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Daniel Bensaid

Daniel Bensaid

PAUL LE BLANC REVIEWS ‘An Impatient Life: A Memoir’ – BY DANIEL BENSAID

An Impatient Life: A Memoir
By Daniel Bensaïd, translated by David Fernbach, with an introduction by Tariq Ali,
Verso Books, 2014.

Readers of Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal are urged to order a copy HERE. You can download an excerpt HERE (PDF).

 

 

Review by Paul Le Blanc

May 11, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal –

Daniel Bensaïd (1946-2010) was one of the most respected theorists to emerge from the 1960s radicals of Western Europe. Always inclined to think “outside the box”, waving aside venerable dogmas and shrugging off standard formulations, he found fresh ways, energised with the aura of unorthodoxy, to express and apply truths from the revolutionary Marxist tradition.

Sometimes his creativity could provide insights that opened fruitful pathways of thought and action. “We were young people in a hurry, as is inevitably the case”, he writes near the start of his saga. “As if we had to make up for the wasted time of the ‘century of extremes,’ as if we were afraid of missing our appointments, in politics and in love.” In the end, “we had to learn ‘the art of waiting’”, he muses, yet the author remains an unbowed militant: “We have sometimes deceived ourselves, perhaps even often, and on many things. But at least we did not deceive ourselves about either the struggle or the choice of enemy.”

This substantial volume is a parting gift, sharing memories of what he had seen and done, offering a piece of his mind, exploring the meaning of it all – as befits the image, snapped a few years before his premature death, of the gaunt, frail man whose keen intelligence shines out from his now-bespectacled eyes.

Yet a photograph from 1948 reveals an adorable two-year old with long curly hair toddling toward us. We see a boy at ages five, nine and 14, with bright and impish eyes, destined to appear (in half a dozen photos from the 1970s) as a buoyant, handsome, charismatic activist of the famed “generation of 1968”. Daniel was centrally involved in the revolutionary student-worker upsurge that shook France and almost brought down the government of Charles De Gaulle. Out of this experience was born the militant Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) that powerfully impacted the global far left and became a central component of the Fourth International (a network of comparatively small revolutionary socialist parties and groups founded by Leon Trotsky and other dissident-communists over three decades before). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bensaïd and his comrades were intimately connected with currents in Latin America utilising the perspectives of Che Guevara and other revolutionary warriors, generating some of his most searching reflections.

The exciting years of upsurge gave way to disaster, disappointment, defeat. It was during this in-between period that I fleetingly met Bensaïd, at a 1990 World Congress and at a 1991meeting of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International, as I represented the smallest one of three US Trotskyist fragments identifying with this “world party of socialist revolution”. It was obvious that his experience was incomparably richer than mine, and that he had earned profound respect from the other comrades who, with him, made up the inner circle of the Fourth International’s leadership.

A friend who read this book before I did warned that Bensaïd was quite a name dropper, and there are certainly scores of names that flow from these pages. But I came upon his description of the cluster of comrades from the 1980s whose labours maintained “the bonsai Comintern” that was the Fourth International: a dozen names of people – many now dead – whose strengths and weaknesses and life-energy had been essential to the world movement to which I was committed. I knew these people, they were important to me, and I felt grateful that their names with brief descriptions are shared with the readers of this book.

History is the lives of innumerable people, not abstractions, and the history of our revolutionary socialist movement is nothing without the amazing number of names (with all-too-brief descriptions) that Bensaïd weaves into his narrative. Distinctive features of this volume include (with a list of abbreviations) 12 pages of descriptions of left-wing organisations, plus extensive footnotes providing information on the dozens upon dozens of activists he mentions – together with the main narrative, making this an essential source on the international left and on world Trotskyism.

Youth radicalisation

Daniel was born into a working-class family that moved from Algeria to France shortly before his birth – the father a Sephardic Jew, the Gallic mother inclined to self-identify as Jewish. They saved enough money to start a bistro with a predominantly left-wing working-class clientele. Their clever and inquisitive son ascended into the ranks of university students while also, quite naturally, drifting into the youth group of the French Communist Party. But like many of his comrades of the time (influenced by Trotskyists doing “deep-entry” work in the group), partly under the impact of Algeria’s anti-colonial revolution and the tepid response to this by the French Communists, he came to the conclusion that it would be wrong to “confuse the revolutionary project with Stalinism”.

Rejecting the intellectual “ravages of a positivist and authoritarian Marxism” (almost in the same breath he characterises it as “a glacial Marxism without style or passion”), they turned to heretical texts – Herbert Marcuse, Wilhelm Reich, Lucien Goldmann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Daniel Guerin, Henri Lefebvre, Ernest Mandel. Bensaïd adds that for him and many of the young radicals, too, “Lenin was all the rage”, but this was a Lenin having little in common with the immense leaden statues worshiped by older, disapproving Communist Party comrades. The intellectual rebellion quickly culminated in mass expulsions from the mainstream Communist movement, with many of the young rebels (the spirited Bensaïd no less than others) gradually recruiting themselves to a maverick variant of Trotskyism.

This historical moment was one of a youth radicalisation sweeping through Europe and other continents. In France, the young Trotskyists-in-the-making were caught up in the swirl – along with anarchists and Maoists and activists without clear labels – of students pushing for radical educational reforms and sexual freedom. The wondrous days of May 1968 saw huge demonstrations, endless meetings, student strikes and school occupations. Struggles for educational transformation blended into a more general anti-authoritarianism, opposition to imperialist wars, romantic identification with “Third World” insurgencies and the rights of the working class. This last element took on special meaning as many workers – to the horror of Stalinist and moderate-socialist trade union bureaucrats – threw their support to the “crazy” students and began organising militant strikes, matching the student barricades and street battles against brutal police repression. The question of power was being posed – the overturn of the old order seemed on the agenda.

It soon became apparent, however, that the May uprising had neither the strategic vision nor the organisational coherence nor sufficiently deep popular roots to bring on the thoroughgoing revolution that the young radicals dreamed of. This was, many agreed, simply a “dress rehearsal”.

Struggle, violence, principles

As the newly crystallised LCR grew, Bensaïd and its other leaders felt that “history was breathing down our necks”. If May 1968 was the dress rehearsal for revolution, these revolutionary militants had a responsibility to see that an actual revolution would, indeed, be produced. “We were in a hurry”, he writes, and with others he developed theoretical reference points of “an (ultra-) Leninism, dominated by the paroxysmic moment of the seizure of power”. But it had taken the Bolsheviks decades to develop experience and revolutionary seasoning in pre-revolutionary Russia that would be sufficient for the 1917 revolution. As Bensaïd describes it, the group and its young cadres were far from that. Nonetheless, their most respected revolutionary Marxist mentor, Ernest Mandel, was assuring them that “revolution is immanent”, and both in the LCR and the Fourth International they felt a responsibility to make it so. It was a time of “hasty Leninism”, whose “fearsome burden” he poignantly describes:

Our feverish impatience was inspired by a phrase from Trotsky that was often cited in our debates: “The crisis of humanity is summed up in the crisis of revolutionary leadership.” If this was indeed the case, nothing was more urgent than to resolve this crisis. The duty of each person was to contribute his or her little strength, as best they could, to settle this alternative between socialism and barbarism. It was in part up to them, therefore, whether the human species sank into a twilight future or blossomed into a society of abundance. This vision of history charged our frail shoulders with a crushing responsibility. In the face of this implacable logic, impoverished emotional life or professional ambition did not weigh very heavy. Each became personally responsible for the fate of humanity.

In North America, in Asia, and especially in Latin America there was also such “hasty Leninism”. A substantial minority in the Fourth International fiercely opposed the course that Bensaïd and others advocated – initially calling for a continent-wide strategy of rural guerilla warfare in Latin America (a perspective soon “modified” to include urban guerilla warfare as well), with similar impulses theorised for elsewhere. This led to a factional battle in the Fourth International, with a substantial minority projecting a more patient orientation grounded in classical Marxism. A prestigious former secretary of Trotsky’s, Joseph Hansen, labelled his 1971 oppositional polemic “In Defense of the Leninist Strategy of Party-Building” (which can be found on-line, as can some of Bensaïd’s writings, through the Marxist Internet Archive). After several years of experience, most of the “hasty Leninists” would more or less swing over to Hansen’s position.

But Bensaïd, a dedicated representative in Latin America from the Fourth International’s “center”, is compelled to share haunting memories: “Our comrades were young and intrepid, full of confidence in the socialist future of humanity. Three years later, half the people I met at these meetings had been arrested, tortured and murdered”. It becomes a poetry of horror:

We were running headlong into an open grave…

So many faces wiped out.

So many laughs extinguished.

So many hopes massacred.

He draws the lessons: “It was clear that we were on the wrong path… Armed struggle is not a strategy… The armed struggle we voted on at the 9th World Congress [1969] was an ill-timed generalization…”

Bensaïd emphasises that “weapons have their own logic”, elaborating:

Buying and storing and looking after weapons, renting safe-houses and supporting underground activists is an expensive business and needs money. To obtain this, you have to rob banks. And to rob banks, you need weapons. In this spiral, an increasing number of militants are socially uprooted and professionalised. Instead of melting into a social milieu like fish in water, their existence depends ever more on an expanding apparatus.

Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky had envisioned revolutionary cadres facilitating the self-organisation and self-activity and revolutionary consciousness of various working-class and oppressed sectors. Central to this was the building reform struggles for democratic rights and economic justice, creating a movement “of the great majority, for the great majority” that would culminate in “winning the battle of democracy” and bring a transition from capitalism to socialism. For revolutionaries – Bensaïd tells us – such a working-class implantation also provides “a reality principle” to counterbalance “leftist temptations”. He and others, including seasoned guerrilla fighters, “drew the conclusion of a necessary return to more classical forms of organisation and the primacy of politics over military action, without which the logic of violence gets carried away and risks becoming uncontrollable”.

A strength in Bensaïd’s searching exploration of violence, to which he devotes a full chapter, is his understanding that violence is at the very core of capitalism and all forms of class society, quoting poetAndré Suares: “Wealth is the sign of violence, at every level”. He shows that the violence of the status quo is intensifying: “the tendency to a privatization and dissemination of violence is accelerating. Ethnic cleansing and religious massacres are proliferating. The world is collapsing into the hyper-violence of armed globalization”. Yet he sees the contamination of violence manifesting itself again and again in struggles against oppression and exploitation – liberators can become criminals, in some cases devolving into common gangsters, in the worst cases bringing in their wake the gulag and the killing fields.

Surveying revolutionary experience for over a century, he concludes: “Violence and progress no longer marched together, at the same pace, in the supposed direction of history”. He insists on the need for a practical-ethical regulation of violence in the perspectives of revolutionaries. He finds it in Trotsky’s 1938 classic Their Morals and Ours:

The “great revolutionary end” thus necessarily spurns “those base means and ways which set one part of the working class against other parts, or attempt to make the masses happy without their participation; or lower the faith of the masses in themselves and their organization, replacing it by worship for the ‘leaders’”.

Exhaustion and affirmation

Exhaustion can afflict a revolution, a struggle, an activist, an idea. A variety of such things are traced for the 20th century’s final decades. His own intensely activist organisation, the LCR, was able to endure, weather more than one storm, making important contributions to liberation struggles. Yet, “we had worked wonders, exhausting ourselves in running faster than our own shadow”. He describes excellent comrades finally asking “what it’s all about” and falling away.

Amid all of this, there appears a fleeting pen-portrait of an important mentor to innumerable Fourth Internationalists, Ernest Mandel – “a tutor in theory and a passer between two generations … who set out during the 1950s to conceptualize the new features of the era, instead of piously watching over the political legacy of the past… This daily contact with Ernest was a wellspring of knowledge and a permanent initiation into the foundations of Marxism.”

As time went on, there was a partial exhaustion of the relationship between Mandel and “the generation of ‘68” – a relationship always inspiring “more in the way of respect than affection”, and “rarely reciprocal and egalitarian”. Bensaïd saw him as at least a partial prisoner of a belief in “the emancipating powers of science and the historical logic of progress”, elaborating: “Ernest was an exemplary case of stubborn optimism of the will tempered by an intermittent pessimism of reason: for him, permanent revolution would win the day over permanent catastrophe. And the socialist prophecy would (almost) always defeat barbarism”.

Yet for many of Mandel’s political children, this seemed increasingly inadequate for the realities they were facing.

This shifting mood went far beyond the ranks of the Fourth International. Wearying leftists with an ambitious bent began proclaiming a set a “farewells” – to Marxism, to the working class, to the passionate logic of revolutionary struggle. Sanctuary could be found, sometimes with considerable comfort and impressive careers, in the power structures that their younger selves had militantly confronted. Among “third worldists” and Maoists who had once enthusiastically proclaimed that “the wind is blowing from the East”, there was a growing conviction that “it was the west wind that now prevailed over the east”, blowing ever stronger thanks to the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions. Some activists migrated from revolution to reformist politics, and some (perhaps frightened by totalitarian impulses they discovered in themselves) veered more sharply to the right.

This reflected a deeper exhaustion – of Maoist China’s revolutionary élan, of the Central American revolutions, of many hopeful aspects of the Cuban Revolution and finally of the so-called “bureaucratised workers’ states” of the Communist Bloc and the USSR itself.

The collapse of Communism was soon accompanied by other exhaustions impacting on Bensaïd and his comrades. In the 1980s, the LCR had been joined by the large, growing, vibrant Mexican and the Brazilian sections as “the big three” in the Fourth International, seeming to promise much in the rebuilding of the global left. Yet the Mexican organisation, “with wind in its sails”, had insufficient theoretical grounding and organisational strength to prevent success from corrupting some of its most prominent militants – soon leading to betrayal, demoralisation and fragmentation.

The Brazilian comrades, with whom he worked closely for many years, had thrived as an integral part of the glorious and multifaceted working-class upsurge that finally pushed aside the military dictatorship. In the form of the massive Workers Party headed by the working-class militant Lula, the insurgents finally won the presidency of the country. But a majority of the comrades found themselves pulled along into the new reformist trajectory and even neoliberal policies of the Lula regime, with a dissident fragment expelled and others splitting away amid exhausted hopes. (There was, obviously, no time for Bensaïd to offer a balance sheet on the LCR’s 2009 decision to dissolve into a broader New Anti-Capitalist Party).

Many activists, not inclined to join the well-heeled legions of the status quo, sought more resources to help them endure the new realities. Those who were Jewish (as he was) felt a need to explore the meaning of that identity and its complex and often horrific history. In such explorations, while in no way turning away from this identity (and joining in “not in my name” protests against Israel’s oppression of Palestinians), Bensaïd affirmed his rejection of “the Chosen People” concept – having no desire “to feel chosen in this way, whether to share the blessings of this election or to bear the crushing responsibility according to which Jews are supposed to be better than common mortals”.

Some, in this troubling period, explored new pathways of spirituality and even mysticism (as he did), as a means to transcend the “instrumental rationality [that] has stubbornly set out to empty time of its messianic pregnancy, to dissolve the surprises of the event with the regularity of the clock”. There is need for transcendence, “when revolution becomes the name of the inconstant event that has refused to arrive, or –still worse – has appeared in the form of its own rebuttal”. Such transcendence of “practical” and “instrumental reality” can open the way “to a new representation of history”. He insists that “the ancient prophet was neither a divine, nor a sorcerer, nor a magician. He or she was someone who switched the points of the present into the unknown bifurcations of the future.”

Yet for Bensaïd revolutionary Marxism remained the essential ingredient in his identity as a political person. A remarkable chapter in the book – “Spectres in the Blue House” – focuses on the final Mexican years of Trotsky’s exile, eloquently tracing the revolutionary’s meaning for his time and for ours. “From Marx to Trotsky”, Bensaïd writes, “permanent revolution … welds together event and history, moment and duration, rupture and continuity”. Marx is primary. In some ways the most powerful chapter is “The Inaudible Thunder”, offering an elegant explication of the three volumes of Marx’s Capital —“inescapable, always uncompleted, constantly recommenced, it is an unending project”. The profound influence on Marx of the philosopher Hegel accounts for this chapter’s title: “the still inaudible thunder of Hegelian logic” challenges the “instrumental rationality” used to “explain” and justify the capitalist status quo.

Marx’s method shatters such ideological facades, providing an in-depth analysis of “generalized commodity production” revealing the exploitation and mutilation of human labour and creativity at the system’s very heart. His intricate exploration of the “capital accumulation process” reveals the impact of bending society and culture and the environment to the voracious and destructive need for maximising profits more and more and more, forever. “The important thing”, Bensaïd insists, is “not to bend, not to give in, not to submit to the proclaimed fatality [inevitability] of the commodity order”.

The very nature of this system is such that “the world still has to be changed, and still more profoundly and more urgently than we had imagined forty years ago. Any doubt bears on the possibility of succeeding, not on the necessity of trying.” Inaction in the face of doubt is not a choice. Given the dynamics of capitalism, the oppressed and exploited majority does not have the option of “not playing the game”, and for revolutionary activists “the only compass in this uncertain work is to take the part of the oppressed, even in defeat if need be”.

“Knowing oneself to be mortal – we all do, more or less – is one thing”, Bensaïd muses in the memoir’s penultimate chapter. “Something else is to experience this and really believe it.” Seeing his own impending death as the book comes to a close, and impelled to pass his torch to us, he conveys multiple insights:

Revolts against globalized injustice are multiplying. But the spiral of retreats and defeats has not been broken. Number and mass are not enough, without will and consciousness… A resistance without victories and perspectives of counter-attack ends up being worn out. There is no victory without strategy, and no strategy without a balance of forces… Is it possible to be truly democratic without being truly socialist?… Today’s political landscape is devastated by battles lost without even being fought …

Source: LINKS: International Journal of Social Renewal

See: http://links.org.au/node/3847

 

**END**

‘Human Herbs’ – a song by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au-vyMtfDAs

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Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion Lannister

SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE

Trotskyists in German Occupied France

 

By Yvan Craipeau

Translated by David Broder

With an appendix of the surviving collection of Arbeiter und Soldat and a fragment of Der Arbeiter in English translation.

This book tells the history of France’s Trotskyists from 1938 to 1945, focusing on their activities aimed at subverting the German army of occupation. 

It considers the history of the French Left, the coming of war, the independent line taken by Trotskyists in opposition to the French CP, work aimed at influencing German soldiers, and the potential for radical change at the end of the war. It reproduces the text of publications aimed at influencing the German conscripts in the occupation army.

Much has been written on the French Resistance but far less is known of the small courageous minority who rejected nationalism and based their activity on the international unity of the working class. Craipeau’s book gives a fascinating account of these revolutionaries, based on his own first-hand experience of the movement. David Broder has done us a service in making this important book available to English readers. Ian Birchall, former senior lecturer, Middlesex University.

18.99 GBP – available at http://www.merlinpress.co.uk/acatalog/SWIMMING-AGAINST-THE-TIDE.html

First published in http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/news/distributed/new-from-merlin-swimming-against-the-tide-trotskyists-in-german-occupied-france

**END**

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‘Cheerful Sin’ – a song by Victor Rikowski: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIbX5aKUjO8

 

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Bonuses for Some

NEW INTERVENTIONS – VOLUME 13 NUMBER 4

Just Out!

New Interventions, Volume 13, No 4

* Theodor Bergmann, The Tragedy of Paul Levi — A look at the life and works of the noted German Marxist

* Mike Jones and Alistair Mitchell, Isaac Deutscher — A critical appraisal of Trotsky’s biographer

* Chris Gray, The Heritage We Find Indefensible and the Myth of ‘Pabloism’ — Orthodox Trotskyism, the Pabloite bogey and the dangers of vanguardism

* Harry Ratner, Capturing the Capitalist Citadel — Reform, revolution and the capitalist state

* Arthur Trusscott, Ten Years On — Did al Qaeda change everything on 11 September 2001?

* Terry Liddle, War on the Heavens — The rise of the ‘New Atheism’ and its meaning for socialists

* Andrew Coates, The Flight of the Intellectuals? — A look at Paul Berman’s writings on Islam and Western intellectuals

* Mike Jones, Kosovo: The Successful Intervention? — The rise of the gangster-state in Kosovo

* Paul Flewers, Porterhouse Bloomsbury? — What does the New College of the Humanities offer?

* Mike Belbin, The Lone Crusader and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice — Anders Behring Breivik and his theoretical influences

* Reports from the USA — how to resist and reverse the attacks on the working class

* Reviews — Second World War fiction

* Letters — Stalinism and Revolution

* Afterword — Arthur Trusscott, Riots: Fish Rot From the Head

Write to: 116 Hugh Road, Coventry CV3 1AF, United Kingdom, e-mail: drdavidspencer@talktalk.net.

 

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Imperialism

IN THE CROSSFIRE: ADVENTURES OF A VIETNAMESE REVOLUTIONARY

This is to invite you to a
BOOK LAUNCH/TALK

In The Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary

By Ngo Van

Wednesday 8 June, 7.0pm

Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX (2 mins walk from Kings Cross station)

Cost: £3, redeemable against any purchase

Ngo Van joined the struggle against the French colonial regime in Vietnam as a teenager in the 1920s, suffering imprisonment and hardship. But when revolution swept Vietnam at the end of the Second World War, the Stalinists of the Vietnamese Communist Party took control and tried physically to eliminate other socialists and anti-colonialists. Van escaped this massacre, in which many of his comrades were murdered. From 1948 he lived in exile in Paris, where he took a factory job and participated in workers’ movements before, during and after the 1968 general strike.

Van, who died in 2005, wrote extensively about Vietnamese worker and peasant resistance, both to French colonialism and to Ho Chi Minh’s brand of Stalinism, helping to hand that history on to later generations.

In The Crossfire, published by AK Press, is the English edition of Ngo Van’s autobiography. Hilary Horrocks, one of the book’s translators, will talk about this unique eye-witness account of a little-known aspect of the anti-colonial struggle, and read from Van’s vivid story of secret meetings, arrests, torture, battles and insurrection. Simon Pirani, who researched the history of Vietnamese Trotskyism and edited some of Van’s earlier English-language publications, will also speak. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion from all.

Enquiries 07947 031268, Housmans 020 7837 4473, shop@housmans.com

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Socialism and Hope

INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST REVIEW – ISSUE 76

Issue 76: March–April (2011)

ISR 76: http://isreview.org/index.shtml

CONTENTS 

Revolt in the Middle East 
Another World is Possible

Middle East in Revolution

Editorial 
The actuality of revolution

Ahmed Shawki and Mostafa Omar 
Chronicle of a revolution 
A running account of the movement that brought down Hosni Mubarak

Matt Swagler 
Tunisia: A dictator falls, but what comes next?

Phil Gasper • Critical Thinking 
Can revolution happen here? 
Mass protests are taking place around the world. Will anything similar happen in the U.S.?

Features

Deepa Kumar 
Political Islam: A Marxist analysis 
Part one of a two-part series

Ken Loach 
Between commodity and communication: Has film fulfilled its potential? 
The director of Land and Freedom speaks at the London Film Festival

Noam Chomsky 
Human intelligence and the environment 
How what is rational in capitalist terms is irrational in environmental terms

Stuart Easterling 
Mexico’s revolution, 1910-1920 
The concluding part of a three-part series on the Mexican Revolution

Bolivia today: A debate 
Jeffery Webber’s article, “Bolivia’s reconstituted neoliberalism” (International Socialist Review, September–October 2010), draws a dissenting response from Federico Fuentes, and a rejoinder from Webber

Books

Hadas Thier 
Gaza’s nightmare: the truth about Israel 
A review of two new books about Israel’s war on the Palestinian people

PLUS: Helen Redmond reviews Sabstian Junger’s War, Jim Ramey review’s Nir Rosen’s Aftermath; Chris Williams reviews The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth; Jason Farbman reviews two new books on the struggle in Latin America; Dao X. Tran reviews a memoir of a Vietnamese Trotskyist

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Capitalism

UNEVEN AND COMBINED DEVELOPMENT AND CONTEMPORARY WORLD POLITICS

Dear Colleague,

I am pleased to announce that Queen Mary’s Centre for the Study of Global Security and Development will be hosting a symposium on ‘Uneven and Combined Development and Contemporary World Politics’ on Wednesday, Februaury 9, 2011 between 2-6pm.

The programme is below. If you wish to attend please contact Rick Saull – r.g.saull@qmul.ac.uk – in advance of the symposium.

Regards,
Rick Saull
Director, Queen Mary, Centre for the Study of Global Security and
Development

Symposium on UNEVEN AND COMBINED DEVELOPMENT AND CONTEMPORARY WORLD POLITICS

Wednesday, February 9, 2-6pm (room Arts G.02), Queen Mary, Mile End Campus, London, E1 4NS

Programme/Presenters

Session 1, 2.00pm – 3.30pm

Alex Anievas (Cambridge)
‘Origins and Extensions of Uneven and Combined Development in the History and Theory of International Relations: The Case of the First World War’ This paper aims to contribute to recent debates on ‘international historical sociology’ specifically regarding the potential utility of Leon Trotsky’s concept of uneven and combined development (U&CD) in advancing a theory of modern inter-state conflict. The paper first re-examines recent debates over the theoretical status of U&CD considering, in particular, the various socio-historical and spatial registers covered by the idea as deployed by the different positions within the debates. Considering the possible benefits and pitfalls of stretching the concept to a generalized theory of ‘the international’ throughout history, the paper argues that a central challenge remains. This regards the development of a sufficiently historically-differentiated conception of ‘unevenness’ and ‘combination’-one capable of theorizing the radical historical disjuncture represented by the international relations of capitalist modernity while nonetheless capturing aspects of inter-societal relations common to all historical epochs and thus forming a crucial causal element in the transition to capitalism itself. Developing such a perspective, a theory of U&CD could take up John Hobson’s (and others) charges of ‘Euro-centricism’ with a more historically-sensitive interpretation of the internationally-pressurized multiple paths to capitalist modernity and their crucial ‘feed-back’ effects in restructuring processes of inter-state competition. Drawing on and further contributing to the theory, the second half of the paper sketches an alternative approach to the causes of the First World War distinctively combining ‘geopolitical’ and ‘sociological’ modes of explanations into a single framework. This highlights how the necessarily variegated character of interactive socio-historical development explains the inter-state rivalries leading to war. Contextualizing the sources of conflict within the broad developmental tendencies of the Long Nineteenth century (1789-1914) and their particular articulation during the immediate pre-war juncture, the paper aims further develop the theory of U&CD in and through the rich empirical terrain of the pre-war period thereby providing a much needed empirical contribution to recent debates.

Ben Selwyn (Sussex)
‘Trotsky, Gerschenkron and the Political Economy of Late Capitalist Development’
The study of late capitalist development is often characterised as a battle between protagonists of market-led vs state-led development. For the latter position, Alexander Gerschenkron looms large, as one of the most significant theorists of state-led development under conditions of relative backwardness. There are striking similarities between Gerschenkron’s explication of the advantages of backwardness and Trotsky’s concept of uneven and combined development and the privilege of backwardness. (These similarities have been commented upon often but rarely subject to closer comparison): Indeed, both men share a common problematic – the comprehension of how economically backward countries could skip stages of development in order to join the ranks of economically advanced countries. This paper compares their conception of this problematic and illustrates how in a number of areas the two are complementary. These are: Their rejection of unilinear patterns of capitalist development, their appreciation of the role of states and institutions in facilitating late development, and their understanding of development as a disruptive social process.  However, in crucial areas the two diverge. These are: Their comprehension of international economic and political relations, the role and position of labour in late development, and ultimately, the potential for late capitalist development to unleash social upheavals and further, non-capitalist transformations. Overall, I suggest how Trotsky and Gerschenkron’s approaches can complement each other, but that ultimately they represent fundamentally opposed approaches to human development.

Coffee Break, 3.30pm – 4.00pm

Session Two, 4.00pm – 6.00pm

Mick Dunford (Sussex)
‘Combined and Uneven Development: A Geographical Perspective’

John Hobson (Sheffield)
‘What’s at Stake in the Neo-Trotskyist Debate? Towards a Non-Eurocentric Historical Sociology of Uneven and Combined Development’
This piece seeks to advance what is being termed ‘third wave historical sociology of IR’ (HSIR). In particular I consider how a third-wave ‘non-Eurocentric’ HSIR could be developed by entering into the extant internecine debate that is raging within the newly emergent neo-Trotskyist school of HSIR. At one extreme lies Justin Rosenberg who argues that the concept of uneven and combined development (U&CD) should be historically generalised while the majority position insists that U&CD is specific only to the modern capitalist era (e.g., Ashman, Davidson, Allinson and Anievas). Here I provide some support for the Rosenberg position, by arguing that failure to historically generalise the concept beyond modern capitalism leads into the cul-de-sac of Eurocentrism. As a counter, I spend the majority of the piece sketching the outlines of a non-Eurocentric theory of U&CD by considering the ‘rise of the West’ as a case of a late-developing civilization; and in the process sketching the basis for an adequate third-wave non-Eurocentric HSIR.

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Strategies of Resistance

STRATEGIES OF RESISTANCE AND ‘WHO ARE THE TROTSKYISTS?’ – BY DANIEL BENSAID

A new book by Daniel Bensaid:

http://www.iire.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=186%3Astrategies-of-resistance-a-who-are-the-trotskyists&catid=18%3Anotebooks-for-study-and-research&lang=en

Strategies of Resistance & ‘Who Are the Trotskyists?’

IIRE/Socialist Resistance, Notebook for Study and Research no. 41/42 (182 pp.)

With shipping to: Europe €13,50 Rest of World €20,00 Pick up in Amsterdam €8,00

The IIRE has just published Strategies of Resistance & ‘Who Are the Trotskyists?’, a collection of works by IIRE Fellow Daniel Bensaïd, including his history of Trotskyism, newly translated into English by Nathan Rao. This 182-page book has been published in cooperation with Resistance Books. The introduction by Paul Le Blanc gives a flavour of the contents:

Daniel Bensaïd’s challenging survey comes at an appropriate moment. It is a gift to activists reaching for some historical perspective that may provide hints as to where we might go from here. Embracing and sharing the revolutionary socialist political tradition associated with Leon Trotsky, Bensaïd is not simply a thoughtful radical academic or perceptive left-wing intellectual – though he is certainly both – but also one of the foremost leaders of an impressive network of activists, many of them seasoned by innumerable struggles.

Daniel Bensaïd emerged decades ago as a leader of the French section of the Fourth International, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR). Coming from the ‘generation of ‘68′ – the layer of young revolutionary activists of the 1960s – he blends an impressive intellectual sophistication with a refreshing inclination for revolutionary audacity, and with activist commitments which have not faded over the decades. In the tradition of Ernest Mandel, Bensaïd has reached for the continuing relevance of revolutionary Marxism not only in the battlegrounds of academe (as a professor of philosophy and author of such works as Marx for Our Times), but even more in the battlegrounds of social and political struggles against the oppressive and lethal realities of capitalist ‘globalization.’

In this particular work – succinct, crackling with insights and fruitful provocations – Bensaïd surveys the history of his own political tradition. We are not presented with a catechism, but with a set of informative and critical-minded reflections and notes. We don’t have to agree with all he says. I certainly question his taking issue with Trotsky over whether or not Lenin was essential for the triumph of the Russian Revolution (Trotsky says definitely yes, Bensaïd suggests maybe not). Nor am I satisfied when he gives more serious consideration to the dissident current in US Trotskyism of Max Shachtman and James Burnham (both of whom ended up supporting US imperialism in Vietnam) than to the tradition connected with James P. Cannon (which played a role in building a powerful movement that helped end the Vietnam war). On the other hand, Bensaïd makes no pretension of providing a rounded historical account of world Trotskyism, or even a scholarly account of the more limited issues that he does take up.

He emphasizes that ‘this essay is based on personal experience’ and is focused on what he views as ‘the major debates’ within the movement. And one is especially struck by the excellent point he makes in his Introduction regarding the necessity of understanding the varieties of Trotskyism around the world in their distinctive cultural and national specificities. Little sense can be made of Trotskyism if it is not related to the actual social movements and class struggles of various parts of the world, and to the left-wing labour sub-cultures, in which it has meaning.

The fact remains that Bensaïd offers us a thoughtful, stimulating, valuable political intervention which leaves the reader with a sense of Trotskyism’s history and ideas and diverse manifestations – and also a sense of their relevance for the struggles of today and tomorrow. For younger activists beginning to get their bearings, and for veterans of the struggle who are thinking through the questions of where we have been and where to go from here, this is an important contribution.

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk