Saturday, February 26, 2011
....As another coffee drinker expressed an interest in my new iPad Touch and the manner in which I was using it to study Japanese, the conversation soon turned to other devices manufactured by Apple and grew to include the young woman who was herself using an Apple laptop and expressed an interest in the iPad.
She allowed however that she would hold off until Apple (as she speculated) would do away with the display technology they are using now in flavor of some souped-up version of a Kindle-like display.
When I pointed out that this was unlikely to happen as Apple had too much invested in their current technology the conversation took an interesting turn. She proposed that Apple would drop their current display technology no matter the cost because the other technology is better and they are innovators.
I pointed out that industrial capitalists, rather than innovate, will do all they can to stifle a new technology until they have wrung every last nickel from the old one. Her answer, "Not Steve Jobs, he doesn't care about profit."
Self, "His employees in China are killing themselves for the insurance money so they can feed their family, because they can't feed them on the pittance that Steve Jobs pays them."
She, "Touché-- but he has his problems too you know."
Self, "Preserve me from the problems of billionaires, I do so weep for them."
She was by the end of the exchange owning that the perspective I brought forward was better supported by the evidence.
Protests continued throughout the country of Yemen on Feb. 21 to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The demonstrations, which began during the time of the uprising in Tunisia and gained traction with recent events in Egypt, have increased in scope and intensity in the past 12 days.
Since Feb. 20, thousands of people have set up tents and occupied the two city blocks in front of Sana’a University, saying that they will not leave until Saleh leaves office. The Toronto Star described the scene: “In the early afternoon, 500 demonstrators danced, sang and shouted speeches. A line of self-appointed young guards, flanked by a row of motorcycles, blocked the streets leading to the group, and those wanting to enter were hastily searched for weapons.” (Feb. 21) Demonstrators at the university have renamed the area “Tahrir Square,” in homage to the focal point of protests in Egypt that brought down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Feb. 21 Guardian (Britain) reports that thousands of people also held sit-ins in the cities of Ibb and Taiz. In the port city of Aden, demonstrators torched a local government building. The Yemen Post reports that banks and other large businesses have closed in response to the spreading protests. (Feb. 20)
Like the former president of Egypt, Saleh has been in power in Yemen for more than 30 years, since 1978. Protesters have rejected Saleh’s announcement, made at the beginning of the protests, that he would not seek re-election in the 2013 elections — a strategy that was also attempted by Mubarak. In Yemen, the people are particularly loath to believe Saleh’s statement, since he made similar pledges before the elections there in 1999 and 2006.
As in Egypt, protesters in Yemen have hit the streets in the face of massive unemployment, poverty and repression. The Washington Post notes that the daily protests have been “fueled largely by students and human rights activists but increasingly attracting lawyers, union workers and ordinary laborers.” (Feb. 17)
Twelve people have been killed, including a teenager who was shot by soldiers after he and other youth threw stones at a patrol on Feb. 21. Four others were injured in the incident. Yemen analyst Jane Novak reported that medics who attempted to revive the wounded were shot at by police. In the city of Taiz, two people were killed Feb. 18 after a hand grenade was thrown into a crowd of protesters. (Press TV, Feb. 20) Anti-Saleh protesters have also clashed with administration loyalists, who chased them in front of the university with batons and daggers.
Washington provides millions in military and other aid to the Saleh administration, which has been a partner to the U.S. in the so-called “war on terror.” Both U.S. special operations forces and the CIA operate in the region under the guise of fighting the group, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is allegedly located in an oil-rich area of the south. The U.S. has bombed the region as part of that war.
The country has a long history of struggle. After ousting British colonialists in 1967, Yemenis in the south of the country set up the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which sought to build a socialist state and aligned itself with the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. After the south reunited with the north in 1990, following the collapse of the socialist camp, the country was destabilized by the expulsion of a half million Yemenis from neighboring Saudi Arabia in retaliation for Yemen’s refusal to back the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
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Friday, February 25, 2011
First Posted: On Thursday, July 30, 2009 on the “Democracy and Class Struggle” blogsite.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
It is nearly twenty years since there has been a Maoist political organisation in Britain. Even during the revival of interest in revolutionary politics back in the late sixties and early seventies there were never more than a few hundred Maoists in this country and their numbers rapidly diminished after the capitalist roader coup in China in 1976. During the late eighties there were a couple of short-lived Maoist groups but since then no explicitly Maoist political organisation has existed in Britain.
On a number of occasions since that time I have called meetings of some of the few remaining Maoists in Britain to propose that we form a Maoist political organisation with the eventual aim of forming a proper Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionary party. On each occasion the response was negative with people giving no very definite reasons as to why we could not form an organisation other than vague assertions that the “objective conditions” were not favourable.
In the latter part of 2008 I was encouraged when three other Maoists invited me to join with them in convening a meeting to consider whether a MLM organisation could be formed in Britain. Since then there have been a number of meetings with a somewhat shifting range of people participating. At the last meeting I reluctantly reached the conclusion that practically all of these people had no real intention of trying to form a Maoist organisation. They don’t mind talking about the proposal in the abstract and discussing issues of the day such as the economic recession. But they are not going to take any effective political action about anything.
At first sight it seems strange that people who present themselves as Maoists – hardly a popular political affiliation – should hold back from getting organised and engaging in collective political action. An explanation of such perversity is required.
THE LONDON POLITICAL SCENE
Most of the remaining Maoists in Britain live in London, a large cosmopolitan capital city. Indeed the Maoists themselves are of an international composition, some of them being political refugees from their countries of origin. In London there is a continuous round of leftist political meetings, demonstrations and pickets. If one wants to, it is easy to spend all of one’s available time attending such occasions and this is what some of the Maoists do. A lot, but not all, of this political activity is focussed on events abroad such as developments in Nepal, India and Iran. To a far lesser degree are these occasions directly concerned with what is happening within British society. Of course, communists are internationalists and should necessarily see and conduct the struggle against capitalism on an international basis rather than a narrow national one. Even so, many of these people seem far more concerned and knowledgeable about political struggles thousands of miles away rather than on their own doorstep.
We should not forget that Lenin and Mao asserted that the best form of internationalism is to engage in and develop revolutionary struggle in whatever place one happens to be.
The effectiveness of many of these activities is questionable. For example, picketing the Indian High Commission or the Peruvian Embassy in support of imprisoned comrades in those countries almost certainly has no impact on their reactionary governments. Many of the “national demonstrations” which are held in London, to which the Maoists sometimes half-heartedly tag on, go unnoticed by the nation and the government. There is a large element of ritualism in this sort of behaviour. People do it simply because that is what they have always done. They do not reflect critically on whether these activities are achieving any worthwhile political objectives. (In this respect the Maoists are no different from most of the other leftists.)
This round of political activity in London is essentially inward-looking. On each occasion it is the same people from the same loose political network who are present. “You picket my embassy and I’ll picket yours.“ Usually there are few, if any, new faces present. Indeed, no serious efforts are made to reach out to and involve newcomers. The fact of the matter is that the great mass of the people, especially the working class, are oblivious of and untouched by such “political activity”. What is more, one gets the impression that most of the people who participate in these ritualised activities are quite content with this way of life. They like going along to a picket or “public meeting” (at which the public are not usually present). There is a large element of social activity here often involving having a chat and a drink with old friends and acquaintances. It passes the time.
Much of this political activity – if that is what it is – is poorly organised even in its most elementary aspects. It is quite typical to find that a room for a meeting has not been booked, that the event has not been properly publicised, that the speaker is late or does not turn up, that a leaflet has not been printed, that placards have not been made, etc. etc.. Most of the Maoists in Britain – with one or two notable exceptions – are organisationally incompetent even at the most basic level but they don’t seem to care.
In so far as any of the Maoists engage in any “mass work”, go out and try to reach the great mass of people, especially the working class, it takes the form of engaging in routine trade union work and participation in broad front campaigns such as the Stop the War Coalition. Obviously there are definite limitations from a Maoist point of view to these activities but most of the Maoists are not involved in them anyway. What they never do is to attempt their own initiatives in trying to stimulate class struggle. This is particularly obvious at present when the considerable weakening of bourgeois ideological presents good opportunities for interesting people in a revolutionary perspective on contemporary events.
There is one area in which the Maoists in Britain do get excited and exert a considerable amount of energy. This is in debating the correctness or otherwise of the political lines of Maoists engaged in class struggles in other countries. Much passion is aroused and much is spoken and written about the course of revolutionary struggle in Middle East countries such as Iran and in particular on the political trajectory of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Yes, it is correct for communists to assess and constructively criticise the actions of comrades in other countries. However the odd thing about the Maoists in Britain is that while they get very heated and split over these controversies they expend little energy on ideological-political struggle over how to handle the contradictions of capitalism in Britain. The reason for this is not difficult to discern. It is that the Maoists in Britain are not really interested in engaging in revolutionary struggle within the society in which they live.
So what is going on here? What is the explanation for this odd behaviour? I have come to realise that what is important for most of the Maoists in Britain is not what is happening within the objective social reality around them but rather it is the state of their subjective consciousness which is most important for them. Their strongest desire is not to transform a world in turmoil but to feel that the political perspective they hold on it is in some sense correct. In philosophical terms these people are not materialists. Rather they are idealists because for them the most important thing is inner certainty. What is going on in the external world is entirely secondary. For them an internal ideological purity is their primary aim. That is why I call it mind politics. Indeed there is a certain latent religiosity at work here. (In my talk ’Against Religiosity in Politics’ I have discussed this quite widespread phenomenon whereby people use secular doctrines such as Marxism as substitute religions.) These people are going to do nothing except continue to pour forth a torrent of words on the internet.
IS THIS REALLY THE END?
The truth is that in Britain Marxism of any kind as a live political trend is in steady decline. The remaining revisionist and Trotskyist organisations are slowly dwindling away. People, especially young people, of radical inclinations are attracted towards anarchism and environmentalism (with all their obvious limitations) but not to Marxism. What is more, this is happening at a time when capitalism is embroiled in major economic difficulties and debilitating imperialist wars. The reason that Marxism in general, and Maoism in particular, is on the way out in Britain is because communists are failing to seriously address, both in theory and practice, the major issues of our time. These include the impact of new productive forces, changes in class structure, environmental degradation, the quality of life, etc. (See my talk ’The Death of Marxism?’ for more on these issues.)
I remain convinced of the essential correctness of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism but it is not a fixed formula set in tablets of stone. For MLM to be of any use in making the world a better place it needs to change and develop in intimate response to the contemporary world. In this part of the world this is not happening. My reluctant conclusion is that Maoism in Britain is finished.
Convince me that I am wrong.
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Anti-government demonstrations have spread to the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where 30,000 people marched on Feb. 18 demanding the resignation of President Ismael Omar Guelleh. Two people were killed when police attacked protesters in this country’s capital, which is also called Djibouti.
The government detained and released three opposition leaders: National Democratic Party Chairman Aden Robleh, Djibouti Democratic Party Chairman Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Ismail Guedi Hared, whose Union for Democratic Change organized the massive demonstrations.
The former French colony, which still maintains close ties to Paris, has a population of less than 850,000, but serves as a strategic outpost in Western imperialism’s so-called “war on terrorism.”
Djibouti houses the only known U.S. military base on the African continent and is therefore highly significant to the Pentagon’s strategy aimed at dominating the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula. The Financial Times reported that Washington’s camp is an outpost for the U.S. Africa Command, Africom. (Feb. 20)
Hared told the Financial Times that demonstrations have taken place in seven towns and that the opposition forces have formed an alliance to push for the removal of the existing regime. He said more demonstrations are planned despite government repression.
He said, “The people are protesting against dictatorship, bad governance, lack of democracy and dynastic succession. The opposition has formed a coalition, and we have decided to do everything to make sure the protests continue.”
State television reports showed thousands of people fighting the security forces, which utilized tear gas in an effort to break up the anti-government demonstrations. Images were shown of burnt vehicles and police welding batons against unarmed protesters.
The Guelleh regime changed the country’s constitution last year to extend the number of times that the president — who has been in power since 1999 — could run for office. A government ministry has accused opposition forces of wanting to seize power by force.
An opposition supporter from Balbala said, “The people don’t want this dictatorial regime. Our freedom is in our hands. We won’t stop until our dreams come true.” (Reuters, Feb. 20)
Authorities have detained Jean-Paul Noël Abdi, president of the Djibouti League for Human Rights. In his mid-60’s, he was investigating and reporting on student demonstrations calling for educational policy changes.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch’s letter to President Guelleh said, “Noël Abdi did not organize the protests, nor did he take part in the demonstrations. He did not condone any disorderly behavior or looting or stone throwing.”
U.S. base in the Horn of Africa
Since 2001, the Pentagon has aimed to establish a permanent military base in the Horn of Africa. After the September 11 attacks in Washington and New York, the U.S. Marines relocated the USS Whitney warship off Djibouti’s coast in the Gulf of Aden and eventually moved into the French-built Camp Lemonnier.
The camp is a U.S. naval expeditionary base located at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. It is the home of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa of Africom. Navy Admiral Brian L. Losey is base commander.
Djibouti is bordered by Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, making it a valuable asset for U.S. imperialism in its efforts to dominate the Horn of Africa region as well as the Arabian Peninsula.
U.S. imperialism faces increasing instability
The demonstrations in Djibouti could pose a grave threat to Washington’s overall strategy of dominance in the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula. Although it is not clear in which direction these demonstrations will lead, if they result in the collapse of the existing regime, it could raise the specter of a new government demanding the removal of the U.S. naval base at Camp Lemonnier, Africom’s only known base on the continent.
The recent wave of popular uprisings throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is taking place amid an escalation of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. These Pentagon-directed campaigns have been overshadowed by the corporate media’s focus on the mass demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Algeria and other states.
U.S. and NATO attacks on civilian areas in Afghanistan resulting in massive deaths have fueled opposition and resistance to the ongoing occupation. Protests in southern Iraq are aimed at the U.S.-installed puppet regime over its poor delivery of services to the population.
With the U.S. being forced to respond to so many outbreaks of political unrest in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, Washington is re-evaluating its foreign policy in these geopolitical regions. Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Admiral Mike Mullen, is touring countries including Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
U.S. anti-war and anti-imperialist forces must follow these developments closely and adopt political programs and slogans that express solidarity with the progressive character of the demonstrations, rebellions and uprisings sweeping these areas of the world.
Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Marxist Update readers are advised to check out this article, too.
Joseph Ball: Mao’s Great Famine. The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 by Frank Dikotter. Some Initial Comments
(llco.org, republish from maoists.org)
Mao’s Great Famine is a sensational account of China during the Great Leap Forward. It argues the death toll in the Great Leap Forward was at least 45 million. It also claims that 2.5 million of these died due to violence. Most bizarrely, it makes the claim that 30-40% of all homes in China were demolished during the Great Leap Forward. This book depends largely on quotations from documents found in local Chinese Communist Party archives. Dikotter treats these documents as authentic and their content as correct, without a great deal of analysis of the question. Without some acquaintance with the documents Dikotter’s book is based on, a proper review is not possible. It is not possible for this evidence and by extension, Dikotter’s book, to be reviewed properly without examining and authenticating these documents. I am only able to give my initial comments here, therefore, rather than a more final assessment of the book.
I would ask readers of this book to heed a general warning about all evidence given by the Chinese Communist Party in the post-Mao era concerning the Great Leap Forward. As I said in my article ‘Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?’, there was a sustained campaign by the Chinese government after Mao’s death to create a negative historical verdict about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Therefore statistics and documents, relating to these periods, compiled in the post-1976 era should not simply be taken at face value. They need to be authenticated and corroborated. However, another point needs to be remembered too-it should not be just assumed that because a government document has been found in an archive, even from before 1976, that its content must be true. From the late 1950s a big struggle in the Communist Party took place between the right-wing and the left-wing, this went on right until 1976. For long periods of time the right were in the ascendancy in different areas and in the central government itself, even before Mao’s death. Reports drawn up by different factions in this struggle may well contain large doses of ‘political truth’. China has gone through massive turmoil since 1949, this has included complete reversals in political line by the Communist Party and related radical changes in the Party’s verdict on historical events. It would be wrong to assume any historically contentious document in a Chinese Communist Party archive is genuine without properly determining its authenticity and that it is what it purports to be. In addition reports of historical events in archival documents need to be corroborated from other sources such as mutually supporting witness accounts and physical evidence.
The first step would be to assess how well Dikotter has interpreted the archival sources he cites in his work. This is likely to be a problem. According to Dikotter, he had to sign a contract promising not to lend the documents he found to anyone else or let them be copied, as a condition of access to the archives. I have reproduced Dikotter’s email statement regarding this in an appendix to these comments. Only those judged by the authorities to be professional historians can get access to the archives. As there are only a limited number of professional historians in the world with an interest in the Great Leap Forward, it may be quite some time before we get a second opinion on these records. So, in the main, all we have for now is Dikotter’s interpretation of what he saw.
However, Dikotter did let two correspondents of mine have an informal look at one crucial document in his office. This is Mao’s speech on 25 March 1959. On p.134 of Mao’s Great Famine, Dikotter quotes Mao as saying during the Great Leap Forward ‘When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.’
My correspondents saw the document and confirmed the document contains meeting notes of Mao’s speech in a meeting in Shanghai on March 25, 1959. It does not list who attended the meeting. The file runs to 8 pages long in its entirety and the quotation (which they translate as “If there is not enough to eat, all will be starved. Rather, let half of population die so the other half can have their fill.”) is toward the end of the meeting notes. The entire meeting covered quite a lot of issues, mainly agrarian issues and food supply. My correspondents remember the following points from the document.
(1) Mao urged other officials to set the grain collection quotas as early as possible. He is recorded as saying “If grain collection does not exceed 1/3 of the harvest, peasants will not rebel.” However, this must be seen in the context of a lot of other comments. He also said ”Set the quota earlier so peasants can be relieved. Even if peasants want to give us their surplus, we will not accept it [because the quota has been set]. It is better to leave more grain to peasants.” Mao asked local officials not to set the goal too high like before. It must be stressed Mao seemed to be setting limits here, not minimum standards. Presumably in areas of food shortage, the quotas could have been set lower.
(2) Although the new quotas are still very possibly too high, the main tone of the speech, according to my correspondents, is to protect the peasants’ interests, stabilise people’s life at the time of food shortage, further expand mass participation in decision making, etc.
(3) The quotation “If there is not enough to eat…” , in the view of my correspondents, is said in a rhetoric tone, not as a serious command. My correspondents felt the quote is a kind of isolated comment within the speech, with no obvious connection to what is being said above and below. However next to this quote is one sentence about not pursuing the Great Leap Forward in all areas, which I imagine may be related.
Given my correspondents could not take the document away to study it, we cannot say anything conclusive about its authenticity or indeed its overall content. The quotes above should not be regarded as fully verbatim for the same reason. If the whole document is authentic, we must wonder why Mao made such a comment about half of the people dying, especially when he had been so adamant at the Wuchang Conference, a few months earlier, that there should be no deaths at all due to the Great Leap Forward. Mao is quoted as saying at the Wuchang Conference:
‘In this kind of situation, I think if we do [all these things simultaneously] half of China’s population unquestionably will die; and if it’s not a half, it’ll be a third or ten percent, a death toll of 50 million?… If with a death toll of 50 million, you didn’t lose your jobs, I at least should lose mine; [whether I would lose my] head would be open to question. Anhui wants to do so many things, it’s quite all right to do a lot, but make it a principle to have no deaths.’ (1).
The quote suggests another possibility about Mao’s alleged comment about half the people dying so the other half could eat their fill in Shanghai. It might be regarded as a sarcastic statement, as when Mao said at Wuchang ‘Half of China might have to die…’, when he was warning others about over-ambitious economic plans. We must also remember that these were minutes of a meeting, and presumably not something written by Mao himself. It could well have been that Mao was simply repeating the kind of warning that he made at Wuchang and the statement was not fully minuted, leading to a misleading impression. Dikotter’s approach in simply quoting this alleged statement, without taking an overview of all Mao’s statements on the issue and other statements made in the document is one-sided to say the least.
Some might argue, that setting any grain quota at all, at a time of food shortage was in some sense a ‘crime’. However, this would be very simplistic. For one thing, food had to be redistributed to areas most in need. Han Dongping, a Professor at Warren Wilson College in the USA did some research into the effects of the famine in the Great Leap Forward in Jimo county in Shandong. On the subject of famine relief he noted that:
‘In 1960, six southeast provinces donated 215,000 kilos of grain, 650,000 kilos of dried vegetables and large quantities of winter clothes to Jimo County…In the same year, Qingdao municipal government provided Jimo County with …. 125,000 kilos grain, and over half of the households in Jimo County benefited…In November of 1960, a Shanghai municipal delegate brought to Jimo 60,000 kilos of grain, 650,000 kilos dried sweet potatoes and other relief materials.. In 1961, Shandong provincial government donated 15,000 tons of grain to Jimo and provided 200 grams of grain per villagers each day before the next harvest.’(2).
Han Dongping’s evidence comes from interviews with local farmers and local official records that he studied.
It is true that not all of the grain collected from rural areas was redistributed to famine areas. However, urban dwellers had to be fed. Some food exports were necessary to buy the raw materials and machinery needed to prevent industry and transportation collapsing. A collapse of the transportation system and the urban economy would have just made famine relief and recovery harder while creating more hunger in the urban areas. If the record of Mao’s speech is authentic, it may be that Mao believed that some reduction in quotas would be enough to allow a fairly high quota for famine relief and for the needs of the cities and industry, without the quotas themselves leading to more hunger. (Whether this was objectively speaking correct is a question beyond the scope of these comments.)
Any statements made here about the other documents Dikotter quotes from have to be even more tentative, as these were not viewed by my correspondents. However, I believe that something can still be said about how Dikotter evaluates them. Dikotter (p.328) writes that investigation teams fanned out over the country from October 1960, to investigate the behaviour of provincial leaders during the Great Leap Forward. These investigations led to the removals of many provincial leaders. The rightists, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, Peng Zhen and Liu Shaoqi made investigations at this time. We must remember that Liu Shaoqi was in charge of the day to day running of the government by 1960 and would have overseen the process of ‘investigation’.
The majority of the allegations Dikotter makes regarding atrocities committed during the Great Leap Forward, such as beatings and torture, appear to be taken from these documents. This leads to two problems. Firstly, although Dikotter lifts a great many anecdotes and statistics from these documents, his direct quotes from them tend to be rather brief. In addition, Dikotter does not tell us very much about the particular document he is quoting from at any one time. This makes any kind of evaluation of them, very difficult. Rather worryingly, some of the documents Dikotter quotes from were bought in ‘chaotic flea markets’ (page 345). He says that he only quoted ‘very few’ of these but we really need to know which of his quotations do come from the documents he acquired in this way. In addition there would be nothing to stop Dikotter putting these documents on the internet or circulating copies.
Also, assuming that the evidence Dikotter cites of atrocities are taken from the results of investigations, what we have are indictments used in a series of political struggles, with Liu Shaoqi ultimately presiding over the whole process of the investigation. The purpose of these indictments, according to Dikotter, seems to have been to get rid of local leaders blamed for implementing Mao’s line in an over-zealous manner. One possible thesis is that the intended effect of these removals would have been to oust more left-wing leaders in favour of more right-wing leaders, which would increase Liu Shaoqi’s power base. Overall, a stream of reports from the investigation teams to the centre documenting atrocities would clearly strengthen Liu and the political line he represented, while weakening Mao. Of course, bourgeois authors tend to argue that Liu Shaoqi only became a rightest, once he saw that the Great Leap Forward was a failure. But this begs the question somewhat. Could it not be that when he saw problems with the Great Leap Forward occurring he sensed that he could use this in a competition for power with Mao? Could not encouraging investigation teams to exaggerate the failures of the Great Leap Forward have been part of his strategy? Dikotter should at least consider such possibilities but he does not.
Dikotter presents documentary accounts that he believes show evidence for very serious crimes. He claims that mass violence was used against the population in the Great Leap Forward by local officials and their militias. This charge simply cannot be upheld without corroboration. Such allegations could only be proved if they were backed up by a sufficient quantity of mutually corroborative witness statements and by forensic evidence such as mass grave evidence. Without such evidence it is not possible to ‘convict’ any individual or a political regime of mass murder or genocide. Indeed the lack of such evidence, at least of a sufficient quantity of documented witness evidence, would give good reason for doubting the archival evidence. It must also be said that some of the stories that have emerged from purported Party documents in the past have been outlandish in the extreme. For example, Jasper Becker unearthed a ‘party record’ that claimed a Party Secretary in Qisi, Henan had boiled 100 children to make fertilizer. He quoted this in his book Hungry Ghosts This prompted Berlusconi’s infamous jibe at a political rally in 2006 about the Chinese ‘boiling babies for fertiliser’ that led to censure from the Chinese government.
Having said all this, the existence of the local party documents Dikotter has found is a matter of some interest and it must be hoped that the current onerous conditions on access and reproduction will be eased in the future. If nothing else, they may help illustrate the line of thinking and the different world-views of the two lines of the Chinese Communist Party during the Great Leap Forward.
Another positive feature of the book is the way Dikotter puts his own ideological cards on the table when he states in his preface that:
‘In a far more general way, as the modern world struggles to find a balance between freedom and regulation, the catastrophe unleashed at the time [of the Great Leap Forward] stands as a reminder of how profoundly misplaced is the idea of state planning as an antidote to chaos.’ (p.xii).
All historians can and should strive for objectivity. However, history can never be an exact science, so it is always very useful to know the political leanings of any historian when evaluating their work. Dikotter’s honesty about his right-wing ideological framework is genuinely refreshing.
However, little positive can be said about the aspect of his work the reviewers have got most excited about-his Great Leap Forward ‘statistics’. The national figures Dikotter tries to come up with for deaths by hunger and violence and figures for the destruction of housing are frankly of little value.
Dikotter wants to establish a new ‘headline’ figure for Great Leap Forward deaths of 45 million. To understand how Dikotter tries to do this it must be understood that he is discussing two separate sets of documentary evidence concerning the death toll. One is an estimate of 32 million excess deaths by Cao Shuji, who bases his figure on a survey of reports drawn up by local Communist Party branches into Great Leap Forward deaths. These reports were produced in 1979, when the Party line had swung decisively and finally against the principles of the Great Leap Forward. The second set of documentary evidence consists of the documents in the local Party archives that Dikotter himself has discovered, that were discussed above-the reports of the investigation teams sent by the central government to investigate the provinces from 1960-62. Dikotter calculates that the excess death tolls he has found in the local Party archives, compiled from 1960-62 tend to be 50% higher than those in the reports Cao Shuji cites, which were compiled in 1979. Therefore Dikotter decides the death toll must have been 45 million. Dikotter favours the reports he has found from 1960-62 from the investigation teams over the reports given by the local branches of the Communist Party in 1979 because he believes the latter would have given more conservative figures for deaths, as they were trying to hide things.
This reasoning is not very convincing. Why would there have been any remaining reason for local Party officials to try to hide the figures in 1979, if the Great Leap Forward deaths had supposedly been investigated nearly twenty years before by the central government? Moreover, the Party as a whole was in no way trying to hide Great Leap Forward deaths in 1979. As I said in ‘Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?, senior Party leaders openly attacked the Great Leap Forward. Marshal Ye Jian ying made a speech about disasters in the Great Leap Forward in 1979. A Party resolution talked of ‘serious losses to our country and our people between 1959 and 1961’. Local party organisations would certainly have been aware of the new line when compiling their 1979 reports and would have known that they were expected to go along with the new political line on the Great Leap Forward. If the choice really was between endorsing a figure of 32 million and a figure of 45 million, then Dikotter’s book really gives us no real reason for choosing one figure above another.
However, the main problem is the reliability of any death rate estimate at all for China from 1958-1961. This point is illustrated by Dikotter’s rather selective faith in the available demographic data for the Great Leap Forward. Dikotter decides to round up Liu Shaoqi’s baseline figure of 0.8% deaths a year before the Great Leap Forward to 1% (p. 329). Dikotter decides that any number of deaths above this figure in the Great Leap Forward, were excess deaths. By extrapolating the excess deaths he finds on a local level to the country as a whole he calculates the 45 million deaths figure. Dikotter’s figures seem to be based on figures gathered by the local investigation teams. ‘Liu Shaoqi’s 1%’ is more or less the ‘baseline’ death rate figure in the demographic figures released in the early 1980s by the Deng Xiaoping regime. The Deng Xiaoping figures show up to 16.5 million excess deaths, due to increases from the baseline figure in 1959-1961 (with a high of 2.5% in 1960). The death rate figures were presented at a public academic gathering in China in 1981. ‘Liu’s 1%’ might be seen as corroboration of the Deng Xiaoping figures that emerged more than twenty years later. But Dikotter cannot accept the Deng Xiaoping figures in full, as the Deng Xiaoping figures for 1959-1961 imply a death toll a lot smaller than the one he is proposing. So Dikotter has a problem. If Dikotter believes Liu knew a true death rate figure for years prior to 1960, he must also believe a comprehensive system of death registration was in place during the Great Leap Forward, despite the fact that the records of these death registrations seem to have been hidden from all eyes ever since. Therefore Dikotter must accept the baseline figure of 1% given by Liu Shaoqi but then assume that the death registration information that shows 45 million deaths for 1958-1961 has been deliberately hidden by the Chinese authorities. But if the Chinese authorities are in the business of hiding and manipulating population figures about this period, why does Dikotter insist that the 1% baseline figure must be true? What are his grounds for saying that the one figure should be accepted, while the other Deng Xiaoping figures must have been falsified? It might be said that the other documents Dikotter has found corroborate the 45 million figure but this is not really so. As Dikotter book illustrates, Liu stated openly in a speech that 0.8% should be used as the baseline when making calculations of excess deaths that occurred in the Great Leap Forward. Therefore the figures that appear in the documents Dikotter has seen in the archives, cannot be used as any kind of corroboration as they were probably drawn up following Liu’s instructions. The investigation teams most likely came up with a total number of deaths in a province-by whatever means-and then subtracted ‘Liu’s 1%’ to get a figure for excess deaths.
As I showed in ‘Did Mao Really Kill Millions…’ it is not clear at all where death rate figures for the Great Leap Forward came from. This makes any of the figures given for the Great Leap Forward death toll, from the 16.5 million figure, to the estimates of local investigation teams, to Dikotter’s 45 million, mere speculation. Judith Banister, a leading western demographer of the Great Leap Forward period, expresses severe doubts about death rate figures for China in the 1950s and 1960s (3). It does not seem that there was anything like a comprehensive national death registration scheme at this time. People who have examined local population records for the Great Leap Forward seem to have found records of population changes but I have not seen examples of locally kept death toll figures (4). Could it be that when asked for death toll figures, local officials simply offered some variant on population change figures, having nothing else at their disposal? But a population change figure for a given locality provides absolutely no guide to the number of deaths in the Great Leap Forward. This was a time of massive movements of population as workers migrated from their villages to the towns or to construction sites or left their locality to find food when famine struck. If you just take figures for every area where population decreased and assume that this was part of a national death trend, then you might come up with a figure of 45 million. Overall, then, it must be asked where the local investigation teams got all their death rate figures from, given the lack of comprehensive death registration.
I think there is a much more sensible account of what happened in the Great Leap Forward, than the apocalyptic version given by the Jasper Becker, Jung Chang and Frank Dikotter side of the debate.
Firstly, we should, like Banister, accept that the 1% baseline figure is too low. Banister discusses the official figure of 10.8 deaths per thousand in 1957, given in 1981. She writes:
‘This is an unrealistic claim. Of course, the PRC made great strides in mortality reduction in the 1950’s. As of 1957, the patriotic public health campaigns had reduced the level of filth and the number of disease-carrying pests. A large proportion of China’s midwives had received instruction in modern midwifery. There were many epidemic-control stations monitoring infectious diseases and specialized centers attacking particular diseases….Yet underlying health conditions in China remained poor…This population might have achieved a crude death rate below 20 per thousand by 1957, but not nearly so low as the official death rate of 10.8.’ (5).
We can perhaps speculate a little about why Deng Xiaoping figures give such a low death rate figure for 1957 and such a high rate for 1960. Liu Shaoqi announced his ‘1%’ (or 0.8%) in a speech in his home town, just as he was starting his political campaign against the line of the Great Leap Forward. Once Deng Xiaoping consolidated his power after the death of Mao he asked for statistics to be put together concerning Great Leap Forward deaths. The workers compiling the statistics would have known of Liu’s 1% baseline figure and this became their own baseline for the figures released in 1981. This is not necessarily a matter of complete conspiracy. Maybe Liu said the figure was 1% because this had been the figure the Party had wanted to give in the late 1950s to celebrate its achievements. Maybe given the euphoria of the time the Party thought they actually had achieved such a low figure. However, maybe Liu just invented it in 1960 because it made the death rate figures look worse than they were, thus undermining his political rival Mao. When it came to compiling population statistics in the late 1970s, perhaps researchers, finding nothing else to work on, came back to Liu’s low figure and decided to adopt a figure that was roughly equivalent. It was after all a figure that had been endorsed by the Head of State at the time. Demographers can make assumptions on thinner grounds than this when faced with a paucity of hard evidence. Once the 1% is accepted as a baseline, demographers have the problem of trying to come up with a series of birth rate and death rate figures that in some way correlates with the census figures of 1953 and 1964. The obvious solution is to push all the deaths which you cannot account for, given the 1% baseline rule, into the famine periods. Thus the researchers came up with the death rate figures in 1981 which gave rise to the 16.5 million death toll statistic.
Writers on the Great Leap Forward are routinely taking these figures and extrapolating from them to reach even higher figures, which they then give the status of fact. Without some idea of how the 1981 death rate figures were actually calculated, they are of little use for such purposes. Once you adopt a sceptical attitude to the Deng Xiaoping figures, other death rate figures such as Dikotter’s and Banister’s begin to look unconvincing too (6).
Dikotter’s figures for deaths by violence and home demolitions are certainly the weakest part of the book. Dikotter states that 2.5 million people died of violence during the Great Leap Forward. His evidence again comes from the ‘investigation teams’. The figure appears to come from an extrapolation from figures given for one region (Xinyang) and two counties (see page 297-8). Dikotter tells us that as ‘rough approximation’ 30-40% of all houses were turned to rubble in China in the Great Leap Forward. Dikotter’s source for this astounding figure is, Liu Shaoqi again, who apparently claimed that 40% of all houses in Hunan had been destroyed (p.169). The other main source is a figure that 45-70% of homes in ‘the most affected counties’ of Sichuan were demolished (p. 170). Even if both these reports were completely true, one could hardly extrapolate from these two figures and say that 30-40% of homes in the whole of China were destroyed. These were just two provinces and we do not even have an estimate for the total number of home demolitions in Sichuan, just those for the allegedly most affected counties.
The question we have to ask about the figure for home demolitions is, again, where is the witness evidence? Of course the media in China is fairly stringently censored. But especially in the last three decades millions of people have travelled into and out of China. If 40% of all homes had been demolished in the whole of China in the Great Leap Forward, would not this fact have come out before now?
Other somewhat strange claims in Dikotter’s book would also bear further analysis, no doubt. He writes of the Ming Tombs (Shisanling) Reservoir, that was built in 1958. Dikotter states (page 30) : ‘As the reservoir was built in the wrong location, it dried up and was abandoned after a few years.’
Anyone who was been there recently will testify that it is actually rather full of water. The fact is that Dikotter just assumes the whole project must have been a total failure because it was carried out during the Great Leap Forward. Such errors illustrate the need for rather more even-handed historians to go over the evidence that Dikotter has presented in more detail than I am able to do here.
Overall, Dikotter’s book is, on the face of it, unconvincing. His claims are just too exaggerated and his analysis of the veracity of his sources is just too underdeveloped. It is part of a trend towards ‘death toll inflation’ which sees the numbers of those allegedly killed by Mao increase year after year as ‘new historical evidence’ is published. Deng Xiaoping released figures that gave rise to the 16.5 million death toll. Judith Banister raised this to 30 million. Now, Dikotter has taken Banister’s 30 million and raised it to 45 million. But this of course is only ‘a minimum’, some historians put the figure at 50 to 60 million, Dikotter tells us (page 333). But as the death rate totals inflate, it will get harder and harder to fit in all these excess deaths between the figures provided by the two censuses of 1953 and 1964, unless the death toll in the non-Great Leap Forward years is pushed down to a ridiculous level. This will not bother Dikotter as he seems to be a sceptic about all the Chinese demographic data. This position is a perfectly acceptable one to take but where will it leave ‘Liu’s 1%’ baseline on which all Dikotter’s figures are based? You cannot state that a death rate figure is credible when you believe that all the available population figures are completely false. The death rate is a percentage of the population after all. Presumably at some point the death rate figures will have been thrown out too. When we get to 60 million, there will be no real reason left not to allow the death figure to rise ceaselessly up towards the 100 million mark and beyond.
Of course, there is a real story about the Great Leap Forward buried under all the nonsensical ‘death toll figures’. Certainly, that story includes the tragedy of the famine that occurred in China in the Great Leap Forward. The story must include the fact that the deaths that occurred were due to policy errors, as well as the very adverse natural conditions of the time. However, it is also a story of a nation surrounded by adversaries, desperately trying to pull itself out of the economic backwardness that had repeatedly condemned it to famine in the past.
(1) R. MacFarquhar, T. Cheek and E. Wu (eds) The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward, p.494-5. Harvard University Press.
(2) Han Dongping, ‘The Great Leap Famine, the Cultural Revolution and Post- Mao Rural Reform: the Lessons of Rural Development in Contemporary China.’’ http://www.chinastudygroup.org/article/26. 2003.
(3) Banister, J. (1979), China’s Changing Population Stanford University Press, p.87-8.
(4) See for example, Endicott (1988) Red Earth Revolution. In a Sichuan Village, p.55-6 and Han Dongping (2003).
(5) Banister, J. (1987), p.80-81.
(6) See Banister, J. (1987), p.114-119. Banister’s own figure of 30 million deaths is just a variation on the Deng Xiaoping figure. Banister gets her figure by using a significantly higher figure for the number of births between the censuses of 1953 and 1964, than the official figure, given by the Deng Xiaoping regime. The higher rate of births, combined with the census figures imply a higher rate of deaths, than the official figures show, otherwise the 1964 population figure would have been greater. Banister then apportions the extra death according to proportions derived from the death rate figures for this period released by the Deng Xiaoping regime.
Correspondence between Frank Dikotter and Joseph Ball
Dear Mr Dikotter
I am currently studying your book Mao’s Great Famine. I would very interested to know how I could access some of the documents cited in your work. The one I am most interested in is the document which includes Mao’s speech on 25 March 1959. You give the reference as Gansu 19-18-494,p.48. You give this reference on p.379, its note 13. I am very interested in the quote you give on p.134 from this speech where Mao says ‘It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.’ It’s interesting because in November 1959 Mao made a speech (in ‘Mao’s Secret Speeches’ p.494-5) where he gives orders that no-one should die as a result of the Great Leap Forward.
The other documents I’m interested in are: Xinyang diwei zuzhii chuli bangongonshi…etc. p.1-2 cited on page 378, note 6. This is the reference for the figure of 66,000 clubbed to death in Xinyang. Also the documents Sichuan May-June 1962, JC 67-4 and JC 67-1003, p.3. cited in note 16 on page 403. This is the reference for deaths in Sichuan. I hope you don’ regard my requests as too much of an imposition.
Obviously, I would find it very useful if I could access scanned versions of these documents. Do you put your sources on the internet? I haven’t been able to find them. Please note: as I always say I regard information on the accessibility of sources in works I discuss as information I need to share with my readers. Therefore I will quote from your reply to my enquiries in any review or article I publish about your book. Please be aware of this and do not say anything in an email that you do not want to be shared with the public.
The answer to this is quite simple: when I use party archives, I have to sign a contract, as I am sure you know, to the effect that I will not duplicate or circulate any of the files I see. If I send them to you I have no idea where they will end up and I will be in breach of contract, resulting, possibly, in a ban from the archives in future And of course you have not been able to find these sources on the internet, how would that be possible? You need to go to the archives I cite, i.e. Lanzhou, Chengdu ad Xinyang. However, my colleague Zhou Xun is in the process of publishing documents, including the ones you cite,for a documentary history of the famine. This may take another year or two. I would be happy to show you these documents in my office if you have time.
With best wishes,
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Marx looked to Hegel's original method for thinking about society's problems.
February 23, 2011
"IF THERE should ever be time for such a work again," said Marx to Engels amid a flurry of letters in January of 1858, "I should greatly like to make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence, in two or three printer's sheets, what is rational in the method which Hegel discovered but at the same time enveloped in mysticism." (From The Selected Correspondence of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: 1846-1895, New York: International Publishers, 1942, p. 102.)
Sadly for us, he never got around to it. However, even Marx's extra-ordinary intelligence may have had a hard time condensing Georg Friedrich Hegel into a couple pages. And as we will see, Hegel would have rejected the very notion that it could or should be tried.
I will attempt here to accomplish the more modest goals of addressing several important ideas credited to Hegel, explain why they mattered so profoundly to Marx as a student, and then point to some places to learn more for those who are bitten by the Hegel bug.
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Hegel was born in 1770. That's important because it means he was 19 years old when the French Revolution broke out about 350 miles to the east in Paris. Democratic-minded European youth stood in awe of the power of the French and American Revolutions to sweep away monarchies.
Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is titled Ode to Joy, after a poem by Friedrich Schiller from the time, which sings, "Be embraced millions. This kiss to the entire world!" The English poet William Wordsworth penned the famous lines, "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!" They were both born within months of Hegel.
In 1791, Hegel even joined fellow students in a May Pole dance, reciting Schiller's poem. All very subversive, according to the authorities in Berlin.
But the revolution did not come to Germany, and Hegel spent the next 15 frustrating years tutoring the children of aristocrats and working as unsalaried part-time lecturer. He struggled to master the greats of European philosophy and to write something that would make enough waves to land him a full-time job.
He finally hit pay dirt in 1806 when he published his groundbreaking Phenomenology of Spirit. The same day that he sent the proofs to the printers, French troops under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, passed through Jena, the German city where Hegel was teaching, on their way to setting up a puppet regime in southwest Germany.
From his window, Hegel got a glimpse of Napoleon and was overcome with admiration. It seemed to him that the French Revolution was washing away the petty world of German princes. In fact, the French-backed government did enact important anti-feudal reforms over the decade or so it survived.
Hegel was well placed to take advantage of this opportunity. His new book celebrated radical philosophical and intellectual change and articulated a new way to understand history.
It also helped that the French supported liberals in the educational bureaucracy, assisting Hegel in wining appointment as the headmaster of a prestigious high school, then to a chair of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, and finally the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, where he taught until his death in 1831.
To put it bluntly, Hegel owed his career to revolution...even if it was second-hand.
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Hegel's big ideas
Hegel is hard to read. Often really hard. In fact, sometimes nearly impossible. Especially if, like nearly everyone on the planet, you are not familiar with late 18th century German philosophy. Hegel's philosophical contemporaries developed a highly formalistic language (making up new meanings for common words, for example) and built an intellectual universe based on detailed references to each other's work.
To be clear, you do not need to read lots of Hegel to understand Marx; however, doing so (at least a little) can give you an insight into how Marx developed his own revolutionary theories and, I think, provides you with a richer appreciation for his views on social change.
In my last column, I suggested reading the first four paragraphs of the Phenomenology of Spirit. Here we see that not only is Hegel unapologetic about his book's density, he explicitly justifies it, saying that it is "even inappropriate and misleading" to give a simple summary of his philosophy, because boiling it down to its essence "does not comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth, but rather sees simple disagreements."
Hegel is arguing that genuine knowledge can never be simply passed along from teacher to student as a finished product, as a passive gift (or even a burden as many students might feel). Real learning is a process that requires sustained effort that must get beyond the "mere beginnings of cognition." Simplifying ideas to the point of oft-repeated slogans only creates
an impression of hard work and serious commitment to the problem. For the real issue is not exhausted by stating it as an aim, nor is the result the actual whole, but rather the result together with the process through which it came about.
If you stop and think about it, this is really interesting. Hegel is arguing that the journey is just as important as the destination--it is a necessary part of the whole. In fact, if you become fixed only on trying to remember where you're going, you'll never learn to get there. (In philosophical terms, Hegel believed he had discovered the solution to the object-subject divide that Kant stumbled over.) This view of knowledge as a process is one of the most important things that Marx took from Hegel.
In those same paragraphs, Hegel puts forward one of the best examples of what he would come to call dialectics. To begin with, the word itself originally (from the Greek) simply meant a dialogue between two people who were trying to arrive at a common understanding of the truth.
So every time you and a friend talk about what to eat for dinner, you are practicing dialectics. Chinese, no. Italian, no. Sushi, yes! Of course, Hegel gives a broader meaning to the term as he shows with this example from nature:
The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one might say that the former is refuted by the latter; similarly, when the fruit appears, the blossom is shown up in its turn as a false manifestation of the plant, and the fruit now emerges as the truth of it instead. These forms are not just distinguished from one another, they also supplant one another as mutually incompatible. Yet at the same time, their fluid nature makes them moments of an organic unity in which they not only do not conflict, but in which each is as necessary as the other; and this mutual necessity alone constitutes the life of the whole.
The basic ideas contained here make up the building blocks of Hegel's specific notion of dialectics: change through conflict (the fruit consumes the blossom); quantity changing into quality (incremental growth within the bud suddenly "bursts-forth" into something entirely new); and the importance of understanding the totality of a process and not simply partial stages ("moments of an organic unity").
Hegel then applies this insight over the course of nearly 500 pages to supposedly show how all of previous thought and culture, covering thousands of years, was really a process by which the "fruit" (something he called "Absolute Knowing," which seems very much like God) became self-aware...and how Hegel was the only one clever enough to realize it.
Here is why Marx said that Hegel's version of the dialectic is "enveloped in mysticism." For Hegel, all human ideas and history are only projections--"spirits"--of the various moments or stages in Absolute Knowing/God's quest for self-consciousness. (Phenomenology, p. 493)
Hegel continued to develop his unique perspective in several other imposing works, in which he traced the development of state (government and civil society) forms, the stages of history, economics, art and even the structure of thought itself.
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Hegel's theory and practice
UNFORTUNATELY, HEGEL the man was not nearly so revolutionary as Hegel the philosopher. Once ensconced in his well-paid chairs of philosophy, he made his peace with the German princes (or at least bit his tongue often enough to protect his position). Toward the end of his career, he pointedly argued that "what is rational is real and what is real is rational."
This was during the period when the authorities, especially the Prussian monarchy, were reasserting their power, purging liberal thinkers from the universities and clamping down on all forms of political dissent. Although Hegel himself spoke out against anti-Semitism and opposed a return to pre-Napoleonic royal despotism, he did make himself into a kind of (distant) intellectual advisor to the throne.
Hegel's ideas would soon inspire a generation of writers and political activists (who would salvage his emphasis on transformation, fluidity, conflict and change), but the great philosopher himself never attempted to engage in the struggle.
In his youth, he hoped that his new way of thinking was the intellectual forerunner, a natural reflection, of the revolution that Napoleon would bring to Germany. In his later years, he retreated to trying to make philosophical sense of the gap between the democratic ideals of his youth and the growing conservatism of German politics.
In the preface to his Philosophy of Right in 1820, he wrote:
When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.
For Hegel, Minerva (knowledge) always comes too late to change social conditions--it can only ever be written in hindsight. This belief provided the ideological justification for accepting the status quo because any attempt to change the present was necessarily made from a position of ignorance and was therefore futile...if not downright wrong-headed.
Yet if Hegel failed to find the solutions he sought along the long road between Wordsworth's "blissful dawn" and his own "grey dusk," Marx would soon appreciate the groundbreaking contribution he made in developing an original method for thinking about society's problems and attack them in ways Hegel never dreamed.
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FOR FURTHER reading on Hegel, find Introducing Hegel, written by Lloyd Spencer, with illustrations by Andrzej Krauze. And for more of Hegel himself, finish the preface to Phenomenology. It's about 45 pages long.
Next time, we'll take up the beginning of Marx's career as a revolutionary journalist. To get a jump on it, read "Debates on the Law on Theft of Wood" in the Rheinische Zeitung newspaper, October 25, 1842.
Saudi Arabia is now being rocked by strikes as the mood of resistance spreads across the region. A socialist in Saudi Arabia reports on how struggles in the Middle East are even spreading to the most vicious dictatorship, which is sponsored by the US
‘I went to my workplace on Thursday of last week, and I found out that there were over 3,000 workers demanding their rights before they called a general strike in the construction site in Saudi Binladin Group. The workers were very angry. Their workplace is one of the largest construction projects in the country, which is worth SR.100 billion.
However, they live in a terrible conditions. One of the workers told me, “I live in a room four metres by three metres with eight people, and for every ten people there is only one toilet.” Another Egyptian worker told me about the working conditions and the restriction of religious freedom: "They are Zionists, they don’t even allow me to pray on time!"
And another worker was speaking about the water at the site, which is infected and full of filth and insects: "The managers wouldn’t even wash their hands with it, but for us we have to drink it because it is the only drinking water at the site.” The others talked about the delayed salaries and the unpaid overtime: "Van you believe that some of the workers here are paid only 700 riyals a month, and I am paid 1,000 riyal. How would we survive?"
They couldn’t continue in the old way. They organised themselves and decided to do a demonstration at the site, to demand their rights immediately. It was the most interesting scene that I have witnessed in my life. When a group of coordinators and security guards tried to persuade them to go back to work the workers replied by smacking their hats on the walls and they shouted we demand “food, money, accommodation – we need to be respected”. All the managers, for the first time since the start of the project four years ago, took the workers seriously.
The police force couldn’t control the workers. When a police officer told the workers that they need to return to their accommodation and their issue will be solved later, the worker replied by throwing stones at him, and they managed to frighten all the police officers around him. The stones missed the police officer, but unfortunately it did not miss his car! It was the first time in my life I saw a police car smashed in Saudi Arabia.
When several coordinators, sent by the managers, tried to promise the workers change, I and several other socialists pushed for the occupation of the construction site, though that did not work. However, when one of coordinators said, "We will give you a new accommodation with a football pitch," one of the workers replied, “How would we play football after 13 hours of work with an unpaid overtime?" Then the coordinators promised that every worker will be paid after five days. Someone replied, "What would we do with today’s bread after five days, we need it now, we are sick of excuses, a billionaire cannot pay his workers today?"
In the end, the owner promised the workers that they will pay them on Saturday. The workers went back, and on Saturday they received an extra SR, 500 on top of their salary and the owners promised them that they will improve their accommodation and they will pay them 100 hours for their overtime each month.
The workers started to organised with a sister company, which belong to the same owners to start a new wave of strikes in different parts of the construction site. Through this week, there were several strike actions in King Fahad Library and in a construction sites in King Saud University.’
© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.
by Yuri Prasad
A group of socialists in Zimbabwe face a possible death sentence for watching a video about the Egyptian Revolution.
Some 52 activists were charged with treason and “subverting a constitutionally elected government” in a Harare court yesterday (Wednesday).
The attack is part of a general clampdown organised by the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in advance of possible elections later this year. He fears that the wave of uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa could spread south.
Police arrested the group on Saturday of last week following a raid on a meeting to discuss the implications of the Egyptian Revolution for Zimbabwe that was organised by the International Socialist Organization (ISO).
The accused were led into court on Wednesday hand cuffed and in leg irons.
Many had sustained injuries while in detention, and all—including those who are HIV positive—have been prevented from receiving medical attention and drugs.
One of those charged has only recently been discharged from hospital following brain surgery. Another detainee who broke her leg after being thrown down a two-storey stairwell during the raid is also being denied proper care.
State prosecutors allege that leading ISO activist and former opposition member of parliament, Munyaradzi Gwisai, and other participants at the video showing were planning to “organise, strategise and implement the removal of the consitutional government of Zimbabwe… the Egyptian way.”
Defence lawyer Alec Muchadehama said he has been denied access to the detainees since they were taken into custody.
Outrage at the arrests, torture and the charges is spreading across Africa and around the world.
Bongani Masuku of the 1.8 million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has pledged the support of his organisation.
He said, “It is no doubt that the Egyptian and Tunisian experiences have inspired many workers and poor people all over the world to stand up and demand an end to dictatorship, corruption and injustice of whatever kind.
“The Cosatu condemns the continued persecution of political activists in Zimbabwe and the never improving situation in that country.
“The detention of about 52 activists of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) in Harare on baseless charges of plotting to topple the government indicates the state of insecurity in that country.”
The Commonwealth Policy Studies Institute yesterday added its name to calls for “unconditional release” of those who have been jailed.
With stakes this high, activists in Zimbabwe are urgently calling on for statements of protest to be rushed to the addresses, phone and fax numbers below:
Madison, WI - The struggle at the Wisconsin State Capitol to defeat the union-busting Budget Repair Bill held strong through its 9th day, Feb. 23. The state Capitol remained occupied and as early as 7:30 a.m. the chants of "Kill the bill" could be heard from all over. Over 50 Sheet Metal workers, many laid off, came marching up to the capitol at 8:00 a.m., chanting "Union Power!"
The State Assembly met today amidst loud protests and chants, discussing amendments to the bill.
Protesters in the hundreds followed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to the Monona Terrace today, a building a few blocks from the Capitol where Walker was to meet with the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce annual business day participants. Led by the Wisconsin Wave and Defend Wisconsin, the protest was a way of drawing attention to the corporate backers behind Scott Walker's anti-union agenda.
The high level of organization within the Capitol Building is one example of the protesters’ determination to continue with the occupation. The building is clean because a rotating team of volunteers mop and pick up trash. A food table on the third floor offers donated breads, cheeses, vegetables and drinks. Early risers this morning got a scoop of an egg scramble and a hot cup of coffee. A pharmacy exists around the corner, with donated vitamins, band aids and toothpaste. The second floor has an information station where students and visitors may check in to share events, fliers and events.
The entire building is coated with posters, banners and leaflets. At 3:00 a.m. one morning, patrolling police tore down all posters from the Capitol walls, but in the morning the protesters put them right back up.
In the early afternoon today, as people began to mobilize for larger rallies and marches, news arrived of a prank call to Gov. Scott Walker. A caller posing as a major contributor to Walker’s campaign recorded Scott Walker likening his union busting efforts to that of Ronald Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers in the early 1980s. Walker also revealed his consideration of sending in protest wreckers and a plan to trick the 14 State Senate Democrats who fled Wisconsin to come back to session in order to ram his union-busting bill through.
"Every once in a while the curtain get pulled back and you get to see how things really work," commented one protester after listening to the 20-minute prank call.
Day in day out, it becomes more apparent than ever that Gov. Walker's Budget Repair Bill is nothing more than a shameful attack on workers and their organizations.
Thursday, 24 February 2011
After more than a week, demonstrations by public sector workers defending their pay, benefits and their right to union representation continue to grow. The struggle in Wisconsin is rapidly becoming a nation-wide struggle, a kind of American "Tahrir Square," a point of reference for workers under attack around the country.
Demonstrations against similar cuts have spread to Ohio and Indiana, both states where unions have traditionally been very strong. Dozens, if not hundreds, of solidarity actions have taken place around the country. In a development that would have seemed unthinkable just 2 weeks ago, Wisconsin unions are now preparing for a state-wide general strike if Governor Walker’s bill is passed by the state legislature. While this struggle has only just begun and is far from finished, it marks an important turning point in the U.S. -- the class struggle is back!
Wisconsin workers have also received solidarity from a place where the workers' mass struggle recently led to the overthrow of an unpopular leader: Egypt. On Monday, Kamal Abbas of Egypt's Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services, a participant in the 1989 strike at the Helwan Steel works, which was brutally repressed by the now-defunct Hosni Mubarak regime, wrote:
"We want you to know that we stand on your side. Stand firm and don't waiver. Don't give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights...Today is the day of the American workers. We salute you American workers! You will be victorious. Victory belongs to all the people of the world, who are fighting against exploitation, and for their just Rights.”
The revolutionary events in the Middle East have clearly had a big impact on the consciousness of workers and youth everywhere. The capitalist system connects every country into the world market, but it also creates a world working class that shares the same interests. The victories of workers in one country are an inspiration to workers everywhere! The main lesson to be drawn from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions is that mass action, with the working class at the head of the movement is the way forward. This is the way forward here too!
On Thursday, 3,800 union members and supporters filled the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus as hearings began on a bill which if passed, would deprive all state workers of collective bargaining rights. Following Wisconsin's lead it is possible that other public sector struggles will erupt in Indiana, New Jersey, Missouri and Iowa in the coming weeks. A call has gone out for a national day of action on March 2nd to defend the public sector, which is sure to be taken up around the country.
The Indiana legislature is due to begin discussing a bill that would deprive teachers of union rights. New Jersey Governor Christie has for weeks been telling public workers that they “have to face reality” and prepare for cuts. Iowa Republicans have said that the state’s collective bargaining agreements with public sector unions are “too expensive.” Missouri, which has a Democratic Governor, may soon see a referendum on a “right to work” law, which if approved would mean that both public and private sector workers employed at a union organized workplace would not be required to pay dues, which would hamper unions’ ability to struggle against the bosses by taking away their economic base.
Meanwhile, the crowds outside the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin grew from 40,000 on Friday to 60,000 or more on Saturday. Despite the largest outpouring of the working class in the US for decades, Walker and the Republicans have refused to back down and continue the push to break the public sector unions.On Tuesday, February 21st, the South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL), the umbrella organization of southern Wisconsin unions, voted to prepare a general strike if the state legislature approves Walker's bill. This is the resolution they passed:
"Motion 1: The SCFL endorses a general strike, possibly for the day Walker signs his 'budget repair bill,' and requests the Education Committee immediately begin educating affiliates and members on the organization and function of a general strike.
"Motion 2: The SCFL goes on record as opposing all provisions contained in Walker’s 'budget repair bill,' including but not limited to, curtailed bargaining rights and reduced wages, benefits, pensions, funding for public education, changes to medical assistance programs, and politicization of state government agencies."
The mass demonstrations in Wisconsin are inspiring millions of other workers to fight against the barrage of cuts. Without thousands and millions of working people standing up and saying “enough is enough!” things will never change. But as important as these mobilizations are, they are only one component part. The experience of the class struggle in the US and around the world shows that it is not enough for masses of ordinary working people and youth to hit the streets; it is also necessary that the movement have a leadership that is willing to fight the bosses and their political representatives "no-holds-barred."
SCFL’s call for a general strike is a huge step forward. Walker is single-mindedly intent on breaking the public sector unions, not working with them, and a general strike is the only way to defeat “Hosni” Walker. Victory in Wisconsin would set the tone for other public sector struggles getting ready to erupt across the country.
The Democrats’ Role
However, it must be said that the call for a general strike wasn’t made by the union leaders as a recognition of the movement’s strength, but rather as a last resort. On Friday, the day before the SCFL’s announcement of preparations for a general strike, the leaders of two of the largest public sector unions, Mary Bell of WEAC and Marty Beil of AFSCME Council 24, announced that they were willing to accept all of Walker’s demands for pay and benefit cuts (totaling $30 million), if only he would withdraw his demand to dismantle collective bargaining. True to form, and fully supported by the billionaire Tea Party-backers the Koch brothers, Walker rejected their offer.
AFSCME's Beil said afterwards that this position was “not a compromise,” but the union’s original bargaining position. With tens of thousands of workers and supporters surrounding the Capitol, why bargain for concessions in the first place? With meetings, marches and other events taking place all day, Beil and Bell should have instead organized a mass meeting of workers and supporters to discuss the terms to present to Walker and point the way forward, including the preparation of a state-wide general strike. Instead, it seems their concession-laden "compromise" was proposed without seriously consulting the thousands of workers who would be affected.
Unfortunately, Beil and Bell‘s concessions offer shows that if public sector workers are called out on a general strike, these leaders cannot be counted on to take the struggle to the end. It is therefore absolutely necessary that the strikers have complete, direct and democratic control over the struggle. SCFL must urgently organize a mass “town hall” meeting of Madison public and private sector workers, students, and community suporters, to begin planning how the general strike will be carried out, and make a call for the formation of coordination and action committees in every factory, workplace, and school, linked up centrally and governed by democratically elected representatives.
The union leaders are under tremendous pressure, not just from below, by the thousands of rank and file union members at the Capitol who are ready to struggle and are pushing the leadership forward, but also from above, specifically from the Democratic National Committee (DNC,) which has sent dozens of its members and operatives to Madison. Their intervention is being backed up in the media, with Obama speaking against Walker’s assault on the unions. Beil and Bell’s line is the same as the line of the Democrats in the state legislature, who returned from a four day boycott to move amendments to the bill which would keep Walker’s pay and benefit cuts but maintain the right to collective bargaining.
Neither the Democrats or Republicans represent the working class majority; they represent the interests of the big banks, the Fortune 500, and the wealthiest in society. Unlike the working class in many countries, US workers lack a mass Labor party that can represent our class interests. In such a situation, two parties representing the same tiny minority in society have to lean on the vast majority of the population to maintain the status quo. Both the Republican and Democratic parties engage in different forms of populism to do this, with the Republicans leaning on conservative churches, the Tea Party, etc., and the Democrats leaning above all on the unions for support, not in the unions’ interest but in their own.
The two parties, while representing the same capitalist class, defend this tiny minority in very different ways. The Republicans are using the budget crisis as a cover to attack the unions directly, hoping to weaken them in both the public and private sector. The Democrats, on the other hand, jump to “support” the unions by pushing a “compromise” in the "middle." The Democrats would like not just to lead the movement in Madison, but to more importantly to use it. The Republican and Democratic proposals in the state legislature have one thing in common: cuts. This is because the crisis of the system demands it. The difference is that the Democrats are seeking a roundabout way of pushing them through.
This has been their strategy for decades, and was seen most recently in the auto industry bailouts where the Obama administration offered GM and Chrysler a financial rescue package, leaning on former UAW President Ron Gettlefinger to force concessions on the membership in exchange. But this old relationship between the unions and Democrats will be increasingly difficult to maintain, as evidenced by events unfolding in Wisconsin, with SCFL being pushed to call a general strike.
Make the rich pay for the crisis!
Across the country, Republican public officials and the media have been howling after public sector workers, pointing to their pay and benefits as the cause of state budget deficits. After almost four years of recession and a "jobless recovery," with millions still unemployed, this does not fool many people. Instead, it justifiably angers most working people. As one sigen held by a protester said: "Attacking Workers Doesn't Create Jobs!" It is insult added to the injury of the economic dislocation, uncertainty and hardship of the vast majority since the “Great Recession” began in 2008. An article on the first demonstration inside the Ohio Statehouse from Bloomberg Online gives a glimpse of what many public sector workers think of the Republican attacks:
"Joe Rugola, the former president of the Ohio AFL-CIO who also is executive director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said he represents bus drivers and janitors who earn about $24,000 a year. 'I’m still looking for this privileged class of workers,’ Rugola said in an interview while waiting to testify.’ This is just part of a national attack on working people.'"
Almost every state in the US is either in debt or will be soon. State Governors and legislatures are presenting the situation as an "open and shut" case. They say that the only choice is between layoffs and job cuts or massive concessions. But the leaders of public sector unions would not be good "lawyers" if they simply accepted the other side’s argument (even if they do call for demonstrations and even strikes)! The union leaders have to answer all the lies of Big Business.
The budget crisis is the result of the weakened economy, massive military spending, and the huge tax breaks and give-aways to big corporations and the wealthy, not the salaries and benefits of public workers. For the past 30 years there has been a colossal transfer of the division of national income in the United States, from the working class to the capitalist class. In 2010, a Duke University study found that the top 20% of earners controlled more than 84% of the nation’s wealth. From 1979 to 2005, the after-taxes earnings of the top 1% of earners increased by 175%. Between 1998 and 2009, 57% of all US corporations did not pay any Federal taxes for at least one year. At the same time, state and city governments have for years been sucked into a downward spiral of tax incentives and breaks to get these same large corporations to move businesses to their areas, which then proceeed to lay off workers and shutter operations once the tax and other incentives run out. At the same time, average inflation-adjusted wage levels for workers have not risen since 1975!
Despite growing profits and massive cash reserves of the largest corporations during the recent "recovery," these same capitalists are not investing and creating jobs, but are instead squeezing more productivity from fewer workers. These corporations have more than $2 trillion in funds and assets, but they still refuse to invest. Librarians, teachers, and firefighters did not cause the economic crisis -- the slump is a result of the inherent problems of the capitalist system. If the union leaders are to address the root causes of the public sector struggle, they cannot ignore this fact.
The resources exist to maintain public sector workers' jobs, pay and benefits, and to continue to provide much-needed public services. The resources are also there to provide quality union wages and conditions for workers in the private sector. There is also more than enough to go around to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed, and to provide free, quality education for students, who will be tomorrow's workers. The problem is that both major political parties are firmly wedded to the big banks and corporations and they refuse to make real inroads against the wealth and privileges of the tiny handful of capitalists -- the top 1% -- who really "call the shots" in US society. The Labor movement will always be fighting with one hand tied behind its back as long as the leaders of the unions continue to support the Democratic Party, which is just as tied to the big banks and corporations as the Republicans.
So let's be clear: the capitalists, not the workers are to blame for the crisis. Instead of supporting the Democrats and hoping for better times, the unions should break with the Democrats and form a Labor party. Instead of parceling out the scraps left over from the table of the 1%, a Labor party should demand that the rich pay for the crisis. A Labor party would be able to fight in Congress and in the state legislatures alongside the unions in the streets and in the workplace for a massive program of public works, to build schools, universities, and repair the country’s aging infrastructure, all of which could provide millions of jobs. Last but not least, these jobs should be 100% unionized and pay a living wage.
The cost of such a program should not come in the form of higher taxes or reduced public services for working people but should come from the top 1%, the big banks and the Fortune 500 companies, not just in the form of higher taxes but also by instituting an “open book” policy to make the banks’ and corporations’ finances public knowledge. Then much of the colossal wealth that has been siphoned off by this tiny minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority could be put in public hands, to be democratically administered in the interests of all. This is a critical fight for labor movement, both in the public and private sector. The victory of the public sector workers will strengthen the unions in the private sector, while the defeat of the public sector workers will weaken the position of these unions.
- An injury to one is an injury to all! Full solidarity with Wisconsin's public workers!
- No to concessions! For an all-out one-day general strike in Wisconsin to stop the cuts!
- Break with the parties of Big Business! For a mass party of labor based on the unions!
Source: Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (USA)