Loren Goldner on the Chinese working class

July 14, 2019
Sunday, 5-7pm
1882 Woodbine
New York, NY

 

Revolutionary Mass Strike or a
New Bureaucratic Integration?

In 1978, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) embarked on an era of reforms aimed at restarting the economy, which had ground to a halt after the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1976). This decade of confrontation was neither about culture nor was it a revolution, but was rather a power struggle at the top between two bureaucratic factions, fought through huge proxy mass mobilizations.

The post-1978 reforms entailed a gradual opening to the capitalist world market and the creation of a private sector alongside the large state-controlled sector, while leaving intact the political power of the CCP. By 2017, there were a recorded 150,000 “incidents,” up from roughly 40,000 in 2004, struggles primarily in the countryside, protesting land grabs by the local CCP for the construction of luxury hotels and golf courses, but also several thousand strikes by workers. The CCP is “riding the tiger”; each necessary step toward further integration into the world market risks unleashing mass worker struggles which could sweep it away, much like the Polish mass strikes of 1980-1981 which ultimately brought down the Soviet bloc by 1989.

Loren Goldner will explore this dynamic in his talk.

Facebook event page

Recommended readings

“China in the Contemporary World Dynamic of Accumulation and Class Struggle: A Challenge for the Radical Left” (2005)
“Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism” (2012)

Loren Goldner became involved in radical left politics in Berkeley in the second half of the 1960s. During the lull in mass activity in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, he devoted himself to writing for what became his website Break Their Haughty Power. In 2010, helped found the online journal Insurgent Notes, where he remains a co-editor. From 2005 to 2009, he taught English in South Korea, writing about the class struggle there, and, more recently, about the class struggle in China. (A dozen articles on both the South Korean and Chinese working class are available on his website.) He has also published six books, including: Ubu Saved from Drowning: Worker Insurgency and Statist Containment in Portugal and Spain, 1974-1977 (2000); Vanguard of Retrogression: “Postmodern” Fictions as Ideology in the Era of Fictitious Capital (2011); and Revolution, Defeat, and Theoretical Underdevelopment: Russia, Turkey, Spain, and Bolivia (2018).

Party, program, and class

The September 2018 edition of Revolution or War opens with a piece by Robin on the new efforts at regroupment surrounding the journal Intransigence.1 Framed as a review of the second issue, the article proceeds to summarize its contents and then discuss the prospects for groups inspired by the traditions of the communist left. Although broadly appreciative of the project’s goals, objections are raised about Intransigence’s editorial line and overall methodology.

In responding to this piece, we hope to accomplish several things at once. First of all, to clarify to ourselves and others where we situate ourselves historically. We can then show how this self-understanding informs our stance on questions of party, program, and class. Second, to extend the spirit of open engagement evinced by the article in Revolution or War. Of course, we will be frank about points of disagreement, but not in order to create scandal or polemic. Last but not least, we would like to use this as an opportunity to invite other groups to join in the regroupment effort, if they consider it, as we do, to be a worthwhile cause.

A couple caveats should be made right off the bat. Prometeo does not speak for Intransigence as a whole, nor for any of the groups involved. Indeed, as of writing, we are not among the four official member organizations. Nevertheless, we feel as though we might hazard a response, as an exercise in clarity and group cohesion.

Of publishing and political principles

To begin then with some common ground, the critique first acknowledges that “the basic positions of the journal [i.e., Intransigence’s statement of principles] are typical of the communist left.” But the author hastens to add that these positions are “too summary,” by which we take him to mean they are stated without enough elaboration. If the phrasing of these principles is somewhat terse, this is deliberate. For us, this is in fact the source of their strength — they are blunt, stripped-down, and concise. Subsequent pieces published in Intransigence can argue these points at greater length or in added detail. What they aim to provide is a general orientation, rather than a comprehensive program, a shared framework by which to gain our bearings.

However, the author’s complaint about the lack of a properly political statement in our principles is well-taken. As things stand, he observes, “there is no mention of the dictatorship of the proletariat or destruction of the bourgeois state.”2 Indeed, this is a significant oversight on our part, not just concerning proletarian rule in the distant future but also the present day-to-day reality of bourgeois rule here and now. Midterm elections are coming up here in the United States, so we should look to be one hundred percent clear about our deprecatory attitude toward electoralism and representative politics more broadly. Generally speaking, it would help to have a better sense of how we relate to the state as such so we can orient ourselves toward it moving forward. Our seventh principle already makes it known that we see a revolutionary party as necessary for the political victory of the proletariat, “the nerve center of the class,” so we should simply draft another.

Continue reading “Party, program, and class”

Socialism’s foreign policy

Introduction: Remembering Karl Liebknecht

Walt Auerbach

Karl Liebknecht was not a great theorist. Unlike Rosa Luxemburg, with whose name he will be forever linked, he wrote no major treatises on forms of protest or political economy (and even had his doubts about the labor theory of value).1 Nor was he a skillful politician. Before the war he was mostly known for being the son of Marx’s colleague and SPD cofounder,2 while after the war he was far too reluctant to break from social democracy once and for all.

Yet Liebknecht was a man of principle. Sebastian Haffner, a famous liberal historian, described him as “one of the most courageous men Germany ever produced.”3 He proved himself capable of sudden flashes of insight, moreover, some of which can be read in the fragment that follows. Liebknecht wrote this piece in April 1918 from Luckau prison. Although rambling at times and jotted down hurriedly, it deals with crucial themes such as the dialectic of inside and outside, subject and object, consciousness and conditions. It thereby remains relevant today.

What Liebknecht hopes to ascertain here is what Trotsky attempted to theorize some years later as the “propitious moment,” specifically in connection with the failed German revolution, reflecting on the lessons of October 1917.4 Georg Lukács couched the problem in rather more philosophical terms as the Augenblick — that is, the fleeting glance or blink of an eye in which the class-conscious proletariat can subjectively intervene within the objective course of events and disrupt the capitalist totality. Often this was discussed as the “ripeness” of conditions.

“Rosa and Karl went to their deaths almost somnambulistically,” Paul Mattick later recalled.5 Indeed, a grim sense of foreboding hangs over their last articles, as if they already knew what was in store for them. Today, a century after the crushing the Spartacist revolt and the murder of its leaders, it is fitting to revisit works left by these slain revolutionaries.

Continue reading “Socialism’s foreign policy”

On the lumpenproletariat

An historical reconstruction
and a conceptual critique

The concept of the “lumpenproletariat” sits uneasily within Marxian class analysis. It is an unstable, even incoherent category, not only in terms of its theorization but at the level of social reality itself. Nowhere did Marx or Engels or their successors provide a rigorous or exhaustive account of lumpens as a group or lumpenization as a process. Rather, there are snippets of text which can be compiled regarding the lumpenproletariat’s role in modern life.

Politically, most Marxists would agree this role is negative — or rather has been at crucial junctures in the past. From the lazzaroni of Naples in 17991 through the garde mobile of Paris in 1848,2 up to the tsarist черносотенцы in Russia after 19053 and the fascist Sturmabteilung in Germany during the interwar period,4 members of the lumpenproletariat have often served counterrevolutionary ends. At best, they are considered unreliable; at worst, predisposed to corruption. Either way, lumpens are not to be counted on when push comes to shove.

Yet these are merely scattered instances, not an overarching framework of society. While perhaps of anecdotal significance, they cannot be used to predict how this segment of the populace would act in any given situation. Historic tendencies may of course be noted, but it is important not to make the present just an index of the moments that led up to it. Otherwise one risks lapsing into vulgar empiricism,5 always a temptation for historians.

Moreover, communists must be extra careful when the concept is deployed against a backdrop like the migrant crisis. Condemnations of lumpen criminality all too easily echo rightwing rhetoric about “law and order.” Such talking-points are already pervasive in the media, with horror stories reported nightly on the news. Xenophobic and racist attitudes are fueled by middle-class fears of gang violence, which is but the flipside of police violence. Ultimately, crime itself is determined by whatever the bourgeois state deems to be legal or illegal at the time.6

A pair of recent articles have been published advancing a left communist approach to this question. Nuevo Curso examines the brutal effects of lumpenization in Spain alongside heightened xenophobia,7 while Workers’ Offensive looks back on the glorification of the lumpenproletariat by the Black Panther Party in the US.8 Both articles raise a number of salient points, some of which bear repeating, but do so in a rather ham-fisted manner. Greater precision is required for their message to come across, if they want to avoid maudlin moralistic postures.

What the present essay aims to accomplish is thus an historical reconstruction of the category, as well as a critique of its contemporary uses. It will be divided into three primary sections, each subdivided into two subsections:

  • First, it will highlight some ambiguities in the Marxist definition of the lumpenproletariat to show how vague it is. These are not simply the result of confused thinking, either, but reflect the real messiness of life at the fringes of capitalism.
  • Having clarified the core concept and furnished a material basis, its ideological function can now be laid bare from left to right. On both poles of the political spectrum, the figure of the lumpenproletariat is by turns glorified and vilified.
  • Characteristically “lumpen” practices such as looting and rioting may then be interrogated to see whether they impede working-class militancy. Put otherwise, must revolution be on the table for counterrevolution to even be possible?

Just to be clear, the goal here is not to place lumpenproletarians at the forefront of proletarian struggle or make them into the vanguard of the class. Still less does this essay want to replace the proletariat as the identical subject/object of history, as workers remain uniquely positioned to overthrow the capitalist system. Least of all does it seek to rehabilitate the lumpenproletariat as a group or deny how awful the process of lumpenization can be.

Continue reading “On the lumpenproletariat”

A talk on the Venezuelan crisis

1882 Woodbine St.
Queens, NY 11385

February 10, 2019
Sunday, 5-7 PM

Event description

Juan Guaidó’s recent speech declaring himself interim president of Venezuela has triggered a crisis of legitimacy in that country. This crisis is a long time in the making, however: dating not just to the failed policies of Nicolás Maduro (head of state since 2013), but those of his celebrated predecessor Hugo Chávez (who held that position from 1999 until his death). Falling oil prices and administrative incompetence have depleted the country’s wealth and gutted its social programs, once the showpiece of “socialism for the twenty-first century.” Now aisles in stores are left empty, as food and other vital goods are in short supply. Between three and four million Venezuelans have fled over the last few years alone.

Guaidó is auditioning for the role of US puppet, to be sure, and enemies of the Bolivarian “Revolution” have been quick to recognize him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Yet his naked opportunism should not blind us to the impoverished reality of Chavismo or prevent us from criticizing its palpable failures. While imperialist meddling must of course be opposed by revolutionaries, this need not entail support for a populist strongman managing a corrupt capitalist petrostate. Despite its leftwing rhetoric and lip-service to past revolutions, the Venezuelan government under Chávez and Maduro was never more than the rule of the Boliburguesía. Under no circumstance should we pick sides between rival bourgeois factions.

In order to counter misinformation spread by the pro-Maduro and pro-Guaidó camps, then, and offer an alternative to this crude either/or logic, we will talk to two longstanding critics of Bolivarianism who at the same time have no truck with Guaidó or his followers.

Panelists

Simón Rodríguez Porras is a composer and militant in International Workers’ Unity (part of the Fourth International). He recently coauthored Porque Fracaso el Chavismo [Why Chavismo Failed] available in English and Spanish in and translated to Portuguese as well. (We may have some Spanish copies available at the event)

Rodolfo Montes de Oca is a lawyer and writer, a found of the Anarchist Black Cross in Venezuela, with a coñazo of books and pamphlets. Most recently he coauthored Contracorriente: La historia del movimiento anarquista en Venezuela [Countercurrent: A History of the Anarchist Movement in Venezuela].

Moderator

Arianna Lucia is a communist originally hailing from Caracas. She moved to the United States in 2007, and now lives in NYC.

Suggested readings

  1. Nuevo Curso, “Venezuela: Neither Government Nor Opposition” (January 23, 2019)
  2. Michael Roberts, “The Tragedy of Venezuela” (August 3, 2017)
  3. Sergio López, “President Chávez is a Tool of God” (April 21, 2009)

Continue reading “A talk on the Venezuelan crisis”

Venezuela: Neither government nor opposition

Below you will find a translation of Nuevo Curso’s article “Venezuela: ni goberino ni oposición” originally published January 23, 2019, the day of the massive opposition march. Nuevo Curso is a Spanish left communist organization with a tremendous — indeed, almost daily — output of articles. Our comrades in Workers’ Offensive, a Miami-based left communist group, translated this one and posted it on their website. They did so in the belief that

the interests of the global working class (not just the one in Venezuela) lie not with any faction of capital, but on the contrary come into direct opposition with every capitalist faction… In order to fight for their own interests independently as a universal class, workers must break from the influence of capital lest it remain imprisoned by their chains. Neither the opposition nor the pseudo-socialism of Chavismo can liberate the working class in Venezuela from the crisis that they are suffering from: a crisis which has its basis in “the impossibility of an independent development of Venezuelan national capital in the conditions of today’s capitalism,” as Nuevo Curso says.

Another recent article worth checking out is the International Communist Tendency’s “Against All Capitalist Factions! For Proletarian Independence,” which makes similar points. Looking further back, Sergio López’s 2009 article for Kosmoprolet, “President Chávez is a Tool of God,” highlights continuities between the Maduro regime and that of his celebrated predecessor. Today it is easy to forget that Maduro was Chávez’s hand-picked successor, merely continuing the latter’s disastrous policies. Nevertheless, as internationalist communists we must fight any imperialist intervention undertaken by “our own” states meddling in the affairs of others.

Hopefully we will be setting up a discussion in NYC soon talking with Venezuelan communists and anarchists who oppose both the miserable Maduro government and the equally miserable Guaidó opposition.

 

Today the world is looking at a Venezuela that rises in the face of a call for an opposition march.1 The call for an opposition march is an open call for insurrection and a promise of amnesty to the soldiers that decide to abandon their loyalty to the government.2

This morning we saw some clashes in the streets.3 As a prelude yesterday, after the uprising of a group of soldiers of the Bolivarian National Guard was met at once with the approval of the international press,4 about thirty small protests broke out.5 Streets were blockaded, businesses were looted and garbage was burned in El Valle, Catia, and Petare.6 The places mentioned are known to be longstanding Chavista fiefdoms.

Today, it doesn’t seem as though the protests will become massive.7 Nor does it look as though the rebellion of the military will move beyond occasional uprisings of non-commissioned officers and troops.8 This, however, does not mean that the situation will not lead to savage repression and/or international military intervention.9

At this time, the focus is on the US, which warned its citizens of civil confrontation and supported the call for insurrection by the National Assembly.10 US support for the opposition was demonstrated by Vice President Pence through a video, which allowed Maduro to present the mobilization as a “fascist coup d’état ordered by the US.”11

In reality, the architecture of the opposition was not mapped out in the North, but rather in Brazil. Itamaraty has become the real headquarters of the Venezuelan opposition12 and the Bolsonaro government has not hesitated to use every means at its disposal for its purposes, including pointing the figure at Venezuela for the ELN attack in Bogotá.13 In reality, the bid of Brazil and Chile suffices with the reorganization of the opposition under the new leadership of Juan Guaidó, its call for insurrection, and a climate of civil conflict.14 The effects of this leadership have already brought nothing but gains for Bolsonaro, Brazilian capital, and Itamaraty: Bolsonaro was able to stage his continental leadership as well as discipline Argentina.15 He was able to restore the regional institutional architecture16 and, in line with his strategic vision, reinterpret the new deal between Mercosur and the EU.17 This has allowed Maduro to feed among Europeans their reticence against the opposition and to win among them, for the moment, an anti-interventionist attitude.18

Brazil, Colombia and the US on the one hand, Russia and China on the other, the EU somewhere in the middle… The spoils of Venezuela are at stake in a battle of imperialist alliances, split between the government and the opposition.

If its seems as though Venezuela’s implosion has no end,19 if the dependence of each internal force on a different imperialism becomes evident,20 it is because the crisis departs from and always returns to the same cause: the impossibility of an independent development of Venezuelan national capital in the conditions of today’s capitalism.21 There is no country — national capital — that can escape from the conditions of imperialism. This is why there is no “national liberation” possible and why nationalism, whether chavista or oppositionist, is nothing but a prison.

There is no possible national solution in Venezuela that does not involve more violence and hunger. Nationalism, whether governmental or oppositionist, is a reactionary prison.

In Venezuela, as in everywhere else, the real alternative is the same that we face these days in Mexico: to serve as the cannon fodder of the battle between factions of national capital or to fight independently, as workers, for universal human needs leaving aside “national interests” once and for all.22 The national interest is nothing other than the interest of a national capital that goes nowhere and that in its flight forward, be it by one road or another, threatens to destroy us all.

In Venezuela, as in Mexico or anywhere else, the real alternative is either to serve as the cannon fodder of the battles of national capital and its allies or to fight independently, as workers, for universal human needs.

Notes

1 Anonymous. “Venezuela protests: ‘Four dead’ as thousands rally against Maduro.” BBC. (January 23, 2019).
2 Anonymous. “Crecen las presiones para ‘tumbar’ a Maduro, y un Guaidó paciente ofrece amnistía militar.” Urgente24. (January 20, 2019).
3 EFE. “Caracas amanece con protestas contra Nicolás Maduro.” La Tercera. (January 22, 2019).
4 Anonymous. “Un grupo de militares se alzó contra Maduro, que logró capturarlos.” La Política Online. (January 21, 2019).
5 Anonymous.“Se multiplican las protestas en Caracas a horas de una decisiva marcha opositora.” Clarín. (January 22, 2019).
6 Rosibel Cristina González. “En los sectores populares las protestas son políticas.” El Nacional. (January 23, 2019).
7 Alonso Moleiro. “Aumentan las protestas contra Maduro en la víspera de la marcha opositora.” El País. (January 23, 2019).
8 Anonymous.“Venezuela: una crisis que se intensifica y agudiza los enfrentamientos.” Clarín. (January 22, 2019).
9 Anonymous. “¿Hacia una invasión de Venezuela?” Nuevo Curso. (January 14, 2019).
10 Anonymous. “Updated Demonstration Alert.” US Embassy Caracas. (January 22, 2019).
11 Anonymous. “Venezuela: Maduro accuse Washington d’avoir ordonné ‘un coup d’État fasciste’.” En Direct. (January 23, 2019).
12 Catalina Göpel. “Brasil recibe a la oposición venezolana y articula ‘transición’.” La Tercera. (January 17, 2019).
13 EFE. “Bolsonaro pide al gobierno venezolano que no ‘dé guarida’ al ELN.” El Estímulo. (January 19, 2019).
14 Andrew Rosati y Fabiola Zerpa. “En municipios, oposición se reorganiza para enfrentar a Maduro.” Perfil. (January 17, 2019).
15 Mar Centenera y Heloísa Mendonça. “Mercosur y Venezuela, en la agenda del encuentro entre Macri y Bolsonaro.” El País. (January 16, 2019).
16 Natasha Niebieskikwiat. “El Gobierno analiza una propuesta de Chile para reconvertir la Unasur.” Clarín. (January 18, 2019).
17 Natasha Niebieskikwiat. “Acuerdo UE-Mercosur: Bolsonaro le dio luz verde a Macri para avanzar.” Clarín. (January 19, 2019).
18 Anonymous. “Nicolás Maduro se reunió con embajadores de la Unión Europea.” Clarín. (January 19, 2019).
19 Anonymous. “La implosión Venezolana.” Nuevo Curso. (January 7, 2018).
20 Anonymous. “Bombarderos Rusos en Venezuela.” Nuevo Curso. (December 12, 2018).
21 Anonymous. “¿Tiene Venezuela futuro?” Nuevo Curso. (January 1, 2018).
22 Anonymous. “Dos Méxicos, dos alternativas universales: Tlahuelilpan vs. Matamoros.” Nuevo Curso. (January 22, 2019).

Marxism and nationalism

Fall 2018-Spring 2019

Group leaders: KM & DR

I will simply point out an error of principle that has led the French astray since the first moment of their revolution.

The constitution of 1795, like its predecessors, has been drawn up for “Man.” Now, there is no such thing in the world as Man. In the course of my life, I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc.; I am even aware, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be a Persian. But as for Man, I declare that I have never met him in my life. If he exists, I certainly have no knowledge of him.

— Joseph de Maistre, Considérations sur la France (1797)

CUNY Graduate Center
Room 5489, 6:30 PM

Wednesday (October 10, 2018)
  1. Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (1990)
  2. Kontraklasa, “Left Nationalism: A History of the Disease” (2017)
Wednesday (October 24, 2018)
  1. Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (1995)
  2. Paul Mattick, “Nationalism and Socialism” (1959)
Friday (November 15, 2018)
  1. Rosa Luxemburg, The National Question (1907)
  2. Vladimir Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1914)
  3. Michael Löwy, “Marxists and the National Question” (1976)
Wednesday (December 5, 2018)
  1. Vladimir Lenin
    1. “Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions” (June 1920)
    2. “Report Of The Commission On The National and The Colonial Questions” (July 1920)
  2. Manabendra Nath Roy
    1. “Supplementary Theses On The National And Colonial Question” (July 25, 1920)
    2. “The Empire and the Revolution” (October 1922)
    3. “Speech in Discussion of the Eastern Question” (November 22, 1922)
    4. “On Patriotism” (June 12, 1923)
  3. José Carlos Mariátegui
    1. Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality (1928)
    2. “Anti-Imperialist Viewpoint” (June 1929)
Tuesday (February 19, 2019)
  1. Pavlos Hatzapoulos, The Balkans Beyond Nationalism and Identity (2008)
  2. Fredy Perlman, “The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism” (1984)
Tuesday (March 5, 2019)
  1. Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (1988)
  2. Étienne Balibar, “War, Racism, and Nationalism” (2015)