Friday, 15 June 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (vii)

“There are few writers or thinkers in history whose every word and grunt has been examined by hostile critics so minutely as Marx’s has”. Hal Draper.

The usual reference Marxists give those asking about “historical materialism” (aka the “materialist conception of history”) is Marx’s 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (example 1, example 2). If readers downloaded and printed it from the Marxists Internet Archive, depending on their printer settings, they’d get something like this:

Right-click to open a larger version in a different tab.

Friday, 8 June 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (vi)

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Humpty Dumpty.

There’s a way to see Preconditions (or Evolutionary) that should help understand Eduard Bernstein’s argument: what goes where and why.

Imagine you are in Maycomb, Alabama. It’s the 1930s.

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (v)

“For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:2 KJV)

By now anti-Marxist readers (openly right-wing or reformists, it makes no difference) must have felt something of what Marxist readers of Preconditions felt in the late 1890s. What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.

Unlike those Marxists, the more enterprising among anti-Marxists may even have discovered the trick I played them: unlike Bernstein, I explained it to them.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

An Economic Parable.

The chickens were alarmed. Every Sunday, a couple hours before lunch, a chicken would go missing, never to be seen again. Nobody knew why or what happened to them. Was there something in common in those disappearances? No one could say.

After intense debate and much speculation, the flock decided to approach the farmer with their concern.

“Do you know what’s going on?” -- they asked Old MacDonald.

Friday, 25 May 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (iv)

“What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander”. English proverb, 17th century.

After the last post, I think I am in position to offer a general -- impressionistic, if you like -- assessment of Preconditions, for those readers less than vitally interested in details. A real attempt to decipher his argument must of necessity take more time.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Mean-Spirited Ideas.

Zach Carter:
“Politicians don’t generally turn to economists for new insight into how the world works. Economists instead serve as a kind of credibility shield - experts who can be trotted out to assure the public that there are very complex and sophisticated reasons political leaders should be doing the things they do. A big part of any Washington economics job is providing a sense of scientific certainty to political judgments that are, by their very nature, uncertain. This is true for big policy changes as well as straightforward tasks like projecting growth rates and government revenue.
“The job, in other words, is to back up your team.”
John Maynard Keynes:
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.”
Call me cynical, but I think someone was bullshitting us, and that someone isn’t Carter.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (iii)

After a week’s pause, it’s time to go back to Preconditions. Last time we examined that book’s general content and its Cold War re-discovery.

Suppose the reader, intent on saving him/herself a time-consuming engagement with Bernstein’s “scholastic” (his own term) argument decided instead to jump straight in Chapter 3 of Preconditions (2 of Evolutionary) where he makes his empirical argument.

Although perhaps unfamiliar with details, the reader is, of course, aware of Bernstein’s general intent, and particularly of what his final goal (pun intended) is: he is there to fell Marxism, much like a logger fells an old tree [“In principle, Marxism stands or falls with this theory” (p. 12)]

In section b of that chapter (P3§b E2§b) after presenting his statement of what Marxism explains, Bernstein asked himself the following question: “Now, is all this correct?” (p. 57, "Now, is all that right?" in Evolutionary).

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Predictions and Economic Debate.

Before going into matters, I want to register my protest against the massacre perpetrated by the Israeli racist government of Benjamin Netanyahu against Palestinian demonstrators.

I also want to protest against the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who as always are ready to spin excuses for the inexcusable.

You don't speak for me. I don't condone crimes against humanity.


The Job Guarantee MMTers promote seems to be getting some public attention in the US. Not only that, recently Prof. William “Bill” Mitchell and co-author Thomas Fazi had an article in the popular Jacobin Magazine.

Personally, I can see the attraction of a JG, and I myself am not immune to it, although as a Marxist I have doubts about its political feasibility and its longer-term implications. But I am no expert.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Unfrequently Asked Questions: Marx and Marxism (i)

Prof. Peter Dorman generously posted the slides of his lectures on Marx and Marxism: one on Historical Materialism, the other on Marxist Economics. After looking at them carefully,  I’ve noticed a few things.

Of the two lectures the one that caught my attention more profoundly was the second, where Prof. Dorman repeatedly asks questions about subjects which he evidently feels are unclear. Although I am not sure Prof. Dorman expects answers (let alone from me), as time permits, I’ll try to answer them to the best of my admittedly limited ability. Where I feel unable to answer (particularly the more technical ones), I’ll ask for more details.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Noah Smith, a New Reader?

Noah Smith:
“In other words, real socialist success has been of the gradual, incrementalist kind, more in line with the visions of thinkers like Eduard Bernstein than to the dramatic, violent prophecies of Marx. …
“So although Marx was far-sighted in identifying some of the problems of capitalism, he got the solution very wrong. Remembering this is the best way to commemorate his birthday.”
Let me paraphrase Brad DeLong, self-proclaimed neoliberal freak who flies his flag high on the benefits of globalisation, bona fide genius, central planner extraordinaire and greatest of all experts on Marx, whose authority Smith invokes (I'm not kidding, he really does: check DeLong's post,  particularly the third paragraph, and compare it to Smith's article): Anybody think that Noah Smith actually read Marx or Bernstein, and set out to fairly summarize their views to his readers? Anybody? Anybody? Matt?

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Harrison: Socialism and Bernstein.

So far, most of the material I’ve employed to discuss Eduard Bernstein’s Preconditions of Socialism did not come from his supporters. Bernstein’s own memoirs of exile proved to be of little help: it only contains the most superficial account of his 1880 meeting with Engels and Marx.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (ii)

“The importance of a work, however, cannot be judged solely on an absolute plane; one should also take into account its influence and its political function.” (Zeev Sternhell et al, The Birth of Fascist Ideology)

Below, side by side, are the tables of contents of Evolutionary Socialism (first Schocken Books paperback edition 1961, fourth printing 1967) and The Preconditions of Socialism (Cambridge University Press, 1993, reprinted 2004)

(right-click to open a larger version in a separate browser tab)

That of Evolutionary corresponds exactly to the version hosted by the Marxists Internet Archive. As reflected above, both tables show only what Bernstein wrote.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

May Day.

On November 11, 1887, in Chicago,
in the courtyard of the prison,
execution by hanging of anarchists
August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph
Fischer, and George Engel. [A]

Today workers worldwide commemorate May Day. David Fields tells the brief origins of May Day, and the gross miscarriage of justice that followed, where police, justice, media, middle-class society, and bosses confabulated to imprison and murder workers innocent of the concocted charges they had been accused of.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (i)

Well, a promise is a promise.

The initial idea behind this series of weekly posts on Eduard Bernstein’s Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus was to consider the book on its own merits; in other words, to write a critical review of the argument embodied in Voraussetzungen, not a denunciation of its author: I have already done that and I have little more to add. Moreover, originally I intended to limit this review to its empirical argument, which his modern admirers find so compelling.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

On Whose Behalf is Australia Ruled?

The preliminary findings of the Turnbull Royal Commission on Banking are the news of the day in this Terra Australis Incognita (overseas readers curious about the background to that drama may want to check these two older posts).

The public proceedings of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry (its official denomination) started a couple of weeks ago. Initially the cases heard about were, in Daniel Ziffer’s words, “tragically comic”, just “awful and dumb stuff: gym owners helping to write $122 million in loans, shonky car dealers selling lemons to hard-luck customers, a gambling addict given credit card limit increases.”

Friday, 20 April 2018

Predictions About Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.

“Professor Schumpeter, as many tart phrases reveal, has little love for socialism, and none at all for socialists.” Joan Robinson reviews Schumpeter’s 1943 Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy for the Economic Journal issue of December 1943.

I found plenty interesting stuff while searching for information on the Revisionist Debates. Among other things, four very different books.

Road to Serfdom in cartoons. [A]

For all of Eduard Bernstein’s conviction that capitalism and with it liberal democracy had won a decisive victory (or, as Francis Fukuyama put it a century later, humanity had reached the End of History), his fellow petty bourgeois intellectuals spent the next half-century -- at the very least -- worrying themselves sick about the survival of capitalism and/or liberal democracy. After its inevitable victory, capitalist democracy looked a lot like a greenhouse flower: unless heroic countermeasures were urgently taken, any deviation would lead as inevitably to chaos.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Bits and Pieces: You're Grounded!

Qui-Gon Jinn: Don't center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.

A thing about these old debates is that they absorb your attention. The past, it seems, may be as addictive as the future. One, however, must try to stay grounded in the present moment, as Qui-Gon said.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Lorenz Curve: Hunting Wolves.

“Seek, and ye shall find.” Matthew 7:7, KJV.

Surfing the net is a peculiar pastime. Often you find absolute crap (just take my word for it). But every now and again, out of sheer serendipity, you do find genuine gems. Maybe it’s something educative or interesting; it may just make you smile.

I learned of Max Otto Lorenz (1876-1959) by chance. I don’t expect his name should ring a bell with most readers (Marxist readers least of all, but no-frills lefties aren’t exempt). That’s for several reasons; one of them is that (and I mean no disrespect to Lorenz) what little I found about him suggests he was a rather obscure American economist.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Three Social Democrats go Hiking …

It’s a funny story, of which I learned from the SPD Ravensburg website. It closes an article on Ignaz Auer and his son, Erhard. Its authors are Günther Biegert and Bodo Rudolf.

Apparently the descendants of Ignaz Auer kept this anecdote as an oral tradition. It’s set in the early 1890s. It was the time of the German version of carrots and stick.

I’ll explain. Conservative chancellor Otto von Bismarck pushed his Anti-Socialist Laws in 1878. That was the stick (you know how Germans are: they invert the order of the words in sentences)

Monday, 2 April 2018

West Bank: a Day Under Israeli Occupation.

This is how Palestinians have had to live for the last fifty years, since the 1967 Israeli invasion. And those you see in those photos are the lucky ones: at least they haven't been shot in mass under Israeli apartheid.

(West Bank: Occupied lives)
Enough is enough. Australia needs to change its attitude towards Israel: they aren't the victims, but the perpetrators.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Dissecting Bernstein: the Spirit of Socialism.

Matt never spelt out what the "spirit of socialism" was. That means we are left to discuss nothing. His “argument” is unassailable, because there’s no argument.

Eduard Bernstein was more forthcoming. Although he didn’t use that phrase himself, he defiantly put his attitude towards socialism this way:
“I frankly admit that I have extraordinarily little feeling for, or interest in, what is usually termed ‘the final goal of socialism’. This goal, whatever it may be, is nothing to me, the movement is everything.” (p. xxviii)
Again he repeated that, almost verbatim, ten years later in the Preface to the English edition (Evolutionary Socialism).

Friday, 23 March 2018

Dissecting Bernstein: Bernstein and the International.

In the previous posts of this series we've been commenting on a series of claims for the resurrection of Eduard Bernstein as anti-Marx champion for the left.

This is the third such claim. As payment for his selfless efforts to update Marxism, Matt says, poor Bernie was almost/fully “drummed out of the International”.

Is that right?

The short answer:
This one is doubly wrong, which in itself is a record: two howlers within a five-word phrase. Both the what and the where are wrong.

The where: International Working Men’s Association was not a big international party (just to be on the safe side, I probably should add that it wasn’t a shadowy, sinister conspiracy like the mythical Elders of Zion, either). It was founded by working men’s societies (trade unions, clubs, cooperatives, and such) and such societies could join it, leave it or be expelled from it.

During the 1890s there were many “mainstream Marxists” mad at Bernstein (less, however, than you’d imagine). They would have been a whole lot madder if they knew his story in detail, but they didn't. Some of them did demand Bernstein’s expulsion, but not from the International: from the SPD.

(By now, even readers sympathetic to Matt must be starting to see a pattern of sloppiness emerging: Marx = Engels, the International = SPD, dates don’t matter.)

The long answer:
What actually happened and why it happened, however, are more instructive.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Dissecting Bernstein: Bernstein in the 1910s.

Last week we examined one of Matt's claims for the resurrection of Eduard Bernstein. Today we'll consider another one. In Matt's gospel, Bernstein had been a Pharisee. He, however, had an epiphany and converted to Reformism. According to Matt, Bernstein heard the words "Eduard, Eduard, why persecutest thou me" as early as the "1910's".

Is Matt right?

The short answer:
It's a good legend, one that Bernstein himself may have contributed to create. The problem is that all evidence seems to contradict it. Bernstein is not a trustworthy source.

Let's proceed by steps. By now, careful readers -- even if they didn’t read Preconditions -- know that "as early as the 1910's" is another howler: Voraussetzungen was published in 1899. By this measure, you are over 11 years late, Matt.

Like in the literary executor thing, however, there's more beyond that. Unlike in the literary executor thing, Matt's latest brain fart has far deeper consequences.

Nowhere in Preconditions Bernstein mentions it (neither does Tudor), but in September 17-18, 1879 Marx and Engels wrote precisely about Bernstein’s reformism. They were seriously pissed off, too, to the point of threatening to publicly denounce the SPD, then underground. Yup, believe it or not.

By this second measure, you are late by some thirty years, Matt. Yes: 30.

Bernstein's omission is tantamount to a lie. As Engels' literary executor he was responsible for curating the latter's papers. He otherwise quoted them liberally when it suited his purposes, yet, that letter's text was only made public in its German original in 1931 (a "mainstream Marxist" initiative) and in its full English translation in 1984, with MECW vol. 24 (pp. 253-269).

There's more. MECW vol. 45 (published in 1991) shows a paper trail starting at least the previous June. In it both Engels and Marx detail their increasingly harsh opinion of Bernstein. At least August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Nikolai Danielson, Friedrich Adolph Sorge, Johann Philip Becker and … Eduard Bernstein himself had been privy to that.

That material is copyrighted, but here is the partial text of Marx's September 19 letter to Sorge in Hoboken. "The Leipzigers" are August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, among others. "Their Zürich allies" (variously referred to elsewhere as the "Zürich trio" or simply as "Zürichers") are Bernstein, his master Karl Höchberg, and one Karl August Schramm.

The sobering thing is that that lie may not be the most egregious in Bernstein's case.

The longer answer:
The short answer is not satisfactory, though. There’s heaps left out.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Friday, 9 March 2018

Dissecting Bernstein: Was Bernstein Marx's Literary Executor?

According to Matt, Bernstein was one of Marx's literary executors. Is Matt right?

The short answer:

Wrong beard, Matt (Freudian slip?). Bernstein was one of Engels’ literary executors. Marx’s literary executor was … drum rolls, please … Engels!

I can, however, be generous to Matt. So, to save time, I'll put it plainly: that's just a brain fart, embarrassing, but by itself it doesn't demolish the whole of his argument. It does say something, however, of his and Bernstein's credibility.

I can afford generosity, because what's telling is how I learned the right answer. Rather funny, actually.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Weather Alert.

Sarah Ferguson presented and Michael Brissenden reported "Weather Alert" for Four Corners, by ABC Channel 21, last Monday.

Friday, 2 March 2018

An Online Argument for Bernstein's Resurrection: a Dissection.

To critique something, one must first understand what we are critiquing: what does what, how things fit together, what goes where.

That's what we are going to do now with Matt's comments.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Anecdotal Evidence.

Another summer is gone, woo-hoo!

This was a strange summer. I don’t think it was nearly as hot as last year’s, but I reckon it was a lot drier. There were some strangely cool spells (rather nice, actually), interspersed with extremely humid (mostly in the early morning) heat waves lasting a week or ten days. But no rains.

And something I really loved: no mozzies! You know how it is: no rains, no mozzies. Sure, there were cockies galore, but mozzies? Nope.

Come to think of it, I saw very few spiders and flies.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Taking a Stroll Down Memory Lane (iii).

I suspect one must be really interested in Marxist and socialist history for the name Eduard Bernstein to ring a bell. I am and I have already written about him, without focusing specifically on him.

The bottom line is that Bernstein has been forgotten, but he would be a case study in the unintended consequences of the kind of charlatanry the liberal/leftish intelligentsia mastered.

Monday, 19 February 2018

So, How is the World Ruled?

Well, judge by yourself.

Sep. 28, 2017.

Billionaire Donald Trump promises to cut his own taxes:


Friday, 16 February 2018

Taking a Stroll Down Memory Lane (ii)

Resuming from last time: Signs that things weren't fine for capitalism and that people started to notice didn't end with a few scattered economists discussing things among themselves, or some economics students demanding unspecified changes in academic syllabi. Not even with the mega rich performing their annual rituals at Davos.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Rural Idiocy of Sacks of Potatoes.

Whether one likes it or not, Marx and Engels didn’t think much of rural life.

This is an early example (1848):
“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”
Now, let’s pause. Those guys used the word “rescued”. It’s there. You can see it: I emphasised it.

Time to use our noodles. Marx and Engels used the word rescue and we know that to rescue something is to save that something from a danger or a difficult situation. Right?

Friday, 9 February 2018

It's a Long Way to the Top (ii)

Welcome to the second part of my "It's a Long Way to the Top" series: an absolute beginner's guide to optimisation … by an absolute beginner to optimisation. :-)

In the first installment we went through an intuitive exposition of the logic of optimisation. Now it's time to put that in a slightly more formal language. Here is an intuitive explanation of what a function and its derivative are and how to find its maximum. It's not meant to be complete and readers interested are advised to consult a text (you can try here, but it's up to you).

Mathematically one represents Fateful Mountain (from our previous post) like so

y = f(x).

Friday, 2 February 2018

Taking a Stroll Down Memory Lane.

It doesn’t take a sharp observer to realise things of late are going pear-shaped for capitalism, one needs only to follow the news: globalisation gone mad, financialisation, private debt growth, housing bubble burst, GFC, bailouts, repos, recession, unemployment, inequality in all shapes and colours, wage stagnation, the bloody aftermath to the Arab Spring, terrorism, rise of the surveillance state and the far right, Europe, US, South America. And that’s without mentioning climate change, ocean acidification, mass extinction, the risk of global pandemics, and now the growing likelihood of Cold War 2 or even a nuclear war.

Don’t believe me? Even as I wrote this, our reptilian plutocratic overlords were performing their ultimately inconsequential but newsworthy Davos annual hand-wringing ceremonies.


Things didn’t seem so bad twenty years ago, yes?

Monday, 29 January 2018

Mutatis Mutandis.

I'm a fan of Corey Robin. In "Democracy is Norm Erosion" he discusses the current polarised state of American politics and how people might react to it. It's fascinating and all, but that's not why I mention it here.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

It's a Long Way to the Top.

"Off you go".

Those were the Queen's final words. No more pleas; no buts nor ifs. It's a do or die situation. You are to climb to the very summit of Fateful Mountain to plant there HM's Royal Banner. Success will be handsomely rewarded; you'll pay failure with your life.

However high the stakes, the task is simple … or so you think. That's what I haven't told you: you are a termite. You are blind.

How will you find the summit?

Friday, 19 January 2018

What is Reformism? The British Case.

Let’s talk about “reformism”.

Once upon a time, that word (plus “reformist” and “reform”) had a precise meaning for Marxists. Over time, however, that meaning changed: the original nuances behind “reformism” were lost. Nowadays those are merely words of abuse.

Because of that it has become, paradoxically, possible to reclaim them. That would be a serious mistake and we might be running out of time for mistakes.

But before tackling “reformism”, it seems wiser to explain “reform” first. To make the discussion more accessible to the public and hopefully less dry, I’ll try an unusual approach.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Stephen Hawkings on Robots: It's the Distribution, Stupid.

I’ve seldom experienced déjà vu as strongly as I did reading Alexander C. Kaufman’s recent note on Stephen Hawkings’ brief Reddit AMA (h/t David Ruccio).

A member of the public asked:
  1. "Have you thought about the possibility of technological unemployment, where we develop automated processes that ultimately cause large unemployment by performing jobs faster and/or cheaper than people can perform them?
  2. "In particular, do you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated?
  3. "Do you think people will always either find work or manufacture more work to be done?"
See “technological unemployment” there?

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Cuck Fight!

Man, you've gotta love US politics!

The book records Murdoch's reply: "Donald, for eight years these guys [Silicon Valley honchos] had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don't need your help."

Trump is quoted as saying the companies "really need these H-1B visas".

Wolff writes that Murdoch suggested a more liberal stance on H-1B visas would sit oddly with Trump's hardline stance on immigration, to which the president-elect replied: "We'll figure it out."

Wolff writes that Murdoch shrugged as he got off the phone, and said: "What a fucking idiot." (Here)
Everybody knows government is not the executive committee for the bourgeosie, uh Brad?

06-/01/2018. Amid a desert storm of denials from most of those quoted by Michael Wolff, The Donald and the White House came out really hard, all guns blazing -- like, well, all fire and fury -- on him, his book, and Steve Bannon. And then, according to the news, The Donald called his personal lawyer, Mr. Harder. Yup, that's right.

Shock and awe, man.


I can't say whether he's got a bigger and more powerful button, but at least he's got Harder. :-)

American politics is way better than fiction and it's all for free! Whoever said capitalism sucks?

Monday, 1 January 2018

Keynes: Reader's Goodwill, Intelligence, and Co-operation

"A final difference was one of intellectual manners. By the early 1930s, Keynes and his followers felt a sense of urgency, almost of desperation, to get their ideas accepted. It became the hallmark of Keynes's coterie to regard every economist outside Cambridge as mad or stupid; argumentative good manners were sacrificed to world salvation. On the other hand, there is near unanimous testimony to Hayek's intellectual hospitality."

There's no dearth of goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation towards Keynes and his coterie in the essay where that passage comes from. His author does not number among Keynes' harshest critics. What one cannot see there is goodwill, intelligence or co-operation towards those "outside Cambridge". They were simply "mad or stupid".