Salvator-Rosa-Scene-with-Witches -Morning-1645-1649-painting-artwork-print

Federici versus Marx

Gilles Dauvé
Fall 2015

Note: Dauvé’s piece is not without its problems. Some lines are simply offensive — e.g., “Federici feminizes Marxism; that’s probably what has made her popular,” “the ‘reproductive labor’ theme is not a woman’s theory, only a housewife’s theory.” Others are beside the point, like the superfluous aside on Carla Lonzi, which I feel is grossly unfair to her body of work. But the point about the incompatibility of Federici’s account of primitive accumulation and Marx’s in Capital is extremely important, as is the point about the different priorities that these differing accounts reveal. He even lets her off somewhat light regarding the more outrageous claims of Caliban & the Witch. For example, the completely unsubstantiated figure of “five to six million” women killed during the witch-hunts in Europe during the period she covers. Anyway, many of the criticisms are perfectly valid and lay bare the practical poverty and theoretical misunderstandings that underwrite autonomist Marxism in general, as well as the “wages for housework” movement (which insisted on attaching a moral dimension to the purely economic category of “productive labor”). Moreover, many of Federici’s political positions seem to approximate a kind of Third Worldist narrative, which falls into all the communitarian traps that theorists of “the commons” often do.

…rough magic I here abjure…

William Shakespeare
The Tempest (1610)

Caliban & the Witch
is of undeniable interest for our understanding of social movements at the critical juncture between medieval and modern times, of the advent of capitalism, its sexual dimension, the treatment of women and the conversion of female and male bodies into a work-machine, among other things. But the book also sets forth a vision of past and present which is as questionable as the political perspective that this vision entails.1

Primitive accumulation according to Silvia Federici

Federici claims to be writing “against Marxist orthodoxy” (p. 6), and Caliban & the Witch is commonly read as a complement (or for some readers, as an alternative) to Marx’s Capital, especially Part VIII. Federici writes:

…my description of primitive accumulation includes a set of historical phenomena that are absent in Marx, and yet have been extremely important for capitalist accumulation. They include: 1) the development of a new sexual division of labor subjugating women’s labor and women’s reproductive function to the reproduction of the work-force; 2) the construction of a new patriarchal order, based upon the exclusion of women from waged-work and their subordination to men; 3) the mechanization of the proletarian body and its transformation, in the case of women, into a machine for the production of new workers.” (p. 11)

So we expect to read what was missing in the accepted master narrative, especially as history suffers from a long tradition of writing women off. The question is, where does a counter-hegemonic history lead us? In Federici’s case, the author is not merely filling in gaps: her analysis of primitive accumulation amounts to nothing less than a conception of capitalism not just different from Marx’s but indeed opposed to it.

In order to understand the birth of capitalism, she emphasizes the specific oppression that social groups, women in particular, were subjected to. That is what she is targeting, and her approach prioritizes certain factors and downplays others.

The question is, what tipped the historical scales? Continue reading

Maxime Rodinson, Philosopher in France in October, 1993 - Maxime Rodinson (October 01, 1993)

Maxime Rodinson: Marxist, Orientalist, anti-Zionist, anti-Islamist

The French Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson, whose Polish parents died in Auschwitz while he was serving in the French Institute in Damascus, was born on May 22, 1915. Some sources say Paris; others say Marseilles. A true iconoclast, he resigned from the French Communist Party in 1958 in the name of anti-authoritarianism. He opposed Zionism as imposing a false nationalism upon all Jews while forcing the displacement of Palestinians from their homeland, though he learned both Hebrew and Arabic. Yet he urged peaceful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and continually urged the Palestine Liberation Organization to renounce violence, terrorism, and their hope of a military victory over Israel. Rodinson was the first commentator to call Israel “a settler-colonial state,” and also coined the phrase “Islamic fascism” [le fascisme islamique] to describe the Iranian Revolution in 1979, taking Foucault to task for his uncritical enthusiasm and support of Khomeini. In 1961 he wrote Muhammad, a biography of the prophet of Islam that is still banned in parts of the Muslim world.

On political Islam’s potential duration, Rodinson wrote:

Islamic fundamentalism is a temporary, transitory movement, but it can last another thirty or fifty years — I don’t know how long. Where fundamentalism isn’t in power it will continue to be an ideal, as long as the basic frustration and discontent persist that lead people to take extreme positions. You need long experience with clericalism to finally get fed up with it — look how much time it took in Europe! Islamic fundamentalists will continue to dominate the period for a long time to come.

On Zionism as a form of nationalism, he wrote:

I am well aware that the designation “nationalist” for the Zionist movement often gives rise to protest on the part of Arab intellectuals. I have already come up against it. This is because in the Arab world, for reasons which are evident, the term “nationalism” has acquired a positive connotation, a sacred aureole. For the Arabs, nationalism is by definition a feeling, a passion, a duty, a praiseworthy (even admirable) movement. Zionism, being in their view something which is in its very essence bad, a perverse undertaking, cannot be nationalistic. It is a project of pure banditry, an operation planned by Satanic manipulators which sweeps along the deceived masses or individuals essentially just as evil.

In 1948, he became director of the Muslim section of the National Library in Paris. Edward Said in Orientalism (1978) praised Rodinson for his “extraordinary achievements” as well as his “methodological self-consciousness.” For Said, Rodinson was one of the exceptional few who proved “perfectly capable of freeing themselves from the old ideological straitjacket” of the Orientalist disciplines. In the endnotes of his book Europe and the Mystique of Islam (first published in French in 1980), he gave his opinion of Said’s Orientalism:

Edward Said’s Orientalism (New York, 1978) had a great and unexpected success. There are many valuable ideas in it. Its great merit, to my mind, was to shake the self-satisfaction of many Orientalists, to appeal to them (with questionable success) to consider the sources and the connections of their ideas, to cease to see them as a natural, unprejudiced conclusion of the facts, studied without any presupposition. But, as usual, his militant stand leads him repeatedly to make excessive statements. This problem is accentuated because as a specialist of English and comparative literature, he is inadequately versed in the practical work of the Orientalists. It is too easy to choose, as he does, only English and French Orientalists as a target. By doing so, he takes aim only at representatives of huge colonial empires. But there was an Orientalism before the empires, and the pioneers of Orientalism were often subjects of other European countries, some without colonies. Much too often, Said falls into the same traps that we old Communist intellectuals fell into some forty years ago, as I will explain below. The growth of Orientalism was linked to the colonial expansion of Europe in a much more subtle and intrinsic way than he imagines. Moreover, his nationalistic tendencies have prevented him from considering, among others, the studies of Chinese or Indian civilization, which are ordinarily regarded as part of the field of Orientalism. For him, the Orient is restricted to his East, that is, the Middle East. Muslim countries outside the Arab world (after all, four Muslims in five are not Arabs), and even Arab nations in the West receive less than their due in his interpretation.

His books, available for download here, include:

  1. Mohammad (1961)
  2. Islam and Capitalism (1966)
  3. Israel: A Colonial-Settler State? (1967)
  4. “On Zionism and the Palestine Problem Today” (1975)
  5. “Islam Resurgent?” (1979)
  6. “Khomeini and the ‘Primacy of the Spiritual'” (February 1979)
  7. The Arabs (1979)
  8. Europe and the Mystique of Islam (1980)
  9. Marxism and the Muslim World (1982)
  10. Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question (1984)
  11. “Mythology of a Conqueror: On Saddam Hussein” (1991)
  12. “Critique of Foucault on Iran” (1993)
  13. “Why Palestine?”
  14. “On Islamic ‘Fundamentalism’: An Interview with Gilbert Achcar” (2003)

An interview from 1986 follows the picture gallery below. Enjoy.


Rodinson looks back

Joan Mandell & Joe Stork
Middle East Review 269
November 15, 1986


Joan Mandell and Joe Stork spoke with Maxime Rodinson in April 1986, when he came to Washington for the celebration of MERIP’s fifteenth anniversary. We publish the interview here for the first time.

You represent a unique combination of someone who has a militant left political background as an activist and is at the same time a renowned scholar. What circumstances account for this?

I was born in 1915. The milieu of my parents was one in which we had no doubt that this combination was absolutely essential. We had no doubt at the time there could be contradictions between scientific work and a commitment to action. I learned a great deal from my old master and professor, Marcel Cohen, a Greek linguist and communist. He had great ideas about Semitic linguistics and on the side he felt the duty to be committed. He was a member of the French Communist Party from the beginning. He used to say that people who never change are fools, and I have asked myself whether I was a fool because I had been in the Party since the 1930s. I remember that at one time I had some disagreements with the Party, but some months after that I understood that the Party was right and I came back to it. So I am not a fool!

You wrote in the preface to one of your books how even when you first joined the Party early in your life you were conscious of the problem. You didn’t join naively or blindly and you were aware of the constraints that it would represent.

I understand now that there is a process. I couldn’t have understood it without the experience…. Once you are in an organization you are restricted. I remember just before joining and committing myself by adhering formally and signing papers, I was buffeted between two trends.

On one side there was the French primary school where I learned to be tolerant, democratic and respectful. This trend was supported by a man among the Jews who emigrated from Poland and Eastern Europe.

Did your family also migrate from Eastern Europe?

Yes. My father was from Byelorussia. He was educated in college in Smolensk, wrote poetry in Russian, read English, French and German. He came to Paris in 1885 and my mother in 1900 or 1901. They were the kind of people who came to France to pursue their studies but were forced to work to survive. My mother was less educated; she spoke Yiddish and a bit of Russian. She was very fond of things Russian…Poland was at that time part of Russia.

Were your parents already in the Communist Party when they came to France?

There was no Communist Party at that time. They were more or less socialist-minded. My mother had disgust for all things religious, and I inherited that. She spoke with horror of rabbis. When my father first came to Paris he was a Marxist, a syndicalist, one of the founders of Jewish trade unions. In 1905, there was a process of unification of many socialist parties in France. My father entered this new socialist party. He had a job — unpaid — as a keeper of a library. Many new people like Trotsky and Lenin went there.

In France, at the time of the revolution, to what extend did the Jewish workers work as a group? To what extent was there consciousness as Jews, and how did that intersect with the broader trade union movement?

It was a process of transition. Many of them were just coming from Russia, and spoke only Yiddish. On the side, they were concentrated in certain sectors like the garment trade. So naturally the trade union of workers who made raincoats were almost all Jews. At the time of the Russian revolution many went to Russia. I was born in Paris and perhaps my mother and father found this a great excuse to stay in France. My father understood how things were in Russia, while my mother and I were enthusiastic to go back. So she prepared to go back without my father. But her friends advised her not to leave her husband, and she stayed.

I was dispirited at the time because I was in primary school and had no prospect to go to university. But one of the things that upset me was that I did not know foreign languages. I was without culture. Then I discovered a marvelous thing: Esperanto. I understood that it was replacing all the languages; it was easy to learn. At that time it was encouraged by the Soviet Union, by trade unions, by the Communist Party. I studied it in evening lessons at the houses of trade unionists. I was assigned a correspondent in the Soviet Union, in the town of my father. I wrote asking, “What is the problem with Trotsky and Stalin?” and so on.

Continue reading


Solidarity with migrants

No more war, no more terror,
either in France or elsewhere


No more war,
no more terror,
either in France or elsewhere.
Solidarity with migrants.

Without relativizing the violence in Paris or making ridiculous excuses for jihadist reactionaries, Marxists must be prepared to stand against xenophobic and racist backlash — whether reprisals arise out of European civil society or are part of state/police crackdowns. Marxists everywhere must consistently oppose right-wing demagogues in Europe and North America, who seek to limit migration and stir up hatred toward marginalized immigrants. The vast majority of refugees from that region (Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon) are themselves fleeing Islamic State cut-throats. It doesn’t matter whether a Syrian passport was found near the site of one of the attacks. Regardless of if whether it was genuine or if it was deliberately planted by the terrorists (if not the French police), the fact remains that most migrants are victims of the same group that terrorized the capital of the nineteenth century on Friday.

As usual the range of responses to this tragedy voiced by the political Left has widely varied, at times incoherently, everywhere from encouraging to discouraging: from sober and insightful reflections to smug-to-outrageous exercises in moral equivalency and comparative atrocity. Nothing is worse than when sociopaths, given the alibi of anti-imperialism, tell you they either don’t care about victims of a massacre or that “it’s nothing compared to what the imperialists do,” as Michael Rectenwald pointed out. It’s not nothing, and such comparisons are specious. For a person who is killed, the percentage is 100%.

Besides, it is not as if those who were murdered in Paris were uniformly French, white, or supporters of their nation’s militarist policies. The terrorists targeted an exceptionally diverse, progressive section of the city with a thriving LGBTQ subculture and left-liberal youths, even “hipster socialists.” Cinzia Aruzza put this eloquently in a public post circulated on social media:

A victim of the Paris attacks was Patricia San Martín, 55 years old, from Chile, the child of two Communist parents who moved to Paris after being tortured under Pinochet’s regime. Another victim was Luis Felipe Zschoche Valle, from Chile. Another victim was Mohamed Amine Benmbarek, 28 years old, from Morocco. Two other victims were Houda and Halima Ben Khalifa Saadi, 34 and 35 years old, from Tunisia. Another victim was Djamila Houd, probably of Algerian origins. Another victim was Nohemi Gonzales, a student from California State University. Another victim was Asta Diakite, French and black. Another victim was Kheireddine Sahbi, a young violinist, from Algeria. There is no “they” and “us,” the people killed in Paris are everybody’s people. The only “they” are the warmongers in power.

Equally depressing is the #‎notalljihadists‬ prattle currently making the rounds, people sharing links to the condemnations of the Paris attacks by other organizations founded on principles of Political Islam. As if Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad are not themselves reactionary. To be clear, Islamism ≠ Islam. And the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world are rightly disgusted by the wave of violence in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere. However, Marxists’ justifiable concern with incipient Islamophobia and rising nationalism in Europe should not blind them to the patently obvious reactionary character of seemingly more “moderate” Islamist groups. Jihadism is a modern ultraconservative ideology that takes advantage of popular discontents in regions ravaged by civil war and foreign military intervention as well as disaffected youths from ethnic or religious minorities in the West. Recognition of this fact cannot be made into some sort of unspeakable truth or contingent on the so-called “rhetorical conditions of the War on Terror.” Neither should it abet further militarism in Syria or Iraq.

Marxists, following Marx, are the implacable foes of religious superstition and ideology: “If one desired…to remind liberalism of its old catchwords, it surely could have been done only in the following form: Everyone should be able to attend his religious as well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses in. But the workers’ party ought…to express its awareness of the fact that bourgeois ‘freedom of conscience’ is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part it endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the witchery of religion” (Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875).

This goes for its more banal, quotidian forms in the lives of ordinary people to the more exalted “union sacrée” held up by France and Britain when either nation feels itself under attack.


Open-source Marxism 2: Fresh batch of Historical Materialism book titles

A fresh batch of Historical Materialism PDFs has arrived, this time apparently hosted by the same people who posted the MECW last year. The world is in a sorry state, but for those who enjoy free commie literature, the holidays just came early. Not a bad selection, overall, though I could do without the endless Gramsci dickriding. Far more valuable than any of the new theoretical treatises they commission are their translations of older materials. So the Comintern congresses, the Bogdanov, the Austromarxism, and Economist writings are a welcome addition.

HM will likely have these taken down, but the cat is out of the bag. Copies will be made and distributed further. Omnia sunt communia.

  1. Barbara C. Allen – Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937 – Life of an Old Bolshevik
  2. Jason Read – The Politics of Transindividuality
  3. Craig Brandist – The Dimensions of Hegemony – Language, Culture, and Politics in Revolutionary Russia
  4. Towards the United Front – Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922
  5. To the Masses – Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921
  6. The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, 1899-1904 – Documents of the ‘Economist’ Opposition to Iskra and Early Menshevism
  7. Marcos Del Roio – The Prisms of Gramsci – The Political Formula of the United Front
  8. Luca Basso – Marx and the Common – From Capital to the Late Writings
  9. Jonathan Martineau – Time, Capitalism, and Alienation – A Socio-Historical Inquiry into the Making of Modern Time
  10. Cathy Bergin – ‘Bitter with the Past but Sweet with the Dream’ – Representations of the Communist Party, 1940-1952
  11. Brandon Pepijn – War, Capital, and the Dutch State (1588-1795)
  12. Andrey Maidansky – The Practical Essence of Man – The ‘Activity Approach’ in Late Soviet Philosophy
  13. Alexander Gallas – The Thatcherite Offensive – A Neo-Poulantzasian Analysis
  14. Aleksandr Bogdanov – The Philosophy of Living Experience – Popular Outlines
  15. Mark E. Blum – Austromarxism – The Ideology of Unity Mark Abel – Groove – An Aesthetic of Measured Time
  16. Laura da Graca – Studies on Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production Jacob A. Zumoff – The Communist International and US
  17. Communism, 1919–1929
  18. Guido Liguori – Gramsci’s Pathways
  19. Fred Moseley – Money and Totality – A Macro-Monetary Interpretation of Marx’s Logic in Capital and the End of the ‘Transformation Problem’
  20. Bryan D. Palmer – Marxism and Historical Practice, Volume 2 – Interventions and Appreciations
  21. Bryan D. Palmer – Marxism and Historical Practice, Volume 1 – Interpretive Essays on Class Formation and Class Struggle
  22. Thomas M. Twiss – Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy

More, which have been previously posted: Continue reading

YuliMartovEnero1896FotoPolicial copy 3

Юлий Мартов, «Религия и марксизм» (1909)

The following article on “Religion and Marxism” was written by Iulii Martov, one of the leading Mensheviks (along with Georgii Plekhanov). It was published in the journal On the Brink in 1909, and responds to the first volume of Lunacharskii’s Religion and Socialism, as well as some occasional pieces by Nikolai Berdiaev and Dmitrii Merezhkovskii. Martov also takes aim at Georges Sorel’s conception of “social myth” and the beautiful words of Benedetto Croce.


«Мы стараемся показать», говорит в предисловии к своему французскому сборнику г-н Мережковский, «что последний смысл русской революции остается непонятным, вне понимания мистического»). Юродствующий во Христе писатель может позволить себе роскошь откровенно признаться в научной непознаваемости «тайны» пережитого Россией общественного кризиса. Эта роскошь недоступна общественным деятелям, принимающим непосредственное участие в социальной борьбе и слишком близко соприкасающимся с ее грубой реальностью. Это не значит, однако, что «мистическое понимание» недавних событий привлекало к себе мысль одних лишь чудодеев ого человечества и человекобожества.

На заре закончившегося периода отечественной истории народническая мысль нашла в идее «не буржуазного, но демократического» переворота формулу достаточно-мистического проникновения в сущность надвигавшейся стихии.

На закате того-же периода, переработав все противоречивые впечатления бешеной пляски общественных сил, марксистская мысль большевистского толка, отчаявшаяся дать научную формулу» сущности русской революции», мистически постигла последнюю, как лежащую» на границе» между переворотом буржуазным и переворотом социалистическим (формулу дал К. Каутский и одобрил Н. Ленин).

Действительный, объективный смысл пере-жевавшегося «сдвига» упорно не давался познающей мысли и, жаждая «синтеза», она склонялась к интуитивному восприятию того, что составляло «душу событий».

Побежденные общественные движения не раз уже оставляли по себе осадок мистической реакции. Ее знала и революция 1789-1798 г., и революция 1848 года, и русское движение 70-тых г.г. Интересно, однако, что потер певшая жестокое поражение Коммуна 1871 года не имела такого идейного эпилога. Быть может, потому, что она была первой — и до сих пор последней — революцией не буржуазной, пролетарской? Есть все основания думать, что это так. Но еслиб это было так, то отсюда следовало бы, что наша отечественная «смута», несомненно? оставившая по себе еще не исчерпанный осадок мистицизма, eo ipso должна быть зачислена по ведомству движений буржуазных. Этот вывод может, на первый взгляд, показаться парадоксальным. И, однако, это так буржуазному перевороту имманентно присуще глубокое противоречие между бытием и сознанием, между тем, что он есть в действительности, и тем, как он себя сознает, между объективными задачами, выполняемыми его участниками, и идеальными целями, которые они себе ставят. Тайна этого неизбежного противоречия не заключает в себе ничего мистического: она вся, целиком, коренится в условиях существования и развития буржуазного общества. Но раскрытие этой тайны, практическое преодоление этого противоречия само предполагает эмансипацию от условий существования буржуазного общества эмансипацию, возможную лишь в процессе хвостанные» против этого общества и на достаточно высокой стадии борьбы с ним. Continue reading

VeraMukhina-WorkerAnd KolkhozWoman-SovietArchives-1937-4

Анатолий Луначарский, Религия и социализм, том II (1911)


Иудейская почва. Иисус.

Подготовленные явления Христа–Мессии.

В главах, посвященных иудейской религиозности, мы указывали уже на то, как созрела идея мессианизма с одной стороны, религия справедливости с другой. Для Вторачивай и Мессия — не кто иной, как символическое лицо, идеально представляющее собою страдальческую и праведную часть страдальческого народа. Это — бедняки и святые Израиля, заслуги которых спасут не только народ Божий, но и все народы земли. Заслуги эти сводятся к добродетелям истинного демократа тех времен: чувству справедливости и любви к ближнему, смирению, преданности судьбе, в которой все признается божественным, отвращению к власти, к роскоши и соединенным с ними порокам и преступлениям. Дух пророческий не умирал в Израиле, хотя ему приходилось трудно в борьбе с официальной церковностью и сухими книжниками, сумевшими извратить чисто демократическое «писание» и сделать из него базис для личной и надменной теократии. Религия иудеев имела, таким образом, два лица, которые выразились в двух школах или манерах толкования писания. Агада — была свободным толкованием, творческой манерой проповедовать, Галаха мертвым историческим комментированием. Агада жила интенсивной жизнью в северных провинциях, в Галилее, ко времени начала нашей эры, Галаха господствовала в Иерусалиме, вокруг храма. Не только народные проповедники, но и многие фарисеи (Гиллель и его школа, напр.) были агадистами.

Связь христианской морали и христианского мессианизма с Агадой и пророками не оспаривается никем. Даже Гарнак, — некритический поклонник довольно фантастического «первобытного христианства», самый правый бога слов из тех, с которыми можно еще считаться, как с людьми науки, — признает еврейско-пророческую сущность христианства Иисуса в самой широкой степени:

«Вместе с Вельгаузеном», говорит он, «я должен признать, что все то, о чем благовествовал Иисус, что до него высказывал в своей проповеди Иоанн, все это можно найти у пророков и в иудейских преданиях их времени».

Но мировоззрение Иисуса и его непосредственных учеников не есть еще христианство; это не только не наше православно-католическое, но даже не реформатское, не «евангелическое» христианство, это даже не то «первоначальное христианство», сомнительную традицию которого почтенный пр. Гарнак старается поддерживать всею своею тяжеловесной ученостью.

Христианство возникло из множества отдельных культурных потоков, слившихся, в конце концов, в две реки: иудейское учение, связанное с именем Иисуса, как центрального выразителя, и греко-азиатское, связанное с именем Павла и других. Позднее на нем сказалось еще могучее влияние Запада, Рима и Африки, с Тертулианом и Августином.

Впрочем, уже с самого начала христианство есть сочетание иудейских и греко-азиатских элементов. Христианство Иисуса, вероятно, уже включило до некоторой степени этот второй элемент. Continue reading

Vera Mukhina, Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, picture-soviet archives-1937

Анатолий Луначарский, Религия и социализм, том I (1908)



Настоящая работа в самых существенных своих чертах задумана около 10 лет тому назад, в годы ранней молодости. Основные идеи: о сущности религии вообще, о смысле и направлении развития религиозности, о связи научного социализма с заветными чаяниями человечества выраженными в религиозных мифах и догмах и сменивших их метафизических системах, о центральном месте «труда» в новом миросозерцании — все эти идеи уже рано зародились в уме автора и, не изменяясь в существе своем, лишь прояснялись и упрочивались по мере более глубокого ознакомления с историей религии и философии и с научным социализмом.

В 1898 году автор прочел в Киеве реферат «Идеализм и марксизм», — в котором был дан первый очерк его идей. Между другими оппонентами находился и г. Бердяев, тогда еще совсем юноша, и по воззрениям своим не ушедший еще так далеко от социал-демократии, как теперь. Реферат показал даже, что мы, без нашего ведома, но конечно не случайно, работали в сущности над той же проблемой. Но как различны были результаты! Если первый реферат пишущего эти строки на философскую тему встретил очень дружественную критику со стороны Н. Бердяева, то одна из первых его серьезных статей, через три года после того, волей неволей должна была стать беспощадной критикой воззрений Бердяева, «о булгаченного» к тому времени совершенно.

Работа автора шла своим чередом, нельзя сказать, однако, чтобы достаточно систематично, так как тюрьмы, ссылки, практическая работа и ряд частных обстоятельств являлись сильными препятствиями для такой систематичности. Первоначальный план работы был задуман очень широко. Это должна была быть целая история религии с материалистической точки зрения, со включением в нее европейской метафизики, утопического социализма и, наконец, научного социализма. Материал накоплялся, но открывались все новые горизонты, а свободного времени становилось все меньше. Наконец, воспользовавшись месяцами не совсем добровольной свободы от «текущей жизни», автор решил радикально пересмотреть план и, не гоняясь за полнотой, дать идейный абрис с своей теории, останавливаясь лишь на важнейших опорных пунктах. Теперь дело идет уже не об истории религии, а только о более или менее глубоком исследовании взаимоотношений религии и социализма, об определении места социализма среди других религиозных систем.

Не только соображения о колоссальных трудностях выполнения работы по первоначальному плану, не только со знание того, что обстоятельства не позволят отдать 2-3 года сплошного, методического труда, необходимого для его выполнения, руководило автором: для него было ясно, что научный труд в 2-3 тома с большим количеством фактического багажа — будет мало доступен для широкой публики и скорее заслонит, чем усилит то новое, жизненно важное, что автору хотелось бы высказать. Но распределяя свой материал таким образом, чтобы изложить его в небольшой книге на 20 печатных листах, автор часто с болью сердечной отбрасывал то или другое интересное построение, исследование, догадку, обобщение. Поэтому он решил издать отдельно для тех читателей, которые заинтересуются его идеями, наиболее важные фрагменты задуманной прежде большой работы. Continue reading

4907eaf24d32a00dd424fd83d51ea885 copy

Anatolii Lunacharskii: Socialism, religion, and enlightenment

Roland Boer has a new article out on Anatolii Lunacharskii’s controversial two-volume treatise, Religion and Socialism (1908, 1911). Lunacharskii was the first Soviet Commissar of Enlightenment, in charge of education initiatives throughout the fledgling socialist republic. His campaigns to fight illiteracy, making secular education available in the most distant reaches of the union, were highly effective. Moreover, Lunacharskii’s tolerant temperament toward independent cultural and artistic groups — i.e., not forcibly unionized or centrally run by the state — during his tenure throughout the 1920s stands in stark contrast to the Stalinist policies established in the mid-1930s, which put an end to such associations and civil society groupings. Also, he was fairly receptive to new literary and aesthetic styles and movements, especially compared to the prescriptions handed down by Zhdanov et al. at the Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934. Sheila Fitzpatrick’s first book is a study of the Commissariat of Enlightenment under Lunacharskii, and it provides an excellent institutional survey, as well as a portrait of the “Russian Faust” (a title given him by Mikhail Lifshitz).

Boer’s article with justice claims to be “first full engagement in English with Anatolii Lunacharskii’s near lost work, Religion and Socialism.” The reason the book is so obscure today is that it gave theoretical expression to the concept of god-building, an unusual tendency within prewar Bolshevism reviled by Lenin. Like many of the heresies that rocked the early Church in Roman Christianity, its contents are primarily known through texts written condemning it. Still, this point is easily exaggerated. It is not quite as rare as Boer makes it out to be. For example, in the gloss provided by his article:

Conditions: Lost and Found

Religion and Socialism is a work that has been lost and found. Its loss was hardly due to any lack of quality. The reason is, rather, its particular history. Lenin launched a spirited attack when it was published, persuading the editorial board of Proletarii to condemn it. Or rather, he lumped God-building in with the Left-Bolshevik interest in empiriocriticism and otzovism, as much for political as for theoretical reasons. Seeing the increasing appeal of these not necessarily connected positions among some younger and very articulate Bolsheviks, Lenin realized the need to quell the leftward push, thereby bringing philosophical questions to the fore. In hindsight, of course, he was probably correct, for a revolutionary push at the time would have generated an even fiercer reaction. But a side effect was the complete sidelining of Religion and Socialism. And given Lenin’s crucial role in the 1917 revolution and the subsequent establishment of communism in Russia, the few copies of the book were left to the dust and bookworms of forgotten archival corners.

The finding of such a work has thereby entailed a little sleuthing, for it has proved exceedingly difficult to find. The editors of the eight-volume Collected Works chose not to include Religion and Socialism in that collection. By contrast, the introduction to a separate volume, called Religion and Enlightenment, offers a statement concerning the waywardness of Religion and Socialism and cites Lunacharskii’s own somewhat halfhearted distancing from the work in his later statements. Religion and Enlightenment includes a wide range of material, including Vvedenie v istoriiu religii [Introduction to the History of Religion], lectures from 1918 which were reworked and published in 1923, and material that goes back to the early 1900s. Given this unfavorable early press and the subsequent Bolshevik victory, Religion and Socialism remained a work out of favor. A Yiddish translation of Religion and Socialism exists, but as far as the original work in Russian is concerned, only a few extant copies remain. The one in the National Library of St. Petersburg turned out to be too fragile to scan. Only after further inquiry (by my colleague, Sergey Kozin) was a copy found in the Lenin Library in Moscow. A high fee for scanning the two volumes resulted in a much-treasured copy being made, which is in our possession and is, to my knowledge, the only PDF version of it in the world. Since then, the text has been screened, converted into modern Cyrillic script (it was published before the 1917 language reform), and proofread. In addition to its republication in Russian, a translation is also planned.

An edifying tale, and evidence of his commitment. I do wish that Professor Boer had maybe approached me before sending his colleague on a wild goose chase to Saint Petersburg or shelling out a bunch of cash to the Lenin Library, however, because he might have saved himself some money. (The Lenin Library probably could use the funds, so it’s not too bad if viewed as a donation). Religion and Socialism has been available online for years now, free of charge, scanned by the University of Minnesota and Indiana University both. One page is missing from the second volume, but otherwise it’s all there. You can download them for free here, OCRed and everything:

Needless to say, I am less impressed by Lunacharskii’s god-building arguments than Boer. Lunacharskii has long been one of Boer’s favorites, alongside Ernst Bloch. His article does provide a very useful overview, though, even if the title is misleading. Misleading because it suggests that he deals with god-builders in the plural, whereas he really just deals with Lunacharskii in the singular (Maksim Gorkii and Vladimir Bazarov [Rudnev] are barely mentioned, if at all). Read it here.

  1. А.В. Луначарский, Религия и социализм, том I (1908)
  2. А.В. Луначарский, Религия и социализм, том II (1911)

Great to hear that a reissue in modern Russian is projected, as well as a translation into English. Boer brought up the 1921 Yiddish translation, published in New York, but forgot to mention the Italian translation prepared in 1973. In my next post, I’ll upload the full OCRed text of the document sans pre-reform orthography so that Russian readers can check it out. Though I should mention that the obsolete characters were removed in the copy/paste by a very crude find-and-replace method on Microsoft Office and not by painstakingly going through all 630 pages of the original in order to spell check.

For those who don’t know, Russian spelling was extensively reformed in 1917-1918 (by none other than Lunacharskii). The most important changes were

  1. the dropping of the hard sign “ъ” at the end of words, where it previously appeared in any word that otherwise would have ended in a consonant;
  2. the global replacement of “і” (the “dotted i” or “decimal i”) with “и” (i);
  3. the global replacement of “ѣ” (iat) with е (ie);
  4. a change in the genitive singular ending of adjectives, -аго becoming -ого, and -яго becoming -его.


ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ (сидит на скамеечке) С РОДИТЕЛЯМИ ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ в рамке ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ Фотография. Таганская тюрьма1 ЛУНАЧАРСКИЙ Фотография. Таганская тюрьма 2 Continue reading


Metaphysical theater

The transformation of the human body, its metamorphosis, is made possible by the costume, the disguise. Costume and mask emphasize the body’s identity or they change it; they express its nature or they are purposely misleading about it; they stress its conformity to organic or mechanical laws or they invalidate this conformity.

The native costume, as produced by the conventions of religion, state, and society, is different from the theatrical stage costume. Yet the two are generally confused. Great as has been the variety of native costumes developed during the course of human history, the number of genuine stage costumes has stayed very small. They are the few standardized costumes of the commedia delle arte: Harlequin, Pierrot, Columbine, etc.; and they have remained basic and authentic to this day.

Schlemmer &cvt=JPEG

The following can be considered fundamentally decisive in the transformation of the human body in terms of this stage costume:

  1. The laws of the surrounding cubical space. Here the cubical forms are transferred to the human shape: head, torso, arms, legs are transformed into spatial-cubical constructions.
    Result: ambulant architecture.
  2. The functional laws of the human body in their relationship to space. These laws bring about a typification of the bodily forms: the egg shape of the head, the vase shape of the torso, the club shape of the arms and legs, the ball shape of the joints.
    Result: the marionette.
  3. The laws of motion of the human body in space. Here we have the various aspects of rotation, direction, and intersection of space: the spinning top, snail, spiral, disk.
    Result: a technical organism.
  4. The metaphysical forms of expression symbolizing various members of the human body: the star shape of the spread hand, the x sign of the folded arms, the cross shape of the backbone and shoulders; the double head, multiple limbs, division and suppression of forms.
    Result: dematerialization.

[Formentanz of Oscar Schlemmer] [Formentanz of Oscar Schlemmer] Rudolph Binnemann, German, about 1927 - 1928 Abbaspour, Mitra, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg. Object-Photo rene (Hecht) Bayer, American (Chicago, Ill., USA 1898 - 1991 Los Angeles, Cal., USA) Title Equilibristic Dance [by Oskar Schlemmer] Continue reading


Wolfgang Pohrt on the radical left and national liberation


Wolfgang Pohrt, “Linksradikalismus und nationaler Befreiungskampf” (1982), collected in the book Kreisverkehr, Wendepunkt: Über die Wechseljahre der Nation und die Linke im Widerstreit der Gefühle. The first paragraph has been omitted from this translation, as it contains an ephemeral polemic that would be of little interest to a contemporary English-speaking audience.

Pohrt himself is an interesting character. He took a number of positions over the years that I wouldn’t dream of trying to justify. If I recall correctly, he even pushed for the use of tactical nukes against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. At any rate, he was also an early influence on, but later a fierce critic of, the so-called “antigerman” movement in Germany.

The usual accusation made against Israel or Zionism is that this state was founded where other people were already living. But the founding acts of all hitherto existing polities were never acts of justice, but rather always acts of violence. Even the storybook peace of idyllic tribes and peoples cultivating the land of the fathers in concord and harmony with their neighbors is usually a peace resting upon an original act of land seizure and displacement. The right of nations, peoples and tribes to distinguish between themselves and foreigners and to regard these foreigners as intruders and chase them away when they wish to take up residence — a right as inseparable from the concept of the nation as it is logically imperative — this right is merely the original violent act of land seizure and expulsion made legal and continuous.

Palestinian land day 1985, Blut und Boden ideology everywhere

No people ever had its place on earth adjudicated by an extraterrestrial authority according to the stipulations of legal tenure. Rather, at some point in history every people took its place by force; not just for practical reasons — there is no righteous extraterrestrial authority granting such claims — but also because in an emphatic sense there can be no exclusive right of Germans, the French, or Israelis to possess any patch of land and because it is an injustice when people can’t live on some patch of land merely because they are Turks, Vietnamese, Jews, or Palestinians. The right of national autonomy and state sovereignty is merely another name for the injustice of harassing, deporting, and expelling people on the grounds that they possess the wrong passport or birth certificate. And this injustice is not a corruption of the idea of the nation-state but rather its essence — admittedly rendered milder on occasion by the tolerance of reasonable people.

The legal claims of human beings, peoples, or nations to a piece of land is just another name for the right to expel others from the same piece of land. In every festive proclamation of a people’s right to exist lurks the threat of revoking another people’s right to exist. But in truth, human beings no more possess a right to exist than they do a right to inhabit the place they happen to be at the moment, or a right to breathe. This is quite simply the case because neither mere existence, nor the concomitant act of inhabiting a piece of land, nor breathing are things that fall under the purview of the law. No human being has the right to live in a particular place, since the act of inhabiting a particular place is not an act of injustice, and therefore does not require a legal justification. All Turks should be able to remain in Germany not because they’ve earned a right to be present through hard work, but rather because they’re already there. The act of expelling the Palestinians from Israel was an injustice not because they possessed a right to Palestine, but because they were already there.


In the past, the radical left would relinquish the act of playing chess with the territorial claims of population groups to those in power, since it was not the existence of these populations that was subject to debate, but rather the relations of production, the relations of power, the government. For that reason, a war between two population groups, both of which have the goal of expelling each other from a piece of land, would have merely confirmed this and rendered the radical left helpless from a practical viewpoint. A war such as that going on for years between Israel in the role of the displaced displacer and the Palestinians as the displaced would have confirmed the understanding of the radical left that there is no national solution to social problems, or at least none other than endless bloodshed. This war would have rendered the radical left helpless because it offers no possibility of taking sides, since:

  1. Both parties want the same thing: the exclusive claim of ownership to the same piece of land; their own flag, their own army, their own state.
  2. The development of Israel shows once again that every nation-state, even when created by humanitarians with the sincerest of motives and the best intentions, tends to become a ravenous monstrosity.
  3. The terrible past and present of Israel must be understood as a prognosis and a warning against any future Palestinian state, since such a state would only distinguish itself from Israel by the fact that its residents would be called Palestinians instead of Israelis. In Lebanon, Israeli troops were celebrated as liberators and the Palestinians were despised; not because Palestinians conducted themselves in Lebanon like friendly, discreet, and modest guests when they had a majority and the PLO had power; not because Palestinians are unsympathetic people, but because humans, when they assume the role of a people, never treat minorities gingerly and with tenderness.
  4. The national liberation struggle of the PLO is not a struggle for the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression. Rather, it is a struggle to obtain the preconditions under which all conditions of exploitation and oppression can be replicated.
  5. Because radical leftists do not recognize any advantage or fine distinction that supposedly exists when people are not massacred by foreign troops, such as in Lebanon, but rather by troops of their own country, such as in Hamas, or at least the troops of related peoples, such as in the war between Iran and Iraq. It is not only the case that the radical left cannot ally itself with those who oppress national minorities; it is also prohibited from forming alliances with oppressors of the great majority of the population, as is the case with all present-day Arab governments.

Zionist propaganda poster from the 1930s, move to sunny Palestine away from the alienating metropolis 1632_pppa

If, nonetheless, militant leftists today do not see a reason for helplessness or even resignation in the idiotic conflict between two ethnic nationalisms, but rather a welcome opportunity for getting involved, blindly and fanatically taking sides and jumping into the “national liberation struggle” with all force of the imagination, then that has nothing to do with radical leftism, but rather with the evil, secretive desires that slumber in the hearts of German people. The Palestinians will not benefit and Israel will not be harmed. Rather, the victims will be foreigners within Germany, when the Germans cease to wage the struggle of national liberation vicariously for others and start to do so on their own behalf, and when the alliance between militants and the mob obtains a realistic political base.