In his fascinating piece, ‘The Foundations of Leninism’, Stalin decisively claims Lenin’s heritage against the arrogant quirkiness of Trotsky. Among other gems is what Stalin calls the ‘Leninist style in work’. Now what does that mean?

It has two specific features:
a) Russian revolutionary sweep and
b) American efficiency.
The style of Leninism consists in combining these two specific features in Party and state work. Russian revolutionary sweep is an antidote to inertia, routine, conservatism, mental stagnation and slavish submission to ancient traditions. Russian revolutionary sweep is the life giving force which stimulates thought, impels things forward, breaks the past and opens up perspectives. Without it no progress is possible. But Russian revolutionary sweep has every chance of degenerating in practice into empty “revolutionary” Manilovism if it is not combined with American efficiency in work.

American efficiency … is an antidote to “revolutionary” Manilovism and fantastic scheme concocting. American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognises obstacles; which with its business-like perseverance brushes aside all obstacles; which continues at a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is inconceivable. But American efficiency has every chance of degenerating into narrow and unprincipled practicalism if it is not combined with Russian revolutionary sweep.

Works, volume 6, pp. 194-95

Lenin subbotnik

That wonderful site, ‘Philosophers for Change’, has agreed to publish another of my pieces, called ‘In Defence of Engels‘. Get yourself over there, even more for the rest of the material.

ME on a tandem

This morning I arrived at the Historical Materialism conference of Australasia and realised I had forgotten to bring a toothbrush. So I began to wonder: where is the collective toothbrush? You know, the old brush with bent bristles that sits proudly on the registration desk, there for anyone to use should they need. Thankfully, I managed to score a toothbrush in a discount basket in the chemist shop next door, so will donate it as my small contribution to a deeper form of collectivity. Come to think of it, there should be a collective razor, collective nose hair trimmer …


Christina and I have been discussing this one on and off for a few days. From time to time, I come across the argument that the more students you encourage to enter the educational system, the lower the standards become. I continue to be surprised by the range of people of who argue so: left-wing and liberal academics who bemoan declining standards; conservative governments that want to cut funding for universities; old fogeys who trot out the line that it used to better when they were young. The converse of this hypothesis is that fewer students mean higher standards of excellence.

However, the proposition has a basic flaw. Restricting student numbers is by no means a guarantee of excellence. We have only to think of the thick rich in universities and elite institutions to remind us of that fact. There is simply no correlation between larger student numbers and a drop in standards to the lowest common denominator. Instead, such increases may well ensure that the standards are raised, since there is a greater chance that the really bright students will turn up. As Ernst Bloch once put it, how many Einsteins have spent their lives behind a plough?

Communism and tobacco 01

The other day we were discussing alternative ways of funding research and I suggested – in all seriousness – that Big Tobacco may be interested in funding a project on ‘Smoking Communism’. Immediately Castro and his cigars, Stalin and his pipe, and Engels’s love of fine tobacco come to mind. But so also does the smoke-filled inner sanctum of the Communist Party of China, or indeed Marx’s own chain-smoking. A little further research reveals a veritable treasure trove of material. It includes the glorious packet designs for cigarettes:

Communism and tobacco 07

Studies of the crucial role tobacco played in developing the economies of places like Bulgaria:

Communism and tobacco 16

Ludicrous Cold War advertising by Big Tobacco in the United States:


You don’t believe it? Well, wait a second. Let’s use the  same kind of statistical analysis the Public Health Service is using to “prove” that cigarettes cause cancer. We’ll use only statistical facts taken from bona fide population surveys.

1. Americans smoke a lot and some of them die of lung cancer. The Dutch smoke  less than Americans, but more of them die of lung cancer.

2. The Australians smoke a lot and some of them die of lung cancer. The British smoke as much as the Australians, but twice as many British have lung cancer.

3. The Norwegians don’t smoke a lot, but some die of lung cancer. The Finns smoke the same as the Norwegians and twice as many Finns die of lung and bronchial cancer.

One statistical inference is very clear. In each pair of countries, the higher cancer rate is in the country closer to the Iron Curtain.

By the same means that some public servants are using to indict cigarettes, we’ve just proved that Communism causes cancer. But you know and we know, Communism is not guilty. And nobody yet knows about cigarettes.

A good old communist joke:

Ivanov applied to the Communist Party. The party committee conducts an interview.

“Comrade Ivanov, do you smoke?”

“Yes, I do a little.”

“Do you know that comrade Lenin did not smoke and advised other communists not to smoke?”

“If comrade Lenin said so, I shall cease smoking.”

“Do you drink?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Comrade Lenin strongly condemned drunkenness.”

“Then I shall cease drinking.”

“Comrade Ivanov, what about women?”

“A little….”

“Do you know that comrade Lenin strongly condemned amoral behavior?”

“If comrade Lenin condemned, I shall not love them any longer.”

“Comrade Ivanov, will you be ready to sacrifice your life for the Party?”

“Of course. Who needs such life?”


And finally, a manifesto of sorts, by Mladen Dolar (from whom I borrowed the title of the project):

Smokers, like proletarians, have no country, but they instantly create liberated territories wherever they appear. Smoking always represented liberty, a fickle freedom against the chains of survival, it is an anti-survivalist stance. It states: I am free in chains, while being chained to this habit that I can’t give up, but these chains allow taking a bit of distance to the overwhelming other ones and I am willing to pay the price. Smoking makes a statement, which can be read in all kinds of ways, cynical, spontaneous, relaxed, neurotic, psychotic, perverse, obsessive, compulsive, guilty pleasure, sinful, dandy, bon-vivant, desperate, anti-stress, aggressive, arrogant, seductive, available, mark of class, mark of lack of class, sociability, anti-social behavior … But against all odds and in a wild fancy I would like this statement to read: communism has a chance.

Stalin's Tobacco 03

 Actually, forget Big Tobacco for this one …




Mao didn’t restrict the famous and much-debated ‘Five-Year Plans’ to the realm of economics. He also had a personal one, expressed in 1957:

I, too, have a five-year plan. I’d like to live for five more years. If I can live for another 15 years, I’d be completely content and satisfied. … However, there are unexpected storms in the skies, and people are likely to experience sudden reversals of fortune. This, too, is a matter of natural dialectics. If Confucius were still alive today – if someone who had lived more than two thousand years ago is still not dead – that would be awful, wouldn’t it? (The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, vol. 2, p. 777).

Of course, he died in 1976, so he lived 19 more years. He must have died more than completely content and satisfied …

Never one to shy away from turning a statement on its head, or rather, feet, Mao points out that the brain-washing is actually a very good thing. In a speech to Chinese university students going to Moscow, he said:

Some foreigners say that our ideological reform is brainwashing. As I see it, they are correct in what they say. It is washing brains, that’s what it is! This brain of mine was washed to become what it is. After I joined the revolution, [my brain] slowly washed, washed for several decades. What I received before was all bourgeois education, and even some feudal education. I read quite a lot of Confucius’s writings. At that time we simply didn’t know anything about Marx or Engels, only about Washington and Napoleon. You are better. You are very fortunate. You are just big kids, and yet you already know Marx, Engels, Lenin. … At that time, none of us knew anything about how the Chinese revolution was to be promoted! (The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, vol. 2, p. 775)

Mao swimming 01