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Archive for the ‘Marxism’ Category

19th Century Marxist Mantra in 21st Century Feminist Garb

In Book Review, Feminism, Marxism on August 15, 2014 at 4:06 PM

Book Review

Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, (Bloomsbury, 2014) 288pp.

Laurie Penny is a self-declared “political creature” who wants “mutiny.” She has a message for the “fucked-up girls” with eating disorders and the “lost boys” who do not “feel able to talk about their own suffering.” Unspeakable Things is a political manifesto filled with autobiographical detail. Penny is someone who was thrown out of ballet classes at an early age “for teaching the other girls how to masturbate,” spent nine months in a mental institution recovering from anorexia, has had friends in prison, once lived with porn stars, has been raped, and  enjoyed kissing a girl who was sleeping with the same boy that she was. She is someone with the effrontery to write “hairy cocks and cunts” and not only get away with it, but to get it published.  She knows what it is like to have her “arse grabbed in a bar,” to be on the receiving end of an online hate campaign, to be afraid of leaving her house as a result of fear from online stalkers and  to be blackmailed with pictures of her semi naked kissing another girl.

Penny becomes a heroine for the angst ridden, left-wing, teen and early twenties girl who stays at home “with a painted-on smile.” Penny tells them that it is okay to shave their armpits, wear lipstick, have a poster of a half-naked Justin Bieber on their bedroom wall, have sex with as many boys as they like, tell the world about it, and still be a feminist.  She is proud to “fly the flag for sex, for fucking and for love online.” The Pennyettes with their hands down their pants might be pleased to hear Penny tell them “sex online is real sex and love online is real love.”

The Pennyettes might well raise their eyebrows when she tells them that she does not have the kind of high-flying job that allows her “to think in terms of ‘having it all.’” Here is Laurie Penny, private school, Oxford, and soon to be Harvard educated, 27 years old, beautiful, an author of a number of published books and a blog that was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. She is a journalist for national newspapers, a contributing editor at New Statesman, has regular appearances on television and radio, and criss-crosses the Atlantic for work. She has a hundred thousand, many adoring, followers on Twitter, who tells her readers that she does not have it all. One wonders what a twenty year old, working-class woman stacking shelves in Tesco with cans of own brand baked beans would make of that. The truth is such a person is not really Penny’s natural constituency. Penny is the role model for the 18 year old female, unsure of where she is going in the world, or how she fits in, who, despite a firm belief that a thigh gap and a bikini bridge are necessities to succeed in life, has just obtained three grade As at ‘A’ level and entry to an elite university. Unspeakable Things was written by Penny for her own younger sisters.

And what about the male species? Men as a group “hate and hurt women.” But one must not accuse Penny of “reverse sexism” for saying so. That would be a cheap attempt to “shut down debate.” Patriarchy, she tells us, is violent. It has “oppressed and constrained men and boys as well as women.” “Desire,” she claims, “is socially constructed.”  Will the 19 year old male undergraduate with an erection because he is seated next to a hot girl in his sociology lecture believe that? At any rate, who cares if it is true? It sounds like a profound thing for a corduroy jacket wearing, satchel carrying, Foucault reading, Pennyette to say while seated cross legged and sipping a cappuccino in the student union.

After such an analysis of women and men, one might wonder who or what is at fault. It’s the “system” goddammit! All the problems in the “fucked-up world” boil down to one thing: neoliberalism. Penny retreats to the same old Marxist mantra: capitalism and the patriarchy that follows from it. Here is a Penny sentence: “The colonisation of love by capitalist patriarchy is a deeply painful thing.” Being a true Pennyette depends on whether you can 1) take that sentence seriously, and, 2) agree with it. I fail on both counts. Then there are Penny’s unsubstantiated claims. For example: “‘he said’ is almost always more credible than ‘she said’, unless she is white and he is not.” Perhaps Penny writing it makes it true.

According to Penny, there can be no faith in President Obama in the USA or in mainstream left leaning political parties in the UK. There is only one solution: revolution! And that revolution must be a shocking feminist revolution. If, for Penny, “plotting revolution” provides greater happiness than being in love, then so it should for the Pennyettes. Marx, Engels, and Penny. God help us all. It was a lot easier in the 1990s when Gerri Halliwell raised her right fist and said “Girl power.” Now we have Laurie Penny who wants to take a red pen, “annotate the world,” and “scrawl ‘slut power’ in letters too big to ignore.” She lives in a world where the personal is political and the political is personal. But despite all this she admits that she just wants “to be the kind of girl who gets taken in somebody’s arms.” One day she might get married. If so, she might desire a wedding cake inscribed with the words “Smash Monogamy!” It would not be original. Michael Lerner did it in 1971.

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The Socialist Idea Refuted

In Libertarianism, Marxism, Nozick, Philosophy on June 30, 2014 at 5:23 PM

Book Review

Jason Brennan, Why Not Capitalism? (Routledge, 2014) 120pp.

In 2009 G.A (Jerry) Cohen’s short book, Why Not Socialism? defending socialism was posthumously published by Princeton University Press. Jason Brennan’s book, just published by Routledge, is a response to Cohen. A more accurate title for the book might have been Why G.A. Cohen is Wrong. However, as Brennan is defending capitalism, and no doubt with an eye on sales, his own choice of title more suits his purpose.

While Brennan’s book can be read and understood by those without the background, it is a work of political philosophy and will be more appreciated by those with at least an elementary background in the work of twentieth century political philosophers, Robert Nozick, John Rawls, and G.A. Cohen.

A similarity between Cohen’s book and Brennan’s book is the cover design. If a book defending socialism can have a single red rose on its cover, then a book defending capitalism can have a bunch of roses.  Perhaps Brennan’s cover design has a further resonance when one considers his final sentence prior to his concluding chapter. Turning Mao Zedong’s notorious statement on its head, Brennan asserts, “The slogan of a capitalist utopia might be something like, ‘Let a hundred flowers blossom.’”

In defending socialism Cohen came out with a thought experiment. He compares two different types of societies to two versions of a camping trip. In the socialist camping trip everyone mucks in. One person brings a tent, one person catches fish, one person does the cooking etc. Everyone assists each other and it is a wonderful way to live. In a capitalist camping trip, the owner of the tent would charge rent to other campers, the cook would want to charge people for cooking and so it goes on. Capitalism, in Cohen’s world, is awful. Greed and selfishness are features of capitalist society. And these features are morally repugnant.  The camping trip thought experiment is a powerful argument for socialism, or so it might seem prima facie. Brennan’s short book exposes a dramatic flaw that he has found in it.

Cohen’s fallacious reasoning is that he is comparing idealised Marxism with a realistic but flawed capitalist system. Brennan is justified in arguing that one should either compare realistic Marxism with realistic capitalism or idealised Marxism with idealised capitalism. If one were to compare realistic Marxism with realistic capitalism then a simple comparison would be Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China to Truman or Nixon’s America. Capitalism wins. Just as we have not experienced idealised Marxism so we have not experienced idealised capitalism. If Cohen can construct an idealised version of Marxism by using his camping trip example, then Brennan can construct an idealised version of capitalism. He does this by noting that life portrayed in the village of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is akin to idealised capitalism. Brennan parodies Cohen by setting up the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Village whereby the villagers “cooperate with a common desire that everyone have the freedom and resources to flourish under their own conceptions of the good life. Everyone operates on principles of mutual concern, tolerance, and respect. They live together happily, without envy, glad to trade value for value, glad to give and share, glad to help those in need, and never disposed to free ride, take advantage of, coerce, or subjugate one another.”

Brennan notes that there is “an essential asymmetry in the capitalist and the socialist versions of utopia.” An idealised capitalist utopia would allow a group of people to set up a socialist commune. The socialists would be permitted to own property communally just as the capitalists would be able to own property individually. However, in the socialist utopia, all property would be owned communally and capitalist acts such as owning property individually would be forbidden. In part, this is a reason why idealised capitalism is better than idealised Marxism.

Brennan aims to show that idealised capitalism is better than idealised Marxism and that realistic capitalism is better than realistic Marxism. It is a tall order to suggest that he has managed to do this well enough to convince sufficient amounts of doubters in his short book, but what I think he has done well is demonstrate that Cohen’s argument based on the camping trip thought experiment is flawed.

UCL Student Union ban Nietzsche Club

In Freedom of Expression, Libertarianism, Marxism on June 9, 2014 at 12:15 PM

This is  cross-post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on June 6th 2014, 5:40 pm.

The policy of “No Platform for Racists and Fascists,” historically adopted by many student unions, is ideologically appalling. Not only is it an affront to the doctrine of free speech, it has been thoroughly abused by its supporters. Anybody that they do not like can be targeted for banning. The latest successful attack is on the Nietzsche Club at University College London.

UCL Student Union have passed a policy to “ban and otherwise prevent the installation of any further publicity of [the Nietzsche Club] around UCLU buildings, and to urge UCL to adopt the same policy in the university buildings.” They have also resolved to “reject any attempts by this group to seek affiliation and official recognition from UCLU as an official club or society.” A further resolution passed is to “prevent any attempts by this group to hold meetings and organise events on campus.” However, this latter resolution is pending implementation subject to a professional opinion on its legality. Irrespective of the legal opinion, following the other resolutions passed, the Nietzsche Club will not be able to advertise their meetings in the Student Union or book a room to hold a meeting in the Student Union. In the language of student union politics, this is an effective ban.

The Student Union believe that “this group is aimed at promoting a far-right, fascist ideology at UCL” and that “there is no meaningful distinction to be made between a far-right and a fascist ideology.” There is no question that it is Marxist inspired political views behind this policy. The motion tells us that “the root cause of fascism [is] capitalism” and hence the fight against fascism is really one for a “socialist transformation of society.”  Moreover, among the crimes, according to UCLU, of Nietzsche, Heidegger and other philosophers that the Nietzsche Club wish to read, are that they are “anti-Marxist [and] anti-worker.”

There is no need to comment on the political views of the philosophers that the Nietzsche Club wish to read. Even if they are fascistic, that is no reason to ban groups who wish to read their works. It seems to me a small political step from UCLU wishing to ban the Nietzsche Club to wishing to march into UCL’s libraries, pulling books written by Nietzsche from the shelves, and burning them. At any rate, one wonders what UCLU wish to do with UCL’s own academic departments that teach Nietzsche on accredited courses for students. Does the Student Union wish to close down the courses and hound the lecturers from the College?

Nobody should be the slightest bit surprised that Marxists are behind the  hideous motion. Sam Bayliss, who proposed the motion, is a self-declared active member of UCLU Marxist Society and Timur Dautov, who seconded the motion, is the president of the very same Marxist Society. In hisTwitter biography Dautov admits to being a supporter of Socialist Appeal UK and the International Marxist Tendency, follow on organisations from the Militant Tendency, the Marxist organisation that caused mayhem in the Labour Party in the early 1980s. Marxist organisations are notorious for using and abusing the “No Platform” policy. In the past, the Socialist Workers Party used such a policy to ban Jewish Societies on the grounds that they were Zionist and hence racist.

The irony is that if any societies should be banned for promoting dangerous ideologies, after genocides in Communist countries in the twentieth century causing tens of millions of deaths, those that champion the ideology of Marx and Lenin should be high on the list. But surely, rather than banning either the Nietzsche Club or the Marxist Society, it is far better to champion free thought and free speech in our academic institutions.

Mao’s Murders

In Book Review, China, Far Left, Marxism on January 5, 2014 at 12:27 PM

This is  a cross post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place on January 5th 2014, 12:20 pm

The most memorable historical book I have read in the last few years is Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 about the manmade famine responsible for tens of millions of deaths in Communist China. (I reviewed the book here).  Dikötter has recently had published the prequel: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57. It reads like a horror story but sadly it is true.

What is shocking in the book is how many ingenious ways the Communists found of murdering people.  They had a lot of practice doing so because as Dikötter explains, “the first decade of Maoism was one of the worst tyrannies in the history of the twentieth century, sending to an early grave at least 5 million civilians and bringing misery to countless more.” With an obvious allusion to Daniel Goldhagen’s description of the Nazis, Dikötter labelled many of Mao’s communist henchmen as “willing executioners.”  Even if the Killing was not carried out with gusto, it went on. For as one party official explained to members: “You must hate even if you feel no hatred, you must kill even if you do not wish to kill.” But Mao deemed that the people enjoyed killing. He stated: “The people say that killing counter-revolutionaries is more joyful than a good downpour.” And there is evidence backing up the “willing executioner” label.  Dikötter reports on a twenty year old woman who felt “proud and happy” watching a dozen victims be executed in the wake of a rally she had helped organise.

Mao installed and encouraged a reign of terror and relished in the violence. He declared that they would “sweep all the imperialists, warlords, corrupt officials, local tyrants and evil gentry into their graves.” But it was not necessarily the case that those deemed wealthy or landlords were either.  Ordinary farmers were killed. “Some victims were knifed, a few decapitated. Chinese pastors were paraded through the street as ‘running dogs of imperialism’, their hands bound behind their backs and a rope around their necks.”  Bombed, starved to death, beaten to death, shot, tortured, buried alive, dismembered, throttled to death, strung up from trees, chopped up, hair pulled out, ears bitten off, urinated on, forced to wear dunces caps, stripped and exposed to the cold in winter, trussed up, hung from beams, buried up to the neck and torched, stabbed to death with bayonets, decapitated, choked to death with wire, stoned, forced to sit on their haunches with a kettle of boiling water on their heads, flogged, hanged,  forced to cut out their own tongue, knees broken and sodomised. It is not surprising that the party noted that the suicide rate was “incessant.”

People froze to death hiding from the Communists. It was not enough just to kill those deemed landlords, family members and anyone else they might have thought would seek revenge for the killings were also killed. Indiscriminate beatings were common place. In Pingyi county a local official proclaimed, “from now on we should kill somebody at every one of our meetings.”  Elsewhere, merely looking suspicious was sufficient to be thrown in prison.  One candid report noted that in west Sichuan, “there are extremely few people sentenced to a term of five or more years, as some comrades feel that if a prisoner is given a long sentence, he might as well be killed to save time.”  Nor did they hesitate to “beat one to scare the many.”

Children did not escape. Some even under the age of ten were tortured, crippled or maimed for life with some tortured to death. Other children were given away because “the majority of workers lacked food.”

One foreigner who escaped China wrote in her diary, “Don’t let anyone fool you about Communism.” These are wise words. If there is a lesson for the modern day it is this: when communists of all stripes demonstrate in London against government policy and chant “Hang the Tories from the lampposts,” believe them. That is exactly what they will do if they ever get in power.

Dikötter’s book is a worthy read for anyone interested in history and a must read for anyone interested in Communist history. I await his next book on Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Kolakowski on progress: capitalism trumps Marxism

In Anarchism, From the Vaults, Marxism on May 27, 2013 at 12:11 PM

The late Leszek Kolakowski is missed. In 1985 he wrote a review of David Miller’s book, Anarchism for the TLS. Not only is it worthwhile reading for his views on anarchism: “a puerile utopia,”  it is also instructive for what he had to say  on Marxism: “Anarchists… are strongest when they criticize Marxism as an infallible prescription for despotism.”  However what struck me as particularly insightful were his comments on the market economy. I copy them below.

One cannot perhaps suppress the market entirely, it persists even in a concentration camp – which probably comes closest to what an ideal non-market economy would be in modem society. One can suppress it, however, to such an extent as to destroy all the sources of information which only the market can provide, to stifle the possibilities of innovation, to make the entire production system highly inefficient .and to organize a police state which is the sole owner of all wealth, of people, of the information and communication instruments and of human souls as well. It is remarkable that all economic reforms in communist countries, to the extent that they yield any results at all, go invariably in the same direction: towards a partial restoration of the market, that is of “capitalism.” Meanwhile, in the countries with mixed economies, if something goes wrong in nationalized industries or services, it is caused, according to.the standard Marxist explanation, by the fact that not everything is yet nationalized. If the education system is not satisfactory, this is because there are still private schools in existence; if the public health-service does not work properly, this is because private medical practice is still permissible, etc. And so the only way to. progress consists in forbidding people to engage in any socially useful activity unless they are ordered to do so by the state; the universal medicine for all social ills is more police, more bureaucracy, more control, more soles, more interdictions.

Source: Leszek Kolakowski, “For Brotherhood Or For Destruction,” Times Literary Supplement,  January 4, 1985.
Hat Tip: Paul Bogdanor.

“I am going to annihilate you”: Five Books on Marx and Marxists

In Cambodia, China, Marxism, Stalin, Trotskyism on May 7, 2013 at 7:13 AM

Phil at A Very Public Sociologist reminds us that Sunday would have been Karl Marx’s 195th birthday. This, he believes, is something well worthwhile commemorating. The way he has done so is to list his five favourite books on Marx and Marxism.  He challenges us to also list books that have had an impact. What better way for me to do that in “honour” of this birthday than to also list five book on Marx and Marxism. For the sectarians I should clarify that: five books on Marx and people who claimed to be Marxist.

  1. Leopold  Schwarzchild, The Red Prussian: The Life and Legend of Karl Marx, (Pickwick Books, 1986)

In this book, originally published in Britain in 1948, one can get a true sense of the type of man Marx was. The following few sentences are extracted from pages 68-69 and are based on an account provided by Marx’s assistant, Carl Heinzen:

[Marx’s] most pleasing trait was his appreciation of good wine. Every evening they repaired to the inn to drink; and then, as they emptied one bottle after another, Marx became gay, jovial, and natural. When he was in a good mood, he amused himself time and time again with the same joke. He would say suddenly to someone at the table: “I am going to annihilate you,” and say it over and over again, enjoying himself tremendously.

  1. Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, (Vintage, 1990)

In this ground-breaking monumental study, Richard Pipes provides a convincing argument why the Russian Revolution was not a class uprising as Leninists would have people believe, but a coup d’état where a small minority with the use of terror and mass murder took control of government. The following short extract is from page 833:

On August 8 [1918, Trotsky] ordered that, for the protection of the railroad line from Moscow to Kazan, concentration camps be constructed at several nearby localities to isolate such “sinister agitators, counterrevolutionary officers, saboteurs, parasites and speculators” as were  not executed “on the spot” or given other penalties…. [On August 9, 1918, Lenin] ordered that mutinous “kulaks” be subjected to “merciless mass terror”- that is executions – but “dubious ones incarcerated in concentration camps outside the cities.”

  1. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2007)

Strictly speaking this is three books, as this magisterial work comprises three volumes. For the purpose of this list I count it as one entry. This report of life and death in the Soviet prison system that began under Lenin and substantially expanded under Stalin is chilling. Millions died under Stalin of which a substantial number of people were killed via the judicial system. The short extract below is from page 564 of that first volume:

General-assignment work – that is the main and basic work performed in any given camp. Eighty percent of the prisoners work at it, and they all die off. All. And then they bring new ones in to take their places and they again are sent to general-assignment work. Doing this work, you expend the last of your strength. And you are always hungry. And always wet. And shoeless. And you are given short rations and short everything else. And put in the worst barracks. And they won’t give you any treatment when you’re ill.

  1. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, (Jonathan Cape, 2005)

This highly acclaimed biography of the Chinese leader is superbly researched. The death and destruction wrought by Mao brought Communist killings to a new high. Chang and Halliday document the evidence against this Communist monster. The extract below is from pages 456-458:

Close to 38 million people died of starvation and overwork in the Great Leap Forward and the famine which lasted four years….Mao knowingly starved and worked these tens of millions to death…. Death, said Mao, “is indeed to be rejoiced over… We believe in dialectics, and so we can’t not be in favour of death.”…. “Deaths have benefits,” he told the top echelon on 9 December 1958. “They can fertilise the ground.”….When he was in Moscow in 1957, he had said: “We are prepared to sacrifice 300 million Chinese for the victory of the world revolution.”

  1. John Barron and Anthony Paul, Peace with Horror: The Untold Story of Communist Genocide in Cambodia, (Hodder and Stoughton, 1977)

This was the first book that came out detailing the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. It is largely based on eye-witness accounts. The killings started as soon as the Khmer Rouge got to power with the forced exodus of the population from the cities to the countryside. The extract below is from page 116:

The killing during the great exodus was all the more terrifying because so much of it was unpredictable and pointless. A former truck driver, Thiounn Kamel, was swept up in the throngs pushed out of Phnom Penh on National Highway 1. “When I couldn’t move because of the crowd, I stopped on the side of the road. That time there was a truck loaded with armed Khmer Rouge. When their truck also couldn’t move, they just shot at the people to clear the way and killed some of them. It was savage.”