Friday, April 27, 2007
from Slavoj Zizek’s On Belief (2001)
How, then, do things stand with freedom? Here is how Lenin stated his position in a polemic against the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionaries’ critique of Bolshevik power in 1922:
Indeed, the sermons which ... the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries preach express their true nature: “The revolution has gone too far What you are saying now we have been saying at[ the time, permit us to say it again.” But we say in reply: “Permit us to put you before a firing squad for saying that. Either you refrain from expressing your views, or, if you insist on expressing your political views publicly in the present circumstances, when our position is far more difficult than it was when the white guards were directly attacking us, then you will have only yourselves to blame if we treat you as the worst and most pernicious white guard elements."”
This Leninist freedom of choice — not “Life or money!” but “Life or critique!” — combined with Lenin’s dismissive attitude towards the “liberal” notion of freedom, accounts for his bad reputation among liberals. Their case largely rests upon their rejection of the standard Marxist-Leninist opposition of “formal” and “actual” freedom: as even Leftist liberals like Claude Lefort emphasize again and again, freedom is in its very notion “formal,” so that “actual freedom” equals the lack of freedom.” That is to say, with regard to freedom, Lenin is best remembered for his famous retort “Freedom yes, but for WHOM? To do WHAT?” — for him, in the case of the Mensheviks quoted above, their “freedom” to criticize the Bolshevik government effectively amounted to “freedom” to undermine the workers’ and peasants’ government on behalf of the counter-revolution ... Today, is it not obvious after the terrifying experience of Really Existing Socialism, where the fault of this reasoning resides? First, it reduces a historical constellation to a closed, fully contextualized, situation in which the “objective” consequences of one’s acts are fully determined (“independently of your intentions, what you are doing now objectively serves . . . “); second, the position of enunciation of such statements usurps the right to decide what your acts “objectively mean,” so that their apparent 11 objectivism” (the focus on “objective meaning”) is the form of appearance of its opposite, the thorough subjectivism: I decide what your acts objectively mean, since I define the context of a situation (say, if I conceive of my power as the immediate equivalent/expression of the power of the working class, then everyone who opposes me is “objectively” an enemy of the working class). Against this full contextualization, one should emphasize that freedom is “actual” precisely and only as the capacity to “transcend” the coordinates of a given situation, to “posit the presuppositions” of one’s activity (as Hegel would have put it), i.e. to redefine the very situation within which one is active. Furthermore, as many a critic pointed out, the very term “Really Existing Socialism,” although it was coined in order to assert Socialism’s success, is in itself a proof of Socialism’s utter failure, i.e. of the failure of the attempt to legitimize Socialist regimes — the term “Really Existing Socialism” popped up at the historical moment when the only legitimizing reason for Socialism was a mere fact that it exists . . . “
Is this, however, the whole story? How does freedom effectively function in liberal democracies themselves? Although Clinton’s presidency epitomizes the Third Way of today’s (ex-)Left succumbing to the Rightist ideological blackmail, his health-care reform program would nonetheless amount to a kind of act, at least in today’s conditions, since it would have been based on the rejection of the hegemonic notions of the need to curtail Big State expenditure and administration — in a way, it would “do the impossible.” No wonder, then, that it failed: its failure — perhaps the only significant, although negative, event of Clinton’s presidency bears witness to the material force of the ideological notion of “free choice.” That is to say, although the large majority of the so-called “ordinary people” were not properly acquainted with the reform program, the medical lobby (twice as strong as the infamous defense lobby!) succeeded in imposing on the public the fundamental idea that, with universal health-care free choice (in matters concerning medicine) will be somehow threatened — against this purely fictional reference to “free choice”, all enumeration of “hard facts” (in Canada, health-care is less expensive and more effective, with no less free choice, etc.) proved ineffective.
Here we are at the very nerve center of the liberal ideology: freedom of choice, grounded in the notion of the “psychological” subject endowed with propensities he or she strives to realize. This especially holds today, in the era of what sociologists like Ulrich Beck call “risk society,” when the ruling ideology endeavors to sell us the insecurity caused by the dismantling of the Welfare State as the opportunity for new freedoms: you have to change jobs every year, relying on short-term contracts instead of a long-term stable appointment. Why not see it as the liberation from the constraints of a fixed job, as the chance to reinvent yourself again and again, to become aware of and realize hidden potentials of your personality? You can no longer rely on the standard health insurance and retirement plan, so that you have to opt for additional coverage for which you have to pay. Why not perceive it as an additional opportunity to choose: either better life now or long-term security? And if this predicament causes you anxiety, the postmodern or “second modernity” ideologist will immediately accuse you of being unable to assume full freedom, of the “escape from freedom,” of the immature sticking to old stable forms ... Even better, when this is inscribed into the ideology of the subject as the psychological individual pregnant with natural abilities and tendencies, then 1 as it were automatically interpret all these changes as the results of my personality, not as the result of me being thrown around by market forces.
Phenomena like these make it all the more necessary today to REASSERT the opposition of “formal” and “actual” freedom in a new, more precise, sense. What we need today, in the era of liberal hegemony, is a “Leninist” traité de la servitude libérale, a new version of la Boétie’s Traiti de la servitude volontaire that would fully justify the apparent oxymoron “liberal totalitarianism.” In experimental psychology, Jean-Léon Beauvois took the first step in this direction with his precise exploration of the paradoxes of conferring on the subject the freedom to choose. Repeated experiments established the following paradox: if, AFTER getting from two groups of volunteers the agreement to participate in an experiment, one informs them that the experiment will involve something unpleasant, against their ethics even, and if, at this point, one reminds the first group that they have the free choice to say no, and says nothing to the other group, in BOTH groups, the SAME (very high) percentage will agree to continue their participation in the experiment.
What this means is that conferring the formal freedom of choice does not make any difference: those given the freedom will do the same thing as those (implicitly) denied it. This, however, does not mean that the reminder/bestowal of the freedom of choice does not make any difference: those given the freedom to choose will not only tend to choose the same as those denied it; they will tend to “rationalize” their “free” decision to continue to participate in the experiment — unable to endure the so-called cognitive dissonance (their awareness that they FREELY acted against their interests, propensities, tastes or norms), they will tend to change their opinion about the act they were asked to accomplish.
Let us say that an individual is first asked to participate in an experiment that concerns changing eating habits in order to fight against famine; then, after agreeing to do it, at the first encounter in the laboratory, he will be asked to swallow a living worm, with the explicit reminder that, if he finds this act repulsive, he can, of course, say no, since he has the complete freedom to choose. In most cases, he will do it, and then rationalize it by way of saying to himself something like: “What I am asked to do IS disgusting, but I am not a coward, 1 should display some courage and self-control, otherwise scientists will perceive me as a weak person who pulls out at the first minor obstacle! Furthermore, a worm does have a lot of proteins and it could effectively be used to feed the poor who am 1 to hinder such an important experiment because of my petty sensitivity? And, finally, maybe my disgust of worms is just a prejudice, maybe a worm is not so bad — and would tasting it not be a new and daring experience? What if it will enable me to discover an unexpected, slightly perverse, dimension of myself that 1 was hitherto unaware of?”
Beauvois enumerates three modes of what brings people to accomplish such an act which runs against their perceived propensities and/or interests: authoritarian (the pure command “You should do it because I say so, without questioning it!”, sustained by the reward if the subject does it and the punishment if he does not do it), totalitarian (the reference to some higher Cause or common Good which is larger than the subject’s perceived interest: “You should do it because, even if it is unpleasant, it serves our Nation, Party, Humanity!”), and liberal (the reference to the subject’s inner nature itself. “What is asked of you may appear repulsive, but look deep into yourself and you will discover that it’s in your true nature to do it, you will find it attractive, you will become aware of new, unexpected, dimensions of your personality!”).
At this point, Beauvois should be corrected: a direct authoritarianism is practically nonexistent — even the most oppressive regime publicly legitimizes its reign with the reference to some Higher Good, and the fact that, ultimately, “you have to obey because I say so” reverberates only as its obscene supplement discernible between the lines. It is rather the specificity of the standard authoritarianism to refer to some higher Good (“whatever your inclinations are, you have to follow my order for the sake of the higher Good!”), while totalitarianism, like liberalism, interpellates the subject on behalf of HIS OWN good (“what may appear to you as an external pressure, is really the expression of your objective interests, of what you REALLY WANT without being aware of it! “). The difference between the two resides elsewhere: totalitarianism” imposes on the subject his or her own good, even if it is against his or her will — recall King Charles’ (in)famous statement: “If any shall be so foolishly unnatural s to oppose their king, their country and their own good, we will make them happy, by God’s blessing — even against their wills. “ (Charles I to the Earl of Essex, 6 August 1 644. ) Here we encounter the later Jacobin theme of happiness as a political factor, as well as the Saint-Justian idea of forcing people to be happy ... Liberalism tries to avoid (or, rather, cover up) this paradox by way of clinging to the end to the fiction of the subject’s immediate free self-perception (“I don’t claim to know better than you what you want — just look deep into yourself and decide freely what you want!”).
The reason for this fault in Beauvois’s line of argumentation is that he fails to recognize how the abyssal tautological authority (“It is so because 1 say so!” of the Master) does not work only because of the sanctions (punishment/reward) it implicitly or explicitly evokes. That is to say, what, effectively, makes a subject freely choose what is imposed on him against his interests and/or propensities? Here, the empirical inquiry into “pathological” (in the Kantian sense of the term) motivations is not sufficient: the enunciation of an injunction that imposes on its addressee a symbolic engagement/ commitment evinces an inherent force of its own, so that what seduces us into obeying it is the very feature that may appear to be an obstacle — the absence of a “why.” Here, Lacan can be of some help: the Lacanian “Master-Signifier” designates precisely this hypnotic force of the symbolic injunction which relies only on its own act of enunciation — it is here that we encounter “symbolic efficiency” at its purest. The three ways of legitimizing the exercise of authority (“authoritarian,” “totalitarian,” “liberal”) are nothing but three ways of covering up, of blinding us to the seductive power of the abyss of this empty call. In a way, liberalism is here even the worst of the three, since it NATURALIZES the reasons for obedience into the subject’s internal psychological structure. So the paradox is that “liberal” subjects are in a way those least free: they change the very opinion/perception of themselves, accepting what was IMPOSED on them as originating in their “nature” — they are even no longer AWARE of their subordination.
Let us take the situation in the Eastern European countries around 1990, when Really Existing Socialism was falling apart: all of a sudden, people were thrown into a situation of the “freedom of political choice” — however, were they REALLY at any point asked the fundamental question of what kind of new order they actually wanted? Is it not that they found themselves in the exact situation of the subject-victim of a Beauvois experiment? They were first told that they were entering the promised land of political freedom; then, soon afterwards, they were informed that this freedom involved wild privatization, the dismantling of the system of social security, etc. etc. — they still have the freedom to choose, so if they want, they can step out; but, no, our heroic Eastern Europeans didn’t want to disappoint their Western mentors, they stoically persisted in the choice they never made, convincing themselves that they should behave as mature subjects who are aware that freedom has its price ... This is why the notion of the psychological subject endowed with natural propensities, who has to realize its true Self and its potentials, and who is, consequently, ultimately responsible for his failure or success, is the key ingredient of liberal freedom. And here one should risk reintroducing the Leninist opposition of “formal” and “actual” freedom: in an act of actual freedom, one dares precisely to BREAK the seductive power of symbolic efficiency. Therein resides the moment of truth of Lenin’s acerbic retort to his Menshevik critics: the truly free choice is a choice in which I do not merely choose between two or more options WITHIN a pre-given set of coordinates, but I choose to change this set of coordinates itself The catch of the “transition” from Really Existing Socialism to capitalism was that people never had the chance to choose the ad quem of this transition — all of a sudden, they were (almost literally) “thrown” into a new situation in which they were presented with a new set of given choices (pure liberalism, nationalist conservatism ... ). What this means is that the “actual freedom” as the act of consciously changing this set occurs only when, in the situation of a forced choice, one ACTS AS IF THE CHOICE IS NOT FORCED and “chooses the impossible.”
This is what Lenin’s obsessive tirades against “formal” freedom are about, therein resides their “rational kernel” which is worth saving today: when he emphasizes that there is no “pure” democracy, that we should always ask who does a freedom under consideration serve, which is its role in the class struggle, his point is precisely to maintain the possibility of the TRUE radical choice. This is what the distinction between “formal” and “actual” freedom ultimately amounts to: “formal” freedom is the freedom of choice WITHIN the coordinates of the existing power relations, while “actual” freedom designates the site of an intervention which undermines these very coordinates. In short, Lenin’s point is not to limit freedom of choice, but to maintain the fundamental Choice — when Lenin asks about the role of a freedom within the class struggle, what he is asking is precisely: “Does this freedom contribute to or constrain the fundamental revolutionary Choice?”
The most popular TV show of the fall of 2000 in France, with the viewer rating two times higher than that of the notorious “Big Brother” reality soaps, was “C'est mon choix” (“It is my choice”) on France 3, the talk show whose guest is an ordinary (or, exceptionally, a well-known) person who made a peculiar choice which determined his or her entire life-style: one of them decided never to wear underwear, another tries to find a more appropriate sexual partner for his father and mother — extravagance is allowed, solicited even, but with the explicit exclusion of the choices which may disturb the public (for example, a person whose choice is to be and act as a racist, is a priori excluded). Can one imagine a better predicament of what the “freedom of choice” effectively amounts to in our liberal societies? We can go on making our small choices, “reinvesting ourselves” thoroughly, on condition that these choices do not seriously disturb the social and ideological balance. For “C'est mon choix,” the truly radical thing would have been to focus precisely on the “disturbing” choices: to invite as guests people like dedicated racists, i.e. people whose choice (whose difference) DOES make a difference. This, also, is the reason why, today, “democracy” is more and more a false issue, a notion so discredited by its predominant use that, perhaps, one should take the risk of abandoning it to the enemy. Where, how, by whom are the key decisions concerning global social issues made? Are they made in the public space, through the engaged participation of the majority? If the answer is yes, it is of secondary importance if the state has a one-party system, etc. If the answer is no, it is of secondary importance if we have parliamentary democracy and freedom of individual choice.
Did something homologous to the invention of the liberal psychological individual not take place in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s? The Russian avant-garde art of the early 1920s (futurism, constructivism) not only zealously endorsed industrialization, it even endeavored to reinvent a new industrial man — no longer the old man of sentimental passions and roots in traditions, but the new man who gladly accepts his role as a bolt or screw in the gigantic coordinated industrial Machine. As such, it was subversive in its very “ultra-orthodoxy,” i.e. in its over-identification with the core of the official ideology: the image of man that we get in Eisenstein, Meyerhold, constructivist paintings, etc., emphasizes the beauty of his/her mechanical movements, his/her thorough depsychologization. What was perceived in the West as the ultimate nightmare of liberal individualism, as the ideological counterpoint to “Taylorization,” to Fordist ribbon-work, was in Russia hailed as the utopian prospect of liberation: recall how Meyerhold violently asserted the “behaviorist” approach to acting — no longer emphatic familiarization with the person the actor is playing, but ruthless bodily training aimed at cold bodily discipline, at the ability of the actor to perform a series of mechanized movements . . .” THIS is what was unbearable to AND IN the official Stalinist ideology, so that the Stalinist “socialist realism” effectively WAS an attempt to reassert a “Socialism with a human face,” i.e. to reinscribe the process of industrialization within the constraints of the traditional psychological individual: in the Socialist Realist texts, paintings and films, individuals are no longer rendered as parts of the global Machine, but as warm, passionate persons.
The obvious reproach that imposes itself here is, of course: is the basic characteristic of today’s “postmodern” subject not the exact opposite of the free subject who experienced himself as ultimately responsible for his fate, namely the subject who grounds the authority of his speech on his status of a victim of circumstances beyond his control? Every contact with another human being is experienced as a potential threat — if the other smokes, if he casts a covetous glance at me, he already hurts me; this logic of victimization is today universalized, reaching well beyond the standard cases of sexual or racist harassment — recall the growing financial industry of paying damage claims, from the tobacco industry deal in the USA and the financial claims of the Holocaust victims and forced laborers in Nazi Germany, and the idea that the USA should pay the African-Americans hundreds of billions of dollars for all they were deprived of due to their past slavery ... This notion of the subject as an irresponsible victim involves the extreme Narcissistic perspective from which every encounter with the Other appears as a potential threat to the subject’s precarious imaginary balance; as such, it is not the opposite, but, rather, the inherent supplement of the liberal free subject: in today’s predominant form of individuality, the self-centered assertion of the psychological subject paradoxically overlaps with the perception of oneself as a victim of circumstances.
pp 113 to 124 reproduced from On Belief.
By N. Howard Thorp
Where the Pecos River winds and turns in its journey to the sea,
From its white walls of sand and rock striving ever to be free,
Near the highest railroad bridge that all these modern times have seen
Dwells fair young Patty Moorhead, the Pecos River Queen.
She's known by all the cowboys on the Pecos River wide;
They know full well that she can shoot, that she can rope and ride;
She goes to every round-up, every cow-work without fail,
Looking out for all her cattle branded "walking hog on a rail."
She made her start in cattle, yes, made it with her rope;
Can tie down e'ry maverick 'fore it can strike a lope;
She can rope and tie and brand it as quick as any man;
She's voted by all owboys an A-1 top cow-hand.
Across the Comstock railroad bridge, the highest in the West,
Patty rode her horse one day a lover's heart to test;
For he told he he would gladly risk all dangers for her sake,
But the puncher wouldn't follow, so she's still without a mate.
Manolis Baboussis is walking around its border thinking about photography and spatial sensibility emerged from the shattered remnants of Tzia. Influenced by a rather vertical topography we can easily understand
why his work is modelled on a complex situation between subject and its place in specific territories.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
From correspondents in Hendersonville, Tennessee
JOHNNY Cash's longtime lakeside home, a showcase where he wrote much of his famous music and entertained US presidents, music royalty and visiting fans, has been destroyed by fire.
Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, lived in the 1290sqm home in Hendersonville from the late 1960s until their deaths in 2003.
"So many prominent things and prominent people in American history took place in that house - everyone from Billy Graham to Bob Dylan went into that house," said singer Marty Stuart, who lives next door and was married to Cash's daughter, Cindy, in the 1980s.
Stuart said the man who designed the house, Nashville builder Braxton Dixon, was "the closest thing this part of the country had to Frank Lloyd Wright".
"It was a sanctuary and a fortress for him," Stuart said. "There was a lot of writing that took place there."
Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys lives on the same road as Cash. "Maybe it's the good Lord's way to make sure that it was only Johnny Cash's house," Sterban said.
The property was purchased for a reported $US2.3 million ($2.79 million) by Barry Gibb, a former member of the Bee Gees, in January last year.
Gibb and his wife, Linda, had said they planned to restore the house and hoped to write songs there.
They had not yet moved in to the property.
Dixon built the three-storey house in 1967 for his own family, but Cash fell in love with it. Dixon was reluctant to sell, but Cash kept after him. "It was a very, very unusual contemporary structure," said Cash's brother, Tommy. "It was built with stone and wood and all kinds of unusual materials, from marble to old barn wood.
"I don't think there was a major blueprint. I think the builder was building it the way he wanted it to look."
The younger Cash said many holidays and family get-togethers were spent at the house. And while Johnny and June also owned a house in Jamaica and another in Tennessee, they considered this one to be their home.
"Johnny and June lived there the entire time they were married," Tommy Cash said.
"It was the only house they lived in together until they both passed on."
The cause of the fire is unknown.
Cash's long career, which began in the 1950s, spanned folk, country and rock 'n' roll. His hits included Ring of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk the Line.
AP, in The Australian
From April 19th until May 26th 2007 the exhibition „was einmal über heute gesagt werden wird: KölnShow2“ („...what will be told of today tomorrow: KölnShow2“) will take place in 18 contemporary art galleries in Cologne.
The constitutional concept of the exhibition, curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen and Florian Waldvogel, ties up to „The Köln Show“ in 1990, a so far unique joint venture of nine Cologne based galeries. They organised an exhibition with at that point unknown artist, many of them having their names in the art world today.
In the 1980s and early-90s, the city of Cologne was one of the most important centres for contemporary art in Europe. With its many galleries, artist run-spaces, and artist bars, the city assumed a kind of mythological dimension, a place where artists came to show, sell, socialize, and distinguish themselves and their work on levels symbolic and real, depending on the conditions of the urban surrounding. „The Köln Show“ examined, consciously without institutional help, the specific relationship between art production, art scene and artmarket in Cologne in 1990.
Aiming at a future-orientated new foundation of a Kunsthalle in Cologne, the European Kunsthalle takes this now almost historical venture up. As one of the last projects of the European Kunsthalle during its two-year founding and research process, the exhibition „KölnShow2“ approaches directly the cultural activities of the city of Cologne. The exhibition presents a selection of the young international art scene in the spaces of the participating galleries, parallel to their own program. Using the temporal distance from the year 2007 to „The Köln Show“ in 1990, the exhibition reflects on contemporary general frameworks of cultural prosperity and artistic production in Cologne.
Rounding up the two-year founding phase the European Kunsthalle focuses on its actual position and departing point in Cologne. Departing from the analysis of the cultural infrastructure of urban communities, it is considered essential for the research to examine the network of galleries and art mediators as an important factor of a cultural habitat and their current potential. Utilising the spaces and possibilities of the galleries, the exhibition project asks which significance is taken up by them within artistic discourse. Which structural changes occurred and may be read from the resultant development from 1990 until today?
BQ – Kostis Velonis (GR)
Galerie Daniel Buchholz – Gareth Moore (CAN)
Luis Campaña – Chris Lipomi (USA), Keegan McHargue (USA)
Galerie Gisela Capitain – Margaret Salmon (USA)
Fiebach & Minninger – Fernando Sánchez Castillo (E)
Frehrking Wiesehöfer – Aïda Ruilova (USA)
Galerie Vera Gliem – David Blandy (UK)
Galerie Hammelehle und Ahrens – Kwang-Ju Son (ROK)
Galerie Michael Janssen – Hannah Rickards (UK)
Johnen + Schöttle – Jesper Just (DK)
Linn Lühn – Andrew Schoultz (USA)
Galerie Mirko Mayer – Germaine Kruip (NL)
Galerie Christian Nagel – Karen Sargsyan (ARM)
Thomas Rehbein Galerie – Tuan Andrew Nguyen (VN)
Sabine Schmidt Galerie – Marijn van Kreij (NL)
Galerie Schmidt Maczollek – Maya Hayuk (USA)
Otto Schweins – Tris Vonna-Michell (UK)
Galerie Monika Sprüth / Philomene Magers – Simon Denny (NZ), Pere Llobera (E), João Onofre (P)
Performance during the opening – William Hunt (UK)
Duration April 19 to May 26, 2007
Opening Wednesday, April 18, 2007, 7 pm in the respective galleries
KölnShow2-Party Wednesday, April 18, 2007, 10 pm, at Gewölbe im Westbahnhof, Hans-Böckler-Platz 2, Cologne, with DJs Thomas Meinecke and Fritz Ostermayer and a performance by William Hunt
KölnShow2-Lounge April 14 to 22, 2007 at Salon Schmitz, Aachener Strasse 28, Cologne, http://www.salonschmitz.com
Talk “KölnShow2 – Plötzlich diese Übersicht“ with Jörg Heiser and Uta Grosenick, chaired by Vanessa Joan Müller (in German language), on Sunday, April 22, 2007, 3 pm at KölnShow2-Lounge
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
He is one of the most interesting showmans
in south europe and the balkans but he remains one of the most under rated singers .
he doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves for being a top superstar
in Greece. His difference with the usual common succesful pop figure is obvious.
the photographs here are a preview of the book to be published by Tassos Vrettos,
the singer Yiannis Floriniotis and Yiannis Kurudis. the whole concept was published in the fanzine of the group exhibition with the fashioned title "what remains is future"
curated by Nadia Argyropoulou in Patras. Responsible for that version was the artist Tassos Vrettos and Yannis Floriniotis. i will come back soon
with more information about the future book.
Yiannis Floriniotis : i believed that people liked more what i presented than my voice
Manos Hatzidakis : feeling can also boom inthe debased. When the famous american
or french songs, ae being sung by great popular singers, they immobilie logic and place themselves
within us in a way that cannot be justified by their content-of course it is a the way that they are
being sung by a great voice or a capable singer. this applies to the widely sung fairy of the EastSehrazat. this rose of Ispahan, becomes, through the singing of Floriniotis,
exceptionally serious and alarmingly beautiful.
Extract from the radio broadcast of the third Programme, dedicated to Yiannis Floriniotis.
Sunday, April 1, 2007
V. M. Molotov and the Liquidation of Socialism in the USSR
C. N. Subramaniam
This article is based upon the newly published book, "Molotov Remembers". The title is somewhat misleading as it is not a memoir but a record of conversations with F. Chuyev, a Marxist assailed by liberal doubts. These records have been edited and published by imperialist media. As such it cannot be treated as a serious theoretical work and allowances should be made for editorial interventions and the casualness that goes with conversations. The book mentions several works of Molotov which need to be traced and published. (Molotov Remembers, Inside Kremlin Politics, Conversations with Felix Chuyev- Edited with an introduction and notes by Albert Resis, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1993. Referred to hereafter as MR).
V.M. Molotov will be remembered as a Stalinist who remained loyal to Stalinism not because of any personal devotion to Stalin or for opportunistic reasons but on grounds of principle. In his conversations during his autumnal years he often returned to the last years of Stalin when he was under suspicion and removed from the Politburo of the Party. He must have been quite close to being arrested and shot. Perhaps he lived on because of Stalin's death. Yet Molotov remained a staunch Stalinist to his very death. Nevertheless he was candid about his differences with Stalin.
1. Differences with Stalin.
Molotov was critical of Stalin's theses on the possibility of constructing socialism and communism in one country. He recalled the events of the Party Congress of 1926 where he said, "The policy of our party is and remains the policy of the final triumph of Socialism on a world scale..." and Stalin commented thus on this: "So do you want to take a position between me and Trotsky?" Molotov adds, "He understood me correctly." (MR p.63-4). Molotov held that "It is possible to seize power, it is even possible to organize socialist production, but only initially in one country. In order to triumph joint efforts are needed." (MR p.375) While this is essentially a repetition of the Leninist position, Molotov goes into the difficult terrain of defining the character of the Soviet state and society. He considers it an error on the part of Stalin to hold that Socialism had been built in the USSR as early as 1935. He would rather consider that the basis of socialism had been established-the completion of the task lay in the future. One major issue was capitalist encirclement. The second being the continued existence of classes (working class and peasantry) and the continuation of money. The third issue was the low level of material development which precluded the operation of the principle of "from each according to his ability to each according to his work". He also considered this possible only with the abolition of commodity-money relations. (MR p.203-5) Instead he propounded a rather unclear formulation: each to fulfil the norms established by the society and be remunerated according to one's work but with the gradual abolition of commodity - money relations. Nothing more can be said on this without consulting his theoretical works. Needless to say Molotov strongly disapproved of Stalin's position of the 18th Congress that Communism could be built in one country and that the state would continue under communism.
Whatever may have been his view on these matters his opposition to Stalin's positions did not assume a programmatic or practical form and he continued to work under the guidance of Stalin's theoretical formulations.
2. Stalin's Last Struggle.
With the completion of post-war reconstruction, Stalin outlined the task of the Soviet working class and the CPSU(B) as one of advancing towards communism: this entailed inter alia, ending class differences and the role of commodity-money relations in the USSR. This entailed in turn, the elevation of the collective farm peasantry into proletarians and the conversion of the collective farms into state farms. The process by which this was to be achieved was also outlined: by gradual narrowing of commodity-money relations between the collective farm sector and the state sector. In his discussion of the errors of Yaroshenko, Stalin was emphatic that the transition to communism was not merely a matter of rational organization or management but one of altering the social relations of production.
Stalin also recognized the fact that even if commodity relations were eliminated in the USSR, the fact that the USSR had to trade with the capitalist countries implied that the USSR had to continue to produce commodities. It is perhaps for this reason that Stalin attached great importance to the creation of what he called the parallel world market comprising the USSR and the people's democracies, and not falling into the trap of the Marshall plan and getting re-integrated into the capitalist world market. He was thus wary of the leaderships of people's democracies which vacillated on this issue (Yugoslavia under Tito for example). The need of the hour was strict pursuance of the line of proletarian internationalism.
In his "Economic Problems" Stalin took up a number of issues whose significance became apparent later on. Evidently, the views expressed by some junior economists which Stalin took pains to refute actually belonged to senior leaders of the CPSU. In fact, Molotov mentions, "Stalin said Yaroshenko's discussion of economic theory had been engineered by Khrushchev, then head of the Moscow party organization, of which Yaroshenko was a member." (MR p. 321-22) To mention one, the relative importance to be attached to Department I and Department II of the economy, Stalin was of the opinion that for a balanced growth of industry it was imperative that primary emphasis was placed on the production of means of production rather than on the production of means of consumption. This alone could ensure long term and consistent increase in production. Stalin also pointed out that such a policy was difficult to pursue under conditions of capitalism for the low rate of returns and the long time taken for returns to come in led to short term preference for light consumer industries where the returns were higher and faster.
3. Molotov and the abandonment of Stalin's policies.
Stalin's death was followed by a reversal of the policies outlined by him - in some areas it was immediate, as in the case of products-exchange, and in many others it was gradual. It is difficult to reconstruct the sequence of events and to figure out who was pursuing what line. But some rough picture is beginning to emerge which can be verified by future research.
Malenkov and Khrushchev together spearheaded the dismantling of Stalin's policy towards the collective farms. In August-September 1953, policy statements by Malenkov and Khrushchev in effect relaxed pressure upon the private farming by collective farmers, increased the prices paid for compulsory deliveries to the state by the collective farms, and encouraged trade by the collective farms. Collective farms were granted greater independence in the planning of agricultural production.
Molotov reaffirms Stalin's positions on the agrarian question in his memoirs but there is little information on the stands he took during the crucial years after Khrushchev's virgin lands adventure in Kazakhstan. Molotov's silence on the question of elevation of collective farms into state farms during those years requires explanation. It is noteworthy that Molotov is not criticized by the Khrushchevites for impeding the dismantling of Stalin's policies in this regard, although he was subjected to criticism for opposing greater economic autonomy for the collective farms from the state planning authorities.
Regarding the issue of capital goods and consumer goods industries, Molotov seems to have had an equivocal position. He in fact recalls events of 1950 where he criticized Stalin on this issue. To quote him:
"I spoke, of course, in our very small leadership circle-I did not agree with them on a number of issues. When they discussed a new five-year plan I always favoured restraint in capital construction. Construction of capital projects was dragged out, nothing was completed. But when we set planned targets that we cannot fulfil, breakdowns develop, we start plugging the gaps, yet we increase investments in other places.The plan had to be reworked anew. "Who is to blame?" Stalin asked......... "You are to blame! " I said to him........ "You are always stepping up planned investments!.....They come to you with the plan, and you keep adding on more and more!" (MR p.320-21)Yet elsewhere he claims to have induced Stalin to spell out the Marxist position on this matter in his "Economic Problems" (MR. p. 392). The reversal of Stalin's emphasis on Department I began in the autumn of 1953 and seems to have been spearheaded by Malenkov and Khrushchev. The policy was continued by Khrushchev even after he along with Molotov, Kaganovich and others criticized Malenkov for this in 1955. Molotov seems to have consistently held that the strengthening of the socialist economy required greater attention to the heavy industries even if the workers had to forgo some comforts in the bargain. He placed this issue on par with the abolition of classes under socialism. In fact he claims to have persuaded Stalin to include this in his "Economic Problems". (MR p. 392)
Molotov was most vocal on international issues. Though Stalin had relieved him of foreign office responsibilities in his last years, Molotov returned to his old office immediately after Stalin's death. He was consistent in his opposition to reestablishment of relations with Titoite Yugoslavia, and basing Soviet foreign policy on the assumption of the possibility of peaceful coexistence of Socialism and imperialism, and stood for building a unified socialist bloc of nations which not only stood for peace but also for socialism.
It should be noted that in the schema of liquidation of socialism in the USSR, the opening up of the USSR to imperialism was an essential ingredient, for imperialism alone could shore up an economy that was reverting to capitalism from socialism. Hence the emphasis on peaceful coexistence, rapprochement with Tito etc. Molotov seems to have fought against these measures on matters of logic and principle but perhaps did not realize the full import of these measures for the future of socialism in the USSR. He certainly did not see a link between giving up of the plan to abolish classes in the USSR, the emphasis on light industries, and the new foreign policy initiatives. At the most he saw them all as part of a non-revolutionary policy thrust provided by petty bourgeois elements of party.
There are several intriguing problems regarding Molotov's struggle against Khrushchev's revisionism which remain unanswered by the memoirs. i) Molotov mentions "we had another disadvantage - we were not prepared to put forward a counter programme of our own. Khrushchev did exactly that: life under Stalin was hard. From now on it is going to be better. People bought it." Why did not the Stalinist group in the party offer an alternative programme? Surely such a programme was outlined in Stalin's "Economic Problems " and measures under it had been instituted. It seems that all these measures were suspended immediately after Stalin's death, yet Molotov makes no mention of them. ii) The intriguing silence on the Great Debate and the split in the international communist movement despite the fact that the PLA and to some extent the CPC were defending Molotov's positions. Molotov does not mention them let alone talk about his relation with them. His reluctance to seeking the help of the CPC may have been rooted in the fact that the CPC had supported Khrushchev in his drive against the so-called anti-party group (See inset) and in his considered opinion that the leadership of the CPC consisted of Half Marxists. Nevertheless the fact remains that Molotov did not take his struggle to international communist movement fora though he could have garnered support there. Molotov's account leaves a lingering suspicion that in this respect at least he was not untouched by a certain Great Party chauvinism. iii) The third and the most intriguing issue is that of his refusal to take the issue to the party rank and file and the working class and force a split in the party. The explanations proffered are not convincing: "I still hoped that if we remained in the party we would be able to correct the situation gradually.... no one would have supported us." (MR p. 350) "The party organization was not in our hands", "A good many people bore me a grudge.....the rank and file as well.....the workers bought the line." (MR p.357) Evidently Molotov and his comrades being cut off from active political work in the party lacked support in the party. All the same the fact remains that as a Leninist his duty ought to have been to fight such a party openly and publicly in the long run if not immediately in 1956-60. This Molotov failed to do and he does not explain why.
Molotov's account of his struggle against Khrushchevite revisionism leaves many such questions unanswered even though it does shed some important light on the goings on in the leadership of the CPSU. Some bits of information of significance are as follows:
-That Molotov even though he was elected to the Presidium of the CC in the 19th Congress was not included by the Plenum of the CC into the smaller Politburo (which incidentally was not made public then). His relations with Stalin also cooled off during the period 1948-53. Molotov is most intrigued by this exclusion and at various times attributes it to his wife's arrest and exile, intrigue by lower party bureaucrats, his alleged rightist deviation on the issue of procurement prices in the pre-war period etc. He was also removed as the Foreign Minister during this period. He was however informed of the safety of his wife by Beria secretly.
-His wife was released on the initiative of Beria immediately after Stalin's funeral and he also returned to the Foreign Office. The threat of his own arrest and liquidation which hung over his head in the last years of Stalin was thus removed.
-Apart from the principled position he took on the foreign policy issues we do not know of his fight on other vital issues we have outlined above during the period 1953-55. The fact remains that even though Molotov was known as a loyal Stalinist and other Stalinists looked to him to provide them the leadership Molotov kept silent during the 20th Congress and perhaps even acquiesced in permitting Khrushchev to deliver the report on Stalin. He mentions that the report was discussed in the Politburo. (MR p. 350-1) Molotov was re-elected to the Politburo by the Congress after an interval of 7 years. Molotov confirms details of the June 1957 crisis when the majority of the Politburo of 11 decided that Khrushchev should no longer chair its meetings and that Bulganin, the Chairman of the Council of Minister in accordance with an old tradition should chair the Politburo sessions. "We had no programme to advance. Our only goal was to remove Khrushchev and have him appointed Ministers of Agriculture." As is well known the Khrushchevites forced the Politburo to summon a session of the plenum of the CC where Khrushchev had a majority. The CC members were summoned with the active assistance of Marshal Zhukov indicating the backing provided by the army to Khrushchev and there Molotov and others were denounced and divested of their positions. Molotov does not recall all that he said in criticism of Khrushchev in that Plenum but he only remembers that he criticized Khrushchev for not being keen on publishing Stalin's Collected Works! (MR p.354-5)
Molotov began to systematically counter Khrushchev after this and their struggle came out into the open. Molotov's struggle took the form of repeated letters to the CC criticizing the leadership on various issues of principles and policies. This continued till 1961 when the 22nd Congress expelled Molotov from the party. Since then Molotov continued to write his views on various matters to the CC but by then the struggle was lost beyond hope.
The foregoing discussion seems to indicate that Molotov was isolated during the last years of Stalin and owed his return to center-stage to the support of the coalition of revisionists of various hues. The balance of forces then might have precluded his taking an active position against the de-Stalinization drive begun soon after Stalin's death. His silence on issues other than foreign policy matters ensured the consolidation of the victory. Possibly the fight was already lost before the 20th Congress. Molotov himself considers the fight lost before the 20th Congress when he lost out on the question of rapprochement with Tito. The Congress packed with delegates who lustily cheered Khrushchev filled the new CC with Khrushchev's supporters.
Molotov demonstrates no great love for Malenkov, Bulganin, Voroshilov. He had greater respect for Kaganovich whom he considered a more ardent Stalinist than himself. Thus even if the Politburo in June 1957 had a majority ranged against Khrushchev the majority itself was not homogeneous politically and perhaps there was no unity on question of principle - one cannot interpret Molotov's repeated statement that they had no programme apart from the removal of Khrushchev from the leadership otherwise.
4. Social Roots and Consequences of Revisionism.
Molotov being a seasoned Marxist seeks out the social roots of revisionism and tries to go beyond personalities like Khrushchev. The choice in the 1950s was between pursuing a revolutionary policy and pursuing a policy of "living calmly". Molotov points out: "With the war over the people wanted to relax a little. This included.... a bulk of our cadres and the masses generally..... They were all exhausted. Not everyone in the leadership could stick to the new course because it was difficult." (MR p. 222)
The next stage in the struggle as outlined in the "Economic Problems" did not offer any respite but rather implied another round of struggle and sacrifice and repression as in 1927-29. This involved restructuring the agrarian relations and re-educating the collective farm peasantry. A war fatigued party and working class was in no mood for this. Hence the popularity of Khrushchev whom Molotov accuses of pandering to the public opinion. It is noteworthy that Molotov does not accuse Khrushchev of being a capitalist or imperialist but as someone who reflected the yearnings of the petty bourgeois peasantry. He repeatedly calls Khrushchev a right deviationist and a Bukharinite who pursued a line of appeasing peasant sentiments. He thus pins down the social basis of Soviet revisionism to the vast collective farm peasantry. He was quite clear that the revolutionary path forward consisted in converting the collective farms into state farms and the peasants into workers.
Molotov was the most powerful and consistent critic of the policies pursued by the revisionist leadership of the CPSU, yet he continued to be of the firm belief that the USSR was a socialist state with dictatorship of the proletariat led by a Communist Party. It was this belief that egged him to time and again appeal for readmission into the party, support the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and the suppression of the Polish working class by General Jaruzelski, his seeking of positive elements in the leadership of the CPSU (Andropov) and his overall faith that "we are continuing to march ahead" even if he was concerned by the developments leading to the final liquidation of the USSR, the last vestiges of socialism and the CPSU within five years of his own death.
Molotov emphatically states, "We have built the foundations: true this is irreversible" (MR p.384 emphasis added). Perhaps the crucial problem lay in his formulation that in conditions of capitalist encirclement, without abolishing classes or commodity-money relations, socialist foundation was irreversible.
Stalin in his fight against right deviation (Molotov considers Khrushchev a continuer of Bukharin) repeatedly emphasised that the policy of pandering to the petty bourgeoisie will result in the strengthening of capitalist elements and the eventual restoration of capitalism. That was the essence of his struggle against Bukharin. Stalin argued as follows:
'A victory of the right deviation in our party would mean an enormous accession of strength to the capitalist elements in our country. And what does an accession of strength to the capitalist elements in our country mean? It means weakening the proletarian dictatorship and multiplying the chances of the restoration of capitalism.
'Hence, a victory of the right deviation in our party would add to the conditions necessary for the restoration of capitalism in our country' (J. Stalin, "Problems of Leninism", F.L.P.H., Moscow, 1954, p. 276.).
Yet Molotov believed that capitalism would not be restored despite following a petty bourgeois policy for decades and that the CPSU would not cease to be communist party even after being swamped by petty bourgeois elements.
In essence this was a centrist position. Centrism in this context consisted in the belief that a petty bourgeois policy only slowed down the pace of socialist construction but did not pave the way for capitalism. Eventually centrism merely takes correct positions with regard to the past history but abandons the struggle in the present stage. Molotov's reasoning may have been as follows : if the USSR continued to be "basically socialist" naturally the CPSU was the guardian of that socialism. Hence any splitting of the CPSU was tantamount to anti-socialist activity. Perhaps this explains the intriguing contradiction between Molotov's radical critique of the policy pursued by the CPSU since 1956 and his faith in the need to preserve such a party.
It might be easy for us today endowed with hindsight to accuse Molotov of centrism: but it is imperative that we also recognize that he alone stood up in the CPSU to be counted. For that Marxist-Leninists will remain beholden and indebted to him.
Based on a paper presented at the International Seminar 'Stalin Today' held in Moscow on 5-6 November, 1994