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

Wee Break

I'll be bouncing hither and yon until the end of the month, so there'll not be much here until then.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hang Him Again!

Further on my last post, a letter to the same edition of the Literary Review:
Dear Sir,

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

... Some Ivory, Some Leather.

Letters sent to the Literary Review are often something to behold. This one in particular deserves notice. It's about W. T. Stead, the great muckraking newspaper man and scourge of sexual depravity, who died on the Titanic:
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

The Left and Anti-Imperialism

Here's Frederick Engels, in a 1882 letter to Karl Kautsky, being rather ambiguous about 'de-colonisation':
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]
[I owe this quote to Neil Davidson's, How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (2012), p. 177.]
In practise, socialist parties of the Second International really only had a negative programme. They condemned  colonisation, but they didn't positively have much faith in 'native self-determination'. Modern constitutionalism, still less democracy, just didn't seem plausible in the backward, still 'semi-civilised' world.

When the empires did finally disintegrate, from the late 1940 to the 1960s, imperial rule very often did indeed give way to tyranny rather than constitutionalism. How did the Left deal with this unwelcome outcome?

The old veteran anti-imperialist Labour MP, Fenner Brockway, in the early 1970s, discussed the view that decolonisation had been too precipitous, and so had rarely led to stable constitutional government. In the end, he returned to “the moral and philosophical view … that no people has the right to rule another people, with [the] logical consequence that even bad self-government is better than good imposed government.”

[Fenner Brockway, The Colonial Revolution (London: Hart-Davis, 1973), pp. 575 – 6.]

That's probably still the view of most of the Left, and indeed of western society in general. With added Leninism, and by believing in something called 'neo-colonialism', it leads to pretty strange conclusions. In the view of John Rees, the Left should support any son-of-a-bitch, just so long as he's not a pro-American son-of-a-bitch:
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]
[John Rees, Imperialism and Resistance (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 231.]


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Ayn Rand's Superiority Complex

I barely mention Ayn Rand in my book. She's relegated, I'm afraid, to half a footnote, which reads: "Ayn Rand, influential on the American libertarian right, thought that the welfare-state - preserving private property in production but directing its use - was essentially ‘fascist’. Ayn Rand, ‘The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus’ [1965] in her Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York, 1966), 237."

This struck me as interesting. The 1960s New Left was often criticized for chucking hysterical accusation of fascism hither and thither. Rand's essay made the point, which I write about more in the main text, that both New Left and New Right shared a common sense of often fevered insurrection against the establishment (this isn't an argument at all unique to me, of course).

Rand appeals to certain teenagers, I thought, and hardly deserves much attention in a book ranging over 250 years. Besides, I wasn't keen to grapple with tomes such as her 'philosophical novels', Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead.

Now that the Republicans have adopted Paul Ryan - a Rand enthusiast - as Veep candidate, I rather wish I'd made more of her. In his excellent essay on Rand, Corey Robin quotes Ludwig von Mises (a much more serious thinker, of course) writing to her:

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.

[In Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (Oxford: OUP, 2011), 91].

That's a great quote: I wish now that I'd pinched it for my book! It nicely captures what Rand-ism distilled. It's a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the 'bourgeois ideology' of 'career open to talents'. As inequality is naturally based, there are no a priori moral limits on its extent (except, perhaps, some kind of utilitarian calculus).

Robin's essay makes the point that Rand's viewpoint also has something in common with the "drill march of fascism" (87). Now, this is not to say that Rand was fascist, or quasi-fascist. The point is simply that fascism championed that part of bourgeois ideology that embraced natural inequality and gave true leaders unrestricted prerogative. In my book, I make a somewhat similar point: fascism didn't reject bourgeois ideology so much as demand that its defence of the 'right to manage' be extended massively. The ethic of natural inequality should burst out from the factory to transform society and state. (Just now, Robin and Chris Bertram are involved in writing interesting stuff on the extraordinary prerogatives being claimed by managers over employees;  rights to domineer that would be seen as incompatible with democracy if they were accepted as transferable to general citizenship).

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

Hannah Arendt on Bourgeois Society

Hannah Arendt is well known for her views on totalitarianism, which she associated with the development of atomised ‘mass society’, and the break down of the components of civil society: the nation, classes, political parties. She argued that while French and British imperialism was exteriorised, pan-Slavism and pan-Germanism exploited ‘surplus’ peoples in service of surplus capital. “The ultimate horror was achieved when leaders from the mob or the déclassé masses without real, concrete class interest mobilised their followers on the basis of extravagant, totalitarian ideologies.”

Generally, Arendt is seen as anti-Marxist. In reflecting in the 1940s on the trajectory of the bourgeoisie since the mid-nineteenth-century, however, we can see that she was steeped in Marxist-inflected debate. First, the bourgeoisie does not seek to monopolise the executive-state:

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.

However, she thought that the 'Imperialist era' (from about 1880) began to change this:
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.
Arendt argued that imperialism was an expression of capitalist economic interests straining at the bounds of the nations state

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 fateful moment:
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.
 It's exaggerated, but there a definite truth in here, I think.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Finance and the Decline of the West

Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West (1918), published just after World War One in Germany, was a massive hit internationally at the time. In it, Spengler attempted a kind of universal history of civilisations. It had a big influence on Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History (1934-61), which attempted a similar kind of universal schematic history, shorn of Germanic quasi-mysticism.

What did Spengler predict for the future? He argued that capitalism – “the economy of the machine-industry” as he called it  – had empowered  the worker, the engineer and the entrepreneur. Over-arching all three classes, however, was the malign controlling influence of finance, “the banks … [and] the bourses [stock exchanges]", which had grown up parasitically on "the credit needs of an industry grown ever more enormous.” Parliamentary democracy, which was particularly susceptible to manipulation by conniving banks and the imperious demands of the bond markets, was the natural form of the dictatorship of finance-capital. (Lenin said something similar).

This “dictature of money”, he prophesied, must inevitably be challenged by the will of the people. The masses could not organise themselves, however. They must need be led by a vanguard of engineers (by which he meant, roughly, the managerial and artisanal middle-class). They would save civilization in this epic conflict between “blood and money”.

In due course, Spengler was confident that the “master-will” of the people's leaders would triumph over the “plunderer-will”.  A natural elite would re-make society by uniting the popular will with unfettered executive government: “The coming of Caesarism breaks the dictature of money and its political weapon democracy.”

Spengler was obviously looking back to  Caesarian heroes such as Napoleon and Bismarck. He also, of course, anticipated fascism.

Parliamentary democracy as the handmaiden of big finance is hardly a fantasic conspiracy theory in our time. It's an ominous thought that, suitably modified, Spengler's arguments could well appeal to sections of both radical left and radical right today

[Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: Perspectives of World-History, vol. II, trans. Charles Franis Atkinson (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1922), p. 504 – 6.]

Monday, 13 August 2012

Maurice Dobb on Popular Frontism

Here's British Communist intellectual Maurice Dobb in 1937 explaining the turn to the Popular Front (an alliance of the left with bourgeois parties in opposition to fascism). Popular Frontism, on the face of it, was in direct contradiction to the Leninist dictum that in advanced capitalist ('imperialist') countries, the bourgeoisie had become entirely reactionary. Dobb argued that this new turn was justified by the exacerabation of just those tendencies identified by Lenin. The bourgeoisie, bound to the imperialist state, had lost its drive towards liberalism inherent in the days of competitive capitalism (as Max Weber had also argued). The further development of aggressive protectionism and imperialism,

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.

[Maurice Dobb, Political Economy and Capitalism: Some Essays in Economic Tradition (London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1937), pp. 263-4.]

It's an interesting, if tortured attempt to explain a volte face whilst saving the phenomena.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Corporate Capitalism and the Origins of Communism

From about 1870, many on the Left began to worry that a new corporate capitalism was undermining the long-assumed association between liberty and bourgeois civil society. Here's David Beetham, from a very interesting article:

"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.'"

[David Beetham, 'Civil Society: Market Economy and Democratic Polity' in Civil Society in Democratization, ed. Peter Burnell and Peter Calvert (London: Frank Cass, 2003), 79]

It was partly this apparent de-coupling of capitalism and liberty that eventually led radicals like Lenin to disavow the traditional socialist policies of supporting the bourgeoisie insofar as it struggles with reaction, or of seeking power through - rather than against - parliamentarianism.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

With Friends like these ...

In 1642, when civil war finally erupted between Monarch and Parliament in England, only twelve of the King’s Privy Council of 1640 sided with the King, while six sided with Parliament, and six remained neutral.

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

Thatcher: 'Quite Feminine, but Totally in Control'

Now in the shops, a new book about Margaret Thatcher, written by historians. The impressive roster of contributers include Ben Jackson, Robert Saunders, Jim Tomlinson, Matthew Grimley, Camilla Schofield, Laura Beers, Jon Lawrence, Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, David Howell, Richard Finlay, Richard Vinen, Andrew Gamble, Stephen Howe, Peter Sloman.

 It's called Making Thatcher's Britain. Here is its colourful cover-pic:

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 …

None of the chapters are too long, and there's lots of good things to read. So rush off and buy it!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions?

Well, I've finished the second recent book other than mine with 'bourgeois' in the title (the other is by Jerrold Seigel). I'm talking about Neil Davidson's massive tome, How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions. This must come in at about 300,000 words, so it's no small read (this makes the price it's being sold at all the more impressive. You get a lot of value for your pounds!)

The length is partly explained by Davidson generosity in quoting his large cast of writers quite so exhaustively, sometimes rather exhaustingly. It's true, also, that there are also a good number of excurses that seem pretty tangential to the main theme. One can find, for example, a long digression on Walter Benjamin, which serves to establish the rather startling claim that we can only hope to truly understand the events of history after the “socialist revolution”. (328) Trotsky's theory of 'Uneven and combined development' is lengthily discussed as befits the most "important discovery in C20th Marxism". (286) There's also a lot of returns to the post Jacobite 'revolution from above' in Scotland. These, of course, are especially welcome, as deriving from Davidson's research specialism.

[I'll forgive his claiming James Connolly as a Scot (182), though Connolly's ghost might disagree: "The socialists will never understand why I am here; they will all forget that I am an Irishman".]

As one can tell, this is a book from a politically committed stand-point. Davidson deprecates the “false impartiality and narrow specialization” of academic life. (277) - though he does have time for some “conservative materialist historians” (464), particularly Norman Stone. He chides historians for refusing to draw enlightenment from Lenin's polemical Two Tactics (338). The author implies that he shares, with Marx and Engels, an epistemologically privileged position: because they adopted the standpoint of the proletariat, they understood the bourgeoisie better than the bourgeoisie understood themselves. (125)

More particularly, this book comes from a Leninist perspective, so that poor old Kautsky, as is usual, finds himself roughly handled (220, 237). (Indeed, really quite unfairly - an accusation of dishonestly levelled against Kautsky by Radek, and retailed here, is baseless as far as I can see from Davidson's own copious evidence). Right-thinking Marxists have only “revulsion” for Second International determinism. (521) The Leninist revolutionary party was a great innovation and as necessary now as ever (223, 504, 629). Not least of Stalin's crimes was to adopt the position of the Second International and Menshevism (249).
More particularly again, Davidson identifies with the Trotskyist position. Thus, Popular Frontism was “entirely reactionary” (434).  A rather unexceptional version of Marxist thinking on the 'bourgeois revolution' is summarily dismissed as absurd because of its Stalinist provenance. (254-55) Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution gets an extremely thorough, adept, and fascinating treatment.

Most particularly of all, Davidson defends - and spends a considerable amount of effort defending - the political positions associated with the tradition of Tony Cliff's SWP. We can see this in some SWP tics - references to theoretical 'stick-bending', for example, or quoting Shakespeare on the 'flood-tide of human affairs' as a warrant for emancipatory catastrophism (174, 283-4).

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.

Amidst all of those considerations, and other often brilliant discussions of such themes as Scottish Enlightenment, 'revisionism', the Brenner Debate, and so on, Davidson's actual definition of the 'bourgeois revolution' is rather obscured. He does state it on page 420:

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 ... .

Broadly speaking, Davidson is a 'consequentialist': revolution need only promote capitalism in the future to be classified as 'bourgeois'. It does not require bourgeois leadership. The political programme of any bourgeois revolution is almost by the way. When revolutionaries talked of
“religious or constitutional liberties” this was only a kind of "false consciousness". (565, 619). In 1640s England, 1790s France, 1860s United States, etc., "leaders, consciously or unconsciously, had to mobilize the masses under ultimately deceptive slogans of universal right" because otherwise workers, peasants etc. would fail to stir themselves simply to swap old feudal oppression for new capitalist exploitation (145):

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)

This last reference to 'socialist reconstruction' is because Davidson sees all communist seizures of power (except Russia 1917) as instances of bourgeois revolution. The last bourgeois revolutions, therefore, were in 1973-5: the Communist coup in Ethiopia, US defeat in Indochina, and decolonisation of the Portuguese Empire. (621)

What's my overall view? I'm extremely impressed by the sheer learning packed into this book, and the sophistication of its argumentation. I've learnt a huge amount from it. It maintains a focused and engaging prose style throughout. It really is an impressive piece of work. I wish I'd read it before I'd finished my own book. My own views, however, are quite different, and remain so. But I've gone on too long, so will only recommend here that you read for yourself.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Tories: Natural Party of Government, or of Opposition?

When the bulk of the Tory Party repudiated Robert Peel in 1846, most of the party's talented leadership went with him. The Tories settled - rather contentedly - into being the 'stupid party', not interested in developing policy innovations as much as doggedly holding-up and moderating  the course of change. This, many Tories felt, could be done as well, in fact better, from the Opposition benches. In government, promoting reform is unavoidable. From Opposition, change can be obstructed and controlled.

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

New Book by Geoffrey Roberts

I'm very pleased to see that Geoffrey Roberts has a new book out on Marshal Zhukov, and not only because Prof. Roberts is based at University College Cork. His last book, Stalin's Wars, was a cracking read, and impressively balanced. As one might guess, Stalin comes across as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, but also as a Great Power leader with real 'virtues' (if that's the word), not least an unexpected ability to learn.

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

James Burnham on the Hope for Democracy

James Burnham, a former Totskyist who ended up as a anti-Comunist Cold Warrior, in 1941 wote a book called The Managerial Revolution. Here he argued that the owners of capital were being replaced as the 'ruling class' by the organisers of capital accumulation: the managers. Fascism, Communism, and 'organized capitalism' were all on the same route of travel. Burnham's book was widely noticed at the time, and allegedly had an influence on Orwell's 1984.

Interestingly, Burnham compared the position of managers in the mid-twentieth-century to that of the bourgeoisie in the sixteenth-century. In the sixteenth-century there had been a “triple battle” of capitalists against the feudal lords and the masses. In the twentieth-century, it was now managers seeking to smash the hold of capitalists on the instruments of production, and to curb and co-opt the masses. In both epochs, the medium term result was a balance of forces that tended to create the circumstances favourable to state-dictatorships rising above the contending forces.

As the sixteenth century balance produced absolutism, so the twentieth century stalemate generated totalitarianism. Just as liberal constitutionalism eventually emerged from the triumph of capitalism in the nineteenth century, however, a completed managerial revolution would eventually generate democracy. This was the cheerfully optimistic conclusion absent in Orwell. In 1984, if there was any hope - and there wasn't much - it lay only with the proles.

[James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution (London: Penguin, 1941, 1945), pp. 142-3.]

Sunday, 5 August 2012

One Reason to Nationalize

AneurinBevan said that an important motive behind nationalizing industries was that it made taxation of incomes that much easier. Payments could be deducted at source, rather than levied upon earnings of small businesses. Nationalization was a way to minimize tax evasion.

[Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear (London: Quartet Books, 1952, 1990), p. 142. ]

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Laswell and the Social Basis of the 'Socialist Ideal'

Harold Lasswell, a political scientist, used to be very well known, though I don't think one comes across his name much now. His 1935 book, World Politics and Personal Insecurity, sold in very large numbers. It's hardly weathered as well as E.H. Carr's legendary The Twenty Year Crisis, but at the time seemed to many to be of the same standard.

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

A Cheap Book, and its Cover

Amazon is now offering my book with no less than a 30 percent price reduction. This is all to the good, of course, though I do hope not to be the first author to have a book remaindered before it's even published!

Perhaps now is a good time to explain the image on the book cover. It's a detail from a painting by Franz Schams (1823–1883). Schams was an Austrian genre painter, whose stock in trade was this kind of thing:

Or there's this, 'A Moonlight serendade':

As you can see, it's all quite cutesey. The image I use for the cover is a detail from Schams' 'Students' Guard Room in the Aula of the Universiy of Vienna, 1848'. This is unusual for Schams: a pretty much contemporary painting of political affairs, and from a revolution to boot.

You can't see the whole oil-painting on-line I'm afraid (though there is a black and white reproduction in Eric Hobsbawm’s, Age ofRevolution (1962)). Some idea of the entire scene is apparent from Schams' preparatory cartoon:

I first came across the painting in the the Vienna History Museum a couple of years ago (I hadn't clocked the reproduction in Hobsbawm's book). A couple of things appealed to me about it. First, the young men depicted - armed students in insurgentVienna - are the very epitome of bourgeois revolutionary liberalism. They're wielding arms, chatting, reading nespapers, debating, and drinking. All good fun!

Artisans and workers were those who generally took to the barricades, rather than the middle class as such, though businessmen might well collude in the street fighting of their employees. Students, however, often established ‘academic legions’ to join the fighting, and they were particularly important - and radical - in Vienna

What I particularly liked about the painting was the detail in the background. Through an open door, we can see two older gentlemen walking by - perhaps they're businessmen. They're out in the street, amidst the  common people. An old women peers at them from a window, while a young buy is trying to sell them a (revolutionary?) publication. They walk beneath a revolutionary liberal tri-colour.

The taller of our two gentlemen is staring fixedly ahead, his face set grimly, while his friend glances at him with a knowing rise of the eyebrows.

This seems to capture the youthful revolutionary enthusiasm of the student bourgeoisie in the foreground, in the back ground an emergent and more tumultuous plebeian radicalism, and on the faces of our two gentlemen a growing distance from the revolution, and a concern about where it might all lead to. In all, I think it summarises the themes of my book nicely.

Here's the cover:

It looks quite dark on screen. I think the hard copy will be a bit brighter.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Marx: Don't Bother with the New Atheists, Read the Jewish Prophets!

Max Beer, historian and socialist activist, knew Eleanor Marx in London, where he lived for a time after 1894, and they often talked. She told him that her dead father, Karl, "took no interest in Jewish affairs and had no contact with the London Jewry." (Marx, of course, had plenty of the anti-Jewish prejudices of the time, even if he favoured their emancipation and deprecated anti-Semitism. Renewed plebeian Jewish immigration to London only really began in 1881, just a couple of years before Karl died: before that time, 'London Jewry' was a pretty bourgeois culture: impressive in itself, of course, but not Marx's natural kin).

Marx's indifference to the local Jewish community is as one might expect. However, there's a further interesting recollection about his attitude to Charles Bradlaugh, the atheist proselytiser of the age:

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.
[Max Beer, Fifty Years of International Socialism (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1935), pp. 73, 74.]

Marx in the 1840s, of course, had abandoned the Young Hegelian focus on critiquing religion as the necessary prerequisite to political modernization.  "The criticism of religion has been essentially completed", he wrote, and now one should seek to transform society so as to do away with the social basis of religious obscurantism:

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.

With the collapse of the transformative socialist project by the early 1990s, some Marxists made the return journey back to Young Hegelianism. If bourgeois society could not be challenged, religion could. In this 'New Atheism', no doubt, there was a good deal of sublimated revolutionary millenarianism. Still, it's hard not to agree with Marx that there's something a bit unsatisfying about anti-God polemic for its own sake.

Here's a picture of Max Beer. It would be great to see his memoirs re-published:

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Who Were the Bourgeoisie? A Reactionary Definition.

In the early 1860s there was a major constitutional struggle in Prussia, between parliamentary liberals and the Royal state executive, sometimes compared in its passion and import to the English Civil War. The conservative Berliner Revue thought that the liberal demand for government responsible to the elected assembly was an attempt by the bourgeoisie to subordinate the state to their interests. In 1860 it angrily asked the question: who are these upstart “new bourgeoisie” seeking to become the “new nobility”?
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.
[Source: Theodore S. Hamerow, The Birth of a New Europe: State and Society in the Nineteenth Century (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), pp. 187-8]

The baddies here are the over-educated without a real grasp on the realities of life. There's no mention at all of entrepreneurs in this definition. Of course, in more dispassionate analyses, 'capitalists' usually were categorised along with the bourgeoisie, though as a distinct section. The German language differentiated between Wirtschaftsbürgertum and Bildungsbürgertum – the former referring primarily to an economic category (those who lived off profits from investments or the ownership of capital), the latter to an educated and ‘free professional’ category (doctors, professors, bureaucrats etc). 

It's interesting here that the 'bourgeois' are what we now might call a 'meritocracy'. The disparaging reference to the Jews highlights that strata historically deprived of juridically advantaged estate status often led the way in a society re-configuring around marketable aptitudes rather than inherited privilege (as Mitt Romney has maladroitly but not entirely unreasonably pointed out). It's more or less the definition I use too, in the book, though without the Berliners Revue's reactionary fury, I trust.

One problem with 'meritocracy', however, is that it very easily segues into a smug, self-entitled oligarchy (as Chris Hayes argues).