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The Politics of Surrealism

Amanda Armstrong

Morning Star:
surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopian
By Michael Löwy
University of Texas Press, 2009, 174 pages,
44 line drawings. $55 hardcover.

IN THE FIRST notebook of his Grundrisse, composed in 1857, Marx predicted that the “romantic viewpoint” would “accompany [capitalism] as its legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end.”(1) He believed that romanticism, with its celebration of the richness — real or imagined — of pre-capitalist life, would remain a perennial reaction to the reification of social life under capitalism.

While some of Marx’s more famous predictions on overcoming of capitalism have not yet been fulfilled, as Michael Löwy shows in Morning Star, 20th-century history has vindicated Marx’s confidence in the durability of romanticism.

In the ten essays that make up Morning Star, first published here in English as part of the University of Texas Press Surrealist Revolution series, Löwy argues that the “romantic viewpoint” found its most fitting, and most insistently anti-capitalist, 20th-century guise in the transnational and multi-generational movement of Surrealism.

Three early chapters of this attractively designed book offer broad reflections on the political and philosophical entanglements of the movement, while later essays provide political biographies of an assortment of Francophone surrealists (Breton, Cahun, Bounoure, Saban), as well as a few of their more prominent interlocutors on the Left (Naville, Debord).

The final chapter attempts a comprehensive review of international surrealist activity post-1969, closing with a message to would-be 21st-century surrealists.

Löwy reminds us that we should not be indifferent to surrealism’s past —“Anything that cannot find a spark of hope in the past has no future” — even as he insists that, if it is to have a future, surrealism must remain radically open: “The old ways, the paved roads, and the beaten paths are in the hands of the enemy. New ways must be found — the wanderer makes the path.” (116)

As this closing exhortation makes apparent, Morning Star is a committed text, written by a participant in the movement it chronicles. This provides the book with a satisfying coherence, as Löwy’s constructive project enables him to glue together into a single, multilayered image what might otherwise appear to be unrelated historical and biographical vignettes.

At times, however, Löwy’s commitment seems to discourage him from raising thorny questions about the history and politics of the movement — questions that must be worked through if we are to find new paths to surrealism and socialism in the 21st century.

Romanticisms, Left and Right

That the broad tradition of romanticism has cross-cutting and mercurial political impulses is something of a commonplace observation in critical discourse, and one that Löwy reiterates in Morning Star. As he notes, the romantic banner has been carried by both left-wing utopians from Fourier to Bloch, as well as a menagerie of reactionary cultural nationalists — agitated men who could be found skimming their copy of Herder when they weren’t busy railing against suffragists and socialists.

While a few surrealists, most notably Dalí, wandered over to this conservative camp, the vast majority allied for most of their lives with Left movements (particularly Trotskyism and anarchism), and in their works heaped scorn on the reactionary romantic fetishes of family, race and nation. One of Löwy’s projects in Morning Star is the reconstruction and explanation of these relatively consistent political commitments.

He presents two arguments for how surrealists sidestepped the conservative strains of the romantic tradition. First, Breton et al. were highly selective when drawing inspiration from the past: while they were inspired by Gothic literature, alchemy, American Indian art forms, and the rebellious verses of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, any past cultural traditions that reeked of religious hierarchy or national chauvinism drew their ire.

Surrealists were searching the archive for art forms that would shatter, rather than confirm, imperial bourgeois culture — a culture in which traditional patriarchal and religious ideals were utilized in order to sanctify hyper-modern forms of social control.

Second, Löwy suggests that the influence of Marx, a critical inheritor of the Enlightenment, channeled surrealists’ romantic passions in socially emancipatory directions. As his historical chapters make clear — particularly on Pierre Naville’s The Revolution and the Intellectuals — surrealists have widely embraced the Marxian critique of capitalism and have consistently moved in the same circles as revolutionary socialists.

While these circles were often riven by polemics and personal animosities, including those between Naville and Breton, Löwy suggests that the severity of such clashes has been overstated by historians of the movement.(2) To demonstrate the point, Löwy reveals that Naville, shortly before his death in 1993, sent an enthusiastic letter to Breton's supporter Franklin Rosemont, of the Chicago Surrealists, expressing his hope that “your Surrealist movement will renew what we tried to do so long ago.” (62)

By taking up Marx’s critique of capitalist modernity, surrealists have generally been able to avoid some of the destructive political and aesthetic shortcuts that are characteristic of conservative romanticisms. While conservative romantics idealize the traces of earlier, hierarchical social formations in such a way as to put a human face on inhumane social conditions, surrealists seek to expose the cracked lineaments of contemporary systems of exploitation.

Walter Benjamin's Surrealism essay explains how these competing political aims manifest themselves at the level of aesthetic form:

“Here due weight must be given to the insight that in the Traité du style, Aragon’s last book, required a distinction between metaphor and image, a happy insight into questions of style that needs extending. Extension: nowhere do these two — metaphor and image — collide so drastically and so irreconcilably as in politics. For to organize pessimism means nothing other than to expel moral metaphor from politics and to discover in political action a sphere reserved one hundred per cent for images …. Only when in technology body and image so interpenetrate that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation,(3) and all the bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, has reality transcended itself to the extent demanded by the Communist Manifesto. For the moment, only the Surrealists have understood its present commands. They exchange, to a man, the play of human features for the face of an alarm clock that in each minute rings for sixty seconds.”(4)

Benjamin's somewhat enigmatic analysis here provides the scattered fragments of a political-aesthetic diagnosis of surrealism which would sharply differentiate this movement from conservative romantic traditions. While such traditions trade in “moral metaphor” and the “play of human features” — idealized human forms which are meant to serve as soothing allegories of the supposedly homogenous and unified social body — surrealists circulate what Benjamin elsewhere terms “dialectical images.”

Such images split the putrid air of our petrified world, rendering uncanny and untimely the dazzling spectacles and dancing commodities that everywhere captivate our senses.

Dialectical images perform this defamiliarizing and activity-generating (“innervating”) task in a variety of ways: by juxtaposing idealized forms with images of the violence required to produce and sustain these forms, by showing the aging of industrial wonders such as railroads in a way that reveals the historicity of the present, by transfiguring marks of capitalist drudgery into signs of revolution (i.e. Benjamin’s alarm clock), by tearing objects out of their conventional contexts in order to reveal their unexpected possible uses, and by offering hints of the marvelous freedoms that could materialize in a post-capitalist world.

The black-and-white images reproduced in Morning Star, many of them surrealist montages, are compelling examples.

A number of these montages, particularly those made by Albert Marencin, deform and render uncanny conventional images of women and/or bourgeois domesticity. In one image, the nude torso of a woman is superimposed over the scene of a shipwreck, while in another, a couple of Victorian women converse with birds in a room crammed with stately public buildings.

Undoing Gender: Claude Cahun

These montages open up questions about the gender and sexual politics of surrealism — questions that Löwy addresses, though somewhat indirectly, in his lengthy chapter on Claude Cahun. Cahun, whose works have recently been rediscovered by a cohort of younger queer and feminist artists, was a prominent early surrealist who worked, like Man Ray, in the medium of photography.

Her best known pieces are self-portraits, which scramble conventions of gender and expose the violence underpinning normative heterosexual relations. Even as these photographs have had an energizing effect on a new generation of radical artists, however, her written contributions to socialist and surrealist theory are at risk of falling into obscurity.

Löwy’s chapter on Cahun does an admirable job of outlining and contextualizing her theoretical essays, while also recounting Cahun and her life partner’s courageous and creative opposition to Nazi occupation.

In presenting Cahun’s theoretical work, Löwy focuses particularly on a polemical essay she wrote in 1934, entitled Les Paris sont ouverts (Bets Are On). In it, Cahun takes aim at the instrumentalization of art for ideological ends, directing most of her ire at Louis Aragon, who by this time had begun writing canned poems in celebration of the Soviet Union.

According to Cahun, ideological poetry invokes moral ideals and utilizes soothing formal devices such as predictable rhyming schemes in order to neutralize its readers, whereas emancipatory art brings social contradictions to the surface, and thus provokes its readers to critical reflection and action.

In providing examples of ideological art, she references state and corporate ad jingles, such as “Every elegant woman is a client of Le Printemps,” and “Your Fatherland is the USSR, one-sixth of the planet” — lines of patriarchal pseudopoetry that, like Aragon’s latest works, enable little more than “revolutionary masturbation.” (70)

Ironically, in distinguishing ideologically deformed art from authentically emancipatory works, Cahun echoed Benjamin’s aforementioned arguments about dialectical images, which were themselves inspired by Aragon’s pre-Stalinist works. Her essay supplemented Benjamin and the early Aragon’s arguments, though, as it added a psycho-sexual dimension to their more narrowly political and aesthetic reflections. It also broke new ground by aligning an emergent Stalinist culture with earlier, conservative forms of romanticism, thus setting in motion the surrealists’ decisive break with Stalinism.

Shortcomings on Sexuality

Cahun’s essays, when read alongside her self-portraits, issue a defiant surrealist response to sexual and gender oppression — a response that, unfortunately, was not always embraced by other participants in the movement. While Bets Are On was generally well received by Breton and his collaborators (in part because it explicitly criticized Aragon), Cahun’s gender nonconformity and queer sexuality met with a sometimes hostile reception, according to Löwy. (73)

Nor were the surrealist movement’s false steps around gender and sexuality simply confined to interpersonal settings; a number of surrealist images, for instance, depict women’s bodies in ways that are less than emancipatory. From Man Ray’s photographs, which, while sometimes raising critical questions about sexuality and violence, too often simply present women’s bodies as eroticized fetish objects, to a number of early surrealist montages, which convey “shock effects” via the depiction of dismembered female body parts — so many fishnet-clad legs and made-up faces — early surrealist images, particularly those produced by men, often confirmed normative heterosexuality rather than disrupting this formation.

Of course it would be possible to pass over this failure by ascribing it to a residual “influence of the times,” or to reorient the discussion by pointing out that surrealist women produced an extensive corpus of pre-second-wave feminist art, and in this way helped spark the 1960s international movement for women’s liberation.(5) While these are no doubt legitimate responses, it seems to me that we might still have something to learn by thinking through this particular failure.

One way that we might make sense of the use of dismembered female body parts in surrealist montages is to see these images as misguided attempts to shatter the symbolically charged figure of “the woman” — a figure regularly employed by imperialist myth-makers in the form of the “national woman” or “national mother.”

The mistake of the surrealist producers of these montages was twofold. First, they assumed that this figure was nothing more than a false image which could be overcome by literally being shattered, rather than seeing it as an oppressive ideal that daily molded women’s bodies and psyches and that could only be overcome through a sustained struggle to demonstrate that women were other than this oppressive ideal.

Second, they assumed that depictions of the death and dismemberment of women were unconventional and shocking, when in reality they were both an integral element of national allegories that treated women’s deaths as sublime acts of sacrifice, and potentially complicit in the naturalization of violence against women. In this way, images that might have appeared subversive actually bore within themselves a reactionary kernel.

Only through critical feminist reflection, performed in part by surrealist women, could this kernel be exposed and overcome. This is an important lesson for the present, since, as Jacques Rancière argues in The Future of the Image, artistic processes that may have been counter-hegemonic in the past have recently been recaptured by an emergent neoliberal cultural establishment.(6)

Rather than exposing social contradictions, montage today more often sacralizes our global commodity culture by suggesting that all people and objects partake in a seamless, universal system: the montage practiced in MTV studios as well as leading art galleries invites us to revel in the exchangeability of all things, rather than work to exchange our current social order for a less damaging world.

In the face of this challenge, much critical and historical reflection will be required if we want to reconstruct an emancipatory artistic and political practice in the 21st century. For those interested in taking on this task, Löwy's Morning Star is essential reading.

Notes

  1. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus (London: Penguin and New Left Review, 1993), 162.

  2. For a traditional interpretation of the Naville/Breton split, see Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 291.

  3. Innervation is a keyword Benjamin also employed in his famous essay on Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility. It means, more or less, the opposite of enervation. While many early 20th-century cultural critics thought that technology had an enervating effect on the masses, Benjamin saw the possibility for technology to be employed in ways that would stimulate revolutionary energies — a possibility that the surrealists also saw.

  4. Walter Benjamin, Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia, Trans. Edmond Jephcott (NLR I/108, March-April, 1978).

  5. For an extensive compilation of surrealist women’s theoretical and artistic compositions, see: Penelope Rosemont, Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (University of Texas, 1998).

  6. Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2007).

 Courtesy, ATC 143, November-December 2009

On Darwin's 200th Anniversary


Ansar Fayyazuddin

THE YEAR 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of his celebrated book On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin left an indelible mark on our understanding of the world we live in and our place in history.

Darwin is the subject of vast amounts of scholarly research, including much writing appearing in this anniversary year. Here I want to touch on a few aspects of Darwin’s life and work that I find interesting.

Darwin was born in 1809 into a wealthy family headed by his medical doctor father and his mother, the daughter of Josiah Wedgewood — the industrialist who made his fortune manufacturing fine china. Darwin’s mother died while he was still quite young. Charles’ father Robert, and grandfather Erasmus, were freethinkers, who rejected Christianity and, in the case of Erasmus, openly sought a materialist understanding of the natural world.

Indeed, Darwin’s grandfather believed in the interconnectedness and common origin of all species. In fact, the idea that species were related was an idea with some currency even before Charles Darwin made his contributions to the subject. The Linnaean taxonomy of the living world, in which the similarities of different living forms were used to classify them hierarchically as belonging to different kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genera and species was already in place.

The taxonomy posed — in retrospect at least — the question: if each species was created separately, as a literal reading of the Bible would imply, why were there structural similarities across species, genera, classes etc? Why was Linnaeus’ classification sensible?

While the interconnectedness and common origin of species, as a general idea, predates Darwin’s work by many years, what was lacking was a compelling mechanism for affecting the transformation of one species into another. Lamarckism was the one exception — it provided a way in which incremental changes could accumulate to give rise to the bigger differences that separated one species from another.

Lamarckism was based on the idea that physical changes accrued over the lifetime of an organism can be inherited by offspring. While I cannot dwell on this subject, I want to note that Darwin did not reject out of hand Lamarckian mechanisms in evolution, even in his later writings. (The genetic mechanism for evolutionary change wasn’t understood till much later.)

Careful Study, Brilliant Insight

Darwin presented a mechanism for accumulating incremental change based on a series of brilliant extrapolations from his own detailed factual knowledge of the natural world. Darwin’s reliance on knowledge acquired through careful study of nature distinguished him from the majority of his contemporary theorists of evolution, whose motivations were at times more ideological than scientific.

Darwin acquired this knowledge first as a boy and a young man avidly collecting beetles, an interest he shared with a burgeoning population of young naturalists who collected, sorted and displayed with pride the myriad varieties they had collected in the British outdoors. He went on to develop his knowledge of the natural world at Edinburgh and Cambridge.

At the end of his undergraduate years at Cambridge, Darwin had the great fortune of spending five years aboard the Beagle as a naturalist sailing all along the South American coast and further to the Galapagos Islands and Australia. Samples of animal and vegetable species, which he diligently collected and shipped back to England, ensured that on his return he was already a celebrated naturalist.

Later, in developing his theoretical ideas, Darwin undertook serious experimental work at home, breeding pigeons, conducting experiments on plants and, perhaps most importantly, enlisting the help of farmers and domestic animal breeders to learn about a subject that provided him the key metaphor for his work on the origin of species.

Darwin’s insight was based on a brilliant leap. He observed that within domesticated species there exist varieties. Dogs come in many varieties, commonly known as breeds, as do pigeons, cows and other domesticated species. Darwin connected the existence of varieties to the existence of species where in the latter, the differences are significantly greater than in the former. He made the point explicitly in the Origin:

“...varieties are species in the process of formation, or are, as I have called them incipient species.”

He went on to develop a parallel with the creation of varieties through selective breeding to the emergence of new species in nature. Selective breeding allows one to create specific varieties that would normally not exist if domestic animals were allowed to mate freely. If an analogous mechanism existed in nature to enhance particular qualities in the offspring through selective breeding, then that would explain the development of specific varieties at first that could then eventually develop enough to be called separate species. The differences further up the Linnaean hierarchy would simply be the extrapolation of this mechanism to create large enough differences.

The mechanism of selection that Darwin called “Natural Selection” was based on the differential ability of organisms to survive environmentally imposed constraints. These constraints could restrict the pool of a particular species to only those of its members with an enhanced ability to survive them. Breeding within the restricted pool, combined with random variation in the offspring, would then develop the variations that conferred advantages with respect to the environmental constraints.

Two competing yet complementary ideas informed the mechanism of selection — on the one hand, the heritability of traits; on the other, the random variation of traits in the offspring.

These necessary elements of Darwin’s mechanism verge on contradicting each other. The stability of species is based on offspring inheriting traits from their parents. Yet if offspring only inherited their parents’ traits, the transition from one species to another would not be possible. Thus random variations in traits must exist. These random variations would not accumulate in the absence of particular selective environmental pressures.

England in the first half of the 19th century was locked in a three-way struggle for class supremacy. The landed aristocracy with its increasingly precarious position in English society, the rising industrial bourgeoisie gathering economic and political strength, and the working class emerging with its first stirrings of class consciousness, fought for their interests in that particularly charged historical moment.

The Social Context

The overturning of the protectionist corn laws, in place to help the aristocracy against the capitalist market, and the brutal defeat of the workers’ Chartist movement,were significant moments marking the eventual victory of the English bourgeoisie. In front of everyone’s eyes, England was being transformed from an agrarian to an industrial society. History was not a cycle of birth and death but of change, and not random change but with a direction.

This is the world in which Charles Lyell, the geologist, and Darwin lived. Britain at that historical moment provided the metaphors of change, struggle and competition that informed that generation. The ideas of Thomas Malthus on natural constraints on humanity due to the incommensurate rates at which populations and the food supply increase, were popular and exerted a decisive influence on Darwin.

Lyell showed that mountains, oceans and all elements of the geological world are not static but changing. Small changes accumulate to transform one geological formation into another. And most importantly, that there is a history with a chronology that can be determined from observations today.

Darwin did the same for the living world. With the help of Lyell’s geology, he was able to propose the existence of a chronology of animal and plant life that could be recovered from fossils and the geological record.

Before Lyell and Darwin, the fixed laws of the physical sciences were their defining feature. When you perform an experiment in classical physics or chemistry, the outcome is independent of the starting time: that is, time is only relevant within the confines of a particular experiment and can be reset at will.

Darwin posed a serious challenge to this way of thinking about scientific knowledge. Two historical moments in natural history are not equivalent and the evolution's outcome cannot be predetermined. After all, natural selection relies on random variation and the particular “solution” to nature’s constraints is impossible to predict.

In addition, unlike physics and chemistry, where changing a few parameters are enough to adapt one situation to another similar one, the details of a given evolutionary natural history are central aspects of it, much like in ordinary history. The details and their causal relationships are the content of the scientific theory itself. Darwinian reasoning thus significantly expanded the scope of scientific inquiry.

The Origin and Today

The Origin of Species is a remarkable book. Unlike most classic works of science, Newton’s Principia for example, The Origin is relatively straightforward to comprehend. Even in relation to modern introductions to evolutionary theory, Darwin’s book stands out in its commitment to being understood. Darwin wrote no parallel book for the experts. The Origin was meant to serve both audiences. If there is a democratic purpose to science, if it is to make the world intelligible to ordinary people, then The Origin shows how one might achieve that purpose.

The democratic spirit evidenced in the stylistic simplicity of The Origin is also a central aspect of the content of Darwin’s theory. Evolutionary theory is not a “theory of progress.” A set of species that evolved later in time, for example, are not “superior” in any meaningful sense to their predecessors. Most evolutionary transformations are spurred by specific environmental challenges that do not change the level of complexity of the species or confer some absolute ahistorical and a-contextual advantage.

Nevertheless, both in popular depictions of evolution and in pseudoscientific racist theories, humans, and more specifically Northern Europeans, are often viewed as the endpoints of a linearly progressing evolutionary trajectory. Nothing could have been further from Darwin’s intent.

Darwin, at times at his peril, spoke out against rational justification of societal inequalities, particularly in the form of slavery, which he found completely abhorrent. Yet “scientific” metrics of ordering humanity into hierarchical schemes are constantly invented to give biological justification to the inequalities of society. These theories of race, gender, and class are based on a twisted sensibility that quite unjustifiably claim evolutionary theory as their basis.

Darin's influence permeates a far wider sphere than natural history itself. Although Darwin was not particularly mathematically inclined, central elements of his theory — variation and heritability — led to the first introduction of statistical thinking in the sciences and its rigorous foundation in mathematics. Statistical thinking is a mainstay not only of science, but of the way we often conceive problems of everyday life.

Nevertheless there are contested territories of the Darwinian legacy that often reflect the ideological commitments of the debate participants. These include the relative importance of natural selection and adaptation to other mechanisms of evolutionary change (random drift in populations, for instance), as well as the importance of non-genetic mechanism of inheritance.

Humans are not simply biological organisms; we live in societies that change our relationship to environmental pressures. Short-sighted people today, thanks to the social production of eyeglasses, are not subject to the unmediated consequences of their would-be handicap. More generally, culturally inherited knowledge impacts our ability to survive.

Darwin continues to excite debate, both among those who embrace his ideas and those who reject them. These debates are after all about what it means to be human and about our future.

Further Reading

I highly recommend reading The Origin of Species. While easy to understand, it may require a bit of persistence to wade through some of the more detailed explanations. But these details are of interest in their own right — a testament to the 20 years of thought that Darwin put into fleshing out his initial insight, and refuting his own doubts as well as those of his closest confidants.

Darwin’s Autobiography, written originally to provide a sketch of his life for his grandchildren, is a slender and very readable volume. In addition to an outline of his life, the book provides portraits of some major contemporary figures in British intellectual life, an account of Darwin’s loss of religious faith, his thoughts on the nature and acquisition of scientific knowledge, among other observations, making it an altogether delightful read.

Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (W.W. Norton and Company, 1994) is a tour-de-force biography putting Darwin’s life in the context of the larger unfolding of British history in that transformational political and intellectual period.

On evolutionary theory, I am fond of the treatment of evolution and creationism presented in Niles Eldredge’s book The Triumph of Evolution: and the failure of creationism (W.H. Freeman and Company, 2000), which is not only an excellent introduction to evolutionary theory, but is also a damning substantive debunking of “creation science” in its many guises.

ATC 143, November-December 2009

Darwinism and its discontents – why science can’t slay the dragon of superstition




John McAnulty reflects on Darwin’s anniversary year in a prequel to a longer study

14 November 2009

The anniversary year of the ‘On the Origin of Species’ has seen a renewed interest in Darwin and in the theory of evolution and many celebratory articles have been carried in socialist journals. Few go beyond celebration to look at the often strained relationship between Darwinism and Marxism or try to explain why, 200 years after the birth of Darwin and 150 years after the publication of the book establishing the theory of evolution, the majority of humans would still reject a rational explanation for their place in the world that has survived a century and a half of scientific study to emerge as the foundation of our understanding of biology.

Darwin's theory of the origin of species is one of the fundamental and pivotal theories of modern science. It presents a convincing mechanism for all the wide variety of living things, for their evolution over time, and for the interaction of living things and their environment that makes up modern ecology. Alongside its daughter science, genetics, it stands posed to massively increase our control over our own bodies, over disease and over the natural world in the coming century.

Yet it is in the 21st century that Darwinism has come under the greatest attack from the forces of religious fundamentalism and obscurantism.

The reason for this is quite simple. Darwinism goes well beyond its status as a scientific theory. By explaining the origin of species through a process of natural selection, Darwin removed the need for a god to fulfill the same function. In the film “Creation” the point is dramatically underscored when Darwin explains the theory to a friend who exclaims in delight (and to Darwin’s horror) “wonderful – you’ve killed God!” The award-winning film has not been distributed in America.

Although it is not widely understood to be the case, support for Darwinism contradicts Theism - the idea of a God personally involved in creation and the day-to-day running of the world, and restricts the faithful to Deism - the possibility of a God as a vague 'initial cause' Not only that, the theory of evolution situated humans inside the animal kingdom, subject to the same evolutionary pressures as other living things. Understanding ourselves became a task for reason and rationality, rather than an appeal to religious obscurantism.

For much of the 20th century Darwinism was seen in opposition to Marx, as a defender of order against the opponents of capitalism. Yet initially it was seen as a deadly threat to that order. These contradictory roles arose from the contradictory nature of capitalism itself.

Much of capitalist society rests on the application of rationality and science to production, to research and to the structure of society and the everyday working life of individuals. At the same time capitalist society is dedicated to the irrational aims of defending class rule and subordinating human needs to the profit motive.

These contradictions lead to a contradictory approach to the question of religion. On the one hand, application of rationality in the service of capital sweeps away all the pretences of social solidarity and of any obligation on the capitalist to treat the poor and oppressed as their brethren. On the other hand, religions teach the poor to respect a class structure endorsed by god and to look for happiness and the satisfaction of their needs in the afterlife rather than the here and now. The result is that capitalism tears down religion, and the background ethical issues that they distortedly express, only to support it as an abstract ideology. Religions themselves changed. Protestantism arose partly from the need to break out of the constants of feudal society, especially the ban on charging interest on loans, and partly to free the merchants from being forced to donate to charitable works.

Today US Christian fundamentalism preaches that riches are a result of god's favor, a message entirely opposite to the original biblical Christianity. The role of religious obscurantism is seen clearly in the North of Ireland, where imperialism depends on the darkest forms of religious fundamentalism to form the leadership of the local executive and panders to their religious bigotry and kow-tows to their rejection of science in relation to both evolution and climate change.

Initially the origin of species was seen as too dangerous a threat to religion to be allowed to stand. A sharp battle broke out between different factions of capitalism, with the most reactionary elements fighting to throw back science and impose biblical superstition.

The reactionaries were defeated and the victors immediately set about making Darwinism itself a reactionary ideology. The new social Darwinism drew on the authority of Darwin to argue that unrestrained capitalist exploitation and savage repression of the working class were the result of our biological make-up - that society, like nature, is 'red in tooth and claw'.

The rise of mass working class organizations made it much more difficult to advance these ideas, but they remain the staple diet of right-wing movements today and have been reborn in new currents that preach genetic determinism - the idea that social problems such as crime are the result of faulty genes.

The latest edition from this perspective is the theory of sociobiology - the idea that the prehistoric environment in some way uniquely fixed human character for all time.

Marxists reject these views. We believe that all human activity has a material foundation, but we reject utterly the view of mechanical materialism - that activity at one level of reality determines our behavior at another level.

The bestiality and massacre throughout our history are part of our biological capacity, just as the acts of solidarity and self-sacrifice are. Any explanation that claims that we are forced by our genes to murder and oppress others is nonsense. The oppression must be explained in its own terms, by the political ideology that drives it, the class aims expressed by the ideology and the underlying economic forces.

Marxists support a dialectical view of the world. Nothing is uniquely determined. If economic forces give rise to our political consciousness, it is then possible for our political consciousness to change economic reality.

The Marxist response to 'social Darwinism' is to argue that the laws used to explain one level of reality cannot be extended to another. The laws of Physics apply to living things, but they are of little use in explaining the development and behavior of living systems. In the same way the laws of Biology apply to society, but explaining social behavior in humans requires the sort of social and economic explanation offered by Marxism.

This sort of understanding enabled Marx to be amongst the first to welcome and support Darwinism and Marxism to be in the forefront in opposing social Darwinism. It was a political sophistication beyond the Stalinist gravediggers of the revolution.

They opposed social Darwinism by opposing the biological theory. Stalin's henchman, Lysenko, faked experiments 'proving' that animals evolved due to direct environmental pressure rather than genetic change. The result was that under Stalinism science degenerated into a dogma that persecuted individual scientists and distorted science to support a corrupt bureaucracy. This had disastrous outcomes for workers - dogma applied to agriculture meant inevitable crop failures.

The greater strength and self-confidence of capitalist society allowed for a wider level of individual freedom amongst scientists. That individual freedom did not mean that science was free. At one extreme there was the witch hunts and repression of the McCarthy era in America, designed to make sure that the scientists produced weapons of mass slaughter without expressing any concern about their use. At the other extreme was the social structure of science and academic life, holding scientists to narrow specialisms, advising caution about drawing political conclusions - all the forces that allowed capitalism to avoid the clear conclusions of climate research and environmental degradation.

Marxism claims to go beyond science. Because science is a social construct in the service of capitalism it will always be constrained by ideology that reflects the interests and worldview of capitalism. This is clearly the case in the ideas of social Darwinism and is even the case in discussions within science - 'the selfish gene' is an idea loaded down with social metaphor.

From a Marxist perspective the mechanism of adaptation is an extraordinary powerful one. Its power does not end with biological evolution. Adaptation may be the main mechanism organizing the basic neural elements of thought and identity and is clearly an important element in many aspects of our behavior as we unconsciously fit into different social milieus.

What an adaptive process cannot deal with is human intention. If humans were simply biological units personal consciousness would be superfluous and we would act as directed by selfish genes or on the basis of habit patterns grounded in our history as hunter-gatherers.

Adaptative mechanisms also lack direction. People often speak of evolutionary progress but a more realistic picture is of the 'tree of life'. Life constantly adapts and changes. All living organisms are the outcome of that process. All are equally adapted - the buttercup just as much as the human. Evolution does not ascend to humans or plan to produce humans. Biological evolution simply makes human society one possibility among many. Intentions, purposes, goals - they all come from humans themselves.

Marxists believe they can deal with these weaknesses by advancing the concept of dialectical materialism. Human consciousness and society rest upon a material base. These material conditions determine the way in which we think and out picture of the world but, because the relationship is dialectical, humans are not simply passive objects formed by the forces of production but active agents who can struggle to change the world and society they live in and, in the process of struggle, can burst the bounds of existing society to create a new one.

If consciousness determined being then a clear explanation of the theory of education and a greater level of education would be sufficient to see it established. If being determines consciousness without any restrictions then the slow decay of the capitalist mode of production would also mean a slow decline of scientific understanding and a descent into religious fundamentalism and barbarism.

Marx argued that once being determines consciousness it is possible for consciousness to determine being – that through struggle the working class could save humanity and establish a socialist society where the savagery of class struggle would be suppressed and rationality would rule over superstition. Then at last people could see clearly their relationship with the world of life in the long history of planet earth and the book “Origin of species” would finally come into its own.

The Fourth International in Mortal Danger


The Fourth International (United Secretariat as it is still often called) is the largest of the Trotskyist organisations in the world, and therefore its discussions and debates are often commented upon by organisations outside its fold as well. The following text is by the leadership body of OKDE. There are two organisations in Greece, both named OKDE. OKDE was the section of the Fourth International in Greece till a split resulted in a minority being recognised as the Section. The section is known as OKDE Spartakos (after its aper). The other rganisation is called OKDE, and its paper is Ergatiki Palli. For many years this organisation saw itself as a revolutionary organisation oriented to the Fourth International. As its article below argues, it has moved off in a different trajectory.

The 4th International in mortal danger

 

1. It is some years now that the 4th International is in a deep crisis which is growing worse and deepening day after day. The 15th World Congress (February 2003), with the change of the statutes that took place in it, was decisive and it determined, in great extend, the crisis of the 4th International and its course to disintegration. Today, it is a question whether it exists as an entity (a body), not to mention as a revolutionary organization, as its founders wanted it to be, as well as the tens of thousands of revolutionary militants who fought for its construction, under very difficult circumstances. A work which they considered being – and so it is – identical to the emancipation of the proletariat and the victory of the socialist revolution.

2. In the past, the 4th International went through many serious crises. However, none of them can be compared to the current one, as the majority of the leadership aims – probably consciously – at its disintegration (something that they confess, all the more openly) and its replacement by a New International. The problems that the 4th International is facing today are not only organizational, but deeply ideological and political ones. For some years now, perhaps since the middle ’80s and particularly since 1989-90, there is a steady and gradual abandonment of all the fundamental principles of revolutionary marxism and of the historic and programmatic gains of the 4th International. The changes in the statutes of the 4th International result from this ideological and political treason and they have been transforming the World Party of the Socialist Revolution into a “pluralistic” organization which fights for socialism. This course of mutation, that the 4th International is following, is in complete contradiction to the principles and tasks of revolutionary marxism, the deep crisis of the world capitalist system, the rising course of class struggles and the changes that are taking place inside the labor movement, as well as to the task of overthrowing the capitalist system and preparing the socialist revolution.

A course incompatible with the principles of marxism

3. The construction of the international organization (World Party of the Socialist Revolution) is a product of the socialist programme, which includes the goal of the World Socialist Society. This goal was served by the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd International, as well as, of course, by the establishment of the 4th International. For, socialism cannot be realized in a single country, without the world revolution, in the same way that a national revolutionary socialist party cannot be fully completed without being an active member of the world party of the socialist revolution. This by large theoretical principle (based, however, on the evolution of world economy and on the historic interests of the world proletariat) was confirmed in practice, initially by the degeneration of the Socialist Revolution of October and finally by the collapse of the so called “existing socialism”.

4. Today, more than ever before in history, the political and economic problems of world capitalism, its crises, its wars, the environmental destruction, have an international character. This has been understood, to a large extent, by the bourgeoisie as well. However, the solution to these problems - within the framework of the anarchic capitalist mode of production, whose goal is to make profit for the benefit of a small class of exploiters - results in poverty, hunger, wars, the strangulation of democratic rights and civil liberties, environmental destruction, even in the danger of having the human race disappeared.

5. On the other hand, with the level of development that the productive forces have reached, the objective circumstances for the organization of society, economy and production at a level extremely higher than the barbaric and ineffective capitalist organization, have grown more than mature. On world scale, there are all the preconditions needed for the socialist organization of society and the planned world production, which is directly connected to the broad needs of the masses and of humanity. However, this cannot happen automatically, not even by national revolutionary parties, or an international organization of federal/social-democratic character, whose members (militants, organizations and parties) have nothing in common and act as they wish. A common world programme, a common strategy and policy, as well as a common material force – which can only be the organization of revolutionary marxists, the World Revolutionary Party – is necessary.

A course incompatible with the deep crisis of the capitalist / imperialist system

6. The world capitalist system was unable to get out of its 35-year-old crisis, despite the stirring events of the two previous decades: the great retreat of the labor, revolutionary and anti-imperialist movement, especially after the collapse of the countries of the so called “existing socialism”; the disintegration of Stalinism; the ideological and political mutation of social-democracy into a bourgeois neo-liberal current, almost throughout the world; the transformation of a big part of trade union bureaucracy into bourgeois; the reunification of world economy - if not of the entire capitalist system; the potential of imposing and implementing, almost completely, strategic choices and general solutions to the system as a whole; the suffocating control over the policies and the market, through neo-liberalism and the imperialist organizations (W.T.O., I.M.F., World Bank, monopoly of credit). And – perhaps the most important of all – the psychological shock and the shock of consciousness that the masses suffered by the collapse of the “existing socialism” and, partly, by the mutation of social-democracy. All these have created to the broad popular masses the impression that the capitalist system is superior, or, even worse, that any pursuit of alternative solutions out of the capitalist system is dead.

7. Despite this extremely favorable environment, which the world capitalist/ imperialist system has functioned in, the result has been the worsening of its crisis as well as of the crisis of the international bourgeois leadership. Today, we can say that this has been the result of mainly two factors:  a) The crisis or the dispute of all the strategic choices (Neo-liberalism, Globalization, New Order and War), regardless of the form they took, from the collapse of the “existing socialism” until September 11th. This failure of general solutions has been piling up, as expected, new sufferings for humanity (impoverishment, unemployment, dramatic shrinkage of social and democratic rights and of civil liberties etc.), and new big dead-ends to the function of the world capitalist / imperialist system (intensification of inter-imperialist competitions, emergence of a series of new, powerful competitors, such as China, India, Russia, but also of other key-countries for the world capitalist system such as Brazil, Mexico etc., expansion of the geo-economic and geo-political chaos). Especially after the failure of  September 11th policy, that is, the failure of the solution of the crisis “ala Hitler” (constant war, preventive wars, militarization of the american society – and not only of it – the dogma “either with us, or against us” etc.), everything is indicating that within the imperialist camp - and, particularly in the  Bush’s and neo-liberals’ USA. - there is a gap of strategy, or – at the best - a lack of strategy for dealing with or handling the crisis of the capitalist/ imperialist system. All these, in a period when the USA economy is being constantly downgraded and piling up debts, formidable competitors have been emerging, globalization tends to turn into a boomerang for its instigators and, finally, the relation of class forces, imposed in late ’80s – early ’90s undergoes breaches and changes. b) The rising course of labor struggles, the labor movement and the movements at international level, especially in some regions and countries (Europe, Latin America, France, Greece, Venezuela, Bolivia etc.); the resistance of peoples (Iraq, Middle East, etc.), which have resulted in a series of bigger or smaller successes and victories (European Constitution, CPE, constitutional article 16 (for public and free education) in Greece, victory of the masses in Lebanon in the war against Israel, stagnation of imperialists in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan etc.); overall defeats of neo-liberalism in a series of countries in Latin America and reemergence of alternative solutions, which are in practice against capitalism (at least in Venezuela); and even revitalization of the socialist perspective.

8. It is, however, true that, as long as the world relation of class forces does not change – in spite of the breaches and changes it has suffered, partly or generally - , neo-liberalism will manage – though with difficulty (in fact, with increasing difficulty)  – to impose its domination and its barbaric policy. All these presented above do not mean that capitalists/imperialists did not have significant successes during the last 20 years, at the expense of the political and social rights and of 150 year-old gains, as well as, of the national and sovereignty rights of the peoples. What we believe – and it is a reality nowadays – is that all those factors which determined the last two decades, either do not exist any more, or have failed, or do not have the same power as before. Therfore, not only are the latitudes to solve the crisis of the system getting dramatically narrower, but, also, we should be expecting an even bigger worsening of the crisis. This situation, combined with the strategic gap presented in the imperialist camp, is creating an unsteady transitional balance and period, during which the dispute of the imperialist domination is in the agenda by a lot of sides and powers (capitalist and anti-imperialist ones, the labor and popular movement etc.) and the dilemma “Socialism or Barbarity” is becoming seasonable again. This means that, on the one hand, bourgeoisie and imperialists will try to crush the world proletariat in order to get their system out of the crisis, which is extremely difficult in the current circumstances, in which the social weight of the exploited and oppressed masses has increased considerably - and, on the other hand, socialist revolution is called upon to put an end in capitalist domination. The majority of the leadership of the 4th International has made tragic mistakes in evaluating the crisis of the world capitalist/imperialist system, as well as the power of the working class, the labor and popular movement and the ideas of revolutionary marxism. It has underestimated the crisis and the potentials of the labour movement etc. and, thereafter, it was easy for it to fall into an omphaloskepsis, which has led it to the classical revisionist – social-democratic views. Instead of preparing the 4th International – and the world proletariat along with it – for the newly created circumstances, the new circumstances for conducting the class struggle, developing the revolutionary process and constructing the word party for the revolution, it has taken up a course of abandoning the principles of revolutionary marxism and demolishing all the programmatic gains of our movement. It has abandoned the Dictatorship of the proletariat/ the Socialist Democracy for the sake of “Democracy”. It has abandoned the marxist revolutionary position of critical support to the movements and backward countries against imperialism and it has taken a “neutral position”, or, even worse, it has come out for the intervention of imperialists or the United Nations Organization (East Timor, Yugoslavia, etc). It has abandoned Democratic Centralism supposedly for the sake of a “democratic” pluralistic function, which, in reality, is the triumph of individualism, factions, cliques and the dictatorship of uncontrolled leaderships, whether bureaucratic or not. It has taken up a criticism of the Revolution of October which is not at all different from the criticism of social-democracy and not only of it.

A course incompatible with the rising of the proletarian struggles and the changes in the labour movement

9. Nowadays, struggles are not only more and qualitatively superior compared to the past, there is also a tendency of reinforcing the dispute of the system, in the way it is functioning today and it is understood by the masses through experience: Neo-liberalism, “Globalization”, imperialistic aggressiveness and war, environmental destruction. There is even a tendency of stabilization of this dispute and a change in the mood of the masses towards a consciousness directed to the movement and the struggle. This evolution is bringing the labor and popular movement, as well as the cause of proletariat, back to the foreground of society, from the backstage where they had been expelled during the previous years. The victories of the labor movement, bigger or smaller, in different countries, regions etc. of the planet, the stagnation of imperialists, or even their defeats – particularly in political level – in different areas and especially in the Middle East, where the greatest aggressiveness is being manifested, all these have been reinforcing, step by step, the confidence of the masses, have been forming a new mood and a new culture, which is not only one of resistance and militancy, but also one of changing the situation in private, social and political level and, more than that, to quest for alternative solutions against neo-liberalism, imperialism and the imperialistic dependence. However, these changes in broad masses’ mood and consciousness, obvious in the recent years, have a lot of weaknesses, which, combined with the weaknesses of the organized trade union and labor movement, have been resulting in a relative instability, contradictory behaviors, big gaps/periods of “indifference” and “apathy”, return to “nagging”, to the electoral illusions and to the “solutions” of the type “each one for itself”. Of course, in all periods there are gaps, “nagging”, electoral illusions etc., as the masses’ consciousness has its ups and downs, the necessary and unavoidable interruptions created by every-day life. However, in the current conjuncture, there has not been yet a stabilization of this consciousness and mood due to the absence of a strong labor movement. The latter is the basic factor for the formidable changes we have been witnessing, not only in the Stalinist and social-democratic parties and trade union bureaucracy, but even in revolutionary movements and centrist organizations, for example, the Communist Refoundation, but also in the Brazilian, the Portuguese and the Italian sections of the 4th International, as well as in parts of many other sections and in parts of the 4th International leadership.

10. The bankruptcy of the social-democratic and Stalinist parties is not related only to the historic failure of their strategic plan for socialism. They have also failed in defending the immediate interests, as well as the democratic rights and the civil liberties of the working people, the poor, lower-class popular layers, the youth and the Third World countries. With some exceptions concerning Stalinist parties, they have even participated energetically in the demolition of labor rights (plural left, centre-left etc.), in the imperialistic expeditions and in the wars. This overall bankruptcy has contributed to the decrease of the influence that these parties have on the masses, to loosening their links with the organized labor movement and, even more, with the unorganized one and particularly with the younger generations of working people and the youth. This has facilitated the development of movements outside these parties and against them, something extremely difficult or exceptional in the past. Moreover, the development of the movements has been increasing the crisis, narrowing incredibly the maneuvering limits of these parties and reinforcing the centrifugal forces in them, on the one hand – and, on the other hand, it has been offering revolutionary Marxists the possibility to exercise their policy in practice, demonstrate their ability and their credibility to conduct small or bigger struggles etc., without painful “co-operations” or co-operations with the reformists.

11. This overall bankruptcy of social-democracy and Stalinism, the quantitative and qualitative development of struggles, the relative stabilization of a militant mood and consciousness of the masses, the development of a tendency to dispute neo-liberalism and certian aspects of capitalism – all these have helped in the appearance of significant changes inside the labor movement. The social and – to a lesser extend- political weight of the far and revolutionary left has been increasing, in an international scale, at a pace which varies from country to country. Especially in some countries where these forces have been playing a significant role in the movement and have had a policy more or less anti-capitalist (in practice and not only in words), the changes have been quite a lot and significant. This is an important element that the revolutionary marxists must take seriously into consideration when forming a new strategy and practice, not only in a national level, but also in an international one.

A course tarnished by the participation of sections of the 4th International in bourgeois and imperialist governments

12. The majority of the 4th International leadership seems to have an orientation towards the anti-capitalistic forces – this is also what more or less the “decisions” of the 15th World Congress say. However, in fact, this is not the case. What is really implemented is an abolishment of the strategic goal of building new sections and the 4th International itself, as well as the replacement of this goal by the construction of “anti-capitalist” parties and a New International. Even worse, the tactic of a special form of the united front with anti-capitalist organizations – which in the current conjuncture is a crucial element for the development of the labor movement and the construction of our organizations – has been replaced by merging with those organizations, or even with radical petty-bourgeois currents, which is the vast majority of the cases.  The abolishment of the principles of revolutionary marxism and of the programmatic, strategic and tactical gains of the 4th International, as well as the implementation of a popular front policy, both in the content and in the form, have led to phenomena unprecedented for our movement, as the blatant cases of the Brazilian, the Italian, or even the Portuguese section (which are not the only ones). The participation of the Brazilian section in the bourgeois Lula government and of the Italian section in the imperialist Pronti government (there is a slight differentiation in the latter’s attitude, lately) - that is, in governments which vote for reactionary measures against working people, the poor, lower-class popular masses, the youth and the world proletariat – as well as the participation of the Portuguese section in the right wing reformist formation of the European Left Party – after leaving from the European Anti-capitalist Left and disintegrating itself in the Left Block – constitute a complete treason and a disgrace to our movement. The critical articles of some comrades – referring exclusively to the case of the Brazilian section - are superficial, do not concern the essence of the strategy, the policy and the practice and do not refute the devastating responsibility of the majority of the 4th International leadership. A consequence of the “new” ideas which dominate in the majority of this leadership is the weakening of many sections, the disintegration of others in petty-bourgeois currents and the abolishment of the independent and open struggle for their construction, the closure of newspapers and journals of the sections and the 4th International and, finally, the disappearance of sections with a great tradition and history (for example in Britain, Latin America, Australia etc.), often to the advantage of other currents which appear as trotskyist.

 

The danger is reaching a climax

 

14. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Internationals were not just a solidarity network of the world proletariat. They had taken up the gigantic work of equipping the world proletariat with a strategy, a programme, a tactic and a revolutionary leadership, which would be able to carry out the shattering of the capitalist/imperialist system and the establishment of Socialism. This is the legacy that the 4th International inherited, not as acceptor of a museum piece, but with the aspiration to carry out this work in the current circumstances. History has theoretically justified this aspiration and this gigantic effort. Trotsky summarized the problem of our epoch as follows: “The current crisis of the human civilization is a crisis of the proletarian leadership”. Having this as a guide, he dedicated the last years of his life to the effort to overcome the crisis of the proletarian leadership, in the only way this could be done, by constructing the 4th International.  At present, the crisis of the civilization is greater than ever in the history of humanity – even its survival is at stake – due to the crisis of the proletarian leadership. The disintegration of Stalinism and the mutation of social-democracy - that is, of the two main tendencies of the labor movement - as well as of many centrist currents, have worsen this crisis, since Trotsky’s era and the post-war period and have made the duty of overcoming it even more urgent. All the more, because the crisis of the proletarian leadership has permeated the former core of the World Party for the Socialist Revolution, the 4th International, as it becomes obvious by the blatant cases of Brazil, Italy and Portugal, as well as by the popular front policy and the disintegration of sections. The phenomenon of the formidable changes taking place in centrist currents, such as the Communist Refoundation, the Sandinistas etc., is, also relevant.

15. The majority of the 4th International leadership has seriously deviated - not only through the statutes - from the principles of revolutionary marxism, the programme and the traditions of the movement. The danger for a complete disintegration is now obvious and it cannot be treated either by the temporary adherence of masses, or by the dynamic of one organization or more, or by the intense activity and mobilization, or by some strict organizational and statutes’ rules. It can only be treated by a return to the principles of revolutionary Marxism, which are nowadays trodden by the majority of the 4th International leadership. Before it is too late, it is necessary for all the sections and the militants that can see the dangers:

a) to coordinate their efforts and stop this course of degeneration and disintegration

b) to start an effort of working out political positions and a plan of construction for the sections of the 4th International

 

c) to start a big campaign to revive the debate around the crisis of the 4th International and the Trotskyist movement

 

d) to start immediately the effort of building up sections in the countries where the movement has had forces traditionally, as well as in the rising key-countries of the capitalist system.

 

9/5/2007

 

The Central Committee of OKDE

(Organization of Communists Internationalists - Greece)

Amendments to the resolution "Role and Tasks of the Fourth International"


The first text (below) is my motivation for my amendments to sections 5 and 6 of the Role and Tasks of the FI text. The detailed amendments are in a separate section at the end. Davies (Socialist Resistance, Britain)

The first text (below) is my motivation for my amendments to sections 5 and 6 of the Role and Tasks of the FI text. The detailed amendments are in a separate section at the end. Davies (Socialist Resistance, Britain)

The Role and Tasks text has been under discussion for a year in the Bureau, at an expanded meeting of the Bureau and then at the IC. I have been critical of it at each stage and it was very contentious amongst a number of the European sections at the expanded Bureau meeting. When it came to the IC I was one of only two votes against. There were modifications made to the text in the course of this which took out some of worst examples of the problems I was raising, but in my view this did not change the overall character of the text.

My problem is not with the general political framework of the text on world politics and the crisis. It does do a good job in integrating the twin crises of ecology and economy.

I have a problem with the call it makes for a new international and what it implies as to the character of such an international.

The EC text presents two possible ways in which the new international it advocates could emerge. One is that it could emerge out of a coming together of the various broad parties which have emerged to the left of Social Democracy in recent years — at least from those which are anti-capitalist in character. This would be an anti-capitalist international comprised of anti-capitalist parties, presumable with the sections of the existing FI inside them.

This perspective is expressed in section 5 as follows: “The Fourth International is confronted, in an overall way, with a new phase. Revolutionary Marxist militants, nuclei, currents and organizations must pose the problem of the construction of anti-capitalist, revolutionary political formations, with the perspective of establishing a new independent political representation of the working class. That is true on the level of each country scale and at an international level.” (My emphasis)

This is also reflected in the following quotation from section 7: “In the new anti-capitalist parties which may be formed in the years to come, and which express the current stage of combativeness, experience and consciousness of the sectors that are the most committed to the search for an anti-capitalist alternative, the question of a new International is and will be posed”. (My emphasis)

It is true that this is contradicted in other parts of the text but this sentence is absolutely clear — that the existence of these broad and diverse parties objectively poses the question that they should come together at some stage and form a new international organisation.

Of course we all want a bigger stronger and more effective Fourth International with bigger stronger and more effective national sections. And we want an international which is politically broader than the current FI and politically broader than Trotskyist tradition itself — although the Trotskyist tradition has a very important role to play. In fact this process has already started to happen and we need to ensure that it continues.

The point of principle, however, is that it continues to be a programmatically based revolutionary international as spelled out in the statutes of the FI. Even if an international comprising of anti-capitalist organisations was possible — which seems very unlikely given the diversity and instability of most such organisations — it would not be a revolutionary international as outlined above and would not be an alternative to the existing FI.

If it happened against the odds it would be an important development and one to which the FI would have to relate, but not by dissolving into it or using it to replace our own international.

It is important, therefore, that we recognise the difference between revolutionary organisations/internationals and anti-capitalist formations, and avoid conflating the two. Revolutionary formations are those which reject capitalism and put forward both a socialist alternative and a revolutionary means of making the transition between the two. Anti-capitalist organisations are those which see capitalism as the problem and socialism as the answer but have no agreed programme for transition.

The second possibility posed by the text is that a new international could emerge out of the various European far left organisations via the process initiated by the NPA last year with the Conferences of the Radical Left held in Paris. This proposition is contained in section 6: “We must discuss how to strengthen and transform the Fourth International in order to make it an effective tool in the perspective of a new international grouping. We already have started, with limited results it has to be admitted, conferences of the anti-capitalist left and other international conferences.” But this is equally unlikely. The Paris meetings were a collection of actively rival far left and revolutionary organisations competing with each other at both the national and international with no detectable sign of a change in this which could bring about such a convergence. The conferences included the IST the CWI. There were 12 separate competing organisations from Greece. And whilst these meetings did have value in terms of an exchange of ideas amongst the far left the idea that they could initiate a process out of which could come a new united international was excluded. Neither the IST or the CWI were there as a part of any convergence process. They were there because the emergence of the NPA was a very important development and they wanted to know what was going on. And even if a process of convergence was possible amongst the revolutionary left it would be a very different thing from the coming together of anti-capitalist forces, it would be a process of revolutionary unity.

In the same paragraph the document lists a number of other initiatives we have been involved in at an international level including meetings held around the world social forums and the European Anti-capitalist Left (EACL) as if these initiatives were all a part of a process towards a new anti-capitalist international. But they are not and never have been. Some have formed the radical left intervention into the global justice movement and others have been attempts to influence emerging organisations to the left of Social Democracy in a radical direction.

The EACL was certainly never seen that way. It was an important initiative but it was never more than a co-ordination aimed at strengthening the process of the emergence of broad parties through practical collaboration and the exchange of ideas. In any case the EACL has been overtaken by events and the last meeting of the Bureau proposed that it be closed down — so it is not useful to list it as one of the ways that a New International might emerge.

There is no difference here over the importance of building of broad parties. It is crucial that task of building broad parties to the left of Social Democracy should remain central to our response to the current stage of the crisis of capitalism and of Social Democracy. But the text talks almost exclusively about broad ANTICAPITALIST parties and some of the most important of these parties are not anti-capitalist but left reformist, or radical left reformist parties — the most important being Die Linke.

Remarkably Die Linke is not even mentioned in the text although it is amongst the most important of such parties. In fact throughout the discussion around this text there has been a reluctance to recognise the importance of Die Linke and even scepticism about it.

Of course we can say that we prefer a radical left party to be anti-capitalist rather than left reformist but it is a meaningless observation. We are in favour of broad parties to the left of social democracy but we cannot determine, in most cases, what the character of those parties will be. Their character will be determined by the state of the class struggle and the political conditions in the country in which they emerge. The history and shape of the labour movement and whether there has been a mass CP will also be a factor.

When we set ourselves the task of building and working inside broad left formations at either the national or the international our own organisation needs to more defined better organised and more politically coherent in order to do so. Working through a broad organisation may be more effective than simply raising our own banner but it is also more complex and demands a lot more political resources.

In working inside broad organisations we need to have a twin objective. The first is to address the crisis of working class representation which becomes increasing acute in today’s conditions. The second, which is generally a more long term perspective, is to win the broad organisation, when the conditions are right to our own revolutionary politics. This implies that when we work in such organisations we remain organised in our own right and ensure that our politics are a factor in its development.

This is also the case if we want to be a facilitator of convergences amongst other organisations as is outlined in section 9 or to generally play a role in the development of the radical left.

To this end section 10 of the text which deals with strengthening our own structure is very welcome. Whilst it is true that we are a small organisation it is also true that we are not meeting the potential which exists as far as a revolutionary alternative is concerned.

Amendments to parts 5 and 6 of the Draft Resolution on the role and tasks of the Fourth International

Deletions are in italics and additions are in bold.

5. This is the aspiration in which the problems of building the Fourth International and new anti-capitalist parties and new international currents are posed. This is the context in which the problems of building the Fourth International are posed. We expressed it in our own way, from 1992 onwards, so in the last two world congresses, with the triptych “New period, new programme, new party”, developed in documents of the International. We confirm the essential of our choices at the last World Congress in 2003 concerning the building of broad anti-capitalist parties to the left of Social Democracy. The Fourth International is confronted, in an overall way, with a new phase. Revolutionary Marxist militants, nuclei, currents and organizations must pose the problem of the construction of anti-capitalist, revolutionary such political formations, with the perspective of establishing a new independent political representation of the working class. That is true on the level of each country scale and at an international level. On the basis of the experience of the class struggle, the development of the global justice movement, defensive struggles and anti-war mobilizations over the last ten years, and in particular the lessons drawn from the evolution of the Brazilian PT and of Communist Refoundation in Italy and from the debates of the French anti-liberal left, revolutionary Marxists have engaged in recent years in the building of the PSOL in Brazil, of Sinistra Critica in Italy, of the new anti-capitalist party in France, Respect in England and Die Links in Germany. In this perspective we have continued to build the experiences of the Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal and the Red Green Alliance in Denmark. The common goal, via different paths, is that of broad anti-capitalist parties to the left of Social Democracy. It is not a question of taking up the old formulas of regroupment or revolutionary currents alone. The ambition is to bring together forces beyond simply revolutionary ones. These can be a support in the process of brining forces together as long as they are clearly for building anti-capitalist broad left parties. Although there is no model, since each process of coming together takes account of national specificities and relationships of forces, our goal must thus be to seek to build broad left anti-capitalist political forces, independent of social democracy and the centre left, formations which reject any policy of participation or support to class-collaborationist governments, today government with social-democracy and the centre left. It is on the basis of such a perspective that we must be oriented. What we know of the experiences of differentiation and reorganization in Africa and Asia point in the same direction. It is through this process that we can make new advances. It is this question which must form the framework of the next congress of the FI. On this level, we created bonds of solidarity with the Brazilian PSOL in its break with Lula’s PT. We have supported the efforts of our Italian comrades to build an anti-capitalist alternative to the policies of Communist Refoundation in Italy. (Moved from paragraph 6)

6. This is the framework in which we must approach the question of the relationship between the building of the Fourth International and a policy of anti-capitalist coming together at the national, continental and international levels. We must discuss how to strengthen and transform the Fourth International in order to make it an effective tool in the perspective of a new international grouping. At the same time we have to work towards greater understanding and cooperation between both the revolutionary left and broad left organisations at the international level. We already have started, with limited results it has to be admitted, conferences of the anti-capitalist left and other international conferences. On the international level, we have initiated, on this political basis, many conferences and initiatives of international convergence and coming together: the constitution of the European Anti-capitalist Left (EACL), with the Portuguese Left Bloc, the Danish Red-Green Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party. We worked with organizations like the English SWP. Other parties - even left reformists of who had at one time or another a political evolution “to the left”, like Communist Refoundation in Italy, tor Synaspismos, also took part in these conferences. We also held international conferences of revolutionary and anti-capitalist organizations, on the occasion of the World Social Forums at Mumbai in India and Porto Alegre in Brazil. These few elements show the type of orientation that we want to implement. The different conferences this year such as those in Paris or Belem show the necessity and the possibility of joint action and discussion by a large number of organizations and currents of the anti-capitalist left in Europe. It is now necessary to continue a policy of open meetings and conferences on topics of strategic and programmatic thinking and joint action through campaigns and initiatives of international mobilization.

THE TRITIUM CONTAMINATION AT KAIGA EXPOSE THAT EVERY NUCLEAR PLANT IS A POTENTIAL CHERNOBYL. PHASE-OUT NUCLEAR ENERGY LEADING TO ITS ELIMINATION!


We are alarmed by the recent contamination of at least 55 workers at the Kaiga nuclear power
plant. Around 55 employees working in Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka have suffered nuclear radiation after drinking contaminated water in the plant, and have been hospitalised after they reportedly suffered radiation poisoning. These employees, working in the first maintenance unit of the plant were given treatment for increasing level of tritium. The results showed that the tritium level was above the normal range and the employees felt uneasiness after drinking water from a water cooler in the operating area. There are 1,689 permanent employees and around 5,000 contract workers, all with access to the area where the Tritium had been stored as well as to the dispenser.
The Atomic Energy Commission did not have any clue about the cause of the accident and in an attempt to play down the security lapses; its Chairman Anil Kakodkar said that the contamination could have been an inside job. It is indeed appalling to note that the excuses presented by in the nuclear establishment have been rather derisory and pathetic. The official explanations of a “disgruntled” employee causing “mischief” raise more questions than it answers. Calling the radiation exposure at the Kaiga power plant in Karnataka an act of mischief Mr. Kakodar additionally alleged, ‘it is a mischief-maker who is responsible for this. It is a criminal act and a punishable offense under Atomic Energy Act of India. There is no danger to either to the exposed workers or to the environment or to people who come in contact with these workers. It is a serious operating procedural lapse.’ The Kaiga power plant authorities have issued a statement saying that a thorough survey of the plant did not indicate any heavy water leak from any of the reactor systems.
It is equally shocking to note the attempt to suppress all information about the gravity of the situation. The media got hold of the story on November 28th whereas the incident occurred on the 25th of November. It seems that despite the best of the efforts of the nuclear establishment, the information could not be fully suppressed since a lot of employees needed hospitalisation. Also, in an attempt to immediately assuage public fears, the level of tritium activity found in the urine samples taken from the affected workers were expressed as mild and no concrete number was ever mentioned in public.
The dangerous impacts of Tritium radioactivity have always been underscored by the nuclear establishments - both nationally internationally. However, Tritium is a dangerous toxin because it is chemically identical to hydrogen. Hence, it is part of water and can go anywhere in the body and, with the human body being composed of over 70 percent by water, the effects can be cataclysmic. In addition, tritium can sometimes get bound to organic molecules and spend very long time in the body. Also, it can cross the placental border and severely affect growth and development of babies in the womb. This is why it is the most likely suspect in the spate of congenital deformities observed around CANDU type nuclear power plants and other military nuclear facilities that use tritium to produce thermonuclear bombs.
The point is whether it is “accident” or “sabotage" is hardly any consolation for the actual or potential victims. And if it is “sabotage”, which could not be prevented, it only goes to show that it can happen again. And a more serious "sabotage" could have a disastrous impact with immediate and intense effects on hundreds of thousands of lives, as in the case of Chernobyl (in Ukraine of the erstwhile USSR) on April 26 1986.
A much larger fear is that with the proposed nuclear expansion very much in the cards, such
incidents are bound to become a regular feature in the future. And therefore, every nuclear power plant is a potential Chernobyl.
We are worried about the known and yet-to-be-known serious health, environmental, social, psychological and economic impacts of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy and being conscious of the inextricable link between nuclear energy and the development of nuclear weapons we demand an immediate abolition of nuclear weapons and a phase-out of nuclear energy leading to its elimination.
We are concerned about the presentation of nuclear energy as a safe and clean alternative, and as a solution to climate change when it is neither safe nor clean as it undermines climate protection by wasting time and taking resources away from more effective, clean and safe solutions. It results in the dumping of this expensive and unsafe nuclear technology throughout the world and it decreases global security as volumes of nuclear waste are disposed with no safe method of disposal.
We are alarmed at the long-term implications of the over-consumption model of development , and the failure to adequately conserve energy & resources and consequently, we demand a ban on the exploration, mining and export of uranium, phasing out of the use of nuclear reactors for the production of medical isotopes, instituting a fair and just transition programme for workers, including scientists, affected by the abolition of nuclear weapons and by the phasing out of nuclear energy and most importantly guaranteeing the rights of future generations to a world free of the danger of nuclear weapons and of nuclear energy.

Radical Socialist
December 2, 2009

Greece: Renewed Repression on 1st Anniversary of December 2008 Revolt


Statement by the Workers Revolutionary Party, Greek Section of the Coordinating Committee for the Re-foundation of the Fourth International

On the 6th December 2009,  1 year after the assassination of the 15 years old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by the Greek police, the 1st anniversary of  the December  2008 revolt, the riot police of the new elected “socialist” government of George Papandreou savagely attacked the demonstrators in Athens, Thessalonica, Patras and other cities of the country. Hundreds have been arrested.

In the 40.000 strong demonstration in Athens, a motored unit of the Special Delta Force of the riot police attacked with their vehicles, globs and chemicals the contingent of the EEK. The barbarian custodians of the capitalist State have broken the legs and the hands of 5 comrades and nearly killed a long standing member of EEK and wife of the editor of our paper, comrade Angeliki Koutsoumbou. The policeman broke with his motorbike the left shoulder of comrade Angeliki and when she was fallen in the street without consciousness the same policeman continued to attack her with his glob and kicking her head. The same policeman has broken the head and the arm of two other comrades who came to help her. There was a street fight with the police force and 8 comrades- 2 of them CC members- were arrested and are now in prison at the central headquarters of the Police facing serious charges. Several other comrades of EEK together with youth of libertarian groups were arrested in Thessalonica and Patras.

The police prevented even the ambulance to come and take comrade Angeliki. When, finally she was transferred to the hospital, they allowed only Savas Michael-Matsas, the general secretary of EEK, who was present during the entire clash, to accompany her. She has a serious cerebral hemorrhage and her left shoulder completely broken. The government had the hypocrisy to send the vice minister of Public Order Mr. Vouyias to visit her in the hospital but comrade Savas kicked him out of the room shouting: “we do not allow the butchers to visit their victims!” Comrade Angellki Koutsoumbou is a well known Trotskyist fighter, member of EEK from the ‘60s, and she who was imprisoned and tortured during the last military dictatorship of the colonels. Her husband comrade Thodoros Koutsoumbos is a historic leader of EEK and the editor of our paper NEA PROOPTIKI (New Perspective).

We want to remind that on November 20, 2009, a fire bomb attack was waged against the house of a CC member of EEK, comrade Yannis Yannatsis in Petralona, Athens, at 3.30 am when the entire Yannatsis family was sleeping. There is no doubt that our Party EEK has become the selected target of the State forces of repression because of our role in the class struggle, particularly from the December revolt onwards. As Greece is financially bankrupt and a workers’ revolt is on the agenda, the capitalist class, their State and government try to give preventive blows to the vanguard fighters to intimidate the entire workers and popular movement.

The situation is very tense. 400 schools and many universities are now occupied all over the country. A new mass demonstration is planned in Athens and other cities for tomorrow Monday, December the 7th.

We call the revolutionary workers movement and all fighters all over the world to express again their solidarity as they did during our December revolt.

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