My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

How were Taxes Collected?

In an early draft of the book, I had the line: 'all previous history is the history of class evasion.' Then I thought better of including sentences that might require a 'goak here'. Still, tax is not only as unavoidable as death, but politically as important.

This is a bit of a golden age for financial and fiscal history, not least due to the excellent work of Niall Ferguson. (Have a look, for example, at his fascinating paper on the declining sensitivity of bond markets to political risk between 1848 and the Great War). Still, there's definitely lots spade-work that needs to be done on something even as basic as how tax was collected.

In a wonderful over-view of nineteenth-century Europe (a book I first read as a set text while teaching for the Open University years ago), M. S. Anderson pointed to,

one of the nineteenth-century developments most neglected by historians - the ability of governments of any political complexion working through bigger and more effective bureaucracies, to collect taxes more efficiently than ever before.
[M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe, 1815-1914. Third Edition. (London, 1972, 1985, 2003), p. 122 ]

I certainly found it difficult to find basic info on how the tax collection machine improved so dramatically in Europe after 1848 - as it quite clearly did. And that it did is very important for the arguments I seek to make re. the travails of liberal constitutionalism particularly from c. 1870.

Anyway, I did come across an entertaining book on 'French types' by one Miss Betham-Edwards. It includes a chapter on 'The Tax Collector'. Here we find how things had dramatically changed by the time the book was written, at the turn of the century:

Up till the year 1877 a much-hated official called garnissaire or bailiff,
could instal himself in the house of a defaulting taxpayer and there claim bed
and board till all arrears were forth-coming. With the general increase ofwell-being and instruction, the function became a sinecure. Nowadays taxes are rapidly and easily collected from one end of France to the other.
[Miss Betham-Edwards, Home Life in France, 2nd edition (London., 1905)]
Some bright scholars out there should get to writing the social history of taxation in the modern era. It'd be a great topic.

Weber: Defining the Bourgeois

As might be expected, Max Weber turns up a fair bit in my book. Weber explicitly thought of himself as "a member of the bourgeois class", ""educated in their views and ideals". He asked Robert Michels to consider him a "class-conscious bourgeois".

What Weber meant by 'bourgeois' was pretty complex. In one context, however, he defined the 'positively privilged classes' as 'entrepeneurs, managers and members of the various professions "with sought after expertise or privileged education" (e.g. lawyers, scientists, physicians and artists), as well as, in rare cases, highly skilled workers who are not easily replacable.' [From Wolfgang J. Mommsen, The Political and Social Theory of Max Weber: Collected Essays (Polity Press: Cambridge, 1989), pp. 53, 64.]

As it turns out, this isn't so far from my own definition of the bourgeoisie. However, as I argue that there is - more or less - a fundamental (if relational) economic basis for bourgeois class interests and attitudes, I don't primarily use Weber's typology with its emphasis on multi-valency. I discuss my 'definition' of the bourgeoisie in the introduction to the book, already available here [PDF].

Friday, 29 June 2012

Fabians, Revisionists, etc.

The ever-interesting Mike Macnair argues over here (if I understand him aright) that late-C19th / early C20th Fabianism in Britain, and revisionist / reformist tendencies on the continent influenced by Fabianism, promoted the idea of working-class political self-organisation, but they wanted such parties to drop or fundamentally water-down socialist policies.

I rather see it as being the other way around. Fabians and reformists were definitely and unambigiously socialist. They confidently expected capitalism to be transcended by a socially controlled economy. However, they were opposed to the excessively proletarian orientation of orthodox Second International parties. Socialists, they said, should seek to win over a substantial number of bourgeois individuals, for without their talent and acquired skills socialist governance would only lead to anarchical breakdown. Workers simply were not well educated enough to form a hegemonic stratum. More generally, they thought it would be much easier to ally with liberals in pursuit of democratic reform if the socialists ceased presenting themselves as partisans of a narrowly proletarian class agency.

George Bernard Shaw was, as one might expect, frank and up-front in his espousal of a middle class socialism. He appealed to middle class audiences to join the Fabians precisely in order to tame the "mob of desperate sufferers abandoned to the leadership of exasperated sentimentalists and fanatical theorists." [Quoted in Henry Pelling, The Origins of the Labour Party, 1880-1900 (London, 1954), p. 39.]

The German revisionist, Eduard Bernstein, rejected Marx’s distinction between ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’ labour as specious. Marx’s “arbitrary dealing in the valuing of functions”, Bernstein said, were designed to theoretically privilege the proletariat over the managers. This orientation towards the proletariat and slighting of the bourgeoisie was “the key to all obscurities in [Marx’s] theory of value.” Bernstein wanted socialists to ally with and recruit from the middle classes because the working class alone could not be politically hegemonic: "We cannot demand from a class, the great majority of whose members live under crowded conditions, are badly educated, and have an uncertain and insufficient income, the high intellectual and moral standard which the organisation and existence of a socialist community presupposes." [Eduard Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism [1899] (New York, 1961), pp. 38, 219, 221). For Bernstein, the bourgeoisie could be won round to socialism gradually, on ethical grounds: 'Kant, not [workerist] cant'.

It's worth noting that the Second International required of its constituent parties that they organise the working class in the political sphere. It did not require its affiliates to be doctrinally socialist. The Fabians, revisionists  etc. thought this was the wrong way round. Socialism should be promoted as a pan-class ethical ideal, and the narrow class egoism of the Second International should be abandoned.

Bernstein, of course, was influenced by the Fabians. Ironically, however, he argued for the application of its lessons to Germany just when Fabianism was obviously failing in Britain. The Webbs did not succeed in 'permeating' the political establishment with pragmatic socialism, nor did they win round much of the middle class, and from 1900 the LRC / Labour Party committed itself to the self-representation of the working-class.

As I see it, the big question for socialists in this era was: 'Can we, or how can we, cooperate with the bourgeoisie?' It's what I talk about in my book.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

1914: A Socialist Betrayal?

There's a striking oddity about the historiography of pre-1917 European Socialism. Very little of it is Leninist, but almost all of it implicitly agrees with the Communist charge of 'betrayal' laid against the parties of the Second International. This betrayal, it is argued, arose from a 'sudden' eruption of 'social patriotism' that overtook the socialist parties upon the out-break of the Great War. 'Social patriotism' meant a wilingness to defend one's country (or indeed other countries) against attack and invasion. This is presented as a volte face, coming out of the blue, a simple and dramatic capitulation to nationalist fervour. Modern accounts usually point this up as an object lesson in the impractibility of socialist internationalism.

However, the right of national self-defence had always been defended by the parties of the Second International. Here's August Bebel, the leader of the German Marxist SPD, in 1913, for example:

Certainly there is in Germany no one who would want to leave his fatherland defenceless against foreign attackers. That applies also to the Social Democratic Party, whose opponents ... have often accused it of lack of patriotism. .. we must for the present still reckon with the possibility of a war of aggression imposed from the outside, specifically from the east. ... If one day such a war were to break out ... it will be a world war which will set our fatherland before the question of "to be or not to be".

[Source: William Harvey Maehl, August Bebel; Shadow Emperor of the German Workers (Philiadelphia, 1980), pp. 510-11.]

In case this comes across as evidence only of Bebel's 'deviation' from orthodoxy, consider this from Frederick Engels writing in 1891:

Now, if the victory of the Russians over Germany means the crushing of socialism in this country, what will be the duty of the German socialists with regard to this eventuality? Should they passively endure the events that are threatening them with extinction, abandon the post they have conquered and for which they are answerable to the world proletariat without putting up a fight? Obviously not. In the interest of the European revolution, they are obliged to defend all the positions that have been won, not to capitulate to the enemy from without any more than to the enemy within; and they cannot accomplish that except by fighting Russia and its allies, whoever they may be, to the bitter end. If the French republic placed itself at the service of His Majesty the Tsar, Autocrat of all the Russias, the German socialists would fight it with regret, but they would fight it all the same. The French republic may represent vis-à-vis the German empire the bourgeois revolution. But vis-à-vis the republic of the Constanses, the Rouviers and even the Clemenceaus, especially vis-à-vis the republic that is working for the Russian Tsar, German socialism represents the proletarian revolution. [Underline mine].

Perhaps this pre-war sentiment was a German deviation. But consider the resolution on war passed at the November 1906 conference of the French socialist party, the SFIO, which "affirmed that the proletariat would defend the nation from unprovoked attacks", as Harvey Goldberg paraphrases it.

The problem of 1914 was that virtually every belligerant country could plausibly claim to be fighting a war of defence: this was inherent in the system of alliances, and the percieved military necessity of attack as the best form of defence. Every country necessarily threatened its neighbours. Here's an illustration.

Lenin, in fact, had to come up with a new theory to explain why the right of national-defence for 'bourgeois' countries no longer applied: this was the rationale of his theory of 'Imperialism' as the 'latest stage' of Capitalism. I discuss this in my book, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear.

Many socialists adapted themselves to collaboration with reaction and militarism in their support for their war-time governments. But many more tried to maintain their independence and principles. The collapse of the second International, as so much in history, was more tragedy than crime.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Perry Anderson: Comparing Ireland and India.

There's a characteristically pellucid and absorbing article in the latest LRB by Perry Anderson, this time on Ghandi. As one might expect, Anderson is less than enamoured by the Ghandi myth. He is critical particularly of Ghandi's religious obscurantism, and of his unwillingness wage timely revolutionary war in the 1920s. In Bourgeois Liberty, I’m rather more inclined to look somewhat benignly on religiose cloaking for democracy, as diminishing traditionalist hostility to it.

Here's an interesting comparison Anderson makes between India and Ireland:
Since the mid-19th century, Britain had always stationed a much higher number of troops relative to population in Ireland than in India, with a lower proportion of local recruits: typically, a military establishment of about 25,000, and a constabulary of 10,000, for an island of 4.5 million inhabitants, less than a hundred miles from England – a ratio of 1:130. In India, 4000 miles away, where the machinery of repression mustered some 400,000 for a population of 300 million, the ratio was 1:750. Yet within less than three years, an Irish guerrilla of not more than 3000 combatants at any one time had destroyed the colonial police and effectively driven the colonial army – upped to 40,000 for counter-insurgency – from the field in the larger part of the country. Had there been any synchronised campaign in India, with its hugely more favourable balance of potential forces, not to speak of logistics, the issue could hardly have been in doubt. ... The price of national liberation was not small in Ireland: division of the country and civil war. But it was tiny compared with the bill that would eventually be paid in India.
 Of course, religiose cloaking was hardly absent from the Irish War of Independence.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Heinrich Heine on the 'Politics of Fear'

The title of my book comes from Heinrich Heine. His most famous quote is, "That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also." He was referring to the burning of the Quar'an during the Spanish Inquisition. Heine's works were amongst those that were put to the flame by the Nazis when they came to power. The line is displayed at the Yad Vashem centre in Israel, as a still pertinent warning.

Heine was a friend of Marx, but did not share Marx's optimism that a better new society would emerge from the hegemony of the proletariat: Heine feared for the survival of educated merit. Hal Draper, a twentieth-century American socialist, whose massive series on Marx I used for my book, also translated Heine's poetry.

Anyway, here is the longer extract from Heine:

"The Parisian bourgeoisie are obsessed by a nightmare apprehension of disaster. It is not fear of a republic but an instinctive dread of communism, of those sinister fellows who would swarm like rats from the ruin of the present regime. No, the French bourgeoisie would not be alarmed by a republic of the earlier variety, nor even by a little Robespierrism. They would easily reconcile themselves to that form of government and stand watch over the Tuileries regardless whether the building housed a Louis Philippe or a Committee of Public Safety. For what the bourgeoisie warn above all is order and protection - protection of their existing property rights and these are objectives that a republic should be able to guarantee as surely as a monarchy. But as already noted these shopkeepers sense instinctively that today a republic might no longer represent the principles of the seventeen nineties. It might become the instrument through which a new unacknowledged power would seize control, a proletarian party preaching community of goods. The bourgeoisie are therefore conservative by external necessity, not by inward conviction. Their politics are motivated by fear."

[Source: Heinrich Heine (12 July 1843), Geoffrey Bruun, Revolution and Reaction, 1848-1852: A Mid-Century Watershed, ed. Snyder, Louis L. (New Jersey: Van Nostrand, 1958), p. 108.]

Monday, 25 June 2012

Irving Howe on the 'New Left'

Irving Howe was of the American anti-Stalinist 'Old Left'. In 1966 he listed the main characteristics - negative, as he saw them - of the 'New Left':

1. An extreme sometimes unwarranted, hostility toward liberalism.

2. An impatience with the problems that concerned an older generation of radicals.

3. A vicarious indulgence in violence, often merely theoretic and thereby all the more irresponsible.

4. An unconsidered enmity toward something vaguely called the Establishment.

5. An equally unreflective belief in ‘the decline of the West’.

6. A crude, unqualified anti-Americanism, drawing from every possible source, even if one contradicts another: the aristocratic bias of Eliot and Ortega, Communist propaganda, the speculations of Tocqueville, the resentment of post-war Europe, etc.

7. An increasing identification with that sector of the ‘third world’ in which ‘radical’ nationalism and Communist authoritarianism merge.

[Irving Howe, ‘New Styles in “Leftism”’ in Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau, The New Radicals: A Report with Documents (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1966), pp. 291-2]

This was a harsh but not unreasonable charge-sheet.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Richard Overy on Bombing

Richard Overy, whose work I enormously admire, has an article on the RAF's WWII Bomber Command campaign up on CIF. Overy balances very nimbly between honouring the heroism of the men who took huge and usually fatal risks in fighting a terrible enemy, and acknowleding the immorality of a strategy that aimed to kill German civilians qua German civilians.

In my Bourgeois Liberty, I counterpose the Anglo-American model of warfare - massive accumulations of materiel providing substantial force-protection for a citizen army - to the German-Japanese model of hyper-militarisation generating an exceptionally able (and brutalized) combat-soldiery. The story of Bomber Command reminds us that 'democratic warfare' itself can expose a vanguard of its military personel to terrible odds, and that highly technologised warfare can end up replacing face-to-face brutalization with arms' length de-humanization.

Overy will have a new book out on the Bombing Campaign in 2013. I heard him deliver a talk on the subject at Oxford a year ago (he's an excellent lecturer and discussant). It will be, I anticipate, a profoundly important work.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Who supported the Nazis?

John Wheeler-Bennett was a British Tory man-about-town, historian, and witness to the rise of the Nazis. This was his estimate of who supported the Nazis in the run-off presidential election of April 1932, when the incumbent Hindenburg defeated Hitler: "the upper classes of the Protestant north, the German Crown Prince, the great industrialists of the Ruhr and the Rhineland, and the powerful agrarian interests". Supporting Hindenburg were "the embattled forces of the very elements he had fought and defeated in 1925: the Centre Party and the Roman Catholic Church, the Social Democrats and the trade unions, and the Jews." [Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, Knaves, Fools and Heroes: Europe Between the Wars (London, 1974), 50.]

Croce on the Great Divide

Bennedetto Croce was perhaps the major avowedly liberal historian of the first half of the twentieth century. In his History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century (Storia d'Europa nel secolo decimonono - lectures delivered in 1931), Croce argued that 'communism' emerged in the 1830s amongst intellectuals, as a reaction to the strains and horrors of early industrialisation. 'Socialists' and 'Social Democrats' favoured universal suffrage as a means of promoting the interests of the proletariat. This, however, only served to infect democracy with communistic tendencies. Thus, fatefully, liberalism and democracy were driven apart.

"The terms had changed. It was no longer a struggle between liberalism and absolutism, but one between liberalism and democracy, from its moderate to extreme and socialist form.  This struggle … was the truly present and progressive struggle in the nineteenth century." [Croce, Nineteenth Century, trans Henry Furst, London, 1934].

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Here's the Blurb to the New Book

The bourgeoisie, wrote Heinrich Heine in 1842, was ‘obsessed by a nightmare apprehension of disaster’. An ‘instinctive dread of communism’ sapped bourgeois commitment to liberal freedoms. Theirs was a ‘politics motivated by fear’.

Over the next 150 years, the middle classes were repeatedly condemned by the Left as betrayers of liberty. For fear of the masses, the bourgeoisie colluded with the strong-armed state. Failure of the liberal revolutions in 1848, the rise of authoritarian nationalism from the 1860s, fascist victories in the first half of the twentieth-century, and brutal repression of national liberation movements throughout the Cold War – all these fateful disasters the Left blamed squarely on bourgeois timidity and treachery. For their part, conservatives accused the insidious Left. They insisted that leftist demagogues and fanatics exploited the desperation of the poor to subvert liberal revolutions, leading to anarchy and tyranny.

With the collapse of Communism, bourgeois liberty once again became a crusading force. The armed forces of NATO became instruments of ‘regime change’, seeking to destroy dictatorship and to build free-market democracies. President George W. Bush boasted the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a ‘watershed event in the global democratic revolution’. Neoconservatives hailed the bourgeoisie as the truly universal class which, in emancipating itself, emancipates all society. Such middle class triumphalism was not to last. The debacle in Iraq and the Great Recession from 2008 revealed all too clearly that hubris still invites nemesis.

Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear uncovers this remarkable story, and the fierce debates it occasioned. It takes in a span from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first, covering a wide range of countries and thinkers. Strikingly original, and broad in its scope, it presents a clear set of arguments that shed new light on the creation of our modern world.