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

Tatlin’s tower

Nico Israel has a book out that looks fairly interesting, Spirals: The Whirled Image in Twentieth Century Art and Literature. In it he discusses Wyndham Lewis’ vorticism, Vladimir Tatlin’s monument to the Third International, land Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (among other things). He also relates a few famous lines by Lenin about the spiraling course of the dialectic in history, from his 1915 Granat Encyclopedia entry on Karl Marx:

In our times, the idea of development, of evolution, has almost completely penetrated social consciousness, only in other ways, and not through Hegelian philosophy. Still, this idea, as formulated by Marx and Engels on the basis of Hegel’s philosophy, is far more comprehensive and far richer in content than the current idea of evolution is. A development that repeats, as it were, stages that have already been passed, but repeats them in a different way, on a higher basis (“the negation of the negation”), a development, so to speak, that proceeds in spirals, not in a straight line; a development by leaps, catastrophes, and revolutions; “breaks in continuity”; the transformation of quantity into quality; inner impulses towards development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society; the interdependence and the closest and indissoluble connection between all aspects of any phenomenon (history constantly revealing ever new aspects), a connection that provides a uniform, and universal process of motion, one that follows definite laws — these are some of the features of dialectics as a doctrine of development that is richer than the conventional one.

Marx and Engels were not the the first to put dialectical development in the shape of a spiral. As Lenin indicates, Hegel before him visualized it as such. There’s another source of the “whirled image” in Marx’s theory: Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi. Fredric Jameson pointed out in his recent book, Representing Capital, that “repetition — the selling of labor power week after week, its productive consumption by the capitalist in a cycle Sismondi rightly recharacterized as a spiral — never knew a first time in the first place.”

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For Marx, the spiral motion first appears as circulating capital:

Exchange-value posited as the unity of commodity and money is capital, and this positing itself appears as the circulation of capital. (Which is, however, a spiral, an expanding curve, not a simple circle)…As the subject predominant [übergreifend] over the different phases of this movement, as value sustaining and multiplying itself in it, as the subject of these metamorphoses proceeding in a circular course — as a spiral, as an expanding circle — capital is circulating capital. Circulating capital is therefore initially not a particular form of capital, but is rather capital itself, in a further developed aspect, as subject of the movement just described, which it, itself, is as its own realization process.

In Capital, Marx explicitly acknowledged his debt to Sismondi in this respect: “Looked at concretely, accumulation can be resolved into the production of capital on a progressively increasing scale. The cycle of simple reproduction alters its form and, to use Sismondi’s expression, changes into a spiral.” Put another way, capital comes to ground this expansive outward movement, in which all sorts of violent jolts, fits, and spasms take place. Capital in history establishes a sort of treadmill pattern of transformation and reconstitution, as the sociologist Moishe Postone put it. Yet without its integral antithesis, class conscious wage-laborers mobilized in opposition to it, capital’s inherent dynamism is itself diminished. Adorno thus astutely observed in his 1965 lectures on History and Freedom: “Without wasting time on the overworked notion of a spiral development in history, it can be said that a direct progress towards freedom cannot be discerned.” (Rodney Livingstone suspected Adorno might have had Toynbee in mind, but I think he was commenting on the old Leninist dictum).

When Tatlin built his monument to the Third Revolution, progress did not seem such an impossibility. Though Europe lay in ruins, a new world seemed to open up. A hundred years on, this possibility seems by now closed. In our present moment, the key to the future resides in the past. Below are a few period pieces reflecting on Tatlin’s tower that express this bygone sensibility. Enjoy.

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The monument to the Third International

Nikolai Punin
Iskusstvo kommuny
September 1920

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In 1919 the Department of Fine Arts within the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment commissioned the artist V. E. Tatlin to develop a design for a monument to the Third International. The artist Tatlin immediately set to work and produced a design. The artists I.A. Meerzon, M.P. Vinogradov, and T.M. Shapiro formed a “Creative Collective,” then developed the design in detail and constructed a model.

The main idea of the monument is based on an organic synthesis of the principles of architecture, sculpture and painting and was intended to produce a new type of monumental structure, uniting in itself a purely creative form with a utilitarian form. In accordance with this idea, the design of the monument consists of three large glass structures, erected by means of a complex system of vertical struts and spirals. These structures are arranged one above the other and are contained within different, harmoniously related forms. A special type of mechanism would enable them to move at different speeds. The lower structure (A), in the form of a cube, moves on its axis at the speed of one revolution a year and is intended for legislative purposes. Here may be held conferences of the International, meetings of international congresses and other broadly legislative meetings… The next structure (B), in the form of a pyramid, rotates on its axis at the speed of one full revolution a month and is intended for executive functions (the Executive Committee of the International, the secretariat and other administrative and executive  bodies). Finally, the upper cylinder (C), rotating at a speed of one revolution a day, is intended to be a resource center for the following facilities: an information office; a newspaper; the publication of proclamations, brochures and manifestos — in a word, all the various means of broadly informing the international proletariat, and in particular a telegraph, projectors for a large screen located on the axes of a spherical segment (a1-b3), and a radio station, the masts of which rise above the monument. There is no need to point out the enormous possibilities for equipping and organizing these structures. The details of the design have not yet been specified, they can be discussed and worked out (luring subsequent elaboration of the monument’s interior.

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It is necessary to explain that according to the artist Tatlin”s conception, the glass structures should have vacuum walls (a thermos) which will make it easy to maintain a constant temperature within the edifice. The separate parts of the monument will be connected to one another and to the ground by means exclusively of complexly structured electrical elevators, adjusted to the differing rotation speeds of the structures. Such are the technical bases of the project. Continue reading

An unmet challenge: Race and the Left in America

Benjamin Blumberg
Platypus Review 19
January 1, 2010

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In his 1932 novel Banjo, the radical black intellectual Claude McKay portrays the vibrancy of black cosmopolitanism in the French port city of Marseilles in the decade following the end of World War I. McKay’s characters — boys of the docks, mendicants, and drifters — grapple with the racism of the wider society, while in their relations to one another live beyond race’s narrowness. One in particular, the novel’s protagonist, an itinerant intellectual named Ray, is driven by French police brutality to reflect on the reality of his race. In a powerful passage, McKay describes Ray as refusing

to accept the idea of the Negro simply, as a “problem.” All of life was a problem…To Ray the Negro was one significant and challenging aspect of the human life of the world as a whole…If the Negro had to be defined, there was every reason to define him as a challenge rather than a “problem” to Western civilization.[1]

To this day, Ray’s challenge remains unmet, not only in France, but in the United States and the rest of the world.

Following Ray, the term “challenge” is used here to signify a refusal of the traditional labeling of anti-black racism and racially justified segregation as a “problem.” Naming racism and segregation as a problem merely acknowledges and passively describes a fact. However, the challenge is to elevate the problem’s mere existence to the level of reality, to shape it through thought and action into a material that, because consciously formed, can be transformed and overcome.

Photograph of Grigorii Zinoviev, Claude McKay, and Nikolai Bukharin in Moscow 1923 Photograph of Arthur Holitscher, Clara Zetkin, and Claude McKay in Moscow 1923 Claude McKay addressing the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, 1923

For the American Left in the first half the 20 century — commonly referred to as the “Old Left” — the task of advancing freedom entailed a thoroughgoing critique of the racist institutions in American society, a socioeconomic and historical analysis of their origins and contemporary function, as well as practical efforts to eradicate these structures. In other words, racism was the challenge faced by the American Old Left. However, to a large extent it evaded the very challenge it set for itself by accepting the characterization of the black population’s political situation as “the Negro problem.” Only the best of the Old Left pushed against this characterization. The New Left, seeking to overcome the Old Left’s shortcomings and receiving a great impulse from the demands of the Civil Rights movement to do so, would nevertheless come to reenact the previous generation’s failings. This brings forth an uncomfortable question: if Marxists in the United States were unable to meet the challenge of raising racism to the level of a transformable reality, then to what extent can we speak of an American tradition of Marxism — a Marxism adequate to the situation of American capitalism — at all?

Marxism was at first a transplant to the United States, brought with the arrival of radicals who were compelled to leave Europe after the failed revolutions of 1848. However, as an organized political movement, it was forged with the great inspiration and impetus given by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, and the subsequent revolutions that swept through Europe and the world. These profoundly radicalizing events led to the formation of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CP), first in 1919 as two separate and competing tendencies, and then as a unified Workers Party in 1921. According to James P. Cannon, one of the Communist Party’s leaders in the 1920s, and one of the leaders of the Trotskyist fight against Stalinism from 1928 onward, the first years of the Communist Party were dominated by foreign émigrés with direct experience in Europe’s mass Marxist parties. Their experience within Marxism led them to believe that it was their duty to preserve the integrity of Marxism against any misinterpretations by its new, less experienced American practitioners. However, this inadvertently led to a neglect of specific aspects of the historical development of the United States, most crucially the struggle against slavery, segregation, and racism. This theoretical deficiency remained even after the growth enjoyed by the CP in the 1920s and 1930s.

Thus limited by its theoretical outlook, the American Communist Party neglected the critical question: How should Marxists account for the specificity of national historical development, while, at the same time, attempting to overcome the nation-state as a political framework? In the case of anti-black racism and segregation, this requires us to critically reevaluate the dialectic of separatism and integration/assimilation in the race politics of the United States. Continue reading

Andrei Burov

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Burov was a member of the Society of Modern Architects (OSA) and an avowed disciple of Le Corbusier living in Moscow. He designed a number of workers’ clubs during the 1920s, none of which were ever realized.

What he did become known for, albeit somewhat obliquely, was a brilliant bit of Corbusian architecture which appeared in the Eisenstein film The General Line (1927, though released in 1930 after some delays). Some stills from the film are reproduced below, along with some text by the architect and historian Vladimir Paperny.

Recently Owen Hatherley wrote up a piece for Calvert Journal called “Block Party,” in which he touched briefly on Burov’s later work.

From the late Thirties, some architects tried to devise ways of industrializing the creation of individualist, anti-modernist apartment blocks. The earliest is probably a 1938 block on Leningradsky Prospekt by Andrei Burov, who was once such a disciple of Le Corbusier that he even copied his fashion choices (those little round spectacles). Here, the ceramic ornaments of leaves and suchlike are made from prefabricated panels, as are the balustrades and cornices.

By this point, of course, Burov had remade himself as a model Stalinist in architecture. Paperny recalls:

In 1938 the interiors of the Slate Historical Museum were redesigned. This is the very same Historical Museum that Le Corbusier dreamed of demolishing. It had been constructed by V. Sherwood and A. Semenov…The renovations were done by the architect Andrei Burov, “a tall blond man, speaking fluent French” — that was how he was seen in 1935 in Athens, where he had stopped off upon returning from an architectural congress in Rome — a decade after his construction of the model constructivist dairy farm for Eisenstein’s film Generalnaia linia (The General Line) [a.k.a. Staroe i novoe (The Old and the New)]. Here in the Historical Museum design he made a 180° turn from the design philosophy of his former friend Le Corbusier. The interiors created by Burov, in the words of one scholar of art, “express profound principles, inherent in ancient Russian architecture, particularly in the “classical” models of the architecture of Kiev, Vladimir, and Moscow, and whim are undoubtedly related to the traditions of antique, primarily Greek, art.” In Burov’s design, continues the scholar, Russian art ceases to be “an exotic, provincial curiosity” and becomes “the original force with which the folk genius creates, on the basis of antique tradition, a new architecture, unsevered from and connected to, but in no way ceding to, the architecture of the Byzantine era, the proto-Renaissance or the Renaissance.”

There’s a broader thesis at work in these lines, which will become clearer in the following passages. In his excellent thesis, Culture Two: Architecture in the Age of Stalin, Paperny describes two main cultural forces at work in Russian history. Culture One corresponds to a destructive, youthful tendency and lines up with the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s. Culture Two, by contrast, covers a more monumental, venerable tendency and lines up with Stalinist architecture. You can read my review of Paperny’s book for more details.

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When Andrei Burov, in 1927, was set designer for Sergei Eisenstein’s film Generalnaia linia (The General Line) [a.k.a. Staroe i novoe (The Old and the New)], his basic idea was that he “works in film not as a decorator but as an architect.” He considered that he should construct a real building, one that would continue to function after the shooting. (It was only because of technicalities that he did not succeed in this.) Film critics of the 1920s rated very highly the idea of such a collaboration of the architect with film, since even feature (non-documentary) films had to show “life as it should be.” Burov shared this position: “film must…show that which is and that which should be” — a position quite similar to the idea of zhiznestroenie. Continue reading

Spartakiade: A Bolshevik alternative to the Olympics

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With opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics a couple nights ago in Sochi, Russia — and all the pomp, pageantry, and slapstick that went with it — it’s perhaps appropriate to reflect on the oft-forgotten Soviet alternative to the Olympics: the proletarian Spartakiade, set up in 1924 as a challenge to the hegemony of the bourgeois Olympiad. It’s important to remember that the modern Olympic games were a fairly recent phenomenon. The idea of holding an international sporting event along these lines was only revived in 1894, and the inaugural Games held just two years later. “Physical culture,” Fiskultur in German and Физкультура in Russian, was an ideology embraced across the political spectrum in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, part of a popular cult of the body that emphasized fitness as part of a well-rounded education (along with literacy and basic math skills). From mainstream European Social-Democracy during the 1890s to North American “muscular Christianity” around the same time, the idea enjoyed a great deal of support.

After conflicts broke out between the major European powers in 1914, the early days of what would eventually become known as the Great War, the Olympic games were put on hold. Though the Second International (founded 1889) capitulated to the spirit of patriotic belligerence that same year, upheaval in Russia resulted in the collapse of tsarism in February 1917 and the revolutionary seizure of power by the Bolsheviks a few months later. Its leaders thereupon declared the foundation of a Third, Communist International — the Comintern. One might view the stance taken by the Comintern during the early 1920s toward international sporting competitions like the Olympics as paralleling its own relationship to international bourgeois legal and political institutions around the same time. By establishing the Spartakiade as a rival to the Olympiad, the Bolsheviks hoped to set up a proletarian alternative to bourgeois internationalism.

Similarly, the Comintern itself would be viewed as a proletarian version of the bourgeois League of Nations, from which the USSR had been excluded, though here the socialists had a head start over their capitalist competitors (the First International Workingmen’s Association was organized in 1863, while the League of Nations would only take shape in June 1919). The Spartakiade existed as an international sporting event from 1924-1937, ending around the same time as the as the Comintern became defunct. Again, this mirrored the Soviets’ shifting attitude toward internationalism in general. Under Stalin’s doctrine of “socialism in one country” [социализм в одной стране], Spartakiads were instead repurposed as national events between the various semi-autonomous Soviet Republics. Likewise, just as the Soviet Union was made a participant in the United Nations after 1947, Soviet sportsmen began participating in the Olympics in 1952. This marked the effective integration of the USSR in the postwar status quo, less of an imminent threat to the bourgeois social order than its cynical cooperant.

Below is reproduced the Comintern’s November 1924 Manifesto of the Red Sport International. You can read the original May 1925 English translation of the document in Young Worker. Also included are some outstanding posters, photos, and promotional art for the games, which can be enlarged by clicking on the thumbnails.


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Manifesto of the Red Sport International
Executive Committee, Comintern
November 21, 1924
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To the Working-class Sportsmen of all Countries!

To all Working Men and Working Women In Town and Countryside!

The Third World Congress of the Red Sports International addresses this manifesto on behalf of the delegates who represent twenty-one countries at the Congress, to all workers belonging to gymnastics and sports organizations, and invites them to join the international association of proletarian and peasant gymnastics and sports organizations — the Red Sports International.

The bourgeoisie does its utmost to keep the oppressed classes under its domination. In the hands of the bourgeoisie, gymnastics and sports organizations are converted into tools of bourgeois militarism and fascism, and thereby into fighting cadets of the reactionaries against the proletariat of the home country, as well as the proletariat of foreign countries.

The bourgeoisie is fully aware of the important role of gymnastic and-sport organizations and it is using them as a means to corrupt the proletariat and to permeate it with bourgeois ideology, providing thereby active defenders of bourgeois capitalist interests in the everyday economic struggles (factory sports, clubs under capitalist control, strikebreaking, technical aid, etc.), as well as in the present and future political struggles (Chauvinist national organizations, military training of the young, national militia, etc.).

From being a means of the class struggle of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, proletarian gymnastic and sports organizations must become an important factor — for the proletariat — in the world struggle of the workers and poor peasants for the establishment of a proletarian social order.

In the atmosphere of class struggle there can be no “neutrality” and no “non-political attitude” for the workers also with respect to gymnastics and sports. Collaboration or class truce with and within bourgeois organizations, especially with the bourgeoisie, is tantamount to a betrayal of proletarian interests. Continue reading

Ross Wolfe and Sammy Medina, "Corbu's Corpus" Le Corbusier at the MoMA

Corbu’s corpus

Ross Wolfe and Sammy Medina
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First published by the University of Bristol’s Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, and is reproduced here with permission.
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Exhibit review
Le Corbusier: An atlas of modern landscapes

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Jean-Louis Cohen with Barry Bergdoll.
15 June-23 September 2013.
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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The Museum of Modern Art’s Le Corbusier: An atlas of modern landscapes, recently opened to the public, marks the institution’s first exhibit devoted to the archmodernist in over fifty years. As such, it’s already managed to generate a great deal of buzz amongst members of New York’s architectural community. Corbu enthusiasts from up and down the East Coast have thus flocked to the show, turning out in droves. But its impact extends well beyond just the fanboys and devotees, whose attendance might be taken for granted. Many from the general public with only a passing interest in architecture have also made pilgrimages, hoping to catch a glimpse of what once seemed imaginable. Name recognition alone cannot account for this success, however. Part of it has to do with the timing of the exhibition.

In terms of overall curation, the sheer volume of works amassed at the MoMA show is enough to make it worth a visit. Each phase of Le Corbusier’s legendary career is laid out in incredible detail, with multiple models, sketches, and photographs accompanying individual displays. Breadth finds itself matched by depth, as the architect’s corpus is examined across a variety of media. While the exhibit unfolds chronologically — beginning with his youthful pastoral depictions of the Jura mountainsides up through his post-Cubist collaborations with Ozenfant, then on to his first buildings and forays into urbanism — the astonishing scope of Corbusier’s travels and commissions is conveyed throughout. This was very much the way Jeanneret operated, keeping several fires going at once. At the height of his creative output, while he was writing La Ville Radieuse (1930-33), the book’s subtitle grants a sense of just how far his projects ranged: Algiers, Antwerp, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Geneva, Moscow, Montevideo, Nemours, Paris, Piacé, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. An atlas of modern landscapes chronicles Corbusier’s journeys through space over time, in a chronotopic manner of which his friend Giedion, the “official historian” of modernism, would no doubt have approved.

Cutaway revealing the interior to Le Corbusier's Villa Cook, 6 Calle Denfert-Rochereau, Boulogne-sur-Seine (1926)

Cutaway revealing the interior to Le Corbusier’s Villa Cook,
6 Calle Denfert-Rochereau, Boulogne-sur-Seine (1926)

Of course, the curatorial intelligence exhibited by the show’s selection and presentation of pieces should not surprise anyone familiar with the process by which it came together. Assembly was carried out under Jean-Louis Cohen’s encyclopedic gaze, with contributions also coming from numerous other scholars and academics. Cohen, whose brilliance has for too long gone now unrecognized in the Anglophone world, has finally begun to enjoy some success of late with the release of his sweeping historical overview, The future of architecture since 1889 (2012), and supervision of MoMA’s blockbuster Corbusier expo. His fingerprints can be seen all over the show. Its contents are not merely exhaustive — they are definitive. For a figure on the order of magnitude of a Le Corbusier, this is an impressive feat. Continue reading