The arrival of democracy

Most pertinently, the culturally trained revulsion against violence proved a poor safeguard against organized coercion; while civilized manners showed an astounding ability to cohabit, peacefully and harmoniously, with mass murder. The protracted, and often painful, civilizing process failed to erect a single foolproof barrier against the genocide. Those mechanisms needed the civilized code of behaviour to co-ordinate criminal actions in such a way that they seldom clashed with the self-righteousness of the perpetrators. Among the bystanders, the civilized disgust of inhumanity did not prove strong enough to encourage an active resistance to it. Most bystanders reacted as civilized norms advise and prompt us to react to things unsightly and barbaric; they turned their eyes the other way. The few who stood up against cruelty did not have norms or social sanctions to support them and reassure. They were loners, who in justification of their fight against evil could only quote one of their distinguished ancestors: ‘Ich kann nicht anders.’

In the face of an unsrcupulous team saddling the powerful machine of the modern state with its monopoly of physical violence and coercion, the most vaunted accomplishments of modern civilization failed as safeguards against barbarism. Civilization proved incapable of guaranteeing moral use of the awesome powers it brought into being.


If we ask now what the original sin was which allowed this to happen, the collapse (or non-emergence) of democracy seems to be the most convincing answer. In the absence of traditional authority, the only checks and balances capable of keeping the body politic away from extremities can be supplied by political democracy. The latter is not, however, quick to arrive, and it is slower still to take root once the hold of the old authority and system of control had been broken – particularly if the breaking was done in a hurry. Such situations of interregnum and instability tend to occur during and after deep-reaching revolutions, which succeed in paralysing old seats of social power without as yet replacing them with new ones – and create for this reason a state of affairs in which political and military forces are neither counterbalanced nor restrained by resourceful and influential social ones.

—Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989), 110.


The only post-Marx/Engels Marxist specifically discussed in this book is Antonio Gramsci.

—Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World, (London: Little, Brown, 2011), vii.

From time to time I am struck both by the frequency with which Gramsci’s interregnum is referenced in analyses of the post-Bretton Woods world and commentators’ assuming the status of passive curious observers. Only democracy can save civilization from genocidal tyranny; democracy “is not, however, quick to arrive” and there is no democratic project visible that one can enthusiastically move to further. This does not bode well for the likely nature of the interregnum’s conclusion.

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Let me just add that the more recent debate between economic neo-liberals and their critics about the role of the state and publicly owned enterprises is not a specifically Marxist or even socialist debate in principle. It rests on the attempt since the 1970s to translate a pathological degeneration of the principle of laissez-faire into economic reality by the systematic retreat of states from any regulation or control of the activities of profit-making enterprise. This attempt to hand over human society to the (allegedly) self-controlling and wealth- or even welfare-maximising market, populated (allegedly) by actors in rational pursuit of their interests, had no precedent in any earlier phase of capitalist development in any developed economy, not even the USA. It was a reductio ad absurdum of what its ideologists read into Adam Smith, as the correspondingly extremist 100% state-planned command economy of the USSR was of what the Bolsheviks read into Marx. Not surprisingly, this ‘market fundamentalism’, closer to theology than economic reality, also failed.

—Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World, (London: Little, Brown, 2011), 10-11.

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Philly voters motivated by crime and Sixers arena

Philadelphia Inquirer:

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Reading The Communist Manifesto in the 21st Century

Marx and Engels described not the world as it had already been transformed by capitalism in 1848, but predicted how it was logically destined to be transformed by it.

We now live in a world in which this transformation has largely taken place, even though readers of the Manifesto in the third millennium of the western calendar will no doubt observe the continued acceleration of its advance. In some ways we can even see the force of the Manifesto‘s predictions more clearly than the generations between us and its publication. For until the revolution in transport and communications since the Second World War, there were limits to the globalisation of production, to ‘giving a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country’. Until the 1970s industrialisation remained over­whelmingly confined to its regions of origin. Some schools of Marxists could even argue that capitalism, at least in its imperialist form, so far from ‘compel[ling] all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production’, was by its nature perpetuating, or even creating, ‘underdevelopment’ in the so-called Third World. While one third of the human race lived in economies of the Soviet communist type, it seemed as though capitalism would never succeed in compelling all nations ‘to become bourgeois themselves’. It would not ‘create a world after its own image’. Again, before the 1960s the Manifesto‘s announcement that capitalism brought about the destruction of the family seemed not to have been verified, even in the advanced Western countries, where today something like half the children are born to or brought up by single mothers, and half of all households in big cities consist of single persons.

In short, what might in 1848 have struck an uncommitted reader as revolutionary rhetoric or, at best, as plausible prediction can now be read as a concise characterisation of capitalism at the start of the new millennium.

—Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World, (London: Little, Brown, 2011), 112-113.

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Let us now praise the robust interchange of ideas enjoyed by free speech advocates, tireless campaigners for justice determined that dissident voices not be silenced by the intolerant narrow-mindedness of a bourgeois public.

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Can the city be saved?

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In Flecktarn-Uniform in der Ukraine


Gruppenbild mit Herren in Olivgrün: Generalinspekteur Carsten Breuer (re.) zeigt sich neben dem ukrainischen Verteidigungsminister Oleksij Resnikow (2. v. re.) und der deutschen Botschafterin Anka Feldhusen in Kiew. (Foto: Twitter@oleksiireznikov)

Deutschlands ranghöchster Soldat zeigt sich uniformiert an der Seite ukrainischer Militärs. Darf er das? Die Bilder kommen in Berlin nicht überall gut an – und sind für die Linke eine Provokation.

Es sind ungewöhnliche, fast schon historische – und umstrittene Aufnahmen. Die Fotos zeigen den neuen Generalinspekteur Carsten Breuer bei seinem hierzulande bisher allenfalls als Randnotiz vermerkten Besuch vor einer Woche in Kiew. In Flecktarn-Uniform ist der höchstrangige deutsche Soldat darauf zu sehen – im Kriegsgebiet, an der Seite des ukrainischen Verteidigungsministers Oleksij Resnikow und führender ukrainischer Militärs, ebenfalls in Uniform.

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Craig Murray:

Now Protest Is a Moral Duty

Two other female policemen were filming with a large video camera from three metres away. Thirty yards down the road were large groups of burly policemen in fluorescent jackets, and beyond them the Tactical Support Group sat behind the dark windows of their mesh covered minibuses, fingering their shields and batons.

Facing Martin were the protestors. There were six of us, average age about 70. …  I felt perhaps proud, but rather puzzled, to be taken for a serious criminal danger to the city of Leicester.

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Lesen gegen das Vergessen

Gregor Gysi

I feel I have my finger on the pulse of anti-fascist fashion. White hair is very au courant this year.

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Tranquilliser use was higher in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. In some later era, the condition would probably be described as post traumatic stress, but one contemporary book called it ‘the Belfast syndrome’, a malady that was said to result from ‘living with constant terror, where the enemy is not easily identifiable and the violence is indiscriminate and arbitrary’. Doctors found, paradoxically, that the people most prone to this type of anxiety were not the active combatants, who were out on the street and had a sense of agency, but the women and children stuck sheltering behind closed doors.

—Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing, (London: William Collins, 2018), 58.

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