Sunday 30 December 2018

Straight From the (Middle-Class) Horse's Mouth.

I seem to remember having this discussion a couple of years ago. In my opinion the motivation Chris [Bertram] is describing—bluntly: punitive sadism directed at the poor caused by righteous resentment of their [mis]perceived politics—is barely significant within the other powerful motivations middle-class people have always had for opposing ‘radical redistribution’, not least crude self-interest. engels 12.29.18 at 9:59 pm

These days lots of people use the S-word to describe themselves. “Socialism” is fashionable again, baby. But, how real is that phenomenon?

Old-fashioned socialists the world over should read the post that comment replies to. They may not enjoy the reading, for reminders of what they always knew aren’t necessarily pleasant. If the socialists, however, just happen to be British and young and working-class then to read that post is vitally important: it’s their asses that are at stake here.

Without further ado, I’ll leave you with Chris Bertram’s “If Brexit Goes Ahead, Say Goodbye to Radical Redistribution”. Once you’re done with that, my own comments over the fold.

Friday 28 December 2018

“From a Fire Perspective, Queensland Has Changed. Australia Has Changed.”

I won’t add too many comments.

Last November bushfires devastated Queensland. The photo below (November 29, 7:30am), taken from a distance of approximately 36 thousand kilometers, seems to show the coast between Townsville/Mackay (towards the upper-left corner) and Brisbane (just out of the picture, beyond the lower-right corner).


Monday 24 December 2018

Merry Christmas.

Father and son with their
dog collecting a tree in the forest [A]
If there is a God pulling our strings, He must have a good sense of humour. You see, I’m not much of a religious bloke. Christmas, for me, has no particular religious meaning.

Moreover, I know that Christmas is largely a time to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need.

And yet, and yet … In the last few days I’ve been haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. How will future Christmases look like? Will there be Christmases?

Saturday 22 December 2018

Bits and Pieces: Tragical Hysteria Tour.

Let’s begin our tour in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave (where else?).

By protesting the murder of black men by cops, it seems, the #BlackLivesMatter movement (to say nothing of russophobic liberal white middleclass intellectuals) were actually playing into the hands of Putin’s evil cyber-troll army of Machiavellian election-meddlers intent on having the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief elected even before he was a candidate. (You have to give Volodya credit for his superhuman prescience).

At least, that’s what the Yank MSM claim. Example: this, from WaPo. I mean, if it comes from Jeff Bezos -- that paradigm of progressive plutocrat -- you know you can take that note to the bank.

Saturday 8 December 2018

The Great Insect Die-Out?

Insects are dying out, writes Robert Hunziker, and nobody knows precisely why (a list of suspects: monoculture, pesticides, diseases, parasites, climate change):
Beyond doubt, it is not normal for 50%-to-90% of a species to drop dead, but that is happening right now from Germany to Australia to Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest.

Too bad, but why should anyone care?

Saturday 1 December 2018

Bits and Pieces: “I Was, I Am, I Shall Be!”

Commune, a new American socialist magazine, sees the light of the day (h/t Ross Wolfe, from The Charnel House). Welcome, mates (I don’t like the term “comrades” much; I’m Aussie, what can I do?).

Its first issue includes “Three Months Inside Alt-Right New York”, by Jay Firestone. A must-read.

Friday 23 November 2018

Evans: the Unwelcome Revival of “Race Science”.

This post is about an oldie but goodie, of which I only learned last week.

The Unwelcome Revival of ‘Race Science’”, by Gavin Evans appeared last March. Unfortunately, he published it in The Guardian. To recognise his article forces me to acknowledge something positive in that filthy rag, traditionally considered “the foul prostitute and dirty parasite of the worst portion of the mill-owners”.

I’m no expert in evolutionary biology or psychology, but I think those in similar position would benefit from reading Evans’ piece. It deals with the biggest names associated to “race science” and their arguments. The article seems well researched and thoughtful.

It’s because I think highly of that article that I must point to its weaknesses, which subtract from its virtues. Charitably, one can say Evans was dealing only with “race science” and that’s why similar attitudes, which many in the centre-right and centre-left (of the anti-Marxist variety) entertain go unmentioned: they aren’t founded on “race science”.

That omission, however, leaves readers with the erroneous impression that bigotry is a preserve of the alt-right.

Friday 16 November 2018

Gelman and the Economists.

Andrew Gelman, professor of statistics, believes that “a quick rule of thumb is that when (1) someone seems to be acting like a jerk, an economist will defend the behavior as being the essence of morality, but when (2) someone seems to be doing something nice, an economist will raise the bar and argue that he’s not being nice at all”.

I think he is right. Readers should pay attention.

Saturday 27 October 2018

The Road to Hell.

Poor Joe Sixpack, he was getting desperate. He had been travelling for a while, always hoping to get to a better place. He took the bus but every stop was worse than the previous. It didn’t take him long to realise this one was the worst yet. Just after he got off the bus, there it was, a huge sign with the inscription “Welcome to the Fifth Circle of Hell. Population: 34 billion souls”.

Friday 19 October 2018

“This Time, don’t Give the Liberals your Vote.”

Life is full of perverse, cruel irony. That sentence is a case in point.


Alex Turnbull is no radical.

It would be nearly inconceivable for him to be a left-wing radical: before resigning his seat in Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull, Alex’s father and former Goldman Sachs partner, was Australia’s richest politician. Alex (against my rule, I’ll refer to him and his father by their first names, for brevity) is a hedge-fund manager based on Singapore.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Two More Optimistic Scenarios and Breaking News.

To counter wild allegations that I am an incurable pessimist, I’ll leave readers with the most optimistic scenario I could find for how this slow-motion train wreck of climate change is going to develop.

Tuesday 9 October 2018

The Price of Survival.

I think there’s little need to repeat the dramatic pleas the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made last Monday: to avoid world average temperatures rising above 1.5°C greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 45% within the next 12 years and reach 0 (as in nada, zilch, rien) within 32.

There’s a detail, however, most commentators have overlooked. To achieve those reductions, in a capitalist economy, where prices are the rationing device par excellence, it “would require carbon prices that are three to four times higher than for a 2°C target” (Yes, maties, that was there, too).


Tuesday 25 September 2018

What’s Standing in the Way of Socialism?

As the idea of socialism becomes more and more acceptable, Socialist Economist decided to ask four eminent scholars what economic obstacles is the Left facing in the 21st Century?

Sunday 9 September 2018

Now, Now, We Are all Socialists.

The fortune of the word “socialism” seems to be changing, particularly when compared to its political alternatives, not only worldwide (above), but also locally (below). When even “centre-right, conservative, libertarian” penny-a-liners can see that, one would need to be as blind as Anthony Albanese or Richard Di Natale to miss it.

Monday 3 September 2018

Reformism Yesterday and Social Democracy Today

“It it also true to say that the Belgian bourgeoisie found itself coming under almost constant pressure from a proletariat which had been both radicalized and held back by Social Democracy, which was both increasingly militant and increasingly contained. Social Democracy depended for its political credibility upon the power of a [workers’] movement it distrusted and which it wanted to hold back; its ability to negotiate was determined by actions which both gave it its strength and threatened its reformist strategy.”

Regular readers may have noticed I am not much of fan of the New Left, Eurocommunism, and the Frankfurt School. Although those labels do not mean much to younger socialists, there’s much to learn from their many failings.

In fairness, however, those readers should concede that my attitude towards all those once new shining things, now old, dimmed and forgotten, is less negative than my attitude towards reformism.

Saturday 18 August 2018

The Environmental Poverty of the Reformist Left.

The reformist Left sucks big time. Climate change, probably the greatest threat to our civilisation, is emblematic of that. It’s hard to decide what’s worse: those reformists who couldn’t be bothered to have an opinion on that or those who actually do have one.

A recent episode illustrates that.

Saturday 11 August 2018

The Tale of the Scorpion and the Frog.

Intent on crossing the creek, the scorpion was searching everywhere for a way: a branch fallen from a tree would be a natural bridge; perhaps something it could use as a barge. It was useless: no branch was that long, no twig or leaf would carry its weight.


Wednesday 8 August 2018

Is Capitalism Rigged in Favour of Elites?

To answer that question The Economist is hosting a debate between Jason Furman (formerly a top adviser in the socialist [sic] Obama administration, currently at Harvard Kennedy School) and Deirdre McCloskey (University of Illinois at Chicago). Furman has been making the Yes case; McCloskey the Nope.

Saturday 4 August 2018

So, What is Socialism?

Millennials (those born between 1981-1996) are coming of age and I think they aren’t too happy with the world they are about to inherit. So, as they become voters, they are searching for ways to fix the godawful mess they found.

That’s why we are witnessing a revival of interest in socialism in the Anglophone world. First it was Jeremy Corbyn in the UK: 2015. Next, Bernie Sanders in the US: 2016. This year is the turn of 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also in the US. Moreover, although Aussie politicians haven’t kept up with the times, Aussie kids aren’t far behind their American and British peers.

But, what on earth is “socialism”?

Friday 27 July 2018

The Case for Income Tax.

Claire Connelly is a young journalist specialising in economics and finance. An MMT sympathiser, she has written popular pieces about it.

She wrote “The Case Against Income Tax” about the need (or lack thereof) for income taxes. Although she has “no hard opinions on whether or not to abolish income tax”, as she says towards the end of her piece, it’s evident she finds that possibility attractive, particularly within the Australian context, where tax cuts have been a thing lately.

Friday 20 July 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (and xi)

“Looks like she didn't have nobody to help her. I felt right sorry for her. She seemed...” Tom Robinson

In spite of the absolute lack of evidence against him, in spite of the best efforts of his defence attorney, Tom Robinson was found guilty. Those words sealed his fate. He was innocent of the crime he had been charged with, but he had to be convicted of a crime, any crime. The one at hand was that him, a black man, had felt sorry for a white woman.

Friday 13 July 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (x)

“Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig; es ist nicht einmal falsch!” Wolfgang Pauli.

In the last two posts in this series we’ve introduced Thomas Piketty’s “capital” inequality data. As is well-known, Piketty and co-workers derive their findings largely from tax return data. Bernstein employed similar data.

Piketty’s results seem to corroborate Marxist views on distribution of wealth. Bernstein’s, however, contradict them. Someone has got to be wrong. It’s time to scrutinise Bernstein’s empirical argument.

Monday 9 July 2018

No Post Last Week.

No post last Saturday (AEST), since I've been a little unwell. I should be able to resume my critical review of Preconditions next Saturday.

Friday 29 June 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (ix)

It’s time to go back to Thomas Piketty’s data and their application to the assessment of Preconditions.

A first question about Piketty’s 1910s Europe “capital” data would be how representative of a particular, historical, observed national economy that data are?

At the World Inequality Database the only series (personal wealth distribution: analogue of “capital”) with data for the lowest 50%, the middle 40%, the upper 9% and the top 1% I could find for that general time period was the one for France, for the years 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1907, 1909, and 1910.

Monday 25 June 2018

Turnbull Cuts his Own Taxes.

Malcolm Turnbull got his taxes cut. This is what he'll get (hint: check the bottom right) and what we'll get (the top few rows):


Friday 22 June 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (viii)

“The period of the first globalization is as fascinating as it was prodigiously inegalitarian”. Thomas Piketty (Capital in the 21st Century, 2014. Kindle Locations 595-597. Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.)

We finally made it to Chapter 3 of Preconditions (2 of Evolutionary). As the review will now deal with statistical data, this post contains an unusually large number of links to resources freely available over the Internet. Although readers may find the task daunting, I’ll invite them to carefully check those links. I personally visited each and every single one of those pages, and in my opinion they are educative.

Eduard Bernstein composed and published Preconditions during the late 1890s. The largest national capitalist economies had been experiencing a period of overall prosperity, punctuated by the usual downturns. In some places that bonanza started as early as the 1870s; in the US it would extend well into the Roaring Twenties.

Although there are more evocative names, Thomas Piketty, in his Capital refers to those times in general with the more neutral-sounding, but very appropriate, “‘first globalisation’ of finance and trade (1870-1914)” (Kindle Location 594).

And it’s not coincidental that Piketty mentioned Bernstein three times: both deal with some of the same subjects and variables, using tax return data [maybe other authors before Bernstein had studied tax returns, but Preconditions is the earliest example I could find (p. 60) and the most unfortunate].

But the usefulness of Capital to assess Preconditions goes far beyond periodisation or noticing that Bernstein and Piketty studied similar data for Europe, roughly during the same period.

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?

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".