Archive for the ‘Intellectuals’ Category

As part of commemorating 1968, “The Year of Revolutions”, we are running the piece below.  It is the text of a talk given by Ernest Mandel, plus excerpts from the discussion, at the International Assembly of Revolutionary Student Movements, which was sponsored by the Columbia University Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the major radical youth movement in the USA in the 1960s.  Mandels’s talk took place on Saturday evening, September 21st at the Education Auditorium of New York University. More than 600 people packed the auditorium and the question and answer period extended for several hours.

The introduction to the pamphlet based on the talk notes, “Mandel’s speech was a powerful polemic against the tendencies of pure ‘activism’ and ‘spontaneism’ which have recently sprung up among some radicals in the West. He argued in defense of the Marxist conception of the indispensable integration of theory and practice. During the question period, Mandel gave extended replies to a number of controversial questions in radical circles today. Among them were the socio-economic nature of the Soviet Union, the Cultural Revolution in China, the necessity for a Leninist party, and moral vs. material incentives in the construction of socialism.

A Belgian, Ernest Mandel took part in the resistance movement there during the Nazi occupation in World War 2.  He became a leader of the Fourth International after the war and an important Marxist theorist and educator.  He wrote widely on political struggles of the 1960s and was popular with radicalising students in many countries.  Mandel was the author of Marxist Economic Theory,  and a number of other important texts, including An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory.  His The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx traced the main discoveries of Marx from his first economic investigations in 1843 to the publication of Capital. Mandel’s work was translated into a range of languages from English to Arabic.

by Ernest Mandel

Rudi Dutschke, the leader of the Berlin students, and many of the other representative student figures in Europe, have advanced as the central idea of their activity the concept of the unity of theory and action, of revolutionary theory and revolutionary action. This is not an arbitrary choice. The unity of theory and action can be considered the most important lesson of historical experience drawn from past revolutions in Europe, America and other parts of the world.

The historical tradition which embodies that idea goes from Babeuf through Hegel to Marx. This ideological conquest means that the great liberation movement of mankind must be directed by a conscious effort to reconstruct society, to overcome a situation in which man is dominated by the blind forces of market economy and starts to take his destiny in his own hands. This conscious action of emancipation cannot be carried on effectively, and certainly not carried through, unless man is aware of the social environment in which he is living, of the social forces he has to confront and the general social and economic conditions of this liberation movement.

Just as the unity of theory and action is an essential guide for any emancipation movement today, so Marxism teaches that revolution, conscious revolution, can only be successful if man first understands the nature of society in which he is living, if he understands the motive forces behind social and economic development in that society. In other words, unless he understands the forces that command social evolution, he will not be able to change that evolution into revolution. That is the main conception that Marxist consciousness has been introducing into the revolutionary student movement in Europe.

We will try to show that these two concepts, unity of theory and action, and a Marxist understanding of the objective conditions of society, which existed for a long time before the student movement in Europe was born, were rediscovered and reintegrated in practical struggle by the European student movement as a result of its own experiences.

The student movement starts everywhere – and it is no different in the United States – as a revolt against the (more…)

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Ghassan Kanafani

by As’ad AbuKhalil

In the early 1970s, three Palestinian intellectuals – Ghassan Kanafani, Majed Abu Sharar and Kamal Nasser – collaborated to form the Palestine Liberation Organization’s information office.

Within a decade, Israeli terrorists managed to kill all three – Kanafani in 1972, Nasser in 1973 and Abu Sharar in 1981.

The Zionist movement has never bothered to distinguish in its killing campaigns between civilians and military targets: in fact, on many occasions the Israeli government (or even the Zionist movement before the establishment of the occupation state) targeted civilians on purpose to create terror among the population. Presumably, Israel wanted to kill Kanafani and silence his voice. Yet the plan did not work as intended.

Forty-five years this month since his assassination, Kanafani’s presence is (more…)

Anwar Shaikh, Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016, £35.99; reviewed by Michael Roberts

Anwar Shaikh is one of the world’s leading economists who draws on Karl Marx and the classical economists (“political economy”, if you like). He has taught at New York’s New School for Social Research for more than 30 years, and authored three books and six dozen articles.1 This is his most ambitious work. As Shaikh says, it is an attempt to derive economic theory from the real world and then apply it to real problems. He applies the categories and theory of classical economics to all the major economic issues, including those that are supposed to be the province of mainstream economics, like supply and
demand, relative prices in goods and
services, interest rates, financial asset prices and technological change.

A classical approach

Shaikh says that his approach “is very different from both orthodox economics and the dominant heterodox tradition”.2 It is the classical approach as opposed to the neoclassical one. In other words, he rejects the approach that starts from “perfect firms, perfect individuals, perfect knowledge, perfectly selfish behaviour, rational expectations, etc” and then (more…)

downloadby The Spark

Before electronic computers, and multifunctioning calculators, there were human computers. Black and white women mathematicians were tasked with turning numbers into meaningful data for NASA. Their calculations made possible many ground-breaking missions. These calculations, done by hand, with pencil and paper, often took more than a week to complete, filling six to eight notebooks with data and formulas.

Hidden Figures follows three black women “computers”: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – and their work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in the ‘60s.

All three of these women were brilliant mathematicians living and working in segregated and sexist Virginia. The film gives a sense of the indignities and humiliations these women endured. At one point Katherine Johnson is sent to a new department to calculate the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s space flight. The men – all white – were not (more…)

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by O’Shay Muir                                    

In Adam Curtis’ new documentary film, Hypernormalisation, he describes the spirit of our time as one in which people have lost faith in the political status-quo. Due to this loss of faith, popular demagogues like newly-elected US president Donald Trump have come to fill the void (Curtis, 2016). Curtis argues that political figures like Trump are the creation of the cultural logic of modern consumer societies (2016). Deformed chimeras that have escaped the control of the sorcerers who created them.

Curtis argues that from the 1970s onwards, the worsening economic and political conditions of many western nations resulted in a retreat into fantasy for both the right and the left (2016). Not wanting to, or unable to, comprehend the social complexities of the time, the right opted for the fantasy that the logic of the market could solve the crisis (Curtis, 2016). This faith in the market was combined with the belief that technological progress in the field of information and communications was giving rise to a new form of capitalism. This new capitalism was believed to be free from the limitations of material production and able to avoid speculative risk through the advance of information technologies.

Illusions on left and right

The hope that the right placed in their economic models and the advances in information and communication technologies led to the fantasy that the world was entering a stage of capitalism freed from the periodic crises of the past (Curtis, 2016). The left on the other hand, disheartened by their inability to create revolutionary social change during the upheavals of the late 1960s and 1970s, retreated into self-made fantasies of creating revolutionary social change from outside economic and universal political struggle (Curtis, 2016). Instead they increasingly turned to creating new communities and identities outside the cultural and political mainstream (Curtis, 2016). Militant political agitation was replaced with artistic expression and universal emancipatory politics was replaced with supporting the isolated struggles of marginalised groups while fetishizing the alienation of such groups from one another in a positive light.

For both the right and the left this created a bizarre fantasy world, where both sides could convince themselves that what they were doing was (more…)

images-2by Sarah Black

Art critic, novelist, writer and academic John Berger died last week, aged 90. Amid the media accolades, Suzanne Moore writes an opinion piece for The Guardian entitled ‘I do not recognise the stereotype of John Berger as a dour Marxist – his work embodied hope’. Though the headline is provocative, Moore’s piece does remember the man as kind, interested and warm.

Berger originally trained as a painter at the Chelsea School of Art, but stopped painting in the late 40s, as the post-war images-1nuclear threat seemed to him to render his work trivial. Instead he threw his energies into writing. He managed to enrage the art and media establishment by his pro-Soviet stance, as well as his criticism of big figures in the art world, such as Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso (whose work he felt further mystified art). Berger wrote extensively throughout his career – not just criticism, but fiction and other non-fiction works. In 1972 he won the Man Booker prize for his novel, G. His 1975 book, The seventh man, focuses on the plight of the urban poor.

Berger’s warmth comes across in his most well-known work,Ways of seeing. Unlike contemporary programmes of the time, this 1972 BBC four-part series of films-turned-essays was not presented by a stuffy old man in an art gallery with a suit and a pipe. Filmed in an electronics workshop, Berger, sporting an Aztec-patterned shirt, talks to the viewers at home in a laid-back, conversational manner – the aesthetics of the production have a dynamism that transcends the very 1970s look. Berger places advertising images next to still lifes and soft porn beside nudes, in order to make the viewer interrogate the image, the artist and the subject. His aim was to demystify western European painting from its holy status (where criticism’s purpose was to help us pray) and instead find a different way of (more…)

The article below first appeared in the Living section of revolution magazine (#6, May-June 1998), a print predecessor to this site.  The original article appeared under the title “Meddling in generics”.

downloadBeneath Gattaca’s serene exterior lie the clichés of the nervous nineties, argues Andrew Welch

The most striking aspect of Gattaca is its serene nineties style.  Every shot has obviously been carefully planned and the locations carefully chosen.  Newcomer Andrew Niccol has crafted a pleasantly non-commercial film – obviously not cynically constructed from the usual marketing analyses and box office recipes.  Niccol has written an excellent screenplay, with strong dialogue, balanced pace and, as a director, he displays an eye for period style.

Where it likely appealed to the corporate cinema machine is in its highly-marketable treatment of contemporary nervousness about genetic technology.

As far as its science fiction credentials go it is a sign of the times that there has been no doubt that this is one of the greats.  One reviewer gushed, barely able to contain himself: “with Gattaca we’ve finally discovered our generation’s 2001 – a film so boldly important, so vastly intelligent and so beautifully rendered that it will likely revolutionise the sci-fi genre like Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam, Niccol dares to elevate the sci-fi realm to poetry.”

Yet behind this outwardly quite captivating film are a number of (more…)