Category Archives: theory

Tips for would-be scholars!

I am now reading and researching yet again, as I put together an article on George Orwell‘s encounters with the POUM in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War; it’s sort of a trial balloon for the thesis that I will be writing for the University of Victoria, in the far, far far future (2018). Even though the program won’t even begin until September of NEXT YEAR, I still need to get everything in order before formal application time – one of those things being a published article.

The thesis will deal with Totalitarianism via the Novel, an examination of fiction that dealt with the political extremities of the interwar years in Europe; specifically, I’ll be looking at that cauldron of ideologies, Spain during the Civil War, which every major player recognized as a linchpin for the decade to follow. Stalinism, anarchism, and fascism were all present, but I’d like to focus on the dissident Trotskyites that were actually indigenous to Spain, the POUM.

Both Hemingway and Orwell had encounters with the group (particularly the latter), but I think it is fascinating how understudied the POUM are, at least outside of deep Spanish academia and the annals of dissident leftists. Orwell and Trotsky himself had mixed feelings about the group, and it should make for interesting reading in unpleasant times, with genuine fascism on the rise and becoming ascendant. Yes, Mr Lewis, it can happen here. Fascism is not some sort of German disease – given the right circumstances, it can pop up anywhere. Including the last “superpower” (BTW, start learning Mandarin).

So here are some trenchant observations that I made whilst studying this bizarre stretch of history:

Fuck the 90s –  Unless you like celebratory right wingers dancing on the “corpse” of communism. As if communism was limited to the Soviet Union only, and was somehow missing in the hearts and minds of millions of people in the so-called Third World. Regardless of that nagging detail, neo-liberals everywhere gave toasts to the “end of history“, and wrote reams of articles and books that reflect that rather hasty, inaccurate appraisal.

Just FYI: Karl Marx routinely tops the list of philosophers that are pulled from polls enacted by the those running dogs in the media. You know who doesn’t make the list, at all? Neo conservatives and Fukyshima. Eric Voeglin, Leo Strauss and hell, even Ayn Rand appear the very bottom, if at all. If nothing else, I don’t see any Third World regimes set up according to Rand’s rules, and George W Bush should give you a solid idea of Neo-conservatism in action. Thatcher tried the ol’ “There is no alternative. I am the state, and none shall stand in my way. Socialism is dead. And those mines have to go, along with the entire social safety net”. Then she was unceremoniously dumped by the rest of her party, who themselves were a little horrified.

Does that sound familiar? Party monster slain by his/her own party, as they themselves would like to win a re-election or two without getting spoiled like meat in the sun?

One other thing about the 90s: Don’t get me started on post-modernism, the question without an answer. That’s what passed for radical intercourse at higher educational levels during the 90s – post-everything, plus maybe some semiotics. Then Bush stole a fucking election and 9/11 happened, reminding us all that there is a real, concrete, dangerous world, and that people like Derrida and Foucault were intellectual frauds. Thankfully people in that real world I just mentioned haven’t paid attention to idiots like that for years, and now they’re laughing stocks even at the academy. It’s too bad we’re still stuck with Zizek – pumping volume after volume of incoherent nothingness for as long as Verso will pay him.

This is a better time to be a leftist academic, although I find it hilarious that every radical book that I read that preaches the greatest extremities, up to and including physical violence, will invariably denounce left-wing academics – even though every one of those writers are academics themselves. This is the reason why I love history and the study of history, as opposed to political “science”. Less pretension, less “predictive” capabilities, greater body of actual knowledge.

I’ll let whomever still follows this blog know when the article is finished and published.

 

 

 

The INLA, PUP,and Marxism in Northern Ireland – Can Marxism beat Sectarianism? Part 2 – Loyalism, Two Nations, and Breaking the Chains of Atavism

The amount of material on loyalist culture is abysmal. This is not a culture that is especially adored anywhere, with the possible exception of Scotland and Toronto, Canada. There was never a massive diaspora to America, which in turn would have laid the groundwork for an entire culture of expats (complete with music, film, novels, and generations of Americans far removed from Ulster yet still claiming to be Ulster Scot). The Ulster Scots are generally one step removed from hillbillies in the United States, with the the more respectable members of the diaspora largely confined to the UK and Canada. One can still see Canadian flags being tossed about on July 12th Parades in Belfast..

Of course, this is mostly due to the fact that the loyalist has stayed put. They are the working class of Northern Ireland, and as opposed to the forced diaspora of the Famine, the North was sufficiently industrialized to sustain itself and integrate itself with the rest of Europe’s trade (the fact that the North’s loyalty was guaranteed, as opposed to Western Ireland, certainly aided things as well). But most importantly, no one talks of the “overseas Belfast Loyalist community” anymore than they would talk of Lancashire, or Manchester, or Newcastle’s “overseas community”. These were/are local industrial hubs, and at least until the Thatcher years, they were successful.

Belfast also followed industrial-city suit by attracting a large, “red” working force. Unions were the norm here; the shipping yards which formed the backbone of Belfast’s industry, and which employed a vast quantity of loyalist men, were unionized. These were not open unions however; following partition, it became very difficult for a Catholic to find work within union jobs. This did not stop a nascent left-wing from growing however, and a non-sectarian Communist group came into being in Belfast during the 30s. Numbers were limited, although like many Northern British working class cities “Communism” wasn’t equated with devil worship.

The arrival of the civil rights movement changed the attitudes of many loyalists, who felt that their way of life was being threatened by outside aliens like the specters of the “IRA” (who as noted in the previous post had nothing to do with the civil rights group, NICRA). The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the amalgam of two pre-Troubles parties, was quickly viewed as just another Irish nationalist group. Many loyalists became bitterly disillusioned, not only by the supposed attacks against their community by the “IRA”, but were beginning to feel sold out by mainstream political parties as well. Ian Paisley’s ultra-right wing Democratic Unionist Party may have had a fundamentalist Protestant at the helm, but at least they were offering a fighting chance against the depredations of both the Irish “terror” and mainstream Unionism.

Socialist/Marxist Loyalism remained alive however, as best exemplified by David Trimble throughout the early 70s. Trimble, a member of the loyalist paramilitary UVF and later founder of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), maintained an interesting outlook; as much as the republicans had done with their Marxism (which they took seriously and were certainly not dilettantes), and confined that Marxism within the prism of republicanism, loyalist Marxism could do the same – a Marxism for loyalists, for the working class of Northern Ireland (which of course predated the economic downfall of most of the great industrial hubs of the UK in the 80s to follow, and with which would have a major engagement during the dark days of Thatcherism and the de-industrializing process of the 80s).

Central to the initial concept for loyalist Marxism was the “Two Nations” manifesto, jointly arrived upon by Northern loyalist Marxists and a strange southern entity called the British Irish Communist Organization, another loyalist communist group strangely formed and administered by Irish in the Republic. The general notions were that a) Ulster loyalists constitute their ethnicity, their own “nation” rather than Britons who were just “living across the sea”, and that b) the two nations (Irish and Ulster Loyalist) had a right to coexist without supremacy/hegemony of any kind. What this translated as was an acceptance that both Ulster loyalist Marxism could exist with republican Marxism, WITHOUT THE TWO NECESSARILY DEPENDENT ON ONE ANOTHER OR EVEN IN CONTACT WITH ONE ANOTHER. The transnational aspect of Marxism was gone, although not to the degree of Stalinism wherein “communism in one country” was given precedence over another.

It was a novel idea which was propagated during the 1974 Ulster Shop Steward strike, which brought an end to the very short-lived experiment in power sharing. It was also a bloody period, in which 39 died, mostly during clashes with Ulster paramilitary groups.

Which brings me to the intransigence of paramilitary backed leftist/Marxist groups, as well as Marxism in hardline sectarian communities in general. It is folly to believe that you can have two Marxist groups, of roughly the community (Trotskyite, Leninist, post colonial, etc) operating at the same time, in some kind of vacuum, in which the OTHER group with identical views are also operating at the same time/place but without any kind of communication with the other. I believe that that is the central flaw of the Two Nations concept, as it pertains to the day-to-day functioning of a purportedly universally appealing agenda. It is divisional, and while it addresses the immediate problems of sectarian communities that are forced to live with each other during emergency periods, it is not a long term solution – and the sectarianism of Northern Ireland is long term. “The Troubles”, the most recent spasm of violence that wracked the area for thirty years, is only the latest manifestation of a long gestating problem, and longer term solutions are needed.

Can Marxism rise above sectarianism? Yes, I believe it can – evidence of this exists in abundance with certain anarchist communities in the Middle East, and I have seen how non-state Marxist groups can cooperate with each other in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon. Although Northern Ireland is falling back in love with sectarianism, although segregation has become embedded in cities such as Belfast (where if you moves into a given neighborhood, it’s like you’ve made a personal, political commitment to whichever sectarian group runs the neighborhood), I have also seen the growing popularity of hard-left groups such as the SWP and People Before Profit – an electoral group which has won seats in Stormont, in both neutral and republican ridings. And I’ve seen an entire, newly-educated group of young people who are both driven to improve their communities as well as reach out to the other. Sectarianism isn’t impossible.

 

 

 

The INLA, PUP,and Marxism in Northern Ireland – Can Marxism beat Sectarianism? Part 1 – The Republican Heritage and a quickie historical tour

Marxism (or more specifically, socialism) has a long storied background in Ireland, a homegrown tradition which has arisen from almost survival-level necessity: in the 1800s, as Ireland was exploited along with every other British colony for raw materials and cheap muscle, people had to band together in order to survive. It was that, or face an ugly little rat race with equally deprived creatures fighting for scraps. This created the first combines, the first worker’s societies, the first unions in the industrialized cities of the North such as Belfast, an economic/industrial powerhouse on the island. It created men like Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and later laid the bedrock for radical organizations such as the SWP and the native Socialist Party in the Republic.

These conditions also created the conditions  for Irish republicanism. The IRA did not begin its existence as a radical socialist organization; it was the birthright of earlier, 19th Century groups that were determined to drive the Brits out by force – they included forebears such as the infamous “Fenians”. Whilst the British Empire was busy butchering its’ young men in WWI, in 1916 the first stones were cast and the irrevocable process of separation began. In the North however, British Loyalists vastly outnumbered their Irish compatriots, and refused to allow Home Rule to become Rome Rule (get it? it’s a really funny anti-Catholic joke that more than anything summed up the mentality of the British loyalists who also happened to be Protestants: the new Irish Republic would be nothing more than a puppet for Rome as far as they were concerned).

The War for Independence ended with a partition of the island, as well as a giant leap backwards for leftism in both Northern Ireland and especially the Republic. The IRA were considered a hangover from the war, and were despised by the new de Valera administration in Dublin. Anti union legislation was established by the former charming gentleman, whose idea of Ireland included maidens dancing in the fields.

In the fifties, an almost satirical, failed attempt to liberate the North took place, entitled (imaginatively) the Border campaign, or Operation Harvest. The IRA were a laughing stock amongst the Irish who were unlucky enough to be born and raised in the apartheid North (IRA stands for I Ran Away was one such wag). But the IRA wasn’t stupid, and it took certain lessons to heart, the most important lesson being Che Guevara’s dictum about guerilla warfare. A fish needs water to breathe, and a guerilla movement needed the hearts and minds of the denizens around them in the community to flourish.

This new IRA took stock and decided that Marxism, especially the orthodox Marxism espoused by Lenin et al, was the clearest way to raise the community’s hopes and hearts. Marxist studies took place, and dissemination of Marxist thought began to circulate in the more urban centers of the North.

Around the time when seemingly the entire world was changing overnight (namely the late sixties), the civil rights campaign for the Irish Minority in the North began in Derry. What was remarkable was that this movement had nothing to do with the IRA (although there are loyalists to this day who still claim that a pacifist civil rights movement was orchestrated by the paramilitary). The civil rights group, perhaps personified by characters such as Eamon McCann and Bernadette Devlin aimed to improve the living conditions of the Irish currently stuck in the North; this was quickly met by almost unprecedented violence. Naturally, the Derry group fully expected push-back – they had modeled their actions on Selma and the American Civil Rights movement – but the violence quickly escalated from attacking marchers to riots in the streets of Belfast and virtually everywhere else in the North, up to and including the wholesale destruction of entire neighborhoods which had sadly lain too close to the opposing sectarian enclave. It didn’t help matters that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (i.e. the police, whose name alone should give one a solid idea of where they stood politically).

The IRA fought back hard, and tried to keep Western Belfast from being wiped off the map. However, the Northern IRA informed their southern counterparts that they were getting slaughtered, and handing out pamphlets om Trotsky and Lenin really wasn’t helping matters. Things came to a head, and an acrimonious split too place between the “Official”IRA splitting from the primarily Northern-based Provisional IRA. The Provisional IRA is the IRA that everyone around the word knows about. The Official IRA/Sinn Fein declared a ceasefire in 1972, stating that the situation was about to devolve into murderous, sectarian anarchy.

This was then followed by yet another split, an even more vicious one that created just as many bodies on the Republican side as it amongst their sectarian foes. In 1974, Seamus Costello, a popular socialist republican politician, felt that even the tiny amount of work perpetrated by the Officials was insufficient, and so he split and formed the Irish National Liberation Army. The INLA was intended to be a genuinely national liberation front, along the lines of the Vietnamese and the Cubans. Within 13 years, Seamus was dead and the organization had devolved into vicious factional in-fighting and out right drug-gang activity. More will be written about the INLA will follow in the next few days.

As for the PIRA, they adopted radicalism as well, although it has been argued that this was not scientific in any sense and was more based on “learning from” (i.e. aping) other national liberation organizations; furthermore, there was a clear delineation between the urban members who leaned towards radicalism, while the rural republicans were more of the classic conservative farmer stereotype who nevertheless despised the English. There is some question, which we’ll get to in part two, as to how genuine those socialist views are, considering the duality of a pan-nationalist Marxism and parochial Irish Republicanism.

The Official IRA “ceased to be” in the seventies, although it is a matter of public record that their masters kept the thugs around in case anyone needed pushing around (or assassinated, in the INLA’s case). Official Sinn Fein became Official Sinn Fein/Workers Party, finally dropping the IRA bit in the 80s. It was one of the stodgier radical organizations, one which ironically drew inspiration and teaching from orthodox British Marxists throughout the 80s. As this was not a particularly popular viewpoint in Thatcher’s Great Britain, many of them traveled to Ireland to begin the revolution there,, only to find the situation wanting as well. The party imploded in the early 90s.

Everything you’ve just read has been framed within the device of republican paramilitary activity. This is not to give the impression that radicalism was hopelessly bound-up with “the boys”; there is a wide spectrum of radical orgs that attempted to varying degrees of success to alter the inexorable flow of violence as well as challenge the hegemony of what amounts to parochial, good ol’ fashioned capitalism.

It has been argued that the former communist apparatchiks of Yugoslavia became “ethnic entrepreneurs” following Tito’s death, and in the cases of some of the leaders of these republican pseudo-socialists, I believe that that moniker applies. Having been unable to offer answers and unwilling to let go of powerful positions, certain personages have utilized a combination of sectarianism and fake Marxism in order to maintain control. The question is to see if true Marxism can exist and rise above the deep-seated sectarianism that is the hall mark of divided, segregated communities. We’ll address this all in Part Two.

 

 

 

 

Althusser/Macciocchi/Letters from the Italian Communist Party

Sometimes you trip over a dusty corner and find gold. Sometimes the best writing, the most insightful, the most beautiful and haunting, are found in forgotten volumes long since out of print. And the truth that is revealed within these hidden texts remains; you do not necessarily need something that was published 12 months ago to find relevant info, sharp theoretics, and a reflection of the long term conditions of humanity. Letters from the Italian Communist Party to Louis Althusser is one such text. From the turbulent late sixties to the turbulent 21st century.

Maria Macciocchi wrote Daily Life in Revolutionary China shortly after writing Letters, and that former book changed my life (for the better) a few years ago. Daily Life blew my mind at the time, during an already turbulent year; Macciocchi thrived during such periods of upheaval, and it was fitting that reading her account of China during the Cultural Revolution would fit neatly at the perfect time in my life.

Macciocchi herself led an unbelievable life that sounds insane on paper. She joined the Italian Resistance to fight against Mussolini in the late thirties, and shortly thereafter joined the Communist Party of Italy (PCI). The PCI was the most progressive and radical of Western Europe’s Communist parties, and the largest, at one point commanding the support of two million members. It was also the leading party in the so-called “Eurocommunism Heresy”, in which many official Communist parties began to distance themselves from the Soviet Union, for obvious reasons.

Louis Althusser was also a member of the Resistance against fascism during WWII, though in his case, France was the battleground and the Communist Party of France (PCF, still existent to this day) was the organization. More importantly, Althusser was the leading theorist of the PCF after the war, and he blasted down fossilized forms of thought and helped create the bedrock, the underlying philosophy of Modern Neo-Marxism. Althusser was another massive influence for me, and more than any other theorist save Badiou and Marx himself, Althusser drew me into Marxism.

In the late 60s, the PCI asked Macciocchi to come on down to southern Italy, to Naples, to run in the national elections which were taking place in the spring. Macciocchi had been living in Paris and writing for the PCI publication, L’Unita, but she jumped at this opportunity. She and Althusser wished to work together in a fashion, with Althusser providing the underlying theory and Macciocchi handling the footwork and agitation. The two agreed to establish correspondence during the election period, and this epistolary narrative makes up the bulk of this volume. The theorist, the militant and the situation; this combination was intended to generate new insight in a general manner as well as concrete observations of one of the poorest regions in Europe.

Althusser unfortunately does not contribute as much content as Macciocchi, but the input that he did produce was profound; they reflected the vantage point of a PCF member, an academic, and a Marxist theorist in the midst of the upheaval in France, May ’68. But more important is the biographical and theoretical writings of Macciocchi, as she devotes herself to aiding and working with the comrades of Naples (some of whom are not especially happy to see her – surprise surprise, all of those bitter people are men).

The “Southern Problem” of Italy had remained as intact as it ever was since Italian unification in the 1800s, and endemic poverty and lethal “living” conditions were still the order of the day. As was the case everywhere else in the south of Italy, chronic unemployment had created a slave labor pool of desperate people who were willing to do and endure anything in order to pay for the basics of survival. And as is the case elsewhere in the world, capitalists neatly pitted possible comrades against each other; the proletariat hated the unemployed, and the unemployed thought that the proles were a bunch of snobs.

Of keen interest to the reader of 2016, this collection falls into the classic category due to the essential truths that ring loud throughout the book. The insights of the theoretical writing, combined with the very real, concrete experiences of Macciocchi who attempted to facilitate dialogue amongst potential Communists, create trenchant, immortal observations. 1968 bears more than a passing resemblance to 2016. Why is that? How is that possible? Because endgame zombie capitalism still dominates us, perhaps even moreso as we get neo-liberalism crammed down our throats. And of course, the State still prioritizes good business over every other human concern.

Macciocchi’s rich storytelling, plainly evident here as it was in Daily Life in Revolutionary Chinacaptures the reader, and her own dry sense of humor sidesteps outright despair when confronted by an ugly situation. Nevertheless, the face of crushing urban poverty is familiar and is terrifying to us – we’re quite familiar with it, and it certainly hasn’t disappeared since Macciocchi’s time. The situation has merely shifted locales, from Southern Italy to the Southern hemisphere.

Really, if you want to see evidence that communists really can be dynamic, flexible, and ready for a range of troubles/situations, give Letters from the Italian Communist Party a chance. I know that principles should come before personalities (do you see what I’m inferring, Bernie Sanders?), and I do sincerely believe that the masses make history, not a handful of godlike MEN, but Althusser and Macciocchi have been incredibly important to me. If you want to see what I mean, pick this up if/when you see it at your local used bookstore or at Amazon.

Just FYI: If you think labor problems have just gone away in Europe, google “France, News, 2016”. It is anarchy in Paris and all of the major cities in France right now, even if the media would rather focus on some goddamn Trump Tweets rather than total chaos on the streets of a major Western country. As the Greek protesters said a few years ago, “We are you in the future”. Start forming groups.

Orr/Marxism and Women’s Liberation

Feminism has come back into vogue, echoing the good old days of radical chic in the seventies. Women everywhere, across the universe of digital media and mainstream “celebrity” circles, are once again taking up the torch against a patriarchy which has unsurprisingly grown stronger after the “post-feminist” wave of the last century. Feminism is no longer a historical phenomenon, AND THIS IS A GOOD THING. Modern discourse needs to include as many feminist voices as possible, and we are blessed that writers and analysts like Judith Orr still have plenty to say. And more wonderful than anything else, socialism is back on the table after the frightful “Me Decade” of the 90s. Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism.

Marxism and Women’s Liberation comes at an acute time, a moment in history when the basically democratic ethos of the digital/social media has been brought to the fore; the concept of united, mass action is most definitely one of the options available to activists, if not the only choice. This is in stark contrast with the so-called “third wave” of 90s post-feminism, wherein socialist ideals were opposed by the self-appointed leaders of the movement, where postmodernism and its’ intellectually fraudulent notions worked to isolate and alienate women. Judith Orr is absolutely against such navel-gazing pap, and her conclusions, drawing in historical and theoretical examples, are devoted to the idea that the main enemy is capitalism; patriarchy is a side dish to the crushing power of capital. The supposedly unchanging, static roles for traditional women are a falsehood created by capitalism relatively recently (post-1840s); patriarchy is a tool in the hands of the elite.

Socialism and feminism have gone hand in hand since the very concept of oppression was identified as such. Capitalism crushes all, and the specific crushing of women is a part of the divide and conquer method that the world’s elites have been practicing since the beginning of time. Orr refers heavily to Engels’ classic, Origin of the Family, and while she recognizes that there are dated aspects to Origin of the Family, Engels’ basic theory of domination and hegemony over the unpaid house-slaves of the world (and the somewhat better paid working women) remains powerful.

Orr explores the waves of feminism that have taken place since the French Revolution, citing inferences of proto or unconscious Marxist rebellion as it appeared throughout the 19th Century. With the dawn of the 20th Century, and with the dawn of actual, realistic revolutions that were meant to include EVERYONE, Marxism and Women’s Liberation truly hits its stride. It is not a hagiography; Orr is well aware of the mistakes made by feminists throughout the century, and she is able to discuss them rationally, seeing where solutions to problems can be found.

Marxism and Women’s Liberation is truly revolutionary in and of itself, arguing that mass action by a genuine united front of women AND men is the best method of fighting patriarchy and its’ big brother, capitalism. It is the first feminist book that I have encountered that has placed such an emphasis on group action, a method that is far more achievable in the social media age and with the practitioners of digital revolution. Twitter can be used for other purposes other than making fun of celebrities.

Judith Orr is part of a new wave of feminist-Marxists, a group which includes Lise Vogel, Heather Brown, and Caitlin Moran (to name just a few). They are just as interested in genuine Neo-Marxism (i.e. the abandonment of traditional “socialist states” like Russia or China) as they are in abandoning the utterly unhelpful advice of elders from the 90s, such as Camille Paglia (a woman that once stated that female sexual assault survivors were somehow asking for it with their air of weakness). The new school is also beyond the ivory tower of higher education, where post-modernism fled. These feminists are completely integrated into the actual physical struggle, and they have no time for the hermeneutics of language and symbols.

If you want a taste of this fourth wave, if you are interested to see what the collision of feminism and Marxism looks like, Marxism and Women’s Liberation is a sweeping, totalistic introduction to resurgence of feminist-socialism. It was printed in 2015, and that fact alone should tell you how cutting edge this analysis is.

Le Blanc/Unfinished Leninism

It is the rare book which keeps you reading to the finish until 2am on a Friday night/Saturday morning. Rarer still is the insomnia-inducing volume that deals almost exclusively with Marxist-Leninist theory. Such is Unfinished Leninism, a relatively new collection of essays which attempt to resurrect the good work of Leninism, after being besmirched for decades by Stalinism and the fossilization of the national experiment that Lenin himself tried to create.

Part of the reason why Unfinished Leninism is so compelling and addictive to read is the fact that this is a manual for militants; this is not another Verso collection of nearly unreadable theory that they pass off as the work of “Radical Thinkers“. This is instead an attempt to make Lenin’s theory relevant to the actual workers, radicals, and activists in the West, not another stab at persuading the reader that there are X number of angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Le Blanc was a union activist in that most proletariat of American cities, Pittsburgh, and while he is currently making a living as an academic, the ties to militant trade union activism can be discerned throughout the volume. That is precisely a part of Lenin’s theory itself – the notion that organic intellectuals can rise from amongst the ranks of the working class and attain political consciousness, upon which the intellectual/activists try to pass on to the more conservative elements of his/her environment.

The first half of Unfinished Leninism is, sadly, a historiography of all of the interpretations of Lenin’s thought for the past century. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this set-up, and it gives Le Blanc the opportunity to shoot down critics like Robert Service, who are more interested in character-assassination than genuine critical thought. Unfortunately, this history of histories may only be of use  to the most die-hard Leninist thinkers.

The work kicks into high gear in the latter half, however, as it links elements of Leninist thought into the standpoint of 21st Century modern activism. There are great lessons to be drawn from this presentation, as I have already posted Le Blanc’s “What to do/What not to do” tactical outline for the emerging Neo-Marxist groups. Standpoint politics are particularly emphasized – it’s possible to maintain one’s own standpoint (e.g. Neo-Marxism) while still being able to interact and act with other radical groups.

Le Blanc makes the interesting point that we are not living on the verge of total revolution, a la 1917 or 1871. This period in which we live is more like 1898, when the creation of the ground-level of a revolutionary movement needs to take place. Lenin essentially created the Bolsheviks during critical junctures such as 1905 and the emergence of the Great War, and the lessons and interpretations of situational politics are just as vital today as they were a century ago.

If nothing else, Unfinished Leninism will make you run for the classics; I re-read The State and Revolution for the third time, and the fresh approach that Le Blanc provides created new viewpoints and interpretations of work with which that I was already richly familiar. Furthermore, it dragged these Leninist works out of the grave and into the present, making them dynamic handbooks rather than curios from the past.

The ISO and the SWP, the largest Marxist-Leninist groups in the US, are not very healthy at the moment, which was what compelled Le Blanc to produce Unfinished Leninism in the first place. Lenin’s own periodic isolation (both physical and philosophical) appears to be particularly noteworthy given the similar contexts. Lenin was a decisive, yet often misunderstood figure, as misnomers such as the revolutionary vanguard and the dictatorship of the proletariat continue to be reviled by certain elements of the left. Le Blanc dispenses these illusions, and if you’re only going to read one defense of Leninism, this is the book you’ve been looking for. And if you’re an activist who likes 1917 and 1871, and would like to see a better repeat of those two events, Unfinished Leninism is your handbook. Lenin is by no means “finished” – he will continue to grow and develop as long as left-wing authors such as Le Blanc are there to sound the alarms.

Vitezslav Gardavsky/God is not yet dead

NB: This will be an exploration as much as it is a review.

With Pope Francis playfully linking communism and Christianity the dispute has not yet been settled between the materialist ethos of Marxism and the transcendence of orthodox religion. The supposed antagonism between Marxism and spirituality is much more complicated than meets the eye. Marxists are firmly, didactically against any spiritual balm, following Marx’s precept that religion is the opium of the masses, an illusory balm for the otherwise oppressed. This dictum is largely left unchallenged, even with the rise of liberation theology. Gardavsky attempted to explore this rift in the late sixties, and to envision what can be reconciled in the adversarial relationship between Judeo-Christianity and Communism, and genuinely locating the bedrock of the two belief-systems. In his criminally forgotten work, God is Not Yet Dead, Gardavsky boldly deciphers the monuments of mainstream worship, and the communist response.

God is Not Yet Dead is deceptively simple, evidencing the professorial background of Gardavsky, a Czech intellectual who briefly rose to prominence during the aborted Prague Spring. This is a far more approachable slice of philosophy than the previously reviewed A Study on Authority’ by Marcuse. Gardavsky relies on a writing style that is clear and concise, rather than the theoretical blather that constitutes much of Marcuse’s work. Gardavsky’s focus is also a major departure from authority studies – the essence of God is Not Yet Dead deals with liberation, not with the voluntary enslavement that formed the bedrock of A Study On Authority.

Gardavsky is also much more interested in the freedom of choice found in the orthodoxies of Communism and Christianity. It is clearly influenced by existentialism and humanity’s search for meaning and transcendence – the reader can understand why Gardavsky was blacklisted following the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet troops. Existentialism was viewed as heresy by the Soviet orthodoxy of the sixties, especially considering existentialism’s emphasis on the individual rather than the mass. Gardavsky’s heresy confronted mindless “atheism” of the traditional left. He was himself a full-on atheist Communist, but the mere mention of (to say nothing of teaching) the heretical French philosophy was as dissident as burning images of Lenin on Red Square.

All that Gardavsky attempted to analyze was the fundamental roots of religion as well as thoughtful (not knee-jerk) rejection of the same. The study is roughly broken in half, with Judeo-Christianity at the beginning and the atheist response constituting the later chapters. Gardavsky stresses the individual in his examination of both sections – rather than making blanket statements about entire movements, Gardavsky maintains a sharp focus on individual and representative actions within the greater context of the movements in question.

This is especially true of the monotheism section. If you’re looking for big names and key philosophers, you’ll get them, but within context. Gardavsky time and again places the individual within their social milieu, but individual choices are given preference. The exploration of monotheism, like the rest of God is Not Yet Dead, is interested in the choices made to transcend oneself, the search for an unknown omega of existence. The dialectical relationship between the individual and the big Other is the hallmark of these studies; the interaction between the individual and the essence is mediated by the divine in monotheism, while this search is more elusive for the atheist. God is not anthropomorphic in any event – divinity and the indefinable Higher Essence form the rough shape of godliness, even with the God-man of Jesus Christ.

Gardavsky makes the contentious point that it is harder to be an atheist than it is to be Christian; by this he meant a genuine atheist, someone who has sought alternatives to faith in the divine when considering the motor of existence. Atheism is easy when it takes the form of literal anti-clericalism or the sloppier life of the agnostic. Once again, humanity is looking for the essence, the true transcendence of oneself with what can be termed a higher plane of consciousness. The interaction is the same as monotheism, but the self-reflective atheist has to make do without the aid of a god to help out with the dialogue. This can lead to an existential crisis, as the thinking person confronts the eternal infinite of the universe and humanity’s place in the cosmos.

There is a way out of this dilemma, and that is via a realistic appraisal of the interrelations between individuals and their concrete community and the consciousness of a given community influencing and supporting the individual search for meaning in a greater whole. Greater society has far more meaning and concrete impact than the uncaring infinity of the cosmos; society is both the by-product and producer of our own search for meaning, and the work that we accomplish within the interrelations will lead to a more concrete knowledge of oneself. This community also buoys up and defeats the tragedy of mortality – Death, while being a physical certitude, is marred by the individual’s place within a progressive society. The individual is finite – human society is not, not at this point anyway.

I would just like to note that all of the above is a gross simplification of Gardavsky’s philosophy. God is Not Yet Dead may be out of print, but used copies can be gathered. Considering the emphasis on the continuation of existence within a conscious community, it would be frightful if this work was left to moulder on some shelf.

The brutal suppression of the work and the destruction of its creator marks the essentially counter-revolutionary stand-point of latter day Soviet ideology. Just mentioning Christianity, even within the framework of a defense of Marxist atheism, was enough bait for the bureaucrats of the Soviet bloc to invite total reaction and rejection. Gardavsky was banned from teaching his heretical (but still fundamentally Marxist) views, and it would be a shame if this was left in the dustbin of history.

This is such an important text that I’m tempted to transcribe it and put it online as a PDF; let the community of ideas judge and interpret it. This is a welcome synthesis of Marxism and existentialism, and far more approachable than the indecipherable French school.