April 4, 2016
What can be learned from the history of the Soviet Union, and its failure to break free from capitalism, about a future transition to a post-capitalist society? In Paul Mason’s book Postcapitalism: a guide to our future, the places he starts looking
Red Star by Aleksandr Bogdanov: the cover of an early edition
are (i) Aleksandr Bogdanov’s utopian novel Red Star (downloadable here), and (ii) the Trotskyist opposition’s critique of Stalinist planning. I think he presents answers that are too easy. The histories of Russian socialism and Stalinist tyranny give us lessons that are richer, but also more difficult to access, than he suggests. Here are some thoughts provoked by chapter 8 of Postcapitalism, “On Transitions”.
■ Aleksandr Bogdanov’s utopian vision – set out in his 1909 novel Red Star, about a Russian communist who is invited to Mars, where a human-like race of people live in a socialist society – was not at odds with the mainstream of communist thought in the way that Paul suggests.
By portraying the communist future, Bogdanov, a member of the Bolshevik party led by Lenin, was “defying the conventions of his time”, Mason writes. “All wings of socialism were opposed to discussing castles in the air.” Bogdanov believed Read the rest of this entry »
July 27, 2015
In this guest post, ANTI-WAR points to the history of radical intellectuals embracing “revolutionary” regimes, and cautions against repeating those mistakes today
In the second year of the Great Leap Forward famine – in which perhaps 30 million died – Herbert
Read visited China on an official delegation. Read’s acceptance of a knighthood for his literary achievements had already discredited him amongst many anarchists. But, at the time of his visit in 1959, he was still the most prominent anarchist in Britain and his published writings had considerable influence on, amongst others, Murray Bookchin.
Read’s “Letters from China” show how easy it is for a radical intellectual to get it completely wrong. The nearest comparable episode was in 1967 when Noam Chomsky used phrases such as ‘mutual aid’, ‘popular control’ and ‘nonviolence’ while referring to Mao’s collectivisation policies. (Later, in 1977-79, Chomsky was also reluctant to acknowledge the full horror of Pol Pot’s version of these policies. See “Chomsky on Cambodia” and here and here.)
These extracts are a timely reminder to be sceptical of any account that claims that the new Read the rest of this entry »
July 9, 2015
People in Moscow may soon get a chance to vote to return a statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, to the plinth in Lubyanka square from which it was toppled in 1991.
The ballot – which will go ahead if an initiative group, sanctioned by the city council, collects 140,000-odd signatures supporting it – comes at a time when Soviet symbols, especially second world war symbols, are being
This is not about him. Feliks Dzerzhinsky (centre) with a group of officers from the Cheka security service during the Russian civil war
called into service to justify Russian aggression against Ukraine. History is being mobilised to buttress the image of a strong Russian state, which president Vladimir Putin’s propagandists claim is a crucial bastion against western, above all American, geopolitical domination.
Dzerzhinsky, a Polish socialist freed from Moscow’s Butyrka prison during the 1917 revolution before taking charge of the Soviet state’s rudimentary security service, would be horrified; he despised all nationalisms great and small. But this is not about him. It’s about a statue that stood outside the security service’s headquarters where oppositionists and dissidents were detained from Dzerzhinsky’s time. After his death in 1926, and especially in the mid and late 1930s, the number of detainees swelled tens and hundreds of times over; they were interrogated, tortured and then shot or deported to the Gulag.
In August 1991, a crowd of demonstrators tried to topple the giant monument. They were celebrating the defeat of the state committee of emergency, a bunch of security services and army chiefs who had detained the last Read the rest of this entry »
April 1, 2015
Human activity has changed the earth so drastically that we are in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, says a bunch of scientists. No, it’s “capital, not humanity as such” that’s responsible, writes socialist activist and environmental researcher Andreas Malm in Jacobin magazine.
Malm argues that it’s “the reliance by capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy” that is “driving us toward disaster” – and that this is downplayed by the Anthropocene concept.
Malm hits at three targets. First, he defends social movements that take up climate issues from attack by Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species popularised the Anthropocene idea. Second, he takes on scientists who suggest
The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
that human damage to the environment is a function of human productive activity in general. And third, he argues against climate science, politics and discourse that are framed as “species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation” – “ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver”.
In my view, Lynas richly deserves the polemical kicking he gets from Malm. Lynas’s rant against the left-wing journalist Naomi Klein, who argues that averting climate change is inextricably linked with the fight for social justice, is both unfounded and idiotic. Unfounded, because Lynas denounces Klein’s realistic-but-optimistic book This Changes Everything for reflecting a “miserabilist and dystopian worldview”, which it Read the rest of this entry »
October 18, 2013
In this guest post, MIKE NELSON comments on Steve Drury’s review on this site of Christopher Boehm’s book Moral Origins, and the exchange that followed between Chris Knight and Steve Drury.
The discussion on this site about human origins points to the need for a Marxist critique of anthropology. We need to work towards a better understanding of the human revolution in the paleolithic period, and of
Hunters brought back food, which was shared. (A Lascaux cave painting.)
“human nature” – not as an inherent biological quality, but as the potential that we have to live in a different, communistic, way.
From the articles published, it seems that Christopher Boehm, Chris Knight and Steve Drury all profess that our morals today are not genetically determined. Most people on the left, including many anthropologists – and myself – would agree with that statement. But there are problems in understanding the period of Read the rest of this entry »