We see now in these times a great number of mass movements springing up and struggling for particular causes. A new generation of activists forming and struggling against ever more specific issues. For almost any social issue affecting anyone in the United $tates today you will find some type of movement underway to combat it. From racism, sexism, religious intolerance, wages, to police brutality, prison reform and sentencing reform, etc.
These kinds of issues have more or less always existed here in the United $tates and mass movements have more or less always accompanied them. However, not much has been accomplished. Every one of these issues and forms of oppression continue to plague society, with some of them becoming even more acute. Of course, to many, much has appeared to have changed; with some reforms made and concessions given, the great tactic of pacification and distraction has been utilized. But after generations of struggle and "victories" (reforms) why is it that these problems continue to exist?
These things are like weeds: you can chop them down and it may appear as if they have been removed or cut so low that they are no longer perceived as problems, but they grow right back because the roots were not ripped out. This leaves one mowing the same patch of weeds week after week.
All social movements that aren't struggling to eliminate the root cause of these forms of oppression are only battling non-principal contradictions. This doesn't mean that these issues aren't important, it just means that they are merely effects of the principal contradictions, not their cause. They are by-products of the system that, like weeds, constantly reproduces itself so long as its base remains intact.
What is the base from which these non-principal contradictions originate? It is the mode of production: capitalism. It is the economic base that created and perpetuates these forms of oppression people continue to fight. What people continue to fight is the superstructure that protrudes from the base. But these types of struggles will be an eternal one if we continue to fight what appears to be the cause of oppression instead of its essence.
Karl Marx's scientific study of history, and sociology in particular, allowed him to demonstrate how our material conditions determine our social relations with each other. Let's hear Marx putting forth this concept:
"Assume a particular state of development in the productive faculties of man and you will get a particular form of commerce and consumption. Assume particular stages of development in production, commerce, and consumption and you will have a corresponding social constitution, a corresponding organization of the family, of orders or of classes, in a word, a corresponding civil society. Assume a particular civil society and you will get particular political conditions which are only the official expression of civil society."
So goes the materialist conception of history. But we don't have to take Marx's word for it. We can analyze history and see for ourselves how each different stage of development of the productive forces and the mode that these forces were subsumed produced its own social relations peculiar to that mode of production. And with that, its own contradictions, whether they be manifested in culture, class, gender, "race," etc. This demonstrates that our material relations have been the basis of our relations.
This is the concept of the base (mode of production) producing the superstructure (social relations, politics, laws, ideology, morality, desires, etc.). We use this concept to show that a lot of the forms of oppression that we struggle against are produced by the nature of the economic foundation that we are dominated by. It has produced and continues to reproduce these contradictions. Now it is systemic. If we are ever going to end racism, sexism, imperialism, mass imprisonment, poverty, hunger, etc., then we have to eliminate the thing that causes them.
Our movements must consolidate their efforts to attack the base. We have the valence, we just need to help the people make these connections. Everything is connected in some way to the economic base, its mode of production and distribution. Capitalism's system of "all against all" has created these contradictions we face. With colonialism, imperialism, and especially now with neo-colonialism, many new contradictions and forms of oppression have sprung up that can cloud our vision. But we can't continue to concentrate great amounts of our energy and resources in fighting the non-principal contradictions that don't target the system directly.
It is of course understood that at certain moments a nation's contradictions that were non-principal before, or perhaps even non-existent, can become principal contradictions. For example, in China before/during Mao's revolution Japanese imperialism was the principal contradiction, but afterward new contradictions became acute due to the ever-expanding nature of global capitalism.
In Vietnam before/during Ho Chi Minh's liberation movement against French colonialism, for the people of Vietnam colonialism was the principal contradiction. Then came the fight against U.$. imperialism which quickly became the principal contradiction. But these were particular contradictions, not general ones.
Imperialism is an appendage of capitalism. When the courageous and determined guerilla fighters of Vietnam defeated U.$. imperialism, they did not end imperialism. They only ended U.$.-Vietnam imperialism.
The point is that while forms of oppression like imperialism can seem like the principal contradiction to certain nations at certain times, it can never truly be the principal contradiction overall. Even when China fought Japanese imperialism, and to them it was the principal contradiction, in the grand scheme of things it was not; it was the interests that caused imperialism.
Imperialism can not truly be defeated until the imperialist nations/empires undergo an internal revolution and the economic interests that drive imperialism cease to be. So long as global capitalism and the capitalist global market persists, imperialism will always exist in some form; it will only be shifted from one nation that defeats imperialism onto another, and that cycle will continue.
To rid all oppressed nations of imperialist aggression we've got to rid the imperialist nations of the mode of production (capitalism) that makes imperialism necessary.
Of course, we must always continue to demonstrate against the by-products of capitalism, the non-principal contradictions. But in doing so we have to consolidate these movements and establish a consensus of consciousness so that while we continue to fight everyday oppression we can also understand that the fight is really much bigger and we have to all know what the cause of these forms of oppression is.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a great explanation of the nature of capitalism and why reformist and even individual anti-imperialist battles don’t result in the immediate end of oppression. To do that, it's important to define the principal contradiction within any struggle. The principal contradiction is the thing that will push forward a struggle the most. It is the highest priority contradiction, the one that revolutionaries must focus their energy on. It is the string we can pull to unravel the whole situation. And so it's the most important contradiction to focus on right now.
As this author points out, in revolutionary war, as with the ones in Vietnam and China, the principal contradiction is between the imperialist occupying force and the oppressed masses. In the world today overall we see the principal contradiction as between the imperialist countries and the nations they oppress and exploit. In prison we can identify the principal contradiction in a particular situation. For instance when there is an ongoing battle between imprisoned lumpen orgs then the principal contradiction in that prison might be between two lumpen organizations. That doesn't mean it will be the principal contradiction forever. If we achieve peace between the warring lumpen groups, the new principal contradiction may be between the lumpen and the state.
We agree with this writer on the fundamental importance of the contradiction of capitalism. We say that the class contradiction, which under capitalism is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, is the fundamental contradiction. This means it underlies all other contradictions within class society. As this author points out, this is an important guiding principle because it helps us understand why one successful revolution in one country won't lead to the end of all oppression, even within that country. This doesn't, however, mean that class is always the principal contradiction. In fact, as noted above, the principal contradiction in the world today is between imperialist countries and the exploited countries. And even within U.$. borders we see the principal contradiction as between the oppressor and oppressed nations.
By evaluating every situation scientifically we can figure out what is the most important contradiction to focus our energy on. And in this way we can best push forward the revolutionary movement.
While we frequently discuss gender oppression in the pages of Under Lock & Key, most readers will notice a primary focus on national oppression. This is intentional, as we see the resolution of the national contradiction as the most successful path to ending all oppression at this stage. But for any of our readers who like our focus on nationalism, and have not taken the time to read MIM Theory 2/3: Gender and Revolutionary Feminism, i recommend you take a look. It is in MT2/3 that MIM really dissected the difference between class, nation and gender and justified its focus on nation. Don't just focus on nation because it's more important to you subjectively, understand why it is the top priority by reading MT 2/3.
All USW comrades should be working their way to the level 2 introductory study program offered by MIM(Prisons). We start level 1 studying the basics of scientific thinking. In level 2, we move on to study Fundamental Political Line of the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons, which gives a good overview of the 3 strands of oppression: class, nation and gender, and how they interact. This issue of Under Lock & Key is intended to supplement that theoretical material with some application to prison organizing and contemporary current events. (Let us know if you want to sign up for the study group.)
Academic Individualism vs. Revolutionary Science
Bourgeois individualism looks at race, class and gender as identities, which are seen as natural categories that exist within each individual. While proponents of identity politics generally recognize these concepts have evolved over time, they generally do not explain how or why. Dialectical materialists understand nation, class and gender as dualities that evolved as humyn society developed. Under capitalism, the class structure is defined by bourgeoisie exploiting proletarians. Class looked different under feudalism or primitive communist societies. One of the things Marx spent a lot of time doing is explaining how and why class evolved the way it did. Engels also gave us an analysis of the evolution of gender in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.
One self-described "Marxist-Feminist critique of Intersectionality Theory" points out that "theories of an 'interlocking matrix of oppressions,' simply create a list of naturalized identities, abstracted from their material and historical context."(1) They do not provide a framework for understanding how to overthrow the systems that are imposing oppression on people, because they do not explain their causes. This "Marxist" critic, however, falls into the class reductionist camp that believes all oppression is rooted in class.
The MIM line is not class reductionist, rather we reduce oppression to three main strands: nation, gender and class. This is still too limited for the identity politics crowd. But when we dive into other types of oppression that might be separate from nation, class and gender, we find that they always come back to one of those categories. And this clarity on the main strands of oppression allows us to develop a path to success, by building on the historical experience of others who have paved the way for our model.
While MIM is often associated with the class analysis of the First World labor aristocracy, this was nothing really new. What MIM did that still sets it apart from others, that we know of, is develop the first revolutionary theory on sexual privilege. The class-reductionism of the writer cited above is demonstrated in eir statement, "to be a 'woman' means to produce and reproduce a set of social relations through our labor, or self-activity."(2) MIM said that is class, but there is still something separate called gender. While class is how humyns relate in the production process, gender is how humyns relate in non-productive/leisure time. And while biological reproductive ability has historically shaped the divide between oppressor and oppressed in the realm of gender, we put the material basis today in health status.(3) This understanding is what allows us to see that things like age, disability, sexual preference and trans/cis gender status all fall in the gender strand of oppression.
Using "Feminism" to Bomb Nations
Militarism and imperialist invasion are antithetical to feminism. Yet the imperialists successfully use propaganda that they wrap in pseudo-feminism to promote the invasion of Third World countries again and again. Sorting out the strands of oppression is key to consistent anti-imperialism.
In MT 2/3, MIM condemned the pseudo-feminists by saying that "supporting women who go to the courts with rape charges is white supremacy."(4) A recent Human Rights Watch report discussing alleged widespread rape in the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) is getting lots of traction in the Amerikkkan/Briti$h press.(5) This campaign to demonize the DPRK is just like the campaign to imprison New Afrikans, with potentially nuclear consequences. We have two leading imperialist nations who committed genocide against an oppressed nation touting information that is effectively pro-war propaganda for another invasion and mass slaughter of that oppressed nation.
If it is true that rape is as widespread in the DPRK as in the United $tates and Great Britain, then we also must ask what the situation of wimmin would have been in the DPRK today if it were not for the imperialist war and blockade on that country. In the 1950s, Korea was on a very similar path as China. Socialism in China did more for wimmin's liberation than bourgeois feminists ever have. They increased wimmin's participation in government, surpassing the United $tates, rapidly improved infant mortality rates, with Shanghai surpassing the rate of New York, and eliminated the use of wimmin's bodies in advertising and pornography.(6)
An activist who is focused solely on ending rape will not see this. Of course, a healthy dose of white nationalism helps one ignore the mass slaughter of men, wimmin and children in the name of wimmin's liberation. So the strands do interact.
Distracted Senate Hearings
Recently, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh went through a hearing before his appointment to assess accusations of sexual assault from his past. This was a spectacle, with the sexual content making it tantalizing to the public, rather than political content. Yes, the debate is about a lifetime appointment to a very high-powered position, that will affect the path of U.$. law. But there was no question of U.$. law favoring an end to war, oppression or the exploitation of the world's majority. Those who rallied against Kavanaugh were mostly caught up in Democratic Party politics, not actual feminism.
A quarter century ago, MIM was also disgusted by the hearings for Clarence Thomas to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice, that were dominated by questions about his sexual harassment of Anita Hill. Yet, this was an event that became quite divisive within MIM and eventually led to a consolidation of our movement's materialist gender line.(7) It was the intersection of nation with this display of gender oppression that made that case different from the Kavanaugh one, because Thomas and Hill are both New Afrikan. The minority line in this struggle was deemed the "pro-paternialism position."
The minority position was that MIM should stand with Anita Hill because she was the victim/oppressed. The line that won out was that Anita Hill was a petty-bourgeois cis-female in the First World, and was not helpless or at risk of starvation if she did not work for Clarence Thomas. While all MIM members would quickly jump on revisionists and pork-chop nationalists, paternalism led those holding the minority position to accept pseudo-feminism as something communists should stand by, because they pitied the female who faced situations like this.
Similarly today, with the Kavanaugh appointment, we should not let our subjective feelings about his treatment of wimmin confuse us into thinking those rallying against him represent feminism overall.
Bourgeois theories and identity politics
The paternalistic line brings us back to identity politics. A politic that says right and wrong can be determined by one's gender, "race" or other identity. The paternalist line will say things like only wimmin can be raped or New Afrikans can't "racially" oppress other people. In its extreme forms it justifies any action of members of the oppressed group.
Another form of identity politics is overdeterminism. The overdeterministic position is defined in our glossary as, "The idea that social processes are all connected and that all of the aspects of society cause each other, with none as the most important."(8) The overdeterminist will say "all oppressions are important so just work on your own. A parallel in anti-racism is that white people should get in touch with themselves first and work on their own racism."(9) Again this is all working from the framework of bourgeois individualism, which disempowers people from transforming the system.
There is a paralyzing effect of the bourgeois theories that try to persynalize struggles, and frame them in the question of "what's in it for me?" Communists have little concern for self when it comes to political questions. To be a communist is to give oneself to the people, and to struggle for that which will bring about a better future for all people the fastest. While humyn knowledge can never be purely objective, it is by applying the scientific method that we can be most objective and reach our goals the quickest.(10)
Who goes there? Calling on the keepers of the last grey stone. There has never been a time more appropriate for the gathering of the lost tribes of the dark world. However, is it real when we chant out "Black Lives Matter"? New Afrikans are launching the building bridges initiative of United Struggle from Within (USW) with the objective of reviving the Afrikan tradition of 'each one teach one'/'go a mile to reach one'. The most relevant topic that one comrade raises is to question "Does Black Lives Matter (BLM) when it is at the expense of the Afrikan identity?"
This subject will be covered by the New Afrikan anti-imperialist Political Prisoners over a period of time. In short revolutionary tracks, this New Afrikan leader, alongside of all those who support him, will go in on the issues that face the BLM movement and what is to be done in order to paint a more clear picture for New Afrikans. This will be done in using language geared towards reaching prisoners, former prisoners and the righteous supporters of the anti-imperialist prison abolishment movement. We who are most affected by this principal contradiction within the United $tates; Oppressor Nation Integration (ONI) vs. Proletarian Nationalist Independence (PNI).
Jumping off the porch from the perspective of #If Black Lives Matter (#BLM) FREE LARRY HOOVER, FREE SHY C, FREE EUGENIE HARISON, FREE JEFF FORT, etc. FREE THE LUMPEN organizations and their leaders who for far too long bit the bullet for being the cause of the destruction of the inner city semi-colonies of the oppressor nation known as amerikkka. We who are truly the last hired and the first fired, we step to the plate speaking in plain language, asking the right questions. Like, if the CIA is responsible for all the drugs and firearms being circulated in the hood, why are we the ones who sit in prison since Black Lives Matter!?
We read publications, like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, that goes to describe the racial caste system of imperialist nations as the pit of class divides in the amerikkkas, but we go to the root issue of this class divide misinformation with the question of how could there be a class divide within an exploiter nation?
The whole matter is that really, we just want a bigger slice of the pie, but at whose expense? If Black Lives Matter, why settle for being black? Why not consider oneself to be in solidarity with a nation of its own, separate and unequal to that of its previous slave masters (oppressors), when we in all actuality just want to replace the slave masters only so that we may become them; Police bullies, gossip columnists, fake doctors, tax agents and bill collectors. We ain't doing nothing but reforming the beast (exploiter nation) that we love to hate. So in essence, the same crackers we claim is at the root of our suffering, the same bleach we claim to be destroying our skin, we're putting it on. We have become the beast. So why do Black Lives really Matter? Not until Black Lives become Afrikan, they don't.
This is the objective of this build, to destroy the misinformation spread throughout the prison yards, and the New Afrikan neighborhoods, done so to keep those of us who really suffer as a result of the oppressor nation's strategy to keep them (the so-called criminals, gang members and terrorists) uneducated about national liberation, un-united with those who share a similar national hardship/oppression, and dependent on the bourgeoisie exploitation systems of anti-socialism.
It is most imperative for those who hold most dear to the identity of Black Lives Matter to go to the root of this idea and relay the foundation of the identity of ancestral reality. Fighting over class positions that translate into a bigger slice of the pie, stolen from us in the first place, will get us no closer to the national identity determination and independence we so rightfully hope for. Only, that hope is false if we fall into the trap trick that selling our soul by becoming integrationist with the pig state that we will achieve national liberation. Remember, the pie (the systems like welfare, social security, income taxes) the exploiters created off the backs of we the People and our natural resources. If Black Lives Matter, why is it a crime for Blacks to consider themselves Original People (True/Native Ameriqans) or Asiatic Africans? Moors or Maroons & Caribbs?
Why do those who proclaim leadership or stewardship for the Black empowerment identity find themselves enemies of the state, that their own so-called people work hard with to maintain their Black Wall Street? Since we're on the topic, what happened to Black Wall Street? Did it really disappear, or did it turn up in Chicago with Oprah Winfrey, Louis Farrakhan and the 'Occupy Wall Street Movement'? A lot of groups ain't gonna like how we are connecting the dots to expose those who are most in need of the truth, that is the root reason for voices of the truly oppressed not being heard by the international supporters of anti-imperialism. But, we don't have nothing to lose because we never sold out, so it doesn't matter who don't like us.
We speak the People's & Kinsfolk's language (Block talk) because we are amongst them that are traveling in the murky waters, struggling with an objective solely rooted in delivering the message of Maoist culture in a way the People and Folks will comprehend it.
Knowing that we cannot free our people of their psychological enslavement without first addressing the national identity of WE as a socialist people. USW works from a bottom up vantage. We build from the inside out. Concentrating on the communities around us to develop independent systems of education, communication, economics and control.
In my last article on China I rehashed the 40-year old argument that China abandoned the socialist road, with some updated facts and figures.(1) The article started as a review of the book Is China an Imperialist Country? by N.B. Turner, but left most of that question to be answered by Turner's book.
We did not publish that article to push some kind of struggle against Chinese imperialism. Rather, as we explained, it was an attack on the promotion of revisionism within the forum www.reddit.com/r/communism, and beyond. The forum's most-enforced rule is that only Marxists are allowed to post and participate in discussion there. Yet almost daily, posts building a persynality cult around Chinese President Xi Jinping, or promoting some supposed achievement of the Chinese government, are allowed and generally receive quick upvotes.
The title of our previous article asking is China in 2017 Socialist or Imperialist may be misunderstood to mean that China must be one or the other. This is not the case. Many countries are not socialist but are also not imperialist. In the case of China, however, it is still important (so many years after it abandoned socialism) to clarify that it is a capitalist country. And so our positive review of a book discussing Chinese imperialism, became a polemic against those arguing it is socialist.
One of the major contradictions in the imperialist era is the inter-imperialist contradiction. The United $tates is the dominant aspect of this contradiction as the main imperialist power in the world today. And currently Russia and China are growing imperialist powers on the other side of this inter-imperialist contradiction. Reading this contradiction as somehow representative of the class contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat or of the principal contradiction between oppressed nations and oppressor nations would be an error.
We have continued to uphold that China is a majority exploited country, and an oppressed nation.(2) But China is a big place. Its size is very much related to its position today as a rising imperialist power. And its size is what allows it to have this dual character of both a rising imperialist class and a majority proletariat and peasantry. Finally, its size is part of what has allowed an imperialist class to rise over a period of decades while insulating itself from conflict with the outside world — both with exploiter and exploited nations.
A major sign that a country is an exploiting country is the rise and subsequent dominance of a non-productive consumer class. At first, the Chinese capitalists depended on Western consumers to grease the wheels of their circulation of capital. While far from the majority, as in the United $tates and Europe, China has more recently begun intentionally developing a domestic consumer class.(3) This not only helps secure the circulation of capital, but begins to lay the groundwork for unequal exchange that would further favor China in its trade with other countries. Unequal exchange is a mechanism that benefits the rich First World nations, and marks a more advanced stage of imperialism than the initial stages of exporting capital to relieve the limitations of the nation-state on monopoly capitalism. As we stated in the article cited above, China's size here becomes a hindrance in that it cannot become a majority exploiter country, having 20% of the world's population, without first displacing the existing exploiter countries from that role. Of course, this will not stop them from trying and this will be a contradiction that plays out in China's interactions with the rest of the world and internally. At the same time with an existing "middle class" that is 12-15% of China's population, they are well on their way to building a consumer class that is equal in size to that of Amerika's.(3)
In our last article, we hint at emerging conflicts between China and some African nations. But the conflict that is more pressing is the fight for markets and trade dominance that it faces with the United $tates in the Pacific region and beyond. China remains, by far, the underdog in this contradiction, or the rising aspect. But again, its size is part of what gives it the ability to take positions independent of U.$. imperialism.
As we stated in our most recent article, this contradiction offers both danger and opportunity. We expect it to lead to more support for anti-imperialist forces as the imperialists try to undercut each other by backing their enemies. Then, as anti-imperialism strengthens, the imperialists will face more global public opinion problems in pursuing their goals of exploitation and domination. In other words, a rising imperialist China bodes well for the international proletariat. Not because China is a proletarian state, but because the era of U.$. hegemony must end for a new era of socialism to rise. We should be clear with people about the definitions of imperialism and socialism to make this point.
China's potential to play a progressive role in the world in coming years does not change the fact that the counter-revolution led by Deng Xiaoping dismantled the greatest achievement towards reaching communism so far in history. If we do not learn from that very painful setback, then we are not applying the scientific method and we will not even know what it is that we are fighting for. How and when socialism ended in China is a question that is fundamental to Maoism.
I was going over some points about integrationalism from a magnificent work by RADS called [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. What I read talked about the rise in the percentage of Chicanos joining the military. (Between 2000 and 2004, Latinos went from 10.4% of new military recruits to 13.0%, pg. 132.) It goes on to talk about the key of the struggle of the oppressed nation is: "National liberation!" Not an integrationist approach into an entity with the whites who make up the majority of military troops. (My emphasis)
I believe that the "civil rights" theory of sharing what whites are privileged at or enjoy, tho' may equal some form of equality, will not equal liberation from oppression of the people.
The overall goal is to overthrow imperialism and their exploitation of the proletariat and their oppression of mankind, not to have a "civil right" to also be able to exploit and oppress and have a piece of the imperialist pie. In the end game we must obtain communism through socialism.
I think many get lost in the sauce of "civil rights" stimuli and become confused about how we should end oppression and genocide of our folks.
Not only is it our duty to refrain from getting caught up in the "civil rights hype" and use the materialist method, but also what comes with the territory of staying true to our politics is that we must also correct those of the stock who do fall for the civil rights approach when trying to escape or put an end to imperialist madness. This same stock I speak of are some of the same folks who could also make up some of the potential to join the ranks of the people's army.
I would like to address the question if there should be a united front alliance with white nationalist groups.
I am all for aligning with other groups who face oppression and who share the same goals. When it comes to white nationalist groups first a few things must be clarified. First question is who and what is "white." White is scientifically not a racial group. Also do whites in prison and the world face the same systematic oppression as people of color? Lastly looking at history how has interactions between whites and people of color effected the non-white groups in a positive way?
The question on "who and what is white?" has an elusive answer especially right here in the United $tates. Since 1790, the United $tates has allowed only "free white persons" to become citizens; in the twentieth century as non-European immigrants applied for citizenship it became the responsibility of the courts to set limits upon whiteness. George Dow, a Syrian immigrant, was denied eligibility for citizenship on the basis that geography defined race; to be white was to be European. Dow eventually won on appeal, showing that Syrians were indeed Europeans based on geography and thus members of the white race. In 1922, a Japanese immigrant named Takao Ozawa argued that he should be considered a white person because his skin was literally white, asserting that many Japanese people were "whiter than the average Italian, Spaniard, or Portuguese." His case would go all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected his claim to citizenship and the idea that race could be determined by skin tone: "To adopt the color test alone would result in a confused overlapping of races and a gradual merging of one into the other, without any practical line of separation," claimed one judge.
Using the science of the day, the court ruled that "the words 'white person' are synonymous with the words 'a person of the Caucasian race'." Since Ozawa was not a Caucasion, he could not be white. In only a short time later, in the case of an Indian immigrant named Bhagat Singh Thind, the Supreme Court betrayed its Ozawa ruling and declared that while all whites are Caucasian, not all Caucasians were white. Even scientists classified Thind as undeniably Caucasian, but the court insisted that "White" must mean something more. "It may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity, but the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them today." To prove his purity, Thind invoked the Aryanist myth of ancient white conquerors setting up the caste system to preserve their race. "The high-class Hindu" he argued, "regards the aboriginal Indian mongoloid in the same manner as the American regards the negro." With all that Thind was denied citizenship. Within the category of "Caucasian," the court noted one could find a wide range of peoples including South Asians, Polynesians, and even the Hamites of Africa based upon their Caucasian cast of features, though in color they range from brown to black. For reasons not articulated the court decided Thind was not white, and therefore not granted privileges of the white empire.
That the Supreme Court could reject a white-skinned Japanese because he was not Caucasian and a brown-skinned Caucasian because he was not white reveals that white people have made race what it has always been: an unscientific and inconsistent means of enforcing social inequality that further rules the machines of global white supremacy. This machine is what gives birth to capitalism and imperialism and other oppressive factions. So basically whiteness is whatever white people say it is. So by white nationalist groups even identifying themselves as white places them in a privileged position in the global white supremacy machine. It is no secret why someone would want to identify as "white," especially in the United $tates where there is undeniably a caste system based on skin color. With whiteness comes privilege and a sense of entitlement. Yes, I know there are white comrades who are being oppressed also but it is not solely based on their skin color or ethnic group. They are basically collateral damage of the capitalistic and imperialistic system that comes from global white supremacy. White people make up around 11% of the world's population yet at least 82% of the world's population is in some fashion being oppressed by the global white supremacy machine. Are white nationalist groups really ready to give up their whiteness to stand for true revolution even if that means in the process whiteness will no longer exist?
History shows that those of us who fight for revolution have aligned ourselves with white groups and white individuals who claim they seek change too. In the midst of this, problems usually occurred. Most notably is with William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison, a white man, can be labeled as a true revolutionist of his time. As an abolitionist he spoke out against slavery and demanded full racial equality even before the Civil War. He also publicly burned the U.$. constitution, calling it an "agreement with hell." Garrison seemed like the white nationalist who wanted to join the fight but he still couldn't escape his sense of privilege and superiority. This moment came when Frederick Douglass, Garrison's protégé, told Garrison that he wanted to start a newspaper. Garrison, fearful that Douglass would draw black readers away from his own paper and hurt that Douglass would even think of competing against him, discouraged the plan. Another white abolitionist in Garrison's camp, Maria Weston Chapman, even doubted Douglass could have the mental capacity for such a task. Douglass went ahead and started his newspaper which ended his friendship with Garrison. Garrison, though he wanted to help, could not see that the revolution was not about him but about the millions of people being oppressed. He still had to be a white guy about the whole situation. He took his sense of privilege and entitlement and wanted to discourage another in his attempt to add to the cause. So can white nationalist groups align themselves with the United Front without trying to make the fight solely about their ego? Can the United Front hold the fight when aligned with white nationalist groups without having fear of offending white people when truths are spoken against capitalism, imperialism and global white supremacy when it puts the collective of white people in a negative light?
Lastly how have groups who are predominately non-white benefited in the past when coming into contact with whites? Historically the relationship between non-whites and whites has been one of colonization, genocide, slavery, imperialism, and destruction. Though all non-white groups and cultures did not live in idyllic golden ages before the coming of white people, these elements weren't consistent, nor were they typical, until the advent of white culture domination. This has been the consistent relationship of white people with the world. So history shows the consistent nature of white people when coming in contact of non-white people has been one of predatory and exploitative relationships.
Now some will say I'm being racist by stating these facts but consider the fact that people of "hue" hence humans have been the most tolerant and accepting people you'll ever encounter (sometimes to our detriment) and this premise of exclusion came from white people themselves. It is only us who are confused about where they stand. Now yes there are those white individuals and groups who attempt to confront and resist these norms. Those who have attempted to do so in earnest have learned these lessons the hard way. White people who actively resist whiteness (and all of its norms) are out-casted, disowned, and reviled by other members of their own groups. This is what defines the community and collective identity and not the individuals who know that "treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity."
So can white nationalist groups abandon their whiteness and sense of privilege? If so then yes United Front can align with them in some fashion. Based on historic events it should be controlled and constantly evaluated. Also whites need not to hold hands with us and smile but reach in their own communities and take the fight to their own who actively and by default participate in the global white supremacy machine which governs capitalism and imperialism.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We agree with this comrade that to identify with whiteness is to identify with an oppressor nation, and we therefore say that Amerikans must commit nation (as well as class and gender) suicide through their actions, in order to join the side of humynity.
The example given of Garrison and Douglass is a fine anecdote, but it is just an example of a couple of people. So we would caution our readers to not draw broad conclusions from isolated examples. And there are books out there, like Settlers: The Mythology of a White Proletariat by J. Sakai and False Nationalism, False Internationalism by Sera and Tani that do broader historical analysis of the relationships between the oppressed nations in the United $tates and various groups of "revolutionary" or "progressive" whites.
Both of those books are looking at imperialism, or at least its emergence in the United $tates. Imperialism's identity is found in the conflict between the oppressor nations and the oppressed nations that resist them. While ideas of superiority based on phenotypical characteristics (appearance) certainly did not originate with imperialism, it is with imperialism that nation becomes principal. Therefore, we would reverse the author's premise that the "[machine of global white supremacy] is what gives birth to capitalism and imperialism and other oppressive factions." Marx and Lenin explained the evolution of imperialism on economic terms, while the culture and ideas that came with it were a reflection of those economic changes. In other words, which came first, racism or capitalism? There were seeds of racism before imperialism, but national oppression (the material manifestation of racism) solidified as a system under the economic conditions of imperialism. The ideas of racism, so central to our society, are a product of this system of national oppression that evolved with imperialism, not the cause of it.
In the struggle against white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism, a united front does not require agreement on every position, or even for all parties to "stand for true revolution." In the context of the prison movement, white nationalists might be serious about the struggle against long-term isolation because their leaders are very likely to face this torture. In this case, we'd suggest we should unite with these groups to work on that campaign. In this issue of ULK we have some examples in which such temporary alliances for common interests as prisoners have succeeded.
The question of how oppressor nation and oppressed nation revolutionaries should relate in this country is a whole other question brought up by this comrade. We will only address it briefly to bring up some general points for further analysis. The urge to unite with white people in the United $tates is a recurring theme due to the fact that the white nation has been a majority population by design since the founding of this country, and it's hard to fight battles as the minority. As we know, those numbers are projected to change in the not-so-distant future. But even when euro-Amerikans become the minority, will most oppressed nation people be anti-imperialist? In current conditions they are not, though great potential remains. As we are currently in a non-revolutionary situation, we think it is a reasonable organizing strategy to avoid white people and white organizations altogether. There are plenty of oppressed nation people yet to be organized, and single-nation organizations have proven most effective in U.$. history at building revolutionary movements.
As conditions become more revolutionary, if forces in favor of revolution remain the minority in all nations in the United $tates, those who avoided whites before may be tempted to address this issue again. The Panthers organized with euro-Amerikans from a position of strength, so that they largely avoided those euro-Amerikans harming their movement, especially in the early years. Yet, Huey Newton found New Afrikans in a position of weakness due to their minority status that led to his proposal of the theory of intercommunalism. Fred Hampton's Rainbow Coalition and Huey Newton's Intercommunalism demonstrate a strong tendency in the Panther leadership to approach euro-Amerikans as potential allies in the anti-imperialist united front similar to how they approached other nations.
From Malcolm X to Stokely Carmichael to the Panthers, New Afrikan revolutionaries have pushed whites to organize their own. But how do they do that? Some white organizations tried to mimic the Panthers, but this was only viable in small pockets of lumpenized whites. Other groups have provided support structures to oppressed nations, where the focus is on organizing whites to serve other nations. But we need something in between, where white people can be leaders, applying and learning from the scientific method of building a revolutionary movement, but at the same time serving other nations in ways that are against the interest of their own. We don't think whites can organize on the same basis as the Panthers, because they are on the opposite side of the principal contradiction. But we also don't think relegating whites to the kitchen is allowing them to develop politically, and is therefore setting back progress. This could be done on the basis of accountability and self-criticism. It could also incorporate shared self-interest in opposing environmental destruction and war. But a truly revolutionary current among euro-Amerikans will likely not gain much traction until the oppressed nations have progressed the struggle to a stage that is more advanced than it is today.
In an article titled "Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American Student," published in January 1965, Max Stanford argued that Black students of the "warbaby" generation embodied several contradictions at once – contradictions that could lead them to embrace capitalism and white values, check out altogether, or join the revolutionary movement. What I like about this idea from Max Stanford is many of us Black lumpens scream and protest about oppression and unjustice. But as soon as we're pacified with promises of more jobs and wage growth we tend to get amnesia on how capitalism is creating the oppression and injustices.
Sometimes I question organizations that scream that we need to be free and equal but still want to hold on to petit-bourgeois ideas. I can agree with Max Stanford about the warbaby generation that wants oppression to end but will embrace capitalism as if that system will truly liberate them from oppression. I see this happening today; what we should be protesting about is bringing in a new economic system which can give us control of the means of production. Rather than riot and protest and beg these imperialists for more oppression and injustice in order to satisfy our material desires.
Another point I want to express is the embracing of white values. When we hear the term white values what is Max Stanford getting at? Well he must mean how Blacks will adopt lifestyles and ideology that most capitalist whites have. Now I assume Max Stanford was envisioning a future in which New Afrikans would sell out the revolution for material wealth in supporting a system which creates class divisions in Amerikkka and abroad. A lot of revolutionaries of the past used self-censorship in order to support capitalism and gave up on the struggle for the fear of being isolated targets of the imperialist masters. We have even gone so far as denying self-determination. So I agree with Max Stanford's statement that Black revolutionaries would embrace white values.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer raises a very relevant point about the potential for oppressed nation people to be pacified with material wealth. We have seen a movement towards integration and buying off oppressed nations within U.$. borders, as a part of a dual-pronged strategy from the government since the revolutionary movements of the 60s and 70s: dramatic incarceration rates combined with significant movement towards integration. We still see sufficient national oppression that we continue to have distinct nations within U.$. borders, but as with other nations in the past, Amerika could decide to fully integrate its oppressed nations to focus its energy on the exploitation of the Third World. Already superprofits are being shared with the [email protected] and New Afrikan nations so that even while facing national oppression they are enjoying an economic benefit from their Amerikan citizenship. And this promise of material benefit does lead revolutionaries to give up the struggle, as this author points out.
So we have to ask, what should revolutionaries do with these material conditions? This issue of ULK is about movement tactics, and it is an analysis of our conditions that should lead us to determine what are appropriate tactics and strategy for our organizing work. At this point in time we still believe that the principal contradiction within U.$. borders is between the oppressor nation and oppressed nations. It's even possible we will see this contradiction heighten as the white supremacists gain a stronger foothold in open roles in the government. So for now it is our job to educate and organize the revolutionaries, with a focus on the oppressed nations. But we are not fighting for the economic advancement of oppressed nation workers, who are already benefiting from imperialism. Our message must be clear: we are internationalists, fighting to end all national oppression, not just gain a bigger piece of the pie for internal oppressed nations while the pie is baked with the labor of exploited Third World workers.
Lumpen: The Autobiography of Ed Mead
Available for $20 + shipping/handling from: kersplebedeb
CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne
As anti-imperialists and prison activists, we can recommend Ed Mead's recent autobiography as a useful read. There are a couple inconsistencies with the form and the line promoted in the book, however. While Mead critiques anarchism and reformism in the book, at the end is a list of a number of organizations that struggle for prisoners' rights, and they are all reformist/mass organizations with a couple anarchist groups thrown in. Mead stresses that he does not believe communists should hide their beliefs. Yet it is odd that he finds no communist prison support groups to be worthy of mention. Moreso, it seems that for much of Mead's life ey couldn't find a communist organization to be a part of and support.
We also must question the form of an autobiography. Our culture promotes the idea of writing one's own story. While this author has been told to write an autobiography multiple times, having lived much less of my life than Ed Mead, i don't plan to ever do so. I hope that if i do live as long as Mead i'm too busy fulfilling my tasks in a communist cadre org (or hopefully state by then) to spend a bunch of time writing about myself. Certainly there is some value in terms of the building of humyn knowledge of documenting the conditions of the time and places that Mead experienced. But it does not seem a high priority for communists. It was probably for this reason that i found the first chapters of the book tiring to read. I didn't really need to know all about Mead's family growing up to learn some lessons about how to organize with prisoners effectively. But perhaps that was my own problem as that was never a stated purpose of this book.
The foremost stated purpose of the book by Mead is to "extend an invitation to sections of the lumpenproletariat to join the international working class." While not a bad goal, it does hint at differences we have with Mead and other communists within California Prison Focus (CPF) regarding whether nation or class is the principal contradiction. This has led to divisions in our work to shut down Security Housing Units in California. In the 2000s, MIM was part of the United Front to Abolish the SHU, which was dominated by parties and organizations struggling for national liberation. While CPF was nominally a member, their difference on this issue led to a lack of working together. This was despite the fact that the United Front explicitly allowed for organizational independence in terms of political line outside of our agreement on shutting down the SHU. In the 2010s, CPF was part of the leadership that created the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. Mead was perhaps the only one who tried to include MIM(Prisons) in that effort. But the coalition structure forced us to the outside this time as MIM(Prisons) refused to subsume our politics to the coalition.
While recognizing whites as obviously having advantages over others, Mead does believe there is a significant white nation working class in this country. While citing Mao favorably multiple times, Mead points out Mao's failure to put class first as a point of disagreement.(p. 164) Mead's line is also reflected in an off-hand comment saying Stalin was wrong to condemn the German social-democrats as social-fascists. We think Stalin and the Comintern correctly saw the class nature and interest of the social democrats as being labor aristocracy and petty bourgeois, who wavered towards fascism, paving its way to power.(1)
Mead talks about "white skin privilege" and uses it as an agitational point to push people to join the class war while discussing eir participation in the militant George Jackson Brigade. Mead admits that eir decision to use revolutionary violence was a direct result of the lack of mass support for abused prisoners.(p. 181) At the same time ey mentions other groups at the time doing similar things and believing that small bands carrying out armed struggle would spread across the country. Mead does not conclude anywhere in the book that it was a mistake to take up this line even though comrades died, while the rest spent the prime of their lives in prison. As we discussed in a recent article on the Black Panthers, it was both common and understandable to conclude that armed struggle would become a reality in the United $tates at that time.(2) Yet, not only are conditions less advanced today, history also proved that armed struggle in the United $tates was premature in the conditions of 1966-72.
From what we know about Mead in real life and from reading the book, it is clear that ey was good at and focused on uniting all who could be united. And while we say it is better for communists to work within cadre organizations than mass organizations, as Mead did much of eir life, ey certainly did so in a principled way according to the book. And most of those principles are ones that we too support.
As mentioned, i came to this book in search of some lessons on anti-imperialist organizing in prisons. And while some of the stories are very abbreviated, the book is not short on examples of Mead's efforts, pitfalls and successes. Mead talks about the importance of determining the principal contradiction at each prison ey organized in. While in most cases ey sait it was related to nation, ey said it was related to sexism in Walla Walla, which led to the formation of Men Against Sexism.(3) Interestingly, Mead takes the position that while nation is principal inside prisons, it does not make sense to build a Black-only prison movement (at least on a large scale).(p. 280) We are sympathetic to this view and spend a lot of time calling for unity between nationalities in prison, while promoting national liberation as a strategy for the oppressed nations overall. A couple of good lessons are well-put in Mead's own words:
"...if the immediate demands address prisoners' rights and living conditions, then the backwards elements will either be won over or neutralized by the growing consciousness of the rest of the population."(p. 305) This was one of the most inspiring parts of Mead's story. In a situation where the prison system was dominated by one lumpen organization (LO) that was guided by self-interest, Mead had the revolutionary fearlessness to organize those victimized by the LO to build a mass movement that the whole population came to identify with.
"An organization that depends upon one person for direction is doomed to fail; each level of cadre should be able to take the place of a fallen or transferred comrade, even if that person occupies a leadership position."(p. 306) Mead learned this from experience, both in situations where ey was that sole leader and others where ey was surrounded by a dedicated cadre. Inspiring stories include the first strike ever at McNeil Island, which had 100% participation.(p. 139) While many of the challenges of prison organizing are still the same decades later, you'll find many other inspiring stories in this book as well. It demonstrates both the importance of the prison movement as part of the overall movement for liberation and against imperialism, while showing the limitations of a prison movement that is not complemented by strong movements on the outside. As the current struggle focused on police murders continues to ferment, we work to build a prison movement, and they will feed each other as we move towards the next revolutionary period in history.
Book Review: Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism Gilbert Achcar Haymarket Books 2013
In part one of this review i addressed the author's apparent disdain for the anti-imperialist Islamic movement. In this concluding article i will expose the author's First World chauvinism as being at the root of his reactionary perspective by explaining how he uses the Christian liberation vs. Islamic fundamentalist concept in religion and politics today from a Marxian perspective, so as to better prepare the reader for his ideas on "internationalism" and "ultra-nationalism" by which he really means revolutionary nationalism. As such, it would seem that the entire premise of this book was not intended as a supplemental analysis of anti-imperialist politics in the Middle East today, but so that the author can push his crypto-Trotskyist agenda. Crypto-Trotskyism is a term used to refer to organizations that exhibit Trotskyist tendencies, but which don’t admit to being Trotskyist. Most significantly they suffer from the same great nation chauvinism as the other Trots: over-emphasizing the role of the oppressor nation working classes, and under-emphasizing the role of liberation struggles of the oppressed nations.(1)
The author begins the final essay of this book titled "Marxism and Cosmopolitanism" by tracing the very hystory of the word cosmopolitanism. He discusses how it went thru many twists and turns, from its beginning in ancient Greek civilization thru the Middle Ages and up until today; at one point progressive, while regressive at another. Hence, we learn that the terms cosmopolitan and globalization are connected in this regard. We also learn that Marx and Engels shared Achcar's disdain at one point or another for any and all national movements, in particular for those centered in the capitalist periphery, preferring, instead to champion the cause of the global proletariat, which in their lifetimes meant focusing on European workers. As a result, Marx and Engels contributed to popularizing the concept of cosmopolitanism as interchangeable with international proletariat, which to many communists of the time was preferable to mentioning by name the plight of English or German workers because of the obvious connotations to nationalism. Such connotations were seen by most as giving legitimacy to nationalist struggles, which at the time were driven by the national bourgeoisie.
Within this context nationalism was viewed as backward and reactionary for the proletariat, as the national bourgeoisie was using this concept to their advantage by inciting the proletariat to kill and be killed by workers of other countries, for the bourgeoisie’s goal of world domination. The communists on the other hand rejected nationalism, considering themselves staunch internationalists; champions of the world proletariat, whose hystoric mission it was to usher in the socialist stage of communist development. This being the accepted theory of the time, well before Mao posited that in the age of imperialism, nationalism of the oppressed nations is internationalism.
All this is important to remember when assessing the text as it pertains to the whole reason why Achcar even wrote this book. More so, it is important to remember because in the following pages the author uses much of this information to attack the practice and political line of Joseph Stalin. And while it is undeniable that Marx and Engels at one point agreed with many of the ideas that Achcar propagates, it is also undeniable that as reality progressed, so did Marx and Engels' thinking, which is more than we can say for Mr. Achcar. So if we want to learn the genuine Marxist stance on nations and nationalism then we should not limit ourselves to what the founders of scientific socialism had to say on these topics early on in their revolutionary careers. Rather, we should study and learn what they advocated and stood for later in their lives once they became full-fledged Marxists. As such, the line that Achcar is pushing is a disingenuous one in which he proclaims that all nationalism, just like all variants of revolutionary Islam, are inherently bad, when in reality it is the nationalism of the oppressor nations and the Western privilege that comes with it that he upholds. As such, Gilbert Achcar should just come out and say what he really thinks; which is that the nationalism of the oppressed is what he believes to be backward and reactionary, while oppressor nation nationalism is inherently progressive due to its linkage to Europeans, their culture and tradition. Thus, just as the author correctly pointed out in "Religion and Politics today from a Marxian Perspective," that Islamic fundamentalism is a concept that can be divided into one that is collaborationist with Western interests and one that is hostile to Western interests, so is nationalism a concept that can be divided into one that is bourgeois and reactionary, and one that is revolutionary and forward looking.
"Cosmopolitanism" as Anathema: the Stalinist Perversion
Trotskyists of various stripes have always hated on Stalin for a multiplicity of reasons, primarily however for his theory of socialist development. As Stalin's line on socialist development progressed it eventually came to stand for the national liberation struggles of the oppressed nations, not only within Europe but outside the continent as well. He correctly saw the revolutionary character of the anti-imperialist movement in the colonies as both hostile to Western interests and potentially pro-Soviet. Trotsky on the other hand had nothing but contempt for Asians, Africans and [email protected] Americans, believing them too backward and weak to ever launch successful liberation struggles and/or engage in socialist construction absent the immediate help of the European working classes, a theory that was proven incorrect when an onslaught of colonial countries broke free of the imperialist framework following the end of World War II. And so it is within the context of "globalization" and anti-imperialist struggles in the 21st century that Gilbert Achcar now attempts to rehabilitate Trotsky's theory of the world revolution led by the so-called proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries vis-a-vis the rehabilitation of cosmopolitanism; vis-a-vis his criticisms of Joseph Stalin. To accomplish this however, Achcar must go in depth into the hystory of the Soviet Union, in particular into the propaganda campaigns against cosmopolitanism which Stalin had initiated at the end of World War II, as well as to the campaigns in favor of Soviet patriotism which Stalin also had initiated to prepare the Soviet masses for the Nazi invasion.
According to Mr. Achcar these campaigns were nothing more than a cover for Stalin's anti-Semitism. Yet interestingly enough, in making these accusations the author inadvertently puts forth a plausible explanation for the oppression of notable Jews during this period in the Soviet Union; thereby paving the way for a materialist explanation of these actions and the clearing of Stalin's name as far as anti-Semitism goes.
Achcar like so many anti-communists before him cannot contain his contempt for the progress made under Stalin and so he jumps on the bourgeois bandwagon of blaming Stalin for the so-called Jewish pogroms that were said to have taken place beginning in 1949 alongside the further elaboration and popularization of Soviet patriotism as a concept over that of cosmopolitanism. In addition, the author also contends that these campaigns were one and the same as the so-called anti-Marxist movement which supposedly took place during this period. What these campaigns actually represented however were struggles in the realm of ideas between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries battling for the "hearts and minds" of the Soviet masses, and indeed the future of the revolution.
According to Achcar, the cosmopolitans appear to have been something like a Trotskyist sect operating inside the USSR, who were agitating around the need for openness with the West and glorifying the West. Now remember, this is 1949 and the Cold War is cracking, all of the Soviet Union's wartime imperialist allies have retrained their guns on the communists. And although the author certainly doesn't say it, the Communist Party under Stalin certainly believed that these "cosmopolitans" were in the service of Amerikan imperialism carrying out intelligence gathering activities and engaging in building public opinion for counter-revolution and coup d'etat, just like the types of activities that CIA sponsored groups carry out in Third World countries with anti-western governments. It would seem then these cosmopolitans and other so-called "Marxists" were actually involved in sabotaging socialism from within with actions which thoroughly alarmed the Soviet government. But according to Achcar these were the real "Marxists," the real "internationalists" because they followed the teachings of the young Marx; but when did Marx ever speak of colluding against a socialist state?
Furthermore, the author states that in analyzing Stalin's anti-Semitism we cannot afford to begin in the post-war period, but must start with the publication of Marxism and the National Question, which Achcar describes as "a superficial and dogmatic essay on this most complex of questions."(2) Stalin denies the existence of a Jewish nation within Europe's borders, based on the Jewish people's lack of a common territory. Apparently Gilbert Achcar disagrees with the Marxist definition of nations preferring instead Otto Bauer's The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy, which clearly defines Jews as a nation based solely on their "common cultures" by which they should really just say religion. The author further claims that it is in this hystorical period that Stalin began his first anti-Marxist campaigns in which he sought to squelch all opposition and secure his position of power. Achcar goes on to argue that Stalin's ideas on internationalism reflected only a narrow and selfish outlook which took into account only the internationalism of the "pan-Tsarist" Russia organization of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party when, in Marxism and the National Question, he mentioned the principle that the party strove to "unite locally the workers of all nationalities of Russia into single, integral collective bodies, to unite their collective bodies into a single party."(3) In defending this principle Achcar states, "Stalin launched a fierce attack on nationalism, putting Great Russian chauvinism on equal footing with the nationalism that was expanding among oppressed nationalities in the USSR - in a definitely non-Leninist fashion."(2) However, this is an extreme misrepresentation of Stalin's line on Achcar's part. Stalin criticized the national chauvinism that was beginning to develop among some of the more reactionary sectors of the oppressed nations in the Tsarist empire and certainly not the nationalism of the oppressed themselves. Apparently, the author believes that national chauvinism should only be criticized when it originates with the oppressors and by people of the offending nation themselves and not by anyone else. In other words, only Russians can criticize Great Russian chauvinism and only the oppressed nations can criticize any chauvinism that originates within their own nations. This is certainly an ironic point that those who have actually read Marxism and the National Question will note. But Stalin was right to criticize the chauvinism of the oppressed nations in the old Russian empire, especially when that chauvinism has the potential to foment violence amongst the oppressed. Chauvinism is chauvinism no matter who propagates it.
Later on Mr. Achcar comes out with an ass-backwards refutation of Stalin's theory of socialism in one country first, attempting to tie it back to Stalin's "anti-Semitism" (Achcar's term for his denial of a Jewish nation) and Soviet patriotism. The line goes as follows: "Socialism in one country: this theoretical innovation central to Stalinism actually laid the groundwork for a Soviet patriotism, coupled with a sui generis internationalism that amounted in fact to the internationalism of Soviet patriotism. Communist members of 'bourgeois nations' had a duty to identify with the thriving 'fatherland of socialism.' Indeed, their Soviet patriotic duty could very well have taken as its motto 'our country, right or wrong!'"(4)
The following paragraphs is where accusations of Jewish repression and anti-Marxism by Stalin really gets interesting.
To give some real context to these accusations, which Achcar himself provides, I will say that prior to the beginning of the Second World War an expansive campaign was begun in the Soviet Union to create and solidify a hegemonic Soviet patriotism for the explicit purpose of strengthening the bonds and common interests of the Soviet Republics against the impending threat of fascism. Stalin was well aware that not only the German fascists, but the soon to be imperialist allies were all working hard to divide the Soviet people from within on the basis of old national grievances which were common under the Tsar. And, as stated earlier, there were counter-revolutionaries inside the USSR consciously working against the Soviet masses. These were the cosmopolitans who by and large were composed of "real Marxists." The struggle between the two opposing forces is recounted and explained by Achcar:
"The patriotic mutation was brought to completion after the Soviet Union entered the Second World War, engaging in what the Stalinist regime called the 'Great Patriotic War.' This went along with the rehabilitation of the Greek Orthodox Church and the resurrection of Slavophilism. "Soviet Patriotism" became a highly praised virtue in the Soviet Union and in the world communist movement while Stalin's brand of 'internationalism' reached its logical conclusion in the 1943 dissolution of the Comintern.
“Soviet patriotism mutated into full-fledged chauvinism after Moscow emerged victorious from the war, especially when the Soviet Union faced renewed ostracism with the start of the Cold War. It is against this historical background that the campaign against 'cosmopolitanism' unfolded."(5)
We agree with the decision to disband the Comintern, which was done because
"it became increasingly clear that, to the extent that the internal as well as the international situation of individual countries became more complicated, the solution of the problems of the labor movement of each individual country through the medium of some international centre would meet with insuperable obstacles."(6)
Leszek Kolakowski is then cited favorably by Achcar as giving the Trotskyist perspective of these events:
"In 1949 the Soviet press launched a campaign against 'cosmopolitanism', a vice that was not defined but evidently entailed being anti-patriotic and glorifying the West. As the campaign developed, it was intimated more and more clearly that a cosmopolitan was much the same thing as a Jew. When individuals were pilloried and had previously borne Jewish sounding names, these were generally mentioned. 'Soviet patriotism' was indistinguishable from Russian chauvinism and became an official mania. Propaganda declared incessantly that all important technical inventions and discoveries had been made by Russians, and to mention foreigners in this context was to be guilty of cosmopolitanism and kowtowing to the West."(5)
Achcar then describes how, according to Isaac Deutscher, Stalin ordered a crackdown on Jews in the Soviet Union following "massive demonstrations of sympathy by Russian Jews who in 1948-49 greeted Golda Meir the first ambassador to Moscow of the newborn state of Israel..."(7)
According to Deutscher the crackdown was in response not only to this unauthorized public display of support by Soviet citizens, but because Israel "stunned" Stalin by siding with the West in the cold war. Yet the author would have us believe that "unauthorized public displays of support" for a foreign head of state invited to Russia by Stalin would take precedence in this "crackdown" over that of the machinations of cosmopolitans and their collusion with a tool of Western imperialism, as is the sub-text that lies hidden beneath these events. Indeed, just a paragraph down from this Achcar says that Soviet authorities began to close down Jewish theaters, periodicals and publishing houses while purging personnel and arresting various Rabbis and other Jewish public figures soon thereafter. But aren't these institutions that which have been traditionally used by the imperialists to agitate for counter-revolution in anti-imperialist nations? If Jewish pogroms really took place, then why is it that only certain people and institutions were being repressed and not Jewish people as a whole? Clearly these were political moves with a basis in national security that were happening and not oppression based on nationality (or religious beliefs) as Achcar would have us believe. As a matter of fact, when we turn the page of this book we find a much more coherent and realistic assessment of these campaigns as detailed by F. Chernov in his article: "Bourgeois Cosmopolitanism and it's reactionary role" as published and featured in Bolshevik, the theoretical and political magazine of the central committee of the All Union Communist Party (Bolshevik). It begins by reporting that Soviet newspapers
"unmasked an unpatriotic group of theatre critics of rootless cosmopolitans, who came out against Soviet patriotism, against the great cultural achievements of the Russian people and other people in our country."
Chernov's article then states:
"Cosmopolitanism is the negation of patriotism, its opposite. It advocates absolute apathy towards the fate of the Motherland. Cosmopolitanism denies the existence of any moral or civil obligations of people to their nation and Motherland..."
"Present day bourgeois cosmopolitanism with its call for the repudiation of national sovereignty, with its notions of 'one-world government,' the creation of the 'United States of Europe,' etc. is an ideological 'basis' and 'consecration' of the assembling under the aegis of American imperialism of the union of imperialists in the name of the struggle against the toiling masses, against the Soviet Union and peoples democracies, against the irresistible growth over the entire world of the forces of socialism and democracy.
"The party unmasked the anti-patriotic, bourgeois-cosmopolitan essence of servility before the capitalist West. It revealed that this cringing before foreign countries inevitably leads to national treason and betrayal of the interests of the Soviet people and the socialist fatherland. The unmasking of unpatriotic groups of bourgeois cosmopolitans, the struggle against the ideology of bourgeois cosmopolitanism, is a striking expression of the concern of the Bolshevik Party about the education of the toiling masses of our country in the spirit of life-giving, Soviet patriotism."(8)
This portion of the essay and the book then end with the statements that: "With the start of 'de-Stalinization' in Kruschev's Soviet Union, the eyes of many communists were opened; more accurately, their mouths were opened, as it is difficult to believe that they had not been aware of the realities they denounced when the green light finally came from Moscow..."(9)
"With the end of the Stalinist campaign, 'cosmopolitanism' faded away as a major issue in communist circles, as well as in the public debate in general..."(10)
Of course it did, but only because the cosmopolitans and other revisionists were now in power and the Soviet Union was starting on the capitalist road. The final pages of this book then shift back to Trotskyist political line as Gilbert Achcar outlines how Marx, Engels and Lenin thought cosmopolitanism, i.e. proletarian internationalism charts the course towards communism, i.e. "socialist globalization" and how national liberation struggles in the Third World "can fit perfectly in the cosmopolitan struggle for global transformation as necessary moments of this struggle, as components of the global struggle..."(11)
But when the oppressed nations finally rise up in revolt against imperialism these national liberation struggles won't just be "necessary moments" or "mere components" of the global struggle: but instead will mark the beginning of a long stage of socialist transition and development in which the people of Africa, Asia and [email protected] America will band together in a Joint Dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Oppressed Nations against the former oppressing and exploiting nations.
In summation, the author opens this book with the chauvinist First World belief that Western domination of the world brought progress to the hordes of uncivilized savages and barbarians thru the spread of Christianity. Apparently, revolution, progress and development are phenomena inherent only to white people and deliverable in the future only thru a multi-nation working class approach, led of course by the workers of the core capitalist countries.
This is why he views with such disgust the success that revolutionary Islam is having in repelling Western forces, because in those movements he sees the reactionary and backward Islamic fundamentalists doing what he says they cannot; engage and win against the imperialists. Likewise, this is why he cannot stand Stalin and must tear him down, because in his practice and political line he sees the backward national liberation and self-determination movements of the oppressed nations as they came to fruition all throughout the 20th century by using revolutionary nationalism to establish socialism in their countries and then vigorously defending it. While the only thing that Trotskyists could do was complain and criticize that the Soviet Union was moving contrary to what the young Marx and Engels had envisioned in their early years. Such is the hallmark of Trotskyism which holds that socialism is impossible in countries of the Third World before the imperialist countries have had revolutions. Such is the hallmark of Trotskyism which needs but to depart from the reality of material conditions and enter the jungle of idealism to carry out the lofty goals of the white worker elite.
Book Review: Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism Gilbert Achcar Haymarket Books 2013
"Thus, as in all idealist interpretations of history, historical phenomena are fundamentally explained as cultural outcomes, as the results of the ideology upheld by their actors, in full disregard of the vast array of social, economic and political circumstances that led to the emergence and prevalence of this or that version of an ideology among particular social groups." (p. 77)
Not too long ago the author of this book appeared on the political news show Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. During this appearance Achcar made the statement that the people who are joining groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda in 2015 share the same socio-economic background and social alienation from the prevailing system as the people who joined the various Marxist-led movements in North Africa and the Middle East during that region's de-colonization process. The author went on to state that it was the oppressed classes' material existence under colonialism that pushed them towards the communist movement then, and that it is this new generation's similar oppression that has them taking up arms once again, and not some mistaken sense of cultural-religious doom at the hands of the Christian West, no matter what some within the revolutionary Islamist movement might subjectively think.(1) In other words, what we have been seeing happening today within the majority Muslim countries is not Muslim resistance to what some have erroneously labeled a "Holy War" or cultural imperialism as seen thru the rubric of globalization. Rather, what the author says we are seeing is nothing more than the continuation of the class struggle in its religious form. And while at first glance this might seem like a breath of fresh air within an atmosphere dominated by the imperialist media, upon closer inspection what the author puts forward in this book is in fact just a more detailed and eloquent version of Bob Avakian's proposition of the "theory of the two outmodeds"(2); a dogmatic and disingenuous, First Worldist, chauvinist re-phrasing of Engels' negation of the negation.(3)
This book is a collection of four essays which the author describes as a comparative Marxist assessment of the role of religion today, as well as of the continuing development of religious ideology within the class struggle. The author also attempts to provide the reader with a Marxist materialist assessment of Christian liberation theology and Islamic fundamentalism not only in regards to each other but with respect to bourgeois cosmopolitanism and "revolutionary internationalism." The focus of this review however will be on the first and last essays. Where the former offers an incisive look into the topics discussed above, the latter is an in depth and baseless attack of Stalin, in need of its own analysis which I will deal with in part 2 of this review. The following is part 1.
Religion and Politics Today from a Marxian Perspective
In this first essay Achcar introduces us to the general theme of the book: The chauvinist First World belief that Western domination of the world has brought not only progress to the Third World, but created a better overall society compared to what "Orientalism" had to offer. Orientalism is just old terminology used to describe everything east of Europe. It is also used to describe Middle Eastern and Asian societies prior to the rise of Western European colonialism, and liberation thereof. Lastly, the term and concept of Orientalism was also used to describe the re-emergence of Muslim dominance in politics and culture immediately preceding liberation in what we today call the Middle East.
Definitions aside, this book is very much inconsistent on a Marxian level as Achcar does a good job of advocating ideas long since refuted and proven incorrect by Marxist scientists, not only in the realm of theory, but in the social laboratory as well. Paradoxically however, this book has a strong dialectical thrust to it as the author uses dialectical analysis to both inform eir position and present eir thesis; yet ey fails to balance out this dialectical analysis with Marxist materialism, thus presenting us with subjective findings. Therefore, while the author takes a correct dialectical approach to the development of religion vis-a-vis the class struggle, Achcar simultaneously negates the reality of world politics in the "Orient" which of course leads em to the wrong conclusions.
This criticism of Achcar is also applicable to eir failure to locate and define the principal contradiction in the world once imperialism developed. Part and parcel to Achcar's biased position with respect to the progress of the West is eir comparison of Christian liberation theology to Islamic fundamentalism as a philosophy of praxis categorizing both as "combative ideologies arising out of the class struggle" but thru the dominant humyn ideology (religion). However, the author incorrectly posits that the former is inherently progressive due to its origins with the oppressed and poverty stricken followers of Jesus, while the latter is inherently backward and reactionary because of its early beginnings with the Arab merchant classes of proto-feudalism. By comparing these two religions Achcar tries to have us draw parallels between the "communistic tendencies" of early Christianity and the propertied character of early Islam, thereby attempting to produce a divergence in the reader's mind as to what is inherently progressive and what is not.
While an argument can be made to support the thesis of revolutionary Islam as the path forward for those Muslims oppressed by imperialism, less can be said of the social democratic turn that the proponents of Christian liberation theology have taken. Achcar attempts to frame the issue by hypothesizing that the world of today is the inevitable outcome of Christian liberation struggles in Medieval Europe which served as early models for bourgeois democracy through the equalization of power through armed struggle. To prove this the author finds it useful to point to various revolts and peasant struggles in the Middle Ages in which the class struggle began to take on religious overtones with the Protestant Reformation. Prior to this however, Achcar praises liberation theology as the embodiment of what ey refers to as the "elective affinity" in Christianity that can lead the world to communism. In other words, what Achcar is trying to say is that liberation theology is the positive aspect in Christianity which can also play the principal role in bridging together religion with the cause of communism. Furthermore, the author says that this elective affinity draws together the "legacy of original Christianity — a legacy that faded away, allowing Christianity to turn into the institutionalized ideology of social domination — and communistic utopianism."(p. 17)
When pointing out examples of more contemporary struggles the author states:
"It is this same elective affinity between original Christianity and communistic utopianism that explains why the worldwide wave of left-wing political radicalisation that started in the 1960s (not exactly religious times) could partly take on a Christian dimension - especially in Christian majority areas in 'peripheral' countries where the bulk of the people were poor and downtrodden..."(p. 23)
When speaking of Islam's "inherently" reactionary character today Achcar attributes it primarily to what ey describes as
"the tenacity of various survivals of pre-capitalist social formations in large areas of the regions concerned; the fact that Islam was from its inception very much a political and judicial system; the fact that Western colonial-capitalist powers did not want to upset the area's historical survivals and religious ideology, for they made use of them and were also keen on avoiding anything that would make it easier to stir up popular revolts against their domination; the fact that, nevertheless, the obvious contrast between the religion of the foreign colonial power and the locally prevailing religion made the latter a handy instrument for anti-colonial rebellion; the fact that the nationalist bourgeois and petit bourgeois rebellions against Western domination (and against the indigenous ruling classes upon which this domination relied) did not confront the religion of Islam, for the reason just given as well as out of sheer opportunism..."(p. 24)
The author then goes on to say that Islamic fundamentalism grew on the decomposing body of Arab nationalism, citing it as "a tremendously regressive historic turn"(p.25). In reality any ideology that is based on mysticism and idealism will never be enough to defeat imperialism once and for all whether that be Christian liberation theology or Islamic fundamentalism. That said, as materialists we must still make the assessment of what movement is currently doing the most to challenge imperialism today. Is it the Islamic fighters who are engaged in a series of anti-imperialist struggles? I am reminded of something the Maoist Internationalist Movement once said in an article on pan ideologies:
"The measure of any ethnic ideology is whether it focuses its fire on imperialism as the enemy. If the pan serves to fry imperialism then it is progressive. If the pan fries non-imperialist nations, then it is reactionary and should be thrown out."(4)
But things aren't always so clear cut as we might want them to be, which is probably why later in that same article MIM said:
"It is only the struggle against imperialism as defined by Lenin that can really bring global peace. Other wars can bring no net gains to the international proletariat, just more or less dead exploited people. The plunder of the imperialists is much greater than that conducted by any oppressed nation's neighbors."(4)
These statements are liberating because they free us from all the imperialist clap-trap about the evils of Islam. We are hence reminded that there is no evil above that of imperialism and so long as these movements keep their sights trained on the imperialists then they will remain "inherently" progressive.
On that same note, not everything in the book is bad, and we should at least give Achcar some credit for pointing out that even Islamic fundamentalism can be divided into separate entities, instead of simply painting all Islamic fighters with a single brush as most Western intellectuals tend to do:
"Thus two main brands of Islamic fundamentalism came to co-exist across the vast geographical spread of Muslim majority countries: one that is collaborationist with Western interests, and one that is hostile to Western interests. The stronghold of the former is the Saudi Kingdom, the most fundamental, obscurantist of all Islamic states. The stronghold of the anti-Western camp within Shi'ism is the Islamic Republic of Iran, while its present spearhead among the Sunnis is al-Qa'ida."(p. 25)
As student-practitioners of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism we would be wise to keep in mind that Marxist philosophy and methodology is based on the most radical rejections of philosophical idealism with emphasis on revolutionary practice. Therefore our criticisms of religion and religious ideology should remain within the scope of critiquing certain ideological props as used by the imperialists to justify and support capitalism-imperialism along with all of its oppressive structures which made up the world today, for the explicit purposes of changing the world today and certainly not to critique religious believers or religion per se. In addition, organizations like those coming out of Islamic fundamentalism should be viewed by revolutionaries as developing out of the principal contradiction filling the voids left by the Marxists and revolutionary nationalists when those movements were either smashed or capitulated. Rather than denigrating these combative ideologies the way that Achcar does, bemoaning the day that revolutionary Islam stepped in to fill Marxism's shoes, we should instead champion their victories against imperialism while simultaneously criticizing where they fail to represent the true interests of the Muslim people.
As Achcar correctly states, the hystory of Islam in combating Western interference in the Orient is but the natural dialectical progression of the anti-imperialist struggle absent a strong communist movement. However, it is Western nihilist politics in command which fails to appreciate the positive role that Islamic fundamentalism plays in the anti-imperialist fight. Much in the same way that Christian liberation theology did in countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador. While the author raises a lot of good points in this book ey still fails to arrive at the correct conclusions. Real internationalists will not hesitate to celebrate every blow struck against the imperialists when it comes from the oppressed, whereas First World chauvinists hiding under the cloak of communism will continuously cringe at the barbarity of the oppressed for fighting back the only way they can. Achcar admittedly criticizes Islam's inherently "reactionary" character while simultaneously putting forth the concept of "cosmopolitanism" under the guise of anti-Stalin vitriol and so-called "internationalism" reducing revolutionary nationalism as inherently reactionary much in the same way ey does Islam. These final topics will be dealt with at length upon the second half of this review.