August 22, 2019

As a leftist, "I wish we could all just get along." Wouldn't that be nice? Maybe it would get boring pretty quickly. But a little less conflict between people, a little more peace and quiet, would be great. People have such trouble dealing with each other! So much cruelty and hostility, so little empathy and understanding. Relations between the sexes, for example, are so fraught...

July 11, 2019

Here's a blog post for you masochists who are interested in the debates that go on among Marxist intellectuals over questions around revolution, strategies to get from capitalism to socialism, Leninism and its relevance or lack thereof to the present, etc.

It's kind of remarkable, actually, how much collective time is devoted to these abstract questions, how many thousands o...

March 30, 2017

[From an email.]

…Of course it's true that every event in history depends on contingencies. [I had said the Russian Revolution depended on a series of accidents, and my interlocutor had replied that’s true of everything in history.] The point is that the transition from capitalism to socialism is supposed to happen virtually by necessity (as Marx argued in the Manifesto and other...

March 28, 2017

In history, few topics can be more relevant to our own world than the origin of capitalism. Ellen Meiksins Wood's book on that subject (second edition published by Verso in 2002) is a brilliant commentary on and synthesis of earlier scholarship that everyone interested in capitalism should read. The next best thing, though, is to read the notes I took on it.

November 10, 2016

You should read Lance Hill's The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement. Persuasive argument that, despite the revered narrative, nonviolence as a tactic wasn't particularly successful,[1] and violence and the threat of violence were absolutely essential to the changes that took place. SNCC's peaceful local organizing in the early '60s actually didn't...

May 16, 2016

Marxism and the French Revolution.— Let’s grant that the French Revolution was precipitated more by the nobility’s grievances than the bourgeoisie’s. And let’s grant that it had definitely un-bourgeois phases, such as Robespierre’s Terror and his obsession with “civic virtue,” republicanism, the general will, a phase that briefly approached totalitarianism. Let’s also grant that...

May 6, 2016

It’s interesting that the French Revolution’s liberalism in some ways helped make possible its illiberalism, its nationalism and authoritarianism. For, by enforcing the vision of a society of atomized individuals and “destroying corporate society” (outlawing “orders” and corporate bodies), the Revolution made it easier for people to identify with the single overarching community...

April 17, 2016

Staughton Lynd's Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism(1968) is a fantastic exploration of the ideological offshoots and effects of the Enlightenment in the United States, which all students of intellectual history should read. I took some notes on it here. But I'll also post them below:

The book begins with thoughtful philosophical analyses that set the Declaration of...

February 10, 2016

The fulfillment of the [Marxian] prophecy.— As capital has become more mobile internationally since the 1970s (the era of globalization), undermining national boundaries and cultures, and has accumulated in ever-larger concentrations, undermining the “relative independence” of the state and producing a global proletariat (or “precariat”), the world has approximated ever more clos...

September 20, 2015

[This is an excerpt from Notes of an Underground Humanist.]

You should read Peter Kropotkin’s essay “The State: Its Historic Role.” L’état, c’est la guerre. One of the state’s historic roles, of course, has been to transplant the peasantry from the countryside to the cities so as to facilitate industrialization (i.e., to create Marx’s “reserve army of labor”) and make possible the...

April 19, 2015

The following is a resolution proposed at a Chicago conference of the Communist Party’s Unemployed Councils in 1930, in the context of the Great Depression:

"The basic cause of this mass unemployment is the fact that the workers receive as wages only a fraction of the value they create, and cannot buy back their product. Hence vast quantities of commodities are left in the hands o...

January 13, 2015

Here’s a (somewhat oversimplified) one-sentence summary of the origins, trajectory, and outcome of the American Revolution: it “ended in reaction as the Founding Fathers used race, nation, and citizenship to discipline, divide, and exclude the very sailors and slaves who had initiated and propelled the revolutionary movement.” In general, mutatis mutandis, that’s how re...

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