Archive for the ‘Revolutionary figures’ Category

Philippe Poutou

by Marisela Trevin
April 10, 2017

It was as if an unspoken, mutually protective code of silence had been established among the candidates leading the polls in this year’s French presidential debates. Despite their scandal-ridden campaigns, against the backdrop of the collapse of the traditional French party system, neither Fillon, of the right-wing party The Republicans, nor Le Pen, of the far-right National Front, had been asked to answer to the multiple accusations against them regarding the misappropriation of public funds.

Piercing the bubble

Unlike the first debate, in which only five of the eleven presidential candidates had participated, the second debate on April 4 featured all of the candidates, including the New Anti-Capitalist Party’s Philippe Poutou, who made it a point to pierce the French political establishment’s bubble before millions of viewers, while expressing the need for a radical change in French politics and society.

Protest against the French social democratic government’s attacks on workers and youth rights (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Fillon smiled rigidly, then affected outrage and threatened to sue as Poutou exposed his hypocrisy. “Fillon says he’s worried about the debt, but he thinks less about the matter when he’s dipping into the public treasury,” he quipped. “These guys tell us that we need austerity and then they misappropriate public funds.”

Marine Le Pen was rendered speechless when Poutou addressed her own scandals, which had been widely covered by the media, like those of Fillon, but for which she had not been held accountable in the debates until then. “Then we have Le Pen. (…) She takes money from the public treasury as well. Not here, but in Europe. She’s anti-European, so she doesn’t mind taking money from Europe. And what’s worse, the National Front, which claims to be against the system, doesn’t mind seeking protection from the system’s laws. So she’s refused to appear before the court when she was summoned by the police.” When Le Pen replied “So in this case, you’re in favor of the police,” Poutou retorted “When we get summoned by the police, we don’t have workers’ immunity.” The audience burst into applause.

Contrast

The contrast could not be starker. On one hand, the political establishment’s rigid, highly-groomed candidates, stuck to their tired playbooks. On the other, a factory worker dressed in a (more…)

A meeting of the Petrograd Soviet in 1917

This year marks the 100th anniversaries of the Russian revolutions of 1917.  The piece below is taken from the April 3-17 issue of the US Marxist workers’fortnightly, The Spark.

In April 1917, a little more than a month after the victory of the revolution in Petrograd and the abdication of Nicholas II, the workers organized themselves more and more independently from the Provisional Government, and they did so certainly against its wishes. Workers elected committees on the level of the workshops, the factories, the working class neighborhoods, and the cities. These were sites of debate where everyone could express themselves and learn, but these committees also made decisions that affirmed the power and consciousness of the working class.

A worker reports how the soviet was built and gained its influence in Saratov, a city 500 miles southwest of Moscow: “It’s been five days since the soviet of workers and soldiers deputies was organized here. But it seems like several years have passed here. Everything has changed. The masses are organized with a remarkable spirit of (more…)

“Revolution is necessary
not only because the ruling class
cannot be overthrown in any other way,
but also because the class overthrowing it
can only in a revolution succeed in
ridding itself of all the
muck of ages and
become fitted
to found society anew”

What is Marxism?

What is exploitation?

How capitalism works – and why it doesn’t

4,000 words on Capital

Karl Korsch on “tremendous and enduring” impact of Marx’s Capital (1932)

Marx’s critique of classical political economy

Capital, the working class and Marx’s critique of political economy

From the vaults: two articles on wages, profits, crisis

How capitalist ideology works

Pilling’s Marx’s Capital: philosophy, dialectics and political economy

The use value of Marx’s value theory

Che was an avid reader and student of the founders of scientific socialism.  At the end of his short political biography of Marx and Engels, Che presents the following recommended reading list:

Marx

Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844)

Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844; published in 1932)

The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism.  Against Bruno Bauer and Company (1845), written with Engels

The German Ideology (1845), written by Engels

The Poverty of Philosophy (1847)

Wage Labour and Capital (1847)

Manifesto of (more…)

Today, March 8, is International Working Women’s Day – or what feminists have hijacked into the classless International Women’s Day.  Last month also marked the 100th anniversary of the February 1917 revolution in the Russian Empire, a revolution sparked off by working class women. 

Working class women sparked off the Russian Revolution

by Anne McShane

The centenary of International Working Women’s Day in Petrograd (St Petersburg) in February 1917 is an important moment to take a more critical approach to this history.

Most of us on the left are familiar with the events themselves. In his classic work, The Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky provides us with a dramatic and inspiring depiction of the uprising in Petrograd – he describes in detail the five glorious days of struggle. How the Petrograd working class rose up in grim determination against the tsarist state. How the strikes, which began on International Working Women’s Day, ostensibly in protest against the war, developed rapidly into a mass movement with the power to oust the imperial regime. How it advanced on the citadels of power, precipitating mutiny after mutiny among the armed forces, as soldiers and Cossacks refused to massacre the workers. In less than a week the centuries-long rule of the tsarist autocracy was routed by the Petrograd working class.

However, it must be admitted that the revolution was premature. There was no party leadership in place and the left, including the Bolsheviks, was caught unawares. The uprising was also confined almost entirely to Petrograd. It has often been described as a purely spontaneous movement – an angry working class letting off steam against the war, conscription and prohibition. But, as Trotsky makes very clear, to argue that the working class of Petrograd were just acting instinctively or in an unconscious way is absurd. Those (often in academic circles) who want to portray it as such are anxious to deny the depth of revolutionary ideas among workers, or their ability to analyse, decide and act on their own behalf. They want to separate off this movement from October and argue that the provisional government and ‘bourgeois democracy’ was the natural conclusion of February. The October revolution is presented as a putsch in contrast to the spontaneity of February. It is more concerning that some on the left also distinguish the two revolutions in the same way. As always, however, reality is a lot more (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 interview below first appeared in revolution magazine (#6, May-June 1998).  Fred was a longtime shopfloor militant and Marxist in the United States, being frequently fired and suspended from jobs due to his union and political activities.  At the time of the interview Fred was living in San Francisco but retirement meant that, at a certain point, he could no longer afford to live in that city and he moved to Mexico.  Fred died in 2002.

Fred at founding conference of the Class Struggle League

Fred at founding conference of the Class Struggle League, 1972

revolution: People have an image of the 1960s as fairly wild, in terms of social experimentation and political radicalism.  How general were these trends in the US?

Fred Ferguson: In the beginning, it depended on what part of the country you were in.  The New York City and San Francisco Bay metropolitan areas have always been little social democratic and liberal islands in a sea of reaction.  The US is a very backward country, politically and culturally.

However, as time went on and one revelation after another was made of government lying, duplicity, secret vendettas against civil rights leaders and secret wars against whole countries, young people began to wake up and look around.

By the end of the war in Vietnam, even high school (and junior high school), student strikes were taking place in the most remote areas of the mid-west and rural south.

Tens of thousands of young people flocked to the two sea coasts and formed what was to become the ‘youth culture’ of the United States.  The influence was tremendous: racially, sexually, politically, in pharmacology, fashion, hair styles and even in the automobile plants of Detroit.

The combined effect of that period politically has been misnamed ‘the Vietnam Syndrome’.  But it didn’t only apply to the government’s policy in Southeast Asia – it extended to nearly every aspect of society.  The people no longer believed.

revo: Although the US lost the Vietnam War and the American ruling class appears to have been traumatised for a while by that experience, they seem to have paid very little political price domestically.  For instance, no big revolutionary organisation emerged out of the years of ferment around the war and today the US government is intervening militarily around the world again, with very little domestic opposition.  How would you assess the campaign against the Vietnam War?

Fred: The campaign against the war was headed by the social democrats and their political partners in the Communist Party and the rapidly rightward-moving Socialist Workers Party.  Sociologically, it was overwhelmingly pacifist, middle class and campus-based.  The working class was, by and large, suffering under the patriotic illusions left over from World War II and the Korean War.  The US had only just begun its long decline economically and most of the working class was doing quite well compared to the pre-war years.  That tended to give them a conservative colouration.

But by 1967 most were deeply disturbed by the war and by the pictures that were on their television news programmes every night.  The social democrats, with no base in the working class, and the CP which had pissed theirs away in the 1930s and strike-breaking during World War II, had been driven to the right by the McCarthyite witch-hunt and the need to hide in the Democratic Party.  The left-wing concentrated around the (Maoist) Progressive Labor Party and the early (Trotskyist) Spartacist League were just too small, too late and too shrill.

During the same period much of the youth became (more…)