Trans activists versus radical feminists: abandonment of freedom for ‘ressentiment’

September 28, 2017 at 7:46 pm (Feminism, Free Speech, gay, homophobia, Human rights, identity politics, LGBT, liberation, Marxism, philosophy, posted by JD)

Comrade Camila Bassi on a dispute that has recently emerged:

The following is a full recording of and written extracts from my book chapter, “On Identity Politics, Ressentiment, and the Evacuation of Human Emancipation”, in Nocella and Juergensmeyer (eds.) Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education (Peter Lang Publishing).

My chapter and its podcast examine a neoliberal wave of identity politics in the form of intersectionality and privilege theory. I argue that it is a repression of self by self, which precludes connection, bypasses freedom, and generates ressentiment. I explore a specific case study of the political deadlock between a current of radical feminists and a current of transgender and transsexual activists, which has played out on social media and across university campuses.

Freedom has become dangerously lost in the contradiction of identity politics. As Brown (1995: 65) observes:

“politicized identities generated out of liberal, disciplinary societies, insofar as they are premised on exclusion from a universal ideal, require that ideal, as well as their exclusion from it, for their own continuing existence as identities.”

Brown (1995: 66) develops Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment to explain how the desired impulse of politicized identity to “inscribe in the law and other political registers its historical and present pain” forecloses “an imagined future of power to make itself”. What one has instead of freedom then is the production of ressentiment:

Ressentiment in this context is a triple achievement: it produces an affect (rage, righteousness) that overwhelms the hurt; it produces a culprit responsible for the hurt; and it produces a site of revenge to displace the hurt (a place to inflict hurt as the sufferer has been hurt).” (Brown, 1995: 68)

We are left with an effort to anaesthetize and to externalize what is unendurable.

The radical feminist and trans activist deadlock is the privilege production of impasse, and a symptom of acute political distress in which freedom has been abandoned for ressentiment.

The chasm Marx identifies between human beings as, on the one hand, citizens of a universal political community and, on the other hand, private, alienated, egoistic individuals of a civil society, is reflected in the contradiction of a neoliberal wave of identity politics considered and critiqued in my chapter and its podcast.

Our journey back to the dream of freedom requires us making a case for supplanting a politics of “I am” – which closes down identity, and fixes it within a social and moral hierarchy – with a politics of “I want this for us” (Brown, 1995: 75 [my emphasis]). If we fail to help make this happen, we will remain locked in a history that has “weight but no trajectory, mass but no coherence, force but no direction,” thus stagnated in a “war without ends or end” (Brown, 1995: 71).

(See also my earlier blog post, The evacuation of human emancipation, identity politics, and ‘ressentiment’)

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Venezuela, honesty and the left

July 28, 2017 at 1:48 pm (Andrew Coates, apologists and collaborators, BBC, civil rights, Cuba, cults, Human rights, Latin America, liberation, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, solidarity, stalinism, thuggery)

Once again we borrow an excellent piece from Comrade Coatesy’s blog:

Time for the Left to Defend Human Rights in Venezuela.

Many people will have watched yesterday’s report on Venezuela on  the BBC  Newsnight.

It was deeply disturbing.

“In Venezuela, activists say the government is using torture and imprisonment without trial against those who oppose it – a claim the government denies. So who are the people hoping to overthrow President Maduro? Vladimir Hernandez reports.”

The programme showed evidence of repression that would shock all supporters of human rights.

I am not in a mood to listen to those who will try to cast doubt on the BBC report.

There are plenty of other reliable sources of information which confirm their facts begining with, La represión de Maduro se salda con al menos 36 muertos en un mes.  El País (May 5)

The Guardian reports today, “It takes a lot of courage’: Venezuelan protesters tell of rising police violence.As general strike begins, more than 100 have died and hundreds more arrested in anti-government protests since April. Spanish language media takes the same angle, Una huelga general endurece el pulso contra la Constituyente de Maduro. Tres muertos, 367 detenidos, calles desiertas y barricadas en el paro organizado por la oposición a una semana para la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente. El País (Today). The mass emigration of the population is also startling, Les Vénézuéliens s’exilent en masse vers la Colombie. (le Monde)

The splits inside the Chavista side (signaled in the Newsnight film) are well known: La procureure générale du Venezuela critique la répression de l’opposition.

Here is some more of the BBC coverage:

How is the left reacting?

First of all we have the Morning Star’s ‘reports’ which say nothing of state repression.

VENEZUELA’S right-wing opposition launched a 48-hour “civic strike” yesterday, calling on workers to stay at home in its latest campaign to derail plans to convene a new constituent assembly.

President Nicolas Maduro has confirmed that Sunday’s elections will go ahead to choose the members of the assembly, despite the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) coalition’s three-month campaign of rioting which has led to hundreds of deaths.

The CTV union federation, which supported the 2002 coup against late president Hugo Chavez, said its 333,000 members would join the strike.

On Tuesday, Mr Maduro said Venezuela would “choose between peace and war, between the future or the past and between independence or colonialism.” He has said that the new constituent assembly will promote peace and reconciliation.

Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada has demanded answers from the US over “systematic” efforts to overthrow its elected government. He said there was a “campaign of intelligence operations at the highest level to overthrow the constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro.”

The Foreign Ministry accused Washington of providing “finance and logistical support to the Venezuelan opposition as an integral part of its destabilising efforts against democracy.”

It also condemned former president Barack Obama for extending his 2015 decree designating Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US national security” before leaving office in January.

It also attacked Mr Obama’s successor Donald Trump for additional sanctions imposed since he took office.

This is what Cuba said….

Cuban Communist Party second secretary Jose Ramon Machado denied claims Havana would mediate between the government and opposition.

He said it was up to the Venezuelan people and government to overcome their challenges “without foreign meddling in their internal affairs.

“Those who from the outside try to give lessons on democracy and human rights while encouraging coup-mongering violence and terrorism should take their hands off that nation.”

Counterpunch,

Time for the “International Left” to Take a Stand on Venezuela    July the 17th

Venezuela is heading towards an increasingly dangerous situation, in which open civil war could become a real possibility. So far over 100 people have been killed as a result of street protests, most of these deaths are the fault of the protesters themselves (to the extent that we know the cause). The possibility of civil war becomes more likely as long the international media obscure who is responsible for the violence and as long as the international left remains on the sidelines in this conflict and fails to show solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement in Venezuela.

So, instead of silence, neutrality, or indecision from the international left in the current conflict in Venezuela, what is needed is active solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement. Such solidarity means vehemently opposing all efforts to overthrow the government of President Maduro during his current presidential term in office. Aside from the patent illegality that the Maduro government’s overthrow would represent, it would also be a literally deadly blow to Venezuela’s socialist movement and to the legacy of President Chávez. The international left does not even need to take a position on whether the proposed constitutional assembly or negotiations with the opposition is the best way to resolve the current crisis. That is really up to Venezuelans to decide. Opposing intervention and disseminating information on what is actually happening in Venezuela, though, are the two things where non-Venezuelans can play a constructive role.

Socialist Appeal (17th of July) continues in this vein,

Defeat reaction with revolution

The reactionary opposition represents the interests of the oligarchy (bankers, capitalists and landowners) and imperialism which stands behind them. If they were to take power they would launch a massive austerity package on the Venezuelan workers and the poor, with brutal cuts in public spending, the abolition of the Bolivarian social programs, the privatisation of social housing, the privatisation of expropriated companies, the privatisation of re-nationalised utilities, the abolition of the main rights and protections in the Labour Law, etc. At the same time, they would launch a political purge of all state institutions, ministries and state-owned companies and  an all out assault on democratic rights, unleashing a lynch mob against chavistas and their organisations.

For this reason we must oppose their reactionary campaign and stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan working people.

But,

As we have explained elsewhere, this does not mean giving support to the present policies of the Maduro government, which are ineffective in combatting reaction and by making constant concessions to the capitalist class undermine the social base of support of the Bolivarian movement. Even now, during the campaign for the Constituent Assembly elections, the so-called “patriotic businessmen” are advocating the privatisation of expropriated companies as well as the use of the Assembly to “strengthen private property rights”. This is the main plank of the campaign of Oscar Schemel, for instance, with the full backing of businessman and minister Perez Abad, which has been given ample time in all the state media. That road leads directly to disaster.

The only way to defend the conquests of the revolution is by unleashing the revolutionary self-activity and organisation of the masses of workers, peasants and the poor. An example of what is possible can be seen in the campaigns organised by groups like the Bolivar Zamora Revolutionary Current (which has organised Popular Defence Brigades) or the Alexis Vive Patriotic Force (which is calling for a new revolutionary leadership).

The offensive of the oligarchy must be defeated, but it can only be defeated by revolutionary means.

The duty of revolutionaries and consistent democrats internationally is to oppose the insurrectionary attempts of the reactionary opposition and defend the gains of the Bolivarian revolution. Taking a “neutral” position puts you objectively on the side of counter-revolution. We must wage a relentless campaign against the lies of the international media, to denounce our own imperialist governments which support reaction in Venezuela in the name of “democracy” and “human rights”. At the same time we must support and encourage those in Venezuela who are beginning to draw the correct revolutionary conclusions from this crisis: we cannot make half a revolution.

These might be fringe leftist groups but more seriously El Pais has accused Podemos of complicity with Maduro: Cómplices de Maduro (28th of July). That is, “guardan silencio, cuando no justifican a Maduro y acusan a la oposición de antidemocrática..” (ie: Podemos leaders have kept silent, when they are not justifying Maduro and accusing the opposition of being antidemocratic).

Others are beginning to ask broader questions.

Being honest about Venezuela. Socialist Worker (USA, no relation these days to SW UK).

The world’s media, overwhelmingly hostile to the Bolivarian process, sneer at President Nicolás Maduro’s rhetoric while presenting the right-wing parties, which certainly launched this wave of violence, as defenders of democracy. This definition of democracy apparently allows whole populations to fall into poverty and illness, with nearly 100 people left to die in the streets.

Meanwhile, the international left has accepted the explanations government spokespersons offer, still believing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, when a helicopter attacked government buildings on June 28, some observers simply added the event to the catalog of right-wing violence.

It is, unsurprisingly, far more complicated than that.

Oscar Pérez, a retired officer of the state security services, piloted the helicopter. Pérez has close ties to ex-Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres, whom Maduro dismissed in 2014. Torres, like the majority of the current cabinet and around half of Venezuela’s state governors, belongs to the military. He also leads one of a number of Chavista factions angling for power.

Behind a façade of governmental unity, another struggle is developing, but none of the groups are fighting to continue the revolutionary project or to reconstruct the mass movement that saved it after the attempted coup and the bosses’ strikes of 2002-3.

The opposition is also split into rival factions. Some advocate dialogue with the president, while others, especially the group that Leopoldo Lopez and his partner Liliana Tintori lead, almost certainly support the most violent street fighters. They aim not only to get rid of Maduro but also to destroy Chavismo itself.

Most Venezuelans know the major players on the right: they belong to the wealthiest and most powerful families, who controlled the economy until Chávez arrived. Since the first street barricades went up, Maduro has tried to work with representatives of these right-wing sectors. In 2014, for example, he called in Lorenzo Mendoza, head of the Polar multinational and one of the richest Venezuelans.

Gustavo Cisneros, another member of that exclusive clan, has remained untouched in the nearly 20 years of Chavismo. He recently claimed that Venezuela needs a Macri, referring to the militantly neoliberal Argentine president, who is currently working to dismantle that country’s public sector. Cisneros likely speaks from knowledge of the right’s strategic thinking.

As the economic and political crisis deepens, it’s become obvious that neither the government nor the opposition will offer any real solutions. While Maduro betrays the revolution by courting the bourgeoisie and sliding backwards into neoliberalism, right-wing forces have brought in violent mercenaries to try and disrupt the country even further. As these two groups struggle for power, ordinary Venezuelans are watching the gains of Chavismo slip away.

It must have been hard for the comrades of the ISO to say the above, but it needed to be said.

Nobody can accept the state version of what is happening in Venezuela, or its claim to ‘defend’ anything resembling socialism.

We have to defend human rights.

It is time for those in this country who are close to these issues to speak out.

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What we should talk about when we talk about socialism

July 23, 2017 at 8:49 am (campaigning, class, labour party, liberation, posted by JD, reformism, revolution, socialism, workers)

By Daniel Randall, railway worker and RMT rep (also published at The Clarion)

The Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto was its most radical for a generation. Its policies offered a real clawing back of wealth and power from the richest in society, and some of them pointed towards a far greater degree of social ownership, advocating the renationalisation of the railways, postal service, and some utilities, and pushing the market and private sector out of healthcare. These policies suggest a different type of society: Labour MPs frequently talked during the election of an “alternative to austerity”, or an “alternative to neoliberalism”. The manifesto did not, however, and nor did many Labour MPs, talk about that different type of society in explicit terms. Few would describe their aim as “socialism”, and even the main Labour left group Momentum does not refer to itself explicitly as “socialist”. John McDonnell is one of the few Labour MPs who does talk explicitly about socialism; this article is an attempt to draw out what it might mean to name the Labour Party’s aim in those terms, written before the election following a rally in Liverpool.

***

While in Liverpool for a union conference, I was able to attend a Labour Party election rally, where the “star turn”, as compère Peter Dowd, the MP for Bootle, called him, was Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

The rally was packed with an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd, which gave McDonnell a standing ovation practically the minute he appeared. John’s speech was stirring, and consisted mainly in setting out Labour’s key policies – on health, on housing, on education, on wages, and workplace rights. Towards the end, he used a rhetorical flourish I’ve heard him deploy a few times before: “We want a society that’s radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic”, he says, then asks the crowd, “what do we call that society?” “That’s right,” John finishes, repeating the calls that have inevitably come from the audience, “we call it ‘socialism’”.

The little motif is powerful. It is a deliberate break with the Labour Party’s immediate past, where “socialism” was a dirty word, and a defiant statement from its new leadership that Labour is once again prepared to talk about social transformation. It drew warm applause from the crowd at St. George’s Hall.

And John is right, of course: socialism would certainly be “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than the society we have now. But plenty of societies could be “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than our current one, and still not be socialist. With a leadership at least ostensibly prepared to encourage, rather than stifle, discussion of socialism within the party, and faced with an election that acutely poses the question of what kind of society we want to live in, this is as good a moment as there’s been for generations for Labour Party members and activists, who call themselves “socialists” as a matter of political reflex, to discuss what “socialism” actually means.

Some caveats to what follows: this article is not intended as a pedantic quibble that what McDonnell is proposing isn’t “really” socialist. Nor is it intended to dismiss or trivialise the overwhelmingly positive impact that Labour’s current policy programme, if implemented, would have on the material conditions of life for millions of working-class people. A choice between socialism and capitalism is not, with the best will in the world, on the ballot papers on 8 June. A choice between a Tory party that will continue to govern unashamedly in the interests of the rich, and a Labour Party that will govern, at least to some extent, in the interests of working people, is.

This article presupposes that a Labour Party that calls itself “socialist”, and talks explicitly about building a socialist society, is a good thing. It is intended as a contribution to a discussion about what the content of that “socialism” should be.

John McDonnell is perhaps the most Marxisant Labour MP since Eric Heffer, prepared to acknowledge Marx, Lenin, Trotsky as political influences, much to the horror of the right-wing press. His long years of service to the labour movement make clear that he understands the centrality of workplace organisation and workers’ struggle. But his stated point-of-reference for the government he and Corbyn would lead is the Labour government of 1945: a great reforming government, without a doubt, but was Britain a socialist society between 1945 and 1951?

Any combative, socialist Labour Party should have a programme for radical reforms, but socialism must be more than an aggregation of reforms. Notwithstanding this, however, dogmatically recapitulating the “reform or revolution?” debate that has historically divided the socialist movement is not the best starting point for this discussion, and would miss the point, at least at this stage.

I am a revolutionary: I do think any attempt to build a new society will require a decisive confrontation with the capitalist state, which has strong self-defensive instincts that kick in whenever its power is meaningfully threatened. But it is not my immediate aim to advocate that Labour should include a commitment to forming workers’ militias its manifesto. What I want to convince fellow activists of in the immediate term is that socialism must be a genuinely different society, with the rule of capital decisively broken, not merely tempered or hemmed in by social-democratic policy reform, and that organised labour is the key agency for affecting that change.

Minimally, breaking the rule of capital must mean widespread social ownership of industry. The Corbyn-led Labour Party has, so far, shied away from advocating widespread nationalisations, perhaps in part out of a legitimate and laudable desire not to be seen as advocating an “Old Labour” state-capitalism often seen as lumbering and bureaucratic. But there is more than one model for how nationalisations might work, and for how nationalised industries might be organised.

Labour’s current policies for the energy sector, for example, talk of regulating prices and breaking up the dominance of the “Big Six” energy companies (which McDonnell referred to in his Liverpool speech as a “cartel”), and setting up publicly-owned regionally-based energy companies to compete with the private giants, but stop well short of advocating that energy provision, or even just the “Big Six”, be nationalised. Labour wants to set up a “National Investment Bank” to fund communities, but won’t advocate public ownership of the banking sector as a whole. For sure, nationalised industry does not in and of itself equal “socialism”, or even, necessarily, something inherently better than private industry. But genuine social ownership – collective, democratic ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth in society – must surely be a bedrock of any socialism worth the name. Can a policy platform that leaves, for example, the provision of utilities, and the vast amounts of wealth generated by the finance sector, in private hands meaningfully be called “socialist”?

McDonnell, rightly, says that socialism will be “radically more democratic” than the current system, and it remains to be seen what proposals for democratic reform will make it into Labour’s manifesto. Socialism must surely mean a radical deepening and extension of democracy, removing power from the unelected and unaccountable, and implementing rights of recall to transform the role of our political representatives from technocratic specialists administering an essentially plutocratic system into delegates who are genuinely accountable to those who elected them.

Underlying the whole issue is the question of agency: who is socialism to be made by? The implied perspective of the current Labour leadership is that “socialism” will be established almost by default when a Labour government is elected and implements its programme of radical reforms. This somewhat improbable scenario implicitly renders the likes of Chuka Umuna and Wes Streeting as part of the socialist vanguard; perhaps, then, we need to look elsewhere for our agents of socialist transformation.

If socialism means breaking the rule of capital, it must be broken at the point where it is most fundamentally exercised: the workplace. If socialism means genuinely democratic social ownership of the “means of production”, to use an old-fashioned phrase, that social ownership must be administered by those engaged in the process of production. The agency for socialist change, in other words, can only be the organised working class.

Labour’s commitment to repeal the Tory anti-union laws is welcome, and essential, but must go further. Rolling back the Tories’ 2016 Trade Union Act is a start, but it has long been McDonnell’s stated aim to scrap all anti-union legislation, not just the most recent. That must be pushed forward in government. Freeing workers to effectively organises against our bosses is, in a profound sense, a prerequisite for the rest of Labour’s policy platform. Even a moderate social-democratic reform programme is likely to require action from a militant and assertive labour movement to defend its implementation from employers eager to find ways to circumvent, undermine, and sabotage it. Labour needs to anchor workers’ struggle firmly at the heart of its political agenda if it is to meaningfully talk about socialist transformation.

At the Liverpool rally, Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, Labour’s candidate for the newly-created Liverpool City Region mayoralty, began his speech by invoking the memory of the 1911 Liverpool transport strike, during which many demonstrations took place on St. George’s Plateau, next to St. George’s Hall.

What he did not mention, and what no-one on the platform at the rally mentioned, was that a group of local transport workers had in fact been on strike rather more recently than 1911 – that very day, in fact – and had been picketing across the road from St. George’s Hall at Lime Street station until a few hours before the rally began. Northern Rail workers had been striking against the imposition of “Driver Only Operation”; if Labour is serious about empowering workers to stand up for their rights, why not have one of them address the rally? Why not, at least, mention their strike? Labour is, after all, committed to renationalising the railways. It was a perfect opportunity to connect Labour’s policy to a live struggle.

The presence of striking Northern Rail workers would undoubtedly have embarrassed certain local Labour figures. Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, and Rotheram himself, have been at best lukewarm, and at worst outright hostile, to Northern Rail, MerseyRail, and other railworkers’ strikes. This is an irreconcilable tension; Labour cannot be both a party of socialism and a political home for people who are hostile to the self-assertion of the necessary agents of socialist change.

For the Labour Party to contribute to the socialist transformation of society, the Labour Party itself must be transformed. McDonnell and Corbyn could do worse than to increase their efforts to make the party “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than it is now.

A discussion within the party, and wider movement, about what we mean by “socialism” cannot be put off to some future point where we may have more “time”. The general election is being fought on unfavourable terrain, in circumstances not of our own choosing. But despite the unfavourable conditions, the election nonetheless represents an opportunity for the Labour Party, and wider labour movement, to assert an alternative political vision.

There will be some pressure within Labour’s campaign not to initiate wider discussions, but to focus on the hard graft of electioneering in the hope of defending seats and kicking out the Tories. But even in sheer electoral terms, winning a Labour government requires people to believe in, to be persuaded of, Labour’s political narrative, and to have at least some degree of conscious ownership over it, in the sense of understanding what it would mean in their own life. That requires, above all, political discussion and education.

Labour’s vision is one that, for the first time in a generation, the leadership of the party is not ashamed to call “socialist”. All of us who share that political aspiration have a responsibility to discuss what we mean by it. Only through that discussion can we hope to thrash out a political strategy that can make the vision a reality.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.

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Matgamna’s picture of the revolutionary left in disarray

July 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm (AWL, left, liberation, Marxism, political groups, posted by JD, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", revolution, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, trotskyism)

Paul Hampton of the AWL reviews The Left in Disarray by Sean Matgamna

Why is the revolutionary left in such a mess today, despite the economic problems of the last decade, the crises of many neoliberal states, the enormous size of the global waged working class, the potential power of the trade union movement and the signs of revival in left politics? The answers to why the Marxist left is in such a state are comprehensively hammered home in this collection of essays. The book is a tour de force history of the revolutionary left over the past one hundred years. The short answer is: Stalinism.

But the syphilis of Stalinism is not only about the states that were or still are ruled by Stalinists. It is also about how the ideology of Stalinism has taken root even among the anti-Stalinist and social democratic left. Sloughing off this Stalinism is an essential prerequisite for reviving the authentic Marxist left.

Why disarray? Matgamna tells the story of the degeneration of the revolutionary left with great verve. The revolutionary left that emerged from the 1917 Russian revolution was essentially healthy. It had opposed the First World War and arose triumphant to lead the Russian workers to power. These revolutionaries formed the Communist International, a school of revolutionary strategy that by the early 1920s had built mass communist parties made up of the finest working class militants internationally.

The principal blow came with the isolation of the Russian workers’ state, already depleted by three years of bitter civil war and compounded by the backwardness of the inherited Russian social formation. Concomitantly, no communist party was able to lead the workers to power outside Russia.

The result was the bureaucratisation of the Russian workers’ state. The bureaucratic tentacles strangled the organs of soviet democracy, the trade unions and finally the Bolshevik party — the last living mechanism through which the Russian workers could exercise their rule. The Stalinists “revolution from above” defeated the Left Opposition, imposed forced industrialisation and collectivisation, and destroyed democratic, national and civil rights. After 1928 the new bureaucratic ruling class held the levers of control over the surplus product and inaugurated a totalitarian semi-slave state. After that, the Communist Parties acted as the overseas agents of Russian foreign policy, as well as incipient bureaucratic ruling classes in places where they got a foothold.

The monstrous form of the Stalinist counter-revolution threw most of the revolutionary left back to a state of reactionary anti-capitalism, shorn of working class agency and of the consistently democratic programme they had once espoused. The tiny forces that coalesced around Trotsky put up a spirited rearguard action, keeping alive the flame of authentic Marxism during the 1920s and 1930s. But the Trotskyist movement itself was wrecked on the cusp of the Second World War, its main forces unable to explain the expansion of Stalinism outside of the USSR and later to understand the revival of capitalism in the post-war epoch. Most of the post-Trotsky Trotskyists embraced the Stalinist advance into Eastern Europe, China and beyond as somehow creating “workers’ states” (without the active intervention of workers), or painted despotic post-colonial regimes as somehow the embodiment of permanent revolution.

Matgamna itemises the bitter array of failures in the years after the Second World War. Among the litany of terrible errors were: • Support for North Korea’s war in 1950 • Failure to support the East German workers uprising in 1953 • Uncritical support for the Vietnamese Stalinists • Uncritical support for the Castro Stalinists in Cuba after 1960 • Soft backing for Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution • Opposition to Israel’s right to exist after the 1967 war • Backing Catholic chauvinism in Northern Ireland • Opposition to the UK joining the European Union from 1971 • Fantasies about the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia • Support for clerical-fascist theocracy in Iran from 1979 • Support for Russia’s murderous war in Afghanistan in 1980 • Support for Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands in 1982 • Backing Iran against Iraq in their sub-imperial conflict during the 1980s • Siding with Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait 1990-91 • Support for Serbia’s assault on the Kosovars in 1999 • Softness and refusing to condemn Al Qaeda in 2001 • Support for Saddam in the 2003 war • Uncritical backing of Islamist Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq, even as they slaughtered workers.

Matgamna eviscerates the justifications used by sections of the left for these stances. He is scathing about the “anti-imperialism of fools”, a species of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that leads to support for despotism under the cover of anti-Americanism. He also denounces “left antisemitism”, defined as the exceptional denial of fundamental national rights to Jewish people (including the right to their own state) and demonisation of all Jewish people for the crimes of the Israeli state.

Sloughing off these rationalisations for reactionary politics is essential for renewing the revolutionary left. Matgamna’s descriptions of the practices and ideologies of the post-Stalinist left are often thought-provoking. The left Stalinist embalming of Lenin is described as the work of a “Leninolator” and of “Lenin-olatry”. The Stalinist picture of the world is “totalitarian utopianism” and the former Trotskyists who capitulated to Stalin “self-depoliticised ex-Bolshevik social engineers”. Liberal interventionist are dubbed “mañana third campists”, their “socialism” always for the distant tomorrow.

The text also has engaging cultural references — tales of Prester John, Kim Philby, slaves crucified on the Appian Way, Marlon Brando and others. Avid followers of the left will enjoy Matgamna’s pen portraits of the principal leaders of the post-war Trotskyist groups in Britain.

Gerry Healy led the SLL and WRP until it exploded after his sexual abuse of members was made public in 1985. By then Healy had sold the organisation to the Libyan, Iraqi, and other Arab states, as an agency to spy on the left and refugees. The Healyites were characterised by their millenarian catastrophism, their frozen words of Trotsky used to justify political lurches, and by gangster politics.

Ernest Mandel was the principal theoretician of the post-Trotsky Fourth International, responsible for rationalising its adaptation to the Stalinist “workers’ states” in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. Mandel died in 1995, a few years after the collapse of Stalinism had destroyed his theoretical edifice, leaving a movement clinging to a venerable name while desperately wondering where the “revolutionary process” had gone.

Ted Grant spawned the current Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. He redefined socialism as “nationalise the top 200 monopolies” and an enabling act. He peddled the fantasies of “proletarian Bonapartism”, the military substitutes for working-class agency under Stalinism, but also in Syria, Portugal and latterly Venezuela. Grant’s supporters eulogise the capitulation of Liverpool city council while evading concrete political questions with fantasy sloganeering. Grant did not teach his followers to think, but to do political parrot work.

Tony Cliff was a purveyor of toy-town Bolshevism, a man who bent the stick so far on the revolutionary party that the SWP came to represent a parody of third period Stalinist mono-factions. Cliff joked about trying to find your way around the London Underground with a map of the Paris metro, but the legacy he left was more akin to a map of the Moscow sewers. For the SWP, nothing is forbidden in pursuit of organisational advantage. This makes for an increasingly incoherent group that is now a galaxy away from the Marxism of its origins.

If the history of the left is so miserable, what examples of hope are there? There is much to learn from the small third camp Trotskyist tradition around Max Shachtman and Hal Draper which survived during the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the left have sobered up over Syria, where few socialists could support the Daesh terror even by implication, and where most recoiled from any support for the barbarous Assad regime. Similarly, the Brexit vote saw sections of the left abandon their previous nationalist positions. There is something of a revival in social democratic reformist projects.

The bigger picture includes some disarray among our main enemies, the ruling classes, as illustrated by Trump and May. Most of all, the politics of the AWL provides the most important embodiment of hope.

The AWL has forged a living tradition of rational Marxist politics, with realistic assessments of the great global events of the last half century and a series of interventionist political conclusions aimed at mobilising the working class and transforming the labour movement.

The AWL has renewed the great Marxist tradition from a century ago. We do not start from scratch. All is not lost. Much of the left may be in disarray, but the forces of independent, third camp Marxism are alive. With our help, the new generation of socialists will make this politics their watchword.

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Syria: Reflections on the collapse of solidarity

July 15, 2017 at 11:17 am (apologists and collaborators, democracy, fascism, Human rights, internationalism, liberation, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, stalinism, Syria)

Assad electionAnderson claimed that Bashar Assad -who inherited his throne from his father – had been voted to power in an “election.”

By Michael Karadjis (at Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis)

On the evening of June 29, I went up against Dr. Tim Anderson, Australia’s most well-known and prolific propagandist for the murderous Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, at the Gaelic Club’s Politics of the Pub evening. A packed house, and, as might be expected at a drinking gathering, stormy enough, the evening highlighted the severity of the challenge of reconstructing a viable, credible, emancipatory political left able to confront today’s neo-liberal capitalist disaster.

Some may well say the issue is “only Syria” and we shouldn’t generalize about the bad politics that some people have on only one issue. That is a valid enough point. Nevertheless, confronted with close to the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our era – not just “any issue” – a dogged section of the western left has thrown overboard the politics of elementary human solidarity, without which, the bigger task I outlined above would appear to be a very long way away.

As usual, I had too much to say and didn’t get round to making a number of important points, particularly about the role of US imperialism, though I did get to it a little at the end, and in discussion. Some might say that is the most important issue, but given that the US has had very little to do with the dynamics of the Syrian revolution and counterrevolution, it quite simply is not – therefore I believe I was correct to focus more on the actual dynamics of what is going on in Syria rather than abstract geopolitical schemas and prejudices beloved by many western “analysts” who often couldn’t care less about what happens to real people.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh: Syria’s “internal First World” v the “black Syrians”

Before going on, I will first produce the lines I opened with, quoting Syrian Communist dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh (who spent 16 years in Assadist torture chambers for holding an opinion), because he so eloquently sums up the political method I support on this issue:

“That Syrians have been subject to extreme Palestinization by a brutal, internal Israel, and that they are susceptible to political and physical annihilation, just like Palestinians, in fact lies outside the clueless, tasteless geopolitical approach of those detached anti-imperialists, who ignorantly bracket off politics, economics, culture, the social reality of the masses and the actual history of Syria.”

“This way of linking our conflict to one major global struggle, which is supposedly the only real one in the world, denies the autonomy of any other social and political struggle taking place in the world.

“The anti-imperialist comrade is with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt for the same reason that led him to “resist” alongside the Syrian regime. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, or Syria, people are invisible, and their lives do not matter. We remain marginal to some other issue, the only one that matters: the struggle against imperialism (a struggle that, ironically, is also not being fought by these anti-imperialists, as I will argue below).

“The response to this discourse need not be to point out the truth, that the Assadist state is not against imperialism in any way whatsoever. First and foremost, the autonomy of our social and political struggles for democracy and social justice must be highlighted and separated out from this grand, abstract scheme.

“A better starting point would be to look at actual conflicts and actual relationships between conflicting parties. This could involve, for example, thinking about how the structure of a globally dominating Western first world has been re-enacted in our own countries, including Syria. We have an “internal first world” that is the Assadist political and economic elites, and a vulnerable internal third world, which the state is free to discipline, humiliate, and exterminate. The relationship between the first world of Assad and the third world of “black Syrians” perfectly explains Syria’s Palestinization.

Only then would it be meaningful to state that there is nothing within the Assadist state that is truly anti-imperialist, even if we define imperialism as an essence nestled in the West. Nor is there anything popular, liberatory, nationalist, or third-worldly in the Syrian regime. There is only a fascist dynastic rule, whose history, which goes back to the 1970s, can be summed up as the formation of an obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has proved itself ready to destroy the country in order to remain in power forever.”

Support Assad?? Why not Pol Pot, the Taliban or ISIS?

As I then explained, this is what the Syrian revolution is about: the struggle against this “obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has reacted by destroying its country to remain in power forever.” By contrast, this ivory-tower anti-imperialism, which supports this monstrously repressive dictatorship as it bombs its entire to country to bits for six years, is the same kind that would support Pol Pot, or ISIS, or the Taliban, on the basis of alleged “anti-imperialism,” regardless of what they do to their own peoples. Read the rest of this entry »

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Darcus Howe and the Mangrove Nine

April 3, 2017 at 8:36 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, black culture, civil rights, From the archives, history, liberation, police, posted by JD, Racism, RIP, solidarity)

Above: Young Radford/Darcus (left) and in later years (right)

The death, yesterday, of Darcus Howe, reminds us of just what an important figure he was. He was a follower of the Caribbean intellectual and Marxist CLR James (to whom he was in fact related), and also a British advocate of the Black Panther movement. Later, of course, he gained fame as an affable but still sharp and highly political TV presenter (‘The Devil’s Advocate’, etc), who memorably and with great humour once took on Bernard Manning (!) … and ended up befriending him.

But now seems like the right time to remember one of Darcus’s early battles, the campaign and eventual Old Bailey trial of the Mangrove Nine.

The trial of the nine arguably represents a high point of the Black Panther movement in the UK, showing the power of black activism and the institutionalised police prejudice. But what prompted the backlash of black British people against the police, leading to a virtual show trial at the Old Bailey?

Background

The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill opened in March 1968, and quickly become a centre for the black community, attracting intellectuals, creatives and campaigners.

The restaurant was repeatedly raided by police. Although the raids were carried out on the basis of drug possession, drugs were never found and Mangrove owner Crichlow’s anti-drugs stance was well known.

In response the black community and allies took to the streets to protest on 9 August 1970. The demonstration was organised by a small group from The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove and the (British) Black Panthers. This included Frank Crichlow, Darcus (aka Radford) Howe and barrister Anthony Mohipp, secretary of the Black Improvement Organisation.

The protesters were met with a disproportionate police response: There were 150 demonstrators at the beginning of the march accompanied by 200 police.

The police claimed in court that the Black Power movement was implicated in planning and inciting a riot.

Later a Home Office commissioned report from the Community Relations Commission concluded that contrary to the police reports, the violence was not initiated by the marchers but by the police themselves.

Flyer calling for justice for the Mangrove Nine,1970. In the tenth week of the trial these were distributed to black people around the court and Notting Hill to raise awareness of the case (catalogue reference: HO 325/143)

Flyer distributed outside the court and in Notting Hill, 1971. Darcus was then known as Radford

The Trial of the Mangrove Nine by Constance Lever, Workers Fight (forunner of Workers Liberty), January 1972

The Old Bailey trial of the Mangrove Nine in 1971 took the fight of Notting Hill’s black community against police harassment right into the nerve-centre of the British legal system.

With the unexpected help of a mainly white, working class jury, the Nine won a partial victory: they were cleared of 25 out of 31 charges — including the serious ones of riot and causing grievous bodily harm. 5 were acquitted and 4 got suspended sentences.

In June and July 1970 the Mangrove Restaurant was raided nine times by the police, supposedly looking for drugs, which they never found. Its licence to stay open after 11pm was revoked when the police lodged an objection. Thereafter, those who ran it were repeatedly dragged into court and accused of serving food after hours.

On 9 August 1970 local black people marched in protest at this police harassment.. Without “provocation” police baton-charged the march. Naturally the marchers fought back. The charges — which were later insisted upon by higher police authorities — arose from this battle.

The harassment by the police bully boys is not accidental. The police must protect the private property system of the wealthy against its victims. To forestall trouble they tend to pick most on those who stand out, who have the rawest deal, and try to terrorise them into submission.

The Mangrove was a community restaurant, one of a network of community organisations. The restaurant and its clientele were harassed so as to stamp out a centre of black consciousness.

The trial itself was not quite what the police had bargained for. The accused turned the trial into an indictment of the police and the system. Three of them, Darcus Howe, Rhodan Gordon and Althea Lecointe, conducted their own defence. They all refused to shut up when told to and rejected the judge’s rulings that statements about police brutality in Notting Hill were irrelevant.

The Mangrove Nine refused to behave as individuals charged with crimes, unsure and apologetic, but acted instead as representatives of a militant black community challenging police and court intimidation. And their community backed them up: every day of the 49-day trial they packed the public gallery to give solidarity.

With these tactics they broke through the hidebound ritual of court procedure and managed to actually talk about their lives and experiences and about their conflict with the police, to the ordinary men and women of the jury.

A majority of the Mangrove jury were workers, and only two of the 11 were black. It is known that the jury divided along class lines, with the middle class members inclined to believe the police and favouring conviction. It seems that some of the workers knew better and simply decided the police were liars. Eventually they compromised on the basis of agreement on acquittal on the most serious charges.

And when the trial ended, 7 jurors joined the Nine to spend 3 hours chatting and drinking like old friends long kept apart.

But only partial victories can be won in the courts. The police and the state retaliate. Within 24 hours of hism acquittal, Rhodan Gordon was rearrested on charges of obstructing and assaulting the police.

What is needed is a drive to mobilise the active support of the labour movement for the struggles of black people. It would be pointless and stupid to deny the widespread racialist attitudes in the labour movement. It is the job of socialists to fight to break this down — not to pretend working class racism doesn’t exist.

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Chris Birch: eyewitness account of Hungary 1956

October 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm (CPB, history, liberation, posted by JD, protest, stalinism, students, tragedy, truth, USSR, workers, youth)

Image result for pictures Hungary 1956

As the 60th anniversary of the heroic anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary approaches, Chris Birch – one of the few surviving eye-witnesses – replies to a request for further information in a letter to the Morning Star:

Chris Gould asks (M Star October 11) for an analysis of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its effects. I was working in Budapest before, during and after the fighting and met Matyas Rakoski, the general secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party and the man largely responsible for the crimes and policy mistakes that led to the uprising in October 1956.

It started with a student demonstration at the Petofi memorial, demanding to be allowed to travel to Western countries. It had been banned, then the ban was lifted and I went to look.

During the afternoon the demonstration grew to immense proportions, and the party’s first secretary went on the radio to denounce the demonstrators, many of whom were communists, as “counter-revolutionaries.”

He said that the policies of the party and the government were correct and would not be changed. I was in Parliament Square listening to the broadcast, and the good humour of the crowd visibly turned to anger. A fortnight later I found myself trying to bandage Soviet soldiers.

Soon after my comrade Charlie Coutts and I returned to London, we had a meeting with Communist Party of Great Britian (CPGB) general secretary Johnny Gollan, and presented him with a 19-page document simply headed “HUNGARY: Charlie Coutts and Chris Birch.”

It covered our views on party democracy in Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet party relations, democracy and corruption. Gollan passed it on to the Soviet ambassador in London and he sent it on to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the Soviet foreign office in Moscow. It was eventually published in a Soviet journal.

John Callaghan in his “Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68” gives a brief account of what was happening in Hungary in 1956 and a fuller account of their effects on the British party. I hope the above may help Mr Gould.

CHRIS BIRCH London SW6

JD recommends some reading and resources:

1956: the Hungarian revolution – A short and clearly written history of the Hungarian workers’ revolution against the Communist dictatorship.

Other recommended reading

Other media

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Palestinian leftists rebuke Western apologists for Assad

October 13, 2016 at 2:14 pm (Human rights, internationalism, left, liberation, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, Syria, terror)

Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016

A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”

An activist sprays the Free Syrian flag next to the Palestinian one on the wall built by Israel in the West Bank

Above: the Free Syria and Palestinian flags painted on the wall in the West Bank

Eulogizing the late Samir Kassir forty days after his 2 June, 2005, assassination, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish lauded the Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian writer’s wide-ranging “liberation project,” which he said encompassed everything from “the child’s right to question his father, to the woman’s right to divorce her husband, to […] the poet’s right to shed the strictures of rhyme, to […] the right of citizens to change their ruler, to the right of the individual and society to resist both despotism and occupation simultaneously”(italics added).

This was, on one level, an obvious nod to Kassir’s extraordinarily courageous opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime that cost him his life (“Was it for this that Samir Kassir deserved to be killed?” Darwish then asked rhetorically). It was also, however, consistent with the argument Darwish and other democratic Arab leftists had been making since at least the early 1970s; namely, that long-term liberation necessitated a fight against Arab dictatorships no less than Israeli occupiers.

It’s this crucial chiaroscuro that tends to get missed by the sort of self-styled leftist in the West whose only real use for Darwish and other Palestinians is one-dimensional. In their designated roles imagined as eliminationist anti-Zionist fanatics (the same distortion, ironically, made by the toxic Israeli right-wingers who liken Darwish to Hitler), Arabs are ultimately no more than cameos and extras in a story that has no time for their suffering – not even the slaughter of 500,000 Syrians – if it can’t be made, as Trump might put it, to be about America First.

Not surprisingly, a number of Palestinians happen to not much enjoy their misfortune being appropriated in this fashion. A pair of articles published last weekend by the renowned American Israel critic Max Blumenthal – in which he portrayed the Syrian first-aid volunteers known as The White Helmets, who’ve pulled tens of thousands of civilians from the rubble left by Syrian and Russian air strikes (including the famous shell-shocked 5-year-old, Omran Daqneesh), as sinister agents of American neoconservatism – was evidently a last straw for some. In a new statement titled ‘On The Allies We’re Not Proud Of: A Palestinian Response to Troubling Discourse on Syria,’ over 120 Palestinian signatories state they are “concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria.”

Calling the “Syrian revolution […] a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule,” they directly address Blumenthal by dismissing as “nonsense” the “notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy.”

In perhaps their most interesting reflection, they say they regret their past “tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war.” They conclude they have “no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected,” and “encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.”

The full statement (which one hopes will also be published in Arabic) is reproduced below:

We, the undersigned Palestinians, write to affirm our commitment to the amplification of Syrian voices as they endure slaughter and displacement at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. We are motivated by our deep belief that oppression, in all of its manifestations, should be the primary concern of anyone committed to our collective liberation. Our vision of liberation includes the emancipation of all oppressed peoples, regardless of whether or not their struggles fit neatly into outdated geopolitical frameworks.  

We are concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria. In particular, we are embarrassed by the ways in which some individuals known for their work on Palestine have failed to account for some crucial context in their analysis of Syria.

The Syrian revolution was in fact a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule. The Assad regime, with the support of its foreign financial and military backers, is attempting to preserve its power at the expense of the millions of Syrians whom the regime has exiled, imprisoned, and massacred. We believe that minimizing this context in any discussion of Syria dismisses the value of Syrian self-determination and undermines the legitimacy of their uprising.

We also believe that an important consequence of all foreign interventions, including those purportedly done on behalf of the uprising, has been the setback of the original demands of revolution. The revolution is a victim, not a product, of these interventions. It is imperative for any analysis of Syria to recognize this fundamental premise. We cannot erase the agency of Syrians struggling for liberation, no matter how many players are actively working against them.

Though we maintain that the phenomenon of foreign aid demands thorough critique, we are concerned by the ways in which foreign aid has been weaponized to cast suspicion on Syrian humanitarian efforts. Foreign aid is not unique to Syria; it is prevalent in Palestine as well. We reject the notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy. Such nonsense has the effect of both undermining humanitarian efforts while simultaneously whitewashing the very crimes against humanity that necessitated the aid in the first place.

Furthermore, we object to the casual adoption of “war on terror” language. Enemies of liberation have historically used this rhetoric to target humanitarians, organizers, and community members. From Muhammad Salah to the Midwest 23 to the Holy Land Five, our community is all too familiar with the very real consequence of employing a “war on terror” framework. Therefore, we reject a discourse that perpetuates these old tactics and peddles harmful and unwarranted suspicion against Syrians.

Along these lines, it is our position that any discussion of Syria that neglects the central role of Bashar Al-Assad and his regime in the destruction of Syria directly contradicts the principles of solidarity by which we abide. We have reflected on our own tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war, as well as those living in the diaspora whose voices have been dismissed as they have watched their homeland be destroyed.

We will no longer entertain individuals who fail to acknowledge the immediate concerns of besieged Syrians in their analysis. Despite reaching out to some of these individuals, they have shown an unwillingness to reflect on the impact of their analysis. We regret that we have no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected.

We would like to encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.

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Ukraine and the EU – London meeting organised

June 1, 2016 at 9:18 am (campaigning, Europe, Human rights, liberation, Paul Canning, solidarity, Ukraine)

By Paul Canning (cross-posted from his blog)

London will have an opportunity June 10 to hear and question a prominent Ukrainian journalist on the European Union and Ukraine.

Co-founder of Hromadske International and and 2016 fellow at FCO’s International Leaders Programme Maxim Eristavi will be discussing if we are prepared for Ukraine’s arriving into Europe “whether Europeans want that or not.” Eristavi will debunk popular misconceptions about Ukraine and Eastern Europe and expose the shortcomings of European policy towards this region.

Ukraine has become an issue in the EU Referendum campaign as a number of leading ‘Brexiters’, such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, have claimed that the Union is somehow responsible for the war in that Eastern European country. The latter is also a popular narrative used by ruling elites in Russia.

When Johnson’s remarks hit the headlines last month I got so angry at the rubbish I was seeing on social media about Ukraine that I did a tweet series and Storified it.

This event provides an opportunity to hear from someone who was there during Ukraine’s ‘Revolution of Dignity’, as Eristavi documented in ‘What happened on the Maidan in Kiev?‘ (video after the jump).

Eristavi on the Maidan

The event is at 7pm, June 10 at the London Ukrainian Club, 154 Holland Park Ave, London W11 4UH.

You don’t need to register – just turn up!

Google Maps: https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.5059188,-0.2108675,15z *NOTE* The nearest underground station, Holland Park, is closed at the moment. Use Shepherd’s Bush or Notting Hill Gate.

Maxim Eristavi biography

Civil rights advocate, media professional and writer. Co-founder of Hromadske International.

One of the most famous English-speaking journalists and civil rights advocates working and based in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, He specializes in new media expertise, politics, breaking news coverage and civil rights advocacy.

Featured as contributor to:

BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera America, HuffPost TV, CTV, ITN News, the Daily Beast, Fusion, CJR Magazine, Reuters, Politico, The New Republic and Foreign Policy.

Essential Twitter source for Ukraine, according to Mashable, Bild, CTV and The New York Times.

He is the only openly gay journalist in Ukraine and has been an outspoken voice in raising civil rights issues of the region abroad. In October 2015 he was featured among 10 most prominent LGBTI people in Ukraine during the first ever queer project at the country’s biggest modern art center, The Pinchuk Art Center.

Eristavi is a 2015 Poynter fellow at Yale University with a focus on informational wars and pan-regional LGBTI civil rights movements. He is also a 2016 Fellow at International Leadership Program, UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and a 2016-2017 fellow at Millennium Leadership Program, Atlantic Council.

See also:

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Wilhelm Reich and The Mass Psychology of Islamo-Fascism

December 9, 2015 at 10:34 pm (anti-fascism, Eric Lee, fascism, history, humanism, islamism, liberation, mental health, posted by JD, sex, terror)

This article appears on Eric Lee’s blog and the present issue of Solidarity.  Please feel free to post comments there as well as below the line here.

By Eric Lee


Wilhelm Reich.
Wilhelm Reich.

There can be little doubt that the murderous ideology of Islamic State is a form of fascism. In discussing how the Left should react to it, it is therefore necessary to return to our sources, to learn how earlier generations of socialists understood – and fought – fascism.

In that fight, Trotsky was of course an inspiring and authoritative figure. As opposed to the Stalinists, who saw no difference between the Nazis and the Social Democrats (and indeed sometimes preferred the Nazis), Trotsky understood fascism to be a mortal danger to the working class.

And while Trotsky’s deconstruction of the Stalinist argument was brilliant, like most socialists of his time, he understood fascism as a form of bourgeois society, one in which one section of the ruling class crushed all others. The classical Marxist understanding of fascism, however, could not explain, and sometimes did not even try to explain, the tremendous appeal of fascism to the working class itself.

Which brings us to the brilliant Austrian Jewish psychologist Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Reich was one of Freud’s outstanding disciples, but in the 1920s he moved increasingly to the left, eventually joining the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). There he engaged in theoretical work in an attempt to bridge the gap between Marxism and Freudianism. By 1929, he was able to get the official KPD journal, Under the Banner of Marxism, to publish his essay “Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis.”

Reich also moved beyond theory with field work in working class communities, setting up clinics, carrying out sex education, and on, in the course of which he created a mass movement of young people engaged in a new politics of sexual liberation.

Reich grasped that fascism had its basis not only in the economic contradictions of a decaying, over-ripe capitalism, but also in the psychology of the masses.

His 1933 book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, was an attempt to find out what made millions of workers who should have been a bulwark against fascism into its most fanatical supporters. Reich’s book was so outrageously controversial that it led to his expulsion from the KPD. A year later, he was kicked out of the International Psychoanalytical Association as well. It goes without saying that the Nazis too banned the book.

So what explained the appeal of fascism to people who would be its victims? Reich looked for what could make a child “apprehensive, shy, obedient, afraid of authority, good and adjusted in the authoritarian sense” and he found it in the family.

In particular, Reich linked the development of this kind of personality to the “suppression of the natural sexuality in the child”. He explained the lack of rebelliousness in such children – and later in adult life – by this. Sexual repression, he believed, “paralyses the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety; it produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and of critical faculties.”

“In brief,” he wrote, “the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation.”

This was the basis for authoritarian society. “At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family,” he wrote, and “this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system. The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety.”

Reich’s expulsion from both the Communist and Psychoanalytical movements left him isolated, and over the remaining two decades of his life he drifted far away from both the Marxism and Freudianism which he had worked so hard to bridge.

But his work over the course of a decade made a real and enduring contribution to a socialist understanding of fascism and how to fight it. That contribution can teach us much about the sources of Islamo-fascism today and how to defeat it.

Vulgar Marxists (and Trotsky was not one of those) are quick to point to simplistic class analyses to explain the rise of groups like Islamic State. Imperialism and colonialism left a legacy of poverty and inequality, and it was from a sense of powerlessness and despair that Islamism arose. This argument has been somewhat undermined by the fact that so many of the more prominent terrorists (such as the 9/11 murderers) were educated, middle class Muslims who lived in the West. Even today, there is no evidence linking young Muslims who run off to Syria to join IS with a personal experience of poverty or even oppression.

Wilhelm Reich’s description of the patriarchal, authoritarian family as the incubator of fascism was correct in Germany in 1933 and it is correct today. There can be little doubt that the suppression of “sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child” is part of the reactionary character of most Muslim societies.

Muslim societies are obviously not the only sexually repressive societies in the world, which is why fascism can find roots in other places as well. But Islamism is today a particularly aggressive and expansionist variant of fascism, one which threatens the entire world.

If Reich’s analysis is correct, what can socialists do to defeat fascism? Obviously, it is not enough to simply propose “class against class” as the answer. This was the view of the German Communists and it failed miserably as millions of ordinary Germans either supported the Nazis or accepted their rule with barely a murmur of protest.

Instead, the Left should directly confront the sexually repressive character of Islamo-fascism and prioritise the fight on that level. That means that it should no longer be possible to say that our first task is building support for, say, workers organisations in Iran and that support for gay rights in that country is secondary.

Gay rights, women’s liberation, and sexual freedom are not by-products of the revolution that is coming to that part of the world – they are the revolution.

Because of Reich’s later decline, a result in part of his expulsion from the both the Left and the psychoanalytical movement, his works have been largely forgotten and ignored, certainly by socialists. This is unfortunate, because a book like The Mass Psychology of Fascism can contribute so much to our understanding of Islamism and how it will be defeated in the end.

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