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.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Politics of Fear and Mitt Romney

In the introduction [PDF] to my book (already up at the OUP website), I give two versions of the thesis that forms the backbone of the following study of modern history. (Two contrasting discourses on the same argument? How frightfully postmodern, dear!)

Here the 'rightwing' version of the argument:
Civil and political liberty is natural for a modern, market society. As a country struggles to modernize, however, the structures of traditional society disintegrate and there emerges a rootless, impoverished proletariat, understandably jealous and resentful of the rich and successful. ... [So] at least until a country has sufficiently modernized to build up a prosperous middle class and [to] give the working class a stake in capitalist society, sufficient order must be valued above generalized liberty.
Of course, there were / are lots of variations on this argument. One constant, pretty much, is a strong preference for reform from above rather than upsurge from below. Ludwig von Mises was clear: ‘the violence of war and revolutions is always an evil to liberal eyes . . . when revolution seems almost inevitable liberalism tries to save the people from violence, hoping that philosophy may so enlighten tyrants that they will voluntarily renounce rights which are opposed to social development’.

[Ludwig Von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane (Auburn, Alabama, 1951, 2009), 74.]

We can see another version from a couple of days ago in the interview given by Mitt Romney to a friendly Israeli newspaper. He's asked about the 'Arab Spring', a wave of revolution not exactly welcomed with open arms by an Israeli establishment which is understandably anxious about any seismic shifts in the region:

Romney was asked:
How do you view the Arab Spring and the way in which the U.S. responded to the uprisings in those Arab states?
He answered:
Clearly we’re disappointed in seeing Tunisia and Morocco elect Islamist governments. We’re very concerned in seeing the new leader in Egypt as an Islamist leader. It is our hope to move these nations toward a more modern view of the world and to not present a threat to their neighbors and to the other nations of the world.
“The Arab Spring is not appropriately named. It has become a development of more concern and it occurred in part because of the reluctance on the part of various dictators to provide more freedom to their citizens. President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner. [My Emphasis]

We can see what George Bush II's 'Freedom Agenda' involved here (address to the National Endowment for Democracy, 6 November 2003). Condaleeza Rise was still promoting it in a speech in Cairo in 2005 but, contra Romney, she had clearly changed her mind the following year. Frightened by the Iraqi debacle, the Bush Administration switched back to supporting pro-US authoritarian regimes. The concern now was that rapid democratization would benefit political Islam (as, indeed, it largely has). It's true that Obama finessed the Bush Administration post-Freedom Agenda, though he did actually continue to criticize past-US mistakes in backing friendly dictators.

What's interesting is Romney's re-casting of the 'Freedom agenda' to denude it of its worryingly revolutionary content. Behind the hand-waving, chat about gently persuading dictators to play nice is back to a much more traditionalistist support for sons of bitches, as long as they're sons of bitches friendly to US interests (and, in the Middle East, Israeli security).

Monday, 30 July 2012

Free Book!

If anyone should like to recieve a free copy of my book, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear (presumably before it is officially published in October), you might wish to consider reviewing it for Historical Materialism.

Here's the website (scroll down to find my book), and review guidelines are here.

To get a taster, the introduction to the book is here [PDF].

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The First Olympics and other Things

In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens.

The same year, the Zionist movement was founded by Theodore Herzl. The Dreyfus Affair had convinced him that Jews would never be accepted as equals in Europe.

Imperialist conflict was high on the agenda. Kaiser Wilhelm II stepped on British bunions by sending Paul Kruger, President of the Boer Republic, a telegram of congratulation for his fending off the Jameson Raid from British controlled Cape Colony. Italian imperialism was dealt a humiliating blow by its crushing military defeat at Adowa in Abyssinia. It was a better year for French imperialism: they declared Madagascar a colony.

Thomas Hardy published Jude the Obscure (Featuring the classic corny line: "Done because we are too many.")

French scientist Henri Becquerel discovered the radioactive properties of uranium. The atomic age had begun.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Norman Stone on Liberalism

He's a man of strong views, that Norman Stone. His review / obituary of E. H. Carr, for example, pulled no punches. When I did A Level history (a year on the French Revolution, a year on nineteenth-century Europe - no Hitler or Stalin!!), one of the books I read was Stone's Europe Transformed. I thought Stone's was the best book we were encouraged to read: brilliantly written, frank about power and privilege, and refreshingly unsentimental in that way much of conservative history was back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Here's a section on the crisis of European liberalism from the 1870s, a major theme of my book:

"By the end of the 1870s classical liberalism everywhere had lost its commanding position. Usually it did so because of financial troubles which were related to the effects of the Depression on government revenues. Classical liberals believed in free trade and minimal state interference with the economy. When government demands went up – as, in matters of defence, they were bound to do – there were wrangles as to how these costs should be met. Liberals disliked direct taxes … tariffs … State monopolies … In these circumstances, classical liberals came to grief everywhere by the end of the 1870s. Liberals could not present a common front over financial measures which, in this era, took up most parliamentary time."

[Norman stone, Europe Transformed 1878 – 1919 (Fontanta: London, 1983), pp. 42 – 3.]

I think now that conservative historians would be more likely to bemoan the decline of classical liberalism as a terrible mistake. There's a tendency to pass judgement on the errors of the past, so that the reader (and writer) can rather smugly imagine that they would have done better. Stone's book was very good at showing how circumstances often enforce choices that made sense within given premisses.

Friday, 27 July 2012

How Democracy Works

They following is a rather brilliant summation of modern 'bourgeois democracy', from the country which invented it:

The idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people by persons of each class is altogether visionary [utopian]. Unless it were expressly provided in the Constitution that each different occupation should send one or more members, the thing would never take place in practice. Mechanics [wage-labourers] and manufacturers [artisans] will always be inclined, with few exceptions, to give their votes to merchants in preference to persons of their own professions or trades. Those discerning citizens are well aware that the mechanic and manufacturing arts furnish the materials of mercantile enterprise and industry. Many of them, indeed, are immediately connected with the operations of commerce. They know that the merchant is their natural patron and friend; and they are aware that however great the confidence they may justly feel in their own good sense, their interests can be more effectually promoted by the merchant than by themselves.

[Publius [Alexander Hamilton], in The Federalist Papers (New York: New American Library, 1961), p. 214. My emphases.]

The Republican Party these days explicitly markets itself as a congerie of entrepreneurial 'wealth creators', familiar to the market-integrated electorate as managers and providers, seeking career secondment as political leaders. The Democrats only really differ by degree. The quote's a brilliantly prescient view, from as early as the 1780s Federalist Papers, of how democracy in a capitalist society pans out.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Eating Italy

A quote that gets trotted out a lot by students writing about nineteenth-century nationalism is Massimo d’Azeglio in 1861 remarking to king Victor Emmanuel on the Risorgimento “We have made Italy; now we must make the Italians.” We may as well know the popular jibe in response: the elites had “made Italy only to devour her”.

[As recorded by Benedetto Croce, A History of Italy, 1871 – 1915, trans. Cecilia M. Ady (New York: Russell & Russell Inc., 1929, 1963), p. 97.]

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Georges Sorel and Two Types of Revolution

Georges Sorel had an interesting criticism of Marx's schema of social revolution. Here it is (1903 Preface to Edwin Seligman's Economic Interpretation of History [1903]; in French - apologies for my attempts at translation).

Marx had argued that as productive forces develop they press up against the integument of out-dated social and political relations, which is widely perceived as a constraint. At some point, the integument is burst asunder.

Marx, Sorel argues, based this model upon the French Revolution. (And on this revolution only; the model didn't apply to the transition from the Ancient World to feudalism, for example). It applied pretty well to France in the 1780s: clearly archaic tax and commercial codes constrained commercial relations; they simply "hindered and had no useful role in the production". Indeed (as I've noted) the French Revolution had initial support from many outside commerce, properly so-called, because all propertied classes at least could clearly see an advantage in clearing away the limits to growth.

Productive forces under capitalism, Sorel insisted, were not 'fettered' in the same way as they had been under 'feudal' social relations. There is no foreseeable end to the capacity for economic growth under capitalism. Rather, productive forces are subject to a boom-bust business cycle. They endure periodic collapse, followed at some point by renewed dynamism, but no indefinite stagnation for want of reform of social relations.

A proletarian revolution, moreover, would "exclude industrial leaders and deliver the productive forces to a [working] class without managerial experience". Revolution could not, at least in the short to medium term, emancipate productive forces.

The French Revolution in substance only required swift and fairly painless abolition of irksome remnants of 'feudalism' - famously swept away over one  night on 4 August 1789. The proletarian revolution requires a much more fundamental, protracted, and experimental transformation under the most un-propitious circumstances: "it is frightening to think of the huge quantitative difference between these two things Marx found so similar!"

One can imagine such thoughts would strike a chord with Syriza in Greece. A revolutionary crisis is not a good time to make a revolution. And who replaces the bourgeoisie?

The experience of communism seems to bear out much of Sorel's critique. Revolution in 1917 took place during conjunctural crisis - not just economic, to be sure - and the new regime was duly wracked by its unfolding. The Bolsheviks soon found that they relied upon ex-bourgeois and Tsarist experts to keep the economy running. In the long run, they trained up a new bureaucratic elite (killing much of the old) but there never clearly emerged a proletarian civil society able to rationalise the command economy. Whether a proletarian civil society can regulate a state and economy in a manner analogous to bourgeois civil society must be considered an open question.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Australia and the Worker Movement

Australia doesn’t get much of a mention in my book, I’m afraid, other than a fairly indirect reference to the racism of the workers’ movement there in the early twentieth-century (sorry Aussies!) Here are a few notes to make amends.

Most worker movement militants in late nineteenth-century Australia were Irish catholic, and as such fairly ill-disposed to ideological socialism, due to the Catholic church’s anathema on that doctrine. ‘Progressive’ was often preferred to ‘labour’ as the label adopted (partly to attract the ‘the black-coats’, or white-collar workers as we might say now). ‘Socialist’ was used only rarely.

Due to the clash between small farmers and big pastoralists over successive Land Acts, politics in Australia was up to about 1890 dominated by Liberal and Radical parties. Urban workers turned to industrial action rather than politics as such. They won probably the highest living standards in the world, and trade union regulations were aggressively enforced.

An economic crash in 1890, however, resulted in an employers’ offensive that broke the trade unions. Workers turned to political action, launching a period of spectacular rise up to 1914. As in America, and in comparison to much of Europe, political labour was not confronted by a semi-feudal military state. There was little room for that elision of democratic and socialist ‘revolution’ that powered the rhetoric of European style Second Internationalism. The bourgeois political parties, moreover, met Australian worker parties half-way. Political labour was treated as an integral part of the national culture, not as internal enemies.

Very quickly, Labour parties were holding the balance of power in the various States. Australia was exceptional in the role of federal states in enforcing formal wage arbitration schemes. Following the crash and trade union defeat of 1890, there was much less stress in Labour circles on ‘free collective bargaining’ compared to Great Britain.

In the celebrated Harvester Award of 1907, Mr. Justice Higgins of the Commonwealth Arbitration Board proclaimed the principle of a living wage across Australia: a famous victory. Australia was often looked upion by Europeans as close to a ‘workingman’s paradise’. Visiting Broken Hill in 1908, Keir Hardie waxed lyrical about spacious, well-lit streets and ‘handsome shops’ (but he didn’t mention the desperately high rates of accident, death and disease from the mining industry, the parlous state of the water supply and the crowded, unsanitary and, at times, unbearably hot, boarding houses in which many miners lived and died).

The worker movement was generally hostile to Non-white immigration. There was a pervasive racist attitude of white Australian workers toward immigrant Chinese ‘coolies’. After 1900, the Federal Labour Party opposed imports produced by underpaid labour, and supported the ‘White Australia’ policy. The Party supported the racist 1901 Immigration Act. The joint conference of the state Labour Parties in 1905 adopted as objectives:

(a)    The cultivation of an Australian sentiment, based on the maintenance of racial purity and the development in Australia of an enlightened and self-reliant community.

(b)    The securing of the full results of their industry to all producers, by the collective ownership of the means of monopolies and the extension of the industrial and economic functions of the State and municipality.

There was a revolutionary alternative, however. The IWW, which vigorously denounced Labour, was particularly strong on the docks and amongst miners. During the war, Peter Larkin, brother of James, was a prominent (and imprisoned) IWW leader.The Great War of course, became both a nation-building myth for Australia and, as pointed out in this classic study of oral history, an inspiration to leftist hostility to capitalist militarism. But that's another story.

Monday, 23 July 2012

A Bourgeois French Revolution?

Was the French Revolution 'bourgeois'? There certainly was no hard division between bourgeois and aristocrat before 1789. By that year, the bourgeoisie owned 25 percent of the land, roughly the same proportion as did the aristocracy. However, there's little doubt that the revolutionaries - and the King's reformers - were consciously seeking to re-cast property rights to the putative advantage of all  property owners. Property rights were to be divested of 'feudal' property obligations. Here's William H. Sewell:

It would be no exaggeration to say that the French Revolution made private property the basic institution of the social and political order … this may be the only respect in which the Revolution still appears unproblematically bourgeois. … The Revolution of 1789 was not made by a distinct and unified bourgeois class. But given the revolutionaries’ extraordinary interest in the rights of private property, perhaps one could argue that it was a revolution for the bourgeoisie, even if it was not the bourgeoisie who guided it.
[William H. Sewell, Jr., ‘Property, Labor, and the Emergence of Socialism in France, 1789 – 1848' in John Merriman (ed), Consciousness and Class Experience in Nineteenth-Century Europe (New York, London: Holmes & Meier, 1979), p. 49.]

Between October 1789 and September 1790, there were no less than five National Assembly proclamations declaring freedom of commerce (though no worked out commercial code).This was not a concerted destruction of landed power, however, but a re-orientation to the market which was already well advanced before 1789. The elites strove to protect their own. Many landlords made up their income from the abolished feudal dues by contracting lease payments from sharecroppers, and they dominated commerce in grain through their direct ownership of substantial demesne farms.

The revolution was supposed to be consensual. But, as François Furet pointed out (Revolutionary France, 1770-1880), when the panacea of commerce failed to work its anticipated magic by dissolving old social antagonisms, recalcitrance in the face of modernity came to be to be re-defined as treacherous deviance and counter-revolutionary perversity. The revolutionaries' Terror of Virtue loomed.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Death-bringing Parasitic Ivy

Wilhelm Liebknecht was a leader of the German workers' party, the SPD, and a frequent writer for its enormous range of newspapers (by which he made a quite incredibly huge amount of money). After fighting in the 1848 Revolution, he lived in exile in England for a good number of years, before returning to Germany in the 1860s. He was very close to Marx and Engels.  The latter were pretty scornful of Liebknecht in their private correspondence (as was their wont), but there was probably no one more important in implanting Marxism in Germany.

In the early 1870s, he occasionally intimated that the party was there to prepare for a violent social revolution. However, particularly as time went on, Liebknecht's line was that the SPD needed to complete the 'bourgeois revolution' - i.e. subordinating the executive government by making it responsible to the representative parliament - and then to win the 'battle of democracy': protecting universal suffrage against counter-coup, and having a workers' government elected. This was different from Britain and France, where constitutionalism was already established.

Here he is looking back on the circumstances of German unification in 1899:

In Germany where Capitalism was developed later than in England and France, and where it was not preceded, as in those two countries, by an era of economic prosperity for the bourgeoisie as well as of political supremacy by it, the whole political development was obliged to take on a different character. There [Britain and France] a soil cleared of medieval mould and undergrowth; here [Germany], the most modern of modern conditions, as modern as in France and England, in between medieval mould and undergrowth; the healthy growth entwined with ivy, which sucks the life out of everything that it clasps with its tendrils; which only lives from death and rottenness and which must be torn off and grubbed up to prevent the healthy and growing from being sacrificed to the dead.
The German bourgeoisie, which was sleeping the sleep of impotence at the time when in other lands the bourgeoisie impressed upon the state its bourgeois character, does not even now possess the strength to tear away and extirpate the romantic and death-bringing parasitic ivy of landlordism and medieval semi-barbarism.
The political impotence of the German citizenry in past and present is what distinguishes the political life of Germany from that of the other advanced countries, and has assigned to the German proletariat the mission not only of solving its own strictly proletarian problem, but also of accomplishing the work left undone by our bourgeoisie.
[Excerpted in William A. Pelz (ed.). Wilhelm Liebknecht and German Social Democracy: A Documentary History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 189.]

It has elements of the theory of Sonderweg, but perhaps without the suggestion that Germany was entirely unique.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Stamboliski and Bulgaria

When in my book I look at the revolutionary wave across Europe from 1918-21, I'm mostly interested in the workers' movement. However, there was something like a peasant revolution in Bulgaria. Russia had long been a significant influence, and the Communists were very strong. But they had to contend with a peculiarly agrarian dynamic. It was a remarkable episode that I could only refer to in passing.

Bulgaria before 1885 was ruled by the Ottoman empire. Its peasant population of Othodox Christian Slavs had little in common with Muslim landlords. The Russians particularly from 1828 posed as protectors of their fellow Orthodox Slavs, but in 1859 the Bulgarian church re-joined the broad Roman Catholic Communion (whilst retaining much of their Orthodox rites and married priests). This brought them under the sponsorship of France and Austria, the main Catholic powers.

In 1876, a Bulgarian Rising (organised from Roumania) led to savage repression. The notorious Bashi-bazouks, unleashed by the Ottomans, turned the eyes of Europe to the 'Bulgarian Horrors'. The Russians intervened, defeated the Ottomans, and tried to set up a client state. This 'Big Bulgaria' comprised Bulgarians, Serbians, Greeks, Wallachians, and Albanians. The Great Powers meeting in congress at Berlin feared Tsarist pretensions. They restored Macedonia to the Ottomans, made eastern Roumelia a self-governing province under a mixed administration, and left to 'small Bulgaria' the northern region. Bulgaria remained technically under the sovereignty of the Sultan, but with its own Prince. In 1879, the temporary Russian governor promulgated a constitution: a ministry government, an elected assembly, the Sobranje, elected by universal suffrage (though with a quarter of its members to be chosen by the prince) and the rule of law. The Prince, Alexander of Battenburg, was nominated by the Tsar, and after the Russians withdrew, they left behind military officers and much influence. Russia subversion was incessant thereafter.

With the Orthodox aristocracy eliminated, Bulgaria was in many respects cultually a democratic peasant-society: peasants, popes (priests), and schoolteachers. The bourgeoisie was significant, but small - mostly professional rather than in business. 

Alexander Gerschenkron used Bulgaria as an example contrary to W. W. Rostow's argument that countries industrialise more or less spontaneously once commercial freedom has been established and savings accumulated: despite these pre-conditions, there had been no 'take-off' in Bulgaria before World War One. Bulgaria's militarisation, culminating in the Second Balkan War, held it back.

After the Great War, Bulgaria re-established democracy. Then was the remarkable Staboliski episode. Aleksandar Stamboliski (1879 – 1923) was leader the Agrarian League, but with an international profile. Stambolisky saw himself as a man of the Left, but he was opposed to 'normal' party politics. He argued for a kind of plurastic corporatism or semi-anarchism, with socially based representative institutions based upon communities, workplaces and so on. In a peasant county, this meant peasant rule. He promoted the ‘Green International’, a peasant alternative to the various Workers' Internationals.

Stambolisky was caught up in an attempted peasant revolution in 1918, but survived its repression and became elected Premier in 1919.

Only in Bulgaria outside Russia did the Communists have really large-scale support in this early post-war period. The Communists, however, refused to ally with Stambuliski – they condemned his Peasant Party as the “bourgeoisie of the countryside”.

Stamboliski was violently hostile to lawyers and financiers, as exploiters of the peasantry, and demanded their exclusion from the Sobranje. Such few large estates as there were, Stamboliski wished to break up and redistribute with an Agrarian law. Though enjoying considerable popular support, he became increasingly dictatorial, and reliant upon his peasant 'Orange Guard'.

In June 1923, bourgeois interests and nationalist officers organised a coup against Stamboliski’s government in Sofia while the Prime Minister was away on business. Ministers were arrested, and Stambolisky fled across the frontier only to be captured, tortured and killed by Macedonian terrorists. Agrarian revolt in defence of Stambolisky’s government received no Communist aid and was easily suppressed. Only three months after the coup did the Communists, under Comintern pressure, organise their own resistance to the coup government. Leaders were arrested before their planned revolt. In the suppression of the rising, about 5000 were killed.

In April 1925 a Communist attempt to assassinate the Government as it convened in Sofia Cathedral, by detonating a bomb at the site, killed 123 persons but failed to dislodge the regime. Some 5000 subversives, mostly agrarians, were arrested.

When the Communists finally took power after the Second World war, they gradually gave up their hostility to Stamboliski's memory, and named a town after him. It bears that name still.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Europe's Three Part Revolution. Part II

In a post a few days back, I suggested that the real difficulty for the Left in Europe at the end of the First World War was the dyed-in-the-wool hostility of the 'permanent state' - army, bureaucrats, police, judiciary, landlords, big-business - to democratisation. But this apparatus could not be simply picked apart without running the risk of general dissolution, civil war, and possibly invasion by the Entente Powers. Left in post, these traditionsal elites went on to facilitate the inter-war model of dictatorship.

It was the same 'permanent state' personnel, however, who collaborated with the German invaders and their allies during the Second World war. This time they did not avoid a reckoning. The state apparatus and business/landed elites could now be subjected to a far more thorough purge because of the frame of stability provided by the Allied armies. Societal dissolution and civil war was generally not a risk (with the odd exception) because occupying armies and administrations held the ring. Because the Allies had demanded unconditional surrender rather than a 1918 style armistice, they entirely smashed German militarism, and  occupied most of Europe. This permitted a far more thorough re-structuring of the state apparatus than had been conceivable after the Great War.

The outcome was a massive revolutionary re-ordering in continental Europe from about 1944 to 1946. It took the form of popular, Resistance led persecutions as well as a more ordered series of trials, vettings, and demotions overseen by Liberation governments. It was a rough affair, and a recent book on the period by Keith Lowe, Savage Continent, provides a searing study of the scapegoating and ethnic cleansing of the period. Years ago, R. W. Johnson wrote on the subject in the LRB, where he made a striking if disturbing analogy:

Criticism of the purge is easy. ‘Treason,’ as Talleyrand remarked, ‘is a matter of dates.’ And the sight of so many résistants de la dernière heure naturally encouraged cynicism. ‘Wasn’t the secret of the purge,’ Roger Peyrefitte wrote, ‘that there had to be victims so that there could be heroes?’ In a sense, it is difficult to take the opposite view: advocates of the purge were in much the same position as pro-abortion lobbyists today. No matter how just the cause, the hounding of terrified victims, like the termination of a foetus, is an irretrievably sad and ugly business: no one can feel any enthusiasm for it.
(Review of Herbert Lottman, The People's Anger: Justice and Revenge in Post-War France)
However, it is the case that most victims were guilty of collaboration (and most lost their jobs rather than their lives). Their removal from positions of power was seen as necessary for the consolidation of post-war democracy. Tony Judt heads his 'Retribution' chapter in Postwar with a quotation from Simone de Beauvoir: "Vengeance is pointless, but certain men did not have a place in the world we sought to construct." (p. 41). And a new world was constructed.

Still, the great purge of the 'permanent state' was not entirely complete, at least outside the Soviet Bloc. The Cold War from 1947 allowed not a few collaborators or fascist eminences to remain in post, or creep back in (often as expert advisors to emergent NATO, as they had fought the Red Army on the eastern front). These years really were the key moment in Europe's democratic transformation, but there was to be a significant coda. More on that anon.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Defining Revolution

A fairly recent paper in the History syllabus at Oxford is 'Disciplines of History'. The traditional methodological paper had three essays required to be written in three hours. In new-fangled 'Disciplines', it is two essays in three hours. So deep thought is required!

Usually, for the 'Comparative History' half of the Disciplines Paper, the topic of 'Revolutions' comes up. 'Revolution', of course, lends itself to transnational comparison. Following Perry Anderson's cogent reasoning, but to be honest also with some mind to manageability, I normally recommend to the students that they define 'revolution' as 'punctual': i.e. radical, but limited in time and space, even if the effect is quite diffuse. (Acute revolutions, natch, can succeed or fail to lesser or greater degrees; I'd be a poor Irishperson who refused a nod to the Memory of the Dead). But overall the definition of 'revolution' is up to my extraordinarily fab students. It can be quite non-political and drawn-out. Here's an invaluable guide, for example, to the 'Scientific Revolution'

If students want to look at a long-drawn out process of revolution, 'Industrial', 'Scientific' or whatever, I say, 'go for it, emergent intelligentsia!'. I shall, however, have to pass you over to experts for guidance.

Here's Emma Dougherty, animator extraordinaire, and co-author of video above:

Bring us to Life

We historians need to bring our subject to life. So, hey!, let's pummel StopMoGo with our demands. The tres impressive chief ace-a-lot, I think, will see us right.

Rate Your Professor

This is just an addendum to yesterday's blog. I mentioned that in the aftermath of World War One the upper reaches of academia at least could be included (along with army officers, state bureaucracy, judges, and so on) in the reactionary 'permanent state' unhappy with democracy and its new freedoms for the upstart labour movement. This might seem a bit odd, when it has been argued that the academy is the very bedrock of democratic process and the open society. But it's well known, of course, that universities in inter-war Europe were bastions of conservatism or (amongst students at any rate) the radical-right.

Here is Franz Neumann writing mournfully in the Summer of 1919:

When I came in the spring of 1918 to the university of Breslau, its celebrated economist – in his very first lecture – denounced the Peace Resolution of 1917 (peace without annexations and indemnities) … When I came to Leipzig in the fall of 1918 … the [professorial] historian proved conclusively that democracy was an essentially non-German form of political organisation, suitable for the materialistic Anglo-Saxons, but incompatible with the ideals of the Germanic race.  When I transferred to Rostock in the summer of 1919, I had to organise students to combat anti-Semitism openly preached by the university professors. When I finally landed in Frankfurt, the very first task with which I was faced was to help protect a newly appointed socialist university professor from attack – political as well as physical – by students secretly supported by a considerable number of professors.
[Quoted in Peter Gay, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1968), pp. 45-6.]

It's worth bearing in mind that there was considerable continuity in the professoriat up until the 1960s, which is one reason for the student '68 (something I talk about in the book, and will come back to here).

Monday, 16 July 2012

Europe's Three-Stage Revolution. Part I

The years 1917 to 1921 have often been seen as comprising a revolutionary moment for Europe, evaluated either sympathetically (see William A. Pelz's chapter 6) or negatively (Anthony Read's book concentrates just on 1919, a little oddly).

We tend now to think of leftist revolution as meaning the more or less rapid nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, and the introduction of a 'plan of production'. However, this 'economistic' reading of revolution wasn't terribly prominent in the post-Great War era.

[Digression - Until the late 1920s, it was the Right who were most vocally in the vanguard of calls for planning and rationalisation, posited in terms of Taylorism, Fordism, and general Americanisation. A.J.P. Taylor entertainingly exaggerated a kernel of truth when he wrote that at the onset of the 1929 Depression:

Planned economy was no part of classical Socialism. Marx, for instance, assumed that supply and demand, the law of the market, would continue to work under Socialism; only private profit would be eliminated. Soviet Russia had been operating a market economy and a gold currency since the end of the civil war. The first Five Year Plan, launched in 1928, had not yet made an impact on western minds. The New Deal had not yet appeared on the horizon. Keynesian economics were still in conception. Only fascist Italy claimed, however falsely, to have a planned economy.
{A. J. P. Taylor, ‘Confusion on the Left’ (1960) in his Politicians, Socialism and Historians (New York: Stein & Day, 1979), p. 188.}]

Back to the post-world war era, what was considered important - certainly in central and eastern Europe - was the consolidation of democratic revolution. This was problematic because the 'permanent state' - the army, judiciary, civil service, police, big business and agriculture, much of the press, and opinion formers in academia - were still shot through with pre-war vintage monarchists, militarists, anti-democrats, and reactionaries of every kidney.

Socialists, who were generally the overseers of democratic transformation in the defeated countries, were in a quandary. They were massively stronger than they had been pre-war, but still in elected parliaments they could expect no more than about 45 percent of seats at the maximum; somewhere in the mid-30s percent was more usual.

Socialists could seek to re-structure the old permanent state, by mobilising the spontaneously arisen 'workers councils' to intimidate, and at a pinch replace, the old administration. This was the 'Bolshevik' model. However, most felt that this aggressive strategy would simply rally most of the country - the businessmen, professionals, armed forces, farmers, shopkeepers, master-artisans, churchly faithful, and so on, who made up the majority of the population - against the Left. The result would be bloody civil war and defeat of the Left.

The alternative was to cut a deal with the old administration, leaving it in place and allowing the army etc to crush minority radical leftists, in return for their respecting democratic constitutionalism. This was the choice of the Majority Social Democrats in Germany. Perhaps this might have worked - there was considerable if incomplete progress in re-shaping the Prussian state police over the 1920s, for example - had not the 1929 depression  hit. As it was, the old reactionary state apparatus was still in place, unreconciled at heart, and only too happy to help the Nazis into power in order to crush democracy and the Left.

The 'Centrist' socialist option was limited mobilisation of the 'workers' councils' as a counterweight to the permanent state, and as a protection for democratic constitutionalism, without seeking to provoke a head-on collision with the the non-proletarian classes. This was fairly effectively carried out by the SPÖ in Austria (and was probably the favoured option for most socialist rank and filers across continental Europe). However, as a tendency it was ground to dust between the mill stones of the Comintern and the moderate Social Democracy, and thusly isolated it was insufficient in the end to hold back the tide of reaction.

It's hard to see how the 'Bolshevik strategy' in the post-war era, more or less anywhere west of the Soviet Federation, could have led to other than bloody social civil war and reaction triumphant.

The victory of Bolshevism in Russia itself certainly broke the counter-revolution, but at the cost of a one-party dictatorship presiding over a devastated country, with an elite cut off from the mass of the population, regarding it with hostile suspicion, and with a militarised mind-set. Even dis-regarding this, since 1917 'Leninism' had rejected democratic constitutionalism for 'social civil war' and the coercive 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. It was hardly likely to have preserved democratic forms wherever it came to power.

But the Social Democratic strategy was not much better in practice. It left the 'permanent state' intact, able and ready to cut the throat of democracy later on. Admittedly, the 'permanent state' had suffered a permanent diminution of authority, but this turned out for the worse, because they felt it necessary to ally with populist and fanatical fascist mass-movements.

So, how was the 'permanent state' eventually tackled in Europe? That'll be for the next post.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bismarck, Ireland and Dykes

Here's Bismarck's neat solution to the Irish problem:

"You've got to exchange the populations of Holland and Ireland. Then the Dutch will turn Ireland into a beautiful garden and the Irish will forget to mend the dykes and will all be drowned."

Bismarck had a thing about dykes. In his young Junker manhood had been a dyke reeve (Deichhauptmann) on the Elbe: "it depends on the managers of this office whether from time to time we come under water or not" he wrote.

When Chancellor he would often moan about Liberals, Catholics, Socialists and so on, repeating a saying in rhyme: "Was nicht will deichen, das muss weichen." (Those who won't help with the dykes should clear off).

This was a man who sensed that there were tides out there that could drown a constitution. He mis-identified the flood-tide, however.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Variants of Leftism

Here's Frank Warren comparing the US 'Popular Front' liberalism of the 1930s to the Cold War liberalism of the 1950s:
The Popular Front liberals, with their simplistic ideology and sentimental unity of ‘progressives,’ betrayed a moral callousness toward those who suffered under Stalin’s crimes. But the contemporary liberal, with his new found knowledge of totalitarianism, his hard-headed, realistic, tough-minded pragmatism, has temporised with social ills, avoided conflicts with conservatives in the name of consensus, suggested and justified outrageous actions in the name of the ‘free world’.
I don't think either category has entirely gone away.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Why Birmingham was Better than Manchester

Manchester in the early nineteenth-century struck observers as the very epitome of industrial commercial society. Tocqueville, who visited, was both impressed and horrified: “Everything in the exterior appearance of this city attests the individual powers of man; nothing the directing power of society. At every turn human liberty shows its capricious creative force.” Streams he described as “the Styx of this new Hades”, streets as “this damp, dark labyrinth”, man as “turned back almost into a savage”. [Quoted in Andrew Lees, Cities Perceived: Urban Society in European and American Thought, 1820 – 1940 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), pp. 63-4.] 

Chartism was strong in Manchester, but attempts to ally with middle class reformers there after 1842 failed. In contrast, Birmingham was the epicentre of agitation for electoral reform before 1832: a formidable Political Union there coordinated vigorous agitation, and the local middle classes threatened a tax-strike.

Here's Richard Cobden explaining why Birmingham was more politically progressive - a bastion of support for Reform and of the Anti-Corn Law League - than Manchester:

The honest and independent course taken by the people at Birmingham, their exemption from aristocratic snobbery, and their fair appreciation of a democratic aim of the people, confirms me in the opinion I have always had that the social and political state of that town is far more healthy than that of Manchester; and it arises from the fact that the industry of the hardware district is carried on by small manufacturers, employing a few men and boys each, sometimes only an apprentice or two; whilst the great capitalists of Manchester form an aristocracy, individual members of which wield an influence over sometimes two thousand persons. The former state of society is more natural and healthy in a moral and political sense. There is a freer intercourse between all classes than in the Lancashire town, where a great and impassable gulf separates the workman from his employer.
[Quoted in J. A. Hobson, and Neville Masterman, Richard Cobden: the International Man (London: Benn, 1968), p. 194.]

This is a pretty materialist and class-based analysis from the great radical liberal (who Marx called "the representative of the industrial bourgeoisie").