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Joe Hill

Joe Hill

Born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, and also known as Joseph Hillström, Joe Hill was a labour organiser in the USA, as well as a songwriter. he was framed and killed by the US ruling class. Hill was executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915, and his last word was "Fire!" Just prior to his execution, he had written to Bill Haywood, an IWW leader, saying, "Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah."

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Introductory Note:

Radical Socialist was set up by Trotskyists coming from the wreck of the former Indian Section of the Fourth International (Inquilabi Communist Sangathan), as well as comrades who had never belonged to any Trotskyist organisation previously. While RS has had a clearly anti-Stalinist, revolutionary Marxist orientation, RS has not presented itself as Trotskyist. This is not due either to some hidden liquidationism, or to any entryist perspective.

Two issues were clear to us between the crisis in the ICS in 2003 and the setting up of RS in 2008-9. First, a commitment to principled internationalism should not be confused with making the international organisation the reason and the focus of our entire existence. Second, and related, that a party building exercise cannot begin with discussion on the merits of diverse international groupings. This does not mean we do not want to affiliate to an international organisation. But the reality of the world is, there are several large and even more small international groupings calling themselves Fourth international, or factions of the Fourth International. There are also serious revolutionaries in india who identify with the basic positions of revolutionary Marxism without identifying with any one of these currents, along with groups affiliated with, or oriented to, one or other of these internationals. But in India, Trotskyist politics has seldom been widely present in the working class movement. To add to the welter of small groups who define themselves in international terms and make the differences between themselves more significant than what unites them has seemed to us an unaccpetable starting point.
As realists, we are aware that there exist certain groups, behind either international sects or local cult figures, for whom revolution is just a word, the sect or the cult is all. There is no need to identify such groups. They take pleasure in identifying themselves. Even excluding them, however, there are serious groups. We have been engaged in discussions with some of them, like the New Socialist Alternative, or New Wave. What follows is a discussion document written by a comrade of RS. It has already been submitted to NSA and NW. We publish it here, so that others who may be interested in the unity of revolutionary marxists in India can also take part in the discussions. The document speaks for itself. We only wish to stress that we are calling for a democratic centralist organisation with one area where individuals will have freedom of action without national leadership intervention, which is the right to belong to any international organisation, to disseminate the literature of such international organisation, and to take part in its activities without hampering the work of the organisation in India.
A further point to understand is that precisely because this is a unification document addressed to organisations in a particular political tradition, and not the finalised programme or manifesto of a united organisation, we have not felt it necessary to reiterate certain issues which would have been much more central, had this been a document discussing unity with organisations coing out of Stalinist or maoist traditions -- e.g., the meaning of permanent revolution, the real Leninist tradition, united front of the working class versus popular fornt, and so on.  Even among those currently engaged in discussions, many other points are likely to be raised. This document only highlights our view about why a unity is needed, what struggles such a united organisation has to carry out, and what kind of unity not to impose.

Radical Socialist


(Draft Document – Version 1.0)


Economic Context of India
The noticeable changes that has taken place in India over a period of last 2 decades are mainly in the economic sphere, but also in other aspects of life. During this period the Indian bourgeoisie class has strengthened them to a much higher plane ever than it was in last 100 years. Indian capitalist class is now aspiring for their berth beside the imperialist countries on a global scale, as a junior partner. They are demanding official acknowledgement of regional domination. The impact of Indian economy and their ruling class is now treated as a factor for growth, crisis and sustainability of capitalism globally. In domestic arena the entire spectrum of life in India is now under the influence of capital, particularly monopoly capital. Capitalist commodification has been completed, even in backward and rural India. It is observed that almost everything in India including political changes, economic policies pursued by the state and central governments, socio-economic schemes launched by the government are either by direction of the capitalist class or for the benefits of the capitalist class or for the development of the bourgeoisie-democratic system. All these are now pre-requisite for the Indian capitalist class to enable them to sit beside their big brothers in the same row.

While following the same 'law of value' for the capitalist growth, Indian socio-economic growth has seen some special features too. Gigantic growth of neo-economic segments like financial sector, IT, real estates, health, education, telecom etc and blowing up of service sector and service sector workforce are two major such features.

Economic Crisis of India that cannot be solved
By entering thoroughly as the member of the imperialist club, India has invited all sorts of global capitalist crisis alongwith including economic and social. Recent food crisis and price rise are two such examples which, inspite of major political losses, the mighty Indian ruling class is unable to address even partially. It is clear that the the Indian economy has lost its capability to control the economic activities even for political purpose, which was not an absolute true even a few years back. It is obvious, that increased tie-ups and dependency on big imperialism has resulted in big crisis, which Indian Capitalist class cannot solve anymore.
The Beneficiaries
The biggest beneficiary of gross monopolisation and capitalisation of economy and society is the Indian bourgeoisie class. An example to cite. A lesser profit by 6.6% compared to fiscal first quarter of last year by IT giant Infosys in last quarter (April-June 2010), which earned $326 million during this period as net profit has shaken the corporate world and is seen as something to be looked into seriously. A net profit of Rs. 1467,00,00,000 (one thousand four hundred sixty seven crore rupees) in3 months time also cannot make one corporate house happy. Other corporate houses are also concerned with such falling rate of profit of Infosys. This example shows the kind of benefits of capitalists are making, as well as the nature of their crisis.
The next biggest beneficiaries are the managers, whether corporate or governments. A new economic layer has been created comprising of top corporate managements and the top government bureaucracy which plays a vital role in growth, expansion, crisis management of capitalism in economic front and absorbs socio-politico-economic issues critical to the stability of the system. These managers are shared with the corporate profits in different form. While these managers are placed in a very important strategic point of capitalist structure, their roots may not be from the same class always. Selectively chosen from other classes creates an illusion among neo-educated aspiring youths from urban areas, the possibility towards similar achievements. However capitalism absorbs this creamy layer into integral part of the system and changes its class origin totally. A section of academicians, media personnel etc also become a part in this layer.
The third layer of beneficiaries are the rural capitalist class. The engagement of financial institution, foreign and big national capital in agriculture has helped conversion of old feudal landlords and rich peasants into kulaks and they are now one of the biggest stakeholders in Indian capitalism. This class collaboration has catalysed the conversion of our agriculture into a literally completed capitalist agriculture.
The fourth layer of beneficiaries include the white collar workforce in the service sector, those neo-educated youths referred above. This workforce comes from middle and lower middle economic strata and with modern education. Although this section starts earning a handful amount from early life of profession, can afford to consume most of the luxury items in life, actually they are integral part of working class. If thoroughly realised, it will observed that on all trade related issues, they are actually exploited and their interest can be best protected in collaborating with working class movements. The benefits they get are apparent, camouflaged and are actually for the benefit of capitalism. The benefits are more in concepts than in reality.
The affected sections
When this mega capitalist changes in Indian economy has brought to surface, a section of people with lot of actual and apparent benefits, upon which the capitalist economy here is still breathing; there is an even larger section of Indian population where misery of poverty, hunger and insecurity is growing day by day. They are partially or totally deprived of basic human amenities like health, shelter, education, employment. They are our working class, reserve workforce and lumpen proletariats in towns and villages. They form 75% of our population. Their survival, growth and development is possible only when capitalism, the society based on inequality and exploitation can be defeated and destroyed.
Effects on Environment
With such dramatic change and growth of capitalism in India, we see worst affect is our environment. To meet the competition in imperialist sphere from a backward perspective, indiscriminate use of our richly available natural resource has become an important weapon by the capitalist class. Today the struggle for environment has to be equated and converged with anti-capitalism. Working class should use the struggle for environment as a imminent counter weapon to weaken capitalism.
Existence and conditions of different conflicts in Indian society
There exists a multi-layer class contradiction in Indian society which is portrayed in the contradiction of the capitalist system and majority population in India. Within the framework of such situation the actual class contradictions are between the capitalist class, including rural capitalist class and its agents on one side and the working class, reserve workforce, lumpen proletariats, rural proletariats, peasantry, service sector workforces on the other sides.
Apart from those economic class contradictions, we find special and sectoral exploitations, and therefore contradictions in our society. Gender, sexual, ethnic, caste, religious exploitations are obvious in class divided societies, so in India. These conflicts exists neutrally from class; among exploiting and exploited class; and their crudest forms are viewed predominantly in exploiting classes. Struggle for a classless society cannot keep eyes shut on these exploitations and make them dormant as a futuristic and socialist agenda, rather supports and encourages as an independent struggle against these exploitations as neutrally as they actually exist. It believes that these democratic struggles magnifies the working class struggle collaterally, helps to find its justifications, produces revolutionaries and increases the strength of revolution. While saying so, one must also remember that India's capitalist growth didn't happen by uprooting feudalism and under the colonial supervision during its birth. Hence Indian society is carrying along the remnants of both feudal and colonial practices. The exploited section of people suffering from these special oppressions are actually facing these oppression of all, capitalist, feudal and colonial nature together.
Demand for special attention
A special attention is required towards the apparently enlightened section, the service sector workforce and those who are in waiting, mentioned before. Engaging this section in the revolutionary activities is a big challenge for the working class movement as they are basically integral part of working class if understood from the perspective of production relation. Excluding them shall marginalise working class in the society numerically. The biggest apparent problem among these workers is alienation at the first instance, which is a basic capitalist phenomenon among working class. Working hour, social security are also very important problem among these workers. Their problems are multiplied since they are unorganised. Due to nature of their jobs, tremendous unhealthy competitions for survival in job market and above mentioned reasons, many among them have started suffering from severe physical and mental health problems. They are actually a tremendous force having a potential of keeping impacts on society. If organised, they can damage capitalism and their profits centres largely and thereby bring capitalism into collapse. The challenge of working class movements to organise them even more important because capitalism can easily and effectively use this force against other section of working class and working class ideology as a whole. Similarly, equal attention is required those who would join this force in near future and are in waiting. Building organisation among the students should be treated as a proletarian task. A serious study and action about this growing contradiction has to be addressed on a priority basis in special context of India.
Bourgeoisie Democracy Presently
Only biased people and organisations cannot see the changes happening with the bourgeoisie democracy in India. It is growing, deepening its root into deep and expanding its branches in many directions. While saying so, we mean that by deepening its root, capitalism in India is making it even more difficult to deny their own democracy easily when they require to crush the class struggles and by expanding its branches we mean capitalism wants to expand capitalism in every sphere of leaving no stones unturned. Citing various examples those whose oppose this fact of expansion actually equate bourgeoisie democracy with socialist democracy subconsciously or purposefully and expects bourgeoisie to offer it. But working class should not be afraid of such expansion, call for even more expansion and convert it for their use to overthrow capitalism. This expansion of bourgeoisie democracy however is not overwhelming and is limited. In micro level, in backward rural areas, in tribal zones, among the minorities, on the questions like gender injustice we find it is yet to occur and remained in form of laws and acts. There it is still unused or misused by the exploiters and power managers.
Consequence of growth of Bourgeoisie Democracy
As a consequence, the Indian bourgeoisie state has become more autonomous and acting neutral in many common cases. Obviously one cannot expect such neutrality of the state on the question like Bhopal Gas Tragedy, rights on fossil fuel in Narmada Basin, telecom spectrum licenses, disinvestment deals, policy liberalisation, land grab etc. In essence, they are behaving like a bourgeoisie democratic state, while cleaning the feudal and colonial marks from its body.
Consensus of people for bourgeoisie rule?
Marxists know that, such changes in superstructure supported by economic basis is important and beneficial for the ruling class and has not come as their good gesture. But what is more important for us is that we can observe that these are opening more avenues of protest against injustice, the embryo of the class struggle. These protests are both organised and unorganised, reflected through legal battles, media coverages, propagandas, rallies, blockades and strikes. Some of them have achieved the immediate relief and some didn't. The tendency of adaptation with injustices has reduced largely. Though these protest are yet to take shape of organised attempt towards class struggle under a conscious leadership but signs of such possibilities are visible. It should be wrong not to mention that in many occasions such initiatives take a rightist path as well. But, we can conclude the myth of consensus propagated by the ruling class is not true.
Indian socio-economic and political system - objective and subjective conditions
As a social system, India by virtue of objective condition may not be extremely vulnerable and unstable but same cannot be said as in case of subjective conditions as a blanket statement. This may appear over optimistic to many, but a thorough observation may reveal something different. The subjective condition should not be measured narrowly based on existence of massive working class movements guided by a conscious leadership. Rather we have to read the behaviour of weaker classes towards towards certain policies of the state, non acceptance of unjust actions by government agencies and registering protest in different form, ethnic struggles, initiatives of national unification and united action by different organisations fighting against special oppression etc. Notably, government cannot just ignore these and sit back these days. We have seen these in case of struggles in Nandigram, Orissa-Posco, Singur, Telengana, Gorkhaland isues. We have also noted the hesitation of government in crushing the Maoists by all means inspite of treating them as big internal threat and inspite of enjoying an apparent mass consent. Governments hesitation are seen in legislating privatisation aggressively inspite of pressure from the ruling class. The state is very careful in dealing issues like SEZ, land question and many others where there is a fear of backlash. Big or stable majority in parliament or election is not the sign or guarantee of the strength government and state. In recent days, government has shown its serious discontent with some sectoral and general strikes, but could not go offensive against the strikers. These are all signs of vulnerability in the subjective conditions. Almost every smaller issues in any remote part of India is getting converted into national issue. Externally also, India is represented as a threat to other capitalist majors. India has deteriorated its relation with its neighbours. If not war, violent border conflicts with China and Pakistan cannot be overruled in future. The number of conflicts (not intensity) that India is sustaining now in domestic and external front has no second example in the world. These makes stability of Indian society extremely vulnerable. It is true that the class factor is highly absent in all these  development. It is the task of the conscious revolutionary force to integrate class factor and introduce class line on every occasion and opportunity.
Media in shaping of ideas
Due to the blessings of overwhelming presence of media, which is controlled by bourgeoisie , mainly in urban territory, there exist a feeling of growth and development of the country and its people. An idea of 'feel good' environment is made to believe among many people. While acknowledging this situation, it is also noted that as a by product of such campaign a notion of justice, logical equality, sense of democracy and rights, opinion against oppressions and poverty etc. are also growing among the literate section. Information is flowing fast and so opinions are quickly formed across the terrain. Incidents have ceased to remain local any more. These are often good for struggle against capitalism and exploitation. These phenomenon at a later stage may act against the easiest way of capitalist rule; rule by agreement and conciousness.


Tasks of working class movement
Working class need to assimilate the lesson from the expressions of impatience in different form within the weaker classes and establish leadership to convert them into struggles, working class should understand the importance of growing struggle against special oppressions and treat them as converging allies, working class need to fight for environment protection vehemently and create organised blockade against all action of exploitation of environment, working class need to build nationwide solidarity for every small and big movements that is taking place against the ruling class and ruling state in any part of India and by any oppressed class or section of people. Finally, working class need to hit and damage the capitalism at their strategic areas by increasing number of strikes in transport, communication, financial conglomerates etc., prepare for the struggle on the street, drag the ruling class for counter offensive and expose the falseness of their democratic jargons. For all above, the precondition is the class unity and awareness.
The task of working class is not easy. Ruling class shall make all efforts to isolate working class from other section of exploited people and break the unity of working class in different means. Chances are high that the reformist leadership in the working class and other exploited section take the side of the ruling class. Observation of Indian context.
Revolutionary forces in Indian Society
The revolutionary forces in India are completely disintegrated in innumerable forums. There are a very few revolutionary Marxist groups, worthy of the name. They are present among different Stalinist and reformist left parties, sectarian maoist organisation and groups, few social activist groups, trade unions, mass organisation and movements against special oppressions. A cohesion among them is necessary to make impact of the thrust everyone is trying to create in isolation. If such a cohesion is achieved on some common socio-economic issues even, it can achieve big partial victories on many occasions. These victories can help grow the class struggle in dramatically lesser time in geometric progression, in context of Indian situation.
Marxist revolutionaries and importance of unification
The issue based united front movements is extremely difficult to build here because of so divergent and antagonistic agendas of different poles of attraction. The Stalinist CPI, CPIM in spite having influence in many area and among working class have failed to lead struggle as they cannot carry it convincingly and collaborates with ruling class occasionally. The Maoist having influence in large geographical area and having a force of few thousand dedicated revolutionaries have failed because their path is not attractive and realistic to most of left oriented people of the country. In fact they themselves are against building class struggles. Small splinter left political units suffer from either of these deviations or both are even more irrelevant to the struggling people. Most other struggling forces do not have a centralised comprehensive agenda of all encompassing matters against ruling classes against all its activities. So they cannot take a leadership but can constitute an important ally.
It is the task of the Marxist revolutionaries to assume the leadership and accommodate divergent interest groups and vouch for a socialist but realistic and transitional interpretation and solution acceptable for different interest of different exploited classes. This is at all possible only when the revolutionary Marxists are themselves a pole of attraction both in terms of critical strength and taking radical approach towards struggle. Marxist revolutionaries being a critical strength has never actually happened in struggles of post independent India, hence the question of taking radical approach towards struggle does not arise.
Unfortunately, Marxist revolutionaries are also disintegrated in small propaganda groups or stayed individual either participating in mass activities or sitting idle. The unification of  Marxist revolutionaries is now question of their responsibilities. We should not be illusioned that even such unification of the Marxist revolutionaries can give them the requisite critical strength. But is shall definitely help others feel their existence, not just in one corner of the country, but in some pockets also. The  Marxist revolutionaries need to take things forward from there. How to do it can only be discussed if the unification effort is realised.
Marxist revolutionaries are those who can explain social events dialectically, give a class interpretation, draw a revolutionary task, fight against capitalism and any form social exploitation and for socialism with objective of a class free society. A revolutionary Marxist learns from workers struggle worldwide. In historical context,  a revolutionary Marxist carries the revolutionary heritage and lessons of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Fourth International. So, presently we propose the unification to be limited within these existing groups and individuals who are carrying those heritages.
Conditions of Unification
The reasons behind disintegration among the Marxist revolutionaries were mostly due to differences on theoretical political questions. At times they were also due to  differences on theoretical political praxis. Whether those differences were good enough for splits are questions of academic studies. But unquestionably the differences were true. Whether they were good enough or justifying a split is subject of argument, but it is beyond argument that most of those differences has lost relevance now. This is true in the context of Indian situation. There may be a few issues of difference on international questions still pending, there may be question of existing long standing loyalty in international association; but these should not pose blocks in unification of Marxist revolutionaries in India. As revolutionaries, we cannot afford to stay divided in the present context we discussed. Difference among the Marxist revolutionaries may come on explaining India specific issues as well. But difference do not justify division.
So an unification of Marxist revolutionaries having tradition of association of Fourth International is proposed based on following ideological positions:
    Commitment to Working Class Self Emancipation and Workers’ Democracy, a just, humane and truly democratic society: Socialism
    Necessity to organise the most class-conscious members of the oppressed into a political party that can combat the attacks of bourgeoisie on the working class and guide the working class for a revolutionary victory. At the same time it rejects all divisions and reject turning itself into a sect that defends only some particular theory or tactic which it seeks to impose on the real workers movement.
    Capitalism cannot be reformed. We fight for revolution, instead of for seeking to merely reform or work within the system.
    We reject any sort of stagist path for revolution in India and fight for socialist revolution and workers control over means of production.
    The allies of working class for a victorious revolution includes poor peasants. Ally social strata includes the dalits and adivasis. We ally with movements against, national oppression, caste and racial oppression, the oppression of women, the oppression of immigrants and the oppression of lesbians, gays, transgenders and bisexuals.
    We seek to form united fronts, and united front type organisations, around specific issues, but reject any possible alliance with any bourgeoisie party or formation of any popular front type organisation.
    Struggles at different places will see the participation and presence of bourgeois forces but we cannot be sectarian and abstain from struggles using the presence of the bourgeois forces as a plea. But we cannot subordinate the class interests of the workers and the other exploited to the bourgeoisie.
    We are not in favour of electoral support to bourgeois parties as so-called lesser evils. Our aim is to use the electoral terrain as well as any other terrain to build the independence of the exploited from the exploiters.
    Socialism cannot be achieved in one country. It necessitates international organisation both for Marxists and the working class.
Exercising unity
This attempt has to be treated as revolutionary regroupment of Marxist Revolutionaries. The proposal here is not for any mechanical unity, but an attempt for a true unification. If an organic unification effort fails, we shall try again later. But if the existing micro groups of Marxist Revolutionaries consider this unity as a part of their strategy of winning over, the result and purpose of such unification shall be a disaster. If they treat this as a wishful trial then again this is going to fail. It should be realised that it is a necessity. Also if the groups unite keeping their respective identities intact within a bigger group, the entire purpose is liquidated and the the group becomes ineffective. The unification has to made with the objective of developing this group into an workers party. The united group has to run democratically on the principles of Democratic Centralism. It is presumed that in unified group, existence of member sections or fraternal alignment with different Fourth Internationalist Tendencies may be present. Such associations cannot be converted to association with any particular international tendency for the unified group nor cannot be de-associated from all such tendencies. In fact is not necessity as well. Hence the proposal of unity is for a multi-tendency (based on international association) united political group wish to develop to a party of workers of India. Any individual in the united organisation shall have right to join or leave any existing tendency.

The green banner of Mohamed and the expansion of world trade

IV Online magazine : IV428 - September 2010



The green banner of Mohamed and the expansion of world trade

Jean Batou


“A century after the date when Muhammad, an obscure camel driver, had begun to gather around him in his house a few poor Meccans, his successors dominated the approaches of the Loire and the lands beyond the Indus, from Poitiers to Samarkand”. ... from now on, Islam – which was then the ideology of modernity - would govern the expansion of markets, and do so “from the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire until the rise of Venice, and even of England”.

Mohamed was born in Mecca, around 570 A.D. Central Arabia was at that time experiencing rapid development, stimulated by the flow of caravans which conveyed goods and information on the North-South axis, from Palestine to Yemen, and the East-West axis, from Ethiopia to the Persian Gulf. The birth of Islam cannot be understood outside of this context. At the four cardinal points of this universe, the two great empires, Byzantine Roman - which still controlled most of the lands around the Mediterranean - and Sassanid Persian, and the two civilisations of Ethiopia (the kingdom of Aksum) and of “Arabia Felix” (Himyar or Yemen), constituted powerful centres of attraction. Byzantium was at that time the ally of Christian Ethiopia, while Sassanid Persia had succeeded in subjecting South Arabia, which thus lost part of its dominance over the rest of the peninsula. From 540 to 629 however, the incessant wars between Byzantines and Persians weakened their influence over the disputed zones of the Fertile Crescent, increasingly populated by migrants of Arab origin.

Playing to the full their role of intermediaries, the Bedouin tribes of Central Arabia, partly sedentarized, developed a network of markets and fairs, with Mecca at the centre. They were in contact with many Christian dissidents (monophysites, Nestorians, etc.) of the Fertile Crescent, but also of Ethiopia and Yemen, who were arguing about the double nature, divine and human, of Christ, and also with the Zoroastrians and the Jews of Persia. [Patricia Crone has claimed that Islam must have originated in Northern Arabia, rather than in Central Arabia, where the development of trade, but also the diffusion of Judaism and Christianity, was still was very limited in the first third of the 7th century (Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, Princeton U.P., 1987). The bases of this startling hypothesis have however been weakened by recent archaeological digs. ]

The Arabia of Mohamed

“The Fertile Crescent and its surrounding areas offer points of contact with more distant trade routes than any other comparable region” of Eurasia. [The quotations from M. S. Hodgson are taken from The Venture of Islam. Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. 1: The Classical Age of Islam, Chicago, 1977.] In addition, its relative aridity – apart from its large alluvial plains -, was favourable to semi-nomadic stockbreeders and merchants, who were able together to counterbalance the influence of the landed aristocracy. This social alchemy encouraged the blossoming of monotheist religions - Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity -, which better corresponded to the needs of the commercial classes, who were above all preoccupied by the regulation of interpersonal relations. The individual was from now on presented as a person in charge of a single life (not of multiple reincarnations), before only one God and only one community, incarnating the same justice, with egalitarian aspirations.

On the borders of the great agricultural states, the societies of stockbreeders and merchants, who also often engaged in plunder, controlled the exchanges between the Mediterranean and the southern seas. To be sure, they were dwarves compared to the great agricultural civilizations, but they sat on the shoulders of giants and sometimes saw further than them. The domestication of the camel guaranteed them milk, the caravan (from the Sanskrit karhaba meaning camel) and provided a decisive military asset, in addition to the horse. These tribes, like their cousins, established in the oases, were the most prestigious: they called themselves the Arabs. They enjoyed a social order that was not very hierarchical, not very polarized, and thus characterised by solidarity: the individual was regarded there as a person responsible for his choices, so much so that violence between groups was limited by the reprisals which it provoked.

“During the childhood of Mohamed , notes Hodgson, “ the major part of trade between the Mediterranean basin and the Indian Ocean passed through the land routes controlled by the Arabs”. On the spiritual level, while the Persians, guardians of the Jews, were winning victory after victory against Byzantium, biblical ideas of all shades were spreading in Central Arabia along the caravan routes. “People were then turning to the universalist religions, the religions of the individual, those which, instead of relating to ethnicity, aimed at ensuring the salvation of each human being in his or her incomparable singleness”. [Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, London, Penguin Books, 1996. The other quotations from Rodinson are drawn from the revised and corrected version of his brilliant synthesis, published for the first time in 1961. By the same author: Islam and capitalism, New York, Pantheon 1973; Marxism and the Muslim World, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1981; The Arabs, London, Croom Helm, 1981; Europe and the Mystique of Islam, Seattle, distributed by University of Washington Press, c1987; Islam: politique et croyances, Paris, Fayard, 1993.] Judaism, already established in some oases, but also Christianity, whose pious hermits struck the imagination of their contemporaries, lacked however local roots.

Was old Allah, the unifying divinity of the Bedouins, who up to now had had no specific cult, going to be able to push aside the innumerable tribal idols and “be reborn” as the authentic God of the Book? Rodinson considers that it was in resonance with the time: “An Arab state, guided by an Arab ideology, adapted to the new conditions and however still close to the Bedouin milieu that it was to structure, constituting a power that was respected on equal terms with the great empires, that was the great need of the time. The road was open to the man of genius who would know better than others how to respond to it”. This mission would fall to Mecca, which controlled the North-South axis of the Hejaz - the main trading junction of Western and Central Arabia, at equal distance from Syria, Persia and Yemen. It should be said that its place of worship, the Ka’ Ba, already under the supervision of Allah, offered a sanctuary to the many pagan divinities of the whole region and even attracted Christians on pilgrimage.

The first steps of a prophet

At the beginning of the 7th century, Arabia benefited from the political weakening of its neighbours, in a context of dynamization of the commercial exchanges on its territory. On the cultural level, this vitality resulted in the flowering of the pre-Islamic poetry which contributed to the development of a common language, starting from various dialects. These odes were recited, they were rhythmic, with a codified metre. They vividly depicted the life, the ideals and the feelings of the Arabs of this time. [Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard U.P., 1991, pp. 12-14.] The Madman and Laylâ [Andre Miquel & Ghani Alani, Le Fou de Laylâ, Paris, Sindbad-Actes Sud, 2003.] dates from the second half of the 7th century: it evokes the impossible love which can lead to social trangression, to madness, but also to spirituality:

“In the evening her face lit up the darkness like the lamp of a monk withdrawn from the world. ”

These inspired poets, just like the Christian hermits, were not unconnected, as we shall see, with the destiny of Mohamed (we should rather call him Muhammad - Mehmet for the Turks, Mamadou for the Africans). He was born in an ordinary clan of the powerful Quraysh tribe, which controlled the temple of Mecca, and which according to legend dominated the main trade routes of the Hejaz. Having lost his father and mother at a young age, he was taken in by his grandfather, then by his uncle, Abu Tâlib, a well-off merchant, before marrying at the age of twenty-five a rich widow fifteen years older than him, Khadîja, with whom he had four daughters.

The historian knows more about Mohamed than about Jesus [The life of Mohamed is known to us by accounts (hadîth), of which the oldest probably go back to at least 120 years after the facts. They were validated by great Muslim jurists who attested to their credibility by analyzing the chain of testimonies on which they depend, not always avoiding contradictions, with the result that they often added: “And God is the most erudite”. For further information: Ibn Warraq (ed.), The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, New York, Amherst, 2000.]. He is apparently described as someone of average height, with broad shoulders and a strong bone structure, solidly built. With a large head, a long thin face, enlivened by dark eyes, he was thoughtful and well-balanced, able to negotiate at length as well as to move quickly into action. He quickly became a prosperous merchant, to such an extent that his language remained impregnated by it: thus the Koran evokes the last judgement as “the settling of accounts” (21, 1). This material success however did not appear to bring him sufficient satisfaction: his incapacity to give his wife a male heir troubled him; his voluntary renunciation of any extra-marital relation no doubt frustrated him, in a world where young men led very free sexual lives; and especially, he suffered from not being able to utilise his exceptional spiritual and political qualities.

In the tracks of his Arab predecessors of monotheism (hanif), but also of Jewish and Christian mystics, Mohamed spent long hours meditating in a cave on the hill of Hira, near Mecca. It was there that one night he received “the True Vision, like dawn breaking”, as he later confided to his future wife Aisha. It was first of all a voice which said to him: “You are the Messenger of God! (...) After the sensations of a supernatural presence, the vague visions, the hearing of simple phrases, came the long sequences of well organised words, presenting a clear meaning, a message”. Finally, the powerful Being ordered him to recite: “In the name of God...” He had just pronounced the first words of what would become the Koran. “All that happened in the brain of a single man”, comments Rodinson, “ but it reflected there, it stirred there, the problems of a whole world and the historic circumstances were such that the product of this mental agitation was such as to shake Arabia, and beyond that, the universe”.

The social discourse of incipient Islam

Any monotheist faith tends to pose the principle of the equality of each individual and their submission to the will of God, but also their salvation or their judgment at the end of time, without regard to their fortune. This is all the more true for Islam, which rejects even the Christian dogma of the Trinity in the name of the absolute singleness of Allah. Thus the Koran presents to the faithful, in a very colourful way, the torments of Hell and the delights of Paradise. “The individual (…), underlines Rodinson, “took on a particular and eminent value. It was with him that the Supreme Being was concerned, who had created him and who would judge him without taking into consideration relationship, family or tribe”.

As of the closing decades of the 6th century, notes Hodgson, the enrichment of the merchants of Mecca “threatened tribal solidarity and, in any case, undermined the Bedouin ideal of a generous man for whom wealth was a welcome but relatively ephemeral distinction”. So it was the freest spirits, rejecting the domination of the leading layers of Meccan society, who first turned towards Mohamed: among them, there were young people from good families who were in revolt against their elders, but also members of less influential clans, non Meccan, individuals who were outside clans, even freedmen or slaves. Moreover, the prophet took the side of the poor and the orphans, admonishing the rich Qurayshis , for whose arrogance he had contempt:

“Watch out! You do not honour the orphan!

You do not encourage people to feed the poor!

You greedily devour your inheritance!

You love wealth with a limitless passion! ”

(Koran, 89,17-20)

In the principle of the revealed religions, the injunctions of the Very High are communicated to men through a prophet, whose position makes him legitimately have the ambition of being the supreme spiritual power: “How could a man with whom God spoke directly”, remarks Rodinson, “be subject to the decisions of any senate. How could the directives of the Supreme Being be discussed by the Meccan aristocracy? ” Besides, does not Mohamed develop “a critical attitude [Rodinson even says: “implicitly revolutionary”] - towards those who are rich and powerful, therefore conformists?”. So measures of repression struck the roughly forty partisans of Mohamed, in particular the most vulnerable of them: thus, the black slave Bilâl was exposed to the sun by his masters, at the hottest hours of the day, with a rock on his chest. In this heavy atmosphere, the prophet still however won some disciples, like `Omar ibn Al-Khattâb, who would later succeed him as the second caliph. Some emigrated to Abyssinia, although the majority still enjoyed the support of their clan: Mohamed was protected by the Banou Hâshim, in particular by his uncle, the very influential Abu Tâlib. It was the death of the latter, in 619, and that of his first wife, Khadîja, which broke this precarious equilibrium.

In 622, while a starving Byzantium was besieged by the Persians and the Avars in an atmosphere of apocalypse, the small group of believers took the road to Medina, 350 kilometres to the north-west: it was the Hegira, that is to say the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Here, the new social organization over which Mohamed presided, encouraged by the voice of Allah, continued to defend the interests of the orphans, the beggars and the travellers. It recommended treating slaves well and if possible freeing them; slavery was even proscribed among the faithful. In 632, when the prophet in person, a few months before his death, led the first pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), he insisted on the equality of all men before Allah, whether they were rich or poor, Arab or not, thus inspiring the fairly general rejection of racism by Islam.

Under the green banner of trade

Hodgson insists on the fact that the community of the faithful - those who accepted the revelation - were from now on joined together within the umma (from umm, mother) by bonds that went beyond tribal barriers. In Medina, Mohamed endeavoured to equip this community with clear rules, but also with financial means, in particular by means of taxes, thus providing the foundations of a new social order.

He arbitrated the conflicts between pagan clans and benefited at the beginning from a certain benevolent attitude of the powerful Jewish tribes, from whom he borrowed certain rituals: the midday prayer turned towards Jerusalem and the fast of Kippur; Allah also allowed eating the food of the people of the Book and marrying their women. During this time, he extended his political influence by ensuring the independence of his supporters by means of a series of “raids” against the caravans from Mecca (private war was at that time a perfectly acceptable practice).

The adversaries within the Bedouin tribes seem to have been few: over time, they came round or were eliminated. That was the case with the poetess `Açmâ’, assassinated in her sleep. Had she not declared: “Arseholes of Mâlik and Nabît (…) [clans and tribes of Medina]. You obey a foreigner (…) Is there not a man of honour (…) who will cut short the hopes of these fools?” (quoted by Rodinson).

On the other hand, the Jews had more threatening political ambitions and greater ideological cohesion. They treated the religious ideas of Mohamed with contempt, and he challenged them by asserting the ancestral origins of Islam: did not the Arabs descend from Ismâ’ il, son of Abraham (Ibrâhîm), himself original founder of the religions of the Book?. He also broke with them by instituting the fast of Ramadan, by rejecting some of their food prohibitions (however he banned wine, which was associated with pagan religions), then by requiring believers to pray towards Mecca. He got the better of them by a series of expulsions, expropriations and massacres, among which the massacre of Banou Qorayza, in 627, left several hundred dead. He also took his distance from the Christians by recognizing Jesus as a prophet, admittedly capable of miracles, but nevertheless a man like other men.

Master of Medina and of the very busy trade route of the North of the Hejaz, from which it drew more and more resources, the party of Mohamed posed an insoluble problem to the rich merchants of Mecca, who did not succeed in defeating it by armed force. This was because the emerging young state, which owed its strong cohesion to the Muslim ideology, was led by an exceptional man who could reconcile long term vision and a sense of opportunity. He was also surrounded by wise advice, in particular from his two fathers-in-law and successors, Abu Bekr and Omar, who were sometimes opposed by his cousin Ali, husband of his daughter Fâtima.

In 628, Mohamed announced that he intended to begin the spiritual conquest of Mecca by leading a peaceful march. The enterprise was crowned with success, in spite of the humiliating concessions that he had to accept: as of 629, Muslims were allowed into the city for the pilgrimage. In 630, however, he prepared a great military expedition to intimidate his last adversaries: the Meccan aristocracy, divided, avoided a showdown by submitting and then converting. Medina thus became the capital of Arabia, unified around its prophet, around whom the great Qurayshi families now crowded. At the height of his power, the Messenger of Allah died on June 6, 632.

At the same time, an exhausted Byzantium once again gained the advantage over Persia, which was finally defeated. The armies of the first caliphs (heirs of the prophet), which could no longer hold to ransom the Islamized Arabs, seized this opportunity to launch out on the conquest of the known world. As Rodinson recounts, they advanced at lightning speed: “A century after the date when Muhammad, an obscure camel driver, had begun to gather around him in his house a few poor Meccans, his successors dominated the approaches of the Loire and the lands beyond the Indus, from Poitiers to Samarkand”. For the philosopher Ernst Bloch: “The green flag soon floated over a movement that was homogeneous, above the commercial, warlike and religious storm” which was turning the Middle East and the Mediterranean world upside down: from now on, Islam – which was then the ideology of modernity - would govern the expansion of markets, and do so “from the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire until the rise of Venice, and even of England”. [Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, Cambridge (Mass.), MIT Press, 1986.]

The Koran and women

“Men have authority over women”; they are entitled to admonish them and even to strike them (Koran, 4, 34). Polygamy is limited to four women (except for the prophet), provided that the husband feels capable of treating them on an equal footing. This of course only concerned a minority of sufficiently well-off believers.

Women were active within early Islam. They questioned, advised and fought. Thus Aïsha, one of the wives of Mohamed, was astonished that Allah only spoke to men, provoking a modification of the revelation, which was now addressed to both sexes. As a general rule, however, they received a half-share of inheritance, because they did not have a material responsibility with regard to their family (Koran, 4, 11).

The sexual desire of women is reputed to be ten times superior to that of men. This is not a cause for blame – in heaven, each orgasm should last at least twenty-four years - but must be strictly contained within patriarchal marriage. The Koran does not evoke excision.

Concerning the wearing of the veil, a Koranic verse recommends women to hide their breasts with their shawl (24, 31); another enjoins them to tighten their dress (33, 59). It was also prescribed to address the wives of the prophet behind a curtain (33, 53). Tradition argues that the body of women must be hidden, except for their face and their hands (this is, however, a hadîth whose chain of transmission is not well established).

Adultery must be proven by four concurring testimonies in order to be punished (4, 15). Stoning is not mentioned in the Koran, but in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy, 22, 23-24). Some hadîth refer to it, but their credibility is doubtful.

An Islam of the poor?

“The Koran (…) transmitted to the future generations the message of an oppressed man, who had at a certain moment been made indignant by injustice and oppression. It contained in its chaotic text invectives and challenges to the powerful, calls for the equity and the equality of men. One day, men were found who would seize hold of these words and make weapons of them.

“The original Arabs of (…) had had to accept equality with those whom they had conquered and among whom many now identified completely with them. The revolutionary movement which imposed this equality triumphed in the name of its own values, the values which had brought them victory. (…) Throughout the centuries, many other movements (…) would do the same. (…) Somewhere, at the source of these agitations, successful or not, of these more or less justified, more or less inadequate conceptions, , there was the man who had been an obscure camel-driver of a humble family of the Quraysh tribe. (…)

“Ideas have their own life and this life was revolutionary. Once anchored in the memory of men, written down on papyrus, on parchment or even, for the Koran, on flat camel bones, they continue their action, to the consternation of the statesmen and churchmen who have used them, channelled them, worked out a casuistry in order to eliminate from them the dangerous repercussions for the good order of a well regulated society. ”

(Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, 1994)

When and how was the Koran written?

There are considerable disagreements among scientists today over the concrete modalities and the probable time of the final drafting of the Koran. Was it essentially completed while Mohamed was alive or just after his death, or some 200 years later, well after the Arab conquest? For Maxime Rodinson: “The groups of words that Muhammad recited as having been inspired to him by Allah, the revelations, formed what was called a `recital’, in Arabic qor’ ân. They were written down during his lifetime on scattered documents, pieces of leather, flat camel bones, shards of pottery, palm stems, etc. During his life also, these fragments began to be gathered together, they made suras or chapters from them. (…) A book (kitâb) like those of the Jews and the Christians was constituted. (…) Thus the whole of the revelations was set in the mould of units in which a certain order, a certain plan could be distinguished. (…) This work was certainly done at least under the supervision of Muhammad, if did not work on it himself. (…) ” (Muhammad, 1996).

For John Wansbrough: the rewriting of the Koran was a long process, marked by many confrontations with Judaism and Christianity, and its final version is posterior to the year 800 A.D. (Quranic Studies, Oxford, 1977; The Sectarian Medium: Content and Composition off Islamic Salvation History, Oxford, 1978.). Furthermore, Patricia Crone (1987) has gone so far as to question that Mohamed and Islam originated in Mecca (cf. note 1). To learn more, consult the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition, 12 vol., Leiden, Brill, 1960-2005.

Trade and religions of individual salvation

“As long as he was bound, so to speak, organically to his clan, his tribe, his village, his city, he was nothing more, in a rigorously hierarchical society, than an interchangeable element, riveted to the place which destiny had assigned to him for a function that was always the same; man was subject to the idea of a life beyond the grave similar or parallel to this one. Over there too, the social unities of this world would continue to regiment the pale phantoms which would lead a diminished existence. In these lands beyond death, the shades of servants would serve the ghosts of the masters, the phantoms of peasants would cultivate the land for them and the artisans beyond the grave would provide them with all that they needed. Merit and demerit on this earth did not make much of a difference. (…)

“But when there came the time of large-scale international trade which mixed peoples, men and ideas, when societies were established where money became the measure of all things, where the money economy broke down the borders between different ethnic groups, where everyone could make his personal fortune, where the value of the individual in this world depended on the place that he made for himself by his own efforts, people started to hope that everyone would have a destiny at his own measure. Consequently, prophets arose who (…) promised individually [to the rich] a punishment first of all in this world, then in the other. From then on societies and communities were constituted, which taught their members how to attain a happy condition in the other world, how to save themselves individually. ” (Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, 1996)

-Jean Batou is a member of the leadership of SolidaritéS - an anticapitalist, feminist and ecologist movement for 21st century socialism - in Switzerland, and editor of their bimonthly solidaritéS.

The Brecht- Lukacs disagreement (Marxist philosophy)

Reproduced from

CLASSICAL HERITAGE: The Brecht-Lukacs Disagreement

Even though the writings of Marx and Engels did not produce a complete and easily accessible aesthetic, they both devoted an enormous amount of attention to the arts. The work of Mikhail Lifshitz, _The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx_, gives ample evidence that when the scattered comments of Marx on art are collected and arranged, they are both coherent and consistent. Nowhere are they more consistent than on the question of cultural heritage and their high regard for the classics. Their views on the Greek classics, Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, Goethe, Schiller, Balzac, etc., are clear, yet they are variously understood and interpreted. The positions of Brecht and Lukacs on the classical heritage serve as an instructive illustration of both the differing interpretations of Marx and the different reasons given by Marxists for the acceptance or rejection of classical art works and artistic methods.
The differences in the views of Brecht and Lukacs on the social mission of art and the aesthetic effect (rhetoric and cerebration versus catharsis and ethics) tend to foreshadow the
nature of their differences regarding the classics. Apart from his discouragement of the imitation of "models," Brecht's appreciation of the classics is limited by a youthful romantic
radicalism which he can never completely shed. He seems to hold that, unlike other social changes in history, the change from capitalism to socialism is not a transition, a dialectical
rejection-acceptance, but a complete obliteration of everything old, to be replaced by the entirely new in every facet of social, economic and cultural life. Since bourgeois  society/culture has become thoroughly corrupt, it must be rejected as a whole, including its accumulated artistic/literary traditions. He polemically contrasts dramatic (old) and epic (new) theatres as if they were completely exclusive, polar opposites and proclaims, with reference to the classical heritage: "We know that the barbarians have their art. Let us create another."(1)
When it comes to the evaluation of individual artists, however, Brecht is inconsistent with his otherwise categorical rejection of the past. This is partly the result of his often ready acknowledgement that his position regarding the past is exaggerated and partly the result of change with maturity in his theory of literature. He first ridicules Thomas Mann (_The Magic Mountain_)  and rejects Balzac and Shakespeare as irrelevant and useless, but later regards them highly. Even then he does not agree that their methods should serve as models, yet his dramaturgy owes a lot to Shakespeare. His appreciation of Swift, Rabelais, Diderot, and Chinese didactic poetry, leads Mittenzwei to conclude that "Brecht's concept of tradition is considerably wider" than Lukacs's.(2) In fact these exceptions only point out that while Brecht is usually open-minded toward techniques and contents in individual works from any period he actually studies, his generalized theoretical attitude toward the classics is intolerant. During the 1920s and the early 1930s this is so obvious that Lukacs, while in Berlin, criticized the "anti- heritage" positions of both Walter Benjamin and Brecht. When Lukacs criticizes those who fail to "appreciate the popular roots and progressive quality of classical literature and the relationship of the aesthetic problems of this literature to critical and social issues and to national history, past, present, and future,"(3) he is addressing "academicism" specifically, but some of the comments apply to Brecht as well. During most of his career, a classical piece to Brecht was only worthwhile as something other than a relic if it did not settle for the characterization of the universal aspects of human nature and if it somehow addressed current social issues or was adaptable to do so. But, as we shall see later, there were contradictions even in this view, because at times he spoke clearly in favor of preserving the historical value of such works. Part of the problem with Brecht's critical treatment of the classics is that his reading of particular works is often inaccurate, his opinion excessive and his generalization hasty. This is particularly true in his youth, when he calls Thomas Mann "a typical, successful bourgeois producer of artificial, trivial and useless books,"(4) and sarcastically, but semi-seriously, offers money to anyone who would burn them. As late as 1927 he wants to "abolish aesthetics" and regards Shakespeare not only as barbaric but also as "no longer effective."(5) He says that the "traditional theatre" means nothing any more, that its significance is purely historic. The works of Ibsen and Strindberg, for example, "remain important historical documents, but they no longer move anybody. A modern spectator can't learn anything from them."(6) Even in his "Short Organum" he gives such an inaccurate reading of _Hamlet_ that Eric Bentley has to remind him that Shakespeare's Hamlet kills neither his mother nor himself. In short, his passion for the ideas of his new (epic) theatre often overwhelms the facts and his otherwise good critical judgment.
The writings and theatre activities of the middle and latter part of Brecht's life reflect ambivalence and contradiction regarding the classical heritage. He characterizes the art of the Greeks and the Elizabethans as barbarian, whose "dreamlike figures up on the stage" (as in _Oedipus- and _Othello_) allow us, even force us to indulge in emotional excesses.(7) He still dualistically reduces the question of the value of the classical heritage to the struggle of the old and the new in which the new must win, but often admits the necessity for studying the old artistic methods and tools in order to transform and use them and not reject them.(8) And he continues to struggle with the question of "eternal value." To justify his position he quotes
only Marx's somewhat condescending remark that through ancient Greek literature mankind likes to remember its childhood.(9) His opposition to "eternal forms" and eternal values in art is usually automatic (as his debate with Lukacs shows), but in 1952, when asked about this, he states that although he does not think that art-works remain equally valuable through all ages, he believes they do for a "long time." He finds it strange that Aeschylus' works are still enjoyable today, but does not deny it, nor does he consider the phenomenon mere escapism. But more importantly, he now agrees with Lenin that it is ridiculous to suggest that a new proletarian art which owes nothing to literary tradition can be created.(10)
His theoretical writings aside, Brecht's artistic work in the theatre also demonstrates some degree of ambivalence toward the classics. While it is an unfair exaggeration to say that "in a broad sense, all of Brecht's plays are adaptations,"(11) it is true that he relies heavily upon classics for source materials, ideas and inspiration. His motives vary from creating performance vehicles for certain talents (e.g., _The Duchess of Malfi_ for Elisabeth Bergner) to offering reinterpretations or counterversions of several well-known works of classical literature. Among the latter are such plays as Shakespeare's _Coriolanus_, Moliere's _Don Juan_, Marlowe's _Edward II_, Sophocles' _Antigone_, Lenz's _The Tutor_ and Farquhar's _The Recruiting Officer_.
The artistic merit and the reception accorded the adaptations also varies significantly from the highly successful _Threepenny Opera_ (Gay's _Beggars' Opera_), to the controversial _The Roundheads and the Peakheads_ (using the plot line of Shakespeare's _Measure for Measure_) And the relatively unsuccessful reworking of Gorky's novel, _The Mother_. In his critical writings Brecht calls for historicity in the adaptation or production of plays from other periods. He does not want them stripped of "everything that makes them different" so that the age they reflect looks "more or less like our own."(12) But by historicity he does not mean slavish reproduction of authentic detail. He argues that if the socio- economic systems of earlier periods are not portrayed as being essentially different from ours, we will get the impression that social forms and human relationships are unchangeably permanent.
Instead of pointing up parallels and similarities, "we must leave them their distinguishing marks and keep their impermanence before our eyes, so that our own period can be seen to be impermanent too."(13) Our theatres, Brecht says, "like to annihilate distance, fill in the gap, gloss over the differences," in other words, they like to modernize.(14) He wants, consistently with his theory of alienation, to preserve the distance and point up the dissimilarity. Brecht's practice, however, is not always consistent with his theories on the classics. We can easily see the contradiction between his heavy reliance on the classics for adaptations and his frequently stated low regard for the very authors he borrows from. To demand that we preserve in our theatre productions the "passionate quality of a great masterpiece" is to pay homage. So is making an adaptation in the spirit we described above. Yet, even if we classified every Brecht adaptation a so-called "counterversion," we would still have to find it remarkably interesting that in his artistic work he is usually attracted to the very authors he generally rejects in his theory (Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sophocles) and not to those (Swift, Rabelais, Diderot) he embraces. One of the notable exceptions is Maxim Gorky, whom Brecht always admires and still adapts. If we look at the adaptation of _The Mother_, however, we find that Brecht does not trust Gorky's artistic method. In short, Brecht's practice disagrees in several ways with his theory on the classics. Brecht criticizes Lukacs's favorite 19th century novelist, Balzac, as severely and as unfairly as he does, largely because he believes that lukacs had set Balzac up as an absolute model for realism. When he is commenting unfavorably on Balzac, he is really commenting on his perception of Lukacs's literary theory. To the extent Lukacs's expects modern artists to copy the form of old, established realistic works, says Brecht, he is a formalist critic regardless of his ideological foundations. So his objection to Lukacs's position on the classics is twofold: first, that Lukacs's concept of realism is modeled too rigidly after the 19th century and is therefore too narrow; and second, that Lukacs recommends the molding of new works into old forms and, consequently the only twentieth century writers he likes are those who come close to this requirement (e.g., Thomas Mann and Maxim Gorky). The first of these objections is a Brechtian exaggeration, but it has become a widely held assumption about Lukacs. Certainly, Lukacs's concept of realism is too narrow to include Joyce, Kafka, Beckett and Ionesco, but in the final analysis so is Brecht's. Going back before the nineteenth century, Lukacs's concept allows room for a great many writers, including Aeschylus, Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe and Walter Scott. In fact, his theory makes clear that these and other great figures were the founders, nurturers and preservers of realism through the ages. Brecht, on the other hand, is ambivalent: he sometimes rejects these same classics and other times admires them. He sometimes alters classical works to suit his ideological purpose and make them relevant to our times, while in other instances he praises the "fighting spirit" of the classics and wants to preserve "the passionate quality" of every "great masterpiece."(15)
Lukacs, as we have seen, denies categorically the Brecht allegation that he wants modern writers to copy the classics. It would be childish to suggest, he says, that today's writers should imitate Goethe or Tolstoy, no matter how fine examples they may be. The great classics, however, are useful and relevant today as examples and standards of quality. The usefulness of classics in this sense does not exclude similar value in modern works. Lukacs does not admit to a wholesale rejection of modern literature as Brecht and others have implied. His criticism of the anti-realist tendencies of what he calls "modernism" should not be seen as a negative opinion of all contemporary art.(16) Still, even though his list of outstanding contemporary realist writers includes Anatole France, Roman Rolland, Heinrich Mann, Anton Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn and the late Brecht in addition to Gorky and Thomas Mann, he finds the era relatively sparse in good works. (Even less in socialist than in
bourgeois society.) In Lukacs's final analysis, the nineteenth century novel is superior to the twentieth century novel and the drama of the Greeks and the Elizabethans rises above modern
drama. But these judgments do not imply that the road to raising the standards for modern literature is by way of the imitation of the classics. At the end of his book, _The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx_, Mikhail Lifshitz declares that the slogan of Marx's aesthetics is: "_Art is dead!_ LONG LIVE ART!" This is an expression of a rather utopian belief, not Marxian in its implication, that socialist art is born without roots and fully grown, as Pallas Athena had sprung from Zeus' head. Neither Marx's esteem for the classical heritage nor the eighty year history of socialist literature and art would justify such a slogan. Yet Brecht's theoretical writings, his desire for radically new art and his ambivalence about the classics, flirt with just such a belief. Brecht's maxim, as quoted by Benjamin, is: "Don't start from the good old things but from the bad new ones."(17)
Why does Brecht hold such an apparently insensible position? This is a difficult question to answer, because while Brecht's theoretical writing often confirms a negative view of the classics, his artistic work rarely does. Early in his career, influenced by the romantic, rebellious stance of German expressionism and by the radical goals of Russian formalism, Brecht turns against the approach of traditional dramaturgy and aesthetics. His polarized opposition of the (old) dramatic theatre with the (new) epic theatre expresses just such a rebellion. At the core of this opposition is the belief that the "dramatic" theatre (and evidently most literature) has portrayed the world and human beings and unchanging and unchangeable. To Brecht, who by now considers himself a Marxist, this fundamental error in perception and reflection makes all such literature unrealistic. He holds an insensible position because he bases his judgment about literature before him not on empirical date (i.e., his own study), but on the oversimplified belief that before Marx all consciousness was false consciousness. His proposed epic theatre would be superior, because its perception and artistic methodology would be from the Marxian perspective and its aim would be not merely to interpret the world, but to change it.
Lukacs, in "Reportage or Portrayal?" (a 1932 essay that is a part of the "expressionism debate"), not only defends his critique of Ottwalt, but also challenges Brecht's rigid opposition to the old ("dramatic") and new (epic) theatres. Specifically he disagrees with Brecht's core point that before him human beings and the world were always portrayed as "unalterable" and only after Marx have they been portrayed as "alterable and altering." Lukacs argues a subtle but important point, that in the best literature, the world and its human
beings were always portrayed as changing and changeable, but not with the same consciousness as after Marx, not from the Marxist point of view. He cites the epoch-making changes portrayed by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe among others.
Even some of the post-Marxian dramas (Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, etc.) reflect such changes in society though the reflection rests on a non-Marxian world view. So there is partial agreement between Brecht and Lukacs. Lukacs disagrees with Brecht's overstatement that pre-epic drama only offers a static portrayal of the world, but agrees that artistic reflection from a Marxist point of view is different from, and usually superior to, artistic creation from a pre-Marxian consciousness. Still, though Lukacs would agree that all history should be written from a Marxist point of view, he would reject the notion that all classical literature should be re-written or adapted to satisfy such a point of view. Art is unlike history which is a science intended to broaden man's awareness of his social development. Art is anthropomorphic reflection designed to broaden man's self-awareness. To change the point of view of any particular work of art, is to destroy its most essential ingredient. Does this mean that Lukacs accepts the classical heritage uncritically? The answer is no for both content and form. He is inclined to agree with Brecht that taking over our literary "inheritance" is not a process carried out without struggle. (18)
His rigorously critical acceptance of the content of classical literature is evident in his writings. For an example of the dialectical correction-acceptance of progressive forms and methodologies by Marxism, Lukacs points to Marx's "inheritance" and correction of Hegel's dialectical method. He never advocates absolute acceptance of what Brecht calls "eternal" artistic forms.
With regard to the classical heritage, Brecht sometimes advocates and other times struggles against an aesthetic formula that, as Frederic Jameson puts it, "deliberately shuts itself up within the narrow confines of an exclusively temporal perspective." Finding "eternal value" in an art work, as Lukacs does and Brecht sometimes comes close to doing, is not the same as accepting and copying fossilized "eternal forms." Nor is there a contradiction between "eternal" value and the art work's historicity as Brecht Generally seems to believe. In fact, Marxist aesthetics, historicity (or historical representativeness) is the most important component of the art work's "eternal" value. Lukacs quotes Lenin about Marxism's acceptance of the "most valuable achievements of the bourgeois era," a position which in fact gives Marxism its "world-historical importance."(19) But in 1932 (when the debate begins) and still today, the bourgeois era is very much alive. For some Marxists it is difficult to welcome the idea of inheriting anything from the hated bourgeois society. If they believe in the theory of continuity in the development of human society, there is a gap in their belief when it comes to the envisioned change from capitalism to socialism. The sins of the slave society are hazed by distance, but the crimes of capitalism (particularly during the Great Depression) are right
there to see and struggle against. Under those circumstances inheritance seems abhorrent to some, including Brecht. They would rather create in a vacuum then rely on bourgeois methods.
Lukacs firmly believes in progress, even though he admits that historical progress is two steps forward and one step backward. Progress in art relies upon the best accomplishments of the past and the historically demonstrable task of art is to contribute to the human-Promethean liberation of mankind. He sees continuity and progress when he looks at the development from the Book of Genesis where man's transformation from half- animal being is conceived as the work of Satan, through Aeschylus's Prometheus, Dante's Satan, Milton's Lucifer "which explodes the theological outlines," to Goethe's's _Faust_ through Dostoyevsky to Thomas Mann's _Faustus_ novel where the satanic element is merely an attempt to separate the individual from the destiny of mankind.(20) It is this enlightened, humanist, this- worldly focus of art that is passed on from era to era and is the core of our classical heritage.
Our classical heritage is humanist, for it endeavors to depict man as a whole in the whole of society. Lukacs reminds us that "the Marxist philosophy of history analyzes man as a whole, and contemplates the history of human evolution as a whole, together with the partial achievement, or non-achievement of completeness of its various periods of development."(21) Though Marxists want to build a bridge back to the classics, they do not regard this objective as a reversion to the past. The way in which great literature from Homer to our times brings about in individual art works the unity of particular and the universal (the typical), Lukacs concludes, gives us pictures of the great periods of human development and at the same time serves as "signposts in the ideological battle fought for the restoration of the unbroken human personality."(22)

Bela Kiralyfalvi
Witchita State University


1. John Willett, trans., _Brecht On Theatre_(New York, 1964) 189.

2. Werner Mittenzwei, "The Brecht-Lukacs Debate," in _Preserve
and Create_, eds. Gaylord LeRoy and Ursula Beitz (New York:
Humanities Press, 1973) 211.

3. Georg Lukacs, _Writer and Critic and Other Essays_ (London:
1970) 201.

4. Bertolt Brecht, _Gessamelte Werke_ (Collected Works) 18
(Frankfurt on the Main, 1967) 49-50. In the following this
edition is cited as GW.

5. Willett 20.

6. 66.

7. 189.

8. GW 19, 553.

9. 549.

10. 522.

11. Karl H. Schoeps, _Bertolt Brecht_ (New York, 1977) 399.

12. Willett 190.

13. 190.

14. 279.

15. 272.

16. Gyorgy Lukacs, _Esztetikai irasok 1930-45_ (Budapest, 1982)

17. Walter Benjamin, _Understanding Brecht (London, 1977) 121.

18. GW 19, 317.

19. Georg Lukacs, "Realism in the Balance" in Ronald Taylor
(ed.), _Aesthetics and Politics_ (London, 1977) 55.

20. Gyorgy Lukacs, _As esztetikum sajatossaga II_ (Budapest,
1969( 772.

21. Georg Lukacs, _Studies in European Realism_ New York, 1964)

22. 5.

All translations are by the author.

originally published in the site


Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is horrified at the latest report of gang rape and murder of an anganwadi worker, Chabi Mahato, in Salbani village of East Midnapore district, W. Bengal. The barbaric use of sexual violence is becoming routine in conflict regions. The case of Chabi Mahato, as reported, is particularly heinous.  WSS is extremely disturbed by the lack of proper information and the reliance solely on police sources for reporting such serious incidents.  This is leading to widespread circulation of false information through the press, in an already vitiated atmosphere.  We see this happening in the recent reports of the so-called `surrender' of Soma Mandi and her allegations of rape by Maoists.  Moreover, the grave issues of violence against women by the police and security forces in these conflict areas tend to get sidelined, or completely ignored by such misinformation.


WSS demands an immediate, independent and impartial investigation, followed by swift action against perpetrators of this crime. WSS also strongly condemns the State for its insufficient and weak response to the rising numbers of such reports of sexual crimes against women in disturbed areas.


Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a network of individuals and women’s and human rights organizations from across India. It is a non-funded effort initiated by women, and is concerned with atrocities and repression against women by state and non-state actors, especially in conflict zones.


September 6, 2010

Australia: the best available government

Australia now has a minority Labor Party government backed by the Greens and independents. It is the best government available in the circumstances. It is certainly to the left of any government that would have resulted if either Labor or the conservative Coalition had won a majority at the elections.The August 21 elections resulted in a hung parliament. In the 150-seat House of Representatives, Labor won 72 seats (a loss of 16), the tory Coalition 73, the Greens 1 and there were four independents of which one was a former Green. With pledges of support from the Green MP and the Green independent, Labor soon had 74 seats. But the other three independents (regional local heroes and conservatives who had dissented from the neo-liberal policies of the major parties) negotiated for 17 days before two of them joined the Labor-Green coalition to give the minority Labor administration 76 votes in the House.

The result has openened up the country to more discussion of policies beyond neo-liberalism which is the official ideology of both Labor and the Coalition. In economics, the Greens are social democrats and supporters of public intervention. The independents are “statist” in their approach, so much so that the Murdoch press calls them disparagingly – but not entirely inaccurately – “agrarian socialists”. This election result has moved us beyond the two-parties, one-choice system. For the moment, neo-liberalism is no longer the unchallenged received wisdom.

To return to the opening claim that this is the optimal government available. The Greens and the independents are in advance of Labor on three key issues - refugees, climate change and the war on Afghanistan. The Greens and independents are in complete agreement in supporting humane treatment of refugees, most of them from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan who risk their lives in flimsy boats to reach Australia. They oppose Labor’s plan to ship these refugees to East Timor. On climate change, the Greens and independents believe in an urgent response (no matter how flawed and inadequate) while Labor decided it could not support anything that was not corporate friendly. And on Afghanistan, The Greens and independents have demanded, and been promised, an urgent debate on Afghanistan once parliament reconvenes.

Interestinly, it was one of the four independents – Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst, who in 2003 publicly quit over the fake intelligence that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq – who called the former majority Labor government’s case to go to war in Afghanistan “the biggest lie of the election campaign”.

In one other - and no less important – respect, the minority government is optimal. In June, Labor’s right-wing faction leaders deposed the Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd and replaced him with the deputy PM Julia Gillard. This was immediately followed by a swing to the right in key areas. The tax on mining super-profits was reduced from 40% to 22.5% and cut in at a higher level. In future, refugees were to be shipped offshore to East Timor. Any action on climate change that the corporations opposed would not be contemplated in the next term of parliament.

Labor’s right-wing argued that this shift to the right would restore Labor’s electoral fortunes. In the event, these moves lost Labor any reformist sheen and prompted a swing against it – mostly to the Greens. Labor’s vote fell from 43.5% to 38%, with the Greens rising almost 4% to nearly 12% and the other 1.5% going to the Coalition which received 43.5%.

Not only did the shift to the right not have the promised electoral benefits, but the secret, backroom manner of Rudd’s removal also repelled many voters. Rudd was PM one day and deposed the next. That old cliche - the night of the long knives - actually happened, leaving Labor looking morally shabby.

The opportunity now exists in the Labor party to roll back the power and influence of the discredited right-wing faction bosses. What will act as an additional spur is the rise of the Greens who increased their share of the vote by 50% - mostly at the expense of rightward shifting Labor. The Greens will now have 9 of the 76 seats in the Senate where their vote was another two percent higher than in the lower house. (The Senate is elected by proportional representation.) With Labor having 31 seats, the Senate will have its first centre-left majority for more than three decades. (However, because of a pecularity of the Constitution, the new Senate does not take effect until July 1 next year.)

With Green voters having risen from one in six of left-of-centre voters to one in four, Labor may now be tempted to tack to the left to recover and keep its voters.

How long this new, mildly reformist government lasts is an open question. This is the first time since 1940-41 that Australia has had a minority government at the national level. The country is used to having majority governments. However, at state level there have been minority governments relatively frequently over the past 20 years, so it is not entirely unknown territory. The economic conjuncture is also favourable. Australia is a political satellite of the United States, but an economic province of booming China. On the back of record exports of coal, gas, iron ore and other minerals to China, India and Japan, the economy is growing at over 3% per year, there is relatively full employment, the deficit is about 3% of GDP and the government debt is less than 10% of GDP.

For the moment the Greens and the independents are driving the new government insisting on (and achieving) promises of more debate in parliament, more consultation and more freedom to introduce legislation. The Greens are also demanding consideration of a higher super-tax on mining profits, withdrawal from Afghanistan, a price on carbon, same-sex marriage and a reduction of fetters on union action. A still shell-shocked and grateful Labor leadership is entertaining all these proposals.

It is possible to argue that there is a left-of-centre majority in the country. Moreover, if the young were properly enrolled to vote, this leftish majority would be overwhelming. About 1.4 million eligible voters are not on the electoral roll – equivalent to 10% of the electorate. We know that the majority of these are young people 18-24. And they are exactly the group that votes 2-1 for Labor and the Greens. (The failure of the young to register is scarcely a surprise. Our parliamentary democracy is owned by the corporations, perfectly illustrated by Labor’s abandonment of an emissions trading scheme and a genuine mining tax. Why would the young rush to embrace something that is seemingly meaningless?)

Nevertheless the push-back from conservative forces inside and outside Labor’s ranks is taking shape. The Murdoch press (it accounts for 70% of newspaper circulation in the country) is ferociously opposed to the new government. The Coalition has confirmed its more right-wing leadership in place. And Labor’s right, while lying low, have not lost their positions. The two Labor-supporting country independents, who represent traditionally conservative electorates, may also get cold feet.

There is also media pressure bearing down on the Greens to “moderate” (read abandon) their policies. Red-baiting has re-appeared with revelations, mainly in the Murdoch press, about the leftish and even ancient Stalinist associations of some of the new Green MPs. Even the party’s inspiring but sober-sides leader, Bob Brown, has been indicted for his “tomato red” economic views – on the front page of the liberal broadsheet, The Sydney Morning Herald.

But for the time being, political life is running in new channels in Australia. This moment opens up new configurations and new balances of forces which are more hopeful for those who are campaigning for a good life beyond consumer capitalism, for the society of the free and equal, for sharing the wealth, for an economy which respects the natural conditions for life, and for a break with US military adventures with their murder, wholesale killing, torture and enormous waste.

It might not be quite a political Spring, but it is an advance on the deeper winter that could have been.

Hall Greenland

Originally published in Socialist Resistance