The period of transition between our current capitalist economic and social system and a socialist economy is a very controversial subject among socialists. Maintaining an active dialogue and critique of this period is absolutely critical to our strategic and tactical understanding of how to achieve a socialist society. Nothing springs from the naked void fully formed1. We need to examine the best avenues open to us for changing our current social direction into a society we would like to bring into existence.
Capitalism is like a hot ember placed on a flammable object – the fire consumes the body in patches and gulps, some areas taking longer to catch, some areas exploding with flame and some areas quickly charred and brought to heel. Yet capitalism smouldered for a long period before catching fire. An economic, social and political regime can appear to remain stagnant while an apparent marginal economic activity moves towards dominance and finally erupts. Capitalism, which was once a marginal approach to economic activity, exploded onto the scene of history with dynamic force; a force which in a few centuries almost completely eliminated feudalism. A theory of social change will have to take into account the conditions which allow new social systems to ignite. It must also recognise that societies can exist in an admixture of various different economic systems. For this reason studying the entrance of capitalism onto the political scene is deeply important. Its genesis can give us clues to its demise.
The Third Turning of the Dharma Wheel.
Movements are never uniform. Where humans meet to achieve a common purpose, more likely than not, divergences exist: on ends and means, on commitment and focus, on vision and motivation… Even the sort of movement Nechayev proposed in his mad catechism2 is composed by different tiers, and if in all other aspects it is an insane elucubration, at least in this aspect it correctly arrives at the inevitable necessity for heterogeneity.
The workers’ movement, and its scientific manifestation, Marxism, are no exception. The distinctions which bedeviled religious and political movements through the ages–Monophysites and Orthodox, Counter-remonstrants and Armenianists, Jacobins and Girondines, and so many others–have not and will not evade us on the sole basis that we constitute ourselves as a materialist movement. On the contrary, the tension between bourgeois power, as firm a hegemony as has ever existed, and the attempt to rid ourselves not of a particular oppression, but of oppression altogether, not of a particular form of class rule, but of class society altogether, inevitably results in the known dialectic of sectarianism and opportunism. Is there a synthesis that may lead us to victory?
Negation of the Negation
In classical philosophy, the dialectic was a method of interrogating truth in its full complexity. Rather than collapse questions into a stark binary resolution of propositions into true or false, we would take a more nuanced view. The Socratic dialogues by Plato popularised the idea that we could obtain a closer understanding of reality through a discursive method, exploring and teasing out meaning from reasoned discussion. The method was very flexible and allowed for the shades of complexity that were inherent to problems in philosophy.
In modern scientific disciplines, the dialectic has largely been purged, along with another principle of classical provenance, teleology. However, it has not merely been removed as a tool in investigations of the sciences, but it has also acquired such a damaged reputation that this has extended out into philosophy itself.
There’s a certain story that can be told about popular participation in government. It begins with Athens, glorious and bright, yet outnumbered and besieged by the sinister forces of oriental despotism. It continues with Rome, a mixed constitution where power was achieved through merit and the rule of law. Then, a tragic period of darkness and ignorance–add here a dash of anticatholic prejudice if desired–transitioning into several forms of revolution whereby monarchs shared power with the popular classes, shaking the yoke of aristocracy and the church. Finally, the monarchical principle is made either purely symbolic or anulled altogether, resulting in liberal democracies led through universal–at first, sadly, male–suffrage. There are two fundamental problems with this story: the first one, of course, is that it is scarcely true; the second, that it leads us to think that democratic participation is an unalterable reality, a conquest already in the past. I will attempt to make the case that, contrary to this view, democracy has not fully been attained, and, inasmuch as it has, we find ourselves at serious danger of losing much of its scope.
This is our second audio interview, this time with a young cadre from the CPC. We hope you find it as interesting as we do, and that this won’t be our last. Hopefully we will keep bringing you diverse communist voices from all over the world.
Here’s the direct link to the interview with a CPC cadre. Introductory music provided by Ton under a Creative Commons Licence.
The old collapses, the new arises
credit: Propaganda Posters of the Great War
As the First World War progressed, the Kaiserreich’s ambitions for German military domination of Europe became clearer and clearer: the fate of Europe was to become satellite states of a highly militarised Germany, a strategic goal known as Mitteleuropa.
Rather than causing the SPD leadership to recoil from their close co-operation with the government as this sober reality was unveiled, they became more rabid in their defense of Germany’s alleged historical mission.
It was in this context that Kautsky engaged in a series of polemics with socialist supporters of the burgfrieden, as the co-operation between the socialists and the government was called.
One such pamphlet is Die Vereinigten Staaten Mitteleuropas (pdf), to date untranslated into English. We present below a translation by Noa Rodman of its concluding three pages.
Since everyone is welcome aboard the train of life, don’t we all deserve a ticket?
I was walking toward the central transit hub of my town recently, when, shortly prior to passing over the railroad tracks that the train I may or may not have intended to catch would cross on its way to the train station, I noticed something strange: the pizza shop on the corner of the tracks had shut down. This in itself would not have been so unusual had I not noticed moments prior an Irish pub around the corner with a similar fate. What became of the owners? I wondered. Was the economy this poor? What of the value these places generated?, and other similar thoughts crossed my brain as I continued onward to the transit station. Continue reading
“As soon as the situation calls for the total transformation of the social order, the masses must participate in it directly, and they must have an understanding of what is at stake and what must be won. This is what the history of the last half-century has taught us.” Engels 1895
The goal of socialist revolution is the abolishment of class society. Let’s keep that target near to us through this essay.
“Who’s done us in?” This ambiguous, and yet telling, interrogative was said to’ve stood on Karl Liebknecht’s desk in Berlin. Marc Uwe Kling, a contemporary political singer, comments that “a poster of the slogan is also over Oskar Lafontaine’s desk”. The saying, of course, then and now, pointed indelibly to the SPD: in the first case, for its acts of aggression leading up to Germany’s participation – and defeat – during the First World War, which caused Liebknecht and Co. to start the Spartacist movement within the SPD.
The following text is a response to the article “Why I am no longer an anarchist” published on 3 August by Gavin Mendel-Gleason here.
I don’t aspire to respond to every point made in that text, but to develop points which I think are interesting in developing a clearer understanding of anarchist principles and philosophy than Gavin was able to find in his time in the WSM, to our collective discredit, it should be said, at least as far as the pedagogical role of the organisation is concerned. It is a personal response rather than the result of any collective discussion by the WSM.
Gavin’s text begins with sections on “Pre-history” and his initial experiences “In Ireland” which I am going to pass by, being as they are more by way of introduction to his own starting points than raising the central questions of political theory I want to address.
Gallen Kallela’s The Forging of the Sampo
A previous article on Spirit of Contradiction dealt with the issue of types of revolutions drawing the fundamental distinction between insurrection, socialisation in production and communisation in consumption. Some of these ideas were expounded on by earlier Marxists when confronting themselves, for example, with the early Christians,3 and unlike them coming always on the side of production. Marx himself, though focused on the productive process, especially on his early work, takes a more dialectical view of this matter.4 My object is to consider these two orientations, and inquire on the political and ideological consequences they bear today.
In 1992, the Workers’ Party published a pamphlet: “Patterns of Betrayal: the flight from Socialism”5. The pamphlet details the events leading up to the split in the Workers’ Party, including several primary source documents.
The contemporary Left in Ireland is incredibly fragmentary. As we can see from other countries in Europe which have strong left parties, the primary determining factor is continuity of a prior strong left party generally coming from the communist tradition 6.
For this reason the decline in the Workers’ Party was a fairly momentus change in the ecology of the left in Ireland. It should be clear at this stage that despite the beliefs in some quarters that this would open the way to a healthier and broader left, the actual outcome was a very weak and dispersed left.
There is currently some talk circulating about refoundation of a left party in Ireland. It is impossible to take make a serious attempt at refoundation without fully understanding the DemLeft split. One need not be a supporter of the Workers’ Party to recognise that these problems can afflict any large left wing party and need to be carefully dealt with.
Recently a 45 page report written by Heiner Flassbeck and Costas Lapavitsas was issued by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, “The systemic crisis of the euro – true causes and effective therapies”7. They later popularised their report in a Guardian article8. The main conclusion of their argument is that the left needs to increase its Euroscepticism.
Ironically, Euroscepticism, and especially Euro-zone scepticism is a position broadly held by section of the left, and perhaps most of the far left. To be against the Euro has become a mark of just how left-wing you are.
We will argue that this orientation is unfortunate in that it is strategically a poor choice for the left and that it is not more left wing, but actually helps to bolster tendencies that are not progressive, including methodological nationalism. The commanding heights are no longer to be found at the level of the historic nation states and a retreat to them is pointless.