Monday, 25 September 2017

Revolution in the Revolution - Lenin, Lukacs, Della Volpe and Lowy

As we move ever closer to the centenary of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, it becomes ever more important to consider it seriously, with sympathy as well as rigour.  In mainstream culture this is not easy to achieve - in Dublin's leading bookstore, Hodges Figgis, the table of books on the Revolution is mostly filled with the work of reactionaries such as Orlando Figes (revealed to have written his own Amazon reviews), or sentimental tracts about the Romanov dynasty.  Worse, the evidence seems to be that in neoliberal Russia there is official interest in a consolidating figure such as Stalin, but not in the great intellectuals of the Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky - this trend is itself merely another form of reaction.

Here are some resources, culled from the Verso website, which open up a plurality of views on the Revolution, and on radical Marxism in its wake:

Georg Luk√°cs During War and Revolution

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Pillar of Salt - America's Kingdom in the Middle East

In 1945, Franklin D Roosevelt, America's great war president and the creator of the New Deal, the closest the United States has ever come to social democracy, met Ibn Saud on a US Navy cruiser in the Suez Canal.  This meeting - three years before the birth of Israel  - inaugurated American policy in the Middle East in the postwar period.  That policy was built on three 'pillars' - Saudi Arabia, Israel and imperial Iran.  With the Islamic revolution of 1979, one of those pillars was destroyed.  Israel's warmongering and expansionist policies in the Territories have resulted in tensions with the second pillar.  But the third pillar has remained largely stable, in spite of the revelation that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.

The compact has been in some ways a simple one: the United States would offer security guarantees to the Kingdom and say nothing about its internal structures and policies, while American oil companies would be well-placed to benefit in the trade in Saudi Arabia's enormous oil reserves.  The point was not that America would 'take over' Saudi oil, but rather that it would have an influence on its production and trade.  And it would become the dominant power in the Gulf.

During the Cold War, American administrations - Democrats and Republicans - had a charmingly Orwellian nomenclature for referring to the United States's enemies and friends in the Arab world.  Secular Arab nationalist regimes, such as those of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Hafez al-Assad in Syria or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, were termed 'radical'.  They were seen as dangerous, hostile to the US and Israel, supportive of terrorism, close to the USSR, and their internal configuration was totalitarian.  The Gulf sheikdoms, Saudi Arabia preeminent among them, were, however, seen as 'moderate' - because they aligned themselves with the Western powers and largely supported their interests.   The distinction was always laughable.  Saudi Arabia is one of the most violently chauvinistic and religiously fundamentalist regimes of modern times.  The Kingdom executes more people every year (beheadings by scimitar are a public spectacle) than ISIS.  There is no democracy, and women's rights remain extremely circumscribed.  The Kingdom is the possession of the royal family descended from Ibn Saud - now about 5000 princes and other neo-feudal aristocrats.  Censorship and propaganda are pervasive, torture is routine, and corruption an ever-greater problem.  This delightful state was the destination for President Trump's first foreign visit in his administration.,

Malise Ruthven, a Dublin man and the godson of Freya Stark, is one of the most distinguished historians and analysts of the Arab world working in the UK.  Here is a new essay of his on the Kingdom, just published in the London Review of Books:

The Saudi Trillions