The Leftist theory, politics, and activism discussion Thread

Where on the left spectrum do you fall?

  • Anarcho-Communist

  • Democratic socialist

  • Liberal

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  • Anarcho-Syndicalist

  • Marxist

  • Maoist

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"Communism is the riddle of history solved"
Dec 6, 2019
Varaždin, Hrvaška
The Enigmatic Anarchist
Lucy Parsons's life was rife with contradictions. But her commitment to workers' emancipation was never in doubt.

Lucy Parsons circa 1886. Library of Congress

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Lucy Parsons is often lionized as a pioneering black radical, a powerful writer and orator who championed workers’ emancipation through organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), while flouting racist conventions with her white husband, Albert Parsons.
But while this sketch carries the patina of truth, it is, like so many aspects of Parsons, rife with contradictions. Throughout her life, Parsons hid her background as an African American and a former slave, instead claiming she was of Mexican and Native American descent. She refrained from denouncing the plight of black workers, focusing almost exclusively on an urban working class composed primarily of European immigrants. And despite being a delegate at the founding convention of the IWW in 1905, her involvement with the radical union thereafter was minimal.
Yet her journey from slave to nationally recognized radical voice, her tireless advocacy for workers, and her undeniable bravery in the face of murderous state repression made her stand out in an era full of notable leftists.

Parsons largely faded from the popular imagination following her death in 1942. It wasn’t until 1976 that the first biography of her, Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary by Carolyn Ashbaugh, was published. The second — Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones was just released by Basic Books. Jacobin recently spoke with Jones, a renowned historian at the University of Texas, about Parsons’s political evolution, her lifetime of tribulations, and her many, many faces.

In light of the old anarchist slogan “no gods, no masters,” it seems natural that Lucy Parsons, an ex-slave, would be attracted to anarchism, but her political evolution was not so simple. Can you explain how she went from freedwoman to anarchist?

The development of Lucy Parsons’s political ideology was entwined with that of her husband, Albert Parsons. As a teenager, Albert served in the Confederate Army, but he lacked any principled commitment to the Southern cause. After the war, Albert returned to Waco, Texas, and became active in the Republican Party. He played a major role in helping freedmen register and vote, and urged them to seize their rights as free and equal citizens. It was during this period that Albert realized he possessed considerable talent as a powerful, even fearless, orator. Gradually, he developed political ambitions, as evidenced by his attempt to curry favor with prominent Republicans in Texas.
He and Lucy married in 1872, when Republicans controlled the state government and (at least in some areas) approved of interracial marriage. The Democrats regained control of the state the following year, prompting the couple to flee to Chicago, where they settled in a German immigrant community. He worked as a printer, and she set up shop as a seamstress.

Albert and Lucy partook of German immigrants’ radical sensibilities and embraced socialism. Just as Texas Republicans challenged the powerful Democratic Party and its commitment to slavery, so Chicago socialists challenged both major political parties and their commitment to capitalism.

Albert once again relished his role as an outsider and thorn in the side of the establishment. Several times in the late 1870s, he ran for local office on the socialist ticket but lost every time. He and Lucy became convinced that the franchise was a poor vehicle for class revolution. They pointed out that many workers could not afford to take time off from their jobs to vote, the two major parties had a tenacious hold on the loyalties of the white laboring classes, and the political process itself was corrupted by the influence of big money and greedy lawmakers.
In the early 1880s, the Parsonses abandoned the ballot box and turned to anarchism. They argued that partisan politics was a waste of time and that workers’ direct action against the capitalist system was the only true path to revolution. They noted that technological innovation in the workplace was eliminating jobs for not only factory workers but the middle classes as well. Soon, they claimed, few Americans would be able to afford to purchase the goods made in this country and, at that point, capitalism would collapse. Then workers would organize themselves into specialized trade unions, which would serve as the embryos of a new, egalitarian society — one driven by the welfare of the collective and not by the profit-seeking of a few. This new society would have no need for wages or for war.

Lucy Parsons remained committed to these ideas throughout her long life, even in the face of evidence that the capitalist system was flexible, able to accommodate many new workers, and to create many new kinds of jobs.



"Communism is the riddle of history solved"
Dec 6, 2019
Varaždin, Hrvaška
American Authoritarianism Runs Deeper Than Trump
In response to the nationwide protests, Donald Trump seems ready to take the United States to a place many have been fearing since his election. Escaping from it means recognizing that he didn’t get us there alone.

Law enforcement officers stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as demonstrators protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd, on June 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee / Getty

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Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, puzzled observers have often wondered: How is it that the Democratic Party, which regularly accuses Trump of being a dangerous authoritarian plotting a dictatorial takeover, nevertheless works again and again to extend and enhance his spying powers? The past week of protests and riots sparked by the seemingly never-ending contagion of racist police violence should offer a clue.
The shock and mental injury that understandably came with Trump’s victory led many to look abroad to explain what they still find incomprehensible. It was Russian villainy, went the refrain, responsible not just for the wannabe strongman in the White House, but for all manner of “divisive” disruptions to peace and order in American life, from anti-fracking activism to, yes, protests against police brutality.
Now, the world has been stunned by the inexhaustible flood of videos and images of this brutality that’s streamed into our retinas via social media, laying bare the far more disturbing truth: the authoritarian instinct in the United States is vaster and deeper than just the man in the White House, running top to bottom, liberal to conservative.

So ubiquitous have the scenes of gratuitous police violence been these past few days that it seems almost redundant to list them at all. We’ve seen police around the country shove, kick, and even drive vehicles into unarmed, peaceful, and sometimes elderly protesters. We’ve heard reports of them attacking nurses at medical tents. We’ve watched them needlessly pepper spray individuals and whole crowds, even small children, and tase and drag people from their cars . We’ve seen the gruesome aftermath of their casual use of rubber and wooden bullets on their fellow citizens, including a pregnant woman. And we’ve witnessed them continuing to use the very tactics that sparked all this in the first place, pressing their knees on the necks of those they arrested in the same manner they used to snuff out George Floyd’s life eight days ago. And all this while hiding their badge numbers, lest there be even a shred of a possibility they face some accountability.

Yet stomach-churning as it is, this kind of brutalization of protesters is nothing new. For many, most shocking has been the police’s flagrant and deliberate targeting of journalists. Many were first disturbed by footage of a CNN crew being arrested live on air for no reason, even as they clearly showed officers their press badges, something the Minnesota State Patrol later felt the need to issue an easily disprovable lie about. If police were willing to do something that outrageous on camera, some wondered, what were they willing to do when they thought no one was watching?

The answer came swiftly as a spate of footage and reports documented police teargassing, macing, arresting, assaulting, and almost casually firing rubber bullets and other projectiles at journalists around the country. Bellingcat has documented at least fifty instances of police attacks on the press over the course of the protests, while US Press Freedom Tracker has identified more than one hundred violations, and at least five arrests on May 31 alone, often in instances where police were made fully aware of the reporters’ credentials.

Minnesota police have permanently blinded at least one reporter, Linda Tirado, apparently vindicating fears that their brazen on-air arrest augured much worse to come. Given that she doesn’t work for a corporate news outlet, it’s unlikely she’ll receive the same groveling apology CNN chief executive Jeff Zucker got from Minnesota governor Tim Walz.

Capitalism With Military Characteristics
Meanwhile, it increasingly looks like this wave of civil unrest has become the occasion for the civil liberties nightmare scenario many have rightly been fearing ever since the pandemic took hold.
At the head of this, of course, stands the president of the United States, who has gone out of his way to further inflame the situation. As police and protesters clashed in Minnesota, Trump now infamously quoted a racist police chief’s words that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” before claiming the military was “ready, willing, and able” to deploy against protesters, threatening to unleash their “unlimited power” on American streets. He then goaded the protesters who had gathered outside the White House.
At Trump’s request, military units were placed on high alert, ready to deploy if Walz, who ordered the state’s first-ever full mobilization of the National Guard, requested it. While the governor ultimately didn’t take that step, he boasted that he been coordinating with defense secretary Mark Esper and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, trying to make use of military and NSA intelligence.
“The wars that we fought to protect our nation, the war on terrorism, all of that over the last seventy-two hours, these people have brought more destruction and more terror to Minnesota than anybody in our history,” Walz said. “That’s who we’re up against.”

Other cities experiencing their own unrest took extraordinary steps to limit freedom of movement. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot closed down streets, raised bridges, suspended public transportation, and imposed an indefinite curfew, giving such little notice that protesters ended up trapped. Twenty-five cities in sixteen different states had imposed their own curfews, including several parts of Los Angeles County that banned people from any public spaces starting at 1 pm — a far more restrictive measure than anything contemplated under the pandemic lockdowns. The National Guard has been deployed in a dozen states. There are now more than seventeen thousand National Guard members activated to tackle the protesters, equal to the number of troops who are deployed to do the same thing in the wars that never ended in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Meanwhile, various right-wingers — never ones to let a good opportunity for state violence pass — have followed Trump’s lead and called for protesters to be ruthlessly put down. Esper urged governors to “dominate the battlespace” so as to “get back to the right normal.” Senator Tom Cotton recommended sending “the 101st Airborne” against protesters, later adding several more military units, demanding “no quarter” for those on the streets — meaning that they should be killed, not captured. Needless to say, a sitting senator calling for the murder of his fellow citizens is an ugly omen.
Building off Trump’s vow to declare Antifa — a label bestowed by the Right on a wide variety of groups that aren’t necessarily connected to the small and loosely organized movement — a terrorist organization, several right-wingers called for violent state repression. “Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?” asked Florida representative Matt Gaetz. “We did it with Al-Qaeda terrorists, now it’s time to do it with Antifa,” tweeted Noah Pollak, a foreign policy writer, over a photo of Guantanamo Bay.

All of this culminated in Monday night’s extraordinary scenes in the capital. Trump — scared of losing, eager to look “strong,” and upset by media coverage of his hiding in a White House bunker days earlier — threatened to send the military to cities and states to “dominate the streets” and put down what he called “domestic acts of terror.” As he spoke, and before Washington, DC’s curfew had even kicked in, riot-gear-clad authorities on Trump’s order attacked a group of peaceful protesters assembled in Lafayette Square, pelting them with tear gas and other projectiles and assaulting anyone in their way, including clergy and, of course, journalists, clearing the patio of a nearby church that had been used to give protesters supplies like water and hand sanitizer. With the way clear of danger, Trump walked to the church and awkwardly held up a Bible in front of cameras as sirens wailed in the background.

It was hard not to think of last year’s coup in Bolivia, backed by virtually the entire political establishment in the United States. That, too, was preceded by rioting by police and other right-wing forces, with Christian rightists triumphantly brandishing Bibles as they celebrated the country’s overturning of democracy.

Authoritarianism Runs Deep
This terrifying sequence of events has produced two sadly predictable responses: that this rampant brutality and squelching of basic civil liberties is something new and exceptional, and that it’s all because of Trump.
Members of the mainstream press reacted with incredulity at the sight of the CNN crew being arrested for no reason. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” CNN’s John Berman said.

“It is common in autocratic countries for journalists to be swept up in arrests during protests and riots, but rare in the United States, where news gathering is protected by the First Amendment,” wrote the New York Times in response.
In fact, it’s common in the United States, too. Just not necessarily if you work for CNN or the Times.

It was at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, with its police-enforced “free speech zones,” that police attacked and ultimately arrested more than 1,800 journalists, protesters, legal observers, and even onlookers, leading to a record $18 million settlement from the city a decade later. In 2014, dozens of journalists were arrested and charged during protests against racist police murders. Two years later, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman was arrested and charged with rioting for reporting on the pipeline protests at Standing Rock, where protesters were met with the same brutal, indiscriminate violence from authorities we’re now seeing all over the country.

And people already seem to have forgotten the J20 case that kicked off the Trump presidency, in which police rounded up two hundred people protesting on inauguration day in Washington, DC, including numerous journalists, and charged them with felony rioting simply for being in the vicinity of property damage, even if they themselves hadn’t committed any of it. The prosecutor in that case, who had a lengthy history of misconduct, attempted to railroad the defendants and was ultimately sanctioned by the judge for leaving out exculpatory evidence, leading to an ongoing lawsuit against the city and its police force.



"Communism is the riddle of history solved"
Dec 6, 2019
Varaždin, Hrvaška
Anarchist Solidarity with the BLM Struggle – Echoes from the Islamic World

The recorded killing of George Floyd by a police officer on May 26, 2020 in Minneapolis, sparked worldwide protests and riots, as well as solidarity with the struggle of African Americans against police violence and inequality. Although spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, anarchists have also played a role in mobilizing people to join protests,[1] while framing the African American struggle as part of a worldwide anarchist struggle.[2] This article sheds light on several anarchist groups in Muslim-majority countries, and their calls for solidarity with the BLM or anarchist causes. Although marginal, these groups are part of an anarchist network that has evolved in recent years on different Internet-based communication platforms. These platforms enable anarchists to construct a transnational, decentralized, leaderless movement that attempts to merge local struggles with the global anarchist movement.

Anarchist groups have never gained popularity in the Middle East or in Muslim-majority countries, unlike followers other political ideologies such as communism and fascism.[3] The main reason, as it seems, is that anarchism seeks to destroy any form of hierarchical structures of power. Such structures include all religions and religious institutions, the state (via nationalism), tribalism and patriarchy. These structures still shape and influence domestic and foreign affairs throughout the Islamic world. Nevertheless, there are active anarchist groups and individuals in various Muslim-majority countries from North Africa to East Asia.

The forces which oppose anarchism in the Islamic world – either in the form of nationalism, tribalism or diverse types of Islamism – have proven too strong to confront. This may explain why anarchist groups and anarchism never succeed in attracting the masses and gaining popularity. Moreover, unlike communism, which was supported by the Soviet Union, and unlike various streams of Islamism, which are often backed by specific countries, anarchism never had the “privilege” of having a strong patron.

For instance, in Indonesia, anarchist militants have emerged in the past decade as a threat to public order and state-representatives.[4] In Bangladesh, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation is known for promoting women’s and workers’ rights in the context of an anarchist struggle.[5] In Iran and Afghanistan a group that calls itself the Anarchist Union of Iran and Afghanistan, communicates with their fellow Western counterparts via their online platforms.[6] In Egypt, anarchists inspired by their Western counterparts called themselves the “Black Bloc” and participated in the Egyptian 2011 revolution.[7] In Tunisia, anarchists participated in the struggle for freedom in the post-Arab Spring era.[8] In Lebanon, there is a small anarchist group named Kafeh striving to establish an anarchist decentralized society in the country.[9] In Syria, there is a large presence of anarchists, most of them are Kurds but many came from Western countries (see below). In Turkey, militant groups such as the Revolutionary Anarchist Action (Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet, DAF) supports their counterparts who still fight in northern Syria.[10]

While these anarchist groups represent tiny, fringe communities – they are linked to a transnational revolutionary social movement with supporters around the world. This helps to construct and promote local struggles as part of a wider revolution, thus justifying mobilization of anarchists from one arena to another. An example can be found in Western anarchist foreign fighters who traveled to Syria to take part in the war against the Islamic State, the Turkish army, and the Turkish-backed rebel forces – all depicted as representatives of fascism.[11] These anarchists could join anarchist fighting groups such as the now – disbanded International Revolutionary People’s Guerilla Forces, as well as the Anarchist Struggle (Tekoşîna Anarşîst), which still operates in northern Syria.[12]

Different anarchist groups from the Arab and Islamic world expressed their solidarity with BLM, and the efforts to “defund the police.” For example, on June 4, 2020, Tekoşîna Anarşîst published a photo that features eight masked individuals near some graffiti on a house in Rojava – the autonomous region in north Syria – that reads “No justice no peace - avenge George Floyd and all those murdered by State brutality.” A message that was accompanied the photo reads: “Solidarity with those fighting for the black liberation and anti-colonial resistance!”[13] The group also published an official statement in which it condemned the government of the United States and urged people to “get rid of borders and hierarchies that divide us.”[14] On June 6, 2020, the Bangladesh Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation shared on its Facebook page a message by the American anarchist group Workers Solidarity Alliance[15] that called for the “abolition of the police,” as cops “are part of the bureaucratic control class that includes middle managers, judges, prosecutors, corporate lawyers and military brass.”[16]

The above-mentioned photo was also shared by the Asr Anarshism Telegram channel. According to a message that was posted on this channel on June 7, 2020, “there is a need for anarchist groups operating extensively in virtual spaces to support, promote, and disseminate anarchist texts and news. This can be achieved with the mutual help of anarchists with each other internationally.” Additionally, the group asked its followers to spread its “content from Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Asr Anarshism, our website” and to “live streaming [anarchists] in their language and discuss anarchism and political issues related to the anarchist movement at the international level and share it with so we all can learn from such discussions.”[17]

In an interview on the anarchist website Enough is Enough, a spokesperson for the Lebanese Kafeh group said that the group’s goal is to overthrow the regime, “as well as the prosecution and punishment of the corrupt and the abolition of the sectarian laws.”[18] In Lebanon, the BLM struggle is associated with the struggle against “Kafala,” a term that refers broadly to any person who is being subjugated to verbal, physical and sexual abuse by people who lock them up; or more specifically, to the system of sponsorship that legally binds foreign workers to Lebanese citizens.[19] Additionally, the Twitter account of “Propaganda,” which is affiliated with Kafeh shared a video that features riots and protests, along with messages such as “Down with systemic racism” and “Riot against the status quo everywhere!” They include hashtags, such as “Down with the regime of Kafala”, “#BlackLivesMatter” and “#AbolishKafala.”[20]

The recent BLM protests and the riots that followed George Floyd’s killing succeeded in mobilizing tens of thousands of people around the world against police brutality, injustice, and inequality. In the Islamic world, the BLM protests were successfully used to cement anarchist groups together by linking their local goals, ranging from women’s and foreign workers’ rights, through class struggles to the militant struggle of anarchists in Syria to fortify the autonomous zone in the north of the country. By linking local struggles to a global anarchist coalition, as various anarchist groups in Muslim countries are trying to do, these groups are able to present themselves as part of a transnational movement, and not just as marginal, powerless actors. This linkage is necessary to confront the strong antagonists that anarchists face, including the state, tribal, and religious institutions that dominate the centers of influence and power.


"Communism is the riddle of history solved"
Dec 6, 2019
Varaždin, Hrvaška
The Threat of a Free Haiti
The Haitian Revolution sowed fear in the hearts of Cuba's slaveholding class.

Our new issue – looking at what the Bernie campaigns accomplished and the work left to do – is out next month. Get a discounted print subscription today!

In 1791, while France entered the early stages of its revolution, the slaves of its Caribbean colony, Saint Domingue, rose up and took arms. It was the first successful slave revolt in history, one that overthrew white colonial rule and established the new state of Haiti in 1804.

The Haitian Revolution sent shivers through European possessions across the Caribbean and Latin America, and into the newly independent United States. It became a tremendous symbol of hope for slaves throughout these countries, and one of tremulous fear for their masters, particularly those living in the colonies. Its effects extended to the South American independence movement led by Simón Bolívar, and to France, particularly during the more radical periods of its own revolution.

In Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, historian Ada Ferrer undertakes a comprehensive evaluation of the impact made by the Haitian Revolution on Cuba, then still a Spanish colony located only fifty miles from Haiti’s western sea borders.

Ferrer — whose previous book Insurgent Cuba examines the racial dimensions of the island’s pro-independence movements in the latter half of the nineteenth century — develops an insightful account of the ways in which the Haitian Revolution spurred the intensification of plantation slavery in Cuba, fostering at once the growing power of slaveholders and a new spirit of rebellion among slaves, encouraging an antagonism that culminated in several failed slave conspiracies and rebellions.
When revolt broke out in 1791, Saint Domingue hosted eight hundred sugar plantations that together produced as much sugar as all of Britain’s Caribbean colonies combined. By its conclusion, sugar production had collapsed in Haiti along with slavery and French rule.

As slave insurgency ground Haitian farming and manufacture to a halt, sugar production took off in neighboring Cuba, as did a new plantation system of coffee cultivation established by white refugees from Saint Domingue in the eastern part of the island.

In the thirty years that followed, approximately 325,000 Africans were brought to Cuba as slaves, more than four times the number brought in the three decades prior. By 1804, Cuban sugar exports had risen from 15,000 metric tons a year to 40,000. Between 1791 and 1810, the population of Havana doubled. Cuba’s economy and society were rapidly transformed.

The growth of Cuban sugar and the massive importation of slaves converted Cuba into a distinctly slave society. White rulers and elites in Cuba became obsessed with the “racial balance” of the population. As early as 1815 the colonial authorities established a Junta de Población Blanca (Council of the White Population) charged with increasing white immigration.
In 1817, the Spanish authorities issued a royal decree, specifically designed to attract white settlers to the island, that extended property rights and tax exemptions to all Europeans who came. Cuban rulers managed to reestablish a white majority after the first half of the nineteenth century.

Bloody Colonies
Among the many virtues of Ferrer’s work is her vivid insight into the minds of Cuban slaveholders as they faced the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution, which instilled terror even as the arrival of some 35,000 white refugees from Saint Domingue (not all of whom remained in Cuba) strengthened their class power.

Haunted throughout the nineteenth century by the specter of Haiti, writes Ferrer, Cuban slaveholders incessantly invoked an image of its revolution, “in which the enslaved rose up, killed masters, covered the world’s richest colony in blood, and turned it into a mountain of ashes.”

This image conveniently obscured the French atrocities that accelerated the slave rebellion, like those recounted by eyewitness Nicolas Geffrard, cited by Ferrer, who managed to escape Saint Domingue in October 1802, when French forces in the port city of Le Cap rounded up and drowned thousands of black and colored members of the French colonial army.

At the same time, Ferrer’s account reveals that behind the racist, colonial ideology of these horror stories lurked a fundamentally rational class fear. Among the many expressions of that fear, she notes the slaveholders’ fixation on the congregation of too many “negros franceses,” meaning Haitian blacks, in Havana, which they identified as a potential source of political contagion for Cuban-born slaves; a concern validated by the discovery of five minor slave conspiracies and rebellions in the region near the capital in 1802 and 1803.

In 1811, the Cádiz Cortes in Spain — pressed to establish a liberal constitutional monarchy by nationalist resistance to the French occupation that accompanied the Iberian Peninsular War — began to consider a number of reforms to the slave system, including the possibility of its abolition.

The Cuban delegate to the constitutional convention in which those discussions took place insisted that the consideration of such measures be kept secret, anxious that the mere discussion of reform would invite catastrophe to the island. His proposal passed unanimously. White Cuban fears of “another Saint Domingue” would delay the abolition of slavery and the armed struggle for independence from Spain well into the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Cuban slavocracy could not bear the very existence of the independent black nation next door. The slaveowners’ primary concern was not the threat of invasion from Haiti or the instigation of revolt in Cuba, but the danger it posed to Cuban maritime trade, which brought slave labor into the island and sugar out. Yet, as Ferrer shows, the Cuban slaveholders’ dread of black rebellion and their suspicion of their new neighbor could never outpace the allure of the slave trade’s profits.
With the complicity of local buyers and government authorities, Cuban plantation owners continued to buy and sell slaves, including free blacks captured in Saint Domingue, former insurgents among them. By an ongoing flirtation with American annexation, Cuba’s colonial ruling class fended off any gesture toward reform by the Spanish empire.

Political Contagion
In one of the book’s most elegantly narrated episodes, Ferrer recounts how the arrival of a slave ship in Cuba during the early stages of the Haitian Revolution brought news of the successful black uprising, along with some of its recaptured protagonists to be sold; the destruction and remaking of the Caribbean slave system in a single moment.

Despite the limited data, Ferrer is able to marshal a variety of sources that attest to the impact made by incoming Saint Domingue slaves, and the written and graphic materials from the revolution that came with them. She describes encounters between newly arrived captives from Africa and slaves, both those Cuban-born and those transplanted from Haiti; the news (at times false or incoherent) and opinions they exchanged as they sought to anticipate what Haiti’s emergence would mean for Cuba, and to mobilize the news as a symbol of their own forthcoming liberation.



"Communism is the riddle of history solved"
Dec 6, 2019
Varaždin, Hrvaška
The Utopian Socialists: Charles Fourier (1)
By 1825, European society had undergone several shock waves of change. The transformation was set in motion by two immense revolutions: one set the pace for political change in the 19th century, while the other radically transformed the nature of economic man. As we have seen, the French Revolution made change the order of the day and helped to instill in man -- at least some men -- the notion that change was somehow both good and desirable. Occurring at the same time, although with a varied pace depending upon what European nation we are observing, an Industrial Revolution worked its wonders on nations, social classes and individuals (see Lecture 17). Although there were those thinkers who were critical of the Industrial Revolution and wanted to return to some pre-modern state of existence, there were other critics who saw that industry and industrial capitalism were here to stay. For these individuals, it was a forward-looking socialism which would help make sense of all these changes for the benefit of mankind. However, it is curious to note that following the Napoleonic period, a strong wave of conservative reaction set in across most of Europe. This is not that surprising since most monarchs feared what another French Revolution and another Napoleon could do in their country.

The first quarter of the 19th century was also marked by an artistic and cultural phenomenon known as Romanticism (see Lecture 16). The Romantic artist idealized medieval society and in general, exhibited a strong distaste for rationalism of any flavor. The Romantic also had no sympathy for the atomized individualism that was so prominent among the philosophes. Therefore, Romanticism also lent itself to conservative and reactionary purposes. But since Romanticism also meant the attempt to break away from established norms and standards in art, conduct and philosophy, it could also seem to have served the purposes of liberation that was embraced by the radical and revolutionary socialist.
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Romanticism was so complex a movement that historians have never reached a consensus regarding definitions or meanings. Romantics were liberals, conservatives, rationalists, idealists, Catholics, atheists, revolutionaries and reactionaries. Their essential message, however, was that the imagination of the individual should determine the form and content of all art. Such an attitude ran counter to the judgments of the Enlightenment. The philosophes attacked the Church because it blocked human Reason. The Romantics attacked the philosophes because they had turned man into a soulless thinking machine, a robot. Christianity had formed a matrix into which medieval man found understanding. The Enlightenment replaced the medieval matrix with the matrix of Newtonian physics. For the Romantics, the result of all this was the demotion of the individual. Imagination, sensitivity, feeling, spontaneity and freedom were stifled, choked to death. Man must liberate himself. Like Rousseau, one of their spiritual fathers, the individual must rediscover true freedom. Habits, rules, traditions and standards imposed by rational society must be lifted. Man must be liberated.
The philosophes tried to demonstrate that all men are the same because they are endowed with Reason. But where the philosophes saw commonality, the Romantics saw diversity and uniqueness. Discover yourself, they said, express yourself. Play your own music, write your own poetry, paint your own personal vision: live, love or suffer in your own way. Whereas as the 18th century philosophe would have agreed with Kant when he said, "Sapere Aude! Dare to Know!," the Romantics took up the battle cry, "Dare to be! Dare to be yourself" The Romantics were rebels and they knew it. They dared to be themselves. And they were most passionate about their subjectivism, their emphasis on the introspective self. After all, had not Rousseau’s Confessions begun with the following words:
I am commencing an undertaking, hitherto without precedent and which will never find an imitator. I desire to set before my fellows the likeness of a man in all the truth of nature, and that man myself. Myself alone! I know the feelings of my heart, and I know men. I am not made like any of those I have seen. I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.
For the Romantic, it was poetry which revealed the highest truth. Poetry could do what rational analysis and geometric calculation could not. Poetry could speak to the heart, clarify life’s mysteries, and bring the imagination out of the soul. "O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts," said John Keats (1795-1821). "Bathe in the waters of life," said William Blake (1757-1827). The Romantics gave European culture an antidote to the excessive rationalism of the 18th century. Intensely subjective and introspective, the Romantics discovered the soul behind the mind.

It was in the context of the Romantic movement, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, that the Utopian Socialists made their appearance upon the historical stage. The three main Utopian Socialists -- Charles Fourier, Robert Owen and Henri de Saint-Simon -- differed from one another in a number of fundamental ways but they had enough in common to justify talking about them collectively. They all lived at approximately the same time: only twelve years separated the oldest (Saint-Simon) from the youngest (Fourier). All were alive between 1770 and 1825 and they all did their most influential work during the first quarter of the 19th century. Although it was Marx and Engels who eventually labeled these socialists as utopian (as outlined in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO), they were not utopian in the sense that Sir Thomas More certainly was. The Utopian Socialists believed that their ideal societies could be established in the immediate future. More, on the other hand, could only admit that the island called Utopia was an ideal society, but also that the only way England or Europe could find its utopia was to go back in time rather than forward. This much said, the label utopian has been accepted but not necessarily because historians have agreed with the judgment of Marx and Engels. The real reason why Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen are Utopian Socialists is because their thought closely resembles that of the religious sectarian, the recent convert, the visionary and the Romantic. It might also be added that for the modern, the ideas of the Utopian Socialist also appear to have been formulated by fanatics. This is perhaps a result of the fact that they announced their plans for an ideal society with the zeal of the religious prophet.
Selections from Fourier
Appearing as they did in the first quarter of the 19th century, it is necessary to identify the Utopian Socialists according to how perceptively they understood and dealt with the massive challenge of industrial society. In this regard, it was CHARLES FOURIER (1772-1837) who seems to have been the most utopian of the Utopian Socialists. What I mean by this is that although Fourier was aware of what was happening in England as a result of the Industrial Revolution, he rejected industrialism wholesale. He despised laissez-faire liberalism and the factory system not because of what effects they might have on human society, but because he believed that industrial society was a passing phase. He saw no need to rectify the dangers inherent in industrialism -- he simply went beyond industrialism by ignoring it. Visionaries can do such things, you know.
As a visionary, Fourier’s ideas seem quite fantastical and without ground in reality. Indeed, there is much in Fourier’s writing that is pure nonsense. Yes, like some of the representatives of the early French communist movement, Fourier exhibits that almost characteristic pretension of the visionary: contradictory, confused, repetitive, chaotic and, of course, long-winded. Reading Fourier after having read Marx and Engels, Fourier comes off as a confused thinker. For instance, Fourier's passion for numbers led him to predict that the ideal world he was helping to create would last 80,000 years, 8,000 of them in an era of Perfect Harmony in which:
  • androgynous plants would copulate
  • six moons would orbit the earth
  • the North Pole would be milder than the Mediterranean
  • the seas would lose their salt and become oceans of lemonade
  • the world would contain 37 million poets equal to Homer, 37 million mathematicians equal to Newton and 37 million dramatists equal to Molière, although "these are approximate estimates"
  • every woman would have four lovers or husbands simultaneously
It may be difficult to surmount these "difficulties" in Fourier's thought but I think it would be wrong to pass Fourier off as nothing more than an absurd eccentric. After all, even Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a bit odd: he believed that men could extend their life spans indefinitely simply by the power of mind over matter. If one is able to wade through the near endless nonsense which runs rampant through Fourier’s writings, one will find that he does offer even the modern reader some fresh and somewhat audacious views of the human condition. If his proposals seem rather extraordinary if not bizarre by modern standards, his insights into human society and individual psychology remain quite perceptive.

Fourier was a relatively isolated thinker. We cannot trace the origin of his ideas with any accuracy. He had no formal academic training and claimed to be bored with the discourses of the philosophers. Working as a traveling salesman during the day and scribbling away in the evenings, he was mocked and ridiculed by his critics. He had no meaningful contacts with any political organizations nor did his ideas correspond in any clear way to either the early French communists or the British democratic radicals.

This is not to say that we must accept Fourier’s claim of originality or epoch-making genius either. Fourier tells us that his ideas had tremendous implications for the future. In his parable, "The Four Apples," Fourier sees history guided by four apples. The first two -- Adam and Helen of Troy -- were the bad apples. The good apples, on the other hand, were Newton and yeah, you may have guessed it, Fourier himself. Newton had discovered the physical laws of universal attraction: it was up to Fourier, so Fourier the illiterate shopkeeper tells us, to discover the laws of passional attraction. These ideas aside, some of what Fourier says does reflect certain rather typical Enlightenment themes. For instance, Reason and Nature were key terms in his writings. He called himself the "Messiah of Reason," and, like Rousseau, he criticized bourgeois society for having created an unnatural civilization. Fourier proposed a completely non-repressive society in which basic human drives would not be repressed but expressed and cultivated.
Fourier detested the English for their rapidly emerging industrial society and for men like Adam Smith (1723-1790), David Ricardo (1772-1832), Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and other political economists who had done so much to rationalize that system. He held in special contempt the rationally calculating individualism of the utilitarians. They were too intellectual, too rational. In their place, Fourier foresaw a community tied together by the bonds of emotion. Thus Bentham’s system, designed as it was to repress human drive and will, was both wrong and impossible. Human nature, Fourier believed, was created by God and organized society should respect that and not try to fight it. Neither could Fourier accept Rousseau’s concept of the General Will, nor Robespierre, nor the Reign of Terror, nor even the Jacobins.
Charles Fourier was born into a well-established family of cloth merchants and spent the bulk of his life engaged in commerce. But from an early age, so he tells us, he rebelled against his work, lamenting that it was his fate to be "participating in the deceitful activities of merchants and brutalizing myself in the performance of degrading tasks." He spent his early years in Lyons where he observed the efforts of the silk workers to organize themselves. Here too he observed the rampant commercial speculation, the cycles of inflation and industrial stagnation that prevailed when the free market economy was re-established under the Directory.
Fourier wanted to elevate the status of manual labor, to rescue it from a long-standing tradition of degradation and denigration. But while Fourier was interested in the rational reorganization and efficiency of labor, he by no means accepted the bourgeois work ethic or the older Judeo-Christian notion that work is unavoidably toilsome. For Fourier, all manual labor was arduous and irksome -- whether in the factory, workshop or field, the plight of the laboring population was intolerably dehumanizing. He believed, on the other hand, that it was possible to make all work into play, to make it pleasurable and desirable and deeply satisfying, both physically and mentally. This was perhaps the one vision of Fourier’s thought that most captivated other socialist thinkers of the 19th century, including Marx and Engels.
The device which Fourier believed would make possible this non-repressive social cohesion, this Eden of joyous labor, he termed the phalanstere. A typically untranslatable concept, the term was coined by Fourier to suggest the ancient Greek phalanx, where men were tightly linked together, forming a highly interdependent and impenetrable fighting unit. Fourier’s phalanx was to become a self-contained community housing 1,620 members with a myriad of subdivisions designed to encourage a dynamic interplay of various human passions. Why 1,620? Well, Fourier had determined that there are 810 different psychological types -- if you multiply this by two (male and female), you arrive at a figure of 1,620. Here the Law of Passional Attractions would be allowed to operate unfettered for the first time in history. What Newton had done for physics, Fourier had done for human society. And of course, Fourier believed his discovery to be much more important than Newton’s.

There are twelve fundamental passions: five of the senses (touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell); four of the soul (friendship, love, ambition and parenthood); and three that he called distributive. The first eight passions are self-explanatory. It is the distributive passions that deserve our closer attention.​


"Communism is the riddle of history solved"
Dec 6, 2019
Varaždin, Hrvaška
First, la Papillone refers to the love of variety. A worker quickly tires of one kind of task, just as lovers, in spite of their initial attraction, soon find themselves looking elsewhere. Fourier held Christianity in deep contempt because it made people feel guilty when they pursued their natural desire for variety in work or in sex. For the same reasons, he also hated Adam Smith’s vision of a society of specialists, doing the same thing over and over all in the name of the division of labor. Whatever the productive advantages of the Smith’s liberal political economy, the fact remained, according to Fourier, that it created only stunted and repressed human beings. Society should strive to eliminate all tedious or unpleasant jobs, learning, if possible, to do without the products derived from such labor.

The second of the distributive passions, la Cabaliste, had to do with rivalry and conspiracy. While in previous societies this passion caused many problems, in the phalanx it would be put to good use. Productive teams would compete with one another to produce the most delicious peaches or the best pair of shoes. The need to compete would satisfy a natural passion for all men, by nature, are competitive. And the harmful aspects of competitive commerce in civilization would not be reproduced because production would keep the overall good of society in mind, rather than encouraging individual profit in the market.

Finally, la Composite, the distributive passion which Fourier considered the most beautiful of all. Nearly impossible to translate into reality, by la Composite, Fourier seems to have meant a combination of two or more different varieties of passions -- the sharing of a good meal (senses) in good company (soul) while conspiring (la Cabaliste) to arrange a sexual orgy with the couple at the next table. This suggests some of the special interest scholars took in Fourier in the 1960s. He was an ardent advocate of sexual liberation and a staunch defender of sexual preferences that were clearly not accepted by religion or society. He believed that the only sexual activity that could be forbidden involved pain or force. He was willing to accept sadism and masochism among consenting partners as well as sodomy, lesbianism, homosexuality, pederasty, bestiality, fetishism, sex between close relatives -- any sexual activity, in others words, that satisfied man’s natural needs. Fourier was also a radical feminist. He considered the position of women in his society as a form of slavery. In one famous passage, he set it down that the level of any civilization could be determined by the extent to which its women had been liberated. On the other hand, Fourier did not advocate the equality of the sexes for the simple reason that there were real differences between the sexes. He rejected patriarchy and familial conditions in the phalanx were based on a structure entirely unknown in western civilization. He believed that the existing family structure was partly responsible for the subjugation of women. The family turned people exclusively inward to spouse and children, rather than outward to society.

Fourier’s vision, together with his criticism of the existing system, places him as one of the most inspired prophets of 19th century socialism. His remarkable psychological insights, such as his championing of brief spells and variety in work, his quickness to see oppression no matter how veiled, and his penetrating concern with character formations and problems, links him to modern educational theory, the emancipation of women and even personnel management.

Fourier can also be described as a brilliant exponent of the idea of alienation, a concern which we will find fully developed in Marx, or as an early theoretician of the affluent society, a theme later developed by the American economist, John Kenneth Galbraith. His sometimes nonsensical statements aside, Fourier’s ideas do make some sense when placed alongside the more advanced ideas of a Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud or Herbert Marcuse, the critic of the one-dimensional society of the 1960s. His vision that mankind’s existence is somehow false or repressive, was certainly taken up again by later thinkers, of course, with quite different conclusions.