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


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.

January 13, 1979


The first issue of the neo-Cliffite webzine Salvage approvingly quotes the renowned Iranian Marxist revolutionary Ali Shariati, to the effect that humanity is located somewhere “between mud and providence.” Shariati is the author of such timeless classics as Marxism and Other Western Fallacies. Promising indeed.

Because supposedly between salvation and garbage there is salvage.

Or, better yet: Because between garbage and salvation there is garbation.

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Noreaga explains:

All our whips got navigation
While your whips is just garbation
Is you knowing what you facing?

Got to love any Marxist publication whose primary sources of inspiration seem to be Judith Butler, Ali Shariati, and Naomi Klein. Read Ritual instead.

Still better: between Socialist Worker and garbage there is SeWa☭e.



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Weekend at Bernie’s: On Sanders 2016

Two articles I’m reposting here. Both concern the Bernie Sanders campaign. One, written by Jake Verso, specifically focuses on US politics. It also provides some historical context, mentioning past socialist figures such as Bernstein and Debs. The other, written by Michael Rectenwald, compares the enthusiasm surrounding the Sanders campaign to the outpouring of support for the Syriza coalition in Greece.


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Weekend at Bernie’s

Jake Verso
Communist League Tampa
August 20th, 2015

However fed up it claims to be, a certain portion of the Left in the United States remains sympathetic (if not outright loyal) to the Democratic Party. Many of these people are coming to support the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and for them, the legacy of the postwar American economy looms large. When not focusing on identity politics and fear of republicans, Keynesian economic policy tends to be the ideological basis of the left wing of the Democratic Party. However, that same institution is incapable of bringing forth such reforms, not only due to the capitalist nature of the organization, but also because the leadership understands, at least unconsciously, that such reforms are impossible in the current historical moment.

In the dark comedy classic Weekend at Bernie’s, two reformist insurance employees discover the corpse of their boss at his weekend beach house. In order to protect their lives and keep the party going, they spend the rest of the film working to maintain the illusion that the lifeless corpse of their boss is still alive and is having the time of his life. To their surprise, and the delight of most of the unknowing spectators, the ruse is successful: the dead guy brings more joy to everyone who encounters him as a corpse than he probably would have were he still alive.

Bernie Sanders has frequently identified himself — in interviews, speeches, etc. — as a “socialist.” When pressed as to what this means, he usually mentions something about Sweden or else sticks the “democratic” moniker in front of it, presumably to be less scary. Yet Sanders is deliberately appealing to something bigger and more powerful than what is normally found within the bounds of typical political rhetoric. While most of the Democratic Party has stoically marched right, Sanders has veered left, raising the specter of a revamped populism with his appeal to outrage over growing economic inequality. His seemingly unpolished style, appearing and talking like your old socialist uncle who probably still mimeographs his own newsletters, Sanders appeals to the legacy of American unionism and nostalgia for its former strength. During this period of escalating election hype, it is important to remember that this remains within a framework of mainstream left-of-center politics. Positioning himself within Democratic Party primary politics, Sanders has drawn more attention to this type of rhetoric than one might have thought feasible. Since Sanders has nowhere to go but up, this has been the key to his appeal: raise the specter of working class strength, state directed social development, and populist economic outrage contained within a palatable framework and channeled into old political currents.

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This is nothing new. If anything, it is the new normal. This same self-congratulatory politics could be seen during the 2008 Obama campaign. In his tone and diction Obama sought to subtly evoke the legacy of Martin Luther King, and would later famously install a bust of the man in the Oval Office. Today the Eugene Debs poster in Sander’s office is a similar object of note for reporters. Obama also acted as insurgent candidate against Clinton, filling a necessary power vacuum in the Democratic Party’s shallow bench of celebrity politicians. Obama promised a new kind of politics, albeit of a vaguer sort than Sanders, and sailed in on a wave of popular outrage toward the Bush administration and panic at the sudden emergence of the economic crisis. During Obama’s rise, all of the usual useful idiots pressed the line, excited that someone is able to appeal to loftier notions in anything resembling a mainstream context. To his credit, Sanders policies and political history go slightly deeper than Obama’s, but at the same time this poses a greater hurdle for him. A good deal of the Democratic Party base identifies as moderate or conservative. If Sanders hopes to actually secure a nomination, like Obama or anyone else, he will be forced to make concessions to those components of the party. All of this is moot anyway. Whether or not Sanders gets the nomination, or even if he somehow gets elected, the Democratic Party as a whole and as an institution is both unwilling to and incapable of implementing the kind of economic policy Sanders is touting. For now, Sanders has skillfully exceeded the extremely low expectations surrounding his candidacy and made great strides in closing the gap in the polls against Hillary Clinton. There has been a great deal of euphoria on some sectors of the American Left (to the extent that a Left can be said to exist in America). There has also been a growing chorus of dissident voices pointing out that Sanders platform is much less radical than some are touting it as. I suppose that I stand in the latter camp. But rather than listing the numerous political sins he’s committed over the years through his relationship with the Democrats, I’m going to examine and critique some of the assumptions underlying his appeal and then briefly look at just how meaningless Sanders conception of socialism really is.

Reformism and neoliberalism

The extent to which one can place hope in reformist efforts today, depends in part as to one’s conception of neoliberalism. It can be tough to characterize the economic opinions of the Left, since so little of it can be said to hold any kind of economic conception of capitalism. For many people, in today’s environment Clintonite stooge Robert Reich has come to constitute some kind of economic guru for many people. Still, a unifying theme, from soft Marxists like David Harvey and Richard Wolf to liberal reformists like Robert Reich is that the period encompassing neoliberalism roughly amounts to an attack on the working and middle classes by the rich. That the gutting of US manufacturing, international trade deals, the welfare state, and dying off of trade unions was the result of a concerted effort, lead on a political front by greedy elites who were not satisfied with the previous equilibrium that had been established in the economy. This skillfully and self-servingly reduces structural economic problems to a question of political leadership, and from this standpoint, it makes sense to expect that the United States could return to “peace and prosperity” through the policy decisions of elected officials. Unfortunately this picture does not correspond to the reality of the last forty years or to capitalism in general. Continue reading

Meyer, Hannes  Interior view of Dvorets Sovietov (Palace of Unions) subway station platform, Moscow, 1935-1954

Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer’s adventures in the Soviet Union, 1930-1936

I’ve posted about Hannes Meyer several times already. For those who don’t know, Meyer was the second Bauhaus director. He stepped in after Walter Gropius returned to his own private practice in 1928, and presided over the art and architecture school until he was forced out due to his Marxist convictions in 1930. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe replaced him. After his tenure came to an abrupt end, Meyer and a number of his students traveled to Moscow at the invitation of the Soviet government. Despite his enthusiastic support for the five-year plans then underway, and his unwavering loyalty throughout, Meyer eventually wore out his welcome in the USSR. Several of his colleagues were rounded up and arrested before he finally decided to return to Switzerland. Meyer didn’t stay long there, however, moving permanently to Mexico in 1938.

Today he is largely forgotten, though some have expressed interest in his legacy of late. Claude Schnaidt has provided probably the best comprehensive account of his work. It is not surprising that Meyer would be overshadowed by his predecessor Gropius on the one hand, and his successor Mies on the other. Both were more significant in the history of modern architecture, more groundbreaking or talented. Nevertheless, Meyer was quite innovative himself, as can be seen from his designs for co-ops and proposal for the League of Nations building in Geneva (1926). His skill in other media, such as photography and city planning, was also considerable.

Yesterday I discovered a rare article Meyer wrote in 1942, originally in Spanish, on the architectural profession in the Soviet Union. It was translated into English and published by Harvard’s student design magazine TASK in 1943. The article is interesting in several respects. First, because it displays no bitterness whatsoever at the Stalinist regime that forced Meyer into exile and many of his friends. Second, because the pioneering modernist implicitly repudiates many of his earlier positions on the role of architecture in modern society, criticizing the avant-garde architects at VKhUTEMAS and providing a “dialectical” justification for protopostmodernist eclecticism. Third, because it includes a number of facts and figures, which are interesting even though they are without a doubt inaccurate or misleading.

Alongside the article, which appears below, I’ve included a bunch of photos Meyer took documenting his journeys across the USSR. Enjoy.

The Soviet architect

Hannes Meyer
TASK magazine
February 1943

I dedicate this unpretentious work to the composer Dmitri Shostakovitch, who, in the trenches of Leningrad, December 1941, put the final notes on his Seventh Symphony, rising in this classic form — score and weapon forged in hand — to the present duty of all democratic intellectuals in the entire world: the defense of our culture and of humanity.

Hannes Meyer
Mexico 11/15/1942
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The architect has always been intimately linked with his social environment. He is one of the human tools that serve the ruling power to fortify its position. Architecture besides its direct utility, has always served to maintain power. We find an architect serving the Pope, in Bramante, or the King, in Le Nôtre, or as a colonial functionary, in Tolsa, or as a privileged member of the bourgeoisie, in Tony Garnier. To this we must add that building’ is an activity profoundly connected with social-economic needs and the superimposed spiritual structure. And the architect is always of necessity a collaborator. He does his work together with economists and industrialists, with workers, artisans, and housewives. In Hindu tradition the future architect must first perfect himself as a carpenter, a mason, a painter, a sculptor, and an iron worker. Mature men of forty years are then known as “masters of architecture.”

In capitalist society architecture is numbered among the “liberal professions,” and this is why bankers, speculators, and other knights of the stock market can use the decorative cloak of architecture to cover the sores of the social body. — Architecture is not an autonomous art, as certain prima donnas of the drawing board would like to have us believe. The architect is born and finds his form in the womb of his society and is brought forth by a specific age and by a definite epoch. Hence we find the most capable and creative architects in the heart of the classical forms of society.


The socialist society in the USSR, created by the October Revolution of 1917, is an experiment without precedent. For the first time in human history the people themselves own the factories and all the means of production. The land also has been nationalized. Private economy, until then in a state of anarchy, has been transformed into a planned and directed economy. Together with the great change in the position of intellectuals in the USSR, the position and the role of the architect has been completely altered. The architectural structure of the new state has itself been transformed.

Outside of the USSR it is very hard to form any clear idea of the present conception of architecture in that country. It is confusing to find in its publications buildings of the most diverse character, examples of classicism, and of conflicting trends. These efforts in search of a national ideal are described as backward by American architects, who are justly proud of their highly industrialized achievements. They describe the Soviet attempt to connect by way of dialectics the magnificent past of Russian architecture with the dynamic present as a new academicism. Because of their ignorance of social and economical matters, they can employ no other pattern than those found in their everyday surroundings. For this reason “glass construction,” which is the last word on this continent, over there, in a different environment appears completely out of place. Chippendale furniture, here an expression of conservatism, is there a step forward in the development of the highest quality in cabinet work.

Hannes Meyer, Palace of the League of Nations Continue reading