTHER situations."

Looking back at the period from 1908 to 1914, Lenin remarks that party would never have been able to educate and lead the masses had it not changed it tactics and engaged in legal activities even in the most reactionary institutions set up by the Tsar.

Although the "Left" Bolsheviks were expelled from the party in 1908 for opposing participation in the ultra-reactionary Duma (parliament) as well as other legal organizations approved by the Tsar (unions, cooperative societies, etc.,) Lenin says they were still basically good Marxists, as they recognized their errors and corrected them, and were by 1920 again members of the Communist Party and good revolutionaries.

Incidentally, Lenin in a footnote observes that "It is not he who makes no mistakes that is intelligent. There are no such men, nor can there be. It is he whose errors are not very grave and who is able to rectify them easily and quickly that is intelligent."

In 1918, with respect to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk [which required the Soviets to surrender large areas to the Germans in order to get peace (and a breathing spell)] the "Left" Communist "faction" again erred but it did not lead to a split as their leaders (Radek and Bukharin) admitted their mistake in opposing the treaty in the same year. They considered the treaty to be a compromise "with imperialism" and thus antithetical to the revolution and to the working masses. Lenin agreed that it was definitely a compromise but one that "HAD TO BE MADE."

Lenin would become chafed when western "Marxist" opportunists would use the example of Brest-Litovsk to justify the unprincipled compromises they were making with the bourgeoisie in their own countries. He would compare  the compromise
over the treaty with the compromise a person makes with a bandit who waylays his car and threatens to shoot the occupants if they don't cooperate. That is the position the Communists found themselves in. The western opportunists (Kautsky, Bauer, Adler, Renaudel, Longuet, the Fabians, British Independents and Labourites) actually made deals with their bourgeoisies against their own workers which amounted to being "ACCOMPLICES IN BANDITRY."

Lenin's point is that there are some compromises forced on the masses against their will due to the balance of power at a particular time, and then there are some that are not really forced on the masses but made by leaders for their own interests and personal or political advantages. A true Communist must be able to spot the difference and fight against the latter while explaining to the masses the necessity of the former. "However, anyone who is out to think up for the workers some kind of
recipe that will provide them with cut-and dried solutions for all contingencies, or promises that the policy of the revolutionary proletariat will never come up against difficult or complex situations is simply a charlatan."

To make sure he is not misunderstood Lenin proposes "several fundamental rules" to be used to distinguish principled from unprincipled compromises. One can spot the former if the leaders and party advocate internationalism and reject "defense of country" in international conflicts (i.e., reject support of their own bourgeoisie against the bourgeoisie of other countries, which support actually means not supporting their own workers and the workers of other countries.) This should also involve advocating universal peace between all countries. It should also support the revolutionary efforts to overthrow bourgeois and feudal governments by workers and peasants wherever they rise up in revolt. [Lenin refers to the German Revolution specifically but his logic, I think, extends to all revolutionary movements led by the working class.]

As for the latter, the opportunists, they can be recognized by their "defense of country" and justification of its military actions (or lack of serious struggle against it-- which amounts to the same thing.) Another sign of unprincipled actions is  "entering into a coalition with the bourgeoisie of THEIR OWN country" in its struggle to prevail over foreign countries; they thus become "ACCOMPLICES in imperialist

It is on this note that Lenin ends chapter four of "Left" Wing Communism. I must stress that the context of Lenin's thought is conditioned by the presence in Russia and in large segments of the European and International working class of a revolutionary fervor gripping millions of working people. The question for us is how to adapt Lenin's views to the present pre-revolutionary outlook of millions of people who are finding themselves being crushed by the slowly spreading decline and fall of the world capitalist system as we have known it since the end of WWII. What are we to do if we don't have on hand a revolutionary proletariat?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lenin Today- Left Wing Communism- Chapter 3- Review

Principal Stages In The History of Bolshevism 1905-1917 and their Relevance Today

Thomas Riggins

Lenin, in his book "'Left Wing' Communism An Infantile Disorder," written in 1920, maintains that there are lessons from the Russian Revolution that may be of more general interest than to Russia alone. That was 92 years ago. The world of the early twenty-first century is one dominated by global financial capital and effectively controlled by a few advanced capitalist economic powers and at least one semi-capitalist (or quasi-socialist) economic power who (with few exceptions) lord it over the majority of the world's population dwelling in underdeveloped and super exploited regions. Trying to find what those lessons might be today may be more difficult than finding them was in 1920.

In explaining the background of the Russian Revolution and its lessons Lenin, in Chapter Three of "Left-Wing" Communism, discusses the history of Bolshevism from 1903 until the October Revolution in 1917.  Let's look at this chapter to see if there are any lessons for today or to see if it is just a record of what Lenin elsewhere calls the "historical peculiarities of Russia."

Lenin divides Bolshevik history into six stages which I shall briefly review. First is the period 1903-1905 "preparation for the revolution." This was a period when the three main classes of Russian society all sensed that a revolution was in the air and contended over the tactics to engage in and what sort of program should be advanced. The classes he mentions are the bourgeoisie (the liberals), the petty bourgeoisie (democratic forces calling themselves social democrats or social revolutionaries) and the working class (the authentic revolutionary forces). The classes grouped around the Czar had evidently already been eclipsed by the three "main" classes as Lenin doesn't mention them (although many of the liberals supported the idea of a "constitutional" monarchy). He does say, however, that besides the three main classes there were "intermediate, transitional or half-hearted forms."

Well, even with the economic crisis the world is still faced with in 2012, whose working class could be considered authentically revolutionary today? There are some glimmers of revolutionary class consciousness in Europe (Greece for example), in the Third World there are some workers and Communist/ Socialist movements that are actively fighting the capitalist system in one way or another (Nepal, parts of India), and Latin America is beginning to seriously challenge US dominance. US workers haven't even got a labor party going for themselves yet and divide their votes, along with the petty bourgeoisie  (which many workers think they are part of, calling themselves "middle class" ) between the two major parties of the bourgeoisie. As for the smell of revolution in the air, it is undetectable at the moment (perhaps masked by greenhouse gases). One gets, however, a whiff of fascism.

 In the advanced capitalist world there is not much evidence of the effects of this stage of Bolshevik history. However, there is something analogous that has been going on in Europe and elsewhere. All over the world people have been organizing and educating themselves to fight back against the corporations that have been attacking their environments and way of life. Big oil, and coal, and natural gas are increasingly finding resistance to their plans to exploit and pollute. Austerity is also being more and more rejected by the masses as a solution to the economic problems the bourgeoisie has brought upon the world. Workers in the US are beginning to wake up and fight back against the ultra-right (but this is still a very preliminary awakening.) The people may not be studying the history of Bolshevism at this point, but exploitation and oppression breeds opposition and so there is at least a family resemblance between what Lenin is writing about in the period 1903-1905 in Russia and today.

The second period, " the years of revolution", is that of 1905-1907. This is the period of the birth of the first Soviets in Russia. One would be hard pressed to find anything comparable going on today in the advanced capitalist world. However, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. and similar movements in Europe and the Near East, the so called "Arab Spring''-- where not contaminated by imperialist intrigue-- are perhaps fetal developments of future Soviets or Soviet like

While Lenin generally eschewed reliance on "spontaneity" as the motive force of revolutionary progress, he does say, "The Soviet form of organization came into being in the spontaneous development of the struggle."  This two year period was marked by a general uprising, a revolutionary upsurge against  the Russian ruling class and government. This type of  "spontaneous development" does not appear to be on the horizon in the U.S. but is detectable to some extent in the poorer areas of  the E.U. and, as the continued decline of the capitalist system now under way, becomes more and more intolerable for the general populations of these countries, we can expect to see the birth of revolutionary organizations analogous to those described by Lenin in LWC.

This will be a period of "The alteration of parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of struggle, of the tactics of boycotting parliament and that of the participating in parliament, of legal and illegal forms of struggle, and likewise their interrelations  and connections" and all this will be "marked by an extraordinary wealth of content." This will also be the period when the working class will emerge as the main leading revolutionary force and the "vacillating and unstable" middle classes will have to submit to its leadership for meaningful change to be brought about. The coming period will give the Communist parties and their allies an opportunity to again become the leading elements within the working class and society as a whole, which if they fail to seize it will lead to their replacement by new organizational forms of struggle. These next few years will be a "dress rehearsal" for even greater struggles to come.

The next period in the development of Bolshevism Lenin called the years of reaction (1907-1910). This period is really specific to Russia as we today are still on the cusp of a serious revolutionary outbreak analogous to 1905 so we don't have a current "years of reaction" (unless the Republicans win in the United States) to worry about. It would amount to putting the cart before the horse to discuss the reaction to a revolutionary outbreak that has not yet happened.

Nevertheless some comments by Lenin in this section are of universal application at any stage of a revolutionary struggle.  One of which is "that victory is impossible unless one has learned how to attack and retreat properly." Underestimating the strength of the enemy and overestimating your own has led to many a defeat in the workers movement-- often due to a pigheaded "no compromise" attitude.

In periods of reaction those who can correctly gage the balance of forces are the ones who will ultimately prevail. During the 1907 - 1910 period the Bolsheviks emerged as the strongest party on the left "because they ruthlessly exposed and expelled the revolutionary phrase-mongers, those who did not wish to understand that one had to retreat, that one had to know how to retreat, and that one had absolutely to learn how to work legally in the most reactionary of parliaments, in the most reactionary of trade unions, co-operative and insurance societies and similar organizations." Understanding this explains the positions adopted by some Marxist groups in the U.S. under the ultra-reactionary period ushered in by the regime of George W. Bush. An advance to the rear in order to advance to the front later in US military lingo.

According to Lenin the years of reaction were followed by the years of revival (1910-1914). The revival started off slowly but speeded up because of two factors. One was the "Lena events of 1912."  Lenin is referring to a massacre of workers in the Lena gold fields in Irkutsk by Tsarist troops which outraged Russian public opinion. The second factor was the exposure of the Mensheviks as "bourgeois agents." This needs some clarification.

It is not the case that the Mensheviks were consciously working against the interests of the Russian workers and peasants. In their own minds they thought they were furthering a reform program that had the most realistic chances for bringing about the changes which would most help the Russian masses. How then can Lenin call them "bourgeois agents?"

Lenin's rationale is that the Bolshevik program aims at the the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the creation of a worker's and peasant's state led by the working class. The Russian bourgeoisie is fighting tooth and nail, as are the Tsarists, against the Bolsheviks and seek to destroy their movement. But the attitude of the bourgeoisie towards the Mensheviks is quite different. The role of  the Mensheviks, as also anti- Bolshevik (and thus for Lenin against the true interests of the workers and peasants) "was clearly realized by the entire bourgeoisie after 1905, and whom the bourgeoisie therefore supported in a thousand ways."

As a result of the consciousness raising due to the Lena events and the realization of the role of the Mensheviks this period saw the growing empowerment of the the Bolsheviks with the Russian masses, which was the result of their following "the correct tactics of combining illegal work with the utilization of 'legal opportunities,' which they made a point of doing." Note that in modern bourgeois democracies "legal" and "illegal" have different connotations than in nondemocratic dictatorial societies such as Tsarist Russia.

The next stage is that of the "First Imperialist World War (1914-17)." It is interesting that Lenin is calling the The Great War (as it was called up to 1939) the first of its kind as if foreseeing the bloody history of the coming decades (although Charles Repington, a British war correspondent and officer, published a book in 1920 entitled The First World War).

This destructive war, one of the fruits of the vaunted capitalist system, brought about the death of millions and a redistribution of markets among the victorious capitalists at the expense of their rivals. The world socialist movement, supposedly united in opposition to the war which many saw coming, split when it actually broke out into those parties who supported "their" governments (who were labeled "social chauvinists" by Lenin) and those who actively opposed the war on the grounds of internationalism (workers of the world should be united against their exploiters not fighting each other for the greater glory of their "own" national bourgeoisie.)

The Bolshevik stance was clear-- they opposed the war and actively agitated against supporting it among the people. This anti-war position became extremely popular amongst the majority of workers and peasants who were used as cannon fodder by the reactionary bourgeoisie. Lenin credits the adoption of this principled position, and the exposure of the social chauvinism of those who betrayed the principles of the international socialist movement as one of the main "reasons why Bolshevism was able to achieve victory in 1917-20."

We come now to the last of Lenin's six stages: "The second revolution in Russia (February to October 1917)."  In February 1917 the bourgeoisie overthrew the moribund and useless Tsarist regime and instituted a democratic bourgeois republic freer, Lenin says, "than any other country in the world."  This Provisional government was overthrown in the October by the Bolsheviks. What went wrong with the government of the "freest country in the world"?

The government was dominated by the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries (the SRs were a party basically representing peasant interests and petty-bourgeois socialists-- it was non, but not anti-, Marxist). Their weakness, according to Lenin, was their slavish (no pun intended) following of the discredited ideas of the social chauvinists of the Second International, called by Lenin "the ministerialists and other opportunist riffraff." The ministerialists were those so-called "socialists" who accepted portfolios in governments controlled by the reactionary bourgeoisie; this was considered rank opportunism by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, a case of what might be called right-wing socialism an infantile disorder. European workers should know all about these sorts of "socialists."

The western socialists engaging in these opportunistic tendencies were merely repeating in the West the tactics that so discredited the Mensheviks in Russia from 1905 on. "As history would have it, the opportunists of a backward country became the forerunners of the opportunists in a number of advanced countries."

Granted that the concept of "opportunism" is complex-- one person's "opportunist" is another person's "realist" -- I think Lenin uses the term to describe those who abandon principled Marxist positions to adopt positions fundamentally at odds with the long term interests of the working class because they sought temporary gains for themselves and their allies. They confuse, consciously or unconsciously, the strategic aims of Marxism with the tactical aims of the moment and mistake means for ends.

Lenin ends this chapter of LWC by pointing out that the reason "the heroes of the Second International [Lenin lists Scheidemann, Noske, Kautsky, Hilferding, Renner, Austerlitz, Bauer, Adler, Turati  and Longuet, and besides throws in the Fabians, Mensheviks, etc.-- characters we shall meet later] have all gone bankrupt and have disgraced themselves " is due to their inability to understand "the significance of the role of the Soviets and Soviet rule."

The Soviets were councils of workers and peasants that came together to replace the bourgeois government not to submit to it and which combined both legislative and executive functions in one body. The Soviets did not represent the bourgeois concept of the "separation of powers" [for better or worse] and Lenin and the Bolsheviks saw them as a higher form of democracy (actually as an expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat) than bourgeois parliamentary democracy. The aforementioned opportunists, Lenin said, were all "slaves to the prejudices of petty-bourgeois democracy." For this reason they could not lead a successful proletarian revolution while the Bolsheviks could-- and did.

Lenin concludes that the Soviet form of government is rapidly spreading throughout the world to the workers of all countries. "Experience," Lenin says, "has proved that, on certain very important questions of the proletarian revolution [he means the establishment of Soviets], ALL countries will inevitably have to do what Russia has done."  

Where are the Soviets today? If Lenin is right there will be no getting rid of capitalism without them-- or at least of getting rid of it by a working class revolution. Are there any viable alternatives to "petty-bourgeois democracy" on the horizon? If not, then, considering the fate of the Soviet Union, were the "opportunists" after all just "realists"? These are the questions to be answered as the struggle against the current capitalist  crisis deepens and advances.