A mindless martyrology — Allende and left amnesia

Just a reminder to the pseudo-leftists who are gleefully getting off by trolling right-wing patriotic conservatives, urging them to remember “the real 9/11” (the 1973 Pinochet coup against the Salavador Allende government in Chile). Please don’t let the dearth of revolutionary figures in recent memory lead you to claim false martyrs for your canon:

The UP [Unidad Popular, the coalition that helped bring Allende into office] was a classic popular front, an alliance of reformist workers parties, chiefly the SP and Communist Party (CP), with bourgeois forces — the small Radical Party as well as some Christian Democrats. The Allende government was not, as maintained by reformists around the world, a ‘people’s government’ gradually introducing socialism. It was a government committed to the maintenance of capitalism. The presence of bourgeois parties in the UP coalition was a guarantee to the capitalists that the workers parties would not take any steps to threaten the profit system.

Even before assuming office, Allende signed an agreement pledging not to permit the formation of ‘private’ armed forces — i.e., workers militias. The Allende government disarmed the workers by seizing their weapons and by sowing illusions in a ‘peaceful road to socialism.’ This cleared the way for the bourgeoisie to crush the working class.

By pointing this out, I do not in any way intend to diminish the historical significance of Pinochet’s US-backed military coup, which as an event was a massacre and led to more than three decades of institutionalized reaction. The Pinochet government was a Bonapartist throwback, almost textbook. My intention is not to ridicule the memory of a murdered man, populist pygmy though Allende was, so much as it is to draw attention to the selective amnesia of hero-mongering leftists. Continue reading

Soviet architecture: Notes on its development, 1917-1932

by Berthold Lubetkin, 1956

Image: Lubetkin’s trade pavilion
for the USSR, Bordeaux 1926


Note: The following brief essay by Berthold Lubetkin, a constructivist architect and comrade of El Lissitzky who moved to Britain in the early 1930s, is actually remarkably lucid in its presentation of the theory-praxis problem so central to Marxism. I find the longitudinal distinction between “philosophies of East and West” a bit crude, but this is to be expected from a popular presentation intended for a British readership. Of course, Marxism (and Hegelianism, which is central for Lubetkin) had originated in the West, but by the time Lubetkin was writing this they had been driven out of mainstream Western political and intellectual discourse. Positivism, empiricism, and pragmatism appeared in its stead.

Lubetkin certainly wouldn’t deny the historical importance of Kant or Hume for the development of philosophy culminating in Hegel, but would instead emphasize the regression signaled by recourse to these figures after 1850, and the epistemological skepticism this entailed toward notions of causation. He was fond of quoting Hegel’s (and Spinoza’s before him, Engels’ after him) dictum that “freedom is the conscious recognition of necessity,” and always stressed the dialectical legacy of Marxist thought.

One of the recognizable dividing lines between the philosophies of East and West is gnoseology, and relates to the interpretation an generalization of the observed phenomena of life, and the coordination of the results into coherent theories and systems. The West, partly, no doubt, as a reaction against medieval dogmatism with its a priori, unverifiable order of things, and the consequent futility of scientific enquiry, partly as a reflection of its economic structure, shuns assumptions and principles, mistrusts generalizations, proceeds empirically to the point of denying the validity of law, of causality in nature and in society.

Berthold Lubetkin photographed in 1933

Berthold Lubetkin photographed in 1933

Under the influence of Kant and Hume, experienced facts are regarded as the ultimate finality, and are incapable of linkage into systems. The mere sequence by which one phenomenon follows another does not justify the conclusion that they are in causal relation, but rather that they coexist in our expectation, in our experience.

Through all forms of contemporary Western philosophy (relativism, empiricism, pragmatism, positivism, etc.), the disbelief in causality stands out as a common factor of decisive significance. In analyzing the interaction of phenomena, the objective character of laws is reduced to psychological necessity, regularity is equated with the particular case of accident, and the notion of objective truth is altogether eliminated, so that scientific results appear as a system or framework with no other end in view but that of convenience, utility, and economy of thought.

The West is thus basically skeptical, hostile to theoretical generalizations, to historical motivation, to the embodiment of experience into binding conclusions with the validity of objective laws.

The resulting intellectual atomization and fragmentation finds its counterpart in economics, in the crisis of productive relations, and it is revealed clearly and hauntingly in the manifestations of our art. Continue reading