New World Order:
The Rhetoric and the Reality
"The fourth beast... shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces... But the judgement shall sit, and his dominion shall be taken away to be consumed and to be destroyed unto the end".
See Is imperialism a useful category of historical analysis?
The phrase "New World Order" was originally used by George Bush following the destruction of social democracy in Eastern Europe and the massacre of the proletariat in Iraq. Between 1989 and 1991, a dramatic series of events culminated in cooperation between all the major powers, with the USA in overall charge. Democracy and the market are the heavy artillery with which the New World Order has battered down all Berlin walls.
We argued that the proletariat "now confronts one united world capitalist class, ruling a world with an increasingly homogenous culture and even one language, which potentially unites capitalism's gravediggers" (Wildcat 15 p4). We identified the New World Order "not as a piece of mere rhetoric, but as a distinct phase in capitalism's reversal of the gains the working class made in the late sixties and early seventies" (Wildcat 17 p55).
Other journals of our ilk argued that the New World Order was a politician's catch-phrase. This apparent unity would rapidly disintegrate, and be replaced with the familiar system of "rival imperialist blocs". These were tentatively predicted to be a US bloc, a Japanese one, and a European Community. In this case, one out of three is no better than nothing: if today there is only one superpower, there are none.
In this article, we trace the background to the theories of "Imperialism" which consciously or otherwise underlay the assumptions which led to this error. Using that much-maligned method, the benefit of hindsight, we show how it came about and what was wrong with it, and suggest what it should be replaced with.
The differences between the powers are trivial compared with the rivalries which led to the first and second world wars and the cold war. At the time of writing, the policy differences between the EC countries on Yugoslavia usually exceed the differences between any one of them and the USA. Every year, Japan and the USA reach the brink of a "trade war"; every year, they call it off. Their imperialist rivalries amount to disagreements about how many third world proletarians they should collectively slaughter. They all agree on the need for simmering ethnic conflicts to divide the proletariat and create millions of desperate dispossessed, willing to work for peanuts. The proletariat is currently so supine it doesn't take the kind of inter-bloc conflict which characterised international relations for the two hundred years up till 1989 to keep it down. As we gradually became aware during the late eighties (see Wildcat 12), capitalism had replaced its supposedly inexorable war drive with a remarkable ability to broker a period of relative world peace.
Marx and Engels had little to say on the subject of Imperialism. Their remarks on colonialism and foreign trade, particularly the section on counter-tendencies to the tendency of the Falling Rate of Profit, have been used by their epigones to give authority to their own investigations, and blown up out of proportion (Capital Volume 3 (1) pp 344-347). These three pages were used to justify anti-Imperialism, but all they basically say is that a national capital tries to avoid the crisis caused by the Falling Rate of Profit, which in turn is caused by the increase in the ratio of constant to variable capital, of machinery to workers, by investing in foreign countries. The Falling Rate of Profit is fully explained in (1), 13, p318. Briefly, capitalists are forced by competition to produce cheaper goods by increasing the ratio of machinery to workers. Because labour is the only source of value, the rate of profit is given by dividing the proportion of living labour in the product by the proportion of dead labour, or machinery. This rate must fall as the proportion of machinery rises.
Capital invested "at home", in production for foreign trade, can also yield a higher rate of profit
"because it competes with commodities produced by other countries with less developed production facilities, so that the more advanced country sells its goods above their value".
This enables the more advanced country to dominate the less advanced, by making more profit. Capital invested directly in production in the colonies also produces more profit:
"the reason why this can yield higher rates of profit is that the profit rate is generally higher there on account of the lower degree of development, and so too is the exploitation of labour, through the use of slaves and coolies, etc."
What this hastily-written passage means is that a higher rate of profit is obtainable in countries where exploitation is less developed, where more variable capital (labour) is required to turn out a given quantum of value from a given unit of constant capital (machinery).
Marx doesn't make too much of this counter-tendency to the Falling Rate of Profit. He adds that though the more advanced country "receives more labour in exchange for less", it is all "pocketed by a particular class, just as in the exchange between labour and capital in general".
Both foreign trade and capital export are just particular examples of capitalism in general. They are not qualitatively different from what capital does within its "home" country. The "super-profits" of anti-Imperialist theory are, in other words, simply larger quantities of ordinary profits. Taking over competitors with less developed production facilities by destroying them by selling cheaper goods, and taking advantage of these less developed facilities to make more profit, is part of capital's daily life. Moralistic whining about the unfairness of Imperialism, as opposed to ordinary capitalism, is an attempt to confuse us about the nature of the beast. This is not to deny the far worse conditions imposed on the colonies compared to the metropoles. The enslavement of Africans was qualitatively worse than the forced deportations of the English, Scots and Irish poor, but if a capitalist power is more savage and parasitic abroad than it is at home, that is only because the class struggle at home has restrained it. If metropolitan workers have been "bribed", that is because they have forced the bosses to bribe them.
Theorists of Imperialism may have misunderstood Marxist economics, but they genuinely tried to base their positions on his methodology. In The German Ideology (1846), Marx outlined the materialist conception of history, the premises of which are:
"the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way." (2)
But Marx was no head-banging empiricist. He was also a poet:
"At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression for the same thing - with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters ... new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself" (3).
The more radical elements within the Second International had good organisational and political reasons to see themselves as the successors of Marx and Engels. Around the turn of the century, various debates took place among these radical social democrats about Imperialism and Nationalism. The most famous of these is V. I. Lenin.
Lenin argued that Imperialism was in part a conscious strategy to buy off the working classes in the Imperialist countries. His evidence consists of one quote from arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, (4) p93, and one from Engels to the effect that the workers of England "merrily share the feast" of its colonies. What would these severe Victorians say if they could see the workers of England today in its Indian restaurants? From Rhodes' opinion that Imperialism would help avoid revolution in Britain, Lenin derived his theory of the Labour Aristocracy, which shows his moralism at its crudest. His condemnation of the "economic parasitism" by means of which the English ruling class "bribe the lower classes into acquiescence" is completely antithetical to materialism, as are his complaints that the "Imperialist" countries oppress the weaker ones.
The ruling class in all countries pay workers as much as they think they have to, calculated from:
a) the need for workers to stay alive and, to a greater or lesser degree, healthy,
b) the shortage or otherwise of workers capable of doing the job, and
c) the class struggle.
Where does a wage rise gained by struggle end and a bribe begin? Lenin's position implies that British workers should deduce what proportion of their pay checks are the proceeds of the exploitation of the colonies, and hand that proportion back to their employers, declaring their refusal to be bribed.
Lenin shored up his views with off-hand remarks by Marx and Engels, ignoring the better worked-out passages which can be used to develop an analysis of the world economy without the concept of Imperialism, as Geoff Kay does in Development and Underdevelopment (5).
Lenin's position was not a mistake. The Labour Aristocracy theory had the political purpose of enabling the Bolsheviks to argue for the workers in the colonies to form united fronts with their local ruling classes against Imperialism. This in turn had the aim of dividing the working class internationally, and turning it into cannon fodder for capitalist war.
It would be simplistic to write off the Bolsheviks as nothing but defenders of capitalism. Another member of the Bolshevik party, Nikolai Bukharin, presented a theory of Imperialism which paid lip-service to the Labour Aristocracy position, but placed more emphasis on the necessity for revolution. The reasoning behind Bukharin's theory was simple. If it could be shown that capitalism was inevitably divided into warmongering states, that hence the horrors of the first world war were going to be repeated until capitalism was overthrown, this would constitute a convincing case for revolution.
In Imperialism and World Economy (6), following the dialectical method outlined in Marx's Preface(3), Bukharin tried to show a contradiction between nation states and international capitalism. Capitalism has created the world economy, the material basis of communism, but "national economies" and "state capitalist trusts" contradict this, leading to Imperialism and war. Nation states were the "forms" which helped develop the "forces of production", but now they are "fetters" on their further development. Imperialism and World Economy was intended to show that Imperialism is an inevitable stage of capitalism, in order to refute the possibility of a peaceful solution to the first world war. This was in turn necessary in order to oppose the "centrists" among social democracy, who were trying to sit on the fence on the question of the necessity of a proletarian revolution to end the war. The more radical socialists needed a dialectical contradiction between nations and the world economy to reject the theory of ultra-Imperialism, put forward by the leading centrist, Karl Kautsky. Like Lenin, Bukharin distorted Kautsky's theory. They both claimed that Kautsky had completely abandoned Marxism, and now believed that capitalism could reform itself, eliminating its nasty bits, and evolve into a peaceful new world order. Kautsky actually said:
"From the purely economic standpoint, therefore, it is not excluded that capitalism may live through another new phase, the transference of the policy of cartels to foreign policy, a phase of ultra-Imperialism, which of course we must fight against just as energetically as we fought Imperialism. Its dangers would lie in a different direction, not in that of the armaments race and the threat to world peace" (7), p88.
We need hardly add which of the two theories, Imperialism and ultra-Imperialism, has best stood the test of time.
Bukharin attempted to deal with ultra-Imperialism:
"The development of world capitalism leads, on the one hand, to an internationalisation of economic life, and, on the other, to the levelling of economic differences, - and, to an infinitely greater degree, the same process of economic development intensifies the tendency to 'nationalise' capitalist interests, to form narrow 'national' groups armed to the teeth and ready to hurl themselves at one another at any moment" (6), pp 106-107.
This is because, he said, state capitalism is the capitalism of existing, national states. Though the economy is increasingly international, "Acquisition, however, assumes the character of 'national' (state) acquisition where the beneficiaries are huge state companies of the bourgeoisie of finance capital" (6), p106.
Considering how central it is to his theory, he is obliged to explain what he means by "national", which he put in inverted commas throughout the book. The reason he did so is clear from the footnote on p80 which is the only place he tried to explain this crucial concept.
"When we speak of 'national' capital, 'national' economy, we have in mind here as elsewhere, not the element of nationality in the strict sense of the word, but the territorial state conception of economic life."
What is clear is that he cannot define what nations are. This weakens his whole thesis, which depends on the contradiction between nations and world economy. Bukharin assumed that capital is divided into particular "narrow 'national' groups" when this is what he had to prove in order to hold the line against ultra-Imperialism. Capitalism has proved itself more flexible than many of its critics realised. In Bukharin's time, it was obligatory to try to show capitalism is an inherently irrational system, that the bourgeoisie are driven, against their will, to do all sorts of wicked things by the genie they have unleashed but cannot control. In contrast, socialism will be a planned social system. Today, it is almost axiomatic that "planned socialism" was just another form of capitalism. We could add that capitalism is not unplanned, and that the capitalist class is not driven to make war; on the contrary, war is part of the plan.
Is there any reason why single capitalist firms should be tied to one state? It is possible for capitalism to dissolve particular national states and replace them with larger entities, such as the European Community. Is there any limit to the size of such entities, and does there have to be more than one? Bukharin answered yes, but didn't successfully explain why.
Rosa Luxemburg's most important contribution to the debate on Imperialism was her opposition to the idea that Imperialism could be opposed by supporting national liberation struggles. Whereas Lenin's guilt-trip about how "we Russians" (and by implication, we British, we French, etc.) have no choice but to support national struggles against "our" Imperialist ruling class (9) has justified support for numerous anti-imperialist wars, Luxemburg's arguments, based on the experience of the Polish working class in its struggle against "its" poor oppressed national bourgeoisie, have been largely forgotten.
In Foreword to the Anthology (1905)(8), for example, she tried to show where Marx's support for some national struggles was wrong by looking at the facts of Poland's integration into the Russian Empire (p95). As Russia, "the prison-house of nations", incorporated Poland, it tended to unite the working class of Russia and Poland. On the other hand, Polish nationalism acted against that unity during the Russian revolution of 1905. Luxemburg rejected "eternal truths" like support for national liberation in favour of an empirical, case-by-case approach.
Her arguments were seriously debated at the time, and many social democrats, including a significant section of the Bolsheviks, supported her views against Lenin's "right of nations to self-determination". Eventually Lenin's views won the day, and the Communist International supported national liberation movements and thus the defeat of the working class in China, Germany, etc., etc.. The Russian Revolution did not help end the first world war. By taking out one of the powers on the side that was just beginning to gain the upper hand, it prolonged the war. Equalising the two sides enabled Germany and Austria/Hungary to concentrate on the Western Front. Similarly, anti-Imperialism supports the "oppressed", i.e. weaker, side, prolonging the war.
The most obvious reason for the success of Lenin's views was the power of the Bolshevik state. It had both the means and very good reasons for supporting national liberation struggles. Another reason for the weakness of opposition to Lenin's liberal moralism was that his opponents were themselves not unafflicted by the same mental paralysis.
For example, Luxemburg defended the proletariat as the true defender of democracy against Absolutism, and even as the bearer of Western Civilisation against Tsarist barbarism, a position which, if defended consistently, might have had serious consequences. Her commitment to democracy seriously weakened Luxemburg's opposition to the idea of national self-determination. Rather than simply showing that nationalism is the enemy of the working class, she claimed that the bourgeoisie distorts or makes meaningless the idea of nationalism. This was part of the weakest but most famous argument against Lenin: national liberation is impossible because of the domination of the planet by Imperialism. (See The National Question and Autonomy in (8), pp 130-131). Until this happened, she maintained, there was a case for supporting certain national movements in the 19th century. We reject nationalism as anti-working class not because it's impossible, not because the bourgeoisie distorts or betrays it, but because it has always tied the proletariat to its class enemy and divided it amongst itself: the workers have no country.
These confusions were not the result of revisionism corroding the legacy of Marx and Engels. The heroic legends of the revolutionary bourgeoisie fearlessly slaying the dragons of feudalism and developing the productive forces were told better by Marx than anyone else. With such a starting point, Marx's followers were bound to end up bickering about which faction of capitalism was more progressive, at what date capitalism had achieved its historic mission, and so on.
What is Imperialism?
In this section, we briefly consider some of the most important definitions of Imperialism to see whether it has ever been a useful concept.
"The policy of finance capital pursues a threefold aim: first, the creation of the largest possible economic territory which, secondly, must be protected against foreign competition by tariff walls, and thus, thirdly, must become an area of exploitation for the national monopoly companies"
Hilferding, Finance Capital, cited in (6) p107.
Hilferding's definition, on which most of his socialist contemporaries depend, depends in turn on the concept of nation states. To see that invisible but concrete Thing, Capital, moving around the world in search of profits, using nation states to divide the exploited, would require a level of abstraction similar to that achieved by Marx in Capital. Instead, he defines Imperialism in terms of national monopolies exporting Capital and commodities. In other words, nations are more basic than capitalism, and Imperialism is their policy. However, Imperialism was not always carried out by nations. India and Indonesia were founded by companies.
As we saw with Bukharin, nations are hard to define. Hilferding's definition can only be understood as the policy of nation states, which are particular coalitions of capitalist groups with sovereignty (the monopoly of violence) over a particular acreage of the earth's surface. We do not deny that these coalitions exist. But we need to address the question of how fundamental these particular formations are, compared to others. Is the bourgeoisie really split into national groups above all others? Unless it is, Hilferding's definition of Imperialism falls to the ground.
Almost every country is more powerful than others, and tries to dominate its neighbours, apparently ignorant of Marx's advice that a nation which oppresses another can never itself be free. Even the smallest countries harbour designs on bits of their neighbours' territory. "Imperialism means the tendency of nations to dominate others" leads to the view that they are all Imperialist, which would render the term meaningless.
Communists sometimes define Imperialism as the current "stage" which International Capitalism is passing through. Imperialism is synonymous with Decadence. This is the phase of capitalism when it is no longer progressive, when it has completed its historic mission of developing the productive forces to the point when they are high enough to give rise to Communism, the next stage in the forward march of Humanity, when the relations of production are now fetters on the further expansion of those forces, which have now ripened on the tree, and are ready for picking. They have matured in the womb, baked in the oven, and fermented in the brewery.
The most coherent version of Decadence is the view that capitalism created the world economy and thus created the possibility of a world community, something which was never possible before. Having achieved its historic mission, capitalism is now in decline. But this is difficult to put a date on. Capitalism is still developing its domination of the world, and still creating a more and more international proletariat.
During the twenties and thirties, capitalism appeared to be on its last legs. Theorists of Decadence literally thought that capitalism was in an epoch of decay because the forces of production had stopped growing. But after another world war, capitalism gained a new lease of life. It was able after 1945 to develop the productive forces more than ever before. The bombing of Hiroshima was therefore progressive, because they helped develop the forces of production. A really consistent follower of the method of the left communists of the twenties would argue that they had made a mistake, that capitalism turned out still to be progressive after all.
Earlier, in the discussion on Lenin's theory, we alluded to the use of Imperialism as an ideology. At the end of the last century, some of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist states consciously decided to try to tie their working classes to the state by persuading them they had material interests in the conquest of Africa and Asia by the mother country, promoting pride in the imperial power of their homelands, and faith in the superiority of the white man.
Though Kipling soon gave way to the war poets, this strategy had some success. British and French workers, for example, have been fairly saturated in Imperialism for a century or so. This has helped the bourgeoisie to suppress the possibility of revolution by getting them to die by the million for "their" respective nation states. The 1982 Falklands War showed that old-fashioned jingoism is far from dead among Britain's lower orders.
But pernicious and effective though it may be, it has been no more so than any other form of nationalism. Anti-Imperialism, the ideology which tells workers to suppress their class interests in order to help "their" national bourgeoisie win its struggle against Imperialism, has also been highly effective in keeping millions of workers under control in the interests of international capitalism. The defeat of the Vietnamese working class by anti-Imperialism enabled Vietnam to invade Cambodia, whereas the American working class, whose resistance helped end the war in Vietnam, continued to paralyse the warmongering aims of the US ruling class. Although the USA has now overcome its "post-Vietnam syndrome", Vietnam never had one.
It is questionable what role ideology plays in making workers fight for the interests of their masters. Most are less than enthusiastic, and are simply conscripted. But whatever importance we attribute to ideas, Imperialist ideology is no worse than anti-Imperialism. Successful anti-Imperialism becomes Imperialism. This is well illustrated by the example of Germany. The Communist International supported the Nazis in the early twenties on the grounds that they were a national liberation struggle. Germany was an oppressed nation, occupied and looted by French and British Imperialism. The Nazis fought the occupying troops, so the Comintern supported the former, militarily and politically. A decade later, this anti-Imperialist movement had become German Imperialism. Israel was founded in a national struggle against the British Empire. Although Imperialism as an ideology has been useful to the bourgeoisie of certain countries, it has been no more useful than any other form of national chauvinism. Racism is not unique to Europeans, as liberals would have us believe. Outright racial hatred of the "interfering foreign devils" has been central to the attempt to maintain the integrity of the Chinese nation for centuries.
Capitalist organisation is assumed to be based on the nation state. This is why the working class of each country must "first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie", why "the main enemy is at home".
But capitalism preceded nations. The feudal world had no conception of nations because it was ruled by a global religious hierarchy which had no intrinsic territorial limitations. Neither Columbus nor the ruling classes of the ancien regimes had nationalities, nor the Pope, nor the Bourbons, nor the Hapsburgs. These interrelated divinely appointed rulers did not belong to particular bits of the world.
The emergence of nations is explained by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities (10) as the result of three main factors. One is the collapse of religion. According to Anderson, the existential angst caused by the decline of religion partly explains the rise of nationalism as a substitute community. The destruction of communities in general by capitalism partly explains nationalism. Capital has tried to replace the various historic communities it has destroyed with an imagined community, the nation.
Another major factor is the print industry. The Latin market became saturated, and it was economical for printers to create large reading groups based on fusing numerous dialects together into languages. At one time, there was no point at which you could say Dutch ended and German began. Today, there are two distinct languages with a border between them.
But the most interesting factor noted by Anderson is the conscious creation of nationalisms by the ruling class. Old dynasties did not need to be overthrown by Marx's mythical "revolutionary" bourgeoisie in order to develop the forces of production. They just became bourgeois themselves. Japan is a shining example. Pre-national dynasts deliberately promoted nationalism. Anderson gives bucket loads of empirical examples to support his argument - the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, Chulalongkorn - all promoted "official nationalism" to preserve their power over labour.
Nineteenth century nationalisms became models. Since 1918, these models have been adapted by bourgeois students from around the world at European Universities, and taken "home" to create nations. Some of these creations are more obviously arbitrary than others. Anderson points out that Indonesia "does not remotely correspond to any precolonial domain", and goes on to describe its enormous variety of peoples, cultures, languages and religions, how the people at one end have far more in common with their neighbours across the national frontier than with their fellow "Indonesians", and how its shape is determined by the last Dutch conquests (10), p110.
The bourgeoisie is a global class. Nations mostly emerged after capitalism. Consciously or not, and there are numerous examples of conscious strategy, capitalism created nations. It should therefore not be assumed that the nation state is essential to capitalism. Uniquely among the commentators discussed in this article, Anderson asks the right question: what are nations, and where do they come from? Partly a spontaneous false community caused by the decline of other communities, partly the result of the linguistic centralisation's brought about by the emergence of the mass production of vernacular (non-Latin) books in the 16th and 17th centuries, and partly as the result of conscious decisions by a) the old non-national dynasties, and b) the modern international bourgeois intelligentsia, "Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist" - E. Gellner, cited in (10), p15.
Anderson starts by showing that nations are imagined communities - we tend to think we have something in common with our fellow-nationals, most of whom we will never meet - and then tries to work out how they were created and by whom. The consequences can be summarised in the phrase "The Bosses Have No Country".
The truth of this slogan is becoming increasingly clear. It was particularly confirmed by the Gulf war, its overture and follow-up, which saw Imperialists and anti-Imperialist forces united against the proletariat, pushed to the front lines by Iraq's Republican Guard, then bombed by the UN. As we showed in our leaflet Ten Days That Shook Iraq, the USA backed Saddam Hussein just enough to enable him to crush the proletarian uprising against his rule, working with Kurdish nationalists and bombing mutineers to save his regime. There were two sides in the Gulf: the international bourgeoisie and the international proletariat. Though increasingly united, the bosses need to keep us divided. Politicians promote petty nationalism around the world, Eastern Europe and the fragments of the Soviet Union bearing the brunt of this strategy. The United Nations' prolongation of the war in Yugoslavia by giving the weaker side just enough encouragement to allow it to fight on is a particularly obvious example of a deliberate policy of international capitalism to crush the class struggle.
Homogenisation and centralisation have been built-in to civilisations since their origin, but never before has one power ruled the world. This is a completely new historic period. We cannot pretend to understand all the implications of this, but we can at least insist on the recognition of the New World Order and the discarding of obsolete theories.
In order to hedge our bets, let's admit that we cannot rule out the possibility of the emergence of rival blocs again. We are not in a position to say just how permanent the New World Order is. Our guess is that China would be the only basis for a bloc to seriously challenge the USA. The European Community, with its inability to submit to its natural leader, doesn't have what it takes.
If the red-hot flames of the class struggle flare up once again to haunt the bourgeoisie, it could organise massive inter-bloc conflicts like world war two to attack the class struggle. But as the current period continues, it becomes increasingly obvious that this is not an inevitable product of the very nature of capitalism. On the other hand, the New World Order is a product of the basic centralising nature of Civilisation itself: "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me". Fredy Perlman was prescient to say that Leviathan is "single and world-embracing for the first time in His-story" (11), but perhaps optimistic to add that it is "decomposing". We should recognise that there is no theoretical basis for understanding the New World Order, just a few insights which need to be developed. This article has demolished theories of Imperialism, but has hardly replaced it with a coherent analysis of the world today. Such an analysis is sorely needed - in its absence, conspiracy theories abound.
Thanks for your letter of Dec 27. To answer the question whether it matters that those governing the Free World are corrupt - the short answer is no. A slightly longer answer is as follows. We are glad you raised Watergate, because this is a particularly clear example of corruption and crime at the highest level mattering not a bit to the poor. Bombing Vietnam and Cambodia, now that was something else. But Nixon was impeached for organizing the burglary of the Demos' HQ. What does it matter if one gang of criminal mass-murderers steal documents from another? The Savings & Loan bailout is a bit more complicated, because working people had their savings in companies that went bankrupt. Obviously, we support campaigns to force the state to reimburse these people. But corruption in general should not be opposed. The individuals who made a lot out of the S & Ls were no more guilty than anyone else who makes loads of money from the capitalist system. Only the law makes a distinction between legal and illegal profiteering. To us, it makes no difference.
In Italy at present, there is a big anti-corruption campaign. Traditionally, government contracts are awarded to someone who knows someone else's brother-in-law, or as a result of bribery, or less frequently, threats. If the anti-corruption campaign succeeds, contracts will be awarded to the companies that can do the work cheapest, in other words, those who exploit their workers more efficiently. Anti-corruption is part of privatization and the deregulation of sectors where workers don't have to work quite as hard, and where their jobs are more secure, in favor of a more American-style system.
On the other hand, as we said, if corruption adversely affects prisoners' conditions, it is important. It obviously affects prisoners if the prison kitchen department substitutes cheaper food for the official menu, reselling the original items.
To summarize, corruption some-times makes things worse for us, sometimes a bit better, and usually makes no difference.
We cannot understand your apparent concern about "where we are coming from". You may disagree with us about Justice, but we can assure you that it is a genuine position which we have worked out gradually through involvement around various prisoners' issues, and through reading about the history of punishment, etc.. If you want, we could send you a couple of issues of the magazine Wildcat in which we develop this discussion. We hope this makes it clear why we are interested in the concepts of Justice and Punishment - we oppose them because they are central to the workings of this society.
We are not impressed by your lurid tales of children being blown up by robbers with AIDS. Send these stories to the New York Post. Sure, there are some nasty people about. Perhaps it may be necessary to eliminate certain individuals who are beyond a cure. But this is not Justice. Justice means punishing people, making them pay for what they have done. They have to pay just the right amount of punishment for the quantity of crime they have committed. One of the reasons prison tended to replace other forms of punishment with the rise of capitalism is precisely that it is quantifiable according to the variable of time. Being able to measure punishment is one of the preconditions of Justice. The other is the ability to measure crime according to the same standard, so that the punishment can exactly equal the crime.
Instead, we would advocate using whatever methods work to deter anti-social elements, not those that equal the crime committed. This is an important distinction. For some people, it would be the difference between life and death.
Finally, we certainly did not write with "antagonism and ridicule". We don't think the idea of Justice is ridiculous, it is extremely widespread and quite understandable. We just don't happen to agree with it, that's all. Anyway, whatever disagreements we may have, be assured of our continued support.
20 April 95
Received your letter and MO receipt (which I'm returning). The only form they will accept a MO is it has to be a US Postal Money Order or a Certified Check. I imagine Bookkeeping has returned the MO to this receipt. I hated that because I'm dead broke and could certainly use the $20.
Your letter in itself, deserves an appropriate response. Can't say I'm in agreement with its entire substance, however, I can appreciate your convictions. I'm in the midst of a very important Federal trial of which I'm pro se. And between the Law Library and the Law Library I'm just smothered with legal work. This particular case is taking its toll on me. But that's my problem. Between now and the time I write back in answer to your letter, please do forward me with a copy or so of your magazine "Wildcat". I'm sure it will put me more in touch with your philosophy, thus, enabling me to better understand your position.
I'm still in the Control Unit (going on three (3) years). And have recently received a Court Order whereby I can make use of the Law Library for now; I'm taking full advantage. Hope you understand my brevity.
You take care and don't wait so long to get back in touch. I do appreciate enormously your input and support. Until then,
Struggle we must, Julio.
"Books will be written to tell readers that Leviathanic 'modes of production' rise in the West when 'productive forces ripen', that the manors of the Lords 'develop into' territorial mercantile States, with Churchmen serving as 'midwives'.
Many of these books will be like 'before' and 'after' pictures with an elaborate argument that demonstrates how the earlier structure 'developed into' the later one. Written by dialecticians adept at showing how things develop into their opposites, many of the arguments will be convincing and some positively elegant, but they will tell readers everything except the fact that the earlier structure burned down" - Fredy Perlman, Against His-story, Against Leviathan!
Aufheben issue 4 contains what at first sight appears to be a parody of mechanical Marxist thinking, in the form of a review of Perlman's Against His-story. It would be easy to do a hatchet-job on this book. On the other hand, if you wanted to do a serious critique of Perlman's grand narrative, a good starting point might be Jacques Derrida's critique of Levi-Strauss for idealising primitive society. But Aufheben could hardly do that, since it would undermine their attempt to amalgamate "post modernist scumbags" and the anti-Civilisation current.
The Brighton tendency claims it is unfair to cite Marx's published work to prove that he supported capitalist progress. But we repeat: "In the Communist Manifesto, The German Ideology, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the Critique of Political Economy, through letters and articles supporting the American Civil War, to the Grundrisse, Marx was for most of his life, capitalism's most able apologist" (Wildcat 17, p24). If his theory "also points to the active negation of capital through thoroughgoing class struggle on all fronts", the contradictions in Marx's method are even more serious than we thought. Despite Aufheben's special pleading, The Manifesto of the Communist Party is just what its title implies: it is a clear statement of Marx's position. This rousing hymn to capitalist progress, more sophisticated than anything the philistine mill-owners themselves were capable of thinking up, claimed that the bourgeoisie had been "a most revolutionary class", and praised it for transforming the instruments of production, laying the foundations of the inevitable communist revolution, the next stage on the ladder of Progress. This error, we would argue, is not unconnected with some of the things which have been done in Marx's name.
Aufheben put the First International's support for the class struggle in the balance to outweigh putting out the flags for the American Civil War and other massacres. We would not judge an organisation today by saying "well, they supported the Gulf War, but on the other hand they did help organise the anti-Poll Tax struggle". So what has changed? When did cheer leading the slaughter of the proletariat change from being a mistake caused by "the limitations of the workers' movement" to a basic position? The only coherent answer to this is based on another theory they wish to avoid: Decadence, according to which it was necessary for Marxists to support capitalism when it was still Progressive. Without this absolution, Aufheben's excuses for Marx's backing for Sherman's march would be consistent with exonerating social democracy's support for world war one on the grounds that a lot of workers agreed with it. "The limitations of the workers' movement" is either a slander against the workers - there was plenty of resistance to the Civil War, despite the International's efforts to persuade workers to support the progressive side - or it is the claim that the limitations of the International were caused by the limitations of the International. The assumption that the workers' movement has progressed since the Luddites, and that this is a good thing, is another example of traditional Marxism which seems to have slipped past Aufheben's vigilance. Their unquestioning acceptance of progressive time is one of the reasons for their failure to understand the contemporary importance of the Conquest and the Civil War. These things didn't just happen: they continue. The other reason is Eurocentrism.
They claim that anti-Civilisation ideas blossomed in the USA because its benighted inhabitants lacked "the long history of struggle that characterises the transition from feudalism to capitalism (and the making of the proletariat)". In other words, they missed out on European history. The reason the indigenous people missed the struggle that characterises the transition from feudalism to capitalism, is because they succeeded in the struggle to resist the transition to Civilisation, until the arrival of Progress. The genocide which followed was not passively accepted, and the struggle continues. Aufheben ignore 500 years of resistance "over there", because the resisters were not European workers. Again, this lines them up with the worst of the mechanical Marxists they have supposedly exorcised with incantations from Marx's secret writings, though in the process they provide us with an elementary exercise in "deconstructing" the logical errors which can delude us into accepting the necessity of progress. The modern proletariat was, it is true, created in this struggle. But it is true by definition that any class was created by the "transitions" that preceded its existence.
If Aufheben are forced to overlook or excuse the bulk of Marx's work, they have a bigger problem with Engels, Marx's leading sponsor. He was in a particularly good position to read the sixth chapter of Capital, but this didn't stop him from continuing the progressive project of scientific socialism. Tragically, he and his successors all emphasised Marx's justifications for capitalist progress, missing such profundities as "proletarian subjectivity and self-activity".
Their failure to confront the central limitations of Marxism dooms them to repeat the mistakes of their forebears. Contemptuous of recent anthropological research, they are reduced to reciting the errors of Engels, assuring us that Agriculture was a product of population growth, when in fact it was the other way round. But their view of primitive people as helpless victims of Nature owes more to the progressive attitudes of Marxism than to a lack of factual research. Their determination to oppose academic fashions like post modernism has left them with a quaint Victorian view of prehistory. Their scenario of thousands dying in natural disasters would have been very infrequent events before Civilisation, but it seems embarrassingly obvious to point out the main weakness in this kind of argument. Whatever disasters primitive peoples experienced, they can hardly compare with those created by Civilisation, which routinely kills tens of thousands, and is rapidly destroying life on earth.
If Aufheben have difficulty with areas outside traditional Marxist concerns, we might expect them to be able to discuss perspectives for the class struggle. In the Fall of 91, we said the proletariat "now confronts one united world capitalist class, ruling a world with an increasingly homogenous culture and even one language, which potentially unites capitalism's gravediggers". Two years later, we said "it is difficult at present to see" how this would come about. For Aufheben, this is an example of swinging fixedly from unreasonable optimism to despair. The first citation above is an application of dialectics, according to which things turn into their opposites, and our later position a simple qualification of the initial one. You don't need a PhD. in Hegelian "logic" to realise that "defeat brings pessimism". They are throwing stones from glass houses when they accuse us of "resignation before Leviathan's irresistible progress". Surely Marxism has been more responsible for urging submission to Progress than our intransigent position? It was not Perlman but Engels who decreed "The power of these primordial communities had to be broken, and it was broken". We thought we had repeated this citation too often, but apparently not. Aufheben itself has nothing meaningful to say about current perspectives. To say we must avoid being unreasonably pessimistic or optimistic is a banality worthy of the British libertarian socialist milieu. Aufheben's contribution is to tart up the tautologies with twaddle. But a workerist from Wigan could penetrate such platitudes as "The desire to transcend civilisation seems itself to be a product of class society", which is like saying the desire to escape from prison is a product of imprisonment. Perhaps this is all that progressive theory amounts to.
Marxists usually explain their checkered history by referring to what Marxism might have been if it hadn't been distorted or betrayed by renegades and revisionists. In Aufheben's case, it's "objectivist" Marxism that led the flock astray. This is the idea that capitalism will eventually collapse from its economic contradictions, regardless of the class struggle, but this is hardly the main problem. The questions we have been trying to raise are the problems inherent in Marxist theory, such as its adherence to scientific materialism.
Our work on Progress has been generally regarded as eccentric. This piece confirms our concerns: here we see some of the more radical Marxists falling into precisely the most dangerous errors we have identified as implicit in the materialist conception of history, not the result of betrayal, misunderstanding, or the backwardness of the proles.
Aufheben's review is not bad. It is execrable. But let's not allow it to lull us into complacency. We are not "fixed" on our current position: we are aware of our "hesitations and contradictions" (Wildcat 17, p9). There is room for discussion. The problem, at least in Britain, is finding anyone to discuss with. Reading these amateurish amalgams is like being on the jury in a case in which the defence tries too hard. Marx did not go around advocating "self-activity", and the inanities of some of his disciples must not distract us from his matchless theoretical achievements, which we continue to use to analyse the world. The Labour Theory of Value deserves abler advocates than this.
We have however received a more coherent critique of our views, from a less fashionable corner of Sussex. Below, we give voice to the Hastings branch of the proletarian milieu, followed by our response:
The material in Wildcat 17 regarding your definitive break with Marxism and the adoption of an "anti-civilisation" stance made very interesting reading. As the 20th century grinds to a close and capitalism shows with increasing clarity that it is unable to "progress" anywhere except further into the inhuman nightmare it has created it is unsurprising that revolutionaries have adopted theories which reject civilisation in its entirety.
Personally I find these issues very difficult to get to grips with and I certainly haven't arrived at any sort of final position although I must say that in general I support the drift of what you are saying. Most importantly it is vital that revolutionaries realise and declare that class society has from its inception and in all its forms been a disaster for the majority of our species, for other species on this planet and for the biosphere as a whole. Theories of "progress", "development", "stages" etc. (Marxist and non- Marxist) have always been used by defenders of class society to apologise for and justify massacres, excesses and atrocities in the past and the present in terms of some pay-off in the future. In much the same way the ideology of wage labour urges sacrifice now in order to obtain satisfaction later and religion offers life after death as a compensation for the death in life which class- society imposes. As you point out Marxism does contain a theory of progress and leftists (both reformist and Stalinist) have used it for the same old purpose.
Having established (I hope) that we are basically on the same wave length I would like to explore briefly some of the problems I have with this perspective.
At the beginning of How Wild Is Wildcat you say "The central question we wish to address is this: was the development of class society in any sense a necessary precondition for its opposite?" and it is this idea of progress which is central. You see I think it is possible to argue that 10,000 years of civilisation/class- society for all its horrors and degradations has created a potential that did not exist before and that potential is for the real unification of the human species on a global level.
In pre-historic times people lived in bands, tribes or family groups (the details are debatable and contentious but the point I'm making is that they were limited groups with distinct boundaries) that may have been communist internally but that saw themselves in opposition to other groups of humans. This is not to suggest that they lived in some "nasty, brutish and short" "war of all against all" as depicted by Hobbes. It is simply to say that the community these people enjoyed was of a small group. Each group would be unaware of the existence of the majority of the human species, and would see around it other groups, other communities. While it would be purely speculative to say anything about relations between groups in those far distant times I think we must assume that they were relations between groups and that community, solidarity and co-operation existed at the level of the small group.
Part of what defines communism for me is that it is global and unifies the human species, another part is that the reproduction of the material conditions of life (how we live and reproduce) is transparent, unalienated. While in prehistoric times this second situation undoubtedly obtained it was because that was the only way that humans could live. I say this because I assume that classes and alienation cannot exist before a surplus can be produced. It was the communism of necessity, of small groups. The unification of the species on a global level was impossible and to me this means that communism before and after civilisation must be seen as being radically different whether or not we want to talk in terms of "higher" and "lower" "stages" or "primitive" and "fully developed" "forms" etc.
Maybe on this point we disagree since you refer to "....the once universal human culture which stretched from Australia to the Arctic". If you mean that this was a real, conscious unity then I must say that I think it unlikely.
I must emphasise that none of this is to say that I don't recognise that for real individual humans life in prehistoric times, or outside of class society was/is more pleasurable and meaningful than life in the work camp that class society makes of our planet.
The reason that our species is now capable of creating a world human community, a communism of desire rather than necessity, of the whole species rather than small groups, is because of the development of communication and transport technology. The possibility exists for unlimited discourse within the species, any person could in principal converse with any other person anywhere on the planet, people could travel to any point on the planet, live where they choose not where they are born, those things which need to be arranged on a global scale could be.
Obviously I am aware that all technology as it exists now serves capital rather than humanity and that transport and communications technology as it is now (cars, jet aeroplanes, mass public transport, mass media etc.) negates rather than enhances our freedoms to travel and communicate.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that the understanding and techniques we have now if put to use by a communist society, a liberated humanity could produce a life which would in some sense be an advance over what existed in pre-historic times. To give a few concrete examples: At the moment helicopters are used almost exclusively for military/police purposes or as playthings for the super rich but wouldn't a communist society retain a few to use for rescuing people from the sea or up mountains etc.? And isn't flight in itself a wonderful advance? - imagine floating across the Atlantic or the Amazon or the Antarctic in an airship. Again, at the moment submarines are almost exclusively used by the military but potentially they allow land creatures such as ourselves to explore, marvel at, understand and play in the oceans which form the majority of our biosphere.
You say that "...it will take incalculable efforts before we have even managed to regain the achievements of the pre-civilised community, never mind improving upon them." And I can agree with that since civilisation, and especially capitalism, is the negation of community; the task of recreating community, of learning to live as human beings again will be no small one but it won't be made any easier by totally rejecting every aspect of the technology that class- society has produced. In Wildcat 15, in the review of Fred Perlman's book, you said "An eclectic approach is needed to avoid this dead end." (turning Perlman's primitivism into a dogma) "In learning from the culture of primitive peoples, we are not obliged to abandon everything which has been developed since the waterworks of Mesopotamia." And this seems absolutely right to me.
If our species has an "essence" it is (as you point out in the review of Cohen's book) not labour.... in my view it is our ability to understand and manipulate nature, without getting mystical about it you could say that our species is the universe becoming aware of itself. After 10,000 years of class society our species knows incomparably more about the nature of the universe we inhabit and our place in it than we did before and I would say that this is a good thing, it is something that our species has achieved. To understand evolution, to work out that the earth goes round the sun rather than vice versa, to start to understand the development of the universe itself, to be able to think about the nature of matter and energy.... to me these are activities and achievements which are worth something, which are expressions of the potential our species holds.
Maybe you totally disagree with the above since you quote, with approval, the ICG to the effect that "Science, as knowledge subsumed by capitalist valorisation, is rotten to the core. Like all of Capital's productive forces, Science is fundamentally inhuman: not only in its applications, but in its foundations" [this refers to the article "AIDS, pure product of science!" in the Internationalist Communist Group's magazine Communism, No. 8] ... now to me this is a problematical formulation since I am unsure of the distinction being drawn between "knowledge" on the one hand and "science" on the other - I regard science as being the attempt to discover knowledge about the universe - technology is another matter, that is developed according to the perceived needs and desires of those who control the resources of society. Obviously it (technology) is based on scientific knowledge but (I think it is possible to argue that) scientific knowledge (or "Science") has a rational core which is not determined by social context so that, for example, the theory of evolution by natural selection is the best explanation we have of the rich diversity of living things and their development despite the use to which it is occasionally put as a justification for racism or the market or whatever.
So am I saying that yes "the development of class- society is a necessary pre-condition for its opposite"? I have a horrible feeling that this might be the case. Not in the sense that communism is impossible before class society, since a form of communism did exist before class- society, but in the sense that class society has made available the techniques and knowledge that will enable communism to maintain itself on a global level and indeed to progress, to take humanity forward.
If we accept that the technology developed by class society will play a part in enabling a future communist society to provide a life for our species even richer and more meaningful than that before civilisation then I think we are faced with the unpleasant fact that technology could not have been produced except by class society. This is because technology always emerges from and is dependent on previously existing technology. So... a great deal of what a global communist society might want to use (airships, submarines, radio, radar etc.) is dependent upon, for example, mining and the production and fabrication of metal. Now, in such a society I would expect that such activity would be carried on to a lesser degree than in the past and that automation etc. would ensure that it was not an unreasonable burden to anyone. But in the past this could not have been so - much of the activity involved in mining and the forging of metals in the beginning would, of necessity given the level of technology, have been extremely unpleasant and therefore no one would have performed it unless compelled.
"As one bushman (sic) told an anthropologist, 'why should we plant when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world'. Leisure time is valued very highly and preferred to increasing food supplies (which are already more than adequate) or producing more material goods (which can be a hindrance). Earlier this century the Siane tribe in New Guinea adopted modern steel axes instead of their traditional stone tools. This reduced the amount of time necessary to produce an adequate level of subsistence by about a third. The new spare time was not spent in increasing output but was devoted to ceremonies, leisure and warfare. Similarly in 16th Century Brazil the Portuguese found that the Indian tribes, if not enslaved, would only work for them until they had earned enough to buy metal tools and then they wanted to enjoy their extra leisure."
(Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World page 21 - a better book than you might expect.)
This business of technology is a real bastard to think about isn't it? When you walk out of the front door and are confronted by our world of concrete, cars, idiotic advertising and mass media, pollution and all the rest it is easy to see all the products of technology/the means of production as being one unified inhuman entity standing in total opposition to humanity and its needs and desires. And it is this acute alienation from a world of technology gone mad which makes the primitivist/ anti-civilisation critique so appealing. But, it seems to me, we simply can't reject technology totally since as you say we can't go back - "Without the waste of capitalism, the world could easily support its current population. The Stone Age couldn't." (review of Perlman's book in Wildcat 15)
It seems to me that a communist society that came into being now would have no choice but to use what exists now as a basis for the total transformation of the material conditions of the reproduction of the species.
I suppose the argument I am putting forward rests on two planks:
1) A certain level of transport and communications technology is necessary before our species can create communism on a global scale.
2) That level of technology could not have been reached except via compulsion of some sort.
Stated as baldly as this it does sound rather like an orthodox Marxist theory of progress, doesn't it? Unfortunately although I wouldn't like to say I am 100% certain of either of these propositions I can't bring myself to seriously doubt them either. If this leaves me uncomfortably close to "Marxism" then "so be it", it certainly doesn't lead me to support any aspect of capitalism now (or in the past - is this contradictory?), or to regard communist revolts of the past other than favourably. The fact is that all such revolts have failed in that they have not destroyed class society, our attitude to them should be one of a desire to learn. In particular it is interesting to consider the revolts in Europe in the 13th - 16th Centuries. If they had been more successful would they have prevented the rise of global capitalism? Could humanity have gone forward to global unity from that point? What would have happened if members of a communist community (rather than enslaving slaves and slave masters) had arrived on the shores of the "New World"?
1,000 years of class- society have not been progress in themselves, they have been a nightmare for our species and we have resisted all the way. But maybe they have provided tools which will be of use to us in the future?
From the point of view of a future communist society (should one exist) class- society, the whole of what we call history, will appear as a transition from humans living wild in the "state of nature" to humanity as a unified species.
I think I shall draw to a close now since I don't want this to become too repetitive, rambling and incoherent and also because I see that I am setting myself up to be shot down for defending "progress", "stages", "inevitability" and all the rest of it. However I think one last point is worth making.
You have attacked the idea that humanity progresses towards communism through the development of the productive forces by class society because it has been used by those defenders of capitalism who have adopted Marxism as an ideology. And it is true - it has. But at least it provides an explanation for the existence of class society. Its explanation goes something like this - "It is human nature to progress (= develop the productive forces) and progress is only possible at first through class society." If we reject this what is our explanation for the emergence of class society, Leviathan, call it what you will? I find Perlman's explanation unsatisfactory and I haven't heard anything more convincing anywhere else either.
Maybe I've been playing "Devil's Advocate" a bit (!) but I hope this contributes something to the debate.
15 May 95
Thanks for your letter of 12 Dec. 94. We've taken our time to reply because such a thought-provoking letter deserves a considered response.
Briefly, our main difference with your position is your distinction between the political natures of technology and knowledge. Technology is obviously not socially neutral. It is not the result of Man's striving to defend himself against Nature, but more the result of some men trying to control everybody and everything else. Knowledge is no different. Scientific knowledge is not something which "humanity" has discovered about the real world, it is part of the power which a particular civilisation has imposed on it. A good explanation of this can be found in Donna Haraway's masterpiece of monkey business Primate Visions (Routledge, NY 1989). Haraway is by no means an absolute relativist. She does however use deconstructive criticism to question the basic "facts" on which scientific knowledge is built.
In her Introduction, she explains how Linnaeus was able to classify and construct Nature by virtue of his time and place. He did not simply find out facts, he "inscribed" them, with European armies at his back, giving him the power to tell a particular story and eliminate the others.
However, Science is not just a "narrative", not just the viewpoint of Value, it is a tool of capitalist production and social control. The myths of science have to be continually tested against the real needs of capital accumulation, and therefore come up against the physical limits of the natural world as well as the social limits of what human beings will put up with. Despite the patronage of Stalin, the ideas of Lysenko (about the inheritance of acquired characteristics by, for example, strains of wheat) were eventually abandoned, not because they were "not really true" but because they did not play a useful enough role in modernising Soviet agriculture. Other theories of genetics have been far more successful in bringing about the dispossession of peasants and the industrialisation of the land.
It is in any case illogical to separate Science and Technology. The abstract equations of High Energy Physics would have no meaning whatsoever in a society which didn't possess cyclotrons and nuclear bombs. Theories about brain neurotransmitters would never have developed in the absence of a huge industry which drugs the masses into submission with "tranquillisers" and "anti-depressants".
So, Science is practical, but not in some absolute, ahistorical sense. The Big Lie about scientific knowledge is that it can be used for any purpose you choose.
This seems to be your implicit position when you admit "I think it is possible to argue that scientific knowledge (or 'Science') has a rational core which is not determined by social context" and even more when you assert "class society has made available the techniques and knowledge that will enable communism to maintain itself on a global level and indeed to progress, to take humanity forwards". Of course, for us revolutionary critics of science there is the problem that it's very hard to say a priori what science can and can't do, but we'll deal briefly with a couple of examples.
There is a familiar Progressive argument which says: "Well, of course, Science has given us nuclear bombs and poisoned rivers but one day it will give us a Cure for Cancer!". We don't actually know enough about the medical research industry to say whether it can one day find a cure for most of the complex range of diseases which it calls "cancer" (probably nobody does) but we're somewhat sceptical. In the US in the 1970s scientists and government launched an official War on Cancer designed to find a cure in time for the bicentenary of the colonial uprising in 1976. Since then scientists have devised thousands of ways (including, almost certainly, HIV) of inducing cancers but as for a cure, well, one day... just give us another few $billion.
We find it particularly ironic that there is a cancer research foundation named after Marie Curie, a woman who actually died from cancer, unfortunately not soon enough. Her cancer was caused by her contributions to a field of scientific progress, nuclear chemistry, which has since directly caused cancer in millions of other human beings.
A less dramatic illustration might be the construction industry's use of the science of materials. Using complex computer models of the behaviour of materials under stress it is possible to design, for example, bridges that stay up using the minimum quantities of materials. Is this not an example of the useful, rational core of Science? But first we must ask why anyone wants to minimise the quantities of materials used. Because we live in a society based on abstract labour, where life is divided between the work of making the materials and the leisure of driving over the bridge, that's why! Can such mathematical models tell us how to design a bridge which is fun to build and maintain, or nice to look at? Can they tell us whether we need a bridge at all?
These decisions can only be the result of the expression of human collective subjective desire in all its complexity and not just of the narrow desires of isolated individuals imprisoned in the market, which is what is embodied in Science.
We think it is probably pointless to discuss the technology which will exist "after the revolution". Each society creates the technology which serves its needs. But we would like to answer your question: but wouldn't a communist society retain a few [helicopters] to use for rescuing people from the sea or up mountains etc.? No. We are pretty sure there won't be any helicopters. These are a particularly noisome example of capitalist technology. They require armies of workers to build, maintain and fuel them. They are an extremely inefficient use of the infernal combustion engine, a waste of resources even in their own terms. If we wanted a populist argument for technology, washing machines would be a better example.
You do defend a rather orthodox theory of progress. The argument that the first communities that existed inevitably had to be defeated by the first civilisations is certainly a coherent one. During the Stone Age, though there was, we believe, a universal human culture, nobody knew that. Each group only knew of its local area. This is one of the reasons Civilisation was able to spread; the people it invaded were taken by surprise. This is one good reason why Civilisation seemed inevitable; it had such an advantage over Community as it existed at the time. The fact is, slaughtering and enslaving people often works.
The other inevitability you talk about is the idea that conscious communism could not happen on a global scale unless a certain level of technology had been reached, inevitably by compulsion. You say this does not lead you to support class society. Well it should do! He who wills the end, wills the means (Nietzsche). But we are not going to reject the argument because of its unpalatable consequences. The reason we reject it is because we think each society builds the technology it needs. A project to create world communism, at whatever point it had started, would simply have built what it needed. Transatlantic wooden ships need not necessarily have been built by slaves. The only sense in which Civilisation is inevitable is that, so far, it has been able to force its opponents to turn themselves into new Leviathans - or perish. Though there has always been resistance, there are times when the chances of resistance being successful were slim indeed. The 1490's, the creation of the New World, was once such time. The 1990's, the creation of the New World Order, is another. Perhaps we will never be able to work out whether Civilisation was inevitable in the sense that it was bound to win militarily; but in the sense of being necessary in order for communism to be realised - no, we reject this. At the beginning of your letter, you reject it too (sacrifice today, pie tomorrow), but later on, you make some major concessions to it.
We think there are many flaws in Perlman's Against His-story, Against Leviathan! We do not recommend it as a theoretically sound piece, more as an inspiration. In places the logic is circular, his view of primitive peoples a bit simplistic, and his Mother Nature fairy-tale sentimental. But we think the account of the origins of Civilisation is far more convincing than any alternative we have come across. Particularly, his theory squares with the fact that Civilisation did not arise in most places because humanity needed to develop the forces of production, as bourgeois apologists like Marx maintain, but was imposed by one Civilisation spreading from probably just one place, Mesopotamia.
The mystery is why the people who founded Sumer stayed in Mesopotamia given the violent extremes of its climate. For some reason they did stay. They depended on primitive agriculture, like many communities around the world who did not develop Civilisations. The only way to ensure a reasonable crop every year was to build extensive ditches. Violent floods force emergency ditch-digging. The elders cajole and pressurise the young men into digging the canals; the best organisers among the latter want to be recognised; the normal tendencies which defend communities against permanent leaders break down under the stress of frequent natural emergencies. Class society emerges. To preserve some aspects of the old society, it conquers and enslaves its neighbours, so that the original gangsters can avoid the curse of labour.
America is covered in abandoned proto-Civilisations. In the 15th century AD, large religious mounds were built in various locations in North America, with cities of labourers to service them. All of them were abandoned. Even the Aztecs were in trouble; the reason Cortés was able to beat them was because he could harness the resistance; malcontents joined the Spaniards; surely nothing could be worse than Tenochtitlan, reasoned the oppressed, and perhaps they were right.
But surely it was not inevitable that Civilisation spread across the Old World, when it was rejected time and again in the New? Of course, this is rather speculative. It is more fruitful to discuss what we're going to do about it now.