Paul Mattick, revolutionary Marxist (1904-1981)

I’m not a coun­cil­ist. Of the two ma­jor streams of left-wing com­mun­ism with­in the Third In­ter­na­tion­al, the Ger­man-Dutch cur­rent formed around spon­tan­eous work­ers’ coun­cils and the Itali­an cur­rent formed around or­gan­ic party cent­ral­ism, my pref­er­ence is def­in­itely for the lat­ter. Though most mod­ern left com­mun­ist groups syn­thes­ize ele­ments from each, I con­sider Bor­di­gism far more com­pat­ible with or­tho­dox Trot­sky­ism than coun­cil­ism after 1930. Even more so than Bor­di­gism and Trot­sky­ism, I find Bor­diga and Trot­sky to be closer to one an­oth­er than to any of the ma­jor rep­res­ent­at­ives of coun­cil com­mun­ism.

Nev­er­the­less, I di­gress: By the end of the 1920s, the coun­cil com­mun­ist move­ment led by Ant­on Pan­nekoek, Her­man Gort­er, and Otto Rühle had taken its cri­tique of Bolshev­ism so far that it re­jec­ted the party-form of or­gan­iz­a­tion. Paul Mat­tick only emerged as a prom­in­ent fig­ure with­in this move­ment after this point, dur­ing his ca­reer in the United States. Al­though I do not find his polit­ic­al po­s­i­tions all that com­pel­ling, par­tic­u­larly his anti-Len­in­ism, I find his the­or­et­ic­al work to be of ex­cep­tion­al qual­ity. His short 1959 art­icle on “Na­tion­al­ism and So­cial­ism” de­serves spe­cial men­tion for in­sights like the fol­low­ing:

The second World War and its af­ter­math brought in­de­pend­ence to In­dia and Pakistan, the Chinese Re­volu­tion, the lib­er­a­tion of South­east Asia, and self-de­term­in­a­tion for some na­tions in Africa and the Middle East. Prima facie, this “renais­sance” of na­tion­al­ism con­tra­dicts both Rosa Lux­em­burg’s and Len­in’s po­s­i­tions on the “na­tion­al ques­tion.” Ap­par­ently, the time for na­tion­al eman­cip­a­tion has not come to an end, and ob­vi­ously, the rising tide of anti-im­per­i­al­ism does not serve world-re­volu­tion­ary so­cial­ist ends.

However, what this new na­tion­al­ism ac­tu­ally in­dic­ates are struc­tur­al changes in the cap­it­al­ist world eco­nomy and the end of nine­teenth-cen­tury co­lo­ni­al­ism. The “white man’s bur­den” has be­come an ac­tu­al bur­den in­stead of a bless­ing. The re­turns from co­lo­ni­al rule are dwind­ling while the costs of em­pire are rising. In­di­vidu­als, cor­por­a­tions, and even gov­ern­ments still cer­tainly en­rich them­selves by co­lo­ni­al ex­ploit­a­tion. But this is now primar­ily due to spe­cial con­di­tions — con­cen­trated con­trol of oil-re­sources, the dis­cov­ery of large urani­um de­pos­its, etc. — rather than the gen­er­al abil­ity to op­er­ate prof­it­ably in colon­ies and oth­er de­pend­ent coun­tries. What were once ex­cep­tion­al profit-rates now drop back to the “nor­mal” rate, and where they re­main ex­cep­tion­al, it is in most cases due to a hid­den form of gov­ern­ment sub­sidy. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, co­lo­ni­al­ism no longer pays, so that it is in part the prin­ciple of prof­it­ab­il­ity it­self which calls forth a new ap­proach to im­per­i­al­ist rule.

Mat­tick’s book-length es­say on Marx and Keynes: Lim­its of the Mixed Eco­nomy is also a clas­sic. Whatever their tend­ency, Marx­ists stand to learn a great deal from Mat­tick’s ideas and work. You can down­load some of his books, art­icles, and re­views be­low. Fe­lix Baum’s re­view of Gary Roth’s Marx­ism in a Lost Cen­tury ap­pears un­der­neath. Roth’s bio­graphy of Mat­tick can be down­loaded via Lib­Com.

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Leaked ISO internal bulletins, 2015 edition

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Below you will find the latest batch of internal bulletins from the International Socialist Organization, a US Trotskyist sect. Multiple concerned members, troubled by the group’s lack of transparency and accountability, sent me the documents via e-mail. Like last year’s set, these are marked “for members’ eyes only.” Such secrecy is usually justified by dusting off passages from Lenin’s 113-year-old tome What is to be Done?, which sought to adapt Marxist organizational principles to the tsarist police state. Police infiltration, monitoring, and surveillance of radical groups certainly continues to be a problem, as documents from 2008 confirm, but I would be hard pressed to find anyone who believes this is some sort of new COINTELPRO or Okhrana.

Don’t tell them that, though. They’re still under the delusion that their puny organization — fewer than two thousand members, even on paper — is the object of intense persecution by the United States government. When I posted the internal bulletins back in February 2014, there was lots of talk on the Kasama Project website about “security culture,” where an article by Mike Ely appeared under the title “Leaking internal ISO docs: A question of revolutionary ethics.” Beyond that, the ISO tried to smear me, issuing this defamatory prompt to be posted wherever people linked to my blog:

Anyone who considers defending or associating with Ross Wolfe should always have this reposted, a defense of the FBI arrests of Palestine solidarity activists, as a reminder of what he is. Not just an utterly racist, elitist, sexist troll with a creepy, nasty obsession with wanting Muslim women unveiled. But also an utter scumbag and danger to the Left, ready to call for a state crackdown on activists, no matter what their background. Know your enemy.

Following a recent row resulting from my disclosure of a reported rape coverup in Solidarity-US, which implicates a prominent “socialist feminist” initialed JB (Joanna Brenner?) in the obstruction of an internal investigation, Shaun Joseph of the ISO Renewal Faction reassured me: “Character assassination is basically how these people [leftists] work, as I know all too well. All this stuff about protecting the survivor’s identity is bullshit — it’s so transparently self-interested.” Shaun was expelled from the ISO a year ago, along with the rest of the Renewal Faction en masse. Last month people tried to claim I threatened to release information about the victims in the Soli case, which was, of course, a complete fabrication. They even led a “boycott, divestment, sanction, and unfriend” campaign against me (I’m not kidding), threatening to block anyone who still had mutuals with me on Facebook. It’s pretty sad that the most politically meaningful act anyone can imagine is an ultimatum to cut ties with some person on social media. Like cutting someone off from the leper colony of the contemporary Left is some great punishment. Most people outgrew this petty bullshit in middle school.

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Anyway, I’ve gone ahead and removed all names of individual ISO members in the documents, as well as the cities in which they live or are active. Not that I believe for one minute that anyone lost their job over last year’s leak, but this way they don’t even have that canard to hurl back at me. Here they are, available to download as PDFs:

  1. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 01
  2. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 02 — The complexities of rape and sexual assault: A contribution (Nov 16 2014)
  3. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 03
  4. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 04
  5. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 05
  6. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 06
  7. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 07
  8. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 08
  9. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 09 — Believing Survivors: A Response to Concerns (Feb 6, 2015)
  10. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 10
  11. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 11
  12. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 12 — Reply to “Believing Survivors” (February 10, 2015)
  13. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 13
  14. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 14 — Against the Proposals set forth in the document “Believing Survivors: A Response to Concerns”
  15. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 15 — Assessing the Response to Sexual Misconduct (February 11, 2015)
  16. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 16

Some highlights from the bulletins: First, responding to the whole issue of whether accusers should be believed when it comes to accusations of rape, harassment, or sexual assault, SS wrote:

The aims and strategies of state infiltrators need to be carefully considered [in assessing accusations of misconduct].

COINTELPRO — the FBI program to “disrupt, discredit, and destroy” left wing and social justice movements between 1957 and 1971 — involved a massive infiltration strategy. COINTELPRO operatives used any and all means to accomplish its aims — including sowing distrust between movement members that sometimes involved inventing fictional sexual activities. In 1974, a U.S. government investigation of this program revealed:

A distressing number of the programs and techniques developed by the intelligence community involved transgressions against human decency that were no less serious than any technical violations of law. Some of the most fundamental values of this society were threatened by activities such as the smear campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the testing of dangerous drugs on unsuspecting American citizens, the dissemination of information about the sex lives, drinking habits, and marital problems of electronic surveillance targets, and the COINTELPRO attempts to turn dissident organizations against one another and to destroy marriages.

R and B argue, “We feel that a straightforward policy that trusts survivors in the absence of direct counter-evidence will decrease the likelihood that this sort of accusation could be used by the state against us. If the policy is uniform and clear, there is far less to be gained by the state through false accusations of rape.” But R and B’s approach actually makes it easier for the state to successfully harm its targets inside the organization — since the assumption of guilt will automatically result in the expulsion of those accused (by anyone, including a state infiltrator) of sexual assault.

This strikes me as delusional at best, and cynical at worst. SS attempts to scare up sympathetic paranoia in the ranks of the membership, so that any accusation of misconduct might be greeted with suspicion. Who’s to say the accuser is not some sort of state agent or government saboteur? Once this specter is raised, the whole imperative to “believe the survivor” is chucked right out the window. Personally, I believe there should still be a presumption of innocence no matter what the charge — though such charges are not made frivolously, and must of course be taken with the utmost seriousness. But that doesn’t mean an organization can’t at least suspend a member in the meantime while they check out the evidence. Marxist organizations are not, nor do they need to be, courts of law. It’s not like a bunch of crusty sectarians have the power to send someone to jail, so the burden of proof shouldn’t have to be so high.

You can’t have it both ways, however: either you believe the accuser or you believe she or he might be a plant. The leadership is clearly ready to cast aspersions on anyone who would dare to accuse its cadre of wrongdoing. Continue reading

Conversations on the Left: What is to be done?

Bhaskar Sunkara, James Turley, & Ben Blumberg

Platypus Review 57 | June 2013

On April 18th, 2013, the Platypus Affiliated Society organized a conversation at New York University between Bhaskar Sunkara, the editor of Jacobin, James Turley of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and Ben Blumberg of Platypus, to discuss the differences and similarities between their organizations. What follows is an edited transcript of the discussion.

Tri Logos

Bhaskar Sunkara: It is impossible to deny that the Communist Party of Great Britain’s (CPGB) Weekly Worker is an important publication. It is a publication that is right about many things, without a doubt more right than their peers on the British left, and their ideas deserve more engagement, so I am very pleased that Platypus has us together on this panel. There is no regular party publication on the American left that comes close to the Weekly Worker’s competence, especially considering the small size and resources of the CPGB. They have been consistently against the perversion of democratic centralism and lack of accountability by the leadership in groups like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). I have been reading it for a couple of years and I think they have a really nuanced view of Trotskyism’s legacy. They also have a solid critique of Eurocommunism and other coalition politics. What I like most of all is their openness about their small size and their limited influence as an organization. For someone like me, who has been around the Left and its posturing, we at Jacobin think the Weekly Worker is far more refreshing and useful than organs that herald the coming of every new socialist movement as if it is going to resurrect the Left. Platypus’s approach is also sometimes useful on this point. Jacobin doesn’t share the same politics, but only because we are operating in different contexts. We aim to reach a different audience. Jacobin, as a political project, is a publication that cannot substitute for the role of a political organization or the role of a party. It also cannot have the uncompromising and coherent vision and perspective of a propaganda group. And it is subject to lots of different pressures and forces — such as the market and the petty-bourgeois culture of writing and publishing.

Our different orientations affect whom we are trying to reach. Jacobin was always two projects. It is something of an intra-left project: emphasizing a Marxist perspective towards organization building. But our main project has been an outwardly directed one: engaging with American liberalism. We have always been geared towards the general public. We are liberals articulating radical ideas and we do so in a way that is clear and accessible. If we have any measure of mainstream success, it is intentional. We have sought to be a terrain for deep theoretical debates. It has been said that we are visible reminders of a long-forgotten socialist tradition, which would define us politically somewhere in between Leninism and the Democratic Socialists of America. One result of this is that the level of politicization of Jacobin’s readership is not quite the same as the level of politicization of our editors, and you could probably say there is a lot more political parity between the readership and the editors of the Weekly Worker and the Platypus Review.

James Turley: The CPGB is not a party. It doesn’t exist; it is a name. The name comes from the older official communist party that has since wound up. The name represents an ideal that we look towards. The far left is divided into small propaganda circles and some of them deny that they do propaganda. The SWP would be a good example; the International Socialist Organization (ISO) is another. They think they are talking to the masses, but it is bad propaganda reaching a mass audience. The CPGB identifies openly as a propaganda group and so probably would the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) or the Spartacist League. So there is a very similar landscape out of which the CPGB of the 1920s was formed. The original CPGB was formed from one wing of the Socialist Labour Party, which was a kind of syndicalist sect, and the large majority of the British Socialist Party. At that time, it was a far-left Marxist sect rather than the mass party form that existed in continental Europe. Along with the South Wales committee, their forces together totaled about four to five thousand. If you add up the people in Britain today committed to some form of socialist revolution, you get a ballot figure of about five thousand. After 70–90 intervening years we are, in a sense, back where we started. That says something about the 20th century. Continue reading

Color photo of Trotsky (1940)

No “true” Trots, man

A response to Corey Ansel
on “authentic” Marxism

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IMAGE: Color photo of Leon Trotsky (1940)
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While I’m sympathetic to many of Corey Ansel’s criticisms of both the crisis-ridden Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and their recently-disaffected cadre, I am only sympathetic up to a point. The same goes for an earlier piece in which he sought to combat the various “neo-Kautskyite” critiques that have been leveled at the SWP’s brand of “Leninism” by figures such as Pham Binh, Louis Proyect, and members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) like Ben Lewis, all of whom draw inspiration from Lars Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done? in Context. While Lih’s study provides an important corrective to readings that anachronistically project Lenin’s later disgust with Kautsky back onto their relationship prior to August 1914, something Trotsky himself pointed out in his short rebuttal “Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg” (1932),  the fact remains that Lenin sided on numerous occasions with Luxemburg against Kautsky and Trotsky against the Old Bolsheviks after this point.

Certainly Lenin and Trotsky — and yes, even Lenin-ism and Trotsky-ism — deserve to be saved from those who shamelessly vulgarize them, as well as from those who think they have discredited these figures or traditions by defeating such mere caricatures. But the truth of the matter is that no one can really be a “Leninist” today apart from the most general attention to discipline, organization, and more or less democratic or centralized elements. Lenin spoke about politics as something that could only meaningfully occur when the masses began being counted in millions, when space and time were measured in continents and epochs. In this sense, no one on the Left can be “political” today, if for no other reason that no workers movement exists on such a scale. Still less can one be a “Trotskyist,” especially as Trotskyism itself was only formed as a coherent body of doctrines subsequent to Trotsky’s exile, from the outside looking in. (In this sense the foundation of the Fourth International was in itself an admission of defeat, at least in terms of Trotsky’s former strategy of saving the Third International through the Left Opposition. This remains so even if its motives were noble). Continue reading

Rembrandt's De anatomische les van Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1631)

“Seymour and Co.: The Fools on the Hill,” by Corey Ansel

The SWP opposition:
Providing a failed
post-mortem analysis

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IMAGE: Rembrandt’s De anatomische
les van Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1631)
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Written by Corey Ansel, and originally posted at The Chair Leg of Truth, The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernityand The North-Star. While I am sympathetic to many of the arguments Corey makes here, and believe I understand his reasons for making them, I nevertheless remain somewhat skeptical of what I feel are some erroneous conclusions one might draw from his polemic/critique. These I will post in the next few days.

Hardly anyone on the left can claim to have been untouched by the crisis within the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP).  Initially stemming from rape allegations against leading SWP member Martin Smith (now notoriously known as “Comrade Delta”), the crisis has managed to utterly discredit the organization in the face of the revolutionary left, as well as onlookers seeking ammunition to use against the workers’ movement. A special conference was held on March 10 to discuss the issues of democratic centralism, Leninism and other questions regarding the party question. But it isn’t the circus inside the SWP that is worth the attention of revolutionaries.

Enter Richard Seymour. A long-time activist within the SWP, writer and primary figurehead of the opposition against the internal bureaucracy within the SWP, Seymour has been scapegoated by top bureaucrats such as Alex Callinicos for jumpstarting a blog titled ‘International Socialism’ for those interested in discussing the crisis outside of party channels. It has long been known that the Cliffite tradition has nothing in common with Leninist theory, let alone the democratic centralist method of building a revolutionary party. Although Seymour and many of his co-thinkers resigned from the organization after the conference, aren’t there more pressing questions to be answered? Continue reading

Review of Lenin’s State and Revolution (1917)

Lenin’s State and Revolution, composed during the summer months of 1917 (between two revolutions), is praxis embodied in text. While its content is ostensibly theoretical, the corrosive criticism it contains simultaneously served practical ends. The work may therefore be viewed in two fairly distinct formal lights: first, qua Marxist political treatise; second, qua polemic. But, in true dialectical fashion, Lenin’s two central motifs constitute an inseparable unity. They interweave with one another, sundering apart at one moment only to again coalesce in the next. Lenin distinguishes himself from many other dialecticians in this work, however. For while he remains faithful to the oscillating (even hypnotic) method of presentation that typifies dialectical reasoning, his style nevertheless retains its lucidity. His examination is thoroughgoing, yet the conclusions it yields are unambiguous. It is at once a testament to the author’s political genius as it is to the demands of the times in which it was written, bearing the stamp of irreducible brilliance (contingency) alongside the incumbent historical conditions (necessity).

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