Brexit stage Left? Or maybe better not at all

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The amount of leftist posturing around the issue of Brexit exists in inverse proportion to the actual potential of the situation, which as everyone knows is zilch. It reflects the flailing impotence of the contemporary Left and the total absence of a viable proletarian or internationalist alternative. Neither the vote to leave nor the vote to remain is radical in the least.

Several months ago, in their official statement on the matter, the Communist Party of Great Britain therefore observed: “Cameron’s referendum is a cynical maneuver that pits reactionaries against other reactionaries… Likewise, the ‘out’ campaign is dominated by noxious chauvinism, [aiming to replace] ‘Fortress Europe’ with the stronger ‘Fortress Britain’.” From Cardiff a voice justly proclaims a pox upon both Britannia and Europa, advising abstention from this plebiscitary farce.

Yet even the call for communists to abstain feels like something of an empty gesture given the current context. Mike Macnair, one of the authors of the aforementioned statement, has basically said as much. “Boycotting the vote is what I am arguing for,” explained Macnair at a panel organized by Platypus in London. “Had we more forces, I’d argue not merely for a boycott but to disrupt this vote as a sham, a fraud, and an anti-democratic initiative.”

Amidst the cacophony and confusion a quote from Lev Trotsky has resurfaced, which echoes uncannily across the ages and seems to speak to the present dilemma. While the constellation of forces is no doubt quite different, and Marxists should refrain from drawing hasty historic parallels, the quote is nevertheless well suited to the task of trolling left Brexiteers — for example the Swappers (slang for members of the British Socialist Workers Party), as well as the independent Trot septuagenarian Tariq Ali:

If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to “autonomous” national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.

Meanwhile, Sp!ked has been running a public campaign in support of the Brexit. The whole thing has been an embarrassment, painful to watch, with Neil Davenport holding fast to a naïve majoritarian model of democracy. “Particular people seem not to trust ordinary people to vote the right way in an election. So how would they feel about them taking over the means of production?” As if this were not simply repeating the same populist platitudes always inimical to revolutionary Marxism. Continue reading

Venezuela and the “Bolivarian Revolution”

Sergio López
Kosmoprolet
April 2009

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This is an analysis of the socio-economic and political bases of the rise to power of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and of the trajectory of the “Bolivarian” regime. Its author, “Sergio López,” writes from firsthand knowledge of conditions in Venezuela, and this article appeared first in Kosmoprolet, Heft 1, the publication of the Freundinnen und Freunde der Klassenlosen Gesellschaft (Friends of the Classless Society).

A translation of this piece was published in the journal Internationalist Perspective, and is reproduced from their website below. While it’s quite a bit lengthier — at over 11,000 words, it’s able to say more about the socioeconomic context and so on — López’s article forms a nice supplement to the much shorter piece by Marco Torres on “The Dead Left: Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution,” which is more of an ideology-critique with a political emphasis. Both pieces were written around the same time, with López ‘s coming out in 2009 and Torres’ in 2010. Moreover, Marco’s piece focused more on what the Western Left’s fixation on Venezuela and Bolivarianism said about its own powerlessness.

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“President Chávez is a tool of God”

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A highlight of every child’s birthday party in Venezuela is a piñata, a brightly-colored paper container filled with candy or toys dangling from a rope. Taking turns the children try to break the piñata with a stick. When it eventually breaks releasing its precious contents all the children jump at it and try to grab as much of it as possible. It goes without saying that the weaker children are intimidated and squeezed out by the stronger ones. Their share depends upon the size of the piñata, the number of children and, ultimately their capability of standing up to the other children. If there were no interference by the parents, several children would go away empty-handed.

How is this related to the Bolivarian process? How does the game continue? And who are the players?

In a materialist understanding, the key to the “Bolivarian revolution” cannot be the man Hugo Chávez with his real or alleged staff of advisers. Rather, the historical structures, the concrete economic interests and the social tensions within Venezuela are key to understanding Chávez’s rise to power, his political actions, and his particular rhetoric.

Since the 1920s oil has been Venezuela’s most important export good. Ever since, it has been central to all economic, political and social life in Venezuela. Unlike agricultural produce, natural resources were at that time already the property of the state which, hence, as a direct trading partner of the foreign oil companies, had a source of capital at its disposal which is to this day largely independent from the rest of the country’s economic activity. It was only in the 1920s that the state exerted its authority against the local chieftains, the “caudillos,” and set an end to the recurring flare-up of bloody civil wars that had shaken the country since its independence in 1821.

Proprietors of natural resources can regulate the access to it, deny it altogether or sell it at a high price. This is the source of the “absolute rent” Marx analyzed. By founding OPEC, the oil exporting countries could raise this absolute rent and snatch it away from the world market. Moreover, oil has an advantage over its main competitor on the energy market, coal, because the extraction of oil is cheaper than that of coal. Therefore, the oil industry gains a so-called differential rent. Particularly in the years after 1958 the Venezuelan state was in a struggle with the oil companies over a share in this differential rent until it eventually nationalized oil production in 1975, in a way though which still involved the oil companies. For almost a century this state has been trying to strengthen its bargaining power against the transnational oil companies without endangering the whole process of extracting and distributing the oil.

This is at the heart of Venezuela’s perpetual anti-imperialism. The character of the negotiations, and which oil concessions are granted, is pivotal for the country’s foreign policy. The struggle for political power, the discussion about the attitude towards the oil companies and the appropriation of the oil rent, dominate the political sphere. Also, socio-economic structures have developed in direct dependence on the almighty state and its seemingly inexhaustible sources of capital. This has led to an historically early process of urbanization in the administrative centres and in the areas where the oil is extracted. Today less than 15 percent of Venezuelans live in the countryside (compared to 25 percent of the French and 10 percent of the Germans). Continue reading

Ongoing Trotsky lecture series and reading group discussion at the New School in New York

Symptomatic residues

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Image: Trotsky in Mexico
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Summer 2012: Trotsky and Trotskyism

Cubo-Suprematist depiction of Trotsky as Red Army general, 1924

Saturdays 2-5pm

New School for Social Research Building, 6 E 16th St. (just west of Union Square)
Room: 10-01
Please be there promptly as we will begin at 2pm sharp in order to broadcast the lectures in a timely manner.

Or join us via Live Stream! We’ll be broadcasting live every Saturday at 2pm EST.

Early Sketch of Leon Trotsky

Recommended preliminary readings:

+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)
+ Nicolas Krassó, “Trotsky’s Marxism” (1967)
• Platypus Historians Group“The dead Left: Trotskyism” (2008)
• Richard Rubin“The decline of the Left in the 20th century: 1933″ (2009)
• Ian Morrison“Trotsky’s Marxism” (2011)
• Mike Macnair, Bryan Palmer, Richard Rubin, and Jason Wright“The legacy of Trotskyism” (2011)
• Grover Furr“Learning from the Communist Movement of the 20th century: A response to Richard Rubin”(2012)
+ Spartacist League, Lenin and the Vanguard Party (1978)
+ Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution / Lenin for Beginners (1978)
+ Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet: Trotsky biography (three volumes: 1954, 1959, 1963)


Week 1. Jun. 16, 2012

1879–1905
Lecture: (VIDEO) (AUDIO)

• Tariq Ali and Phil EvansIntroducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)
• Leon TrotskyResults and Prospects (1906)


Week 2. Jun. 23, 2012

1905–17
Lecture: (VIDEO) (AUDIO)
Apologies for the technical glitches in the video recording – participants are strongly encouraged to listen to the audio file for a clean recording.

+ Trotsky, 1905 (1907)


Week 3. Jun. 30, 2012

1917–23
Lecture: (VIDEO) (AUDIO)

• TrotskyTerrorism and Communism (1920)
• TrotskyThe Lessons of October (1924) [PDF]
+ Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924)
+ Bret Schneider, “Trotsky’s theory of art” (2011)


Week 4. Jul. 7, 2012

1923–33
Lecture: (VIDEO) (AUDIO) 

+ Trotsky, Where is Britain Going? (1925)
+ Trotsky, Problems of the Chinese Revolution 1927–31 (1932)
+ Trotsky, writings on the rise of Hitler and the destruction of the German Left (1930–40), especially “To build communist parties and an international anew” (1933)


Week 5. Jul. 14, 2012

1933–40

• Trotsky“Stalinism and Bolshevism” (1937)
• TrotskyThe Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (1938)
+ Trotsky, “Trade unions in the epoch of imperialist decay” (1940)
+ Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (1936)
+ Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism (1939/40), especially “Letter to James Cannon” (September 12, 1939)
+ Trotsky, “Art and politics on our epoch” (1938)
+ Mary McCarthy, “My Confession” (1954)


Week 6. Jul. 21, 2012

1940–53

+ James Cannon, “The coming American revolution” (1946)
+ C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, et al., “Program of the minority tendency of the Workers Party/U.S.” (1946)
+ C.L.R. James, “Dialectical materialism and the fate of humanity” (1947)
+ Herbert Marcuse, “33 Theses” (1947)
+ Earl Browder and Max Shachtman with C. Wright Mills, “Is Russia a socialist community?” (1950)
+ Ernest Mandel, “The theory of ‘state capitalism’” (1951)
+ Michel Pablo, “On the duration and the nature of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism” (1951)
+ Pablo, “Where are we going?” (1953)


Week 7. Jul. 28, 2012

1953–63

+ Cornelius Castoriadis, “The workers and organization” (1959)
• Cliff Slaughter“What is revolutionary leadership?” (1960)
• Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party/U.S.“In defense of a revolutionary perspective”(1962)
+ Tony Cliff, “The coming Russian revolution” (final chapter of Russia: A Marxist Analysis, 1964)
+ Hal Draper, “The two souls of socialism” (1966)
+ Isaac Deutscher, “Marxism in our time” (1965)
+ Murray Bookchin, “Listen, Marxist!” (1969)
• Spartacist League“Genesis of Pabloism” (1972)