Friday, 11 August 2017

Guilt by Association: Weak Arguments Then and Now

"Never had a Revolution more surprised the revolutionaries" Benoit Malon






A few days ago twitter user Jehu provided a crystal clear example of a really poor arguing style that is sadly very common in political debate and squabbling. That is a form of guilt by association, here we have Jehu blaming Bakunin for the Paris Commune and its subsequent defeat. The evidence is that Bakunin called for a workers insurrection and in March of 1871 the Parisian working class districts rose up, ousted their government and proclaimed a city wide Commune.

The problem here is that its merely an allegation, there's no substantive proof to any of it. This was the start of a 250+ tweet thread and in not one of them does Jehu provide by explanation or a link any proof that Bakunin led the workers of Paris to anything. There's two very serious flaws here, the first is that this is a complete misrepresentation of Paris in 1870-71 and the events that led to the founding of the Commune, and its not even an accurate summary of Bakunin's advocacy of insurrection. I'll deal with the second first quickly.

Bakunin didn't urge the workers of Paris to rise up against their government, he urged all workers to rise up against all governments. For example in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war he denounced the German Social Democrats for trying to build a national coalition of German workers and its plans for building a German state precisely because this would hinder the ability of German workers to fight a class war in alliance with the workers of other nations.

If, in case of conflict between two states, the workers would act in accordance with Article 1 of the social-democratic program, they would, against their better inclinations, be joining their own bourgeoisie against their fellow workers in a foreign country. They would thereby sacrifice the international solidarity of the workers to the national patriotism of the State. This is exactly what the German workers are now doing in the Franco-Prussian War. As long as the German workers seek to set up a national state – even the freest People’s State – they will inevitably and utterly sacrifice the freedom of the people to the glory of the State, socialism to politics, justice and international brotherhood to patriotism. It is impossible to go in two different directions at the same time. Socialism and social revolution involve the destruction of the State: – consequently, those who want a state must sacrifice the economic emancipation of the masses to the political monopoly of a privileged party.
Now the example here is particular, the workers of the German states, but its still linked to the need for an international workers revolt. He was consistent on the need for working class internationalism even when speaking about individual sections of it.

 So even on the superficial man said something, then thing like that happened level this is an incorrect argument. Now onto the heart of the matter.

There is absolutely no evidence that Bakunin was a major influence on the workers of Paris in 1870-71. There was an Anarchist and an insurrectionist current active at that time in Paris that did have influence and support amongst some of the population but the Anarchists were supporters of Proudhon's Mutualism, (in most historical texts they're referred to as Proudhonists), and the Insurrectionists were supporters of the Communist Auguste Blanqui. Bakunin's supporters were part of the French section of the International Workingmen's Association (IWMA) and at that time they sat and organised with the other tendencies within it including the supporters of Marx. Officially the view of Marx held the most weight within the group and they as an organisation urged the workers of Paris to be restrained and patient.

Though a few like Eugene Varlin did take part in anti government demonstrations.



Blanqui on the other hand was an enthusiastic supporter of  insurrection, and quite an influence on the Commune. He was declared in absentia because he was in prison the President of the Commune, his supporters were elected to it, and the Commune was willing to trade all of its hostages for Blanqui, the government of Theirs declined.

His believe in the power of insurrection by a small revolutionary elite was so great that he tried to engineer an insurrection on the 14th of August 1870. It failed very quickly, because it had no support, Balnqui and his members were literally expecting the army and the workers of the district of Belleville to join his armed demonstration. It didn't work. The uprising against the Bonaparte regime three weeks later (September fourth 1870) doesn't seem to have had any instigation from the Blanqui current, though he did become notable in the insurrection of October 31st as one of a group of revolutionaries who briefly toppled the government before troops loyal to General Trochu restored power to the "Government of National Defence". His constant pushing for armed insurrection was considered dangerous enough to get on the most wanted list, and he was arrested on the 17th of March a whole day before the insurrection that lead to the creation of the Paris Commune.

So we know that Blanqui was a tireless advocate of insurrection and was present at several abortive attempts before March 18th 1871. And yet there is no evidence that Blanqui had much of an impact on that day either. Blanqui was quite curious for a Communist, he believed the working classes couldn't achieve revolution on their own and had to be lead by a small elite of the enlightened middle class. And I do mean small, I've seen one figure put the party membership as high as 800 in 1868 with a few fellow travellers, and that was all in Paris. That's the reason why the insurrection in August was a failure Blanqui and his comrades had just assumed the workers of Paris would rally to them once they started the insurrection, they didn't actually know that the workers would support them. It may seem contradictory given how prominent the Blanquists were once the Commune got going but its easy to explain. Blanqui had spent most of his life denouncing a series of governments that were seen as corrupt and brutal, and championing the poor. He had also tried multiple times to topple these governments and took part in these attempts at uprising taking on great risks and suffered many punishments, spending over half his life in various prisons.

To quote from one of his many court appearances:

I am accused of having said to 30 million French people, Proletarians like myself, that they have the right to live... Yes, there is a war between the rich and the poor, but the rich have brought it on themselves because they are the aggressors... These privileged people live in luxury from the sweat of the Proletariat.
As such Blanqui the man was well known to political circles and had a lot of respect, but his methods and the groups paternalistic ideology doomed it to futility. Its no accident that Blanqui and his party did better in the October insurrection and the Paris Commune, these were general revolts with the support of other groups and individuals, while solo attempts at action like in August fizzled out very quickly.

So if Blanqui and Bakunin didn't lead the working class to slaughter, who did? The answer is simply no one. The Paris Commune is one of those events that's been celebrated by so many (Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Trotsky, CLR James, Gluckstein, etc) that it's easy to forget how it actually happened.



How it Actually Happened
 Image result for paris commune montmartre

On the 18th of March 1871 the people of Paris awoke to find a hostile army had seized the heights of Montmartre, they captured and killed several guardsmen and were busy trying to seize the cannons on the heights and thus disarm the defences of the city. The army was lead by a General who was known to have carried out massacres in French cities under his control. Of course this wasn't the triumphant Prussians, they were the French army lead by General  Clément-Thomas and the massacres he was infamous for happened in Paris in 1848.

Alarmed the workers of the Montmartre district -many of whom were women and children not exactly typical acolytes of radical political insurrectionist cells- rose up with what weapons they could muster and attacked this threat. Fortunately the rank and file of this army refused the orders to fire and the opposition collapsed. The Generals Clément-Thomas and Lacomte who had ordered his troops to fire on the workers of Montmartre were executed instead.

The revolt spread from Montmarte, the National Guard threw its support behind it and the standing army left in Paris either fled or surrendered, soon a demonstrators and guardsmen had occupied the abandoned government buildings and the Commune was declared. While its possible that Bakunin and Blanqui and Marx and Proudhon et al may have inspired some Parisian workers before hand there is no escaping the simple fact that the insurrection was an act of defence against an already hostile and murderous regime. No one lead the workers of Montmartre on the 18th of March they discovered a threat and defended themselves, and in the process toppled what was left of the government. The only conspiracy was the secret plans by the French General Staff to reinforce their hold on Paris. It caught everyone by surprise. The quote at the top comes from the socialist Benoit Malon, who was in Paris at the time and would serve on the Commune Council.

The IWMA the organisation that included Marx and Bakunin and their supporters in Paris, was caught so unaware by the events that the first official comments by the organisation were made on the 23rd five days later.

Funnily enough what the user Jehu, is doing is just what the reactionary press did to Marx in the aftermath of the Commune. He was repeatedly accused of planning an insurrection and of being responsible for the damage and bloodshed that followed. He responded to these allegations in an interview with a reporter from the New York World.

I: And the last uprising in Paris?
Dr. Marx: First of all I would ask you to prove that there was any kind of a conspiracy and that everything which occurred was not simply the inevitable result of the existing circumstances. And even if we assume that there was a conspiracy, I would still ask you to prove to me that the International Association took part in it.

I: The presence of so many members of the Association in the Commune.

Dr. Marx: Then it could just as easily have been a conspiracy of Freemasons, for their individual part in it was not small by any means. I really would not be surprised if the Pope did try to push the whole uprising onto their account. But let us try to find another explanation. The uprising in Paris was carried out by the Parisian workers. The most capable workers must therefore have been the ones who led it and carried it out; yet the most capable workers are also members of the International Association. But nevertheless, the Association need not be responsible for their actions in any way.

I: The world will look at it through different eyes. People are talking about secret instructions from London and even about financial assistance.Can it be maintained that the allegedly open activity of the Association rules out any secret communications?

Dr. Marx: Has there ever been an association which carried out its work without having confidential as well as open communications? But to speak of secret instructions from London as if it were a question of decrees in questions of belief and morals, emanating from some centre of papal rule and intrigue, would be to completely misunderstand the nature of the International. This would presuppose a centralised form of government in the International; in reality, however, the organizational form of the International gives the greatest scope to the working class; it is more of a union or an association than a centre of command.
The allegation of a conspiracy regardless of alleged mastermind is just a form of red baiting, by blaming internal dissent on outside agitators. So we should be very wary of those who use this tactic especially when corroborating evidence is not forthcoming.

Conclusion

Does this matter outside of this narrow subject? I would say yes, what the press of the 1870's and Jehu are doing is a form of guilt by association to discredit a view or tendency they don't like. You may think its a bit silly comparing an international press to one user on twitter and I agree, but like I said at the beginning this is just one example of very common practice in discourse. Its not really the size of the influence or even the subject at hand, I just picked this one because I know a lot about the Paris Commune so its easy for me to show the problems with it here.

This practice when used actively strangles debate and education. It actively spreads disinformation and makes it harder to learn lessons from the past. This doesn't help anyone at all. Even if you hate Marx or Bakunin or just disapprove of insurrection in general this tactic doesn't help you, you don't learn anything much about either you just get some emotional reassurance.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

1948 French Coal Miners Strike







There are a lot of important events in Labour history that get overlooked. The Coal Miners strike in 1948 in France is one of them. I have tried for days to find information on this event and so far all I've found is a short interview on Radio Fours History Hour, some archival footage from Pathe with no commentary just a few minutes of film reel recording random events during the strike and one article by a French Trotskyist organisation written at the time and translated into English at a later date. I'm assuming there's more information in French, but even with my limited French I wasn't get many results and couldn't read what I found.

The Trotskyist article is interesting but unfortunately the authors were motivated by a desire to discredit the French Communist Party (PCF) and cast themselves as its replacement, rather than recount the events of the strike accurately for the benefit of all. And since its the only source I've found I can't tell how accurate the information it does provide is. Indeed it seems to contradict the miner being interviewed, in the BBC documentary. I have found two other sources, however one is hidden behind a pay wall and the other has only translated a brief abstract, the rest of the article is in French, so no help there.

 In frustration and a desire to make things a little easier for other searchers I've made a video by splicing some of the Pathe footage together with the part of the History hour on the strike.


ADDENDUM:

A French user shared this(http://www.cinearchives.org/Catalogue_d_exploitation_GRANDE_LUTTE_DES_MINEURS__LA_-494-149-0-2.html?ref=f67ef3b524e29b901703fa543c97d706) an eleven minute account of the strike including more footage and commentary, worth watching if you understand French.



Saturday, 22 July 2017

Stitched Up


I owe my mother a lot, she's taught me many things and the debt keeps growing. For example recently she's given me a perfect example of the inherent conflict between employee's and their bosses. A lot of modern left wing discourse tends to miss the point of class dynamics to a degree, the focus is mainly on sweatshops or massive corporation so small time businesses and "ethical" capitalists tend to get a pass. This was one of the problems with the Occupy movement and its 1% vs 99% it kinda blurred the lines a lot with its populist framing.

My mother recently got a job with a small textile business that makes ships sails and boat covers. She really liked, she got on with her two co-workers and she even got along with the boss, lets call him Dave. The money while small was enough to live on and she does enjoy sewing and has experience with industrial sewing machines. And yet just after three months the relationship has soured, and its simply because of the capitalist/worker dynamic.

Dave is unusual as far as bosses go like many smallish businessmen he does do some productive work mainly arranging sales (as in purchasing) and machine maintenance. He's also a hippy type, my mother told me how laidback he is and he's only interested in providing for his family and he was more than accommodating for his employees personal issues. So a nice guy, there were a few warning signs I could of picked up on but why spoil some much needed good news for my mother? What productive would be achieved? So instead I just made vague noncommittal agreements.

Now the use of past tense is giving it away, now Dave the hippy has turned around and said he wants my mother to give up her permanent position in favour of an as and when piece work basis when its busy. He's said the reason for this is because there aren't enough orders but the number of orders have increased since my mother started not declined. Its seems more likely that he's overspent, for a Hippie he isn't lacking in luxuries, and so instead of tightening his belt he's trying to reduce the payroll and holiday pay of his business while keeping personal expenses.

This is obvious because he hired my mother not on a temporary basis when business was unusually good, it was a permanent placement complete with paid holidays, holidays which my mother just so happens to be taking next month when this new employment terms would take effect. So its clearly an excuse, perhaps though this nice Dave is making an excuse because he wasn't happy with my mothers work and hoped to let her down gently? Well he has a funny way of showing his displeasure if so, every piece my Mother has made including the ones on her trial shift have either been sold, or placed for sale within the general stock, she's even been trusted with making some special orders.

The workshop mainly makes general sails and covers differentiated by size and colour but does do special orders for say special patterns or the name of a vessel stitched in, etc. She is by her own admission slower than the other seamstresses but that is part of the process for a textile worker. Usually how it works is you learn the stages needed for creating the article, whether it be a sack, a shirt a blanket etc, and once you've shown you know how to use the machine and handle the materials you then focus on eliminating what's often described by management as excess or wasted time. Muscle memory in a word, to maximise efficiency in textile production a worker has to get to the point where every step is an automatic response. I remember as a child being taken to the textile factory my mum worked in in the 90's after school waiting for her to finish her shift. A lot of them weren't even looking at their work they were just doing it.  They were working constantly and the ratter tatter of the sewing machines never stopped but all of the steps were just subconscious movements, no mistakes no slow downs.

And that was what my mother was doing these past two and a bit months, she went from an average of 3 sails to 4 and occasionally 5. All of which were sold or put up for sale. The other full timers could average a standard sail at 45 minutes give or take. Covers and special orders are too different to standardise.

But moving beyond my mother for a minute her workplace relations provide a perfect example of the inherent exploitation of capitalism. One of the warning signs from the very beginning for me was how much my mother was being paid. She and her co-workers are on minimum wage (£7.50), that seemed rather meagre for a workshop catering mainly to the luxury market. Standard hours are three eight hour days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) with extra days to cover for time off or when orders have increased quite a bit. So I asked her how much a standard sail sells for, on average they go for £500. Now that doesn't include covers or special orders but the bulk of sales are standard sails, so 7.50 times by 24 (average hours) and multiplied by three (number of staff) is £540 so one sail by one staff member covers most of the wage bill, if all three employee's turn up and fulfil one sail, Dave has made nearly a thousand pounds of profit. As it stands my mother with her four sails clears the wage bill and makes him nearly fifteen hundred pounds of profit per day. And remember she's below average at the workshop.

But of course wages aren't the only outgoing for a business, there's rent on workspace, though he owns the workshop outright so doesn't pay rent, the cost of building or buying the business, though Dave inherited it from his father so that doesn't apply, the machines, industrial sewing machines aren't cheap its true. But the ones he uses he got from his dad and have been in use for over ten years, haven't broken down and show no signs of breaking down or any noticeable decline in performance and probably won't for years, so we can scratch that off the list too.

Ah but what about materials! Well its true that materials for sails can be quite expensive (but then that is covered in the sale price) and the workshop uses several. But the main material they use is a form Polytarp, now as material Polytarp, its a bit like the material for water proof overalls, and its incredibly cheap in its raw form and can be bought in bulk easily. So while materials do add to the outgoings unless Dave is being ripped off it doesn't add that much.

 So business issues aren't really the issue here, what is the root of this conflict is power dynamics. Dave owns the business so he calls the shots, and while it is incredibly unfair of him to shift the burden for his own spending sprees (this isn't the first time he's done something like this after a big splash on something) onto his own employees, but legally speaking he's in the right his workshop his rules, and the power relationship means there isn't much to be done within the system. Either he changes his mind and learns to take his own problems on the chin or workplace resistance convinces him to back down.

No matter how friendly and nice an employer is, they are incapable of being your friend. Its not because they're bad people Dave does seem genuinely nice and kind and I'm sure he thinks he's being magnanimous by pushing my mother onto a piecework rate instead of firing her outright, though the fact he's singling out the employee whose been employed for the shortest period and thus has fewer legal protections and obligations is kinda telling. Its the power relationship and the mutually conflicting interests of capital and labour. He has the power to transfer his problems onto others and can do so in a way that maintains his livelihood, and so he is taking it.

Its not personal its just business, and that is the root of the problem.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Mad Marx:

From Existential Comics


I may have been a touch pessimistic about the stagnation of leftist education. In the past couple of days I've encountered some new materials. For today here's a mini series on Marx by Philosphy Tube, that I find to be very interesting and presenting in an engaging way. It won't make you an expert but it does explain a few things.

The playlist,

Episode 1 Labour & Class Conflict



Episode 2 Capitalism's Consequences



Episode 3 Cultural Marxism & Political Correctness



Episode 4 Beyond Capitalism

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Napoleon: The Man and the Myths




Historian Andrew Roberts presents a series, recorded partly on location in Paris, which dispels some myths about Napoleon Bonaparte.

As a history buff I've spent a lot of time in Bonaparte's shadow. For a man who left such an impact on historical accounts its surprisingly difficult to find neutral accounts of the man and his record. Historians and authors tend to fall into one of two camps, Napoleon L'Empereur, admirers who view him as the great liberator and moderniser of a stagnate Europe, or Napoleon the bloodthirsty Antichrist. 

There's not much overlap, and this podcast series by Andrew Roberts leans toward the former, but it does demolish quite a few myths about old Boney, so I think its worth listening too.


 épisode Un


 Napoleon was savaged by British caricaturists during his lifetime. They loved to portray him as 'little Boney' - a short, uncouth, villainous, Corsican upstart. In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts dispels some of those myths. Recorded partly on location in Paris, Roberts visits Napoleon's tomb and the Foundation Napoleon, where the Emperor's huge correspondence is kept. Far from the short bully of contemporary propaganda, Andrew Roberts suggests Napoleon was charming, learned, a gifted military tactician - and of average height. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Deux


 It's said that France became a police state under Napoleon. He wanted to know everything about his growing empire and, despite the revolution, crowned himself as Emperor to rule over it. Historian Andrew Roberts challenges this bald account of events. He presents Napoleon as a ruler who rescued France from its post-revolutionary chaos, whose sense of order and efficiency was welcomed by his countrymen. Roberts also argues that Napoleon was not interested in interfering in the lives of his subjects and that he broke with tradition by rewarding people of merit and talent - regardless of their class. For the first time, those of humble birth could rise to the highest positions in the country. The programme is recorded partly on location in France. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Trois


 Vaulting ambition, a politically calculating marriage, endless battles across Europe, a Russian campaign that cost the lives of half a million French troops - there is much for which history can criticise Napoleon. But historian Andrew Roberts defends Napoleon against these charges and makes the case for him as a man more sinned against than sinning - though the retreat from Moscow, vividly described, left Napoleon's army in dismal disarray with many men succumbing to deaths from disease and cold and suicide. As a result, Napoleon was exiled to Elba. Although of course, he would return. The programme is partly recorded on location in Paris. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio Production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Quatre


The battle of Waterloo changed the future of Europe and sealed Napoleon's fate. But why did such a successful and experienced commander as Napoleon lose that battle, 200 years ago today? Historian Andrew Roberts describes Napoleon's uncharacteristic catalogue of errors, the poor communications on the battlefield and the Emperor's miscalculation about the vital part that would be played by the Prussians, fighting on the Allied side. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.


 épisode Cinq


 What does history make of Napoleon? Exiled to St Helena, where it was hoped by the British that he would be forgotten, he in fact remained - and remains - a figure of fascination. For Europeans, he is still the author of civil reforms that underpin laws today. In France, his schools, architecture and infrastructure are a constant reminder of his rule. Opinion is of course divided. Those on the right in France tend to admire Napoleon as a strong Enlightenment leader; those on the left stress his warlike and tyrannical side. In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts allows listeners to make up their own minds. The programmes are partly recorded on location in Paris. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Well in Theory




 “During the past nine years the International has developed more than enough ideas to save the world, if ideas alone could save it, and I challenge anyone to come up with a new one. It’s no longer the time for ideas, it’s time for actions.” Mikhail Bakunin 1873,


"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it" Karl Marx



For the past couple of days Left Twitter seems to keep stumbling back into an argument over the role of theory. Some good points were made, but as usual they tended to get drowned out and it wasn't long before the disagreements became embittered.

I have some thoughts on the subject but think it best to outline them here rather than on the 140 character limit platform. To summarise in an admittedly unfair but sadly not that unfair manner the debate boiled down to everyone should read big bulkly and inaccessible tomes to have an opinion worth listening too, or a complete rejection of theory if it can't be explained in an easy way for a contemporary and virgin audience.

Now that didn't apply to everyone but that was where both poles were placed and as the argument drew on they started pull more users closer to each of them. Personally speaking I find this divide to be largely arbitrary and not really helpful.

I personally struggle with theory, as I said in my post on the Discourse Collective, I don't really like dealing with abstract concepts, I understand and remember the words, but usually they don't really mean anything to me until I'm more acquainted with it. One way I've found make theoretical works more accessible to me was to got to it from history. The first texts by Marx, Bakunin and Kropotkin I read were their essays on the Paris Commune. I read them because I was familiar with the events of the Commune so when they used terminology I wasn't familiar with I had an image I could link it to. And from there I worked my way up.

I think a lot of the difficulty lies in finding the best way to come at something.

Lets start with theory;

Theory: Theory (the concept I mean) is a bit misunderstood. When we use the T word we usually refer to big bulkly tomes full of abstraction and a language unique to the author. A good example would be the word state, nearly every political outlook under the sun means something a bit different by that word, for Weber the state was a monopoly on violence, for Marx and instrument of class domination, for anarchists a hierarchical power relation that props up and defends other hierarchical power relations like class rule etc. And yes these books are an example of theory and the criticisms levelled at what we can call pure theory are quite accurate. They can be impenetrable, they assume you've read multiple other books before hand, even if they're supposed to be an introduction, the text is mostly abstract or to heavily linked to an event or process, the language has become outdated etc.

But that isn't all that theory is. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, is a novel about painters in 1910's England. And yet its full of socialist theory and criticism of capitalist economics. So long as you can read you don't need any background knowledge to understand the theory in Philanthropists its does an incredible job using its narrative as a teaching tool. You don't have to agree with its ideas my father certainly didn't when he read it, but you know its theory and you understand the argument being presented.

The same is true of The Jungle or the Grapes of Wraith, I often find recommending these three novels to people interested in social history but not necessarily socialist theory is a good first taste. But not everything can be turned into a novel, but there are other ways to learn theory in a more accessible form.

Kapital:
Capital was a big offender in the twitter storm, it is pretty hard to get into, but there are a few ways to lessen the workload. For example, their is a Manga that adapts part of the Capital. In addition to imagery to associate with the idea it uses a narrative to demonstrate and explain some of the concepts like surplus value, and so on.


It doesn't cover everything but its a light read and it does give you a frame of reference for the rest of the work. It certainly helped me with Volume One. There is also an abridged (60 or so pages) version compiled by Otto Ruhle, That does a similar thing without pictures, but with more concepts.

There are also many introductions to Capital and reading guides online. I've never used them though so can't comment.


Society of the Spectacle:

Society of the Spectacle (SOS) is without doubt the most impenetrable text I've ever come across. Indeed Debord deliberately wrote in as opaque a manner as possible. He came to regret that as he spent the last years of his life complaining about how misused and misunderstood SOS was. I've read a lot of Situationist texts and they are all much easier to understand than SOS which is the introductory text!

 For example,

9

In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.


Fortunately other Situationists were less willing to play silly games with their readers, their are several ways to break it open.  Tiernan Morgan and Lauren Page came up with an illustrated guide to SOS

In addition to the graphics the pair take the time to explain several of SOS thesis's, like the manga and the abridgement in addition to explain several specific concepts they provide a point to access the rest. Though its still pretty hard going.

In addition the group Audio Anarchy have done something interesting with SOS. Instead of just turning the text into audio like they usually do, the group instead had readers read out a thesis, explain it and then relate it to their lives. Well except for the one title the Anarchists, he just reads it out and says he agrees with it, which is basically useless, but the rest is good.


Action as Theory:

Another issue with this divide is the obscuring of action as a form of theory. This is I feel one of the greatest strengths of syndicalism, much of its theory is developed and taught through action. To take the IWW as an example they mainly do education through practicals and workshops. The organiser training is not only a tool to build confidence and help members learn how to organise, its also a demonstration of class dynamics and the use of solidarity and direct action.

The Wobblies were also pioneers of other forms of teaching without relying solely on reading. Joe Hill, arguably the most well known Wobbly organiser, wrote songs to teach theory and bind workers together through singing. And he wasn't alone, the Wobblies had a large roster of singers and song writers, in particular Ralph Chaplins most famous song written in 1915


When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
For the Union makes us strong

Chorus
Solidarity forever, solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
For the Union makes us strong

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite 
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?  
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?  
For the union makes us strong
It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving 'mid the wonders we have made
But the union makes us strong 
All the world  that's owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone 
We have laid the wide foundations, built it skyward stone by stone 
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own  
While the union makes us strong
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power gain our freedom when we learn
That the Union makes us strong
 In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousandfold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the Union makes us strong
And then there's our old friend Mr Block. Mr Block was a comic strip character whose daily misadventures explained the obstacles of class society to workers in a very accessible format. He gets screwed over by the bosses he admires, he struggles to get anywhere despite being a model worker and his attempts to break into the upper class all fall flat.


To be perfectly honest I think the only way out of a bottleneck is to develop a plurality of education tools, audio, video, graphics, books, practicals, music and even games. Relying on the same texts that even by 1939 where considered partially obsolete isn't going to be enough.


Addendum:

There is one other aspect to this that I think is worthy of commenting. The issue of gatekeeping. I'm not really happy with the term but its the one in general use so I'll go with that. In my experience there is an attitude that someone's opinion isn't worth hearing if they haven't done the same reading everyone else has. This is a fairly common thing but it amazes me how common it is amongst Communists.

Communism is supposed to use a scientific analysis and rooted in materialism i.e. economic reality. So if your discounting a view because it doesn't tally with your own reading list that is neither scientific nor material its just another form of literary elitism. The whole point of communist theory is to relate to the material world in some way. If it doesn't do that, then either the theory is poor or the person extolling it isn't as familiar with it as they like to assume.

One of the worst behaviours I've seen in left wing discourse is this fundamentalist approach of reciting quotations without substantiation or grounding in reality. If Marx/Kropotkin/Mao/Debs/Debord/Lenin/Bakunin/Bookchin etc said it, it must be true and you are wrong if you disagree for any reason and that's the end of it, is what this approach is saying. Its very frustrating dealing with these people, especially if you do know the works their quoting too. Even if the quotation is correct by some fluke, its not an answer and once someone starts reciting from the good book(s) the conversation is over. There's no point continuing it, even if what they're quoting was disproven by the course of events, unless it was retracted by the author at a later date its just walls made of words that they'll use again and again and again.

I believe a worryingly large number of people who bury their heads in texts have forgotten the point of the endeavour. Quotations are fine but of themselves all they prove is that you have read the text and can remember it. Without applying its lessons to the real world and seeing how it measures up, you're just using up your free time. To go back to the quotes at the top there for a minute, that's the point Marx and Bakunin were getting at, theory divorced from action, or rather theory that can't be translated into action is pointless.

Then there's the issue that since Communism is materialist by far the greatest teaching tool is practical experience with the economic system, and the class struggle itself. Who understands the concept of alienation of labour more? Someone whose read of it or someone who lives it? What about surplus value, someone whose calculated the national averages or someone who compares their wage packet to the projected profits of the company? and so on, and so on. You can understand the workings of capitalism without reading economic texts, you can understand oppression without reading anti authoritarian literature, you can understand the importance of the environment without subscribing to Greenpeace's email lists etc. And to be honest if someone can't tell another person who does understand the subject from someone who doesn't without the use code words (same terminology) then I don't believe they've understood the theory either.



Just as it its important to have a frame of reference for understanding theory, its important to have a frame of reference for applying it. Often what happens in arguments the views of some will be written off simply because they don't use the approved terminology favoured by the approved reading lists. That's another warning sign the conversation is going nowhere, by the way, when one side starts getting really picky with the word choices of the others. To be honest if either start happening your better off breaking it off.

The idea that we must all study the same texts to have ideas and opinions worthy of consideration is put bluntly just a form of snobbery. And a symptom of a closed mind, its one of the reasons this left unity thing won't work because a large number have nothing but contempt for the theory of schools of thought that aren't their own.  Left unity in practice usually means everyone should listen to us.

This is why a lot of interleft criticism is just insults and mischaracterisations, why bother learning what the others actually think when its all trash anyway? The point of the majority of lefty  criticism isn't to help everyone improve and develop its to discredit competitors so everyone ends up joining your "side".

This theory/action divide is often just another excuse to do the same.

Give and Take:

But of course this isn't one sided, both sides have justifiable frustrations. It isn't fair or practical to expect those familiar with a work to dispense knowledge on demand. But on the other hand dumping a book in someone's lap and expecting them to not only muddle through but come to the same conclusions you have (I speak from experience here, often disagreement is seen as a sign of incomprehension or you being overly emotional) is simply daft.

But there is a potential solution, rebuilding study groups and book clubs. In the past most parties and radical unions and propaganda groups developed programs to not just read books but to help members and sympathisers understand them. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense is famous for confrontation and wearing berets and waving shotguns around, but much of what they actually did was provide community services and support for members. Most large Chapters had reading and discussion groups for the texts on their reading lists.

The IWW has had some success reviving the Working People's College and summer camps and workshops at branch levels. And the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) has maintained a fairly consistent study program and summer school. But these are exceptions really, the trend has been to just leave education to individual members in their off time or have members follow the lead of important members.

The internet has seen a bit more of a revival though, Libcom.org had a Capital reading group, the Something Awful literature sub forum has a book of the month reading and discussion thread that occasionally reads political and philosophical books. And I discord I recently joined has a book club channel. I think rebuilding discussion and study groups are the way to overcome most of these problems.

It'll open up texts to more readers, allow the community to develop their analytical and critical thinking skills, limit the tendency of theory reading to lead to group think and mindless recitations and remove the burdens from our shoulders.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Big Reddebrek PDF Archive





For about four or so years now I've been indulging in a rather strange hobby, I like making PDFs. My father got me an e-reader as a present but unlike Kindles and Ipads the company that made it went broke before I got mine, so it had no online service to get books from. You could however manually add texts to it either through usb or a cameras memory card. So I got into the habit of doing that, and reading on the go.

Unfortunately free e-books can be hard to find if you don't want to be limited to pre 1923 English language texts. Sites get taken down or ask you to download dodgy addons etc. Fortunately online texts are more plentiful and stable (though not always a lot of these sites were hosted on platforms like geocities) and after a little practise you can make them into pdfs/epubs fairly easily.

Depending on the websites formatting it can be as simple as highlighting, and then copy and pasting into a text document, and then exporting them into (pdf is the standard) a e-format and then you can transfer into all the others using software like Calibre.

I then decided to share them and a few people thanked me and it just escalated from there. I now have over 400 made and I keep making them now and then. So I'm making this blog as an archive of sorts for the pdfs I've made. Feel free to download and share if you like them.

Most of these use text hosted on libcom.org and can be found attached to their articles or in this thread,

Link to the folder


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Berserk:No Godhands, No Masters





EDIT:Sorry I should of made this clear from the beginning, if your completely new to Berserk the franchise depicts quite graphic scenes of violence, torture, mutilation and all kinds of abuse including sexual assault and abuse of children, and I talk a bit about this below, so read with caution.


I've recently been playing Berserk: The Band of the Hawk in my off time, and it reminded me of that 90's anime series so I decided to watch it again. If your not familiar Berserk has a reputation for being really  hardcore in its depictions of violence, including sexual violence, and its unrelentingly bleak atmosphere. A lot of people describe the show as Metal, whether that's an insult or a compliment depends on who said it, but I think it fits.

Even the soundtrack has a Metal aesthetic

 If your interested, there's a very thorough recap of the series by youtuber Bennett the Sage.  Its a very interesting and strange series, it looks like a medieaval fantasy show and in some ways is, there are knights, kings and castles and undercurrents of magic and monsters but that's about as far as the similarities go.

There are no heroes here, no gallantry and pure and noble souls resisting the forces of evil. Guts the protagonist isn't a knight, he's a mercenary, and he doesn't really fight because he needs the money, he does so because personal traumas. He keeps throwing himself into random battles and in the beginning keeps letting his guard down deliberately. He does have a slither of conscience, which compared to every other character makes him the default hero but even that doesn't prevent him from doing unambiguously evil things.

On my re-watch I noticed something which on reflection is rather obvious, the show has a very uncompromising criticism of hierarchy. In general the theme can be summarised as `power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely`.  But it does also go into a specific critique of Feudalism and why a social system based on that is a terrible idea. The world that Berserk is set in isn't just for show its a genuinely functioning Feudal society, there's a Nobility who have special privileges, the peasantry are bound to their lords, there's class tensions between commoners and nobles.

And its not a very good life for those at the bottom of the hill. There's a war that's been going on for over a hundred years between the Kingdom of Midland and the Empire of Tudor. Its a war purely for the benefit of the Nobles, the Tudor Empire wants to expand, and once Midland expels the invaders their King wants to start taking their lands and estates. For the peasants this war presents no benefits no matter who wins, and while its going on their subject to extreme violence and economic pressure. Bandits and the armies of the two Kingdoms routinely sack the villages, and if and when the war ends they'll just have no masters whom they send their tributes, taxes and tithes. To drive the point home, in one episode a snake monster man has become the new lord of a territory and aside from his eating of humans there's not that much difference. His rule is based on the Feudal social contract, serve me and I'll protect you i.e. I won't directly attack you with my army. His army are brutal bullies but that's true of the many of the enforcers of the Lords who aren't weird snake monsters.

Indeed the Nobles are so unaccountable they are shown frequently to indulge in every vice at the expense of their subjects. Including child rape. Several Nobles are known rapists of children and while they do come to bad ends its because of outside military forces who aren't part of their social system. One gets killed because he decided to take part in a battle, the other gets killed by their victim because a band of mercenaries happened to be passing and their leader intervened. And of course eating human flesh and the sexual assault of children are just the most extreme examples of the powerlessness of subjects in this society. A man has sexual relations with the princess of Midland so the King, whose been shown to be a bit of a liberal reformer as far as Kings go, orders the offender to be killed slowly over a period of several years via extreme torture.

Fights to the death are the only way to settle disputes in Midland


It turns out even the "ideal" King has a dungeon and a torturer on the payroll. We actually see what happens to the poor sod after a few years of this treatment, he can barely move and is almost catatonic from the pain. 

But class relations are more than the naked display of brute force, there's is also the question of social mobility. And despite the infamous reputation for blood and brutality its the issue of social mobility thats the main driver of the plot. Guts the fellow with the massive sword and the constant grimace is the protagonist but its not really his story until the end. The storyline in the anime is driven by the ambitions of Griffith the leader of the mercenary unit the Band of the Hawk, which Guts ends up joining.



Griffith is ambitious, he's a commoner but he dreams of his own Kingdom, the hows and whys aren't really important to him he knows what he wants and he'll risk everything to get it. It seems he's come to the conclusion the best way to get a Kingdom is to get Midlands, and the series shows how he plans to get it. At first it appears to be a combination of Warlodism, he manoeuvres the Band of the Hawk into being the most impressive and important unit in Midlands forces, usually by taking on suicide missions and driving his troops to their limit, while doing his best to seduce the Kings daughter.

But since a commoner rising in court is a threat, he's soon targeted by a conspiracy of Nobles, so his plans are quickly modified to include murder of opponents and any collateral. Griffith despite the adoration of his mercenaries-it basically grows into a personality cult- is not a good person, to get anywhere close to his dreams he's already taken on the worst features of the Nobility, kill threats and potential threats, use those beneath you as tools for your own personal ambitions. Berserk makes this explicit thourgh the use of flashbacks and anecdotes from those whom knew Griffith the longest. He was always driven but he wasn't that callous, he intervened when he came across a Noble attempting to rape a young Casca, and from what he says and does its made clear he's personally disgusted with what he sees. And after Casca kills the Noble in self defence he takes her with him. At one point he let a child who dreamed of becoming a Knight join his band, and when the boy inevitably died he took the death very hard. And early on in the Hawks existence Griffith prostituted himself to a Lord for a large sum of money he could use to expand the Hawks into a more impressive fighting unit. He went through with it but found the experience very traumatic.

But by the time we meet Griffith that spark is largely gone, at one point in the storyline Griffith has a rival murdered, but during the assassination the Lords son an eight year old boy is also killed, and when Griffith learns of this he has no reaction whatsoever. The death of innocent children no longer matters to him, all he cares about is that the rival is out of the way.



The last few episodes of the series spell this out very bluntly in an arc I like to call the breaking of Griffith. Just after the half way point of the show I started getting annoyed by Griffith, I felt like I was just watching one brutal despotic monster, fight other brutal despotic monsters for the right to be a brutal despotic monster to people who are just trying to live their lives in peace. It turns out that was actually the point, and in the last few episodes Griffith has to confront whose he really become without illusions or hollow self justifications.

A group of demons(The God Hand) have taken a shine to young Griffith and they decide to give him a dose of the truth. They point out to him that the pursuit of his dreams have meant building a bridge over the corpses of thousands. Hawks members, allies and enemies all have to die if Griffith wants to get that Kingdom he's longed for, for so long. Put so bluntly he is of course repelled-well at first he reacts with self loathing- and tries to make excuses to the fields of the dead. But of course sorry doesn't bring back the dead, in the end he decides he still wants his kingdom despite everything and makes a deal with the demons for power. And to seal the deal he lets monsters eat the Band of the Hawks.

 So the arc of Griffith is that he in order to pursue power he became a figurative monster and then went from a figurative monster into a literal monster, he even has bat wings to prove it. And again we saw that this isn't unique, the only difference between a Feudal lord and a snakeman lord is that an Earl is probably not going to literally eat his serfs at a banquet.

Oh and in the world of Berserk there are Gods but they're all pretty much evil who dedicate themselves to living off human suffering. So basically to sum up the world of Berserk won't know peace and joy until a mass movement arises opposing all Gods and Masters.

Monday, 3 July 2017

When Copaganda Backfires

Admit, that theme song is echoing in your mind right now, its basically the anthem of law enforcement


When I was young my parents managed to save up enough for a cable package, and it really did change everything. We got to see the Simpsons on Telly there were channels just for cartoons and movies and documentaries. Back then the History channel even broadcast programs that had nothing to do with Ancient Aliens or Hitler.

But even back then there was still dead air that needed filling even though there were less than a hundred channels. And just like now one of the easiest ways to fill gaps in advert blocks was cop procedural shows, cop docs and cop dramas. Not much has changed, but recently I've come to the realisation that all those rainy weekends spent watching anything that was on accidentally played a part in my political development.

Now by political development, I don't mean Capital P politics like say identifying with a political party or an explicit current of ideology, but it did help stimulate my critical thinking skills, and gave me reasons to start questioning my preconceptions about life. And most of it was thanks to whats known in some circles as Copaganda (Cop, propaganda, entertainment and information that is pro policing as an institution).

I first got into Copaganda by watching America's Dumbest Criminals (ADC). ADC was funny well funny to pre teen me anyway, and it was reassuring to see bad guys utterly fail in their selfish antics. But after I started watching other similar stuff, those shows about dashcam car chases mostly. Its mostly a blur now looking back but a couple of pieces stick out in my mind.



I once saw a documentary about the incident with the MOVE 9 group in Philadelphia. Now the doc was purely from the police point of view, it didn't go into detail about who the MOVE group were, it portrayed them as a sort of cult that was abusing the children of its members. It did however detail how police try to break into the MOVE building, how there was a gun battle, and how later on the police decided to break the stalemate by dropping a bomb on top of the building. What stood out to me was an account by a police officer who went into the now burning building and found some children. The children were terrified of him and he recounted with disgust how this shows that the group had been indoctrinating their children against the police.

This left a deep impression on me. This is a man who was part of a force that had just besieged the home of these kids, shot at their parents and then dropped a bomb on their heads and set fire to their home, indoctrination or not, why wouldn't they be terrified of the police? I thought about how I'd react if that happened to me and I'm sure I would be terrified of the police and my parents went to great lengths to get me to respect the police.

Even as a child the lack of awareness displayed by this adult struck me as strange. It also left me questioning how exactly the police can protect the community when they're actively trying to kill members of that community. Dropping a bomb from a helicopter in the middle of the city isn't something a community protection force should've been doing.

Another similar shard of memory comes from what I can only describe as one of those `Worlds Most Dangerous Car Chases` shows but with riots instead of chasing drunk drivers. Assuming its the same show and I'm not merging two in my mind this program was probably my first introduction into the "Outside Agitators" argument. They showed footage of a teachers strike in South America and the voice over was keen to stress the difference between the picket line of teachers and a group of violent extremists, whom a group masked up using home made guns -a bit like spud guns- to fire paint projectiles at a line of riot police. The voice over pointed out that some of the police had spray painted pro teacher slogans on their shields and remarked that the police kept their cool and that there was no escalation.



I found that curious because it implied that police don't often keep their cool (which turned out to be true, but young kid) and that there was a danger that a group could easily manipulate the police into attacking unrelated people. That was quite an eye opener, but it went a bit further. Another segment was from what I think was one of the anti WTO riots like Seattle 99. It showed a line of police defending an empty corporate office building from rioters. The voice over was praising the officers for standing up to violence, not giving in and successfully protecting property. And that was very important for me. I knew that police were the people you went to to report a theft but the idea that they protect property in general just wasn't something I had considered.

Indeed I can remember what I was thinking watching the clip, I was thinking, Why? Why put yourselves at risk of injury to protect an empty building, why is a building that's owned by an ultra rich company with insurance need so much security? Why are the police defending an empty building when in order to do so they have to inflict injury on the people they're supposed to be protecting? They were clubbing people right on the head and face, even as a kid I knew head injuries can be very serious, so to see them go to such lengths protecting property was so strange and unnerving to me. I couldn't see why an institution that is supposed to protect and serve the community didn't take the path of least harm-lesser evil if you like- and let them smash that empty building up. The building would be repaired and be open again very quickly, so why actively beat people up and risk your own staff? It just didn't seem rational to me.

My parents aren't radical by any definition of the word, but they were uncompromising on how people are more important than things and money. Whenever a terrible accident happens on the news, my Mother usually complains that the news seems more focussed on the financial tolls instead of the casualties.

Indeed the program itself beyond these two examples led to quite a bit of thinking on my part. I had grown up thinking that criminals were bad people and morally weak, and had seen a couple of examples of this type in my home town. But in this show ordinary people from all around the world, Asia, Europe the Americas etc, whom the police were opposing were just workers, students and people who were clearly heavily motivated over some kind of grievance. I did know what a strike was, or rather what a moderate version of a strike was, and wage disputes settled by standing outside a factory didn't seem to warrant police intervention as far as I could see. Yes I knew that vandalism was wrong and against the law, but the people outside the office were so determined to smash that place up, they were prepared to go through a wall of shields and risk getting knocked out in order to do it, and that just didn't seem to fit the image of selfish and cowardly bullies preying on their neighbours.

And it also seemed rather strange to me that these people were being opposed by a police force that was armed to the teeth and on what looked like a war footing. Striking students in Seoul were met with police in armour, gas masks and armoured vehicles and gas grenades. I couldn't see why ordinary people were met with such naked force when at worst they would commit vandalism, but the murderers on the news seemed to have been dealt with by normal coppers. It just seemed so disproportional. The only comparison I could think of at the time was Northern Ireland, and back then there was still a lot of guns and explosives floating around and very high tensions over the possibility of a new armed insurrection. Not to knock the militancy of striking teachers and student protestors in the 90s but I somehow doubt they posed the same level of physical threat as a resurgent paramilitary with years of stockpiling and experience in urban terrorism.

Now of course I eventually found out the answer, police forces as we know them were established mainly to protect property and mainly the property of those who have the most property to be threatened, and as a result their standards for acceptable force is tied more to how serious the threat in question is to authority, and not the community.

Class conflict roiled late nineteenth century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late nineteenth century echoes down to today – except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.
              Sam Mitrani
 That's also largely true of most forms of civil governance, even Adam Smith had some interesting things to say on the subject.
Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all. – Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter I, Part II On the Expence of Justice
Of course Smith was talking about the oppression of the poor largely as a result of corruption rather than by design, but if even liberal idealists can see some problems with the way society treats the relationship between people and property, well there's bound to be some problems.

Looking back I think this was really start of my questioning of society as it was presented to me. I can't think of anything else I was exposed to at such a young age that stimulated my critical thinking skills, intentionally or otherwise. I guess, looking back that I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't been so lazy and spent so much time channel surfing.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Whatever Happened to, Dear old Lenin?



I've recently re-read Lenin's State and Revolution, arguably his most famous work. Its the one I've seen most referred to by modern Leninists who wish to get new members anyway. I read it and Imperialism years ago when I was still pretty new to left wing politics and they were both over my head.

State and Revolution is quite interesting as both a work of theory and a window into history, it was written in August and September (Old Russian calendar I believe) 1917 and Lenin makes that abundantly clear with numerous references to what was then current events. Its also quite easy to read, its fairly short and the translation on Marxists.org is very good, it reads like an English language original. I did have to look up what panegyric meant but other than that I had no issue understanding the text. The book is largely quotation, mainly from Marx and Engels who are praised heavily, and the German SPD members Kautsky and Bernstein who are criticised constantly. There's not that much of Lenin in the text and most of his words are tied heavily to the quotations or references to the then current political situation.

A fact that's often overlooked about Marx and Engels, even by numerous modern and not so modern Marxists, is that the pair were more than willing to adapt and alter and develop their ideas over time when they encountered new experiences. Their early pre 1848 writings are different from what they published after the Revolutions of 1848. Napoleon the Thirds coup in 1851 also provoked new developments in Marx's thinking. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte isn't as famous as the Manifesto but a lot of people are familiar at least with the title and the quotation "Once as tragedy, then as farce". And of course most importantly the Paris Commune of 1871 was a very important experience that affected Marx. So much so that months before the uprising at Montmartre, Marx wrote an address to the Parisian workers warning them to remain disciplined and not try to overthrow the government of France. But once the uprising was under way and the Commune was proclaimed he championed it. Indeed he was so impressed with the Communes brief existence that he actually went and made a revision to the Manifesto to include a lesson from the Commune.

Personally I think this the most interesting thing about State and Revolution, the book is a good time line of Marx and Engels attitudes toward the state and explains how it developed in a more radical direction. If he died after writing the Manifesto, you could be forgiven for thinking Marx believed Communism could be achieved simply by taking control of the state by any means, an electoral landslide or a coup would do. Marx did stress the need for a revolutionary mass mobilisations of the workers, but the aim was the conquest of the state so you could be forgiven for wanting to skip a few steps.

That attitude is basically what Lenin was criticising the Opportunists-socialists who were willing to collaborate for state power- for doing. Throughout the work he criticises Kautsky and his fellows for deliberately (in his view) distorting Marx and Engels on the questions of the State and Revolution
Quote:
“We can quite safely leave the solution of the problems of the proletarian dictatorship of the future,” said Kautsky, writing “against” Bernstein. (p.172, German edition)
This is not a polemic against Bernstein, but, in essence, a concession to him, a surrender to opportunism; for at present the opportunists ask nothing better than to “quite safely leave to the future” all fundamental questions of the tasks of the proletarian revolution.
Quote:
From 1852 to 1891, or for 40 years, Marx and Engels taught the proletariat that it must smash the state machine. Yet, in 1899, Kautsky, confronted with the complete betrayal of Marxism by the opportunists on this point, fraudulently substituted for the question whether it is necessary to smash this machine the question for the concrete forms in which it is to be smashed, and then sough refuge behind the “indisputable” (and barren) philistine truth that concrete forms cannot be known in advance!!
This passage is from the final section but the tone and manner of argument is consistent from the first page. Kautsky is being dishonest, his dishonesty seems to be motivated by political expediency etc.
The books strengths are its criticisms of Kautsky and the way it outlines Marx and Engels, it even reproduces some rare letters of Engels not easily found otherwise. If you wish to see Marx and Engels views on the state in total State and Revolution is the easiest way of doing that.
However there are some interesting weaknesses in the book. Mainly it doesn't really explain the relationship between the State and the Revolution. Oh it talks about the two from cover to cover but its mostly reference, neither Lenin, nor Marx or Engels explain the necessary link. They all talk about how important it is to smash the bourgeois state machine (its parliaments, prisons, standing armies, police and bureaucracy) and replace it with a new one, the replacement is a bit vaguer but it involves the people armed and mandated and recallable delegates handling administration work without privileges beyond workmen's wages. And a system like the Paris Commune, but a bit different, like either a union of communes or the commune model on a smaller scale, depending on the quotation. And that this will eventually lead to the withering away of the rest of the state and complete the revolution with its abolishment.

But at no point do any of the three make the case why the state is necessary at all in this process. Lenin constantly criticises the Anarchists in the book for not realising why the state in its proletarian form is absolutely necessary for its completion for example

Quote:
We have now seen how, in their controversy with the anarchists, marx and Engels with the utmost thoroughness explained their views on the relation of revolution to the state. In 1891, in his foreword to Marx’ s Critique of the Gotha Programme, Engels wrote that “we”—that is, Engels and Marx—"were at that time, hardly two years after the Hague Congress of the [First] International, engaged in the most violent struggle against Bakunin and his anarchists."
Quote:
The anarchists had tried to claim the Paris Commune as their “own”, so to say, as a collaboration of their doctrine; and they completely misunderstood its lessons and Marx’ s analysis of these lessons. Anarchism has given nothing even approximating true answers to the concrete political questions: Must the old state machine be smashed? And what should be put in its place?
Quote:
It is safe to say that of this argument of Engels', which is so remarkably rich in ideas, only one point has become an integral part of socialist thought among modern socialist parties, namely, that according to Marx that state “withers away” — as distinct from the anarchist doctrine of the “abolition” of the state.
Quote:
It was solely against this kind of “abolition” of the state that Marx fought in refuting the anarchists! He did not at all oppose the view that the state would disappear when classes disappeared, or that it would be abolished when classes were abolished. What he did oppose was the proposition that the workers should renounce the use of arms, organized violence, that is, the state, which is to serve to "crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie".
These quotations are from all over the book and are only a couple of the many similar (actually identical in intent) criticisms. I thought about laying them out chronologically, but there really isn't any point while Marx and Engels develop throughout book, the attacks on anarchism don't really change.

Notice how they don't actually explain why there view is the correct one? Well we do get a slight substantiation in the last one about Marx commenting on disarmament. Here's the quotation Lenin was referring to in that last extract.

Quote:
This controversy took place in 1873. Marx and Engels contributed articles against the Proudhonists, “autonomists” or "anti- authoritarians", to an Italian socialist annual, and it was not until 1913 that these articles appeared in German in Neue Zeit.
Quote:
"If the political struggle of the working class assumes revolutionary form," wrote Marx, ridiculing the anarchists for their repudiation of politics, "and if the workers set up their revolutionary dictatorship in place of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, they commit the terrible crime of violating principles, for in order to satisfy their wretched, vulgar everyday needs and to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, they give the state a revolutionary and transient form, instead of laying down their arms and abolishing the state."
(Neue Zeit Vol.XXXII, 1, 1913-14, p.40)

Now Marx was specifically arguing with the followers of Proudhon (Mutualists) here, Bakunin the other major Anarchist contemporary of Marx whom he also hated, could not possibly be accused of pacifism. If anything Bakunins flaw was the opposite a bit to quick to emphasis violent insurrection. But even limiting the criticism to Proudhon and the Mutualists there are still some issues here. Firstly the Mutualists did take part in the fighting of Paris Commune, Proudhon himself while he was personally not a supporter of the use of force ideally, and never fought himself as far as I know[1], he did still go to the barricades in Paris 1848 and met with the revolutionaries there and he did support the revolutions throughout the continent, so even on this limited grounds its simply a false accusation.
In addition there's the equivalence of armed force and the state which is simply bizarre. By this point in time Marx was firmly wedded to the idea that for a revolution to be successful it must smash the old state machine including its repressive forces, the police and army, and that special armed bodies of men would be needed to carry this out. But if that happens, then the state has been broken down and you already have a means of organised violence already mobilised and bloodied, so why is a new state necessary then? The bourgeoisie have already lost their shield and the workers are already armed. In order to fulfil Marx's vision they would have to achieve quite a few of the preconditions of Anarchism and then step back from that.

But the weakness of the criticism of the anarchists is even shallower at times, here's a quotation from Lenin that may sound familiar to a syndicalist if reworded a bit

Quote:
We are not utopians, we do not “dream” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and "foremen and accountants". The subordination, however, must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and working people, i.e., to the proletariat. A beginning can and must be made at once, overnight, to replace the specific “bossing” of state officials by the simple functions of "foremen and accountants", functions which are already fully within the ability of the average town dweller and can well be performed for "workmen's wages".
He gets another dig in at the Anarchists but after that he starts talking about something that seems very close to workers self organisation. The reference to Foremen is a bit odd but since he's lumped them in with accountants it seems more like a reference to work team leaders then say the Boss's toady. And he says that the workers can and should start taking on economic administrative tasks, so if they can do this immediately and under a hypothetical socialist revolution the majority of the workers are already mobilised into special armed bodies and mandated delegations, why is the factory and workshop movement lagging behind? And if it isn't lagging behind the others than again the state which Lenin says is just an instrument for one class to oppress another, becomes even more redundant.

If the bourgeoisie have lost the state machine, the people are armed and willing to fight, and the economy is quickly being taking over by the workforce, why do you need a rump state? What precisely can it do that the class conscious and mobilised working masses who keep in mind have already overcome the main physical threats to the revolution can't?

This question is just not answered in the text, and considering the subject, its the most important one to be addressed. Lenin himself criticised Kautsky for leaving important questions unanswered in his texts so why shouldn't the same apply here?

There was going to be a seventh chapter, but according to the notes that would be about the 1905 and 1917 revolutions so I doubt there would be an answer there.

I decided to read this again because it was recommended to me by several self described Leninists, but I honestly don't think they've read it recently either because it doesn't say what they seem to think it does. One actually went so far as to claim that Lenin wasn't a statist because he wrote this book. I'll be honest this book actually makes me think the Anarchist approach to the State and Revolution is more credible not less, and I've come to that conclusion largely agreeing with the text.

I actually enjoyed reading State and Revolution,it was written to attack the pro war Provisional Government and the Pro War German Social Democrats, so Lenins main targets are deserving of the venom and he is correct that the opportunists, Kautsky, Bernstein and Plekhanov did distort what Marx and Engels said on this issue.

But mainly I was impressed because I saw Marx, Engels and Lenins ideas develop after each section, and as they got more radical and more nuanced they seemed to get much closer to Anarchism. The specific hypotheticals of the new revolutionary society they came up with probably wouldn't be welcome in an Anarchist paper, but at there most developed the differences largely boil down to terminology (like Engels arguing that his proposed Commune system isn't really federal but a Union) and pacing issues. Its pretty weak criticism when you strip out the insults and mischaracterisations.
I can see why other Bolsheviks feared Lenin had succumbed to Anarchist deviationism, of course he didn't but it is amusing that even a number of Leninists think Lenin was at his best when at he was at his most Anarchistic.

1: I'm not an expert on Proudhons ideas or his life so its possible I'm wrong here, but if so I think this would make the criticism even weaker.

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