Who do we Side With? – Assessing Relations in a Revolutionary Struggle 

The issues regarding the practicalities of revolution have, for a long time, divided opinions within communist circles. Karl Marx provided a theoretical basis for almost all things Marxist, from the alienation of the worker in capitalist society to the scientific progression of history, but this was one area which seems to have been glossed over, allowing the theorists and activists in his wake to devise individual interpretations. From this fresh wave of contributions to Marxist philosophy there arose Lenin’s model of a Vanguard Party, Luxembourg’s critique of Bolshevism in favour of revolutionary democracy, and Pannekoek’s concept of council communism, an idea which surfaced some years later in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

One issue in particular, which spurred significant international debate in the years following the Russian Revolution, was that of association. Many communists were prepared to work with other parties and organisations to advance their goal of revolution, whilst others insisted on a somewhat Puritan approach, refusing to affiliate themselves with any counter-revolutionary or bourgeois movements. This rift in opinion helped to alienate the Bolsheviks from a number of former allies, which, taking the ‘Puritan’ stance, became known loosely as the communist left or the ‘ultra-leftists’, a faction which still plays a role in the contemporary socialist movement.

So, if, in the context of revolution, the debate is still open as to who Marxist organisations should be prepared to side with, how should one go about answering this question? Who should be regarded as allies, and who should be renounced in the struggle for communism?

One occasion on which this question was brought to light was in 1921, during a period of unrest that occurred in the Communist Party of Italy (PCd’I) following the Comintern’s policy of adopting a ‘united front’, bringing together many worker’s movements and associations to strengthen the fight against capitalism. Prominent ultra-leftists in the party, such as Amadeo Bordiga, were greatly opposed to the idea and refused to work with the reactionary Italian Socialist Party, from which the communists had recently broken away.

Whilst this stance may seem an admirable and dogmatic one, it is important to remember that it is not as though the Bolsheviks (the leading forces in the Comintern) were an opportunist party; they had previously opposed any kind of alliance with reactionary organisations, yet the decision to foster unity between all socialist movements came following a lull in the revolutionary optimism which had swept through Europe following 1917, and a reinstatement of capitalist authority, forcing them to find alternative strategies to weaken capitalism and promote working-class organisation.

The logic of Bordiga and the likes, who eventually lost control of the party to a pro-Moscow group in the PCd’I, prevents this kind of thinking. It asserts that we must form no alliances with counter-revolutionaries no matter what, even if such an alliance would advance the revolution’s goals, and thus, through its rejection of such tactical and pragmatic actions, comes into conflict with the essentially Marxist logic of prioritising revolution over any other political goals. This is the reason why it needs stating that ‘left communism’ or ‘ultra-leftism’ does not deserve its leftist connotations; all that divides Lenin and Bordiga is a practical realisation of the revolution’s immediate tasks on the part of one, and a pompous, counter-productive ignorance of such on the part of the other. It is no coincidence that Russian Bolshevism, not Italian ultra-leftism, proved victorious in the defeat of the bourgeois and the creation of a proletarian dictatorship.

Today, there is an important lesson to be learned from this: one should respect general principals, such as the necessity of distancing oneself from counter-revolutionary people and organisations, but should be ready to break with that principal if it coincides with communist interests. Obviously, it’s unlikely that anyone would cling onto such ideas knowing that they clash with the revolutionary goals; for example, Bordiga undoubtedly rejected Comintern policy with the interests of the proletariat at heart, yet this is due to a failure to see or acknowledge that the Leninist approach (a pragmatic, logical, and ultimately productive manner of thinking) is far superior, and that tactical unity with organisations that may have opposing interests, alongside other sacrifices, may be necessary.

It’s worth pointing out that, at the time the Comintern introduced this policy, there were only two countries in Europe (Russia and Hungary) to have undertaken a successful and independent communist revolution, and in both cases, examples can be found where such sacrifices were necessarily made. To focus on Hungary in particular, it’s fact that the Communist Party took power by merging with the Social Democrats, after which point they established the Hungarian Soviet Republic, set about a program of radical social reforms, and reorganised the economy in a revolutionary manner. If they didn’t partake in this merger, sacrificing leftist principles for a socialist reality, such change would never have occurred.

 

 

‘Naturally Selfish’: Does Human Nature Make Socialism Impossible?

When discussing socialism, hearing others discuss socialism and looking at the various pro/con arguments on the topic, I’ve come across several ideas as to why communism is a flawed system, why there will never be a revolution and why, at the end of the day, we’re better off how we are. Some cite certain atrocities in various communist countries and make a conclusion about their inevitable presence in such a system, whereas others will simply tell you that it’s an unrealistic goal which will never be achieved in the real world. There are also those who will object on moral grounds, defending their right to private ownership, but perhaps the most interesting proposition I’ve come across is the idea that communism is rendered unachievable by human nature itself. 

I can understand how this argument would appeal to many, as it seems to make logical sense; humans have a longstanding tendency towards selfishness. This can be seen in both a social and a biological manner, with mankind’s survival being based on Darwinian principles, and its prosperity on socially Darwinian ones. It would appear that competition is both an innate and necessary component of human wellbeing, which suggests that building a collective society based on the principles of equality is impossible. I’m going to argue the opposite, or, more importantly, I’m going to approach the issue from a Marxist perspective.

In Marx’s eyes, mankind has progressed through various historical epochs, each based on the dominant economic class in the era, which have managed to control and utilise the means of production for their own gain. So far, we have seen society progress from slavery to feudalism, and later, to capitalism. Regardless of your views regrading Marxism generally, a study of global history tells us that this progression is more-or-less accurate, and it provides a solid basis for historical analysis in this case.   

Each of the epochs described here are based on the principles of inequality and exploitation, but there is, in fact an earlier stage in this model of human development, referred to by Marx as primitive communism. These were the days of man’s tribal history, where hunter-gatherer societies roamed the planet, and when socialism was the accepted norm. The tribes man formed in the ancient world exemplify society devoid of exploitation, or in other words, a communist lifestyle, that totally defies the judgement of many who claim this isn’t possible. 

Several indigenous peoples like these have survived in the present era, such as the Penan people of Borneo, who live under the principles of equality, have no actual  leaders (only spokespeople who wield no power) and are known for practising ‘molong’, (never taking more than is necessary). The Adi people of India and the Maasai tribe of East Africa also provide examples of preserved tribal socialism, and Israeli Kibbutzim, alongside various anarchist communities today, serve as successful attempts to recreate this lifestyle in the modern world. They remind us that our condition in the past is not reflective of that today.

Maasai tribesmen

It’s also telling that this was our earliest state of being, for the fact that our first and most basic attempts at civilisation were not based on greed or self-indulgence (rather the reverse) shows that not only are selflessness and collective organisation possible, but they are natural to mankind. Only after individuals took over the productive means did the focus shift onto individual, rather than communal gain, meaning economic exploitation and unequal distribution are learned habits. This argument is further supported by the fact that humanity is still struggling to find happiness, no matter how much wealth we accumulate. Statistics on contentment or satisfaction in developed countries demonstrate this, showing that endless buying and spending do not make us any happier, and suggesting that it is not an innate desire to strive for ones own gain at the expense of another. Needless to say, this kind of consumption is also incredibly unsustainable, meaning that, like it or not, capitalism must give way to a better economic system.

Coming back to Darwinism, I understand that if societal competition is not natural to mankind, this would seem to contradict the competitive biological nature of mankind’s development, based on the principle of survival of the fittest. However, it may surprise the non-Marxist that Marx was a great admirer of Darwin’s, and saw his ideas on the evolution of organisms, through the process of natural selection, to be at one with his own ideas of society’s evolution, through the process of class struggle. It also isn’t necessarily counter-evolutionary that humanity’s natural state is a collective one; it has merely evolved from this condition in the same way that cells and organisms repeatedly do, and nor does the belief that man will ‘return’ to socialism contradict the ideas of competitive evolution, for, with the rise of communism, we are simply seeing the end of an evolutionary process. In a way, we’re seeing something similar in the natural world today; survival of the fittest has determined humanity’s evolution since it’s birth, yet with advances in the medical sciences, we’re now able to preserve ‘unfit’ characteristics and curb natural selection. Should this continue in the future, humanity may never need to adapt, and evolution would no longer occur.

This is why I believe that human nature does not contradict equality, but rather allows for it. True, we have a tendency to put our own needs above others, but at the end of the day, our earliest efforts at working together show that these unhealthy behaviours aren’t innate or fixed, even if they fuel the exploitive economic systems of modern society. In a debate on the benefit and rationality of religion, I once heard it remarked that, unlike squids, which apparently spend almost their entire lives in isolation, humans are social creatures. However unsociable capitalist society may make us seem, I believe this is certainly something to remember.

For more information on the socialistic structures of tribal society, I recommend the following, an online chapter from David Maurer’s book: http://moderntransformation.com/contents/ch-1-early-stage-tribal-society

The image depicting the Maasai tribe was provided by User:Helga76 from Wikimedia Commons (though I added the caption), and was licenced under the following: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

 

 

Five Candidates for Future Revolution

Capitalism today is not capitalism as Marx described it, over a century ago, and our economic system is the product of much evolutionary change relating to the political and financial situation in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century. Now in a new age of economic exploitation (I wrote a lot more about this in my previous entry), the antagonisms between the bourgeois and proletariat have changed character once more, and thus, revolutionary potential can be seen in several areas of the world that could have been glossed over by the Marxist intellectuals/communist movement several years ago. 

Here’s a list I made of five countries (in no particular order) which, I believe will make the best candidates for future proletarian revolution. It’s judged on two things: which would be the most likely, and which would be the most strategically beneficial, in the name of advancing communism and spreading the revolution worldwide. There’s also an element of wishful thinking, hence why I included the UK, where I live, when other countries would probably have equal claim to that position (although in fairness, I was trying to keep it at five!) Feel free to comment and add to the list, and remember, this isn’t a complete assessment; it’s only representative of how I view the world today. 

1. United Kingdom

A dwindling, yet still hugely prominent power in the western world, Britain contributes greatly to the network of international capitalism. From the industries of Wales, Scotland and the larger British cities to the overseas resources harvested by British companies, the signs of exploitation are clear. It’s also telling that many are surprised at the rigidity and profoundness of the UK’s class system, which still reflects that of an old capitalist power, despite the complicating effects of capitalism’s internationalisation. For example, it may surprise you that in 1996, a UN report revealed Britain to be the most unequal country in the western world, and a recent report (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/report-finds-that-britains-wages-are-the-most-unequal-in-europe-10259077.html) shows that the country’s wages are the most unequal in the EU. 

There are those who argue that revolution isn’t possible in first world countries like the United Kingdom, but this isn’t true. What is certainly apparent is the fact that the country’s working class has shrunk and living/working standards have improved as the country grew more reliant on foreign exploitation, yet firstly, contemporary studies of our class system still reveal a large percentage of exploited individuals with a potentially rebellious character (evidence: the London and Birmingham riots of 2011) and secondly, the hoards of foreign workers who constitute a large percentage of Britain’s workforce should not be excluded from the revolution. If a communist movement was to take power, it should act on behalf of these people, and embrace their revolutionary potential. 

If this was to  occur, it would serve as a nail in the heart of the capitalist web.

2. Greece

The birthplace of Plato, Aristotle and Ptolemy has started to demonstrate significant potential for change after the financial crisis of 2007-8. One of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, Greece has already demonstrated signs of future revolutionary activity by the national radicalisation of their politics. Recently, a former communist was voted into power, showing not only the shift in views to extremes (something common in revolutionary situations), but a significant shift to the left. A neo-Nazi party with a fantastically sinister name (Golden Dawn) also did worryingly well in the recent election of early 2015, which also allows us to appreciate how desperate their situation is. 

If real change was to happen as a result of such desperation, we may see something of a re-ignition in the Balkans. Greece, unlike Bulgaria, Hungary or Yugoslavia has never experienced communism, yet if fresh revolution was to establish a socialist Greek republic, it would be easily possible for such to spread and advance beyond the borders with Albania and Bulgaria, spurring revolutions across the whole of crisis-ridden Europe.

3. China (#2)

The revolutionary Maoist state is now one of the most exploitative and ruthlessly capitalistic nations on the planet. What began with reform and relaxation of communist policy resulted in the counter-revolutionary re-introduction of industrial exploitation, to the extent that the western powers now thrive on Chinese production, because they can get away with worse than they could at home. It’s time for the Chinese proletariat to realise they live under a pretence of a socialism, the reality being anything but. It’s time for a second 1949. 

Not only would this be a highly valuable victory on the road to world revolution, given the huge potential China offers in the way of building and advancing communism, but it would help change the worldwide perception of the former. Today, many people with little knowledge of Marxism may happily take the view that China is a communist country. After all, it’s ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, it bears a red flag, and it’s officially known as the People’s Republic of China. But a second Chinese revolution will help to change this, and will hopefully allow people to appreciate the difference between genuine equality and masked exploitation.

4. India

India has, for centuries, been victimised by capitalism. Ever since the United Kingdom colonised the country, it was subject to imperialist exploitation in the interests of its colonists. Since the departure of the British, India found itself victimised by a new form of imperialism, with workers in sweatshops sewing clothes for western companies, their consumers in France, Britain and the United States happy to turn a blind eye. Now, the country is quickly rising as an advanced, capitalist power, yet the majority of its citizens live under the yolk of capitalism, impoverished by inequality. 
Revolution in India would change the lives of over a billion people, and would transform the political landscape of South Asia, given the immense size and influence of the country. An advanced nuclear power with a space agency, one of the largest armies on the planet and a culture famous throughout the world, this country’s importance is obvious. In addition to this, a strong communist movement already exists in the country. I part with them ideologically as they are largely influenced by Maoism, but their presence nonetheless shows something remarkable: a people fighting back.

5. Russia (#2)

Russia existed for 74 years under communist rule, a world record in that regard. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, saw the national economy diverge, giving rise to both wealth and poverty in extremes. The oligarchy that now owns much of Siberia’s oil exists at the expense of many deprived citizens. According to Tim Marcin’s article on the ibtimes, the number of Russians living in poverty has topped twenty-two million (http://www.ibtimes.com/russia-poverty-critical-amid-western-sanctions-oil-price-dropping-2008577). 

After the fall of communism, Putin has tried to fill the void by cultivating nationalism, but I don’t believe this solution will last in a country like this,  with an economy driven by business elites, likely with government connections. A return of Bolshevism will also hopefully end the attitude of strict conservatism fuelled by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and I don’t know, but it seems right that when it comes to building socialism, 70 years of experience should make a difference. Lenin, the original founder of communist Russia, once said that ‘It is impossible to predict the time and progress of revolution’, yet nonetheless, I believe we can count this country a likely candidate for the next one. 








Capitalism’s Evolutionary Phases

I’ll start by saying that this entry may be quite dense. The purpose of writing it is to explain and convey an understanding I’ve developed of how capitalism has adapted to survive over the years, a question I’ve been considering for a while now. I suppose you could call the ideas proposed here a theory, (if I was to name it, I’d call it the Theory of Three Ages), and that’s all it’ll be for the moment; any advancement of this idea will only follow a lot of research on my part. 

But, given that this is me explaining my ideas so far, I’ll hopefully give you a good description of these three ages, and of how I believe exploitation has evolved over time. To do this, however, everyone needs to know what we’re dealing with, so I’ll start by asking you the following question:

What is capitalism?

It’s often seen as the embodiment of free trade and economic liberties as opposed to state control. Because of the challenge communism presented in the twentieth century, it would also be easy to cite capitalism as simply one of two political and economic currents in the world, and, after various failures in the communist countries, it’s far too often associated with freedom and harmony. Predictably, I’m going to tell you that this is wrong: it’s the single most sly, destructive, exploitive concept that has dominated the world throughout modern history. 

So here’s a Marxist appraisal of our great nemesis.

The European Age 


In terms of where it all began, capitalism arose roughly three centuries ago, taking its first breath in Italy. I wrote a more detailed entry on its origins a few months ago, but I’ll cover the basics here. The system that takes precedence over all inhabitable continents is a relatively recent one; it developed in Europe, perhaps the most socially advanced corner of the Earth at that point, out of the decaying feudal system that formerly retained supremacy. Yet unlike feudalism, capitalism existed to provide industrial (as opposed to agricultural) production, and with its rise, the focus of the economy was no longer upon the farms, but the factories.

The European countries soon grew in power and influence, and rose to colonise great swathes of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, allowing them to exploit imperialistically. Imperialism has crept its way into history throughout mankind’s many different epochs, and it has always been a tendency of the strongest individuals to dominate the weak, yet this can be viewed as the rise of capitalist imperialism. The new European empires sought to utilise the people and the resources of the colonised nations for capitalistic purposes, and thus expanded their field of economic influence to the far corners of the Earth.

These powers were thus able to sustain dominance, by widening their field of exploitation beyond national limits, yet it couldn’t continue forever. You could perhaps think of this period as the climax of capitalism, at which point exploitation had advanced humanity greatly, yet had reached a critical level and was growing ever harder to maintain. Even after the establishment of a vast imperial network, the ruling elites of Britain, France or Germany were struggling to control those whose labour they relied upon. The system was, quite literally, falling apart under the weight of its own contradictions.

The American Age

Three significant changes took place in the world throughout the twentieth century. Firstly, the rise in power and influence of another giant, the United States, changed the international dynamic of the capitalist world. Secondly, economic changes allowed exploitation to take place to a less severe extent in the western countries, allowing many concessions to be made to the working population, and causing the working class to actually decline. Finally, the rise of Bolshevism threatened to end capitalism altogether. 

These changes may not seem as though they’d benefit capitalism, but, with the economic system on the very verge of collapse, they perhaps managed to save it. 

One reason why this happened was  the fact that the western countries found a common enemy in Soviet Russia and, later, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba and communist Indochina; they were forced to unite against them. This can be seen most clearly in the Cold War, yet was also present prior to 1945. It demonstrates the development of a capitalist ideology, through the willingness of these nations to fight for motives like democracy and human rights (it is, in a Marxist sense, the tendency of capitalism to allow for greater political freedom) under the new guidance of the United States. It was then a question of whether or not the western proletariat would side with the communist world, or the world run by their employers, and this sense of ideological unity helped allow for the latter. Tales of failures, inefficiencies and abuses in the socialist countries helped strengthen this ideology, and helped keep the workers from revolting, temporarily keeping them occupied and holding capitalism in place for longer.

Yet whilst ideological control helped distract many, the economic contradictions in the capitalist system were still such that it could not continue, and immediate reorganisation of the economy was needed if it were to do so. Economic variation took place in the form of de-industrialisation, causing the working class to shrink in size, and the outsourcing of industry to other parts of the world. This gave rise to a new form of international domination, where brands and corporations, as opposed to armies and governments, became responsible for the unofficial and shadowy exploitation of the third world. Imperialism in the traditional sense, the official establishment of foreign authority in the region, was on the decline, again very much in tune with the tendency of capitalist society to progress in the direction of liberty and freedom, yet a new form of imperialism was developing. It was purely economic, and dodged the need for a military invasion and the controversy that such invasion causes, and yet it was more effective, and could allow the western proletariat to both decline and grow in affluence. They would thus lose their revolutionary character, and so capitalism was kept alive in the developed world. 

Thus an interesting dynamic fell into place, where the capitalist world, led by the United States, relied upon the undeveloped regions for economic purposes, and the communist world, led by the Soviet Union, wished to bring an end to such western domination. This gave way to third-world Marxism, a tendency in communist thought influenced largely by Mao’s teachings, which retains popularity today. It may also be no coincidence that, outside the communist bloc, all the new revolutions occurred in undeveloped areas of the planet. 

The International Age

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the communist empire fragmented and the majority of socialist states gave way to a shifting political climate, allowing capitalism to expand across Eurasia, consuming Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. This led to further changes in the international dynamic, and paved the way for a future in which America may not be the leading capitalist power. As some of the still-officially-communist countries resorted to capitalism, the rise of China presented a further challenge to the United States.

At the same time, the third world, which the capitalist world had become increasingly reliant upon, was developing at an astonishing rate. India, Brazil and Indonesia, whilst locked in the depths of poverty, all have the potential to become superpowers, which suggests that soon our imperial ventures in these parts of the world may no longer be tolerated. If this is to be the case, and even if not (as no format of capitalism can continue indefinitely) the capitalist world shall do what it has done for decades, and scour the Earth for pockets of resources and workers to exploit. New pockets of exploitation have already opened up, in countries like Russia, the perfect example of economic polarisation, and more will likely appear as further geopolitical changes take place.

This, it seems, is the kind of capitalism we’ve adopted. In the European Age, exploitation took place within the confines of individual countries, with certain countries exercising capitalistic rule over others. In the American Age, the division between the exploited and the exploiters began to take on national characteristics, yet now, in the age of international economics, such divisions exceed these boundaries and exist irrespective of states and countries.

Revolution, whenever and wherever it occurs, must take place on an international level to compete with this system. While famously sparse on the practicalities of revolution, Karl Marx did remark that, whilst the differences between nations and nationalities are vanishing in capitalistic society, ‘the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster’. 

Today, as capitalism grows increasingly globalised, this couldn’t be more relevant. 

 

The image depicting the Statue of Liberty was provided by Giorgio Martini from Wikimedia Commons, and was licenced under the following (though a newer licence is available): https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

The image depicting the Shanghai skyline was provided by J. Patrick Fischer from Wikimedia Commons, and was licenced under the following: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

 

 

Marxism, Opium and Morphine

It’s been an intense week.

Last Wednesday I was told of a tumour in my spine after experiencing some pain and immobility in my neck and right arm. I was operated on the following day (coincidentally the 66th anniversary of the 1949 Chinese Revolution) and have since been bed-bound and unable to do a great deal, this being the reason why I didn’t post last Friday. The bonus is the fact that the food in Leeds General Infirmary is actually quite good, and the downside is, well… cancer, but it can’t be helped; it’s the problem with having naturaly revolutionary cells.

Between now and last Wednesday I’ve worried about various things, but one thought that stands out is religion. Before I go into more depth, I’ll stress that I’m an atheist. Religion, the way I see it, is a reactionary and backward tendency that has stood alongside man throughout history, yet has always blinded communities and corrupted rational thought. As society has advanced, so has our depth of knowledge and understanding of the world and, as a result, religious influence has decreased in many ways, but that’s not to say it isn’t an issue. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the persisting cultural backwardness in the southern USA, and the political situation in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Iran are all different manifestations of the same illness. Religion does to society what cancer is doing to my spine.

And then, of course, there is another side to this kind of faith, this being comfort, the reason it exists in the first place. I think it’s obvious that if it wasn’t for how deeply these spiritual teachings have already impacted upon our histories and cultures, we (in a much wiser era) would be far less easily convinced by the arguments they have to offer today, and the most important reason why mankind still clings to these outdated ideas is the sense of safety and security they continue to provide. Religion is an effective distraction and an inviting alternative to the harsh realities of day-to-day life, and this is why we swallow it today just like we’ve done for centuries. It is, in the language of Marx, opium for the masses, just like the oral morphine I’ve been taking to deal with post-operative pain (although unlike Islam, Christianity or Judaism, I’m still baffled as to why people develop addictions to this substance – I can’t say I’ve noticed it make more difference than paracetamol!)

Yet this is where God comes in to my story, because, just as I’ve swallowed the morphine, I’ve also been praying: my prayers tending to follow the lines of ‘Dear God, if you exist, I’d be so grateful if you would show mercy’. This isn’t to say I’m any more convinced of God’s existence than I was last month; I just took the view that it was worth it, in case I’m wrong. I know religious people who have prayed for me, too, and I welcome their thoughts and prayers as well, despite feeling slightly hypocritical given my own vehement atheism. If God does exist, I’d rather be spared than damned, and I see no wrong in telling him, even though rationality tells me there’s nobody on the other side of the void. And, after all, while mainstream Marxism rejects religious influence in societal matters, it doesn’t necessarily reject private beliefs. In the end, I suppose I’m only harming my pride.

As it happens, I have little reason to believe there’s a lot going on in heaven for me. On Wednesday I was told my that my cancer, on a I – IV grading system, fell into the most aggressive, Grade IV category. No one could commit to giving me a death date, but I’m left with the impressesion that, after chemotherapy, radiotherapy and physiotherapy (to regain movement), all of which should begin next week, I’ll have months to live. This was obviously terrible news, though it perhaps takes some of the pressure off as it makes me more assured in my godlessness, and I also can’t help but feel slightly proud that it’s my spinal cells which have done this. In revolutionary terms, they definitely quality as extremists. They’d dwarf the various coups in Argentina, which overthrew and replaced different governments in the region, or the revolutionary movements in the little communist countries like Vietnam or Afghanistan. My cells certainly take after the Bolsheviks here; if the February Revolution was my initial diagnosis, the October Revolution was my conversation two days ago. The shooting of the Romanov family is yet to come, but we sure these cells will take no prisoners there either. It’s also interesting to see that, due to their rapid growth and malignancy, they follow in the internationalist line, bent on spreading the revolution worldwide. Ideologically speaking, I can’t really complain.

But meanwhile, I’ll probably keep trying these things. It seems the logical option to utilise the means you have, in the hope that something may change. I certainly don’t feel any sensible reason why anything will, but our complete lack of evidence on the subject makes it just as possible as it does ridiculous, so it would be irrational to rule out ideas of God, heaven or the metaphysical world entirely. And, whilst still a card-carrying member of the physical one, I’ll hopefully keep reading, studying, and blogging.

I suppose we’ll just have to see how it goes from there…

 

A Means to an End (of Exploitation): Marxism and Utilitarianism

Over the past hundred years, I won’t deny that many ruthless and otherwise unjustifiable acts have been carried out in the name of socialism. Sometimes, these actions were directly harmful (such as the use of state terror), whereas in other examples they were not (such as the introduction of strict economic policies that later caused suffering), yet many perished all the same. This is why communists today, require adequate justification for what’s been going on in these countries, and it would seem to me that this comes most naturally in the argument that the end may justify the means, or if you’re Trotsky, ‘the end may justify the means so long as there is something that justifies the end’ (I know it sounds slightly pretentious).

This is a core idea of utilitarianism, an ethical theory predating Marxism, which argues in a very general sense that an action is defined in terms of its consequences. Thus even concepts like genocide, which we’d normally consider horrific, are permissible if they bring about greater happiness than would have otherwise been the case, the principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people lying at the heart of the philosophy. Just from this, one can see key similarities between Marxist and utilitarian thought; they both exist with an eye to the majority; they both strive for the wellbeing of the masses, and in both schools of thought it is upheld that violence, be it in the case of class conflict (Marxism) or the ‘Trolley Problem’ (utilitarianism) may be used to achieve the greater good. So I’m writing to discuss the similarities between these two philosophies, whether or not Marxism can operate in a utilitarian way – or vice versa – and finally, whether or not utilitarianism successfully justifies the many otherwise-atrocious actions committed in communism’s name.

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that Marx’s ideas entail an element of sacrifice. Friedrich Engels once stated that ‘The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of reactionary peoples.’, and the fact that he followed it up with ‘this too, will be a step forward’ confirms the utilitarian character of such thinking, which treated these horrors as a necessary part of the communist struggle. On top of this, it has to be remembered that Marx’s interpretation of what capitalism would inevitably lead to, whilst a scientific interpretation, also bore the label of justice, equality, and all that was right. Thus, science and morality merged with the Marxian prediction that from capitalism there would arise communism, the latter being a better moral alternative as well as an inevitable on. This was simply because it was upheld the idea of a better world, the best, in fact, of all hitherto economic systems (except possibly Primitive Communism). True, that’s an incredibly vague interpretation, but I think it’s obvious that the specific ideas of classlessness or an end of exploitation are credited as they result in a happier society. This is why the Greatest Happiness Principle, as it’s referred to, is very definitely present in scientific Marxism and underpins the core Marxist ideas and theories.

If we can thus accept that these ideas are utilitarian ones, I think it’s also true that they are justified in a utilitarian way. The kind of violence Marx and Engels spoke of wasn’t without reason; why would anybody advocate ruthlessness when they didn’t feel it was necessary? And when I talk of its necessity, I refer to progression – forward movement in the direction of liberty and equality – in the direction of greater happiness. It could be argued that Marxism is not a science and that communism is not an absolute truth, so therefore there’s nothing to justify what has been done in its name, yet firstly, whether or not Marx was right is separate debate, and secondly, even if Marx was proven wrong; even if we find that there is no inevitability in communism, such a brilliant concept is surely still worth fighting for.

I conclude by saying that Marxism’s utilitarian nature should be realised, as the two theories will likely benefit from what the other has to provide; currently, whilst many do acknowledge why Marx’s ideas should be vindicated, many don’t, and a sturdy, underling justification would do a good job in providing a simple explanation in this regard. I think it’s even possible to argue that, similarly, utilitarianism lends itself to a Marxist interpretation, due to the ideas it values placing the state of the majority in society above all else, which is also an idea worth exploring. The political views of Jeremy Bentham, one of, if not the most important figure in the founding and development of contemporary utilitarianism, reflect this.

Terrorism and Communism

‘Terrorism and Communism’: a book by Leon Trotsky, 1920

Since the 9/11 attacks, fourteen years ago to this day, terrorism has become a major international concern.

This isn’t to say that it didn’t play a role prior to the fall of the Twin Towers; in the UK, many feared the Irish Republican Army; in Peru, it was the Shining Path; and of course, various Islamic attacks like the Lockerbie Bombing were carried out before 2001. But after the end of the Cold War, when the capitalist world’s greatest threat had been defeated, you could say that those who waged war with home-built bombs and illegally-bought Kalashnikovs were once again brought into focus. Now that this form of warfare has once again established itself as a serious threat, perhaps one of the greatest threats to society’s wellbeing, I’m looking at where communism fits in with all of this.

In fact, many of today’s terrorist organisations fight for a socialist future. These include the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, the Maoist terrorist organisations in India, and, as is mentioned above, the leftist militants in Peru. The actions attributed to them range from destroying buildings to kidnapping influential people (this was done famously by the Red Brigades’ kidnapping and murder of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro), all with Marxism in mind. But though these people may act in communism’s name, they don’t have a great history of success in that regard. Can you name a time when a country has been overthrown altogether by an act of terrorism, let alone communist terrorism?

By its very nature, terrorist practise involves individuals or organisations committing acts of aggression to advance their goals, and these actions have, throughout the history, always been shocking but often not particularly productive. The destruction of buildings in India, the kidnapping of a politician in Italy, or the burning of ballot boxes in Peru (all of which have been done in the past) may be cruel, murderous, or evil, but it’s not as though they solve a great deal. Often, it seems to me that these actions are no more than pointless violence.

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The logo of the organisation that killed Moro

However, there are obvious exceptions to this: if we consider terrorism in a general sense, it could be argued that the ANC would not have gained the attention of the South African public had it not been for their criminal actions, or that votes for women would not have been granted had the Suffragettes not vandalised streets. It’s thus possible that socialism’s revolutionary aims may be realised if through terrorism of some sort, and thus, whilst so often unsuccessful and relatively useless, I can’t dismiss the concept entirely; these success stories above prevent me from doing so.

This is why I’m left in the middle of the road, a political position I almost never find myself in. I don’t condone terrorism regardless, as it’s is often likely to do no more than cultivate hatred for you and your motive whilst damaging property or lives in the process, but nor do I condemn it – it can be used to produce brilliant outcomes (as we’ve seen in the examples of black liberation and women’s rights). As to whether such actions will work for this motive in particular, communist terrorists are unlucky in the sense that they fight for an unpopular goal. Its unpopularity is unfair, I believe, but does exist all the same, and thus, these actions may only confirm prior suspicions that communism is good for nothing but inducing suffering.

All I can say is that leftists out there must be careful. This manner of war can work, and can be justified, but only if it really does establish change. It may be difficult to tell when this is the case; the misdeeds of the IRA merely shocked the public and shamed the Republican struggle, whereas those of the Suffragettes proved crucial to theirs, but careful consideration of the circumstances is needed. Without it, it’s likely that a few groups and organisations will do nothing but harm our common cause.

The photo depicting the Red Brigades’ logo was provided by Tentontunic from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a link to its licence:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Workers, not Machines

We live in a world where our increasing reliance on technology is becoming ever more concerning.

Did you know that the University of Cambridge recently established a department on the protection of humanity from the threat of artificial intelligence? This isn’t the only example; novels are written, films are produced, and serious debates and conversations worldwide discuss the subject, asking the same question that has worried mankind for decades: whether or not it’s possible that someday, we will find ourselves at the mercy of machines.

Often, this is considered from a political perspective (‘what if robots took over the world and reduced human beings to mere slaves?’), yet there’s another side to the debate, for whilst having the potential for world domination, modern machinery could also revolutionise society’s economy. Today, I’m asking whether or not the machines we build, quite capable of completing even the most menial tasks as efficiently as any human, take over the role of the industrial workforce.

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It’s definitely a question worth asking, because it could potentially threaten the careers of billions worldwide. It’s also perfectly possible, unlike the subject of other debates surrounding robotics which concern an indefinite point in the future, when we have finally created artificial intelligence or some other development we can’t actually be sure we’ll achieve. No, this is something that could happen in a matter of years – we have the technology, probably the money, to allow such to occur – all we need is the will. So, given how possible this would be, it would be sensible to assume that the capitalist world can probably look forward to a new age of human development; that someday soon, we’ll have a worker-free economy.

Or is it?

As a Marxist, this question has troubled me, because it suggests that humans are very close to achieving capitalism without exploitation. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote of a similar idea, which they referred to as ‘Conservative, or Bourgeois Socialism’, explaining how ‘The Socialistic Bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.’

Now, the Communist Manifesto, arguably the document around which communism is centred, dismisses such a utopian proposition, as did I when reading it; it contradicts the key Marxian idea that exploitation of the international proletariat may only end after a proletarian revolution, suggesting that capitalism can be made ‘friendly’. Thus, when I realised that it would seem logical for new developments in technology would allow just that, I considered how I’d approach this idea, not wanting the entire basis for my philosophy to be disproven. I eventually decided why (in my opinion, at least) it won’t happen…

1. This Could Have Happened Years Ago

One thing I realised was that the replacement of an industrial proletariat with machinery or robots isn’t an idea entirely unique to today’s world, for machinery has played a key role in industry since Marx’s day. In fact, one of his most important theories (the theory of Relative Surplus Value) argues that the rate of profit accumulation can only change through re-organisation of the workforce, which may include the introduction of machines or new technologies. In short, I believe that if mechanisation was a goal the capitalists really wanted to go for, they’d surely have done it by now.

It could be argued that, until modern times, this wasn’t possible, as only recently have we developed technology capable of performing the advanced tasks necessary to society today. But whilst machines have caught up with us in this respect, many of the basic tasks that theoretically could be left to machinery back in Marx’s day, weren’t. Even back then, it would be possible then to build machines that would eliminate many of the most basic and menial tasks subject to the proletariat, but this, largely didn’t happen. Similarly, it’s possible to eradicate a great deal more of the tasks subject to today’s workers, but if we follow in the same trend, I don’t see why this will occur today either.

It all comes down to the same principle, this being that, given the current circumstances, it’s just easier to employ workers than invest in technology. To quote Mike Daisey’s ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’, a monologue written about the conditions of those who produce Apple products in Shenzhen, China, ‘why use machines when you can use people?’. Now, there are accusations that some of what Daisey describes has been fabricated for effect, but this doesn’t matter in this instance, as the argument is the same: it’s often easier to exploit the life out of ten, fifteen, or five million than it is to rely on expensive and perhaps-not-always-available technologies that may perform the same task.

The Workers of Shenzhen

The Workers of Shenzhen

2. If it did Happen, it Would Only be Temporary

Let’s imagine for a second that it happened; that the economy was transformed by robotics. I’d like to point out that there is a serious problem with non-human elements taking over the workforce, for we forget that we live in a society of man. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember, for, in the world we’ve created, humans require jobs. If, after the ‘technological revolution’, machinery replaces the roles of the modern-day proletariat, that means everyone except the wealthy middle and upper classes is thrown out of work… and they’re going to need employment.

It’s hard to imagine exactly what this would lead to, but if you imagine billions of people who can’t work, and thus don’t have a source of income, it’s not hard to see that some kind of crisis will result. The way I see it, it would likely mean one of two things: either we’d be forced to take a sharp U-turn away from mechanisation in an attempt to re-introduce capitalism as we know it, allowing society to progress more or less in the way Marx predicted, or we’d see something like the biggest and most dramatic revolution in history and capitalism would be destroyed altogether (again giving Marxism significant credibility). Either that or three billion would starve to death.

You may be thinking ‘surely, no-one would let it get that bad!’ and I agree, which brings me to my third and final argument: I don’t believe that we, society, would let this come to be…

3. It Wouldn’t Happen in the First Place

I can’t imagine mankind being so blind to the possibility of all the above occurring. Forget Marxism, forget revolution, and just imagine that three billion or so, a figure which no benefits service, no welfare system, no charity in the world could cater for. Will we just watch these people get thrown out of work, one by one?

When discussing this issue with somebody, they offered a counter-argument by suggesting that such change would be gradual, and would take place only in the form of different brands, companies and factories starting to introduce new technologies to compete with one another. This is likely true, but the results, like the process, would also appear gradually. Therefore, as rising unemployment can’t be seen as good results by any measure, this would only give us time to pause and think. To end our short-lived dream of a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. To stop what we’re doing before that figure gains nine zeros.

The featured image and the second photo in the entry was provided by Steve Jurvetson from Wikimedia Commons, and is licenced under the following (though there is a more recent version of this licence, which can be found via first opening this link):

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed

The ‘C’ Word

There is much controversy surrounding the word I’m thinking of.

You don’t hear it much out and about, but most know its meaning. It seems that it’s always used in a negative way, often as an insult, and has been known to induce attitude shock or offence (so much so that artistic expression of the concept is, in certain countries, considered so inappropriate that it’s actually illegal). This is somewhat unusual, as it acquired the power to insult when it was never originally supposed to, and became synonymous with words and ideas to which it once bore no relation. In fact, when it first came into being, it was often associated with something rather wonderful, but if you tell someone today they’re a complete c______, I doubt you’ll get a positive response.

Yes, communism has been a controversial word for a long while. Somewhere down the line, it became a well-known enemy, and we saw it as such for the remainder of the twentieth century. We even created brilliant works of propaganda on the concept; perhaps it was coming to overthrow your democracy and install a dictatorial puppet state, or maybe it was (and there is truth behind this, though aggression was obviously far from one-sided) on the verge of flattening New York with a nine-megaton bomb, but it was a monster all the same. Society came to agree that whatever the communists were planning, something bad would happen as a result.

The question is, however, when did this all start?

Ever since 1917, many saw in communist Russia a foe. This can be traced back to the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, a conflict that occurred just after the catastrophic defeats of World War One. But the communist terror and angst that would later plague Europe and North America was, at that point, largely nonexistent; in these early years, the west was largely unaware of both the political terror and the military challenge the regime would later provide, and thus, to call yourself a communist probably didn’t mean a great deal, for communism was really just another radical idea. I once read an American newspaper headline at the time of the Russian Revolution, which described the Bolsheviks as ‘extremists’, comparing them with ‘moderate governments’ before them. Whilst I definitely felt anti-Bolshevik sentiment expressed there, the article implied nothing significant or special about their cause – the only distinction it drew between the party that would later lead their future nemesis and the easily forgotten Provisional Government, which assumed power for a brief, eight month period before October, was a mere statement that one was radical while the other was moderate.

In fact, many in the west were far more open to the prospect of communism than this. George Bernard Shaw, for example, even advised the British unemployed to travel to the USSR, under the impression that they would be given a job. It’s also known that the intelligentsia in the United Kingdom were a lot more sympathetic towards the Soviet Union than you might expect, and many respected their ideals in a way that would seem unimaginable during the years of the Cold War. This continued throughout the repression of Stalin’s era, and people still managed to find sympathy with his political system. I even heard that information regarding oppression in the Soviet Union was actually covered up by those able to do so, for fear that it may soil the image of Russia that many westerners undoubtedly clung to.

Only thirty or fourty years later, however, far from withdrawing information to preserve Soviet support, western governments would dress-up and dramatize reality in the Eastern Bloc almost to an unfair level, printing McCarthyist slogans in black, probably against a red background and a hammer-and-sickle to add a sinister quality. After the 1917 revolution, tensions did occur between the communist and capitalist world, but during the war something snapped, and relationships deteriorated almost to the level of sparking a World War Three. Communism, as a term, almost became synonymous with fascism, and I’m willing to bet that plenty don’t know the difference, which is strange, given that only a few decades previously, this word would have accurately described the views of many in the west.

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There isn’t one explanation for the change, nor for why it occurred at that moment, and on reflection, it may seem odd that the Cold War began in 1945 and not 1917. After all, an obvious explanation for the post-war tensions is the lack of any need preserve a situation of comradeship with the Soviet Union, once fascism had been finally defeated, but nor was there a need to maintain diplomacy throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s. It would also be easy to assume that communist aggression towards the west began only after the war, but this is again untrue; Lenin once referred to England as the Soviet Union’s greatest enemy, and Soviet military action in the then-British colony of India proves that such statements weren’t at all hollow. So, as I understand it, there is only one reason as to why perceptions of communism changed worldwide, this being military prowess.

The USSR emerged from the war a highly capable country, and, if another conflict was to occur, the prospect of a western defeat was incredibly likely. Thus, though tyranny, repression and starvation were known prior to the war, they were largely ignored. Now that the west had a reason to fear the regime, however, a hatred for communism, with the assistance of these facts, was cultivated in no time. Whilst writing, I’m aware that I’ve come across as critical towards Soviet communism, and I am (by ‘Soviet communism’, I mean the Soviet Union after 1924), yet I’m a communist nonetheless, and I’m also critical of the west during this scenario, for I feel that the demonization of communism didn’t occur due to the oppression and failures it brought about where it was attempted, but simply due to the fact that it provided a potential enemy. This highlights a disgusting aspect of the political situation in the western world, this being the opportunistic tendencies of democratic, western governments, to ally or break with the worst kinds of states or governments when it suits their own interests, no matter how authoritarian, repressive, or simply wrong they may be (I’m not talking about a credible means-to-an-end kind of scenario – although this is likely a popular justification – I’m just talking about when it suits the interests of the international capitalists). To the western world, such an ideology wasn’t evil from the start; it only became so when it threatened capitalism. This was why the ‘C’ word gathered such negativity. Not because of careful observation of socialism’s many failures, but due to the material conditions the capitalist world found themselves in. In short, it was it only when it actually stood a chance that communism stopped being cool.

Though quite different in content, this entry was inspired by the excellent post ‘The s-word’ by ‘Guts of a Beggar’, which you can find here:

https://gutsofabeggar.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/the-s-word/

If you liked this entry (or even if you didn’t!) I’d recommend reading its predecessor.

‘Tis the Season to Revolt

What are the optimal conditions for revolution?

If asked this question, most Marxists would probably point to a strong, militant working class, an exploitive bourgeoisie to revolt against, and perhaps a period of warfare or hardship to initiate suffering of a kind sufficient to spark rebellion. There’s reason behind this, for these were the conditions imagined by Karl Marx himself, which were present prior to many revolutions throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, from the Paris Commune in France to the 26th July Movement in Cuba. However, whilst I wouldn’t argue with any of these ideas proposed, I believe that it’s worth considering the question from other perspectives, for the circumstances of class and society are only the social conditions desired; they ignore whatever role the natural world may have in this process.

Though it may seem unlikely, evidence does suggest that our environment shapes our behaviour in a variety of odd ways, even creating circumstances where riots, rebellions and thus even revolutions are more likely to occur. It is known, for example, that rioting is more likely to occur in Summer, when the air temperature is hotter and the population more agitated. An example would be the London Riots of 2011, which took place primarily in the summertime as a reaction against police violence. Now, whilst short-lived and not in any way successful, it was a movement of considerable significance; not only was the wave of aggression a large-scale revolt which gained attention nationwide, but it was even thought as revolutionary by certain people on the left. Yet what happened when the season turned? The tensions cooled off with the weather, and the spirit of rebellion went out like a lightbulb.

Whilst these all effectively demonstrate how the weather can  affect behaviour in this way, they are only one of multiple instances, for the coincidence of rebellion and hot weather is seen throughout history; the English Civil War broke out in the summer, just like the war in former-Yugoslav Slovenia, and the Tambov Rebellion in Soviet Russia. Perhaps the best exemplary country would be France, which has experienced much violence and revolutionary action in the past three centuries – a great deal in the summer months – from the Storming of the Bastille and the June Revolution to the events in Paris in 1968. And though the revolutionary or rebellious movements in England, France and Russia and Yugoslavia don’t have a great deal in common, all follow a similar pattern, suggesting some correlation between hot weather and dissidence. Obviously, this tendency isn’t consistent (the Russian October Revolution, for example, occurred at night during late autumn in a particularly cold part of the world) but it nonetheless supports the idea that a correlation exists.

Yet it isn’t just the weather, for various other occurrences in the natural world may actually contribute to the likelihood of revolution, an example of which being the evidence that suggests crime is increased by the full moon. Two theories I’ve read suggest this to be because more people are out on the streets during the bright nights it provides, or possibly because the sky is lighter, making criminal behaviour more likely. It could also be a random correlation with the moon having no actual role in stirring up criminal or rebellious behaviour, but it’s worth considering. If it helps, the October Revolution occurred on the night of a bright moon, as did the spontaneous violence of Kristallnacht in Germany and the SA’s rampage that sparked the Night of the Long Knives. The BBC News also stated that various police departments have despatched more officers on full moon nights, in anticipation of increased criminal activity.

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Revolution by moonlight… how romantic!

Many other factors will undoubtedly be involved, but take these as an introduction, a brief outline of the natural world’s effect on revolutionary activity. It goes without saying that the social conditions, of class, suffering and oppression are far more important and far more likely to spark any kind of uprising, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the right lighting and climate, alongside additional variables, may assist the rebellious cause. So, next time you’re planning on initiating revolutionary war on capitalism, remember to plan the uprising during the summer months, and in case the struggle continues through the night, pick a time with the moon’s full. After all, if the conditions around them were different, many key failures in military history may have been successful.

The photo (not the caption) depicting the moon was provided by Frode Steen from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a link to its licence:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

The featured image (rioters in London, 2011) was provided by Raymond Yau from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a link to its licence:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

I won’t post on the following two Fridays, as I’m away for three weeks, but will continue blogging when I return…