21st century social-democracy? On Bhaskar Sunkara and Peter Frase’s “The Welfare State of America” and the election

The Welfare State

Bhaskar Sunkara and Peter Frase of Jacobin recently co-authored a social democratic manifesto entitled “The Welfare State of America,” in which they conclude:

THE ROAD TO SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

The Left must not only defeat austerity and preserve the social safety net; it must do so in such a way that assembles the forces necessary for more fundamental transformations in the future.

This vision should be premeditated. We can’t go back to the post-war golden age of the American welfare state, but we can build a system in the 21st century that embodies what people remember most from that era — an overriding sense of freedom. Freedom to give their children an education without rival. Freedom from poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Freedom to grow into old age with pensions, Social Security, and affordable and accessible healthcare. Freedom to leave an exploitative work environment and find another job. Freedom to organize with fellow workers for redress.

These memories are somewhat false ones: The welfare state has never been so universal. But the appeal of such a society, combined with the political strategy needed to make it a reality, will pave the way for the institution of a new set of economic and social rights to complement our bedrock political and civil rights.

Ugh.  From Chavez’s “21st-century socialism” to Sunkara and Frase’s “21st-century social-democracy.”  Not to mention the fetishization of the welfare state, and its national(ist) specification to “of America.”

Obviously I oppose the austerity-mongering politics of neoliberalism.  Equally obvious should be that I’m not as optimistic as Bhaskar or Peter about the prospects of social democracy repackaged for a new century.  They make the salutary concession that the welfare state was never universal, that the New Deal coexisted with brutal and demeaning Jim Crow laws.  But I don’t really view a reformist platform as any more viable in the present than a revolutionary platform.  Reformism and revolutionism seem equally utopian today (and I would say that their apparently equidistant impossibility is related).   Though I’m sure Bhaskar and Peter would insist, following André Gorz, that they are simply advocating a series of “non-reformist reforms.”  Rosa Luxemburg had a much more accurate formulation for this, but one I think the authors would reject: “revolutionary reforms,” or demanding what reforms were available while constantly insisting upon the need for dramatic social transformation.  And in fact the reason so many reforms were acquired in the first half of the twentieth century was symptomatic of the fact that social revolution seemed to be a concrete possibility.  Unapologetic neoliberalism is only possible where there is no fear of revolutionary reprisal.  I’m more or less in agreement with Spencer Leonard’s take in the 2001 section on “The Decline of the Left in the Twentieth Century”:

The abandonment of emancipatory politics in our time has not been, as past revolutionary thinkers may have feared, an abandonment of revolution in favor of reformism.  Rather, because the revolutionary overcoming of capital is no longer imagined, reformism too is dead.  As the task of achieving human society beyond capital has been abandoned, nothing worthy of the name of politics takes its place, nor could it.  The project of freedom has now altogether receded from view.

Social democracy and the reestablishment/renovation of the welfare state would obviously be a progressive program from where we stand right now.  I don’t think it’s anywhere close to sufficient, and the fact that social democracy and “evolutionary socialism” represented an adaptation to rather than an overcoming of capitalism (and thus, at least historically, signaled a shift to the Right) shouldn’t be forgotten.  Advocating a rebranded version of bourgeois-liberal social democracy as represented by Bernstein, Kautsky, or Keynes (though the figures they invoke are Cloward and Piven) seems to me just as false as neoliberals like Hayek or Friedman caricaturing classical liberals like Smith and Ricardo.  To his credit, these are subjects that Bhaskar and others (Jason Schulman,  Adrian Bleifuss Prados, Chris Cutrone) explored a few years ago on Chris Maisano’s The Activist website in Sunkara’s Nietzschean “Beyond Good and Evil,” Schulman’s  “The Current Relevance of an Old Debate,” and again in Sunkara’s “The Crisis: Marx, Lenin, Keynes, and Us.”  These were discussions that I actually found much more interesting than the recent manifesto about “The Welfare State of America,” not out of some fascination with historical trivia, but because the political implications of these debates are actually much far-reaching.

Jacobin certainly has DSA tendencies within it, and certainly Bhaskar has always been upfront about his membership in the DSA and sympathies with its politics (though I’ve spoken with one of Jacobin‘s editors who is convinced he’s a Trotskyist).  Bhaskar’s told me that the Jacobin collection that’s coming out in a few months from Metropolitan publishers is going to have an explicitly left social-democratic bent, but apparently he’s planning to spell that out openly in the introduction he’ll write for it.  Peter Frase has also been clear as to his ties to the DSA.  But one member, even a chief editor, does not a magazine make.  They’ve published diverse viewpoints, from (pseudo-)anarchists like Malcolm Harris to autonomists like Salar Mohandesi and Asad Haider from Viewpoint to cultural/market socialists like James Livingston of Politics and Letters and even to Castroists like Louis Proyect of the Unrepentant Marxist blog.  It’s very inclusive.  Even if it were just an organ of the DSA, at least they’d be staying fairly honest about the prospects of overthrowing the state, abolishing capital, etc. I’ll take that over militant posturing that pretends like revolution is just around the corner.  Chris Maisano, for example, is a really interesting guy to talk to, and a really great guy in general.  He’s also fully aware of “the limitations of democratic socialism.”  As he wrote in a 2010 piece:

the fundamental limitation of social democracy, or “socialist capitalism” as Michael Harrington more accurately described it[, is that it’s] a compromise between socialism and capitalism, but one that’s made on capitalism’s terms. As Harrington pointed out decades ago in his book Socialism, “the fact is that as long as capitalism is capitalism it vitiates or subverts the efforts of socialists…In fact, capital fights back, it does not meekly accept the programming of social democratic ministers…economic power is political power, and as long as the basic relationships of the economy are left intact, they provide a base for the subversion of the democratic will.”

This doesn’t mean that social democracy is somehow bad — I’d give my right arm and possibly a couple of other vital organs if it would turn the United States into a social democratic country.  It just means that in spite of its many virtues — virtues that Judt is correct in celebrating — social democracy cannot be an end in itself but a way station toward a more fundamental transformation of society.

This is the sentiment Sunkara and Frase echo in the last line of their article:

Even greater democratic horizons lie beyond [the welfare state].

To be honest, I don’t understand the affinity either Sunkara or Frase feel in their historical association with Jacobinism (via the magazine they edit, Jacobin), as their politics seem to me as anything but revolutionary in the sense of the Jacobin club.  Still, an article like this is helpful in terms of prompting reflection and debate. Continue reading

“Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis”: A panel discussion with Loren Goldner, David Harvey, Andrew Kliman, and Paul Mattick

Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis

LOREN GOLDNER ┇ DAVID HARVEY ┇ ANDREW KLIMAN ┇ PAUL MATTICK

// November 14th, 2012
7-10PM

// Wollman Hall
Eugene Lang building, 6th floor
65 W 11th St
New York, NY 10011

Join the Facebook event page.
Download an image file of the event flier.
Download the PDF version of the event flier.

The present moment is arguably one of unprecedented confusion on the Left.  The emergence of many new theoretical perspectives on Marxism, anarchism, and the left generally seem rather than signs of a newfound vitality, the intellectual reflux of its final disintegration in history.  As for the politics that still bothers to describe itself as leftist today, it seems no great merit that it is largely disconnected from the academic left’s disputations over everything from imperialism to ecology.  Perhaps nowhere are these symptoms more pronounced than around the subject of the economy.  As Marxist economics has witnessed of late a flurry of recent works, many quite involved in their depth and complexity, recent activism around austerity, joblessness, and non-transparency while quite creative in some respects seems hesitant to oppose with anything but nostalgia for the past the status quo mantra, “There is no Alternative.”  At a time when the United States has entered the most prolonged slump since the Great Depression, the European project founders on the shoals of debt and nationalism.  If the once triumphant neoliberal project of free markets for free people seems utterly exhausted, the “strange non-death of neo-liberalism,” as a recent book title has it, seems poised to carry on indefinitely.  The need for a Marxist politics adequate to the crisis is as great as such a politics is lacking.

And 2011 now seems to be fading into the past.  In Greece today as elsewhere in Europe existing Left parties remain largely passive in the face of the crisis, eschewing radical solutions (if they even imagine such solutions to exist).  In the United States, #Occupy has vanished from the parks and streets, leaving only bitter grumbling where there once seemed to be creativity and open-ended potential.  In Britain, the 2011 London Riots, rather than political protest, was trumpeted as the shafted generation’s response to the crisis, overshadowing the police brutality that actually occasioned it.  Finally, in the Arab world where, we are told the 2011 revolution is still afoot, it seems inconceivable that the revolution, even as it bears within it the hopes of millions, could alter the economic fate of any but a handful.  While joblessness haunts billions worldwide, politicization of the issue seems chiefly the prerogative of the right.  Meanwhile, the poor worldwide face relentless price rises in fuel and essential foodstuffs.  The prospects for world revolution seem remote at best, even as bankers and fund managers seem to lament democracy’s failure in confronting the crisis. In this sense, it seems plausible to argue that there is no crisis at all, but simply the latest stage in an ongoing social regression. What does it mean to say that we face a crisis, after all, when there is no real prospect that anything particularly is likely to change, at least not for the better?

In this opaque historical moment, Platypus wants to raise some basic questions: Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Why do seemingly sophisticated leftist understandings of the world appear unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, can the world be thought intelligible without our capacity to self-consciously transform it through practice? Can Marxism survive as an economics or social theory without politics? Is there capitalism after socialism?

Featuring:

• LOREN GOLDNER

// Chief Editor of Insurgent Notes; ┇ Author: — Ubu Saved From Drowning: Class Struggle and Statist Containment in Portugal and Spain, 1974-1977 (2000), — “The Sky Is Always Darkest Just Before the Dawn: Class Struggle in the U.S. From the 2008 Crash to the Eve of Occupy” (2011)

• DAVID HARVEY

// Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Grad Center; ┇ Author: — The Limits to Capital (1982), — The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), — A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), — “Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail” (2008)

• ANDREW KLIMAN

// Professor of Economics at Pace University; ┇ Founding member of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) in 2009; ┇ Author: — Reclaiming Marx’s Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2006), — The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the “Great Recession” (2011)

• PAUL MATTICK

// Professor of Economics, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Adelphi University; ┇ Editor of The Brooklyn Rail ┇ Author: — Social Knowledge: An Essay on the Nature and Limits of Social Science (1986), — Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011)

Event space:

Aleksandr Rodchenko’s War of the Future (1930) and the lingering memory of chemical warfare

Aleksandr Rodchenko’s grim sci-fi vision of the War of the Future (1930) illustrates the extent to which the terror of chemical warfare and advanced implements of destruction haunted the Soviet and European imagination of conflict following World War I and the Russian Civil War. Death-rays and dirigibles. Howitzers and skyscrapers. Chiaroscuro gas-masks.

Rodchenko’s War of the Future (1930)

Compare Rodchenko’s photomontage with the early Soviet board game Chemical Warfare (1925) below.

Chemical Warfare (1925)

And compare with other examples of towering light-rays in conjunction with marvels of modern engineering.

Rays from the Eiffel Tower, 1889

Karl Marx’s “Bolivar y Ponte” (1858)

New American Encyclopedia 1858


Written: between December 1857 and January 8, 1858;
Source: The New American Cyclopaedia;
First published: in The New American Cyclopaedia, Vol. III, 1858;
Public Domain: Marx-Engels Internet Archive. This article is completely free;
Transcribed: Hari Kumar for Alliance ML.

In a letter to Engels of 14 February 1858, Marx says: “Moreover a longish article on Bolivar elicited objections from Dana because, he said, it is written in a ‘partisan style’, and he asked me to cite my authorities. This I can, of course, do, although it is a singular demand. As regards the ‘partisan style’, it is true that I departed somewhat from the tone of a cyclopedia. To see the dastardly, most miserable and meanest of blackguards described as Napoleon I was altogether too much. Bolivar is a veritable Soulouque (the former slave, later President of Haiti).”


Bolivar y Ponte, Simon, the “liberator” of Colombia, born at Caracas, July 24, 1783, died at San Pedro, near Santa Martha, Dec. 17, 1830. He was the son of one of the familias Mantuanas, which, at the time of the Spanish supremacy, constituted the creole nobility in Venezuela. In compliance with the custom of wealthy Americans of those times, at the early age of 14 he was sent to Europe. From Spain he passed to France, and resided for some years in Paris. In 1802 he married in Madrid, and returned to Venezuela, where his wife died suddenly of yellow fever. After this he visited Europe a second time, and was present at Napoleon’s coronation as emperor, in 1804, and at his assumption of the iron crown of Lombardy, in 1805. In 1809 he returned home, and despite the importunities of Joseph Felix Ribas, his cousin, he declined to join in the revolution which broke out at Caracas, April 19, 1810 but, after the event, he accepted a mission to London to purchase arms and solicit the protection of the British government. Apparently well received by the marquis of Wellesley, then secretary for foreign affairs, he obtained nothing beyond the liberty to export arms for ready cash with the payment of heavy duties upon them. On his return from London, he again withdrew to private life, until, Sept. 1811, he was prevailed upon by Gen. Miranda, then commander-in-chief of the insurgent land and sea forces, to accept the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the staff, and the command of Puerto Cabello, the strongest fortress of Venezuela.

The Spanish prisoners of war, whom Miranda used regularly to send to Puerto Cabello, to be confined in the citadel, having succeeded in overcoming their guards by surprise, and in seizing the citadel, Bolivar, although they were unarmed, while he had a numerous garrison and large magazines, embarked precipitately in the night, with 8 of his officers, without giving notice to his own troops, arrived at daybreak at La Guayra, and retired to his estate at San Mateo. On becoming aware of their commander’s flight, the garrison retired in good order from the place, which was immediately occupied by the Spaniards under Monteverde. This event turned the scale in favor of Spain, and obliged Miranda, on the authority of the congress, to sign the treaty of Vittoria, July 26, 1812, which restored Venezuela to the Spanish rule. On July 30 Miranda arrived at La Guayra, where he intended to embark on board an English vessel. On his visit to the commander of the place, Col. Manuel Maria Casas, he met with a numerous company, among whom were Don Miguel Pena and Simon Bolivar, who persuaded him to stay, for one night at least, in Casas’s house. At 2 o’clock in the morning, when Miranda was soundly sleeping, Casas, Pena, and Bolivar entered his room, with 4 armed soldiers, cautiously seized his sword and pistol, then awakened him, abruptly told him to rise and dress himself, put him into irons, and had him finally surrendered to Monteverde, who dispatched him to Cadiz, where, after some years’ captivity, he died in irons. This act, committed on the pretext that Miranda had betrayed his country by the capitulation of Vittoria, procured for Bolivar Monteverde’s peculiar favor, so that when he demanded his passport, Monteverde declared,

“Col. Bolivar’s request should be complied with, as a reward for his having served the king of Spain by delivering up Miranda.”

He was thus allowed to sail for Curacoa, where he spent 6 weeks, and proceeded, in company with his cousin Ribas, to the little republic of Carthagena. Previous to their arrival, a great number of soldiers, who had served under Gen. Miranda, had fled to Carthagena. Ribas proposed to them to undertake an expedition against the Spaniards in Venezuela, and to accept Bolivar as their commander-in-chief. The former proposition they embraced eagerly; to the latter they demurred, but at last yielded, on the condition of Ribas being the second in command. Manuel Rodriguez Torrices, the president of the republic of Carthagena, added to the 800 soldiers thus enlisted under Bolivar, 500 men under the command of his cousin, Manuel Castillo. The expedition started in the beginning of Jan 1813. Dissensions as to the supreme command breaking out between Bolivar and Castillo, the latter suddenly decamped with his grenadians. Bolivar, on his part, proposed to follow Castillo’s example, and return to Carthagena, but Ribas persuaded him at length to pursue his course at least as far as Bogota, at that time the seat of the congress of New Granada. They were well received, supported in every way, and were both made generals by the congress, and, after having divided their little army into 2 columns, they marched by different routes upon Caracas. The further they advanced, the stronger grew their resources; the cruel excesses of the Spaniards acting everywhere as the recruiting sergeants for the army of the independents. The power of resistance on the part of the Spaniards was broken, partly by the circumstance of 3/4 of their army being composed of natives, who bolted on every encounter to the opposite ranks, partly by the cowardice of such generals as Tiscar, Cajigal, and Fierro, who, on every occasion, deserted their own troops. Thus it happened that San lago Marino, an ignorant youth, had contrived to dislodge the Spaniards from the provinces of Curnana and Barcelona, at the very time that Bolivar was advancing through the western provinces. The only serious resistance, on the part of the Spaniards, was directed against the column of Ribas, who, however, routed Gen. Monteverde at Lostaguanes, and forced him to shut himself up in Puerto Cabello with the remainder of his troops.

On hearing of Bolivar’s approach, Gen. Fierro, the governor of Caracas, sent deputies to propose a capitulation, which was concluded at Vittoria; but Fierro, struck by a sudden panic, and not expecting the return of his own emissaries, secretly decamped in the night, leaving more than 1,500 Spaniards at the discretion of the enemy. Bolivar was now honored with a public triumph. Standing in a triumphal car, drawn by 12 young ladies, dressed in white, adorned with the national colors, and all selected from the first families of Caracas, Bolivar, bareheaded, in full uniform, and wielding a small baton in his hand, was, in about half an hour, dragged from the entrance of the city to his residence. Having proclaimed himself “dictator and liberator of the western provinces of Venezuela” — Marino had assumed the title of “dictator of the eastern provinces” — he created “the order of the liberator,” established a choice corps of troops under the name of his body-guard, and surrounded himself with the show of a court. But, like most of his countrymen, he was averse to any prolonged exertion, and his dictatorship soon proved a military anarchy, leaving the most important affairs in the hands of favorites, who squandered the finances of the country, and then resorted to odious means in order to restore them. The new enthusiasm of the people was thus turned to dissatisfaction, and the scattered forces of the enemy were allowed to recover. While, in the beginning of Aug. 1813, Monteverde was shut up in the fortress of Puerto Cabello, and the Spanish army reduced to the possession of a small strip of land in the northwestern part of Venezuela, 4 months later, in December, the liberator’s prestige was gone, and Caracas itself threatened, by the sudden appearance in its neighborhood of the victorious Spaniards under Boves. To strengthen his tottering power, Bolivar assembled, Jan. 1, 1814, a junta of the most influential inhabitants of Caracas, declaring himself to be unwilling any longer to bear the burden of dictatorship. Hurtado Mendoza, on the other hand, argued, in a long oration,

the necessity of leaving the supreme power in the hands of Gen. Bolivar, until the congress of New Granada could meet, and Venezuela be united under one government.

This proposal was accepted, and the dictatorship was thus invested with some sort of legal sanction.

The war with the Spaniards was, for some time, carried on in a series of small actions, with no decisive advantage to either of the contending parties. In June, 1814, Boves marched with his united forces from Calabozo on La Puerta, where the two dictators, Bolivar and Marino, had formed a junction, met them, and ordered an immediate attack. After some resistance, Bolivar fled toward Caracas, while Marino disappeared in the direction of Cumana. Puerto Cabello and Valencia fell into the hands of Boves, who then detached 2 columns (1 of them under the command of Col. Gonzales), by different roads, upon Caracas. Ribas tried in vain to oppose the advance of Gonzales. On the surrender of Caracas to Gonzales, July 17, 1814, Bolivar evacuated La Guayra, ordered the vessels lying in the harbor of that town to sail for Cuntana, and retreated with the remainder of his troops upon Barcelona. After a defeat inflicted on the insurgents by Boves, Aug. 8, 1814, at Arguita, Bolivar left his troops the same night secretly to hasten, through by-roads, to Cumana, where, despite the angry protests of Ribas, he at once embarked on board theBianchi, together with Marino and some other officers. If Ribas, Paez, and other generals had followed the dictators in their flight, every thing would have been lost. Treated by Gen. Arismendi, on their arrival at Juan Griego, in the island of Margarita, as deserters, and ordered to depart, they sailed for Carupano, whence, meeting with a similar reception on the part of Col. Bermudez, they steered toward Carthagena. There, to palliate their flight, they published a justificatory memoir,” in high-sounding phraseology.

Having joined a plot for the overthrow of the government of Carthagena, Bolivar had to leave that little republic, and proceeded to Tunja, where the congress of the federalist republic of New Granada was sitting. At that time the province of Cundinamarca stood at the head of the independent provinces which refused to adopt the Granadian federal compact, while Quito, Pasto, Santa Martha, and other provinces, still remained in the power of the Spaniards. Bolivar, who arrived at Tunja Nov. 22, 1814, was created by the congress commander-in-chief of the federalist forces, and received the double mission of forcing the president of the province of Cundinamarca to acknowledge the authority of the congress, and of then marching against Santa Martha, the only fortified seaport the Spaniards still retained in New Granada. The first point was easily carried, Bogota, the capital of the disaffected province, being a defenceless town. In spite of its capitulation, Bolivar allowed it to be sacked during 48 hours by his troops. At Santa Martha, the Spanish general Montalvo, having a feeble garrison of less than 200 men, and a fortress in a miserable state of defence, had already bespoken a French vessel, in order to secure his own flight, while the inhabitants of the town sent word to Bolivar that on his appearance they would open the gates and drive out the garrison. But instead of marching, as he was ordered by the congress, against the Spaniards at Santa Martha, he indulged his rancor against Castillo, the commander of Carthagena, took upon himself to lead his troops against the latter town, which constituted an integral part of the federal republic. Beaten back, he encamped upon La Papa, a large hill, about gun-shot distance from Carthagena, and established a single small cannon as a battery against a place provided with about 80 guns. He afterward converted the siege into a blockade, which lasted till the beginning of May without any other result than that of reducing his army, by desertion and malady, from 2,400 men to about 700. Meanwhile a great Spanish expedition from Cadiz had arrived, March 25, 1815, under Gen. Morillo, at the island of Margarita, and had been able to throw powerful reinforcements into Santa Martha, and soon after to take Carthagena itself. Previously, however, Bolivar had embarked for Jamaica, May 10, 1815, with about a dozen of his officers, on an armed English brig. Having arrived at the place of refuge, he again published a proclamation, representing himself as the victim of some secret enemy or faction, and defending his flight before the approaching Spaniards as a resignation of command out of deference for the public peace.

During his 8 months’ stay at Kingston, the generals he had left in Venezuela, and Gen. Arismendi in the island of Margarita, staunchly held their ground against the Spanish arms. But Ribas. from whom Bolivar had derived his reputation, having been shot by the Spaniards after the capture of Maturin, there appeared in his stead another man on the stage, of still greater abilities, who, being as a foreigner unable to play an independent part in the South American revolution, finally resolved to act under Bolivar. This was Louis Brion. To bring aid to the revolutionists, he had sailed from London for Carthagena with a corvette of 24 guns, equipped in great part at his own expense, with 14,000 stand of arms and a great quantity of military stores. Arriving too late to be useful in that quarter, he re-embarked for Cayes, in Hayti, whither many emigrant patriots had repaired after the surrender of Carthagena. Bolivar, meanwhile, had also departed from Kingston to Porte au Prince, where, on his promise of emancipating the slaves, Petion, the president of Hayti, offered him large supplies for a new expedition against the Spaniards in Venezuela. At Cayes he met Brion and the other emigrants, and in a general meeting proposed himself as the chief of the new expedition, on the condition of uniting the civil and military power in his person until the assembling of a general congress. The majority accepting his terms, the expedition’ sailed April 16, 1816, with him as its commander and Brion as its admiral. At Margarita the former succeeded in winning over Arismendi, the commander of the island, in which he had reduced the Spaniards to the single spot of Pampatar. On Bolivar’s formal promise to convoke a national congress at Venezuela, as soon as he should be master of the country, Arismendi summoned a junta in the cathedral of La Villa del Norte, and publicly proclaimed him the commander-in-chief of the republics of Venezuela and New Granada. On May 31, 1816, Bolivar landed at Carupano, but did not dare prevent Marino and Piar from separating from him, and carrying on a war against Cumana under their own auspices. Weakened by this separation, he set sail, on Brion’s advice, for Ocumare, where he arrived July 3, 1816, with 13 vessels, of which 7 only were armed. His army mustered but 650 men, swelled, by the enrolment of negroes whose emancipation he had proclaimed, to about 800. At Ocumare he again issued a proclamation, promising

“to exterminate the tyrants” and to “convoke the people to name their deputies to congress.”

On his advance in the direction of Valencia he met, not far from Ocumare, the Spanish general Morales at the head of about 200 soldiers and 100 militia men. The skirmishers of Morales having dispersed his advanced guard, he lost, as an eye-witness records,

“all presence of mind, spoke not a word, turned his horse quickly round, and fled in full speed toward Ocumare, passed the village at full gallop, arrived at the neighboring bay, jumped from his horse, got into a boat, and embarked on the Diana, ordering the whole squadron to follow him to the little island of Buen Ayre, and leaving all his companions without any means of assistance.”

On Brion’s rebukes and admonitions, he again joined the other commanders on the coast of Cumana, but being harshly received, and threatened by Piar with trial before a court-martial as a deserter and a coward, he quickly retraced his steps to Cayes. After months of exertion, Brion at length succeeded in persuading a majority of the Venezuelan military chiefs, who felt the want of at least a nominal centre, to recall Bolivar as their general-in-chief, upon the express condition that he should assemble a congress, and not meddle with the civil administration. Dec. 31, 1816, he arrived at Barcelona with the arms, munitions of war, and provisions supplied by Petion. Joined, Jan. 2, 1817, by Arismendi, he proclaimed on the 4th martial law and the union of all powers in his single person; but 5 days later, when Arismendi had fallen into an ambush laid by the Spaniards, the dictator fled to Barcelona. The troops rallied at the latter place, whither Brion sent him also guns and reenforcements, so that he soon mustered a new corps of 1,100 men. April 5, the Spaniards took possession of the town of Barcelona, and the patriot troops retreated toward the charity-house, a building isolated from Barcelona, and entrenched on Bolivar’s order, but unfit to shelter a garrison of 1,000 men from a serious attack. He left the post in the night of April 5, informing Col. Freites, to whom he transferred his command, that he was going in search of more troops, and would soon return. Trusting this promise, Freites declined the offer of a capitulation, and, after the assault, was slaughtered with the whole garrison by the Spaniards.

Piar, a man of color and native of Curacao, conceived and executed the conquest of the provinces of Guiana; Admiral Brion supporting that enterprise with his gun-boats. July 20, the whole of the provinces being evacuated by the Spaniards, Piar, Brion, Zea, Marino, Arismendi, and others, assembled a provincial congress at Angostura, and put at the head of the executive a triumvirate, of which Brion, hating Piar and deeply interested in Bolivar, in whose success he had embarked his large private fortune, contrived that the latter should be appointed a member, notwithstanding his absence. On these tidings Bolivar left his retreat for Angostura, where, emboldened by Brion, he dissolved the congress and the triumvirate, to replace them by a “supreme council of the nation,” with himself as the chief, Brion and Antonio Francisco Zea as the directors, the former of the military, the latter of the political section. However, Piar, the conqueror of Guiana, who once before had threatened to try him before a court-martial as a deserter, was not sparing of his sarcasms against the “Napoleon of the retreat,” and Bolivar consequently accepted a plan for getting rid of him. On the false accusation of having conspired against the whites, plotted against Bolivar’s life, and aspired to the supreme power, Piar was arraigned before a war council under the presidency of Brion, convicted, condemned to death, and shot, Oct. 16, 1817. His death struck Marino with terror. Fully aware of his own nothingness when deprived of Piar, he, in a most abject letter, publicly calumniated his murdered friend, deprecated his own attempts at rivalry with the liberator, and threw himself upon Bolivar’s inexhaustible fund of magnanimity.

The conquest by Piar of Guiana had completely changed the situation in favor of the patriots; that single province affording them more resources than all the other 7 provinces of Venezuela together. A new campaign, announced by Bolivar through a new proclamation was, therefore, generally expected to result in the final expulsion of the Spaniards. This first bulletin, which described some small Spanish foraging parties withdrawing from Calabozo as “armies flying before our victorious troops,” was not calculated to damp these hopes. Against about 4,000 Spaniards, whose junction had not yet been effected by Morillo, he mustered more than 9,000 men, well armed, equipped, and amply furnished with all the necessaries of war. Nevertheless, toward the end of May, 1818, he had lost about a dozen battles and all the provinces lying on the northern side of the Orinoco. Scattering as he did his superior forces, they were always beaten in detail. Leaving the conduct of the war to Paez and his other subordinates, he retired to Angostura. Defection followed upon defection, and every thing seemed to be drifting to utter ruin. At this most critical moment, a new combination of fortunate accidents again changed the face of affairs. At Angostura he met with Santander, a native of New Granada, who begged for the means of invading that territory, where the population were prepared for a general rise against the Spaniards. This request, to some extent, he complied with, while powerful succors in men, vessels, and munitions of war, poured in from England, and English, French, German, and Polish officers, flocked to Angostura. Lastly, Dr. German Roscio, dismayed at the declining fortune of the South American revolution, stepped forward, laid hold of Bolivar’s mind, and induced him to convene, Feb. 15, 1819, a national congress, the mere name of which proved powerful enough to create a new army of about 14,000 men, so that Bolivar found himself enabled to resume the offensive.

The foreign officers suggested to him the plan of making a display of an intention to attack Caracas, and free Venezuela from the Spanish yoke, and thus inducing Morillo to weaken New Granada and concentrate his forces upon Venezuela, while he (Bolivar) should suddenly turn to the west, unite with Santander’s guerillas, and march upon Bogota. To execute this plan, he left Angostura Feb. 24, 1810 after having nominated Zea president of the congress arid vice-president of the republic during his absence. By the manoeuvres of Paez, Morillo and La Torre were routed at Achaguas, and would have been destroyed if Bolivar had effected a junction between his own troops and those of Paez and Marino. At all events, the victories of Paez led to the occupation of the province of Barima, which opened to Bolivar the way into New Granada. Every thing being here prepared by Santander, the foreign troops, consisting mainly of Englishmen, decided the fate of New Granada by the successive victories won July 1 and 23, and Aug. 7, in the province of Tunja. Aug. 12, Bolivar made a triumphal entry into Bogota, while the Spaniards, all the Granadian provinces having risen against them, shut themselves up in the fortified town of Mompox.

Having regulated the Granadian congress at Bogota, and installed Gen. Santander as commander-in-chief, Bolivar marched toward Pamplona, where he spent about 2 months in festivals and balls. Nov. 3, he arrived at Montecal, in Venezuela, whither he had directed the patriotic chieftains of that territory to assemble with their troops. With a treasury of about $2,000,000, raised from the inhabitants of New Granada by forced contributions, and with a disposable force of about 9,000 men, the 3d part of whom consisted of well disciplined English, Irish, Hanoverians, and other foreigners, he had now to encounter an enemy stripped of all resources and reduced to a nominal force of about 4,500 men, 2/3 of whom were natives, and, therefore, not to be relied upon by the Spaniards. Morillo withdrawing from San Fernando de Apure to San Carlos, Bolivar followed him up to Calabozo, so that the hostile head-quarters were only 2 days’ march from each other. If Bolivar had boldly advanced, the Spaniards would have been crushed by his European troops alone, but he preferred protracting the war for 5 years longer.

In October, 1819, the congress of Angostura had forced Zea, his nominee, to resign his office, and chosen Arismendi in his place. On receiving this news, Bolivar suddenly marched his foreign legion toward Angostura, surprised Arismendi, who had 600 natives only, exiled him to the island of Margarita, and restored Zea to his dignities. Dr. Roscio, fascinating him with the prospects of centralized power, led him to proclaim the “republic of Colombia,” comprising New Granada and Venezuela, to publish a fundamental law for the new state, drawn up by Roscio, and to consent to the establishment of a common congress for both provinces. On Jan. 20, 1820, he had again returned to San Fernando de Apure. His sudden withdrawal of the foreign legion, which was more dreaded by the Spaniards than 10 times the number of Colombians, had given Morillo a new opportunity to collect reinforcements, while the tidings of a formidable expedition to start from Spain under O’Donnell raised the sinking spirits of the Spanish party. Notwithstanding his vastly superior forces, Bolivar contrived to accomplish nothing during the campaign of 1820. Meanwhile the news arrived from Europe that the revolution in the Isla de Leon had put a forcible end to O’Donnell’s intended expedition. In New Granada 15 provinces out of 22 had joined the government of Colombia, and the Spaniards now held there only the fortresses of Carthagena and the isthmus of Panama. In Venezuela 6 provinces out of 8 obeyed the laws of Colombia. Such was the state of things when Bolivar allowed himself to be inveigled by Morillo into negotiations resulting, Nov. 25, 1820, in the conclusion at Truxillo of a truce for 6 months. In the truce no mention was made of the republic of Colombia, although the congress had expressly forbidden any treaty to be concluded with the Spanish commander before the acknowledgment on his part of the independence of the republic.

Dec. 17, Morillo, anxious to play his part in Spain, embarked at Puerto Cabello, leaving the command-in-chief to Miguel de la Torre, and on March 10, 1821, Bolivar notified La Torre, by letter, that hostilities should recommence at the expiration of 30 days. The Spaniards had taken a strong position at Carabobo, a village situated about half-way betwen San Carlos and Valencia; but La Torre, instead of uniting there all his forces, had concentrated only his 1st division, 2,500 infantry and about 1,500 cavalry, while Bolivar had about 6,000 infantry, among them the British legion, mustering 1,100 men, and 3,000 Ilaneros on horseback, under Paez. The enemy’s position seemed so formidable to Bolivar, that he proposed to his council of war to make a new armistice, which, however, was rejected by his subalterns. At the head of a column mainly consisting of the British legion, Paez turned through a footpath the right wing of the enemy, after the successful execution of which manoeuvre, La Torre was the first of the Spaniards to run away, taking no rest till he reached Puerto Cabello, where he shut himself up with the remainder of his troops. Puerto Cabello itself must have surrendered on a quick advance of the victorious army, but Bolivar lost his time in exhibiting himself at Valencia and Caracas. Sept. 21, 1821, the strong fortress of Carthagena capitulated to Santander. The last feats of arms in Venezuela, the naval action at Maracaibo, in Aug. 1823, and the forced surrender of Puerto Cabello, July, 1824, were both the work of Padilla. The revolution of the Isla de Leon, which prevented O’Donnell’s expedition from starting, and the assistance of the British legion, had evidently turned the scale in favor of the Colombians.

The Colombian congress opened its sittings in Jan. 1821, at Cucuta, published, Aug. 30, a new constitution, and after Bolivar had again pretended to resign, renewed his powers. Having signed the new constitution, he obtained leave to undertake the campaign of Quito (1822), to which province the Spaniards had retired after their ejection by a general rising of the people from the isthmus of Panama. This campaign, ending in the incorporation of Quito, Pasto, and Guayaquil into Colombia, was nominally led by Bolivar and Gen. Sucre, but the few successes of the corps were entirely owed to British officers, such as Col. Sands. During the campaigns of 1823-’24, against the Spaniards in upper and lower Peru, he no longer thought it necessary to keep up the appearance of generalship, but leaving the whole military task to Gen. Sucre, limited himself to triumphal entries, manifestos, and the proclamation of constitutions. Through his Colombian body-guard, he swayed the votes of the congress of Lima, which, Feb. 10, 1823, transferred to him the dictatorship, while he secured his re-election as president of Colombia by a new tender of resignation. His position had meanwhile become strengthened, what with the formal recognition of the new state on the part of England, what with Sucre’s conquest of the provinces of upper Peru, which the latter united into an independent republic, under the name of Bolivia. Here, where Sucre’s bayonets were supreme, Bolivar gave full scope to his propensities for arbitrary power, by introducing the “Bolivian Code,” an imitation of the Code Napoleon. It was his plan to transplant that code from Bolivia to Peru, and from Peru to Colombia-to keep the former states in check by Colombian troops, and the latter by the foreign legion and Peruvian soldiers. By force, mingled with intrigue, he succeeded indeed, for some weeks at least, in fastening his code upon Peru. The president and liberator of Colombia, the protector and dictator of Peru, and the godfather of Bolivia, he had now reached the climax of his renown. But a serious antagonism had broken out in Colombia, between the centralists or Bolivarists and the federalists, under which latter name the enemies of military anarchy had coalesced with his military rivals. The Colombian congress having, at his instigation, proposed an act of accusation against Paez, the vice-president of Venezuela, the latter broke out into open revolt, secretly sustained and pushed on by Bolivar himself, who wanted insurrections, to furnish him a pretext for overthrowing the constitution and reassuming the dictatorship. Beside his body-guard, he led, on his return from Peru, 1,800 Peruvians, ostensibly against the federalist rebels. At Puerto Cabello, however, where he met Paez, he not only confirmed him in his command of Venezuela, and issued a proclamation of amnesty to all the rebels, but openly took their part and rebuked the friends of the constitution; and by decree at Bogota, Nov. 23, 1826, he assumed dictatorial powers.

In the year 1826, from which the decline of his power dates, he contrived to assemble a congress at Panama, with the ostensible to object of establishing a new democratic international code. Plenipotentiaries came from Colombia, Brazil, La Plata, Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, &c. What he really aimed at was the erection of the whole of South America into one federative republic, with himself as its dictator. While thus giving full scope to his dreams of attaching half a world to his name, his real power was rapidly slipping from his grasp. The Colombian troops in Peru, informed of his making arrangements for the introduction of the Bolivian k-code, promoted a violent insurrection. The Peruvians elected Gen. Lamar as the president of their republic, assisted the Bolivians in driving out the Colombian troops, and even waged a victorious war against Colombia, which ended in a treaty reducing the latter to its primitive limits, stipulating the equality of the 2 countries, and separating their debts. The Congress of Ocana, convoked by Bolivar, with a view to modify the constitution in favor of his arbitrary power, was opened March 2, 1828, by an elaborate address, insisting on the necessity of new privileges for the executive. When, however, it became evident that the amended project of the constitution would come out of the convention quite different from its original form, his friends vacated their seats, by which proceeding the body was left without a quorum, and thus became extinct. From a country-seat, some miles distant from Ocana, to which he had retreated, he published another manifesto, pretending to be incensed at the step taken by his own friends, but at the same time attacking the convention, calling on the provinces to recur to extraordinary measures, and declaring that he was ready to submit to any load of power which might be heaped upon him. Under the pressure of his bayonets, popular assemblies at Caracas, Carthagena, and Bogota, to which latter place he had repaired, anew invested him with dictatorial power. An attempt to assassinate him in his sleeping room at Bogota, which he escaped only by leaping in the dark from the balcony of the window, and lying concealed under a bridge, allowed him for some time to introduce a sort of military terrorism. He did not, however, lay hands on Santander, although he had participated in the conspiracy, while he put to death Gen. Padilla, whose guilt was not proved at all, but who, as a man of color, was not able to resist.

Violent factions disturbing the republic in 1829, in a new appeal to the citizens Bolivar invited them to frankly express their wishes as to the modifications to be introduced into the constitution. An assembly of notables at Caracas answered by denouncing his ambition, laying bare the weakness of his administration, declaring the separation of Venezuela from Colombia, and placing Paez at the head of that republic. The senate of Colombia stood by Bolivar, but other insurrections broke out at different points. Having resigned for the 5th time, in Jan. 1830, he again accepted the presidency, and left Bogota to wage war on Paez in the name of the Colombian congress. Toward the end of March, 1830, he advanced at the head of 8,000 men, took Caracuta, which had revolted, and then turned upon the province of Maracaibo, where Paez awaited him with 12,000 men, in a strong position. As soon as he became aware that Paez meant serious fighting, his courage collapsed. For a moment he even thought to subject himself to Paez, and declare against the congress; but the influence of his partisans at the congress vanished, and he was forced to tender his resignation, notice being given to him that he must now stand by it, and that an annual pension would be granted to him on the condition of his departure for foreign countries. He accordingly sent his resignation to the congress, April 27, 1830. But hoping to regain power by the influence of his partisans, and a reaction setting in against Joachim Mosquera, the new president of Colombia, he effected his retreat from Bogota in a very slow manner, and contrived, under a variety of pretexts, to prolong his sojourn at San Pedro, until the end of 1830, when he suddenly died.

The following is the portrait given of him by Ducoudray Holstein:

Simon Bolivar is 5 feet 4 inches in height, his visage is long, his cheeks hollow, his complexion livid brown: his eyes are of a middle size, and sunk deep in his head, which is covered thinly with hair. His mustaches give him a dark and wild aspect, particularly when he is in a passion. His whole body is thin and meagre. He has the appearance of a man 65 years old. In walking, his arms are in continual motion. He cannot walk long, but becomes soon fatigued. He likes his hammock, where he sits or lolls. He gives way to sudden gusts of resentment, and becomes in a moment a madman, throws himself into his hammock, and utters curses and imprecations upon all around him. He likes to indulge in sarcasms upon absent persons, reads only light French literature, is a bold rider, and passionately fond of waltzing. He is fond of hearing himself talk and giving toasts. In adversity, and destitute of aid from without, he is perfectly free from passion and violence of temper. He then becomes mild, patient, docile, and even submissive. In a great measure he conceals his faults under the politeness of a man educated in the so-called beau monde, possesses an almost Asiatic talent for dissimulation, and understands mankind better than the mass of his countrymen.

By decree of the congress of New Granada, his remains were removed in 1842 to Caracas, and a monument erected there in his honor.

See Histoire de Bolivar, par le Gén. Ducoudray Holstein; continuée jusqu’a sa mort par Alphonse Viollet (Paris, 1831), Memoirs of Gen. John Miller (in the service of the Republic of Peru); Col. Hippisley’s “Account of his journey to the Orinoco” (Lond. 1819).

EVENT: A Year, a Month, and a Day: Looking back on Occupy [10.18.2012]

Facebook event page for “A Year, a Month, and a Day: Looking back on #Occupy.”
Google Calendar page for “A Year, a Month, and a Day: Looking back on #Occupy.”
Download the flier for “A Year, a Month, and a Day: Looking back on #Occupy.”

Thursday | October 18, 2012 | 7-9 PM

// Kimmel Center, Room 914 NYU
// 60 Washington Square S.
// New York, NY

A year, a month, and a day ago marked the official beginning of an ostensibly new, post-Obama phase of radical politics in America.

The longer prehistory of Occupy has been variously traced back to anti-austerity protests in Europe, the Arab Spring, and the London riots — with some of its roots stretching all the way to alter-globalization in the late 1990s. Occupy can be understood both in this broader context of radicalization going on throughout the world at the time and as a phenomenon in its own right.

Today Occupy stands at a crossroads. Our moment provides a brief vantage point from which one might reflect upon what the Occupy movement has been to date (its victories, its failures, its enduring impact), whether it still exists at present, and — if so so — what are the tasks that remain for it to fulfill moving forward?

A little over a month on from #S17, and only three weeks before the US elections, we in the Platypus Affiliated Society thus ask our panelists to consider:

1. What kinds of social transformation has Occupy brought about? What kinds of social conflicts remain unresolved? Where has it triumphed, and where has it fallen short?

2. How, if at all, has Occupy changed your political outlook? Has it modified the kinds of goals you hope to achieve through your activism? And has your approach toward organizing a mass movement in order to achieve these goals shifted at all?

3. What sort of new political possibilities has Occupy opened up that beforehand seemed impossible? Conversely, is there anything once felt had been politically possible at Occupy’s outset but now no longer feel is possible?

This event is free and open to the public.

HOSTED BY:

The Platypus Affiliated Society, established in December 2006, organizes reading groups, public fora, research and journalism focused on problems and tasks inherited from the “Old” (1920s-30s), “New” (1960s-70s) and post-political (1980s-90s) Left for the possibilities of emancipatory politics today.

For a media index of past Platypus events on Occupy, feel free to check out our online archive of video, audio, and writings on the movement.

MODERATOR:

Lisa Montanarelli (Writers for the 99%, Platypus Affiliated Society) is an author and activist who participated in the occupation of Zuccotti Park and collaborated with more than 50 other writers and researchers on the book Occupying Wall Street. She has since become a member of Platypus.

FEATURED PANELISTS:

Fritz Tucker (Occupier, journalist) is a native Brooklynite, writer, activist, theorist, and researcher of people’s movements the world over, from the US to Nepal.  Last year he authored the article “A Chill Descends on Occupy Wall Street: The Leaders of an Allegedly Leaderless Movement.”

Victoria Sobel (Media & Finance working groups) is an activist and major organizer within the Occupy movement in New York, especially during its two months in Zuccotti Park.

Nicholas Mirzoeff (Strike Debt, NYU) is professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. and lead organizer of Strike Debt, a prominent outgrowth of the Occupy movement.

David Haack (Occupy Your Workplace) is an underemployed artist an anticorporate activist who lives in New York City.  He is also a leading organizer within the Occupy Your Workplace working group, and author of “How the Occupy movement won me over” (published in Britain’s The Guardian) and “The New Left Zombie is Dead! Long Live Occupy!” (published in Platypus Review 45).

Victoria Campbell (Occupier, Pacifica’s Occupy Wall Street Radio show on WBAI) is an artist and activist involved with Occupy Wall Street, also a host on Pacifica’s Occupy Wall Street Radio show.

Poster for “A Year, a Month, and a Day: Looking back on Occupy,” designed by Benjamin Koditschek

Soviet board-games, 1920-1938

Games of revolution and industry 

Untitled.
Image: Reds and Whites, a war game!
A Soviet board-game from 1929.

untitled2.

It’s the 1920s. You’re a young revolutionary living in the newly-formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Now that the Allied Intervention’s been frustrated, and the reactionary White Army beaten back, the threat of counterrevolution seems to have momentarily subsided. All in all, it’s a good time to be a Marxist in old Muscovy.

There’s only one problem with this new arrangement: What to do with the free time you’re not spending locked in combat against the tsarists, yankees, and Huns? Sure, you’ve got a job at the local shoe factory. But war communism’s out, and the New Economic Program is in. It’s time to kick back and relax. Communism will be built soon enough.

Luckily, there’s a new product available to help pass the time. A.V. Kuklin’s come out with a whole batch of revolutionary board-games, featuring such riveting class-conscious titles as ElectrificationRevolutionReds vs. Whites, and Maneuvers: A Game for Young Pioneers [Soviet Boy Scouts]. Games for the whole family, even though the family form of property-relations must eventually be abolished. Let the capitalists have their Monopoly; let the imperialists play their Risk. I’ll stick to Modern War or Air Struggle.

Ages 8 and up?

.
My favorites among these include the “electrification” board-game, the chemical war game, and the Reds vs. the Whites game. You can tell that they reflect the immediate experience of devastating world war, revolution, and bloody civil war, followed by a project of social engineering and economic modernization the likes of which the world had never seen. The only other thing I’ll say is that, from an aesthetic perspective, one can see the change in the officially-sanctioned styles from the more avant-garde lines, shapes, and typography to the cartoon realism of caricatured figures in the Sots-art of the 1930s. Enjoy!