26/10/2019 by socialistfight
By Gerry Downing
In Tony Greenstein’s original, reply to me on 10 October (WW 170) he said:
“The question why Hannah Arendt, who was herself a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and someone who barely escaped with her life, resumes her relationship with Heidegger and also provides him with political cover is not one I can answer.”
I will attempt to assist him on this also, as I attempted to assist him in WW 1271 on 17 October on his declared ignorance on philosophy in general and got labelled a philistine for my pains.
As Charles S. Maier quoted in his, The Two Postwar Eras and the Condition for Stability in Twentieth-Century Europe most ex-soldiers only have wanted ‘the happy obscurity of a hum-drum job and a little wife and a household of kids’ or to ‘return to the mountains of the Caucuses, the exciting blue smoke of the foothills…, the sweet faces of loved ones’. But it was not to be. Black soldiers returned from the war for find Jim Crow still thriving in the South and so the Civil Rights movement began. Doris Day might croon her enormously popular paean against the political aspirations of the oppressed in a Hitchcock film in 1956; ‘Que Sera’ was not going to be ‘Sera’, the future was still to be fought for.
Our thesis is that Arendt, with the ideological/philosophical assistance of Heidegger post war, was very important in providing that rationalism for capitalism and imperialism for the non-revolutionary, third campist, reformist and Stalinist left, for accepting Que Sera, Sera, and for reject revolution because it is worse than fascism. As she is performing the same task today for former revolutionists.
Intense political and ideological turmoil
The economic crisis caused by the falling rate of profit internationally has given rise to a period of intense political and ideological turmoil in the ruling class, in the middle class and working class, between friends and within families. It is a civil war ideological type crisis. Boris Johnson’s Brexit predicament and Donal Tump’s impending impeachment are some the manifestations of this. Inspiring working class uprising in Haiti, Ecuador, Chile, Catalonia, Iraq, Lebanon, Kashmir and Syria are also manifestations, even if Hong Kong is a bogus colour revolution.
As are the ideological crisis now tearing apart those who are still committed to revolution on the self-declared Trotskyists groups; the ISO, the biggest US self-declared Trotskyist group, has dissolved itself and liquidated into the US Democrats. Its pro-imperialism makes that its fitting home. The Committee for a Workers International (SPEW in Britain), the largest self-declared international Trotskyist group, another pro-imperialist group (“A Labour government …would continue the war on socialist lines”), has split at least three ways nationally and internationally. In the USFI itself enormous turmoil has seen the leftist US Socialist Action split; Socialist Resurgence, appeared on 17 October, obviously pitching in the direction of the more leftist Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste (Canadian state SA/LAS), who are themselves in dialog with the Trotskyist Fraction – F.I. (PTS Argentina leading group).
The last time this level of ideological conflict happened was in the wake of the defeat of the miners’ strike, the fall of the Berlin Wall and restoration of capitalism in the USSR and China. 1985-92). The WRP split and expulsion of Gerry Healy in 1985 was the most spectacular Trotskyist manifestation of that crisis but there were many others.
John Spencer was a participant with me in that 1985 WRP split but now (WW Oct 10) he has such a legalistic conception of the unwritten English constitution that he cannot see the dangers to a future Labour government of the Supreme Court decision on the proroguing of parliament. On the other hand, whilst correctly taking John up on this, Mike McNair does see the limitations bourgeois parliaments in defending workers’ rights, let alone achieving socialism – shades of the “Gerry and the Soviets” debate at the 2019 Communist University where Mike boohooed my efforts to outline the difference between bourgeois and proletarian democracy and forms of rule.
Jim Cook was also a WRP comrade who participated in that split. But like John he too has abandoned revolutionary politics, but we are grateful to him for spelling out the ideological justification he used for doing so (WW 17 October). Cliff Slaughter used István Mészáros to abandon the Russian Revolution, but Jim has used Hannah Arendt also. He reread Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem … along with many other books on sects, brainwashing … and (got) an inner ‘tick, tick, tick’ as I did so.”
Hannah Aerndt On revolution
But it was her publications “On violence, On revolution and The human condition” and, “her thoughts on democracy in On revolution (he found) striking; to simplify, you only get to vote if you go to the meeting”.
The following information is freely available on Wikipedia. Jonathan Schell, in his Introduction to his book, The Arendtian Revolutions, 2006. pp. 7–20, says:
“In On Revolution Arendt argues that the French Revolution, while well studied and often emulated, was a disaster and that the largely ignored American Revolution was a success, an argument that runs counter to common Marxist and leftist views. The turning point in the French Revolution came when the revolution’s leaders abandoned their goal of freedom in order to focus on compassion for the masses. In America, on the other hand, the Founding Fathers never betrayed the goal of Constitutio Libertatis. Yet Arendt believes the revolutionary spirit of those men was later lost and advocates a “council system” as an appropriate institution to regain it.”
Presumably, therefore, you should “only get to vote if you go to the meeting”. Let us recall that the so-called American Revolution was a slave-holder’s revolution, even in terms of a bourgeois revolution whose aim is to transfer power from a reactionary, outdated ruling class to a newer and more progressive form of oppression, this revolution was only half a revolution. It had to be completed, in so far are the democratic tasks of any bourgeois revolution are ever completed (never!) by Abram Lincoln in the Civil War of 1861-65.
These were Lincoln’s principles that Arendt found so attractive: “If I could save the union without freeing any slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” And he presided over the greatest mass execution of native Americans in US history, on December 26, 1862: thirty-eight Santee Sioux Indians were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, in the largest mass execution in US history–on orders of President Lincoln for believing the fine words of the revolution and attempting to drive out the white settlers from their lands; the revolution was not for them.
No stupid “compassion for the masses” here from the Founding Fathers or the great President Lincoln. That was what went so wrong with the French Revolution according to Arendt, the Sans Culottes arose in alarm at the imminent defeat of their revolution, Robespierre wheeled out madam guillotine in 1793 and “compassion for the masses” had gone mad, it turned into no compassion for the aristocrats who got it in the neck in that Reign of Terror fed by revolutionary fervour. So the great revolution succeeded. And even more alarming was Gracchus Babeuf and the Manifesto of the Conspiracy of the Equals in 1796.
“The French Revolution is nothing but the precursor of another revolution, one that will greater, more solemn, and which will be the last”.
In The Human Condition, Arendt argued that there were three states of human activity: labour, work, and action. “Labor” is, essentially, a state of subsistence—i.e., doing what it takes to stay alive. For Arendt, this was the lowest form of human activity (all living creatures are capable of this). “Work” is the process of creating—a painter may create a great work of art, a writer may create a great work of fiction, etc. For Arendt, “working” is a worthwhile endeavour. Through your works, people may remember you; and if your work is great enough, you may be remembered for thousands of years. But the leaders of the American Revolution were true “actors” (in the Arendtian sense), and that their Constitution created “publics” that were conducive to action. The leaders of the French Revolution, on the other hand, were too focused on subsistence (what Arendt called their “demands for bread”), as opposed to “action.” For a revolution to be truly successful, it must allow for—if not demand—that these publics be created. The leaders of the American Revolution created “a public” and acted within that space; their names will be remembered. The leaders of the French Revolution got their bread; their names have been forgotten.
Fascistic contempt for the Untermench
Surely the fascistic contempt for the Untermench shines through all of Arendt’s works here. It implies, for those who follow her and are inspired by her, that you must reject revolution and only have a paternalistic concern for the poor, enough to keep them in their place whilst the real masters of life, like the slave-holding Founding Fathers and Adolf Hitler, get on with the real work of civilisation. Arendt hopes that the name of the great leaders of the French revolution are now forgotten; Maximilien Robespierre, and Gracchus Babeuf, who foreshadowed the next great revolution, the Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky, which Heidegger and Arendt worked so hard to defeat ideologically and politically.
After 1985 many leaders of the WRP also turned away from revolution and threw the baby out with the bathwater. As we enter a new period of political, ideological, and philosophical turmoil, we must fight the class struggle on all these levels also. Karl Marx was not an English empiricist, ‘the philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it’ does not mean that we must now abandon philosophical thinking. All he abandoned was the separation between philosophy and action, between thinking and doing, between the class struggle at its most basic level of strikes and occupations, and the theory and practice of the revolution itself, the only way that class struggle can ultimately succeed. And this neither Tony nor Jim understand.