PaulHampton's blog

Callinicos and the SWP: wrong on imperialism

At the Second Congress of the Communist International, in the debate on the national and colonial question, just after his book Imperialism had been translated into German and French, Lenin warned delegates they should “establish concrete facts and to proceed from concrete realities, not abstract postulates”.

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Lenin’s laboratory: A review of Day and Gaido, Discovering Imperialism

“It is the same with the policy of Social Democracy as with any other: if you do not move forwards, you go backwards. Whoever closes his eyes out of a (not necessarily conscious) fear of the consequences of stating what is, has not only failed to fulfil his Social-Democratic duty to say what is but will also be forced to say what in reality does not exist, to spread illusions. Any misunderstanding of reality leads to confusion.”
Karl Radek, Ways and Means in the Struggle against Imperialism (14 September 1912). D&G 2012: 615

*****

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The Making of Global Capitalism by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin

The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin is one of the best Marxist analyses of the modern epoch published in a long time. The book (Panitch and Gindin 2012: vii) is devoted to understanding “how it came to be that the American state developed the interest and capacity to superintend the making of global capitalism”.

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The burning question is politics

The climate movement has begun to revive and not before time. The age of extreme energy is upon us – with the rise of fracking and tar sands, along with increased demand for coal – and this will have dire consequences for climate change. Bill McKibben’s essay in Rolling Stone magazine last year was one of the harbingers of the revived climate politics. McKibben, who leads the 350 degrees organisation that helped organise the biggest climate demonstration so far in the US earlier this year.

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Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (2012 edition)

At last, seventy years after its first publication in French and half a century after the first abridged English translation, we have the Victor Serge’s fantastic Memoirs of a Revolutionary in full. Around one-eighth of the 1963 edition was trimmed by nearly two hundred cuts under duress from the publishers. This new unexpurgated edition has been restored by George Paizis and annotated by Richard Greeman. It deserves to be read by today’s generation of socialists, activists and trade unionists.

Who was Victor Serge?

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An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital

Michael Heinrich’s book, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital, (Monthly Review Press 2012) is a lucid and refreshing theoretical interpretation of Marxist political economy.

Apparently, it has gone through nine editions in Germany and is used widely in German universities. Heinrich takes inspiration from the “neue Marx Lektüre” (new Marx reading) of Capital. The result is one of best introductions to Capital for the new reader, but also many sophisticated clarifications for those who who’ve already read some Marx.

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A university of Marxism

John Riddell’s Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (Haymarket 2012) is a tremendous work of scholarship in the tradition of David Riazanov. The book is a remarkable paperback of 1,300 pages, but it repays reading: it is a manual for revolutionary socialist strategy, in the words of many of its finest representatives.

These five blogs explain why:

Part 1: Assessment of global class forces

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A university of Marxism - Part 5: Anti-imperialism

The Fourth Congress adopted a call for an anti-imperialist united front in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, aimed at “the mobilisation of all revolutionary forces” in “an extended, lengthy struggle against world imperialism”(2012: 1187). The expression was new, but the concept of an anti-imperialist united front had been effectively endorsed at the Second Comintern Congress and by the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku in 1920.

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A university of Marxism - Part 4: Hegemony and struggles against oppression

The early Communist International’s focus was on working class self-liberation and this was reflected in the time spent on discussions on party building, work to transform the labour movement and on the specifics of class struggle strategy. But the Bolsheviks had made their reputation as tribunes of the people, taking up any and every matter of injustice and oppression against the tsar. While seeking to win hegemony in the working class, they also sought to gain hegemony for the working class among the exploited and oppressed as a whole.

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A university of Marxism - Part 3: The workers’ government slogan

Probably the most wide-ranging and rancorous discussion at the Fourth Congress concerned the transitional slogan of a workers’ government. This debate is of exceptional importance to the tradition represented by the AWL, yet outside our ranks it is rarely discussed or propagated at present. Translations of the theses and debates at the Fourth Congress were published by our predecessors in the 1970s, when the original texts were long out of print and hard to obtain. They informed our own discussions about intervening to transform the labour movement from that period onwards.

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A university of Marxism - Part 2: Transitional demands and the united front

The Fourth Congress of the Communist International synthesised and systematised for the first time seminal but largely latent ideas found within the Marxist tradition that had preceded it. Most strikingly, the elaboration of a conception of transitional demands, the tactical importance of the united front and the crowning transitional demand for a workers’ government were elaborated and codified in 1922, after recently practical experience, particularly in Germany.

Programme

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A university of Marxism - Part 1: Assessment of global class forces

John Riddell’s Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (Haymarket 2012) is a tremendous work of scholarship in the tradition of David Riazanov. The book is a remarkable paperback of 1,300 pages, but it repays reading: it is a manual for revolutionary socialist strategy, in the words of many of its finest representatives.

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Why Gramsci is important

The AWL’s book, Antonio Gramsci: working-class revolutionary, has started some very fruitful discussions about what it means to be a Marxist in the present period. Martin Thomas has highlighted important conceptions from Gramsci, such as “the democratic philosopher” and “permanently active persuaders”, which sum up very crisply the way Marxist worker intellectuals interact with other workers and other social layers, learning as well as teaching, educating ourselves through struggling alongside others.

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Anniversary of the Balfour declaration

Today is the 95th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, the promise made by the British government to support a Jewish state in Palestine. The anniversary is already the subject of letters to the Guardian and no doubt will prove a fillip for discussion on the self-defined “anti-imperialist” left. Criticism of British colonial policy is entirely justified, but this should not lead us to argue that the there was simply an inexorable, linear, mechanical line from the Balfour declaration to the creation of Israel, never mind to the current injustice towards the Palestinians.

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The John Carlos story: a life of protest

The black-gloved salute from the podium at the 1968 Olympics is one of the most riveting images in the history of protest, surpassing its sporting moment. The John Carlos Story (Haymarket 2012) is the autobiography of one of the central protagonists. Carlos’ protest was a conscious political act, which dwarfed even his exceptional athletic talent. Although he could foresee the unpleasant consequences of his audacity, he did not hesitate to act. John Carlos deserves to be regarded as a hero and a true champion.

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Assessing the global slump

There is no definitive Marxist assessment of the current economic crisis or of the period leading up to it, but there is a vibrant debate among Marxists trying to grapple with the underlying causes of the world we’re in. David McNally’s book “Global Slump” provides one of the most panoramic and provocative accounts with many insights. He argues that the crisis of 2008 represents the terminus of a quarter-century wave of economic growth – neoliberal expansion – and the transition to a protracted period of slump (2011 p.2). He defends three broad arguments:

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The Marxism of José Carlos Mariátegui

Latin America appears to have long been in the thrall of ‘barbaric’ Marxism: the stale Stalinism of the official Communist Parties, the populist Stalinism of the Castro current, the national reformism of the Sandinistas and more recently the Bonapartism of Chavistas. But there is a rich and authentic tendency of Latin American Marxism, in which Jose Carlos Mariátegui is probably the brightest star. His contribution during the third decade of the twentieth century has rightly earned him the epitaph of Latin America’s Gramsci.

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Is Marxism Eurocentric?

A common charge heard against Marxism in recent decades is that it is a Eurocentric theory, one with arguably colonial assumptions and underpinned by Western values. If so, then Marxism cannot claim to be a universal theory of human emancipation; it might even simply rationalise the domination of a few powerful states over the rest of the world.

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Review of Mark Lynas, The God Species (2011)

Mark Lynas has written a provocative book that deserves to be read and discussed by socialists, trade unionists and ecologists. Lynas is a long time green activist who has ditched many of the sacred cows he has spent his life campaigning against – nuclear power, GM crops and organic farming are the most notable. On this score his change of heart is rather persuasive. However his accommodation with capitalism and its states makes his wider political judgments unsatisfactory.

Planetary boundaries

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Another disgraceful article by Milne on Libya

Unprepared to acknowledge his catastrophic mis-assessment of the situation in Libya, unreconstructed Stalinist Seamus Milne prefers to serve up more wholesale historical revisionism. Milne has throughout this year denied that Gaddafi's forces were about to commit a massacre in Benghazi in February.

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Lenin the dreamer

“The dreamer himself sees in his dream a great and sacred truth; and he works, works conscientiously and with full strength, for his dream to stop being just a dream. His whole life is arranged according to one guiding idea and it is filled with the most strenuous activity. He is happy, despite deprivations and unpleasantness, despite the jeers of unbelievers and despite the difficulties of struggling with deeply rooted ways of thought.”
Dmitri Pisarev (Lih 2011 p.205-06)

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New revolutions need clarity, not confusionism

Hardt and Negri’s musings on the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East (Guardian, 25 February 2011) are a studied exercise in rapacity. Having mapped the road to nowhere for the anti-capitalist movement a decade ago, these confusionists now seem intent on misdirecting the great revolutionaries who’ve topped dictators.

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The pessimism of climate radicals

It is a measure of the state of climate politics when apparently radical thinkers accommodate themselves to the mainstream. In Climate Capitalism by Peter Newell and Matthew Paterson (2010) the disorientation of climate activists has found its academic expression.

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Venezuelan elections – setback for Chávez

The bonapartist regime of Hugo Chávez suffered a setback in the Venezuelan elections on 26 September, winning a majority of parliamentary seats but not the two-thirds majority it desired. The ruling party, Chávez’s PSUV gained 98 of the 165 seats available in the national assembly – enough for a working majority but not the two-thirds necessary to make further constitutional changes.

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