On the recent repression of LGBT Russians

Quite rightly, all the progressive minded people of the world are in an uproar over the intensification of the campaigns against the LGBT population of Russia. Although homosexual acts are not as such illegal in that country, Vladimir Putin’s successive governments have done everything they could short of prohibition to make life impossible and miserable for LGBT people in it, especially young and activist-minded ones. (To what degree this extends to trans people in Russia I am not sure; I have not encountered much reliable information about it.) As often with repression against scapegoat minorities, the process of repression has taken place through a series of cumulative harrassments and exclusions. Yuri Luzhkov, longtime right-populist mayor of Moscow, consistently banned any attempt at gay pride celebrations with the active support of the government; then, the government of St. Petersburg passed a law prohibiting ‘propaganda for homosexuality’, meaning effectively any discussion of the subject at all – except of course condemnation; and now this law has been enacted nationally, with a fervent application to any kind of display of LGBT activism or interest whatever where it could catch the public eye. This is applied not just to locals, but to foreigners as well, as a group of gay activists from my hometown of Groningen found out. Of course, the law is officially concerned only with ‘propaganda to minors’, but this means very little – always, everywhere, the condemnation of homosexuality is based on an opportunistic and imaginary concern for ‘the children’, no matter the fact that many of those minors may well be gay or lesbian or bisexual themselves. Continue reading “On the recent repression of LGBT Russians”

On Communism and Markets: A Reply to Seth Ackerman

In his recent essay on Jacobin, Seth Ackerman makes a number of common arguments in favor of some form of market socialism over and against central planning as well as other designs for non-market, non-capitalist economies. The essay contains much that most socialists could agree with. He rightly cites the failure of the neoclassical argument for general equilibrium to apply in real-world situations under the devastating theoretical impact of the Cambridge capital critique and the so-called ‘theory of the second-best’, and the lack of statistical evidence proving the superior efficiency of market capitalist societies over those of the former Soviet bloc. The historical record of capitalism to achieve general efficiency, equity, and democracy is, in short, atrocious, and neoclassical economics always serves first and foremost as apologetics for this system – we probably need not go into this further.

Also understandable is Ackerman’s negative response to models of a post-capitalist economy along the lines of some form of direct democracy, such as Albert and Hahnel’s “Parecon” approach. For Albert and Hahnel, democratic councils would gather data from individuals regarding their preferences, debate these according to socialist and ecological norms, and process them into a planning system, which would regularly update its information according to the same political processes; all this in order to regulate production for human need. Ackerman is justifiably skeptical of the workability of this proposal, as it would require millions of political debates about millions of input-output processes from wildly divergent sources and for wildly divergent ends. If every aspect of the planning system would have to be truly democratic – in the sense of being up for immediate political input ‘from below’ – any system with more than a rudimentary division of labor would quickly come to a shuddering halt.

For Ackerman, this is proof of the validity of the so-called calculation problem, an old argument from liberal critics of Marxism (in particular the Austrian school of economics), alleging that it is a priori impossible for centrally planned economies of any kind to operate: only prices, the argument runs, are accurately able to convey the necessary decentralized and distributed information that makes up the relative exchange value of goods. Therefore, in any system seeking to replace prices (and by implication, profits) with some form of central management, there necessarily follows a shortage of information in the decision-making process in production and exchange, with the familiar results of shortages, gluts, famines, and failures of supply. Continue reading “On Communism and Markets: A Reply to Seth Ackerman”

R.I.P. Moshe Lewin (1921-2010)

Just two weeks ago, August the 13th 2010, saw the death of famous socialist historian Moshe Lewin in Paris. Lewin was particularly known for his works on the history of the Soviet Union, specifically his relatively recent classic The Soviet Century, which earned him a wide readership. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union was not the country of his birth. Lewin’s life itself was a representation of the vagaries of 20th century history: born in Wilno when this city was still a regional center in Poland (it is now as Vilnius the capital of Lithuania), he fled the invading armies of Nazi Germany to the USSR in 1941. Adopting the ‘bulwark of socialism’ as his new fatherland, he joined the Red Army and attended its officer training school, serving in the last years of the war that was more destructive than any in history and more in the USSR than anywhere else. Possibly the experiences of this destruction as well as the Stalin government, which he from the start seems to have disliked, caused him to attempt building up yet another life in Israel after the war. Lewin left Israel during the period of its first structural turn towards militarism and fascism, in the 1960s, to move to France to finally receive some formal higher education. Continue reading “R.I.P. Moshe Lewin (1921-2010)”

Twenty Years After the Wall Fell: An Interview with a Ukrainian Communist

Reproduced from http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/volodymr-ishchenko-twenty-years-after-the-wall-fell/.

This interview gives a particularly sound perspective on the issues and strategic questions for Communism in Eastern Europe today, specifically in the former member states of the Soviet Union. Therefore it is reproduced in Notes & Commentaries. Continue reading “Twenty Years After the Wall Fell: An Interview with a Ukrainian Communist”

Great divisions of global opinion on capitalism, USSR

The British Broadcasting Corporation recently held a poll in various countries of the world in which they asked the respondents’ opinions on capitalism and the fall of the Soviet Union, among other things.(1) Unsurprisingly, the opinions on the current world system were strongly divided in the world, and mostly between the rich and the poor nations. Nevertheless there were some interesting results. Only 11% of all people polled indicated the current capitalist system worked well, with many people desiring reform or regulation, and 23% indicating it was “fatally flawed”. We may take the latter position as an anti-capitalist one, meaning principled opposition to capitalism lives among a quarter of the sample polled, a better result than might be expected. Opposition to capitalism altogether was still intense in France, by far the most anti-capitalist of the Western nations: in this country 43% of the population indicated to oppose capitalism altogether, compared to 35% in Brazil and 38% in Mexico.

Opinions on the collapse and disappearance of the USSR were strongly divided by bloc. Continue reading “Great divisions of global opinion on capitalism, USSR”