Posts Tagged ‘Lucien Laurat’

The Rise of Trump, and Kautsky’s Description of the Mass Appeal of Fascism

September 24, 2016

I found this extract from Karl Kautsky’s “Some Causes and Effects of National Socialism” in the section on Fascism in Lucien Laurat’s Marxism and Democracy (London: Victor Gollancz 1940). It’s footnote 2 on pages 174-5. What struck me was the similarity between Kautsky’s view of the rise on the Nazis in Germany, and some of the factors underlying the rise of Trump today and the increasing right-wing extremism of mainstream politics in Britain. Kautsky wrote

Those masses of the people without political and economic knowledge, drawn into political activity only by the war and its effects, were imbued with militarist ideas and were totally ignorant of political economy. They believed that the will and political power would be sufficient to obtain for them all they desired. These desperate people entirely failed to recognise the existence of economic laws, which must be known before measures can be taken to restore the economic system to health, nor did they see the international character of the crisis, which demanded international remedies.

These elements thirst for power rather than for knowledge; having no confidence in themselves they do not demand that political power should be given into their hands, but into the hands of an individual from whom they expect their salvation, that is to say, an improvement in their personal situation…

In a moment like the present the strength of National Socialist propaganda is very great, particularly as since the war the militarist idea has vanquished the economic idea. A far-sighted strategist is well aware of the importance of the economic element, but the ignorant soldier believes only in the omnipotence of violence. The war with all its evil consequences has reinforced this belief amongst certain classes of the people, so that to-day the crassest petty-bourgeois ignorance believes itself capable of guiding the development of the State and of society without any preliminary study, and solely in accordance with its most pressing needs…

To these circumstances is added the absolute necessity for radical intervention in economic life, the paralysis of parliamentary activity owing to a more or less even balance of party strength, the bankruptcy of the old political parties, the despair not only of the workers, but also of the middle classes and the intellectuals, belief in the omnipotence of violence, and the ignorance of great masses of the people, particularly the youth, with regard to economic and social questions, a phenomenon particularly striking since the World War and for which the war is largely responsible.

This analysis of the rise of Nazism doesn’t completely explain the rise of Trump and the Far Right in America and the Continent today, but there are certain elements common to both. These are:

1. The effects of war and violence.

The West has been at war for about 15 years now following 9/11 against Islamism, and the result has been that all Muslims are regarded by a certain portion of the population with deep suspicion as potential terrorists and a threat to western society. The result has been a rise in xenophobia. At the same time, both America and Britain have at the level of popular culture a deep faith in the ability of the militaries to emerge victorious. All it needs is for us to give more support in terms of personnel and funding to our troops, and al-Qaeda and ISIS will be wiped out. While al-Qaeda and ISIS certainly need and deserve to be wiped completely from the face of the Earth, this simplistic view of ending the present wars through more violence and force ignores the radicalising effect of our attacks and counterattacks on the indigenous population, and the possibility that more peaceful methods, such as sanctions and the freezing of terrorist bank accounts, may be a far better solution.

2. Ignorance of the Economic Causes of the Global Crisis.

The current economic crisis, and the devastation of societies all over the globe, has been brought about through the operation of economic laws. Laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t work, and the neoliberalist economics embraced by politicians of various shades since Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan have been responsible for immense economic, social and political damage. But these are supported uncritically by vast numbers of the population, who revere these figures as saving the country from the threat of socialism or encroaching liberalism. As the real economic causes of the crisis aren’t recognised, people look around to find scapegoats for their ills, finding them in the threat of ethnic minorities.

3. Kautsky’s statement that people’s sense of personal powerlessness leads them to expect and demand salvation from a strong political figure also seems apt. The right has led a campaign over the past three decades and more to destroy the very organised working class organisations, which have acted to protect and empower working people, such as trade unions. And the effect of the recession, with its threat of redundancies and the imposition of zero hours contracts and short-term contracts, has been to make more people feel powerless. As a result, they turn to a strong political figure, like Trump, to give them what they feel they need, rather than empowering themselves through left-wing campaigning and political action.

4. The paralysis of parliamentary activity, and the bankruptcy of the old political parties. The precise circumstances between America today and Weimar Germany of the 1920’s and 1930’s is different, but the overall analysis still holds here as well. Hitler came to power at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the ’30s, when parliamentary democracy in Germany broke down completely. The ruling coalition that governed the country since the end of the First World War between the Social Democrats, Catholic Centre Party and the two Liberal parties collapsed, with the individual parties refusing to cooperate with each other. Hindenburg, the president, began to govern by decree, as provided by the German constitution. He also approached the Nazis to break the deadlock by including them in a coalition which would have the necessary majority. The result was demands by Hitler for total power, and the final collapse of German democracy.

In America, public opinion of congress is extremely low. The power of the corporations to influence politics is such that polls have shown that only 9 to 25 per cent of the American public believe their politicians are doing a good job and representing them. A study by Princeton found that America was no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy because of the corporate nature of American politics.

There are also significant differences, however. While the majority of Trump supporters are middle class, the majority of supporters for Bernie Sanders, the self-confessed democratic socialist, were young. Most of the audience for Fox News is in its late sixties and above. It’s America’s young people, who are challenging the Conservative political establishment of the older generation.

As for Trump’s middle class support, this has been interpreted as disproving the explanation that Trump’s rise is due to the impoverishment of the American working class. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that the threat of impoverishment isn’t one of the factors behind his rise. One of the causes of the emergence of Fascism in Germany and Italy was the fear of those countries middle classes that they were losing their social status, threatened by big business from above and organised labour from below. Certainly the rise of Trump, and that of the neocons before him, is due to the sense of threat felt by white, middle class men that their privileged social status is under threat from women and ethnic minorities. At the same time, the American middle class is shrinking due to the effect of neoliberal economics in immiserating the broader masses of working people, including salaried employees.

My guess is that much of this analysis also applies to Britain, where many people have the same view of the essential morality and effectiveness of using extreme military force against the peoples of the Middle East; a sense of threat of foreigners and the unemployed taking jobs and support from the dwindling welfare state; an ignorance of the role of Conservativism and neoliberal economics as the direct cause of the growing impoverishment of British society; a feeling of powerlessness that looks to strong leaders to save them; a feeling of despair engendered by a corrupt parliamentary system, dominated by a shared political consensus between left and right in neoliberalism, and permeated with corporate corruption.

What is needed to stop the growth of the extreme right is not just a campaign of anti-racism, but also a renewed assault and abandonment of the prevailing neoliberal consensus. More people need to be shown that not only are immigrants not responsible for poverty and poor welfare provision, but that these have been directly caused by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. And far from neoliberal and conservative economics being the only effective system, it is possible to challenge these and think outside them, to see them as the real cause of contemporary poverty and the economic and political crisis engulfing America and the world.

John McDonnell and Anti-Marxist Scaremongering on Thursday’s Question Time

September 18, 2016

I was talking to Mike this evening about John McDonnell’s appearance on Question Time last week, when all the other panelists, including Alistair Campbell, Soubry for the Tories and Dimbleby himself all tried to pile into him and attack himself and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. I didn’t see the programme, but heard from Mike that at one point someone attempted to score a point accusing McDonnell of being a Marxist. McDonnell said he was, and that as a Marxist he was overjoyed at the 2008 financial crisis, as this was the kind of massive economic crisis that is caused by capitalism. Mike took this McDonnell answering in the conditional: this is what he would believe, if he was a Marxist. But even if McDonnell is a Marxist – which is debateable – this still is not necessarily a reason why he should be feared or disqualified from government.

There’s a difference between Marxism and Communism. Communism is a form of Marxism, but as historians of the Soviet regime and political scientists will tell you, it is a form of Communism based on the interpretation of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And I was taught by the tutor at College on the rise of Communism in Russia, that Lenin adapted and reformed Marxism as much as his ideological opponents and enemies in democratic socialism. I should point out here that before he began the course, he made a little speech stating that he wasn’t a Communist, and if, by some accident, he found himself in such a party, he would very soon find himself thrown out of it. This is pretty much true. The official ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxism-Leninism, and it broke with the ideas of the German Social Democrats, and particularly that of Karl Kautsky, as the leading European Marxist party. In 1910 the German Social Democrats (SPD) were world’s leading socialist party. They had 110 deputies in the Reichstag, the German parliament, 720,000 members and over 70 newspapers and periodicals. (See John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics, p. 27).

The party had been riven by ideological conflict in the 1890s over Eduard Bernstein’s ‘Revisionism’. Bernstein had argued that Marxism was wrong, and that far from impoverishing the workers in the operation of the ‘iron law of wages’, the workers were becoming more prosperous. He therefore urged a revision of Marxist socialism, abandoning the aspects that were no longer relevant. Instead of the Hegelian dialect, he urged instead that the party should incorporate and adapt the ideals of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. This did not mean abandoning socialism or the nationalisation of industry. Indeed, he saw the emergence of joint-stock companies as the type of capitalist institution, which would gradually become transformed as society developed to produce the new, socialist society of the future. Despite widespread, and fierce opposition, Bernstein was not thrown out of the party. Lenin, who had previously been an admirers of the Germans, really couldn’t understand this. When he met Karl Kautsky, the Austrian leader of German and Austrian Marxism, during his exile from Tsarist Russia, Lenin asked him that question. Kautsky replied that they didn’t do that kind of thing. Lenin went berserk, called him a prostitute, and published a pamphlet attacking Kautsky and denouncing him as a ‘renegade’.

Kautsky was no enemy of democracy. I’ve put up various pieces from Marx, Kautsky and the French Marxist, Lucien Laurat, showing how they all supported, to a certain degree, parliamentary democracy. Marx never ruled out violent revolution, but was increasingly of the opinion that there was no need, as socialists were winning considerable concessions and advances through parliamentary politics. Kautsky and Laurat fully support parliamentary democracy. Kautsky himself despised the workers’ soviets as undemocratic, and bitterly attacked the Bolsheviks for their suppression of human rights. He hated the disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie, their subjection to slave labour and how they were given the worst jobs, and were given the worst rations. He also attacked the Bolsheviks’ monopolisation of the press and their destruction and banning of competing parties, newspapers and publications. And rather than industry being nationalised in one fell blow, as the Bolsheviks had done, he argued instead that Marxism demanded that industry should only be nationalised gradually at the appropriate moment. This was when the various capitalist firms in a particular economic sector had merged to create a cartel. It was only then that the industries should be taken over by the state, and run in the interests of the working class and the people as a whole. After the Bolshevik revolution, Kautsky supported the Mensheviks, their ideological rivals, in the newly independent state of Georgia in the Caucasus, before that was finally conquered by the USSR.

Lenin, by contrast, had argued in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done, that the Russian socialist party should be led by committed revolutionaries, who would command absolute authority. Debate was to be strictly limited, and once the party’s leaders had made a decision, it had to be obeyed without question. Lenin had come to this view through his experience of the conspiratorial nature of Russian revolutionary politics. He was influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary – but not Marxist – Chernyshevsky. He also adopted this extremely authoritarian line as an attempt to prevent the rise of factionalism that divided and tore apart the Populists, the Russian agrarian socialists that form Marxism’s main rival as the party of the peasants and working class.

Now I’ll make it plain: I’m not a Marxist or a Communist. I don’t agree with its atheism nor its basis in Hegelian philosophy. I’m also very much aware of the appalling human rights abuses by Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. But Marxism is not necessarily synonymous with Communism.

During the struggle in the 1980s in the Labour party with the Militant Tendency, the Swedish Social Democrats also offered their perspective on a similar controversy they had gone through. They had also been forced to expel a group that had tried to overturn party democracy and take absolute power. They had not, however, expelled them because they were Marxists, and made the point that there still were Marxists within the party. Thus, while I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe that Marxism, as opposed to Communism, is necessarily a threat.

It’s also hypocritical for members of New Labour to try to smear others with the label, when one element in its formation was a Marxist organisation, albeit one that came to a very anti-Socialist conclusion. This was Demos. Unlike conventional Marxists, they believed that the operation of the Hegelian dialectic had led to the victory, not of socialism, but of capitalism. The goal for left-wing parties now should be to try to make it operate to benefit society as a whole, rather than just businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Arguably, this form of Marxism has been every bit as destructive and doctrinaire as Militant. Blair seized control of the Labour party, and his clique swiftly became notorious for a highly authoritarian attitude to power. Events were micromanaged to present Blair in the best, most flattering light. Furthermore, the policies they adopted – privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state, the contempt for the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and the long-term sick, who were seen as scroungers and malingerers, resulted in immense poverty and hardship, even before they were taken over and extended massively by Cameron and now Theresa May.

Traditional Marxists in the Labour party, as opposed to Communists and Trotskyites aren’t a threat. And neither McDonnell nor Corbyn are either of those. What has damaged the party is the pernicious grip on power of the Blairites, who have turned it into another branch of the Tories. It is they, who have harmed the country’s economy, provoked much of the popular cynicism with politics, and impoverished and immiserated its working people and the unemployed. All for the enrichment of the upper and middle classes. It is their power that needs to be broken, and they, who are responsible for acting as a conspiratorial clique determined to win absolute control through purging their rivals. It’s long past time they either accepted the wishes of the grassroots for a genuine socialist leadership, and made their peace with Corbyn, or left to join the Tories.

Vox Political: Owen Smith Tries to Shut Down Criticism of Sadiq Khan

August 23, 2016

A few days ago, Sadiq Khan, the elected mayor of London, decided it would be best if he sided with the Blairites and attacked Jeremy Corbyn. This is after Corbyn fully supported and personally aided his campaign to become the capital’s mayor, and Britain’s leading local politician. Naturally, Corbyn’s supporters were outraged at this betrayal, and showed their disgust by booing him at a rally for the Labour leader.

This show of popular sentiment was too much for Owen Smith, who got on his high horse to demand that Corbyn should condemn anyone who booed Khan.

Mike over at Vox Political is not impressed with Smudger’s imperious attitude to the Labour grassroots and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. He points out that Sadiq Khan, through his treachery, has shown Londoners that he is a man unable to keep his word. He also points out that the Labour party was founded by working class people, who were fed up of their social superiors telling them what to do. And now Smudger is presuming to do just that.

And it’s also extremely hypocritical of Smiffy to demand that Corbyn stifle criticism of Khan and the Blairites, while they have smeared Corbyn supporters like Mike as ‘rabble’, ‘Trots’, ‘dogs’ and so on.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/22/how-dare-owen-smith-think-he-has-a-right-to-tell-the-rest-of-us-what-to-do/

Mike’s quite right. And this is another example of New Labour, living down to the tactics practised by Blair, Brown & co. themselves. New Labour was notorious for carefully stage-managed displays of popular loyalty and approval to the Great Leader. When this wasn’t forthcoming, they threw a strop. Those parts of the Labour party and trade union movement, which proved awkward or embarrassing, were closed down or reformed, so that any recalcitrant official was removed and replaced by someone more malleable. This happened to the Student Union, which was reorganised under Blair to remove democracy. No longer were its national officers elected by its members. Instead, they were appointed by Blair and co.

Smudger and the Blairites have also shown themselves to be highly intolerant of the criticism that comes with politics. Back in the days when working class politicians stood on street corners making speeches, abuse, heckling and worse was all part of the job. A couple of my older relatives from my great-grandparents’ generation used to makes speeches arguing for the Labour party at Speakers’ Corner on the Downs in Bristol. My grandmother told me that her father, or whoever it was, actually wasn’t afraid if someone threw a stone at him, as this act of aggression gave him the sympathy of the rest of the crowd.

Oswald Mosley, baronet and Fascist thug, also talks about heckling and answering them in his autobiography, My Life. He made it plain that it was all part of the ‘rough and tumble’ of politics. I have to say I don’t like arguments and personal abuse, and far prefer genteel debate. But it shows how autocratic Owen Smith is in his determination to shut down any criticism from his opponents, when even a wannabe dictator and Nazi cheerleader like Mosley appears more willing to tolerate criticism from a crowd.

Of course, the whole point of this is that the Blairites don’t like democracy. They want the Labour grassroots to shut up and accept the rightful place of the very industrialists and big businessmen, who are driving them into poverty, at the head of the Labour party. But democracy has always been too important to the organised working class for this. I found this snippet on how authoritarianism is unacceptable to proper working class Socialists in Lucien Laurat’s Marxism and Democracy.

As far as democracy itself is concerned, together with Marx and Engels we consider it the sine qua non of all fruitful socialist activity, because without it collective property would be inconceivable. We believe, with Karl Kautsky, that “to doubt democracy is in reality to doubt the proletariat itself”, and that, in general, the existence of a dictatorial and authoritarian government at a given moment proves, for this moment at least, “the inability of the proletariat to emancipate itself, because no proletariat capable of doing so would tolerate for one moment any government determining what it should read, what it should hear, and what it should do.” (p.224)

Which is what Smudger is trying to do, because he and the Blairites ignore and despise the working class, and wish to capture the votes and interests of the middle classes. And the result is what happened at the Corbyn rally, when the crowd showed that it very definitely was not going to be told ‘what it should read, what it should hear, and what it should do’, and who it should support.