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.
Monday, 20 August 2012
Sunday, 19 August 2012
Having just read your review of The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa (LR, June – I’m rather behind in my reading!), you may be interested in an incident that, I gather, is not included in the book.
My father was interned as a civilian British prisoner in Ruhleben camp, situated outside Berlin, for the duration of the First World War. The other inmates were mostly civilians, but there were a few British soldiers as well. During either 1914 or 1915 – I regret I cannot remember which year – Roger Casement visited the camp and tried to persuade the prisoners to fight for the Germans.
The majority of men treated this request with contempt, especially the soldiers, but a very few civilians did agree and departed with Casement. My father never discovered what happened to them, but was able to establish that they never featured on any list of prisoners who returned to Britain.
I have no idea whether this particular act was used as evidence against Casement at his trial, but it would be interesting to find out.
Yours faithfully, L P Birley London SW3
All this refers, no doubt, to Casement's attempt to raise an Irish Brigade.
Saturday, 18 August 2012
Dear Sir,Toby Thomas’s review of Muckraker: The Scandalous Life and Times of WT Stead (LR, July) reminded me of a meeting I had, some twenty odd years ago, with the education correspondent of the Daily Mirror. He told me that, when a schoolboy, his best friend lived in a rambling house, where he was looked after by a female relative. The boys often explored the house’s attics; in one of them they discovered a chest, labelled as the property of WT Stead, in which they found volumes of Victorian pornography and a collection of dildos, some ivory, some leather.
The Mirror man said that he and his friend were bewildered by the porn and the sex toys. They took some of the printed material along to school, where it created a stir among older boys. One of the teachers found out, took the boys aside and heard the story of Stead’s porn. He advised them to burn the lot. They did. The Mirror man, whose name I cannot remember, also said there was a link between Stead and his friend’s female relative. I imagine I could track him down if it was of interest.
Yours faithfully,John Fairhall (by email)
Friday, 17 August 2012
As I see it ... countries that are merely ruled [by Europeans, rather than settled] and are inhabited by natives, such as India, Algeria and the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish possessions, will have to be temporarily taken over by the proletariat [of the colonising country] and guided as rapidly as possible towards independence. How this process will develop is difficult to say. India may, indeed very probably will, start a revolution and, since a proletariat that is effecting its own emancipation cannot wage a colonial war, it would have to be given its head, which would obviously entail a great deal of destruction, but after all that sort of thing is inseparable from any revolution. The same thing could also happen elsewhere, say in Algeria or Egypt, and would certainly suit us best. We shall have enough on our hands at home. ... Only one thing is certain, namely that a victorious proletariat cannot forcibly confer any boon whatever on another country without undermining its own victory in the process. [My emphasis]
If the anti-colonial movements or states that are opposed to the major powers defeat the imperial powers it weakens the whole imperial system. This is true whether or not those who lead such struggles or stand at the head of such states have this outcome as their conscious aim. Lenin argued that the political complexion of the leaders of small nations – be they nationalist, fundamentalist, dictators or democrats – should not determine whether socialists in the major imperialist countries oppose their own governments in time of war. It is enough that the defeat of the major imperial powers would advance the cause of oppressed people everywhere for socialists to commit themselves to the principle of self-determination for small nations. [My emphasis]
Thursday, 16 August 2012
You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.
Of course, there's more to fascism than natural, unfettered leaders. Its statism, hyper-nationalism and militarism are incompatible with bourgeois liberty, and in the end is clearly destructive of bourgeois civil society itself. Fascist racism, moreover, is in strict contradiction to the ideals of performance-based hierarchy.
As a modern ideology, fascism inevitably overlapped with other political outlooks: it borrowed from conservatism, liberalism, and not least socialism. Randism, therefore, isn't at all fascism, because fascism isn't reducible to a small a subset of its self-justifications. But then, we began with Rand's willingness herself to throw around the 'fascism' accusation (a gambit still popular on the wackier Right); and, contra Rand (and Ryan?), the welfare state isn't fascist either!
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
The central inner-European event of the imperialist period was the political emancipation of the bourgeoisie, which up to then had been the first class in history to achieve economic pre-eminence without aspiring to political rule. … Even when the bourgeoisie had already established itself as the ruling class, it had left all political decisions to the state.
Only when the nation-state proved unfit to be the framework for the further growth of capitalist economy did the latent fight between state and society become openly a struggle for power.
During the imperialist period neither the state nor the bourgeoisie won a decisive victory. National institutions resisted throughout the brutality and megalomania of imperialist aspirations, and bourgeois attempts to use the state and its instruments of violence for its own economic purposes [i.e. imperialism] were always only half successful.
Then the German bourgeoisie staked everything on the Hitler movement and aspired to rule with the help of the mob, but then it turned out to be too late. The bourgeoisie succeeded in destroying the nation-state but won a Pyrrhic victory; the mob proved quite capable of taking care of politics by itself and liquidated the bourgeoisie along with all other classes and institutions.
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Monday, 13 August 2012
are already exerting an influence on the social structure in the home countries of so radical a kind as to constitute a political landmark of no small importance. I refer to the disintegrating effect of recent economic effects on the various middle strata of the metropolitan economy. The economic position of these strata has many links, direct and indirect, with the colonial system; and with any shrinkage of colonial super-profit this position, becomes immediately insecure. But it is also to a large extent these strata who are adversely affected by the new stage of intensified monopolistic development in the home country, in particular by the increasing emphasis on the purely restrictive aspect of this development, such as economic nationalism and the paralysis of foreign trade, price control by cartels and restriction-schemes, which are apt to bear with special heaviness on the small producer as well as the consumer. That the increasing radicalisation of the this so-called ‘middle class’, which we are witnessing today, and their willingness to align themselves (for the first time since 1848) with the proletariat in an organized ‘people’s front’ of ‘the left’ is connected with a fundamental modification of their economic position in contemporary society, is a suggestion to which too little attention has been paid.
It's an interesting, if tortured attempt to explain a volte face whilst saving the phenomena.
Sunday, 12 August 2012
"Even a liberal such as Max Weber was compelled to admit that there was little similarity between the small scale competitive capitalism of the classical bourgeois period, and the cartellized, bureaucratized systems of production and labour control of his own day, at least in respect of their implications for political freedom. 'It is ridiculous in the extreme', he wrote in his 1905 study of the prospects for bourgeois democracy in Russia, 'to ascribe to modern advanced capitalism …any affinity with “democracy” or even “freedom” (in any sense of the word). All the forms of development are excluded which in the West put the strong economic interests of the possessing classes in the service of the movement for bourgeois liberty.'"
Saturday, 11 August 2012
Way to spot loyalty, Charles!
(Serious point: this war split the nobility. It also split the merchants etc. It wasn't a stand-off between a bourgeoisie one side, aristocracy the other).
Friday, 10 August 2012
I've got a chapter in the book. It's called ''Just another country?': the Irish question in the Thatcher years'. Have a gander at this excerpt to whet your appetite:
On 15 November, 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by Margaret Thatcher and [Irish Premier] Garret Fitzgerald at Hillsborough Castle, County Down. Thatcher cut an impressive figure. Fitzgerald was carefully spoken, but nowhere near as ‘authoritative and clear spoken’ as his counterpart, an Irish minister admitted: ‘Thatcher is undoubtedly the sharpest thing out, she looked very well (how can she be 60!), quite feminine, but totally in control and totally on the ball.’ This belied the Irish negotiating triumph, however …
Thursday, 9 August 2012
A lot of time is spent arguing that the orthodox-Trotskyist desciption of the USSR - as a "degenerated workers' state" (and its command economy off-spring as 'deformed workers' states') - is incoherent. This is entirely fair no doubt, if of limited significance outside Trotskyist debates. (It seems that we should designate Soviet Union a "degenerated workers state" up to 1928, so there appears to be not so much of a theoretical principle at stake (450))
Whether it's at all useful to consider, as did Tony Cliff, the communist command economies as 'state capitalist' is another matter. Davidson seems to accept the Brenner definition of capitalism as involving a process of competitive accumulation that forces both owners of capital and direct producers to continually drive up productivity (400). This definition appears almost entirely inapplicable to communist command economies. I can't see much use in defining such regimes, even though certainly committed to developmental industrialisation, as capitalist in any form, still less products of bourgeois revolution.
The theory of bourgeois revolution is not … about the origins and development of capitalism as a socioeconomic system but the removal of backward looking threats to its continued existence and the overthrow of restrictions to its further development. The source of these threats and restrictions has, historically, been the pre-capitalist state, whether estates-monarchy, absolutist, or tributary in nature ... .
In no bourgeois revolution did the revolutionaries ever seek to rally popular forces by proclaiming their intention to establish a new form of exploitative society … but did so by variously raising demands for religious freedom, representative democracy, national independence, and, ultimately, socialist reconstruction ... (510)
Wednesday, 8 August 2012
Benjamin Disraeli had famously characterised Tory government as 'organized hypocrisy', for the very demands of governance must inevitably pull the party from its true function: voicing scepticism in the face of all attempts at 'improvement', championing conservation of traditional ways hallowed by age and usage. But, in fact, Disraeli didn't much enjoy the calculated obduracy of the Tory squires, and he set himself the task of making the Tories once more the 'natural party of government'. They became so by the 1880s, and held on to that role for most of the twentieth century.
The 90 Tory MPs who opposed House of Lords reform seemed pretty indifferent to the near inevitability of Clegg's revenge. But the price of their rebellion, failure to reform constituency boundaries, substantially decreases the chance of a Tory government from 2015. Is Opposition a price worth paying for delaying Lords reform for a few years? Are these backbenchers consciously attracted to the old Tory tradition of opposition for opposition's sake?
Tuesday, 7 August 2012
Stalin was different from Hitler not least because he could come to realise that he was mistaken. Hitler always thought that he knew more than his professional military men. Now, he had some cause: his generals were unhappy about his insistence on invading western Europe in 1940, but the amazing success of German arms (and the terrible failure of French and British) unfortunately vindicated him. Most specialists also believe that Hitler was correct in demanding that the Wehrmacht sit out the Winter of 1941, after the failure to take Moscow. A strategic retreat, as advised by the generals, would probably have turned into a flight and rout.
Hitler's mistake was in becoming convinced that he was infallible. He ignored his generals' advice to pull-back in the east and consolidate behind defensible lines. After the war, Goring thought this had been the Fuhrer's greatest mistake. Instead he insisted that the German Army defend all its conquests, and the Red Army was able to batter the over-extended Germans into pieces. During the last days in the bunker, Hitler blamed his generals for Germany's downfall, rather than himself.
Stalin's trajectory went the other way. His insistence that the Red Army never retreat in the face of the Barbarossa offensive was disastrous, allowing huge numbers of soldiers to be kettled and shipped off to camps (and usually death). As time went on, he showed an impressive ability to learn and master technical and strategic military detail. Compared to the other war leaders - Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt - he probably had the best military mind. More importantly, however, he realised that no matter how competent he might become, he was an amateur, and war-making needed to be left to the professionals. Morbidly suspicious, as he was, and unspeakable cruel to those who crossed him, Stalin nonetheless came to understand that men like Zhukov should be able to contradict him, and to ultimately prevail in debate. Zhukov was able to develop a more flexible and realistic military doctrine, and somehow the enormous disasters of the first stages of the war in the east were overcome.
I'm much looking forward to reading Roberts' new book.
Monday, 6 August 2012
Sunday, 5 August 2012
[Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear (London: Quartet Books, 1952, 1990), p. 142. ]
Saturday, 4 August 2012
Laswell noted the commonalities of the dictatorships in Italy, Germany, and Russia. They were all three boldly anti-liberal, and favoured a good deal of state direction of the economy. Laswell concluded that they should be understood by a common species of 'elites analysis'. They formed the extreme edge of a wider movement, apparent also in tendencies towards 'planning' in capitalist democracies (Roosevelt's New Deal etc). There was, since 1914, a socialistic-authoritarian drift. He wrote,
"Who gains by the centralized dictatorship which is in transition towards a socialist state? The answer appears to be the skilled, those who sacrifice to acquire technique. … This suggests that the socialist ideal is, in fact, the ideal of the lesser bourgeoisie, springing from resentment at the capitalistic distortion of the relationship between reward and sacrifice exhibited in the rise of plutocracy."
[Harold D. Lasswell, World Politics and Personal Insecurity (New York: The Free Press, 1935, 1965), pp. 202-3.]
Certainly fascism fumed and raged against the indolent rentier bourgeoisie, whilst lauding heroic self-made men as natural managers and leaders of workers. Communism was a bit more complex: the managerial specialists were relatively privileged in material terms, but they were also mistrusted by the regime as essentially disloyal, class enemies in formation. Not infrequently, this mistrust of the intelligentsia turned to persecution.
Communist leaders really preferred an industrial working class as the surest base to such consensus as they were ever able to muster. Working class interests, thus, were carefully balanced with inducements for managers and technical experts. Elite specialists didn't enjoy anything like the same income increments over unskilled workers as they did in capitalist economies.
It's quite plausible that the 'progressive movement' more generally has found sustenance in an alliance of worker and 'lesser bourgeoisie' against the 'plutocracy'. Gerard Duménil and Dominique Lévy have argued that just such an alliance backed up the full-employment / welfare consensus between World War II and c. 1973. In the 1970s, they argue, there was a shift of professionals away from organized labour to the side of the super-rich, leading to marginalization of organized labour, and a rise in inequality. This alliance, they go on, may in turn be breaking up in the fall-out of the Great Recession. Well, we'll see.
Friday, 3 August 2012
It looks quite dark on screen. I think the hard copy will be a bit brighter.
Thursday, 2 August 2012
Eleanor [Marx] ... told me also that her father hardly ever spoke about religion; neither for nor against. Her mother and elder sister attended sometimes Mr. Bradlaugh’s [atheist] Sunday services, but father dissuaded them from doing so. He told mother if she wanted edification or satisfaction of her metaphysical needs she should find them in the Jewish prophets rather than in Mr. Bradlaugh’s shallow reasoning.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. ... The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Wednesday, 1 August 2012
The answer is provided by the membership list of the lower house of the legislature, in France as well as in Italy, in Germany as well as in Prussia. In the first place ahead of everyone else are those who have acquired a higher academic education by attending a secondary school and a university, but who have remained virtually strangers to the actual realities of life, in other words, men of abstract education which is instructive about everything and nothing. … the judical officials, the administrative officials, to a considerable extent the clergy, the physicians, the scholars, the teachers, at the higher level, the lawyers, and similar people. … [those] who have acquired a modern scholarly education, and whose spiritual sensitivity has been diminished to the extent that their intellect has been trained, in other words, the engineers, the higher technicians, the men of letters, especially the Reformed Jews of the press, and others of that sort.