Under any social structure of accumulation, there exists a Master Signifier, which serves as the structuring principle of discursive operations. These historically contingent operations operate at two levels: the ontic and the ontological. The ontic refers to the ideological delimitation of what can be talked about, establishing the contours for the struggle of hegemony within a specific accumulation regime. Hence, it is the domain of politics, of Reality. As Alicia Valdes notes, “[t]he ontic level of politics establishes which elements, issues, demands, or interests are worth entering politics. It is the level concerned with beings, their needs, and desires. The ontic level of politics is responsible for limiting the signifying chain of political discourses”. The ontological refers to the inclusion and exclusion of people that a discourse orchestrates, setting limits to who can speak in the discourse, and intervene in politics and Reality. This can be clarified through the distinction between subjection and subjectification. While the former denotes the way in which each individuals’ interaction with society is necessarily mediated through a discourse, the latter denotes a form of discursive emplacement through which the individual comes to completely identify with the signifying chain. As such, the ontological pertains to the Real, the Political. In the words of Valdes: “The ontological level of politics establishes who can intervene in politics…At the ontological level…a framing operation establishes limits between the space for existence and the space for ex-sistence. Those who produce and reproduce the signifying chain of political discourse inhabit the place for existence…The place of ex-sistence is where the Real, as the Political, inhabits. In other words, the ontological level of politics sets limits to the being of beings that accede to the ontic.” The status of the ontological as the machine that excludes certain people means that it is home to the explosiveness of the Political, the element that can leap out of the zone of non-being to disrupt the very division of the ontic and the ontological.
The dualities of ontic and ontological, Reality and Real, politics and Political, subjection and subjectification, existence and ex-sistence, emerge from the constitutive lack at the heart of human subjectivity. The emergence of the signifying order directly coincides the formation of a constitutive lack at the heart of human subjectivity. In the language system developed by humans, significatory connotation confers an additional or excess meaning on objects that is not reducible to their empirical existence. This translates into the construction of a division between the signifier and signified, between the name and the idea of the object, with no amount of linguistic effort ever being able to close this gap. We keep moving from one signifier to another along the signifying chain, as one signifier constantly refers to another in a perpetual deferral of meaning. This separation of the signifier and the signified – labeled “symbolic castration” – also denotes the separation of the subject from the satisfying object (“objet a”). All of the subject’s diverse activities within the system of signification come to revolve around the attempt to rediscover this object that it never possessed. Since absence animates the subject, repetitious attachment to failure – attributable to the loss of the object that signification entails – becomes a defining characteristic of human subjectivity. We unconsciously satisfy ourselves and gain enjoyment/jouissance through successive efforts to attain a missing satisfaction. In the arrangement created by a Master Signifier, the aforementioned dualities serve as the Symbolic framework – the network of language and order, norms, customs, habits, rules, laws, etc. – through which our constitutive lack can be dealt with.
The mechanisms of the Symbolic allow for the subjectification of certain groups through a form of political identification that enables an affective attachment toward the objet a offered by a particular discourse. This affective attachment allows the subject to cope with symbolic castration by pushing it to locate its identity in the ideal images constructed by a hegemonic narrative. Once this process of identitarian location is completed, the subject successfully enters the signifying chain. However, as Valdes reminds, “success of symbolic identification does not imply the achievement of a complete identity, as the lack of the subject makes it an impossible campaign. Instead, it only assures the entrance in the continuous process of identification that can occur once the subject enters the Symbolic register. Success is the affective attachment that certain subjects can develop toward the ideal subject that emerges from a specific discursive operation.” Apart from the subjectified agents of the Master Signifier, there are those who fail to engage in symbolic identification. This failure is “the rejection certain subjects receive when attempting an identification, whether it is a result of their rejection of the Symbolic order or a result of their imposed incompatibility with the subject offered in the Symbolic register.” Taking into account the presence of these subjects, Valdes distinguishes between “subjects with existence” and “subjects with ex-sistence”. The former indicates subjects whose constitutive lack, and thus inability to form a full identity, is temporarily sutured through a successful symbolic identification with the objet a posited by the discursive engine of a Master Signifier. These subjects inhabit the space of Reality. The latter indicates subjects who, on top of the constitutive lack instituted by the language system, have a constituted lack. This second constituted lack “results from their resistance or prohibited entrance toward the ideal or the normativity that offers the Symbolic order. These subjects inhabit the Real.”
The Master Signifier that represents capitalism is the commodity form. In the economic domain, capitalism works through the homogenizing logic of money and market, wherein the former equates commodities on the basis of abstract socially necessary labor and the latter equates individuals as interchangeable market actors. This market actor is empty in terms of identity because it is simply supposed to pursue its own self-interest. To fill this isolated particularity of the market actor, the capitalist Master Signifier discursively posits the promissory gesture of accumulation and commodities as the objet a. Through this discursive operation, the future is said to embody a type of satisfaction unavailable in the present and attached to one’s investment in the capitalist system. However, this objet a, this symbolic identification with the commodity form, is only fully available to the capitalists and not to the workers. In the words of Todd McGowan:
“Capitalists themselves at least can fill the emptiness of their particularity with money and other commodities. Capitalists have their particular accumulation to give themselves a content. Even if this accumulation offers them nothing but dissatisfaction after dissatisfaction, they can at least hope that some future level of accumulation will provide what they’ve been missing. This hope is what keeps them invested in the capitalist system, despite its broken promises. Workers don’t have that option. In Marx’s account, they are pure form without content and thus the engine for revolutionary subjectivity…Without the possibility of the accumulation that gives the capitalist a content, the working class lacks the identity that the capitalist class has. Because its particularity is empty, it can assume the mantel of the revolution without sacrificing anything but its chains. The working class has everything to gain and nothing to lose with the turn toward revolution.”
Pure form without content. This formulation, in addition to conveying the economic status of workers, can also be explained in a logical way through certain psychoanalytic tools. For this, we need to take a conceptual detour through the notion of the “hysteric”, which is defined as the subject that, being subjected to the Symbolic, is not accepted by the signifying chain of the Master Signifier, by the Other. The lack of acceptance leads to the rejection of the Other by the subject and the decision to embrace constitutive lack as the main principle of ex-sistence. In the discourse of the capitalist Master Signifier, bourgeois subjectivity believes that it has gained jouissance through commodities and accumulation. However, having this illusory commodified jouissance leaves one constantly threatened by the idea of its loss and incessantly striving for more authentic possession. The capitalist subject has established fantasmatic coherence within the Master Signifier of commodity, but this coherence remains fragile because bourgeois subjectivity constitutes itself in reference to the threat of castration. Thus, the problem with the commodity form, with the capitalist objet a, stems not simply from the constant threat of loss but also from the impossibility of ever really having it. Bourgeois subjectivity exists in relation to an ideal of perfect having, a non-castration that is structurally unattainable. In contrast, the proletarian hysteric, the subject of ex-sistence, does not depend upon the ideal of non-castration since its economic position seals it from the illusion of endless accumulation, turning it into the placeholder of the Real. Giving up on the dream of having commodities, the proletarian hysteric constitutes itself through not having the commodity, and symbolic castration therefore functions as the foundation of proletarian subjectivity. Proletarian subjectivity does not require the threat of symbolic castration because it embodies the threat itself, the constitutive lack. In other words, the proletarian hysteric derives jouissance from the complete embrace of the Real, adopting the standpoint of lack to fight against the illusion of commodified plenitude.
Now, to return to the dialectic of form and content, the proletarian hysteric is pure form because, in the discursive universe of the capitalist Master Signifier, it is ontologically excluded and not supposed to speak; consequently, it is unintelligible to the Reality of bourgeois politics. Insofar that the proletarian Political is unintelligible to the ontic narrative of the commodity, its content can’t be prioritized. The mere fact of speaking by the proletarian hysteric dislocates the syntax of the capitalist Master Signifier and allows for the Real to make itself felt in the Symbolic. Thus, the proletarian Real – the pure negativity of capitalism that lingers as unassimilable into the Symbolic order and manifests itself within the periodic turbulences of the capitalist system – emerges at the limits of the capitalist Symbolic, when the Symbolic loses its transparency and clearly fails to disambiguate itself. The failure of disambiguation means that the commodity-as-objet a ceases to trouble subjectivity as a promised but necessarily impossible plenitude. This disruption of the capitalist Master Signifier is completed through the inscription of the Real within the Symbolic, which crafts a new Communist Master Signifier whose discursive operation is based upon the fundamentality of the non-traumatic signifier of the lack in the Other. This signifier of the lack in the Other functions in the following way. For bourgeois subjectivity, proletarian subjectivity is its Other, the hysteric who is defined by the lack of commodified jouissance. For proletarian subjectivity, however, there is no negative Other in relation to which it can construct its positive identity and fantasies regarding the objet a. Hence, the proletariat is a subject in which, to borrow Alenka Zupancic’s words, “[t]he nonexistence of the Other is itself inscribed into the Other.” Insofar that the proletariat is the “Other the inconsistency of which is inscribed in it,” the Communist Master Signifier comes to center around the signifier of the lack in Other. This allows for a politics which emphasizes the internally divided nature of the human subject, the aspect of the Real which is always concealed by capital’s uncritical fantasies of wholeness. The only way to fully come to terms with the constitutive lack that inheres in the being of humanity is to orient politics toward its conscious and controlled materializations in the form of democratically crafted fantasies.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey, has also been made into a major motion picture. I am only dealing with the book. It was written by Ernesto Guevara (he had not yet become "Che") from notes he made when he was 23 years old and traveling from Cordoba in Argentina to Caracas in Venezuela in late 1951 through the summer of 1952 with his friend Alberto Granado on the latter’s motorcycle La Poderosa II – which vehicle broke down and was discarded early in the trip (in the south of Chile) leaving both young men as vagabonds for the remainder of their journey.
Not much has really changed since this trip, at least as far as the US relationship to the peoples of the region is concerned. In 2021 we see the Biden/Harris regime still trying to overthrow any and all progressive movements in Latin America (especially the one true democracy in the hemisphere, Cuba) and happily living with the fascist governments in Brazil and Columbia.
In any case, the book is an enjoyable and brisk read. The adventures of the two young men, Guevara, a year away from graduating from medical school, and the slightly older Granado, a biochemist specializing in the study of leprosy, as they make their way up the Pacific coast through Chile to Peru and then inland to Cusco, the Amazon and on up to Bogota and finally Caracas by means of hitching rides, buses, steamships, a raft on the Amazon, and various other modes of transport, is an engaging tale.
But what makes it particularly interesting is the hints the book contains of the future "Che." It is this aspect on which I want to comment. The first seventy or so pages are devoted to describing the journey and the problems encountered along the way. But social commentary then begins. It first turns up when Guevara encounters a dying woman in Valparaiso in early March of 1952 – three months into the trip. The woman is poor and suffering from diseases she cannot afford to treat, and of course, she can no longer work.
In her plight, Guevara sees "the profound tragedy circumscribing the life of the proletariat the world over." This leads him to the following reflection, somewhat mild considering what will come later. "How long this present order, based on the absurd idea of caste, will last is not within my means to answer, but it’s time that those who govern spent less time publicizing their own virtues and more money, much more money, funding socially useful works."
The two leave Valparaiso for Antofagasta by sea as stowaways on the freighter San Antonio. A hint of the travels of the future Che may be read into Guevara’s musings during this trip: "There we understood that out vocation, our true vocation, was to move for eternity along the roads and seas of the world. Always curious, looking into everything that came before our eyes, sniffing out each corner but only ever faintly – not setting down roots in any land or staying long enough to see the substratum of things: the outer limits would suffice." I wonder if a clue to the tragedy of Quebrada del Yuro is here foreshadowed?
A few days after they arrive in Antofagasta they make it to the great copper mine of Chuquicamata. Here Guevara meets communist workers. At this time the Communist Party was illegal and repressed. Communists were imprisoned, denied the right to vote and many had just disappeared "and said to be somewhere at the bottom of the sea."
"It’s a great pity," Guevara writes with reference to a worker he had met, "that they repress people like this. Apart from whether collectivism, the ‘communist vermin,’ is a danger to decent life, the communism gnawing at his entrails was no more than a natural longing for something better, a protest against persistent hunger transformed into a love for this strange doctrine, whose essence he could never grasp but whose translation, "bread for the poor," was something he understood and, more importantly, that filled him with hope." Needless to say, workers at Chuquicamata were in a living Hell.
It is interesting to note that the 1952 Chilean Presidential elections were about to take place. One of the candidates was Salvadore Allende. The winner was Carlos Ibañez del Campo who was progressive and said he would legalize the Communist Party – which happened in 1958. "The biggest effort Chile should make," Guevara notes, "is to shake its uncomfortable Yankee friend from its back, a task that for the moment at least is Herculean, given the quantity of dollars the United States has invested here and the ease with which it flexes its economic muscle whenever its interests seem threatened."
I wonder if there may not be something subconsciously autobiographical in Guevara’s comments about the conquistador Valdivia. "Valdivia’s actions symbolize man’s indefatigable thirst to take control of a place where he can exercise total authority. That phrase, attributed to Caesar, proclaiming he would rather be first-in-command in some humble Alpine village than second-in-command in Rome, is repeated less pompously, but no less effectively, in the epic campaign that is the conquest of Chile." Caesar aut nihil.
From Chile the two friends head into Peru where they encounter the problems of the indigenous peoples. They soon make it to Bogota and find Colombia, then as now, the most repressive country of their tour. They finally end up in Caracas where they go their separate ways. Guevara flies to Miami for a few days and then flies back to Buenos Aires and returns to his family in Cordoba. He is almost, but not quite yet "Che" – but he does see the future. "I see myself," he notes on the last page of his diary, "immolated in the genuine revolution, the great equalizer of individual will, proclaiming the ultimate mea culpa."
The Motorcycle Diaries
By Ernesto Guevara
New York, Ocean Press, 2004.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
Workers decorate an office of the Kurdistan Communist Party - Iraq. With one lonely member of parliament, one might think the KCP is a marginal force, but its influence far outstrips its electoral performance. | Kurdistan TV via KCP
SULAYMANIYAH, Iraqi Kurdistan—For those who have followed the development of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq since its formation after the Kurdish rebellion of 1991, the names Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani have been inextricably tied to the region’s politics.
Their respective parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have long dominated the political landscape, dividing the territory of the autonomous region between themselves after a period of intense inner-Kurdish warfare in the 1990s. Today, they each maintain their own Peshmerga military formations, and the KRG often appears to function as a one-party state, though paradoxically, there are two of them.
Then there is the oldest party in the Kurdistan Region, the Kurdistan Communist Party. With one lonely MP, one could be forgiven for having the impression that the Communists are a marginal force. The party’s influence and importance to the region, however, far outstrip its electoral performance.
The rich history of the Iraqi/Kurdistan Communist Party
The Kurdistan Communist Party was technically founded in 1993, although in reality this simply meant the branch of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) in what had become the Kurdistan Region was now solely responsible for its own affairs in the new de facto independent area.
The Iraqi party dates its foundation back to 1934. It played a vital role in the formation of the country’s working-class organizations, including the establishment of trade unions. The party has experienced periods of legality and illegality throughout its existence and had a contradictory relationship with the Ba’ath Party that ruled the country for nearly four decades.
In 1963, the U.S.-backed Ba’athist coup that deposed Abd al-Karim Qasim led to thousands of Communist Party members being slaughtered in the following days, with party leader Salam Adil among those executed. However, in the mid-1970s, relations between the Communist Party and the Ba’athists warmed somewhat, with the Communists initially viewing Saddam Hussein positively when he came to power, even referring to him in glowing terms as Iraq’s own variant of Fidel Castro in the aftermath of nationalization campaigns. This led to their inclusion in the National Progressive Front in 1975, which meant accepting the Ba’ath Party’s dominance over Iraqi political life.
However, certain contradictions soon began to appear irreconcilable. The Communists were proud of their heritage as a multinational party and advocated an Iraqi state with full rights for both of its dominant nations, Arabs and Kurds. This had initially been the line of the Qasim government that had taken power in 1958, which the Communists generally supported. By contrast, the Ba’athist ideology could make no room for Kurds in its Arab nationalist orientation unless they agreed to a position of subservience and second-class citizenship.
In Sulaymaniyah, where the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is the dominant political force, I was able to speak with the Deputy Secretary-General for the Communist Party in the governorate, Hawre Gorran.
On the right of nations to self-determination
Gorran begins by making it clear that the KRG should be united, not divided into two camps that are each under the control of either the KDP or PUK. He is clear in his opposition to the vast privatization that has taken place under each party in the areas of health, education, and electricity, but also keenly aware that division between the Talabani and Barzani cliques has been catastrophic.
“The Kurdistan Communist Party played a very important role in mediating between the KDP and PUK during the civil war that was fought between 1994 and 1997. Our leader at that time, Aziz Muhammad, helped bring them together to end the conflict,” he says.
Muhammad, who passed away in 2017, was a legendary figure on the Kurdish and Iraqi left and was symbolic of the Communist Party’s approach to unity between Arabs and Kurds, serving as leader of the Iraqi party from 1964 to 1993, then of the independent Kurdish party after that.
When asked about the KCP’s relationships with other communist parties in the region who may oppose Kurdish independence, Gorran attempts to toe a diplomatic line, saying it would probably be better if I ask those parties why they take such a position. In the end, however, he says, “It is clearly related to chauvinism. This is not a communist position. It has nothing to do with Lenin’s conception of a nation’s right to be self-determining.”
On the reactionary role of the United States in Kurdistan
This question was wrapped up in another extremely important point that needed to be clarified, which is the relationship between Kurdistan as an oppressed nation and the role of the United States in the region.
Much of the apprehension that I have often encountered in regards to the Kurdish question from leftists and those calling themselves communists is that Kurds are merely auxiliaries of U.S. imperialism in the region, and therefore their national liberation struggle is not worthy of support. But the KCP makes it clear that they are opponents of U.S. imperialism, and the party is not afraid to speak out against the machinations of Washington in the region or criticize certain decisions taken by parties or organizations they otherwise have friendly relations with.
Hawre Gorran says, “The U.S. is working for its own interests all over the Middle East. It doesn’t care about the Kurdish people. For example, they opposed the 2017 independence referendum, and when the Iraqi government captured Kirkuk, an agreement was signed for oil extraction there that clearly benefits imperialism.”
Gorran says in response, “Any agreement that is made has to take people’s needs into account. This agreement offers no protection for the people. The United States and Russia are playing a role in controlling resources in the Middle East. Any force in Rojava should be prioritizing and protecting people’s interests.”
On women’s liberation
Perhaps the most impressive, progressive element of that struggle in northern Syria, as well as its most concrete achievement, has been the central role that women have played in it. Indeed, the image of the fearless Kurdish woman fighter has become prevalent across the world in recent years as a result.
However, there is nothing necessarily new about women playing roles equal to men in the leftist movement in Kurdistan. According to Hawre Gorran, equality of women is “extremely important” to the KCP. He elaborates, saying, “It’s essential that women are not only members of the party, but that they are able to elevate themselves to be leading cadre. In our Central Committee, it is a rule that at least 25% of members need to be women.”
I ask what stands in the way of changing these backward, patriarchal relations. “The mentality of people is a big obstacle. Often, it is their interpretation of religion that makes people believe that things are naturally supposed to be this way.”
On the struggle for democracy in Kurdistan
If women’s rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq continue to be stalled, and only incremental progress has been made, then what does this say about the state of democracy in general in the region?
Gorran says, “If we look at the history of any country, we can see that the democratic struggle takes a long time. We had the struggle against the Ba’athist chauvinists, then the inner-Kurdish war. Democracy has not yet reached a higher level. For instance, Massoud Barzani has no official position, yet he still remains the main point of contact for everything in the KRG. Therefore, he effectively runs everything.”
He is also eager to point out that while parties such as the PUK and KDP continue the ruling family’s dominance in leadership positions, the KCP has a different idea of democratic norms. “We have changed our General Secretary four times since our party was founded in 1993. This is very different from the other parties.”
This kind of non-democratic management of the major parties also has the effect of blurring the lines between the government and what should be fighting organizations of the working class, the trade unions. Gorran says that “Many unions were created here after 1991. Some are not controlled by the PUK or KDP, but some are. For example, they control the Journalists’ Union.”
This was quite a revelation. It certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched to believe that the Barzani and Talabani families having this degree of influence over the union of the region’s press workers would translate into—or help to reinforce—their control over the media and dissemination of information.
Gorran says that the fighting power of many unions is compromised by these relationships, thus helping maintain the impression that there is more democracy than there often is. “One union, for instance, had a demonstration at a government office. But this union is allied to the PUK. It, therefore, becomes a sort of controlled opposition.”
According to Gorran, “You used to only be able to get public sector jobs by being a member of one of the two main parties. Nowadays, this is also applying to the private sector.”
In December 2020, anger and frustration at the government’s corruption, nepotism, mass unemployment, and non-payment of salaries to public sector workers for several months led to a series of demonstrations across Sulaymaniyah. In the crackdown unleashed by security forces, ten people were killed.
For the Communist Party, these demonstrations were certainly worthy of support, and they played a key role in amplifying the voice of the protesters and rallying to their side, even as they cautioned against the use of violence as a tactic. After nine days, however, the movement seemed to run out of steam, not least because of the harsh repression unleashed by the authorities.
“After these protests, only one or two politicians resigned. This shows that we have a long way to go.”
Toward a communist horizon in Kurdistan
Far from being a political party that can be summed up as operating on the fringes of Iraqi Kurdistan’s social life, I found that in reality, the Kurdistan Communist Party is continuing to build upon its rich history of militant, working-class struggle. Its necessity surely appears validated by the current situation in the region, one in which the democratic struggle feels stifled, and in which the emerging opposition forces of recent years have ebbed in popularity.
I’m reminded at this point of something Hawre Gorran said as we were wrapping up the interview. Speaking about the importance of maintaining a Marxist perspective in the 21st century, he said “It’s essential that we stay true to our principles. We know that only socialism is the answer to not only Kurdistan’s problems but those of the whole world.”
Marcel Cartier is a critically acclaimed hip-hop artist, journalist, and the author of two books on the Kurdish liberation movement, including 2019’s Serkeftin: A Narrative of the Rojava Revolution, which was one of the first full accounts in English of the civil and political structures set up in northern Syria after 2012.
This article was republished from People's World.
The British materialist philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is one of the fathers of social contract theory and modern political philosophy. His magnus opus – Leviathan[i] – is a text which á la Plato’s Republic covers a wide breadth of subjects from epistemology, science, religion, and moral and political philosophy. However, his text is most widely remembered for its monarchism-endorsing political philosophy and its speculative warring state of nature. Nonetheless, there is a contradiction at the heart of Hobbes’ work, between his notorious political thought and his moral philosophy, which is surprisingly egalitarian, collectivist, and progressive (esp. for the 17th century). Before we embark on the examination of this contradiction, let us refresh his position on the ideal political state and the state of nature.
In his political philosophy Hobbes espouses three forms of commonwealth, viz., monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy – each with their respective corrupted forms (tyranny, oligarchy, anarchy) (TH, 143). From these three options (whose minimum threshold is having some form of absolute sovereign power) he considers monarchy the most practical. In his ideal absolute monarchy, the sovereign, instituted by either force (“sovereignty by acquisition”) or choice (“sovereignty by institution”), uses fear – either the fear men have to return to a state of nature, or the fear men have of the sovereign himself – to rule over his subjects. This absolute monarch is paradoxically described as a “mortal god” and analogized to a leviathan – a biblical sea monster which Isaiah 27:1 urges God to slay (TH, 132). With very minor exceptions, Hobbes ideal political state is one in which the autonomy of the subjects is alienated onto the Monarch, making the later a singularity through which the multiplicity of suspended wills expresses itself.
Written during the English civil war, Hobbes’ Leviathan’s state of nature is a projection of the de facto chaotic state of England, where the warring factions of parliamentarian, absolute monarchist, and recently expropriated peasants – led by Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers agrarian socialist movement – battled it out. In this context, Hobbes projects that in the state of nature (who he warns against interpreting as existing generally the same in all places), humanity is in a state of war, “every man, against every man” (TH, 92). This state of nature, we must clarify, is not limited to the condition pre-state primitive societies lived in. Beyond this, Hobbes describes conditions in a civil war (which he was in) and those in international relations between sovereigns as constitutive of a state of nature as well. For Hobbes, this state of nature in “continual fear” provides infertile grounds for industrial and human development, for the security of one’s life is the prime concern (TH, 94). In essence, within the state of nature “the life of man” is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Ibid.).
Out of his political philosophy and speculation on the state of nature, the latter has remained the most influential in contemporary discourse. I remember the news reports during hurricane Katrina claiming that New Orleans was under a ‘Hobbesian state of nature,’ where rape, lootings, and killings dominated. This, of course, was false. Instead, as was shown in Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell (among many other places), events like Katrina show that in times of adversity, when formal institutions seem to temporarily fall, people generally turn to collectively cooperating for the community. Nonetheless, the narrative that the “general inclination of all mankind” is “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death” remains essential in a system that can survive only insofar as it can “perpetually and restlessly” accumulate capital and reproduce the relations that facilitate this accumulation (TH, 73).
Hobbes’ political philosophy’s emphasis on an absolute sovereign is unacceptable for modern socialists. His anthropology, as constitutive of a portion of his theory on the state of nature, is also a perspective diametric to a Marxist position which shuns from these forms of speculative bourgeois essentialisms. Nonetheless, Hobbes’ laws of nature, the study of which he relegated as “moral philosophy,” retains interesting insights that lend themselves to striking moral criticisms of contemporary neoliberal capitalism (TH, 119).
Although before coming together into a commonwealth, humanity exists in the anxiety of the state of nature, Hobbes nonetheless posits that the laws of nature, centered around preserving life and keeping peace, are “immutable and eternal; for injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, [and] iniquity… can never be made lawful” (TH, 119). Proceeding from the fundamental first law of keeping peace, let us examine a few of the nineteen laws Hobbes lays out for us. It is important to clarify that in our analysis we will be assuming that the modern political scenario is not constitutive of a state of nature, i.e., the grand majority of existing governments are not simply failed, sovereign-less states, most states do have an instituted sovereign power with roles similar to those needed to pass the threshold for Hobbes (even if some might be categorized within the three previously mentioned ‘corrupted forms’). Nonetheless, since for Hobbes, international relations, that is – relations between sovereigns – are constitutive of a state of nature, a loophole for excusing violations of the laws of nature in international relations is present. We will say more on this below.
To begin with – what is a lex naturalis (law of nature)? He says, “a precept or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved” (TH, 97).
The first and most fundamental law of nature for Hobbes is that one must “seek peace, and follow it,” and if peace cannot be obtained, then one is allowed to defend themselves “by all means” (TH, 98). What greater violation of this law on earth than American imperialism? A system in which the supremacy of capital forces it to go abroad, as Marx said, “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt,”[ii] to continuously plunder foreign lands, is in a direct contradiction with peace. A nation which has been at war 226 out of its 244 years of life does not seem to be too fond of peace. And as to the times when violence, even when we seek peace, is inevitable, does not Hobbes’ proposition remind us of Fanon’s dictum to the colonized, who stuck in a “web of a three-dimensional violence”, are told they must “[end] the colonial regime by any means necessary?”[iii]
A Hobbesian might respond that within international dealings the laws of nature do not apply since international dealings are, for Hobbes, constitutive of a state of nature. Hence, the activities of American imperialism are fair game. It is important that we deal with this early, for similar international violations of the laws of nature are referenced below. This argument fails to distinguish two points: 1) international relations are always bound to national conditions – a sovereign does not take aliens to fight in wars of plunder, but his own citizenry, which, as in the case of the US, often return dead or physically and psychologically mutilated; 2) As Plato had already noted, states whose economic foundation is grounded on the “endless acquisition of money,” find it that they must “seize some of [their] neighbor’s land.”[iv] International relations reflect the national relations of class. To suppose, as Hobbes does, that international relations are in a state of nature is to presuppose a national economy based on accumulation, plunder, and expansion – and to ignore the possibility, effectively realized under socialism, of international relations based on cooperation and mutual development. Thus, the conditions of imperialism and global capital relations, instead of simply being brushed away through Hobbes’ categorization of them, further highlight the antinomies in Hobbes’ moral and political philosophy. For they demonstrate a condition where the commonwealth, that is, the general organization the laws of nature thrust humans into, is presupposed by Hobbes to be continuously flickering into a state of nature (the condition the laws of nature and commonwealth is supposed to negate) when dealing with the international realm of national politics. Nonetheless, let us continue our examination of his laws of nature.
In the fifth law of nature, the law of mutual accommodation, Hobbes states that just like an architect must toss aside material that takes “room from others” in the “building of an edifice”, so too “a man that by asperity of nature, will strive to retain those things which to himself are superfluous, and to others necessary; and for the stubbornness of his passions, cannot be corrected, is to be left, or cast out of society, as cumbersome thereunto” (TH, 114). In a world where the eight richest people have the same wealth as the poorest half (almost 4 billion people), we live according to global relations which directly violate Hobbes’ fifth law of nature. For the Hobbesian unconvinced with the global nature of this violation (for reasons previously mentioned), in the US, the country which spearheads the G7 in income inequality, the richest 1% of American households hold 15 times more wealth than the bottom 50% combined. This inequality exists at a time when hundreds of thousands are homeless, and when 42 million people, including 13 million kids, experience hunger in the country. From a Hobbesian moral philosophy, all those who are superfluously hoarding those things which others lack, must be immediately expropriated and expelled from society. Of course, a change in the society that allowed this in the first place is a precondition of the former.
The ninth law against pride gives an insight to how the inequality mentioned in five arose. Hobbes states, “the question who is the better man, has no place in the condition of mere nature; where, as has been shown before, all men are equal” (TH, 115). If men are equal, where did inequality come from? He says, “the inequality that now is, has been introduced by the laws civil” (Ibid.). In essence, men are born equal, it is their social formation which makes them unequal. Interesting enough, although Hobbes and Rousseau are seen to be in polar opposites, Rousseau also agrees that inequality is a development of our transition into society, specifically seen in the development of private property.[v] Hobbes concludes that every man must “acknowledge another for his equal by nature” (TH, 116).
The tenth law is an extension of the ninths into the realm of the jus naturalis (rights of nature). Hobbes asserts that no man can desire a right for himself, “which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest” (Ibid.). He continues, “as it is necessary for all men that seek peace, to lay down certain rights of nature; that is to say, not to have liberty to do all they list: so it is necessary for man’s life, to retain some; as right to govern their own bodies, enjoy air, water, motion, ways to go from place to place; and all things else, without which a man cannot live, or not live well” (Ibid.). There are a few important things to note with this law. Firstly, the notion of rights applying to all was something that took more than three centuries after the writing of this text for the US to figure out. In some places, namely, in the settler colonial state of Israel, this law is still being violated. Secondly, the right to enjoy such things as clean air and water seems dim in a world where fossil capitalism is taking humanity and various other species on the planet to the brink of extinction. Lastly, Hobbes sustains as jus naturalis not just the right to all things one needs to live, but also to all things one needs to live well. In the US, the leading economic power in the history of the planet, having more than enough resources to do so, guarantees neither the latter nor the former to its people as a right. Shelter, food, water, and medical care, i.e., the basic necessities people need to survive, are not guaranteed to the American public. Beyond this, those specific things which each person requires in order to ‘live well,’ to virtuously develop themselves in community, are restricted for only those who can afford it. A system which is dependent for its reproduction on the commodification of people and nature is fundamentally unable to exist non-antagonistically to Hobbes’ tenth law.
Laws twelve and thirteen may also seem surprising to some. Here he states:
The twelfth, equal use of things common. And from this followeth another law, that such things as cannot be divided, be enjoyed in common, if it can be; and if the equality of the thing permit, without stint; otherwise proportionably to the number of them that have right. For otherwise the distribution is unequal, and contrary to equity.
These passages deserve the reply Marx gives the “intelligent” bourgeois of his time, who, while rejecting communism promote co-operative production and societies – he tells them, “what else, gentlemen, would it be but communism, ‘possible’ communism?”[vi] We must ask Hobbes here, ‘what is this, if not communism?’ From law twelve and thirteen we get three forms of property: 1) property that can be distributed equally to all deserving, 2) property that can be enjoyed in common, 3) property that can neither be enjoyed in common nor distributed equally but is assigned by lottery. Although it might not be what Marx deems the highest phase of communism, where relations are based “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,”[vii] Hobbes nonetheless conjures the necessity for a form of lower phase communism out of his ‘laws of nature.’
As I hope to have shown, there is a persistent contradiction between Hobbes’ moral philosophy – dedicated as a science to knowing the lex naturalis – and his political philosophy, grounded more on his projected conception of human nature, than on the laws of nature which supposedly thrust humanity into a commonwealth. Hobbes’ moral philosophy can be described as a militant egalitarianism, which runs directly counter to his ideal conception of the state. If Hobbes’ moral philosophy were transferred in an honest manner into the political-economic realm, he would be alongside Gerrard Winstanley as a forefather of modern socialist thought. Unfortunately, the baby was dropped in the transfer, and what we received is a reactionary political philosophy.
As is often the case with the best of bourgeois thought, the faithful applicability of their moral philosophy would cause its transition into the political realm to escape beyond the boundaries of possibilities within bourgeois society, e.g., Smith, Rousseau, Kant, Mill. In Hobbes we have the most shocking of these cases. As a thinker whose defense of contractual relations has become sacrosanct for the religion of capitalism (used centrally to justify wage-slavery), and whose views on human nature provided a universal grounding for the capitalist ethos, we nonetheless find in his communistic moral philosophy fertile ground for an immanent critique of his own philosophy and of bourgeois society in general. However, we must remember moral criticism of a system is insufficient for its transformation. For a substantial transformation, i.e., for a revolution, a scientific understanding of the systemic mechanisms through which these morally reproachable things arise is necessary. It is here important to remember American Marxist and Socialist Labour Party leader Daniel DeLeon’s famous dictum, “the moral sentiment is to a movement as important as the sails are to a ship. Nevertheless, important though sails are, unless a ship is well laden, unless she is soundly, properly and scientifically constructed, the more sails you pile on and spread out, the surer she is to capsize.”[viii]
[i] All quotations will be from this edition: Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. (Touchstone, 2008).
[ii] Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 1. (International Publishers, 1974), p. 760.
[iii] Fanon, Franz. “Why we use Violence.” In Alienation and Freedom. (Bloomsbury, 2018), p. 654.
[iv] Plato. “Republic.” In Complete Works. (Hackett Publishing Co, 1997)., p. 1012.
[v] See Rousseau’s 1755 Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.
[vi] Marx, Karl. “The Civil War in France.” In in The Marx-Engels Reader. (W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), p. 635.
[vii] Marx, Karl. “Critique of the Gotha Program.” In The Marx-Engels Reader. (W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), p. 531.
[viii] DeLeon, Daniel. Writings of Daniel DeLeon. (Red and Black Publishers, 2008), p. 13.
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy graduate student and professor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His specialization is in Marxist philosophy and the history of American socialist thought (esp. early 19th century). He is an editorial board member and co-founder of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies.
July 6, 2021, was the 114th birth anniversary of Frida Kahlo – a revolutionary painter and socialist. Today, she has been fetishized, commodified and sanitized: her self-portraits and photographs stare out from T-shirts, calendars, fashion magazines and jewelry; her unique personality is used to sell everything – from Barbie dolls to cosmetics box sets. Kahlo’s present-day status as a global commodity masks the rich complexity of her thought.
Simplistic narratives ignore the host of contradictory qualities and behaviors she represents: strength and resilience in the face of continuous physical and psychic pain; a strong political consciousness active in her daily life and paintings; devotion to her country’s many pasts, which she brought into the present; her adamant atheism combined with a desacralized use of religious imagery.
Frida’s paintings are located at the constantly shifting intersections of the personal and the political, the historical and the cultural, the mythological and the ideological, the traditional and the avant-garde, the defiant and the resigned, pleasure and pain, life and death. She worked continually to create herself in her daily life and through her art, without reducing her identities to either romantic stereotypes or facile pleas for understanding.
Kahlo was born in Coyoacan, Mexico City, Mexico, three years before the Mexican Revolution broke out. In 1910, a political revolution against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz was the spark that set in motion a deeper social revolution, in particular a peasant uprising under the leadership of Emiliano Zapata and a popular rebellion in the north led by Pancho Villa. In Baja California, the anarchist Flores Magon brothers attempted to drive forward a militant workers struggle.
From the revolution to the 1940s – under the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PTI) – living standards notably improved, Mexico made great strides in economic terms and adopted an independent foreign policy. The aftermath of the Revolution also led to a period of nation-building, spearheaded by the minister of public education, José Vasconcelos – and joined by artists like Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera.
The movement celebrated Mexico’s multi-ethnic heritage, in particular, by appropriating indigenous culture from southern Mexico for an identity that could unite all Mexicans – white, brown and mestizo into a “cosmic race.” Kahlo’s mixed heritage – her mother was Matilde Calderon, of mixed Spanish and Indian heritage, and her father Guiliermo Kahlo, a German-Jewish expatriate of Hungarian descent – allowed her to intimately relate to the cultural symbolism of the Mexican Revolution.
Indigenismo became central to Kahlo’s process of self-identification, and – through her artworks and clothing – she became an iconic representative of the elements embodied in it. During her life, she dictated her birth date as July 10, 1910, the day the Mexican Revolution began. She wanted her birth and life to be indelibly bound to the revolution, which she referred to as “the one true thing to live for.” She attended rallies – though not as many as she wanted to, due to injuries from a bus crash aged 18 – to overthrow Diaz.
In 1922, Kahlo entered the National Preparatory School in Mexico City as one of 35 girls in a student body of 2,000 boys. She studied medicine and became fluent in Spanish, English and German. During her stay at the campus, she came became part of a small group called “Las Cachuchas” (The Caps) – a radical group named after the style of caps they wore in rebellion against the dress code of the period. The group read Lenin, Marx, Hegel, and Russian literature. They were known for playing pranks on conservative teachers.
As a teenager, Kahlo joined the Communist Party of Mexico and in her 20s, she led union rallies with her husband. It is said that she decorated her headboard with images of Marx, Engels and Lenin. “I’m more and more convinced it’s only through communism that we can become human,” she wrote in her diary during an extended stay in New York and Detroit in the 1930s.
Frida also played a role in fighting for the rights of Spanish Republican refugees seeking asylum in Mexico. In 1936, Frida, along with many other socialists, founded a committee that fundraised money for the Spanish Republicans fighting against fascism. She helped Spanish refugees in finding places to stay and ensured that they were able to secure employment. This stance is explained by her principled internationalism.
Kahlo had once written: “I’m convinced of my disagreement with the counterrevolution, imperialism, fascism, religions, stupidity, capitalism, and the whole gamut of bourgeois tricks. I wish to cooperate with the Revolution in transforming the world into a classless one so that we can attain a better rhythm for the oppressed classes.”
In 1954, 11 days before she died from an arterial blood clot at age 47, Kahlo marched – in a wheelchair and against her doctor’s orders – in a protest against US involvement in the coup that deposed leftist president Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in Guatemala. At her funeral, a red flag bearing a sickle and hammer was draped over her casket. Despite her short life, Kahlo powerfully displayed the vitality of a radical commitment to humanization and egalitarianism.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
This article was republished from Counter Currents.
The recent victories of the left in a number of municipalities and in elections for the Constitutional Convention have set the stage for a categorical rejection of the legacy of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and the building of a new Chile
Daniel Jadue and Javiera Reyes
Javiera Reyes, who is 31 years old, is the new mayor of the Santiago municipality of Lo Espejo in Chile. “I grew up in a home where [former President of Chile] Salvador Allende was always the good guy,” she told us, “and [military dictator] Augusto Pinochet was a tyrant. That marked my life.” Reyes’ comment reflects the old divides that have convulsed Chile’s politics since General Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état against former President Salvador Allende of the Popular Unity coalition on September 11, 1973.
Almost 50 years have gone by and yet Chile is still influenced by the legacy of that coup and of the Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. The May 2021 election that propelled Reyes to the mayor’s office in Lo Espejo also voted in a new Constitutional Convention to rewrite the Pinochet-era Constitution of 1980. Reyes’ victory and the gains made by the left alliance to shape the new Constitution suggest that it is Allende’s legacy that will shape the future and not that of Pinochet.
Reyes is a member of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), which has rooted itself deeply in Chile’s society over the past 109 years. A PCCh leader--Daniel Jadue—will be the left’s candidate in the presidential election to be held in November 2021. Jadue, like Reyes, is a mayor of a municipality in Chile’s vast capital city of Santiago (a third of Chile’s 18 million people live in Santiago). In the May 2021 election, he was re-elected to the mayoralty of Recoleta, which he has governed since 2012.
“There is a historical continuity in [PCCh’s] policy,” Jadue told us, “with the same horizon—updated, of course. No one is thinking of taking up statist projects [again] or socialism as it has been tried, but there is undoubtedly a historical continuity, and we are in one way or another participants in the dream of the people who in the 1970s sought to build a fairer country and who today seek exactly the same thing.”
Vote without fear
Jadue leads in the November 2021 general election polls to replace Chile’s right-wing President Sebastián Piñera. Already, the press has started reporting about the various stances taken by Jadue during his life, particularly his association in the 1980s with Palestinian activism. The smearing of candidates of the left has become part of the electoral process in Latin America: the extreme-right press in Ecuador said that the left-leaning candidate for president, Andrés Arauz, had taken money from the Colombian left-wing guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army). The right-wing press also reported that Peru’s current presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, who is leading by a narrow margin, was similar to Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which is a guerilla insurgency in Peru. Jadue dismisses these claims made against the leftist candidates. “I want my entire record to be visible because I have nothing to hide,” Jadue said when he spoke to us.
The communists participated in the elections held on May 15 and 16 under the slogan Vote Without Fear (Vota Sin Miedo). This slogan comes from a long history, which is part of the party’s legacy. The PCCh was banned, and its members were subjected to persecution over three periods: 1927-1931, 1948-1958, and 1973-1990. Pinochet’s dictatorship killed thousands of communists, including many key leaders. A swath of Chile’s society was gripped by fear brought about by Allende’s socialism, which was essentially a result of the hatred cultivated during Pinochet’s dictatorship. During this time, it takes courage to stand with the communists.
Fear of communism has been diminishing, Reyes told us, because the PCCh elected officials have shown their constituents efficiency and compassion through their governance. Jadue’s Recoleta has become a showcase, with a municipal pharmacy, optical shop, bookstore and record store, open university, and real estate project operating free of any profit motive under Jadue’s vision as the mayor of the municipality.
Javiera Reyes says that her communism is rooted in her “conception of a municipal government that starts with the universalization of rights and the capacity to create conditions for a good life.” The project of municipal socialism starts with “health, education and common spaces,” says Reyes. It is a project that is “democratic and open to the community.”
Unlike Chile’s right-wing mayors, the communist mayors in Santiago such as Reyes, Jadue and Iraci Hassler (who was elected in May 2021 to the mayoralty of Santiago Centro) put the role of women at the core of their policies, including mechanisms to tackle violence against women. They want to create a society without fear in the broadest sense possible.
In 2006, students across Chile protested the privatization of education. Their mass struggle was called the Penguin Revolution because of their black-and-white school uniforms. “The Penguin Revolution in 2006 was my first [introduction] to politics,” Reyes told us. Reyes and Hassler both participated in the massive protests in 2011 and 2013 over the inequalities that marked the secondary and university education in the country. Reyes joined the PCCh during that period. Other students who are currently Chilean politicians, such as Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola as well as Hassler, were already communists.
Student demonstrations came alongside manifestations and strikes by workers from all sectors. Their protests rattled the elite consensus, which since the fall of Pinochet in 1990 had not attempted to write a new Constitution for the country or bothered to formulate a path out of neoliberal suffocation.
In October 2019, high school students protested the rise of fares for public transport. This wave of protests, which is ongoing, began to define Chile’s political life. With the slogan “it’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years,” the students have highlighted the need for a new Constitution.
A new Chile
Chile has the lowest electoral participation rate in Latin America. After 17 years of dictatorship, trust in the state structures had practically disappeared. Voting was compulsory until 2009, although registration to vote was not compulsory. Young people did not register with the electoral service (Servel). The demand for a new constitution was a wake-up call for the youth. Data shows that more than half of Chile’s young people between 18 and 29 years of age voted in the election, with women constituting 52.9% of the voters.
Women and young people will shape the Constitutional Convention, just as women and young women in particular—such as Reyes and Hassler—have taken over the mayors’ offices. The 155-member Constitutional Convention is filled with young people like Reyes and Hassler, a sizable section of the left. The right wing was unable to win one-third of the convention, which would have given it veto power. This means that the new Constitution, which will be drafted in the next nine months, will have a progressive character.
On July 18, Jadue faces a primary against Gabriel Boric, another student leader and now a leader of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front). All indications suggest that Jadue will prevail over Boric and then meet the candidates of the right in November. He will be the third communist to run for the presidency, following Elías Lafertte Gaviño (1931 and 1932) and Gladys Marín (1999). If the polls are accurate, Jadue will be the first communist president of Chile.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was republished from People's Dispatch.
In 1889, Clara Zetkin wrote: “Wherever busy folk are drudging under the yoke of capitalism, the organised working men and women will demonstrate on May Day for the idea of their social emancipation.” In today’s world, the murderous claws of oppression have dug deeper into the flesh of humanity. The globalization of capital, establishment of post-Fordist economic arrangements of flexible specialization, financialization of the accumulation process and neo-colonial strangulation of the Global South have led to a barbaric situation. Amid this generalized chaos, May 1 acts as a blazing streak, inviting the wretched of the earth to reflect intensively on their own history of joy, tenacious resistance, collective courage and strong solidarity.
May Day has old roots in archaic traditions of human responses to springtime and the customary pagan celebration of nature’s beauty and fertility amid spring’s full flowering in northern temperate zones. Dating to ancient Rome, this May Day is rooted in the seasonal rhythms of Earth and ecology. It reached across the Atlantic with the European conquest of the Americas. It is a day of leisure, to be spent outdoors, wearing flowers and soaking up the wind and sun. Dancing around maypoles, people enact a sense of participation in the joys of natural renewal and growth won back from winter’s death. It was an official holiday in the British Tudor monarchy by at least the early 16th century. The bourgeois Puritan Parliaments of 1649-1660 suspended the holiday, which was put back with the reinstatement of Charles II.
Flames of Labor Militancy
With the rise of capitalism, the ideas of the “Green May Day” merged with the “Red May Day” of Communists. Workers hailed May demonstration as a herald of future struggles, but also of future victories, which must as surely come as spring follows winter. While outlining the modern history of May Day, Rosa Luxemburg stated that it was born in Australia by workers - the stonemasons of Melbourne University - who in 1856 organized a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the 8-hour day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a potent impact on the masses, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.
The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the Americans. At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) - which later became the American Federation of Labor - proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1, 1886.” The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations.
The anthem of the Knights of Labor was the “Eight-Hour Song”:
“We want to feel the sunshine;
On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets exemplified the workers’ strength and unity; the protests didn’t become violent as the newspapers and authorities had predicted. More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out between police and strikers.
Lumber workers who were on strike for the 8-hour day were attending a meeting near the McCormick Reaper Works on the south side of the city, where 1,400 workers had been locked out since February and replaced by 300 scabs. When they went to confront the scabs at McCormick, the workers were attacked by some 200 police. 4 workers were killed and many others injured. The attacks continued into the following day, with police breaking up gatherings of workers.
Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the following day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality. In her autobiography, Mother Jones wrote: “All about were railway tracks, dingy saloons and the dirty tenements of the poor. A half a block away was the Desplaines Street Police Station presided over by John Bonfield, a man without tact or discretion or sympathy, a most brutal believer in suppression as the method to settle industrial unrest.”
Due to bad weather and short notice, only about 3,000 of the tens of thousands of people showed up from the day before. As the meeting wound down, two detectives rushed to the main body of police, reporting that a speaker was using inflammatory language, inciting the police to march on the speakers’ wagon. As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd, a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. No one knows who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the anarchists, to an agent provocateur working for the police.
Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated 7 or 8 civilians died, and up to 40 were wounded. An officer died immediately and another 7 died in the following weeks. Later evidence indicated that only one of the police deaths could be attributed to the bomb and that all the other police fatalities had or could have had been due to their own indiscriminate gun fire. Aside from the bomb thrower, who was never identified, it was the police, not the anarchists, who perpetrated the violence.
Eight anarchists - Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg - were arrested and convicted of murder, though only three were even present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. The jury in their trial comprised business leaders in a gross mockery of justice. The entire world watched as these eight organizers were convicted, not for their actions, of which all of them were innocent, but for their political and social beliefs.
On November 11, 1887, after many failed appeals, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were hung to death. Lingg, in his final protest of the state’s barbarity, took his own life the night before with an explosive device in his mouth. The remaining organizers, Fielden, Neebe and Schwab, were pardoned six years later by Governor Altgeld, who publicly lambasted the judge for orchestrating a travesty of justice.
Before being executed, Spies said: “If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement...the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in want and misery expect salvation - if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.”
The Second International, founded in 1889, took the initiative to internationalise May Day by giving it a revolutionary content. At the meeting of the Second International, a resolution was adopted to declare an international May Day. The resolution read: “A great international demonstration shall be organized for a fixed date in such a manner that the workers in all countries and in all cities shall on a specified day simultaneously address to the public authorities a demand to fix the workday at eight hours and to put into effect the other resolutions of the International Congress of Paris.”
Instead of being confined to a demand for 8-hours working day, May Day became an instance of hope and struggle. In an April 1904 pamphlet, Vladimir Lenin wrote: “May Day is coming, the day when the workers of all lands celebrate their awakening to a class-conscious life, their solidarity in the struggle against all coercion and oppression of man by man, the struggle to free the toiling millions from hunger, poverty, and humiliation. Two worlds stand facing each other in this great struggle: the world of capital and the world of labour, the world of exploitation and slavery and the world of brotherhood and freedom.”
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn said that May Day “obliterates all differences of race, creed, color, and nationality. It celebrates the brotherhood of all workers everywhere. It crosses all national boundaries, it transcends all language barriers, it ignores all religious differences. It makes sharp and clear, around the world, the impassable chasm between all workers and all exploiters. It is the day when the class struggle in its most militant significance is reaffirmed by every conscious worker.”
May Day became an international socialist symbol of what the artist and designer Walter Crane called the “dawn of labour”. A Crane artwork for May Day 1896, for example, shows an English worker offering the hand of socialist cooperation to Italian, German, French and other workers with the slogan “International solidarity of labour - the true answer to jingoism”. Crane dedicated the work to “the workers of the world”.
This May Day, it is important that we work to carry forward the noble aims of the Communist movement. No one captures these aims better than Crane. In his poem “The Worker’s Maypole”, he beautifully depicts the various threads of which May Day is composed:
“World Workers, whatever may bind ye,
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Midwestern Marx's Editorial Board does not necessarily endorse the views of all articles shared on the Midwestern Marx website. Our goal is to provide a healthy space for multilateral discourse on advancing the class struggle. - Editorial Board
El presente artículo terminó de escribirse el martes 27 de abril, en respuesta a la siguiente publicación de Jorge Frisancho: 'Sobre izquierdas reaccionarias y revolucionarias: una respuesta a Sebastián León'
Read in English HERE
Quiero agradecer a Jorge Frisancho por concederme el honor de responderme, a pesar de mi gesto arrogante y demagógico. Debo decir que yo defiendo mi gesto: creo que gracias a mis críticas ha tenido la oportunidad de explayarse y desarrollar algunas de las ideas que faltaba trabajar en su publicación original (si bien ignora de plano lo que para mí sería la objeción fundamental a su texto: su uso antojado y metodológicamente injustificado de sus redes sociales como si se tratara de una fuente confiable de data empírica).
Dicho esto, puesto que Jorge me ha concedido esta cortesía, me veo obligado a corresponderle de la misma manera. Además, estoy de acuerdo con él en que de nuestro intercambio puede emerger un debate que hoy vale la pena tener en la izquierda. Así que, sin más preámbulos, paso a responder.
Sobre el resentimiento y su relación con la conciencia de clase
El debate sobre el resentimiento, su relación con la conciencia de clase y con la política clasista puede extenderse excesivamente, y creo que en realidad no es lo más importante de mi discusión con Frisancho. Por ello trataré de no detenerme demasiado en este asunto e ir a las cuestiones más importantes.
Empiezo diciendo que lo que Frisancho llama “ressentiment”, apelando como explica a cierta tradición de la sociología y la psicología, en realidad no es distinto de lo que en la tradición filosófica autores como Nietzsche y Spinoza llamaron “resentimiento”. Por ello, de saque, me permito no usar el término francés. De hecho, no hay un malentendido sobre el hecho de que él achaca a Perú libre una política, digamos, más de la performance de radicalidad a una política realmente radical o revolucionaria. Mi primer cuestionamiento a su texto, que a mi parecer es el más fundamental, es la cuestión metodológica: Frisancho se permite reducir los esfuerzos de una organización que hoy marcha a disputarle su existencia a la cara más rancia del neoliberalismo local a vísperas del bicentenario a lo que infiere a partir de su algoritmo de Facebook (reforzador de burbujas informativas y sesgos de confirmación). La cuestión no era si le gustaba o no Perú Libre o si le daba buena espina; era que, como teórico autoproclamado marxista, debía ser más responsable y riguroso en sus análisis.
En su respuesta a mis críticas, Frisancho hace varias afirmaciones sobre el resentimiento y su relación con la conciencia de clase que, si debemos ser honestos, no podían inferirse de su texto original (enhorabuena por el desarrollo de sus ideas); en todo caso, estoy de acuerdo con algunas de ellas. No obstante, toca hacer algunas aclaraciones de rigor sobre aquello con lo que no estoy tan de acuerdo.
La primera es que da igual si el texto de Frisancho se centraba exclusivamente en el resentimiento o en los afectos en general; mis críticas iban, fundamentalmente, a su tratamiento del resentimiento y la manera en que este se relaciona con el proceso de adquisición de conciencia de clase. Frisancho se felicita a sí mismo por haber empleado varias veces el término “conciencia de clase” en su artículo, pero la verdad es que en él no explica nunca dicho proceso. Quien lo hizo fui yo, aunque me haya “resistido” a nombrarlo.
Lo segundo es que, si bien Frisancho considera que el resentimiento no es “ni bueno ni malo”, ni “racional ni irracional”, yo pienso que en cierto sentido sí va cargado de cierta racionalidad o irracionalidad. Esto porque, como expliqué, los afectos en los seres humanos no están nunca “dados” por sí solos, sino que se enmarcan en horizontes culturales de sentido. En una formación histórica determinada, habrá situaciones en las que un afecto como el resentimiento podrá considerarse justificado, o, digamos, habrá buenas razones para sentirse injuriado (aunque, y esto es fundamental, habrá que ubicar adecuadamente la causa). Esto no quiere decir, por supuesto, que el resentimiento sea bueno o malo en sí mismo; lo que quiere decir es que, en circunstancias determinadas, como cuando es producto de la afrenta histórica y sistemática, sentir resentimiento es razonable.
Extrañamente, Frisancho piensa que se le señala como un “racionalista rancio” por no reconocer el lugar de los afectos y por “insistir” (nombrar varias veces) en la importancia de la conciencia de clase. Pero se equivoca: la razón por la que lo califiqué de tal manera es porque, como ya he mencionado, en su artículo original no explicó el proceso de mediación por el que se adquiere la conciencia de clase. Dice, ciertamente, que resentimiento y conciencia de clase son dos cosas diferentes, y distingue entre lo que para él hace una organización cegada por aquel afecto y lo que hace una organización dirigida por revolucionarios con conciencia de clase, pero no nos dice nunca cómo se pasa de uno a otra. De hecho, su respuesta a mis críticas todavía me genera algunas dudas sobre cómo entiende dicho proceso: dice que el argumento de su texto original puede resumirse en que el resentimiento “bloquea la conciencia de clase” (pese a que esto jamás se afirma en dicho texto), pero también dice que para ir más allá del resentimiento se necesita la mediación de la conciencia de clase. Esto no me resulta tan claro, y debo decir que la impresión que me da es que para Frisancho debe haber una intervención externa para sacar a los sujetos resentidos del atolladero. Al final, hay que decir que en el texto original sí que daba la impresión de que había una cesura entre el resentimiento y la conciencia de clase, y si bien en la respuesta a mis críticas insiste en que no hay interrupción entre procesos afectivos e intelectuales en su adquisición, sigue sin esclarecer de qué manera incorpora el resentimiento al desarrollo de la conciencia de clase conciencia de clase.
Aquí hay una diferencia fundamental, me parece, entre mi postura y la de Frisancho: para mí el resentimiento (y afectos semejantes como la ira) justificado es una condición material necesaria (aunque no suficiente) para que pueda haber algo así como una conciencia de clase, y es la clase de narrativa histórica que Mariátegui llamaba “Mito” lo que puede dinamizar este y otros afectos y hacerlos políticamente operativos (es decir, para suscitar la ganancia en conciencia de clase). Otra cuestión importante, me parece, es que si bien Frisancho considera que en este punto él y yo estamos de acuerdo en lo fundamental (en que el resentimiento debe ser trascendido), no me queda otra opción que responderle: sí, pero no. Estamos de acuerdo en que el resentimiento por sí solo no es revolucionario, y que se hace necesaria una mediación dialéctica, pero yo no pienso que el resentimiento pueda literalmente ser superado o trascendido con la llegada de la conciencia de clase. Creo que esta le da una direccionalidad (digamos, lo modifica o lo “refina”), que es distinto; sin embargo, como yo lo entiendo, el resentimiento y otros afectos negativos presentes en la política clasista solo pueden terminar de superarse con la abolición de las condiciones históricas que lo producen (momento en el que desaparecen, junto con las relaciones de clase y la conciencia de clase como tal). Por eso digo que “el resentimiento y demás afectos corrosivos pueden ser sublimados en el proceso en el que surge un nuevo orden social a partir del viejo”. El resentimiento de una clase históricamente oprimida, con conciencia de su situación, solo desaparece con el surgimiento del comunismo.
Sobre la cuestión de la verdadera izquierda
Ahora llegamos a la parte realmente importante de nuestro intercambio: la cuestión de “qué hace revolucionaria a una organización”. Frisancho da su propia definición, y debo decir que yo no podría haberlo expresado mejor. Paso a citarlo:
Una organización política es revolucionaria en la medida en que lucha, en última instancia y a partir de la conciencia de clase de las clases trabajadoras, para derogar la totalidad del orden social e instaurar uno nuevo. Obviamente, esta definición es teórica y solo sirve como orientación general; las situaciones, coyunturas y experiencias concretas son las que dan forma práctica a las cosas, y la separación entre ambos planos es útil únicamente como ejercicio de análisis. Ningún conjunto de ideas políticas tiene contenido independiente de la praxis. Además, las demandas tácticas y estratégicas obligan, necesariamente, a decidir qué confrontaciones se enfatiza y qué pasos se da para ir avanzando en cada momento determinado. Esa es la función del liderazgo, o una de ellas. Pero pongo el asunto en ese terreno porque me permite señalar el problema al que apunto, que en mi artículo expresé como la existencia de una “izquierda reaccionaria”.
Aquí Frisancho añade, básicamente, que una organización que se declare marxista que no trabaje para derogar todas aquellas las relaciones sociales (“instituciones, aparatos y prácticas”) que producen situaciones de opresión (de clase, de género, de los miembros de la comunidad LGTBIQ+) es reaccionaria, pues todas estas luchas son expresión de las formas de coerción específicas del orden social burgués. Está haciendo una clara alusión a Perú Libre, y es una manera de reafirmarse en su posición de que se trata de una organización de izquierda que puede ser calificada merecidamente como “reaccionaria”.
En este punto surgen una vez más mis discrepancias con Frisancho. No porque discrepe con que la cuestión de género o la lucha por los derechos de las personas LGTBIQ+ son luchas tan fundamentales como las de los obreros, los campesinos o los pueblos indígenas (de hecho, concebirlas de manera separada es siempre una abstracción, pues, por ejemplo, quien pertenece a una clase social siempre tiene además un género y una orientación sexual), o que respondan a contradicciones específicas de la totalidad social capitalista (y que por tanto no pueden ser desestimadas como “luchas burguesas”). Sino porque yo no pienso que se pueda afirmar tan tranquilamente que si una organización socialista y marxista no está comprometida con todas las formas de opresión desde el comienzo esta deba ser descartada como reaccionaria, como si el carácter revolucionario apareciera solo en el momento en el que se marcan todos los ítems en una lista; eso está muy bien para el mundo de las izquierdas y los movimientos sociales ideales, pero la política se hace en el mundo real, con organizaciones políticas y movimientos sociales reales. ¿Hay elementos reaccionarios en una organización como Perú Libre, que descuida las luchas de las poblaciones LGTBIQ+? Por supuesto que los hay; pero, ¿se puede decir realmente que esto hace de Perú Libre una organización de izquierda reaccionaria? Pero lo que más me llama la atención es que Frisancho ponga la valla tan alta para Perú Libre, pero la baje convenientemente para la organización que apoyó en la primera vuelta (Juntos por el Perú). Porque bajo el mismo criterio que utiliza Frisancho, podríamos decir sin problemas que Juntos por el Perú también sería una izquierda reaccionaria: una izquierda que aunque se reclame representante de los intereses de las clases populares, dedicó casi por entero su táctica electoral a ganarse a las clases medias y en desmedro de obreros, campesinos e indígenas (realidad que se veía reflejada en las encuestas que mostraban en qué sectores de la población se encontraban sus votantes, que se hizo explícita con el desafortunado audio de Marité Bustamente, y que terminó de confirmarse con los resultados de las elecciones); o que una y otra vez pisoteó en su discurso la solidaridad antiimperialista y anticolonial, plegándose a las exigencias de la derecha de denunciar procesos como el venezolano por dictatoriales, reproduciendo la narrativa imperial sobre una comunidad internacional dividida en “dictaduras” y “democracias”, que legitima atrocidades como los ínfames bloqueos económicos, que no son otra cosa que formas contemporáneas de asedio. Si ninguna de estas luchas es más fundamental que otra ni puede ser desestimada en las coordenadas del capitalismo contemporáneo, hay que decir, pues, que JPP está, al menos, tan lejos del estándar ideal de Frisancho como PL (aunque me inclino a pensar que mi interlocutor podría no dar demasiada importancia a una lucha como la que se da en el campo internacional; me explayaré sobre ello en la parte final de mi artículo). Creo que es importante añadir, asimismo, que si bien PL tiene un serio déficit en lo que respecta a la consideración de las luchas LGTBIQ+, no es cierto que lo tenga también en la cuestión de género; quien haya leído el “Programa e Ideario” de la organización podrá comprobar que este contiene un capítulo entero dedicado a “La mujer socialista”, elaborado por las militantes de la organización, en el que se posicionan a favor de la emancipación de la mujer, se asumen reivindicaciones históricas como el aborto y se denuncia el machismo como un mal estructural del capitalismo y el colonialismo (de hecho, candidatas al congreso como Zaira Arias y Angélica Apolinario fueron vocales sobre estos temas durante sus campañas). Así que hay decir, en honor a la verdad, que al contrastar el número de casillas marcadas en la lista de ítems de ambas organizaciones saldría favorecido Perú Libre (por supuesto, yo no comparto este criterio idealista para designar a una organización como revolucionaria o reaccionaria).
Aquí quisiera hablar un poco desde mi experiencia como militante de izquierda. En la coyuntura del 2017 en la que muchos conocimos a Pedro Castillo, cuando el magisterio rompió con el PCP-Patria Roja para ir marchar a Lima a hacer valer sus reclamos, muchas organizaciones de izquierda y sindicatos de trabajadores decidimos apoyarlos; entre dichas organizaciones estaba presente Perú Libre, pero la bancada de Nuevo Perú (que junto a PR conforma JPP) decidió no recibir a los maestros para no mancharse, debido al terruqueo del que estos fueron víctimas. Ese mismo año, en diciembre, en la coyuntura de la vacancia presidencial contra PPK, una vez más un sector importante de la izquierda (que también incluía a PL) nos posicionamos a favor de la vacancia y formamos parte del Frente Popular Anticorrupción por una Nueva Constitución, y luego del Comando Nacional Unitario de Lucha; fue en ese tiempo que nació la consigna “que se vayan todos”, que denunciaba el orden institucional neoliberal en su totalidad, pero la bancada del NP prefirió defender a PPK y la institucionalidad democrática (finalmente se plegarían a la causa, después de que PPK decidió indultar a Alberto Fujimori para permanecer en el cargo). A finales del 2018, ya con Vizcarra en el poder, este promulgó el Decreto Supremo N° 237-2019-EF, por el que entraba en vigencia el Plan Nacional de Competitividad y Productividad (probablemente el paquetazo antilaboral más violento que haya habido desde los tiempos del fujimorato; la infame “Suspensión perfecta de labores”, que en el contexto de esta pandemia ha costado a tantos peruanos su empleo, formaba parte del PNCP); en lugar de ir a las calles con la clase trabajadora en dicha coyuntura, el MNP privilegió secundar a Vizcarra en su pantomima de lucha anticorrupción, siendo los principales defensores de una reforma política puramente cosmética, secundando, una vez más, al gobierno de turno. ¿Por qué menciono todo esto? Porque en los últimos años, con todos sus errores y limitaciones, PL, a diferencia del NP, ha sido una organización a la que siempre he encontrado al lado de la gente en sus luchas (por supuesto, no pretendo argüir que mi experiencia personal sea la mejor fuente de evidencia para establecer un juicio objetivo, pero estoy convencido de que es largamente más fiable que mi algoritmo de Facebook). Las críticas a JPP y las organizaciones que la componen, que tanto parecen molestar a Frisancho y a otros simpatizantes de dicha coalición, pueden no ser del todo justas; no obstante, considero que tienen algo de sustento.
A riesgo de que Frisancho nos acuse de espontaneistas que andamos tras las masas aceptando acríticamente todos sus posicionamientos inmediatos para sentirnos radicales, hay que decir que PL ha sido coherente con la idea que revolucionarios como Lenin o Mao tenían del papel de una vanguardia: ni se ha contentado con acomodarse a la espontaneidad de los distintos sectores del pueblo, ni ha pretendido imponerse como una élite tutelar a la usanza del progresismo más cortesano. Ha sabido entablar un diálogo con ellas, agitar, educar y organizar. Esto no quiere decir que la gente (o la organización) tenga razón en todo, pero hay una correcta comprensión de que el proceso revolucionario nace desde abajo, y que la labor de la organización socialista en dicho proceso (que es siempre un proceso de acumulación de experiencia mediante la lucha) es acompañar y orientar a las masas, ayudarlas a ganar claridad sobre sí misma y sobre sus luchas. Tampoco quiere decir, como podría temer Frisancho, que, si un sector mayoritario de la gente no ve con buenos ojos la defensa de ciertas causas, estas deban ser abandonadas; más bien, quiere decir que no se trata de descartar a priori a ningún grupo oprimido como reaccionario in toto, sino de dirigirse a este como un interlocutor válido, con el que se puede dialogar y razonar, y que puede aprender de la vanguardia en la misma medida en que es capaz de educarla. Es esta la manera en que se superan las contradicciones en el seno del pueblo, y, hay que decirlo, es también la manera en que se gana su confianza. No hay evidencia más clara de ello que el apoyo popular que terminó recibiendo PL en contraste a JPP durante la primera vuelta; de hecho, quienes seguimos la campaña de Pedro Castillo desde el principio, sabemos que, a partir de cierto momento, las propias bases regionales de JPP comenzaron a reconocer a Castillo como su candidato, y lo recibían codo a codo con las bases de PL. Sería importante que los simpatizantes de la organización de Mendoza comiencen a reflexionar sobre esta derrota táctica.
El trabajo de bases metódico por parte de PL y Pedro Castillo también es importante por otras razones de índole pragmática: sumado a su coherencia en el discurso en lo que respecta a la voluntad de sacar adelante una Asamblea Popular Constituyente (causa que me consta personalmente que vienen defendiendo desde hace años) y de desmantelar el modelo neoliberal (fuerte contraste con un JPP y una Mendoza altamente inconsistentes, propensos a desdecirse según los vaivenes de la campaña, y que en determinado punto incluso llegaron a alabar el programa Reactiva Perú, por el que Vizcarra y la ex-Ministra Alba pusieron 60 mil millones de soles en manos del gran empresariado peruano), el apoyo de las masas obreras, de las rondas campesinas, del magisterio y de organizaciones indígenas, daba al partido una fuerza material real, la posibilidad de llegar al poder con un contrapeso que pudiera mantener a raya los esfuerzos del empresariado por coaptarlos. Aunque a Frisancho y otros simpatizantes de JPP les sorprenda, esta credibilidad incluso ganó a Castillo y PL votantes entre los sectores populares y más radicalizados del feminismo limeño y de la comunidad LGTBIQ+. Como manifestaron varios de mis compañeros durante esta primera vuelta: lo que sectores más privilegiados de estos colectivos muchas veces no llegan a comprender es que entre una izquierda comprometida con derechos individuales pero indispuesta a atacar el modelo económico que nos impide disfrutar de dichos derechos, y otra que no asume dichos compromisos pero que manifiesta de manera creíble la voluntad de reemplazar dicho modelo por otro que eventualmente permita disfrutar de esos derechos, hay quienes creerían que desde un punto de vista táctico la segunda es una mejor opción. Al final del día, el progresismo no se mide de manera absoluta por cuántas consignas uno levante; más bien, es siempre relativo a la correlación de fuerzas y las luchas de clases en un momento histórico determinado. Por eso, entre un MHOL que actualmente afirma que es igual de bueno para el colectivo LGTBIQ+ votar por la activista Gahela Cari que por un ultraderechista como Alejandro Cavero, y una organización socialista que, sin levantar la bandera LGTBIQ+, hoy tiene la posibilidad de crear condiciones para que jóvenes homosexuales o trans que no tienen estabilidad laboral, la posibilidad de acceder a educación o servicios de salud básicos, a un seguro y/o a una pensión (condiciones materiales necesarias para independizarse de entornos abusivos y para disfrutar en el futuro del derecho a crear una familia junto a sus personas amadas), me inclino a pensar que, en el presente, lo segundo es más cercano a una fuerza progresista. Y, por tanto, más cercano al ideal revolucionario propuesto por Frisancho.
Pedro Castillo -Peru Libre.
Respuesta a la nota final:¿marxismo-leninismo o socialdemocracia?
Frisancho cierra su respuesta a mis críticas extrañado por mi referencia al debate entre comunistas y socialdemócratas en la Segunda Internacional. Él, comenta, no está tan seguro como yo de que la historia haya favorecido a los comunistas (al leninismo) en ese debate; según nos dice, él considera que al final ninguna de las dos tenía razón, y que ambas experiencias habrían tenido tanto aciertos como desaciertos (esto último innegable, por supuesto). Esto debido a que, pese a la grandeza que Frisancho reconoce a Lenin como figura seminal del marxismo, la URSS habría dejado de existir, como consecuencia “tanto a la tenacidad y potencia de sus enemigos como sus propias falencias internas, y si de lo que se trata es de construir un socialismo que perdure, que consiga oponerse de forma efectiva a la dictadura de las clases capitalistas y que emancipe a los trabajadores, no parece que lo más recomendable sea levantar como bandera una apuesta que terminó en derrota.”
Debo confesar que la idea general de esta respuesta (el que a juicio de Frisancho, entre el leninismo y la socialdemocracia, ninguna de las dos tuvo razón) no me sorprende en absoluto. Me sorprende más que Frisancho use como argumento para defender su postura la caída de la URSS. Creo que el debate entre comunistas y socialdemócratas es vigente porque se centra en una problemática que sigue siendo fundamental, y que, a mi juicio, Frisancho y el sector de la izquierda por la que se inclinó en la primera vuelta electoral descuidan en exceso (de hecho, a mi juicio, y ciñéndome sus criterios, es aquí donde se ve el lado más reaccionario de sus posicionamientos). La razón fundamental del desacuerdo entre comunistas y socialdemócratas fue la problemática del imperialismo y la colonialidad: mientras que los socialdemócratas de la Segunda Internacional consideraban que el socialismo era algo que no competía a los países atrasados de la periferia global, donde prevalecían formaciones socioeconómicas agrarias y las masas eran mayoritariamente campesinos “reaccionarios” (muchos socialdemócratas, como Bernstein, llegaron a favorecer el ideal de un tutelaje de la metrópoli capitalista europea sobre las colonias, que por un lado permitiría mejorar las condiciones de vida de los obreros europeos, y por el otro ayudaría a desarrollar el capitalismo en los países atrasados), los comunistas consideraban, más en línea con las ideas de Marx y Engels, que lo que competía al movimiento obrero internacional era solidarizarse con las luchas nacionales de los países periféricos, ayudarlos independizarse y hacer valer su soberanía nacional (política y económica) frente a Europa, debilitando en el proceso al capitalismo occidental y, a la larga, ganando mayor libertad e igualdad para los pueblos coloniales en las coordenadas globales del capitalismo. Esta fue la bandera del leninismo desde el principio, y pese a todos los problemas y desaciertos que menciona Frisancho, la levantaron una y otra vez durante la historia del siglo XX (en China, en Corea, en Cuba, en Vietnam, en Argelia, en Angola, en Palestina, en Sudáfrica, en Burkina-Faso, etc.); aunque hoy muchos lo olviden y se inclinen por señalar la caída de la URSS como evidencia del fracaso del marxismo-leninismo, la verdad es que este posicionamiento de los comunistas cambió la cara de la correlación de fuerzas internacional, en especial en Asia y África, donde muchas veces las poblaciones nativas estaban excluidas del derecho burgués que tantos marxistas occidentales vilipendian y dan por sentado. De hecho, este papel de la URSS y el comunismo internacional, como muchos han reconocido, influyó enormemente, para bien, en la lucha por los derechos civiles y la conformación de los Estados de bienestar en occidente: en lugares como EEUU, fue el apoyo de los comunistas a poblaciones oprimidas como la afroestadounidense, el movimiento feminista, los migrantes hispanoamericanos o los pueblos indígenas, sumado al gran temor de las autoridades de que estas (o los trabajadores) pudieran radicalizarse, lo que llevó al gobierno a reconocerles progresivamente una serie de derechos fundamentales. El temor de los países europeos al avance de los comunistas permitió a los socialdemócratas llegar al gobierno y poner en práctica sus políticas reformistas, vistas por las clases dominantes como un recurso desesperado para proteger la propiedad privada; y hay que resaltar que, aunque Frisancho lo ignore, muchas de las políticas de bienestar de estos gobiernos progresistas solo pudieron sostenerse gracias a las políticas predatoriales que estos mismos países llevaron a cabo en el Tercer Mundo. Es por esto que me permito señalar confiadamente que, entre los comunistas y los socialdemócratas, serían los primeros los que fueron favorecidos por la historia (es decir, quienes tuvieron más aciertos, quienes más hicieron para mejorar las condiciones de vida de las poblaciones oprimidas alrededor del mundo y más tienen que enseñar a una organización de izquierda revolucionaria contemporánea).
Por supuesto, entiendo que Frisancho no comparta este punto de vista, pues veo que la solidaridad antiimperialista (aunque pueda decir que la defienda en abstracto) no es un tema al que le dé demasiada importancia; de ahí que no solo minimice el descuido de JPP en estos temas, sino que además se permita cuestionar las credenciales socialistas de organizaciones y países que establezcan alianzas con figuras que a él le resultan cuestionables (como el presidente ruso Vladimir Putin, a quien en su momento le dedicara un artículo). Frisancho, después de todo, no parece tomar muy en serio el compromiso leninista de la no intervención o el derecho de la soberanía de los países periféricos, el hecho de que, nos guste o no el gobierno de un determinado país, los únicos que pueden cambiarlo (o derrocarlo) son sus ciudadanos, y que los países y organizaciones que defienden este derecho de cada pueblo a la soberanía en la arena internacional deben hacer una causa común para resistir los embates del imperialismo de EEUU y occidente; tampoco el hecho de que un país o una organización política y económicamente aislada, que se toma la libertad de aliarse solo con aquellos con quienes mantiene plena coincidencia ideológica, está de antemano condenada al fracaso. Pues figuras como Putin pueden parecernos cuestionables o hasta reaccionarias en las coordenadas nacionales de sus respectivos países, pero lo cierto es que, sin su apoyo económico, político y militar (o el de países comunistas como China o Vietnam), países como Cuba, Venezuela o Siria hace tiempo se habrían convertido en nuevas Libias (a diez años después de la intervención de la OTAN, el países africano sigue completamente devastado, con tres fuerzas políticas diferentes disputándose el gobierno).
Al final, vuelvo a insistir en ello, las fuerzas políticas progresistas y revolucionarias se construyen a partir de las condiciones materiales realmente existentes. Y aunque la realidad raras veces coincide plenamente con nuestros criterios ideales, resulta políticamente inoperante denunciarla por sus impurezas.
 Una última aclaración sobre este punto, de carácter conceptual y no tan importante para nuestra discusión, pero que no quería dejar de tocar en este artículo. En su respuesta, Frisancho hace otra afirmación que me resulta extraña: dice que hay que entender, cuando se habla de conciencia de clase, que “conciencia no es razón”. Su afirmación me resulta extraña porque, si uno tiene presente la discusión filosófica sobre la subjetividad, la conciencia y la razón que históricamente precedió a Marx, y que es parte de su herencia teórica, es claro que “conciencia de clase” debe ser entendido como razón, y no como mera conciencia. Paso a explicarme brevemente: la conciencia de clase es conciencia de sí (o, mejor dicho, “para sí”), en tanto sujeto que pertenece a una clase social (la clase deja de ser “clase en sí”, una mera facticidad empírica, y pasa a ser “clase para sí”: es decir, pasa a ser consciente de sí misma de manera reflexiva, de sus propias condiciones materiales de existencia, de sus intereses, y de su conciencia de sí misma, de su actividad consciente, en tanto clase social). Así pues, si debemos ser precisos, la conciencia de clase no es una mera conciencia pasiva (como la que tiene un animal que se percibe a sí mismo y a su entorno), sino lo que los idealistas alemanes llamaban una “autoconciencia”, que emerge necesariamente como parte de un proceso social e histórico de autodescubrimiento, siempre en relaciones con otros seres autoconscientes y con un trasfondo histórico determinado en el que se hace posible comprender, de manera progresiva, las implicancias o el sentido de las acciones, pensamientos, afectos, etc., propios y ajenos. La palabra más común que se ha usado para hablar de esta forma de autoconciencia es, precisamente, “razón” (Vernunft). Afirmar que la conciencia de clase es mera conciencia y no razón implicaría, desde un punto de vista filosófico, un retroceso hacia un paradigma cartesiano y psicologista de la conciencia, irreconciliable con una teoría materialista de la historia. Hago esta aclaración en un pie de página para no hastiar a nuestros lectores con disquisiciones demasiado abstractas.
 A muchas personas en la órbita de JPP les ha sabido mal que en el mismo capítulo se critique el feminismo como contraparte del machismo, pero hay que entender que fuera de círculos activistas y académicos, hay organizaciones y movimientos de mujeres que enarbolan el estandarte de la emancipación de la mujer sin reconocerse a sí mismas como feministas, y defendiendo intereses que, si bien convergen en algunos puntos con el del feminismo exportado de occidente, se diferencian de este en varios otros, por el sencillo hecho de que en varios aspectos las condiciones de vida de una mujer obrera o una rondera son diferentes que las de una activista o una académica de clase media. Creo que más allá de que se rechace el término (por asociarlo a un feminismo exportado de la realidad occidental) o del machismo rampante de algunos militantes (que, por cierto, aunque a algunos les parezca, no es un mal que aqueje exclusivamente en Perú Libre), habría que entender que sencillamente se defiende feminismos diferentes.
 Y ya que hablamos de mi algoritmo de Facebook, alguien debería comentarle a Frisancho que así como en sus redes sociales él se encontró con despliegues de chovinismo por parte de los simpatizantes de Perú Libre, otros nos encontramos con despliegues semejantes por parte de los simpatizantes de Nuevo Perú: desde persistentes mensajes ninguneando la opción por Castillo y airadas exigencias de que se renunciara a su candidatura, hasta acusaciones de traición, racismo rampante, terruqueo, burlas por no ser tenidos en cuenta por el resto de la izquierda latinoamericana, y una repetición acrítica de la versión de la derecha sobre la sentencia a Vladimir Cerrón (quien no tiene que gustarle personalmente a nadie, pero cuya sentencia ha sido desestimada incluso por personajes externos a la izquierda, como el periodista Ricardo Uceda, como un caso más del lawfare al que los dirigentes de la izquierda regional, desde Gregorio Santos a Walter Aduviri pasando por el propio Cerrón, son sometidos en nuestro país). La lista sigue, pero creo que mi punto se deja entender.
 Esto incluye la acusación de “oenegera”, que no debe ser desestimada sin más como una manifestación de resentimiento; es bien sabido que ONG’s estadounidenses como USAID, la NED o HRW, financiadas por el departamento de Estado estadounidense, mantienen vínculos con numerosos personajes que son o han sido parte de JPP. Le guste o no a Frisancho, tales organizaciones tienen una agenda en nuestro país que suele coincidir con la de su embajada, y es por eso que líderes de izquierda como Evo Morales las han expulsado de sus países. Tampoco se trata de mera conspiranoia; es reconocer, más bien, el simple hecho de que la lucha por la emancipación se da también en el campo internacional y que el enemigo es rico en recursos.
 Fue el joven Marx quien, en una carta a Arnold Ruge, hizo valer primero esta consigna de las organizaciones revolucionarias que se convirtiera en principio fundamental del leninismo:
 Hablo en plural porque no creo que las luchas de clases puedan ser reducidas exclusivamente a la problemática de la producción, a la explotación de los obreros o los campesinos. Pienso, por ejemplo, que la problemática de género y de los derechos reproductivos de la mujer es una problemática de clase, en la medida en que el género ata a un sector mayoritario de las mujeres a una relación de explotación y dependencia económica y moral frente a sus pares varones (Engels mismo habla de la opresión de las mujeres como la primera opresión de clase); asimismo, pienso que la problemática (neo)colonial en el plano internacional debe abordarse de manera semejante.
 Todo esto sin mencionar la modernización de países como los de la ex-URSS, China y Vietnam en términos de infraestructura, transportes, ciencia y tecnología, educación, etc., todos dirigidos por partidos marxistas-leninistas, que a la larga han redundado en mejoras sustanciales en la calidad de vida de millones de personas. No me parece una cuestión menor.
Sebastián León is a philosophy teacher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where he received his MA in philosophy (2018). His main subject of interest is the history of modernity, understood as a series of cultural, economic, institutional and subjective processes, in which the impetus for emancipation and rational social organization are imbricated with new and sophisticated forms of power and social control. He is a socialist militant, and has collaborated with lectures and workshops for different grassroots organizations.
In his 1989 book “The Origins of Chinese Communism”, Arif Dirlik describes in granular detail a superb history of Chinese radicals in four high stakes pivotal years; between 1917, when China first learned the news of the October Revolution in Russia, to the 1919 May Fourth Movement and its disillusioned aftermath, to the 1920 Comintern visit of Grigori Voitinsky from Moscow, through the founding congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.
Dirlik argues that despite official CCP versions of history that minimize anarchism, anarchism within the May Fourth Movement was a midwife to an embryonic understanding of Marxism in China. Learning of the October Revolution, Li Dazhao, from his seat within Beijing University as a leading radical thinker known across China as a leader in the New Culture Movement, immediately leapt into studying Marxism, and following him, all of radical Chinese intelligentsia. Crucial throughout the entire book, the burgeoning radical press played the constant, decisive role media always plays in revolutionary thought. Dirlik’s book would not have been possible without the dozens of radical newspapers that documented Li’s deep dive into Marxism, in real time. Li would become known via this discourse as “China’s first Marxist”.
Anarchism guided Li’s curiosity into Marxism, and through that, all of Chinese radical socialism gained its first understanding of Marxism using anarchist vocabulary. “Mutual aid” is the most common thread of anarchism repeated throughout Dirlik’s book as he takes us through the minds of the key players in their own words, from contemporary press. Bolshevik Communism emerged from a complicated energetic stew of radical debate about various “socialisms” consuming Chinese intelligentsia since the 1911 fall of the Qing Dynasty, ending 2,000 years of dynastic rule. The ensuing ruinous leadership of Yuan Shikai until 1916, reinforced the rapid realization in China that China must change. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” was not a new concept in China in this formative era for Chinese socialism, and Dirlik argues anarchism permeated the era. News from Russia invigorated the debate.
The last straw of imperialist tinder tossed onto the pile was the Versailles Treaty ending World War I handing Shandong province to the Japanese. May 4, 1919, China erupted in protest and labor strikes that would last months, ending in China refusing to sign the treaty. The May Fourth Movement combined patriotism, nationalism, New Culture rejection of Confucian tradition, and the shame of China over constant imperial humiliation, with a sudden unity among labor, peasantry, intelligentsia, women, radicals across Chinese culture and thought. This victory, begun largely in labor organizing and only possible through massive labor strikes, energized Li and his peers, and critically, caught the eye of Bolsheviks in Russia. In the 10 months between May 4th and Grigori Voitinsky’s arrival from the Moscow Comintern in March, 1920, Chinese radicals vigorously explored Marxism using anarchist vocabulary, seeing the October Revolution as an inspiration, if not even a model.
Dirlik argues that Marxism was virtually unknown in China before 1917, while anarchism, or at least its vocabulary via the writings of Peter Kropotkin, sat at the core of the May Fourth Movement. Labor-learning societies, work study groups, mutual aid societies, new village communes, guild socialism, all were covered in the pages of the radical press, which exploded after May Fourth. For a while, the only person writing about Marxism in all of China was Li Dazhao. Dirlik takes care to note that most Chinese would never hear of any of these weighty matters. Li’s public research into Marxism reached only a small group of radical intelligentsia largely centered at Beijing University and in Shanghai, where Chen Duxiu would eventually become the first general secretary of the CCP, a meeting attended by 13 people, including neither Li Dazhao nor Chen Duxiu. Dirlik’s detailed eye is very thorough, and he consistently reminds the reader how small in number the revolutionary intelligentsia indeed was.
Labor’s arrival as a class in China with political power, via May Fourth, is where Marxism found its intellectual home, and where division with anarchism would fester. Dirlik argues that Marx’s vision of class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat was seen by Chinese radical intelligentsia as, at best, a “necessary evil”. Grounded in anarchism’s rejection of politics, the state, any coercive authority whatsoever, China’s radical press filled with counter arguments. A growing faith in Marxist revolution among key leaders, and the understanding of labor as a class, a proletariat, and a dictatorship within Marxism, engaged anarchism constantly during the May Fourth Period in the pages of New Youth, Awakening, Weekend Review, Light of Learning, a host of publications. Even this debate was divided by class, with a university funded elite surviving on institutional support for secret radical “societies” on one hand, writing about and attempting to persuade an assumed audience of the teeming Marxist proletariat on the other. The tensions are open as old allies from the May Fourth Movement begin to divide; Chinese backwardness, the peasantry, uneducated and illiterate masses vs. a powerful bourgeoisie intent on oppression, all obviate the need for a strong state at least temporarily, one powerful enough to end capitalism and prevent its return, based on labor. Anarchism abolishes the state now and forever. Where do you go from there?
The New Culture movement which predated May Fourth and gained inspiration from anarchism, focused on revolution of the “society”, rejecting materialistic pursuit, focusing on family, societal, and personal revolution, changes in individuals, while Marxism’s basic assumption was a materialist concept of history; means of production, surplus value, basic concepts in Marxism clashed with basic concepts of anarchism as they met in practice in post May Fourth China. Marxism assumes politics, anarchism rejects it. State coercion vs. voluntary mutual aid. Is man inherently good, or bad? The list goes on. Dirlik argues these differences, on basic assumptions of human nature, show that Chinese understanding of Marxism in this crucial moment was “primitive”, while interest in revolution was urgent. The failure of anarchist experiments post May Fourth had left Chinese radicals disillusioned, seeing in Russian Bolshevism a model for direct action. Marxism became seen as a tool for purging China’s past, now. Let’s deal with abolishing the state later. Dirlik captures the sense of urgency by describing China’s post May Fourth radicals as “all dressed up with nowhere to go.”
Enter Grigori Voitinsky. Dirlik could be forgiven for overstating the organizational importance of this one Russian from the Comintern, but he doesn’t, even though he probably should. Absent Voitinsky’s many month stay in China in 1920, there probably would not be a Communist Party of China. Voitinsky was skilled and diplomatic, personable and well-liked, traveled throughout China, and left behind an organization ready to take action. The Communist press began and quickly exploded with debate, some of it specifically over anarchism, the battle lines already drawn. Dirlik argues the organizational model of Bolshevism required Chinese radicals to make an irrevocable decision about how and why they would pursue revolution by either joining the Communist Party, or not. The influence of the Comintern via Voitinsky was not about something the Chinese could not do and had to be taught; Voitinsky only possessed one thing his hosts did not; an agenda, which he accomplished. Dirlik describes the interest of the Comintern in China in 1920 as sending Voitinsky “shopping for radicals.” China was boiling with radicals, who were predisposed to hang on any Bolshevik’s every word. Voitinsky found fertile ground, leaving behind in late 1920 an audience of Chinese radicals now eager and able to make organizational decisions to exclude anyone not committed to Boslhevik revolution. One wonders had the Chinese understanding of Marxism been one year older, would Voitinsky have been so successful? What if Voitinsky had not been such a very nice man?
Dirlik never quite describes why anarchist experiments in China had failed to the point of disillusionment in anarchism. Anarchism midwifed Marxism which begat Bolshevism which led to the first Communist Party congress; the battle Dirlik seeks to document is between Marxist socialist thought and anarchist socialist thought, not practice, so the oversight can be forgiven. However, the question must be asked; if anarchism pre-dated Marxism in China to the point its vocabulary governed the introduction of Marxism, how then could newly arrived Bolshevism have been so obvious an alternative? Dirlik is convincing in his argument that the Comintern played the decisive role, suggesting historical amnesia about anarchism’s role at the birth of Chinese communism is hardly a coincidence.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.