Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: Revolutions of 1848 by Priscilla Robertson

Priscilla Robertson's Revolutions of 1848: A Social History chronicles the revolutionary struggles across Europe in 1848.  Robertson declares that the book's "aim is to show how men lived and felt a hundred years ago rather than to describe at length other important factors." (vii)  Insisting that "no leader was really very important in 1848," (vii) she strives for a "social history."

1848 saw the emergence of the proletariat onto the political scene.  "Sixty years of the swiftest industrial progress the world had ever known had created a new working class whose miseries were likely to be explosive." (4)  In Continental Europe, this class was most developed in France.  Its "miseries" -- including the hitherto unseen scourge of mass unemployment -- were also more developed in France.  Previously, the proletariat and bourgeoisie were united against foreign enemies and their own monarchy and aristocracy.  However, 1848 shattered this bond: "What was lost, in 1848, was the idea that classes and nations had anything to give to each other." (7)

New ideologies developed concomitantly with the class struggle.  The Communist Manifesto, published a year previous to 1848, went practically unread until workers tried to make sense of their betrayal by the liberals.  "Only after the liberals won power did they discover that they were afraid of the workers; when the workers found this out they turned to the Marxian gospel." (6) Despite not knowing about Marxism, the workers still in effect raised Marxist demands: "In 1848 for the first time the working classes were going to assert, unsuccessfully, their demands for redistribution of goods." (14)  In this sense, 1848 was also a struggle between conflicting ideologies: nationalism, liberalism and socialism.

The personalities in France embodied the varying ideologies of the time.  Louis Philippe was the king of the July Monarchy brought to power by the July Revolution of 1830.  Louis Blanc was a liberal reformer who had been agitating for what he called "the right to work" -- essentially guaranteed employment.  Proudhon and Blanqui were anarchists, the former as a polemicist (who eventually took part in government) and the later as a organizer of revolutionary secret societies.

Paris was the spark that lit the fuse of continent-wide revolution.  It was the only city where "a true socialist revolt was possible in 1848.  Other European capitals lacked the working-class leadership for such a fight; it is also true that their energies were more absorbed in the fight for nationality, which the French did not have to bother with." (21)  Liberal reformers established a campaign of banquets to organize politically which exploited a loophole in the law prohibiting large political meetings.  The regime's banishment of these meetings in February enraged Parisians, who started building barricades and condemning the influential minister Guizot.  A series of fatal confrontations between soldiers and citizens led to the king's abdication and the establishment of the Second Republic, declared by Lamartine.

In the wake of the change of regime, the economy collapsed.  The provisional government decided to enact a tax on peasants which "may have saved the republic from bankruptcy, but it also killed it by arousing the hatred of the countryside." (66)  The Luxembourg Commission, the "first workers' congress in the world" (67) was set up by the government under Blanc to study the problems of the laboring classes.  The government also set up national workshops, meant to guarantee work for the previously unemployed, but did so in a way which almost guaranteed their failure: they were woefully inadequate to absorb all the excess labor, under hostile direction and mismanaged.  Finally, the government granted universal suffrage to all Frenchmen to participate in the upcoming presidential election.

As inadequate as they were, the national workshops represented one of the few concessions to the proletariat.  The government's decision to shutter them provoked the June Days fighting, the "first real class war of modern times." (77)  50,000 took to the barricades in despair with the cry "bread or lead," (88) and over a thousand died as the workers were crushed by Cavaignac's forces.  The aftermath also provides us with the "first example of permanent martial law," (96) as Cavaignac kept his troops in the city to suppress any latent uprisings.

Louis Napoleon (Napoleon I's nephew) faced little challenge in the presidential elections later that year, as every other candidate had discredited himself.  Moreover, his namesake carried the glory of a powerful France, appealing to the peasantry and others.  "The truth was, Napoleon was nearly everybody's candidate." (100)  But the reserved nephew would soon betray nearly all his promises: "A professed democrat and nationalist, the future emperor was to kill democracy and nationalism in the Roman Republic; a boastful friend of peace, he led France into several wars; though he publicly courted socialists, he used reactionary ministers and soon cut off his left-wing friends.  Universal suffrage, then, did not give a very good account of itself in its first try in ninetieth-century Europe." (102)

Parts two through four focus on political events in the German states, Austrian Empire and Italian states, respectively.  Robertson quotes an American as observing, "In 1848 both Germany and Italy could have won either unification or liberalism, but because they tried for both, they did not win either." (115)

In her concluding section, Robertson attributes the lack of a revolution in Britain to "free speech and good will and wealth." (407)  Ironically, most of the demands of the 1848 revolutionaries were brought about within a quarter centuries by the enemies of the revolution in various countries.  But the revolutions themselves failed because "in a sense the 1848 revolutions turned into class struggles." (412)  However, "The greatest failure of all in 1848 was that the men who had power never really trusted the people." (419)  She ends, "Out of 1848 and its struggles no important new freedom was wrested.  Instead men lost confidence in freedom and imagined they had made a great advance in sophistication by turning from idealism to cynicism." (419)

Robertson's style makes for smooth reading, although one does get the sense that some important facts about 1848 are either left out or passing emphasized.  Her heavy use of personality studies does fit in with the goal of a "social history."  However, I don't think this book (published in 1952) emulates the extremely bottom-up emphasis of the other social histories I have read, although it does approach that direction.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Review: Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction by Jack A. Goldstone

Jack A. Goldstone's book Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction examines the nature, causes and trajectory of revolutions.  The first half of the book generalizes about revolutions while the second half is a series of case studies, from stirrings in ancient history to the Arab Spring revolts.

Goldstone opens the book with a discussion of what revolutions are.  There are two narratives of revolutions, one which holds they are processes in which "downtrodden masses are raised up by leaders who guide them in overthrowing unjust rulers," and the other which maintains they are "eruptions of popular anger that produce chaos." (1-2)  The reality, Goldstone argues, is that revolutions are both.  Ultimately he settles on a definition of revolution as "the forcible overthrow of a government through mass mobilization (whether military or civilian or both) in the name of social justice, to create new political institutions." (4)  He then lists many circumstances which are not, by themselves, revolutions: peasant revolts, grain riots, strikes, reform movements, coups, radical social movements, civil wars, rebellions, uprisings, insurrections and guerrilla warfare.

In the subsequent chapter Goldstone answers the question of what causes revolution.  First he dismisses conditions that do not by themselves cause revolution: poverty (revolutions occur more often in middle-income countries), modernization, and new ideologies.  He then names five conditions that he considers necessary and sufficient for revolution: 1) national economic or fiscal strains 2) growing alienation and opposition among the elites 3) increasingly widespread popular anger at injustice 4) an ideology that presents a shared narrative of resistance 5) favorable international relations.  Goldstone maintains that, like an earthquake, revolutions are very hard to predict, even if one knows fault lines where one is likely to occur.  He draws a distinction between common structural causes of revolution -- demographic change, a shift in the pattern of international relations, uneven or dependent economic development, new patterns of exclusion or domination against particular groups, the evolution of a personalist regime -- and common transient causes: food price spikes, defeat in war, riots, etc.

Chapter three examines the process of revolution.  Revolutions usually progress through a series of steps: stake breakdown (which can come in the form of a central collapse, peripheral advance or negotiated revolution), postrevolutionary power struggles which see splits between moderates and radicals -- or even counterrevolution, institutionalization of the revolutionary regime, and sometimes a second radical phase years after the initial revolution led by radicals who feel that the revolutionary aims have not been obtained (e.g. the Cultural Revolution).  To be successful, revolutionaries must have both visionary leadership and organizational leadership.  Goldstone also enumerates a set of principles regarding revolutionary outcomes: outcomes do not emerge quickly, they depend on the type of revolution (social / anticolonial / democratizing), they are likely to lead to democracy in countries that have previous experience with it, and women's issues tend to not get much attention in the new regime.

The next several chapters give brief case studies of revolutions, from ancient to modern.  Revolutions were quite frequent in the ancient world (including attempts by "history's first socialists" (45)) before becoming unlikely under emperors and kings (1CE - 1200CE).  Revolutions picked up again after that (Goldstone mentions the Bonfire of the Vanities), progressing from constitutional revolutions to communist revolutions to color revolutions and the Arab Spring.

The final chapter has Goldstone mentioning sub-Saharan Africa as a region where the conditions for revolution are building because of demographic change.  He also offers the Middle East as potentially revolutionary when key resources run out, as well as China.

Goldstone seems to hold a pretty expansive definition of what a revolution is, something like "a change in power through non-formal means that wasn't a military coup."  I would say that the word "revolution" refers to what he calls "social revolutions" -- namely, a Goldstone revolution plus the construction of a new socio-political order.  Goldstone also seems to have a preference for formal democracy and free markets as a social order, and seems to harbor a historical teleology pushing in that direction: "Someday, all countries in the world will have stable, resilient, inclusive and just regimes." (133)  He also makes some claims that I found questionable.  One is that revolutions generally shortchange women.  While this may be true in general, I would think restricting the definition of revolution to social revolution might make that claim less true.  The Russian Revolution, for instance, immediately instituted "Western feminism's maximum program, to which no government in the West ever came close to agreeing." (Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy, 188)  Lastly, Goldstone makes the claim that the end of the Cold War reduced the willingness of the US and others to support unpopular regimes.  The Cold War may have ended, but this dynamic seems pretty stable (the US's support of authoritarian Arab states, for instance).  All in all, Goldstone's book provides a useful centrist overview of the nature of revolutions.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review: The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain by Pierre Broué and Emile Témime

"Those who fight revolutions halfheartedly are merely digging their own graves" - Saint Just (14)
The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain is a book split halfway: the first section is written by Pierre Broué and deals with the Spanish Revolution.  The second section is written by Emile Témime and covers military history, international negotiations and state development during the Spanish Civil War.  I found Broué's section much more interesting, both in content and stylistically, even though he doesn't delve into the exhaustive detail on the level that his German Revolution does.  What follows is a summary, mostly of part one.

Contextualizing the Spanish revolutionary experience, Broué writes, "The Spanish Revolution was not the first spark in a growing conflagration but the last flicker of a fire already extinct throughout Europe... The revolution that turned into a civil war was in the end merely a dress rehearsal for World War II." (31)

Spain's Second Republic emerged as a weak state following the overthrow of dictator Primo de Rivera.  The transition to republic did not damage the dominant power centers of church, army or economic oligarchs.  Spain lacked a bourgeoisie (with the possible exception of the Basque Country) and was primarily agricultural, with land disproportionately held by powerful landowners.  Half the population remained illiterate. (37)  In short, "In the nineteenth century, Spain lost her remaining world outposts and was in the end barely touched by the industrial and liberal revolution that succeeded in transforming the old Europe." (32)

Spain's organized political forces spanned the ideological spectrum.  The Republicans were weak and divided, owing to the lack of a bourgeoisie.  The right featured a host of divisions: the monarchist-inclined army, the Catholic CEDA under Gil Robles, the reactionary Carlist movement, the fascist Falange, etc.  Unlike other European fascists of the time, the fascists in Spain remained a marginal political element.  There were autonomist forces from the Basque Country and Catalonia which ideologically tilted away from the left but found themselves in common cause with the left after the CEDA-dominated government (which followed the liberal Republican Azaña government of 1931-33) became hostile to their separatist aims.  The petty bourgeoise's turn towards autonomism was another factor hindering the development of an authentic Spanish bourgeoisie.

The labor movement in Spain was heavily influenced by the anarcho-syndicalist tradition: "In an agricultural country where so many ties linked the industrial worker with the landless peasant and the day laborer, where peasant riots, short violent revolts, and banditry by outlaws were the time-honored form taken by popular explosions of anger and revenge, Bakunin's ideas fell on fertile ground." (54)  The CNT labor union confederation was aligned with these anarchist ideas.  The secretive, revolutionary FAI, founded later, came to dominate CNT politics, which caused tensions with less radical members. (56)  Yet Broué finds weaknesses with the militant CNT's political program: "Faced with the complexities of a modern economy and the interdependence of its different sectors, the CNT's political and economic theories seemed highly ingenuous.  Everything was simplified to an extreme by the pens of propagandists describing the idyllic 'commune' whose budding and later flowering would be made possible by militants willing to sacrifice their lives for it." (57)  The CNT-FAI's Durruti was one notable militant.

The Spanish Socialist party, the PSOE, was a more reformist political force.  Its members founded the UGT, a moderate trade union.  Like many other European socialist parties, the Spanish party split over support for the Third International, thus birthing the Spanish Communist Party, the PCE.  The PSOE frequently found its two major leaders, Caballero and Prieto, at odds.  In 1935, the CNT and UGT were of equal numerical strength at a million members each. (67)  The communists were relatively weak, with La Pasionaria as its only well-respected member. (69)  In Catalonia, the orthodox communist PSUC formed out of a merger of several communist groups.  Lastly, the POUM, dubbed "Trotskyist" by its opponents but criticized by Trotsky himself, formed a dissident communist bloc.  A constellation of these forces participated in the 1934 Asturian miner's strike, a foreshadowing of the Civil War.

The CEDA government began rolling back the reforms of the Azaña government when it took power, ushering in the bieno negro.  A left-wing coalition, the Popular Front, formed and won the elections in 1936.  This victory of the left over two years of right wing reaction, coupled with the festering wounds of 1934, plunged Spain into a revolutionary situation. (81)  Peasants seized land, churches were burnt, and strikes rocked the cities.  The PSOE found itself wavering between the pronouncements of Caballero (depending on who is writing, either the "Spanish Lenin" or "a social democrat playing at revolution" (82)) and Prieto, who controlled the party executive and was harshly critical of his agitation.  In these circumstances the Falange unleashed counterrevolutionary terror, killing leftists and workers.  The Army recognized that "the victory of the Popular Front had caused a revolutionary crisis that the moderate left-wing Republican politicians were helpless to end." (86)  Despite the conspiracy of the Army to overthrow the government being openly known, the Spanish state could do little to prevent it: "All the reproaches cast up to the government boil down to its one and only defect: its weakness.  Its only raison d' être was to endure, to lay for time in order to avoid the clash that would annihilate it." (91)

The capital Madrid erupted in strikes and violence, with both right-wing and left-wing forces street fighting as well as CGT and UGT members clashing over the direction of the strikes.  The murders of prominent individuals José del Castillo and Calvo Sotelo prompted funerals that "were like the final parade before the battle" of the Civil War. (96)  The Army's uprising began in Morocco, led by Franco and Mola.  (Here Broué adopts a curiously racist tone: "The Moroccan troops, the Moors, were recruited from the mountain people of the Riff.  They were fearsome warriors, savages unaffected by propaganda who were concerned only with fighting and pillage..." (98))  The government was in crisis, and authority passed from Quiroga, who was in denial about the whole coup affair, to Barrio, who failed to reach a deal with the rebel generals, to Giral, who formally dissolved the army and distributed arms to workers. (102)  By July 20, 1936, a few days after the uprising, the rebels controlled a minority of Spain's territory.  "The pronouncamiento had failed.  The Civil War had begun." (118)

Revolution swept over Republican Spain, as it became "the scene of a revolution that the Generals had meant to forestall but had in the end provoked." (122)  The Red Terror that ensued counted class enemies, such as the Church, as victims as well as those who happened to be on the wrong end of personal vendettas.  Gradually parties and unions gained control of the situation and began to "organize" the repression. (125)  In Catalonia the CGT, FAI, UGT, PSUC and POUM formed the Antifascist Militias Committee (but also left Companys in formal control of the Catalan Generalitat), which became the governing body of the region.  Other revolutionary governments took control in other regions of Spain.  In the Basque Country, with its bourgeoisie and Catholic sympathies, a non-revolutionary government was formed. (139)  The most pressing task for Republican forces was to form an army to combat the rebels.  Various political groups formed militias for the task, each militia stamped with the ideology of its own leadership.  The communist Fifth Regiment marched in ranks while the CNT's marched along "in total -- and deliberate -- disarray." (143)  The hastily-assembled forces often had no training and no idea how to handle weapons.  During this time the Giral government "did not govern, but it was still in existence," (147) passing decrees that were already fiat accompli.

With regard to revolutionary accomplishments, Broué remarks, "It would take an entire book to describe the extraordinary variety of solutions adopted by the Spanish workers to put an end to 'the exploitation of man by man.'" (152)  Solutions to, for instance, wage disparities fluctuated between keeping the existing hierarchy in place and instituting a uniform wage. (156)  Collectivization took place under a process that was part voluntary, part compulsory. (157)  Views on these subjects are quite partisan, and Broué concludes, "The truth must obviously lie somewhere between [an Anarchist's] rose-tinted Libertarian paradise and the black Anarchist hell depicted by [Communist newspapers]." (161-2)  Broué writes, "Collectivization of land [did not] lead to a satisfactory and coherent system of production... The revolution, at first so vigorous in the countryside, seemed to be bogging down there for lack of real leadership." (164-5)  He notes that there was no equivalent of the Russian Revolution's Decree on Land in Spain.  Unfortunately, the "Anarchist egalitarian fantasy" (162) came up against concrete problems of the government, such as access to credit, among other economic problems (no doubt exacerbated by wartime conditions).  In the end, Broué says, "The great weakness of the Spanish workers' revolutionary gains was, even more than their improvised character, their incompleteness." (170)

Mola believed that the coup was doomed to fail given the limited success of the initial push. (172) However, the disorganization, inexperience and lack of coordination of the Republican militias made his task easier: "[The Republican militiamen each] seemed to be fighting his own war without caring what was going on in the next province." (175)  The Nationalist terror in provinces under their control, in contrast to the spontaneous Republican terror, was organized and justified by all, including the highest Church authorities. (183)  The terror was a double-edged sword, however, inspiring those fleeing from it or who would potentially be its victims to harden their resolve to fight against the Nationalists.

The Committees ruling Republican areas were not real soviets; rather, they were merely collections of the leaders of already-existing institutions, and their delegates were not formally answerable to their constituency. (189) Whether these committees would supplant the anemic government structures or vice versa continued to be an open question.  Another important strategic decision the Republicans faced was whether to pursue the revolution or the war.  The international context factored into this calculation: the most likely supporters of the Republicans (Stalin's Russia, perhaps Western democracies such as Britain and Blum's France) would not intervene to buttress a revolutionary movement.

In a move which decisively impacted these questions, Caballero formed a new Popular Front government (a move which Prieto had been advocating for some time) which had the benefits of both support from the trade unions and an air of respectability and legality by incorporating Republican elements.  Since the trade unions joined (or in the CNT's case, supported) the government, the Antifascist Militias Committee was dissolved.  The formation of the new government essentially "implied the abandonment of the organizations of revolutionary power." (203)  Regional governments, before relatively autonomous, quickly joined the new government.  Later, even the CNT joined the government, noting the grave domestic and international situation!  "In the ordeal of the struggle for power," comments Broué, "the Anarchist leaders adopted the language of the most reformist social democrats." (208)  The government's new course had its intended effect on foreign aid, as Soviet arms began arriving shortly thereafter.

Caballero's government immediately subordinated revolutionary aims in favor of winning the war.  It instituted legal reforms, rebuilt the police force, and militarized the militias (Durruti, for his part, demanded a single, unified command (219)).  Collectivization was "checked and then halted." (225)  Anarchists that didn't take kindly to their own organizations' members entry into the government put up armed resistance to the new status quo at times, discrediting their movement.  The Communist Party, which for its part strongly supported Republican law, order and property, had superior organization and was linked to the flow of foreign arms, grew quickly in popularity: "After September 1936... the Communist party and the PSUC became a dominant factor in the political life of Spain." (229)  Beyond the fight against Franco, the Communists in essence opposed the Revolution itself.  The tenor of the situation in Spain had changed; one foreign volunteer wrote, "The war in Spain, bereft of any new faith of any idea of social change, and of any revolutionary grandeur... remains a terrible question of life or death but is no longer a war in affirmation of a new regime and a new humanity." (235-6)

With Nationalist forces closing in on Madrid, the Caballero government fled the city and placed its defense in the hands of General Miaja.  Under Miaja's reign, his junta became "as a result of its language and its methods, a genuinely revolutionary government." (245)  The Communist Party effectively controlled the Junta, so Madrid's defense put their honor on the line.  "Never again," Broué notices, "during the whole of the Spanish Civil War, did the Communists join the fight with such ferocity.  Never again did the Russians repeat the efforts they made for Madrid in November 1936." (245)  The International Brigades arrived just in time to shore up Madrid's defense, and La Pasionaria's cry of No Pararán! rang throughout Madrid's streets.  Durruti was killed in the battle, likely by one of his own men, perhaps deliberately. (250)  [1] In the end, the Republicans prevailed in battle: "It was the first victory by the proletarians over the Fascist armies." (260)

The government continued its rightward drift after the victories at Madrid and Guadalajara.  Caballero chose, contrary to his supposed proletarian internationalism, to forego supporting Moroccan independence for fear of angering foreign powers, failing to take an opportunity to strike at the heart of Franco's forces. (267)  The continuing encroachment of Communists and the USSR on Spanish policy caused Caballero to react indignantly, leading the Soviets to identify him as an obstacle to their plans.  In response to Communist machinations, Caballero dissolved the Communist-controlled Madrid Junta, a "virtual declaration of war on the Communist party." (274)  Caballero subsequently could not put his offensive war plans into action for lack of Soviet support.  Caballero continued to function as a moderator between left factions that were gradually drawing apart; one historian commented: "He wanted neither the militia nor the regular army; he wanted neither the old bureaucracy nor the new revolutionary structure; he wanted neither guerrilla warfare nor trench warfare.  He promised the Communists general mobilization and a fortification plan, and the Anarchists revolutionary war; in the event he did neither." (281)

The Barcelona May Days saw these tensions between left factions explode.  After days of scuffles between factions, the police (led by a PSUC member) surrounded the telephone exchange, which was guarded by a CNT militia, and attempted to take it over.  The ensuing fighting left hundreds dead.  Broué chalks up the controversy to being "one more stage in the restoration of the state" (286) and concludes that "The May days sounded the knell of the Revolution and heralded political defeat for all and death for some of the revolutionary leaders." (288)  One immediate consequence of the May Days was an end of Catalan autonomy; a later one was the resignation of Caballero from the government.

Negrín formed a new government that was praised by Western democracies as responsible, but denounced by the FAI.  The Communists exerted their power under the new regime, persecuting their POUM enemies in the manner of Stalin's purges (which were taking place concurrently).  The POUM was dissolved and its leader, Nin, was murdered.  Caballero was forced out of his position at the head of the UGT, never to feature again in Spanish public life.  A ban on all opposition and criticism was instituted and a political police force, the SIM, created.  Winston Churchill, among other Westerners, praised the new developments.  The revolution had been crushed and the state was now "respectable," but the Spanish Republicans were just as internationally isolated as ever. (315)

This is where Part One leaves off and Part Two begins.  The later opens with a hypothesis about how the Spanish Civil War forged the alliances that would square off during the Second World War. (315)  Later, Témime discusses why the bombing of Guernica was found so appalling at the time: Guernica was the religious (Catholic) capital of the Basque provinces -- inflaming especially French opinion -- and the incident had an international aspect to it, as it could be blamed on the Germans. (395)  Témime argues that Franco's Spain was not fascist: it didn't have any social achievements to boast of, nor any grand vision or territorial ambitions. (459)  Lastly, he details the fall of Barcelona and, finally, Madrid.

[1] Broué recalls one touching anecdote in which captured Italian Fascist forces are amazed to see their supposedly bloodthirsty "Red" captors of the Garibaldi Brigade sharing their rations with them in an act of brotherhood.  The Garibaldi Brigade had been, while simultaneously fighting, attempting to propagandize the opposing forces by, for instance, throwing leaflets weighted with rocks to the other side instead of grenades. (260)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: The German Revolution 1917-1923 by Pierre Broué

I picked up Pierre Broué's The German Revolution 1917-1923 (full text here) in order to gain a better understanding of the failure of the German radicals to precipitate a revolution, and to trace the splits and factions of German left parties throughout the period.  Despite its heft at over 900 pages, I found it a page-turner (perhaps excepting a lull in part 3) and finished it rather quickly, all things considered.  Helpfully, the book includes biographical notes and a chronology at the end of the text but criminally omits an index (which is somewhat mitigated by's copy).

Eric D. Weitz mentions in the forward that Broué's history, first published in 1971, could not take advantage of the opening of the Communist archives in Berlin and Moscow.  The archives would have been helpful in a variety of places in the book for clearing up historical controversies -- for instance, determining under what circumstances Béla Kun was sent to Berlin to spark the March Action.  (Perhaps a lot of these questions have been settled since; I'm unsure.)  Weitz also pans Broué's neglect of women's activism.

The following summary is rather disjointed -- it's difficult to summarize such a vast amount of information in so little space -- but approximately devotes one paragraph to each chapter.  I didn't summarize part 4, which is mostly Broué's opinions and is less suited to excerpting than the first three sections.  Part 4 is, however, very worth reading for a Trotskyist appraisal of Paul Levi, Karl Radek, and the results of the German Revolution.

From War to Revolution: The Victory and Defeat of Ultra-Leftism

The German SPD, the most important Social Democratic party of the early twentieth century, had been tilting toward reformism since its Jena Congress compromise with the trade unions. (19)  To compound the its compromise, the industrial proletariat was underrepresented in its leadership. (24)  Thus the stage was set for the SPD leadership's betrayal of its members' revolutionary aspirations.

There did exist a left tendency in the SPD, represented by such people as Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, Anton Pannekoek and Julian Karski.  Notably, Luxemburg opposed Lenin's advocacy of centralism (33) and splitting. (35) This left was divided over the "Radek Affair," in which Karl Radek (who would later play an important role in German politics) was retroactively denied membership in Second International member parties after being expelled from the Polish member party.  Left social democrats were split on the issue, and the dispute presaged later factional divides among the left.

4 August 1914 saw the SPD fraction in the Reichstag -- including leftists such as Liebknecht and Otto Rühle, as a result of party discipline -- unanimously vote in favor of German war credits for World War I. (44)  The SPD leadership gagged any substantive discussion of the issue, (52) and Liebknecht saw no option but to cast the sole vote against the war credits, taking the first step towards a split within the SPD. (53)  In September, the Bolsheviks called for a new, Third International. (55)  Those social democrats opposed to the war gathered in Zimmerwald, producing documents which revealed divisions between a pacifist center and a Bolshevik-leaning left. (63)  The membership of what would later become the Spartacists started to assemble in early 1916, declaring that true peace could only result from the revolutionary activity of the working class. (64)  Despite evident tensions within the SPD, Luxemburg inveighed against a split and for attempts to restore the party. (71)

Nevertheless, those that were disgusted with the SPD's actions formed a new party, the USPD, in mid 1917.  The split took roughly half of the SPD's membership into the new party. (79)  The USPD was also an amalgam of different tendencies, including both lefts such as the Spartacists and other such as Bernstein and Kautsky (who only joined to counter the Sparticist influence). (83)  The USPD's platform was essentially identical to the SPD's, with the exception of differences in structure to prevent an SPD-esque distancing of the leadership from the membership. (84)

The February Revolution in Russia deeply affected the German lefts; as Zetkin wrote, "The action of the people of Russia is written before our congress in letters of fire." (91)  The maneuvers of the USPD to try and form a parliamentary coalition to end the war convinced many strikers and other agitators to turn to the new party for guidance.  But the SPD persisted in its obstructionism: the SPD managed to avert a significant strike action in January 1918, further convincing the USPD left of the need for revolution. (109)  German revolutionaries had mixed reactions to the Russian October Revolution.  Luxemberg had plenty of reservations about the Bolsheviks, including their methods of terror, their agrarian policy and their foreign policy. (123)  While the lefts debated politics, the German military knew as of 18 July that it was fighting a hopeless battle. (124)

Both revolutionaries and conservatives sensed an approaching reckoning in Germany, with German military leaders intoning that "We must forestall an upheaval from below by a revolution from above" (130) and Lenin writing to the Spartacists that "Now the decisive hour is at hand." (131)  Some workers' councils sprung up before the Kiel mutiny, but the sailors' defiance provided the impetus for massive action across the country.  Facing a widespread revolt, the SPD took the initiative to "sacrifice the Kaiser to save the country" by presenting the Kaiser with an ultimatum to step down by 8 November. (144)  Wilhelm II abdicated shortly thereafter, prompting Liebknecht to issue a triumphant speech from the Imperial Palace: "The rule of capitalism, which turned Europe into a cemetery, is henceforward broken." (149)  Through the SPD's machinations, Ebert managed to head both the official government and the revolutionary government appointed by the councils.  Broué comments: "Thus the second day of the German Revolution found the Majority Social Democrats, who had done their utmost to prevent it, winning an indisputable victory." (154)

Although the German councils never rose to the importance of the Russian councils, Broué insists that the comparison should be made with the Russian councils of February, not October. (158)  But there are many differences between the two situations: the strength of the established political parties and trade unions in the German councils; the strength of the German bourgeoise; the looming threat of an Entente invasion and the relative disorganization of the German left.  But, "Despite its good intentions and despite enjoying the confidence of the Berlin workers, the Executive Council was unable to organise its own work or even to create its own apparatus." (174)  The organization of an armed civil defense force by the government, and not the Executive, further chipped away at the councils' power. (177)  Luxemberg slammed the Richard Müller-led Executive as the "sarcophagus of the revolution" and the "fifth wheel of the cart of the crypto-capitalist governmental clique." (183)  The results of the Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils were a foregone conclusion with the SPD accounting for the majority of the delegates. (184)

The Spartacus League remained a propaganda group within the USPD since by themselves the Spartacists did not have the affiliation of a mass of workers.  Nevertheless, they formed the Zentrale, the executive committee of the Spartacists, to coordinate and organize themselves. (191)  Spartacist elements within the USPD attempted to get the party to convene a special congress about whether to participate in the constituent assembly elections.  Their efforts were resoundingly defeated within the USPD, setting the stage for a split. (200)

On 29 December 1918, the Spartacists decided to merge with the IKD, a leftist organization, to form the KPD(S), or German Communist Party (Spartacist).  Karl Radek convinced the Spartacists to split from the USPD at this early date, rather than waiting until after the USPD party congress. (212)  The KPD(S) adopted a program that declared "If the Spartacus League takes power, it will be in the form of the clear, indubitable will of the great majority of the proletarian masses." (220)  But the KPD(S) still faced the problem of not having a large worker base, and alienating many activists who believed that the split was unnecessary or untimely.  Thus, "The new-born Communist Party was from the start isolated from the masses, and it was doomed to impotence before it had swung into action." (225)

Ebert's attempts to use the military to crush dissent led to the USPD's resignation from their joint rule on 29 December 1918. (234)  SPD functionary Gustav Noske was one of the people that filled the positions left by the USPD.  He ominously declared, "One of us has to do the job of executioner." (237)  The government's removal of a Berlin police chief sympathetic to the revolutionaries, Emil Eichhorn, led to a protest demonstration that one observer called "perhaps the largest proletarian mass action in history" on 5 January 1919. (241)  With incredible numbers in the streets, radical leaders sensed an opportunity for insurrection.  Liebknecht, in noted opposition to the KPD(S)'s stated position against putchism, decided that the time was ripe for a struggle for power. (243)  A revolutionary committee was created, but its main feature was its temporizing.  The seizure of the SPD's party organ Vorwärts by revolutionaries hardened Liebknecht, et al's position. (245)  Representatives of the KPD(S) and other revolutionaries eventually issued a proclamation to the workers: "Arise in a General Strike!  To Arms! ... Come out into the streets for the final fight, for victory!" (248)

The subsequent Spartacist uprising was a disaster since "The mass of the Berlin workers were ready to strike and demonstrate, but no to engage in armed struggle," (246) especially because of (in their eyes) the confusing situation of both sides claiming to be socialist.  Many workers denounced the "fratricidal struggles." (248)  Noske's paramilitary units of Freikorps easily put down the revolt.  Many revolutionaries warned against the uprising at the time, including Radek and Paul Levi.  Luxemburg, however, supported the uprising (if not wholly endorsing the attempted seizure of power) as an honorable workers' struggle against the provocations of the government. (252) Interestingly, her last writings seem to indicate that in witnessing the disorganization of the uprising she consequently "approached [Lenin's] conception of the revolutionary party which she had until then opposed." (254)  The Freikorps decapitated the revolutionary movement by hunting down and murdering Luxemburg and Liebknecht, among other leaders.  By killing the KPD(S)'s most influential figures, the SPD "rendered unbridgeable the gulf between the Majority Social Democrats and the revolutionaries.  It also convinced the revolutionaries that their only mistake had been to procrastinate." (258)

The Attempt to Define the Role of a Communist Party

The months after the Spartacist uprising saw various actions all over Germany that were brutally put down by Noske. (Chapter 13)  Amidst this atmosphere of repression, capital concentrated into a few hands, (292) an ultra-left attempt to boycott elections failed (295) and the KPD(S) proved completely ineffective as it was "underground and in deep crisis." (297)  The new Weimar Constitution contained the infamous Article 48, enabling the executive to use emergency measures without prior consent of the legislature, which Hitler would later use to consolidate his power. (290)

The most important members of the German left were now Levi and Radek, who both agreed that the ultra-left adventure of the Spartacus uprising was a terrible mistake.  Contrariwise, there were many ultra-leftists within the KPD(S) who supported spontaneous action and emphasized the opportunistic nature of established political parties and trade unions.  Levi regarded these anarchist and syndicalist currents as a regression towards a tendency that had been defeated within the revolutionary movement. (316)

The German left contained other tendencies: Fritz Wolffheim and Heinrich Laufenberg whose "national Bolshevism" advocated an alliance with the bourgeoisie and Soviet Russia to wage revolutionary war against the Entente. (325)  Others such as Herman Gorter advocated factory unions, enshrined in the AAU. (327) Pannekoek warned against opportunism, both from the established unions and parties but also from the Third International.  Rühle advocated an anti-authoritarian communism. (331)

Levi believed that a successful communist movement in Germany required the left-leaning USPD members for a mass base. (336)  The USPD itself was split between a left and a right faction, each finding the pull of the Second or Third International, respectively, more appealing.  Over time the USPD left gained ground, as the USPD voted to break with the Second International, but not join the Third. (341)  Some also took the road of founding a Two-and-a-half International which came to little. (340)

The Versailles Treaty imposed a variety of conditions on defeated Germany.  The German Communists, for their part, regarded the Versailles peace as a continuation of the war. (350) Right wing German elements bristled at the potential of the extradition of war criminals and the reduction in the size of armed forces. (351)  General von Lüttwitz and Prussian director of agriculture Wolfgang Kapp therefore organized the Kapp Putsch which saw them take power and the Ebert government withdraw from Berlin.  The usually reformist trade union leader Carl Legien took to organizing a general strike to defeat the putsch.  The strike did take place, and the Kapp government was completely paralyzed by 15 March 1920. (356) German capitalists intervened to convince the regime to step aside, given the unanimity of the workers in opposition to it. (359)  The SPD saw the putsch coming from a mile away, and did little to stop it, and was thus discredited in the eyes of many Germans; Noske's role was particularly shameful, and his political career ended shortly thereafter. (361)  The general elections of 6 June showed that people were deserting the SPD for the USPD. (380)  Meanwhile, the bumbling of the KPD(S) during the Kapp Putsch, which featured them issuing a statement expressing that there was no point in opposing the putsch, (355/378) resulted in the formation of the KAPD, an ultra-left party that split from the KPD(S) which counted Pannekoek, Wolffheim, Laufenberg and Rühle among its ranks. (379)

The KPD(S) inched closer to reconciliation with the USPD, declaring a policy of 'loyal opposition' to a potential future workers' government. (385)  In this way, the KPD(S) posed the question of a transitional government (between parliamentary and dictatorship of the proletariat), a first for the Communist movement. (385)  Radek believed that the KPD(S)'s policy betrayed their mission as a revolutionary party, (386) attacking what he believed to be Levi's "quietism." (389)  Lenin intervened on the side of Levi to support the 'loyal opposition' policy. (390)

The KPD(S)'s mistakes prompted the ECCI to take a more active role in directing the party.  "Comrade Thomas" was sent to Germany to establish links between Berlin and Moscow. (397)  Lenin's "Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder sought to win influence away from internationally emerging ultra-left tendencies.  The Russians maneuvered to unify the KPD(S) and the KAPD, as well as the USPD lefts, under the auspices of a single communist party in Germany at the Second Comintern Congress.

News of Mikhail Tukhachevsky's sucessful counter-attack in the Polish-Soviet War lent an optimistic note to the start of the Second Congress.  Zinoviev issued the twenty-one conditions for membership in the Third International at the Congress.  The KAPD delegates left the Congress as a result of these conditions, which they viewed as unacceptable. (427)  The USPD voted later to accept the twenty-one conditions, and a split between its left and right factions immediately followed. (442) The left wing united with the KPD(S), forming the VKPD (often referred to later as the KPD).  The two chairmen of the new party were Däumig and Levi. (447)  Under pressure from the ECCI, which wanted to unite all communist elements behind a single party, the KAPD to expel Rühle as well as the "national Bolsheviks." (445)  The VKPD's membership numbered in the hundreds of thousands. (454)

1921 was a difficult year for the Russian leadership, as it saw both the introduction of the NEP under conditions of severe economic distress and the Kronstadt uprising.  The ECCI continued to feel uneasy about what they viewed as Levi's conservative leadership of the VKPD, and decided to admit the KAPD to the Third International as a sympathizing party in order to invigorate the German communists with "a little of the revolutionary fire." (463)  On 8 January 1921, the VKPD issued the Open Letter, backed by both Radek and Levi, which appealed to non-revolutionary workers to join the VKPD in a struggle for common goals. (468)  Some of the ECCI, notably Zinoviev, and the KAPD attacked the Open Letter as opportunist. (472)

A split in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) caused a stir within the VKPD.  An Italian Communist Party (PCI) led by Gramsci and Bordiga split from the PSI without attempting to court the centrist elements represented by the PSI leader Serrati.  Levi believed that a split with the reformist elements around Turati was necessary, but believed not attracting elements of the Serrati bloc was a mistake. (478)  Radek attacked Levi's position, saying that the PCI already had all the true communists in Italy, (479) as well as railing against him personally.  This dispute snowballed into a larger one, pitting Levi against the ECCI, which already had reservations about Levi.  A refusal by the ECCI to express confidence in Levi led to his resignation from the Zentrale along with Däumig, Zetkin and others. (487)

With Levi gone, the VKPD was more open to radical action.  The Comintern's Béla Kun, acting under mysterious circumstances, arrived in Germany and implored the communists to wage a "revolutionary offensive." (494)  The result was the poorly-conceived March Action, a strike (formulated in part in reaction to Hörsing's attempt to disarm workers) which failed to draw significant worker support and even featured the communists clashing with the workers in several instances. (501)

The March Action fiasco prompted 200,000 members to leave the VKPD. (505)  Levi was appalled at the adventurism of the March Action, and issued a public pamphlet Our Road: Against Putschism detailing his position. (511)  The Zentrale expelled Levi from the VKPD for his public insubordination, but many party notables rushed to his defense. (516)  The ECCI concluded that Paul Levi was a "traitor" (530) even though Lenin noted that Levi's pamphlet was "in very many respects... right politically." (535) These disputes would be settled at the Third Comintern Congress.

Lenin and Trotsky were put in a difficult position: "It was important to preserve the unity of both the German Party and the International, whilst at the same time ensuring that they undertook a radical political turn.  Concretely, they were ready, on the one hand, to confirm the expulsion of Paul Levi, but only for 'indiscipline' and in order to avoid openly revealing the responsibility of the ECCI in the March Action, and, on the other hand, to pay homage to this action as 'a step forward,' whilst they condemned the theory of the offensive, and attempted to prevent any repetition of it." (538)  Nevertheless, they managed to thread this needle, preventing the sharp animosity between various factions at the Third Congress from boiling over.

From the Conquest of the Masses to a Defeat Without a Fight

Another development at the Third Congress was the ECCI's demand that the KAPD fuse with the KPD within three months, or be expelled from the International.  The KAPD was in its "death throes" anyways. (557)  The new Zentrale, which was now headed by Meyer and Friesland, unanimously supported the compromise reached at the Third Congress.  Levi, Däumig and others formed the Communist Working Collective (KAG) in the Reichstag, rejecting a reconciliation with the International and effectively splitting with the VKPD. (567)  Additionally, fallout resulting from documents seized by police and published by the SPD implicating Levi's enemies in March Action failures raised again the relationship between the ECCI and the Germans.  These controversies led to Friesland's expulsion from the VKPD. (574)  Further splits were prevented only by Lenin's authority. (583)

At this time the ECCI believed that the united front tactic consistent with the Open Letter was the correct tactic to pursue, and Radek was in full agreement. (589)  At the conference of the Three Internationals (Second, Two-and-a-half and Third), the united front tactic was popularized and the Two-and-a-half and Second Internationals drew closer together.  They would eventually fuse in 1923 after what remained of the USPD joined the SPD. (598)

The Rapallo Treaty indicated that Germany and Russia had common interests in opposing terms of the Versailles treaty. (601)  Furthermore, a May 1921 Soviet-German trade treaty allowed certain German firms to operate in Russia within the context of the NEP. (603)  This realignment of Russian-German relations on non-revolutionary terms was received by radicals with mixed reactions.

Economic strikes in Germany, which even saw the emergence of factory councils, revived in 1922 with help from the VKPD. (607) In doing so, the communists needed to combat both trade-union reformist bureaucrats and anarcho-syndicalist elements within the unions. (609) The assassination of foreign minister Rathenau provided the VKPD an opportunity to implement their united front tactic. (614)  However, once again the SPD sabotaged the VKPD's plans by siding with more right wing elements, and a new government headed by Cuno formed. (623) The call for a workers' government was at the core of the united front strategy. (647)

The Fourth Comintern Congress featured Radek and others agreeing that world revolution was on the agenda in Germany. (667)  Brandler assumed leadership of the VKPD. (683)

In 1923 French forces occupied the Ruhr in response to Germany's failure to pay WWI reparations.  The Reichstag voted to endorse a campaign of "passive resistance" against the French.  The SPD enthusiastically supported the campaign, but the KPD did not, refusing to get dragged into what it saw as a campaign organized by the German bourgeoisie. (689)

The inflation that Germany experienced in 1923 was enormous; in one year, the value of the mark fell by a factor of 162,500. (710)  The interest rate on a 24-hour loan was 100 percent. (711)  Capitalists, by dealing in dollars or gold, managed to avoid inflation, but the petty bourgeoisie was wrecked. (712) In this way, the German population "was not so much proletariansed as reduced to a sub-proletariat." (713)  The economic turmoil not only emboldened the extreme left but also the extreme right as Hitler and the National Socialists gained popularity. (720)  The KPD often tried to engage the Nazis in public debate, but the Nazis put a stop to these events after realizing how bad it made them look. (729)

The KPD and others sought to organize an anti-fascist demonstration on 29 July 1923 across Germany.  Various government leaders preemptively banned demonstrations on that day, and the Zentrale deliberated as to whether to play into a trap set by the authorities.  After consulting with the ECCI, the KPD decided to call off the demonstrations. (741)  A speech by Cuno in the Reichstag asking for a vote of confidence prompted a strike wave by disgruntled workers which caught all political factions off guard.  The SPD, after initially opposing the strike wave, in the end demanded Cuno's resignation, with which he complied. (749)

This turmoil convinced Moscow that the time was ripe for an insurrection.  Trotsky and Brandler disagreed on whether a date should be set for the insurrection, with Trotsky favoring it. (764)  However, it was at last decided to send the entire German Commission from Moscow to Germany to take responsibility for the insurrection. (765) While the military preparations were being carried out, von Kahr seized power in a coup in Bavaria and Ebert responded by invoking Article 48 to declare martial law throughout Germany. (776)

Moscow decided that the KPD should join the Saxony and Thuringia governments since they would need to occupy positions of influence for the fast-approaching conflict. (794)  General Müller persisted in threats against the Saxony government, which now contained communists, but did not yet attack.  KPD and SPD representatives met at Chemnitz, where the KPD implored the SPD to stop collaborating with the government and to issue a call for a general strike.  However, the SPD blocked the KPD's plans.  The Zentrale decided to cancel the insurrection. (809)  In Hamburg, however, the plan was executed, although on whose initiative remains unclear.  But once Hamburg got word of the cancellation, they quickly disengaged.  On 25 October, the Zentrale declared: "The vanguard of the working class -- the Communists and part of the Social-Democratic workers -- wishes to engage in the struggle, but the working class as a whole is not ready to fight, despite its immense bitterness and appalling poverty." (812)  Hitler, despite inspiring great fear amongst the German left in 1923, was easily dealt with as his Beer Hall Putsch ended with the arrest of the conspirators.  Because of the struggle for power after Lenin's exit from Russian politics and the KPD's repeated bumbling, the KPD's policies were from this point on to be written almost entirely in Moscow. (816)

The failure of the German insurrection continued to be debated in both Russia and Germany.  Trotsky blamed the failure on the International, (822) Zinoviev blamed it on Radek and Brandler, (828) Radek also indicted the International, (827) etc.  Zinoviev at the time was engaged in a struggle for power against Trotsky and the Left Opposition and wanted to deflect blame for the German failure away from the International, which he headed. (831)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction by James Fulcher

Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction by James Fulcher contains an overview of debates about capitalism and how and why it emerged, as well as explaining capitalism's tendency to crisis and comparing its modern incarnations to each other.  Despite a mostly Marxist-inspired analysis, the book ends on a very reformist note, encouraging those that desire to change social conditions to work for reforms within capitalism.

Fulcher examines three historical examples of capitalism, what he calls merchant capital, capitalist production and financial capitalism.  He notes that "all involve the investment of money in order to make a profit, the essential feature of capitalism." (14)  Slightly restating the point, he concludes the first chapter: "So the answer to our question [of what capitalism is] is that capitalism involves the investment of money to make more money." (18)

Fulcher reprises Ellen Meiksins Wood's account of the origins of capitalism in the opening of the second chapter.  With regard to British capitalism, Fulcher highlights combinations and friendly societies as forerunners of unions and the prior growth of merchant capitalism as presaging the emergence of capitalist production.  Earlier, he identifies the "growth of production, consumption and markets in 16th-century England" (21) and Journeyman's societies as antecedents of the aforementioned developments.  Moving even earlier into history, he cites "changes in social relationships in the countryside," (23) the enclosure movement and the Black Death as predisposing Britain to capitalism.  His search for contributing factors takes Fulcher all the way back to 1066, when the Norman invasion established a relatively centralized rule (in contrast to a more dispersed feudal rule in other countries) that prevented feudalism from taking deep root in Britain.

Fulcher then turns his attention to historical capitalist developments outside Britain.  He argues "it is quite wrong to seek the origins of capitalism solely in Britain" (31) citing developments such as the international cloth trade and mining, financiers such as the Fuggers of Augsburg, joint-stock corporations, bills of exchange and book keeping and movements of refugees as important milestones achieved (partially) outside of the British Isles.  Fulcher reminds the reader that "Economic leadership shifted from Italy to Germany and Flanders, then to Holland, and only later to Britain." (31)

Why did capitalism emerge in Europe?  Fulcher quips that "Virtually every distinctive feature of European society has been advanced by someone as the explanation of the emergence of capitalism in Europe." (32)  Fulcher discusses the theory that cities were responsible, but counters that much development originated in the countryside.  He then considers feudalism as a cause, since "such key features of capitalism as markets and wage labor could emerge within feudal society" (33) but retorts that this is hardly inevitable, since Eastern European feudalism intensified when capitalism was developing in Western Europe.  Fulcher mentions the Brenner thesis: "the peasants' capacity to organize against their feudal lords and free themselves from feudal bonds was here critical." (34)  Fulcher rejects cultural/religious explanations such as Weber's, although he does concede that the mass refugee migration caused by cultural differences could have played a part.  He mentions a negative argument about why capitalism didn't develop outside Europe, since a centralized state bureaucracy in other advanced societies provided other, "easier ways to become rich and powerful than through the accumulation of capital and the management of labor." (37)  Fulcher concludes, "The absence in Europe of a single, cohesive, and totally dominant elite of this kind is the common factor that brings together the various explanations we have been considering." (37)

The following chapter takes the reader through three stages of the development of industrial capitalism: anarchic capitalism, managed capitalism and remarketized capitalism.  Anarchic capitalism is "Competitive small-scale manufacturing, weak labor organization, economic deregulation, a strong state and minimal state welfare." (41)  Managed capitalism is "the growth of large corporations, the development of class organization, corporatist relationships between the state and class organizations, state intervention and regulation, state welfare and the extension of public ownership." (46)  The last period is what most would refer to as neoliberalism.  Fulcher ends the chapter by saying "it would be wrong to assume that this is the final stage in the development of capitalism." (57)

Chapter four compares Swedish, American and Japanese capitalism.  Chapter five sees Fulcher in the role of myth-buster, examining manufacturing, telework, tourism, agriculture, money, etc.: "Myth one is that global capitalism is recent, for it has deep historical roots.  Myth two is that capital circulates globally, when in reality most of it moves between a small group of rich countries.  Myth three is that capitalism is now organized globally rather than nationally, for international differences are as important as ever and nation-states continue to play a key role in the activities of transnational corporations.  Myth four is that global capitalism integrates the world, since the more global capitalism has become, the more divided the world has become by international inequalities of wealth." (103)

The final chapter addresses the crises of capitalism.  Commenting on the Tulip Mania, Fulcher writes, "Speculative capitalism was then, as it is now, not just the province of sophisticated financiers but also a popular activity." (106)  Fulcher emphasizes that the collapse of capitalism is not inevitable: "This did not mean, as some of his followers have thought, that Marx believed that capitalism would end in some huge economic collapse.  It would come to an end would when overthrown by the workers it exploited." (108)  He observes that, "Global consumption has not therefore kept pace with global production, and overproduction has been an ever-present threat to profits, wages and employment." (117)  Despite a vaguely Marxist analysis throughout the book, Fulcher concludes with a note of inevitability: "The search for an alternative to capitalism is fruitless in a world where capitalism has become utterly dominant, and no final crisis is in sight or, short of some ecological catastrophe, even really conceivable... Those who wish to reform the world should focus on the potential for change within capitalism.  There are different capitalisms, and capitalism has gone through many transformations." (127)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction by Robert C. Allen

"Economic history is the queen of the social sciences" is how Robert C. Allen opens his contribution to Oxford's pithy Very Short Introduction line of pamphlets.  His Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction provides an informative bird's-eye view of economic development over the past five hundred years.

Allen divides modern economic history into three periods: a mercantilist period from 1500 to the Industrial Revolution in the start of the 19th century; a catch-up period in which "Western Europe and the USA made economic development a priority and tried to achieve it with a standard set of four policies: creation of a unified national market by eliminating internal tariffs and building transportation infrastructure; the erection of an external tariff to protect their industries from British competition; the chartering of banks to stabilize the currency and finance industrial investment; and the establishment of mass education to upgrade the labor force;" (2) and finally a period of Big Push investment.

Allen notes that "Between 1820 and the present, the income gaps have expanded with only a few exceptions." (3)  The exceptions are Japan and the East Asian Tigers, with the Soviet Union as a less complete success and China still in the process today. (6)

"Why has the world become increasingly unequal?" (14) Allen asks.  He contends geography (location of natural resources, lack of tropical disease, ease of transportation) matters, but is rarely the whole story.  Cultural explanations that evoke work ethic such as Weber's are "no longer tenable." (14)  Literacy and numeracy are certainly important, but it is controversial whether and how political and legal institutions are as well.  He concludes that "technological change, globalization and economic policy turn out to have been the immediate causes of unequal development." (16)  The great divergence began with the "first phase of globalization," beginning with the voyages of Columbus, Magellan et al.  Literacy developed in this period as a result of the commercial economy, not as a result of the Reformation. (26)

The next question Allen tackles is why the Industrial Revolution happened in England.
While noting England had a "favorable political system" and an "emerging scientific culture," (29) ultimately the fact that Britain had a unique situation where "labor was expensive and capital was cheap" ensured the Industrial Revolution was British. (33)  Incremental developments in textile production (which Allen points out "owed nothing to scientific discoveries" (33)) and the invention and subsequent refining of the steam engine were important innovations.

Following the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in England, rapid economic development spread to Continental Europe.  Mainland Europe may have lagged behind Britain because of archaic institutions (swept away by the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, but only after Waterloo could Europe take advantage of this) or the disadvantages of playing catch-up or a labor/capital price structure unlike that of England. (40-41) Allen notes the striking contrast in this period between "the rich countries, who, as a group, pushed technology forward, and the rest of the world, which seemingly made no innovations at all." (46)  He continues: "The obvious question is why [low income countries] do not adopt the technology of the Western countries and become rich themselves.  The answer is that it would not pay... The Western countries have experienced a development trajectory in which higher wages led to the invention of labor-saving technology, whose use drove up the labor productivity and wages with it.  The cycle repeats.  Today's poor countries missed the elevator." (51)  And later, in the context of textiles: "Comparative advantage implies that the unbalanced productivity growth of the Industrial Revolution should have furthered industrial development in England, while de-industrializing India.  And that is what happened." (57)  "The story of Indian textiles was the story of much of the Third World in the 19th century." (61)

Allen then devotes two chapters to the Americas and Africa, respectively.  After a discussion of the Staples thesis, Allen states that, in terms of economic development, "The major difference between the USA and Latin America was the share of the population that was socially excluded," with Latin America excluding a much larger share of its population (natives and blacks were around two thirds of total population in Latin America, in contrast to one seventh in the US). (89)  In the case of Africa, it lacked advanced agrarian civilization in 1500, so it was in no position to have an industrial revolution. (92)  Today, "The reason that Africans are poor is because the continent's agriculture generates a First World War standard of living." (109)  The next chapter examines the failure of the standard model of economic development in Russia, Japan and Latin America.

Regarding Big Push development, Allen remarks, "The only way large countries have been able to grow so fast is by constructing all of the elements of an advanced economy -- steel mills, power plants, vehicle factories, cities, and so on -- simultaneously.  This is Big Push industrialization." (131)  The USSR provided what looked like a model for a poor country to develop before the growth rate started declining in the 1970s.  Japan "grew rapidly by closing three gaps with the West -- in capital per worker, education per worker, and productivity." (139)  Mass schooling closed the education gap, and state-led industrialization closed the other two.  The chapter ends with a discussion of China.

In the Epilogue, Allen contrasts the success of East Asian development with the failures of Latin American development: "These countries have avoided the inefficiencies that Latin America has endured in trying to shoe-horn modern technology into small economies either because they were so large that they could absorb the output of efficient facilities or because the were given access to the American market at the expense of American production." (147)  Allen ends on an ambivalent note: "Which of the many initiatives followed by these countries was the most effective, however, remains the subject of a great deal of debate.  Also, it is not so clear whether the successful policies can be transplanted to other countries.  The best policy to effect economic development, therefore, remains very much in dispute." (147)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: The Long Twentieth Century by Giovanni Arrighi

Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century examines the contemporary capitalist financial crisis by situating it as the tail end of a multi-century historical process.  The result is a history book that meanders through European history to explain the present situation as simply the repeat of a drama that has played out many times before -- exactly three times before, to be precise.

Arrighi begins, "Our thesis is that capitalist history is indeed in the midst of a decisive turning point, but that the situation is not as unprecedented as it may appear at first sight." (1)  Indeed, he posits, we are at the end of a fourth "systemic cycle of accumulation" (henceforth SCA), which he defines as a "fundamental unity of the primary agency and structure of world-scale processes of capital accumulation." (6)

A SCA has two phases, inspired by Marx's general formula of capital MCM'.  In the first (MC - "material expansion"), commerce predominates, but after a "signal crisis" the second (CM' - "financial expansion") begins, during which a shift to finance occurs.  The SCA, finally, is ended by a "terminal crisis." [1]  There have been four such SCAs, each shorter in duration: Genoese (15th century to early 17th century), Dutch (late 16th century to most of the 18th century), British (late 18th century to early 20th century), and American (late 19th century to present).  In each subsequent SCA, a new type of cost is internalized and power concentrated on an even greater scale. (See figures.)

Arrighi borrows many concepts from the French historian Fernand Braudel.  His definition of capitalism (8), emphasis on capitalist flexibility (4), the idea of recurrent withdrawals from trade as signaling financial expansion (5) and the capitalist/market/material 3-layer economic model (Arrighi examines only the top, capitalist layer). (10)  Arrighi differs in rejecting Braudel's notion of secular cycles (7) in favor of SCAs.  Nevertheless, Arrighi makes clear he is deeply indebted to Braudel's analysis: "I let Braudel plow for me the high seas of world historical fact, and chose for myself the smaller task of processing his overabundant supply of conjectures and interpretation into an economical, consistent, and plausible explanation of the rise and full expansion of the capitalist world system." (xiii)

The first chapter, Three Hegemonies of Historical Capitalism is a bit of a departure from the main theme of the book, examining the formation of the state system.  Arrighi introduces the concepts of capitalism and territorialism as opposite logics of power.  In capitalism, (to paraphrase Marx's afore-mentioned formula, with T meaning territory) the MTM' process predominates whereas in territorialism the rule is TMT'.  Arrighi claims there were two periods of state formation, the first in the city-states of Northern Italy during the Renaissance and again in North/Western Europe later.  The Italian city-states featured four characteristics of states: first, the capitalist system of war and state making; second, the operation of the "balance of power"; third, the emerging "protection-producing industry," where a larger segment of the population is induced into supporting the armed forces; fourth, developing networks of diplomacy. (38-40)

The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which established the modern interstate system, emerged as a consequence of the increasing violence in Europe and costs of deploying that violence, leading to much social unrest.  The emerging post-Westphalia Dutch hegemon had four differences with the Venetian regime (the most powerful city-state of Italy): first, an increase in scale and power; second, the interests of the Dutch capitalists clashed much more with the medieval authorities; third, the Dutch had greater war-making capabilities; fourth, the Dutch had greater state-making capabilities. (45-48)  The British/French mercantilist system which succeeded the Dutch system was a fusion of capitalism and territorialism featuring three main components: settler colonialism, slavery and economic nationalism.

The Seven Years War settled the question of which of those two powers would be hegemonic.  Consequently, Britain created a new world order of "free trade imperialism" which arose alongside three dynamics: the incorporation of new, non-dynastic European states into the interstate system, the dissolution of colonial empires in Europe which was followed by the creation of colonial empires outside of Europe; and a world government of "laws" emerged.  The subsequent US-dominated hegemonic system exhibited a territorialism and capitalism that were indistinguishable from one another.  The US ushered in an "anti-imperialist" (71) system of transnational corporations and regulating international bodies (United Nations, GATT, IMF, World Bank, Bretton Woods).  The modern interstate system, therefore, features hegemonies of increasing comprehensiveness, each of which reduces the sovereignty rights enjoyed by its members. (76)  But Arrighi ends the chapter wondering if this pattern of increasingly powerful regimes is at an end, in part because increasing expansion seems impossible, and also because warfare is reverting to Renaissance-era practices.

The second chapter discusses the first two SCAs: Genoese and Dutch, but not before revisiting the themes of SCAs.  The four SCAs have transformed the capitalist world-economy, Arrighi asserts, "from a system in which networks of accumulation were wholly embedded in and subordinate to networks of power into a system in which networks of power are wholly embedded in and subordinate to networks of accumulation." (87)  Every SCA involves a "change of guard at the commanding heights of the capitalist world-economy and a concomitant 'organizational revolution' in the process of capital accumulation." (88)

Capitalism as a historical system emerged in the context of the "war of all against all" during the Italian Hundred Years War which ended with the Peace of Lodi in 1454.  Florence, specifically, with its management of Papal finances and wool trade, took the lead: "High finance in its modern, capitalist form is a Florentine invention." (97)  In Florence the Medici family established "de facto... monarchical rule" of the city and were financially dominant for four reasons: first, the vacuum created by the financial troubles of the Bardi and Peruzzi families; second, the Medici's preference for government loans (and prudence about who to loan to); three, the Medici's state-making abilities, notably their artistic patronage which solidified city-state loyalty and prevented overaccumulation in their business; fourth, the atmosphere of competition for finance, brought about primarily because of the English/French Hundred Years War but also because of the enlargement of Papal finances after the Black Death. (105-109)

The first true SCA (rather than just a FE) took place under Genoese auspices.  Unlike Venice and Florence, the landed aristocracy in Genoa prevented the formation of a merchant aristocracy, mandating that the merchants keep their surplus capital liquid. (113)  The establishment of the Casa di San Giorgio, the use of gold coin of fixed weight to be used in all business accounts, and other innovations lead Arrighi to declare that "the real birthplace of modern finance capitalism in all its forms was mid-fifteenth-century Genoa." (115)  Eventually, increased competition from Turks and other Italians for trade led the Genoese, relatively incapable of projecting power by themselves, to align themselves with the Iberian monarchies as their financiers.  Consequently, the first SCA featured "an [Iberian] aristocratic territorialist component... and [a Genoese] bourgeois capitalist component." (125)  Unlike other great financial families of the time like the Fuggers, the Genoese survived crises by shifting loses onto clients or competitors. (128)  The Genoese fall from dominance corresponds with the Dutch victory over Spain for independence in the Eighty Years War, which the Genoese were profitably financing in the meantime.  (Arrighi mentions that the Genoese capitalists later were also some of the main financiers and beneficiaries of Italian unification (128)).

The Dutch SCA saw the Netherlands fuse "the Venetian strategy of regional consolidation based on self-sufficiency in state- and war-making and the Genoese strategy of world-wide expansion based on a relationship of political exchange with foreign governments." (140)  With their roots in the Baltic grain trade (like the Italians, the Dutch did not overextend themselves in their key trade, opting instead for conspicuous artistic consumption), the Dutch expanded their power and influence by making themselves the central entrepôt of world commerce, creating the first stock exchange in permanent session and launching joint-stock companies, notably the VOC (Dutch East India Company) in 1602. (141-143)  The Dutch were able to consolidate power during this time in part because they were not engulfed in inter-religious feuding, unlike other European territories. (209) In contrast to the Genoese, the Dutch "internalized protection costs" by not outsourcing their armed forces to, say, Iberia.  The Dutch coercion was also driven by desire for profit, not religious zeal or a fanatical gold hunt.  By demonstrating the viability of mercantilism, the Dutch found themselves under competition from more powerful emulators, notably Britain.  The later overtook the Dutch trade by force as a result of the last Anglo-Dutch War. (147)  The transition of power from Dutch to British was reflected on the Amsterdam stock exchange, where surplus capital switched from Dutch investments to British ones. (161) (Interestingly, Arrighi calls the Dutch Patriot's Revolution "the first revolution on the European mainland, the forerunner of the French Revolution." (179))

Before the British SCA, "England had to go through a long historical process in the course of which its ruling groups first learned how to turn a geopolitical handicap into an advantage, and then began to exploit this advantage to wipe out all competitors." (188)  The throne concentrated its power via the War of the Roses, creation of the Church of England, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I's fusion with Scotland and conquest of Ireland, etc.  The tradition of "sound money" (192) along with the establishment of the Royal Exchange, "marked the beginning of nationalism in high finance." (195)  Nevertheless, "it took another century before the national union of capitalism and territorialism initiated under Elizabeth began its irresistible rise to world dominance." (200)  By the end of the English Civil War which completed the process of nation-state formation that Elizabeth left unfinished, the defeat of Spain in the establishment of the Westphalian system made clear that England's national rivals were France and Holland. (203)

The British SCA established imperialism and free tradism as its distinguishing characteristics, globalizing the capitalist world-economy and synthesizing a capitalist and territorialist logic. (169)  British victories in the Seven Years War (including the Battle of Plassey, the spoils of which enabled the British to buy back the national debt from the Dutch) and, eventually, the Napoleonic Wars, allowed Britain to consolidate power.  These developments along with the industrial revolution allowed the center of entrepôt capitalism to shift to Britain, as well as Britain to take over the Atlantic triangle trade.  The world, however, began abandoning Britain's free trade regime almost as soon as it was established, with newly-created Germany in the protectionist lead. (272)  The suspension of gold convertibility of the pound in 1931 ended the British SCA.

In the fourth and hitherto last SCA, the US superseded the market by vertical integration within transnational corporations. (296)  Britain tried to control the market and Germany tried to suspend it; both failed in the end.  The US had the advantage of an abundance of territory and political isolation (unlike Europe), but realized that isolationism had reached a point of declining returns upon entering WWII.  The Marshall Plan, Korean War and Vietnam War solved the problems of liquidity that dogged the US after it emerged victorious.  But during the years of 1968-73, the system started to enter crisis because of the growth of finance caused by the abandonment of the gold standard, in turn because of the growth of the Eurodollar market.  The crisis came militarily, financially and ideologically (disrepute of anti-Communism). (309)  "In part," Arrighi writes, "the joint military and legitimacy crises of US world power were the expression of the failure of the US military-industrial apparatus to cope with the problems posed by world-wide decolonization." (331)  The Volker Shock ushered in a new era, bringing some Third World countries to their knees because of their insolvency, but Arrighi ends the chapter by wondering if this new belle époque will be just as ephemeral as the last one.

Arrighi ends the book by emphasizing the lifetime of capitalism's expansion is necessarily limited: "Sooner or later, it must reach a stage at which the crisis of overaccumulation cannot bring into existence an agency powerful enough to reconstitute the system on a larger and more comprehensive foundations... There are indeed signs that we may have entered such a stage." (341)  He comments on the unparalleled rapid economic rise of Japan, noting that Japan's promise of security from the US has enabled it to funnel funds to development in lieu of militarization (and also that Japan has gained the economic hinterland it failed to get via conquest through trade instead). (353)  Arrighi argues that cheap labor constitutes the most important factor of the East Asian rise.  A 2009 postscript emphasizes China's rise more than Japan's, but nevertheless Arrighi insists that "Contrary to what some reviewers have maintained, I did not suggest that any of these states (including Japan) were poised to replace the United States as the hegemonic power." (380)  But he does see a "critical anomaly" in the current state of affairs: "the unprecedented bifurcation of financial and military power." (372)

Arrighi sees three potential outcomes unfolding: first, that the US will appropriate East Asian capital by military force or otherwise, forming a "truly global world empire" and bringing hitherto capitalist history to an end; second, East Asia dominating a world market system, but departing from the model of the previous several centuries where market-making and war-making powers coincide (perhaps being held together by "mutual respect of the world's cultures and civilizations"); third, the world descending into the chaos of escalating violence.  In the postscript, Arrighi reiterates that any of these three scenarios remains a possibility. (369-370, 381)

Arrighi's account may befuddle some in its exclusion of both class struggle and core-periphery relations as factors of capitalism's development.  His conception of the origin of capitalism breaks with the traditional Marxist account, preferring a story originating with the Pope's finances and slowly progressing to the modern day to a sharp distinction cut between feudalist and capitalist eras.  His explanation of the contemporary capitalist crisis coincides nicely with Brenner's, although Arrighi claims such a pattern of overproduction is a historically recurring one.  All in all, Arrighi's story is an engrossing one that encourages the reader to take the long view of financial crises rather than getting caught up in the superficial novelty of the present moment.

Thanks to Aaron Benanav for conversations regarding this book.

[1] Arrighi has a concise summary of the dynamics of material and financial expansions in the postscript: "In the conceptualization of financial expansions advanced in The Long Twentieth Century, material expansions eventually lead to an over-accumulation of capital, which in turn leads capitalist organizations to invade one another's spheres of operation.  The division of labor that previously defined the terms of their mutual cooperation breaks down, and increasingly, competition turns from a positive-sum into a zero-sum (or even negative-sum) game.  By accentuating the overall tendency of profit margins in trade and production to fall, cutthroat competition strengthens the disposition of capitalist agencies to keep in liquid form a growing proportion of their incoming cash flow.  It thereby consolidates what we may call the 'supply' conditions of financial expansions... Sustained financial expansions materialize only when the capitalist agencies' preference for greater liquidity is matched by adequate 'demand' conditions.  Historically, the crucial factor in creating the demand conditions of financial expansions has been an intensification of interstate competition for mobile capital... The occurrence of financial expansions in periods of particularly intense interstate competition for mobile capital is no historical accident.  Rather, it can be traced to the tendency of territorial organizations to respond to the tighter budget constraints that ensue from the slowdown in the expansion of trade and production by competing intensely with one another for the capital that accumulates in financial markets.  This tendency brings about massive, system-wide redistributions of income and wealth from all kinds of communities to the agencies that control mobile capital, thereby inflating and sustaining the profitability of financial deals largely divorced from trade and production." (372-3)