Saturday, March 27, 2010

*The Latest From The "Rosenberg Fund For Children" Website

Click on the headline to link to the latest from the "Rosenberg Fund For Children" Website.

Markin comment:

One of the important tasks that this organization, named in honor of the heroic communists, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and directed by one of their sons who is painfully aware of the condition, is to provide for the children of today's class war political prisoners. Needless to say this is a worthy cause for all those who support the struggles of today's class war political prisoners.

*The Latest From The "End U.S. Wars" Website

Click on the headline to link to the latest from the "End U.S. Wars" Website.

Markin comment:

This is the ad hoc group that called for the first emergency demonstration in Washington after President Obama increased the offical American military presence in Afghanistan by an additional 30,000 troops.

*Boycott Call In Support Of the Shaw's Supermarket Workers (Massachusetts)

Click on the headline to link to a "United For Peace and Justice" Website entry concerning the fate of 300 striking Shaw's Supermarket unionized workers.

Markin comment:

All out in support of the fired Shaw's Supermarket workers! Support the boycott! An injury to one is an injury to all!

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor International Women's Leader Clara Zetkin-"On Proletarian Women and Socialism"

Click on the title to link to a "Clara Zetkin Internet Archive" online copy of her 1896 article, "Only in Conjunction With The Proletarian Women Will Socialism Be Successful".

This is a repost of a January 2009 entry in honor of Clara Zetkin, a leading class struggle leader. Here she is honored as an outstanding leader of the women's movement as well.

March Is Women's History Month

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

*Notes From The Old Home Town- The Bard Of 1964?

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performing "Blowin' In The Wind" which seems an appropriate song for the entry below.

Markin comment:

Not all the entries in this space are connected to politics, although surely most of them can be boiled down into some political essence, if you try hard enough. The following is one of those instances where trying to gain any “political traction”, or as I am fond of saying drawing any “lessons” would be foolhardy. I should also note that this entry is part of a continuing, if sporadic, series of “trips down memory lane” provoked by a fellow high school classmate who has been charged with keeping tabs on old classmates and their doings, even those of old-line communists like this writer. Go figure?

The Bard Of 1964?

Recently someone from our class, who shall remain nameless, wrote an e-mail, a friendly e-mail I assume, asking me if I, with this never-ending (my word) stream of messages, was trying to be the bard (her word, oops) of the Class of 1964. I rapidly replied with this short answer- “What, are you kidding?” Later though, after I thought about it for a while, I realized that I did mean to be ONE of the latter-day voices of the class. Why? I have, with all due modesty, the perfect resume for the job. Here it is:

I belonged to no clubs, not even after school ones. I played no major sport that drove a lot of the social networking of the time (I am being polite here: this is a family-friendly site after all). The sports that did drive me throughout my high school career, track and cross-country, were then very marginal sports for “nerds” and other assorted odd-balls, and I was, moreover, overwhelmingly underwhelming at them, to boot. I did not hang around with the class intellectuals, although I was as obsessed and driven by books, ideas and theories as anyone else at the time, maybe more so. I was, to be polite again, painfully shy around girls and therefore somewhat socially backward, although I was furtively enthralled by more than one of them. And to top it all off, to use a term that I think truly describes me then, I was something of a ragamuffin from the town's wrong side of the track. Oh, did I mentioned that I was also so alienated from the old high school environment that I either threw, or threatened to throw, my yearbook in the nearest river right after graduation; in any case I no longer have it.

Perfect, right? No. Not complete enough? Well how about this. My family, on my mother’s side, had been in the old town since about the time of the “famine ships” from Ireland. I have not gotten that far back in the genealogy but way back someone in the family was a servant of some sort, to one of the branches of the presidential Adams family. Most of my relatives distance and far, went through the old high school. The streets of the old town were filled with the remnants of the clan. My friends, deny it or nor, the diaspora "old sod" was in the blood. How else explain, after a forty year hiatus, this overweening desire to write about the “Dust Bowl” that served as a training track during my running days. Or the oddness of separate boys and girls bowling teams, as if social contact in that endeavor would lead to .....whatever. Or that mysterious “Tri-Hi-Y” (a harmless social organization for women students that I have skewered for its virginal aspirations). Or the million other things that pop into my head there days. Oh ya, I can write, a little. Not unimportant for a bard, right? The soul of a poet, if not the language. Time and technology has given us an exceptional opportunity to tell our story and seek immortality and I want in on that. Old Whitman can sing of America, I will sing of the old town, gladly.

Well, do I get a job? Hey, you can always “fire” me. Just “click” and move on.

Friday, March 26, 2010

*From The "HistoMat" Blog- Greek Workers Solidarity Meetings (In Britain)

Click on the headline to link to a "HistoMat" blog entry- "Greek Workers Solidarity Meetings (In Britain)".

Markin comment:

I have not done adequate justice to the long on-going struggles of the Greek workers and attempt to start to rectify that here. Much more on this important center of the international class struggle later. The Greek workers appear to be far, far ahead of most of the workers movement in resisting the "demands" of international capitalism by as they confront their bosses' capitalist government. Victory to the Greek workers!

*From The "Renegade Eye" Blog- The Fifth International?

Click on the headline to link to a "Renegade Eye" blog entry on Hugo Chavez's call for a Fifth International.

Markin comment:

I have already made a preliminary comment earlier in this space on this issue but I will write a longer one when I get a chance to think about it some more, and think about Leon Trotsky's struggle for a new communist International, the Fourth International and its Marxist program, that seems to respond to the objective needs of this historic moment in the capitalist crisis.

*From The "HistoMat" Blog- Student Struggles Over Budget Cuts- English Version

Click on the headline to link to the latest from the "HistoMat" Blog- Student Struggles Over Budget Cuts- English Version.

*From The "SteveLendmanBlog"-The Death of American Populism

Click on the headline to link to a "SteveLendmanBlog" entry-"The Death of American Populism".

Markin comment:

This is where we part company. I shed no tears for the demise of populism- it's day is long past in America, if it every really existed on the left- the right version has been more viable in America witness the current uprising-the"tea baggers", and their discontents.

*From "The Rag Blog"-Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn : Bringing the War Home, 1970

Click on the headline to link to a "The Rag Blog" entry-Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn : Bringing the War Home, 1970.

Markin comment:

I have addressed the issues here before- I agree with a comment that Bill Ayers made a while back- we confronted, "in the belly of the beast", the greatest murder machine in history during the Vietnam days. I have yet to hear any serious apologies to the Vietnamese by that machine for their actions then, or now. We, in any case, have nothing to apologize to them for, far from it.

*From The "SteveLendmanBlog"- "Venezuela in Washington's Crosshairs"

Click on the headline to link to a "SteveLendmanBlog" entry-"Venezuela in Washington's Crosshairs".

Markin comment:

Obama- Hands Off Venezuela!

*From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"- "In Defense Of Dialectical Materalism" -A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to the "Leon Trotsky Internet Archive" online copy of his 1939 polemic written during the faction fight inside the American Socialist Workers party over the question of defense of the Soviet Union, "The ABC Of Materialist Dialectics".

Workers Vanguard No. 954
12 March 2010

In Defense of Dialectical Materialism

(Young Spartacus pages)

We print below a class given by Spartacist League Central Committee member Don Alexander to the New York Spartacus Youth Club in June 2009. It has been edited for publication.

This class is just to get our feet wet, to begin to absorb the history of Marxism—it wasn’t born in a vacuum. The purpose of the class is to uphold dialectical and historical materialism against all forms of subjective idealism.

Now, I’ll make some basic assertions, just so we’re all on the same page, as they say. Idealism proceeds from the premise that the material world is dependent on the spiritual. It asserts that the spirit, our mind and our ideas can and do exist in separation from matter. The most extreme form of this assertion is subjective idealism. Subjective idealism asserts that matter does not exist at all, but is pure illusion. Idealism asserts that there exists a realm of the mysterious and unknowable that’s above or behind what can be ascertained and known by perception, experience and science. Science is thrown out the window.

Materialism, in direct contradiction, states that the world is, by its very nature, composed of matter, and that everything that exists comes into being on the basis of material causes. Everything arises and develops in accordance with the laws of motion of matter. Materialism teaches that matter is objective reality, existing outside of and independent of ideas, and that, far from the mental existing in separation from the material, ideas, including spiritual ones, are a product of material processes. Materialism also teaches that the world and its laws are knowable and that, while much in the material world might not be known, there is no unknowable sphere that lies outside of the material world.

Our social consciousness reflects and is determined by our social being. I want to start with that because it’s not a commonplace, particularly in a period of great religiosity. That’s why the quote from the German Marxist Franz Mehring in the current Workers Vanguard is so timely [see “Franz Mehring: On Historical Materialism,” WV No. 938, 5 June 2009]. Mehring proceeds from the understanding that material economic conditions are primary in shaping any given society. In his pamphlet On Historical Materialism (1893), he also remarks that “the human mind is not the father of the mode of production, but the mode of production is the mother of the human mind.” I think this is a really good quote because it says what is.

Our discussions do not take place in a vacuum. Nothing exists in isolation, either in nature or in society. Contradiction, the unity and struggle of mutually opposed forces and tendencies, is inherent within things. Change and movement operate on the basis of contradictions. Contradictions constitute the foundation of movement. In Anti-Dühring [Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (1877-78)], Engels succinctly remarked, “Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be.” So in other words, comrades, there is no supreme being, there is no god setting in motion the eternal universe. I don’t have to tell people here that.

Climbing Out of Obscurantism

The dialectical materialist conception is that all processes of nature and society are in a constant and uninterrupted process of change and development, of eternal becoming. Marx referred to this as “a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up” (“Afterword to the Second German Edition,” Capital, Vol. I [1873]). It’s not the case that Marx is saying that all previous philosophical inquiries were rubbish. He just makes the point that the materiality of the world is demonstrated by the long and laborious development of the natural sciences.

The ancient materialists anticipated modern materialism, asserting the priority of nature over consciousness and ideas. The mechanical materialists of the 17th and 18th centuries directed their fire against the medieval theologians, and they maintained that material particles in the universe are constantly bombarding each other somewhat at random. They basically viewed human beings as machines. This was materialist, but it was also mechanical. Human consciousness includes one’s sensations and ideas as active factors in molding one’s environment to procure the means of subsistence. (The actual conditions and methods through which this occurs vary, of course, throughout the course of history.)

You’re familiar with René Descartes, the early 17th-century rationalist who believed that there are certain indubitable, self-evident propositions, for instance, the famous one, cogito ergo sum—“I think, therefore I am.” He figured out that you couldn’t doubt your existence if you didn’t exist. So, that almost exhausts my Latin.

Another profound statement of subjective idealism was from Bishop George Berkeley, who remarked—it was in the 18th century—esse is percipi—“to be is to be perceived.” So if you didn’t see a man slipping on a piece of ice in Central Park during a day in the winter, or if you weren’t present when somebody turned off the light to go to sleep, then it didn’t happen. Now, I’m going to let Berkeley speak for himself, because unlike most of the professional philosophers defending idealism, he rarely beat around the bush. In his Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) he alleged that:

“All the choir of heaven and the furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind...that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some Eternal Spirit.”

As you can see, we have been climbing our way out of obscurantism and idealist flights of fancy for a long time.

The Dialectical Method

The 1939-40 factional struggle within the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is documented in Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism. Trotsky wrote powerfully against the cliquist, anti-Soviet opposition of Max Shachtman, James Burnham and Martin Abern. He characterized them as a petty-bourgeois opposition. They maintained that dialectical materialism didn’t have anything to do with working out a concrete political position. I want to read you the opening to “A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party”:

“It is necessary to call things by their right names. Now that the positions of both factions in the struggle have become determined with complete clearness, it must be said that the minority of the National Committee is leading a typical petty-bourgeois tendency. Like any petty-bourgeois group inside the socialist movement, the present opposition is characterized by the following features: a disdainful attitude toward theory and an inclination toward eclecticism; disrespect for the tradition of their own organization; anxiety for personal ‘independence’ at the expense of anxiety for objective truth; nervousness instead of consistency; readiness to jump from one position to another; lack of understanding of revolutionary centralism and hostility toward it; and finally, inclination to substitute clique ties and personal relationships for party discipline. Not all the members of the opposition of course manifest these features with identical strength. Nevertheless, as always in a variegated bloc the tinge is given by those who are most distant from Marxism and proletarian policy. A prolonged and serious struggle is obviously before us.”

Following Engels, Trotsky pointed out that, just as Darwin revealed the laws of development of living species of organic matter, so Marx revealed the laws of development of human history. (Darwin was not a conscious dialectician.) The economic forces of production play an indispensable role: they are the ultimate determining factor in social and economic life. The relationships between human beings producing their means of material survival determine the actual relations of production. See—you have to be able to eat and have clothing and shelter, to cooperate in some form or fashion, in order to be able to wrest a living from nature. Upon this rests the entire superstructure of society—the art and the politics and religion and the philosophy and the morality.

This doesn’t rule out, of course, the effects of the superstructure upon the economic base. The father of Russian Marxism, Georgi Plekhanov, had the highest praise for Antonio Labriola, the Italian Marxist, a great materialist thinker. But in The Materialist Conception of History (1897), Plekhanov pointed out that one of the weaknesses of Labriola was his tendency to isolate racial factors, explaining the development of human societies in terms of their norms of beauty and their rituals, etc. It’s not that these things shouldn’t be studied. Plekhanov gives the example of why women among the Ishavs in the Caucasus cut off their braids on the death of a brother, but not on the death of their husbands—what does this mean? Well, this stuff is interesting, but ultimately you have to look at how people procure their means of subsistence. That’s what’s dominant.

Comrades, the dialectical method is not merely a question of development in the abstract. There’s a bourgeois-liberal doctrine of development, of gradualness, that ignores the fact that there are leaps in nature and society, that one form of matter transforms into another through a sudden change. The dialectical method posits that everything in nature and society can only be understood in its fundamental connections with everything else and in its constant movement from simpler forms to higher forms, from quantity into quality.

Trotsky gave many examples about formal logic and its use and its limitations in this superb book, In Defense of Marxism. You know:

“The Aristotelian logic of the simple syllogism starts from the proposition that ‘A’ is equal to ‘A.’ This postulate is accepted as an axiom for a multitude of practical human actions and elementary generalizations. But in reality ‘A’ is not equal to ‘A.’ This is easy to prove if we observe these two letters under a lens—they are quite different from each other. But, one can object, the question is not of the size or the form of the letters, since they are only symbols for equal quantities, for instance, a pound of sugar. The objection is beside the point; in reality a pound of sugar is never equal to a pound of sugar—a more delicate scale always discloses a difference. Again one can object: but a pound of sugar is equal to itself. Neither is this true—all bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, color, etc….

“Every worker knows that it is impossible to make two completely equal objects. In the elaboration of bearing-brass into cone bearings, a certain deviation is allowed for the cones which should not, however, go beyond certain limits (this is called tolerance). By observing the norms of tolerance, the cones are considered as being equal. (‘A’ is equal to ‘A.’) When the tolerance is exceeded the quantity goes over into quality; in other words, the cone bearings become inferior or completely worthless.”

Trotsky succinctly describes dialectical thought as the following:

“Dialectical thinking is related to vulgar thinking in the same way that a motion picture is related to a still photograph. The motion picture does not outlaw the still photograph but combines a series of them according to the laws of motion....

“We call our dialectic, materialist, since its roots are neither in heaven nor in the depths of our ‘free will,’ but in objective reality, in nature.”

Successive Approximations

The German philosopher Georg Hegel was an absolute idealist who was very critically assimilated by Marxists, Lenin especially, and many others. He viewed history as the unfolding of the absolute idea. However, he also recognized that everything that exists changes uninterruptedly; everything comes into being and then passes out of existence. Marx and Engels stood his dialectical idealism, as they said, right side up and extracted its rational kernel from its mystical shell. In the aftermath of the defeat of the 1905 Revolution in Russia, Lenin had to fight for dialectical materialism against those known as the “god seekers” of his party, the Lunacharskys and the Bogdanovs. He forcefully defended the materialist dialectic against its detractors.

The article “Lenin as Philosopher” (Labour Review, September-October 1957) by Peter Fryer is just incredibly good, and I’ll get back to that. The Healyites, pseudo-Trotskyist political bandits who in 1959 formed the British Socialist Labour League, threw away a very valuable cadre. With characteristic modesty, Fryer wanted to know why we had such praise of him in the issue of Spartacist with our article “Healyism Implodes” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86). He didn’t think what he wrote was such a big deal, but he was certainly happy about the truthful account we gave of life in the Healyite jungle. That organization abused dialectics very regularly in the service of opportunist politics. As we explained in “Healyism Implodes,” they resolved the contradiction between a formally correct program and a corrupt internal “regime”:

“by sharp programmatic departures from Trotskyism: principally, their embrace of the Maoist ‘Cultural Revolution,’ which was at bottom nothing but an unusually degrading and violent falling out between sections of the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy; and their line on the 1967 Arab-Israeli ‘Six Day War’ when, in the name of fighting Zionist racism and expansionism, they embraced a totally classless concept of an ‘Arab Revolution’ consisting of the despotic nationalist regimes which have cravenly colluded with imperialism and Zionism to dismember the Palestinian nation.”

Now, in “Lenin as Philosopher,” Peter Fryer writes about E.P. Thompson, who was a preeminent British Marxoid historian. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963) is still worth the read—I learned a lot from that. But Thompson claims—and Fryer refutes him—that Marxism is a form of economic reductionism that negates the subjective factor, or what he calls the human agency. In other words, Marxism ignores, allegedly, the role of human consciousness as an active factor. Thompson accuses Lenin of viewing consciousness as nothing but a passive mirror reflection of social reality. That is just exactly the opposite of the truth.

Fryer uses two really wonderful quotes from Lenin—these come from Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks (1914)—which sum up dialectical knowledge as “an endless process of the deepening of men’s knowledge of things, phenomena, processes, etc., proceeding from appearance to essence and from essence less profound to essence more profound.” And, “When human intelligence grapples with a particular thing, draws from it an image (= a concept), that is not a simple, direct, dead act, it is not a reflection in a mirror, but a complex, twofold, zigzag act.”

Scientific Investigation of History

The International Communist League intervened in the unfolding political revolution in East Germany in 1989-90 based upon a program for proletarian political revolution in the East and socialist revolution in the West [see “For the Communism of Lenin and Trotsky!” Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 47-48, Winter 1992-93]. We didn’t win, but we fought, and that’s key. Afterwards, we had extensive discussion to try to grasp the various aspects of what had happened in that very complex, rapidly developing incipient revolution. Jan Norden, who in 1996 would defect from our organization to co-found the Internationalist Group (IG), belittled and denied the ICL’s role as the conscious revolutionary vanguard. He repeatedly claimed, “the key element was missing, revolutionary leadership.” The polemical reply, that “we were the revolutionary leadership” in Germany, has a core of truth but is still insufficient. Science proceeds through successive approximations.

What happened was not simply determined by what we did, although what we did was very important. To say otherwise ignores the actual balance of forces and is radically false, both politically and theoretically. While imprisoned under Mussolini, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote in The Modern Prince about the formation of what he called a “collective will,” that is, a compact group struggling for power. As Gramsci put it:

“The active politician is a creator, an awakener, but he neither creates from nothing nor moves in the turbid void of his own desires and dreams. He bases himself on effective reality, but what is this effective reality? Is it something static and immobile or is it not rather a relationship of forces in continuous movement and change of equilibrium? To apply the will to the creation of a new balance of the really existing and operating forces, basing oneself on that particular force which one considers progressive, giving it the means to triumph, is still to move within the sphere of effective reality, but in order to dominate and overcome it (or contribute to this).”

Here’s what Fryer says: sometimes there are unforeseen consequences of what one struggles for. He says that:

“The materialist recognition of the objectivity of being and its laws is, not yet freedom, but the requisite for all real freedom.

“It is of course perfectly true that men act with conscious aims and intentions. But no attempt to explain human history in terms of the conscious aims and intentions, wills and desires of men will advance our understanding very far. Man’s aims clash, and something happens which no one had intended, desired or foreseen. Therefore any scientific understanding of social development has to start from ‘the inner general laws’ which ultimately govern both the development of human society and the aims and intentions, ideas and theories, in people’s heads.”

So men’s aims clash. There were also forces that were active in East Germany in 1989-90 that tried to stop this process of incipient political revolution cold. One was Gorbachev’s Stalinist bureaucracy. After the January 3 demonstration against the fascist desecration of a memorial to Soviet soldiers at East Berlin’s Treptow Park, the German imperialists launched a furious anti-communist campaign. Then we saw the Stalinists driving full steam with the anti-Soviet, pro-capitalist West German Social Democratic Party—which we called the Trojan horse of capitalist counterrevolution—for capitalist reunification. [See “‘Workers Soviets Must Rule in All Germany!’” WV No. 948, 4 December 2009.]

Marxism is a scientific investigation of history that places the acts of individuals in their concrete historical context. So comrade Bert Mason’s article in the current Workers Vanguard was a fine contribution on the role of Lincoln in the American Civil War [“Honor Abraham Lincoln!” WV No. 938, 5 June 2009]. “Lenin as Philosopher” is superb; it’s a masterful analysis of dialectical contradictions. I especially appreciated that Fryer put his analysis in the context of World War I, when Lenin was studying Hegel and grappling with the betrayal by the German Social Democrats who had deserted to the side of their own bourgeoisie during the first imperialist world war. How did such a formidable workers party, with vast influence in the German proletariat, come to that state of opportunist degeneration? What was the process of economic and political and social development that led to their social-patriotic capitulation?

Well, that’s what Lenin dealt with in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). He examined all the phases of the development of an opportunist layer within the working class. Without this, one couldn’t understand how quantity turned into quality. Mutually opposed, contradictory tendencies are inherent in all phenomena of nature and society. Lenin explained how the unity and conflict of oppositions, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in this case, worked themselves out. Lenin assiduously studied Hegel, and we have to, too.

I wrote a short note about an article in Workers Vanguard that was uncritical of the American philosopher John Dewey, that quoted Dewey approvingly without criticizing him philosophically (“On John Dewey,” WV No. 924, 7 November 2008). The same Dewey who had a role in fighting the frame-up of Trotsky by the Stalinist epigones was an opponent of Marxism and of the October Revolution. Dewey was a pragmatist, not any kind of dialectical materialist. Trotsky scathingly denounced pragmatism as a mixture of rationalism and empiricism—empiricism means one’s own sense impressions are the ultimate source of knowledge. It doesn’t mean that empiricists completely say that there’s no independently existing objective world out there. Trotsky denounced pragmatism as the “curse of American thought” and insisted that an unpostponable task of the SWP—this was in 1939-40—was to educate its cadres in the philosophy of dialectical materialism.

Against Philosophical Idealism

This talk wouldn’t be complete without a short exposition on the manifestations of the various forms of subjective idealism. Lenin argued that, ultimately, idealism is clericalism. In popular terms, it’s sort of like “thinking makes it so.” You have probably heard the vulgar version of it: if a tree crashes in the forest and I wasn’t present, then it didn’t crash. That, ultimately, logically, leads to what is called solipsism—that the only things that are real are one’s own subjective impressions and thoughts and sensations.

Many years ago, through a rather laborious process, I studied some of the idealists, who are important to understand. Immanuel Kant, the German idealist, was very interesting, but difficult to read in many ways. His key work, The Critique of Pure Reason (1781), sought to reconcile idealism and materialism. Kant didn’t deny the existence of “things in themselves,” just our ability to know them. He formulated this along the following lines: how are a priori synthetic judgments possible? How do we arrive at truth independent of human experience and scientific experimentation? Essentially, what he argues for are the propositions of what is known as common sense, which is really unsystematized and pre-scientific. Kant also studied astronomy, which made him very interesting. But he tried to reconcile materialism and idealism.

In Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1886), Engels had to deal with such thinkers. Of course, he made his way through Ludwig Feuerbach, who rightly criticized Hegel for his absolute idealism. Marx, in his “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845), characterized Feuerbach’s materialism as contemplative, noting that for Feuerbach, “things, reality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object, or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively.”

In “A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party,” Trotsky referred to a conversation he had with a certain British political economist who echoed the liberal economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes was a proponent of “priming the pump,” and deficit spending to stimulate demand, and government investment in order to arrest the endemic financial and economic crises of capitalism—some of the stuff that Obama and his administration are tinkering with. On the basis of his discussion with this political economist, with his praise for Keynes and his hatred of Marx, Trotsky concluded that he was an opponent of materialist dialectics in his general outlook. Trotsky says:

“If it is possible to place a given person’s general type of thought on the basis of his relation to concrete practical problems, it is also possible to predict approximately, knowing his general type of thought, how a given individual will approach one or another practical question. That is the incomparable educational value of the dialectical method of thought.”

Marxism: A Guide to Action

We have applied this dialectical materialist methodology to many questions. You can look at “Cuba and Marxist Theory” (Marxist Bulletin No. 8) where we applied our dialectic, materialist methodology in assessing the formation of a bureaucratically deformed workers state in Cuba. A petty-bourgeois-led, guerrillaist movement led to the destruction of capitalism in Cuba without the leadership of a Trotskyist party. Developing that understanding required the application of a dialectical materialist methodology. It was part of the preservation and extension of our fundamental Marxist program.

This is the same thing as with the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)—you have to appreciate the role of actual contradictions. The EFCA was a referendum on unionization, with the National Association of Manufacturers and other bosses’ organizations waging a major campaign against it while the AFL-CIO and Change to Win union federations campaigned for its passage. While warning the workers against any reliance on any government-prescribed mechanisms of class collaboration, we would support the EFCA in its original form because the card-check provision would make it somewhat easier to organize unions. We drew the class line without hiding our criticism of the role of the defeatist, class-collaborationist union bureaucrats. We examined the concretes of the EFCA with its living contradictions, not on the basis of speculation, but on the basis of scientific investigation of history. Our investigation included what the Socialist Workers Party, the Trotskyists of the time, wrote about the 1935 Wagner Act, which contributed to more comrades doing research on the history of the Marxist movement. [See “Why Marxists Support the EFCA,” WV No. 929, 30 January 2009.]

Dialectics is not a master key for all questions; you have to make a concrete, scientific analysis. I want to end with a quote from “Lenin as Philosopher,” which I think is really apropos of what we’re talking about:

“Men’s power to change their world progressively crystallizes out and perfects the scientific element in their concepts; their relative helplessness on the other hand gives rise to the tendency of abstract ideas to fly away from reality and weave themselves into marvelous, internally consistent systems of myth and illusion, from which the real world and real relationships of men to nature and men to men are then deduced.”

A comrade asked why do we need to read anything by this Gramsci guy? Wasn’t Gramsci anti-Trotsky, and so on. Definitely on the Trotsky-Stalin question, Gramsci went not for Trotsky but for Stalin. So that was his contradiction. But he had some very penetrating observations about consciousness, the relationship between the subjective and the objective, and how an objective, concrete analysis of the relationship of forces in the national and international context is critical to deciding how to apply one’s program. It’s very helpful.

It’s a terrible waste to dismiss somebody like that. Just like dismissing Plekhanov, whose renegacy is well known. Following the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, Plekhanov denounced the December Moscow insurrection as an adventure, and in 1917 he opposed the seizure of power by the Bolshevik-led workers. Importantly, however, he never joined hands with those Mensheviks and others who tried to mobilize against the revolution. In the course of the Civil War following the 1917 Revolution, Lenin concluded that there’s no way that you could be a genuine communist without understanding Hegel’s logic, Plekhanov’s philosophical works, and Marx’s Capital.

That’s a challenge to us to rise to a higher theoretical level, because that’s the only way to prepare ourselves for the tasks of the struggle for a communist future. It’s a laborious, worthwhile, lifelong process.

*From The Pages Of "Women And Revolution"-"Women's Oppression In Capitalist America"

Click on the headline to link to a "Women and Revolution" article, dated March 12, 2010concerning women's rights to free abortion on demand, the historic position of the communist movement.

March Is Women's History Month

Markin comment:

A timely article on the ever-diminishing right to abortion in America and also honoring the heroic Doctor George Tiller, murdered last year for being one of the few doctors courageous enough to do provide them.

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"- The Struggle Of The Central Falls (Rhode Island) Teachers

Click on the headline to link to a "Workers Vanguard" article, dated March 12, 2010, concerning the plight of the Central Falls (Rhode Island) Teachers Union.

Markin comment:

No more Central Falls! Fight The Cutbacks! Fight The Firings! Fight Lay-offs! Fight For Teacher/Parent/Student control of the schools! An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!

*The Latest From The International Socialist Organization-Boston Website- The March 4th Defense Of Education Actions

Click on the title to link to the latest from The "International Socialist Organization-Boston" Website- "The March 4th Defense Of Education Actions."

*From The SteveLendmanBlog"- On Obamian Health Care

Click on the headline to link to a "SteveLendmanLog" entry about the passage of President Obama's health care proposals.

Markin comment:

As I have noted before it is always good to have this blog that covers the bourgeois political scene so that I don't have to do so and can, merrily, work on placing my communist propaganda material in this space. Thanks "SteveLendmanBlog"

*Another From "The Rag Blog" On Paul Robeson And Anne Braden- Book Reviews

Click on the headline to link to a "The Rag Blog" entry of two book reviews about some well-known past progressives, Paul Robeson and Anne Braden.

Markin comment:

Readers of this space should need no introduction to Paul Robeson. I have written about him previously as well as highlighted some of his incredibel musical performances. Anne Braden is a lesser well-known fighter for black civil rights in the South as a Southerner in the days when that, to say the least, was just not done by "respectable" Southern white womanhood. Kudos.

*From "The Rag Blog"- Soldier Resister Released From Stockade

Click on the headline to link to a "The Rag Blog" entry concerning the fate of a soldier who refused deployment to Afghanistan.

Markin comment:

This case is a prima facie reason to build those antiwar soldiers and sailors solidarity committees! Forward!

*The Latest From The "Internationalist Socalist Organization" Website

Click on the title to link to the latest from The "Internationalist Socialist Organization" Website.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

*The Lines Are Drawn- Defend Public Education- Victory To The Boston School Employees Unions-Fight The Cutbacks-No More Central Falls!

Click on the headline to link to a "Boston Globe" article, dated March 25 2010, concerning the recent vote to cut the Boston School Department budget.

Markin comment:

As the headline says: Defend Public Education (at every level). Fight school closings, budget cuts, school employee layoffs and loss of teacher control of the classroom. Victory to the school employee unions!

*Stay Alert!- A Look At The American Radical Right- A Guest Commentary From "Fresh Air"

Click on the headline to link to a National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast of Terry Gross' "Fresh Air" program, for March 25, 2010, of a report on the rise of the radical right in America , including the militia-types since the election of Barack Obama.

Markin comment:

As I stated in the headline this rising threat from the ever present radical right in America is something we must be aware of the defense of our communist perspective. Hell, even for the defense of simple democratic rights. There is a storm of some magnitude brewing out there. This edge of militias, survivalist, nativists and Nazis is the breeding ground for those who we will have to face down in the streets, if it ever comes to that. This report should be a goad to get our side properly organized, and pronto.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

*The Latest From The "Left In East Dakota" Blog- On Obama's State Of The Union Speech

Click on the title to link to the "Left In East Dakota" Blog for the article mentioned above.

Markin comment:

I am always thankful for those who are willing to do the "heavy lifting" of commentary on vacuous bourgeois politics. I have mentioned before that I tried to do it a couple of years ago and became nearly suicidal after a couple of months, and then it really got bad (and downhill) from there.

The Latest From The "International Bolshevik Tendency" Website- "Imperialist Troops Out Of Haiti"- A Guest Commentary

Click on the title to link to the "International Bolshevik Tendency" Website for the article listed in the headline.

Markin comment:

This entry is placed here specifically because of its intersection with the controversy between the Internationalist Group and the ICL/Spartacist League/U.S. over the latter organization's not calling for "Imperial Troops out of Haiti" in the midst of the recent earthquake disaster there. Check the Websites of those organizations, or my February 2010 archives, for their earlier polemics on the issue.

*Notes From The Old Home Town- In The Time Of The Jock- The Big Football Rally, Circa 1963

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of the film "The Last Picture Show" that evokes the sense of teen liff back in the days of the entry below, although it is about a decade earlier in time in the 1950s and in dust-blown Texas.

Markin comment:

Not all the entries in this space are connected to politics, although surely most of them can be boiled down into some political essence, if you try hard enough. The following is one of those instances where trying to gain any “political traction”, or as I am fond of saying drawing any “lessons” would be foolhardy. I should also note that this entry is part of a continuing, if sporadic, series of “trips down memory lane” provoked by a fellow high school classmate who has been charged with keeping tabs on old classmates and their doings, even those of old-line communists like this writer. Go figure?

The "Big Night" Thanksgiving Eve Football Rally, Circa 1963

Scene: Around and inside the old high school gym the night before the big Thanksgiving Day game against our cross town arch-rival in 1963, but it could have been a scene from any one of number of years in those days.

Guys and gals, old and young, students and alumni are milling about for the annual gathering of the Red Raider clan. Every unattached boy student, in addition, looking around to see if she has come for the festivities, and every unattached girl student for he. A couple of fervent quasi-jock male students, one of them writing this entry, members of the Class of 1964, with a vested interest in seeing their football-playing fellow classmates pummel the cross town rival are in attendance, and also in the hunt for those elusive shes. This is the final football game of their final football- watching season, as students, as well so they have brought extra energy to the night’s performance.

Finally, after much hubbub the rally begins, at first somewhat subdued due to the very recent trauma of the Kennedy assassination, the murder of one of our own as well as a president. But everyone, seemingly, has tacitly agreed for this little window of time that the outside world and its horrors will not intrude. A few obligatory (and forgettable) speeches follow with a little of this and that, mainly side show antics. But what every red-blooded senior boy, and probably others as well, is looking forward to is the cheer-leading to get things moving, led by the senior girls like the vivacious Roxanne G., the spunky Josie W., and the plucky Linda P.. They do not fail us with their flips, dips, and rah-rahs. Strangely, the band and its bevy of majorettes do not inspire that same kind of devotion, although no one can deny that some of those girls can twirl.

But all this spectacle is so much, too much, introduction. For what is wanted, up close and personal, is a view of the Goliaths that will run over the cross town arch-rival the next day. The season has been excellent, marred only by a bitter lost to a bigger area team on their home field, and our team is highly regarded by lukewarm fans and sports nuts alike. Naturally, in the spirit, if not the letter of high school athletic ethos, the back ups and non-seniors are introduced by Coach L.. Then come the drum roll of the senior starters, some of whom have been playing for an eternity it seems. Names like Tom K., Walt S., Lee M., Paul D., Joe Z., Don McN., Jim F., Charlie McD., Stevie C., "Woj" (Jesus, don’t forget him. I don't need that kind of madness coming down on my face, even now) and on and on.

Oh, yes and “Bullwinkle”, Bill C., a behemoth of a run-over fullback ,even by today’s standards. Yes, let him loose on that arch-rival's defense. Whoa. But something is missing. The crowd needs an oral reassurance from their warriors that the enemy is done for. And as he ambles up to the microphone and says just a couple of words we get that reassurance from “Bullwinkle” himself. That is all we need. Boys and girls, this one is in the bag. And the band plays the school fight song to the tune of “On Wisconsin”. Yes, those were the days when boys and girls, young and old, wise or ignorance bled Raider red in the old town. Do they still do so today? I hope so.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

*Victory To The Boston Teachers Union- Defend Public Education!- No More Central Falls!- Rally March 24th At The Bosotn School Deparment Headquarters

Click on the headline to link to the "Boston Teachers Union" Website.

Markin comment:

This is another one of those fights that we must win in order to defend public education, both at the higher level as on March 4th and now with the attacks on basic education. Needless to say the issues are the same- cutting budgets, cutting staff, cutting health care and other benefits, and cutting teacher control of the class room. Enough is enough. Victory To The Boston Teachers Union! No More Central Falls!

From The Presient Of The Boston Teachers Union


We are gearing up for our rally at School March 24, 2010 at 5:00 PM. Our reason for rallying at Ct. St. on the night the appointed School Committee votes on next year's budget is three-fold:

1) Budget cuts hurt our students.
2) Our so-called "under-performing" schools are really under-resourced schools that have been under-funded for years.
3) The city's proposal to diminish our health insurance coverage will hurt our families.

Each year we who work in our schools are asked to do more with less. The school committee has a track record of obsequious and unquestioning approval of all of these yearly budget reductions. We are rallying to tell the committee to say "no."

We are also rallying to point out that the under-funding of our schools has led to the what the state now deems "under-performance." We say, "Give us the tools and the resources, and we will make our schools work."

Lastly, we are rallying because the city is proposing shifting $18 Million in health costs to city employees, increasing our yearly out-of-pocket costs an anywhere from $681 to $5191 per BTU member. We want to send a message that this increase is unacceptable.

The rally begins at 5:00 outside School Committee headquarters. We ask that our members and supporters (feel free to invite parents and other members of your school site council) report promptly at 5:00 for our rally.

The BTU will serve as a drop-off point for those who wish to take the T and leave their cars. Coffee and refreshments will be served, beginning at 2:15. Signs, placards, and other materials will be provided. We hope to see you there! We need you there! This is everyone's battle.

School Department
26 Court St.
Wednesday, 3/24
5:00 PM

*From The "HistoMat" Blog- The "Old" Left Review

Click on the headline to link to the "HistoMat" blog entry mentioned above concerning the original "Left Review", not "new" or "old" put out by sympathizes of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1934

Markin comment:

1934, Hell that would have to be named "old", "old" left review now. Was it a "third period" Stalinist journal? Or moving with the prevailing winds to the turn to the Comintern popular front policy?

*The Latest From The Internationalist Group Website

Click on the headline to link to the Internationalist Group Website.

*The Latest From The Journal- "Against The Stream"

Click on the headline to link to "Against The Stream" Website, the theoretical journal
of the Solidarity-U.S. group.

Markin comment:

I am not sure of the origins of this group, but like the previously mentioned "Socialist Action" and "Socialist Alternative" groups I will be commenting more on this group and their journal in the future in order to sort out who's who on the American and international left. And who we should, or should not, be listening to as the class struggle heats up.

*The Latest From The "Solidarity-U.S."-Website

Click on the headline to link to the latest from the "Solidarity-U.S." Website.

Markin comment:

I am not sure of the origins of this group, but like the previously mentioned "Socialist Action" and "Socialist Alternative" groups I will be commenting more on this group in the future in order to sort out who's who on the American and international left. And who we should, or should not, be listening to as the class struggle heats up.

*The Latest From The "Socialist Alternative" Website

Click on the headline to link to the latest from the "Socialist Alternative" Website.

Markin comment:

I am not sure of the origins of this group,but like the previously mentioned "Socialist Action" group I will be commenting more on this group in the future in order to sort out who's who on the American and international left. And who we should, or should not, be listening to as the class struggle heats up.

*The Latest From The " Socialist Action " Website

Click on the headline to link to the lastest from the " Socialist Action " Website.

Markin comment:

I will be commenting more in the future about this group that, I believe, had its origins in the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.), the historic party of Trostsky and Bolshevism in the U.S. before they gave that up for ????, fame, I guess in the 1960s. More, later.

Monday, March 22, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-"The Color Purple" -A Guest Book Review

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for author Alice Walker.

February Is Black History Month

March Is Women's History Month

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1988 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Race, Sex and Class:
The Clash Over The Color Purple

By Don Alexander and Christine Wright

"Well, you know wherever there's a man, there's trouble."

—Alice Walker, The Color Purple

'"Why do you always feel the need to castrate the black man?'"

—Ishmael Reed, Reckless Eyeballing

When The Color Purple, Stephen Spielberg's film of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, was released in 1985, it roused loud debates among blacks, picketing and furious letters to the editor across the country. Painting a compelling picture of a terribly abused black woman in rural Georgia between the two world wars, the film really hit a nerve; the controversy quickly got much bigger than the novel. While debates raged in community meetings, feminist supporters of Walker and her liberal and black nationalist critics took up their pens to wage a feud which still soaks up gallons of ink.

Many of Alice Walker's critics accuse her of presenting an image of the black male as a violent monster. Walker has responded that black men don't want to face her "truth-telling." As Marxists, we find what amounts to a highly literary contest for the status of "most oppressed" somewhat beside the point. Nonetheless, the furor over The Color Purple has raised some basic questions about the clash of race and sex in this deeply bigoted, anti-sex society, not least about the explosive tensions between black men and women bred by the destruction of the fabric of life through poverty and oppression.

The Color Purple tells the story of Celie and her struggle to survive and defeat a series of physical and psychological assaults by men. She is raped repeatedly by her father, who gives away her two children against her will. She is married off to a man (Mister) who only agrees to take her if he gets the cow too. Mister treats her worse than a dog, beats her, and has kids as rotten as you can get. As she is later mocked by her husband, "Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. nothing at all."Then, through her relationship with Mister's lover, the blues singer Shug, Celie finds love and sexual pleasure, leaves her husband, goes into business making pants, discovers she is heiress to a fortune and is eventually reunited with her children, who have been raised in Africa by her missionary sister, Nettie.

Alice Walker's novel begins as a masterly evocation of Celie's nightmarish oppression through a series of letters in Celie's own words. But this artistic promise is betrayed to Walker's feminist agenda at the end of the book, which degenerates into a hokey miracle solution: Walker's "message" is that black women, however rotten and wretched their lives may be, can "make it." Celie embodies the liberal idealist myth that sheer individual will—and in her case, rather unbelievably good luck—can break the chains of oppression.

The novel largely ignores the social misery of the black sharecroppers in the rural Jim Crow South, and fails to so much as hint at the convulsive social struggles in the U.S. in the 1930s. The one exception is Celie's daughter-in-law, Sofia, who is destroyed when she tries to stand up to the white boss. Even then, no one else attempts to combat the vicious racism; Walker is already laying the basis for a retreat into "personal liberation." The novel also describes Nettie's experiences as a missionary in Africa, where she witnesses the destruction of tribal life by imperialism. All Walker can counterpose to this brutality is black Christian missionaries and throwbacks to such vicious, anti-woman tribal practices as ritual sexual mutilation.

Walker's brand of bourgeois feminism, which she calls "womanism," celebrates gooey, mystical "female bonding" not one whit different from the standard line in Ms., where she served on the editorial staff for years. Bourgeois feminism, preoccupied with the career advancement of female yuppies and closing porn shops in Times Square, cannot address the very real sexual and racial oppression of black women.

Who's Afraid of Alice Walker?

Most critics of The Color Purple enthusiastically embrace the liberal lies disguised in it. (Although the controversy exploded when Spielberg's movie was released, it's important to differentiate between Walker's novel and Spielberg's unintended parody.) Walker has been accused of reinforcing racist stereotypes because she wrote about a black woman who had been abused, raped and beaten by black men. There has also been a disgusting, moralistic streak in the outcry over The Color Purple, centering on opposition to Walker's sympathetic portrayal of black lesbianism. Black journalist/TV host Tony Brown, sounding like a Moral Majority Reaganite bigot, claims that anyone who liked the movie was either a "closet homosexual, a lesbian, a pseudo-intellectual or white."

Certain layers of the black establishment intelligentsia denounce as "racist" anything that presents black people in a negative or critical light. But this is another liberal lie just as dangerous as Walker's. Blacks are by no means exempt from 'social backwardness, such as anti-abortion and anti-gay bigotry. The real point (and Walker herself has made this point in previous novels such as The Third Life of Grange Copeland) is tha't terrible poverty and oppression breed personal cruelty and degradation such as that described in 7"he Color Purple. For example, in the eloquent film Nothing But a Man (1964), a spirited young black man, Duff, lives in a small Alabama town, where he is targeted by the racists for his independence and sense of pride. In one of the key scenes in the movie, Duff, blacklisted and unable to support his family, goes home to his wife feeling humiliated by racist mistreatment. Thinking that he sees his failure as a man reflected in his woman's eyes, he turns on her in rage, and their marriage is almost destroyed. Both Duff and his wife are victims of the
racist system which denies the black man his dignity.

When Richard Wright's Native Son was published in 1940, controversy broke out over his gripping portrayal of a brutalized and alienated young black man whose poverty and desperation turn him into a vicious anti-social criminal. Wright, influenced by the Stalinist Communist Party in the late '30s and early '40s, had been disturbed that even "bankers' daughters" were weeping over his earlier short stories, Uncle Tom's Children. As he said, "I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears." And so Wright brought his readers face to face with the starkness of brutal racial oppression in the U.S., implicitly suggest¬ing that there was no room for sentimental liberal drivel.

While Walker seems to have even the bankers' granddaughters bawling, many of her critics are no different from Wright's. Such critics want to perpetuate the myth that blacks owe their condition of savage oppression to the fact that they "don't stick together"—another version of blaming the victim. These critics seek merely to uphold the "respectable" image of the petty-bourgeois black establishment, personified by the "black family life" portrayed on TV's The Bill Cosby Show. And guilty liberals—both white and black—cannot acknowledge the truth about racist America: the ugly degradation of brutalized ghetto life that strips its victims of their dignity and humanity.

Clash of Race and Sex

Of all Walker's critics, the novelist and poet Ishmael Reed has made the best case against The Color Purple. Moving beyond concerns with mere image, Reed has raised some of the hard questions, and for this he has been smeared as a "misogynist" by the feminists. But Reed, whose seven novels are brilliant parables against American racism, is no more a misogynist than Walker is a racist. What the feminists can't stand is that he has got their number: drawing a simplistic sex line in society can put you on the wrong side on some fundamental questions. It simply is not woman-hating point out that Walker's man-hating is relentless. Celie says to Mister, "You a lowdown dog is what's,
wrong It's time to leave you and enter into Creation. And your dead body is just the welcome m need." And Celie berates her stepson, "If you had tried to rule over Sofia the white folks never would Pu caught her."

Reed's barbed and effective satire of feminism, Reckless Eyeballing, is the story of Ian Ball, a black dramal who has been "sex-listed" for his play about a black woman who likes having sex (with men). To make peace with the feminists Ball writes a new play in whi the body of a young black man, lynched by a racist mob for ogling (called "reckless eyeballing" in the South white woman, is exhumed so he can be tried for his se ist crime, which the feminists denounce as equally bad as the murder.

Those who think Reed is exaggerating should thir back about ten years to Susan Brown miller's Again Our Will, one of the bibles of contemporary Americc feminism. As part of her thesis that rape (or the threat of rape) is the main way that all women are controlled t all men, Brownmiller reviewed the famous case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white man's wife.

This monstrous racist murder was a touchstone on th race question. But as a feminist, Brownmiller disgustingly insisted that Till and J.W. Millam (one of th murderers) had something in common: "They both understood that... it was a deliberate insult just short o physical assault, a last reminder to Carolyn Bryant tha this black boy, Till, had in mind to possess her." As result, Brownmiller says, "Today a sexual remark on the street causes within me a fleeting but murderous rage.' Brownmiller's sex-war politics put her in bed with i racist lynch mob.

In the course of Reckless Eyeballing, successful black woman playwright Tremonisha Smarts (who some say was modeled after Alice Walker) was accosted by a man who:
"tied her up, and shaved all of her hair off. His twisted explanation: this is what the French Resistance did to those women who collaborated with the Nazis. The man had said that because of her 'blood libel' of black men, she was doing the same thing. Collaborating with the enemies of black men."

The horrifying racist murder at Howard Beach in December 1986 inspired Reed to make his definitive argument against Alice Walker and other black feminists in an essay serialized in the Amsterdam News in January-February 1987. But when Reed takes his argument out of the realm of fiction, where poetic license allows him to get at a core of truth, he goes astray. Citing the fact that Jon Lester, the teenager who led the lynch mob that murdered Michael Griffith, was said toj be "real emotional" about the film The Color Purple Reed argues that the description of black male violence incites race-terror. He claims that black feminism's "group libel campaign" against black men "is the kind of propaganda spread by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party." Reed has a point when he describes his "justifiable paranoia"—he knows it could have been him killed on that highway in Queens. (As black comedian Godfrey Cambridge said , "Paranoia is the occupational disease of black people.")

But the strutting little Mussolinis in Howard Beach could care less what black men do to black women in Harlem, and to lay the blame on "bad propaganda" is a dangerous trivialization of the real threat the race-terrorists pose. It is, however, to Reed's credit that in the days of the black nationalist anti-Semitic demagogue Farrakhan, Reckless Eyeballing savagely denounces anti-Semitism. The book's title page quotes an epigram: "What's the American dream? A million blacks swimming back to Africa with a Jew under each arm." Characters in Reed's novel include a psychotic New York City cop notorious for blowing away blacks and Puerto Ricans, and a Jewish writer who is beaten to death by a mob at the mythical Mary Phegan College. (Mary Phegan was in fact a young white woman murdered in Georgia in 1915; a Jewish businessman, Leo Frank, was framed up for the crime and lynched. The racist upsurge led to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.) Reed uses such themes to calculate by sex and ethnic group the chances of being murdered in the U.S. As the critic Darryl Pinckney said: "Reed's subtext might be that the rape of black women and the lynching of black men are part of the same historical tragedy" (New York Review of Books, 29 January 1987). As a vivid picture of the viciousness of social relations in the United States, Reckless Eyebslling is eons ahead of The Color Purple—and a much better read, too.

The Talented Tenth Squares Off

In a certain sense, the literary debate over The Color Purple reflects the careerist interests of the black intelligentsia, struggling over shrinking economic opportunities in the absence of any movement for radical change. Thus Walker can snipe at black men from her sanctuary at Ms., the darling of white bourgeois feminists, while Reed raves that there is a publishing conspiracy against black male writers. (We thought this was even nuttier than it is, until we tried to buy his books and discovered they were all out of print!) While seemingly Reed and Walker are at loggerheads, they have at bottom the same program. Walker envisages a female Horatio Alger; Reed sees the "solution" in independent black art. Both posit individual struggle within capitalist society, which necessarily pits one section of the oppressed against another. Their message is, "see, you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps," ignoring the fact that the majority have no boots.

What lies behind these squabbles is the frustration of the "talented tenth"—the tiny selection of minority people who have been able to integrate into the professional layers of American society. In the face of the swift elimination of the token and reversible gains of the civil rights movement and in the absence of any mass struggle for social change, such debates among the black intelligentsia take on the air of a dispute over the shrinking job market.

But we must say in passing that even during the heyday of the civil rights movement the reality of sexual oppression was never addressed. The ensuing black social struggle under revolutionary leadership which today allows the fundamentally despairing ideologies of black nationalism and feminism to flourish among those who see themselves as spokesmen for the oppressed. Walker and Reed, in their different ways accepting the basically hopeless framework of the capitalist status quo, see black women's progress as necessarily coming at the expense of black men—and vice versa. Only an anti-capitalist perspective provides the basis for uniting all the oppressed in a fight for freedom at the expense of the class enemy which aims to keep us divided and in chains.

Capitalism and "American Apartheid"

In the 1980s the harsh realities of a decaying class system have become ever more bleak. Especially for blacks, capitalism has less and less to offer. The unemployment rate has soared with the closing of giant industrial plants in the Midwest, which once provided decent union wages and basic social power to a crucial component of the working class. Funding for educa¬tion has been slashed, while segregation in schools and
in housing has increased. Blacks are not safe in many neighborhoods throughout the U.S. as lynch mob terrorists are emboldened by racist government policy. "Political power" for blacks has come to mean more black elected officials, who the Democratic Party has deemed useful to preside over the deterioration of the big cities, where they exact racist cutbacks and enforce "law and order." Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode, whose police firebombed an entire black neighbor¬hood in order to wipe out eleven MOVE members, including five of their children, is no more a champion of black rights than New York's fascistic Ed Koch.

With the exception of a very few who have "made it," the hellish conditions are compounded for black women through sexual oppression. Unskilled black women remain confined to the lowest-paying, most menial jobs, earning starvation wages as maids, laundresses and waitresses. Black women are made to bear the brunt of devastating cutbacks in social welfare. In the U.S., twice as many black girls are pregnant before the age of 18 as whites, twice the number of black infants die. The American bourgeoisie has long upheld the lie that ghetto poverty and degradation are the fault of the "deviant" promiscuous black "matriarch." In 1969 Daniel Moynihan argued that the black "matriarchy" was responsible for the breakdown of the black family and suggested that young black men should learn the right values by joining Uncle Sam's army. Over the years the black woman has been variously stereotyped as a presumed tower of strength, a sexless and obese mammy, a promiscuous baby machine, an emasculating fiend.

Yet the picture for black men is not much less bleak. The unemployment rate in big cities for a young black man is 50 to 60 percent. There is also the problem of "permanent unemployability"—e.g., black industrial workers, "last hired, first fired," who under today's conditions will never be rehired. Women account for two-thirds of all the professional jobs held by blacks: black women are seen by racist employers as docile,non-criminal, non-militant, non-violent, an upgraded version of what used to scrub floors; whereas that young black man in a suit who seems articulate and ambitious is suspected of being Malcolm X in disguise. In the 3 December 1987 New York Review of Books, the article "American Apartheid" describes the grim reality:
" men are more likely [than whites] to be in prisons or the military, or die at an early age. The fact that upward of 20 percent are missed by the census would point up their lack of stable jobs or even settled addresses. Moreover, of those black men the census manages to reach, fewer than half have full-time jobs."

It all comes home to roost in the black family. In a society which defines manhood as the ability to support a family, black men are often denied that very ability. "Single-parent households" are growing throughout the U.S., a phenomenon which affects blacks more heavily but by no means exclusively. Over 56 percent of black families are headed by women. Capitalist society needs the institution of the nuclear family not only to produce the next generation of wage laborers, but as an important force for social conservatism. At the same time, capitalist decay undermines the family through grinding poverty and oppression. The family is the main social institution by which women are oppressed. But in the absence of alternatives, those who fall outside the classic pattern of the family have nothing at all. Thus, this vicious racist system cannot but lead to embittered personal relations between men and women. Out of this rises the frustration which takes The Color Purple controversy out of the literary realm into the community, where it exploded in angry debates.

In this sense, Alice Walker triumphed as an artist: the depth of the controversy shows that she began to lay bare a painful reality. The solution to the reality she and Ishmael Reed have described in their novels lies not in the realm of art or bourgeois politics, but in the struggle for the socialist transformation of society."

*From The "Bob Feldman 68" Blog- The Youth Revolt Of 1964- Mario Savio and The Free Speech Movement At Berkeley

Click on the headline to link to, via the "Bob Feldman 68" blog, a "YouTube" film clip of 1964 Free Speech Movement and Berkeley student leader, Mario Savio.

Markin comment:

In many ways, for white leftists at least, this was their first major confrontation with the imperial state and its agents, and it was not pretty. Unfortunately, many of those who became radicalized back in the day have long ago giving up that ghost. Well, the next political generation that is now coming of age should view this clip to get a better idea of what they will confront in coming to terms with today's issues like education and social welfare budget cuts, war, and more war of all kinds.

*From The "SteveLendmanBlog"- "America's Permanent War Agenda"- A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to the "SteveLendmanBlog" to read the above-mentioned entry.

Markin comment:

It is always good, and this is why I like this site to get the names and numbers of those who have created, and continue to create, the imperial hubris- and then move on to oppose them-hard.

*The March 20, 2010 Rally Against Obama's Iraq And Afghan Wars- The View From "The National Assembly"

Click on the headline to link to the "National Assembly Against The Iraq And Afghan Wars" Website for coverage of the March 20, 2010 Anti-Iraq And Afghan Wars Rally in Washington, D.C.

*Victory To The Shaw's Supermarket (Mass.)Warehouse Workers!- An Update From 'Boston Indy Media"

Click on the headline to link to an article on "Boston Indy Media" concerning the continuing strike by Massachusetts Shaw's Supermarket Warehouse workers.

Markin comment:

The issues here, as usual, are health benefits, safety concerns and working conditions. Wages seem to be secondary, as is generally the case theses days when companies are gutting the "extras", like health care, pensions and seniority rights, that used to be taken for granted in the old days. Victory To The Shaw's Workers!

*The March 20th 2010 Washington , D.C Rally Against Obama's Iraq And Afghan Wars- The View From "Boston Indy Media"

Click on the headline to link to a "Boston Indy Media" post for the March 20, 2010 March in Washington, D.C. against Obama's Iraq and Afghan wars.

Markin comment:

Hey, even this amateur posting beats the august "The New York Times" coverage, mentioned in an earlier post today, on this anti-war event.

*The March 20th 2010 Rally Against Obama's Iraq And Afghan Wars-The View From "Wikipedia"

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the March 20, 2010 Washington, D.C. Anti-Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Rally.

Markin comment:

Some times you have to love the Internet. This time is one of them with an almost instant entry into the history books. If anyone is asking, on this one old "Wikipedia" is way ahead of the august "journal of record", "The New York Times", mentioned in a post earlier today.

*The March 20th 2010 Anti-War Rally in Washington- The Bourgeois View From "The New York Times"

Click on the headline to link to a "The New York Times" article, via "The Associated Press", on the March 20, 2010 Anti-Iraq and Afghan Wars Rally and March in Washington, D.C.

Markin comment:

Things are definitely tough when the "journal of record" for the bourgeoisie, "The New York Times", depends on an "AP" stringer's report of a major anti-war event in Washington, D.C. It may also reflect how little impact, newsworthiness-wise (ouch), the august editors of that newspaper considered the story. Much easier to keep the limelight on the Chief and his battle to get a totally inadequate health care plan passed through Congress. We, brothers and sisters, have our work cut out for us. I will pass on my own report on the event when I get a chance. The "AP" story though has it pretty right factually , as far as it goes.

Just a couple of quick comments here. First, the fight is now on against the Obama wars, although I am unhappy that the turnout was smaller that even I had expected. We are, its seems, in a somewhat analogous situation to about 1965 in the Vietnam anti-war era. The second comment is less heartening- the turnout was a "show the colors" event in more than one way- there were very few people there , at least from what I could tell, who had not been committed to the anti-war movement previously. Few new faces...and still many, many illusions in the "good faith" of Barack Obama. More, later.

*Notes from The Old Home Town- A Hats Off To Brother James C.

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Catholic Worker movement.

Not all the entries in this space are connected to politics, although surely most of them can be boiled down into some political essence, if you try hard enough. The following is one of those instances where trying to gain any “political traction”, or as I am fond of saying drawing any “lessons” would be foolhardy. I should also note that this entry is part of a continuing, if sporadic, series of “trips down memory lane” provoked by a fellow high school classmate who has been charged with keeping tabs on old classmates and their doings, even those of old-line communists like this writer. Go figure?


Markin comment:

The subject matter of this particular entry is in dire need of supplementary explanation before all my old and new leftist political associates think that I have gone over the edge- and crawled half-way back to some old variant of the Stalinist Popular Front “theory” where even churchman are our “comrades. Or worst, crawled half-way back to “Mother Church”. No, that is not the case at all. As I have had to say on other tricky occasions though- hear me out on this one.

I agree that to honor a churchman, although one somewhere pretty far down on the Catholic Church totem pole is highly unusual. More generally this space has been used to, and is noted for, honoring our fallen forbears like Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, other radicals and revolutionaries who were not our comrades but who were kindred spirits in the struggle for a better world, or other secular figures who have made a cultural impact that paved the way for us in some manner. That description would, in the usual case, not apply to churchmen, high or low.

I, moreover, have spent a good portion of my life struggling, one way or another, against the effects of my own youthful church indoctrination and steadfastly adhere to one of our great forbears', Karl Marx, description of religion as the “opiate of the people”. I also add to that sound bite, unlike our thoughtless political opponents who leave it at that and do not give the phrase in the context in which it was written-people need the dope of religion to bear up under the heretofore relentless struggle for survival in an unjust and unequal world. Marxists have never been against personal religious expression, per se, although in a communist society it would, I assume, be something of a curiosity, or something like the “Old Believers" in the Russian Orthodox tradition or, maybe, the Amish in America.

And that is where my tribute to Brother James C. fits in. I have no truck with his religious beliefs, personal or professional, but I do have truck with his sense of “doing good in the world”. Moreover, getting back to that united front question that I alluded to when I mentioned the Stalinist Popular Front policy up above, on a lot of questions, particularly around the death penalty, who the heck do you think some of the people we are united fronting with are? And in the old days, in the back in the day 1960s, for example, we certainly defended the Berrigan Brothers and the Catonsville Nine, all Catholic pacifists of one sort or another, many of them priest and nuns, who committed acts of civil disobedience trying to disrupt the military draft system during the Vietnam War.

Or going back even further we had a kind word to say about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement when they took part in the black civil rights sit-ins to desegregate the lunch counters of this world, North and South. Or fast forward to Central America in the 1980s and to those who operated under the sign of “liberation theology” and who got gunned down by the local tyrants and slapped down by their leader, the Pope, for their efforts. Yes, in the end these people will have to come over to us if they want to see justice done for those whom they work with. For today though, if they operate, as Brother Jim does, under the sign of “doing good in this wicked old world” I say hats off.


For Brother James C.

Usually when I have had an occasion to use the word “brother” it is to ask for something like –“Say Brother, brother can you spare a dime?” Or have used it as a slang word when I have addressed one of the male members of the eight million political causes that I have worked on in my life. Here, in speaking of one of our fellow classmates, Brother James Connolly, I am using the term as a sincere honorific. For those of you who do not know Brother James is a member of the Oratorian Brothers, a Catholic order somewhere down the hierarchical ladder of the Roman Catholic Church. Wherever that is, he, as my devout Irish Catholic grandmother would say (secretly hoping that it would apply to me), had the “calling” to serve the Church.

Now Brother James and I, except for a few sporadic e-mails over the last couple of years, have neither seen nor heard from each other since our school days. So this is something of an unsolicited testimonial on my part (although my intention is to draw him out into the public spotlight to write about his life and work). Moreover, except for a shared youthful adherence to the Catholic Church which I long ago placed on the back burner of my life there are no religious connections that bind us together. At one time I did delight in arguing, through the night, about the actual number of angels that could dance on the head of a needle, and the like, but that is long past. I do not want to comment on such matters, in any case, but rather that fact of Brother James’ doing good in this world.

We, from an early age, are told, no, ordered by parents, preachers, and Sunday school teachers that while we are about the business of ‘making and doing’ in the world to do good, or at least to do no evil. Most of us got that ‘making and doing’ part, and have paid stumbling, fumbling, mumbling lip service to the last part. Brother James, as his profession, and as a profession of his faith and that is important here, choose a different path. Maybe not my path, and maybe not yours, but certainly in Brother James’ case, as old Abe Lincoln said, the “better angels of our nature” prevailed over the grimy struggle for this world’s good. Most times I have to fidget around to find the right endings to my entries, but not on this one. All honor to Brother James Connolly.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

*From The Pages Of "Women And Revolution"-"The Roots Of Bolshevism: The Russian Revolutionary Tradition"-A Guest Commentary

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the heroic 19th century early Russian revolutionary, Vera Figner, mentioned in the article below.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Summer/Autumn 1992 issue of "Women and Revolution" that has some historical interest for all those who wish to learn about our militant forbears. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during this Women's History Month.

The Roots Of Bolshevism: The Russian Revolutionary Tradition

W&R is pleased to present the edited transcript of a talk given by a member of our editorial board, Joseph Seymour, at an educational conference of the Spartacist League/US, held in the Bay Area on 2 May 1992.

The origins of this talk go back a few years to conversations I had with two comrades who were most directly and actively involved in seeking to build a section of the International Communist League in the Soviet Union. We talked about how wretched the present-day Russian intelligentsia was, both the pro-Wall Street self-styled "democrats" and the Stalinist self-described "patriots." Particularly disturbing was the depth of women's oppression and the pervasive¬ness of male chauvinism, not only in Soviet societyat large but even amongpeople who considered themselves communists, Leninists, would-be Trotskyists.

As we were talking, it occurred to me that the present-day Russian intelligentsia is not only profoundly alienated from Bolshevism, but from the many generations of Russian revolutionaries who preceded and culminated in Bolshevism. If the ghost of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who was the greatest Russian socialist of the pre-Marxist era—a man who had a profound influence on Lenin—could return to his old intellectual haunts in the universities and editorial offices of Russia today, he would not be able to understand how anyone who called himself a democrat could want to transform Russia along the lines of Western capitalism. For him, to be a democrat meant to be for social equality. It meant to be for the rule of the lower classes in society. The Russian revolutionaries despised the bourgeoisie, both the Russian version and the Western version.

Chernyshevsky would be even more uncomprehending about how anyone could call himself a communist and yet be a Russian nationalist, a male chauvinist and an anti-Semite. Because to be a communist meant by definition that you were an internationalist, you were an extreme partisan of women's equality and liberation, and you welcomed Jews as equals and as comrades. From the 1870s onward, Jews played a prominent role in all of the Russian radical movements, all of the wings of populism and later all wings of Marxism.

And women played a far more prominent role in the Russian revolutionary movement than they did in any other country in the world. Women like Vera Zasulich and Sofia Bardina of Land and Liberty, which was the principal populist organization, were hard, tough, dedicated revolutionaries. From the shooting of the police commandant Trepov in 1878 to the assassination of the tsarist general Luzhenovsky by Maria Spiridonova in 1906, Russian women carried out some of the most spectacular acts of terrorism. After the
Revolution of 1905 a tsarist prison official in his own way recognized the equality of women: "Experience shows that women, in terms of criminality, ability, and possession of the urge to escape, are hardly distinguishable from men."

If we could get into a time machine and go back to the world of Chernyshevsky and Land and Liberty, we would have big fights about peasant socialism and the efficacy of terrorism. But at a deeper level we would feel ourselves among comrades. So what we are trying to do is to reinstill in Russia today its own great revolutionary tradition, a tradition which has been perverted and degraded or simply forgotten after decades of Stalinist rule and the pressure of Western imperialism on the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state.

French Jacobins and Russian Decembrists

That tradition begins with the Decembrists, a group of revolutionary democratic military officers who sought to overthrow the tsarist autocracy in December 1825. But the Decembrists themselves begin with the French Revolution, which is the fountainhead of radicalism in the modern world. It is one of the ironies of history that the Russian army which the tsar sent into West Europe to crush the French Revolution in its Napoleonic phase became a transmission belt back into Russia for the ideals of that revolution. One of the Decembrists later wrote:

"During the campaigns through Germany and France our young men became acquainted with European civilization, which produced upon them the strongest impression. They were able to compare all that they had seen abroad with what confronted them at every step at home: slavery of the majority of Russians, cruel treatment of subordinates by superiors, all sorts of government abuses, and general tyranny."

So the Decembrists were a belated attempt to extend the French Revolution into Russia. One of their principal leaders had been the son of the Russian ambassador to Napoleonic France; he grew up in a milieu shot through with former Jacobin revolutionaries, among them Napo¬leon himself. Another prominent Decembrist, when he was stationed in Paris in 1815, went around to the leading intellectuals, among them Henri Saint-Simon, a pioneer
theorist of socialism. Saint-Simon attempted to convince this young Russian nobleman to introduce socialism into his homeland.

The most radical of the Decembrists, Pavel Pestel, had not personally been to France although he identified himself wholeheartedly with the French revolutionaries. But he went beyond Jacobinism. By the 1820s the ideas of socialism were beginning to gain currency among the European intelligentsia. Pestel attempted to combine a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution with elements of socialism. He proposed that the land be taken from the nobility and given to the peasants—half given to the peasants to farm privately, the other half to farm collectively so that no peasant family would go hungry. And Pestel called this the Russian Law. After the insurrection was suppressed, the tsarist authorities discovered the Russian Law among Pestel's private papers. Instead of publicizing it at his trial, they thought it was so inflammatory and attractive that they buried it in a secret archive. It did not see the light of day for almost 100 years.

An old reactionary general was on his deathbed when he heard of the Decembrist uprising, and it perplexed him. He said: before we have had uprisings of peasants who want to become noblemen; now we have an uprising of noblemen who want to become shoemakers. The Decembrists did not want to become shoemakers; they were not concerned with their future personal status. But this old reactionary understood something: that this was a movement of an elite, isolated from the peasant masses in whose interests they spoke and attempted to act. And this would be true of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia throughout the 19th century. Initially this milieu consisted mainly of the sons of noblemen, later on the sons and daughters of what was called the "middle class," the children of tsarist bureaucrats or like Chernyshevsky, of Russian Orthodox priests. It was only at the end of the century, in the mid-1890s, that the Marxist wing of the intelligentsia acquired a mass base among the rapidly growing industrial proletariat.

The Decembrists were the first revolutionary bourgeois-democratic movement in Russia. They were also the last such movement. That is, they were the last movement that attempted to overthrow the tsar in order to remodel Russian society along the lines of contemporary West Europe or North America. After that, those people who wanted to transform Russia along the lines of Western capitalism did not call themselves democrats because they were not democrats; they called themselves liberals. They did not want to overthrow the tsarist autocracy. Rather they wanted to pressure the tsarist autocracy to modernize Russia from above. Their goal was a constitutional mon¬archy in which the monarch remained strong and the constitution guaranteed the rule of the propertied classes. As Chernyshevsky put it: "The liberals absolutely refuse to allow the lower strata any preponderance in society."

The First Russian Socialist Movement

Following the suppression of the Decembrists it took another generation for a new revolutionary movement to emerge. This was the so-called Petrashevsky Circle, a group of a couple of hundred radicals around Mikhail Petrashevsky. At that time the Russian Orthodox Church was sexually segregated, and in order to show his support for the equality of women and his defiance of the state church, Petrashevsky donned women's clothing and he attended a ceremony of the church exclusive to women. However he had forgotten to shave off his beard! He was approached by a policeman who said, "Madam, I think you are a man." Petrashevsky replied, "Sir, I think you are an old woman." The policeman was so flustered, Petrashevsky made his getaway.

Whereas the Decembrists had viewed West Europe in the afterglow of the French Revolution, a generation later Petrashevsky and his comrades only saw in West Europe an arena of the horrible exploitation of the lower classes by the propertied classes. They identified with the socialist opposition to Western bourgeois society and defined their goal as the application of Western socialism to Russia. In light of everything that's happening in Russia today, it's important to emphasize that this very first Russian socialist movement was implacably opposed to Russian nationalism in all its manifestations. They of course opposed the Slavophiles, who idealized Russia before Peter the Great and counterposed the spirituality of the Russian people to the crass materialism of the bourgeois West. But Petrashevsky and his comrades also opposed radical democrats like Belinsky who argued that the progress of humanity goes through nations, not by transcending nations. Against this view they argued, "Socialism is a cosmopolitan doctrine, which stands higher than nationalities...for socialists differing nations do not exist, there are only people."

The Petrashevsky Circle was the exact contemporary of the German League of the Just, out of which came the Communist League for which Marx wrote the Com¬munist Manifesto. Like Marx, Petrashevsky and his com¬rades believed that the spectre of communism was haunt¬ing Europe. And Russia was part of Europe. They looked forward, in the near future, to a pan-European socialist revolution, predominantly proletarian in the West, predominantly peasant-based in the East. They believed that the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848 in West Europe was the beginning of that development, and they immediately wanted to get in on the act. They started discussing how they were actually going to overthrow the tsar. But before they got very far, the tsarist authorities simply crushed them. Nicholas I was panicked in his own way by the spectre of communism and moved to destroy its meager reflection among a small section of the Russian intelligentsia.

The Origins of Populism

The revolutions of 1848 and the ensuing counterrevolutions by the combined forces of bourgeois and monarchical reaction are the great historic watershed of 19th century Europe. Among other things they gave rise to Russian populism as a distinct current of European socialism. Petrashevsky and his comrades had believed that socialism would come to Russia as part of a general European revolution. That vision was defeated on the barricades in Paris, Vienna, Rome and elsewhere.

A witness to that defeat was Alexander Herzen, the founder of Russian populism. Herzen had been a radical democrat who emigrated to West Europe, and he experienced the revolutions of 1848 in France and Italy. But Herzen remained optimistic about the prospects of revolution in Russia. If Russia was going to have a revolution in advance and independently of West Europe, however, it would have to be a predominantly peasant revolution because the industrial proletariat was minute. A German conservative, Baron Haxthausen, who had visited Russia in the 1840s, wrote a book saying that Russia didn't need a socialist revolution, it already had socialism in the form of the traditional peasant commune. After 1848 Herzen accepted this premise and argued that what would require a proletarian revolution in the West could be achieved on the basis of Russian rural institutions if the society were sufficiently democratized.

It is important to emphasize that while the Russian populists saw a different path to socialism in Russia, they had the same goal as Western revolutionaries. Thus Marx was always held in extremely high regard in the Russian populist movement. One of the early under¬ground populist groups wrote to Marx in London and proposed that he represent Russia as well as Germany in the leading council of the First International. The first language into which Capital was translated was Russian. It got through the tsarist censors, who figured that a book so dry and abstract as Capital could not inspire anyone to revolutionary passion, and it became an instant best seller. At the end of his life, Herzen stated that he had always been faithful to the ideas of Saint-Simon, who had an extremely technologically advanced conception of socialism.

Herein lay the fundamental contradiction of Russian populism. The populists projected onto the peasant commune not only economic egalitarianism, but social equality at all levels—the equality of women, a libertarian conception of sexual relations, a belief in materialism and the progress of science. They believed that the tsar-worshipping, priest-ridden, wife-beating Russian peasant could be won to the outlook of a Saint-Simon or a Marx. Such an illusion could survive only as long as the populist movement was exclusively a movement of the intelligentsia. And in fact the "To the People" movement marked the beginning of the end of Russian populism.

Revolutionary populism went through four distinct phases. The first phase was ushered in by the Crimean War of 1853-55 in which Russia was defeated by England and France. This defeat sent shock waves through the Russian upper classes. Tsar Nicholas I died in 1855 (some say he committed suicide out of a sense of shame). His successor, Alexander II, appeared to be a liberal, and in the late 1850s Russia experienced the tsarist version of glasnost and perestroika. Censorship was relaxed very considerably, and the tsarist government began talking about fundamental reforms of the system of serfdom.

Initially populist intellectuals like Herzen and Chernyshevsky demanded that the tsar expropriate the landed nobility and give the land to the peasantry. Some believed that the tsarist autocracy would achieve from above what the French Revolution had achieved from below. However, it soon became clear that the legal emancipation of the serfs was going to be done in a way which perpetuated the exploitation of the peasants at the hands of the landlords and the absolutist state. In the first years after the abolition of serfdom, the economic conditions of the peasantry were actually worse than they had been. When the Emancipation Edict of 1861 was read, it provoked scattered peasant uprisings; the peasants thought it was a counterfeit document by the local bureaucrats and the landlords. The so:called Emancipation Edict marked the beginning of revolutionary populism. The intelligentsia became convinced that in order to establish peasant-based socialism they would have to overthrow the tsarist autocracy and create a democratic republic.

The "Common Cause":
Women in the Revolutionary Movement

In the 1860s the first underground revolutionary organizations came into existence. These were easily crushed. Chernyshevsky himself was imprisoned and then exiled. Yet the tsarist repression in no way suppressed the revolutionary populist movement. Over the course of the next decade, a group of perhaps two or three hundred intellectuals became a mass movement of the intelligentsia numbering thousands of activists and perhaps ten times as many sympathizers.

A three-sided political struggle developed during this period within the Russian intelligentsia who opposed the existing social and political order to some degree: the Slavophiles, the liberals, and the revolutionary populists. In this struggle the populists won hands down, and by the early 1870s Russian universities were a bastion of revolutionary populism.

Perhaps the decisive reason for the victory of populism is that they were able to mobilize the vast reserves of the women of the educated classes. This movement literally liberated thousands of women from the shackles of the patriarchal family. A woman was not legally allowed to live on her own without the permission of her parents, or her husband if she was married. To circumvent this, the fictitious marriage became a sort of standard activity within the radical movement. Some young male student would be told by a friend that he knew of a woman of advanced views who wanted to go abroad to study medicine (a woman couldn't study medicine in Russia). And they would meet for the first time in front of a church; they would go in, get married; they would come out, and he would hand her her passport, of which he had control, and say, "Now you are free to go and study medicine and do what you like."

During the 1860s the Russian revolutionary movement acquired the participation of women to a far greater degree than their counterparts in Western Europe. These women at the same time consciously rejected Western-style feminism, that is, the idea of building a separate movement predominantly of women in order to pressure the existing government to pass laws in favor of women's equality. They saw women's equality coming about through what was called the "common cause," a total social revolution in which they would participate on an equal footing with male revolutionaries. Vera Figner, who became the principal leader of the terrorist People's Will in its final phase, recounts how she and her fellow Russian radical students at the University of Zurich viewed this question:

"Generally speaking, as a group the female students abroad were not advocates of the woman question and smiled at any mention of it. We came without thought of pioneering or trying to solve the woman question. We didn't think it needed solution. It was a thing of the past; the principle of equality between men and women had been achieved in the sixties."

Now of course what Figner meant was that it had been achieved within the revolutionary movement, not in Russian society at large. The Russian populists, called "Narodniks" in their own language, were acutely aware of the terrible oppression of women. At a mass trial of populists in 1877, the tsarist prosecutors denounced them for undermining the family. Sofia Bardina replied to this:

"As far as the family is concerned...isn't it being destroyed by a social system which forces an impoverished woman to abandon herself to prostitution, and which even sanctifies this prostitution as a legal and necessary element of every civilized state? Or is it we who are destroying the family? we who are trying to root out this poverty—the major cause of all society's ill, including the erosion of the family?"

"To the People"

In the mid-1870s the populist intelligentsia who were organized in Land and Liberty, which was an all-Russian, fairly highly centralized organization of the Narodnik vanguard, made a heroic 'attempt to overthrow what Bardina called the "social system." This was the "To the People" movement. Thousands of revolutionary intellec¬tuals flocked to rural villages trying to incite the peasants to rise up in a radical democratic and social revolution. The response was not favorable. One of the leading veterans of this movement reported:

"I noticed that any sharp sallies against the Tsar or against religion made an extremely disagreeable impression on the peasants; they were just as deeply perplexed by energetic appeals for a rebellion or uprising."

When the Narodnik intellectuals said that the peasants should have the landlords' land, they got a favorable hearing. But the peasants were unwilling to defy the state to achieve this end.

While the main body of Narodnik intellectuals went to the rural villages, some remained in the cities and sought to agitate and organize among factory workers. Here they were distinctly more successful. They were able to win over some advanced workers, such as Stepan Khalturin, who joined the leadership of Land and Liberty and set up small but significant allied organizations of workers.

One of the leading populist intellectuals involved in organizing the workers was Georgi Plekhanov. Initially Plekhanov accepted what could be called the conventional populist line: factory workers are simply peasants doing seasonal vyork in the factories, which had no effect on their sympathies and ties to the rural villages. But Plekhanov's own experience caused him to question this. In 1879 he wrote:

"The question of the city worker is one of those that it may be said will be moved forward automatically by life itself, to an appropriate place, in spite of the a priori theoretical decisions of the revolutionary leaders."

The "To the People" movement, which necessarily operated quite openly, exposed the Narodniks to massive state repression. This repression, combined with the frus¬tration that the movement had not achieved its basic aim, paved the way for the last phase of revolutionary populism: the turn toward terrorism.

In 1878 Vera Zasulich heard that one of her comrades had been almost beaten to death in prison. She put on her best clothes, walked to the prison, requested that she present a petition to the head of the prison, and when she went into his office she pulled out a gun and shot him pointblank. She did not however kill him. The tsarist authorities thought this was such an open-and-shut case that instead of trying her for a political crime before a special tribunal, they tried her on an ordinary criminal charge before a jury drawn from the St. Petersburg upper classes. And she was acquitted, because the jury found this a justifiable act of moral outrage!

The acquittal had a far more shocking impact than the shooting. Count Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, expressed the views of the educated elite when he called Zasulich's acquittal "a harbinger of revolution." The populist leaders drew the same conclusion: that if even an upper-class jury will acquit an overt terrorist, then a cam¬paign of terrorism would have enormous popular support. Marx and Engels in London similarly concluded that in the particular conditions of Russia a campaign of terrorism could incite a popular revolution.

The one populist intellectual who dissented was Plekhanov, who warned that the only effect of shooting Alexander II would be to replace him with another Alexander with another digit after his name. He wanted to continue to propagandize and agitate among the rural had been in prison and then in exile for almost 20 years. The tsarist regime had sufficient respect for the effectiveness of People's Will that they did in fact free the old man of Russian socialism. But in the following years Russian populism was basically broken, not so much by the tsarist repression as by demoralization. Neither mass agitation nor terrorism had seriously affected the tsarist autocracy, which emerged if anything even more reactionary than ever.

From Populism to Marxism

The 1880s were the low point of the Russian revolutionary movement. In 1889 a student in St. Petersburg, just ten years earlier a hotbed of revolutionary activism, reported: "There were few self-sacrificing participants who completely consecrated themselves to the cause.... All wanted to finish the course as soon as possible and then to live entirely within the law." Yet just a few years later, a new generation of Russian revolutionaries would enter the scene and finish off the tsarist autocracy
once and for all.

Most accounts of the transition from populism to Marxism within the Russian intelligentsia focus exclusively on Plekhanov and his comrades. It's important, however, to place this transition in its international context. During the 1870s Russia appeared to be the one country on the verge of a radical upheaval. The bomb-throwing Russian Narodnik seemed the model of the European revolutionary. When Zasulich fled to West Europe after being acquitted for shooting Trepov, she was greeted as a heroine not only by socialists, but even by many Western liberals who hated the tsarist autocracy. Yet a decade later the Russian populist movement had almost evaporated. In 1878, the same year that People's Will was formed, the Bismarck regime in Germany passed the so-called Anti-Socialist Laws aimed at breaking the power of the German Marxist movement. The leaders, Bebel and Kautsky, were driven into exile and many activists were imprisoned. Yet unlike the Russian populists, the Marxists became the mass party of the German proletariat despite the repression. So Plekhanov's influence among a new generation of Russian revolutionaries-was not merely because of the intrinsic brilliance of his polemics against populism, but also because he was a cothinker of the strongest, most effective socialist movement in Europe.

After the split in Land and Liberty, Plekhanov attempted to establish a small propaganda group called "Total Redistribution," but the tsarist persecution was so intense that he and his comrades were forced into exile. This compelled them to rethink their basic theoretical premises and strategic perspectives, and in the early 1880s Ple¬khanov made the transition from populism to Marxism. That transition contained two basic elements, one negative, the other positive. Instead of just idealizing it, Plekhanov looked at what was happening to the peasant commune, and he saw that since the emancipation of the serfs, the collective elements of the Russian peasantry were rapidly being undermined. A new layer of rich peas¬ants, known by the insulting term kulaks, or "fists," was increasingly dominating the life of the village because they had the money. That was the negative element. The positive element is that Plekhanov generalized from his own experiences in the 1870s that there was a fundamental difference between workers and peasants, that they were not just part of the narod, the "people," and that only the workers in their mass were receptive to the socialist program. He concluded that a socialist party in Russia must be based centrally on the slowly but steadily growing proletariat.

In rejecting the conception of peasant-based socialism, Plekhanov concluded that Russia at that point in its economic development could not have a socialist transformation of any kind. He conceived a theory of what later came to be called the "two-stage revolution." In the first stage the working class, guided by the socialist intelligentsia, would lead the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy. The liberal bourgeoisie, such as ruled in the West, would then come to power. In turn the workers would gain the political freedom to build a mass proletarian party and allied trade-union movement. Plekhanov also believed that a radical democratic revolution in Russia would enormously accelerate capitalist development, thus increasing the numerical weight of the industrial proletariat and creating the objective economic conditions for a socialist revolution in the future. Thus the program of the Eman¬cipation of Labor group, formed in 1883, stated:

"Present-day Russia is suffering—as Marx once said of the West European continent—not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from insufficiency of that development.

"One of the most harmful consequences of this backward state of production was and still is the underdevelopment of the middle class, which, in our country, is incapable of taking the initiative in the struggle against absolutism. "That is why the socialist intelligentsia has been obliged to head the present-day emancipation movement, whose immediate task must be to set up free political institutions in our country...."

Plekhanov's two-stage revolutionary schema was accepted within the Marxist movement until the beginnings of the Revolution of 1905, when it was confronted, as Plekhanov would have said, "by life itself." It was then challenged in different ways by Lenin's conception of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry and Trotsky's conception of permanent revolution.

"From a Spark a Flame Shall Be Kindled"

In the first decade of its existence, the Emancipation of Labor group was a mere handful of exiles. This reflected both the apolitical mood of the Russian intelligentsia and the continuing dominance of the populists over the diminished radical movement. Slowly Plekhanov began to influence a new younger generation of Russian intellectuals, personified by Vladimir llyich Ulyanov. According to his own account, the future Lenin was an apolitical youth until 1887, when his older brother was executed for participating in one of the last populist attempts to take the tsar's life. Alexander Ulyanov's execution radicalized his younger brother, who, however, did not follow the same path in a programmatic and strategic sense. In the early 1890s the young future Lenin consciously rejected populism in all its contemporary manifestations, and consid¬ered himself a Marxist.

By the mid-1890s, revolutionary populism was a thing of the past and what passed for populism had merged with liberalism. In the 1890s the only people who were calling for a democratic republic were the Marxists, called the Social Democrats. Thus Lenin could write at this time: "All true and consistent democrats in Russia must become Social Democrats." The Russian Marxists had achieved a position in some ways comparable to the revolutionary populists of a generation earlier. They had become the dominant current among that section of the Russian intelligentsia which was fundamentally hostile to the existing social and political order. They had also acquired a small layer of advanced workers. But they had to break outside the narrow circle. This was called the transition from propaganda to agitation. Plekhanov defined propaganda as the explanation of many complex ideas to the few, and agitation as the explanation of a few basic ideas to the many.

The attempt of the Marxist propaganda circle to involve itself in agitation among the workers happened to coincide with a major strike wave. As a result they got a far more favorable hearing and greater influence among the workers than they had initially expected. Lenin, Martov and the other leaders of the movement sought to direct the workers' economic resistance to the employer toward the ultimate goal of a radical democratic revolution against the tsarist autocracy. In a popular pamphlet on factory fines written in 1895, for example, Lenin wrote:

"[The workers] will understand that the government and its officials are on the side of the factory owners, and that the laws are drawn up in such a way as to make it easier for the employer to oppress the worker."

The turn toward agitation incurred increased tsarist repression. Lenin, Martov and the other leaders of what were called the first generation of Russian Marxist "practicals"—that is, the Russian Marxists who actually organized the workers, as opposed to the older veterans like Plekhanov and Axelrod who provided the theoretical direction from exile—were arrested. The movement passed into the hands of younger people whose formative experience was their involvement in the mass strikes. They became so enthralled with increasing their influence among the workers that they decided to drop the demand for a democratic republic, which they argued was remote from the immediate concerns of the workers and was unpopular among the more backward sections who still had illusions in the tsar's benevolence.

Plekhanov denounced this tendency as "economism," which a colleague of Lenin, Potresov, defined as the Utopian notion of building an effective trade-union move¬ment under tsarist absolutism. Nonetheless in the late 1890s economism became the dominant current within Russian Social Democracy, both the underground circles in Russia and the exile organizations in West Europe.

In 1900 Lenin, Martov and Potresov were released from Siberia, where they had been sent into exile. They joined Plekhanov and his comrades in West Europe to form what was called the Iskra group. "Iskra," meaning "spark," was taken for their journal; it derived from a letter that was written 75 years earlier by the imprisoned and condemned Decembrists to their friend, the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. In justifying their actions, the Decembrists said: "From a spark a flame shall be kindled." In choosing this name the Iskra group was stating that the proletariat was and must be the heir to the tradition of revolutionary democratic struggle against the tsarist autocracy. The very name was an attack on economism.

Although Plekhanov was one of the towering figures of European socialism, it was Lenin who was the real driving force and principal organizer of the Iskra group. Its immediate goal was to wrest control of the movement from the still dominant economists. The Iskra group won rather rapidly, in part because Russian society was beginning to experience revolutionary ferment at all levels. Factory workers in large numbers spontaneously joined student strikes and protests, thereby giving the lie to the economist notion that workers would take to the streets only when their own personal livelihood was involved—a very narrow and degrading conception. The narrowness of the economist perspective was discredited even among the economists themselves.

For Lenin, the leadership of the movement was only the first step. The second and decisive step was to cohere the localized propaganda circles into a centralized party with a clearly defined program, strategic perspective and leadership. Describing the need for a such a party in his principal work of the Iskra period, What Is To Be Done?, Lenin used a metaphor from construction:

"Pray tell me, when a bricklayer lays bricks in various parts of an enormous structure, the like of which he has never seen, is it not a 'paper line' that he uses to find the correct place to lay each brick and to indicate the ultimate goal of his work as a whole.... And aren't we passing now through a period in our party life, in which we have bricks and bricklayers, but lack a guiding line visible to all?"

To establish such a guiding line and a centralized party, the Iskra group called a congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party in mid-1903. As is well known, this congress ended in a deep split between the Bolsheviks (the majority, or "hards"), led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks (the minority, called at the time the "softs"), whose principal leader was Martov. At first it appeared that the split was over narrowly organizational grounds: whether to have a highly centralized party consisting of people who are committed revolutionaries, or, as the Mensheviks wanted, a looser party open to all workers and intellectuals who actively supported the movement in some degree. However, as Russia moved toward a revolutionary crisis it became increasingly clear that the difference over the internal nature of the party was linked to differences over the course of the role it would play in the revolution, in fact differences over the revolution itself.

The Permanent Revolution

In 1904 Russia engaged in a war with Japan over which country would control the Far East. The tsarist autocracy had expected that a wave of popular patriotic solidarity would dampen the growing social discontent. Instead the defeats of the Russian army at the hands of the Japanese further undermined the tsarist autocracy. "Bloody Sunday," the January 1905 massacre of peaceful workers who were petitioning the tsar, ignited a wave of mass workers strikes, peasant uprisings and military mutinies throughout the year. The Romanov throne tottered wildly, although in the end it did not fall. However, in the early months of 1905 the demise of the autocracy seemed imminent, and therefore the various factions and tendencies of Rus¬sian Social Democracy were forced to spell out much more concretely their conceptions of the course of the revolution and its aftermath.

The Mensheviks translated Plekhanov's initially rather abstract conception of a two-stage revolution into support for the liberal wing of the Russian bourgeoisie, organized in the Constitutional Democratic party or Cadets. The last thing that the Cadets wanted was a popular insurrection to overthrow the tsar. What they aimed at was to use the turmoil from below to pressure the tsarist autocracy to create quasi-parliamentary bodies in which the propertied classes would have the dominant place. In practice the Mensheviks' adherence to a two-stage revolution, in which the first stage meant the workers were supposed to march arm in arm with the democratic bourgeoisie against tsarist reaction, turned out to be a no-stage revolution because there was no democratic bourgeoisie with which to march.

Lenin recognized that all wings of the Russian bourgeoisie were anti-democratic and anti-revolutionary, that a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution therefore would have to occur against and not in alliance with the Russian bourgeoisie. This was the core of his conception of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. He projected that a workers party, supported by the mass of the peasants, would be able to purge Russia of all the feudal-derived backwardness, the tsarist autocracy, bureaucracy and the state church. It would eliminate the oppression of nationalities as well as of the Jews and end the exploitation of the peasants by the landed nobility.

This conception was clearly influenced by the Jacobin dictatorship in the Great French Revolution. Yet the ques¬tion remained: could the proletariat replay the Jacobin dictatorship in the Russia of 1905; was it possible to take economic actions which would harm the interests of large sections of the propertied class and at the same time not economically expropriate the bourgeoisie? Lenin insisted that this was not a stable form of government, but rather "only a transient, temporary socialist aim." He argued a' the time (although he later changed his view) that in thi absence of proletarian revolutions in West Europe, a rev¬olution in Russia, no matter how radical, could not go beyond the framework of capitalist economic relations.

The person who uniquely argued arthe time that th Russian Revolution could and had to go beyond bourgeois economic relations was Leon Trotsky. Trotsky had bef one of the younger leaders of the Iskra group; in the split he initially sided with the Mensheviks. He played prominent role in the Revolution of 1905, and in the course of that revolution developed what he called the doctrine of permanent revolution, in part based on Marx's writings in the immediate aftermath of the revolutions of 1848. In a preface which he wrote in 1921 to his writings on the Revolution of 1905, Trotsky summarized the doctrine of permanent revolution:

"This rather high-flown expression defines the thought that the Russian revolution, although directly concerned with bourgeois aims, could not stop short at those aims; the revolution could not solve its immediate, bourgeois tasks except by putting the proletariat into power. And the proletariat, once having power in its hands, would not be able to remain confined within the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to guarantee its victory, the proletarian vanguard in the very earliest stages of its rule would have to make extremely deep inroads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations....

"The contradictions between a workers' government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution. Having, by virtue of historical necessity, burst the narrow bourgeois-democratic confines of the Russian revolution, the victorious proletariat would be compelled also to burst its national and state confines, that is to say, it would have to strive consciously for the Russian revolution to become the pro¬logue to a world revolution."

In 1905 the permanent revolution did not go further than the beginnings of dual power between the proletariat and the tsarist autocracy. However, Russia's defeats in the first imperialist world war broke the back of the tsarist autocracy and paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the greatest victory of the world pro¬letariat in history. Today that victory is being desperately threatened by the ascendancy of capitalist counterrevo¬lutionary forces.

But I would like to end this talk rather with a story. After the assassination of Alexander II the leadership of People's Will came into the hands of Vera Figner. It was she who negotiated with the tsarist regime for the release of Chernyshevsky, and she managed to hold together an underground group in Russia for the next two years. The police official who finally tracked her down had gained so much respect for her that he requested to kiss her hand before sending her to prison. But sent to prison she was, where she stayed for the next 22 years. She was only released in the amnesty of 1905. When she came out of prison she was a kind of Narodnik Rip Van Winkle; she could not understand or orient to the radically changed political and social conditions.

Nevertheless, she remained active within the left, where she was universally respected.
In 1917 many prominent old populists joined the counterrevolutionary camp and went into exile. Figner, the old Narodnik terrorist, faced with a fundamental choice of political loyalties, chose to stay in Soviet Russia. In the 1920s she devoted herself to writing her memoirs and to an organization called the Society of Former Political Prisoners, who were old populists who considered themselves loyal citizens of the Soviet Union. In that capacity she sought to induce populists who had emigrated to return to Soviet Russia and to serve the interests of the workers state. This eminently worthy organization was disbanded by Stalin in the early '30s.

Figner was still alive and kicking at the age of 89, living in Moscow, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. As the Wehrmacht approached Moscow, the Russian authorities turned to Figner and said, "We will move you to safety further east." She refused, saying, "I am very old. I will die soon anyway. Save your efforts for people who are living, who still have a life to give to the cause." So the last member of the famous Central Committee of the People's Will died the following year in Moscow, a heroic and self-sacrificing revolutionary right to the end, and in that sense an inspiration for us all.