another world is possible


Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of Lenin’s death. As one might expect, the Russian Communist Party and other supporters – as they do on such occasions – were out on Red Square in Moscow to mark the moment (ht cp):

Lenin 90th anniversary of death - Red Square

Not many people are engaged in reading Stalin these days, which is a pity. Saint Iosef actually writes rather well, as I find when reading Stalin in bed before drifting off to sleep. For instance, take his leaflet on the First of May:

As far back as last century, the workers of all countries resolved to celebrate annually this day, the First of May. That was in 1889, when, at the Paris Congress of the Socialists of all countries, the workers resolved to proclaim, precisely on this day, the First of May, when nature is awakening from her winter sleep, when the woods and hills are donning their green mantles and the fields and meadows are adorning themselves with flowers, when the sun shines more warmly, the joy of revival fills the air and nature gives herself up to dancing and rejoicing—they resolved to proclaim loudly and openly to the whole world, precisely on this day, that the workers are bringing spring to mankind and deliverance from the shackles of capitalism, that it is the mission of the workers to renovate the world on the basis of freedom and socialism.

Every class has its own favourite festivals. The nobility introduced their festivals, and on them they proclaim their “right” to rob the peasants. The bourgeoisie have their festivals and on them they “justify” their “right” to exploit the workers. The clergy, too, have their festivals, and on them they eulogise the existing system under which the toilers die in poverty while the idlers wallow in luxury.

The workers, too, must have their festival, and on it they must proclaim: universal labour, universal freedom, universal equality of all men. That festival is the festival of the First of May…

“We do not worship the golden calf!” We do not want the kingdom of the bourgeoisie and the oppressors! Damnation and death to capitalism and its horrors of poverty and bloodshed! Long live the kingdom of labour, long live socialism!

That is what the class-conscious workers of all countries proclaim on this day.

‘Long Live the First of May’, in Works, vol .2, pp 225-26.

Some more from the fascinating notes made by a youngish Mao on Friedrich Paulsen’s A System of Ethics. Here he reflects on death.

To accept it and die, what is there to regret?

That the living must die is the law of all natural things, that what comes into being must perish … Our death is not death, but simply a dissolution [jeisan]. All natural things are not destroyed; neither are we human beings destroyed. Not only is death not death, life too is not life, but simply a uniting. Since a human being is formed of the uniting of spirit and matter, what is there to dread when the decline of old age leads to their dispersal? Moreover, dispersal is not a single dispersal that is never united again. This dispersal is followed by that uniting. If the world contained only dispersal without reuniting, how could we see then every day with our own eyes phenomena that represent unitings (I do not mean reincarnation)?

The universe does not contain only the world of human life. There are many other kinds of worlds in addition to that of human life. When we have already had all kinds of experience in this world of human life, we should leave this world to experience other kinds of worlds …

Would we then think that dying was painful? Certainly not. Never having experienced death, what makes us think it is painful? Furthermore, pursuing it logically, it would seem that the event of death is not necessarily painful. Life and death are two great worlds, and the passage between these worlds, from life to death, is naturally very gradual, and the distance is by nature barely perceptible. Elderly people peacefully come to the end of their years and enter a natural state, an event that is necessary and proper…

Human beings are born with a sense of curiosity. How can it be different in this case? Are we not delighted with all kinds of rare things that we seldom encounter? Death too is a rare thing that I have never experienced in my entire life. Why should it alone not delight me? … Some may fear the great change, but I think it is profoundly valuable. When can such a marvellous great change be found in the the world of human life? Will it not be truly valuable to encounter in death what cannot be encountered in the world of human life?

When a storm rolls over the ocean, with waves criss-crossing in all directions, those aboard ship are drawn to marvel at its significance. Why should the great waves of life and death alone not evoke a sense of their magnificence!

(Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, pp. 245-47)

One of the most derided item in Marx’s works is the idea of primitive communism. To be sure, it has some problems, such as the narrative that moves from undifferentiation to differentiation. But did Marx pinpoint something all the same?

One of the discoveries I made in The Sacred Economy was the crucial role of what may be called the institutional form of subsistence survival in ancient Southwest Asia. Given that 90% of the sparse population was engaged in agriculture, this is the key to ancient economics. How did it operate? Typically, crops were grown via a system of land shares, reallocated every year or two by means of a village council or elders (and with much debate). These were long and non-contiguous strips that were reallocated depending on a range of factors. Animal husbandry focused on flocks of 2/3 sheep and 1/3 goats, regularly milked and culled for meat, fibre, and bone. Bovines were few and far between, since they need massive amounts of fodder and water. They were used for traction and lived until they dropped. In places with more water, pigs also appear. The focus was on optimal rather than maximal use of resources. Above all, there was little sense of private entrepreneurship, and the idea of private property is simply unhelpful. If people tried that, they simply wouldn’t survive. So, it’s not for nothing that Soviet-era Russian scholars of the ancient world called this the ‘village-commune.’

What is most intriguing is that the subsistence survival regime was by far the most stable. Petty potentates might come and go, their estates might drain labour for a time, hated cockroaches (tax collectors-usurers-merchants-diplomats-landlords all rolled into one) might appear for a time. But given half a chance, people would hasten the destruction of unstable little and big kingdoms. They preferred subsistence-survival, the dominant economic form in periods of what is, from the perspective of the ruling class, called economic ‘crisis’. In the politically and economically marginal zone of the Southern Levant, where Israel appeared belatedly on the scene, subsistence survival was the persistent form.

But did this approach end some time in the first millennium BCE? Not at all. It was still present in Russia into the twentieth century, as also in Iraq, Greater Syria and Greece, to name but a few. What about now?  Recently, I was in a village in Transylvania, Romania. Here the capitalist ‘shock therapy’ of the 1990s has led to deindustrialisation and reagriculturalisation. In response, old and trusted methods have returned. My host and I came across a herd of goats and sheep. I inquired about their numbers and was told they were 1/3 goats and 2/3 sheep, with regular culls and an optimal size of about 40. And Christina sent me this link to a story from the Andalusian region in Spain, concerning the village of Marinaleda. Since the 1970s, they too have developed a village-commune, operating in terms of the long history of subsistence survival that I outlined above. Of course, it has been reconfigured in light of wider socio-economic circumstances, but the basic principles remain the same. Nowadays, the villagers call this a version of socialism.

A socialist mural in Marinaleda.

Has the French President, François Hollande, recalled a trace of socialism? The new super-tax on those earning over 1 million euro is set to go ahead. In a nice twist, it will be companies and employers who pay the 75% tax if they pay an employee over the ceiling. Of course, it is a weak measure and should really kick in no higher than 100,000 euro per annum.

Contrast the latest proposal by those ‘mean little people‘ in power in Australia, with the clueless Tony Abbott in charge. In order to save some pennies penalise low-income earners, they have proposed a $6 fee for those who visit doctors who charge only the medicare rate (and thereby charge nothing to the patient). Obviously, this targets the poor. Such vision!

You have to admire the sheer idealism of early socialist policies, such as the policy on drunkenness by the Georgian branch of the party in 1909. Stalin writes: ‘drunkenness is regarded as an inevitable evil under capitalism, which can be abolished only with the fall of capitalism and the triumph of socialism.’ This might initially elicit a smile and a shaking of the head. If only it were so easy. But then he goes on to make some valid points:

By reducing the workers and peasants to the condition of rightless slaves and robbing them of the opportunity to satisfy their cultural requirements, the existing autocratic-feudal regime helps to spread drunkenness among the toiling population to the utmost degree. This is apart from the fact that representatives of the ‘authorities’ deliberately encourage drunkenness as a source of revenue for the Treasury.

In Australia, as in many countries, alcohol fueled violence and binge drinking (especially among young teenagers, with long-term damage as a result) has reached problematic levels. Why? The powerful alcohol lobby has any government at its mercy due to political ‘donations,’ and the tax revenue is something governments are reluctant to lose. So alcohol is cheap, ubiquitous and easy to get. What is the standard response by these clowns?

Neither the sermons preached by the ‘liberals,’ who convene congresses to combat drunkenness and organise ‘temperance societies,’ nor the exhortations of priests can diminish, let alone abolish, drunkenness, which is engendered by the inequalities in society, and intensified by the autocratic regime.

So you find weak-kneed invocations to show personal responsibility. The problem is not the widespread availability of alcohol and inducements to drink, but willpower and responsible drinking. The problem is not the alcohol itself but the person who drinks it. Strange how the same is not said of smoking or hard drugs or guns (except in the USA, where 30,000 homicides a year are due to guns). Stalin’s solution is perhaps a little too simplistic:

But for such a struggle to be successful it is first of all necessary to overthrow the tsarist regime and to win a democratic republic, which will create the possibility for the free development of the class struggle and for the organisation of the proletariat in town and country, for raising its cultural level and for widely training its forces for the great struggle for socialism. The Baku Committee regards the forthcoming congress to combat drunkenness as a means of agitating for the democratic and socialist demands of the Russian proletariat, and instructs our delegate to combat the opportunist delegates at the congress who obscure the class tasks of the proletariat.

But the underlying point is what may be called the ‘education of desire.’ A good dose of authoritarian control and strict regulation is the way to go. Make it expensive, ban advertising, restrict the amount and types available. Sure, people will drink, but make it really tough to do so. As an example, here we have the so-called ‘Newcastle solution’, which is relatively mild form of regulation. Clubs and pubs have a 1.00 am lockout (if you are inside, you can stay for a bit, but you can’t get in), shots are banned after 10.00 pm, as also unmixed or strong drinks. The result has been a 30% reduction in alcohol fueled violence. As as stronger example, strict regulation works a wonder with guns.

This came up tonight, with a visitor who is here for a couple of months – Mika from Finland. He reminded me that Alexandre Kojève - famous for his lectures on Hegel in 1930s Paris and for being one of the architects of the European Common Market – was a KGB agent.

Although I have little sympathy with Kojève’s politics, even his ironic Stalinism, I had a moment of longing. I wish I could have been a KGB agent. Actually, it is still possible, for the KGB continues to exist – in Belarus!

This one came up this morning, for some reason or other. Thinking back, I realised that the last time I lost my temper was in 2007, after my youngest daughter had driven me to distraction (she was 16 at the time). Since then, I’ve mellowed somewhat … so I am really not sure if I will lose my temper ever again. The same can’t be said for some of those closest to me.

While on the trail of Thomas Müntzer, we were staying in the old mill in the town of Allstedt (Saxony-Anhalt). At the foot of the stairs is a box of free books, some of them hailing from the time of the DDR. Rifling through the collection, Christina came across the following:

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Yes, it’s a book of young children’s songs, called Sputnik, Sputnik, Orbit. Published in 1964, the first section states clearly:

Lieder vom sozialistischen Aufbau in Stadt und Land, von den Helfern bei der Arbeit, von Kran un Bagger, von Traktor und Kombine, von den Berufen der Eltern, von den Soldaten unserer Volksarmee, von Auto, von Feuerwehr, Eisenbahn und Sputnik.

Wonderful! If only there were more books like that for young children today. Some of the songs include the Sputnik song:

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The long train of which the child’s father is the driver:

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And there is a special section for May Day, naturally one of a number of children’s festivals:

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Even a 1 May song for kiddies:

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A rich resource for songs to sing with my grandson!

Revolutions have a tendency to spur all sorts of creative activities, not least among those the revolution benefits most – the common workers and farmers. One activity that intrigues me is children’s names. Russian parents were not the only ones to call their offspring Marks, Engelina, Stalina, and Ninel (or indeed Barikada, Ateist, Traktorina, and Elektrifikatsiy). It happened and still happens in India, in circles where the tradition runs strong.

Aware of this situation, the Russian Cultural Centre, in Thiruvananthapuram, organised a day where all those so named were gathered. As reported, Lenin opened the evening, while Stalin was master of ceremonies. Participants were greeted by Khrushchev, while Brezhnev and even Yuri Gagarin made speeches. The oldest person present was Stalin (at 58) and the youngest was a child named Pravda.

I’ve got to ask: where’s the creativity in naming kids in Australia?

(ht ll)

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