The Meaning of the Second World War (1986) Ernest Mandel

The Meaning of the Second World WarThe Meaning of the Second World War by Ernest Mandel
Powerfully written provocative slim volume by the Belgian economist Ernest Mandel, one of the most important Marxist intellectuals in post war West. Short tightly packed chapters titled like- Social Forces, Resources, Logistics, Ideology demonstrate the explanatory power of historical materialism in his hands. Somehow Mandel writes of the period WWI/WWII with an historical scope and distance that he could have been writing of the Thirty Years War in Central Europe exactly 300 years earlier. Declining colonial empires, nationalist rebellion, rising imperialist spheres of influence, rival social systems with great power and appeal, are terms that constitute frame of view. And modernity.. industrial creation and destruction. Total dehumanization of the “other” is a feature of the modern world; a necessary ingredient for the success of “New World” settler colonialism’s displacement/genocide of native people and of the Enlightenment era establishment of plantation society for wealth production by enslaved Africans. The origin of Final Solution anti-semitism, Mandel suggests, is found in this our modern Atlantic world as much or more than it is a direct line from the Classical and Medieval pogroms of the Mediterranean world. This point is made in a single paragraph. Elsewhere I understand he has written on this topic. His own experiences (1922-1995) as a Jewish intellectual in mid century Europe is worth looking up in the biographical literature.

I have not been impacted by book on war like this before. In the same way that Mandel allows ones historical imagination to consider his account in terms similar to the Thirty Years War (or the Trojan War) his moral stand and critique of the “future” is implicit in the discussion of bullets, boots, radios, supply lines, aircraft, tanks, battleships, blitzkrieg, carpet bombing, atomic bombs– all of this in the hands of the major states- in conflict over how power is held, exercised, (shared?) across the globe can only be repeated one more time. The destruction can’t be imagined.

 

Capital, Volume 1: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (1867) Karl Marx 

325785Like many people I could have taken this on many years ago but was put off by 1. size 2. difficulty of ch. 1-3 and 3. already knew about M-C-M’, use value, exchange value, surplus value, rate of exploitation, constant capital, variable capital, socially necessary labor time, all of that. And the fun stuff commodity fetishism , “A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” The whole point of volume 1 (Jameson, 2013) turns on the mystery that “political economy” (Smith, Ricardo, Say) chose not to take up- “How does anyone make money out of a fair exchange?” In production, not in exchange, the surplus value is created.  Difficulty of Chapters 1-3 abruptly eases for most of the remaining 30 chapters. Important take away for me is the consideration of the vast scope of his preparation and its status as literature. 1850-1867 exiled to the Reading Room of the British Museum. He read all right! “Index of Authorities Quoted” runs 18 pages. Appian, Aristotle, Bacon, Beccaria, Bentham, Blanqui, Brougham, Burke…. Fourier, Franklin, Goethe, Hegel, Hobbes, homer, Horace, Hume, Huxley,.. Lassalle, Locke, Lucretius, Luther… Olmsted, Ovid, Owen, Plato, Plutarch, Price, Proudhon…. Say, Shakespeare, Sismondi, Smith, Sophocles, Spinoza, Thucydides. Guess what read this book and you learn a lot! Should have read it years ago! Now we see many are picking it up post 2008– The Return of “The Critique of Political Economy” and ” ruthless criticism of all that exists.”  I read in conjunction with David Harvey’s Reading Capital Companion. Very helpful and important in its own right.

Love and Capital: A Family Affair

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Among the new books marking the return of the “Critique of Political Economy” referred to in this blog title is Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel. Her book puts real flesh and blood to the common cardboard cut out of Marx the negligent father who left his family to poverty and sickness as he roamed the barricades, pubs, and libraries of  Europe from the 1848 uprisings to the 1870s Paris Commune.  Instead Gabriel shows us the Marx story as outlined above , but as a family affair! Karl and Jenny Marx’s marriage was at it’s best when roaming

1860-marx-engels_2059317iEurope one step ahead of the state police and two steps ahead of the censor. Their home life was a vibrant hive of politics, literature, language learning and hosting a continual parade of revolutionaries and intellectuals. An extremely protective father and loving husband he kindled the  tremendous passions and devotion the family had to each other’s ideals.  Frequent poverty, illness, and infant death were as common in the Marx homes as in those of the working classes. Not likely though that many decided to do as Dad and daughter did one tough cold ill winter to keep the mind alive at least– “let’s learn Danish together,” he said. Frederic Engels in Gabriel’s telling is not the economic benefactor of the family– he is very much a member of the family!  The long time family housekeeper is also very much a member of the family. The scandal sheet version comes out when Gabriel concludes that the boy “Freddy” was not son of Engels and the housekeeper, but of Karl and the housekeeper!

English born daughter Eleanor “Tussy” Marx , his youngest was Daddy’s favorite. Her life is also subject of a recent detailed biography by Rachel Holmes.  Eleanor stayed the revolutionary course of her dad by labor and feminist activism, intellectual endeavors– she translated the first English edition of Flaubert, and was a leading player in the late century Bohemian crowd around the British Museum.

 

Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the First Age of Terror (2015) Bryan Burrough

Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the First Age of TerrorBurrough’s big book is a necessary beginning to the telling of the largely untold events of the “post-sixties” radical underground. The number of bombings, bank robberies, prison breaks, and attacks on law enforcement from 1970-1985 by this sequence of one small group after another is not added up by the author but certainly numbers in many hundreds. With the exception of some very significantly well written sections— the Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver conflict, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Raymond Luc Levasseur of New England based United Freedom Front radicals [ remember “Running on Empty” 1988 with Judd Hirsch and River Phoenix] come to mind— the book is frustrating. Many reviews have pointed to a variety of shortcomings. I can add one. Burrough argues very early in the book that the aims of his subjects— underground militants starting with Weathermen in late ‘60s— was never strictly “anti-war” but more clearly black liberation. This is a good point and obvious in many of the cases he relates— Black Liberation Army and several others. Maybe this is part of the reason his work on the Puerto Rican movements seems out of sync with the rest of the project. Nationalist militants attack on Congress in 1954, the Young Lords role in the community take over of a South Bronx hospital as People’s Detox Center, the FALN deadly bombing of a Wall Street Tavern in 1975 are all treated but not very well. Oddly, these events are well known and have been treated by academics, propagandists, memoirists, and uniquely, by successful federal prosecutions leading to long prison sentences. In fact the only American citizens ever convicted for sedition are Puerto Rican Americans. This book has gained a great deal of attention and is the product of long hard diligent research. No doubt this will prompt follow up work in the sources he has put into view. Writers who will endeavor to theorize a bit more in a comparative frame the actors and their motivations within this 15 year period will report some more nuanced conclusions. Extension of the frame beyond these United States to Europe and Latin America, at least, should also be expected.