Written by John Pickard Wednesday, 23 December 2009

with thanks: International Marxist website

Many of us know that the origins of Christianity have nothing to do with silent nights or wise men. So what are its true origins? John Pickard looks at the reality of how this religion came about – from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Foundations of ChristianityMy late father had a very wry sense of humour. At Christmas, whenever there was a reference to church services on the television, he would tut and shake his head. “Look at that”, he would say, “They try to bring religion into everything!”

I imagine much the same complaint may have been made by ancient celts, annoyed that the Christian priests were taking over their traditional Yule festival, celebrating the winter solstice. Or perhaps by Roman citizens, peeved at the Christians taking over their annual ‘Saturnalia’ festival in the last weeks of December.

Those complaining would have been right, because in the absence of an identifying date anywhere in the canonical gospels, Christians grafted their celebration of the birth of Jesus onto the existing pagan festivals. In one stroke they absorbed the pagan rites into the Christian tradition and softened opposition to the new creed.

Many practising Christians today are completely unaware of the pagan and sometimes arbitrary origins of important elements of their religious beliefs and practices. Many seriously believe the origin of Christianity lies in a ‘silent night’ in a barn visited by quiet shepherds and several awe-struck ‘wise’ men. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Materialism

For Marxists, who base themselves on the real, material world, there was a completely different reality. Last year marked the centenary of the publication of ‘The Foundations of Christianity’ by the German Marxist theoritician, Karl Kautsky. This was the first attempt to describe the rise of that major western religion from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Karl Kautsky’s book was deficient in many respects, but the main lines of his argument still stand the test today. What was especially significant about Kautsky’s book was that it was the first comprehensive attempt to describe the foundation and rise of Christianity using the method of historical materialism.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels used the method of historical materialism and applied it to social and historical developments. In his book ‘Anti-Duhring’, Engels summarised what this meant:

“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or estates is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.”

Karl Kautsky, therefore, rejected the metaphysical myths behind Christianity – the miracles, supernatural events, and so on – and attempted to describe its origins and rise through the social conditions that existed in the Roman Empire.

The classical description of the origins of Christianity is as outlined in the New Testament. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are taken as historical accounts of real events in the first thirty five years of the first millennium: how Jesus was born miraculously, how he performed miracles and preached alongside his twelve disciples, how he was crucified for his preaching and how he arose from the dead. The gospels are taken to be eye-witness accounts by four of the disciples.

Karl KautskyKarl KautskyDespite harassment, persecution and innumerable martyrs, the superior ideas of the Christians – and particularly the offer of life after death and the redemption of human sins by the crucifixion of Jesus – led to an increase of support for Christianity until it became an unstoppable force eventually recognised by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is the ‘official’ history of the Church…and most of it is a fairy-tale. For Marxists the question has to be asked, what were the conditions in Palestine in the first century? Karl Kautsky alludes to the fact that the Roman Empire was a slave-based system in which the vast majority of the population were impoverished and lived from hand to mouth for most of their lives.

And it is true that Palestine was a society riven with bitter class conflicts and contradictions. The characteristics of the entire period were turmoil, upheaval and revolt. Overlying the class struggle was the additional factor of the national oppression of the majority Semitic population by the Romans. Within Jewish society, the priestly caste and the nobility were propped up by the Roman regime for the greater exploitation of the mass of the population.

“The fundamental conflict was between Roman, Herodian, and high priestly rulers, on the one hand, and the Judean and Galilean villagers, whose produce supplied tribute for Caesar, taxes for King Herod, and tithes and offerings for the priests and temple apparatus on the other.” (Horsley, ‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’ )

The Temple priests who were paid tithes (church taxes) by the local peasantry were not a small group – some scholars number them in the thousands. The Jewish King Herod ‘the Great’, who died in 4 BCE [Before the Common Era], left a country economically exhausted from the earlier Roman conquest and subsequent taxation.

“The Jewish agricultural producers were now subject to a double taxation, probably amounting to well over 40 per cent of their production. There were other Roman taxes as well, which further added to the burden of the people, but the tribute was the major drain.

“Coming, as it did, immediately after a period of ostensible national independence under the Hasmonians (Jewish kings), Roman domination was regarded as wholly illegitimate. The tribute was seen as robbery. Indeed it was called outright slavery by militant teachers such as Judas of Galilee, who organised active resistance to the census (record of people for tax purposes) when the Romans took over direct administration of Judea in 6 CE.” [in the Common Era] (‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’)

Revolts

The only contemporary account there is of this history is that of Josephus, a Jewish general who fought against the Romans during the revolt of 66 CE and who subsequently changed sides. It is clear from his histories that this whole period was one of great upheaval. There were many occasions when revolts of peasants were led by popular anointed kings (or ‘messiahs’), all of which were viciously repressed. It was not uncommon for whole towns to be razed and their inhabitants sold into slavery.

These revolts reflected the material conditions and class conflicts of the time, but they were invariably dressed up in terms of messianic revivalism and religious aspirations. Given the tradition and scripture of the Jews, these movements inevitably adopted the mantles of scriptural leaders, including, notably, Joshua. There were, in fact, many ‘Joshua’ sects at the time. (‘Jesus’ is a Romanised name which wouldn’t have been recognised in Palestine at the time). Many of these cults had a ‘communist’ outlook with property shared in common within the community.

The writings of Josephus are the only genuine surviving works written by a participant of the events. He describes what he sees as the evil influence of seers and prophets on more than one occasion, such as: “…Imposters and demagogues, under the disguise of divine inspiration, provoked revolutionary actions and impelled the masses to act like madmen. They led them out into the wilderness…” Josephus (‘Jewish Wars’) mentions by name several of the seers, ‘prophets’ and revolutionaries who stirred up the Jews, but the Joshua described in the New Testament does not appear at any point in the voluminous work of his supposed contemporary, Josephus.

The revolutionary-minded force in this period was the peasantry, which strove time and again to throw off the national and class oppression under which they laboured.

A small selection of commentaries from Josephus illustrates the turmoil of the period:

“Many [Jewish peasants] turned to banditry out of recklessness, and throughout the whole country there were raids, and among the more daring, revolts…”

“…the whole of Judea was infested with brigands…” (‘Jewish Wars’)

“Felix [Roman governor, 52-58 CE] captured [revolutionary leader] Eleazar, who for twenty years had plundered the country, as well as many of his associates, and sent them to Rome for trial. The number of brigands that he crucified…was enormous.” (Josephus , ‘Antiquities’)

Nothing could be further removed from ‘silent night’! The revolutionary upheaval spilled over into a generalised uprising in 66 CE, against the Romans and their collaborators, the Jewish ruling class the high priests of the Temple. “…hostility and violent factionalism flared between the high priests on the one side and the priests and leaders of the Jerusalem masses on the other.” (‘Antiquities’)

Siege of Jerusalem

The siege of Jerusalem, 70 CEFor the next four years there was a bloody and protracted guerrilla war followed by a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, during which the masses, fearing betrayal by the Jewish aristocracy and high priests effectively took power into their own hands in Jerusalem. One of their first acts in the revolt was the storming of the Temple and the burning of the deeds and documents relating to the debts and taxes of the peasantry. It was not surprising that the aristocracy and the high priests fled the city to the safety of the Roman lines – including Josephus himself.

Even before this revolution, Palestine had been a whirlpool of different cults and religious sects, most based loosely on traditional Jewish scripture, but often coloured by the widespread discontent with the collaboration of the priesthood and the parasitism of the Temple culture. Among these would have been the ‘Joshua’ and other messianic sects organised by a variety of charismatic leaders.

Following the bloody suppression of the revolution and the capture of Jerusalem (during which the Temple was destroyed) in 70 CE, tens of thousands of Jews fled the region and many thousands more were enslaved. Such an enormous disaster could not fail to affect the huge Jewish Diaspora, who fled from their homeland, spread round every major city in the whole Roman Empire, including the larger cities like Rome, Alexandria and the big cities in the East.

Long before the revolutionary events, all manner of sects had taken root in the Jewish Diaspora communities in parallel to those in Palestine itself. Within this lively sectarian milieu was a Joshua cult developed by Paul, with a policy of converting non-Jews as well as Jews. This sect, in effect, became the mainspring of modern Christianity by, among other things, simplifying Jewish ‘Law’ to remove the need for circumcision and strict dietary taboos.

All of the early Christian works, which were circulating from the middle towards the end of the first century – including the letters of Paul – were significantly missing any historical narrative connecting Joshua to a real-life biography. It was only later that the gospel of Mark (on which Matthew and Luke were based) was written as an allegorical description of a life, composed to match the Joshua doctrine that was becoming established. It was an expression of the growing confidence and numerical strength of this particular sect. But it was also an expression of the growing class division within the Christian community itself as it accommodated to Roman society. Of the original communistic ideas of the Joshua cults, there remain only a few hints and suggestions in the New Testament today.

It was largely in polemics with their former co-religionists, the Jews, and against the plethora of rival proto-Christian sects that the early Church elaborated its doctrine in the first decades of the second century. In parallel with the elaboration of doctrine, the Church established an apparatus to maintain itself. The evidence of the existence of a huge variety of early Christian sects has only come to light recently precisely because this apparatus, once having established itself, did its best to eliminate all others as ‘heresies,’ in the process removing most of the evidence that other strands of the Joshua cult even existed.

The question has to be asked as to why Christianity grew over the next two centuries. It was not an anti-slavery movement: slavery was ubiquitous throughout the Roman Empire and Christians possessed slaves like anyone else. There is evidence that even bishops just like well-to-do Romans owned slaves throughout this whole period.

Theological considerations were secondary. The rigid and self-perpetuating bureaucracy which had grown within the Church reflected the class divisions in society and had become an important bulwark of the class system.

“In time the discourse and sermons of the Christian leaders came to incorporate not only the formal aspects of aristocratic status concerns but also the values and ideology of the late Roman upper class.” (Salzman, ‘The Making of a Christian Aristocracy’)

Conversion

This comment refers to the period following the so-called conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, but long before this the Church was playing a key social and economic role on behalf of the ruling class. Many officials of state were Christian bishops or leaders. More importantly, they play a key role in the management and organisation of local government.

In so far as it meant anything in a Roman Empire facing terminal decline, they were the local government. Bishops and Church officials collected tax, distributed alms (church-based charity) and supervised local legal and land disputes. They were an unofficial ‘civil service’ on behalf of the Roman bureaucracy long before Emperor Constantine gave them imperial sanction. The Church fulfilled a social and economic function, in managing and containing an increasing proportion of the poor and dispossessed and for that reason, not because of a ‘spiritual awakening’ within the ruling class, it was allowed to grow and develop.

The Church was able to fulfil this role because it offered a safety valve for the aspirations of the masses. It gave the peasantry their only opportunity to sit in the same building with landlords and bishops (if not the same pews) and even if there was limited hope in this world, they were at least offered the promise of equality with the rich in the next. The Christians offered a messiah and ‘life after death’, in contrast to the aloof and indifferent gods of Greece and Rome.

The Church bureaucracy consciously developed policy (and theology) in its own interests, increasingly identified with the interests of the ruling class. But in its structure and outlook, it also anticipated the development of feudal society better than the decaying slave-owning state. The Church didn’t campaign for emancipation, but offered a new arrangement for exploitation.

As for the peasantry and city poor: as long as they knew and accepted ‘their place’ in the rigid class structure, for the poorest it offered a structure of alms, and support which provided respite to the worst of their poverty and insecurity. Even if watered down, it offered a sense of community. Almost uniquely in the Roman Empire, it had a limited welfare structure, moreover one that offered belonging to a national and even international church. For these reasons it had disproportionate appeal to the poor and the oppressed; indeed it was ridiculed for being a movement “of slaves and women.”

Persecution

Once it was backed by the power of the state the Church destroyed its opponents. Roman persecution of the Church in the first three centuries is greatly exaggerated, but it pales against the terrible persecution that the Church visited on all the unorthodox sects once it was backed by imperial power. Books and heretics were burnt. Theological history was re-written. Myths were piled upon myths, century after century. So much so that today even so-called ‘scholars’ treat the New Testament like a true historical narrative and not as they should as a story, no more true than ‘The Iliad’ or ‘Beowulf’.

Within a few hundred years any evidence of the existence of other Christian sects, including their pre-history in Palestine, was all but eliminated. The Church became – and remains to this day – a powerful conservative force, politically, financially and diplomatically (and at one time, militarily).

In his introduction to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, Marx referred to religion as “the sigh of the oppressed”. He explained that it is not spirituality, or the lack of it, which breeds support for religion. It is the alienation of the mass of the population from the class society in which they find themselves.

The crisis of capitalism is at root the crisis of a rotten economic system, but it manifests itself also as a crisis of ideas. For millions of people their hopes and aspirations are so stunted by the limits of the capitalist world that they project their hopes on to a life after death. And just as in the first decades of the first millennium, so also in the age of capitalism, new religious and messianic movements reflect the intellectual and moral impasse of a failed and failing society. Marx continued:

“…To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Thus he made it clear that it is not a question of religion being “abolished”. The idea is absurd. To combat superstition and ignorance, the task for socialists is to struggle against the material conditions upon which these things grow – and that means above all, a struggle against capitalism.

With capitalism facing its worse crisis after 1929, the imperialists powers are gathering in Germany to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. As like always, history has different meanings for the elites and imperialists and the people. The imperialists hailed it has the triumph of democracy and freedom, the fall of iron curtain. It shook the intellectuals and thesis like “end of history” and “clash of civilizations” emerged with deadly consequences. The people of Pakistan were affected by fall of Berlin wall and even today are paying the price. The ruling elite of Pakistan with help of CIA created religious fascist monsters to fight Jihad against communism. The Jihad which has eroded the society and state completely. The pieces of Berlin Wall were sent has gifts to the most “reactionary of anti-communists” of Pakistan the ones who created the Mujahideen and the Taliban. I saw one of them on TV an ex ISI officer who was telling tales of how he helped Taliban . He was all praises for Taliban, he told that he received a portion of “Berlin wall” as gift. After the fall of Berlin wall the first gifts of freedom we got were worse war and genocide in history of Europe after Holocaust in Bosnia. The forces of hate which socialism had controlled spilled over and once again the international community failed to stop a genocide. Next gift of freedom we got was the rise of most heinous of  barbarism since the mongols in form of Islamic fascism which threats the very foundations of civilization. All these monsters from Taliban  to Hamas were created by USA and Europe through their allies the military dictators and Mullahs in muslim world to check the rising Left wing forces. These thugs who were used to kill left wing intellectuals and leaders on orders of west are now playing havoc with civilization. No one will remember these gifts of the fall of Berlin wall in Germany today but lets me warn them through words of Derrida, the most influential European philosopher since Hegel, that these cheers of victory are meaningless!

“For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelise in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realised itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth” Specters of Marx , Derrida

With these conditions Specters of Marx are haunting this globe !!!

Shaheryar Ali

The fall of the Berlin Wall: 20 years later

Written by Alan Woods Monday, 09 November 2009

With thanks: International Marxist Website

Twenty years ago as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down the bourgeoisie in the west was euphoric, rejoicing at the “fall of communism”. Twenty years later things look very different as capitalism has entered its most severe crisis since 1929. Now a majority in former East Germany votes for the left and harks back to what was positive about the planned economy. After rejecting Stalinism, they have now had a taste of capitalism, and the conclusion drawn is that socialism is better than capitalism.

The fall of the Berlin Wall has passed into history as a synonym for the collapse of “Communism”.The fall of the Berlin Wall has passed into history as a synonym for the collapse of “Communism”.The year 2009 is a year of many anniversaries, including the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, the founding of the Communist International and the Asturian Commune. None of these anniversaries find any echo in the capitalist press. But there is one anniversary they will not forget: On the 9th of November, 1989, the Border separating Western from Eastern Germany was effectively opened.

The fall of the Berlin Wall has passed into history as a synonym for the collapse of “Communism”. In the last 20 years since those momentous events, we have witnessed an unprecedented ideological offensive against the ideas of Marxism on a world scale. This is held up as decisive proof of the death of Communism, Socialism and Marxism. Not long ago, it was even presented as the end of history. But since then the wheel of history has turned several times.

The argument that henceforth the capitalist system was the only alternative for humanity has been exposed as hollow. The truth is very different. On the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of Stalinism, capitalism finds itself in its deepest crisis since the Great Depression. Millions are faced with a future of unemployment, poverty, cuts and austerity.

This vicious anti-Communist campaign is being intensified during this period. The reason for this is not difficult to understand. The worldwide crisis of capitalism is giving rise to a general questioning of the “market economy”. There is a revival of interest in Marxist ideas, which is alarming the bourgeoisie. The new campaign of slanders is a reflection of fear.

Caricature of socialism

Anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. Photo by Klaus Franke with permission from Bundesarchiv.Anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. Photo by Klaus Franke with permission from Bundesarchiv.

What failed in Russia and Eastern Europe was not communism or socialism, in any sense that this was understood by Marx or Lenin, but a bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature. Lenin explained that the movement towards socialism requires the democratic control of industry, society and the state by the proletariat. Genuine socialism is incompatible with the rule of a privileged bureaucratic elite, which will inevitably be accompanied by colossal corruption, nepotism, waste, mismanagement and chaos.

The nationalised planned economies in the USSR and Eastern Europe achieved astonishing results in the fields of industry, science, health and education. But, as Trotsky predicted as early as 1936, the bureaucratic regime ultimately undermined the nationalised planned economy and prepared the way for its collapse and the return of capitalism.

In the 1980s, the USSR had more scientists than the USA, Japan, Britain and Germany combined, and yet was unable to achieve the same results as the West. In the vital fields of productivity and living standards the Soviet Union lagged behind the West. The main reason was the colossal burden imposed on the Soviet economy by the bureaucracy – the millions of greedy and corrupt officials that were running the Soviet Union without any control on the part of the working class.

The suffocating rule of the bureaucracy eventually led to a sharp fall in the rate of growth in the USSR. As a result, the Soviet Union was falling behind the West. The costs of maintaining high levels of military expenditure and the costs of maintaining its grip on Eastern Europe imposed further strains on the Soviet economy. The emergence of a new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 signalled a major turn in the situation.

Gorbachev represented that wing of the Soviet bureaucracy that stood for reform from the top in order to preserve the regime as a whole. However, the situation deteriorated further under Gorbachev. This inevitably led to a crisis, which had an immediate effect in Eastern Europe, where the crisis of Stalinism was exacerbated by the national question.

Ferment in Eastern Europe

Mass protests in Poland in August 1984.Mass protests in Poland in August 1984.

In 1989, from one capital to another, a tidal wave of revolt spread, overthrowing one by one the Stalinist regimes. In Romania, Ceausescu was overthrown by a revolution and sent to a firing squad. A key factor in the success of the popular uprisings was the crisis in Russia. In the past Moscow had sent the Red Army to crush uprising in East Germany (1953), in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). But Gorbachev understood that this option was no longer possible.

The mass strikes in Poland in the first part of the 1980s were an early expression of the impasse of the regime. If this magnificent movement had been led by genuine Marxists, it could have prepared the ground for a political revolution, not only in Poland but throughout Eastern Europe. But in the absence of such a leadership, the movement was derailed by counterrevolutionary elements like Lech Walesa.

Election poster of Solidarity featuring Gary Cooper as an American cowboy urging a vote for the party/union.Election poster of Solidarity featuring Gary Cooper as an American cowboy urging a vote for the party/union.

At first, the Polish Stalinists tried to hold the movement down through repression, but in the end Solidarity had to be legalized and allowed to participate in parliamentary elections on June 4, 1989. What followed was a political earthquake. Solidarity candidates captured all the seats they were allowed to contest. This had a profound effect in the neighbouring countries.

In Hungary Janos Kadar – in anticipation of what was to come ‑ had already been removed as General Secretary of the Communist Party the previous year in 1988 and the regime had adopted a “democracy package”, including elections. Czechoslovakia was very soon also affected and by November 20, 1989 the number of protesters assembled in Prague went from 200,000 the previous day to half-million. A two-hour general strike was held on November 27.

These dramatic events marked a major turning-point in history. For almost half a century after World War II the Stalinists had ruled Eastern Europe with an iron hand. These were monstrous one-Party states, backed by a powerful apparatus of repression, with army, police and secret police, and informers in every block of flats, school, college or factory workshop. It seemed almost impossible that popular uprisings could ever succeed against the power of a totalitarian state and its secret police. But in the moment of truth these apparently invincible regimes were shown to be giants with feet of clay.

East Germany

Of all the regimes of Eastern Europe, the German Democratic Republic was one of the most industrially and technologically advanced. The standard of life, although not as high as in West Germany, was good. There was full employment, and everyone had access to cheap housing, free medicine and education of a high standard.

Gorbachev visiting Erich Honecker in 1987. Photo by Peter Koard with permission from Bundersarchiv.Gorbachev visiting Erich Honecker in 1987. Photo by Peter Koard with permission from Bundersarchiv.

However, the rule of a totalitarian one-Party state, with its ever-present secret police (the notorious Stasi) with its army of informers, the corruption of the officials, and the privileges of the elite, were a source of discontent. Before the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, about 2.5 million East Germans had emigrated to West Germany, many over the border between East and West Berlin. In order to halt this haemorrhage, the regime had the Berlin Wall built.

The Wall and other fortifications along the 860-mile (1,380-kilometre) border shared by East and West Germany succeeded in stemming the exodus. This action probably helped to boost economic growth in the GDR. But it caused suffering and hardship for the families that were divided and it was a propaganda gift to the West, which presented it as yet another example of “Communist tyranny”.

By the end of the 1980s the situation in the GDR was explosive. The old Stalinist Erich Honecker was implacably opposed to reform. His regime even prohibited the circulation of “subversive” publications from the Soviet Union. On 6 October and 7 October, Gorbachev visited East Germany to mark the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic, and he put pressure on the East German leadership to accept reform. He is quoted as saying: “Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben” (He who is too late is punished by life).

By now the East German people had become openly rebellious. Opposition movements began to sprout up like mushrooms. These included the Neues Forum (New Forum), Demokratischer Aufbruch (Democratic Awakening), and Demokratie Jetzt (Democracy Now). The largest opposition movement was created through a Protestant church service at Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche, German for Church of Saint Nicholas, where each Monday after service citizens gather outside demanding change in East Germany. However, these movements were confused and politically naïve.

A Monday demonstration in Lepzig in January 1990. Photo by Zumpe.A Monday demonstration in Lepzig in January 1990. Photo by Zumpe.

A wave of mass demonstrations now swept through East German cities, acquiring particular strength in Leipzig. Hundreds of thousands of people joined these demonstrations. The regime entered into crisis that led to the removal of the hard-line Stalinist leader, Erich Honecker, and the resignation of the entire cabinet. Under the pressure of the mass movement, the new Party leader, Egon Krenz, called for democratic elections. But the reforms proposed by the regime were too little and too late.

The “Communist” leaders considered using force but changed their mind (with a little prodding from Gorbachev). Events were now spinning out of control. In the following days, one could almost speak of anarchy: Shops stayed open all hours, a GDR passport served as a free ticket for public transport. In the words of one observer: “in general there were more exceptions than rules in those days”. Power was lying in the street, but there was nobody to pick it up.

Faced with a mass revolt, the seemingly all-powerful East German state collapsed like a house of cards. On November 9, 1989, after several weeks of mass unrest, the East German government announced that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. This was the signal for a new eruption of the masses. Spontaneously, crowds of East Germans climbed onto and crossed the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side.

Counterrevolution

Faced with a mass revolt, the seemingly all-powerful East German state collapsed like a house of cards. Photo by Songkran.Faced with a mass revolt, the seemingly all-powerful East German state collapsed like a house of cards. Photo by Songkran.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol and a focal point for all that was hated about the East German regime. The demolition of the Wall began quite spontaneously. Over the next few weeks, parts of the Wall were chipped away. Later on industrial equipment was later used to remove almost all of the rest. There was a celebratory atmosphere, a mood of euphoria, more like a carnival than a revolution. But that is true of the early stages of every great revolution, beginning with 1789.

In November of 1989, the population of the GDR was overwhelmed by emotional moods – a sense of liberation, accomplished by a general feeling of elation. It was as if a whole nation was experiencing a general inebriation, and therefore was open to suggestions and sudden impulses. Overthrowing the old regime proved far easier than anyone had dared imagine. But, once having overthrown it, what was to be put in its place? The masses that had brought about the overthrow of the old regime, knew very well what they did not want, but did not have quite clear what they wanted, and nobody was offering a way out.

All the objective conditions for a political revolution were now given. The great majority of the population did not want the restoration of capitalism. They wanted socialism, but with democratic rights, without the Stasi, without corrupt bureaucrats and without a dictatorial one-party state. If a genuine Marxist leadership had existed, this could have led to a political revolution and the establishment of a workers’ democracy.

Most of the leaders of the opposition had no clear programme, policy or perspective, beyond a vague desire for democracy and civil rights. Photo by ssgt F. Lee Corkran Most of the leaders of the opposition had no clear programme, policy or perspective, beyond a vague desire for democracy and civil rights. Photo by ssgt F. Lee Corkran

However, the fall of the Berlin Wall did not result in a political revolution but counterrevolution in the form of unification with West Germany. This demand did not feature prominently at the beginning of the demonstrations. But given the absence of a clear programme on the part of the leadership, it was introduced and gradually came to occupy a central role.

Most of the leaders of the opposition had no clear programme, policy or perspective, beyond a vague desire for democracy and civil rights. Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. The presence of a powerful and prosperous capitalist state next door therefore played a determining role in filling the vacuum.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was an aggressive representative of imperialism. He used the most shameless bribery to persuade the East German people to agree to immediate unification, offering to exchange their Ostmarks for Deutschmarks on a one-to-one basis. But what Kohl did not tell the people of East Germany was that unification would not mean that they would have West German living standards.

In July 1990, the final obstacle to German unification was removed when Gorbachev agreed to drop Soviet objections to a reunited Germany within NATO in return for substantial German economic aid to the Soviet Union. Unification was formally concluded on October 3, 1990.

The masses deceived

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab in 1990.West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab in 1990.

The people of the GDR had been deceived. They were not told that the introduction of a market economy would mean mass unemployment, factory closures and the virtual destruction of large parts of the industrial base of the GDR, or a general rise in prices, and the demoralization of a section of the youth, or that they would be looked down upon as second-class citizens in their own country. They were not told these things but they have found them out through bitter experience.

Reunification precipitated a disastrous collapse in real Eastern German GDP, with falls of 15.6 per cent in 1990 and 22.7 per cent in 1991 cumulating to a one third decline. Millions of jobs were lost. Many eastern factories were bought by western competitors and shut down. From 1992, East Germany experienced four years of recovery, but this was followed by stagnation.

Before the Second World War, East German GDP per capita was slightly above the German average, and both at that time and in the GDR, East Germany was richer than other eastern European countries. But 20 years after unification, living standards in East Germany still lag behind the West. Unemployment is double western levels, and wages are significantly lower.

In the GDR unemployment was practically unknown. But employment declined by 3.3 million people from 1989-1992. East German real GDP has barely risen above its 1989 level, and employment languishes at 60 per cent of its 1989 level. Currently, unemployment in Germany as a whole is about 8%, but the figure for East Germany is 12.3%. However, some unofficial estimates put it as high as 20%, and amongst the youth even 50%.

Women, who achieved a high degree of equality in the GDR, as in other countries of East Europe, have suffered most. The German Socio-Economic Panel data for the mid-1990s indicate that 15 per cent of the eastern female population and ten per cent of the male population were unemployed.

In July 1990 the “chancellor of unity”, Helmut Kohl, promised: “In a joint effort we will soon turn [the East German regions] Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia into flourishing landscapes.” Fifteen years later, a BBC report admitted that “the statistics are bleak” Despite the capital injection of an estimated 1.25 trillion euro (£843bn, $1,550bn), the East’s unemployment rate was still 18.6% in 2005 (before the present recession) and in many regions it is more than 25%.

Halle in Saxony-Anhalt, once an important centre for the chemical industry with more than 315,000 people, has lost nearly a fifth of its citizens. Before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the “chemical triangle” Leuna-Halle-Bitterfeld gave employment to 100,000 people ‑ now 10,000 jobs remain. Gera once had large textiles and defence industries, and some uranium mining. They have gone, and much the same happened in most other state-owned industries since 1989.

Eastern GDP per capita improved from 49 per cent of the western level in 1991 to 66 per cent in 1995, since which time convergence has ceased to advance. The economy was growing by about 5.5% a year, but was not creating many new jobs. As a result the East is emptying. Since unification some 1.4 million people have moved to the West, most of them young and well-educated. Emigration and a steep fall in fertility have caused the eastern population to decline each year since unification.

It is a supreme irony of history that 20 years after reunification, people are leaving East Germany, not to flee from the Stasi, but to escape unemployment. Of course, some have done well. The BBC report says: “Grand bourgeois houses, many riddled with World War II bullet holes until 1989, have been restored to their old glory.”

Marxism revives

Like many other East Germans, Ralf Wulff said he was delighted about the fall of the Berlin Wall and to see capitalism replace communism. But the euphoria did not last long. “It took just a few weeks to realize what the free market economy was all about,” said Wulff. “It’s rampant materialism and exploitation. Human beings get lost. We didn’t have the material comforts but communism still had a lot going for it.” (Reuters report)

Hans-Juergen Schneider, a 49-year-old trained engineer has been unemployed since January 2004. He has sent out 286 job applications since then, without success. “The market economy can’t solve our problems,” he says, “big business is just grabbing the profits without accepting any responsibility.” He is not alone. A poll by Der Spiegel stated that 73% of East Germans believe that Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism is still valid.

Another poll published in October 2008 in the magazine Super Illus stated that 52% of people in Eastern Germany think that the market economy is “inept” and “rundown”. 43% would prefer a socialist economic system, because “it protects the small people from financial crises and other injustices”. 55% rejected banking bailouts by the state.

Of young people (18 to 29 years), who never lived in the GDR, or did so only briefly, 51% want socialism. The figure for people 30 to 49 years old is 35%. But for those over 50 years it is 46%. These findings are confirmed in interviews with dozens of ordinary easterners. “We read about the ‘horrors of capitalism’ in school. They really got that right. Karl Marx was spot on,” said Thomas Pivitt, a 46-year-old IT worker from East Berlin. Das Kapital was a best-seller for publisher Karl-Dietz-Verlag, selling over 1,500 copies in 2008, triple the number sold in all of 2007 and a 100-fold increase since 1990.

“Everyone thought there would never ever again be any demand for ‘Das Kapital’,” managing director Joern Schuetrumpf told Reuters. “Even bankers and managers are now reading Das Kapital to try to understand what they’ve been doing to us. Marx is definitely ‘in’ right now,” he said.

The crisis of capitalism has convinced many Germans, both East and West, that the system has failed. “I thought communism was shit but capitalism is even worse,” said Hermann Haibel, a 76-year old retired blacksmith. “The free market is brutal. The capitalist wants to squeeze out more, more, more,” he said. “I had a pretty good life before the Wall fell,” he added. “No one worried about money because money didn’t really matter. You had a job even if you didn’t want one. The communist idea wasn’t all that bad.”

“I don’t think capitalism is the right system for us,” said Monika Weber, a 46-year-old city clerk. “The distribution of wealth is unfair. We’re seeing that now. The little people like me are going to have to pay for this financial mess with higher taxes because of greedy bankers.”

Even more significant than opinion polls were the results of the recent German elections. The Left Party registered a significant advance, getting almost 30% of the vote in the East. In the East there is now no majority for the bourgeois parties. What this shows clearly is that the people of East Germany do not want capitalism but socialism – not the bureaucratic totalitarian caricature of socialism that they had before, but genuine democratic socialism – the socialism of Marx, Engels, Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

London, October 19, 2009

There are no Homosexuals in Iran . Mehmoud Ahmadenijad

I found this very good article here.The author has reviewed the book on history of homosexuality in Iran by the famous Iranian academic Janet Afray , who is a Professor of History and Women Studies at Purdue University and also is the president of International Society of Iranian Scholars.  The book is called “Sexual Politics in Modern Iran”, the deals with the constructions of gender and sexuality over a wider historical period. Her extensive reading of the ancient texts have demonstrated the rather “normal” nature of homosexual relationships in Pre-modern Iran.  She demonstrates that the violent homophobia in Iran is the result of  Western modern influence. I differ with the assertion on Marxist oriented “homophobia” . The fact of the matter is that with The Glorious Russian Revolution of 1917 homosexuality became de-criminalized in one of the first acts by the revolutionary government. The claim of  “well documented condemnation of homosexuality by Marx” unfortunately is not very sound one. Passages from Engels have frequently been quoted by the anti-communists to spread of “myth homophobia inherent in communism”. These passages are usually taken out of context and looked outside the “scientific base” of that time to condemn Engels. The Homosexual Liberation Movement always had a strong Marxist element. The Marxist social democratic parties of Germany and Europe were the first to show sensitivity to homosexual cause and the later Gay Liberation Movement always had a strong Marxist element. The Stalinist regime reversed a lot of  Leninist reforms especially those regarding sexual freedoms and women rights and restored the “family”. These crimes should not be attributed to Marx and the Marxists. Anyway the article is very good and i hope you like it

Shaheryar Ali

IRAN’S HIDDEN HOMOSEXUAL HISTORY

Doug Ireland

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his infamous claim at a September 2007 Columbia University appearance that “”In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” the world laughed at the absurdity of this pretense.

Now, a forthcoming book by a leading Iranian scholar in exile, which details both the long history of homosexuality in that nation and the origins of the campaign to erase its traces, not only provides a superlative reply to Ahmadinejad, but demonstrates forcefully that political homophobia was a Western import to a culture in which same-sex relations were widely tolerated and frequently celebrated for well over a thousand years.

“Sexual Politics in Modern Iran,” to be published at the end of next month by Cambridge University Press, is a stunningly researched history and analysis of the evolution of gender and sexuality that will provide a transcendent tool both to the vibrant Iranian women’s movement today fighting the repression of the ayatollahs and to Iranian same-sexers hoping for liberation from a theocracy that condemns them to torture and death.

Its author, Janet Afary, president of the International Society of Iranian Scholars, is a professor of history and women’s studies at Purdue University who has already published several authoritative works on Iranian sexual politics, notably the revealing and award-winning “Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islam” (2005), in which she already demonstrated a remarkable sympathy for gay and lesbian people.

In her new book, Afary’s extensive section on pre-modern Iran, documented by a close reading of ancient texts, portrays the dominant form of same-sex relations as a highly-codified “status-defined homosexuality,” in which an older man – presumably the active partner in sex – acquired a younger partner, or amrad.

Shah Abbas and Wine Boy. Louvre

Shah Abbas and Wine Boy. Louvre

Afary demonstrates how, in this period, “male homoerotic relations in Iran were bound by rules of courtship such as the bestowal of presents, the teaching of literary texts, bodybuilding and military training, mentorship, and the development of social contacts that would help the junior partner’s career. Sometimes men exchanged vows, known as brotherhood sigehs [a form of contractual temporary marriage, lasting from a few hours to 99 years, common among heterosexuals] with homosocial or homosexual overtones.

“These relationships were not only about sex, but also about cultivating affection between the partners, placing certain responsibilities on the man with regard to the future of the boy. Sisterhood sigehs involving lesbian practices were also common in Iran. A long courtship was important in these relations. The couple traded gifts, traveled together to shrines, and occasionally spent the night together. Sigeh sisters might exchange vows on the last few days of the year, a time when the world ‘turned upside down,’ and women were granted certain powers over men.”

Examples of the codes governing same-sex relations were to be found in the “Mirror for Princes genre of literature (andarz nameh) [which] refers to both homosexual and heterosexual relations. Often written by fathers for sons, or viziers for sultans, these books contained separate chapter headings on the treatment of male companions and of wives.”

One such was the Qabus Nameh (1082-1083), in which a father advises a son: “As between women and youths, do not confine your inclinations to either sex; thus you may find enjoyment from both kinds without either of the two becoming inimical to you… During the summer let your desires incline toward youths, and during the winter towards women.”

Afary dissects how “classical Persian literature (twelfth to fifteenth centuries)…overflowed with same-sex themes (such as passionate homoerotic allusions, symbolism, and even explicit references to beautiful young boys.)” This was true not only of the Sufi masters of this classical period but of “the poems of the great twentieth-century poet Iraj Mirza (1874-1926)… Classical poets also celebrated homosexual relationships between kings and their pages.”

Afary also writes that “homosexuality and homoerotic expressions were embraced in numerous other public spaces beyond the royal court, from monasteries and seminaries to taverns, military camps, gymnasiums, bathhouses, and coffeehouses… Until the mid-seventeenth century, male houses of prostitution (amrad khaneh) were recognized, tax-paying establishments.”

While Afary explores the important role of class in same-sex relations, she also illuminates how “Persian Sufi poetry, which is consciously erotic as well as mystical, also celebrated courtship rituals between [men] of more or less equal status… The bond between lover and beloved was… based on a form of chivalry (javan mardi). Love led one to higher ethical ideals, but love also constituted a contract, wherein the lover and the beloved had specific obligations and responsibilities to one another, and the love that bound them both… Sufi men were encouraged to use homoerotic relations as a pathway to spiritual love.”

Unmistakably lesbian sigeh courtship rituals, which continued from the classical period into the twentieth century, were also codified: “Tradition dictated that one [woman] who sought another as ‘sister’ approached a love broker to negotiate the matter. The broker took a tray of sweets to the prospective beloved. In the middle of the tray was a carefully placed dildo or doll made of wax or leather. If the beloved agreed to the proposal, she threw a sequined white scarf (akin to a wedding veil) over the tray… If she was not interested, she threw a black scarf on the tray before sending it back.”

As late as the last half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, “Iranian society remained accepting of many male and female homoerotic practices… Consensual and semi-open pederastic relations between adult men and amrads were common within various sectors of society.” What Afary terms a “romantic bisexuality” born in the classical period remained prevalent at court and among elite men and women, and “a form of serial love (‘eshq-e mosalsal) was commonly practiced [in which] their love could shift back and forth from girl to boy and back to girl.”

In the court of Naser al-Din Shah, who ruled Persia from 1848 to 1896, keeping boy concubines was still an acceptable practice, and the shah himself (in addition to his wives and harem) had a young male lover, Malijak, whom he “loved more than anyone else.” In his memoirs, Malijak recalled proudly, “the king’s love for me reached the point where it is impossible for me to write about it… [He] held me in his arms and kissed me as if he were kissing one of his great beloveds.”

In a lengthy section of her book entitled “Toward a Westernized Modernity,” Afary demonstrates how the trend toward modernization which emerged during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 and which gave the Persian monarchy its first parliament was heavily influenced by concepts harvested from the West.

One of her most stunning revelations is how an Azeri-language newspaper edited and published in the Russian Caucuses, Molla Nasreddin (or MN, which appeared from 1906 to 1931) influenced this Iranian Revolution with a “significant new discourse on gender and sexuality,” sharing Marx’s well-documented contempt for homosexuals. With an editorial board that embraced Russian social democratic concepts, including women’s rights, MN was also “the first paper in the Shi’i Muslim world to endorse normative heterosexuality,” echoing Marx’s well-documented contempt for homosexuality. Afary writes that “this illustrated satirical paper, which circulated among Iranian intellectuals and ordinary people alike, was enormously popular in the region because of its graphic cartoons.”

MN conflated homosexuality and pedophilia, and attacked clerical teachers and leaders for “molesting young boys,” played upon feelings of “contempt” for passive homosexuals, suggested that elite men who kept amrad concubines “had a vested interested in maintaining the (male) homosocial public spaces where semi-covert pederasty was tolerated,” and “mocked the rites of exchanging brotherhood vows before a mollah and compared it to a wedding ceremony.” It was in this way that a discourse of political homophobia developed in Europe, which insisted that only heterosexuality could be the norm, was introduced into Iran.

MN‘s attacks on homosexuality “would shape Iranian debates on sexuality for the next century,” and it “became a model for several Iranian newspapers of the era,” which echoed its attacks on the conservative clergy and leadership for homosexual practices. In the years that followed, “Iranian revolutionaries commonly berated major political figures for their sexual transgressions,” and “revolutionary leaflets accused adult men of having homosexual sex with other adult men, ‘of thirty-year-olds propositioning fifty-year-olds and twenty-year-olds propositioning forty-year-olds, right in front of the Shah.’ Some leaflets repeated the old allegation that major political figures had been amrads in their youth.”

Subsequently, “leading constitutionalists enthusiastically joined the campaign against homosexuality,” writes Afary, noting that “the influential journal Kaveh (1916-1921), published in exile in Berlin and edited by the famous constitutionalist Hasan Taqizadeh, had led the movement of opinion against homosexuality… Their notion of modernization now included the normalization of heterosexual eros and the abandonment of all homosexual practices and even inclinations.”

When Reza Kahn overthrew the monarchy’s Qajar dynasty and made himself shah in 1925, he ushered in a new wave of reforms and modernization that included attempts to outlaw homosexuality entirely and a ferocious – ultimately successful – assault on classical Persian poetry. Iraj Mirza, previously known for his homoerotic poems, “joined other leading political figures of this period in encouraging compulsory heterosexuality.” These politicians and intellectuals insisted that “true patriotism required switching one’s sexual orientation from boys to women… Other intellectuals and educators pressed for the elimination of poems with homosexual themes from school textbooks.”

Leading this crusade was a famous historian and prolific journalist, Ahmad Kasravi, “who helped shape many cultural and educational policies during the 1930s and 1940s.” Kasravi founded a nationalist movement, Pak Dini (Purity of Religion), which developed a broad following. An admirer of MN, Kasravi preached that “homosexuality was a measure of cultural backwardness,” that Sufi poets of homoeroticism led “parasitic” lives, and that their queer poetry “was dangerous and had

Youth and Suitors

Youth and Suitors

to be eliminated.”

Kasravi’s Pak Dini movement “went so far as to institute a festival of book burning, held on winter solstice. Books deemed harmful and amoral were thrown into a bonfire in an event that seemed to echo the Nazi and Soviet-style notions of eliminating ‘degenerate’ art.” Eventually, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jam, who held office from 1935 to 1939, acceded to Kasravi’s demand that homoerotic poems be banned entirely from daily newspapers.

Kasravi “based his opposition to the homoeroticism of classical poetry on several assumptions. He expected the young generation to study Western sciences in order to rebuild the nation, and he regarded Sufi poetry as a dangerous diversion. As preposterous as it might sound, Kasravi also argued that the revival of Persian poetry was a grand conspiracy concocted by British and German Orientalists to divert the nation’s youth from the revolutionary legacy of the Constitutional Revolution and to encourage… immoral pursuits.”

Afary adds sorrowfully that “most supporters of women’s rights sympathized with Kasravi’s project because he encouraged the cultivation of monogamous, heterosexual love in marriage… In this period, neither Kasravi nor feminists distinguished between rape or molestation of boys and consensual same-sex relations between adults.”

The expansion of radio, television, and print media in the 1940s – including a widely read daily, Parcham, published from 1941 by Kasravi’s Pak Dini movement – resulted in a nationwide discussion about the evils of pederasty and, ultimately, in significant official censorship of literature. References to same-sex love and the love of boys were eliminated in textbooks and even in new editions of classical poetry. “Classical poems were now illustrated by miniature paintings celebrating heterosexual, rather than homosexual, love and students were led to believe that the love object was always a woman, even when the text directly contradicted that assumption,” Arafy writes.

In the context of a triumphant censorship that erased from the popular collective memory the enormous literary and cultural heritage of what Afary terms “the ethics of male love” in the classical Persian period, it is hardly surprising as Afary earlier noted in “Foucault and the Iranian Revolution” that the virulence of the current Iranian regime’s anti-homosexual repression stems in part from the role homosexuality played in the 1979 revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers to power.

In that earlier work, she and her co-author, Kevin B. Anderson, wrote: “There is… a long tradition in nationalist movements of consolidating power through narratives that affirm patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality, attributing sexual abnormality and immorality to a corrupt ruling elite that is about to be overthrown and/or is complicit with foreign imperialism. Not all the accusations leveled against the [the deposed shah of Iran, and his] Pahlevi family and their wealthy supporters stemmed from political and economic grievances. A significant portion of the public anger was aimed at their ‘immoral’ lifestyle. There were rumors that a gay lifestyle was rampant at the court. The shah’s prime minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, was said to have been a homosexual. The satirical press routinely lampooned him for his meticulous attire, the purple orchid in his lapel, and his supposed marriage of convenience. The shah himself was rumored to be bisexual. There were reports that a close male friend of the shah from Switzerland, a man who knew him from their student days in that country, routinely visited him.

“But the greatest public outrage was aimed at two young, elite men with ties to the court who held a mock wedding ceremony. Especially to the highly religious, this was public confirmation that the Pahlevi house was corrupted with the worst kinds of sexual transgressions, that the shah was no longer master of his own house. These rumors contributed to public anger, to a sense of shame and outrage, and ultimately were used by the Islamists in their calls for a revolution.”

Soon after coming to power in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini established the death penalty for homosexuality.

In “Sexual Politics in Modern Iran,” Afary sums up the situation for homosexuals under the Ahmadinejad regime in this way: “While the shari’a [Islamic law] requires either the actual confession of the accused or four witnesses who observed them in flagrante delicto, today’s authorities look only for medical evidence of penetration in homosexual relationships. Upon finding such evidence, they pronounce the death sentence. Because execution of men on charges of homosexuality has prompted international outrage, the state has tended to compound these charges with others, such as rape and pedophilia. Continual use of these tactics has undermined the status of Iran’s gay community and attenuated public sympathy for them. Meanwhile, many Iranians believe that pedophilia is rampant in the religious cities of Qum and Mashad, including in the seminaries, where temporary marriage and prostitution are also pervasive practices.” (Full disclosure: in her section on gays in today’s Iran, Afary cites my reporting several times and thanks me in the book’s acknowledgements for sharing materials and insights with her.)

In this necessarily truncated summary of some of Afary’s most significant and nuanced findings and revelations with respect to homosexuality, it is impossible to do justice to the full sweep and scope of “Sexual Politics in Iran,” the larger part of which is devoted to the role of Iranian women, and to their struggles for freedom which began in the 19th century. But as Afary herself writes, “[F]or a very long time even talking about the pervasive homoeroticism of the region’s premodern culture had been labeled ‘Orientalism’… [but] increasingly I found that one could not simply talk about gender and women’s rights, particularly rights within marriage, without addressing the subject of same-sex relations.”

This she has done with uncommon sensitivity, intellectual rigor, engagement, subtlety, and skill.

And for that, both Iranian lesbians and gays and feminists in that nation owe Afary an enormous debt of gratitude, as do all of us concerned with sexual liberation for everyone worldwide

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his infamous claim at a September 2007 Columbia University appearance that “”In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” the world laughed at the absurdity of this pretense.

Now, a forthcoming book by a leading Iranian scholar in exile, which details both the long history of homosexuality in that nation and the origins of the campaign to erase its traces, not only provides a superlative reply to Ahmadinejad, but demonstrates forcefully that political homophobia was a Western import to a culture in which same-sex relations were widely tolerated and frequently celebrated for well over a thousand years.

“Sexual Politics in Modern Iran,” to be published at the end of next month by Cambridge University Press, is a stunningly researched history and analysis of the evolution of gender and sexuality that will provide a transcendent tool both to the vibrant Iranian women’s movement today fighting the repression of the ayatollahs and to Iranian same-sexers hoping for liberation from a theocracy that condemns them to torture and death.

Its author, Janet Afary, president of the International Society of Iranian Scholars, is a professor of history and women’s studies at Purdue University who has already published several authoritative works on Iranian sexual politics, notably the revealing and award-winning “Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islam” (2005), in which she already demonstrated a remarkable sympathy for gay and lesbian people.

In her new book, Afary’s extensive section on pre-modern Iran, documented by a close reading of ancient texts, portrays the dominant form of same-sex relations as a highly-codified “status-defined homosexuality,” in which an older man – presumably the active partner in sex – acquired a younger partner, or amrad.

Afary demonstrates how, in this period, “male homoerotic relations in Iran were bound by rules of courtship such as the bestowal of presents, the teaching of literary texts, bodybuilding and military training, mentorship, and the development of social contacts that would help the junior partner’s career. Sometimes men exchanged vows, known as brotherhood sigehs [a form of contractual temporary marriage, lasting from a few hours to 99 years, common among heterosexuals] with homosocial or homosexual overtones.

“These relationships were not only about sex, but also about cultivating affection between the partners, placing certain responsibilities on the man with regard to the future of the boy. Sisterhood sigehs involving lesbian practices were also common in Iran. A long courtship was important in these relations. The couple traded gifts, traveled together to shrines, and occasionally spent the night together. Sigeh sisters might exchange vows on the last few days of the year, a time when the world ‘turned upside down,’ and women were granted certain powers over men.”

Examples of the codes governing same-sex relations were to be found in the “Mirror for Princes genre of literature (andarz nameh) [which] refers to both homosexual and heterosexual relations. Often written by fathers for sons, or viziers for sultans, these books contained separate chapter headings on the treatment of male companions and of wives.”

One such was the Qabus Nameh (1082-1083), in which a father advises a son: “As between women and youths, do not confine your inclinations to either sex; thus you may find enjoyment from both kinds without either of the two becoming inimical to you… During the summer let your desires incline toward youths, and during the winter towards women.”

Afary dissects how “classical Persian literature (twelfth to fifteenth centuries)…overflowed with same-sex themes (such as passionate homoerotic allusions, symbolism, and even explicit references to beautiful young boys.)” This was true not only of the Sufi masters of this classical period but of “the poems of the great twentieth-century poet Iraj Mirza (1874-1926)… Classical poets also celebrated homosexual relationships between kings and their pages.”

Afary also writes that “homosexuality and homoerotic expressions were embraced in numerous other public spaces beyond the royal court, from monasteries and seminaries to taverns, military camps, gymnasiums, bathhouses, and coffeehouses… Until the mid-seventeenth century, male houses of prostitution (amrad khaneh) were recognized, tax-paying establishments.”

While Afary explores the important role of class in same-sex relations, she also illuminates how “Persian Sufi poetry, which is consciously erotic as well as mystical, also celebrated courtship rituals between [men] of more or less equal status… The bond between lover and beloved was… based on a form of chivalry (javan mardi). Love led one to higher ethical ideals, but love also constituted a contract, wherein the lover and the beloved had specific obligations and responsibilities to one another, and the love that bound them both… Sufi men were encouraged to use homoerotic relations as a pathway to spiritual love.”

Unmistakably lesbian sigeh courtship rituals, which continued from the classical period into the twentieth century, were also codified: “Tradition dictated that one [woman] who sought another as ‘sister’ approached a love broker to negotiate the matter. The broker took a tray of sweets to the prospective beloved. In the middle of the tray was a carefully placed dildo or doll made of wax or leather. If the beloved agreed to the proposal, she threw a sequined white scarf (akin to a wedding veil) over the tray… If she was not interested, she threw a black scarf on the tray before sending it back.”

As late as the last half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, “Iranian society remained accepting of many male and female homoerotic practices… Consensual and semi-open pederastic relations between adult men and amrads were common within various sectors of society.” What Afary terms a “romantic bisexuality” born in the classical period remained prevalent at court and among elite men and women, and “a form of serial love (‘eshq-e mosalsal) was commonly practiced [in which] their love could shift back and forth from girl to boy and back to girl.”

In the court of Naser al-Din Shah, who ruled Persia from 1848 to 1896, keeping boy concubines was still an acceptable practice, and the shah himself (in addition to his wives and harem) had a young male lover, Malijak, whom he “loved more than anyone else.” In his memoirs, Malijak recalled proudly, “the king’s love for me reached the point where it is impossible for me to write about it… [He] held me in his arms and kissed me as if he were kissing one of his great beloveds.”

In a lengthy section of her book entitled “Toward a Westernized Modernity,” Afary demonstrates how the trend toward modernization which emerged during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 and which gave the Persian monarchy its first parliament was heavily influenced by concepts harvested from the West.

One of her most stunning revelations is how an Azeri-language newspaper edited and published in the Russian Caucuses, Molla Nasreddin (or MN, which appeared from 1906 to 1931) influenced this Iranian Revolution with a “significant new discourse on gender and sexuality,” sharing Marx’s well-documented contempt for homosexuals. With an editorial board that embraced Russian social democratic concepts, including women’s rights, MN was also “the first paper in the Shi’i Muslim world to endorse normative heterosexuality,” echoing Marx’s well-documented contempt for homosexuality. Afary writes that “this illustrated satirical paper, which circulated among Iranian intellectuals and ordinary people alike, was enormously popular in the region because of its graphic cartoons.”

MN conflated homosexuality and pedophilia, and attacked clerical teachers and leaders for “molesting young boys,” played upon feelings of “contempt” for passive homosexuals, suggested that elite men who kept amrad concubines “had a vested interested in maintaining the (male) homosocial public spaces where semi-covert pederasty was tolerated,” and “mocked the rites of exchanging brotherhood vows before a mollah and compared it to a wedding ceremony.” It was in this way that a discourse of political homophobia developed in Europe, which insisted that only heterosexuality could be the norm, was introduced into Iran.

MN‘s attacks on homosexuality “would shape Iranian debates on sexuality for the next century,” and it “became a model for several Iranian newspapers of the era,” which echoed its attacks on the conservative clergy and leadership for homosexual practices. In the years that followed, “Iranian revolutionaries commonly berated major political figures for their sexual transgressions,” and “revolutionary leaflets accused adult men of having homosexual sex with other adult men, ‘of thirty-year-olds propositioning fifty-year-olds and twenty-year-olds propositioning forty-year-olds, right in front of the Shah.’ Some leaflets repeated the old allegation that major political figures had been amrads in their youth.”

Subsequently, “leading constitutionalists enthusiastically joined the campaign against homosexuality,” writes Afary, noting that “the influential journal Kaveh (1916-1921), published in exile in Berlin and edited by the famous constitutionalist Hasan Taqizadeh, had led the movement of opinion against homosexuality… Their notion of modernization now included the normalization of heterosexual eros and the abandonment of all homosexual practices and even inclinations.”

When Reza Kahn overthrew the monarchy’s Qajar dynasty and made himself shah in 1925, he ushered in a new wave of reforms and modernization that included attempts to outlaw homosexuality entirely and a ferocious – ultimately successful – assault on classical Persian poetry. Iraj Mirza, previously known for his homoerotic poems, “joined other leading political figures of this period in encouraging compulsory heterosexuality.” These politicians and intellectuals insisted that “true patriotism required switching one’s sexual orientation from boys to women… Other intellectuals and educators pressed for the elimination of poems with homosexual themes from school textbooks.”

Leading this crusade was a famous historian and prolific journalist, Ahmad Kasravi, “who helped shape many cultural and educational policies during the 1930s and 1940s.” Kasravi founded a nationalist movement, Pak Dini (Purity of Religion), which developed a broad following. An admirer of MN, Kasravi preached that “homosexuality was a measure of cultural backwardness,” that Sufi poets of homoeroticism led “parasitic” lives, and that their queer poetry “was dangerous and had to be eliminated.”

Kasravi’s Pak Dini movement “went so far as to institute a festival of book burning, held on winter solstice. Books deemed harmful and amoral were thrown into a bonfire in an event that seemed to echo the Nazi and Soviet-style notions of eliminating ‘degenerate’ art.” Eventually, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jam, who held office from 1935 to 1939, acceded to Kasravi’s demand that homoerotic poems be banned entirely from daily newspapers.

Kasravi “based his opposition to the homoeroticism of classical poetry on several assumptions. He expected the young generation to study Western sciences in order to rebuild the nation, and he regarded Sufi poetry as a dangerous diversion. As preposterous as it might sound, Kasravi also argued that the revival of Persian poetry was a grand conspiracy concocted by British and German Orientalists to divert the nation’s youth from the revolutionary legacy of the Constitutional Revolution and to encourage… immoral pursuits.”

Afary adds sorrowfully that “most supporters of women’s rights sympathized with Kasravi’s project because he encouraged the cultivation of monogamous, heterosexual love in marriage… In this period, neither Kasravi nor feminists distinguished between rape or molestation of boys and consensual same-sex relations between adults.”

The expansion of radio, television, and print media in the 1940s – including a widely read daily, Parcham, published from 1941 by Kasravi’s Pak Dini movement – resulted in a nationwide discussion about the evils of pederasty and, ultimately, in significant official censorship of literature. References to same-sex love and the love of boys were eliminated in textbooks and even in new editions of classical poetry. “Classical poems were now illustrated by miniature paintings celebrating heterosexual, rather than homosexual, love and students were led to believe that the love object was always a woman, even when the text directly contradicted that assumption,” Arafy writes.

In the context of a triumphant censorship that erased from the popular collective memory the enormous literary and cultural heritage of what Afary terms “the ethics of male love” in the classical Persian period, it is hardly surprising as Afary earlier noted in “Foucault and the Iranian Revolution” that the virulence of the current Iranian regime’s anti-homosexual repression stems in part from the role homosexuality played in the 1979 revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers to power.

In that earlier work, she and her co-author, Kevin B. Anderson, wrote: “There is… a long tradition in nationalist movements of consolidating power through narratives that affirm patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality, attributing sexual abnormality and immorality to a corrupt ruling elite that is about to be overthrown and/or is complicit with foreign imperialism. Not all the accusations leveled against the [the deposed shah of Iran, and his] Pahlevi family and their wealthy supporters stemmed from political and economic grievances. A significant portion of the public anger was aimed at their ‘immoral’ lifestyle. There were rumors that a gay lifestyle was rampant at the court. The shah’s prime minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, was said to have been a homosexual. The satirical press routinely lampooned him for his meticulous attire, the purple orchid in his lapel, and his supposed marriage of convenience. The shah himself was rumored to be bisexual. There were reports that a close male friend of the shah from Switzerland, a man who knew him from their student days in that country, routinely visited him.

“But the greatest public outrage was aimed at two young, elite men with ties to the court who held a mock wedding ceremony. Especially to the highly religious, this was public confirmation that the Pahlevi house was corrupted with the worst kinds of sexual transgressions, that the shah was no longer master of his own house. These rumors contributed to public anger, to a sense of shame and outrage, and ultimately were used by the Islamists in their calls for a revolution.”

Soon after coming to power in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini established the death penalty for homosexuality.

In “Sexual Politics in Modern Iran,” Afary sums up the situation for homosexuals under the Ahmadinejad regime in this way: “While the shari’a [Islamic law] requires either the actual confession of the accused or four witnesses who observed them in flagrante delicto, today’s authorities look only for medical evidence of penetration in homosexual relationships. Upon finding such evidence, they pronounce the death sentence. Because execution of men on charges of homosexuality has prompted international outrage, the state has tended to compound these charges with others, such as rape and pedophilia. Continual use of these tactics has undermined the status of Iran’s gay community and attenuated public sympathy for them. Meanwhile, many Iranians believe that pedophilia is rampant in the religious cities of Qum and Mashad, including in the seminaries, where temporary marriage and prostitution are also pervasive practices.” (Full disclosure: in her section on gays in today’s Iran, Afary cites my reporting several times and thanks me in the book’s acknowledgements for sharing materials and insights with her.)

In this necessarily truncated summary of some of Afary’s most significant and nuanced findings and revelations with respect to homosexuality, it is impossible to do justice to the full sweep and scope of “Sexual Politics in Iran,” the larger part of which is devoted to the role of Iranian women, and to their struggles for freedom which began in the 19th century. But as Afary herself writes, “[F]or a very long time even talking about the pervasive homoeroticism of the region’s premodern culture had been labeled ‘Orientalism’… [but] increasingly I found that one could not simply talk about gender and women’s rights, particularly rights within marriage, without addressing the subject of same-sex relations.”

This she has done with uncommon sensitivity, intellectual rigor, engagement, subtlety, and skill.

And for that, both Iranian lesbians and gays and feminists in that nation owe Afary an enormous debt of gratitude, as do all of us concerned with sexual liberation for everyone worldwide

Shaheryar Ali

The way we think is the bases of every thing. . The way of thinking is what legitimizes one thing and condemns others. A particular “way of thinking” has been dominant in human societies since antiquity. It’s this way of thinking which has resulted in evolution of Religion, conventional Morality, hierarchical society and Patriarchy. Since the olden times certain philosophers have revolted against the “main stream” way of thinking, which essentially was based on a dichotomy of “thought” and “observation”. The constant friction between both and their advancement and evolution to this day is the main source of what I call “conventional way of thinking”. Its based on different , often contradictory understanding of concepts. Different ideas of Logic, Rationalism, empiricism and Idealism make this way of thinking.

Many philosophers of olden times revolted against way of thinking, they highlighted the ideas of “contradiction” “continuous flow”, “unity of opposites” and limitedness of apparent. They were often not accepted as “philosophers” but were called “Sophists”, “mystics”, poets and “insane” etc. Xeno gave a critique of motion, declared that a “flying arrow is at rest”. He was mocked for denying “motion”, he infact was criticizing the logical way of thing which looks at “Time” and “Space” as a fixed mechanical concept, showing that with there way of thinking “motion” can be shown to be a logical absurdity. Xeno’s paradoxes resulted in development of advance mathematics and with appearance of Quantum physics, his ideas about motion once again got new fame. Heraclites, Parmenides and others like them also revolted against “liner way of thinking”. In modern times Hegel developed “dialectics” and proposed it as “new logic” it was a celebration of contradiction, continuous motion, unity of opposites and mistrust of apparent.

Marx gave it a materialist touch in form of “dialectical materialism” which resulted in a first ever organized critique of the established way of thinking and its social manifestation. With dialectical thought emerged the critique of Morality, Family, Patriarchy, State, false consciousness, etc etc. Marx libertarian ideas were destroyed by the totalitarian and dogmatic regimes of Stalin and Mao. Against this back drop emerged the youth rebellion after 2nd world way whose expression in cultural arena was movements of “free love” and in politics “civil rights movement”, “Anti war movements”,” new left movement” and “revolution of 1968’ etc. These were the greatest challenges to conformity and established way of thinking. Most of it is now remembered as “Counter-Culture”.

During all these movements certain Hindu mystics emerged on international scene who associated with “peace” and “free love” movements. One such figure was OSHO. One of the most controversial figures of our times he has been maligned a lot. Osho should be called “anti mystic”. He challenged the conventional thinking, belief system and morality. His main ideas revolve around the quest of freedom and how conventional thought has actually brought all evils in the world. An excellent conversationalist, Osho has been called “Wittgenstein of religious thought”, his work is deconstructive, and he shows contradiction of conventional morality, thought and religion.

He was very popular in Pakistan during the cultural fascism of Zia. Rebel youth was attracted to his un inhibited talk on sex and freedom. After his fall from grace his ideas were largely forgotten but have seen a re emergence lately all over the world even in Pakistan. Osho was a trained philosophers, his talk is an expression of a sharp sense of humor and simplicity of expression. Those who have an interest in philosophy can see that in his simple lines he is usually commenting on some very serious philosophical problems.

This video is a short talk by him in which he speaks about concept of God and philosophical concept of contradiction. Its an excellent attack on organized religion, logical thinking and some politics

In this video Osho is criticizing philosophy, its an excellent attack on Idealism. [All proponents of non conventional way of thinking have condemned philosophy, from Xeno to Marx, Derrida and Deleuze want to destroy the whole tradition of western metaphysics as main cause of tyranny]

Few days back world celebrated Darwin’s 200th birthday. What do ideas of Darwin mean? The religious thought has taken a u turn on Darwin from total and violent rejection to cooption. Osho here puts things in perspective, those who have read Kant will enjoy his talk on “perfection”. Rediscovering Osho now will reveal a lot of new things, one need to be bit non judgmental and listen to him not considering all the package that we have inherited.

Socialism has been under discussion for more than two centuries , now it has been under threat. Many scholars have been writing on death of socialism. On the other hand various contradictory thoughts are on the scene in name of Socialism. I saw this article on the international Marxist website and found it interesting. i hope it will further the debate:

Socialism: what it is – what it is not Print E-mail
By Ann Robertson in San Francisco
Monday, 28 August 2006
“Socialism!” The mere uttering of the word conjures up the most horrifying nightmare for a small, extremely rich minority who, because it monopolizes the productive forces of society-the factories and businesses that make up our economy – succeed in pursuing unlimited profit and unimaginable riches by allotting to the rest of humanity an increasingly smaller share of society’s wealth. Having created an objectively unstable system because of the perilously lopsided distribution of wealth, these rich people are compelled to manufacture on a daily basis massive doses of propaganda to serve as their life-support system, with the earnest hope of convincing their victims that this is, after all, the best of all possible worlds. Socialism, a doctrine which threatens to pull the plug on their perverse system before it succeeds in destroying us, the environment, and the future of humanity, is deservedly the foremost target of this campaign of lies, deceit, and slander.

This small, capitalist, profit-addicted minority has consequently unleashed an unrelenting campaign intent upon tying socialism to totalitarianism, drawing the knot so tightly that the two concepts are pressed into one. One might note, by the way, that U.S. capitalists themselves have no particular aversion to totalitarianism – they have toppled countless democratically elected governments and replaced them with military dictatorships throughout the world. But they also know that ordinary, decent working people are repelled by any form of totalitarian rule and with hypocritical glee these capitalists eagerly exploit this human moral aversion in order to advance their own profit-pursuing interests.

This campaign of lies received an unexpected windfall ironically from the USSR itself. Having usurped state power, Stalin violently shredded every remnant of workers’ democracy and proceeded to establish a privileged bureaucracy which enjoyed all kinds of luxuries, although many people did not have enough to eat. While Stalin personally ruled over the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy in turn ruled over the entire country, smashing every independent voice with an iron fist and murdering those who dared protest. Then, having created its own repressive regime at the expense of the working population, the Stalinist bureaucracy was compelled to manufacture its own propaganda machine to give itself the semblance of legitimacy. Without missing a beat and with his own hypocritical smirk discreetly concealed from the masses, Stalin, with the pious hope that all honest aspirations for a genuinely socialist society would be safely set aside, proclaimed this wretched state of affairs a glorious “socialist” society .

What more proof could an unsuspecting, inquiring person need when the two superpowers, avowed enemies, nevertheless agreed that socialism and totalitarianism were one and the same?

But if one is seriously interested in the truth, would it not be appropriate to inquire whether Stalin, who was intent on suppressing millions of people, might not also be intent on suppressing the truth, if it served his interests? Or should we assume that, even though he fed the Russian people lies while depriving them of food, when it came to an explosive concept such as “socialism,” he became an honest man? And similarly, should the capitalist class in this country, who could lose their vast fortunes if the masses acquire a clear conception of socialism, be exclusively relied upon for an unbiased presentation of the facts? With these questions in mind, let us turn to Marx so that we may be in a position to separate fabrication from fact.

Marx has been credited with codifying the first scientific formulation of socialism. But in what sense is the term “scientific” being employed here? Other socialists, utopian as opposed to scientific, preceded Marx and were united by their moral repulsion when faced with the cruel exploitation of capitalism. All of them individually imagined their own version of a moral, more humane society and hoped that their vision might capture the hearts of humanity so that people would be moved to throw off the barbaric capitalistic system and reorganize society according to the principles they outlined. None, however, offered a realistic strategy that would suggest how their particular utopia could be achieved, nor did any of them argue why their particular version was a more realistic alternative than any of the others, or why it was a realistic possibility at all.

Marx departed from this utopian tradition and established socialism on a scientific foundation by undertaking two studies which enabled him to resolve the above problems. First, he engaged in a detailed study of history which led him to conclude that the propelling force that underlies historical development is class struggle: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” Of course, such a statement is an empirical claim, but history is replete with so many examples that even bourgeois historians have been forced to resort to the concept of class in order to explain historical events.

But the fact that history is generated from class struggle still leaves unanswered the questions, within capitalist society: What are the contending classes? Which class will prevail in the struggle? What new kind of society will this class be compelled to create?

In order to tackle these questions, Marx’s second study amounted to a detailed analysis of capitalism, the results of which are recorded in his four volumes of CAPITAL. A few basic features of his analysis are of particular relevance to the questions at hand.

First, because it is an economy based on individual private property, capitalism, at least on one level, is a system which places everyone in competition with everyone else. In this respect, it is indeed Hobbes’ war of “all against all” where each individual attempts to maximize his or her own well-being at the expense of others. “The only force bringing them together, and putting them into relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interest of each. Each pays heed to himself only, and no one worries about the others.” (CAPITAL, Vol. 1.)

Second, and on a deeper level, we find that capitalism by no means places individuals on a level playing field in this Hobbsian war. At the outset some individuals, because of historical conditions, own the productive forces of society – the tools, machines, buildings, etc. that are required to produce articles that will satisfy society’s needs – but the majority of society’s members do not own them and are consequently forced to seek employment from those who do. The capitalists, the owners of the productive forces, are then in business to make a profit and thereby expand the amount of private property at their disposal. But the enterprising capitalist cannot be content with just any profit; each must aim at the maximum amount, since capitalists are in a perpetual state of competition with one another. Extra profits serve as an arsenal that a capitalist can employ to undercut and thereby eliminate a competitor.

But this requirement to maximize profits, resulting from inter-capitalist competition, in turn unleashes an inexorably antagonistic dynamic between the capitalists, on the one hand, and their workers on the other. All of the things that workers want for themselves and their family – higher salaries, health benefits, lengthy, paid vacations, sick leave, pensions, etc. – can only be won at the expense of the capitalists’ profits. The more the workers succeed in pressing their interests, the lower the capitalists’ profits. Consequently, capitalists and workers find themselves in a perpetual state of war with one another. Sometimes this war is waged quietly, almost invisibly, as workers simply leave work early and let someone else punch them out on the time clock. But at other times these antagonistic relations erupt violently where workers battle cops in order to defend their picket lines, defy court injunctions, and halt production until the owners are forced to their knees and concede to their demands.

Thus far we have considered the relation of capitalist-to-capitalist and worker-to-capitalist. Before we turn to the crucial relation of worker-to-worker, we should understand that Marx identifies various tendencies operating within this system.

First, there is a tendency for the working class to grow as a result of the competition among capitalists where the losers are precipitated into the working class.

Second, as one capitalist enterprise swallows up another, there is a tendency for the prevailing enterprise to increase in size, bringing an increasing number of workers into close proximity to one another.

Third, the growth in the size of the remaining enterprises then requires the assemblage of ever-larger quantities of profit to combat the ever-larger capitalist opponent. And this tendency correspondingly implies an intensified struggle between capitalists and their respective workers.

Finally, the chaotic, unplanned, every-capitalist-for-himself nature of capitalism has the inevitable result of spawning endemic economic crises so that huge sectors of the working class are thrown out of work and production in many industries comes to a grinding halt.

“Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” (Communist Manifesto)

All of these tendencies conspire to compel the working class into action in order to defend its standard of living. Initially, workers will pursue the satisfaction of their needs individually since capitalism, after all, encourages everyone to operate as an isolated individual.

But workers soon learn the futility of obtaining all they want in terms of job security, health benefits, pensions, etc., by approaching the boss alone as individuals, since capitalists know very well that if they concede to the demands of one worker, the others will soon be knocking at the door. But while one worker alone is powerless, workers discover quickly that together they can wield tremendous power. For example, when they launch a strike, production comes to a halt, profits vanish, and the owner incurs ever greater losses as machines lie idle, products sit on the shelf, and customers threaten to seek out another producer.

However, to win a strike, it is not sufficient for workers to remain at home. They must transform themselves from workers who passively take orders at the work place into workers who take the initiative, actively organize themselves, and prepare for battle. They must organize picket lines, make provisions for food, train defense units, create public relations committees, etc. And when all these efforts pay off and workers claim victory, their celebration reverberates throughout the working class. Other workers say to themselves that they could do the same and proceed to organize themselves so that strikes spread like a wildfire. But setbacks are inevitable. Neither ‘the course of true love (nor the course of class struggle) ever did run smooth.’

But there comes a time amidst all these trials and tribulations that the workers come to the realization that this constant struggle is not the result of a few bad capitalists but of the capitalist system itself, a system predicated upon producing profit for the rich by exploiting the entire working class. Workers realize that they are not simply being oppressed individually, but as a class, since profits for capitalists can only be maximized by minimizing wages and benefits for workers. They come to understand that all competition among workers, all attempts to promote oneself at the expense of one’s co-workers, serve the interests exclusively of the capitalist class, while inevitably damaging the prospects of the working class as a whole. They realize that their only salvation lies in acting as a class: organized, unified, and galvanized by the principle, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Moreover, because the working class represents the vast majority of the population, because all wealth is produced by its own sweat and blood, because the working class, like a beast of burden, carries the entire society on its shoulders so that capitalism would collapse in an instant without its willing participation, a deep-seated conviction begins to take hold of the consciousness of working people – a conviction that they alone have the power to seize history, shake society at its very foundations, and remake it according to principles that operate in their interests – the interests of the majority.

So Marx, in painstaking detail, demonstrates that the logic of capitalism ineluctably pushes workers into a march towards socialism. This is no utopian recipe: workers either move towards socialism or watch their standard of living decline. “Along with the constant decrease in the number of capitalist magnates, who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this process of transformation, the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation grows; but with this there also grows the revolt of the working class, a class constantly increasing in numbers, and trained, united, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production.” (Communist Manifesto)

Tired of watching their real wages fall, tired of being told the company will leave the country every time they ask for a raise, tired of monotonous work, long working days, short vacations, and tyrannical bosses, tired of watching politicians pander to every whim of the rich at the expense of the public welfare, working people will rise up, seize society at its foundations and overturn the entire system with the overpowering strength that comes when the immense majority of the population, act in their own interests and in the interests of all the oppressed members of society. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority. (Communist Manifesto)

This revolution – for nothing less than a revolution will suffice – will inaugurate a new age where working people take control of the economy and all the wealth they themselves created and begin to implement economic policies that reflect their own interests. The anarchy of capitalism, where individuals struggle to maximize their own private well-being, will be replaced by a democratically determined, planned economy where the most socially enlightened economic alternatives are implemented – those that maximize the well-being of everyone. “Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labor power in full self-consciousness as one single social force.” (Capital, Vol. 1)

For example, in capitalist society huge expenditures are allocated to military production which are then employed to protect the profits of U.S. business abroad. Whenever an elected leader in some foreign country hints at nationalizing U.S.corporate property there, the U.S. government orchestrates a coup, installs a military dictatorship which proceeds to outlaw strikes, restrict unions, etc., and thereby succeeds in lowering wages and raising corporate profits. But as a result of these measures, the wages of American workers decline as they must now compete against cheaper foreign labor. Moreover, under capitalism vast sums of money are spent on advertising to convince people to purchase products that are actually harmful to them (cigarettes, fast food, alcohol, etc.), or products that they really do not need, or to convince people to buy one brand rather than another when there is no substantial difference between the two.

In a socialist society, workers will be in a position to discontinue these kinds of investments in favor of others that directly promote the social well-being of the majority; for example, quality education, housing, public transportation, heath care, cleaning up the environment, developing solar energy, organic farming, etc.

But all aspects of the economy can be similarly reorganized to reflect the interests of the majority. While capitalists strive to minimize the number of workers at every business, but maximize the amount of work each worker performs, thereby making unemployment endemic, under socialism everyone who is able will be encouraged to work so that the work week may be correspondingly reduced, thereby providing working people with more free time.

Moreover, work itself will be immediately humanized. In contrast to capitalism where workers are compelled to submit to the will of the boss, in a socialist society every position of authority will be elected so that these elected officials will nevertheless be required to submit to the will of the majority, under threat of being removed from their position. With this inversion of power, workers can take steps to organize production so that their own well-being and the interests of society are simultaneously maximized.

Once everyone is afforded a quality education, once workers’ control of production is institutionalized and the work week is reduced, the crippling division of labor that capitalism imposes on its work force will gradually be replaced by a society in which individuals will be encouraged to develop all their capacities. “…[T]he division of labor,” according to Marx, “offers us the first example of how… [an] activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. In contrast, under socialism, we will be in a position to move towards establishing a society in which “nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” (The German Ideology)

Marx suffered no illusions about the possibility of establishing a fully developed form of communism in one single revolutionary leap because the kind of human nature engendered under capitalism – selfish individualism, an insatiable desire for the accumulation of material gain, unbridled aggression and the steadfast determination to avoid as much work as possible – will not be extinguished overnight: “What we have to deal with here,” he argued, “is a communist society, not as it has developed its own foundation, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program)

Accordingly, Marx distinguished a lower and higher stage of communism. In the lower stage, which has come to be labeled “socialism,” people will be rewarded in proportion to how much work they perform: “He [the worker] receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same amount of labor.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program) In this way, people will experience a direct incentive to work.

Of course, this principle – rewards commensurate with the amount of labor performed – represents an about-face from the prevailing capitalist principle: those who have the most shall receive the most, regardless of whether they perform any work at all! Consequently, the wealthiest 200 members of the capitalist class enjoyed watching their wealth double in one year recently, thanks to the stock market, while 20% of working Americans worked full-time but were not paid sufficiently to rise above the poverty line.

One absolutely crucial ingredient in this process of historical development is the relation of the working class to the state. Under capitalism, the state is generally controlled by the wealthy, and democracy amounts to the rich determining among themselves which policies to impose on the rest of society. Even such bourgeois publications as The New York Times have supplied accounts detailing how capitalists – through an elaborate process of lobbying, campaign contributions, etc. – succeed in imposing their will on the public domain. But Marx did not simply endorse the working class trading roles with the capitalist class, taking the reins of government in its own hands and expelling its former oppressor. The capitalist institutions of government have become a huge bureaucracy, immune to dramatic change, a feature which serves capitalists quite well since they have no interest in forging great changes in a system that operates exclusively in their interests. But a bureaucratic government would be anathema for working people, since power is monopolized in the hands of a few while the majority is disenfranchised.

In order to create democratic institutions that could be wielded by the majority, not simply a minority, Marx insisted that the former bureaucratic institutions would have to be “smashed,” as he explained in a letter: “…[I]f you look at the last chapter of my 18th Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next step of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the preliminary condition for every real people’s revolution on the Continent.” (Letter to Kugelmann, 1871) In place of the oppressive bureaucracy, Marx envisioned commune-like institutions that were created by working people in Paris in 1871 and later in Russia prior to and at the time of the 1917 revolution. These are institutions that are created by workers on the most basic level of their experience, in the factory or in their neighborhoods, in order to democratically press their own needs. “Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes….” (The Civil War in France) The centralized power was then to be demoted in favor of creating real power on the local level:

“…[T]he Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet…. The rural communes of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif [formal instructions] of his constituents.”

In this way, “The Communal Constitution would have restored to the social body all the forces hitherto absorbed by the State parasite feeding upon, and clogging the free movement of society,” and the former centralized, bureaucratic government would give way to “the self-government of the producers.” (The Civil War in France)

As socialism unfolds and scarcity is eliminated, removing the blight of poverty from humanity, and after people create new, more nurturing relations among themselves so that the individual no longer looks out in fear upon a hostile world, these social relations will give birth to a new human nature with a new social consciousness where people realize that no one can be free as an individual while others are enslaved. As social creatures dependent upon one another for the satisfaction of both our physical and psychological needs, we come to the realization that our individual well-being cannot be achieved alone. “Only in community [with others has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. ” (The German Ideology) Hence, “…the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” (Communist Manifesto)

Far from suppressing individuality, therefore, communism, as defined by Marx, will be the first social formation that actually allows individuality to blossom. Under capitalism, “… that for which I can pay – that I am…. Thus what I am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality…. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored and therefore so is its possessor.” Under communism, on the other hand, “…you can exchange love only for love, trust only for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over, people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Everyone of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life.” (1844 Manuscripts)

A life in which most of our waking hours are devoted to acquiring the necessities to survive will give way to a life in which our physical needs are satisfied and we can proceed to develop our more spiritual talents: art, science, philosophy, literature, etc.

Finally, “…after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therefore also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner; “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program)

While the capitalist class and Stalinists have gone to exceptional lengths to conceal and distort Marx’s positions, Marx himself, with unbridled enthusiasm, did everything in his power to disseminate them in the most unambiguous form conceivable. And so the Communist Manifesto concludes:

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!

(Originally published in Socialist Viewpoint, May 2001, Vol. 1, No. 1)

Slavoj Zizek is perhaps one of the most well known of the living philosophers. A cultural theorist and radical leftist philosopher of highest grade. Terry Eagleton once called him the “most formidably brilliant” recent theorists to emerge from continental Europe. 

In the academy where Post modernism ruled , where “Enlightenment” was  tyranny , Marx and Freud were the great deceivers and pseudo scientists, Humanism became Fascism and Communism the great tyranny, Zizek made his market by appearing to defend orthodoxies of Enlightentment, defending Marx, Freud , and Lenin. 

His field was nevertheless Ideology, critical theory and Postmodern academic discourse, so always spoke in the language of Lacan , Derrida and Foucault but he made it obvious that he doesnt agree with most important of the Post modern academic assumptions like “end of ideology” or ‘Epoch of Post ideology”, reading the discourse of Enlightenment as essentially totalitarian, Postmodern hatred of orthodox left politics. To many he appeared to be the Messiah of academic Left , fighting its confusions and prejudices.

I never had such assumptions about Dr Zizek though i always found his position on Post ideology a bold one. It seems that during his crusade against the logic of late capitalism, Zizek has fell the victim of the same.

I have in front of me the “London Review of Books” , which has Zizek’s latest article “Resistance is Surrender”. I am simply speechless!! Calling it contradictory will be a insult to great concept of contradiction, especially for the work of a Philosopher who prides himself to be Philosopher of Contradiction, i.e “Dialectical Materialist“. This though is not the dialectical materialism that was developed by Marx. its a “Dialectics of Defeat”. The great work starts with most shocking of the observation that i have seen in my life :

One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return”

I am simply out of words to understand by which dialectical, empirical or logical analysis is this “indestructibility thesis of capitalism” developed? Even the poor Fukuyama had to retreat from his “End of History” thesis but our most radical Leftist Philosopher have discovered “indestructibility” of Capitalism. That being his great achievement, what reading of Marx implies this great dialectical “indestructibility?”.

The irony continues that Zizek later develops a brilliant attack on academic, and political left’s positions on grounds of their acceptance of capitalist hagemony and lack of “true left position”. he writes:

“These positions are not presented as a way of avoiding some ‘true’ radical Left politics – what they are trying to get around is, indeed, the lack of such a position”

One wants to cry , later he laments the liberal left’s politics. The conclusions he draws from China’s capitalism are equally “brilliant”. He endorses Chavez for the wrong reasons! grabbing the state power!!

Zizek’s problem is that he looks to Stalin. The mess he laments is the logical evolution of Stalin’s aberrations Not due to his annihilation .

Marx is Marx because he thought capitalism is destructible , if we know the method! Marxists make state, grab state , not to glorify it , not to strengthen it, not to convert socialism into Statism  , rather they make a State to destroy the  State itself! They engage in defensive violence to end the end the violence it self. They resist to be Victors , not to be mourners , or singers of surrender.

Resistance is never surrender  . In your thouroug reading of great sciences of history, psychology and Politics , you have neglected the “Myths” or you would have known , a Vampires never rise if one has the right knife, and it is stabbed in the center of the heart.

From Stalin to Zizek capitalism is being stabbed every where except its heart! therefore it lives.

Its surrender of Intellect, surrender of the Mullahs of Socialism who have turned it into Metaphysics of dictatorship, tyranny and genocide——