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What I'm Planning to Read [when I have the time]

Considering that over a month has passed without any posting, I figure that I should write something so as to not lapse into obscurity.  Let's be clear: my job, not to mention my life in general, has temporarily appropriated my energy––I've had very little time to blog.  For example, I really want to continue that Terrorist Assemblages series of reviews, but how can I do that when I'm spending half of the week re-reading 19th century continental philosophy so as to teach it (which means, very slowly with a bazillion reading notes so as to lead class discussion), let alone all of the things I'm doing outside of this job?  Hell, when I have free reading time these days I generally focus on fiction because at least it's a good break from my state of affairs. (A tangent: I just discovered that Ngugi wa Thiong'o has a son who writes hardboiled detective genre fiction with an anti-imperialist twist!  I'm thinking about reviewing the first on my arts-inclined blog sometime soon.)  Even still, I ordered some books from the publisher of my book that I look forward to reading when some time opens up.  When these books arrived, being the excited reader that I am, I rifled through all of them almost immediately.

The first of these books that I will read soon is Ed Mead's autobiography, Lumpen.  For those who are unaware, Ed Mead was one of the founding members of the George Jackson Brigade––a Marxist urban guerrilla grouplet in the US of the 1970s that was notable for its feminism and queer politics.  Very little has been written about them, despite their historical importance, so I'm excited to read Mead's account.

The opening passage is harrowing––a description of a fateful bank expropriation where Mead and some of his comrades were arrested (the others killed)––and, because I'm the kind of reader who flips through books before he reads them properly, other passages are equally intriguing.  Like where he talks about his lumpen past, self-criticizes for living as a pimp (for example) and is quite aware of how fucked this is as a feminist now, or the fact that he remains an unapologetic communist.  "Anarchists," he writes, "could never be more than liberals (even when they're armed liberals), as their philosophy itself is just a form of liberalism. I slowly moved beyond anarchism and began to study Marxism." (143)  And then, at the end of the book, Mead writes, "First and foremost is the need to study and learn the philosophy of dialectical and historical materialism, which is the science of revolution. Oh, you could be an anarchist. It's very easy, all you have to to is say you are one and, poof, you are. Marxism, on the other hand, requires years of difficult study, and still you've not really mastered the science of Revolution––of global class war." (358) It's interesting that a revolutionary in his 70s is not willing to ameliorate his politics in a vague anarchism, and in fact openly resists this liquidation, most probably to the horror of those anarchists (like the ABC) who care about cadre like Ed Mead.  But I'm guessing that when you're in your 70s and dying of cancer you're not going to care about hedging your politics.

The next book that came with my Kersplebedeb parcel is N.B. Turner's Is China an Imperialist Country? Although the law of newspaper headlines demands that any question in the title should be answered with a no, this book's title is clearly a rhetorical yes.  In one of my previous posts, a commenter complained that he found this book's introduction unpalatable but, having at least read the introduction I'm confused as to why this is the case.  Truth is, I found the first few small sections (which were quick to read) generally quite palatable.  Indeed, the commenter in question seems to erroneously claim that the authors don't really understand Kautsky's position, but this seems to be a bunch of hot air: the authors understand Lenin's theory of imperialism, and in an appendix they define the Kautskyist position.  But, okay, I haven't fully read it…

Having read the first 25 pages, though, I can say this: I think it's timely that a book about the contradiction of competing imperialism is released, right in the moment where a bunch of weird internet tankies like to claim that Russia and China are somehow revolutionary, to bring us back to a proper understanding of imperialism.  I think my only problem, so far, is this book's poor understanding of what Samir Amin means by a "permanent stage of imperialism", despite its rightful rejection of Amin's theory of "the Triad", because it also ends up endorsing precisely what Amin's theory of permanent imperialism really means (minus "the Triad").  But maybe I'll leave that to a future review because, on the whole, I think this book will be good in a context that likes to see any challenge to US hegemony, even if its an imperialist challenge, as "anti-imperialism."  Like, for example, bizarro Marxist pronouncements of solidarity to Russia in the case of Syria!  As the authors write, "the all-too-prevalent view that U.S. imperialism is so powerful, so dominant, and so capable of manipulating all manner of forces and bending them to its will has been, and continues to be, a dangerous twisting of reality. The sole Superpower, in this view, has been attributed with omnipotent features that defy effective challenge, that reflect a supposedly skillful control of contradictions and crises that afflicted earlier empires and that has a boundless ability to disguise its malevolent work. If it were true, it would be a remarkable development in human history––indeed, it would be… the End of History." (2-3) And in some ways a certain tanky narrative endorses this reading of history.

The third and final book of this Kersplebedeb package is Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán by a MIM(Prisons) study group.  Although my Maoism comes through the PCP and RIM tradition, I am somewhat sympathetic to MIM, particularly since they called the RCP-USA's bullshit in an occasionally productive manner (though not always completely correct, in my opinion, especially when generalized to the RIM as a whole where it became a fallacy of composition).  Plus, an analysis of the national question of Atzlán is something I want to read up on.  Point being, I'm looking forward to reviewing this book when I get the time to sit down and read it.

As with the previous books, I flipped through this one and found one of many intriguing quotes: "As opposed to cultural nationalism or bourgeois nationalism, revolutionary nationalism is an unequivocally progressive ideology. Many people who have not really studied up often confuse these forms of nationalism or simply lump them together and paint them as all wrong. This is one of the major faults of present-day anarchism." (85) Good lord, this is the second of the books I ordered that is openly annoyed about anarchism.  But beyond this, I'm definitely interested in reading a book that was produced by a prison study group about Chicano nationhood.

Hopefully I'll be able to produce some reviews (and hopefully I'll also finish that serial review of Puar's book) in the near future.  Look forward to reading these books, just as I look forward to reading some others from the same publisher (damn, Rashid Johnson's new book just came out!), which has been putting out some very intriguing titles for a while.


  1. I like it that you don't support Russian involvement in Syria. It's pretty disturbing to see so many Western leftists praising the airstrikes (!) by an imperialist power.

  2. It's good to hear from you again. Concerning Russia, the strangest think is that there are Marxist-Leninist factions on both sides. I have been trying to engage with it from the perspective of that is happening in Rojava and the outcomes of their new political form. I was inspired to examine Bookchin's ideas, and I found them somewhat obscurantist and dilettante, in purposefully furnishing ancient greek words for some imagined prestige, Bookchin's romanticized view of some pre-industrial cultures is also off putting. Then I find articles in the Wall Street Journal that make me laugh like this one, (apparently with all their budget they can't afford elementary research). The work of TIKKO and is also a point of interest as an extension and heightening of their previous activity. It is also very good to see you engaging with MIM, I've always been drawn to their decisive statements about their principles, contrary to liberalism. The statement on nationalism is very relevant, I think, especially since beyond what they described there is even tendancy to draw spurious link between national questions and "identity politics", I was thinking about the use of the term identity politics in some of your writing and it had me considering the wider currency of the term. I've developed a certain hostility to it that I must articulate, especially about the wider implications. I've been thinking about your objections and my own and trying to develope a method for addressing it when it crops up. I don't know if based on my objections it's something I should dismiss or adapt to it's currency and deal with it like it's (somehow) valid and worth my time.

    First, it just isn’t a Marxist term or concept at all. If it weren’t for Marxists making extensive use of it to lazily disqualify almost any movement in lieu of carrying out investigations.. It does not bode well that class can be being used as dismissively if not more, by those who will not take the very term ìdentity for what it is. That is to say, the opposite of a unit on principle of differentiation by virtue of the term itself. To clarify, it is that very process that collapses the meaning of the term identity itself by referring to identities as units, which is the opposite of what identities are, as they are a means of producing qualities in distinction to all others. An identity really is that, an identity, which is either separate and unique or not an identity, but specific. Identity Politics now appears to be an absurdity, a mystified concept of concrete action. Now it’s redundancy can be addressed. Seeing as much of politics is the practice of drawing distinctions between groups for practical reasons, the term identity politics is very vague. The liberal political practice is to make this distinction according to nation, national place in whichever sector they term as priviledge of the international economy, or consolidation of forces between sectors of the bourgeoisie and the allies they may have for the time being.

    Part of it’s strength and lasting use is it’s amorphousness. It’s much easier to say identity politics instead of “racial politics” or “gender politics” because the wider it’s usage applies to, the less loaded it is. Liberalism gossips behind the backs of everyone - by turning their backs to them as a way of evading the historical development of the identity and their part in it. It doesn`t not address important issues because they don`t affect them, when the reality is they must claim authorship over their part. Class struggle proceeds from analysis of the situation according to the capitalist mode of production, as the part of labour is increasingly socialized without it`s product following.

  3. What you don't intend to read the Selected Works of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya? Tut tut. Just kidding. I still need to get you a copy.

    1. Ha ha, yeah this post was just on the books that arrived in a package together. I definitely need to grab a copy of the Selected Works from you, though.

  4. Could someone explain, (or point me to the direction of an explanation) as to why China and Russia shouldn't be supported for challenging US hegemony? Most of the Marxist sites I read ridicule that position as if the answer is obvious, but I don't see why that should be the case. It seems to me that to simply dismiss China and Russia as imperialists and therefore not worthy of support is idealist. There are all sorts of reasons to provide tactical support to a less than flattering side... like when the CCP aligned with Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese, or the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, or when Mao aligned with the US to offset the Soviets (a decision I disagree with, but an example nonetheless). In the present day, wouldn't the reduction of US hegemony and the beginning of a multi-polar world be a cause worth supporting? With multiple imperialist powers competing with each other there would be more room for radical movements to operate and even play one side against the other. I don't think the difference between Russia and the US is akin to the "difference" between the Republicans and the Democrats or even the US and France. The rise of either Russia and China would come at the US's expense, and would also potentially reshape the world (for ex., Latin American countries might have more room to break free from US hegemony, etc). Given the circumstances, and the lack of any existing socialist state, aren't imperialist Russia and China deserving of qualified support? Again, if someone could provide a non-idealist answer as to why not, I would like to know.

    1. I'd suggest you read you read the introduction to the book in question, which is available for free online, since it is quite impossible to deal extensively with these questions in the comment section. Even still, I'd make the following qualifications:

      1) I have to wonder if this is a rhetorical intervention that is not actually interesting in exploring this area, due to the use of weasel terms like "non-idealist answer". Let's be honest, this is often used quite rhetorically and in defense of one's one presumed "materialist" position. But we could argue that a "realist" position is extremely "idealist", just like "realist" IR theory, in that it assumes that the struggles between the great states determine the struggles of the oppressed masses, and this IR way of seeing the world is passed of as being non-idealist when in fact it capitulates to a very idealist understanding of history: a history that finds its motion in the movement of competing imperialisms rather than the people oppressed by imperialism. So in this sense, any answer that is not placed within these stark parameters is ad hoc dismissed as "idealist" and this is a significant problem since it poisons the well from the get-go.

      2) The fact that the CCP aligned itself with the Kuomintang has nothing to do with the problem of competing imperialisms. This in fact a category mistake because the Kuomintang was not a competing imperialist power but a bourgeois nationalist formation.

      3) As with (2) above, the same goes for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which was a stop-gap measure decided *because* the imperialist powers wouldn't unite against fascism––in fact it's a terrible example because of how much it has been criticized. Better, here, to wonder about the alliance of the Soviet Union with other imperialisms against fascism than the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact: the latter undermines your argument, the former might support your argument––though, in this case, you would have to defend Popular Frontism while, at the same time, arguing that we are at a conjuncture where we should unite with non-US imperialisms for the same reason that the Soviet Union united with these other imperialist states against fascism. But then you would have to explain: a) how is the US fascist anymore so than it was during the fight against Nazi Germany (and the US then was far more racist internally than it was now); b) what is the socialist state (or states) that is involved in this unity, as the CPSU was in WW2.

      4) Explain why Lenin and the others who walked away from the 2nd international rejected the idea of siding with any of the imperialist states during WW1. Bernstein, Kautsky, et al. made multiple arguments about why it was necessary to fight the more deplorable imperialist states by siding with the Germanic state, but Lenin thought this was a bullshit argument. This was not an "idealist" position; he saw it undermining the struggles of the masses worldwide, and he was correct.

    2. [cont.]

      5) Recognize the fact that, despite your rhetorical claim that "most of the Marxist sites I read ridicule" the position that embraces competing imperialist powers, this is a very unjustifiable claim. There are a lot of tankie and revisionist sites that say the opposite. There are sites that go so far as to send solidarity messages to Russia, meaning that they are declaring solidarity with capitalists. While it is one thing (and a pseudo-Marxist IR, top-down understanding) to argue that Russian intervention is necessary for some "multi-polar" reality, it is quite another to express solidarity with imperialists, no matter what semantic game you want to play with the concept of solidarity––that's just bad faith.

      6) Realize that the argument has nothing to do with recognizing the possibilities of movement in a multi-polar as opposed to a uni-polar imperialist situation, but more with a rejection of the claim that imperialism is somehow "better" for the global masses when it is multi-polar. Again, Lenin and the dissidents of the 2nd International didn't think a multi-polar imperialism was good for the masses: they rejected it entirely, while also admitting that anti-systemic movements could take advantage of the contradictions.

      7) Realize that one of the problems is not simply about this multi-polar and uni-polar pseudo-contradiction you've posed, but the fact that a large portion of Marxists (the ones who don't ridicule the position you endorse, and are more numerous than you will admit) refuse to admit that Russia and China are possibly imperialist… Some go so far as to pretend that they're still socialist, despite the fact that Russia today has proudly trampled on its socialist roots in every way, shape, and form.

      8) Contemplate the fact that this position on competing imperialism is logically the same as its inverse: the cruise missile socialism that endorses NATO strikes. At least be consistent.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I will look for the intro you suggested and hopefully find some time to read it tonight. As for your comments -
    1. My question was an "honest" question in the sense that I am open to changing my opinion regarding whether or not Russia and China deserve qualified support for being a force that counters US hegemony. I'm not attempting to engage in rhetorical debate for the sake of debate. My use of what you called "weasel words" simply represent my attempt at engaging with the question I posed.
    2. Perhaps "idealist" was not the best word for me to use to explain how I view the argument that China and Russia do not deserve qualified support at this time; "dogmatic" may have been better instead. I think for any counter-hegemonic movement to succeed, it has to realistically assess the balance of forces at a given time. That X leader did Y at historical point Z can be something to consider, but just because X did Y at Z does not mean it is a proven "formula" to get the same results. So I'm not persuaded by your claim that to come up with an argument to support Russian imperialism against US imperialism, we would have to prove that the situation is the same as the Popular Front in WWII and the US is fascist a la Nazi Germany. Stalin, Mao, etc were not bound by historical precedent to determine their policies; rather they adjusted their policies in an attempt to make full revolutionary use of the given situation.
    3. My argument is based on my understanding of Mao's concept of "contradiction," and the belief that as the chief contradiction changes over time, so must the policies of groups that aspire for liberation. Is American imperialism the chief contradiction facing the world? If so, what strategies should be used to try to resolve that contradiction? One of the reasons why I think Maoism represents an advancement over so-called "Stalinism" is the flexibility it allows, and its refusal to stick to dogmatic responses based on what certain leaders did or said in certain times. By the same token, one of the reasons the Comintern was relatively unsuccessful, in my view, was that it attempted to develop a rigid formula for revolution.
    4. Considering that I was quite clear in my post that I am opposed to US hegemony, it is absurd to suggest that my call for qualified support for China or Russia is tantamount to supporting NATO airstrikes. It's also untrue that supporting China or Russia at this time is negating the view that the masses make history. It is entirely possible to support something as a "lesser evil" out of tactical necessity, without loosing sight of the fact that the group you are supporting is opposed to the masses, and that the masses will be the ones to create revolution. In this regard, my use of the examples of the Second United Front, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and Mao's semi-alliance with the US are entirely appropriate, in that each represents a time when Communists formed an alliance with a known enemy in an attempt to resolve what they considered to be the principle contradiction at that time. Furthermore, their temporary alliance with these forces did not negate their view that ultimately, their new-found "allies" would also have to be struggled against.

  6. 5. Just because certain "tankie" groups have an idealistic view regarding Russia or China does not negate my argument that those counties can be offered qualified support. You can be in an tactical alliance with an imperialist or a capitalist without loosing sight of what they are. A multi-polar world would indeed increase tensions among the imperialists, and provide more room for radicals to exploit the spaces within those tensions. I'm not suggesting a multi-polar imperialist world should be promoted as a replacement for socialism; I am arguing that a multi-polar world would be a better environment for socialists to operate, and hopefully bring us to socialism. In any case, I certainly don't see the struggle between a uni-polar and multi-polar world as a "pseudo contraction" as you claim. To me, it represents the principle contraction, at this historical point in time.
    6. Maybe there are tons of "tankie" sites out there, but I haven't found many (aside from Worker's World, which admittedly isn't that theoretically developed.)... Again, I am trying to approach the question based on the background I have. The predominately "Maoist" and "MTW" sites that I've been using to learn about Marxism don't endorse the idea of offering qualified support to Russia or China. I view that as a dogmatic and idealistic mistake.

    1. Apologies for not having responded to these comments for a while: I was out of the country for part of the time, extremely busy the other part, and my initial response deleted when my computer's battery died––which made me uninterested in immediately rewriting it.

      I'm not going to spend too much time responding to all of your point here, partly because I did so before and it got deleted with the computer crash and partly because, in retrospect, I don't really see the point in carrying on an intractable debate on a comments string. I'm just going to qualify some things.

      The first point is that my comparison with the NATO strikes was that they shared the same logical identity as "qualified support" for competing imperialisms. That is, the cruise missile socialists who support NATO intervention have arguments that are identical logically as those made by those supporting Russian/Chinese intervention. The only difference is a moral one, the belief that up-and-coming imperialist power is better than the one currently at the top of the totem pole. Otherwise, both have a bizarre resumption of a Three Worlds Theory approach to the world.

      My second point, then, is on what you claim is the prime contradiction: between multi-polar and unipolar imperialisms. The contradiction between competing imperialisms is not at all a principal contradiction on the global level. To assert such a thing would be the same as claiming, within the mode of production, that the contradiction between competing capitalists is the principal contradiction. What would this mean in effect, when it comes to practice? In a situation of monopoly would you argue that the correct political position would be to back some up-and-coming capitalists, and to focus our political practice on breaking up capitalist monopoly rather than organizing the working class, so as to give the working class breathing room because of capitalist multi-polarity? No, within the mode of production the principal contradiction for communists is between proletariat and bourgeoisie, just as on the world level the principal contradiction remains that which is between the oppressed masses and imperialism. By asserting that a return to a multi-polar world of imperialism is somehow better for the oppressed masses is not something you can really argue with good conscience, especially because, in practice, the politics that can be deduced from this is one where we think that history is made by some great game between the people on the top, and so they are the ones we should look to about how the world develops, rather than something that is made by history's oppressed.


    2. Hence, when you say that it is a "dogmatic and idealist mistake" to not offer qualified support to Russia and China you have to tell me what kind of "support" you're talking about. Clearly you aren't talking about sending international brigades to fight with the Russian army, instead you're talking about some kind of ideological support––in the form of statements, internet arguments, etc. All in all, unless you seriously are saying that it is a good thing to offer material support if possible to imperialist ventures on the part of the nascent imperialist powers, then there is no "mistake" to be made by those who do not offer qualified support to Russia and China in their words. Making statements like "Victory to Assad" (or on the other hand, as the anti-tanky tankies say, "Death to Assad") are pretty cheap. It is neither dangerous or non-dangerous to make them. It is dangerous, though, to argue that we should see imperialism as a liberating force in any way shape or form, go out of the way to encourage this, and thus prevent ourselves from being proper internationalists, i.e. basically ignoring the working class movements in those countries that resist their own imperialism.

      All in all, I think it is more important for those of us who live in the US, Canada, EU to focus more on the problems of our country's imperialism and challenge that – and yes, use the contradictions revealed by Russia and China to point out the problems with our imperialism – just as it is the responsibility for those revolutionaries who live in Russia, for example, to challenge their own country's imperialism. Otherwise, I see no reason to release bizarre statements about how the Russians are a liberating force, how we are in "solidarity" with a ruling class that is stamping out the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution and celebrates Glasnost… And it is not as if these solidarity statements matter: the Russians will be about their business in the IR world with or without the CPGB-ML sending them salutations – and they don't give a fuck about these kinds of salutations in the first place.

  7. Thanks for responding again, especially after your earlier response was deleted. I hadn't checked here for a week or so, so I apologize for my late reply. I agree that there is no need to have a long debate over this issue, as it seems we disagree on a few fundamental points, which would likely just result in us repeating the same arguments again and again... However, for the sake of clarity, I would like to sum up my views:

    1. I do not think the primary contradiction at present is between the masses and imperialists, but within the imperialists. The masses vs. imperialists approach was correct during the Sino-Soviet split, when in addition to a bi-polar world in which both imperialist camps had relative parity, there was at least one genuine socialist nation (not sure where I'd place Albania, the DRV, DPRK, etc), massive national liberation movements throughout the world, and sizable Maoist movements in the West. In short, there was a genuine movement upon which to place one's hopes. Now there is no revolutionary mass movement to speak of. To claim that the primary contradiction is between the masses and imperialists is a misreading of the current balance of forces.

    2. I do not think that all imperialisms are the same. For the last 25-30 years, we have been living in a unipolar world. The weakening of American imperialism would mark a sea-change in world affairs. An entire generation who has only known American domination would be able to see that an alternative is indeed possible. Not only would the decline of American imperialism give more room for radials and nationalists to operate, it would also be immensely morally satisfying!

  8. 3. I agree that Western radicals should be primarily concerned with combating their own imperialist governments. I call for the qualified support of Russia and China as a counterweight to American imperialism not because I think we can somehow help those governments "win," but because, by promoting the "other side" within Western lines, we can perhaps weaken the dominant mythology of American / Western exceptionalism. Again, as I mentioned before, I do not view it as necessarily revisionist for a communist to give qualified support to an imperialist, capitalist, or other class enemy in certain situations, when such support has the potential of advancing the movement as a whole. By contributing to the further discrediting of the US - which will inevitably lead to a discrediting of NATO, the EU, and the whole neoliberal/neoconservative enterprise - we will be contributing to the arrival of a multipolar world, a world where - because of the absence of any dominant "end of history" / "there is no alternative" metanarrative - radicals will have more room to operate, and the masses will again be able to dream. In short, the socialist movement will have a much greater chance at being rebuilt.


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