A hundred years since the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht

On this day exactly a century ago Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were brutally murdered in cold blood by Freikorps troops under the command of the Social Democratic Party. It decapitated the leadership of the young German Communist Party which then oscillated between putschism and opportunism for the rest of its existence. The consequences were that the world revolution, which the revolutionaries in Russia had counted on, did not take place. This led the Russian Communists down the road, not to international socialism, but to the construction of a new form of capitalism which, however, was falsely baptized as “socialism.” Under Stalin this became one of the most horrific anti-working class regimes of the twentieth century. Today the criminals of Social Democrats who murdered Luxemburg and Liebknecht hypocritically pretend they had nothing to do with it whilst Stalinists and Trotskyists who defend the former USSR as somehow communist all reveal their anti-working class credentials. After almost a hundred years of counter-revolution a capitalist system, whose crisis increases every day, offers us nothing but more misery, war, and environmental degradation but a new generation is arising which is taking up the last challenge to the ruling class thrown down by Rosa Luxemburg a few days before her death:

Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!

The “Spartacus” revolt

In early January 1919, just days after the formation of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (the Communist Party of Germany, KPD), the new, supposedly socialist German government sacked the head of the Berlin Police, Eichhorn, who was popular among the genuine socialists. The KPD joined in the calls for a demonstration against this act, which was just the latest in a series of provocations against the workers of Berlin. This demonstration succeeded in preventing Eichhorn’s successor from taking office. Against the votes of the KPD, who correctly believed a revolutionary uprising was premature, the “revolutionary shop stewards” and left wing of the centrist Independent Social Democratic Party now formed a revolutionary committee to overthrow the government.

A general strike was declared and ten days of street fighting ensued. In the course of the fight part of the revolutionary committee split to enter negotiations with the government, thus paving the way for its eventual victory. The day after the fighting was over, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, leaders of the KPD, were murdered by government troops along with the hundreds of workers who had already been cut down.

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Race Traitor and Hard Crackers

Back issues of Race Traitor, a journal that ran irregularly for sixteen issues between 1993 and 2005, were recently uploaded online. Edited by the great John Garvey and Noel Ignatiev. You can download them below. Merry Christmas:

Some really good stuff in here. I’ve blogged Loren Goldner’s excellent essay “Race and Enlightenment” already, but there is plenty more to dig into.

Anyone who likes Race Traitor should also check out the new journal Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life. Lots of the same people are involved over there. Plus, their site just got a makeover; it’s way more navigable and user-friendly than before. Follow them on Twitter, too.

Doxxing and security culture

No, I have never doxxed anyone. And I never would. Having been doxxed before by neo-Nazis as a “commie Jew,” the very idea is abhorrent to me. (This was mostly my fault, incidentally: I used to troll Stormfront message boards with drive-by comments like “lol, Slavs are white?” and then watch them tear each other to shreds. Forgot to block my IP address, stupid me.)

I hate even having to address this, but since it’s become an issue I might as well tackle the rumor in public so that everyone knows:

Several years ago, in early 2015, I was involved in an argument with some people online. Yes, shocking, I know. But looking back at it now, I realize I was often a jerk and didn’t conduct myself as well as I could have. Many of my views have changed since then, anyway, and at any rate I regret saying hurtful things. For whatever reason, though, this group I had been arguing with began to refer to me shorthand by my initials, “RW.” Unfortunately this led to a huge misunderstanding.

Around the same time a virulently anticommunist and antisemitic page called RedWatch popped up on Facebook. It’s affiliated with the far right British National Party. We later mass-reported it, and got it taken down, so you won’t find it on FB anymore. Regardless, it soon started publicizing the private details of communists — even outing a couple of my close friends. Getting word out as quick as they could, to warn people about the threat, some people wrote “RW is doxxing leftists.”

Of course, RW stood for “RedWatch” in this context. But I guess someone misinterpreted it as “Ross Wolfe,” since people had been referring to me that way. This probably sounds farfetched, but it’s what happened, and anyone interested can see a screenshot where the accusation was raised and then amended when it the person learned I was not reporting anyone or breaching security. Don’t worry, the names have been removed and are all color-coded so you can see who is talking to who without their identities being revealed. Irrelevant comments have also been cut out.

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Five hundred glass negatives by Lucia Moholy

Mary Jo Bang
Paris Review
09.17.2017

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In 1915, twenty-one-year-old Lucia Schulz wrote in her journal that she could imagine herself using photography as “a passive artist,” recording everything from the best perspective, putting the film through the chemical processes she’d learned, and adding to the image her sense of “how the objects act on me.”

On her twenty-seventh birthday, at the Registry Office in Charlottenburg, a borough of Berlin, she married the Hungarian Constructivist painter Lászlo Moholy-Nagy and became, in the blink of a bureaucratic instant, Lucia Moholy. A few years later, when Moholy-Nagy was recruited to teach as a master at the Bauhaus school, Lucia went with him — she, her camera, her technical skills, and her knowledge of the darkroom.

The Bauhaus, a school established in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius, would eventually become an influential international design movement. The clean sculptural lines of its buildings, the bent steel and leather Bauer chairs, Marianne Brandt’s elegant globe-and-square tea sets would come to represent a break with the preindustrial past. The look itself would become a signifier of urban modernity and of modern life. When Lucia arrived at the Bauhaus, she became, at Gropius’ invitation, the de facto Bauhaus photographer, albeit unpaid. The glass negatives would remain hers, however, presumably to do with as she wished. Continue reading

Looking back: A self-critique

It’s never easy to look yourself in the mirror and own up to your mistakes. For a long time, I balked at the very idea. Part of it felt too reminiscent of Stalinist/Maoist self-criticism, in its ritualized form of самокритика or autocritique. Whenever a person demands that someone else “self-crit” online, the image that most readily comes to mind is that of medieval flagellants — lashing their own backs while begging forgiveness for their sins. Quite often it feels forced and insincere, as if the people who yield to the demand are just going through the motions in order to be quickly absolved and be done with the matter as soon as possible.

But another reason I refrained from public self-criticism is that my views change rather gradually, to the point where I only notice that I’ve changed my mind well after the fact. Sometimes I think a certain degree of stubbornness can be a virtue, insofar as it means you stick to your guns and don’t just bend in the direction of a shifting wind. Other times, however, it is clearly a vice, especially when you are in the wrong. Even then, when I recognize that I no longer hold my former position on a given issue, I am reluctant to announce that this is the case. Not because I’m unwilling to admit I was wrong, but because I’d prefer to demonstrate this through my actions moving forward instead of dwelling on the past.

Unfortunately, though — or maybe fortunately, for those who like to keep score — the internet has a long memory. I’ve certainly said plenty of stupid shit in my time, things I either regret or simply don’t agree with anymore. There were things I shouldn’t have said, situations I should have handled differently, arguments I should’ve considered more carefully before posting or tweeting or whatnot. You can probably find evidence of them if you look hard enough. Really it shouldn’t even be that hard, as I have not made much of an effort to scrub Twitter or other social media of dumb controversies I’ve been involved in (unless someone specifically asked me to take something down).

Perhaps it would help to be a little more concrete. Just to give one example of something I’ve changed my mind on, or have rather come to a better understanding of, take trans struggles. When debates over gender fluidity first came up several years ago, I knew virtually nothing about the issues trans people have had to deal with. I’m still far from an expert, obviously, but to get a sense of how ignorant I was at the time, I only learned what the prefix “cis-” meant around 2013. Before then, I had no idea what any of it meant. Or really what a whole host of related terms signified. By late 2014 or early 2015 I’d rethought my views.

Much of the discourse on this topic, to be fair, was pretty new back then. And it’s still evolving, though it seems to have stabilized a bit. Regardless, I could’ve done more to learn about it before shooting my mouth off or weighing in on the matter. For example, when Facebook introduced its exhaustive list of fifty-six new gender options four or five years ago, I poked fun at it on social media, since I figured the more customizable taxonomy was introduced so Zuckerberg would have more data about the users of his website to sell to ad agencies. Looking back, I don’t think what I said was too egregious or intentionally hurtful, but probably came off as insensitive all the same.  Continue reading

Air Maoism

Goldner on Elbaum

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Commune
has a new review out of the 2018 reissue of Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air, which recounts the trials and travails of the New Communist Movement in the US. Written by Colleen Lye, “Maoism in the Air” is very sympathetic to the book’s central thesis: namely, that three distinct strands of American Maoism (Cultural Revolutionary, Third World nationalism, and orthodox Marxism-Leninism) shaped the politics of the post-’68 generation in a novel and generally beneficial way. Lye even goes a step further than Elbaum, remarking on the NCM’s institutional legacy that “today’s academic field of critical ethnic studies might well be described as a space where anti-racism and anti-imperialism continue, in a different key and perhaps even unknowingly, the Marxist-Leninism of the ’68 generation.”

She may well be right about this, but I hardly think this is a legacy to be proud of. Usually the so-called “long march through the institutions” is seen as a political defeat held up as an intellectual victory. Marxism’s relegation to the academy is a sign of its neutralization, in other words. I can only speak to the field of Jewish Studies, which is what I’m most familiar with, but for the most part I find it a useless discipline — despite my persistent interest in the history of Jews. Regardless, I was somewhat surprised to see such a positive review of Elbaum’s book in the pages of Commune, a magazine that I am very excited about. (For any readers who haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Jay Firestone’s ethnographic survey of alt-Right NYC and Paul Mattick’s outstanding piece on the centenary of the German Revolution.)

Admittedly, I’ve never understood the appeal of Maoism for American communists, either in the seventies or today. Perhaps it possessed some exotic aura back then, or was maybe just a dope aesthetic. Either way, the theory and practice of the Chinese brand of Stalinism ought to have been long discredited by now. Virtually all of the national liberation movements that were supposed to destabilize global capitalism and pave the way for international socialist revolution have been seamlessly reintegrated into the world of commodities. Nowadays, of course, there is the added association of Maoist ideas with the Black Panther Party, which is still celebrated as a high point in the history of revolutionary politics in the US. How much of this is simply mythologization after the fact is difficult to say, but it was certainly influential.

But even in light of this association, the attraction of Maoism is difficult to grasp. It was recently revealed, in fact, that the person who introduced the Black Panthers to the writings of Mao was an FBI snitch. Richard Aoki, the Berkeley radical and leader of the ethnic studies strike, informed his Bureau contact: “The Maoist twist, I kind of threw that one in. I said so far the most advanced Marxists I have run across are the Maoists in China.” Despite this ideological straightjacket, BPP spokesmen like Fred Hampton were able to say fairly interesting things (all this before he was gunned down in Chicago at the age of 21). While it gave Hampton the perspective he needed to denounce the empty culturalism of Stokely Carmichael, whom he referred to as a “mini-fascist,” it otherwise limited the Panthers’ scope of inquiry into capitalist society.

Loren Goldner’s review, lightly edited and reproduced below, provides a much-needed corrective to the laudatory reception Revolution in the Air has met with so far. Goldner grounds his critique of Elbaum in the left communist and heterodox Trotskyist tradition he belonged to at the time, even though he likewise went to Berkeley and knew many of the same characters. Other Maoists, such as Paul Saba, have gently criticized Elbaum’s book over the last few months. Saba contends that the main fault of the NCM — of which he was also a veteran — was its theoretical poverty, and that it might have benefited from a more sophisticated Althusserian-Bettelheimian viewpoint. Quite the opposite holds for Goldner: the New Communist Movement was wrongheaded from the start.

You can read a 2010 interview with Elbaum by clicking on the link, but otherwise enjoy Goldner’s blistering review. Maoism may still be “in the air,” as Lye contends, if the various Red Guard formations are any indication. According to Goldner, however, it might be in the air the same way smog and other pathogens are.

Didn’t see the same movie

Loren Goldner
August 2003

Review of Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. London/New York, Verso, 2002.

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The sleep of dialectical reason will engender monsters.

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Without exactly setting out to do so, Max Elbaum in his book Revolution In The Air, has managed to demonstrate the existence of progress in human history, namely in the decline and disappearance of the grotesque Stalinist/Maoist/“Third World Marxist” and Marxist-Leninist groups and ideologies he presents, under the rubric New Communist Movement, as the creations of pretty much the “best and the brightest” coming out of the American 1960s.

Who controls the past, Orwell said, controls the future. Read at a certain level, Elbaum’s book (describing a mental universe that in many respects out-Orwells Orwell), aims, through extended self-criticism, to jettison 99% of what “Third World Marxism” stood for in its 1970s heyday, in order to salvage the 1% of further muddled “progressive politics” for the future, particularly where the Democratic Party and the unions are concerned, preparing “progressive” forces to paint a new face on the capitalist system after the neoliberal phase has shot its bolt. Continue reading

Pavlos Roufos live in New York

Saturday, 7-10 PM
November 24, 2018

The Base, 1302 Myrtle Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11221
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Facebook event page

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Pavlos Roufos presents his new book A Happy Future is a Thing of the Past: The Greek Crisis and other Disasters, published in association with the Brooklyn Rail. Setting the 2010 Greek economic crisis in its historical context, Roufos explores the creation of the Eurozone, its “glorious” years, and today’s political threats to its existence. By interweaving stories of individual people’s lived experiences and describing in detail the politicians, policies, personalities, and events at the heart of the collapse, he situates its development both in terms of the particularities of the Greek economy and the overall architecture of Europe’s monetary union.

With both austerity and debt burdens still present, Pavlos answers the question: If the programs were doomed to fail from the start, as many claim, what were the real objectives of such devastating austerity? This broad examination also illuminates the social movements that emerged in Greece in response to the crisis, unpacking what both the crisis managers and many of their critics presented as a given: that a happy future is a thing of the past.

A careful and penetrating analysis of the cruel torment of Greece, and its background in the emerging global political economy, as the regimented capitalism of the early postwar period, with gains for much of the population, has been subjected to the assault of neoliberal globalization, with grim effects and threatening consequences.

— Noam Chomsky

This presentation is sponsored by Prometeo collective. You can read an excerpt from Chapter 6: Years of Stone, pp. 96-102, below.
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A happy future is a thing of the past
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Reaktion Books | UChicago Press | Amazon

The beach beneath

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The movement that began in Syntagma Square in late May 2011 and very soon spread out to squares all over Greece (thus gaining the nickname “squares movement”), represented one of the most condensed moments of the struggle against the crisis, its consequences and management. Many have argued that it did not have a specific aim or demand; according to one’s politics, this observation had either a negative or a positive undertone. However, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the masses that took to the streets, occupied public spaces and fought for almost two months to defend them, were directly concerned with putting an end to the austerity policies that were underway. And these policies, as we have seen, were nothing but a systematic attempt to render people’s ability to survive in a way that was meaningful to them increasingly difficult. Continue reading

Introduction to Ivan Segré

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My introduction to Ivan Segré’s polemical review of Whites, Jews, and Us (2016), by Houria Bouteldja, follows below. The full review, translated by Ann Manov, can be read over at the LA Review of Books. Be sure to check it out; it’s long but excellent.

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Houria Bouteldja is a controversial figure in France. She is the spokeswoman of the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR), a group (and now political party) founded in the wake of the 2005 Paris riots to promote decolonial politics, a “third way” beyond divisions of left and right. Decolonial theory originated as a discursive framework among Latin American academics during the early 2000s, but soon spread to other parts of the world. Unlike postcolonial theory, with which it is often confused, the premise here is that one cannot speak of life today as “after” colonialism. For the PIR, despite the collapse of Europe’s overseas colonies, “decolonization has yet to be finished” (as Bouteldja told Saïd Mekki in a 2009 interview). In 2012, Bouteldja described their outlook to a Madrid audience as more of a mentalité: “Being decolonial is above all an emancipated state of mind.” The PIR’s position on this count clearly echoes the work of Frantz Fanon (among others), whose writings are frequently referenced in Bouteldja’s own.

Long before the release of Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous in 2016, Bouteldja was already known to the French public for her incendiary statements. Her book-length debut — a poetic, almost literary text, more manifesto than treatise — continues in this vein. Bouteldja opens with a chapter entitled “Shoot Sartre!”, a common refrain heard from pro-colonial French nationalists during the war in Algeria. She provocatively appropriates the refrain, not because she agrees Sartre should have been shot for supporting Algerian independence, of course, but to criticize his continued support of Israeli independence after 1967. Instead, she claims as a “hero” of decolonial politics former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Bouteldja praises, with some reluctance, for declaring “there are no homosexuals in Iran” at Columbia University in 2007 — in other words: “at the heart of empire.” She takes the risk of admiring the statement’s provocation, even if she also explicitly recognizes that Ahmadinejad was lying. But in him, she sees “an arrogant indigenous man” speaking up to the West, something Sartre was ultimately — when it came to the issue of Zionism — unable to do. For very different reasons having to do with history and the discourses of sexuality in the West and the Middle East, Joseph Massad, a professor at Columbia, reached a conclusion similar to Ahmadinejad’s a year before in Desiring Arabs, a work Bouteldja cited in her 2013 critique of “gay universalism.” Evidently, avoiding the charge of homophobia is not a priority for Bouteldja. The more important, more fundamental issue (“the only real question,” as she puts it) is the oppressed status of the indigenous. In a chapter titled “We, Indigenous Women,” Bouteldja considers the risk of indigenous masculinity imitating white male masculinity, and asks instead “which part, in the testosterone-laden virility of the indigenous male, resists white domination.” That part can be used, she suggests, “toward a project of common liberation.” Continue reading

Kandinsky

Art as rhetoric

Boris Groys
Particular Cases
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In light of recent discussions about art as knowledge production and the ways art should or could be taught, it seems fitting to look back at the early days of modernism. Avant-garde art was not yet taken for granted then, having instead to be legitimized, interpreted, and taught. One influential example of such a strategy of legitimization is Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911). The book posits an equivalence between art production, art theory, and art teaching, in order to render art rational and scientific, with the aim of establishing it as an academic discipline. Over the course of his artistic career, Kandinsky made various attempts to give an institutional form to his ideas. Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) both the group and the almanac of the same name — can be seen as the first such attempt. Following his return to Russia from Munich at the outbreak of World War I, and especially throughout the postrevolution years, Kandinsky engaged in extensive institutional activity, teaching as a professor at Vkhutemas (Higher Art and Technical Studios, from 1918), as well as founding and directing the Moscow Institute of Artistic Culture (InKhuK, 1920-1921) and GAKhN (State Academy for the Scientific Study of Art, 1921). During his time at the Bauhaus, from his appointment in 1922 until its closure in 1933, he pursued his analysis of art as a science and academic discipline, as reflected in Point and Line to Plane, a theoretical treatise published by the Bauhaus in 1926.

The rigor and determination with which Kandinsky pursued the academicization of art has often been overlooked due to misunderstandings caused by his choice of words. His use of “the spiritual” is a prominent example, since it implies certain religious themes and attitudes that he did not necessarily share. Rather than “the spiritual,” it would be better to speak here of “the affective.” Kandinsky’s book begins with a distinction between art as the representation of eternal reality and art as a means of conveying emotions and moods. Right at the beginning of the book, Kandinsky claims that the representation of external reality leaves us cold as viewers. He describes a typical exhibition of the time:

Animals in sunlight or shadow, drinking, standing in water, lying on the grass; near to, a Crucifixion by a painter who does not believe in Christ; flowers; human figures sitting, standing, walking; often they are naked; many naked women, seen foreshortened from behind; apples and silver dishes. […] The vulgar herd stroll through the rooms and pronounce the pictures “nice” or “splendid.” Those who could speak have said nothing, those who could hear have heard nothing. This condition of art is called “art for art’s sake.”1

This description clearly shows that what Kandinsky found irritating about naturalist painting was its formalism. When the motif is dictated from outside, all that matters is how it is executed — the formal skill of the artist. Kandinsky opposes this formalist vision of art: only when one has defined what art is can one inquire into the how. Continue reading