Monday, December 15, 2008

London Review of Books Dec 18th

America Concedes
Patrick Cockburn writes about the significance of the new Status of Forces Agreement

On 27 November the Iraqi parliament voted by a large majority in favour of a security agreement with the US under which its 150,000 troops will withdraw from Iraqi cities, towns and villages by 30 June next year and from all of Iraq by 31 December 2011. The Iraqi government will take over military responsibility for the Green Zone in Baghdad, the heart of American power in Iraq, in a few weeks’ time. Private security companies will lose legal immunity. US military operations will only be carried out with Iraqi consent. No US military bases will remain after the last American troops leave in 2011 and in the interim the US military is banned from carrying out attacks on other countries from within Iraq.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed after eight months of rancorous negotiations, is categorical and unconditional. America’s bid to act as the world’s only super-power and to establish quasi-colonial control of Iraq, an attempt that began with the invasion of 2003, has ended in failure. There will be a national referendum on the new agreement next July, but the accord is to be implemented immediately, so the poll will be largely irrelevant. Even Iran, which had denounced the first drafts of the SOFA, fearing that any agreement would enshrine a permanent US presence in Iraq, now says that it will officially back the new security pact after the referendum: a sure sign that America’s main rival in the Middle East sees the accord as marking the end of the occupation and the end of any notion of Iraq being used as a launching-pad for military assaults on its neighbours.

Astonishingly, this momentous agreement was greeted with little surprise or interest outside Iraq. On the day that it was finally passed by the Iraqi parliament international attention was focused on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. For some months polls in the US have shown that the economic crisis has replaced the Iraqi war in the minds of American voters. In any case, Bush has declared so many spurious milestones to have been passed in Iraq over the years that when a real turning point is reached people are naturally sceptical about its significance. The White House is anyway so keen to keep quiet about what it has agreed in Iraq that it hasn’t even published a copy of the SOFA in English. Some senior officials in the Pentagon privately criticise Bush for conceding so much, but the American media are fixated on the incoming Obama administration and no longer pay much attention to the doings of Bush and Co.

The last-minute delays to the accord were not really to do with the Americans. It was rather that the leaders of the Sunni Arab minority, seeing Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-Kurdish government about to fill the vacuum created by the US departure, wanted to wring as many concessions as they could in return for their support. Around three-quarters of the 17,000 prisoners held by the Americans are Sunni and their leaders wanted them released or at least to have some guarantee that they wouldn’t be mistreated by the Iraqi security forces. They also asked for an end to de-Baathification, which is directed primarily at the Sunni community. Only the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held out against the accord, declaring it a betrayal of independent Iraq. The ultra-patriotic opposition of the Sadrists has been important because it has made it difficult for the other Shia parties to agree to anything less than a complete American withdrawal if they wanted to avoid being portrayed as US puppets in the provincial elections at the end of next month, or the parliamentary elections later in the year.

The SOFA finally agreed is in almost every way the opposite of the one the US started to negotiate in March, which was largely an attempt to continue the occupation under similar terms to the UN mandate that expires at the end of the year. Washington overplayed its hand. The Iraqi government was growing stronger as a result of the end of the Sunni Arab uprising. The Iranians had helped restrain the Mahdi Army, Muqtada’s powerful militia, allowing the government to regain control of Basra and Sadr City, which amounts to almost half of Baghdad, from the Shia militias. Maliki became more confident, realising that his military enemies were dispersing and that, in any case, the Americans had no real alternative but to support him. The US has been politically weak in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein – not surprisingly, given that it has so few real friends in the country aside from the Kurds. The leaders of the Iraqi Shia, 60 per cent of the total population, might ally themselves to Washington to gain power, but they never intended to share power with the US in the long term.

The occupation has always been unpopular in Iraq. Foreign observers and some Iraqis are often misled by the hatred with which Iraqi communities regard each other into underestimating the strength of Iraqi nationalism. Once Maliki came to believe that he could survive without US military support he was able to spurn American proposals until an unconditional withdrawal was conceded. In any case, by the end of August it seemed quite likely that Obama, whose withdrawal timetable is not so different from his own, would be the next president. Come next year’s elections, Maliki can present himself as the man who ended the occupation. His critics, notably the Kurds, think that success has gone to his head, but there is no doubt that the new security agreement has strengthened him politically.

It may be that, living in the heart of the Green Zone, Maliki has an exaggerated idea of what his government has achieved. In the Zone there is access to clean water and electricity while in the rest of Baghdad people get no more than three or four hours’ electricity a day. Security is certainly better than it was during the civil war between Sunni and Shia of 2006-7, but the improvement is relative. The monthly death toll has dropped from 3000 a month at its worst to 360 Iraqi civilians and security personnel killed this November, though these figures may understate the casualty toll since not all bodies are found. Iraq is still the most dangerous place in the world. On 1 December, the day I started writing this article, two suicide bombers killed 33 people and wounded dozens more in Baghdad and Mosul. Iraqis are cynical about the government’s claim to have restored order. ‘We are used to the government always saying that things have become good and the security situation has improved,’ says Salman Mohammed Jumah, a primary school teacher in Baghdad. ‘It is true security is a little better, but the government leaders live behind concrete barriers and don’t know what is happening on the ground. They only go out in their armoured convoys. We no longer have sectarian killings by ID cards, but Sunni are still afraid to go to Shia areas and Shia to Sunni.’

Security has improved now that there are police and military checkpoints everywhere, but sectarian killers have also upgraded their tactics. There are fewer suicide bombings but many more small ‘sticky bombs’ placed underneath vehicles. Everybody checks their car before getting in. I try to keep away from notorious choke points, such as Tahrir Square or the entrances to the Green Zone, where a bomber can wait for a target to get stuck in traffic before making a move. The checkpoints and the walls dividing different communities bring Baghdad close to paralysis even when there aren’t any bombs. It can take two or three hours to travel a few miles. The bridges over the Tigris are often blocked, and this has got worse recently because the soldiers and the police have a new toy, a box which looks like a transistor radio with a short aerial sticking out horizontally. It’s supposed to detect vapour from explosives when pointed at a car and may well do so, but since it also responds to vapour from alcohol or perfume it’s worse than useless as a security aid.

Iraqi state television and government-backed newspapers never stop saying that life in the country is improving by the day, which would be convincing if in addition to improved security there were more electricity, clean water and jobs. ‘The economic situation is still very bad,’ says Salman Mohammed Jumah, the teacher. ‘Unemployment affects everybody and you can’t get a job unless you pay a bribe. There is no electricity and nowadays we have cholera again so people have to buy expensive bottled water and only use the water that comes out of the tap for washing.’ Not everybody is so downcast, but life in Iraq is still extraordinarily hard. The best way to gauge how much ‘better’ it is, is by the willingness of the 4.7 million refugees to go home – one in five Iraqis now lives elsewhere, inside or outside Iraq. By October only 150,000 had returned; some of those who come to assess the situation decide to remain in Damascus or Amman. One middle-aged Sunni businessman who came back from Syria for two or three weeks said: ‘I don’t like to be here. In Syria I can go out in the evening to meet friends in a coffee bar. It is safe. Here I am forced to stay in my home after 7 p.m.’

The degree of optimism or pessimism felt by Iraqis depends very much on whether they have a job, whether or not that job is with the government, which community they belong to, their social class and the area they live in. All these factors are interlinked. Most jobs are with the state, which reputedly employs some two million people. The private sector is very feeble. Despite talk of reconstruction there are almost no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline. Since the Shia and Kurds control the government, it is difficult for a Sunni to get a job and probably impossible without a reference from someone connected to a political party in the government. Optimism is greater among the Shia. ‘There is progress in our life,’ says Jafar Sadiq, a Shia businessman married to a Sunni in the Shia-dominated Iskan area of Baghdad. ‘People are co-operating with the security forces. I am glad the army is fighting the Mahdi Army, though they aren’t finished yet. Four Sunni have reopened their shops in my area. It is safe for my wife’s Sunni relatives to come here. The only things we need badly are electricity, clean water and municipal services.’ But, when she was out of her husband’s hearing, his wife, Jana, admitted that she had secretly warned her Sunni relatives against coming to Iskan ‘because the security situation is unstable.’ She teaches at Mustansiriyah University in central Baghdad, which a year ago was controlled by the Mahdi Army, with the result that its Sunni students fled. ‘Now the Sunni students are coming back,’ she says, ‘though they are still afraid.’

They have good reasons to be afraid. Baghdad is divided into Shia and Sunni enclaves defended by high concrete blast walls, often with a single entrance and exit. The sectarian slaughter is much less than it was, but it’s still dangerous for returning refugees to try to reclaim their old house in an area in which they are a minority. In a Sunni district in west Baghdad a Shia husband and wife with their two daughters went back to their house to find it gutted, with the furniture gone and electric sockets and water pipes torn out. They decided to sleep on the roof. A Sunni gang reached them by way of a neighbouring building, cut off the husband’s head and threw it into the street. ‘The same will happen to any other Shia who comes back,’ they told the man’s wife. But even without such atrocities Baghdad would remain divided: the memory of the mass killings of 2006-7 is too fresh and there is an underlying fear that they could start all over again.
Iraqis have a low opinion of their elected representatives, frequently denouncing them as an incompetent kleptocracy. The administration is dysfunctional. ‘Despite the fact that the Department of Labour and Social Affairs is meant to help the millions of poor Iraqis, I discovered that they had spent only 10 per cent of their budget,’ an independent member of parliament, Qassim Daoud, reported. This isn’t entirely the government’s fault. Iraqi society, its administration and economy have been shattered by 28 years of war and sanctions. Few other countries have been put under such intense and prolonged pressure. In 1980 the eight-year Iran-Iraq War began, followed by the disastrous Gulf War of 1991, 13 years of sanctions and then the five and a half years of conflict since the US invasion. Ten years ago UN officials were already saying they couldn’t repair the country’s faltering power stations because they were so old that spare parts were no longer made for them.

Iraq is full of signs of the gap between the rulers and the ruled. When I talked to people on the street in Baghdad in October many of them mentioned their fear of cholera, which had just started to spread from Hilla province, south of Baghdad. Forty per cent of people in the capital don’t have access to clean drinking water. The origin of the epidemic was the purchase of out-of-date water purification chemicals from Iran by corrupt officials. Everybody talked about the cholera except in the Green Zone where people had scarcely heard of the epidemic.
The Iraqi government will become stronger as the Americans begin to depart. It will also be forced to take full responsibility for the failings of the Iraqi state. This comes at a bad moment for the government because the price of oil, the state’s only source of revenue, has fallen to $50 a barrel, when the budget assumed it would be $80. Many state salaries – those of teachers, for example – were doubled on the strength of this estimate. Communal differences are still largely unresolved. Although friction between Sunni and Shia, bad though it is, is less than it was two years ago, hostility between Arabs and Kurds is deepening. The departure of the US military frightens many Sunni, who will be at the mercy of the majority Shia. But it is also an incentive for the three main communities to come to an agreement about their relations with one another: there will soon be no Americans left to stand between them. America’s troops will depart, leaving behind a ruined country.

Patrick Cockburn is a foreign correspondent on the Independent and has been visiting Iraq since 1977. Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq was published in April 2008.

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Wallerstein on Pakistan

Commentary No. 247, December 15, 2008
"Pakistan: Obama's Nightmare"

On the evening of Nov. 26, 2008, a small group of 10 persons attacked two luxury hotels and other sites in central Mumbai (India) and, over several days, managed both to kill and hurt a very large number of persons and to create massive material destruction in the city. It took several days before the slaughter was brought to an end. It is widely believed that the attacks were the work of a Pakistani group called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a group thought to be similar in motivation to al-Qaeda, perhaps directly linked to it. The world press immediately called the Mumbai massacres the 9/11 of India, a repetition of the attacks al-Qaeda launched against the United States in 2001.

The motivations and strategy of al-Qaeda in 2001 were largely misunderstood in 2001, both by the U.S. government and by analysts. The same thing risks happening now. Al-Qaeda in 2001 was of course seeking to humiliate the United States. But this was, from a strategic point of view, only a secondary motivation. Al-Qaeda has always made clear that its primary objective is the re-creation of the Islamic caliphate. And, as a matter of political strategy, it has considered that the necessary first step is the collapse of the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda considers that these two governments have been the essential political supports of Western (primarily U.S.) political dominance in the greater Middle East, and therefore the biggest obstacles to the re-creation of the caliphate, whose initial geographic base would of course be in this region.

The attack of September 11 can be seen as an attempt to get the U.S. government to engage in political activities that would put pressures on the Saudi and Pakistani governments of a kind that would undermine their political viability. The primary actions of the U.S. government in the region since 2001 - the invasion first of Afghanistan and then of Iraq - certainly met the expectations of al-Qaeda. What has been the result?

The Saudi government has reacted with great political astuteness, fending off U.S. pressures that would have weakened it internally, and has been able thus far to minimize al-Qaeda political success in Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani government has been far less successful. The regime in Islamabad is far weaker in 2008 than its predecessor regime was in 2001, while the political strength of al-Qaeda-type elements has been on a steady rise. The Mumbai attacks seem to have been an effort to weaken the Pakistani state still further. Of course, LET wished to hurt India and those seen as its allies - the United States, Great Britain, and Israel - but this was a secondary objective. The primary objective was to bring down the Pakistani government.

In Pakistan, as in every country of the world, the political elites are nationalist and seek to further the geopolitical interests of their country. This objective is fundamentally different from that of al-Qaeda-like groups, for whom the only legitimate function of a state is to further the re-creation of the caliphate. The persistent refusal of the Western world to understand this distinction has been a major source of al-Qaeda's continuing strength. It is what will turn Pakistan into Obama's nightmare.

What are Pakistan's geopolitical interests? Before anything else, it worries about its principal neighbors, India and Afghanistan. These concerns have fashioned its geopolitical strategy for the last sixty years. Pakistan sought powerful allies against India. It found two historically, the United States and China. Both the United States and China supported Pakistan for one simple reason, to keep India in check. India was seen by both as too close geopolitically to the Soviet Union, with whom both the United States and China were in conflict.

In the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and the momentary geopolitical weakness of Russia, both the United States and China sought tentatively to obtain closer relations with India. India was geopolitically a more important prize than Pakistan, and Pakistan knew this. One of the ways Pakistan reacted was to expand its role in (and control over) Afghanistan, by supporting the eventually successful Taliban takeover of the country.

What happened after 2001? The United States invaded Afghanistan, ousted the Taliban, and installed a government which had elements friendly to the United States, to Russia, even to Iran, but not at all to Pakistan. At the same time, the United States and India got still cozier, with the new arrangements on nuclear energy. So, the Pakistani government turned a blind eye to the renewal of Taliban strength in the northwest tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Taliban elements there, supported by al-Qaeda elements, renewed military operations in Afghanistan - and with considerable success, it should be noted.

The United States became quite upset, pressed the Pakistani army to act militarily against these Taliban/al-Qaeda elements, and itself engaged in direct (albeit covert) military action in this region. The Pakistani government found itself between a rock and a hard place. It had never had much capacity to control matters in the tribal regions. And the attempts it made as a result of U.S. government pressure weakened it still further. But its inefficacy pushed the U.S. military to act even more directly, which led to severe anti-American sentiment even among the most historically pro-American elites.

What can Obama do? Send in troops? Against whom? The Pakistani government itself? It is said that the U.S. government is particularly concerned with the nuclear stockpile that Pakistan has. Would the United States try to seize this stockpile? Any action along these lines - and Obama recklessly hinted at such actions during the electoral campaign - would make the Iraqi fiasco seem like a minor event. It would certainly doom Obama's domestic objectives.

There will be no shortage of people who will counsel him that doing nothing is unacceptable weakness. Is that Obama's only alternative? It seems clear that pursuing his agenda, as he himself has defined it, requires getting out from under the unending and geopolitically fruitless U.S. activities in the Middle East. Iraq will be easy, since the Iraqis will insist on U.S. withdrawal. Afghanistan will be harder, but a political deal is not impossible. Iran can be negotiated. The Israel/Palestine conflict is for the moment unresolvable, and Obama may be able to do little else than let the situation fester still longer.

But Pakistan requires a decision. If a Pakistani government is to survive, it will have to be one that can show it holds its own geopolitically. This will not be at all easy, given the internal situation, and an angry Indian public opinion. If there is anywhere where Obama can act intelligently, this is the place.

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New Statesman Dec 15th 2008

New Statesman Dec 15th 2008

The cover feature is about the power of oratory illustrated by Barack Obama and an article by Dominic Sandbrook saying that time will tell. James Pilger continues to be one of the lead nay-sayers about Obama, putting him in a Groundhog Day framework as a 'continuity' president for the system described by Martin Luther King as the 'greatest purveyor of violence in the world today'. James Macintyre reports on what's going on inside the Labour Party, ruling out a general election for 2009, but speculating on the return to office of 'big beast' David Blunkett. Richard Reeves from Demos continues his argument for a grand political realignment. Soumya Bhattacharya reports on the sombre mood in Mubai after the bombings. Mehdi Hasan from Channel 4 provides a guide to Islamic finance as a model for better banking practice.

However it turns out that the most interesting and controversial thing in the mag is the review by Owen Hatherley of Richard Seymour's Liberal Defence of Murder. It's a good review. Seymour is identified as the Lenin of Lenin's Tomb. I think I'd replace the word 'gall' with 'chutzpah'. There is what seems to be (I haven't read it yet, so I'm just going on tacit knowledge and expectation here - forgive me) a solid account of the book. Pertinent criticisms are made, although I wasn't sure what it meant by saying it was more useful as history than 'polemic'. It certainly added to my desire to get the book and give it a look. For a short piece it is a good and useful account. However, the review doesn't mention the SWP. Should it have? Yes, I think so, to help place the work and for intellectual honesty, but not mentioning the SWP doesn't particularly damn the book or the review. First thing I did on seeing the author's name was to google it, to see if he was in the SWP and that produced the link to his own blog Sit Down Man You're a Bloody Tragedy. The magazine is at fault not mentioning this, but it's only a minor issue. Checking the blog showed that even if the author has written on cultural matters for the SWP he is clearly not a member. Does it matter. Well to a certain extent, yes. Books by the SWP are of interest and don't get that widely reviewed, except for those by Professor Callinicos, who is an important Marxist intellectual heavyweight. They get reviewed in SWP publications, usually with pertinent criticisms inside a context of support. If they get reviewed elsewhere and an SWP author is reviewed by another SWP member I think, 'what a shame they couldn't find anyone outside the SWP to review the book, says a lot about the SWP and the intellectual currents of the time'. However we all know there is a lot of back-scratching and mutuality in the reviewing inustry and usually decry it - somewhere in the massive and mostly fruitless debate referred to below somone lists the reviewers of Nick Cohen's book and it is a hoot. For the same reason that The Economist prides itself on not reviewing books by its own authors, there is a taint about all this.

Is it McCarthyite to point this out? Can be, but not necessarily. However this is where the fun and controversy starts. Harry's Place didn't like the review and carried an attack focussed on the accusation that Hatherley as a member of the SWP couldn't write an honest review of the book. They've had to back down on this, but are still happy to call him an 'SWP activist' and insult him for his associations with the party. This does seem pretty McCarthyite to me, but we are in a period when the SWP's spurious cries of McCarthyism against itself in the context of its late factional tussles inside Respect and the accusations of them as 'Russian dolls' from George Galloway are fresh in the mind. That Harry's Place can use Richard Seymour's disclaimerless but useful (and mildly critical) New Statesman review of Harman's People's History of the World is an indicator of the problems that the faux naif review leads to. Hatherley justifiably calls all this McCarthyism, although the point that a libel action would depend on him arguing that being associated with the SWP was detrimental to his reputation is funny. The discussion on Harry's Place is typically unpleasant and McCarthyite and goes on and on in an insane manner - actually you could go back further and say it's like the pre-slavery bullying of abolitionists and ex-slaves. Bullying is the key word. Not surprisingly Hatherley eventually comes back to give them a strong and deserved rebuke. So I've ended up thinking that although there is a problem with the SWP's economy of openess and honesty (which is not an accusation against Hatherley), this is hardly anything when set against the nasty bullying McCarthyism of Harry's Place, which far exceeds the annoying and depressing 'hunt in packs' mentality of contributors to blogs like Lenin's Tomb. Hatherley is a victim of some of the worst childish ragging I've seen, but I'm sure he can look after himself and if it gets more people to look at his excellent blog so much the better. And, on top of all this, Oliver Kamm has launched into the tussle (here as well) - which after the wading through the sticky mess that is the Harry's Place discussion - starts to turn the affair from a s torm in a teacup into a farce. My Aunt Minnie is lost in here somewhere.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

New Left Review 54

New Left Review 54
(their own summary of contents)

Susan Watkins: The Nuclear Non-Protestation Treaty
What are the geopolitical origins of the NPT, and what are its actual effects? Non-proliferation as nuclear privilege of the few, weapon of intimidation of the one, submission of the many—and its impact on the peace movement.

Dmitri Furman: Imitation Democracies
What are the differences, and the commonalities, between the states that broke away from the USSR in 1991? Russia’s leading expert on the CIS analyses the range of regimes in the Caucasus and Central Asia, on the Baltic and the Black Sea, with a sharp comparative gaze.

Nicholas Crafts: Profits of Doom?
Can the economic history of the past three to four decades be accurately depicted as a long downturn? Contesting Robert Brenner’s account of them in his Economics of Global Turbulence, Nicholas Crafts argues that the ‘Great Moderation’ is a better description of a period in which the United States came to enjoy a strong lead in productivity growth.

Michel Aglietta: Into a New Growth Regime
Should the story of contemporary capitalism be told as essentially an American tale? Counterposing a more Braudelian understanding of the global economy to Brenner’s approach, Michel Aglietta sees a new mode of regulation, and distribution of growth, emerging out of the Asian crisis of the nineties.

Kozo Yamamura: More System, Please!
Commending Brenner’s overall narrative of post-war economic development, Kozo Yamamura holds it to be nevertheless too narrow—needing more attention to modern capital markets, to historical cycles of technological change, and to institutional differences between the leading industrial states.

Alexander Beecroft: World Literature Without a Hyphen
Literary studies with global ambitions are on the rise. But do they truly embrace the literatures of the world? Alexander Beecroft offers a typology of historically distinct kinds of writing that reaches further into the past and wider across human languages than any hitherto.

Sven Lutticken: Attending to Abstract Things
From the philosophe De Brosses in the eighteenth century to the abstract expressionist Barnett Newman and the conceptualist Sol LeWitt in the twentieth—via Hegel, Creuzer and Marx—the fates of the fetish and the commodity, in critical thought and art.

Joel Andreas: Changing Colours in China
The nature of China’s present socio-economic system has for some time been hotly debated. Reflecting on Giovanni Arrighi’s Adam Smith in Beijing, Joel Andreas traces the path of property relations, social services and income distribution in the PRC since the late seventies, reaching unambiguous conclusions.

Kheya Bag on Martin Puchner, Poetry of the Revolution. The rules of the manifesto as a form, in revolutionary politics and in avant-garde art, and the history of its fortunes.

Henry Zhao on Gloria Davies, Worrying about China. The range of contemporary disputes among Chinese intellectuals, and what they characteristically have in common.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

WSWS talks to David King

Uncovering the truth about Trotsky and the Russian Revolution “continues to run my life”
A conversation with the remarkable David King
By David Walsh 4 December 2008

As I have suggested elsewhere (see "San Francisco International Film Festival 2005—Part 3: There is no shortage of subjects"), David King—artist, designer, editor, photohistorian and archivist—is one of the most significant artistic-intellectual personalities of our time.
An indefatigable collector of images associated with the Russian Revolution, and Leon Trotsky in particular, King has accumulated more than 250,000 photographs, posters, drawings and other items over the past four decades.

Born in London in 1943 and art editor of the Sunday Times [of London] Magazine from 1965 to 1975, King designed Trotsky: A Documentary in 1972, with a text by Francis Wyndham, a large-format book that sold in the tens of thousands of copies. The work was part of, and helped encourage the revival of, the interest in Trotsky's life and ideas that grew out of the global political radicalization of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Here already is the King style, described by one commentator as "an easily recognisable mix of explosive sans serif typography, solid planes of vivid colour and emphatic rules," a modern reworking of "the graphic language of the Russian Constructivists" (
Other books followed, many of them on similar themes. King designed How the GPU Murdered Trotsky, published by the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1976, which detailed the Stalinist plot against Trotsky's life and the operations of the deadly network of GPU agents in and around the Fourth International.

King created a catalogue for a major retrospective exhibition devoted to the work of the great Soviet artist Alexander Rodchenko, edited by David Elliott, in 1979. He co-authored and designed Blood & Laughter: Caricatures from the 1905 Revolution in 1983. A year later, to a text by the late Isaac Deutscher, he designed The Great Purges. In 1986, King put together Trotsky: A Photographic Biography, demonstrating the exponential growth of his collection of images associated with the Russian revolutionary.

In The Commissar Vanishes (1997), King investigated and exposed the falsification of Soviet history practiced by the Stalinist regime, as inconvenient figures were excised from photographs and art works. King commented: "The physical eradication of Stalin's political opponents at the hands of the secret police was swiftly followed by their obliteration from all forms of pictorial existence."

In one notorious example (which appears on the cover of the book), a photograph of Stalin with three other Communist Party leaders (including Sergey Kirov) taken in the mid-1920s is worked over through the years, with all of the other figures eventually disappearing, finally leaving by 1940, in a painting based on the photo, only the gravedigger of the revolution.

In a tremendously powerful and chilling work, Ordinary Citizens (2003), King published in the West for the first time hundreds of mug shots taken by the Stalinist secret police and long stored in the Central Archives of the former KGB. All of those photographed were executed by the Stalinist regime, often shortly after the pictures were taken.

As King explained in his introduction: "In the following pages there are people from more than twenty countries, employed in over fifty different lines of work. There are engineers, artists, beekeepers, teachers and students, shopkeepers, factory workers, pilots, housewives, NKVD [one of the acronyms for Stalin's secret police] officials and heroes of the Soviet Union. Their trials, if they took place, were in absentia, and rarely lasted more than a few minutes; they were often sentenced and shot the same day."

The faces in this indispensable book are haunting. It's horrifying to read the brief accounts: "Born 1918 in Gorky. Transport worker.... Arrested on January 12, 1937. Sentenced to death by the Military Board of the Supreme Court of the USSR on July 21, 1937. The charge: participation in anti-Soviet terrorist groups. Shot the same day."

We read: "Born 1900 in Lodz, Poland. Communist Party member. Technician," "Born 1905 in Almora, India. Communist Party member. Assistant shop steward," "Born 1896 in Ulyanovsk. Non-party member. Housewife," "Born 1896 in Semyonovka, Zapadny region.... Head of the planning department, Tambov Factory No. 87.... Sentenced to death on October 5, 1936. The charge: Participation in a counter-revolutionary Trotskyist organization. Shot two days later."
Then there's the young woman on the book's cover: "Tamara Litsinskaya Born 1910 in Moscow. Non-Party member. Student. Address unknown. Arrested on February 8, 1937. Sentenced to death on August 25, 1937. The charge: Unknown. Shot the same day." You don't forget her face either.

The extermination of the most self-sacrificing and conscious elements of the population had devastating consequences for the Soviet Union and, indeed, far beyond its borders.
The mug shot of Grigory Zinoviev, Lenin's longtime comrade and defendant in the first Moscow show trial in 1936, included in the introduction, is especially memorable, and appalling. The photo reveals a man who has undergone unimaginable physical and mental torment, yet, while beaten and doomed, remains surprisingly defiant. Secret police photographs of poet Osip Mandelstam and writer Isaak Babel, both murdered by Stalinism, are also deeply disturbing.
King continues indefatigably to carry on with his work. A new book, Red Star Over Russia, is scheduled to appear early in 2009. It will be an artistic and intellectual event, as are all his major efforts.

Contacted by e-mail and telephone, David King was generous enough to agree to an interview. We met at the Tate Modern in London, the museum of contemporary art, which opened in May 2000. An entire room of the museum is devoted to King's Soviet posters, which range from evocative and lively celebrations of the revolution to hideous endorsements of Stalinist policy.
Also on display is a conté drawing (i.e., done with a hard drawing crayon made of clay and graphite) of Trotsky made in 1923 by Sergei Pichugin. The artist hid the drawing under a sheet of white cardboard for the rest of his life and his family only discovered it 75 years later.
Over lunch at the Tate Modern café, David King told me about his new book: "It's entitled Red Star Over Russia. It comes out in February. The book is a visual history of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the death of Stalin in 1953. It includes material, photos, posters, taken from my collection. I've been doing this for about 40 years.

"Red Star Over Russia is being published by the Tate in Britain. It's 352 pages. They're going to sell it for £25, in hard cover, which is very reasonable. In France, it's Gallimard, in the US, it's Abrams, the big art publisher."

He went on: "I've written a text, an introduction, explaining how I found the material. There are explanatory captions. The book works as a documentary, cinema verité, each spread treats a particular visual aspect of what happened in the USSR. The reader can contrast and compare with the official version of what took place. It's roughly chronological.

"One thing you might be interested in," King told me. "I obtained 50 of the mugshots of the defendants of the Moscow Trials. Zinoviev, Kamenev and some of the prominent victims, but also the lesser-known. [In the introduction to Ordinary Citizens, King had noted that the mugshots of the Moscow Trials defendants "are hidden to this day in secret archives, some of them in Siberia."]

"According to my sources in Russia, the defendants in the third Moscow Trial, Bukharin, Rykov and the others, were never mugshotted, they used their passport photos. This is what they told me, and I have no way of verifying or disputing it.

"So there are the mug shots of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Sokolnikov, but also minor characters. The lesser-known victims. Some of these individual shots have been viewed, but never the entire bunch. The mugshots were hidden in an archive in Omsk, in a former GPU archive.

"I have everybody from the first trial, and everybody from the second trial. And a substantial group from the Bukharin trial. As I said, I was told that the authorities used his passport photograph. Also, Yegoda, the former secret police chief. It was his GPU photograph they used."
How had King sustained himself intellectually after the collapse of the Soviet Union and "the end of socialism," indeed, "the end of history"?

"Oh, I never believed any of that. And look what's happening now, with the financial crisis!" I suggested that it might be a very good time to publish his new book, with a revived interest in alternatives to capitalism. Five years ago, the book might have received a different reception....
We discussed some of the problems in the development of the Fourth International and the crisis inside the Workers Revolutionary Party, the British Trotskyist movement, in the 1980s.

I asked King about the origins of his interest in Trotsky and the October Revolution. "How did I start? I worked for the Sunday Times, and I traveled widely. I was taking photos, collecting photos. I was always interested in left ideas, in socialism. I wanted to get the ideas of socialism across visually to a much wider audience, a much wider audience than there seemed to be at the time. And it's continued.
"I began 40 years ago collecting material out of an overwhelming interest in discovering the truth about what happened to the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union. I wanted to uncover, through visual means, what happened, to collect visual evidence.
"Suddenly in the late 1960s here, everybody was interested in Trotsky and one or two other figures, as major alternatives to Stalinism. There was a crisis, and people were looking for alternatives. I determined to find out what really happened to Trotsky, who he was."
King speaks passionately about these matters. "When I was growing up, everything to do with the USSR was cloudy, mysterious. I was intrigued. By the time I started on the first book, in 1970, with Francis Wyndham, it was like opening up Pandora's box. In the USSR, I'd ask ‘What do you have on Trotsky?' Trotsky didn't exist. ‘Trotsky was a fascist,' etc. It was crazy.
"I hunted around the world, while working for the Sunday Times, searching every second-hand bookshop, library, tracking down friends, relatives of Trotsky. I was trying to piece together the real history.

"When I showed Francis Wyndham the material," King commented laughingly, "he said that far from there being no pictures of Trotsky, there were more pictures of him than Marilyn Monroe.
"After that, I started to work in a wider way, with a broader perspective. I became interested in examining the entire Soviet experience. The Stalinist stuff was also banned in the USSR at the time."

He concentrated his thoughts. "All of this work took on a life of its own. It became an all-consuming passion. It ran my life. Uncovering this history continues to run my life.
"When I began collecting the material, no one outside the Trotskyist movement was interested. ‘Why are you spending your money and your time on this stuff?' "

Obviously, King doesn't feel he wasted his time. We are all the more fortunate for that. Interest in his collection has been affected by the vicissitudes of recent history.

"At the time Gorbachev came to power in 1985," he explained, "and the general rehabilitation of various figures in the late 1980s, people began calling me up from all over the world. ‘Do you have a photo of Lenin?' and so forth.

"In the West, they used to crow that history books were constantly being rewritten in the Soviet Union. But they did it here too! People came to me for photographs, images.

"As I say, after 1991 [and the end of the USSR], I never believed any of that," he scoffed. "The end of history! Stupid stuff.

"The post-Soviet historians, like Richard Pipes, begin from the premise that there never was an alternative to Stalinism. That's false. My collection also proves that the claim is false. I can't imagine being Pipes, spending his life writing about the Bolsheviks, something he hates. It must be awful to be in his head."

King later invited me to his house in north London and allowed me to see a proof copy of Red Star Over Russia. I was able to leaf through the 350 or so pages of the new book. There are many extraordinary images, including the aforementioned mugshots of the victims of the Moscow Trials. There are also beautiful, vivid photographs of the early days of the revolution, among them a remarkable shot of a session of the council of People's Commissars from 1918, in which we see Trotsky, Zinoviev, Uritsky and others.

Visually, historically, politically, the new book is an important work. I was pleased to have seen the book and met David King. Along with everything else, he is a lovely person.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

WSWS: David North on Trotsky and Historiography

World Socialist Web Site
Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)
Leon Trotsky, Soviet Historiography, and the Fate of Classical Marxism
By David North

1st December 2008
The American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) held its 2008 National Convention in Philadelphia on November 20-23. Over 600 panels presented papers or roundtable discussions covering more than 1,700 topics in history, economics, political science, literature, language, and film. The convention’s exhibit hall displayed recently published material by about 50 publishers and organizations, including Mehring Books.

A highlight at the convention was the panel on Friday afternoon devoted to “The Intellectual and Political Legacy of Leon Trotsky.” Chaired by independent scholar Lars Lih, the panel presented papers by Baruch Knei-Paz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; David North, chairman of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site; and Vladimir Volkov, independent scholar from St. Petersburg. Attendance was good as 40 people listened attentively to the three papers. Knei-Paz offered a 30-year retrospective of his book, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky. North delivered a contrasting perspective, “Leon Trotsky, Soviet Historiography, and the Fate of Classical Marxism,” which we present below in its entirety. Volkov gave an overview of “The Reception of Trotsky’s Legacy in Russia from Perestroika to the Present.”

Discussion was lively during the time remaining in the two-hour session. One questioner focused on the continuing legacy of the October Revolution of 1917. Another raised the issue of how the history of the 20th century would have been different had Trotsky’s policies predominated in the period after Lenin’s death in 1924. Differing views were defended on the task of historians as alternatives are considered when examining complex historical issues.

While publishing North’s paper today, we will provide further analysis of the issues raised at the conference in the coming days. Here is the text of North’s paper as it was delivered on November 21.
More than 45 years have passed since the publication of the last volume of Isaac Deutscher’s extraordinary biographical triptych of Leon Trotsky, The Prophet Armed, Unarmed and Outcast. It would be difficult to think of another biography that had so profound and far-reaching intellectual and political influence. When Deutscher began his project in the early 1950s, Trotsky had been dead for more than a decade. But his murderer, Joseph Stalin, remained very much alive in the Kremlin—the object of a worldwide campaign of public veneration, as disgusting as it was absurd, in which virtually every Communist party participated. Deutscher compared his task as a biographer to that of Thomas Carlyle, who had complained that his study of Cromwell had required that he “drag the Lord Protector from out of a mountain of dead dogs, a huge load of calumny and oblivion.”[1]

By the time Deutscher completed his third volume in 1963, the political environment had changed dramatically. Stalin died in March 1953. In February 1956, at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev delivered his so-called “secret speech.” He all but denounced Stalin as a political criminal, responsible for the imprisonment, torture and murder of countless thousands of Old Bolsheviks and loyal communists during the purges of the 1930s. Of course, Khrushchev hardly acknowledged the full extent of Stalin’s crimes. The indictment was as evasive as it was incomplete. But the impact of Khrushchev’s speech was politically devastating. The unstated but inescapable conclusion that flowed from the exposure of Stalin’s crimes was that the Moscow Trials of 1936-38 were a frame-up and that the Old Bolshevik defendants had been murdered. The thought that “Trotsky was right” haunted countless leaders and members of the CPSU and associated Stalinist parties throughout the world. And if Trotsky was right about the trials, what else had he been right about?

Amidst the turmoil that erupted inside the Stalinist parties—initiating a process of internal decomposition that led, within 30 years, to their political disintegration—Deutscher’s trilogy assumed immense political significance. The discrediting of Stalin was, to a great extent, a vindication of Trotsky. In the climate of the time, the heroic image of Trotsky evoked by the metaphoric title of Deutscher’s biography did not seem at all hyperbolic. Notwithstanding its significant limitations—especially in the final volume, in which Deutscher pursued rather obtrusively his own past political disputes with Trotsky—the three volumes introduced the heroic personality of the great revolutionary to a new generation of politically-radicalized intellectuals and youth. And what a personality it was! What other figure in modern history exhibited such a vast repertoire of intellectual, political, literary, and martial skills? Deutscher succeeded in imparting to his narrative an immense dramatic tension. But the drama of Trotsky’s life did not have to be invented, nor did it require artistic exaggeration. His life was, after all, the concentrated expression of the vast historical drama and tragedy of the Russian Revolution.

By the 1960s, the Soviet Union had lost its claim on the imagination of intellectuals and students. Deutscher’s biography served as an introduction to the old disputes of the 1920s, in which the work of Trotsky had loomed so large. So many of Deutscher’s readers then made their way to a study of Trotsky’s writings, which gradually became more widely available.

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, interest in the life and work of Trotsky was intense. In 1978, on the eve of his centenary, Professor Baruch Knei-Paz’s The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky was published. Knei-Paz’s approach to his subject, however critical, reflected the predominant sentiment among Soviet scholars that Trotsky was an important political and intellectual presence. Knei-Paz noted that Trotsky “is, even now, and perhaps not unjustly, considered to be the quintessential revolutionary in an age which has not lacked in revolutionary figures.” He described Trotsky’s achievements “in the realm of theory and ideas” as “prodigious.” Trotsky, he wrote, “was among the first to analyze the emergence, in the twentieth century, of social change in backward societies, and among the first, as well, to attempt to explain the political consequences which would grow out of such change.”[2] As a Marxist and an adherent of Trotsky’s political conceptions, there are many elements of Professor Knei-Paz’s analysis and interpretation with which I respectfully disagree. But his meticulous scholarship certainly demonstrated that Trotsky’s life provides fertile ground for serious research. Though Trotsky was a man of action par excellence, he was also an outstanding thinker. Knei-Paz estimated that Trotsky’s writings, if brought together in a single edition, would “easily fill … sixty to seventy thick volumes—without including the vast material contained in the Trotsky archives at Harvard University.”[3]

Professor Knei-Paz set himself definite limits—a necessity for any scholar attempting to tackle a subject as vast and complex as Trotsky’s life and times. He explained that his work was “a study of Trotsky’s own thought, not that of his opponents or followers, nor of the ideological and political movement which came to be identified with his name.”[4] Even with this disciplined focus, Professor Knei-Paz required 598 pages of the Clarendon Press’s compact typography to complete his assignment. But he still left the scholarly community with not only a great deal to argue about, but also a great deal to do.

And yet, Knei-Paz’s book turned out to be almost the last really significant academic contribution to the field of Trotsky studies. That this would be the case would have been hard to foresee in 1978. Knei-Paz’s book was, after all, published on the very eve of an event that should have encouraged Trotsky scholarship—the opening on January 2, 1980 of the previously closed section of the Trotsky Archive at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Until then, Isaac Deutscher, with the special permission of Trotsky’s widow, Natalia Sedova, had been the only writer to gain access to this vast collection of the revolutionary’s private papers. But as it turned out, the opening of this archive had only marginal impact on American and British researchers in the field of Soviet history. During the past 28 years, very little material from this vast archive has found its way into published academic work.

This drying up of Trotsky scholarship after 1978 is a curious phenomenon. After all, the deepening crisis of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe throughout the 1980s certainly justified a more intensive review of the work of Trotsky, who, after all, had been the foremost critic of Stalin and Stalinism, and who had foreseen the demise of the USSR. As a matter of fact, Trotsky’s depiction, in The Revolution Betrayed (published in 1936), of the process of capitalist restoration anticipated, with astonishing accuracy, the economic transformation of the former USSR under the auspices of Yeltsin in the early 1990s. However, in most English-language works dealing with the history, economics, politics and social structure of the Soviet Union, Trotsky appears as a minor, and even marginal figure. The only notable and original contribution to Trotsky studies that appeared in the 1980s—such a tumultuous decade in Soviet history—was a small monograph, entitled Leon Trotsky and the Art of Insurrection, that focused on Trotsky’s achievements as a military strategist. Surprisingly, this highly favorable assessment of Trotsky’s contributions in the art and science of war, insurrection and military command was authored by an officer and professor at the US Army War College, Col. Harold Wilson.

If anything, the situation in Trotsky studies deteriorated in the 1990s. American and British scholarship produced nothing substantial in this field during the entire decade. The only published work that perhaps stands out as an exception, though a minor one, is a single volume of essays, produced by the Edinburgh University Press in 1992 under the title The Trotsky Reappraisal. During this decade, a disturbing trend emerged in Britain, which consisted of recycling and legitimizing old anti-Trotsky slanders. This trend was exemplified by the so-called Journal of Trotsky Studies, which was produced at the University of Glasgow. The favorite theme of this journal was that Trotsky’s writings were full of self-serving distortions. This claim was repeatedly made without any respect for the factual record. Among its more absurd contributions was an article that set out to prove that Trotsky, in his History of the Russian Revolution, had vastly exaggerated his own role in the October insurrection. It informed us that while serious revolutionaries like Stalin went out into the streets to do the heavy lifting, a somewhat befuddled Trotsky was left behind in the Smolny Institute to answer the phones. Mercifully, this journal expired after four issues.

The current decade has seen no improvement. Two new Trotsky biographies were published, the first in 2003 and the second in 2006, by Professors Ian Thatcher and Geoffrey Swain. These works contained no new research, and I have already provided a detailed analysis of their work in an extended review, entitled Leon Trotsky and the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification.[5]

It is worth contrasting the prevailing treatment of Trotsky to the massive volume of material on Stalin. He seems to exert a never-ending fascination on historians. Of course, Stalin, no less than Hitler, is a legitimate subject of scholarly research. There are no appropriate or inappropriate subjects for historical study. But, as Wilde might have suggested, the one unconditional requirement for the writing of history, like for the writing of novels, is that it should be done well. The problem is that much of the writing on Stalin is done badly. Many of the works are crassly journalistic, exploiting in a sensationalist manner material acquired from the Soviet archives. Works by Radzinsky and Sebag Montefiore provide examples of this genre. More troubling, however, are studies by scholars that seem genuinely anxious to rehabilitate Stalin and Stalinism. At times, the conclusions arrived at by such historians are truly bizarre. For example, Professor Stephen Kotkin, in his book Magnetic Mountain, argues that Stalinism was the culmination of the Enlightenment project. Stalinism, he writes:
… constituted a quintessential Enlightenment utopia, an attempt, via the instrumentality of the state, to impose a rational ordering of society, while at the same time overcoming the wrenching class divisions brought about by nineteenth century industrialization. That attempt, in turn, was rooted in a tradition of urban-modeled, socially-oriented utopias that helped make the Enlightenment possible. Magnitogorsk had very deep roots.[6]

At its worst, this tendency, in the guise of providing more “nuanced” appreciations of historical events, advances weird justifications of Stalin and his crimes. Along these lines, in Robert W. Thurston’s Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia 1934-1941, published by the Yale University Press in 1996, we are offered this appraisal of Stalin’s prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinskii:
Thus, in 1935-36, despite his appalling role in the show trials that began in August 1936, Vyshinskii advocated major improvements in legal procedures. Simultaneously, he scorned key NKVD practices and urged much greater tolerance of ordinary citizens’ criticisms, so long as they did not touch fundamental policy.[7]

And, referring to Kamenev, Zinoviev and other defendants in the 1936 trial, Thurston offers this thinly-concealed legitimization of their condemnation by Stalin:
Probably guilty of nothing more than talking about political changes, these men, according to Western standards of justice, did not deserve punishment. But they had engaged in opposition, had had contacts with Trotsky and leaked secret documents to the West, and had wanted to remove Stalin, all of which they had lied about, while proclaiming their complete loyalty. These points provided material for Stalin’s suspicious mind. Why were such people lying? How many more like them existed, and what were their real intentions? Given the Trotsky bloc and the language of the Riutin Memorandum, it might have been easy for people less morbid than Stalin to visualize terrorism at work in some of the many industrial accidents of the period. He embellished matters considerably and told massive lies of his own—but the evidence just given suggests that at this point he took steps to eliminate people who had misled him and conspired with an archenemy, Trotsky. This decision, though unjust, was not part of a plan to create political terror.[8]

While the Stalin industry seems to be a going concern in the field of Soviet scholarship, the protracted depression in Trotsky studies continues. This finds expression not only in the very limited and generally poor quality of research into Trotsky’s life, but also in the absence of significant work on his political comrades in the Left Opposition. How many of the leaders of the Left Opposition, beginning with Christian Rakovsky and Adolph Joffe, have been the subject of full-length English-language biographies? What work has been done on Smirnov, Smilga, Bogoslavskii, Ter-Vaganian, and Voronskii? There has not been, as yet, any comprehensive study of the Left Opposition and its activities. A persistent theme of many contemporary works on the Great Terror is that it had little to do with Trotsky, who by the 1930s, it is claimed, was without any influence within the Soviet Union. But is this really true? What research has been conducted into the activities of Oppositionists? And even if Stalin’s repression made systematic agitation impossible, is it really the case that the Trotskyist Biulletin of the Left Opposition exercised no influence on the thinking of disaffected elements within the Soviet state and party apparatus? Moreover, had all recollection of Trotsky among Civil War veterans of the Red Army, within the officer corps and among rank-and-file soldiers, vanished by 1936? Was Victor Serge simply exercising his artistic license when he wrote of Trotsky, in 1937, that within the Soviet Union, “Everyone thinks of him, since it is forbidden to think of him … As long as the Old Man lives, there will be no security for the triumphant bureaucracy.”[9] These questions cannot be answered until the necessary research is carried out.

But why has this work not been done? This is a complex question which, I suspect, will, itself, at some point become a subject for students of intellectual history. I will not claim to have the definitive answer, but I would like to point to several factors that may have affected the perception and reception of Trotsky in the academic and scholarly community. Let me state from the outset that references to Trotsky’s political “irrelevance” are neither credible nor serious. Trotsky, quite clearly, played a decisive role in the Russian Revolution, one of the key events of the 20th century. He was also, as it so happens, one of this century’s most brilliant literary figures. Walter Benjamin noted in his diary that Bertolt Brecht in 1931 “maintained that there were good reasons for thinking that Trotsky was the greatest living European writer.”[10]

With these qualifications it should hardly be necessary to justify “another book” about Trotsky. One might also, for good measure, add that Trotsky’s political and intellectual legacy, however controversial and contested, continues to exert influence on contemporary politics. Trotsky is, quite obviously, not irrelevant for history. Why, then, has he become irrelevant for historians?
The conservative political and intellectual climate that has prevailed for nearly three decades has been a substantial factor in determining the reception of Trotsky in the scholarly community. Supreme Court justices take note of the election returns and historians read the newspapers. As Trotsky aptly observed in 1938, the force of political reaction not only conquers, it also convinces. The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 brought in its wake a flood of embittered denunciations of the entire Soviet experience. The works of right-wing opponents of the socialist project like Martin Malia, Robert Conquest, the indefatigable Richard Pipes and Francois Furet (a former Stalinist) promoted an intellectually-stultifying environment that discouraged a serious, let alone sympathetic, investigation of the political heritage of Russian and European Marxism. It is difficult to imagine the classics of Soviet studies that date from the 1950s and 1960s— works like Leopold Haimson’s Origins of Bolshevism, Samuel Baron’s Plekhanov, or, for that matter, E.H. Carr’s encyclopedic study of early Soviet history—being written in the 1990s. The prevailing intellectual climate was not congenial for those, like the Russian scholar Vadim Rogovin, who sought to explore, within the context of the Marxist and Bolshevik tradition, revolutionary socialist alternatives to Stalinism.

However, not all the problems relating to the academic reception of Trotsky flow directly from the political environment of the last 30 years. There are other long-term intellectual tendencies at work, which substantially predate the elections of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States. I am referring to a protracted process, spanning many decades, of a steadily deepening alienation of substantial sections of left intellectuals from the theoretical framework and political outlook associated with the “classical Marxism” of which Leon Trotsky was among the most outstanding and, certainly, the last great representative.

It is not possible at this time to offer an exposition of Trotsky’s philosophical worldview and his conception of politics and human culture. But it must be said, for the sake of the argument being presented here, that crucial elements of this world view included an irreconcilable commitment to philosophical materialism, belief in the law-governed character of the historical process, confidence in the power of human reason (to the extent that this faculty is understood materialistically) and its ability to discover objective truth, and, associated with this, belief in the progressive role of science. Trotsky was a determinist, an optimist, and an internationalist, convinced that the socialist revolution arose necessarily out of the insoluble contradictions of the world capitalist system. Above all, he insisted that there existed a revolutionary force within society, the working class, that would overthrow the capitalist system and lay the foundations for world socialism.

None of these elements of the outlook of classical Marxism—least of all, its optimism—has survived within any significant section of the left intelligentsia. Even by the 1920s, the shattering impact of World War I, the collapse of the Second International, and, somewhat later, in the aftermath of the October Revolution, the political defeats suffered by the working class in Central and Western Europe, undermined confidence in the Marxist outlook and perspective among substantial sections of the left petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. As early as 1926, Hendrick de Man’s frontal assault on Marxism, The Psychology of Socialism, gave voice to the growing skepticism among left intellectuals in the materialist explanation of the development of political consciousness and in the efficacy of Marxist political practice. Marxism’s confidence in the revolutionary effect of objective socioeconomic processes on mass working-class consciousness, de Man argued, was misplaced. The rationally-grounded appeals of Marxists to objective class interests were inadequate as a means of winning the working class to socialism. Many of the arguments advanced by de Man subsequently found their way into the writings of the theoreticians of the Frankfurt School.

The victory of Hitler in 1933, the Moscow Trials, the defeat of the Spanish Revolution and, finally, the Stalin-Hitler Pact completed the political demoralization of the left intelligentsia. The basic perspective of socialism, they believed, had been discredited. The working class had failed. There existed no revolutionary subject in contemporary society. Trotsky, in one of his last major essays, grasped the implications of such arguments: “If we grant as true that the cause of the defeats is rooted in the social qualities of the proletariat itself then the position of modern society will have to be acknowledged as hopeless.”[11] Just seven years later, in their Dialectic of the Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno arrived at precisely this conclusion.

It does not seem an exaggeration to state that the intelligentsia was overwhelmed and exhausted by the tragedies of the 20th century: the two world wars, fascism, the Stalinist betrayal of socialism, and the protracted paralysis of the workers movement beneath the weight of bureaucracy. Pessimism gave way to cynicism and complacency. Paradoxically, overcoming the intellectual demoralization would have required systematic research into the causes of past defeats, and this demanded, in turn, engagement with the ideas of Trotsky and the great school of classical Marxism. But objective conditions, embedded in the long post-World War II economic expansion of capitalism, worked against such an engagement.

What, then, are the prospects now for a re-engagement with Trotsky’s ideas? In formulating an answer to this question, I think it best to employ the same approach taken by Trotsky himself. He insisted on understanding the vicissitudes of his own life within the context of the development of the socialist revolution, within Russia, Europe and the world as a whole. In assessing the shifts in his own fortunes, Trotsky stated that he did not see personal tragedy, but, rather, different stages in the contradictory unfolding of the world socialist revolution. The rise of the revolutionary wave carried Trotsky into power. Its ebb drove him into exile.

It has been many decades since Marxism, as Trotsky would have understood that term, has played any significant role in the life of the working class. But those were decades of capitalist economic stability and substantial growth. The class struggle, to the extent that it manifested itself at all, was kept within traditional channels, under the police supervision of the labor bureaucracies. Now, however, it appears that history has quite suddenly taken one of its surprising turns. The world in which we are meeting today already appears very different from that which existed when the AAASS met last year in New Orleans. Over the past few weeks, references to the Great Depression of the 1930s have become commonplace. It has been acknowledged, even by the president of the United States, that the unfolding crisis has brought American and world capitalism to the brink of collapse.

It is not difficult to imagine that this is a crisis that Leon Trotsky, who coined the phrase, “The Death Agony of Capitalism,” would have understood very well. The old “catastrophe” theory which so many anti-Marxists have had a good laugh over no longer seems so funny, let alone outlandish.

Social being does, in the final analysis, determine social consciousness. If, as seems very likely, the deepening crisis compels on the part of historians a reexamination of long-standing and discredited assumptions, and, with it, a more critical attitude toward the existing forms of society, then I suspect that we will soon be witnessing a renewal of intense scholarly interest in the life and work of Leon Trotsky.

1. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed (London: Verso, 2003), p. vii.
2. Baruch Knei-Paz, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. viii.
3. Ibid, p. xi.
4. Ibid, p. xiii.
5. David North, Leon Trotsky and the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification
Mehring Books (Oak Park, 2007).
6. Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 364.
7. Robert W. Thurston, Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia 1934-1941, p. 9.
8. Ibid, pp. 26-27.
9. Victor Serge, From Lenin to Stalin (New York: Pathfinder, 1973), p. 109.
10. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 2: 1927-1934 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999), p. 477.
11. Leon Trotsky, “The USSR in War,” from In Defence of Marxism (London: New Park, 1971), p. 15.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Wallerstein on ratification of SOF Agreement

Commentary No. 246, December 1, 2008
"Iraq: The Thirteenth Hour"

The Iraq Parliament on November 27 voted 149-35 to ratify the Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. As the vote was being taken, the Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, is quoted as saying: "I remind you that in Iraq things have not happened at the eleventh hour, but at the thirteenth hour." In other words, the key moment is yet to come.

What actually happened? The Iraqi Parliament has 275 members. Those present for the vote were only 198. Those who voted in favor of the text were 149, or a bare majority of the members. The 149 included the members from the two mainstream Shi'a parties (SCIRI and the Prime Minister's party, Dawa), the two Kurdish parties and, crucially, members of the Sunni-based Iraqi Accord Front (IAF).

The favorable vote of the IAF was crucial because Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani had said he would not endorse the agreement unless it had "wide" support, by which he meant substantial Sunni support. So the Sunni had great bargaining power with Prime Minister al-Maliki, whose political future hinged on getting the SOFA agreement adopted. The IAF got two things from al-Maliki. One was that there would be a national referendum on the agreement in July 2009. The second was the substantial support al-Maliki has been giving to the so-called "support councils" in Sunni tribes. That is, al-Maliki is offering both a bribe and a guarantee against future reprisals against the Sunni tribes who have been giving assistance to the American armed forces in the last year in return for material assistance.

Al-Maliki has emerged as the big political victor and shown himself to be a more able political maneuverer than most analysts had expected. Let us see what he has accomplished by passing the SOFA agreement, an agreement which the Iraqis are calling the "withdrawal agreement." His first accomplishment was to hold the Sadrists in check by co-opting the Sadrist strategy - getting the Americans out of Iraq by making a deal with the Sunnis. Both SCIRI (the other mainstream Shi'a party) and the Kurds are grumbling about a possible al-Maliki "dictatorship" in the making, but they had no choice but to ratify the agreement. The Sadrists have preserved their position-in-waiting by voting loudly against the pact.

What's in the pact? The key elements are a requirement that U.S. forces leave all cities and towns by June 2009, and leave Iraq entirely by December 2011. In addition, all U.S. military action must now be coordinated in advance with the Iraqis, and the United States may not use Iraq as a base to attack neighbors (that is, Syria and Iran).

Why did Bush agree? He had no choice. The alternative was for U.S. forces to be illegal after Dec. 31, 2008 and turn the whole issue over to Obama. The U.S. government was so frightened of U.S. congressional reaction to the details of the pact that they refused before the vote to release an English-language version of the pact. They did not want U.S. public discussion of the pact before the Iraqi parliament voted.

The terms of the pact contain some vague language and the U.S. military says it's counting on its ability to interpret the language in ways that it prefers. It is said that Bush has thereby gotten a better deal than Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan. But this is not true at all. It is in fact worse. Obama's proposal had been that U.S. combat forces leave in 16 months, but had set no date for "training" forces, leaving open the possibility of indefinite stationing of some U.S. forces. The SOFA agreement gets all forces out by December 2011. And Bush, not Obama, signed off on this.

In practice all U.S. forces will depart much sooner than December 2011. This is where the referendum comes in. It will be held in July 2009. U.S. forces must leave cities and towns by June 2009. If they don't, the referendum will surely not pass. If they do, al-Maliki will still have to win the referendum. In order to do that, he will have to take a very tough line with the Americans. Any thought that the U.S. military can "interpret" vague language in its favor is a total illusion. In any case, the referendum may be in trouble, since al-Sistani voiced reservations after the parliamentary vote. Al-Maliki knows that if he yields an inch now to the United States, Moqtada al-Sadr is waiting in the wings.

So al-Maliki has all the chips, and Obama will have none. Obama will have to accede gracefully to the Iraqi demands. These demands will escalate, not become less, as the months go by.

And, by the way, the Ethiopians (U.S. surrogates in Somalia) have just announced that they will pull out their troops by the end of 2008. And President Karzai of Afghanistan has just announced that he wants a formal pull-out date for U.S. and NATO forces there. The general feeling in the region seems to be that talking tough to the United States is not only possible. It pays off. The thirteenth hour is approaching.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

WSWS on Pashukanis

World Socialist Web Site on A Marxist perspective on jurisprudence
By Kevin Kearney 26 November 2008

Evgeny Pashukanis, A Critical Reappraisal, Michael Head, Routledge-Cavendish, 2008, 271 pp., $55.95.

Bourgeois jurisprudence's state of decay, manifesting itself most sharply in the perversion of constitutional law and the systematic destruction of democratic rights, can be understood only through an analysis of law in its historical development on an ever-shifting socio-economic foundation.

Such an approach is almost non-existent in legal academia. Instead, academia is dominated by a militantly empirical, practice-based orientation characterized by the meticulous study of individual cases, largely disconnected from history, politics, current social reality and even international law treating the same topics. In most university law libraries today one would be hard pressed to find any serious consideration of the origins and development of what has been virtually deified as the "rule of law."

In this cloistered atmosphere, Michael Head's book, Evgeny Pashukanis, A Critical Reappraisal, shines the light of day on one of the most important legal theories to come out of "the boldest and most sweeping experiment of the 20th century"—the October 1917 Russian Revolution. Head is a law professor at the University of Western Sydney in Australia and a regular contributor to the World Socialist Web Site.

Prior to the revolution, as now, the "rule of law" routinely put its seal of approval on economic exploitation, political repression and state murder. Upon seizing power, the Soviet government disposed of the previous courts, legal system and legal profession in its effort to radically refashion society and facilitate the ultimate "withering away" of the state.

Head notes, at the outset, that the Soviet legal experiment spearheaded a great expansion of basic rights worldwide, particularly in the areas of labor protection, social welfare, domestic relations and gender equality. This period in Soviet law is characterized by groundbreaking achievements such as the eight-hour work day, the establishment of social insurance, rent control and rent-free public housing. Moreover, Soviet women were the first in the world to enjoy full voting rights and—at a time when Great Britain allowed divorce only for women where adultery was proven—the Soviet legal system afforded divorce on demand to all.

In the same vein, the first Soviet criminal code replaced the archaic notions of crime and punishment with the concepts of "social danger" and measures of "social defense," because the former concepts, rooted in religious concepts of evil and individual guilt, served only to obscure the social roots of crime, thereby forestalling any real solutions to anti-social behavior.
Head aptly summarizes the Soviet legal project: "Overall, the Soviet government sought to make a fundamental shift from private property and individual rights to social ownership and collective rights and responsibilities... accompanied by far-reaching efforts to develop more humane and civilized approaches to social problems."

Revolutionary legal debates
Although the goals of the revolution were clearly defined, the tactics for realizing these goals—given the material limitations of the unfolding Russian revolution—could not be rigidly predetermined.

Following the seizure of power in 1917 by the soviets, or workers' councils, the Bolsheviks inherited a society burdened by backward feudal relations, exhausted by years of imperialist war, increasingly isolated from the developed capitalist economies of Western Europe and surrounded on all sides by imperialist predators. A period of civil war ensued in which the displaced Russian ruling elite, backed by imperialist powers, sought to retake the country by force.

From mid-1918 until 1921, the survival of the revolution was the most pressing issue, consuming nearly all the time, energy and, ultimately, the lives of masses of people. This was a harsh period, and, as Head points out, "hardly conducive to theoretical contemplation." Nonetheless, many of the legal concepts and conflicts that would emerge in a more developed form in the following period made their first appearance in the brief window of time preceding the civil war.

The post-civil war period from 1921 to 1924 saw the flowering of legal debates involving a host of soviet jurists and a variety of schools—including what have been described as the sociological, psychological, social function and normative schools. Head cites one scholar's description of the legal discourse in the 1920s as "a dynamic and prolific period in the history of soviet legal thought ... characterized by intellectual ferment, optimism and impatience."

All those involved in the debates were ostensibly seeking the transitional form of law best suited to carry out the revolutionary social transformation, while ensuring sufficient stability for the revolution's day-to-day survival. At the same time, the participants attempted to elaborate a comprehensive Marxist theory of law. Head manages to parse these debates into three core questions: "1) What was the class character and function of the Soviet state and Soviet laws? 2) Whether and how quickly the state would wither away into communism? and 3) What is the underlying role of law in socialist and communist society?"

Within this milieu, the work of Evgeny Pashukanis has evoked more interest than that of any other figure. As Head points out, this is in large part due to an enduring and growing interest in Marxism, the Russian Revolution and the contemporary relevance of Pashukanis's analysis of the law.

In 1924, Pashukanis published his most important work, The General Theory of Marxism and the Law. With this, he sought to probe deeper than other Soviet jurists of the period into the very essence of law itself.

Pashukanis's argument in a nutshell was that law is a historically limited form of regulation peculiar to class societies, peaking under capitalism and destined to fade away with the elimination of socio-economic classes and class conflict—in other words, in a truly socialist society. The most important implication of the theory was that the use of the traditional legal form in post-revolutionary Russia was a continuation of bourgeois law, although in the hands of the proletariat.

The General Theory is best known for its elaboration of the "commodity exchange theory of law," which traced the modern legal form not directly to class interests, but rather to the elemental logic operative in capitalism itself—a process occurring "behind the backs" of both the ruling class and the working masses. Head describes the theory as "the kernel of an historical materialist approach to the rise and evolution of the legal form."

The commodity exchange theory emerged from Pashukanis' debates with the then-dominant legal "instrumentalists"—represented by Piotr Stuchka—who viewed the law as nothing more than a "blunt instrument" of class domination, whose social function was considered as either purely ideological or, at most, just another form of coercion in the arsenal of the ruling elite.
Although Pashukanis did not deny the class instrumentalism and coercive functions of the law, he viewed them as secondary to the nature of the legal form itself. He wrote: "Having established the ideological nature of particular concepts in no way exempts us from the obligation of seeking their objective reality... external and not merely subjective reality." His analysis was unique, in that it was not limited to the role of law under capitalism, but extended to the very concept of law itself as an intrinsic and longstanding instrument of social regulation.

The commodity exchange theory of law
In order to present the basics of Pashukanis' commodity exchange theory, it is necessary to briefly review some points from the first chapter of Marx's Capital.

Capital identifies a duality—an immanent contradiction—within the commodity, as an immediate unity of both a use value and an exchange value. The former embodies what is particular to the commodity, its unique utility and the unique type of labor required for its production. If a useful object, for example a broom, were produced by an individual for his own use, it would be merely a product and not a commodity. However, when such a product is produced for the purpose of exchange on the market and is actually exchanged for another commodity, its value, its social nature, is revealed.

Exchange value is a quantitative ratio of exchange between commodities rooted in the amount of socially necessary labor time that went into the production of the commodities. Although initially this abstract labor time is reflected in a ratio of exchange between two given commodities—i.e., two gallons of milk for one broom—it is eventually represented by a third commodity—the universal equivalent of money.

In this process, the inherent differences between the commodities—the different types of labor required to produce them and their distinct uses—are masked. Quality is transformed into quantity and substance into form, and money is worshiped as the universal equivalent.
Pashukanis argues that this same process—the exchange of commodities in the market place—produces not only the value form, but also the legal form. In the legal form, individual human beings are abstracted into a juridical subject or something akin to the "reasonable man in law," and—ignoring the inherent class differences between these individuals—they are all considered formally equal before the law as juridical subjects.

He finds the origin of this development in the necessities of efficient commodity exchange in the market place. All enter the market place as inherently different from each other, akin to use values. However, all must enter into a definite relationship for purposes of exchange.

At the moment of exchange, Pashukanis identifies three forms which appear in the process: 1) Each merchant must recognize the other as an equal for purposes of the exchange, despite any inherent differences; 2) Each merchant must recognize the free will of the other to exchange the commodity; and 3) Each merchant recognizes the other as the rightful owner of the commodity.
Therefore, the constant exchange of commodities on the market gives rise to three phenomenal forms: equality, free will and a private ownership interest, which find ideal legal expression in the notion of the juridical subject as an abstract bearer of these rights before the law. The individual has thus been transformed into a juridical subject.

Pashukanis argues that this is the essence of the legal form which came into being wherever there was commodity exchange—initially on the periphery of ancient and feudal societies and finally predominating in capitalist society.

Although the legal form finds its fullest expression in contract law, as it is rooted in the concrete requirements of commodity exchange, the victorious bourgeois revolutionaries of Western Europe managed to raise this legal form "to the heavens," enshrining it as a set of "god-given" constitutional principles: liberty, property and equality before the law, as distinguished from the enforced inequality of the outgoing feudal regime, which divided individuals into separate castes from birth, each with distinct rights and responsibilities.

Pashukanis argues that, in its application to the spheres of constitutional law and criminal law, the legal form is effectively disembodied and devoid of any concrete content. Therefore, he asserts, "Outside Contract... the very concepts of subject and will exist only as lifeless abstractions in the legal sense."

The commodity exchange theory, by extension, impacts the concepts of morality and of crime and punishment under capitalism. Ideas of morality, Pashukanis argues, were based on the abstract notions of the rational individual and abstract equality before the law. He asserts that "if moral personality is nothing other than the subject of commodity production, then moral law must reveal itself as the rule of exchange between commodity owners."

By this token, he argues that the capitalist idea of "justice" is also derived from the process of commodity exchange, referring to the concepts of crime, punishment and guilt as examples of the "radical individualism of the bourgeois." As opposed to the concept of collective responsibility which dominated the ancient world, Pashukanis demonstrates that the requirements of equivalent exchange manifest themselves in the notion of equivalent punishment and finally become dominant under capitalism.

On this basis, bourgeois law injects an extreme notion of individual responsibility into criminal law. This is most easily recognized in the notion of "pay-back," or the idea that the legal subject must lose a certain amount of personal freedom as payment for a crime, without regard to the social causes of the anti-social behavior or to any real solution to such recurring, systemic social problems.

As opposed to a system of retribution, Pashukanis advanced the idea of social defense as a response to crime. This approach would abandon the market-based abstract equivalence principle, focusing not on the proportionality of the punishment to the crime, but rather on the correspondence between the measures taken and the ultimate goal of social defense.
With such a non-juridical approach, attention would shift from proving individual guilt to a more all-encompassing focus on the social and psychological symptoms. Examination of the social, cultural and economic environment associated with anti-social forms of behavior would replace the isolated focus on "the facts" of a single incident as the decisive factor in the process.

The commodity exchange theory is firmly rooted in the proposition that the legal superstructure grows necessarily out of the individualization and opposition of interests inherent in the capitalist mode of production. In this socio-economic context, the law suit (or controversy) is the basic mode of resolution of legal matters, whereas a social unity of purpose is the premise for a purely technical regulation—for example, the administration of a system of mass transit or standardized medical procedures. In this manner, Pashukanis draws a fundamental distinction between bourgeois law and what would emerge as socialist regulation.

The theory holds that the legal form would wither away as commodity exchange and market relations gave way to social production and distribution. Pashukanis put it best, saying, "Only when the individualistic economic system has been superseded by planned social production and distribution will this unproductive expenditure of man's intellectual energies (the law and law suits) cease."

In other words, as private interests are replaced by collective interests, society's governance will no longer require the compulsion of formal legal instruments to manage myriad individual disputes, and social regulation will increasingly take the form of simple technical coordination and management.

Although Head notes that this conclusion has been routinely assailed by bourgeois academics as utopian, he points out that "if masses of people actually controlled their own lives as well as the economic, political, social and cultural direction of society" the "unity of purpose"—made possible by socialist revolution—could be a reality.

The demise of Pashukanis and his enduring relevance
Like the revolution itself, the Soviet legal experiment which produced Pashukanis was cut short by the consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its attack on Marxism in the form of the nationalist theory of "socialism in one country." The legal complement to "socialism in one country" was the concept of "socialist legality"—a complete abandonment of the classical Marxist perspective of the "withering away" of the state and law. Ultimately, the bureaucratic caste isolated itself from and dominated the masses, necessitating not only the permanency of the state and "the rule of law," but an unprecedented strengthening of their invasive and repressive powers.

With the publication of his General Theory—the same year Stalin unveiled his theory of "socialism in one country"—Pashukanis became the preeminent Soviet jurist, and his book was required reading at universities around the country. Within a period of 12 years, however, Pashukanis found himself under increasing pressure to adapt his ideas more openly to the needs of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Pashukanis was eventually labeled a "Trostskyite saboteur" and executed by Stalin in 1937. His writings were subsequently expunged from the universities.
Pashukanis was by no means a recanting anti-Stalinist, nor was he a Trotskyist. Head successfully tackles this myth by clarifying the political record, which demonstrates that Pashukanis lined up against the Left Opposition, which was led by Trotsky, from at least 1925. Moroever, by putting Pashukanis' theoretical work in the correct economic and political context, Head shows how it was used as Marxist window-dressing for the bureaucracy's counter-revolutionary policies.

He highlights the fact that Pashukanis' General Theory debuted in 1924, after the institution of the New Economic Policy—enacted in 1921 as a temporary policy necessitated by the defeats of the European revolution and enforced isolation of the backward Soviet economy. The NEP made key concessions to capitalist market relations, thus promoting a return to traditional legal forms to protect private ownership in some of the means of production.

Head notes that although the General Theory was shaped by the requirements of the NEP, Pashukanis' theoretical work makes little reference to the NEP. When Pashukanis did refer to the NEP, he merely asserted that it represented an insufficient level of development for the building of socialism. Inherent in this was a bowing to mounting fears that a long period would have to ensue before socialism could be realized in the Soviet Union.

The period of the NEP was laden with political pressures exerted by the growing bureaucratic caste, anxious to consolidate its power on the national arena by abandoning the struggle for international revolution. Head finds the theoretical reflection of these pressures in aspects of the General Theory which naturally appealed to the bureaucratic caste—in particular, its assumption that the struggle for revolutionary social change would have to be shelved for an indefinite period and its general lack of emphasis and clarity on the repressive role of law and the state.

Head illustrates the political logic behind these theoretical failures by tracking Pashukanis' growing and ultimately futile capitulation to the Stalinist bureaucracy, to which he had wedded himself—from his denunciation of "Trotskyism" in 1925, his acceptance of "socialist legality" in 1927, to his repeated revisions of Lenin's State and Revolution in 1936. In that year, Pashukanis repudiated the theoretical core of the General Theory but was nevertheless executed the following year.

Pashukanis made a genuine contribution to understanding the nature of the legal form. But, as Head notes, "by lining up against the Left Opposition, he helped deprive the debates of the analysis and programme that could have combated the political and theoretical degeneration." Ultimately, Pashukanis became a casualty, not because of any principled political stance against the Stalinists, but rather because he still represented a link to the Marxist heritage of the revolution and thus a threat to the bureaucracy.

Head's book also corrects a tendency in other works to isolate the General Theory from its foundations in the Russian revolution and decades of Marxist cultural development in 19th century Europe. In particular, Head is careful to attribute the foundational concepts of Pashukanis' theory—the "withering away" of repressive instruments of government, law as an outgrowth of society's economic development, and the materialist analysis of the state and law—to the works of Marx and Engels.

Beyond this, Head traces key elements of Pashukanis' General Theory—the distinction between law and regulation, the rejection of law as an eternal form of social regulation, and the dual character of Soviet law—to the earlier works of lesser known, but important, Marxist legal scholars such as Lunacharsky, Reisner, Magerovsky, Podvolotsky, Krylenko and Goikhbarg.
Head ends the book by discussing Pashukanis' contemporary relevance. He examines the current assault on civil liberties as a component part of the "war on terror," the crisis in criminal justice and the prison explosion (citing statistics showing that, as of 2005, one in every 136 Americans was under the control of the penal system), from the standpoint of Pashukanis' theoretical perspective.

In the final chapter, Head demonstrates how the General Theory provides a framework for a materialist analysis of the American criminal justice system, which has severed nearly all connection with its stated purpose of protecting society and maintaining the peace, and is rapidly becoming an instrument of intimidation and political repression and a means for systematically stripping away the basic rights of masses of people.

In the context of the "global war on terror," Head's examination is particularly timely. The General Theory demonstrates that the traditional forms of bourgeois democracy and constitutional law are increasingly at odds with the class interests and social policies of the bourgeoisie in times of crisis. Thus they are increasingly abandoned, allowing politically-vetted judges an almost unlimited discretion in constitutional interpretation, and ultimately the freedom to abandon age-old democratic norms altogether, or to place a judicial seal of approval on the executive's efforts to do so.

On this topic, he quotes Pashukanis: "For the bourgeois has never, in favour of purity of theory, lost sight of the fact that class society is not only a market where autonomous owners of commodities meet, but it is at the same time the battlefield of a bitter class war, where the machinery of state repression represents a very powerful weapon... The state as a power factor in internal and foreign policy—that is the correction which the bourgeois was forced to make to the theory and practice of its ‘constitutional state.' The more the hegemony of the bourgeois was shattered, the more compromising these corrections became, the more quickly the constitutional state was transformed into a disembodied shadow, until finally the extraordinary sharpening of the class struggle forced the bourgeois to discard the mask of the constitutional state altogether, revealing the nature of state power as the organized power of one class over the other."

These words have renewed currency at the close of 2008. The economic crisis of world capitalism and the explosion of imperialist militarism across the globe, politically manifested in the "global war on terror" or the "long war," have led US imperialism and all national ruling elites to lay the legal groundwork for just such an "unmasking." Bourgeois democracy and the "rule of law" are giving way to authoritarian capitalism.

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