Useful left ideas

Paul Trewelha – Critique of Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Marxism (2 articles)

This also fits into the category of useful South African left writing, being an incisive critique of the politics of George Padmore, former Marxist-Leninist-turned-African-nationalist. Through the “Pan-Africanist” variant of African nationalism, Padmore remains a major influence on current movements — a critical examination of his contradictions, flaws and prescriptions remains, then, essential.

PDF is here: Trewelha – Critique of Padmore

This is from  Searchlight South Africa, Vol.l, No.1, September 1988

Another paper by Trewelha also deals with Padmore, and is provided below purely in the interests of additional material on Padmore. While it has a few useful points about Padmore’s silences about Stalin’s brutality, much of it is taken up with a bizarre Trotskyist theory, based on uncited anecdotes (via other Trotskyists) trying to show Stalin had Alfred Nzula — the first black general secretary of the CPSA/ SACP — killed  by the GPU/ KGB in Moscow in 1934. The fact is that Nzula died of pneumonia, after passing out drunk on a street at night. Not a glorious end, but there you have it. The slightest familiarity with Nzula’s work as writer and party leader and theorist reveals a thoroughgoing Stalinist, hardly a political opponent that would vaguely interest Stalin’s secret police. That Nzula opposed the two-stage theory is simply nonsense. The other SA communists killed in the USSR at the time — like Lazar Bach and Paul and Maurice Richter — were not killed for “Trotskyist” views, but for failing to keep up with the swift shift from (Stalin’s) New Line to (Stalin’s) Popular Front. All three were ardent Stalinists. Nonetheless, the appallingly thin historiography on SA communism — and the CPSA/ SACP’s culture of never compiling the texts of its main leaders (hagiographic biographies, icons and dubious official histories substitute for any real discussion of party history, in the party) — open the door for such myth-making. SACP/ CPSA silence on people like Nzula has less to do with their alleged Troskyism, than the embarrassing fact that the two-stage theory originally excluded the ANC as a group of “national-reformist” traitors from the transition in SA. The ANC now being the  SACP’s ally, some might say master, the fact that two-stageism was originally ANTI-ANC has to be occluded.

PDF is here:Trewelha – Death of Nzula and silence of Padmore

This is from Searchlight South Africa, Vol.1, No.l, September 1988


Discussion: Michael Cooke on the left and fundamentalists | Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Source: here

INTRO by blogger: Lots of the left (esp. but NOT only in the West) take a position on far right movements like radical Islamism that amounts, effectively, to a refusal to critique such movements. This capitulation and liquidationism is given various justifications, among them that critiquing radical Islam aids ‘imperialism’, that it is ‘Islamophobic’ (itself an enormously problematic concept), that such movements can be contested and can even be ‘progressive.’ A classic past example was the adulation of the Iranian Revolution 1978-1979 (the problem obv is that this revolution was captured by the Islamists — NB these are not all Muslims — who then massacred trade unionists and leftists and instituted various reactionary measures). More recent examples can be seen with UK leftists working with far right Islamists to disrupt critics of Islamism (incl bizarre concessions like sexually segregating joint meetings, so as not to offend the Islamists) and SA leftists absorbing various anti-Jewish views incl. the slogan ‘kill the Jews’ in the BDS movement… With the Charlie Hebdo killings,  much of the left including a section of the anarchists managed the remarkable feat of saying absolutely nothing about the politics of the killers, preferring instead to take refuge in various platitudes about how ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘imperialism’ were ‘really’ the cause of the killings, French elite hypocrisy, or attacks on the paper for being ‘Islamophobic’ or hysterical claims about the white right in Europe (a ‘right’ that can barely top 5% in most polls, but anyway …). Whether or not the paper was ‘Islamophobic’ or whether France’s state’s concern for free speech was hypocritical or whether white fascists make propaganda from issues like Charlie Hebdo, is, however, a separate issue: here, right now, there is a radical rightwing (IslamisT0 movement, not radically different to the white right, and right here is a large part of the left that has no idea what to do — despite this movement’s known history of massacring leftists and workers and unionists, repressing women andd civil rights, merging church and state etc. — none of which has anything to do with the left project …… Right now, when this movement threatens the radical left project of the PKK in Rojava… the article below provides a way ahead, that refuses to capitulate to Western imperialism of teh radical Islamist right-wing movement …

The article:

iscussion: Michael Cooke on the left and fundamentalists

By Michael Cooke

For the record then, I have no patience with the position that “we” should only or mainly be concerned with what is “ours’” any more than I can condone reactions to such a view that require Arabs to read Arab books, use Arab methods and the like. As C.L.R James used to say, Beethoven belongs as much to the West as he does to Germans, since his music is now part of the human heritage.

Partly because of empire, all cultures are involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinary, differentiated, and unmonolithic. This I believe, is as true of the contemporary Untied States [or Australia] as it is of the modern Arab world … Edward Said[1]

June 12, 2015 Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — On April 11, 2015, a right-wing coalition calling itself Reclaim Australia organised rallies across Australia. In Melbourne it was confronted forcefully by a broad coalition of the left. The “Reclaimers” seemed to be racist fantasists, if their Facebook page is any indication: they describe themselves as patriotic Australians who want to stop halal, sharia law and Islamisation.[2]

Mustafa Sidaoul wittily and aptly pointed out in the letter columns of the Age, that the demand to ban sharia is not based on fact, given that sharia does not apply in Australia. Halal certification is a matter of supply and demand (i.e. an economic imperative), and concerns Australia’s need to expand our export market rather than a religious injunction.[3] For without halal certification Muslims will not buy Australian meat.

It is essential that the pernicious and erroneous views, as expounded by the likes of Reclaim Australia, are not only ridiculed but also confronted, which the left has done. The left has also pointed out that Islamophobia is fuelled by Western governments to justify their interventions in the Middle East. It is vital to point out that these imperialist policies provide almost perfect political, cultural and religious tinder to light fundamentalist fervour. While supporting the left’s stand on imperialism, this essay argues that there is a gap in the discourse. The left needs to contest Islamic fundamentalists like Islamic State (IS), given that they are inimical to what the left stands for.

You will not find in the agenda of Islamic fundamentalists the principles embraced by the left: separation of church and state, the right to religious freedom, a rejection of unbridled capitalism, the anti-colonialist struggle, the rights of minorities and the unifying of people of different cultures and religions into a broad coalition to oppose our country’s economic and imperial aims.

This contribution strongly rejects binary perspectives, such as the West versus Islam or religious fundamentalism versus secularism, as being spurious (more…)

Baruch Hirson, 1990, “Communalism and Socialism in Africa: The Misdirection of C.L.R. James”

PDF: Hirson – Communalism and Socialism – the misdirection of CLR James

CLR James, a great Marxist scholar famed esp for his work on the slave revolt in Haiti in the 1790s-1800s — part of the larger process sometimes called the ‘French Revolution’ — is rightly venerated as a great left scholar. For anarchists and syndicalists there is the additional attraction of his fairly libertarian politics: although he manifestly failed to properly understand the authoritarianism of Lenin and Trotsky, or the true history of the early USSR — remaining in the mould of Stalin-as-root-of-all-evil — he was a staunch advocate of a socialism from below, including direct self-management of production. At least sometimes … as so many on the left, James had a ‘third worldist’ blindspot that led him to an almost uncritical support of a range of dubious ‘third world’ (colonial and postcolonial) regimes and movements. If workers democracy was his credo for the West, the rest got something else…. This was manifest in his adulation of Kwame Nkrumah, a union-bashing nationalist leader of Ghana, and his mixed economy (christened ‘socialism’ although being virtually indistinguishable from the capitalist import-substitution-industrialisation common in the ‘third world’ where it was applied by everyone from Latin American and Asian military regimes to ‘African capitalist’ states, to the apartheid and Rhodesian governments as well!). Article considers the roots of this adulatory approach in larger left errors, and also provides some important critiques of the regimes of Nkrumah and similar figures and ‘African socialism’…



A Marxist Journal of South African Studies

Searchlight South Africa/ Baruch Hirson, 1991, “Third Worldism: The Albatross of Socialism”

PDF: Hirson – Third Worldism – albatross of socialism

Also from Searchlight South Africa, a journal edited primarily by the late Baruch Hirson, independent South African Marxist, this article argues against the left’s embrace of ‘third worldism’, meaning the support (more or less uncritical in practice) of nationalist movements and regimes in the colonial and postcolonial world. In the name of ‘anti-imperialism’ this boils down to abandoning class politics in favour of a de facto nationalist north vs south view of the world — and to various disasters for the left. It can be mentioned here that the direct lineal descendant of this ‘third worldism’ is the inability of large part’s of today’s left to take a critical and oppositional stand on radical Islamism, on the grounds that critique ‘helps’ ‘imperialism’ or is ‘Islamophobic’ (a hugely problematic concept in its own right) or will be done ‘later’ — as if the left project of progress, universalism and equality has anything in common with the far right politics of radical Islamism… Also read this article by Hirson critiquing widespread problems in left theorisation of imperialism and left ‘anti-imperialism’.

SOCIALISM: Once Again On The Colonial Question

Vol 2, No 2 (No 6)
A Marxist Journal of Southern African Studies

Baruch Hirson, 1991, “Colonialism and Imperialism”

PDF: Hirson – Colonialism and Imperialism

Article by the late independent South African Marxist Baruch Hirson: criticises narrowly economistic explanations of ‘imperialism,’ the sloppy use of the term as a catch-all, and the politics of a crude ‘anti-imperialism’ that amounts to an defense, largely uncritical, of dubious ‘third world’ regimes. Written ca the 1991 Gulf War, but still relevant today incl. on issues of how left relates — or capitulates — to reactionary currents like radical Islamism in the name of a vague ‘anti-imperialism.’ Includes discussion of the (disastrous) widespread failure to examine dynamics and autonomy of post-colonial states and ruling classes. Also see this article by Hirson’s journal Searchlight South Africa on ‘third worldism’ and the left.


Vol 2, No 3 (No 7)
A Marxist Journal of Southern African Studies

Colin Wilson, “Michel Foucault: friend or foe of the left”

Although this blogger is not enamoured of the IST/ SWP tradition — and notes that the SWP’s own approach to Marxism is odd, since it treats 99% of all existing Marxist movements, like Communism, the USSR and the rest as not “really” Marxist, and therefore cleans its Marxism of the legion of crimes of  actually-existing Marxism– the article overall is pretty good.

Extract (full paper below): “Foucault’s [ambiguous] ideas worked well as a justification for such a shift [from revolutionary class politics from the 1970s]. His belief in a plurality of struggles, a plurality of revolutions or a revolution that need not involve the destruction of the state—all of this lent a gloss of sophistication to the new pessimism. His rejection of Marx and his lack of interest in class were all too appropriate to a decade characterised by workers’ defeats, in which leading intellectuals of the left proclaimed the working class dead or incapable of fighting… if Foucault now speaks to people moving to the left, he has spoken in the recent past to people moving to the right. The fact that he can do both shows the ambiguity and lack of clarity in his ideas. And finally, this is what matters, because what people find appealing, even inspiring, in Foucault is not so much his detailed analysis of texts concerning particular topics, as his general approach. That approach, while giving rise to some fascinating and inspiring insights, remains fundamentally flawed.”

Michel Foucault: friend or foe of the left

International Socialism

Issue: 118

Colin Wilson

The French historian, activist and intellectual Michel Foucault remains politically significant some 20 years after his death. Antonio Hardt and Michael Negri’s book Empire, one of most influential works of the anti-capitalism movement, argues that “the work of Michel Foucault has prepared the terrain for…an investigation of the material functioning of imperial rule”. On the pro-war left, Nick Cohen cites Foucault as a crucial source of the malaise affecting the rest of the left—the gutless relativism which, he argues, prevents us from attacking Islamists.1

Foucault’s ideas have also gained considerable authority in history and the social sciences, particularly in areas such as cultural studies and sexuality. His work is enormously influential in the recently developed academic field of queer studies: one American academic has gone so far as to write a book entitled Saint Foucault, arguing that Foucault should be seen as the exemplary gay intellectual.2

Foucault is, then, both influential and perceived to be a radical of the left. How should we assess his ideas?

Foucault’s life and ideas


Kjetil B. Simonsen, “Conspiracism and Violence”

From NEW COMPASS, a Bookchinite journal, here

Conspiracism and Violence

Image of bombing of government headquarters in Oslo July 22nd

Do the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and Anders Behring Breivik – the perpetrator behind the terrorist attack on the government headquarters in Oslo and the massacre at Utøya that killed 77 people on July 22nd 2011– have anything in common? At a first glance they seem to be very different. With the exception of their use of similar means – mass murder of civilians – their perception of reality and ideological motives appears highly divergent. The world view of Al Qaeda rests on a militant-fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, with a sting toward the Western world and a notion of a Jewish world power as an explanatory model for an imagined moral decline, growing disbelief and cultural decadence. Breivik, on the other hand, views himself as a soldier in the struggle against “multiculturalism” and “the Islamic influence.”

A more thorough analysis of the ideological universes of Al Qaeda and Breivik nevertheless reveals clear structural similarities between the two. One common denominator is their embrace of conspiracy myths. For both undesired developments and events are thought to be staged by a powerful group of conspirators who covertly operate to achieve their undermining and nihilistic objectives.

The Characteristics of Conspiracism

What characterizes conspiracy thinking, or conspiracism as it is often called in academic circles? In short, conspiracism can be defined as a way of talking about and understanding the world that has its basis in the notion that the key events in and the historical course of society are covertly and systematically directed by a group (or groups of) conspirators. Furthermore, these forces are thought to promote values and goals that are diametrically opposed to what the believers perceive as the “true” and righteous social and moral order.

According to historian Geoffrey Cubitt this mode of thinking consists of three overall features. They are dualistic , in the sense that they make a sharp division between “good” and “destructive” forces. They are intentionalist, in the sense that they portray negative events and developments as a result of systematically planned intrigues. And finally they are occultist, in the sense that they believe that social development is shaped behind the scenes, and that the “true power” is placed outside the public purview. As a fourth feature, it can be added that conspiracism is distinguished by the belief that nearly everything is connected. Non-related events and historical developments are tied together in absurd ways and ascribed to the same cause.

A good example of Al Qaeda’s conspiracism can be seen in the Letter to America that was published by British Islamists in 2002 and apparently authored by Osama Bin Laden. The letter listed a series of charges against American society and the U.S. government, and thereby sought to justify the terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. The accusations dealt with everything from U.S. support to Israel and its remaining foreign policy, to the alleged immorality and decadence of American culture. All of these phenomenons were traced back to one common source – the Jews:

You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now controls all aspects of your life […] Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. Behind them stands the Jews, who control your policies, media and economy.

Breivik and the Eurabia Myth

In the months following the terror attack on the government headquarters in Oslo and the cruel murders at Utøya on July 22nd 2011, much has been written and said about Anders Behring Breivik’s background, political bearings and ideological views. One thing is certain: the atrocities were not accidental. Although serious questions have been raised about Breivik’s mental state – he was recently declared psychotic in a highly controversial report written by two officially appointed forensic psychiatrists – there is no doubt that his actions had ideological and political dimensions. Shortly before the bomb was discharged in Oslo, Breivik e-mailed a 1,500 page document entitled 2083 – European Declaration of Independence to more than a thousand recipients.

The document is a hotchpotch of the murderer’s own thoughts and texts authored by his own political idols – assembled by the cut and paste method. Still, as Norwegian journalist Øyvind Strømmen points out, the “manifesto” – together with Breivik’s posts on different websites – gives a clear picture of the murderer’s political views. Breivik was inspired by a so-called counter-jihadist internet community, where a grandiose conspiracy narrative centered on the fear of Islam and the multi-cultural society serves as an ideological basis. As Strømmen writes:

This is a milieu that upholds an ideology that hardly can be called Neo-Nazism, but definitely can be called right-wing extremism. It is a milieu with ties to European Neo-Fascism. And it is a milieu where conspiracy theory reigns: Europe is becoming Arabia – islamized and arabized. This is a conscious policy, a policy to which central politicians, media persons and academics are complicit.

The conspiracy myth Strømmen refers to, as it runs like a red thread through Breivik’s document, is often called the Eurabia-theory. The concept of Eurabia was originally coined by Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or (pseudonym for Giséle Littmann) in her book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, which appeared in 2005. Ye’or’s conspiracy narrative is centered on The Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD), which she believes to have been created by an association of Arab and European politicians and bureaucrats. The aim of this supposed dialogue is to enslave the Western world under Islamic supremacy.

A whole Eurabia-genre has emerged in the years following the publication of Bat Ye’or’s book. Among the central adherents to this idea-complex are the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, author Bruce Bawer, Robert Spencer (who is behind the American blog Jihad Watch), and the Norwegian blogger Fjordman (pseudonym for Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen). It is especially Fjordman who emerges as Breivik’s great political idol. As many as 38 of the blogger’s articles are reproduced in their entirety in the “manifesto,” and the title A European Decleration of Independence also stems from one of his essays.

The Enemy Image

A quick look at Breivik’s compendium – both the sections the killer has written himself and the ones he has picked from his ideological comrades – emphatically demonstrates that conspiracy thinking is a basic component of the murderers world view. In Breivik’s thought universe all undesirable features of social development are “explained” as a planned and secret plot orchestrated by a Eurabian coalition. His way of thinking follows, in other words, Cubitt’s definition point-device – it is dualistic, intentionalist and occultist.

Select examples clearly render Breivik’s conspiracy narrative. Already in the initial chapter of the compendium, the history of the West from the 1950s until the present is described as a process of decay that has led to the disintegration of national and European values. Behind this disintegration is a collation of politicians and intellectuals influenced by “culture-Marxism,” as well as bureaucrats of the European Union (EU) and Islamic leaders. In one of Fjordman’s articles reproduced in the “manifesto,” the forces against native Europe are thus described as a three-headed internal and external enemy:

I’ve suggested before that native Europeans face three enemies simultaneously when fighting against the Islamisation of their lands: Enemy 1 is the anti-Western bias of our media and academia, which is a common theme throughout the Western world. Enemy 2 are Eurabians and EU-federalists, who deliberately break down established nation states in favor of a pan-European superstate. Enemy 3 are Muslims.

Islamization and the introduction of multiculturalism – and the consequent destruction of European culture and traditions – is portrayed as planned and intended. For example a passage about the EU reads:

The EU is deliberately destroying the cultural traditions of member states by flooding them with immigrants and eradicating native traditions. This is a gross violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples across an entire continent. Europe has some of the richest cultural traditions on the planet. To replace this with sharia barbarism is a crime against humanity. The European Union is currently the principal (though not the only) motor behind the Islamisation of Europe, perhaps the greatest betrayal in this civilisation’s history.

A couple of pages later it is asserted that the EU has camouflaged itself as a peace project, while the true purpose of the institution is war. In other words, the subversive forces are hiding their intentions:

Proponents of the European Union claim that it is a “peace project”. But the EU is not about peace, it is about war: A demographic and cultural war waged against an entire continent, from the Black Sea to the North Sea, in order to destroy European nation states and build an empire run by self-appointed bureaucrats.

In line with classical conspiracy myths, Breivik also asserts that the Eurabia-coalition and its “culture-Marxist” marionettes control knowledge-production and the spread of information. In another instance, for example, Breivik claims that 95 % of all journalists, editors, and publishers – and 85 % of all Western politicians – support multiculturalism and the introduction of Islamic rule in Europe. Similar attacks on the academic establishment and mass media recurr throughout the entire document.

A Cry for War and Murder

The struggle between these destructive forces and the opponents of this conspiracy are consequently portrayed in a dualistic manner – as a battle and ongoing war. It is asserted that Islam has been behind a holy war against non-Muslims for 1,400 years and that this jihad has claimed 300 million lives. Furthermore, Western “cultural-Marxist” politicians and intellectuals are characterized as pro-Islamic traitors. In one of Fjordman’s articles included in the compendium, it is said that these collaborators should fear their future destiny:

The political elites implement the agendas of our enemies and ignore the interests of their own people. They are collaborators and should be treated accordingly. The problem is that they currently feel quite comfortable and secure. They fear the reactions of Muslims, but despise their own people. They view us as sheep, existing only to provide them with champagne and nice cars and to be guinea pigs in their grandiose social experiments. Change will only come when they fear us, and the consequences of their own betrayal, more than they fear Muslims.

Breivik himself divides the followers and hangers-on of “culture-Marxism” into fours traitor-categories: A, B, C and D. “Category A-traitors” encompass the leadership in politics, culture, economy and the media. “Category B-traitors” consists of everyone from politicians from “multiculturalist” parties, via media persons, writers and several other groups of professionals, to central figures in the antifascist movement. According to Breivik, persons in these categories shall be punished by death. This constitutes the ideological rationalization of the killings at Utøya. During police questioning on July 25th, Breivik admitted to having committed mass murder but still refused guilt. According to the murderers’ opinion, the killings of future politicians in the Norwegian Labor Party was a necessary act, which would help deliver an indigenous war against multiculturalism and Islam. They were, in other words, an act of self-defense.

Conspiracism as Political Violence

So what then are the connections between conspiracy thinking and politically motivated acts of terror? Is the mythologic conspiratorial thought-universe, found in both Osama Bin Laden and Anders Behring Breivik, an accident? It must be pointed out that conspiracy thinking does not automatically lead to acts of violence and murder. In Eurabia-believing circles there has been demonstrated distancing from Breivik’s misdeeds, even though this has often been coupled with attempts to transfer part of the blame on to current immigration policies and the political establishment. Breivik’s motives also have to be found in non-ideological factors – among them his personal and social background, his personality, and in the radicalizing dynamic that often arises with hate-rhetoric on the internet.

It is out of the scope of this article to discuss Breivik’s sanity or evaluate the report which was written by his forensic psychiatrists. Still, if Breivik is insane, it is important to point out that paranoia in a clinical sense does not necessarily contradict paranoia in a political sense. Rather it shows what fatal consequences there can be when the latter world view is adopted by the former type of individual.

Historically there is a close connection between conspiracy fantasies, terrorism, violence, and outright mass murder. The most well-known and discussed is the Nazi’s murder of the European Jews, which gained much of its ideological nutriment from the myth that the Jews represented a powerful and international conspiracy that threatened the way of life and existence of the “Germanic race.” But conspiracy thinking was also an integrated part of totalitarian, so-called Communist, states, such as the Soviet Union, the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, and Hoxa’s Albania. Conspiratorial world-views have also been an underlying motive behind political violence and terrorist acts in recent times, even if we look away from Al Qaeda and Anders Behring Breivik. The perpetrators behind the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, which resulted in 168 deaths, were inspired precisely by the right-wing extremist Zionist Occupied Government mythology.

The danger of conspiracy thinking is that it replaces sober analysis of social and political problems with images of a powerful and diabolic enemy. They rest on a notion that everything that goes wrong in the world can be ascribed to evil intrigues, rather than social structures and historical circumstances.

In their absolute consequences, conspiracy fantasies are therefore hate ideologies. They foster the demonization of a group of people – Jews, Freemasons, Catholics, Muslims, or “Culture-Marxists” – who are perceived to break down the “desired” social and political order. Furthermore, conspiracy myths nearly always contain a strong crisis-consciousness in the form of the belief that the world – at least how it should be – is at the edge of a cliff. According to such a perspective even the most despicable acts, such as terrorism and genocide, can be justified as a “self-defense” against “evil” and “disintegrating” forces.

At the same time, conspiracy myths often appear attractive by offering a (false) compass in a complex world that is rapidly changing. On the one hand they create artificial connections between complex developments and events, and on the other they give the driving forces behind what is feared and unexpected a face. This is why a real danger exists that conspiracy myths can re-flourish on a mass-scale, especially in times of crisis. This is exactly why we must demonstrate a crystal-clear distance from such misconceptions.