Lair Of A Squirrel Red

by Rob
January 27, 2008, 5:09 pm
Filed under: law, Rob, war on terror

And so once again the government has gone on a big terror offensive, and once again it seems to be an ill-conceived one. Here are a series of random thoughts on what I think about the idea of 42 days detention without charge. My first point to note is that this proposal represents a general trend towards the ‘infinite’ which is replicated in a lot of the countries which are participating in the war on terror. As its ‘high point’ this tendency is represented by Guantanamo, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this a moment in the same trend. So here are a few ideas about why 42 days detention (were it to become law) would prove anything but an exception.

Definition of Terrorism
As part readers of this blog will know, the way in which terrorism is defined in the United Kingdom has been a real bugbear of mine. The definition of terrorism which is operative in UK legislation is taken from the Terrorism Act 2000:

(1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where—

(a) the action falls within subsection (2),

(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and

(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.

(2) Action falls within this subsection if it—

(a) involves serious violence against a person,

(b) involves serious damage to property,

(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,

(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or

(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

(3) The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.

(4) In this section—

(a) “action” includes action outside the United Kingdom,

(b) a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,

(c) a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and

(d) “the government” means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.

(5) In this Act a reference to action taken for the purposes of terrorism includes a reference to action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation.


So, to sum, an act is a terrorist one if involves serious violence to a person, or serious damage to a person and is done to ‘influence the public’ or to advance ‘a political, religious or ideological cause’. This is obviously a hugely broad definition which includes (as a possibility) pretty much every political grouping in the UK today (as they all advocate this to some degree). Presumably then, if one is suspected of planning violence towards people or property for a political end there is the possibility of being detained for 42 days without being charged.

Of course, in practice ‘terrorist’ will usually be taken to mean ‘Islamic terrorist’, but even then the wide-ranging nature of the definition can feasibly cover protest which ends up in intended property damage. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that this would not be extended past this ‘core’ of ‘terrorists’ (not that I think this core is acceptable), there is nothing in the wording which doesn’t mean this might extend broadly to a number of political groupings which we wouldn’t think of as ‘terrorists’. Having established the ‘infinite’ character of the ‘definition’ of terrorism, we go on to consider some other elements of the proposals. The Home Office has offered four examples when the power might become activated.

The foiling of a major plot
There are problems with this right off the bat. What is a ‘major’ plot? One which kills a number of people? One that damages a lot of property? But this of course raises another question how much is enough? Perhaps the proposed law will set a number of people that might be killed which we be sufficient to count as a ‘major’ operation. But this itself would be difficult, does anyone really want to make the type of moral judgment calls that say ‘only ten people could die, well that’s not enough’?

So it seems to me that even in the abstract a ‘major’ operation is one which is hard to judge. This is of course compounded by the fact that the 7/7 bombings would presumably be treated as a major operation. Now, whilst the bombings are obviously abhorrent the fact is that only 50 killed were people in them, if this is taken as a benchmark for a ‘major’ operation, then I would imagine it could extend to a good number of ‘potential’ terrorist operations. Linked to this of course is the fact that it is ultimately impossible to know in advance how major a terrorist operation is likely to be. This is one of the true problems with ‘pre-emptive’ detention, just like pre-emptive self-defence it has to act before the ‘attack’ has taken place, but it is not possible to know how serious it will be in advance. Compounding this is the fact that by definition there is an absence of evidence in these cases (hence the need for longer detention). What this all tends to mean is that it will be very difficult to determine a ‘major’ attack before it happens.

A complex individual case
It strikes me that by definition any case which the police will request an extension for is one which is ‘complex’. If the case was not complex enough to warrant 42-days detention then presumably the police would simply have charged the suspect. Bearing this in mind, I fail to see how – in the abstract – such a category could be particularly useful. However, it is probably the case that this would be part of an overall justification, but this of course brings exactly the same problems prior.

A major operation
I take it ‘operation’ refers here to the size of the police operation. Again, this strikes me as problematic for the reasons raised above. Presumably a major police operation is one which corresponds to the threat of a major terrorist attack. I question how it is that the ‘size’ of an operation can really be judged. So again, it seems of certain, possibly unlimited application.

An operation involving many countries
Many countries? One? Two? Three? Involving? How close of a link? All of which seems to belie the fact that apparently we are living in an age of ‘international terrorism’ with international terrorist networks etc. It strikes me then, that even if a threshold is established for what constitutes ‘international’ this will still be massively over-inclusive.

These brief considerations are only meant to argue one thing. This is that the apparent ‘exceptional circumstances’ that might be generative 42 days are entirely indeterminate, in that they don’t provide any real guidance for a decision-maker as to when it is that the power becomes active. In effect then, the power becomes ‘infinite’. This is of course a function of the ‘discourse’ on terrorism, which posits that terrorists are everywhere, and always a potential threat. But the point is that this threat is always unknowable in advance, therefore anyone is a potential candidate for intervention.

Of course, ultimately this doesn’t necessarily matter. I personally would argue that indeterminacy is a structural condition that is thrown up systematically by the contradictory nature of the legal form. Since the law is a form of social regulation that operates as between abstract individuals it constantly oscillates between ‘protecting the individual’ and ‘protecting the public’, these two imperatives basically mean that diverse outcomes can be justified. The point therefore is not what the ‘law’ says, but what the decision-maker does (a decidedly Schmittian point I know). So what we have to question is – bearing in mind the potentially infinite character of such provisions how will they be resolved?

Here, of course there are a plethora of inquiries we could make. Schmitt, for instance, at first resolved this is a decisionistic fashion. Thus, he tended to argue (in Political Theology) that this decision would ultimately read of the personal decision of the decision-maker. Later he realised this position was probably inadequate and moved towards what he called ‘concrete order’ thinking, whereby institutional priorities are what determines a decision (he advocates this position in On the Three Types of Juristic Thought which people tend to ignore). Then there are the American Realists, who tended to argue that economic factors were the prime determinant of decision-making. I tend to think that our inquiry into decision-making cuts across several lines. Firstly, we do have to understand that an individual (or group thereof) is making a decision. But this decision is informed by a number of factors, these are primarily economic, political and (dare I say it) ‘moral’, but these factors are articulated within an institutional matrix. With this in mind, I think we should take a look at the way in which the ‘decisions’ about 42 days will proceed:

A chief constable and the director of public prosecutions ask the Home Secretary to authorise the extension which remains in force for up to 60 days. She then tells Parliament within two days the 42-day rule is available to police.

A judge has to approve the holding of each suspect for more than 28 days and the terror powers watchdog overseas the case. Parliament gets a vote within 30 days of the law being activated – and if they object, the 42-day power is quashed. If they approve, the power remains in force for the full 60 days.

Parliament cannot quash the power at the outset. If police applied to use the power on day 27 of an arrest, and Parliament did not get an opportunity vote until two weeks later, then an individual would have been held for the full 42 days before MPs had been able to oppose the measure.

The first point to note is that there will always be a tendency for ‘public pressure’ about being ‘soft on terrorism’ to push decision-makers towards deferring to the police. The constant threat that they might be responsible for the next big terrorist attack is something that will be politically important to Ministers and MPs and morally important to Ministers, MPs and Judges. This is reinforced by my analysis earlier – that it feels particularly difficult to say this number of deaths would not be sufficient to warrant depriving someone of their ‘liberty’. Furthermore, there is the pretty much omnipresent discourse about ‘the police’ which permeates everything, our society has a tendency to venerate the police and everything they say and do, although there may currently be problems, it still seems a political taboo to question the veracity or accuracy of police statements.

It seems to me that we can pretty well rely on a Home Secretary to go with most of what the police say about threats etc. Aside from the general political pressure, it is clearly the case that the institutional position of the Home Office tends to push Home Secretaries towards authoritarianism, or at the very least listening to the police. Now whilst this may not be the case in respect of pay, I tend to think that in respect of ‘security’ the Home Secretary will always agree with the police.

I’d imagine that – to a large extent – most MPs would be the same. Here I think we have to draw a distinction between the abstract and the concrete. I think that it is quite possible MPs will oppose an abstract law, which makes it possible to detain people, especially on the basis that it is ‘not needed’ or is ‘hypothetical’. This is because they can claim to be in favour of liberty as against hypothetical problems etc. But, when they are faced with the Chief Constable telling them ‘if we don’t detain this person there is a possibility he will conduct a major terrorist attack, for which you will be responsible’, things may be slightly different. This is of course always compounded by the fact that the police are unable to give all the evidence they have a their disposal, for fear of giving away informants etc. Ultimately, it seems to me that the political cost of going against the police and then being proved wrong is much better with agreeing with them and detaining an innocent man.

And finally the judiciary. Well, I think it is probably a little bit more complex. Firstly, it is the case that judges – as they are not elected – are not subject to direct political pressure in the same way that politicians are. This being said, judges are still participants in the collective, communal life of the country, and so as such are subject to some of the same forces. Furthermore, although judges are not direct participants in the ‘democratic’ political process they are nonetheless a constituent part of our political system as a whole. As such, their position can be threatened or strengthened in given political conjunctures. One need only observe the mini-declaration of war by Lord Woolf a while ago, to understand that judges are just as ‘political’ as your average MP.

Secondly, people tend to invoke cases like the Belmarsh detainees case to show that the judiciary is either ‘soft on terrorism’ or ‘finding the right balance’. But of course this is problematic, especially if one actually examines the reasoning in that case. In the wake of 7/7 the House of Lords (with the exception of Lord Hoffman) acknowledged that there was a public emergency which threatened the life of the nation. This meant that the only question was whether the measures were proportionate or not. The majority concluded they were not because there was no rational connection between the means and ends, and because there was irrational discrimination. In theory both of these problems could have been overcome by locking up everybody up rather than just foreigners. This being said I haven’t read many of the recent cases on control orders, so I’m not entirely sure about this.

Ultimately, when it comes to the judiciary, I think that they are less likely to immediately lock people up. But I do tend to think that when faced with the stark opposition between ‘liberty’ and ‘security’ a judge may ultimately choose the latter. Simply because there is always the chance – no matter how small – that he will be ‘responsible’ for a terrorist attack. Putting someone in such a concrete situation does not – for me – seem conducive towards finding a balance.

In lieu of a conclusion
So what do we conclude here? I think the first point is that the particular shape of the ‘enemy’ in the ‘war on terror’ (and indeed its characterisation as a war) tends to push ‘law’ to its indeterminate limits. This ends up creating exceptions with infinite grasps. But of course a concrete decision has to be articulated within this context. And it strikes me that any concrete decision will be so agonising, that seems to me it will allow for an unchecked expansion of this power, I leave everyone with a quote by Žižek (on torture) which seems appropriate, if not entirely so:

If the choice is between Dershowitz’s liberal ‘honesty’ and old-fashioned ‘hypocrisy’, we’d be better off sticking with ‘hypocrisy’. I can well imagine that, in a particular situation, confronted with the proverbial ‘prisoner who knows’, whose words can save thousands, I might decide in favour of torture; however, even (or, rather, precisely) in a case such as this, it is absolutely crucial that one does not elevate this desperate choice into a universal principle: given the unavoidable and brutal urgency of the moment, one should simply do it. Only in this way, in the very prohibition against elevating what we have done into a universal principle, do we retain a sense of guilt, an awareness of the inadmissibility of what we have done.

Cross postage.

Making sense of Stalinism. by korakious
January 27, 2008, 12:04 am
Filed under: Lenin, Trotskyists, USSR | Tags:

A few days ago was the 84th anniversary of Lenin’s death. If you have been in the Marxist left for more than 6 months and were aware of it (the anniversary, not your being part of the left) then you most definitely spent at least a few minutes thinking “what if?”. “What if Lenin had lived and had completed his fight against Stalin?” In turn, that probably led to something like “What if Trotsky and the Left Opposition had won the political struggle?”. Don’t lie. We have all done it, and we all keep doing it. In fact, I often do it on entirely random occasions.

However, I’d like to use this time of reflection to draw your attention not to what could have been, but to what actually was. Aye, I want to talk to you about Stalinism. The reason I want to do that is that I find our understanding of this inconceivably huge part of our historical movement to be entirely problematic. As a former Trotskyist I can speak only of the anti-Stalinist left and at any rate, hardcore antirevisionist Uncle Joe worshipers are not particularly common in Britain (you are fooling yourselves if you think that this is the case in the rest of the world).

For decades, Trotskyists have been arguing that the crisis in the international proletarian movement is a crisis of leadership. The implication is that if a correct, revolutionary -Trotskyist- line had been followed instead of the wrong, counter-revolutionary -Stalinist- the much desired and anticipated global proletarian revolution would have taken place. Who amongst us has not heard “the betrayals of Stalinism” included amongst the reasons for the failure of the working class to take power? And who hasn’t met that Trotbot who genuinely believed that Stalin was responsible for everything bad that ever happened in the USSR? Alright, I’ll concede that the average Trot group has an analysis of Stalinism that is a bit more elaborate than that (although I’d argue that this is because they follow The Revolution Betrayed like holy scripture, rather than any theoretical effort on their part), ie that Stalinism arose in the Soviet Union because of the weakness of the working class, the political fatigue that was the product of so many years of war, the isolation of the Russian revolution after the failure of the German proletariat to take power etc.

Although there is truth in all of these, particularly on the profound effect that the Civil War had on the Bolshevik party I find that they do not represent a qualitatively different – and therefore actually useful – approach to Stalinism than the extreme of “IT WAS STALIN WOT DONE IT!!!”. The reason is that Stalinism/the bureaucracy is still treated as a thing that is separate from the proletariat, a distinct body that usurps power because of the latter’s weakness. Stalinism is seen as something foreign to the socialist movement, conquering it from the outside. Nowhere is this mentality more prevalent than in the treatment of the non USSR CPs that are seen as nothing more than “tools of the Kremlin”.

If you take a look at your average Trot treatment of Soviet history after Trotsky got expelled, you would be pretty hard pressed do differentiate between it and the prevalent Totalitarianist narrative of bourgeois historians. The only striking difference really is that the bourgeois historian sees in Stalinism the natural development of Leninism while the Trot perceives it as a sharp break from Lenin’s legacy; Lenin good, Stalin bad. As far as I am concerned, these are two sides of the same coin. Stalinism is perceived by both as some sort of incomprehensible, unspeakably terrible, irrational and fiendish terror without end. I some times have a hard time telling Trot and bourgeois histories of Stalinism apart from Scottish Reformation era descriptions of hell. Particularly amongst the state-capitalist camp (Cliffites, Shachtmanites etc) this shallowness of analysis reaches ridiculous proportions. Here’s an example; in A Century of State Murder, a demographic history of Russia in the 20th century, Michael Haynes (SWP) and Rumy Husan assess the impact of state policy on deaths and death rate. In their chapter on the Russian Revolution and Civil War, they argue that the huge number of deaths was largely due to factors that were beyond the Soviet government’s control and correctly point out that the Bolsheviks went to great lengths to prevent deaths and other unpleasantries from taking place when and where this was possible. However, in their chapter of Stalinism, everything that went was the fault of the “new ruling class’s” reckless policies the only purpose of which is presented to be nothing more than the accumulation of privileges.

This “analysis” serves only to mystify the complex and multi dimensional social and political reality that was Stalinism. We must mercilessly criticise and scrutinise Stalinism. But this criticism must be directed towards the proletarian movement itself, not some fantastical foreign entity. We must understand and most important of all, accept, that Stalinism was part of ourmovement. This means that any criticism we make, any remarks and conclusions we come up with, must be from the class standpoint of the proletariat, not the class enemy. In plain terms, Stalinism should not be criticised for killing people. Stalin should not be criticised for the purges. It is the way the purges and killings were conducted and their targets that we should denounce. Bourgeois liberals weep for “Stalin’s” victims because they would rather see hundreds of thousands die of malnutrition, again and again, than a few thousands die because of industrialisation. Yes, we should be critical and angry at Stalinist murders. But it is the Trotsys and the Bukharins we should be mourning, not the hundreds of potential Vlasovs that fell during the purges. And what of Stalin’s economic policies? The only reasonable criticism Trots level against those is that Stalin attempted to implement a five year plan in four years. Yet the single most destructive thing was perhaps forced collectivisation, directly nicked from Trotsky’s own programme. And what of social-fascism? The rabid, “rives of blood” kind of anti-Stalinists seems entirely unable to consider the possibility that this might have been the product of the German proletariat’s entirely horrible experience with Social-Democracy, you know, the same Social-Democracy that murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the same Social-Democracy that had line up behind German imperialism and militarism less than 20 years before. Instead they choose to blame the rise of Hitler on the German CP being a “tool of the Kremlin”. No, not a wrong political calculation by the proletarian movement, reflecting its own weakness, but a treacherous act by that tool of the Kremlin leadership, because after all, the crisis of the proletarian movement is a crisis of leadership, right? Wrong.

In reality, every single of the “evil” traits of Stalinism can be found at various degrees throughout our movement. If you are looking for personality cults, why look further than Tommy Sheridan? If you are looking for Lysenkoism, why look further than the terrible attitude towards “bourgeois science” shared by the vast majority of the left and expressed in a particularly amusing manner in Ted Grant’s and Alan Woods’s Reason in Revolt that famously rejected the existence of black holes as incompatible with dialectical materialism? Witch-hunts you said? Well comrades in the SSP really did get the word “witch” thrown at them during the events prior to the split. I am not even going to try and give an example of rigid, sclerotic, life sucking bureaucracy in the movement, it would be redundant.

So how come then that all our splendid, anti-bureaucratic, anti-Stalinist, socialism-from-below groups most, or all of Stalinism’s oh-so horrific traits? Allow me to reiterate that this is because these are elements that are inherent in the proletarian movement of this age. The proletariat is locked in an insoluble contradiction with capital. In its incessant fight against capital it is infected by capital and mirrors it. In non-philosophical terms, the terms of the fight are set by capital, the proletariat has to deal with them. When the bourgeoisie throws in the battlefield an army of the highest discipline and organisation, the proletariat can only respond by organising itself with similar efficiency as well. As long as the the contradiction between mental and manual labour dominates society, it will manifest in our movement as well, whether in the form of personality cults or excessive bureaucracy. Within the context of a revolutionary society, as was Soviet Russia, where even the tiniest element of society is mobilised to its fullest intensity, these shortcomings of our movement can be amplified to reach huge proportions, with tragic consequences. A mildly amusing series of expulsions such as the SWP often does to protect the prestige of its Central Committee manifests as show trials and executions.

If we are to deal with this problem and eventually overcome it, we shall have to go beyond calls for a “return to Lenin” and a rejection of “Stalinism”. We must accept Stalinism as a historical part of our movement, its horrors as our horrors. Only then will we actually try to find some real solution to our (get it?) contradictions and give capital a final kick in the butt.

PS: How do you like the font size?

Help? by korakious
January 22, 2008, 2:27 am
Filed under: announcements, blogging

There have been complaints about the font size. Since I am a bit incompetent, I would very much appreciate it if anyone could tell me how to change the standard font size for blog posts without using a different template.

Also, if you are one of the folks that are bothered by the smallness, please leave a comment to that effect. In case no one can tell me how to fix this, I won’t be changing anything unless there’s a good number of people who find the blog hard to follow.


Marxism, Mao and Politics by Rob
January 18, 2008, 4:59 pm
Filed under: China, Maoism, Marxism, Rob, Theory

Over at Splintered Sunrise an interesting conversation was developing on Badiou, one to which I tried to make a contribution. Anyway some of the points that were made got me thinking a bit, so here I just want to say a few things. Central to this discussion was the question of why the Cultural Revolution might form an important event for some people on the left; my explanation as to why it might follows below, and segues into some more general considerations on Marxism.

My general contention here is that the Cultural Revolution and Maoism more generally, appealed to the late 1960s and 1970s left for a series of interconnected reasons. My key argument is the inadequacy of a Marxist theory of politics, and of the ‘superstructure’ more broadly conceived. In the period after the World War One and the 50s and 60s the state of Marxism – and certainly of ‘official’ Marxism – was pretty moribund. Despite a supposed adherence to Lenin, what we tended to see was a certain mechanical Marxism. In this schematic conception of history, what drove social change was contradictions between the forces of production and the relations of production. This conflict is ‘resolved’ by class struggle, which eventually replaces one mode of production with another.

So in this conception politics and political action is conceived of as being determined or as actualising economics. This type of Marxism doesn’t really have a theory of politics strictly conceived. But this approach brings numerous problems with it. The first problem for this conception is how to explain the relationship between economic and political action. How is it that class struggle can move (as Gramsci put it) from an economic-corporate phase, to a hegemonic phase? And this itself brings the problem from the other direction why is that the contradiction has not yet been actualised. This is of course the classic starting point for a lot of contemporary Marxist theorising – why in the advanced capitalist countries has the working class not taken power?

The answer to this question can’t be found purely in economistic considerations (e.g. the dull compulsion of economic relations) because to look at it this way basically forestalls social change forever (or until the next crisis). In response to this you get the (thankfully long dead) Trot line about a ‘crisis in leadership’. But even the crisis in leadership line is making a grasping attempt to go beyond certain economist lines and move to a more political explanation of the crisis. Basically, then, it seemed that the situations on the ground demanded an examination of the role of ‘superstructure’. But not just as a ‘reflection’ of the base, but in its capacity as decisive. Because the entire issue necessarily must move outside of the economy and onto political and cultural grounds.

And it is here that the Mao becomes central. Mao’s heterodox Marxism represented a fairly innovative intervention into this impasse. This can particularly be seen in Mao’s On Contradiction. Basically, Mao argues that any social totality is a complex of interacting contradictions, all of which contribute towards development and change. However, in every social totality there is a principal contradiction, which serves to give a specific character to all of the other contradictions:

There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions. For instance, in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions, such as those between the remnant feudal class and the bourgeoisie, between the peasant petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, between the proletariat and the peasant petty bourgeoisie, between the non-monopoly capitalists and the monopoly capitalists, between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism, among the capitalist countries and between imperialism and the colonies, are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction.

Such a position is a very interesting one, and we can find echoes of the argument in Althusser’s notion of a totality structured in dominance (and of course we would since Mao is an acknowledged influence on Althusser) and even in Lukács earlier discussion of the role of totality in Marxist thought. The point here is that one can immediately recognise Mao had constructed a theoretical edifice which might be able to bridge the impasse described above. Here we can see a way to articulate the primacy of the contradiction between the forces and relation of production; without having to rely on that for change. The point here is that as a principal contradiction it could shape political ‘contradictions’, even these contradictions became vital.

However, Mao goes further than this. He also argues that every contradiction has a principal and subordinate aspect. It is the principal aspect which will (eventually) supersede that subordinate aspect and so bring change. But further to this Mao argued that in a given struggle around a contradiction, things would develop to the point where what was the principal aspect could become the subordinate aspect and vice versa:

We often speak of “the new superseding the old”. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe. The transformation of one thing into another, through leaps of different forms in accordance with its essence and external conditions — this is the process of the new superseding the old. In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing. It can thus be seen that the nature of a thing is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction, the aspect which has gained predominance. When the principal aspect which has gained predominance changes, the nature of a thing changes accordingly.

So the vision Mao here articulates is one which – in contrast to ‘official Marxism’ is a dynamic one; emphasising struggle. But the coup de grace, and what I would argue made Maoism so attractive to (particularly) the French left is the following passage:

Some people think that this is not true of certain contradictions. For instance, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the productive forces are the principal aspect … in the contradiction between the economic base and the superstructure, the economic base is the principal aspect; and there is no change in their respective positions. This is the mechanical materialist conception, not the dialectical materialist conception. True, the productive forces, practice and the economic base generally play the principal and decisive role; whoever denies this is not a materialist. But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions, such aspects as the relations of production, theory and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role. When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role. The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” When a task, no matter which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy. When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also — and indeed must — recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism.

Obviously, this is long, but I think it basically helps to illustrate the attraction Maoism held for certain people. The whole point is Mao has seriously broken with ‘official’ Marxism, and has attempted to theorise the political. Although Mao presents this as somewhat limited, the implications of this passage (particularly from where we sit) are fairly wide-ranging. Key to my argument is the notion that:

When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive.

But the whole point – at least so far as Marxists were concerned with in the West – is that it is always the ‘superstructure’ which obstructs the development of the base. Because if we are talking about the standard economic conditions which make things ripe for revolution (in the schematic sense) – well they’ve been here for God only knows how long. So what is the allure of Mao for him politics and culture become central. It thus seems that – quite accidentally – Mao addressed the central concerns of the left in Western Europe, since he attempts to theorise the primacy of the political/cultural whilst remaining a materialist. No matter what people think of Mao (and obviously opinions are not high), this particular theoretical position seems interesting.

Now, with this in mind, we can make a few other considerations. Firstly, it might be argued that this position – which stresses the importance of conscious, political action is a ‘Leninist’ one. Well, yes, I’d agree with that entirely, and it’s certainly something that Lenin articulated rather well. But the point is that Leninism – especially in the time period in question – was associated with the ‘Marxism’ of the USSR, which – to all intents and purposes – had reverted back to the Marxism of the second international. Secondly, insofar as Leninism was taken up by the Trotskyist movement it was (1) not always that great and (2) not likely to be taken up by people inside of the official communist movement. That is why Maoism managed to sink its roots into France, I feel. The milieu from which these people came from was one in which official communism (in the form of the PCF) was all powerful – both politically and philosophically – for a time, Maoism seemed to represent an critique of official communism from within the official communist movement.

Another point to bear in mind is that very similar philosophical positions are put forward (in whatever way) by the early Lukács and Gramsci. It’s no coincidence that interest in these two only began to grow around this period – they address precisely the same issues which I’ve outlined above. But Lukács had the great misfortune of being alive at the time; reconciled with the official communist movement and he had of course basically renounced much of History and Class Consciousness. Gramsci, had not yet been translated (I don’t think), and again, he had the misfortune to be placed at the service of the PCI, which even before its explicit Eurocommunism had started moving in such a direction.

So, my point about Mao is that he seemed to address some of the central problems of the time, in an innovative way. This was only reinforced by the fact that the events of the time seemed to suggest political action needed to be theorised. Because not only did the inaction of the working class need to be theorised – but also the action that had sprung up in the late 60s. So in particular, it proved quite difficult for ‘official’ Marxism to theorise les evenements of May ’68, and its response to what was a pretty huge moment was risible to say the least. This is also where the importance of the Cultural Revolution comes in. The Cultural Revolution appeared to be an actualisation of the theoretical positions outlined above. Here politics and culture were assuming the decisive role in transforming China. The emphasis on mass mobilisation obviously chimed with what was happening in ‘the West’ in a way that the experience of the Soviet Union could not.

It also strikes me that there are some other interesting threads that could be picked up (although I will decline to do so for now). Firstly, this concentration on the political (whilst maintaining that these struggles were ‘coloured’ by the principal contradiction) helped provide a way to explain struggle amongst groups not traditionally mobilised by the left (e.g. people who weren’t the manual working class). Secondly, Mao of necessity assumed a crucial role in the attempt to articulate a Marxist understanding of anti-colonialism and development. The inter-twining of the language of Marxism and decolonisation led to some very odd attempts to theorise these issues. Furthermore, most Marxists seemed (and pretty much still do) to accidentally condone mass death in the Third World – which is never a good way to make friends and influence people.

I rather look forward to seeing Splintered post on diamat.

Cross posted to my other abode (which I am determined will regain its readership!)

Raul Castro’s Speech to the National Assembly. by korakious
January 12, 2008, 5:05 am
Filed under: Cuba, Latin America

The Lair reopens after the festive season with a follow up to my previous post about the change of guard in Cuba. This is a speech Raul Castro made to the National Assembly shortly before the end of 2007, on December the 28th. It’s quite interesting in that it bears traits of Andropovian self-criticism, as in opposed to being an “everything is great, we shall prevail” tirade. I promise to return shortly with an actual post.

Compañeras and compañeros:

We have had a good meeting on the Economic Plan and Budget approved for next year. Above all, it has been the briefest in history.

The objective of this speech is to share some reflections with you on the economic and social situation of the country.

Without any doubt this last year has been one of intense work with the active participation of all the people. Less than three months have gone by since the conclusion of the 215,687 meetings organized in the context of the discussion promoted by our Party, based on the concepts expressed at the central event for the 54th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons.

When our Party called for reflections on what was posed on July 26 in Camagüey, the objective was not for us to get to know about problems. Really, the majority of them are known and I talked about many of them on that occasion, at least on the ones that we consider fundamental to the well-being of the population and the effective socioeconomic functioning of the country.

That our appreciation is correct has been confirmed by more than five million citizens in the meetings for study and reflection that took place during September and October, and described as needed and useful.

Many of the proposals refer to local problems or are related to the deficiencies and errors of specific people; so those will have to be confronted and solved in a direct manner where they are occurring.

In response, the different leadership levels of the Party, government, mass organizations and workplaces have been directed to immediately adopt measures to solve problems that do not have to wait for a higher decision, which has been taking place.

The principal and decisive aim of this great effort has been to find, with the conscious and active participation of the overwhelming majority of Cubans, the best solutions within the reach of the country’s economic possibilities, given that, as I said recently, nobody here is a magician or can pull resources out of a hat.

Moreover, time is needed to study, organize and plan how to attain the proposed objectives with the greatest quality and efficiency. The former is not solely dependent on the will or interest of those involved in solving the problem; to a large extent it also depends on the availability of resources and the authority and qualities of the cadres involved and their constancy.

Experience demonstrates the importance of analyzing problems in an integral way, to conciliate decisions and act with rationality.

Of course, not all of the proposals and suggestions can be applied as a whole. A consensus will have to be forged decide the most rational and appropriate ones, as in more than a few cases, they are contradictory, and certain opinions reflect a lack of information, particularly in the economic sphere.

This process has ratified something fundamental: those occupying a leadership post must know how to listen and how to create an opportune environment for the rest to express themselves with absolute freedom. This is something that must be definitively incorporated into the style of work of every leader, in conjunction with the opportune instruction, criticism or disciplinary measure.

We would all like to move faster, but that is not always possible.

Our people receive information in many ways and work is ongoing to improve those ways and eliminate the harmful tendency to triumphalism and complacency, so as to guarantee that every compañero/a with a specific political or administrative responsibility systematically informs on their brief with realism, in a clear, critical and self-critical manner.

That is the objective of the recent TV/Radio “Roundtables” on national issues, with the presence of the heads of the agencies most centrally involved. These will continue to take place as long as there is something important on which to inform. The same thing should be done in the provinces and municipalities, not just by the media but also directly, in the barrios and in people’s workplaces, where many problems can be solved or explained.


The national press has also contributed to an analysis of the issues that are vital to the population and the country’s socioeconomic development. When it is properly exercised, criticism is essential in terms of advancing.

Many compañeras and compañeros are witness to the rigor with which the 1.3 million proposals put together from the 3,255,344 speeches made are being studied. They constitute a highly useful source of information both for the present and the future.

We are in agreement with those who have warned on an excess of prohibitions and legal measures, which do more harm than good. We could say that the majority of them were correct and just in their time, but more than a few of them have been superceded by life, and behind every incorrect prohibition lie a large number of illegalities.

In relation to one of the issues most raised in the meetings: food production and its high price; the country is working with the urgency that that vital matter requires, given its direct and daily impact on the life of the population, above all on those people with lower incomes.

There have been advances in the studies and we will continue to act, with all the speed that circumstances permit, so that land and resources are in the hands of those who are capable of producing with efficiency, so that they feel supported, socially recognized and receive the material retribution that they deserve.

I have not attempted to fully cover any one of the issued raised; we shall have to return to them time and time again. As we hoped, this has been a critical process, in which the majority of our compatriots clearly stated their support for our social system, the Commander in Chief and the Party.

Millions of Cubans expressed considerations and suggestions directed at improving our socialism. As I said a few days ago in Santiago de Cuba, it has been a sound demonstration of the people’s high level of awareness and political culture.


Progress in the economy is undeniable, expressed in the growth of the Gross Domestic Product in recent years, but what particularly interests us is that the positive performance of macroeconomic indicators is reflected as much as possible in the household economy, where everyday shortages are present.

Decisions directed at the gradual solution of different problems in education, health, transport, housing and recreation, just to name a few pressing issues, are being discussed, part of which may be resolved or at least improved in reasonable amounts of time, above all those stemming from subjective causes. The most important of these issues was addressed in the reports given to the deputies for this session of the Assembly, and which were previously thoroughly debated in the commissions.

The solution to many difficulties requires increasing the effectiveness of the investment process. Priorities must be established, labor and resources must be better organized and modern technology must be introduced. This effort should contribute to increasing productivity. And something essential: any investments begun must be concluded in the set time frame, otherwise resources are mobilized without any benefits being seen.

Various other complex matters, such as the existence of two currencies and deformations in the systems of wages and prices, require thorough study, which will be undertaken with the moderation, rigor and responsibility they deserve.

We should determine, with the active participation of everyone, what – under our conditions – are the most effective channels for ensuring sustained growth in national production and the country’s export capacity, reducing imports and investing our resources in well-defined priorities, for systematically seeking productive efficiency and improving the enterprise system linked to performance. Moreover, we are obliged to defend the country’s credibility with respect to its creditors, and to guarantee the necessary resources for investments that ensure a perspective of development.

As was said here, conservation is one of the greatest sources of resources for achieving what I have mentioned, but some citizens, groups of workers and institutions still have an insufficient awareness of its importance.

The criticism of the population is a just one regarding the irrational use of resources in certain state entities due to disorganization, a lack of oversight and exigency, while at the same time social and economic needs remain pending.

However, as I explained in Camagüey, not all problems and shortages are due to internal deficiencies. There is also the influence of an international economic situation that we cannot avoid, characterized by accelerated growth in the prices of the fuel and food that we buy, just to mention two basic lines, although in reality, almost everything we import has gone up in price and will keep going up.

In addition to that, as we know, there are the losses resulting from the economic blockade of Cuba and the need to deal with the consequences of natural disasters produced by climate change, which are growing in magnitude and frequency. Suffice it to point to just one of the climatological events in the eastern part of the country, where were forced to spend an unforeseen $499 million.


As we can see, the challenges we have before us are enormous, but nobody doubts the firm conviction demonstrated by our people in the fact that only socialism can overcome the difficulties and preserve the conquests of almost a half century of Revolution.

A Revolution that belongs to all of us, given that it was born and has grown thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of many generations of patriots. Making it stronger every day until it is invulnerable in every aspect depends on the hands and consciousness of all of us, the Cubans of today and of tomorrow.

It would be suicide not to behave that way in response to a U.S. administration that, as compañero Alarcón has just explained, has intensified its aggressiveness against Cuba in order to satisfy the interests of the most extremist groups in that country.

Evidence of that is the intensification of the economic war as part of the reinforcement of the Bush Plan, which includes measures for putting on pressure and desperate and unsuccessful attempts at destabilizing the country, in order to mount new pretexts for justifying its hostile policy, against which there is increasing international opposition, including among ever-growing layers of U.S. society itself.

Our people take every threat very seriously. That can be seen by Operation Caguairán, which has made it possible to train approximately 430,000 reserve combatants and militia members, as well as other essential tasks like the modernization of our armament, the preparation of the theater of military operations, important maneuvers and the recently-concluded Moncada 2007 exercise, all of which substantially strengthen the country’s defense capacity and lay the foundations that will contribute to the successful execution, at the end of next year, of the strategic exercise Bastion 2008.

Given the intensification of subversive maneuvers and efforts to isolate us internationally, internal stability has been preserved, the country has continued to consolidate its socioeconomic development, and the international prestige of the Revolution has been strengthened.

During the year, as has been mentioned here, significant progress was made in the implementation of strategic programs, which has had a positive repercussion on the economy and on improving our people’s living conditions, such as the “energy revolution,” to cite just one example.

On the political level, the immense majority of Cubans resoundingly demonstrated their determination to preserve and defend the Revolution during the elections for People’s Power delegates this past October, and we are sure that it will be that way this January 20, when we elect our delegates to the Provincial Assemblies and the deputies that will comprise our National Assembly.

In the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba maintained its vitality and influence in important multilateral processes.

Once again, the U.S. government, despite enormous efforts, was unable to impose its attempts to condemn our country in the field of human rights, while at the same time it received a crushing defeat in the United Nations General Assembly record vote against the blockade.

The recent visit by President Chávez, the PETROCARIBE Summit and the progress made by the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) have been important steps in consolidating regional integration mechanisms.

Our work in the coming year should be characterized by its systematic character; effective organization, planning and control; working for priorities and using resources rationally; increasing labor productivity and efficiency; and strengthening integration, cooperation and unity in the leadership activities of state agencies, the government, the Union of Young Communists and mass organizations on every level, in order to face together, under the leadership of the Party, the main problems affecting our people.

In the name of our Commander in Chief, of the Central Committee of the Party and of the members of this Assembly, we transmit to our compatriots well-deserved congratulations, despite all the difficulties and aggressions, for everything we have done to successfully arrive at “Year 50 of the Revolution,” which doubtlessly will also be one of modest victories in every aspect.

The deputies that make up this Sixth Legislature have known how to comply with the mandate of our people and deserve our recognition. Some of you have been newly nominated, others will no longer serve in this capacity and will continue to carry out your usual work, because as it is known, nobody earns one cent for being a member of this Assembly. I can assure all of you that one thing that won’t be lacking is plenty of work.

Whatever the responsibility entrusted to us, we will rise to the level of the trust that our heroic people have placed in us, and to the honor of being soldiers of a Revolution led by a Commander in Chief who, with his example and wisdom, has always led us to victory.

Being worthy of a people who for decades has faced, with courage and stoicism, every danger and difficulty; a people whose youth are demonstrating that they are acting in accordance with their glorious history, with one true example being that of our five heroes imprisoned by the empire, who next year will complete 10 years of unjust punishment in U.S. prisons.

I wish all Cuban men and women a happy 2008. Celebrate, rest, recover your strength, you deserve it.

And let’s all work hard!

Thank you very much.