Saturday, December 27, 2014

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's new book "World Order" [Part One]

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's World Order  [Part One]
Thomas Riggins

A good book review both gives the gist of the book and allows you to decide if the book is worth reading or not. This is just what Niall Ferguson's review of Henry Kissinger's new 432 page "magisterial meditation" on world politics, World Order does  ["K of the Castle"- TLS 11/28/2014].  I'll give you the gist of Ferguson's review and enough quotes from Kissinger's book for you to decide for yourselves.

Spoiler alert! In case you are unfamiliar with the politics of Henry Kissinger (Nixon's Secretary of State) I can almost sum up his views in one sentence: He never met a fascist he didn't like. 

Ferguson seems to be a big fan of Kissinger and before getting down to the business of reviewing his book gives us a rather long prologue condemning the foreign policy of President Obama, "no master strategist" who "has been responsible for a succession of foreign policy debacles." 

I have no brief for Obama's foreign policies; they are policies aimed at maintaining the world hegemony of US imperialism and the economic impoverishment and virtual slavery of billions of people, the goals of which are basically the same as Kissinger's, but I object to Ferguson's attempt to personally blame Obama for "failures" that are inherent in the very nature and ends of imperialist policies themselves-- policies he inherited from even worse "master strategists" then he, one of whom was Kissinger himself.

What "debacles" does Ferguson have in mind.  We will give Obama an "F" if Ferguson is right about this, or an "E" for Effort if Furguson doesn't know what he is talking about. These are subjective letter grades but I think they are closer to reality than Ferguson's "debacles" view. Here are five "debacles" according to Ferguson:

1. The "reset" with Russia. This really failed, contra Ferguson, because Obama followed the strategy, already in place, of  pushing NATO right up as far as possible to the Russian borders. The policy was one of keeping "set" American and NATO goals and for the Russians to "reset" their opposition to acceptance of US plans. E

2. The "pivot" from the Middle East to East Asia. This is actually still on going, Ferguson's complaint is premature, but delayed because Obama's predecessors so screwed up the Middle East that it will be almost impossible for any American president to unscrew it. E

3. His "incoherence" with respect to Egypt: supporting the revolution against an ally (Hosni Mubarak) ! [only after it was a  fait accompli], then the Muslim Brotherhood after it won elections [isn't that kosher?], then supporting  a "bloody military coup" [is this the first time we have done this?] and, Ferguson might add, support for the new military government (which won an election too). As a matter of fact it has been standard American policy to support Egypt as an "ally" whatever government it has as long it will "play ball" with us. Obama is no different than any other president. E

4. His refusal to back up his "red line" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. What is Ferguson talking about? Syria has turned over its chemical weapons. It is still unclear who all the actors are in chemical weapons use in Syria. Obama refused to start a military adventure vis a vis the "red line" because Congress and the American people were against it. E

5. His "hubris" in saying he doesn't "need George Kennan right now." Well Kissinger himself doubts that a George Kennan type of  strategy is applicable in all cases today. It's evidently only "hubris" ( "hubris" is not a "debacle" anyway) if Obama thinks that way. E

These examples are enough to see that Ferguson is just a mouth piece for the ultra right anti-Obama opposition to anything the first Black president of the US tries to do. Everyone of the above "failures" is based on the right wing Republican world view which Ferguson ultimately represents.

Ferguson goes on to say Obama’s “nadir” has been his “U-turn” reaction vis a vis Iraqi and Syria due to the rise of ISIS or IS, the Islamic State and its barbarism.  Isis is disgustingly "barbaric" but it is no more so than the US as the US's actions in Vietnam, Central America, and the Middle East, among other places, amply demonstrate. Ferguson says Obama has been forced to reengage in Iraq and is now bombing a Sunni force, the Islamic State, which was fighting against Bashir al-Assad whose government he has said should be overthrown. The attempt to overthrow Assad is probably a "debacle."

Why is that Obama’s “nadir?” It is the “nadir” of long standing American foreign policy going back over many years that has finally begun to unravel on Obama’s watch. He has to react as best he can to the problems resulting from the disastrous polices stretching back at least to the Reagan years (if not to the beginnings of the of the Cold War itself) with which he has been confronted. 

The real “nadir” was the George Bush administration’s illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq which upset the entire political equilibrium, such as it was,  in the Middle East and created a monstrous terrorist movement that had no real international traction until it was fueled by US imperialist hubris and the desire to control the oil resources of the area.

Ferguson accuses Obama of having no strategy for all this disorder. This is just like attacking the Fire Department for running hither and thither whenever a major fire breaks out due to arsonists running amok in the city. That may be the only strategy available until a way can be found to eliminate the arsonists. The arsonists that set the Middle East afire are still politically active in the US Senate and House of Representatives as well as in the board rooms of the military-industrial complex which makes billions of dollars in profits through wars and overseas US interventions.

Ferguson says that George W. Bush was blamed by the left for invading Iraq, but, unlike the hapless Obama, “at least Bush had a strategy.” Yes he did. It was invade, then introduce "democracy'', get rid of the evil doers, accept the love and appreciation of the people, then leave in triumph. His strategy was over on May 1, 2003 with his “Mission Accomplished” speech— about a month and a half after the invasion of Iraq. A strategy that led to complete and utter failure and a mission that 11 years later has no end in sight.  This is the strategy of "Do stupid stuff" the opposite of Obama's ("stuff" is a toned down version of the original sentiment).

Finally, after venting his spleen on Obama's policies [actually due to the failure of the Bush “strategy”] Ferguson turns to Kissinger’s book. But I have already exceeded my suggested word count so I will deal with this part of Ferguson’s review in my next installment. Stay tuned for Part Two.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Lenin: State and Revolution, Chapter 6: Vulgarisation of Marx by the Opportunists (Review, Part 1)

Thomas Riggins

 This chapter is a polemic against the "best known theoreticians of Marxism" namely Georgi Plekhanov (1856-1918) and  Karl Kautsky (1857-1938) who were the leading thinkers of the Second International (1888-1914). Basically it is against Kautsky  (13 pages)-- Plekhanov gets 1 page. Lenin thinks the collapse of the Second International was brought about by opportunism (abandoning the long term goals of the party for short term advantages) which was fostered by the evasion of discussion on the relation of the state to the social revolution and vice versa. This "evasion" has persisted to the present day. The well known A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second Edition) edited by Tom Bottomore, for example, has no entry on "opportunism" and does not even list it in the index. The entry on The State and Revolution does not even mention it.

The chapter is divided into three sections: a short one contra Plekhanov and two long ones dealing with Kautsky. This article will deal with the first two sections.

1. Plekhanov's Polemic Against the Anarchists

This section deals with Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov’s 1894 work Anarchism and Socialism.  Lenin says in this work Plekhanov doesn’t even mention the most important issue between these two ‘isms’ — namely the nature of the state and the revolution’s relations to it. The work has two parts: the first, or historical part, Lenin approves of because it has useful information for the history of ideas, especially regarding Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) and Max Stirner (1806-1856). The second, or “literary” part Lenin calls “philistine.” This part is a “clumsy” attempt to equate anarchists with “bandits.”

After the Paris Commune the anarchists had tried to claim that the commune and its history was a vindication of their views. Lenin of course rejects this claim and maintains that the true understanding of the meaning of the Commune is to be found in the writings of Marx and Engels, especially Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme.

Neither the Anarchists, nor Plekhanov in his polemic, have grasped the main issue presented by the history of the Paris Commune i.e., “must the old state machinery be shattered, and what shall be put in its place.”

By completely ignoring this issue Plekhanov, whether he knows it or not, has fallen into opportunism because opportunists want us to forget all about this question and not even discuss it all. It would seem that opportunism flourishes best where the working people are ignorant of Marxist theory and concentrate exclusively on short term goals and struggles.

2. Kautsky’s Polemic Against the Opportunists

Lenin says the most important German opportunist was Bernstein whom Kautsky criticized in his first foray against opportunism: Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm. Bernstein had charged Marxism with “Blanquism” [ Louis Auguste Blanqui, 1805-1881- advocated a coup by a small group who would then turn the government over to the people after they had instated socialism] in his great revisionist opus Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus. Bernstein particularly likes Marx’s conclusion (based on his study of the Paris Commune) that “the working class cannot lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it to its own purposes.” But he has his own interpretation of the meaning of Marx’s dictum which is exactly the opposite of what Marx intended.

Marx meant, according to Lenin (following Engels), that the working class had to destroy the bourgeois state and replace it with a working class state. Bernstein says it means that the working class should cool it after the revolution and try and reform the state rather than getting carried away and trying to smash it. “A crasser and uglier perversion of Marx’s ideas cannot be imagined,” Lenin says.

So, how did Kautsky deal with this crass opportunistic formulation in his critique of Bernstein?   He glosses over it. Kautsky writes: “The solution of the problem of the proletarian dictatorship we can safely leave to the future.” Lenin says the since opportunists want to defer to the future all talk about a working class revolution this is not a real critique of Bernstein but “ a concession to him.” 

Kautsky himself is thus an opportunist and, Lenin points out, as regards Marx’s understanding of how the workers should be educated with respect to a working class revolution and Kautsky’s understanding “there is an abyss.”

In 1902 Kautsky wrote a more mature work, The Social Revolution. Lenin says there is a lot of valuable information in this work but the author still evaded the vital question of the state. Again, Kautsky ends up giving de facto support to the opportunists because he writes about the possibility of the working class taking state power without abolishing the currently existing state. This view, which derives from The Communist Manifesto of 1848 Marx had declared “obsolete” in 1872.

Kautsky writes about democracy and that the working class will come to power and “realise the democratic programme” but he never mentions the lessons of the Paris Commune and the conclusions  Marx and Engels drew from them that bourgeois democracy had to be replaced by working class democracy.

Here is a quote from Kautsky: “It is obvious that we shall not attain power under the present order of things. Revolution itself presupposes a prolonged and far-reaching struggle which, as it proceeds, will change our present political and social 
structure.” While this is even too much for some present day “socialists” to stomach, Lenin thought it was as banal and obvious as “horses eat oats.” Lenin wanted this “far reaching struggle” spelled out so that working people would understand the difference between a working class revolution and the non working class revolutions of the past.

Kautsky wars against opportunism in words, Lenin says, but actually promotes it in the way he expresses himself. Here
is an example from The Social Revolution: “In a Socialist society there can exist side by side, the most varied forms of economic enterprises — bureaucratic trade union, trade union, co-operative, private…. There are, for instance, such enterprises that cannot do without a bureaucratic organization: such are the railways. Here democratic organisation might take the following form: the workers elect delegates, who form something in the nature of a parliament, and this parliament determines the conditions of work, and superintends the management of the bureaucratic apparatus. Other enterprises may be transferred to the labour unions, and still others may be organized on a co-operative basis.” Lenin says this quote is not only wrong headed but is a backward step from the ideas Marx and Engels elaborated in the 1870s as a result of their study of the Paris Commune. 

Of course modern industrial production in general, not just railroads, needs to be conducted under rigid work rules and regulation but after the workers come to power they won’t be organized on bureaucratic lines overseen by “something like” the old bourgeois parliaments. There will no bureaucrats as such. The workers will directly control their industries and delegates will be subject to instant recall, no one will earn more than ordinary workers, and the old state will be replaced by a new worker’s state where everyone will gain experience in administration and planning so that “bureaucrats” in the sense used by Kautsky will no longer exist. Kautsky has not paid attention to the words of Marx: “The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.”

Lenin next takes up Kautskys short work The Road to Power [ Der Weg zu Macht ]. Lenin thinks this is the best of Kautsky's writings against opportunism, yet it too is found wanting and for the same reason "it completely dodges the question of the state." It is this constant dodging that Lenin thinks weakened the German Social Democrats theoretically, led to the growth of opportunism, and ultimately to the great betrayal of socialist principles: the support of the German imperialists in the Great War.  These three short works of Kautsky came out in 1899, 1902, and 1909 respectively but it was not until 1912 that Kautsky's opportunism became explicitly expressed. We will deal with this in the next and (por fin) last installment of this review, Kautsky's polemic against Pannekoek.