Monday, November 25, 2013

Ian Birchall reviews Unhitched posted by Richard Seymour

Ian Birchall has kindly sent me the review of Unhitched that he wrote for Revolutionary History.  I reproduce the text below, with his permission.  Anyone wanting to read the original, or indeed read regular scholarly activist material on the history of revolutionaries and revolutionary parties, should click here and subscribe.

Christopher Hitchens was a most unpleasant person.  Arrogant and ill-mannered, he could write quite well, but was guilty of plagiarism, repetition, evasion and downright lying. If he became a bloodthirsty, pro-imperialist jingo only after 9/11,  there was much in his earlier work that prepared that move to the right.

Richard Seymour’s short book offers a devastating analysis of Hitchens’ work and career.  It is a careful, well-documented work, based on extensive study of Hitchens’ writings and discussions with those who knew him.  Seymour has been accused of being tasteless in writing such a book so soon after Hitchens’ death – though (at the very moment I am writing) some of his critics are dancing on the grave of Hugo Chávez. 

The account is  readable and presented with clear signs of polemical glee. My only slight reservation is Seymour’s vocabulary. I consider myself a reasonably literate person, but every few pages Seymour seems to discover a word I don’t know. Thus I discover that “tomecide” refers not to cat-strangling, as I had supposed, but to destroying a book. This may be educational for a crossword addict like myself, but less helpful to other readers.

Seymour looks at several themes emerging from Hitchens’ work – his roots in the English literary tradition from Kipling to Orwell and Larkin, his ideas on nationalism, the inadequacies of his critique of religion and his changing views on imperialism and the Middle East.  But perhaps the most interesting theme developed is that of political renegacy.

Between 1967 and 1974  Hitchens was a member of the International Socialists, forerunners of today’s SWP, in Oxford and London. Seymour examines this period of his life with interviews and information received from Chris Harman, Alex Callinicos, Michael Rosen, Stephen Marks, John Palmer, John Rose and Martin Tomkinson.

Renegacy as spectacular as Hitchens’ is relatively rare. After a meeting on left-right defectors at Marxism 2009  by Seymour and David Edgar, I remember discussing with the late Chris Harman just how many real renegades from IS/SWP we could think of. Not those who had accommodated to reformism, but those who had openly and prominently espoused the other side. We managed a grand total of five – two of them called Hitchens.

Seymour’s account of Hitchens’ trajectory is carefully presented; yet as one who knew the young Hitchens, I felt certain discrepancies were left unexplained. Firstly, Hitchens left little trace in the International Socialists. At the time the organisation produced a quarterly, then monthly, journal, International Socialism,  which was well respected and had a high standard of content. Hitchens was an aspiring writer, yet he did not contribute a single article to the journal. For one year – 1972 - the journal had a troika of Review Editors (at all other times one person sufficed for the job), one of whom was Hitchens.  He contributed just three rather anodyne book reviews. 

On leaving Oxford for London, Hitchens joined the Hornsey branch of the International Socialists, of which I also was a member.  I have to say that I have no memory of him making any particular impression on the branch, or of his giving a lead in any aspect of the branch’s activity.  I do remember that he would sweep away at the end of meetings, too important or too busy to have a drink with the rest of us hobbledehoys.

Alan Wald, in his studies of Trotskyist writers and artists like Sherry Mangan and Duncan Ferguson has powerfully depicted the tension between creative activity and the day-to-day donkey work of a revolutionary organisation. Hitchens  resolved the tension by doing as little as possible of the latter. For an ambitious young journalist, systematic trade-union work in the NUJ doubtless seemed unappealing. In his own account of his departure from the International Socialists, Hitchens recalls his “relief … at ceasing to hear about ‘rank and file’”. 

Hitchens’ ostensible ground for resignation was the IS position on Portugal. He disagreed with IS support for the PRP (Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat), an organisation with some Guevarist tendencies which Hitchens later damned as “semi-Baader Meinhof elements”. Now at the time I served on the IS International Sub-Committee; I attended many, many meetings about Portugal. Never do I recall Hitchens speaking up to put his point of view. Nor, to the best of my knowledge did he contribute to the Internal Bulletin, or even write a letter to Socialist Worker. If he had his differences, he kept them to himself.

So in the end I can only concur with Chris Harman, who told Seymour that  Hitchens “went flat out to know the right people to make a career in journalism and began to find us a hindrance”.  In an interview with Decca Aitkenhead,  Hitchens implausibly claimed that he could not “trace any connection” between his wealth and his opinions.   Now there can be no doubt that Hitchens liked money and the good life. But the real key to his renegacy lies rather in a point Seymour makes in his final paragraphs, and which could have been developed further, namely what he calls “the defeat of 1968”. 

Between the French general strike and the beginning of 1974, when industrial action by miners brought down a Tory government, there was a massive upsurge of industrial struggle in Britain. There seemed a real possibility that the International Socialists could replace the Communist Party as the main militant force in the trade unions. For some on the left it seemed that their personal ambitions could be combined with adherence to the revolutionary cause. Roger Rosewell, the IS industrial organiser, doubtless dreamt of replacing Bert Ramelson. But with Labour’s Social Contract the dream faded, and Rosewell and Hitchens were perceptive enough to be among the first to notice that the ship was sinking. The long haul, perhaps lasting the rest of their lives, had no charm for them.

Hitchens learnt much during his sojourn with the far left.  Often he was able to use what he had learnt in a fresh political context. Thus his opposition to  Clinton owed something to the traditional revolutionary critique of the Democratic Party – but it was deployed in preparing his  rapprochement with Bush.

Hitchens is dead, but his ideas will live on. Seymour’s book gives us a useful weapon to fight them.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The state has no interior. posted by Richard Seymour

The state does not have an essence. The state is not a universal nor in itself an autonomous source of power. The state is nothing else but the effect, the profile, the mobile shape of a perpetual statification or statifications, in the sense of incessant transactions which modify, or move, or drastically change, or insidiously shift sources of finance, modes of investment, decision-making centres, forms and types of control, relationships between local powers, the central authority, and so on. In short, the state has no heart, as we well know, but not just in the sense that it has no feelings, either good or bad, but it has no heart in the sense that it has no interior. The state is nothing else but the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities.
— Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 77

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Friday, November 22, 2013

The worst of the lot posted by Richard Seymour

A love letter from the Right, which collects my greatest hits:

He described a choir made up of military wives as “concentrated evil” and went on “We cannot afford to be complacent about such ordure. We have to destroy it, instantly, utterly…the poppies should be burned – not just a few, in a symbolic Islam4UK-style action, but all of them in a mass cremation of postcolonial bunting.”
He supports the troops “like a rope supports a hanging man” and has repeatedly called for their murder. “It's sensible for occupied people to attack and kill British troops. The antiwar movements of imperialist states depend on them doing just that…I think the killing of occupation soldiers is more than understandable - it is an absolute necessity.”
Communists are so desperate at this point that they’ll see revolution in just about anything. In the midst of the London riots, as working class areas were being destroyed, Seymour wrote “The intention has been to show that the party of order can keep control throughout the coming battles. I hope, with every fibre in my being, that they cannot.”
A soi-disant anti-racist who thinks racial harmony will be brought to the world by tweeting such things as “White America needs to be brought to its knees”; masquerading as a “Marxist” he has managed to coin the term “theophobia” and feels the need to put the term ‘ex-Muslim’ in scare quotes.
His ridiculous neologism seems only to apply to one particular monotheism. In response to a video of some Christian children singing, he couldn’t help but comment “Jesus made these little fuckers and their despicable parents” and tagged the video “Hitler Youth Christmas Special”.
He has described any commemoration of 9/11 as ‘necrophagous’.  It is an event already somewhat sterilized by the media’s excision of the images of people jumping to their deaths, but for Seymour it must be entirely forgotten, an event about which we should “shut the fuck up”.

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"Total anarchy on the internet" posted by Richard Seymour

Richard from Coventry writes:

The freedom of individual comrades to write what they want where they want about anyone and anything in the party runs completely contrary to comrades’ freedom to be able to attend party meetings confident that they will not be shopped to their employer.  These two things cannot co-exist together. This is the proverbial line in the sand for me.  The party has to decide which way it is going to go. Every single employer I have been interviewed for has asked me directly or indirectly about my attitude to trade unionism. 
 If there is total anarchy on the internet, then they will have no need to ask, they will just need to internet search. Of course the movement will always be infiltrated by agents of the capitalist class or their state. But for these people to be effective they have to behave like good activists in the movement or the party and have to be careful what they publish lest it expose them. To be any good they have to behave like being a good Bolshevik. But if being a good Bolshevik means leaking everything to anybody, then we have done half their job for them.  It particularly concerns me that comrades are not taking on these arguments with our younger comrades or ex-members and instead are just irresponsibly bowing down to the individualism of the internet. If these young people follow the internet individualist route none of them will ever get a job in private sector multi-national capitalist companies whilst remaining leftwing.  
The internet individualists’ in the opposition and amongst our ex-members are modelling behaviours to younger comrades which will come back to haunt them and us and which do a disservice to these young people and the movement. 
I see debating via the email and the internet (as opposed to people posting articles on the internet) as an essentially individualistic approach to debate equivalent to postal ballots for strikes. The Tories implemented postal ballots for strikes for a reason. They believed correctly that individuals sat at home would be less likely to vote to fight the employing class than the same individual attending a collective meeting at work. In the mass meeting the vote is on what “we” do and a full debate can be had. At home it is a vote on what “I” do. Together workers feel more confident than sat on their own at home. 
For the special conference Internal Bulletin Richard S and China M (along with other comrades) wrote an article titled “In defence of Blogging.” I wrote an article completely contrary to this called “Democracy, discipline and openness in the revolutionary party in the age of the internet”. I read theirs because I expected it to disagree with me and therefore I would learn something. Their article did make useful ideas about the different nature of engagement via the internet e.g. “consumers on social media are also themselves producers.” I expected the article would talk about how Facebook or blogging could be used to help people organise at work, raise issues etc. But it had absolutely nothing to say about the workplace. Think about this comrades. We have a group of people writing in our IB trying to persuade us that blogging is useful, and in making that attempt they have absolutely nothing to say about the relationship between the internet and the workplace. Not a word. Not a single thing. In fact the article reads as if no-one actually goes to a workplace –we’re all just individuals sat at home connected by the internet. This is not a criticism of these comrades. This is a criticism of us. I understand that Richard and China were in our organisation for approx. ten years each.  How can two intelligent articulate people be in our party for so long and fail to absorb one of the central tenants of our theory, namely that workers power most lies in the workplace? Or at the very least not understand how to relate that theory to their ideas? And remember Richard S was on the editorial board of our theoretical journal.  Does this group ever discuss the workplace? And we should be clear that the 200 comrades who resigned from either SWSS, the party or both the day after our special conference clearly did not have our politics. Again, this is our failing as well as theirs.  
Richard and China are not alone in this. I’ve analysed articles in three of our recent Internal Bulletins. I simply looked for how often mention was made of either Socialist Worker or the Revolutionary paper. I then also looked for how often mention was made of the workplace or words that could mean a workplace (e.g. office, school, hospital, factory, etc.) This is a very simplistic manual analysis of these IBs but I think it demonstrates how far movementism has forced our version of Leninism on the retreat in all parts of the party – whether they support the CC or not. ... It is not the case that every single article has to write about the paper or write about the workplace. But it is surely indicatively worrying that hardly any do this? By the way the number of pages in all these IBs (including 2011 before the crisis broke, and remember there were two IBs previous in 2011 to this one) shows the absolute lie that the party does not encourage debate or is not democratic. We’ve just been debating the wrong things. I have no solutions to our problems, except that in order to get solutions we need to correctly diagnose the problem, and then collectively we can address it. And that diagnosis is that the ideological impact of John and Lindsey on our party has not been resolved and has not been worked out. The debacle over the Disputes Committee is a symptom not a cause. Changing our structures will do nothing to solve this...

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Right answers to the right questions": an interview on feminism and the left. posted by Richard Seymour

I participated in this interview with Nikolina Rajković and Ankica Čakardić and  a few months back.  I wasn't able to elaborate on my replies as I got mired in the writing of Against Austerity, and I suppose there's a lot I'd like to add now, but the interview is finally published now in Zarez. With permission, I'm publishing the interview in English here:

Can you comment on SWP “crises” and the relation between feminism and leftism in general?

The SWP crisis begins with the leadership’s failure to apply even its own stilted and dogmatic version of women’s liberation politics to allegations of rape by a senior party member.  The leadership began by trying to implement a cover-up, and persisted with this until it was no longer sustainable.  At that point, it began a campaign of lies and intimidation against dissident members, including a number of expulsions.

This is shockingly at odds with my previous experience of the SWP.  As a grassroots member, it was always clear that sexism was not tolerated at any level.  The party always enforced a rigid distinction between feminism and women’s liberation; eschewing the former, it claimed to practice the latter.  This was partially based on a series of caricatures of feminism, and dogma inherited from political battles fought in the 1980s.  Nonetheless, sexism was not tolerated.  Sexist jokes, anything that could constitute harassment or aggression, were simply unacceptable.  In most cases, if there was a report of domestic abuse, for example, the accused would be expelled or suspended, on the strength of an allegation.  It would then be up to the comrade alleging abuse whether to go to the police.
In retrospect, though, it seems obvious that there must have been an implied double standard, since the pattern that has emerged is that people with institutional authority within the party have been coddled.  This would make sense, because the party has a very hierarchical culture.  Although it doesn’t have a huge apparatus of rules, it has a fairly large bureaucracy for such a small party and a great deal of status and relative privilege accrues to those who achieve a bureaucratic position.  This also helped explain why the leadership would not accept that there was anything wrong with a rape allegation being investigated by a panel consisting of friends, political subordinates and associates of the accused – they insisted that the ‘cadres’, meaning the anointed bureaucracy, had a special ‘political morality’ that meant they would not be biased in such cases.

All this raised a number of questions.  First, if the party’s practices could not safeguard women, what sort of practices could?  Second, if the party’s gender politics remained stuck in inherited dogma, what new perspectives did we need?  Third, if the party leadership was able to protect leading members from rape allegations, and systematically deceive members, what did this say about the party democracy which was constantly extolled?  What would a real democratic party look like?  And if this resulted in a cultish logic, according to which ‘cadres’ are insusceptible to the flaws of the normal human being, how long had such cultishness been lingering below the surface?  What were its causes?

Finally, since the leadership insisted on banging the drum for ‘Leninism’, accusing opponents of ‘autonomist’ and ‘creeping feminist’ deviations, we had to ask what Leninism really meant.  Because our understanding of the historical phenomenon of ‘Leninism’ was profoundly at odds with the bureaucratic, top-down structures that we had encountered.  If that historical experience is of value to political organising today, and I think it is, we have to radically revise our understanding of it.
I can’t say that we have answered all these questions; we are working out the answers to them in practice.

Would you say that emancipatory practice is more feasible within the organised, institutional Left, or, rather, that it can be fully developed only within leftist subpolitics: direct democratic strategies, fight for commons, the Occupy movement, union and student struggles...

I think the existing institutional Left is inadequate, bearing too many accretions of dogma, sectarian practices and control-freakery.  However, I don’t think subpolitics is sufficient either.  Speaking from the British perspective, the problem we have faced in this crisis has been that there has been a great deal of social struggle over the last thirty years, but few of its successes were institutionalised in a viable way.  The old forms of representation and condensation within parties, alliances, unions and so on have been breaking down, but nothing new and sustained has begun to replace or abut them.
It is an open question exactly what forms institutionalisation should take, and this will vary depending on the needs of given national contexts.  Nonetheless, I think the emergence of radical left-of-social-democracy formations across Europe indicates that there are some shared conditions, viz. the degeneration of social democracy, the unwavering advance of neoliberalism, the secular breakdown of trade unions and so on.  So we have to study groups like Syriza, NPA, Front de gauche, Rifondazione, Left Bloc and so on, and work out what how such groups succeed or fail.
In connection to this, are the parliamentary Left and non-institutional left movements separate fields of practice, or it is indeed possible to simultaneously work within the both?

It depends on who you are, what kind of organisation you have, and what kind of base you represent.  In general, I think we need radical left formations which have both a parliamentary and extra-parliamentary presence.  A narrow parliamentary strategy would be doomed as the institutions of the state and the languages of state policy are heavily pre-structured against achieving radical, left-wing objectives.  However, parliament matters.  Even if it is a less powerful state apparatus than the unelected bureaucracy, it is a terrain of political and ideological struggle, and achieving parliamentary representation opens up a certain space within the dominant media and it begins to change the way in which political questions have to be phrased by the main neoliberal parties.  It also permits, within certain limits, concrete, short-term achievements, reforms that make people’s lives easier and moderately alter the balance of class and other political forces.  

Moreover, extra-parliamentary struggles in this conjuncture are likely to raise the question of governmental power – to stop austerity and try to implement a resolution of the crisis.  I think achieving governmental power for the radical Left would be an important pedagogical moment, if nothing else.  That may be something that revolutionaries want to take a strategic distance from, as they may not want to bear responsibility for the compromises and pro-capitalist policies that would follow from taking office.  The experience of Rifondazione is still very fresh in the memory.  Nonetheless, even if they don’t want to take office, they should support others in doing so and see it as a complex part of their own strategy.

Which social movement-alliances do you find important and necessary for current feminist leftist struggle?

I suppose that depends entirely on the axis of struggle and where it’s located.  In general, I think the principle of ‘intersectionality’ should be respected.  That is, it won’t help to try to keep the struggles narrowly focused on neatly demarcated gender issues, because very quickly their other dimensions – to do with race, class, empire, sexuality and so on – start to unravel.  In order to be a consistent feminist, one has to care about the needs of working class women, black women, gay women, and so on.  So, it requires broad systems of alliances, linking diverse and occasionally antagonistic subject-positions.  Beyond such generalities, I can’t say.

The result of “add on” strategy (Women, LGBT, race/nation/ethnicity are, for instance, added to the “dominant” leftist questions – something we can witness at different conferences, festivals, round tables and similar) is that socialist feminism, which largely contributes to a systemic analysis of oppression, is sidelined; the result of this is the impoverishment of the analysis of economic exploitation and oppression. Would you agree?

Yes, I think I would.  I think the idea of ‘adding on’ hitherto excluded or marginalised groups means that you try incorporate them into an existing paradigm that is conserved; but the existing paradigm needs to change.  So, for example, traditional workerists might be persuaded that it is necessary to ‘add on’ women’s struggles, but they will attempt to do so within the narrow terms of their existing analyses, without reconsidering the terms of their analysis of, say, production and reproduction.

The artificial division of labour is a fundamental element of supporting class system and patriarchy in capitalism. What do you think could be the most valid methodological approach in dealing with the problem of patriarchy and capitalism? Do you find the anthropological explanation (division of labour is a result of women’s pregnancy and them staying at home) of women’s oppression helpful in the explanatory level of the question of women’s subordination?

I have some reservations about this.  The virtue of such a theory is that it points to the importance of social reproduction, and that is where I think the link between gender and the mode of production is most obvious.  Social formations are reproduced as much in the household, in Althusserian terms the family ISA, as in the workplace.  And this is the privileged sphere where gender ideologies, as material actions inserted into material practices governed by material rituals, are communicated and reproduced.  It is also where the division of labour is most obviously gendered.  This is why socialist-feminists such as Silvia Federici and Selma James were right to highlight the ‘hidden work’ of women – hidden because it was not waged.

That said, I think it is unhelpful in a number of ways to try to base the explanation of women’s oppression in a transhistorical structure of male domination, which can somehow subsume all mechanisms and relations in which the subordination of women has historically been secured under a single logic.  It is empirically unsustainable, and it relies on a conception of social causality which is too simple - as if the incredibly complex social constructions of gender can be reduced to expressions of an essential anthropological cause.

I also think there’s a particular politics motivating this, which needs to be problematized.   The old ‘socialist’ regimes were marked by pronounced sexual hierarchies.  For left-wing feminists, this meant that the abolition of classes did not necessarily mean the abolition of gendered oppression.  The basis of this inference has to be contested – these ‘socialist’ societies had not abolished classes or exploitation.  They were basically developmental regimes that were playing catch-up with the advanced capitalist core, and the irony is that they dramatically increased the rate of exploitation in order to do so.  How they organised the social and sexual division of labour had a lot to do with those imperatives.  So, to an extent I think the anthropological solution is the wrong answer to the wrong question.

Could the topic of unproductive work in the context of social reproduction become the point of articulation for the contemporary left feminism, and even the Left as such?

Yes, particularly in the era of neoliberal austerity, and the frontal assault on the social wage.  The idea that money which is spent on social benefits is ‘wasted’ assumes that raising children or caring for the elderly is somehow ‘unproductive’.  The neoliberal mantra is that if it doesn’t happen on the market, it is unproductive  - even though, through benefits, the labour has been assigned a cost and value; and even though the health, care and socialisation of the population is part of the extended reproduction of capitalism, and of the social formation in which capitalism has taken root.  This is obviously highly gendered.

One can potentially link this to the old Marxist debates about what constitutes productive vs. unproductive labour.  The latter distinction is based on which labour is directly involved in the production and realisation of surplus value, and which is not.  It might be argued that the distinction is based on an old gendered dichotomy between masculine and feminine types of labour, and that since everyone is involved at some level in the production of surplus value, the distinction is unsustainable.  I don’t see it that way: I think there is an important strategic distinction between labour which directly produces surplus value, and that which does not; because labour which does produce surplus value has more disruptive capacity, and thus more potential power, than that which does not.  It is probably not useful to characterise these as ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’ forms of work, especially given the gendered connotations of such language, but that’s what the distinction was supposed to refer to.  Incidentally, I don’t think that’s the only strategic distinction which matters, and nor is the ability to strike the only form of disruptive power available to us.  But there is something to the distinction.

We are aware of co-optation of feminism since the 1970s, which resulted in the problem of NGOs/NGOization/neoliberalization of feminism and state outsourcing the feminist (and many other) issues to the NGO sector. So, what is actually the relation between the state structure and feminist/women’s issue, and why is the state important when it comes to women position and their material status?

I think the state is important because it is the strategically privileged terrain from which politico-legal and ideological forms of gender are fought over and institutionalised.  It is not just that ideological-state apparatuses such as schools and state media, or repressive-state apparatuses such as the police or armed forces, play a dominant role in organising the material practices of gender ideologies.  It is that even the supposed ‘outside’ of the state, the ‘private’ sector of families and markets and civil society is thoroughly constituted by the state; the public-private dichotomy is internal to the state and its legal classifications.  So, the state has a lot to do with whether or not women are paid for housework, or are subject to arbitrary domestic violence, or have workplace rights such as maternity leave, and so on.
With that said, I want to take a detour into what neoliberalism has done to feminism.  Neoliberalism promotes a particular conception of the market as a superior information processor, the only efficient aggregator of all the fragmented pieces of information distributed throughout society.  It urges people to submit to the emergent order of the market, and to abandon any attempt to achieve a total perspective on society and how it might need to be altered – because neoliberals say we can’t achieve that, and any attempt will put us on the ‘Road to Serfdom’.  Instead, we should see ourselves as entrepreneurial agents, capable of transcending the resistant realities of socially constructed genders, races and so on through innovative transformations of the self.  If we bet on the market and lose, that is simply an aspect of risk, not a structural feature of the system; we should learn from our losses and try again.  The worst thing that can happen, according to this perspective, is for the state to get involved in supporting ‘losers’.

There is a pseudo-feminist position available in this – I hesitate to even call it pseudo-feminist, because it is actually profoundly anti-feminist, but its advocates often adopt a faux sympathetic posture.  Neoliberals accept that there is such a thing as sexism, but they mean something quite different by it – they refer to male attitudes which can be ascribed to atavistic impulses, or forms of male solidarity which can be linked to pre-modern social forms.  They say that these can best be overcome by letting the market decide everything.  Thus, for example, the ‘career woman’ can be seen as a feminist hero not because she attacks patriarchy, but because she has fully assumed the risks of the entrepreneurial self and succeeded.  Better still if she also assumes the many demanding roles of mother, social entertainer, church organist, charity fund-raiser, and perhaps even a certain type of ‘activist’ (of the NGO, TED Talks sort).  Neoliberalism loves to ‘super-mums’ who juggle careers, children and busy social calendars.  This sort of pseudo-feminism is obviously entirely compatible with certain traditionalist gender roles.

The interesting thing about all this is that it certainly doesn’t involve the state retreating from its involvement in sustaining gender roles.  It simply re-organises the state’s role.

Take the example of single mothers.  The state is gradually rolling back benefits for single mothers, adopting instead a disciplinary role.  Instead of fostering the traditional ‘male breadwinner’ type of politics in which women are kept in privatised domesticity, it is attempting to inculcate the love of market discipline and risk in these women.  The state says, instead of languishing in ‘dependency culture’, you will be much better off if you go out and work several jobs to support your child, and outsource the childcare to a babysitter.  You will enjoy the thrill of trying out new selves, betting on new opportunities.  And it will be more efficient to let someone on less than the minimum wage take care of your offspring’s needs.  And the state then implements a series of material incentives and punishments to induce just that shift.  The ultimate goal is to effect a profound subjective transformation, so that government becomes self-government and everyone judges themselves in relation to ‘the market’.  This is not about reducing the size of the state, and it is not really about cutting costs: if anything, it increases the state’s powers of regulation and governmentality.  It is about digging deep down into the micro-physics of subject formation, and installing governmentality at the most atomic level.  If successful, it would dramatically increase the amount of work that women have to do.  Concurrently, it also constructs new gender ideologies and stereotypes to explain the ‘failure’ of the single mother, and sotto voce invites a degree of social sadism as it punitively attacks the ‘loser’.  It makes it much harder to fight and win feminist struggles, because it seeks to undermine the very basis on which a problem like women’s oppression could be recognised, and erode the collective solidarities which could fight it.

Having said all that about neoliberalism, I should stress that this is just one type of gender project, and if it is the dominant form, it is not the only type coming from within the state.  Since the state isn’t an instrument or a thing, but is rather a set of social relations condensed in institutional forms, it can’t be bound to a single gender project.  Rather, what you see is several gender projects being contested within the terrain of the state: in the UK, you could identify: a soft Labourist egalitarianism advanced by the likes of Harriet Harman which organises and represents the feminist struggles of constituents in a moderate reformist project; a traditionalist patriarchal politics advanced by the Tory Right, which is linked to the attempt by (especially bourgeois) husbands and fathers to ‘restore discipline’ in the face of global precarity; and occupying the mass between them but gradually colonising both sides is the neoliberal gender project.  There are not strict boundaries between these projects.  They overlap to an extent.  Nor is the dominance of neoliberal gender politics assured.  But the dominant way in which gender is being reconstructed in the UK is through neoliberal governmentality, and that is how I see the relationship between the state and gender politics at the moment.

How can we work/create strategies on combining feminism and progressive leftism but in order to avoid sexist (and also violent) treatment of women comrades in leftist groups/parties?  

I would be reluctant to pose as some sort of expert on this.  I am aware of practices of ‘transformative justice’ that have been developed by radical communities to cope with sexism and sexist violence, and I’ve been reading up on those experiences.

I think, to help formulate these responses, a good practice might be for women to organise semi-autonomously in caucuses within whatever organisation they are part of, so that they have the space where they can discuss the issues that affect them and how to address it without worrying about being misunderstood or in some way reproved by male comrades.  This flows from recognising the effects of women’s oppression on the relationships between men and women, and the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) biases it can introduce in the psychology of male comrades.

In the International Socialists Network, set up by the first wave of departing SWP members, there is a women’s caucus which addresses issues that specifically affect female comrades.  This doesn’t mean that issues related to sexism are hived off to the women’s caucus, being of no interest to anyone else - but it does mean that discussion can take place without the distorting effects I mentioned.  I think a degree of political confidence in one another is necessary for this to work.  Those not involved in the caucus have to set aside any worries they have about what may be being discussed, if they have any; while the caucus itself ultimately has to be accountable to the wider organisation for the ideas it comes up with.  Fortunately, there is such trust, due in part to the basis on which we left the SWP.

What is the relationship between the workers’ struggles currently taking place in the UK and the labour unions? How many labour unions in the UK use leftist strategies, i.e. are truly struggling for labour rights? How many workers are unionized in the UK? Are there larger unions in the UK which address women’ rights and seek solutions for their unpaid work? How would you comment the recent claim how Margaret Thatcher saved Croatia?

It is very difficult to embark on a labour struggle in the UK unless you are unionised.  About six million workers are unionised, but this is falling over the long-term.  And the unions are themselves weakened by anti-union legislation, a legacy of harrowing defeats, a deeply conservative culture in the leadership, and the tendency toward ‘bureaucratisation’ wherein more and more power flows to the unelected officialdom and away from grassroots members.  Whereas there was once a ‘rank and file’ movement in the UK, based primarily on shop stewards who were elected but not part of a formal union apparatus, it no longer exists.  Nor are there any big powerful battalions capable of waging set-piece battles with the government.  This means such struggles as do occur tend to be either localised, or highly top-down, as in the ‘bureaucratic mass strikes’.

As for ‘leftist strategies’, there isn’t a great deal of that.  There is a history of unions supporting and funding worthwhile struggles, such as the anti-war and anti-fascist movements.  There are some moves toward ‘social movement unionism’ on the part of the Unite leadership, which are positive, and some unions are backing wider anti-austerity initiatives.  But as regards substantive industrial action, the more militant unions tend to be the smaller unions, and ironically they include professional associations which have historically been quite conservative – such as the Royal College of Nurses.  But their battles thus far are mainly defensive – pay and conditions fights.  I’m also unaware of any attempt by unions to directly address the question of unpaid work, such as household labour.  This would require strategies that go well beyond their current repertoire.  Nor are there any serious strikes over equal pay, for example.

As regards Thatcher ‘saving’ Croatia, I understand that Tudjman was very fond of her and that she supported Croatian independence.  Despite her having attended Marshal Tito’s funeral, it was predictable that she would back what she perceived as a war of liberation against ‘communist Serbia’.  Her speech in Zagreb in 1998 did Tudjman the courtesy of endorsing ‘Operation Storm’, something that most Anglophone political leaders would hesitate to do in public.  On the other hand, I was surprised to see the tributes to her from Croatian sources.  Whatever one thinks of secession from Yugoslavia, I don’t think her role was terribly important.  She was no longer Prime Minister and, while she undoubtedly had some diplomatic influence, it seems a stretch to say that she ‘saved’ Croatia.  Perhaps it has to do with her symbolic role as a leader of European reaction, a pole star of anti-socialist politics.  But in that very role, she advanced the processes of privatisation and debt accumulation that contributed to the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia.  So, whose interests did she ‘save’?

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Social Chauvinism as a Political Category in the French Metropolis posted by Richard Seymour

This is the paper presented at Historical Materialism 2013 by Félix Boggio Éwanjé-Épée and Stella Magliani-Belkacem.  I am grateful to them for allowing me to republish it here.


We would like to thank Lars Lih, Paul Le Blanc and John Riddel for their precious advices and references. Of course, they cannot be blamed for the potential errors that may follow and they cannot be associated with the political views expressed here. 

What did we try, Stella and I? Two years ago, we were in HM London talking about “What the fuck is up with French feminism”. We then tried to answer to a quite understandable amazement over French feminist endorsement of islamophobia and colorblindnes. Now, we would like to tackle another complex phenomenon: the French left attitude towards race and its contemporary implications for political organization. We tried to see the French left attitude towards race and racism as a historical product, as a cumulative process that is not simply “traditional” but contingent on specific historical events and struggles. To do this we proceed as follows: first assessing the relevance of Lenin’s concept of “social-chauvinism” to the French left, and then, proceeding to understand how social-chauvinism can be, in a nutshell, associated with historical materialist theorizing of political categories and with racial formations. Finally, we will delineate the consequences of these concepts in the practice of the Third International in the early twenties-thirties France and in the theoretical failures of the last thirty years’ left to tackle race as a specific phenomenon. 




Social-chauvinism is a term repeatedly used by Lenin in numerous texts and speeches that accompanied his assessment of the collapse of the Second International. Social-chauvinism meant precisely one of the features of the crisis of social democracy. It referred to the alliance between major social democratic forces with their own imperialist State in the advent of the First World War

Social-chauvinism was not a political category clearly defined by Lenin. It is a blurry word, even a slur. However, this slur echoes to our present day. Social chauvinism referred in the past to an analysis of the positioning of social-democracy at a geopolitical level. However, the echo, the “todayness” of social-chauvinism is, from our perspective, a domestic political category. Social chauvinism designates a contemporary disdain of the French left for racial relations and even an endorsement of various strands of racism (islamophobia, law and order issues, warmongering against drugs) and an unclear stance against imperialism. Indeed, Mélenchon – and his “Left Party” [Parti de gauche] (among the most important organizations of the Front de gauche, Left Front) – is famously associated with a very harsh attitude towards minority self-organization, public expressions of religious identities, with women wearing the veil in associative nurseries, and an anti-imperialist impulse biased against mostly US imperialism, NATO (Mélenchon’s stance remains very soft on the French military and its imperial take on Africa, Afghanistan, merely calling for feeble reform. Front de gauche MPs have voted and supported the French war in Mali).

Social-chauvinism is therefore the name of an increasingly hegemonic political articulation of radical reformism in French left organizing. As revolutionary Marxists, this evolution is indeed very worrying to us and needs a careful longer-term analysis. Social-chauvinism is not without contradictions and countervailing tendencies. To introduce social-chauvinism, in our perspective, as a political domestic phenomenon more generally, we should emphasize several points, that we would like to relate in our opinion to the main defects of social-democracy that Lenin outlined in his famous texts about the crisis of the Second International:

First of all, a narrow and very domestically focused conception of the worker’s movement. It is a characteristic that can be termed: “internationalism in form, chauvinism in essence”. Today as yesterday, verbal appeals to “workers of the world” are overlapped with a form of cultural and political indebtedness to the French State and its legacies. It is related to an idea of the State as a somehow neutral apparatus that can be manipulated at will, to the interest of a class or another. The French Nation as an imagined community is associated with an imagined “progressive” popular history of France that can be counterpoised to a reactionary France. This is at the very heart of Mélenchon’s and the Front de gauche’s reappraisal of the national anthem and their very effective marches during the presidential campaign that mimicked the taking of Bastille of 1789. 

Second, we can outline a general hostility to minoritarian expressions of non-whites, often taken as potentially disruptive to French polity (either in the form of what appears to be “petty delinquency” or in the form of ostentatious display of religious belief). This chauvinistic emphasis on French unity and “vivre-ensemble” (“living together”) is covered by a socialistic call for class against identity. By contrast, in our opinion, it crucially relates to an age-long relationship between the French worker’s movement and parties to the workforce based in the colonies and the colonial movements that emerged against white supremacy and colonialism.





Analysis of contemporary social-chauvinism therefore needs to take into account age-long aspects of social democracy and working class consciousness in a French context. To assess the emergence of a social-chauvinist problematic, we have to focus on the First World War as a shifting point in the French social structure: it is a moment when, instead of mainly Italian and Belgian immigrants, subalterns from the French colonial empires are for the first time introduced in the metropolitan workforce on a large scale: notably workers from North-Africa, what we term “Black Africa”, and workers from Indochina (that is Vietnam). This change amounted to a growing relevance of anticolonial agitation in the metropolitan area for left organizations and a growing strata of intellectuals who were subjects of the colonial Empire. 

According to Lars Lih “Lenin’s political outlook and strategy from 1914 on stemmed from a definition of the situation that he took lock, stock and barrel from the writings of “Kautsky when he was a Marxist.”

What did Kautsky’s scenario entail before what Lenin saw as a betrayal of his very principles? According to Lars Lih, Kautsky’s analysis in the early years of the twentieth century was premised on a thesis of global revolutionary interaction, that is, interaction between a socialist revolutionary agenda in Europe and political and anticolonial revolutions  on the agenda in so-called “backward” or dominated nations. Meanwhile, this global interaction is inscribed within global imperialist rivalries, capital exports in the global South and increasing “world war” tendencies.

Therefore, Lenin’s point, after Kautsky, was to analyze the demise of social-democracy as failures to consider crucial aspects of this global revolutionary scenario, its pitfalls and challenges for the worker’s movement. And Lenin connects that failure to a social analysis of European workers’ movement:


The period of imperialism is the period in which the distribution of the world amongst the ‘great’ and privileged nations, by whom all other nations are oppressed, is completed. Scraps of the booty enjoyed by the privileged as a result of this oppression undoubtedly fall to the lot of certain sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the aristocracy and bureaucracy of the working class.


Well, these quotes are fairly known. There is a great deal of controversy against the labor aristocracy thesis, that is, the idea of a very small portion of the working class being bribed, bought off, with imperialist superprofits. Nonetheless, let me read a comment by a famous opponent of the labour aristocracy thesis, namely, Tony Cliff:


The expansion of capitalism through imperialism made it possible for the trade unions and Labour Parties to wrest concessions for the workers from capitalism without overthrowing it. This gives rise to a large Reformist bureaucracy which in its turn becomes a brake on the revolutionary development of the working class. The major function of this bureaucracy is to serve as a go-between the workers and the bosses, to mediate, negotiate agreements between them, and “keep the peace” between the classes. This bureaucracy aims at prosperous capitalism, not its overthrow. It wants the workers’ organisations to be not a revolutionary force, but Reformist pressure groups. This bureaucracy is a major disciplinary officer of the working class in the interests of capitalism. It is a major conservative force in modern capitalism


Well, there is a great difficulty in Cliff’s thesis that economic roots of reformism lie in “economic prosperity”. There is a mechanistic bias here that can lead to the dangerous idea of reformism being prone to disappear in the advent of crisis. However, what is interesting here is that economic privilege secured by imperialism can entice a section of the working class movement to support the State, even in its imperial aspects. Again, Cliff says, “If Reformism is rooted in Imperialism, it becomes also an important shield for it, supporting its ‘own’ national Imperialism against its Imperialist competitors and against the rising colonial movements.”

There is thus a clear connection between the crisis of social democracy on the one hand, and imperial rivalries notably around colonial possessions on the other. Actually, you can find in social-chauvinistic literature (in Lenin’s sense), socialistic colonial utopias – not only in Bernstein’s and opportunists’ speeches and writings, but also on the left of European social democracy. Paul Lensch, one of the early opponents of revisionism in the SPD, has later on written a book that was an open endorsement of Germany in the World War. In his plea for German imperialism, Lensch wrote: 


After the war, colonial policy will be of the nature of a social policy, for only if the colonial representatives of a government were conscious of their responsibilities as guardians of the interests of the colony, would there be any prospect of making the Colonies what, in the interests of our whole culture and material conduct of life it is essential that they should be: the pillars of that international, or rather intercontinental, division of labour by which the temperate zones are supplied with those indispensable raw materials and fodder stuffs, without which the maintenance of our industrial and agricultural development is impossible. In other words, the revolution which the war has brought about in the capitalistic world means a new epoch also for the colonial world.


Lensch, in his social chauvinistic approval of colonialism, envisions a future development of State Socialism where the colonies would be integrated in a global division of labor. Therefore, social-chauvinism can be told to arise precisely in an endorsement of the very position that imperialist countries and States do have in the international division of labor, that is, social-chauvinism means one form or another of integration into social democratic demands, strategy, analysis of the central tenets of a global division of labor (and, domestically, of metropolitan consequences of it, e.g. in the racialization of the workforce). 

What these developments show is that Lenin’s term, his slur, about social chauvinism, cannot be separated from a specific relationship that working class formations develop towards colonies. This relationship lies in the apparent link between capital expansion and accumulation on the one hand, and on employment and better-wage opportunities on the other. That association between accumulation and job creation is an illusory and fetishistic one, obviously. We know from Marx onwards that capital actually produces unemployment and surplus populations, industrial reserve armies, and drives wages down. However, the real appearance of capital, brought about by the separation between the workers and means of productions, produces the illusion that capital is the origin of wealth and jobs. Therefore the specific features of imperialistic accumulation – and one might add, the racial advantage of white workers in the labor market – can lead to a form of attachment of the worker’s movement to a national imaginary community. That form of attachment, linked to the global division of labour, carries with it a whole social and cultural racial formation. 




We would argue then that the Komintern’s policies addressing the question of the colonial question offer a crucial counterpoint to a longstanding political current in the worker’s movement that can be termed “social-chauvinistic”. Addressing France, it is interesting to see how the implementation of these policies has taken place. In the very early twenties, the French Communist Party established an “Intercolonial Union” that gathered several activists from the colonies. I cannot provide a comprehensive history of the colonial policy of the CP in France. However, one can pinpoint several aspects:

First, colonial policy of the CP was fuzzy and quite unfocused. There were very heroic campaigns for the independence of a region of Morocco that had made session in 1921 and with which France was at war. But that work was being done erratically.

This erratic developments led to autonomist tendencies in the Black communist movement that broke into a separate “negro” organization, the Committee of Defense of the Negro Race

That organization, CDRN has had a very complicated history, the CP gaining hegemony in it at once in the early thirties. What is remarkable is the way in which the CP was involved, often against its own will, in a very tortuous politics of collaborating with nationalistic Black tendencies, with building all-Black unions among Black toilers in Marseille, with tendencies more involved in cultural self-consciousness, with various strand of garveyism.

This is just to take as an example revolutionary Black organizing in France. It is a very complicated example. In this whole story, the CP scrapped many Black activists for being “too autonomist”, and it often sacrificed potential political advances to political lines decided in Moscow. For instance, more sectarian policies towards moderate or nationalistic “negro” organizations or figures were implied by policies of Class against Class in the International Communist Movement. What it amounts to, from our perspective, is that the way in which the Komintern outlined a global “negro question”, an early idea of the Black Atlantic, really contributed to a very rich culture of racial pride alongside with working class identity and solidarity, leading to a more complex tactics of class building. That kind of politics provide a compelling resistance to social-chauvinism in the way in which it ties working class politics with specific issues and oppressions. If the Komintern and the French CP gave credit to Black (or other non-white) autonomism out of pragmatism, that pragmatism teaches an important lesson for practice and theory. In practice, it meant that the racialization of the working class brought about during the First World War and after, meant for communist organizing that an important contradiction was at work in Black autonomist impulses. Indeed, as long as social-chauvinism is a bulwark to revolutionary consciousness, breaking the “white blindspot” (a term taken from Noel Ignatiev and Theodore Allen), breaking the white blindspot, integrating various strands of non-white organizing at the center of the predominantly white working class, can challenge working class focus on the stability and reformability of imperialism.

To elaborate on the disruptive aspects of autonomous organizing and its integration to a left strategy, we can focus on the politics of the revolutionary left during the French Popular Front of 1936. Daniel Guérin and his comrades of the left tendencies of the Socialist Party did uphold during this period the legacy of anti-imperialism and antiracism that the CP was embodying several years ago. Now, from 1937 onwards, the CP abandoned its stance for colonial independence, in order to secure the coalition of the left with the centrists in parliament and government, and also to avoid any interference with democratic France. In other words, the CP had become clearly social-chauvinistic, leading to their approval of the dissolution of the “North-African Star”, a revolutionary nationalist group strong both in Algeria and in the French metropolis among Algerian immigrants. 

Guérin and the left revolutionary current of the Socialist Party opposed on many occasions the colonial policies of the Popular Front as part of a general strategy of undermining the counter-revolutionary impulses of that government. Through this, they established an anti-imperialist center, creating links with British panafricans, George Padmore and Jomo Kenyatta. These currents were numerically weak, but no doubt that today’s trotskyst would better reread that story and how the idea of working along with non-white autonomous groupings can be part of a general struggle against social chauvinism, that is, a struggle against reformism.




Now, theoretically, we will try to show that the consequences of the struggle against social-chauvinism are very relevant to our current situation. Through this, we will assess contemporary problems of the left and how its theoretical biases prevent it from tackling these problems. The following questions must be asked:

- how does the social chauvinist current has taken roots in the French situation and become hegemonic electorally and on the ground, even as far as silencing or even erasing a whole far left anti-imperialist commitment? We can clearly connect that hegemonic take of social chauvinists over the whole left as a consequence of an inability of the anti-imperialist far left to have a principled stance on race, theoretically, and we can further relate it to the far-left’s compromises with more mainstream theories of racism and antidiscrimination policies. It therefore lies in the radical left’s inability to grapple theoretically with its own legacy. 

- How did social-chauvinism evolve through the years and survive to the ’68 social unrest? The answer must lie in the way in which the left and the unions reacted to capitalist restructuring in the 1970’s onwards. For instance, the main lay offs that occurred in the deskilled sector of the working class during the 1970’s were politically organized to favour French workers in taking the workers from the colonies back to “their countries”. How did the left and unions react to these? They often accompanied the process, while the sections opposing it were not theoretically armed to tackle white privilege as a political construction here, and how autonomous immigrants, or immigrants’ sons and daughters struggles were connected to the racialization of the economic crisis.

- how can we conceptualize here and now race in France and fight social-chauvinism? There has been a unique contribution to a French theoretical approach to race in the practical work of Indigènes de la république and the theoretical work of their founding member Sadri Khiari. Really a historical analysis must begin there. Then, we can learn from their work a very important distinction to do between racial strands of the working class, that is, the idea of separate (while intermingled) Time-Spaces. This notion is connected to the idea of global worker historians of integrating geography, demographics and mobility studies into a framework of class, assessing the different temporalities of class formations. This would permit us to understand how different working class constituencies constitute different identities, different movements and different parties (including racially defined parties) and how to work out a real internationalist articulation of social demands. 




It means for us to be creative. To imagine the revolutionary subject as a process of self-reformation, of tensions and conflicts between parties, unions, movements, between white and non-whites (and at another level, between different non-white ethnicities). To imagine the “Modern Prince” as a broad subject that would coordinate out of a process of mutual correcting impulses. The revolutionary party of tomorrow may not be one unitary working class party, but several social movements, parties and associations, organic intellectuals, hegemonic apparatuses, that would collectively, and through fierce internal controversy and conflict, challenge reformism and social chauvinism (I do not mention “sexism” because it is not at the center of our focus here, but it is clearly to be integrated to our perspective). 

As a matter of conclusion, and to defend this perspective from an orthodox tradition, I would like to mention Trotsky’s late rejection of the One-party system in the Soviet Union, in The Revolution Betrayed:


Every word is a mistake and some of them two! It appears from this that classes are homogeneous; that the boundaries of classes are outlined sharply and once for all; that the consciousness of a class strictly corresponds to its place in society. The Marxist teaching of the class nature of the party is thus turned into a caricature. The dynamic of political consciousness is excluded from the historical process in the interests of administrative order. In reality classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution of common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendencies, groups and parties. It is possible, with certain qualifications, to concede that “a party is part of a class.” But since a class has many “parts” – some look forward and some back – one and the same class may create several parties. For the same reason one party may rest upon parts of different classes. An example of only one party corresponding to one class is not to be found in the whole course of political history – provided, of course, you do not take the police appearance for the reality.



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Monday, November 11, 2013

Historical Materialism panel: Theorising Contemporary Racisms posted by Richard Seymour

This is the audio of the panel featuring myself, Félix Boggio Éwanjé-Épée, and Razmig Keucheyan on the subject of ‘Theorising Contemporary Racisms’.  My own segment, on 'Poulantzas and racial states in crisis', is first.  Felix’s speech is based on a paper co-written with Stella Magliani-Belkacem, which I will be hosting on this blog.

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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Laurie Penny and I on Brand and brocialism posted by Richard Seymour

Of course, I am very pleased by this collaboration.  Laurie Penny begins:

It’s a good job I wasn’t in the office last week, or the week before, when comedian, celebrity-shagger and saviour of the people Russell Brand was sashaying around. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good sashay. The revolution - as Brand’s guest edit of this magazine was modestly titled - could do with a little more flash and glitter. It’s just that had I been in the office I would probably have spent a portion of my working hours giggling nervously, or hiding in the loos writing confused journal entries. My feelings about Russell Brand, you see. They are so complex.

Brand is precisely the sort of swaggering manarchist I usually fancy. His rousing rhetoric, his narcissism, his history of drug abuse and his habit of speaking to and about women as vapid, ‘beautiful’ afterthoughts in a future utopian scenario remind me of every lovely, troubled student demagogue whose casual sexism I ever ignored because I liked their hair. I was proud to be featured in the ‘Revolution’ issue that this magazine put out, proud to be part of the team that produced it. But the discussions that have gone on since about leaders, about iconoclasm and about sexism on the left need to be answered.

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Friday, November 01, 2013

Alan Wald reviews Unhitched and Liberal Defence of Murder posted by Richard Seymour

"Only 36 years old, still a graduate student at the London School of Economics, and best-known since 2003 for the popular blog “Lenin’s Tomb” (, Seymour is particularly armed and dangerous when it comes to the subject of those political activists who ostentatiously migrated from Marxism to the cause of Liberal Interventionism (more accurately, Liberal Imperialism) just before and after 9/11.

In The Liberal Defence of Murder he embeds them (Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, Kanan Makiya, Bernard-Henry Lévy, and many more of this mostly male phenomenon) in a long tradition of intellectuals who formulate humanitarian reasons for backing empire.

His book is a polemic, based primarily on secondary readings, and makes no pretense of providing a balanced, well-rounded view of historical situations. Yet the cogency and sophistication of his achievement as an overall perspective should not be underemphasized. In conception, steely scholarship and piercing insights, it is a Marxist masterpiece of this particular genre.

With elegant asperity and mordant antipathy, Seymour undresses the unsavory record of the liberal apologists for empire in a sane and steady voice that will enrage many and enlighten more. He combines an electrifying and formidable historical study with close readings and incisive analysis, not to mention a brilliant eye for the horrible detail of hypocritical posturing.

In four trenchant and learned chapters, preceded and followed by a Prologue and Conclusion in coruscating prose, Seymour expertly traces the regularity with which liberal moralizing has been joined at the hip with bloody conquest. Beginning with the 17th century subjugation of Ireland, liberal ideas established the currently-deployed terms of discourse, such as “civilization” and “progress,” to disguise genocide, slavery and occupation.

Using great erudition, rich prose and a rare ability to integrate sophisticated historical and sociological analysis, Seymour shows how Enlightenment liberals, victims of their own political fantasies at best, replaced an originally skeptical attitude toward empire with “an almost uniform support for the colonial enterprise” especially targeting those “who advocated the extension of self-government domestically” (27)."

I say.  Can't complain about that.

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