Postmodernism, Part 35: Nationalism and Internationalism

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is inspired by the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Trotsky on World War One, by Leon Trotsky; The Red Flag: A History of Communism; Mussolini, by Nicholas Farrell.)

Erstwhile
Red Star Rising

The Franco-Prussian War united victorious Germany.  Defeated France divided in civil war.  Marx exploited the bloody Paris Commune.  Marx’s First International split.  The anarchist Bakunin warned against Marx’s authoritarianism, dictatorship, and slavery.  Nietzsche hinted of looming twentieth century catastrophe, likening Socialists to poisonous spiders, bent on vengeance and weaving webs of deception.

The First World War would see Marx’s Second International split, this time over nationalism.

Nationalism and Internationalism

The twentieth century saw nationalism blamed for the world wars.  Was nationalism to blame?  Who ascribed blame?  Why?  What were nationalism’s alternatives?  Imperialism? International Communism?  When the First World War broke out, nationalism faced Communism with an existential crisis.

Earlier, in 1872, the First International had fallen apart, riven by divisions between Marx’s state socialism (“authoritarian communism”) and Bakunin’s anarchism (“revolutionary collectivism”).  They shared goals (a new social order, collective ownership of the means of production), but disagreed over the means.  Bakunin warned that Marx’s corrupt “cult of the state” would conquer and enslave.

International Communism was an inevitable fact of history, Marx and Engels had espoused.  However, the anarchist Bakunin had questioned Marx’s internationalism.  He accused Marx of being a German nationalist.  Marx’s international communism, Bakunin warned, would be a “great Pan-German State” dictatorship.  So, the First International collapsed.  Marx’s state socialists split from the anarchists.

The Communists organized “Social Democrat” parties to represent workers within the bourgeois political system until the inevitable (international) proletarian revolution and “dictatorship of the proletariat”. (Communists then identified as Social Democrats, with the terms “Communist”, “Social Democrat”, and “Democratic Socialist” being generally interchangeable.)  “Socialism”, they said, would follow until the “withering of the state” and true Communism.

Crisis

The German Social Democrats showed their nationalist stripes when war began in 1914.  Germany was the capital of Communism.  The German Social Democrats were the largest member of the Second International.  All nations furthered bourgeois interests and all war was bourgeois war.  The Second International collapsed when the Germans chose nation over class.

leon-trotsky
Leon Trotsky

As war broke out, Russian Social Democrats took strong anti-war positions. “Revolution has no real interest in war,” argued Leon Trotsky, in his anti-war booklet, The War and the International.  The proletariat should not shed blood for bourgeois war.  He blasted German Social Democrats for their nationalist war support.

Trotsky condemned German Social Democrats for “hysterical nationalism” and abandoning “the standpoint of international Socialism”.  He blamed the Germans for the collapse of the Second International (but also blamed the Austrian, French, English, and Polish socialists for their nationalism).  “The German party was the strongest, most influential, and in principle the most basic member of the Socialist world,” he said, “Its historic capitulation reveals most clearly the causes of the downfall of the Second International.”

Nevertheless, Trotsky believed the War marked the end of nations.  “All talk of the present bloody clash being a work of national defense is either hypocrisy or blindness,” he argued, the war was “at bottom a revolt of the forces of production against the political form of nation and state” that meant “the collapse of the national state as an independent economic union.”

The war would spark revolution, Trotsky claimed.  “When the people, deafened by the thunder of the cannon, realize the meaning of the events now taking place in all their truth and frightfulness,” he wrote, “The revolutionary reaction of the masses will be all the more powerful the more prodigious the cataclysm which history is now bringing upon them.”

Trotsky scoffed at German Social Democrats’ promises to “liberate” Russia from czarism.  Russian Social Democrats “stand so firmly on the ground of internationalism, that we cannot … entertain the idea of purchasing the doubtful liberation of Russia,” he wrote, “which German imperialism offers us in a … munitions box, with the blessing, alas! of German Socialism.”  This was not liberation, but the “unlimited mastery of German militarism in all Europe … which began with the capitulation of [German Social Democrats] to nationalistic militarism,” he wrote, “the cause of the Social Revolution would have received a mortal blow.”

The nationalism crisis did not shake Trotsky’s faith that proletariat victory was near.  “Why should we have faith in the future of the Socialist movement?” Trotsky asked, when the “the [bankruptcy] of the old Socialist parties has become catastrophically apparent”?  His faith was unshaken.  “It is not Socialism that has gone down, but its temporary historical external form,” he claimed, “The revolutionary idea begins its life anew as it casts off its rigid shell.”  It is “the old Socialist parties [that] have become the main hindrance to the revolutionary movement of the working class,” Trotsky argued, “The New International … must rise up out of the present world cataclysm, the International of the last conflict and the final victory.”

Seeds of Fascism
mussolini-young
Benito Mussolini

The nationalism crisis did shake the faith of another Communist, Italy’s Benito Mussolini.  He would forsake international Communism, but remain a Socialist to his dying day.

Benito Mussolini followed the socialist politics of his father, Alessandro Mussolini.  Alessandro was a revolutionary Socialist agitator, who had joined the First International.  Alessandro participated in local politics until his death in 1910.

By 1910, Benito was a revolutionary Socialist agitator and journalist.  In the preceding years, he was tutored by Angelica Balabanoff, a Ukrainian revolutionary Socialist.  After deserting from the army, Mussolini fled to Switzerland (where he attended lectures by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto) before returning to complete his military service after the king granted amnesty to deserters. By 1908, he had begun his career in Socialist journalism.

In 1912, Mussolini rose to leadership in the Italian Socialists.  To Lenin’s approval, Mussolini ousted the “reformist” (democratic) leadership and replaced them with revolutionaries.  (Lenin later remarked, “Mussolini was the only one among you [Italian Socialists] with the mind and temperament to make a revolution.”) Mussolini awaited unrest that he might use to stir up revolution.  Then, in June 1914, came “Red Week”, a general strike and uprising that was quickly crushed.

Months later, the War broke out. Italy remained neutral (disregarding its treaty obligations to Germany and Austria).  Italian Socialists advocated neutrality because “any war between nations was a bourgeois war”.  Mussolini demanded neutrality, “or else the proletariat will know how to impose [neutrality] on [Italy] with all its means”.

Then, the Second International collapsed.  Classical revolutionary socialist theory was dead.  The proletariat did not rise up in general strikes and refuse to fight.  German, then British, then French socialists supported their governments.  The governments did not collapse.  The Second International collapsed, instead.  Mussolini contemplated a different Marxian theory: that bloody war would cause the proletariat to rise in revolution (a theory shared by Italy’s revolutionary syndicalists).

The nationalism issue remained. Mussolini considered the power of nationalism. Nationalism had prevailed over class for Germany’s devout Social Democrats.  Why not nationalism? And why not national war against foreign class enemies?  The Italian Mussolini favored neutrality, while the Socialist favored war.

Finally, Mussolini renounced neutrality and joined support for the War.  After Italy joined the war, he joined the fight.  Nationalism had collapsed the Second International and brought his own incipient nationalism to the fore.  The War, its aftermath, and the plight of its veterans would lead Mussolini and Italy further to Fascism.

Commentary

Marxist theory failed, causing a crisis for the faithful.  The socialists had chosen nation over class.  This crisis was especially hard on “reformist” socialists (who favored gaining power through democratic means).  Revolutionary socialists (like Lenin and Mussolini) were more adaptable because they had little faith in democracy.  Trotsky and Lenin clung to international Communism, while Mussolini parted company.  He embraced nationalism but clung to revolutionary socialism.

Mussolini was far from alone in Italian nationalism.  Italy was a young nation.  National unity was still recent.  (The Risorgimento had culminated a few decades earlier, in 1870.)  Nationalist feeling was shared across the political spectrum.  For a revolutionary socialist, like Mussolini, nationalism appeared a means to revolution.  And why not?

Bakunin was proved prophetic (and, awfully, would be again).  The German Social Democrats had chosen nationalism.  They had betrayed international Communist ideals.  Bakunin was right that Marxism anticipated a “great Pan-German State”.

By and large, Marxist theory would continue to fail.  The major failures would cause new existential crises.  Each crisis would spawn mutations that bring us ever closer to postmodernism.

Next

Marx’s theory is taking too long.  So, the Communists get tired of waiting and come up with a new plan.  Next: Part 36, What Is To Be Done?.

 

Postmodernism, Part 24: Communist Manifesto

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Socialism, by Ludwig von Mises; and Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russel.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau’s ideas and Napoleon’s conquests inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued passion, sympathy, poverty, nature, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  Lord Byron was prototypical.

engelsFriedrich Engels

Left Collectivism has roots in the problems of our industrial past.  Families struggled to survive crowded filthy “third world” slums, malnutrition, epidemics, long hours, unsafe work, misery, crime, societal breakdown, and uncaring government.  Revolution seemed imminent.

Left Collectivism has roots in “utopian socialism”.  Marx and Engels claimed their “scientific socialism” was Gospel.  They scoffed at the “utopian socialist” heretics, such as Robert Owen (the idealist) and Charles Fourier (the absurd French fabulist).

Marx and Engels became Communists.  Marx went to Paris (a hotbed of radicals) then Brussels.  Communist groups joined together in the Communist League.  They asked Marx and Engels to write their Manifesto.

Communist Manifesto

“A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Communism.  All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter,” Marx opens.

Marx is referring to the Holy Alliance, including Prussia.  They had been busily stamping out liberal revolutions, and hounding radicals (like Marx).

Prophecy

It is inevitable that capitalism will be replaced by socialism, then communism.  (This is the presupposed destiny of Marx’s dialectic.)

  • Conflict.  History is solely the struggle between oppressors and oppressed (class struggle).
  • Historical materialism.  Society is nothing but the inevitable product of economic facts (production and capital).  This means every human aspect: political, moral, social, artistic, scientific, literary, legal (every thought, concept, institution, or notion).  Society serves the oppressor.
  • Evolution.  Society is the product of a series of revolutions.  Capitalist society evolves, so that two classes remain: bourgeois and proletariat (slaves).
  • Contradiction.  Capitalism sows the seeds of it own destruction.  It is international.  (It uses technology to join the world, under its yoke.)  Its unsustainable business cycles create ever more proletariat.  (Free markets are barbarous.)  Finally, the proletariat rise (and society falls).

Communist theories are not inventions, says Marx.  They reveal the movement of history.  (This is not invention, but revelation.)  The great songwriter and lyricist, John Lennon, will walk us through the rest.

Imagine there’s no countries

Countries inevitably disappear, says Marx.  Communism finishes the job that capitalism started.

  • “The working men have no country,” says Marx, “We cannot take from them what they have not got.”
  • The proletariat must first acquire political supremacy of the nation.
  • National differences “are daily more and more vanishing” under capitalism.
  • “The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster,” he says.
Nothing to kill or die for

When nations disappear, there will be world peace.

  • Emancipation of the proletariat, Marx says, will end “exploitation of one nation by another”.
  • Then, he says, “the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end”.
And no religion, too

For the proletariat to rise, society must fall, says Marx.   Law, morality and religion are bourgeois prejudices.

  • “The ideas of religious liberty and freedom of conscience” are needed only because of class antagonisms, Marx said.
  • The idea of “eternal truths” (freedom, liberty, justice, morality) disappear when class antagonisms disappear.

In a classless society, there’s no need for false morality (oppression).

Imagine no possessions

“The theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence,” Marx wrote, “Abolition of private property”.

  • The proletariat will “win the battle of democracy”, says Marx.
  • “The proletariat,” he says, “will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie”.  They will put all “production in the hands of the State”.
  • In the beginning, he says, this will require “despotic inroads on the rights of property, and … necessitate further inroads upon the social order”.
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois property”.  (Property was always common.)
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois freedom” (the freedom to buy and sell).
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois individuality” (the power to subjugate others).
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois family” (a form of slavery and prostitution).
I wonder if you can

Marx imagines how to abolish private property:

  1. Land confiscation.  Abolish land ownership.
  2. Taxation.  Adopt a heavy progressive income tax.
  3. Abolish inheritance.
  4. Property confiscation.  Confiscate all property of emigrants and rebels.
  5. Central banking.  Centralize all credit in a State bank.
  6. Nationalization.  Nationalize communication and transport.
  7. Central planning.  All manufacturing and agriculture will be centrally planned.
  8. Mandatory labor.  “Establish industrial armies,” Marx wrote, “especially for agriculture”.
  9. Resettlement.  Population will be redistributed according to plan.
  10. Public education.  Education will be social education.
No need for greed or hunger

The “modern laborer”, says Marx, “sinks deeper and deeper” into poverty.  Once the proletariat rises up, property will be redistributed to the “nine-tenths of the population” who have no property.

A brotherhood of man

When class distinctions disappear, Marx said, “we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

  • Public power will lose its political character because (so called) “political power” is class oppression.
  • Proletariat supremacy will disappear because class will disappear.

This is a utopian classless society.  The State disappears, in the “withering away of the state“.

And the world will live as one

Communism is an international movement.  They are not a separate party.  They represent the proletariat, as a whole.

  • They represent the proletariat parties of every country.
  • They push the parties forward because the Communists have the best understanding of the proletarian movement.  (They are the revolutionary vanguard.)

The Manifesto identifies some political allies (various Social-Democrats and Democratic-Socialists).  They target Germany for revolution.  (Marx would be the ideological leader of the German Socialist Party).

Finally, Marx closes in dramatic style:

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and their aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

‘Working men of all countries, unite!’”

Commentary

The Communist Manifesto plainly states Marxism’s goal: to overthrow society.  It lays out the Marxist themes echoed by the postmodernists:

  • History is conflict between oppressors and the oppressed.
  • Society is oppression, every human aspect: political, moral, social, artistic, scientific, literary, legal (every thought, concept, and institution).
lennon-johnJohn Lennon

John Lennon‘s lovely tune, Imagine, is (indeed) a musical rendition of The Communist Manifesto. “There is no real Communist state in the world,” Lennon said, “You must realize that.”  (This is the usual denial, that true Communism is ideal Communism, never actual Communism.)  “The Socialism I speak about … [is] not the way some daft Russian might do it, or the Chinese might do it,” he said, “That might suit them.” (One doubts that the tens of millions of victims of the Soviets and Maoists thought it “suitable”).  “Us, we should have a nice … British Socialism,” he said.  Lennon didn’t grasp that Marxism is a disaster, across times and cultures.

beatles-taxman

Lennon’s hypocrisy is quite remarkable.  The wealthy Lennon had fled punitive British taxation, settling in the U.S.  This heavily progressive taxation was the product of the socialist Labour Party.  Lennon fled Marxian taxation, then penned an homage to Marx.  (It’s a pretty song, though.)

 Next

Revolution is in the air.  Next: Part 25, Revolutions of 1848.

Postmodernism, Part 23: Marx and Moses

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Socialism, by Ludwig von Mises; and Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russel.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau’s ideas and Napoleon’s conquests inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  Lord Byron was prototypical.

engelsFriedrich Engels

Left Collectivism has roots in the problems of our industrial past.  Families struggled to survive crowded filthy “third world” slums, malnutrition, epidemics, long hours, unsafe work, misery, crime, societal breakdown, and uncaring government.  Revolution seemed imminent.

Left Collectivism has roots in “utopian socialism”.  Marx and Engels claimed their “scientific socialism” was “Gospel”.  (Marx prove to be a jealous and vengeful god.)  They scoffed at the “utopian socialist” heretics, such as Robert Owen (the idealist) and Charles Fourier (the absurd French fabulist).

Unlike Fourier, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were serious fellows.  Revolution was in the air.

Karl Marx
karl-marxKarl Marx

Karl Marx was a deep thinker.  He grew up in the German Rhineland (like Engels).  He was born Jewish, but was raised Protestant.  As a university student, he studied law, philosophy, and the works of Hegel.  (Hegel was dead, by then.)

Marx became one of the Young Hegelians (a group of assorted radicals, who didn’t actually call themselves that).  Their ideas were an eclectic mix of Hegel plus Fichte minus God and country:

  • History is dialectical.  It evolves through contradiction and conflict towards some presupposed destiny.  (The dialectic is a circular argument that presupposes the destiny it claims to prove.)
  • Reason is subjective.  (This is a lazy shortcut refutes any counter-arguments.)
  • Freedom is slavery.  (The universe is evolving towards inevitable destiny.  We have no freedom, but duty to achieve that destiny.)

The Young Hegelians disagreed with Hegel over destiny.  Hegel was a Prussian conservative.  They were radicals, that presupposed different destinies:

  • Hegel presupposed a German Christian destiny.
  • The radicals, not so much.

They generally agreed that religion must go.  They argued over why:

  • Some argued that state power (and all laws) are based on religion. (So, get rid of religion.)
  • Marx argued that the state hides behind religion.  (So, get rid of religion.)  He argued that state power is based on production and capital.

To be fair, they had lots of baggage from medieval days.  There was no “separation of church and state”.  They blamed the church for medieval ignorance.  They blamed the church for medieval evil.  (Church and state had been joined at the hip, and done many terrible things).

Marx Gets Religion
hess-mosesMoses Hess (Zionist)

One Young Hegelian, Moses Hess, mixed Hegelianism with Communism.  He helped convert Marx and Engels to Communism (oops).

Hess later regretted this, saying, “Thus did I spread devastation”. (Hess was a Jewish Zionist.  Marxism and its progeny were disastrous for the Jews – an important idea, later.)

Marx shuffled off to Paris, in 1843.  (Prussian censorship had ended his brief journalism career.)  Paris was (as usual) a hotbed of radicalism.  Socialist ideas were in vogue (Fourier and the retrograde Saint-Simon).

bakunin-mikhailMikhail Bakunin (Anarchist Communist)

In Paris, Marx met Engels (his future pen pal).  Engels (already a Communist) was headed to England (on business, sent by his father).  In England, Engels would write his book on working conditions.

Marx also linked up with Mikhail Bakunin.  Marx and Bakunin were both Communists, but had big disagreements.  (It’s hard to imagine a bunch of bearded radicals agreeing on much, other than a common enemy.) Bakunin and Marx would be bitter rivals (discussed later).

In 1845, Marx got exiled from Paris.  The pesky Prussians were after him, again.  (Marx got exiled, a lot.)  He packed his bags, and shuffled off to Brussels.

In Brussels, Marx spread Communist propaganda.  (In those days, Communist propagandizing paid poorly.  Today, it pays poorly unless you get tenure or a comedy news show.)  Engels bankrolled Marx.  (Marx was almost always broke.  Engels bailed him out, a lot.)

Marx worked with Communist groups (from different countries).  They formed the Communist League.  In 1847, the Communist League got tired of skulking about.  They decided to come out of hiding, and announce themselves to the world.  They asked Marx and Engels to do the writing.

This was the Communist Manifesto.

Commentary

The Manifesto would be the unalterable Gospel of Communism.  It is a prophecy.  It is revealed truth.

It’s key to note that Communism is a prophecy.  It is a prophecy, based on the dialectic.  The dialectic presupposes an inevitable destiny (in this case, the “Workers Paradise”).

Communism is revealed truth (like a religious text).  History reveals itself to Marx and Engels through the dialectic.

This helps explain Communist faith and zealotry.

 Next

Marx and Engels reveal the Communist Gospel.  Next: Part 24, Communist Manifesto.