January 2013


Part of the ongoing debate in Western bourgeois states is the role and status of the public sphere. All the recent commentators I have been able to check attempt to widen the public sphere by including those that have been excluded in some fashion. Most recently this involves religion. The problem is that the public sphere is built on what Tim dubbed the other day as the ‘myth of secular inclusion’. That is, it’s an exclusive universal, gate-keeping who counts as part of that universal. It is simply unable to include all. Ultimately, the identification of this problem goes back to Hegel, who identified the basic alienation of the bourgeois state in the rupture between the state and civil society (the realm of social, economic, religious activity, etc). So if the public sphere is constituted by civil society, then it is built on a structural alienation. The zone that is supposed to foster debate, ‘freedom’ of the press, new thoughts and political directions, even ‘democracy’, is actually a warped and twisted space. All of which shows up in the myth of secular exclusion.

As a result, I have been fascinated by what Tien Chenshan calls ‘focus-field’ in Chinese communism, in which civil society or the public sphere is rather meaningless. I wonder whether this limited description by Edgar Snow captures some of this, when he writes of  the Red government of northwest China in the 1930s:

The structure of representative government was built up from the village soviet, as the smallest unit: above it were the district soviet, the county soviet, the provincial and central soviets. Each village elected its delegates to the higher soviets clear up to the delegates elected for the Soviet Congress. Suffrage was universal over the age of sixteen, but it was not equal [favouring tenant peasants, handicraft worker, and rural workers].

Various committees were established under each of the district soviets. An all-powerful committee, usually elected in a mass meeting shortly after the occupation of a district by the Red Army, and preceded by an intensified propaganda campaign, was the revolutionary committee. It called for elections or re-elections, and closely cooperated with the Communist Party. Under the district soviet, and appointed by it, were committees for education, cooperatives, military training, political training, land, public health, partisan training, revolutionary defense, enlargement of the Red Army, agrarian mutual aid, Red Army land tilling, and others. Such committees were found in every branch organ of the soviets, right up to the Central Government, where policies were coordinated and state decisions made.

Organization did not stop with the government itself. The Communist Party had an extensive membership among farmers and workers, in the towns and villages. In addition there were the Young Communists … organization for women … adult farmers … partisan brigades … The work of all these organizations was coordinated by the Central Soviet Government, the Communist Party, and the Red Army. Here we need not enter into statistical detail to explain the organic connections of these groups, but it can be said in general that they were all skilfully interwoven, each directly under the guidance of some Communist, though decisions of organization, membership, and work seemed to be carried out in a democratic way by the peasants themselves.

In his nervous effort to reassert the glorious myth of the classical heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, George Kennedy writes:

Islam was not only the greatest danger to Christianity in the Middle Ages, but also the greatest threat to the classical tradition of Europe, for its acknowledged no significant debt to the classical world, rejected its art, and neglected its languages and culture in favor of a new, all-sufficing revelation. The exception to this, of course, is the Arabic transmission of some knowledge of Greek philosophy, primarily the Aristotelian corpus. But a glance into Hermannus Alemannus’s thirteenth-century Latin translation of Averroes’s twelfth-century paraphrase of a tenth-century Arabic translation of a seventh-century Syriac translation of Aristotle’s Poetics is enough to reveal how impoverished the classical tradition would have been if Islam had prevailed in Europe. Averroes lacked even the slightest knowledge of Greek epic or tragedy, and his attempts to make sense of Aristotle on the basis of forms of Arabic poetry is totally obfuscating. (George Kennedy, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 1.1 1994).

You can sense the sigh of relief as he wrote that piece of tripe.

Where there are men, there must be chickens.

Peasant saying from Ningxia, China, 1936.

It seems as though I am part of this symptom, according to the insightful analysis of one Ross Wolfe:

This is of a piece with broader attempts by some Marxists to accommodate reactionary anti-capitalist movements that take their inspiration from religion, whether this takes the form of apologia for “fanaticism” (Alberto Toscano’sFanaticism),[48] “fundamentalism” (Domenico Losurdo’s “What is Fundamentalism?”),[49] or “theology” (Roland Boer’s trilogy On Marxism and Theology).[50]  These efforts to twist Marxism into a worldview that is somehow compatible with religious politics ought to be read as a symptom of the death of historical Marxism and the apparent absence of any alternative.

O ye of little faith …

When he was still a teenager and had finished his time in the Hunan army, a youthful Mao began looking about for a purpose in life. While in Changsha:

I began to read advertisements in the papers. Many schools were then being opened and used this medium to attract new students. I had no special standard for judging schools; I did not know exactly what I wanted to do. An advertisement for a police school caught my eye and I registered for entrance to it. Before I was examined, however, I read an advertisement for a soap-making ‘school’. No tuition was required, board was furnished and a small salary was promised. It was an attractive and inspiring advertisement. It told of the great social benefits of soap making, how it would enrich the country and enrich the people. I changed my mind about the police school and decided to become a soap maker. I paid my dollar registration fee here also.

Meanwhile a friend of mine had become a law student and he urged me to enter his school. I also read an alluring advertisement of this law school, which promised many wonderful things … Fate intervened again in the form of an advertisement for a commercial school. Another friend counselled me that the country was in economic war, and that what was most needed were economists who could build up the nation’s economy. His argument prevailed and I spent another dollar to register in this commercial school … Meanwhile, however, I continued to read advertisements, and one day I read one describing the charms of a higher commercial school. It was operated by the government, it offered a wide curriculum, and I heard that its instructors were very able men … The trouble with my new school, I discovered, was that most of the courses were taught in English, and, in common with other students, I knew little English … Disgusted with this situation, I withdrew from the institution at the end of the month and continued my perusal of advertisements.

My next scholastic adventure was in the First Provincial Middle School … I did not like this school. Its curriculum was limited and its regulations were objectionable … I had come to the conclusion that it would be better for me to read and study alone … I managed to resist the appeals of all future advertising.

Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China, pp. 143-45.

Before the revolution, the Red Army in China had the following eleven rules, divided into two groups, one of three, the other of eight.

The three preliminary rules:

1. Prompt obedience to orders

2. No confiscations whatever from the poor peasantry

3. Prompt delivery directly to the government (Red soviets), for its disposal, of all goods confiscated from the landlords

The eight key rules, with a focus on dealings with peasants:

1. Replace all doors when you leave a house (!)

2. Return and roll up the straw matting on which you slept

3. Be courteous and polite to the people and help them when you can

4. Return all borrowed articles

5. Replace all damaged article

6. Be honest in all transactions with the peasants

7. Pay for all articles purchased

8. Be sanitary, and, especially, establish latrines a safe distance from people’s houses

Apparently, these eight form a song, sung on the march or while working.

Update: here it is.

I didn’t think it was physically possible for someone who has clocked up more than 400,000 hours to be able to get the lotus position, let alone lift yourself off the ground while in aforesaid position. Since I have managed the ‘plough‘, I persevered with this one …

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1 … 2 … 3 … (you are meant to hold it for ten deep breaths)

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4… 5… 6 … 7 … (the moment of the lingus)

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8… 9… 10!

Then there’s the back arch:

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Ah well, that one needs a bit more work, as does the headstand, but its getting there … slowly

I am reading through – once again – all of the material I have from Igor D’iakonoff, the great Soviet-era scholar of the ancient Near East. I don’t agree with all of what he writes, but some significant structural proposals are part of my Sacred Economy book. And he has some real gems, such as this one on the nature of the ruling class (not without a utopian touch):

This does not mean that a society releases the best organizers, the most profound thinkers, and the most outstanding artists from production work. It is not those who are best capable of utilizing the surplus of produce in the most rational way who acquire it. It is, rather, those who are in a position to do so: individuals who possess resources of sheer physical strength or who have the daring or the armed or the ideological power; it is they who appropriate the organizational power. Most of these individuals exploit the labor of others without thereby benefiting society as a whole. (Early Antiquity, p. 35)

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LATIN. Language natural to man. Harmful to good writing. Is useful only for reading inscriptions on public fountains. Beware of Latin quotations: they always conceal something improper.

Flaubert, Dictionnaire des idées reçue

Finally processing some photos from Romania, especially of some of the people I met:

2012 October 122 (Romania)a

 

 

2012 October 116 (Romania)a

 

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And yes, it seems as though Jesus does really live in Romania:

2012 October 102 (Romania)a

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