What are you reading?

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Mon Sep 13, 2021 11:59 am

For the anniversary of the classic

September 12, 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem (1921 - 2006).


Science fiction plays a very important role in culture. And not only in the culture of the 20th century. The first science fiction novel in history was created almost 2 thousand years ago. His hero, the Messenger of the Highest Civilization (in the language of his time, "the Son of God") walked with his friends on the land of Ancient Judea, expressed various non-trivial thoughts for his time, helped good people and mocked greedy and self-righteous ordinary people. Probably, he also performed some other important tasks, but nothing is said about this in the novel. In the end, the authorities got tired of it: they grabbed the Messenger and crucified him on the cross. But, using some technologies unknown neither in the first nor in the twentieth century, the Messenger was resurrected, and, forty days later, having said goodbye to his friends, he ascended into the sky, where a spaceship was probably already waiting for him.

This novel is known in several versions created by different authors. The first version of the novel ("Source Q") has not reached us, although from a comparison of other versions one can draw some conclusions about its content. The name of the author of Source Q is also unknown, although he was undoubtedly a Great Writer.

In the future, one of the world's religions grew out of this novel. Science fiction can have such an impact on humans.

The official history of literature considers Lucian of Samosatsky (125 - 180) to be the first science fiction writer , who told in his works about the journey to the Moon and Venus. But in ancient times, such literature did not receive significant development.

In the 17th century, science fiction was resurrected by the Angian priest Francis Godwin ( 1562-1633 ) and the brave French warrior, duelist and writer Hercule Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655). They wrote about traveling to the moon and not only to the moon. But the real development of science fiction began only in the 19th century.

Faddey Venediktovich Bulgarin

The first Russian science fiction writer was Faddey Venediktovich Bulgarin (1789 - 1858), who published in 1824 the novel "Incredible fables or wanderings around the world in the XXIX century." His hero once went for a boat ride on the Gulf of Finland. A storm began, the boat capsized, the hero lost consciousness and woke up in the XXIX century.

From a modern point of view, the technique of the XXIX century described by Bulgarin looks rather archaic. Social relations are also archaic. The servant in the novel refers to his master as "master". But Bulgarin predicted one important thing correctly: the development of technology and technology will lead to an environmental crisis. Money in the XXIX century is made not from gold, but from wood, since there is a lot of gold, but few trees.

Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky

Apparently, it was F.V. Bulgarin introduced time travel and the description of the distant Future into world science fiction. For this, despite all his vices, about which many and justly were written by different authors, he earned an honorable place in the history of world literature. And the next novel describing a journey into the distant future was the novel by Prince Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky (1804 - 1869) "4338", written in 1837. In this novel, Prince Odoevsky predicted the emergence of the Internet and China's leading role in the future world. The first prediction has already come true, and the second may well come true soon enough.

The rise of science fiction in Russia was facilitated by the rapid development of the revolutionary movement and the victory of the October Revolution. A prominent science fiction writer was one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, Alexander Alexandrovich Bogdanov (1873 - 1928); after the revolution, such striking works as "The Country of Gonguri" by Vivian Azarevich Itin (1893 - 1938) and "Aelita" by Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1883 - 1945) appeared. These works combine science fiction with revolutionary romance.

Illustration for the novel by A.N. Tolstoy "Aelita". Artist A. Dubovik

At the end of the 19th century, science fiction appeared in the Polish language (Poland, as an independent state, did not exist then). Among its representatives are Vladislav Uminsky (1865 - 1954) and Jerzy Zulawsky (1874 - 1915).

But back to Stanislav Lem.

Stanislav Lem was born in the city of Lvov (then part of Poland) in the family of a doctor. Before the war, the future writer entered the medical faculty of Lviv University. During the years of the German occupation, he worked as an auto mechanic, participated in the Resistance movement and, along the way, wrote a short story "The Man from Mars". After the war, the Lem family moved to Krakow, where Stanislav graduated from the Faculty of Medicine of the Jagiellonian University, then worked as an assistant at this university. In 1946 he published The Man from Mars and began writing short stories. In 1951 , the novel Astronauts was published, after which Stanislav Lem became a professional writer.

The novel "Astronauts" describes an attempt to capture the Earth by a very aggressive civilization from the planet Venus. But in the end, this civilization destroyed itself in a nuclear war. The meaning of the novel is to compare humanistic and aggressive civilizations. The novel "Astronauts" was published in Russian in 1957 .

Illustration for the novel "The Magellanic Cloud". Artist A. Durasov

In 1955 , Stanislav Lem publishes the novel "The Magellanic Cloud", dedicated to the exploration of outer space in the distant communist future. It tells about the flight of an earthly expedition to the star Alpha Centauri and the establishment of contact with civilization on one of the planets in the vicinity of this star. Many features of this novel (up to the title) make it related to The Andromeda Nebula by Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907 - 1972), but I.A. Efremov undoubtedly covers a wider range of problems.

In the 1950s, both in our country and abroad, there were heated discussions about the further development of science fiction. In the USSR, these discussions took the form of a confrontation between supporters of close-range fantasy and long-range fantasy.

Fiction close-range aimed to describe the near future and new scientific and technological advances. She played an important role in the popularization of science and technology among young people and therefore was strongly supported by the Soviet leadership.

Still from the film "Air Seller", Odessa Film Studio, 1967

On the contrary, the fiction of the long-range sight told about the distant Future. And, most importantly, for long-range fiction, the foreground was not science and technology per se, but their impact on people. The attitude of the Soviet leadership to long-range fiction was more restrained. On the one hand, most of the long-range fiction stories told about the communist future, which could not fail to cause approval. But, on the other hand, this future was not always portrayed in a sufficiently orthodox way. And, in a number of cases, it was opposed to the not entirely bright Soviet present.

The leader of close-range fiction was the engineer and writer Vladimir Ivanovich Nemtsov (1907 - 1993). He was well versed in technical problems, but he was less interested in people than in technology. Therefore, today, when many of Nemtsov's predictions came true, his work was practically forgotten.

The literary fate of the leaders of long-range fiction Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907-1972) and the brothers Arkady Natanovich (1925-1991) and Boris Natanovich (1933-2012) Strugatsky developed differently . And not only because they wrote about the distant future. But because for them in the foreground were not science and technology, but people.

Boris and Arkady Strugatsky at work

The same opposition existed in painting. Most of the Soviet artists who painted the Future drew (and very interestingly) the technique of the future world. But the semi-paralyzed artist from Balakovo Gennady Grigorievich Golobokov (1935 - 1978) depicted not so much technology as people of the Future and the problems facing them. And therefore, he is rightfully considered the most outstanding Soviet artist of the space age.

By and large, good science fiction is little different from fairy tales. Both are thought experiments that analyze the behavior of people in an unreal situation. And allowing to draw conclusions about their behavior in real situations. The difference between a fairy tale and science fiction is only that in science fiction works Baba Yaga flies not just in a mortar, but in a mortar with a photon engine.
> As it was rightly said in V. Ozerov 's novel "Plutishka's Tale": "A fairy tale is also a weapon, and woe to those who do not have one!"
Stanislav Lem was a prominent representative of long-range fiction.

In the novel Return from the Stars (1961, Russian translation 1965), the cosmonaut returns to Earth from a stellar expedition that lasted 10 years. More than 100 years have passed on Earth during this time. In the new earthly world, everything is alien to the cosmonaut, and he is alien in this world. The picture of GG Golobokov "The Paradox of Time" can serve as an illustration of this novel.

Artist G. Golobokov "The Paradox of Time"

In the novel "Solaris" (1961, Russian translation in the same year), the Thinking Ocean is described, materializing the images lurking in the depths of the subconsciousness of astronauts from Earth. Solaris is, of course, not a book about the Thinking Ocean, but a psychological novel about earthly life and earthly people.

It is possible that the idea of a thinking ocean originated in Stanislav Lem under the influence of the science fiction novel "Black Cloud", written in 1957 by the outstanding British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle (1915 - 2001). This novel describes a giant thinking cloud approaching the Earth and the Sun and the attempts of earthlings to prevent danger.

Director Andrei Arsenievich Tarkovsky (1932 - 1986) directed the film of the same name based on the novel "Solaris" . It was released in 1972 and enjoyed great success among the Soviet, and not only among the Soviet audience.

A still from the film "Solaris", dir. A. Tarkovsky, film studio Mosfilm, 1972

In 1964, S. Lem publishes the book "The Sum of Technology", in which he tries to imagine the future of Mankind, both from the point of view of technology and from other points of view. The writer makes a number of predictions about the technology and technology of the future. Some of them have come true and some have not.

The writer's view is still generally optimistic. Although Stanislav Lem understands that serious problems will arise in the future society, which will somehow have to be solved. He calls his reflections on the problems of the Future "the study of the thorns of roses that do not yet exist."

The understanding that the future will give rise to serious problems was also characteristic of Russian science fiction writers. Vladimir Fedorovich Tendryakov (1923 - 1984) , in particular, writes about the serious problems that will arise in the communist future in his story "A Journey of a Century" (1961).

Vladimir Fedorovich Tendryakov

Among the important ideas expressed in the "Sum of Technology", the idea of the existence of general laws of biological and technical evolution should be noted. Many researchers and not only researchers have speculated on this topic. In 1956, Soviet engineer and science fiction writer Genrikh Saulovich Altshuler(1926 - 1998) formulated the main provisions of the TRIZ methodology (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving), which are based on the analysis of contradictions in designs and the search for possible ways to resolve them. It is essential that TRIZ orients the inventor not towards finding a compromise between extreme options, but towards accepting one of the extreme options, supplemented with something that neutralizes its shortcomings. Figuratively speaking, TRIZ calls on the left activist not to look for something in between socialism and capitalism, but to try to understand how one can get out of the vicious circle of contradictions of both systems and build communism.

The outstanding Soviet paleontologist and science fiction writer Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907 - 1972) wrote about the analysis of contradictions in the design of living organisms. At present, the idea that the analysis of these contradictions is the theoretical basis of both zoology and botany has acquired many supporters in the scientific world.

Fragment of the portrait of I. Efremov

Of considerable interest to the reader is the Afterword to the Soviet edition of Summa Technologies, among the authors of which was one of the informal leaders of Soviet cybernetics Felix Vladimirovich Shirokov (1927 - 2002).

Stanislav Lem's optimism did not last long. In 1971 he publishes the novel The Futurological Congress. Its hero, space pilot Iyon Tikhiy, goes to the Futurological Congress in a certain Latin American country. During the congress, a military coup takes place in the country. A seriously wounded pilot is frozen in order to unfreeze in the Aftertime, when they learn to heal such wounds. And in the distant Future, they defrost it.

Residents of the Society of the Future with the help of chemicals immersed in the hallucinatory world, where everything is fine. In fact, everything is far from perfect, but only a narrow circle of top leaders should know about it. As a man of old upbringing, Iyon Tikhiy is trying to fight such an outrage. But the forces are too unequal. In the end, he gets hit on the head and wakes up in the basement, where he was hiding from shelling during the coup. It was all just a dream.

Still from the film "Congress" based on the novel "Futurological Congress". Dir. Ari Folman

In the world of the Future, described by S. Lem in the "Futurological Congress", there are many interesting things. For example, bribe robots (they are called corruptions ), simulator robots ( idiots ), idle robots ( robots ), boorish robots ( hamants ). And in general, nothing human is alien to robots.

The Futurological Congress undoubtedly influenced a new direction in Western science fiction called cyberpunk. Cyberpunk describes the conflict of loners living on the outskirts of society with a Social System that uses the most modern achievements of science and technology.

Shot from the movie "Blade Runner"

In 1970, S. Lem wrote the book "Science Fiction and Futurology", dedicated to science fiction literature. This book provides a fairly critical assessment of many works of Western science fiction. S. Lem criticizes them for superficial ideas, overloaded with adventures to the detriment of thoughts, and, most importantly, commercial orientation.

This book had an unexpected sequel . In September 1974, the US FBI received a letter that spoke of a communist conspiracy to take over the minds of Americans with communist propaganda disguised as science fiction. Communist agents have infiltrated American publishing houses and science fiction associations and are successfully carrying out their subversive work. And this work is supervised by a high-ranking officer of the Soviet and Polish special services Stanislav Lem. The author called on the FBI to stop the vile intrigues of the enemies of the American people.

This letter was signed by the outstanding American science fiction writer Philip Dick (1928 - 1982).

Philip Dick

Philip Dick was a very talented writer, albeit to a great amateur. During his relatively short life, he wrote 44 novels (40 of them before 1974, and twenty novels in just five years). Stanislaw Lem highly appreciated Dick's work and contributed to the publication of his works in Poland. And at the same time, F. Dick had serious mental problems, aggravated by drug use.

After reading F. Dick's letter, the FBI came to the obvious conclusion that its author needs urgent medical attention. Moreover, later F. Dick wrote that, starting in 1974, he regularly communicated with the Lord God Himself. Twenty novels written in five years have left their mark on the psyche. Therefore, they put the letter in a distant box and did not take it out again.

However, in 1976, the American Science Fiction Writers Association, under pressure from F. Dick and Philip Farmer (1918 - 2009), expelled S. Lem from its honorary members. In protest against this, some of its members left the Association, in particular, Ursula Le Guin (1929 - 2018).

Ursula Le Guin

However, in one thing F. Dick was absolutely right: many of Stanislav Lem's works objectively work for the Cause of Communism. Although, of course, S. Lem had nothing to do with the Soviet or Polish special services.

Among other works of social fiction, written by S. Lem, mention should be made of the early novel "Eden" (1959), which describes the invisible power existing on the planet Eden, which controls all information flows. Thanks to this management, the inhabitants submit to it voluntarily and without coercion.

Illustration for the novel "Eden". Artist A. Andreev

S. Lem's novel "Invincible" (1964) tells about the laws of biological and not only biological evolution of nature. On a distant planet, the evolution of robots began according to the mechanism proposed by Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882). In the competitive struggle, large and intelligent robots have been supplanted by very small and primitive forms like insects, which have grown in huge numbers. In essence, a secondary biosphere has arisen on the planet.

It is interesting that the novel "Invincible" appeared almost simultaneously with the work of the British researcher Alexander Kearns-Smith (1931 - 2016). A. Kearns-Smith suggested that initially earthly Life was built on a completely different chemical basis, and modern earthly Life is secondary; it was formed from the byproducts of the primary Life and displaced the secondary one.

Illustration for the story "Invasion from Aldebaran"

Apparently, Stanislav Lem's political views were originally communist. This, in particular, is evidenced by the novel "Magellanic Cloud". But, like many communists, these views were largely romantic and did not rely on a serious analysis of reality and its contradictions. And when it turned out that life in the countries of the Soviet bloc was far from heavenly, the writer became disillusioned with communist ideas. For many members of the intelligentsia, this path was quite typical.

In 1983 S. Lem emigrated from the Polish People's Republic; lived in Germany and Austria; in 1988 he returned back to Poland. He became disillusioned with anti-communism and became a convinced pessimist.

Stanislaw Lem was not subjected to any persecution for his political views in the Polish People's Republic.

At the same time, Stanislav Lem treated the Soviet Union and the Soviet people very well. Which was atypical for Polish intellectuals. In the USSR, S. Lem had many friends and a huge number of admirers of literary talent. Stanislav Lem's books were very fond of, in particular, the head of the Soviet space program Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907 - 1966) and many Soviet cosmonauts.

Stanislav Lem repeatedly came to the Soviet Union and was a welcome guest in any audience.

Stanislav Lem at a meeting with students and teachers of Moscow State University
> “Personally, I am terribly annoyed by the anti-Russian rhetoric of President Kaczynski, however, I believe that most of his statements should not be taken seriously. I have repeated many times that good-neighborly relations with Russia are an indispensable condition for the economic development and sovereignty of Poland. Russia is closest to us both geopolitically and culturally. There is no point in taking offense at each other and stirring up the past, for which extremists on both sides bear a considerable share of responsibility, ”wrote Stanislav Lem.
Stanislav Lem closely followed the development of Soviet science fiction. He highly appreciated the work of the Strugatsky brothers. S. Lem's attitude to the work of I.A. Efremov was ambiguous (as was the attitude of I.A.Efremov to the work of S. Lem). S. Lem criticized Ivan Antonovich for his desire to view Man as the pinnacle of development, as well as for excessive optimism about the future. I.A. Efremov and S. Lem were people of different cultures and held different philosophical views. Ivan Antonovich Efremov was the last great representative of Russian cosmic philosophy, Stanislav Lem was brought up on Western positivism. Therefore, it was difficult for them to find a common language.
In 1986 S. Lem wrote his last major work - the novel "Fiasco".

An interstellar ship sent from Earth lands on the planet Quinta, where a civilization clearly exists, moreover, it is very different from the earthly one. The Earthlings are trying to establish contact with her. But the contact fails.


In this novel, S. Lem put forward the "windows of contact" hypothesis, according to which any civilization is interested in interplanetary contact only at a certain stage of its development. And then civilizations isolate themselves. For they are very different and it is difficult for them to understand each other. That is why we do not see signs of the existence of alien civilizations. And earthly Humanity is doomed to loneliness in space. This point of view was implicitly opposed to the ideas of I.A. Efremov on the Great Ring.

In 1989, S. Lem published an article "The strategy of the parasite, the AIDS virus and one evolutionary hypothesis." In this article, the writer reflects on the evolutionary prerequisites for the emergence of the AIDS virus. This article was reprinted by the Soviet magazine "Nature". As the writer notes, the evolutionary strategy of the AIDS virus is based on a very long incubation period, which leads to infection not from the patient, but from the carrier. The AIDS virus strives to be overlooked for longer. This makes possible a relatively fast and covert increase in the number of carriers. This strategy is rare in nature. S. Lem expresses a number of original ideas, the question of the correctness of which currently remains open. Therefore, I would prefer to refrain from discussing them.

Stanislaw Lem died at the age of 84 in Krakow on March 27, 2006.


Lem's books have been translated into 41 languages. The total circulation of books sold is over 30 million . In 2002-2015, AST published a collection of works in Russian in 19 volumes.

S.V. Bagotsky


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"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by kidoftheblackhole » Mon Sep 27, 2021 2:11 pm

Check this guy out BP:

https://www.networkideas.org/wp-content ... 1_2020.pdf

Ali Kadr is mainly talking about China but he is actually theorizing Imperialism in a far richer and contemplative manner than most. In a way it harks back to something Anax used to say that theory is in need of an update since it has kind of been set aside for a century or so because everyone was busy. Kadr's China's Path to Development is a behind a paywall but you can find enough snippets to get the gist of it. The only notable thing is he has different "influences" than us (high level "theoreticians")

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Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Wed Oct 27, 2021 2:30 pm

MR has posted yet another glowing review of this awful book so I'm kicking this post.
blindpig wrote:
Fri Apr 30, 2021 2:56 pm
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

I read this so you don't have to.

I have read sf for over 50 years and am disappointed by most of it. It is said that Robinson is somewhat similar to Arthur C Clarke and I agree, he's boring. Packs in pages of fact, credentials of characters and other bulk to make up for lacking literary talent. Small wonder the old astronomer teamed up with real writers in his late years, for all the good it did...Mebbe Robinson should team up with M John Harrison. Nah.

I have disliked the work of Robinson since I first read him, one and a quarter books, having thrown down the second in disgust. If it hadn't got so much 'buzz' I would have happily ignored it. What sticks in my craw is the petty bourgeois arrogance,the assumption that these well paid and connected individuals are the class that will best address our environmental woes. The Owners are greedy but hapless, the masses are a dim audience for the acts of their betters. Well, there is a ready made following for such drivel, that said class. So I was not at all surprised that the world would be saved by bureaucrats, technocrats and lawyers in the present work, that both rich and poor would be pliant in the hands of these well meaning professionals. To quote that Zappa girl, "gag me with a spoon!"

What we got here is zero class analysis, starting with the assumption that State and Law are somehow independent of the class which created them for that class's benefit. It all follows from there, the rich will be controlled by the State and the Law will be turned against their interests. They will resist in a half-hearted manner then fold, the .01%ers will get to keep $50M to not be persecuted and all other assets will go to the common good. I'm sure. Capitalism will be tamed, in fact put on the road to extinction, in a lawful manner. Well, it is science fiction.

But it will not be just gentle persuasion, this Ministry, an afterthought of the Paris Agreement, an entity of the UN with a paultry nine figure budget for saving the world, will have a 'black ops' wing which will terrorize the booj on a grand scale,in one instance downing 60 mostly private jets in one go using new hi-tech drones en masse. The perps, even the point of manufacture of such technical devices at scale, is a completely a mystery to every cop shop on Earth. Right.

The book is one long love note to Switzerland and all of it's mythical qualities. Jfc.

There is mention of socialism: surprisingly a few good words for the Soviet Union after the obligatory potshot at Stalin, faint praise for the dead. And Cuba and Kerala get good mention, being small and safe. But China, despite it's good work, is 'Authoritarian capitalism', a sure marker of Robinson's adherence to petty booj norms. And the radical left will never get it's shit together because it is 'narcissist' in a grand display of pop psychology sans history. And by the way, the petty bourgeois will make the world safe for communism.

This book had an antecedent which came to me early on, "Looking Backwards" by Edward Bellamy .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Looking_Backward Bellamy, like Robinson, had the petty bourgeois as the leaders of the peaceful revolution, the other classes dragged along into the sensible(and militarized!) society of the future. And Bellamy was equally dismissive of the radicals of his day, portraying them as tools of the rich, a 'false flag' op.

If the copy I read didn't belong to the library I'd wipe my ass with it.
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Tue Nov 09, 2021 2:49 pm


Book Review: China’s Great Road: Lessons for Marxist Theory and Socialist Practices



China’s Great Road: Lesson for Marxist Theory and Socialist Practices, Articles 2010-21 by John Ross. Glasgow, Scotland: Praxis Press, 2021. $20.50. Pp. 251.

Is China socialist? This question is guaranteed to provoke a lively discussion among any group of leftists. This is a complex question. No book and certainly no book review will settle the matter.

Whatever the Chinese system is, the Biden administration, like the Trump and Obama administrations before it, clearly sees China as the main threat to American imperial interests. This stance is creating a new cold war as perilous as the last one with the Soviet Union. Biden has not only kept in place the Trump tariffs against China, but has also just concluded a nuclear submarine deal with Australia and Great Britain clearly aimed at China. This year the CIA established a new China Mission Center, which according to its director William J. Burns “will further strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century an increasingly adversarial Chinese government.” (New York Times, October 8, 2021) In November 2021, General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, called China the “No. 1” nation-state military challenger to the United States. He said that China is “clearly challenging us regionally, and their aspiration is to challenge us globally.” (New York Times, November 4, 2021) The fact that U.S. has about 750 military bases in some 80 countries compared to one (Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa) for China, and that the U.S. has 5,550 nuclear warheads compared to China’s 300 shows that whatever military threats exist are precisely in the opposite direction.

The new cold war is abundantly reflected in the overheated rhetoric about the so-called Chinese peril emanating every day from scholars and commentators who inflame the Chinese phobia with tales of the genocide of Uighurs, the pollution of the environment by Chinese coal, the discrimination against women (even Chinese female astronauts), the control of social media, the suppression of Hong Kong democracy, the impending invasion of Taiwan, the development of orbital nuclear weapons…the list is unending. Two recent iterations deserve mention for their level of high-pitched hysteria. In The Atlantic (November 1, 2021) Michael Beckley and Hal Brands, suggest that, unless deterred, China will initiate war with the U.S. The title and subtitle say it all: “How War With China Begins: A Cold War is already under way. The question is whether Washington can deter Beijing from initiating a hot one.” In the New York Review of Books, October 21, 2021, Perry Link, a Professor at the University of California at Riverside, manages a level of vitriol against China that surpasses the previous generation’s demonization of the Soviet Union. According to Link, China is less a socialist country than Taiwan and is best understood as a form of Murder Incorporated: “The CCP runs on hierarchical power, on personal loyalties that are outside the law, and on ruthless pursuit of private interests that employs pretense, manipulation, and where ‘necessary’ lethal force. It is more like the mafia than a modern government.”

After feasting on a daily diet of such dangerous inanity, it is a breath of sanity to pick up John Ross’s book. In China’s Great Road, John Ross, a Marxist and Senior Fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China in Beijing, makes a strong case for the socialist nature and direction of China. The book consists of articles, the majority of which were originally published in Chinese on the website Guancha.cn and others which were published in English at LearningfromChina.net. Reflecting its origins as separate articles, the book contains much annoying and unnecessary repetition, but this should not distract from its wealth of information and clear argumentation.

Ross’s argument is straightforward and compelling: that since the so-called “opening up” of the Chinese economy to private enterprise by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and the pursuit of what Deng called “building socialism with Chinese characteristics,” China has followed a path that hews close to what Marx envisioned, and more importantly, by following this path the Chinese economic achievement“ is by far the greatest in the whole of human history—from the viewpoint of speed of improvement in living standards, rapidity of economic growth, the proportion of the world benefitting from that growth, and the elimination of poverty.”

The factual basis of this argument rests on reliable international sources, mainly the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, and others including the Conference Board Total Economy Data Base and the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Angus Maddison, an authority on long-term economic growth. The figures are astonishing. In 1950, the US economy was sixty-eight times greater than the Chinese economy. By 2000, a combination of slow US growth and great Chinese growth had closed the gap, and by 2022 China is poised to overtake the US. US annual average GDP growth has fallen from 4.4 percent in 1969 to 2.0 percent in 2019, while Chinese annual average GDP growth has been 12.5 percent since 1979.

This economic growth in China has been accompanied by an unprecedented growth in living standards as life expectancy and household and total consumption have increased at a greater rate in China than in any other country at any time in history. Ross points out that in China life expectancy, “the best single indicator of overall human condition,” increased at an unprecedented rate after the revolution. It reached 67 years in 1978, and with the opening up after 1978, it rose to 73 years in 2011 (compared to 79 in the United States). In China total consumption increased 7.9 percent annually in 1978-2012 and 8.5 percent annually in 1990-2012, whereas in the United States in comparable periods consumption increased 2.7 percent and 2.6 percent annually. Consequently, in the twenty-eight years leading up to 2009, China lifted 620 million people out of poverty, a number equivalent to half the population of Africa. In the same period, outside China those living in extreme poverty actually increased by 50 million.

Ross argues that the economic policies pursued by Deng Xiaoping after 1978, that is, “building socialism with Chinese characteristics,” or building a “socialist market economy, ” which meant retaining state ownership of major industry while “opening up” smaller industry and agriculture to private ownership, was entirely in line with Marxism, indeed more in line with Marxism than the Soviet policy after 1929 of socializing all productive property.

A key part of Ross’s argument here is his reliance on passages from The Communist Manifesto and the Critique of the Gotha Program where Marx discusses the transition from capitalism to socialism. In the former Marx said: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree [emphasis added] all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State as rapidly as possible.” (emphasis added). In the latter, Marx said: “In a higher phase of communist society…after the productive forces have also increased (emphasis added) with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of common wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Ross argues that these passages show that Marx foresaw a “protracted transition period” (this phrase is Ross’s not Marx’s) and saw the need to develop the productive forces of the economy before one could dispense entirely with private ownership and the market. Hence, Ross argues that Deng’s policy of opening up was more in line with Marx than the Soviet policy of nationalizing everything at once in the first five-year plan and replacing the market with state planning. Moreover, Ross submits that Deng’s policy accomplished what Marx advocated, namely the retention of the market for a time and the fostering of rapid economic development. To his credit, Ross does not deny that the Soviet model also produced rapid economic development and was a response to the need for rapid industrialization in the face of powerful enemies and impending war. Still, he regards the Soviet path as an “ultra left,” mistake that should have been rectified after World War II.

Unquestionably, Ross makes a strong case, but not one as completely convincing as he suggests. In the first place, one should recall that in the entire body of Marx’s writing, he devotes only a few sentences to describing socialism. He resisted laying out a blueprint for a socialist revolution. Consequently, it is a bit tortured to rest a judgment of an entire social system, whether the Soviet Union or China, on its conformity to a couple of Marx’s phrases. Ross rests his case on behalf of the Chinese socialist market economy on Marx’s phrase “by degree,” i.e. the proletariat wresting capital from the bourgeoisie “by degree.” Ross, however, ignores the rest of Marx’s words in the same sentence about centralizing “all instruments of production” in the hands of the state “as rapidly as possible.” These latter phrases seem to justify the Soviet approach as much as the former phrase seem to justify Deng’s approach. Moreover, it is difficult comprehend Ross’s idea that the Soviets should have returned to the market and some private property after World War II, since the external threat that justified the turn to rapid collectivization of property and central planning hardly diminished in any way during the Cold War, when the Soviets faced an immensely more powerful United States armed with nuclear weapons and surrounding the Soviet Union with military bases.

In any case, there is no gainsaying the conclusion that China’s reform and opening up since 1978 led to a great development of the productive forces. Moreover, the idea that this opening up represented not a betrayal of socialism but the basis for a new advance toward developed socialism is something that remains to be determined.

Another weakness of Ross’s argument is that he allows for no ambiguity or indeterminacy on this question. Even though reform and opening up has produced a large capitalist sector, Ross provides no account of how large it is, how much political influence it has or where China is heading. Other sources, however, indicate that the capitalist sector in China is very large and growing. For example, from 2004 to 2010 the number of private companies in China increased by 80 percent and the number of private businesses reached 3, 596, 000. Moreover, these private companies are increasingly active abroad, where 117 of them (as of 2010) have invested millions of dollars in 481 ventures abroad. By 2009, private and statement foreign investment had made China the fifth largest global investor. (See for example Elisseos Vagenas, “The International Role of China,” in Communist Review 6th issue 2010, at https://inter.kke.gr/en/articles/The-In ... e-of-China)

While Ross demonstrates the tremendous progress China has made under reform and opening up, he provides no recognition of the costs of this progress for the Chinese working class. He does not acknowledge that this progress has been purchased at the cost of growing economic inequality and of long working hours (in some cases twelve hours a day, six days a week), often harsh and dangerous working conditions, and the curtailment of trade union power. China is second only to the United States in the number of billionaires (130

Chinese billionaires by 2010). (By way of contrast, the Soviet Union managed to produce tremendous economic growth and increased living standards, while reducing working hours enhancing trade union power and reducing economic inequality.)

Furthermore, an all-sided assessment of socialism with Chinese characteristics would certainly entail a discussion of the Chinese role in the international class struggle. The record of the Soviet Union in this regard is well-known. Even while developing economically and building socialism as home, the Soviet Union materially supported anti-colonial, national liberation and socialist struggles abroad from Cuba to Vietnam and Africa. Certainly, the Chinese role has been more checkered and problematic. In the past China repeatedly aligned itself with imperial powers in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Angola and elsewhere. Perhaps it is unfair to score Ross for not touching subjects he did not intend to touch, but the omission is still glaring.

Whether China will fall under the sway of its powerful capitalists and increasingly act as an imperialist rival to the United States and Europe or whether it will continue to march toward fully developed socialism remains to be seen. There are several indications that the latter tendency may prevail. Two mainstream scholars have recently argued that China is not heading the way of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, that in spite of the capitalist sector in China, the Chinese Communist Party has not lost control as happened in the Soviet Union. For example, in The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, Richard McGregor argues that China is not becoming more like the West is not developing into a market-driven neo-liberal state, but rather a state with a hybrid economy of state and private ownership, where the Communist Party wields the dominant influence over politics, academia, and the economy. Similarly, Ian Johnson, A Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in “A Most Adaptable Party,” (New York Review of Books, July 1, 2021) asserted, “Even private companies ultimately answer to the party.” According to Johnson, the party has 92 million members, 7 percent of the population, a size that allows it “to control politics, economics, and society without losing its exclusivity.”

Recent statements by Xi Jinping also suggest that that Chinese Communist Party has decided that the progress in economic development has reached the point that China can begin to rein in the capitalists, reduce their power, root out corruption, and address economic inequality. Invoking Mao’s phrase of “common prosperity,” a goal that Deng viewed as ultimate but distant, Xi Jinping said that China should begin moving toward this goal now. In January 2021, Xi said, “Achieving common prosperity is not just an economic issue; it’s a major political matter bearing on the party’s foundation for rule….We cannot let an unbridgeable gulf appear between the rich and the poor.” (New York Times September 9, 2021).

The value of Ross’s book is not exhausted by the main argument about China’s economic accomplishments under reform and opening up. As part of his effort to explain the success of the policy of reform and opening up, Ross provides a convincing discussion on the way in which Chinese economic policy reflects the insights of Adam Smith and Karl Marx on the division of labor, on John Maynard Keynes’s ideas of the need for state intervention to promote investment, on Mao’s analysis of protracted war, and on Marxism and globalization.

The latter topic has particular relevance given labor and the left’s skepticism of the globalization as promoted by European and American neo-liberals. Ross argues that according to Marx (and Smith) the division of labor is the primary engine of economic development and the globalization of production and the market is just a continuation of the process of the division of labor that began in the pin factory described by Smith. Moreover, Ross contends that Xi Jinping’s idea of “a common future for humanity” represents a modern application of Marx’s idea about the division of labor. Consequently, according to Ross, blanket opposition to globalization when it takes the form of “buy American,” or “Brexit” or anti-Chinese tariffs and protectionism is demagogic, backward, reactionary, and doomed to fail. This position may not sit well with those who have been on the receiving end of de-industrialization, free trade, and the so-called race to the bottom, but this idea like the rest of the book deserves serious consideration by everyone on the left.

https://mltoday.com/book-review-chinas- ... practices/
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Sat Nov 20, 2021 3:47 pm


Philosophers with no clothes: A Review of ‘The War Against Marxism’
Posted Nov 20, 2021 by Chris Nineham

Originally published: Counterfire by Chris Nineham (November 11, 221 ) |

This book is refreshing and long overdue. It has two main qualities. First, it dares to call out some of the fashionable idols of academic Marxism and critical theory–including Theodor Adorno, Louis Althusser, Chantal Mouffe, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek–for being obscurantist on the one hand, and often deeply misleading on the other. Second, it explains and defends the philosophical basis of revolutionary Marxism in a very clear and combative way.

The stakes are high. The issues McKenna addresses are mainly theoretical, but far from abstract. They concern how people experience capitalism, the significance of class and the potential for anti-capitalist resistance. They even raise the question of our ability to understand society at all.

McKenna’s thesis is that many of the leading intellectuals associating themselves with Marx over the last decades have not just obfuscated Marxism, but attacked its essence. As a result they have had a deeply corrosive effect on the left in the universities, and by extension on the wider movement.

In chronological order, his targets include members of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, Althusser and his ‘structuralist Marxist’ followers, some of the big names of leftist literary theory, and the pin-ups of ‘post-Marxism’. Divorced from any real movements, these theorists, he argues, have in different ways stripped Marxism of all that is antagonistic, contradictory and dynamic. The results have been disastrous. McKenna dissects each of these tendencies in detail, and I can only point to some highlights and key themes here.

The benighted masses

Hinting at bluntness to come, the book’s first chapter is titled, ‘Why the Founding Fathers of the Frankfurt School Should be Considered anti-Marxist.’ The Frankfurt school developed a ‘cultural Marxism’ in the 1930s which became influential after the Second World War. Its most influential protagonists, Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, argued that the mass culture that was developing around them was brainwashing the masses and was the key to understanding capitalism’s staying power. McKenna quotes a typical passage by Adorno and Horkheimer about Hollywood cinema:

no scope is left for the imagination. Those who are so absorbed by the world of the movie–by its images, gestures, and words–that they are unable to supply what really makes it a world, do not have to dwell on particular points of its mechanics during a screening. All the other films and products of the entertainment industry which they have seen have taught them what to expect; they react automatically (pp.23-4).

As McKenna points out, despite Adorno and Horkheimer’s pretentious and opaque writing, (‘its esoteric, incomprehensible idiom is meant to illustrate to the reader that they are dealing with the type of thought which can only be grasped by a glittering and select intellectual elite’), the point they were making was quite simple. They argued that commodification and mass production of culture were blinding people to their real predicament. It wasn’t just that the culture produced by the expanding entertainment industry was promoting capitalist values. Few Marxists would disagree with that. Their argument was that the new techniques of production were inherently mystifying. As they put it:

The stunting of the mass-media consumer’s powers of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film (p.23).

As McKenna argues, this is an elitist approach, and, despite its influence amongst some calling themselves Marxists, it has nothing to do with Marxism. Commodification does have an impact on working-class consciousness, but this is not because of the mass production of culture, which will be an essential part of any socialist society, but because of the commodification of labour power.

As Marx explained, and the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács further elaborated, the commodification of workers’ labour makes exploitation appear as the mere exchange of equivalents–a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work–when it actually involves the robbery by the capitalist of a portion of unpaid labour. As McKenna says, this was for Lukács, ‘the essence of reification, the moment when social relationships appear in the guise of things’ (p.29).

This is a crucial distinction. Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique can only end in a one-sided pessimism. Marx and Lukács’ understanding of reification not only leads away from the cultural snobbery of seeing mass production as a problem, but it also contains within it the possibility of change. When workers become aware of the nature of commodification they can also become aware of the possibility of challenging it. This is because, unlike any other commodity, they are fully conscious beings and they experience their commodification as the appropriation of part of their own labour power by the bosses.

The problems with the Frankfurt School go deeper. Their pessimism about the modern world ended up as a critique of the Enlightenment altogether, of the progressive capacities of rational thought. For Adorno, human beings in general cannot truly understand the world outside them, and so he argues that they have developed a thought process that deals with the natural world in an abstract, instrumental and destructive way. Such reactionary thinking remains fashionable today, but it ignores one of the most central concepts of Marxism, the centrality of labour to human development. It is precisely in understanding the historical role of labour, human beings’ active interaction with nature, that we can overcome the philosophical division between human consciousness and the objective world.

Louis Althusser turns Marx on his head

The importance of labour and class in understanding the world is the central theme of the book. The chapter on post-Marxism takes on the still influential work of the French philosopher Louis Althusser, and the enduringly fashionable theorists, Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. Althusser called himself a Marxist, but his defining move took place when he argued that it was ideology that ‘produced’ human subjects.

Here Althusser was turning Marxism on its head. One of the central propositions of Marxism is that ‘being determines consciousness’, that people’s experience of the actually existing world, and in particular its economic processes, shapes their ideas. For Marx, labour and the struggle between the exploiter and the exploited at the heart of the capitalist economy was key to the possibility of a genuine, critical, understanding of the world. It was through these processes that the apparent division between consciousness and reality can be overcome in practice.

By turning Marx upside down, Althusser was also dragging philosophy backwards towards the idealism of so many of the highpoints of bourgeois philosophy. In McKenna’s words:

The Althusserian claim that “ideology produces subjects”–when stripped of the verbal paraphernalia of the tortured structuralist idiom–is nothing more than a vulgar idealism in which consciousness one-sidedly determines being (p.81).

This had big implications. Most importantly, if our understanding of the world is shaped by ideology as opposed to the reality around us, the unfolding of struggles and so forth, there is no obvious way in which we can ever break out of it. Althusser had to fall back on ‘scientificity’, effectively the role of the gifted individual, to relieve the masses of their delusions.

This delinking of ideas from material reality also led to the notion of the ‘relative autonomy’ of various processes from the economic structure of capitalist society. For Marx the way the main contradictions in society played out always depended on actual human practice, but the idea of ‘relative autonomy’ effectively breaks any notion of determination of human behaviour by the existing conditions, rendering Marxism redundant.

Althusser’s side-lining of labour and class struggle led in turn to the stress on ‘discourse’ that has been so dominant on the academic left ever since. Laclau and Mouffe are amongst the worst culprits. In what McKenna calls their ‘overburdened, esoteric sentences’ (p.95), they try to fuse existence and consciousness in the notion of ‘the field of discursivity’ (p.94). As a result, confusion reigns:

Mouffe and Laclau’s concepts, emptied of historical content and genuine human agency, necessarily become vague and solipsistic and we enter into a rarefied academic landscape in which the concepts themselves seem to develop an entirely artificial agency and life; reality becomes ‘decentred’, society becomes dislocated and meaning is understood in terms of signifiers which, rather surreally, tend to float (p.95).

Fredric Jameson’s false move

In the chapter titled ‘Literary Theory and the Loss of Historical Totality’, McKenna turns his attention to celebrated cultural critic Fredric Jameson, and some of Terry Eagleton’s theoretical writing on culture. Jameson’s work, it should be said (and McKenna doesn’t), mainly involves trying to hold on to a totalised understanding of society, against the odds as he would see it. For McKenna, his defining mistake is the polar opposite of Adorno’s. Where Adorno saw mass production as the key to mystification, Jameson sees the production of physical commodities as the key to workers’ ability to understand capitalism. McKenna summarises Jameson’s approach thus:

The worker simply sees the commodity rolled out as a “finished product” and therefore identifies it as a moment in the generic process of production, and from this, Jameson argues, the worker is then able to see all things in their guise as aspects of historical change, developing the possibility of a more revolutionary perspective therein (pp.167-8).

The problem here is that the totality that Jameson builds as a result is static and undynamic. In Jameson’s own words, ‘inasmuch as he knows the interrelationship of tools and equipment to each other (the worker) …will come to see the outside world not as a collection of separate unrelated things, but as a totality in which everything depends on everything else’ (p.169).

The idea that the world is a totality in which ‘everything depends on everything else’ is true but of limited explanatory value. It misses the essential point that for Marx totality involves contradiction and conflict. Jameson’s critique is therefore completely ahistorical, reduced to one of structure, to the idea that the problem with the world is that it ‘lacks a privileged centre’, that it has become a ‘serial society’ (roughly, this means a society of averaged, atomised individuals).

At this point we move onto another of McKenna’s themes, which is the fact that these distortions of Marxism ironically tend to reify society, turning socio-historical processes into static things:

When one does away with living history driven by social and class distinctions, one needs to find another way with which to describe reality; a genuinely social arrangement is replaced by a purely physical one; the work of these thinkers, therefore, consistently tends towards a systematic reification of the philosophical realm in terms of a set of conceptual categories whose physicality reflects this (p.235).

Going naked

Throughout, McKenna contrasts the dreary academicism of these ‘top-flight intellectuals’ with the dynamism of the revolutionary tradition that Marx developed out of Hegel. In particular he strongly defends Lukács’ central idea of the working class as the subject/object of history. For Lukács, the separation between subject and object which still bedevils mainstream philosophy was a product, first of all, of the bourgeoisie’s role in society. Capital appropriates the labour of another class. As McKenna argues, things are different for the worker:

It is true that the proletariat as a class stands in an irrevocable and dualistic opposition to the bourgeoisie every bit as much as the bourgeoisie does to the proletariat. But the difference is this. For the proletariat, capital, the object, “out there” is not something which it appropriates; rather it is something which has been appropriated from it; capital is the labour power of the proletariat which has been alienated by the bourgeoisie … the revolutionary move of the proletariat to take over the means of production … involves reclaiming the estranged essence of its own subjectivity (pp.216-17).

The common theme of these critiques is that in all cases the authors displace the fundamental social contradictions of class and class struggle from the centre of their analyses. The losses involved are fatal to any philosophy that wants to be ‘radical’ either in the sense of pointing the way to fundamental change or of understanding the root of things. Most importantly, the marginalisation or removal of class struggle means that the greatest potential source of anti-capitalist resistance and consciousness is side-lined. This retreat helped weaken the left’s ability to combat the subjectivism that drove the rise of identity politics.

Moreover, by expelling contradiction and conflict from their understanding of society, the authors also lose the ability to comprehend how society actually develops historically. Hegelian Marxism, that is Marxism as Marx conceived it, involves grasping totality as what McKenna calls ‘a historical unfolding of a mediated whole’ (p.170). Marxism is in fact nothing other than ‘the means by which philosophy locates, in the culmination of historical processes, the concrete answer to its own most profound questions’ (p.103). Far from removing history and struggle from philosophy, Marx’s great breakthrough involved understanding how the two are inextricably and dynamically linked.

There are times in the book when McKenna is unfairly dismissive of particular authors, I think there should have been a more balanced account of the work of Walter Benjamin, for example, who wasn’t anything like as bleakly elitist as his Frankfurt School colleagues. I think too that although he would certainly hold his hands up to the charge of eclecticism, and he undoubtedly got lost in the post-structuralist maze, Terry Eagleton has written very powerfully in defence of Marxism, something that cannot be said about any of the other authors examined here.

McKenna’s formulations will be too polemical for some tastes. But his central thesis stands and matters. Without class and class struggle at its heart, ‘Marxism’ becomes lifeless and hopeless, and turns into its opposite: an account of why society probably can’t be changed. This is not an exaggeration. A shocking number of so called leading ‘Marxists’ have so distorted Marxism that a student coming upon their work for the first time is liable to be ‘daunted and depressed’ (p.245). McKenna rightly points to the roots of these pessimistic ideas in defeats in the real world. Yet theory matters, and the work of these so-called radicals has deepened the gloom and reinforced pessimism on the left. McKenna is also right to say it is time to take on the emperors of academia, and to point out their lack of clothes.

https://mronline.org/2021/11/20/philoso ... t-marxism/

(This oughta be posted on the door of 'communist twitter'.)
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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