Thursday, October 30, 2008

Socialist Party: Capitalism in Crisis

Press Release for immediate use 30/10/08
Capitalism in crisis – come and hear the case for socialism

Activists, left trade union leaders, workers in struggle and young people to discuss the fight-back against the bosses’ crisis. Speakers from across the globe to attend rally in central London. We are living in historic times. The utter unplanned chaos of those 'in control' of the levers of finance has been revealed to working-class people. The self styled 'masters of the universe' have been exposed for the parasites - who have gambled away trillions - that they are. People are outraged, firstly at these creatures' wanton recklessness, but even more so at the fact that they have been bailed out with our money. The situation urgently cries out for a socialist explanation of the crisis-ridden capitalist system and what to do about it. And that is what you will get Socialism 2008 on 8 & 9 November. Left trade union leaders, activists and workers in struggle from across the globe will gather together to discuss how working people can best respond to the crisis.

Speakers include: Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary
Janice Godrich, PCS president
Mark Steel, stand up & activist
Cllr Dave Nellist, Socialist Party councilor and ex-Labour MP
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary
Hannah Sell, Socialist Party Deputy General Secretary
Kevin Ovenden, RESPECT
Robbie Segal, candidate for the presidency of the USDAW shop-workers' union (she won 40% of the vote in the general secretary election)
Fang Guoli, a Chinese socialist and activist
David Redelberger, a German school student strike leader
Nikos Anastasiadis, a leading activist from the new Greek coalition of the radical left, Syriza
Onay Kasab, Greenwich Unison branch secretary, currently being witch hunted by Unisons national leadership
Tony Mulhearn, one of the leaders of the Liverpool council struggle in the 1980s
Lynn Walsh, editor of Socialism Today magazine

Registration opens at 12 noon on Saturday 8 November at the University of London Union building (ULU), Malet Street, London WC1.
The Rally for Socialism will take place from 5:30pm - 8:30pm on Saturday 8 November at Euston Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London. Tickets are available on the door.
The closing session of Socialism 2008 will be a discussion forum hosted by the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. This will take place from 3:00pm - 4:30pm on Sunday 9 November at Logan Hall, Institute of Education. Tickets for this closing forum will be available on the door.

More details here.
There are some reports of the event. A Very Public Sociologist is carrying typically interesting and engaging reports, including some immediate impressions here (but please don't follow up references to the subject of the comrades' discussions on the way home) and one on the debate between Martin Smith for the SWP and Hannah Sell for the SP. Left-Wing Criminologist reports on the Fourth International and After session here. Devon Socialist Party has a report here. Nation of Duncan here and The Revolution Decides here. Socialist Party videos here. And the lengthy report in The Socialist is here. Sounds big (900, but remember Marxism gets 1000s, going to be interesting how many people go to the special Marxism event on Dec 6th) and certainly enthused the comrades.
Campaign for a New Workers Party has a report on the closing rally by Dave Carr.


WSWS on Baader Meinhof Complex

The Baader Meinhof Complex
A superficial treatment of the history of the Red Army Faction
By Peter Schwarz 30 October 2008

Directed by Uli Edel, screenplay by Edel and Bernd Eichinger, based on the book by Stefan Aust

Three decades after the "German autumn"—the climax of a wave of bomb attacks and kidnappings by the Red Army Faction (RAF)—producer and writer Bernd Eichinger (Downfall, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) has brought the history of this terrorist group to the screen.

The film begins in 1967. Klaus Rainer Röhl, publisher of the radical magazine Konkret, his wife Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and his two small daughters spend their summer vacation in blissful nakedness on a nudist beach on the North Sea island of Sylt. On the front page of an illustrated magazine can be seen the picture of the Shah of Iran and his wife Farah Diba. Röhl explains to his daughters—against the protests of Meinhof—that the Shah tortures his opponents and cuts off their heads.

The next scene shows the anti-Shah demonstration of June 2. The Shah and his wife are arriving at the German Opera in Berlin. On the other side of the street—behind a dense police cordon—demonstrators wave banners and chant slogans. Between the police and the visiting Iranian monarch are his supporters—a group of well-trained brawny men in black suits—waving pro-Shah posters.

Suddenly, the Shah supporters cross the police line and begin to viciously beat up the peaceful demonstrators. A woman is bleeding. The police stand by, doing nothing. Finally, they pull out their truncheons and brutally drive apart the demonstrators. One sees the disbelieving, frightened and indignant faces. A shot rings out in a courtyard. The police officer Karl-Heinz Kurras has shot the student Benno Ohnesorg.

Now the events fast forward. In a Berlin apartment, the first bombs are being made. Rudi Dutschke addresses the Berlin congress against the Vietnam War and is shot down on the street. Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) set fire to a Frankfurt department store. They are arrested. Ulrike Meinhof takes part in their liberation. A person is seriously injured (accidentally) and the group submerges into the underground.
Trained by Fatah forces in Jordan in bank robberies and bombings, the arrested RAF members are kept in solitary confinement as a group in the high security wing of Stammheim prison. On television, radio and in secret messages, they follow how the second generation takes over the command and the terror escalates: cold-blooded attacks on prominent representatives of the state and big business, hostage-taking in the German embassy in Stockholm, and finally—in the "German autumn" of 1977—the abduction of Hans Martin Schleyer (Bernd Stegemann), president of the German Employers Association, as well as the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane by a Palestinian commando unit. The object of both actions is to secure the release of the prisoners in Stammheim.

Ulrike Meinhof is already dead by this time, found hanged in her prison cell. Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe are likewise found dead in their cells on the morning of October 18. Previously, a "special forces" operation had overwhelmed the hijackers in Somalia. The film ends with the execution of Schleyer, who is shot in the head.

The Baader Meinhof Complex certainly has some positive aspects.
This is largely due to the outstanding cast. Eichinger has engaged some of the best representatives of the current generation of actors, who strive to create a nuanced portrayal of their characters. Above all, the scenes in Stammheim are played outstandingly. The main participants have walled themselves into a political dead end. They suffer the consequences of solitary confinement, argue bitterly with each other, their personalities disintegrate; they rebel desperately against their situation, and are monitored and watched round the clock.

A further plus is the care and attention to detail with which the historical events are reconstructed. The production invested much effort and money to this end. The film was largely filmed at the original locations and received subsidies of €6.5 million.

Nevertheless, the film remains essentially superficial and flat. There has been an obvious endeavour not to cause offence in any quarter. It provides an uncritical, conventional view of the events and avoids any awkward questions.

Eichinger and Stefan Aust, the long-standing editor-in-chief of newsweekly Der Spiegel, on whose eponymous book the film is based, clearly did not want to come into conflict with the leading circles in politics and the media. While they have resisted the temptation to portray the Baader Meinhof group as a non-political, purely criminal gang, as those in leading Christian Democrat and Social Democrat circles still do, what is offered to illuminate the social and political context does not go beyond hollow clichés.

Some critics have attributed this to the fact that the film attempts to condense the events of 10 years into two-and-a-half hours of screen time, succumbing to the temptation to give action scenes more emphasis. According to such views, the film depends on action and visual effects and is little suited for critical reflection. But this is too simple an account. Der Baader Meinhof Komplex is not only an action film. The script provides considerable space for background material and dialogue, but this material is carefully filtered. Some aspects are downplayed, and others are consciously excluded.

What should the audience make of this film? Why did women such as Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, who both originally aspired to high moral values in their politics, end up in the reactionary dead-end of individual terrorism?

The film offers little basis to clarify these questions. A filmgoer—born in the 1970s or 1980s—would find it simply incomprehensible that while the 1968 protest movement attracted hundreds of thousands, why then did a small group slide into terrorism? A little free love and a little anarchy (Baader races along the streets in stolen cars), combined with abstract, hollow clichés about imperialism and freedom are all the film has to offer as explanation.

Is one to conclude from Der Baader Meinhof Komplex that all protest against the ruling order leads to an orgy of violence and that it is better to avoid it altogether? The film does not go quite this far, but it certainly does not exclude such a conclusion.

Amongst the best scenes is certainly the one initially described—the demonstration against the Shah's visit—as well as brutal original film material documenting the Vietnam War. They serve to explain the anger and rage felt by many young people at that time. But the film does not go any further. The disproportionate way in which the state and media react to the student protests and the initial actions by Baader and Ensslin, find hardly any expression in the film.

This was even noticeable to Gerhart Baum (Free Democratic Party), who from 1972 to 1978 was an undersecretary in the interior ministry and from 1978 to 1982, interior minister with overall responsibility for the state's apparatus of suppression. In a recent edition of Die Zeit, he writes of The Baader Meinhof Complex: "Unfortunately, important circumstances are omitted—such as the public panic and hysteria fomented by the media and politics... also omitted is the exploitation of the terror for political ends, by which the constitutional state placed itself in danger. Occasionally, the state showed the ugly face that its opponents wanted to depict. It would have been good, if the film had dealt with the theme of the constitutional state, which became unhinged in a state of emergency and fear."

This, according to Baum, is still an important topic today: "Our fundamental rights are being damaged in the fight against terror—then as now."

The film also completely omits any reference to Germany's Nazi past—the fact that in the post-war period, state personnel, judges and professors, were able to move smoothly from the Third Reich into new posts; that hardly anyone was brought to account for the crimes of the Nazis. Nor does it address the Emergency Laws enacted under the Christian Democrat-Social Democrat grand coalition in 1968. Both contributed just as much to the emergence of the mass student protest movement as the Vietnam War and the anti-Shah demonstrations.

What weighs far more heavily, however, is the complete exclusion of the role of Stalinism and social democracy. There really can be no innocent explanation for this; the film clearly comes to the defence of both.

Without a historical knowledge of the period, most cinema-goers would simply not know that Konkret, for which Ulrike Meinhof wrote, was originally backed by the illegal German Communist Party and the Stalinist regime in East Germany. The film also gives no indication of the fact that in 1967 the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was responsible for the activities of the police in Berlin, nor that since 1966 the SPD had participated in a federal coalition government led by Kurt Georg Kiesinger (Christian Democratic Union), a former member of Hitler's Nazi party.

The reactionary role of Stalinism and social democracy contributed significantly to the mixture of indignation and impotence that drove Meinhof, Ensslin and others into the dead end of terrorism. The crimes of Stalinism, which culminated in the summer of 1968 in the suppression of the Prague spring in Czechoslovakia, cut off the students' justified indignation from a socialist perspective. And the SPD unreservedly supported the Emergency Laws and the stepping up of state powers against the student protests.

A section of the student left ascribed responsibility for the policies of the SPD to the workers, who had voted for the SPD by a large majority. Basing themselves on the theories of the Frankfurt School, and in particular Herbert Marcuse, they regarded the working class as a reactionary mass, which consumerism had completely integrated into the capitalist system. From this they concluded that only individual "revolutionary action" could electrify social consciousness—a theory that found its ultimate murderous consequences in the terrorism of the RAF.

These connections are not made clear in the film. The appeals written by Ulrike Meinhof, which are repeatedly cited in the film, and the speech given by student leader Rudi Dutschke, are reduced to just a few sound bites, which make hardly any sense to a contemporary audience. The great struggles of the working class, which began with the French general strike in May 1968 and then rolled across Europe until 1975, are ignored—although they refuted the theories of Marcuse and undermined the theoretical stance of the RAF, which confused individual acts of terrorism with revolutionary politics.

The film's authors obviously felt that they needed some social explanation for the phenomenon of the RAF. Therefore they invented an artificial character. While all the other roles are played by actors who are as similar in age and appearance as possible to the real person they portray, Horst Herold, who in 1971 at the age of 48 took over the Federal Criminal Investigation Office, is played by the 67-year old Bruno Ganz (Hitler in Downfall). Ganz plays the part as the wise old police commissioner, who sits reflecting at his desk and expounds to his fellow workers how terrorism has social causes and can only be eliminated through the eradication of poverty in the Third World. But this artifice cannot hide the film's fundamental weaknesses.


Worldwide Socialist Website on SWP and Respect

Britain: the SWP and Galloway’s Respect Renewal on the economic crisis
By Chris Marsden 29 October 2008

Last Saturday the Socialist Workers Party and George Galloway's Respect Renewal held separate meetings where they discussed the economic crisis gripping world capitalism. Galloway's event was his organization's annual conference, but took less than a full day. The SWP's event was a debate entitled "Marxism and the Economic Crisis."

It is just over a year since the SWP and Galloway, then united in Respect, split acrimoniously. Galloway did so amidst accusations that the SWP was ultra-left and that its undemocratic efforts to dominate Respect were an obstacle to building a broad alliance of generally left and democratic forces. The SWP somewhat belatedly discovered that Galloway was orienting towards Muslim businessmen and that he is moving to the right.

The two conferences served to demonstrate how both organizations are continuing their rightward lurch. Their response to what Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean admitted two days earlier was "a once in a lifetime crisis, and possibly the largest financial crisis of its kind in human history" was identical in all major respects. They sought to downplay the scale of the financial disaster, to reject any possibility of mobilizing the working class to fight for a socialist alternative to capitalism, and to advance instead Keynesian-style government intervention to stabilize the world capitalist economy while securing a number of minimal social reforms.

Even before Respect Renewal met, Galloway had made clear his opposition to any socialist response to the crisis of the profit system. On October 17 he appeared on "The One Show," hosted by Andrew Neil, who asked him, "Will capitalism die?" Galloway replied in the negative. "There is a fire raging in the forest," he said, but we had to hope "that the forest doesn't perish before the flames go out." Capitalism is "not dead because there is not an alternative system ready and waiting to take over. Socialism is not dead either, but it pretty nearly died and it will be a long time before it is in a position to compete as an alternative."

Efforts to "save the forest" supports by Galloway include the Labour government's £500 billion subvention to the banks, which will be paid for by working people. His statement on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's bailout declared that "at last the government is taking action which may begin to shore up the banking system."

"It was essential the government propped up the banks' capital base," he added, warning only that "many in the City" believe that more is needed. There would be further demands on taxpayers "unless more is done to pump prime our collapsing economy now."

Respect Renewal's conference policy documents said very little on the economic crisis other than to call for a defence of "working people, the poor and vulnerable in the current economic climate" by freezing council rents and service charges for a year and implementing wage increases in line with inflation.

The primary role of left apologist for Galloway since his split with the SWP has been played by Alan Thornett's International Socialism Group, the British section of the Pabloite United Secretariat. Thornett's own resolution to the conference was basically identical to Galloway's position, insisting that "Democratic control over the economy through Parliament is essential if a further plunge into crisis is to be avoided" and pledging to "campaign for the public ownership of the financial institutions."

At the conference Thornett's group took second place to Galloway's preferred political partner, the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain. Galloway writes a semi-regular column for the CPB's Morning Star and is anxious to use the party's continued influence within the upper echelons of the trade union bureaucracy as a source of financial and organizational clout in order to advance his own political career. To this end, pride of place alongside Galloway on the platform was given to CPB General Secretary Rob Griffiths.

Galloway has long combined an admiration of Stalin's Soviet Union and Castro's Cuba with Catholicism and an opportunist glorification of various despotic regimes, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq. His claim that socialism "nearly died" refers to the collapse of Stalinism.
Galloway's performance at the Respect Renewal conference made clear that his alliance with the Stalinists is rooted in his deep and abiding hostility to Marxism, Trotskyism and opposition to social revolution.

Galloway addressed the 200 or so delegates in overtly anticommunist terms. We need to stop talking about "dead Russians," he declared (to which someone in the audience added, "And dead Germans"). The break from the SWP was necessary because it was a "Marxist-Leninist far-left party," out of touch with the masses. What was required instead was a new "realistic" left movement with ideas that people understand—to be formed by making "unity" the watchword.
All the problems of the "left" were rooted in the actions of "splitters" and "Marxist sects" who spoke of a "catastrophe" facing world capitalism.

Galloway's statements were so right-wing that even Griffiths was somewhat embarrassed. He agreed with Galloway that Marxism had been supposedly "discredited" by talk of the "crisis of capitalism." But he cautioned a real crisis was now unfolding.

SWP rejects possibility of socialism
Having worked in Respect with Galloway for three-and-a-half years, only for this unprincipled electoral alliance to end in a debacle, the Socialist Workers Party has recently been trying to rescue its credibility by projecting itself as an orthodox Marxist Party. However, the SWP continues to advocate a left regroupment based on a rejection of any possibility of building a revolutionary socialist party.

Saturday's conference was held under the auspices of the SWP's theoretical journal, International Socialism. Its latest issue contained the International Socialist Tendency's October 1 statement on the global economic crisis. Littered with references to "a major economic crisis" that "originated in the very heart of the capitalist system, in the United States," the statement advocates "the nationalisation without compensation of the banks" and little else.
As to the prospects for class struggle and socialism, its verdict is extremely negative. "The relationship between economic crisis and the class struggle is complex and mediated by the political context in which they interact," the IST/SWP states, meaning that "the precise combination of job losses and higher prices in a given country is likely to have a major impact on whether workers are likely to respond with aggressive resistance or demoralised acquiescence" (emphasis added).

The task is not to build a revolutionary leadership, but to develop "a broader radical left that can begin to present a credible and principled alternative to capitalism."

Building this "broader radical left" last Saturday took the form of a debate between leading SWP members, including Chris Harman and Alex Callinicos; the academic Robin Blackburn, a former member of the United Secretariat and contributor to the New Left Review; Peter Gowan, the editor of the New Left Review; and the Keynesian economist Alan Freeman.

Harman kicked off proceedings by stating that though there was talk we were facing another crash like 1929, "To be honest, nobody knows."
His statements are far more sanguine than those of leading financiers, who have acknowledged that the crash is at least as bad as 1929 or, in the case of Bank of England governor Mervyn King, is the "worst since the First World War." Even now share prices in Europe have dropped by more than a quarter and, excluding a bounce, Wall Street will have fallen further in October than at any time since Black Monday 1932.
Despite this, Harman declared, "I don't expect a crisis as bad as the 1930s, as the state will intervene.... I think it will be more on the basis of the Japan crisis"—a reference to the bursting of the speculative property bubble in the early 1990s. James McCurry wrote of such comparisons in the October 28 edition of the Guardian that "the notion that financial crises are a throwback to an era that ended with the death throes of the ‘lost decade' is being exposed as so much folly.... In truth, though, the immediate future promises to be one of unremitting pain for the world's second biggest economy."

When contrasted with Harman, the Keynesian economist Alan Freeman sounded left. While insisting that "you'd have to be really dumb and seeking early retirement not to be a Keynesian now," and that Keynes was better than Marx for understanding the "sort term" development of capitalism, he did warn that the efforts of the capitalists to "reorganise the world politically" may involve "violence and war.... The real cause of the crisis is the decline of the US as the world hegemon.... It is now using its military clout to prevent the day of reckoning and will have to take on its own working class."

Freeman then declared that we were only seeing the beginning of the end for US hegemony and that this could take a hundred years, as it had for the British Empire. To prevent war and fascism meant exerting maximum pressure for the capitalists to employ the "visible hand of the state" to regulate "the invisible hand of the market."

"Neither 1929 nor 1873 (the last crises on this scale) led to any socialist revolution," he said. "Does Keynesianism provide a way out of the crisis of capitalism?" It must do because, "We are not yet on the edge of a socialist revolution."

Harman did not disagree with this appraisal other than to insist, "I don't think the US will crash. Several states will crash but not the US."

For his part, Blackburn had little of substance to add, other than to warn, "We shouldn't make the mistake of saying that all finance capital is bad."
Finance capitalism should merely be brought under control, he said, while the left should call for a set of reforms to be implemented by the capitalists.

These demands were not socialist, he acknowledged, but of a "state capitalist nature." That is all that is possible, Blackburn insisted. The situation is not like 1917 "when no one knew what to do and Lenin put his hand up at the back of the room and said I will take responsibility for this mess," he said to laughter from the hundred or so present.

Posing the question, "But aren't we trying to get rid of capitalism?" he replied, "What we are getting towards are publicly responsible democratic forms of financial governance."

In the closing debate, Alex Callinicos focused on what he claimed were the political consequences of the crash. In a rambling survey, he largely confined himself to insisting that the United States, though weakened, would remain the world's hegemonic power, as neither Europe nor China was in a position to challenge it.

The financial crisis would get worse, he added.
The problem was that political radicalisation in the anti-war movement has developed "well in advance of working class economic resistance.... We need to close the gap between political and economic resistance."

Peter Gowan did little other than to explicitly back Keynesian-style regulation of the capitalist market. "I remember the old International Socialism Journal and us Trotskyists [the IMG] used to oppose the idea of structural reforms. Now the left needs to advance them," he declared.
In the brief debate that followed, a member of the Socialist Equality Party asked, "Speakers have spoken of the depth of the crisis. I have heard solutions like structural reforms and transitional demands. What do the speakers think is the prospect for revolution and do they think the working class will lead it?"

The question was greeted with laughter and ignored by the platform, other than Callinicos stating, "Of course I am for a socialist planned economy. It is important to start talking about that stuff again."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Variant #33 Winter 2008

Variant #33

The latest edition of the crammed-full Scottish e-jine of cultural politics arrives. The highlight is Terry Brotherstone on Paul Mason's very interesting Live Working or Die Fighting. Brotherstone includes an account of Mason on Laurie Taylor's Thinking Allowed and a discussion that he thinks shows the decline of notions of the 'end of class' and 'there is no alternative'. Brotherstone connects Mason's global account of class struggles to Engels' Condition of the Working Class in 1842 and, particularly, his 1892 Preface. This review is well-worth reading and a clear steer towards the importance of Mason's work.

There's also a review of a recent work by Robert Porter on Habermas and the public sphere. Tom Jennings writes about literary reflections on crime and the poor. Gerry Mooney reviews books about modern public housing - the nightmare and dystopia of the council estate. Much more as well.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Nir Rosen in Afghanistan


How We Lost the War We Won
A journey into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan

Oct 30, 2008

The highway that leads south out of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, passes through a craggy range of arid, sand-colored mountains with sharp, stony peaks. Poplar trees and green fields line the road. Nomadic Kuchi women draped in colorful scarves tend to camels as small boys herd sheep. The hillsides are dotted with cemeteries: rough-hewn tombstones tilting at haphazard angles, multicolored flags flying above them. There is nothing to indicate that the terrain we are about to enter is one of the world's deadliest war zones. On the outskirts of the capital we are stopped at a routine checkpoint manned by the Afghan National Army. The wary soldiers single me out, suspicious of my foreign accent. My companions, two Afghan men named Shafiq and Ibrahim, convince the soldiers that I am only a journalist. Ibrahim, a thin man with a wispy beard tapered beneath his chin, comes across like an Afghan version of Bob Marley, easygoing and quick to smile. He jokes with the soldiers in Dari, the Farsi dialect spoken throughout Afghanistan, assuring them that everything is OK.

As we drive away, Ibrahim laughs. The soldiers, he explains, thought I was a suicide bomber. Ibrahim did not bother to tell them that he and Shafiq are midlevel Taliban commanders, escorting me deep into Ghazni, a province largely controlled by the spreading insurgency that now dominates much of the country.

Until recently, Ghazni, like much of central Afghanistan, was considered reasonably safe. But now the province, located 100 miles south of the capital, has fallen to the Taliban. Foreigners who venture to Ghazni often wind up kidnapped or killed. In defiance of the central government, the Taliban governor in the province issues separate ID cards and passports for the Taliban regime, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Farmers increasingly turn to the Taliban, not the American-backed authorities, for adjudication of land disputes.

By the time we reach the town of Salar, only 50 miles south of Kabul, we have already passed five tractor-trailers from military convoys that have been destroyed by the Taliban. The highway, newly rebuilt courtesy of $250 million, most of it from U.S. taxpayers, is pocked by immense craters, most of them caused by roadside bombs planted by Taliban fighters. As in Iraq, these improvised explosive devices are a key to the battle against the American invaders and their allies in the Afghan security forces, part of a haphazard but lethal campaign against coalition troops and the long, snaking convoys that provide logistical support.

We drive by a tractor-trailer still smoldering from an attack the day before, and the charred, skeletal remains of a truck from an attack a month earlier. At a gas station, a crowd of Afghans has gathered. Smoke rises from the road several hundred yards ahead.
"Jang," says Ibrahim, who is sitting in the front passenger seat next to Shafiq. "War. The Americans are fighting the Taliban."

Shafiq and Ibrahim use their cellphones to call their friends in the Taliban, hoping to find out what is going on. Suddenly, the chatter of machine-gun fire erupts, followed by the thud of mortar fire and several loud explosions that shake the car. I flinch and duck in the back seat, cursing as Shafiq and Ibrahim laugh at me.
"Tawakkal al Allah," Shafiq lectures me. "Depend on God."

This highway — the only one in all Afghanistan — was touted as a showpiece by the Bush administration after it was rebuilt. It provides the only viable route between the two main American bases, Bagram to the north and Kandahar to the south. Now coalition forces travel along it at their own risk. In June, the Taliban attacked a supply convoy of 54 trucks passing through Salar, destroying 51 of them and seizing three escort vehicles. In early September, not far from here, another convoy was attacked and 29 trucks were destroyed. On August 13th, a few days before I pass through Salar, the Taliban staged an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the U.S.-backed governor of Ghazni, wounding two of his guards.

As we wait at the gas station, Shafiq and Ibrahim display none of the noisy indignation that Americans would exhibit over a comparable traffic jam. To them, a military battle is a routine inconvenience, part of life on the road. Taking advantage of the break, they buy a syrupy, Taiwanese version of Red Bull called Energy at a small shop next door. At one point, two green armored personnel carriers from NATO zip by, racing toward Kabul. Shafiq and Ibrahim laugh: It looks like the coalition forces are fleeing the battle.
"Bulgarians," Shafiq says, shaking his head in amusement.

After an hour, the fighting ends, and we get back in the car. A few minutes later, we pass the broken remains of a British supply convoy. Dozens of trucks — some smoldering, others still ablaze — line the side of the road, which is strewn with huge chunks of blasted asphalt. The trucks carried drinks for the Americans, Ibrahim tells me as we drive past. Hundreds of plastic water bottles with white labels spill out of the trucks, littering the highway.

Farther down the road, American armored vehicles block our path. Smoke pours from the road behind them. Warned by other drivers that the Americans are shooting at approaching cars, Shafiq slowly maneuvers to the front of the line and stops. When the Americans finally move, we all follow cautiously, like a nervous herd. We drive by yet more burning trucks. Ibrahim points to three destroyed vehicles, the remains of an attack four days earlier.

A few miles later, at a lonely desert checkpoint manned by the Afghan army, several soldiers with AK-47s make small talk with Shafiq and Ibrahim, asking them about the battle before waving us through. As night falls, we pass a police station. We have reached Ghazni province.
"From now on, it's all Taliban territory," Ibrahim tells me. "The Americans and police don't come here at night."

Shafiq laughs. "The Russians were stronger than the Americans," he says. "More fierce. We will put the Americans in their graves."

It has been seven years since the United States invaded Afghanistan in the wake of September 11th. The military victory over the Taliban was swift, and the Bush administration soon turned its attention to rebuilding schools and roads and setting up a new government under President Hamid Karzai. By May 2003, only 18 months after the beginning of the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld all but declared victory in Afghanistan. "We are at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction," Rumsfeld announced during a visit to Kabul. The security situation in Afghanistan, in his view, was better than it had been for 25 years.

But even as Rumsfeld spoke, the Taliban were beginning their reconquest of Afghanistan. The Pentagon, already focused on invading Iraq, assumed that the Afghan militias it had bought with American money would be enough to secure the country. Instead, the militias proved far more interested in extorting bribes and seizing land than pursuing the hardened Taliban veterans who had taken refuge across the border in Pakistan. The parliamentary elections in 2005 returned power to the warlords who had terrorized the countryside before the Taliban imposed order. "The American intervention issued a blank check to these guys," says a senior aid official in Kabul. "They threw money, weapons, vehicles at them. But the warlords never abandoned their bad habits — they're abusing people and filling their pockets.

By contrast, aid for rebuilding schools and clinics has been paltry. In the critical first two years after the invasion, international assistance amounted to only $57 per citizen — compared with $679 in Bosnia. As U.S. contractors botched reconstruction jobs and fed corruption, little of the money intended to rebuild Afghanistan reached those in need. Even worse, the sudden infusion of international aid drove up real estate and food prices, increasing poverty and fueling widespread resentment.

The government of Pakistan, seeking to retain influence over what it views as its back yard, began helping the Taliban regroup. With the Bush administration focused on the war in Iraq, money poured into Afghanistan from Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, who were eager to maintain a second front against the American invaders. The Taliban — once an isolated and impoverished group of religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords — are now among the best-armed and most experienced insurgents in the world, linked to a global movement of jihadists that stretches from Pakistan and Iraq to Chechnya and the Philippines.

The numbers tell the story. Attacks on coalition and Afghan forces are up 44 percent since last year, the highest level since the war began. By October, 135 American troops had been killed in Afghanistan this year — already surpassing the total of 117 fatalities for all of 2007. The Taliban are also intensifying their attacks on aid workers: In a particularly brazen assault in August, a group of Taliban fighters opened fire on the car of a U.S. aid group, the International Rescue Committee, killing three Western women and their Afghan driver on the main road to Kabul.
The Bush administration, belatedly aware that it was losing Afghanistan, responded to the violence as it did in Iraq: by calling for more troops. Speaking at the National Defense University on September 9th, the president announced a "quiet surge" of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, saying additional forces are necessary to stabilize "Afghanistan's young democracy." But the very next day, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a sharply different assessment. His prepared testimony, approved by the secretary of defense and the White House, read, "I am convinced we can win the war in Afghanistan." But when Mullen sat down before Congress, he deviated from his prepared statement. "I am not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan," he testified bluntly.

In early October, the president's plan for a surge was once again contradicted by his top advisers. American intelligence agencies drafting a classified report on the war warned that Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" fueled by worsening violence and rampant corruption. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also admitted to Congress that the Pentagon is stretched so thin in Iraq, it will be unable to meet even a modest request for 10,000 more troops in Afghanistan until next spring at the earliest.

But those closest to the chaos in Afghanistan say that throwing more soldiers into combat won't help. "More troops are not the answer," a senior United Nations official in Kabul tells me. "You will not make more babies by having many guys screw the same woman."

It is a point echoed in dozens of off-the-record interviews I conducted in Kabul with leading Western diplomats, security experts, former mujahedeen and Taliban commanders, and senior officials with the U.N. and prominent aid organizations. All agree that the situation is, in the words of one official, "incredibly bleak." Using suicide bombers and other tactics imported from Iraq, the Taliban have cut Kabul off from the rest of the country and established themselves as the only law in many rural villages. "People don't want the Taliban back, but they're afraid to back the government," says one top diplomat. "They know the Taliban will ride into the village and behead anybody who has made a deal with the coalition."

According to the diplomat, military solutions are simply no longer viable. "The analysis of our intelligence people is that things are getting worse," he says. "CIA analysts are extremely gloomy and worried. You have an extremely weak president in Afghanistan, a corrupt and ineffective ministry of the interior, an army with no command or control, and a dysfunctional international alliance."

As one top official with a Western aid organization put it, "We're simply not up to the task of success in Afghanistan. I'm increasingly unsure about a way forward — except that we should start preparing our exit strategy."

To travel with the Taliban and see firsthand how they operate, I contacted a well-connected Afghan friend in Kabul and asked him to make the introductions. He knew many groups of fighters in Afghanistan, but said he would only trust my security if those I accompanied knew that they and their families would be killed if anything happened to me. Through a respected dignitary, I was connected with Mullah Ibrahim, who commands 500 men in the Dih Yak district of Ghazni. We met at my friend's office in Kabul on a hot, sunny afternoon. Midlevel Taliban leaders like Ibrahim move freely about the capital, like any other Afghan: U.S. forces lack the intelligence and manpower to identify enemy commanders, let alone apprehend them. (To protect Ibrahim's identity, I agreed to change his name.)

Now in his 40s, Ibrahim has been fighting with the Taliban since the 1990s. He walks with a pronounced limp: He lost his right leg below the knee in the country's civil war, and he had undergone surgery only the week before to repair nerve damage he suffered in a recent firefight. At first he told me his wounds were from an American bullet, but I later learned he had been injured in a clash with a rival Taliban commander.

After our meeting, Ibrahim promised to contact the Taliban minister of defense and request approval for my trip. As I waited for word, I went to a market in Kabul and bought several sets of salwar kameez, the traditional tunic and baggy pants worn by Afghan men. I had grown my beard longer to pass as an Afghan, and before leaving New York I had supplemented my Arabic and basic Farsi with a week of Berlitz classes in Pashtu, the language spoken by the ethnic group that dominates the Taliban. Pashtu is not exactly in high demand, and the book Berlitz gave me was clearly designed for military purposes. It contained a list of military ranks, including "General of the Air Force," and offered a helpful list of weapons, including "land mines" and "bullets." It also provided the Pashtu translation for a host of important phrases: Show me your ID card. Let the vehicle pass. You are a prisoner. Hands up. Surrender. If I wanted to arrest an Afghan, I was now prepared. The book did not include the phrase I needed most: Ze talibano milmayam. "I am a guest of the Taliban."

On a Saturday afternoon, Ibrahim picks me up in a white Toyota Corolla, its dashboard covered in fake gray fur. His friend Shafiq is behind the wheel, wearing a cap embroidered with rhinestones. Afghan culture places a premium on courtesy, and Shafiq comes across as unfailingly polite. At one point, almost casually, he mentions that he has personally executed some 200 spies, usually by beheading them. "First I warn people to stop," he says, emphasizing his fair-mindedness. "If they continue, I kill them."

Shafiq, who fought the Soviets with the mujahedeen, now commands Taliban fighters in the Andar district of Ghazni. "Andar is a very bad place," an intelligence officer in Kabul tells me. "The Taliban show a lot of confidence and freedom of movement there." While coalition forces have focused on driving the insurgents from the south, they failed to maintain a buffer in central regions like Ghazni, where the Taliban now routinely pull people off buses and execute them. "They have that level of control right on Kabul's front door," the officer adds. "Environments regarded as extreme two years ago are much worse now. There has been a staggering intensification."

As we head south, Shafiq tells me that fighters from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have come through the Andar district. Most are suicide bombers, but some fight alongside the Taliban. He is impressed with their skill, but like many Taliban, he doesn't care for their politics. "Pakistan and Iran are not friends of Afghanistan," Shafiq says dismissively. "They don't want peace in Afghanistan — they want to take Afghanistan." Despite their extremely conservative views on religion, most Taliban are fundamentally nationalist and Afghan-centric. They accept the support of Al Qaeda, but that doesn't mean they approve of its tactics. "Suicide attacks are not good because they kill Muslims," Shafiq says.

In the darkness, we roll into the village of Nughi. We no longer have cellphone reception; the Taliban shut down the phone towers after sunset, when they stop for the night, to prevent U.S. surveillance from pinpointing their position. It is the holiday of Shaab eh Barat, when Muslims believe God determines a person's destiny for the coming year. Young boys from the village gather to swing balls of fire attached to wires. Like orange stars, hundreds of fiery circles glow far into the distance. The practice is haram — one of many traditions banned by the Taliban, who consider it forbidden under Islam. The fact that it is being tolerated is the first indication I have that the Taliban are not as doctrinaire as they were during their seven years of rule.
Shafiq maneuvers the car on the bumpy dirt road between mud houses. After a few stops in the village we are led to a house where a group of young Taliban fighters emerges. Several of them are carrying weapons. We greet the traditional way, each man placing his right hand on the other's heart, leaning in but not fully embracing, inquiring about the other's health and family. Ibrahim, who had promised to protect me on the trip, decides to go home, leaving Shafiq to guide me the rest of the way.

With the moon lighting our path, Shafiq and I follow the Taliban on foot to another house, entering through a low door into a guest room with a red carpet on the floor and wooden beams on the ceiling.

A dim bulb barely illuminates the room. A PKM belt-fed machine gun and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher lean against a wall, next to several rockets. We are joined by Mullah Yusuf, Ibrahim's nephew, who serves as a senior commander in Andar.

Yusuf has dark reddish skin and a handsome face. He wears a black turban with thin gold stripes and carries an AK-47. A boy brings a pitcher and basin and we rinse our hands. We drink green tea and eat a soup of mushy bread called shurwa with our hands, followed by meat and grapes.
Yusuf became a commander last year, when the Americans killed his superior officer. He sleeps in a different house every night to avoid detection. Only 30 years old, he has big ears and an almost elfin air; the ringtone on his cellphone is a bells-and-cymbals version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice theme. A year and a half ago, Yusuf was injured in his thigh by a U.S. helicopter strike, and now walks with a limp. He joined the Taliban in 2003 after studying at a religious school in North Waziristan, the border region of Pakistan where many Afghan refugees live. He seems less motivated by religious ideals than by defending his homeland: He took up jihad, he tells me, because foreigners have come to Afghanistan and are fighting Afghans and poor people.
"The Americans are not good," he says. "They go into houses and put people in jail. Fifteen days ago the Americans bombed here and killed a civilian."

The U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has not been helped by its rash of misguided bombings. This year, according to the United Nations, 1,445 Afghan civilians were killed by coalition forces through August — two-thirds of them in airstrikes. On July 6th, a bombing raid killed 47 members of a wedding party — including 39 women and children — near the village of Kacu. On August 22nd, more than 90 civilians — again mostly women and children — were killed in an airstrike in Azizabad.

Yusuf makes it clear that it is only the Americans he has a problem with. Once the foreigners leave, he insists, the Taliban will negotiate peace with the Afghan army and police: "They are brothers, Muslims." What's more, he says, girls will be allowed to go to school, and women will be allowed to work. It is a stance I will hear echoed by many Taliban leaders. In recent years, recognizing that their harsher strictures had alienated the population, the Taliban have grown more tolerant. To improve their operations, they have even been forced to adopt technologies they once banned: computers, television, films, the Internet.

After we finish eating, we walk to a mud shed. Shafiq opens its wooden doors to reveal another white Toyota Corolla. The men load the RPG launcher and four rockets into the car, along with the PKM machine gun. We drive through the moonlit desert on dirt paths to the village of Kharkhasha, where Shafiq lives. On the way, Shafiq pops in a cassette of Taliban chants. They are in Pashtu and without instrumentation, which is forbidden by the Taliban.

Arriving at Shafiq's house, we enter the guest room in darkness and sit on thin mattresses. A small gas lamp is brought out, as well as grapes and green tea. Shafiq says he fought the Soviets in the 1980s and spent five years in jail. But following the Soviet withdrawal, as the mujahedeen turned on one another, Shafiq felt they had become robbers. He joined the Taliban in 1994, he says, because they wanted peace and Islam.

Shafiq has met Osama bin Laden twice — once before the Taliban took over, and once during the Taliban reign. He was impressed by bin Laden's knowledge of Pashtu. He has also met Mullah Muhammed Omar, the one-eyed cleric who calls himself the "commander of the faithful." Omar, who served as leader of the Taliban government, is now in hiding across the border in Pakistan, where he rebuilt the Taliban with the help and protection of Pakistani intelligence. Shafiq hopes that Omar will return to lead the country, but other Taliban leaders no longer view him as the only option. The shift is significant — a sign that the Taliban are not fighting merely to restore the hard-line government they had before but are prepared to move forward with a greater degree of flexibility and pragmatism than they have shown in the past.

The next morning, we get back into the Corolla, loading the PKM, the RPG launcher and four rockets into the trunk. Shafiq and the machine gun are in the front passenger seat. Yusuf drives, his AK-47 beside him. Another Taliban fighter rides a Honda motorcycle alongside us, an AK-47 strapped to his shoulder. They have promised to take me to see the Taliban in action: going out on patrols, conducting attacks, adjudicating disputes and providing security against bandits and police. As we head deeper into the province, the land becomes increasingly flat and arid. Everything is the color of sand. Even the dilapidated mud homes, bleached almost white by the sun, look like sand castles after the first wave has hit them.

Yusuf points to a police checkpoint. The police know him, he says, but do nothing to stop him. "Every night I go on patrol, and they don't fight me," he says. "They don't have guns, and they are afraid."

The police, in fact, often defect to the Taliban. Shafiq recently bought two jeeps from the police, who later told the Interior Ministry that the vehicles were destroyed in an attack. "The police are highly corrupt," a senior U.N. official in Kabul tells me. "They are at the center of the collapse of the Karzai government — their corruption makes people support the Taliban." The cops have even taken to robbing U.S. contractors. "The police will raid foreign companies and just steal everything — iPods, money, weapons, radios," says an intelligence officer. "People might hate the Taliban, but they hate the government just as much. At least the Taliban have rules. This government, they're just parasites fucking with you."

In the village of Khodzai, we visit a commander at a mosque where eight men and two boys sit on the floor, drinking tea. When they aren't attacking checkpoints or ambushing convoys, the Taliban spend most of their time praying or listening to religious lectures. The men ambushed the Afghan army two days earlier in a nearby village, killing 20 Afghan soldiers. "The Americans do not come here," their commander says proudly. "We control this area. The Taliban is the government here."

Outside, in a sunny courtyard, the men get ready to go on patrol, checking their ammunition and slinging their AK-47s over their shoulders. Suddenly, a coalition military helicopter swoops low overhead, nearly coming to a hover above us. Throughout the war, the U.S. has compensated for its lack of troops by relying on aerial shows of force: It's possible to go for days in Ghazni without seeing a single coalition soldier. I clench my fists in terror, waiting for the helicopter to fire at us, but the men ignore it and laugh at me. One tells me he fired an RPG at a helicopter yesterday, and will fire a rocket at this one if it attacks us. My fear may be comic, but it's not misplaced: A month after I leave, an airstrike in Andar will kill seven suspected Taliban fighters.

To my relief, the helicopter flies off. The men leave on their motorcycles to patrol the countryside. As the Taliban have attempted to counter the Americans by adopting the tactics of Iraqi insurgents, they have become far more brutal than they were when they ruled Afghanistan. To sow insecurity, they routinely enter villages and bypass traditional tribal mechanisms, waging a harsh campaign of social terror.

"They're killing more and more tribal elders," one intelligence officer tells me. "We can't expect communities to show solidarity with the government when we can't provide for their security — it's ridiculous."

As we leave the mosque, Shafiq tells me of the trials that the Taliban frequently hold to prosecute collaborators. The suspects are given a hearing by a qazi, or judge, who orders those convicted to be beheaded. As he drives, Shafiq plays more Taliban songs about brave boys going to fight.

As the Taliban insurgency spreads, it has fallen victim to the tribal rivalries and violent infighting that are endemic to Afghanistan, which is home to hundreds of distinct tribal groups. "The leadership is totally fragmented," a senior U.N. official says. "There is a lot of criminality within the Taliban." With the targeting of civilians now sanctioned by the Taliban, top commanders compete for prize catches, stopping cars in broad daylight and checking the cellphones of foreigners to determine if they are worthwhile captives. As we drive deeper into Ghazni, we are entering territory where such factionalization is now as lethal as the rocket launcher stuffed in the Corolla's trunk.

In the middle of a sandstorm, we head to a local shop, pulling up with the PKM in plain view and the Taliban chants blaring from the car's speakers. The people in the shop greet Yusuf warmly. He buys shoulder straps for AK-47s. Then, as we're passing through a nearby village, we are stopped by a bearded man on a motorcycle. An AK-47 is slung over his shoulder, his face partially concealed by a scarf.

He demands to know who I am. Shafiq tells him I am a guest. The man asks me if I am Pashtun. "Pukhtu Nayam," I say, drawing on my Berlitz lessons. "I am not Pashtun." He glares at me and rides off.

Arriving at another mosque, we find a dozen men inside. A large shoulder-fired missile is on the floor, an anti-armor weapon. Shafiq tells me we are waiting to meet the commander who will approve my trip.

This is news to me. I thought my trip had already been approved by the Taliban defense minister. Suddenly, as I am talking to one of the fighters, the angry man on the motorcycle bursts in holding a walkie-talkie. He barks at the fighter to stop talking to me until the men's commander shows up. A judge, he says, will decide what will happen to me. Upon hearing the Pashtu word qazi, I start to panic. As Shafiq made clear earlier, a meeting with a judge could end with decapitation.

I am ordered to get into a car with the angry man and the other strangers, who will take me to the judge. To my alarm, Shafiq says he will join Yusuf, who is praying in the mosque, and catch up with us later. He seems to be washing his hands of me.

I have been held by militias in both Iraq and Lebanon, but in those situations I could speak the language and talk my way out of trouble. Now I am in one of the most desolate places I have ever seen, far from any help and unable to speak more than a few garbled words of Pashtu. Trying to contain my mounting sense of helplessness, I tell Shafiq that I am not leaving him — I am his guest. Once I am out of his control, I will be at the mercy of men who kill almost as routinely as they pray. Brandishing their rifles, the men shout at me to get into their car.
Yusuf comes out and tells me to get into our Corolla. He won't leave me, he says. He puts another man with an AK-47 in the car to guard me. As I wait, a standoff ensues. Frantic, I send text messages to my contacts back in Kabul to tell them I'm in trouble. In the tense silence, my guard's cellphone abruptly goes off: The ringtone is machine-gun fire, accompanied by a song about the Taliban being born for martyrdom.

My mouth goes dry from fear; I feel as though I have lost my voice. My friend in Kabul who helped arrange the trip manages to get through to Shafiq. He tells him he should not leave me, that I am Shafiq's responsibility and he will hold him personally responsible if anything happens to me.

We sit in the car for more than an hour, windows up. The sandstorm is still raging, and it's impossible to see more than a few yards. Outside, men with guns flicker into view, only to vanish in the blinding haze. Finally, Shafiq tells me I can get out. The angry man and his companions depart, taking the rocket launcher with them. Thinking it is over, I put my hand on my heart as they leave, to indicate no ill will. Then Shafiq tells me there has been a change of plan. He has been ordered to escort me to visit a rival commander — a man called Dr. Khalil — who will determine what will happen to me.

I later learn that I have been caught in the midst of the bitter and often violent infighting that divides the Taliban. Ibrahim's recent injury, it turns out, was the result of a clash between his forces and a group of foreign fighters under the command of Dr. Khalil. The foreigners wanted to close down a girls' school, sparking a battle. Two Arabs and 11 Pakistanis commanded by Dr. Khalil had been killed by Ibrahim's men.

As we leave to meet Dr. Khalil, the car jolts forward in the sandstorm, rocking back and forth on the stony path. I feel as though I am in a boat being tossed about by waves. Yusuf tells me not to worry — if Dr. Khalil tries to take me, he will fight them. It is the only reassurance I have. Throughout all our time in Ghazni, we have seen no authority other than the Taliban. Even if American helicopters were to appear suddenly, that would hardly be a relief — it would only be to target us in an airstrike.

I struggle to find a signal for my phone, cursing as the bars appear and disappear. I reach another of my contacts. "I spoke to Dr. Khalil," he says. "If they behave bad with you, don't worry — they just want to punish you." Shafiq also tells me not to worry — that he will die defending me if necessary. My only hope, I realize, is the Pashtun code of hospitality known as Pashtunwali — the same tradition that forbade the Taliban from handing over Osama bin Laden to the Bush administration after September 11th. Unfortunately, as young Taliban fighters have substituted their own authority for tribal customs, more and more insurgents now ignore the code. "All the old rules have broken down," an aid official who has spent two decades in Afghanistan tells me. The guarantees of safety that once protected civilians have been replaced by a new generation removed from traditional society — one for whom jihad is the only law.
Our car crawls through the empty desert. I can see nothing on the horizon. I ask Shafiq if Dr. Khalil is a good guy. "He's like you," Shafiq answers. "No Muslim is a bad man." His faith in the brotherhood of Islam does little to reassure me. "Don't worry," Shafiq says. "The Doctor has a gun, and I have a gun."

Ibrahim calls to say that he has reached a Taliban leader in Pakistan, as well as someone in the United Arab Emirates, and they have promised to call the Doctor and tell him not to harm me. "The Doctor will fight with me, not with you," says Shafiq, who seems to be warming to the idea of bloodshed. My contact in Kabul calls again. "They might slap you, but they won't kill you," he tells me. "It's just to punish you for coming without permission. They might keep you overnight as a guest. You are lucky you called me." Later, he tells me that the Doctor had assured him that he would not "do anything that isn't Sharia," or Islamic law. This was little consolation, even after the fact, since the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia includes beheading.

"I'm a martyr, I'm a star," the Taliban on the car's tape deck chants. "I will testify on behalf of my mother on Judgment Day. When I was small, my mother put me on her lap and spoke sweetly to me...."

We finally arrive at a mosque somewhere between the villages of Gabari and Sher Kala. The Doctor, I am told, is waiting for us inside. As I enter, I inadvertently step on a pair of Prada sunglasses — just as the Doctor walks into the room.

A burly man with light skin and a dark brown beard, the Doctor picks up the bent glasses and examines them somberly. His hands are thick, enormous. He wears a white cap, with palm trees and suns embroidered in white thread. He straightens the glasses and puts them on — it turns out they're his. My heart sinks. Not the best beginning, perhaps.

After everyone prays, the Doctor orders the others to leave the room, except for Yusuf. His voice is low and gruff. We sit on the floor. "Deir Obekhi," I say, apologizing for entering his territory without permission. He accuses me of being a spy for the Afghan army. He asks how I got a visa to Afghanistan. I tell him I am here to write about the mujahedeen and tell their story. If I like them so much, he sneers, why don't I join them?

The Doctor asks about my contact. I say he fought with the mujahedeen from Jamiat-i Islami. The Doctor scoffs, saying the man never fought the Soviets. Then he gets to his feet and announces that he is going to make phone calls to Pakistan to investigate me. We will have to spend the night in the mosque, and he will come back for us in the morning. As I try to protest, he stalks out.

I sit glumly on the floor in the guest room. A few minutes later, Shafiq sticks his head in and says, "Yallah" — Arabic for "come on." I jump up, relieved to get out of there. The Talib fighters sitting with us insist that we drink the tea they have made. I hurriedly gulp it down and step out into the darkness, eager to get away from the mosque. But Shafiq has more bad news: We will have to return in the morning. My mind flashes to the videos I have seen on the Internet of victims being decapitated by jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We get in the car and Shafiq drives slowly, winding through nearly invisible paths, the moonlight obscured by dust. When we reach Shafiq's house, he carries a television into the guest room and turns on the generator. Reading the English titles on the program guide, he finds Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news channel. We watch coverage of the attacks we drove by the day before. Shafiq switches to an Afghan channel, and we watch an Indian soap opera dubbed in Dari. The women are dressed in revealing Western attire. I am amazed that Shafiq would watch something so anathema to the Taliban. It's OK, he tells me — "it's a drama about a family." Later he puts on a satellite channel devoted to Iranian-American pop music. We watch as a portly singer with stubble and long hair imitates bad Eighties rock, but in Farsi. The next video features an Iranian pop singer dressed in leather fringe and a tank top, like a cross between Davy Crockett and Richard Simmons. The Taliban commander watches, mesmerized.

In the morning, I awake to the drone of military planes overhead. Stepping outside, I see a convoy of American armored vehicles a mile away. I fight the urge to walk to them and beg for rescue. Even if they don't mistake me for Taliban and shoot me themselves, approaching them would doom everybody who had helped me.

I wait impatiently for the phone network to go back up. When it does, one of my contacts in Kabul tells me that he had spoken to senior Taliban officials who told the Doctor not to harm me, but the Doctor continued to insist that I am a spy. He thinks the Doctor is just trying to assert his independence and exchange me for a ransom. He tells me that Mullah Nasir, a one-armed Kandahari who serves as Taliban governor for Ghazni, is also trying to secure my release. I try to convince Shafiq to drive me to Ghazni's capital, but he says that if he doesn't return me to Dr. Khalil, the Doctor will arrest him.

In the end, I am saved by the same official who authorized my trip. According to my contact, the Taliban minister of defense called Dr. Khalil and ordered him to release me, warning the Doctor that "he would be fucked" if anything happens to me. My contact tells me I will be let go this afternoon but that once we are on the road we should take the batteries out of our phones, to prevent anyone from tracking us. "This Doctor, he is a very nasty guy," he says. "He might send somebody to kidnap you on the way, and then I can do nothing for you."

As we wait for the Doctor to arrive, Shafiq has other problems to deal with. His nephew has been arrested by a Taliban patrol after being spotted walking with a girl. After Shafiq secures his release, other Talib fighters call to complain that they heard music coming from his house the night before. Exasperated, Shafiq protests that it was only Al-Jazeera. He doesn't mention the Iranian pop singer.

A few hours later, Dr. Khalil finally shows up. He examines my passport and leafs through my notebooks, asking me to show him the photos I took. "Zaibullah Mujahed said I should hit you," he says, referring to the chief Taliban spokesman. "But I will not." Rifling through my bags, he seems particularly fascinated by my toothbrush. Puzzled, he riffles the bristles with his finger, trying to deduce their purpose.

For a man who has spent much of the past 24 hours contemplating whether I was worth more to him dead or alive, the Doctor is now surprisingly friendly. "What can I do for you?" he asks, a model of courtesy. I cautiously ask him a few questions. The Doctor tells me he studied at an Islamic school in Pakistan before entering medical school in Afghanistan. He joined the Taliban early, eventually serving as a commander in a northern district. He says he is fighting to restore a government of Islamic law, but that Mullah Omar does not have to be the leader again. God willing, he adds, it will take no more than 30 years to rid Afghanistan of foreigners. Like the other Taliban leaders I've spoken with, he says he is prepared to allow women to attend school and to work.

We pile into the Corolla and drive off to meet Ibrahim, loading an RPG into the trunk just in case. Dr. Khalil gets behind the wheel, with Shafiq beside him holding the PKM. After an hour of driving, the car gets stuck, and we all collect rocks to put beneath the tires. As we drive through the Doctor's village, he points to its outer limits. "This is the border between the Taliban and the government," he says, stressing his control. He is now jocular and relaxed.

At the edge of town, close to the main road, the Doctor gets out of the car, followed by Shafiq, holding his PKM. The locals appear stunned. Everyone stops and stares, immobilized, their daily routine interrupted by the sudden appearance of two heavily armed Taliban commanders escorting a large foreign man in ill-fitting salwar kameez. The Doctor stops a pickup truck and orders the driver to take us to the bazaar. We part warmly.

Arriving at the bazaar in the back of the pickup truck, we find a tense and apologetic Ibrahim waiting for us. Like my contact, he was worried that the Doctor had set up an ambush for me on the road. "I should not have left you," Ibrahim says. "I was lazy. That was my mistake."
On the way back to Kabul, we dodge more craters in the highway. The military trucks I saw burning two days earlier are still smoldering by the road. Children play on the blackened vehicles, removing pieces for salvage. I tease Ibrahim that the Taliban have made our drive more difficult by destroying the highway. To my surprise, he agrees.

Back in Kabul, we all have lunch together at the office of my friend where I first met Ibrahim. My friend teases me for sending him so many text messages — more than a dozen — and reads some of them aloud. Everyone laughs, relieved that the ordeal is over. I look at Ibrahim, wondering if he would have taken me hostage himself under different circumstances. He again surprises me by expressing disapproval of the Taliban for harming civilians in what he views as a war for national liberation. There used to be rules. Now, for many Taliban, there is only killing. "They are not acting like Afghans," he says.

To return to Kabul from a feudal province like Ghazni is to experience a form of time travel. The city is thoroughly modern, for those who can afford it: five-star hotels, shiny new shopping malls and well-guarded restaurants where foreigners eat meals that cost as much as most Afghans make in a month, cooked with ingredients imported from abroad. If you can avoid falling into the sewage canals at every crosswalk, and evade the suicide bombers who occasionally rock the city, you can enjoy the safety of Afghanistan's version of the Green Zone.

But the barbarians are at the gate, and major attacks are getting closer and closer to the city each day. Upon my return to Kabul, I discover that the Taliban have fired rockets at the airport and at the NATO base; the United Nations has been on a four-day curfew; and President Karzai has canceled his public appearances. The city is being slowly but systematically severed from the rest of the country.

"The road from Kabul to Ghazni is gone," an intelligence officer tells me, "and most of the rest of the roads are going. The ambushes are routine now, which tells you that the Taliban have a routine capability." The Parwan province, which borders Kabul to the north, has also become dangerous. "All of a sudden we see IEDs on the main road in Parwan and attacks on police checkpoints," the intelligence officer says. "It's the last remaining key arterial route connecting Kabul to the rest of the country."

The Bush administration is placing its hopes on presidential elections in Afghanistan next year, but everyone I speak with in Kabul agrees that the elections will be a joke. "The Americans are gung-ho about elections," a longtime nongovernmental official tells me. "But it will only exacerbate ethnic tensions." In Pashtun areas controlled by the Taliban, registration would be virtually impossible, and voting would invoke a death sentence — effectively disenfranchising the country's dominant ethnic group. "You can't fix the insurgency with an election," a senior U.N. official tells me. "It's a socioeconomic phenomenon that goes well beyond the border of Afghanistan." Real elections would require the cooperation of the Taliban — and that, in turn, would require negotiations with the Taliban. The war, in effect, is already lost.

"This can't be solved other than by talking to the Taliban," says a top diplomat in Kabul. A leading aid official adds that it is important to understand the ideological goal of the Taliban: "They don't have an international-terrorist agenda — they have an Afghanistan agenda. We might not agree with their agenda for the country, but that's not our war." Former Taliban leaders agree that only talks will end the war. "If the U.S. deals with Pakistan and negotiates with higher-level Taliban," says one, "then it could reach a deal."

Negotiating with the Taliban would also enable the Americans to take advantage of the sharp divisions within the insurgency. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, has been openly criticized by a rival named Siirajudin Haqqani, who has called for Omar to be replaced. In provinces like Ghazni, the Taliban leadership is now divided between commanders loyal to Omar and men who follow Haqqani. A recent meeting between supporters of the two men in the Pakistani city of Peshawar reportedly descended into fighting when an Omar official threw his tea glass at a Haqqani man. The internal split provides an opening — if U.S. intelligence is smart enough to exploit it.
"The U.S. should try to weaken the Taliban," a former Taliban commander tells me. "They should make groups, divide and conquer. If someone wants to use the division between Haqqani and Omar, they can."

The Bush administration believes it can stop the Taliban by throwing money into clinics and schools. But even humanitarian officials scoff at the idea. "If you gave jobs to the Viet Cong, would they stop fighting?" asks one. "Two years ago you could build a road or a bridge in a village and say, 'Please don't let the Taliban come in.' But now you've reached the stage where the hearts-and-minds business doesn't work."

Officials on the ground in Afghanistan say it is foolhardy to believe that the Americans can prevail where the Russians failed. At the height of the occupation, the Soviets had 120,000 of their own troops in Afghanistan, buttressed by roughly 300,000 Afghan troops. The Americans and their allies, by contrast, have 65,000 troops on the ground, backed up by only 137,000 Afghan security forces — and they face a Taliban who enjoy the support of a well-funded and highly organized network of Islamic extremists. "The end for the Americans will be just like for the Russians," says a former commander who served in the Taliban government. "The Americans will never succeed in containing the conflict. There will be more bleeding. It's coming to the same situation as it did for the communist forces, who found themselves confined to the provincial capitals."

Simply put, it is too late for Bush's "quiet surge" — or even for Barack Obama's plan for a more robust reinforcement — to work in Afghanistan. More soldiers on the ground will only lead to more contact with the enemy, and more air support for troops will only lead to more civilian casualties that will alienate even more Afghans. Sooner or later, the American government will be forced to the negotiating table, just as the Soviets were before them.

"The rise of the Taliban insurgency is not likely to be reversed," says Abdulkader Sinno, a Middle East scholar and the author of Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond. "It will only get stronger. Many local leaders who are sitting on the fence right now — or are even nominally allied with the government — are likely to shift their support to the Taliban in the coming years. What's more, the direct U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is now likely to spill over into Pakistan. It may be tempting to attack the safe havens of the Taliban and Al Qaeda across the border, but that will only produce a worst-case scenario for the United States. Attacks by the U.S. would attract the support of hundreds of millions of Muslims in South Asia. It would also break up Pakistan, leading to a civil war, the collapse of its military and the possible unleashing of its nuclear arsenal."
In the same speech in which he promised a surge, Bush vowed that he would never allow the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan. But they have already returned, and only negotiation with them can bring any hope of stability. Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan "are all theaters in the same overall struggle," the president declared, linking his administration's three greatest foreign-policy disasters in one broad vision. In the end, Bush said, we must have "faith in the power of freedom."

But the Taliban have their own faith, and so far, they are winning. On my last day in Kabul, a Western aid official reminds me of the words of a high-ranking Taliban leader, who recently explained why the United States will never prevail in Afghanistan.
"You Westerners have your watches," the leader observed. "But we Taliban have time."


Marxism and the Credit Crunch event

Marx and the Credit Crunch
Tuesday 21 October, 7pm
Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London

Istvan Meszaros, author of Beyond Capital
Chris Harman, editor, International Socialism journal
Richard Brenner, author of The Credit Crunch - a Marxist Analysis

A global credit crunch. Banks collapsing. Prices soaring. Recession looming. Conventional economic theory appears to have no coherent explanation. Government stumps up hundreds of billions to rescue the bankers - and demands that working people's pay be held down and spending cut on public services. At this meeting, three Marxist writers examine the roots of this great crisis in the nature of capital itself. Tracing the current crisis to its origins, they show how workers can resist paying the price for a crisis they never made, and set out the case for systemic change.


Political Affairs takes up Debusmann on Marx and crisis

Marxists love it when journalists take up our ideas. Here the e-journal of the Communist Party of the USA responds to Bernd Debussmann.

Karl Marx and the Economic Crisis Today
By Norman Markowitz

In a recent article for Reuters, titled “Karl Marx and the World Financial Crisis,” Bernd Debussmann discusses the present global crisis. The reporter, far brighter than most we are used to in “mainstream” US media, quoted the Communist Manifesto’s statements on the centralization of credit as a major step on the road toward socialism and suggested that Marx and Marxism may be relevant to understanding what is happening in the world today.

These views shouldn’t surprise anyone. They are views that smart people in the capitalist world, especially those who had no desire to see a working-class revolution take place, noted when they began to take Marx and Marxism seriously in the late 1870s. These were the last years of Marx’s life, but the beginning of the establishment of mass socialist parties strongly influenced by and/or committed to the general theories propagated by Marx and Engels. Debussmann, to support his analysis, also quotes warnings from IMF historians and US analysts who saw disaster, the equivalent to an international economic “train wreck,” in the offing.

The article is an excellent one for general readers and should be circulated widely. Debussmann mentions that since 1980 (the beginning of the “free market” reign), the top one percent of US income earners has seen their share of the national income grow from around eight percent to about 20 percent. Meanwhile the percentage of workers in private sector unions has dropped to about 7.5 percent, “the lowest in the industrialized world,” which should be a source of both anger and concern for American working people. Debussmann also mentions positively the campaign labor is waging for the Employee Free Choice Act.

But there are some points of Debussmann's interpretation that need to be challenged, along with important omissions in the article. Let me begin with the omissions, which I see as wholly constructive and friendly.

Marx stressed the battle for democracy as essential for the Communists to support as a necessary condition to the eventual establishment of socialism.

He also saw the attempts by capitalists to save the capitalist system from its chronic crisis, the crisis of overproduction, leading to depressions, as not only hopeless but self-defeating. In their centralization of credit, their creation of bigger and bigger monopolies, their search for foreign markets to dump surplus goods and gain access to greater and cheaper quantities of raw materials and pools of labor, the capitalists were digging their own grave. Marx believed that they were literally setting the stage for bigger crises in the future, breaking down the distinctions between workers in various countries and regions of the world by putting more and more of them, from Beijing to Brooklyn, from Calcutta to Cleveland, in the same boat so to speak.

The capitalists' development of manufacturing, centralization of credit, expansion of both capital and productive capacity, would create the conditions that make socialism possible. By themselves, these things are not socialism. Capitalism also created a working class whose material interest would be to establish socialism, not only, or even primarily, to create a “better society,” to achieve “social justice,” but to survive beyond a hand to mouth existence, losing jobs, skills, homes, and fighting endlessly to keep up with a “labor market” whose rules are fixed for bigger and bigger, richer and richer employers seeking to the cheapest labor costs possible.

Marxism has little meaning (except as an understanding of what modern capitalists are trying to do and why they are trying to do it) without this understanding of the class struggle as the foundation for understanding social development in class divided society. The future of the capitalist class and working class are as Marx and Engels understood as closely intertwined as that between slaveholder and slave, feudal landlord and serf.

A strong possibility of a “global depression” – rather than the euphemism “recession" – is what the world today is facing. It is rooted in enormous over-production and income inequalities among and within the “producing nations" (China and India for example as against Britain and the US). there are also many possible outcomes. The worst would be new imperialist alliance systems and a global and probably nuclearized world war (the “ruin of the contending parties” to quote the Communist Manifesto). The best would be either the establishment or re-establishment of working-class power and socialist policies of economic development based on cooperative planning and public ownership in both industrialized and industrializing countries. Many other outcomes, such as global systems of resource and labor management through corporations, trade unions and governments operating through international organizations are also possible, depending on the developing social struggles as they are enacted in political-economic contexts.

What we can be sure about, though is, that "free market capitalism," "self-regulating markets," "supply side economics," and all of the reactionary romanticism which was dusted off from its 19th century archives after 1979 in Britain and 1980 in the US and paraded as “cutting edge” economic theory and practice have lost their luster.

Marxism is what Marx and Engels meant it to be: a guide for action for the working class. The author’s contention that there are “few Marxists” in the industrialized world after the “dismal failure” of the Soviet Union is a significant slight to Marxists and a spectacular one to the former USSR. Marxism, stated or unstated, is a force in all of the struggles of labor movements to keep the capitalists of their countries from foisting the economic crisis on them, in the attempts, limited as they have been for workers movements to achieve international labor cooperation.

Still, Debussmann article is thoughtful and captures where the capitalists of the world are going, while Americans are forced to watch the Republican Party leadership debate among themselves about what set of names to call Barack Obama in the last weeks of the campaign. While the economic crisis deepens, the stalwarts of the Republican “base” engage in racist hate speech.

Debussmann expresses strong pessimism, however, about the possibilities for major changes in the US, which I think are unfounded. The US does have, as he writes, “an Everest size debt” along with its crumbling infrastructure and backward health care. Today, the US, to use the term that Lenin used about Czarist Russia at the time of the revolution, may be the “weak link” among the major capitalist states, not the “anchor” that he quotes another writer as saying. No one really expected the Czarist Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century to become the citadel for a world socialist movement and no one really expects the US at the beginning of the 21st century to play such a role in the future.

But, as Marx and Engels always understood, beneath the surface of events, the struggles of factions and parties, there are class and social forces at work, seeking to fit theory to practice to make an understanding of the world a force to change it. And the US, with its popular democratic culture, its skilled and educated working class, and its central, albeit declining role in the global capitalist economy, may have surprises in store for its own ruling class and the rest of the capitalist world in the future.

--Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs.


Bernd Debusmann on Karl Marx and the world financial crisis

Journalistic re-assessment of Marx continues.

Karl Marx and the world financial crisis: Bernd Debusmann
Wed Oct 15, 2008

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Capitalism as we used to know it is on its deathbed. And those who predicted that the old brand, the unfettered, American-promoted system, was a danger to the world, are being vindicated. They include Karl Marx, whose thinking on banks seems oddly contemporary these days.

The credit crisis that began in August last year and turned into near-catastrophe this month is not over, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars that governments are spending to save banks in the United States and Europe from collapse and thereby prevent a global depression. But there is an emerging consensus that capitalism needs a 21st century overhaul, not just emergency rescues, to save it from itself.

When that will happen is not clear. "What we are seeing right now looks like a very slow train wreck," says James Boughton, the historian of the International Monetary Fund, or IMF.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suggested an international meeting on the pattern of the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that resulted in the post-World War II financial order and created the IMF and the World Bank. That system was dominated by Washington.

The United States, from where the credit crisis spread like a virulent epidemic, is not likely to play as large a role in whatever new "financial architecture" world leaders construct. As Peer Steinbrueck, the German finance minister, put it: "One thing seems probable ... The U.S. will lose its status as the superpower of the global financial system."

"The world is at risk of losing its anchor ... the United States," U.S. financial strategist David Smick writes in his just-published book on financial globalization, The World is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the World Economy.

The opening chapter is darkly entitled The End of the World. Smick said in an interview he thought a global depression was still possible despite the steps taken by the United States and Europe to restore confidence.

Those measures included buying stakes in major banks - in effect partial nationalization - and would make Marx smile if he could rise from his grave. In the Communist Manifesto he and his collaborator Friedrich Engels published in 1848, Marx listed government control of capital as one of the ten essential steps on the road to communism. Step five: "Centralization of credit in the hands of the state ..."

There are not many Marxists left in the industrialized world and not even the most fervent expect the revival of an ideology that failed so dismally in the Soviet Union.

But as far as the United States is concerned, the events of the past few weeks represent a momentous break with decades of a free market philosophy that abhorred government intervention in (and regulation of) financial markets.

"There is little question that making the government a major investor in American banks raises thorny questions ... about the role of the public sector in private markets," Sen. Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate finance and banking committees, wrote in the Wall Street Journal the day the government announced it was planning to take equity stakes worth up to $250 billion in American banks.

It will take time for questions about the public sector in private markets to be answered. But it looks likely that some things will never be quite the same, no matter who wins the presidential election on November 4. For one, the control center of the financial market has already begun shifting from New York to Washington.

The "big government" that free marketeers identified as something evil is almost certain to make a comeback, although spending on America's crumbling infrastructure, its inefficient health care system, and environmental programs will be limited by the Everest-sized public debt. The U.S. national debt has increased by an average of $3.34 billion a day over the past year and now stands at more than $10 trillion.

Both in the United States and in Europe, officials have stressed that government intervention in the banks will be temporary but whether they will be able to stuff that genie back into the bottle remains to be seen. And "temporary" has not been defined.

"We will not stand down until we have achieved our goal of repairing and reforming our financial system and thereby restoring prosperity to our economy," said Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Amid the gloom and anxiety of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, which started in the United States in 1929 and then spread to the rest of the world, there are hopes that Capitalism 2.0 (if it ever comes about) will result in a more equal society. "There is a tremendous opportunity now to narrow the income gap," says Sam Pizzigati of the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank.

That gap resembles the top-to-bottom income distribution just before the Great Depression, according to the Washington Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Then as now, the top 1 percent of households accounted for around one fifth of the national income. In 1980, their share was 8 percent.

History shows that deep financial crises have helped spur public policy reforms and those pending include legislation that would make it easier for American workers to join labor unions. At present, 7.5 percent of private sector workers are union members, the lowest percentage in the industrialized world.

U.S. unions say they are close to reaching a goal of collecting, by election day, one million signatures supporting the legislation. If passed, it would be part of what some have already started calling the new world financial order.


Many Marxisms

7-9 November 2008

Online registration now available:

School of Oriental and African Studies, Central London
Organised in collaboration with the Isaac and Tamara DeutscherMemorial Prize Committee and with Socialist Register.

There is also a link to a vast number of abstracts - looks excellent as ever.


Marxism and the Economic Crisis

A one-day conference hosted by International Socialism
Saturday 25 October 2008 12 noon – 6pm Uuniversity College London, Central London

Faced with the unprecedented economic upheavals of recent months, International Socialism has invited some of Britain’s leading Marxist economics to present their views on the crisis.

Sessions on:
· The depth of the crisis
· Finance and the system
· Political implications of the crisis

Speakers will include:Peter Gowan, professor of international relations at London Metropolitan University and author of The Global Gamble, Alex Callinicos, chair of European studies at King’s College London, and author of An Anticapitalist Manifesto and Resources of Critique. Robin Blackburn, professor of sociology at Essex University and author of Age Shock: How Finance is Failing us. Chris Harman, editor of International Socialism and author of Explaining the Crisis

To book a place, email or phone 020 7819 1177. Those attending will be asked for a donation (£10/£5) to cover our costs.

To download a poster, go to our website:

Sounds great, but short notice.

There's a lengthy account of the event by Infinite Thought (October 26th)

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

PSA Marxism Group

The PSA Marxism Group has links to a number of interesting articles on Marxism, well worth exploring. In particular the addition of a piece by Alex Callinicos on the contours of Anglo-Saxon Marxism is a good starting point for the whole tradition. This is taken from the Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism edited by Jacques Bidet and Stathis Kouvelakis (published by Brill and at the moment a typically expensive hardback - but Brill have been very good at allowing very good paperback editions of works in the Historical Materialism book series to be published by Haymarket Books. Lih on What is to be Done? and Broue on The German Revolution are both pretty indispensable now).

The PSA Marxism group version is open to additions. Hey, Callinicos goes Wiki, that's a thought!

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