The Closing of the CEU: the closing of Hungary

April 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, fascism, Free Speech, Human rights, Hungary, intellectuals, nationalism, populism, posted by JD)

The ultra-reactionary government of Viktor Orbán imprisons refugees and asylum seekers in barbed wire-fringed detention centres, is hostile to a free press, and (taking a leaf out of Putin’s book) is targeting NGOs that receive “foreign” funding.

Despite being a member of the EU, the Hungarian government is presently conducting a “Stop Brussels” campaign – a survey full of loaded questions aimed at scuppering the EU’s efforts to resolve the refugee crisis by requiring Hungary to take in its fair share of migrants.

Now,  the government has passed a new law that requires foreign-accredited universities to provide higher education services in their own countries – which would effectively shut down the Central European University (CEU) founded by Georg Soros, a financier who embodies for the fascistic Orbán the influence of globalisation and international capital.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Budapest on Sunday to urge President Janos Ader not to sign the law, but on Monday he did just that.

Writers, artists, civil libertarians and intellectuals have signed an open letter to President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani regarding the threat to the Central European University (CEU). The open letter, which was published on poet George Szirtes’ blog, is titled “The Closing of the CEU: the closing of Hungary“, and reads as follows:

We are deeply concerned about the passing of the disgraceful law intended to shut the Central European University in Budapest.

The law, intended for this one specific purpose, is the latest step taken by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to close out democratic institutions in the country, including press, media and NGOs.

Please note we do not say opposition institutions since the CEU is in no way a political opponent of the government. It is simply an independent university.

On 10th April, the president of the country, János Áder, signed the law and, that night, for the second night running students were out in the streets protesting in their thousands and tens of thousands. Those students are the last bastion of hope against the establishment of an authoritarian state in Hungary.

If that should happen it would be a serious blot on the EU’s conscience to have permitted this act of the Orbán government to pass without response. It reduces Europe. It weakens it. It takes it one step further to the edge of disintegration.

It is vital to act quickly. We ask for a period of intensive fact-finding into the legality of the Hungarian government’s law in this specific instance and its consequences for freedom of education, and for a process of mediation, bringing the parties together around the principle of European rule of law.

To add your name, visit George Szirtes’ blog

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Hungarian Right destroying and remaking history

February 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm (anti-fascism, history, Hungary, intellectuals, literature, Marxism, philosophy)

 Image result for picture Budapest statue of Georg Lukács

On 25 January the Metropolitan Council of Budapest decided (by 19 votes to 3) to remove the statue of the Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács from the 13th District and replace it with a statue of King Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian nation. The proposal was put by a member of the neo-fascist Jobbik Party, Marcell Tokody. Last year, despite opposition, Lukács’s house which has served as an open archive since his death in 1971 was closed by the authorities. The fate of the documents in the archive, many of which have yet to be translated in languages other than their original Hungarian or German, is unclear.

In the history of 20th century Marxism Lukács is a central figure. He is certainly not without his critics but some of his writings, particularly History and Class Consciousness, are seminal works of Marxism and have stood the test of time. We should not standby and allow the barbarians of the Hungarian right, and their odious leader Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to destroy his legacy.

Please sign the petition:

John Cunningham

(the author of these few words lived in Hungary from 1991 to 2000 and is currently working on  a full length study of Lukács and his legacy)

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Badiou Studies hit by Sokal-type piss-take

April 2, 2016 at 8:26 pm (Andrew Coates, Beyond parody, comedy, intellectuals, jerk, plonker, posted by JD, satire, stalinism, wankers)

Comrade Coatesy reports:

 Staff T-Shirt in Craft-Beer and Quinoa Hoxton Bistro.

This recently appeared: Badiou Studies Volume Four, Number One. Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non)Being Benedetta Tripodi. Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Iasi, Romania.


Unfortunately, as this just published piece explains, Un « philosophe français » label rouge. Relecture tripodienne d’Alain Badiou,  the article is a pastiche and satire –  albeit with serious intent.

Which reminds us of this: the Sokal Affair.

The Sokal affair, also called the Sokal hoax, was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”.

The article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“, was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist.[3][4] On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense … structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics.

Last autumn the ‘peer reviewed’ academic journal  Badiou Studies called for papers for a special issue, “towards a queer badiouian feminism “.

The merry pair,  Anouk Barberousse & Philippe Huneman, sent their text off and it was accepted.

We hear that the learned Badiou Studies has just now rumbled the prank.

Badiou is, as they observe, highly regarded not just in France (where he is at the pinnacle of a certain academic establishment, while being cordially loathed by those in different camps) but in the world of Cultural Studies, Film Studies, White Studies, Heritage Studies, Postcolonial Studies and one could add Verso books who publish his ponderings. Terry Eagleton has called him The Greatest Philosopher since Plato and St Ignatius of Loyola” – the latter no doubt not without a ring of a certain ‘truth regime’.

Badiou is also known for his ‘Maoist’ past, his support for the Khmer Rouge, and the bullying of other leftist and academics by his 1970’s groupusucle the Union des communistes de France marxiste-léniniste (UCFml).

He remains unwavering in his glorification of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This apparently is one of the Events that demonstrate the Truth of the Communist Idea to which he remains faithful.

As Barberousse and Huneman remark, most of Badiou’s admirers like his politics – his ‘Communist Hypothesis’ – while grasping little or nothing of his metaphysics (“Badiousiens « politiques » se satisfont de savoir que cette métaphysique est profonde, mais ils n’y comprennent rien.”)

They contest what is in effect a legitimation of philosophy by an abstract ontology (une légitimation pour la métaphysique du philosophe). Or to be more clearly, the idea that you can produce a rational picture of the world by intellectual fiat while concealing  the many difficulties it involves.

The parody is designed to undermine the foundations on which the ontology of the ‘Master’ rests, its use to determine how social relations work, how radical politics can be based, and, apart from anything else, is highly amusing.

The ‘paper’  Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non)Being  begins:

As established by Badiou in Being and Event , mathematics – as set theory – is the ultimate ontology. Sets are what gender in g processes by reactionary institutions intend to hold, in contradiction to the status of the multiplicities proper to each subject qua subject. This tension between subjectivity and gender comes to the fore through the lens of the ‘count as ‘one’, the onto logical operator identified by Badiou as the fluid mediator between set  belonging and set existence. After having specified these ontological preliminaries, this paper will show that the genuine subject of feminism is the “many” that is negatively referred to through the “count as  one” posited by the gendering of “the” woman. Maintaining the openness of this “many” is an interweaving philosophical endeavour. It is also a political task for any theory receptive to the oppressive load proper to the institutions of sexuation, as deployed through modern capitalism that is, any queer theory. In its second step, the paper will therefore expose the adequacy of the Badiousian ontology to provide theoretical resources for articulating the field of a genuine queer nomination. It will finally appear that “non gender” structurally corresponds in the field of a post capitalist politics of the body to what Francois Laruelle (1984) designated as non philosophie within the field of metaphysics.

This is priceless.

“To sum up, non-gender cannot but only be thought of, by a radical philosophical gesture, as a supplement of this philosophy itself. As such a supplement, non gender has to be where philosophy is not meant to be, even when it shows instead of saying(according to the well known Wittgensteinian distinction) or, shows through its non saying that this situation is a non situation, or, in Badiousian words, that we have the situation of a condition that is a non condition.”


What matters to this truth is a faithfulness to the “many” that was unnamed but arising in the event of feminism. It is the faithfulness to the Impensé of the gendering institutions proper to late capitalism – in other words, a faithfulness to the (non) gender (Bersanti 1987; Magnus 2006). Here, we reach the limits of what philosophy – conceived of in Badiousian terms, as exposing the conditions of an authentic event of truth through the subjectification of a subject– can frame, or, more generally, can utter.

The suggestion that Jacobin was about the publish an interview with Benedetta Tripodi has been denied.

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Tariq Ali put in his place over Brexit

March 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm (Conseravative Party, Europe, intellectuals, posted by JD, Racism, statement of the bleedin' obvious, UKIP)

Tariq Ali : Plenty of Books, little grasp of socialist a-b-c’s

I have no idea who the author of this letter, published in the present issue of the London Review Of Books, is, but he puts that self-important buffoon Tariq Ali in his place good and proper with a few home truths about the inevitable consequences of Brexit:

In or Out?
Tariq Ali, discussing the forthcoming referendum, remarks that ‘Brexit (which I support for good socialist reasons) can’t restore sovereignty (LRB, 3 March). The conclusion is certainly true, but the opinion in brackets puzzled me. A vote to leave the EU would put the right wing of the Conservative Party in the ascendency, not to mention being a huge boost to and the like, unleashing all manner of chauvinistic, jingoistic, racist ‘Little Englander’ sentiment. In the process, the Labour Party would appear to suffer yet another demoralising ‘defeat’, which would undermine its broader appeal even further. The Scots would, quite understandably, part company with the UK after their next referendum and the rump of GB Ltd would probably be left with a long-term right-wing majority and government. The fact that Tariq Ali had joined Gove, Farage, Johnson and the like to vote ‘Out’, but in his case for ‘good socialist reasons’, would not cut a lot of ice in those circumstances. However you dress it up, such an outcome would issue in any form of progressive politics, and certainly won’t aid the long march to socialism.

Carl Gardner, London EC1

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Einstein will be proved right … again!

February 12, 2016 at 2:25 pm (history, intellectuals, posted by JD, science, socialism)

Gravitational waves observed for first time, Einstein s theory proved right 100 years onGravitational waves observed for first time: Einstein’s theory proved right 100 years on

By Albert Einstein

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist.

The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstances that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilised period of human history has—as it well known— been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples estab]ished themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks.

The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behaviour.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialisf society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and —if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organisation of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organisation would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behaylour.

The abstract concept “society” means to the individual being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society— in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labour and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society”.

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human beings which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organisations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life-through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behaviour of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organisation which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labour and a highly-centralised productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time — which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this period of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labour – not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realise that the means of production – that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods – may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does- not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labour power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essentiai point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labour contract is “free”, what the worker receives is determined not by the value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labour power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labour encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organised political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterised by two main principles: first, mean of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labour contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved forrn of the “free labour contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilisation of capital which leads to a huge waste of labour, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilised in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of the bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public servlce.

(First published as “Why I Am A Socialist” in Monthly Review, New York, 1949)

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Ellen Meiksins Wood: Marxist who put class at the centre of her analysis

January 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm (Andrew Coates, capitalism, capitalist crisis, class, democracy, economics, intellectuals, Marxism)

Re-blogged from Tendance Coatesy:

Ellen Meiksins Wood, the wife of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, has died of cancer at the couple’s Ottawa home at the age of 73.


She was a noted intellectual figure on the international left, whose studies of class, politics and political ideas influenced several generations of thinkers and activists.

Wood’s writings were thought-provoking and luminous.

She first came to a wide left audience with The Retreat from Class: A New ‘True’ Socialism (1986). This was a collection of her intervention in debates, conducted through the pages of New Left Review, and the Socialist Register,  that took place in the wake of Eric Hobsbawm’s famous polemic, The Forward March of Labour halted? (Marxism Today 1978 – expanded in book form with replies from supporters and critics in 1981).

Many left intellectuals not only backed Hobsbawm’s view that the material importance of class institutions in shaping politics was declining with the drop in numbers in the industrial working class, but extended this to question the relationship between class and politics itself.

Post-Marxists began to argue that a plurality of ‘democratic struggles’ and social movements would replace the central place of the labour movement in politics. Some contrasted  ‘civil society’ a more complex and open site of democratic assembly to the alleged ‘monolithic’ vision of politics embodied in the traditional labour movement. In a diffuse way this was associated with the once fashionable idea that “a “post-modern” society dissolved reality in ‘simulacra’. Others claimed it  meant the end of “grand narratives” – or more bluntly, that the ideas of socialism and the Left was splintering so quickly that only a fragmented series of ‘critical’ responses were possible against neo-liberal regimes of ‘governance’.

Wood argued for the importance of class in shaping not just political interests but the potential constituency of  radical socialist politics. Fights over power were at the centre of Marxism and these were part and parcel with disputes over exploitation and the appropriation of the social surplus. The ‘new social movements’, the women’s movement, the rising ecological movement, campaigns for racial and sexual equality, were interlaced with class conflicts. Democracy could not be abstracted from these relations. To appeal, as writers such as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe did, to the formation of a new hegemonic strategy based on  relations of “equivalence” between various democratic demands ignored the basic facts about class and power. Like her comrade Ralph Miliband Wood saw socialism as an effort to bring together people around the central issues of exploitation and oppression in democratic organisations that could shape politics. This had historically been the result of conscious action, and this kind of collective work was needed more than even against a very real and growing grand narrative – the reality of neo-liberal economics and government assaults on working people, and the unemployed – in building a new regime of capitalist accumulation.

In academic as well as left-wing activist  circles Wood became known for her “political Marxist” approach to history. This focused on the issue of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and social property relations.  The Pristine Culture of Capitalism 1992  was a summary of this approach. It was also directed against the views of Perry Anderson (Editor of New Left Review) and Tom Nairn (today best known for his Scottish nationalism). In the early days of the Second New Left they had asserted  that the so-called ‘archaic’ British state was a reflection of a an equally ‘pre-modern’ capitalism. They also claimed that the ‘supine’ bourgeoisie – who abdicated political rule to the ‘aristocracy’ (which they claimed continued to dominate UK politics in the early modern period) – had been mimicked by a “supine” working class. In later writings Anderson talked of the need for a new wave of democratic modernisation to bring the country into line with the ‘second’ bourgeois revolution of modernity.

Wood, by contrast, pointed out, had a developed capitalism, indeed it was the most ‘modern’ form of capitalism. Its state form was related to its early advance, and its allegedly old-fashioned trappings – from the Monarchy downwards – had not thwarted capitalist expansion but arisen in relation to needs of its own bourgeoisie. The labour movement had developed in struggle with these forces, not in deference to them.

On all the essential points present-day Britian was no more, no less, ‘modern’ than anywhere else in Europe or in any contemporary capitalist state. Indeed it was for long a template for bourgeois democracy. In particular Wood attacked the claims of Tom Nairn that in some fashion Ukania (his ‘funny’ word for the United Kingdom, modelled on the novelist (1880 – 1942) Robert Musil’s term for the Austro-Hungrian empire, Kakania – shit land) owed its economic difficulties to its constitution.  Economic problems  arose at root from the general contradictions of capitalist accumulation, in a specific form. The problems of British democracy were due to its capitalist character – it is hardly alone in having a Monarchy to begin with – not to the issues Nairn-Anderson dreamt up about its sonderweg.

More widely Wood is known as an advocate of a version of the ‘Brenner thesis’ (after Robert Brenner’s article, Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe”1978). The creation of market relations in British agriculture were considered to be the foundation of modern capitalism. The essential condition was separation from non-market access to the means of subsistence, the means of self-reproduction. Wood argued that it was the capitalist transformation of agriculture, followed by the rise of merchant class expanding these forms through international trade, created the ground of Western capitalism.  It was also responsible for the distinctive state forms that emerged in Britain.

In the Agrarian Origins of Capitalism (1998) Wood summarised her views,

The distinctive political centralization of the English state had material foundations and corollaries. First, already in the 16th century, England had an impressive network of roads and water transport that unified the nation to a degree unusual for the period. London, becoming disproportionately large in relation to other English towns and to the total population of England (and eventually the largest city in Europe), was also becoming the hub of a developing national market.

The material foundation on which this emerging national economy rested was English agriculture, which was unique in several ways. The English ruling class was distinctive in two major and related respects: on the one hand, as part of an increasingly centralized state, in alliance with a centralizing monarchy, they did not possess to the same degree as their Continental counterparts the more or less autonomous “extra-economic” powers on which other ruling classes could rely to extract surplus labor from direct producers. On the other hand, land in England had for a long time been unusually concentrated, with big landlords holding an unusually large proportion of land. This concentrated landownership meant that English landlords were able to use their property in new and distinctive ways. What they lacked in “extra-economic” powers of surplus extraction they more than made up for by their increasing “economic” powers.

Wood’s political stand was firmly within the Marxist ambit. In 1999 she stated (The Politics of Capitalism) ,

…all oppositional struggles—both day-to-day struggles to improve the conditions of life and work, and struggles for real social change—should be informed by one basic perception: that class struggle can’t, either by its presence or by its absence, eliminate the contradictions in the capitalist system, even though it can ultimately eliminate the system itself. This means struggling for every possible gain within capitalism, without falling into the hopeless trap of believing that the left can do a better job of managing capitalism. Managing capitalism is not the job of socialists, but, more particularly, it’s not a job that can be done at all.

The broader  focus on the links between capitalism and state forms continued in her study Empire of Capital (2003). This analysed how the “empire of capital” (rather than the vague ‘globalisation’ or the rhizome of Hardt and Negri’s  ‘Empire’) shapes the  modern world through “accumulation, commodification, profit maximization, and competition.”

Wood’s later works, Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (2008) and Liberty & Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renaissance to Enlightenment  were ambitious attempts to narrate and analyse Western political thought in the light of class categories.

Wood had a profound influence on countless people.

She was a democratic Marxist, a feminist, a perceptive writer and a force for good.

Homage to her memory.

Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood

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And Yet … we need Christopher Hitchens now more than ever

December 30, 2015 at 11:31 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, atheism, Champagne Charlie, hitchens, humanism, intellectuals, internationalism)

“Patriotic and Tribal feelings belong to the squalling childhood of the human race, and become no more charming in their senescence. They are particularly unattractive when evinced by a superpower. But ironies of history may yet save us. English language and literature, oft-celebrated as one of the glories of “Western” civilisation, turn out to have even higher faculties than used to be claimed for them. In my country of birth the great new fictional practitioners have in their front rank names like Rushdie, Kureishi, Mo. This attainment on their part makes me oddly proud to be whatever I am, and convinces me that internationalism is the highest form of patriotism” – C Hitchens, ‘What Is Patriotism?’, The Nation, July 15/22, 1991.

Someone who for reasons best known to themselves, appears to love me very much, brought me ‘And Yet …’ for Christmas. This was, undoubtedly, the most welcome present I could have hoped for, containing as it does, the full panoply of Christopher Hitchens’ wit and wisdom on subjects as varied as Hillary Clinton, Hezbollah, Orwell’s “list” and … male body-waxing (hilarious, of course).

The publishers’ blurb is slightly misleading in describing this collection as being made up of “previously unpublished” material: in fact all these essays were first published the various publications (Slate, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, etc) to which Hitchens was a regular and prolific contributor. But it’s excellent to have them brought together and readily available in book form.

Inevitably, we start speculating on what the man would have to say about contemporary political developments, like the West’s betrayal of Afghanistan, the resurgence of neo-Stalinism and Putin-worship on sections of the “left”, or the rise of that piece of sub-human excrement calling itself Donald Trump; Hitch’s 2007 thoughts on the subject of Jerry Falwell give us a pretty good clue as to the latter:

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Einstein’s socialism and philosophy

December 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm (From the archives, humanism, intellectuals, internationalism, philosophy, posted by JD, science, socialism, stalinism, zionism)

Albert Einstein quote

2015 marked an important milestone in the history of physics: just over one hundred years ago, in November 1915, Albert Einstein wrote down the famous field equations of General Relativity. General Relativity is the theory that explains all gravitational phenomena we know (falling apples, orbiting planets, escaping galaxies…) and it survived one century of continuous tests of its validity. After 100 years it should be considered by now a classic textbook theory, but General Relativity remains young in spirit: its central idea, the fact that space and time are dynamical and influenced by the presence of matter, is still mind-boggling and difficult to accept as a well-tested fact of life.

Less well known, these days, is the fact that Einstein was a man of strongly-held political and philosophical views. What follows is an article by Carl Darton, first published in the US ‘Shachtmanite’ publication Labor Action in 1950:


Albert Einstein as Scientist and Socialist
If your school-age son is somewhat better than clever in any field  of science, you may have heard the expression: “He’s an Einstein.” It is indeed unprecedented that the name of a scientist working in highly specialized mathematical physics has become a by-word in the  homes of his adopted land. This unique status of Albtrt Einstein rests  not only on his scientific pre-eminence but also upon his keen interest  in social and political affairs.

Dr. Einstein’s great scientific works—the Special Theory of Relativity (1906), The General Theory of Relativity (1915-20), and the extension of the General Theory to cover electromagnetic phenomena  (1950)—can be understood only with the aid of tensor calculus. Obviously, only those versed in higher mathematics con begin to understand the technical phases of Einstein’s theories. But there are different levels of understanding in science and it is perfectly possible to  choose a level of relativity theory which can be understood even by  those with no special mathematical training. Einstein himself has  done an excellent job of “popularizing” in his Relativity, The Special and General Theory. Also recommended is Leopold lnfeld’s Albert Einstein, His Work and Influence on our World (Charles Scribner, N Y, 1950).

On Capitalism and Jewish Nationalism Einstein has become almost as noted a philosopher as a scientist. His views appear to spring from these fundamental beliefs:
(1) “I believe . . . in . . . God who reveals himself in the harmony of all being, not in a God who concerns himself wim the fate and actions of men.”
(2) There is a spontaneous activity of the mind, altogether apart from experience, which can make contributions of the utmost value to natural philosophy.
(3) The simplest equations are most likely to be true, and “The aim of science is … a comprehension as complete as possible . . . and on the other hand the accomplishment of this aim by the use of a minimum of primary concepts and relations.”

Just as Einstein’s belief in “harmony of all being” leads him away from simple experience, deduction, and abstraction in scientific endeavor, so it also leads him toward a cooperative society, However, there is no General Theory dealing with social relations. In Why Socialism? (a chapter in his Out of My Later Years) Dr. Einstein investigates the difficulty of making general formulations of social phenomena.

He does indicate the “essence of the crisis of our time”: “The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset . . . but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even his economic existence. . . . Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.” Further in this essay, written in 1949, Einstein assails capitalist production “for profit, not for use,” unemployment, inadequate wages, and the worship of acquisitive success.

Dr. Einstein has been active in recent years in two political movements; Zionist and One World. Although he grew up in a non-observant Jewish home and early rejected the concept of a personal God, he has accepted and retained the ethical teachings of Judaism. He supported the opening of Palestine to the dispersed Jews of Europe. On the issue of partition he stated: “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than in the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power … I am afraid . . . of . . . the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks.”

The threat of another war concerns Albert Einstein constantly. His road to peace lies in “One World”—a supra-national government having the sole function of military security. National troops are to be replaced by international police and offensive weapons are to be outlawed. Einstein now advocates that the Western powers take the lead in the formation of this world government, leaving the door open at all times for Russia to join.

Is He Breaking with Russian Illusion?
These proposals for One World exposed Einstein to attack by four famous Russian scientists in November 1947. These Stalinist spokesmen rationalized their nationalist ambitions and denounced Einstein as a “virtual supporter of the schemes and ambitions of the bitterest foes of peace and international cooperation.” This attack brought to an end a period during which Dr. Einstein was noticeably non-critical of Stalinism and was used by their front movements.

Perhaps nothing shows more clearly the essentially Utopian nature of Einstein’s socialism than does this experience with Stalinism. The utopianism is rooted in the belief that planning is equivalent to socialism and not in the failure to recognize fhe economic factors undermining capitalist society. There are evidences, however, that this weakness is being corrected, since in the conclusion of Why Socialism? we read: “Nevertheless … it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires some extremely difficult socio-political problems.” Einstein has no answer for the further question: “How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?”

Edmund Whittaker, a reviewer of the book Albert Enslein, Philosopher-Scientist, writes: “Some of the observational confirmations [to the General Theory of Relativity] do not appear to he so secure as they were thought to be a few years ago.” It is possible that Einstein may share the fate of other scientists of our era and outlive his most famous works. Already it has been questioned as to whether Einstein is one of the three men who understand Einstein best.

Nevertheless, it may well be his greatest contribution that he has foreshadowed the ideal citizen of the socialist tomorrow—a specialist in his vocational sphere, where there is no room for amateurs; and a serious participant in political life, where there should be no professionals in the sense that special interests and privileges are accrued.

Labor Action New York
July 10 1950

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Peter Wilby: “Paris will … disturb most Europeans more than 9/11”

November 20, 2015 at 3:39 pm (Asshole, fascism, France, intellectuals, islamism, Jim D, murder, New Statesman, perversity, relativism)

Above: 9/11 commemoration, Paris 2011

Peter Wilby, writing in his First Thoughts column in the present edition of the New Statesman:

“In the wake of mass murder, comparisons may seem otiose and probably also distasteful.  But the atrocities in Paris will, I suspect, disturb most Europeans more than the 9/11 atrocities in the US, even though the casualties were many fewer. It is not just that Paris is closer than New York and Washington DC. The 2001 attacks were on symbols of US global capitalism and military hegemony. The victims were mostly people working in them. This did not in any way excuse the gang of criminals who carried out the attacks. But is was possible, at least, to comprehend what may have been going through their twisted minds and the minds of those who sponsored and assisted them.

“The Paris attacks were different. France, to be sure, is a nuclear-armed capitalist state willing to flex its military muscles according to principles that are not always clear to outsiders. But this was not an attack on its political, military or financial centres. It was on people of various ethnicities and nationalities on a Friday night out, watching football, enjoying a concert, eating, drinking and chatting in restaurants and bars in a city that is famed (admittedly not always justly) for romance, enlightenment and culture. That is what makes these attacks so shocking…”

So it is “possible …to comprehend” the mass killing of cleaners, office workers and (yes) financiers in the Twin Towers (and the many civilian workers in the Pentagon) because of where they worked – but not the deaths of “people of various ethnicities and nationalities” (so the 9/11 victims were all white Americans?) seeking “romance, enlightenment and culture” (concepts alien to the 9/11 victims, of course) in Paris?

Later on in his piece Wilby states that it is wrong to resort to “glib attempts to explain what drives men to kill indiscriminately.” Yet he seems to be able to “explain” 9/11. So perhaps, according to Wilby, Paris was “indiscriminate” but not New York or Washington?

The editorial of the  New Statesman of 17 September, 2001 appeared to blame Americans themselves for the 9/11 attacks — for “preferring George Bush to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader”: the editor of the New Statesman at the time was one Peter Wilby.

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Why an academic boycott won’t help the Palestinians

October 27, 2015 at 4:29 pm (academe, Guardian, Human rights, intellectuals, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, zionism)

The ad in the Guardian
The ad in the Guardian

Today’s Guardian carries a full page advertisement, signed by 343 academics, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and conferences. The signatories also pledge to refuse to “act as referees in any of their processes.”

It follows pro-boycott motions being passed by a number of trade unions and student unions.

The mood for boycott reflects strong feelings of indignation and outrage against Israel, and a powerful  sentiment that something –anything – must be done to help the Palestinians.

However the main forces behind the “boycott Israel” movement, and several of the signatories of the Guardian ad, want to go further than a just (probably “two state”) resolution to the plight of the Palestinians and an end to the illegal Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands: they are committed to the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab state in which those Jews who survive the military conflict and its immediate aftermath would have religious but not national rights. (Or, if the destruction is accomplished by Islamist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah and their allies, and “victory” means an Islamic state, maybe not even religious rights). Read the rest of this entry »

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