philosophy


The University of Newcastle is offering the following PhD scholarships to high calibre international applicants. This is – as usual – extremely competitive. A few details:

  • A high quality, international University partner
  • Agreement of the supervisors and student to undertake a jointly supervised PhD with at least one supervisor from each University
  • Availability of a high quality (top) student preferably from the partner institution
  • Student to spend (face-to-face) time at both institutions during their PhD, the time distribution being flexible
  • Up to 50% full scholarship support from University of Newcastle and the remainder from the partner

Please contact me at my university email address if you know of anyone eligible and interested in a joint PhD in Marxist philosophy and religion.

Some of the most fascinating material in Stalin’s Works (from volume 11 onwards) concerns the theoretical debates over collectivisation. The campaign, of course, remains the butt of much anti-communist ranting, with assertions that it ’caused’ the famines of the 1930s, that it curtailed the natural incentive of private property and farming, indeed that it was nothing more than a return to medieval patterns of indentured labour, if not outright slavery.

All of that avoids dealing seriously with the actual issues at stake. To begin with, the furious process of industrialisation in the 1920s had to do so in a new way. The USSR was unable to plunder colonies for industrialisation, as had happened in Western Europe, and it did not wish to rely on foreign loans (it pretty much couldn’t anyway, since it had simply annulled the debts racked up by the tsarist autocracy). So the whole industrialisation process had to rely on internal, or socialist accumulation. Large-scale industrialisation needs massive injections of funds. But where to get those funds? The government decided to set higher prices for manufactured goods, as a type of super-tax that would flow back into industry. This was despite the increasing abundance of such goods. Meanwhile, prices on agricultural goods were set lower, even if there were occasional shortages. Obviously, this went directly counter to the supposed ‘iron law’ of supply and demand. Obviously, it led to not a little speculation by the kulaks, or wealthy farmers, among others. Most importantly, it produced the first layer of economic contradiction.

The second layer was between the rate of industrial change and the rate of agricultural change. The furious pace of industrialisation (the proverbial unleashing of productive forces) left agriculture far behind, so that an ever larger gulf opened up between them. The ‘super-tax’, or ‘scissors’ approach would not hold out forever in such a situation, so something had to be done in relation to agriculture. Stalin toyed with the idea that the small farmers should be fostered, since their approach had been tested over centuries. But in the end, he and the government opted for the very Left approach of collectivisation as a way of dealing with the growing contradiction between industry and agriculture.

As some have suggested, and as the editors of Stalin’s Works also point out, the collectivisation drive was the most difficult task since the conquest of power. In short, it really was an other revolution, a massive undertaking never quite seen before, achieved in a breathtakingly short period of time and not without a few unexpected side-effects.

In this context, Stalin reflects on such revolutionary changes in a letter to Gorky from 1930. He is discussing the responses of young people to the turmoil:

It cannot be the case that now, when we are breaking the old relations in life and building new ones, when the customary roads and paths are being torn up and new, uncustomary ones laid, when whole sections of the population who used to live in plenty are being thrown out of their rut and are falling out of the ranks, making way for millions of people who were formerly oppressed and downtrodden—it cannot be the case that the youth should represent a homogeneous mass of people who sympathise with us, that there should be no differentiation and division among them. Firstly, among the youth there are sons of wealthy parents. Secondly, even if we take the youth who are our own (in social status), not all of them have the hardiness, the strength, the character and the understanding to appreciate the picture of the tremendous break-up of the old and the feverish building of the new as a picture of something which has to be and which is therefore desirable, something, moreover, which has little resemblance to a heavenly idyll of “universal bliss” that is to afford everyone the opportunity of “taking his ease” and “basking in happiness.” Naturally, in such a “racking turmoil,” we are bound to have people who are weary, overwrought, worn-out, despairing, dropping out of the ranks and, lastly, deserting to the camp of the enemy. These are the unavoidable “overhead costs” of revolution (Works, vol. 12, p. 180).

Arkady Plastov - Collective-Farm Festival,   1937 (320x195)

While the Newcastle rail saga now has more twists than a bad Russian novel (let’s say, Dostoevsky), it has also been able to produce a new term for terrorism.

The context:

1. Deeply corrupt government decision to cut railway line for the last 2.5 km into Newcastle and replace with light rail – at cost of $500,000.

2. Snobby Sydney people thinking that the locals don’t know what’s good for them.

3. Sneaky effort by state government to avoid scrutiny and the need for an act of parliament to cut the line. They plan to cut the line on 26 December (when no one is looking).

4. Save our rail succeeds in gaining a Supreme Court injunction on cutting the line – on Christmas Eve. Court rules any cutting of line requires act of parliament, which state government would lose.

5. State government appeals decision.

6. While awaiting appeal proceedings, line lies in limbo, neither cut nor used.

7. Awabakal Land Council submits a land claim. Legal opinion thinks they may succeed, since they can claim land held by the state but not used for any purpose.

8. Redefinition of terrorism is made.

Let me explain. The government is able to stop services while court proceedings are under way, but not cut the line. So they have put some temporary fencing.

IMG_6676 (320x240)

Such fencing now requires an official sign to indicate the possibility of terrorist attack:

IMG_6677 (320x240)

Four levels apply: low, medium, high …

IMG_6682 (320x240)

and yes, immenent:

IMG_6679 (320x240)

Terrorist attack is not imminent, not even immanent (which is little more intriguing), but immenent.

I have been puzzling over the philosophical implications. Is ‘immenent’ the third term of the dialectic, which overcomes the initial opposition and draws the whole situation up to another level. If so, does that mean we can be in a situation where it feels as though an attack has occurred, even if it has not?

Whoever would have thought that collectivisation would generate so much in terms of philosophy and theology? Volume 11 of Stalin’s Works is of course the great collectivisation volume, when attention turns from the ‘Opposition’ (Trotsky et al) to the apparently mundane issue of grain procurement. Some of the best theoretical material appears in ‘Plenum of the C.C’, from July 1928.

To begin with, Stalin points out that the need for collectivisation arises from the internal contradictions of soviet economic reconstruction. The industrialisation under way at the time differs from industrialisation in capitalist countries, since capitalist industrialisation relies on external appropriation. He writes:

In the capitalist countries industrialisation was usually effected, in the main, by robbing other countries, by robbing colonies or defeated countries, or with the help of substantial and more or less enslaving loans from abroad.

He gives the examples of the British Empire and Germany, both of which industrialised by means of external plunder.

One respect in which our country differs from the capitalist countries is that it cannot and must not engage in colonial robbery, or the plundering of other countries in general. That way, therefore, is closed to us. Neither, however, does our country have or want to have enslaving loans from abroad. Consequently, that way, too, is closed to us (Works, vol. 11, pp. 165-66).

What approach was left? Internal appropriation. Funds for railways and industries can only come from inside the Soviet Union. But this created a structural tension. Industrialisation had been proceeding at a massive pace (with growth figures that outstripped even China until recently), but agriculture had not been keeping up. True, more grain was being produced than before, but it was by no means sufficient for supplying the needs of a growing work force. This tension was exacerbated by another: agricultural goods were sold relatively cheaply, while manufactured goods were relatively expensive. Farmers received relatively less for their produce while paying more for the products of industrialisation. In short, farmers were subsidising industrial expansion, providing the immediate source of internal accumulation needed. At the same time, this tension could not continue, so collectivisation was the solution. It was seen as the socialist solution to improving agricultural efficiency, since agribusiness and landlordism were out of the question.

Theoretically, then, collectivisation was the dialectical effort to deal with the tensions between industry and agriculture, generated through the mechanisms of internal accumulation. But how is this implicitly theological? This is where the kulaks come in. Kulaks were, of course, richer peasants who employed others, traditionally dominated village life, and – crucially – stockpiled grain to force up prices. Stalin deploys at least two strategies in relation to the kulaks.

First, the speculative practices of the kulaks were generated out of the specific circumstances of socialist reconstruction. That is, the Bolsheviks and their policies were responsible for producing the problem of the kulacs – rather than some evil nature among the kulaks as a class. That responsibility took the specific form of the New Economic Program and the tensions generated by internal accumulation.

Second, the emergence of kulak speculation was interpreted in terms of one of Stalin’s favoured modes of dialectical argument: the closer you come to the goal, the greater are the forces opposing you. This is worth an extended quotation:

The more we advance, the greater will be the resistance of the capitalist elements and the sharper the class struggle, while the Soviet Government, whose strength will steadily increase, will pursue a policy of isolating these elements, a policy of demoralising the enemies of the working class, a policy, lastly, of crushing the resistance of the exploiters, thereby creating a basis for the further advance of the working class and the main mass of the peasantry.

It must not be imagined that the socialist forms will develop, squeezing out the enemies of the working class, while our enemies retreat in silence and make way for our advance, that then we shall again advance and they will again retreat until “unexpectedly” all the social groups without exception, both kulaks and poor peasants, both workers and capitalists, find themselves “suddenly” and “imperceptibly,” without struggle or commotion, in the lap of a socialist society. Such fairy-tales do not and cannot happen in general, and in the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular.

It never has been and never will be the case that a dying class surrenders its positions voluntarily without attempting to organise resistance. It never has been and never will be the case that the working class could advance towards socialism in a class society without struggle or commotion. On the contrary, the advance towards socialism cannot but cause the exploiting elements to resist the advance, and the resistance of the exploiters cannot but lead to the inevitable sharpening of the class struggle (Works, vol. 11, pp. 179-80).

Theologically: the more grace becomes apparent, the greater do the forces of evil strive to overcome grace. But their frantic efforts are signs that grace is triumphing. I guess you might also call this the theology of class struggle after the revolution. Stalin would use the same type of argument in relation to the Red Terror.

As for images, I can’t avoid the wonderful propaganda film on collectivisation, ‘Tractor Drivers’, from 1939. Full film here. It even has a Stalinets tractor:

Stalin tractor 01 (3)

One of the drivers in question is of course a hard-working woman, a topic which led to Arkady Plastov’s marvellous painting, also called ‘Tractor Drivers':

Arkady Plastov - Tractor Drivers 01a (320x240)

A few announcements to come, such as the ‘Religion and Radicalism’ book series with Palgrave Macmillan, and the final stages of planning for a research program in ‘Religion, Marxism and Secularism’ at the University of Newcastle. Speaking of the latter, we are pondering the slogan, ‘Towards world domination’.

Meanwhile, one inspiration is Chairman Mao, who wrote in 1955 of the crucial importance of Marxist philosophy:

I would advise our comrades to study philosophy. Quite a few people are uninterested in philosophy; they do not have the habit of studying philosophy … There are a number of subjects in Marxism: Marxist philosophy, Marxist economics, Marxist socialism – the theory of class struggle; but the basic thing is Marxist philosophy. Unless this thing is studies and understood, we will not have a common language or a common method among us. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976, vol. 1, p. 533)

No wonder there are so many centres of Marxist philosophy in China.

Mao studying 01

Mao studying 03

This is now the official name for our home:

IMG_5070b

On two occasions now, Alain Badiou has cancelled a trip to China – at the last minute. To be sure, he had good immediate excuses, such as his adopted son being in prison. But by the time he cancelled, the date and appearance had been fixed, notices had gone out, and people awaited his arrival. So what is going on with the old polemicist? Why can he not bring himself to go to China? Badiou remains in many ways a Maoist, and holds that the path to communism largely came to an end with the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution. That way he can hold to an ideal communism that has not really been achieved as yet (he also rubbishes the communist states in eastern Europe). Is it perhaps because the old bugger fears facing his own Real? What if he actually came to China and experienced a very different form of socialism, with plenty of life in it yet? Could he continue to deride it, or would it challenge the basis of much of his thought and politics? Better to cancel before facing such a moment.

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