Friday, April 30, 2021

A footnote on European Maoism

 


“The PPS, established a September 9, 1967 in Vevey, broke off from the Swiss Communist Party (marxist-leninist). According to article 3 of the statutes, the PPS was open to orientations of the left: “socialist, progressive, Maoist, ... etc.” In spite of this unusual political openness, the Spark, the party’s organ, insisted on the Maoist orientation of the party...

Many members of the OAS, as well as former officers of the SS, adhered to the PPS in Vevey...”

- Journal du Valais, Nov. 16, 1978

One of the more peculiar stories of the 60s and 70s in Europe is the unlikely collaboration between the so-called Maoists and the European far-right.  The Sino-Soviet split did not perturb the alliance, tacit or otherwise, between the Communist parties of the Western European states and the Soviet Union. But the official Communist parties did not absorb all the left-leaning demographic. For some of the Ultras, Mao was a much more attractive figure than Brezhnev or Kosygin. Surely communism couldn’t end up as a bunch of meaty faced men in bad suits waving at the tanks and soldiers marching through the Red Square like your standard issue superannuated world war II vets! For the breakaway Maoists, the Soviets and the official communist parties were obviously the real enemy of the revolution.

This was the thinking of some on the left. On the far-right, Mao’s revolution also held a peculiar fascination, due to the fact that it seemed to have been the product of the shock tactics of the urban guerilla. The far-right, since the days of the Cagoule in France and the Putschist in Spain had made a cult of shock tactics. Mao seemed, to this group, a very inspiring model. Plus, the war on the intellectuals that Mao was preaching in the sixites was music to their ears. This was the right spirit! There had long been a China cult among some of the far righties – Ezra Pound was not alone in finding Chinese philosophers a stimulant. Julius Evola, that weirdest of far right gurus, was not only a great fan of tantric yoga but, as well, of certain Chinese classics. Saddle the Tiger, his sixties book that preached to those “men who were a different race from the people of today”, was illustrated – in the french paperback edition – with a Chinese print.

Temperament, at a certain high temperature, beats ideology hands down: ideology just becomes an expression of a certain combination of psychopathological elements. And so it is that there always a certain exchange of positions among ultras that seems, on the level of reason, inexplicable. The person who advocates blowing up buildings to show the Man today has a good chance of becoming the person who advocates blowing up buildings to show the Feminazis tomorrow.

The Maoist ultra-rightists are a footnote in histories of the Cold War: but they are a bloody enough one. They did not make much difference in Europe, although the splinter Swiss Maoist party, the PPS, did help the neo-fascists blow up a public plaza or two in Italy; but they made a big difference in Africa during the time of anti-colonial struggle. The PPS became a front used by the PIDE, the Portuguese secret police formed under the Salazar regime and active not only arresting dissidents in Portugal and giving them a good torture, but also in the Portuguese colonies of Guinea, Angola and Mozambique.

 The Salazarist regime was overthrown in 1974 in what is called the Carnation revolution, a course of events that much disturbed Henry Kissinger. The specter of Eurocommunism has long been relegated to the Exorcist’s book of practical jokes, but back in the day it definitely vibrated in the collective serotonin of  D.C. foreign policy circles. The soldiers who overthrew the regime raided the deserted office of something called Aginter-Press on 13 de  la Rua Prasis, Lisbon, which turned out to be the nexus and vulture’s nest of a paranoid’s nightmare: an organization of CIA cutouts, Gehlen pinheads, Nazi and neo-Nazi zombies, and OAS militants – the latter having earned their spurs as torturers in the Algerian war and as handlers of plastique in the subsequent war against their arch-traitor and villain, De Gaulle – which brought together assassins, false paper mooks, intelligence agencies and the fascist paramilitaries in a loose network  of spy versus commie. Among the papers found in the Aginter archives were documents inventorying the money trail to the PPS – which eventually resulted in the Portuguese government  inquiring about the PPS officially.

I should reveal a parti pris: I despise the Maoists who briefly strutted their stuff in the late sixties and seventies, especially in France. After a suitable period of being street fightin’ leaders, they all discovered Solzhenitsyn and became New Philosophers, from which it was a hop, skip and a million television appearances to becoming neo-cons and cabinet minister whisperers. Some of them and their students are now busy cretinizing the airwaves in France, beating the Islamo-guachiste horse – Macron’s way of out Le Pen-ning Le Pen. What a ride – straight down the toilet bowl. And out of all that group, not once even an interesting book! At least the old thirties fascists had brilliant writers like Leon Daudet and Celine. But I digress...

The PPS was founded by one of those gargoyles that only the sixties could toss up: one  Gerard Bulliard. Bulliard was a product of the Vevey boxing scene, which was apparently competitive enough to send a contingent to Moscow in 1959. Bulliard liked what he saw, and immediately converted to communism. But his experiences back in Switzerland with the communist party could not appease his thirst for a more thrilling Marxist-Leninism – this was a man who wanted a revolutionary KO now. After a trip to Albania, Bulliard, who was fond of founding international revolutionary fronts, which allowed him, after a while, the further delight of expelling heretics from these same international revolutionary fronts, founded the PPS and became not only welcome at the Chinese embassy in Berne, but also welcome to covert meetings with various secret policemen of all types – the Gehlen type, the Portuguese type, the Italian type. The PPS became a front for crooked stuff. It’s newspaper, l’Etincelle – named after Lenin’s paper, the Spark – specialized in denouncing the Soviets, the students, and the Jews. Especially the Jews. Perhaps this shows the influence of one of L’Etincelle’s “journalists”, Robert Leroy. Leroy trailed a colorful past behind him: a member of the Charlemagne SS brigade in the war, a group of French volunteers who fought with the Nazis on the Eastern front; an associate of the plastiqueurs of the OAS; and an agent of the PIDE. L’Etincelle had a couple thousand readers, but that didn’t prevent it from making Leroy the paper’s “correspondent” in Africa, where he interviewed African revolutionaries (who believed they were being interviewed by a Maoist paper) and sharing information with the PIDE. Many of his interviewees were either assassinated or escaped assassination after he interviewed them. Coincidence!

After the Salazar regime was overturned, Bulliard, apparently, turned to other pursuits: fortunetelling, for instance. A good summary of his life was written by Jean-Philippe Chenaux for Commentaire.

"Me, Gérard Bulliard, said Bulliard, I am announcing my death on April 22, 2009, at the age of 82 ...". This unusual ad that appeared on the 24-hour mortuary page (April 28) left more than one reader stunned. Does not the deceased go so far as to publicly confess two "cute sins", "a good trend for" petticoat "and" good food "? The most disturbing thing is when this lover of ladies' thighs insists heavily on his "loyalty in friendships", "loyal friendships" which allowed him to "keep morale up to the end". These must be “post-sixty-ninth” friendships, because Gérard Bulliard made himself known from 1964 to 1969 by his repeated political infidelities and as a great excommunicator of “comrades” at the head of the smallest party. Communist of Western Europe.”

Bulliard is a footnote. At least in Switzerland. FRELIMO in Mozambique might have other ideas.

 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tove Ditlevsen's Copenhagen Trilogy - a note

 

The program era killed the proletarian novel.

Or perhaps, it died when the cold war turned to modernism. Whatever the causes of death, the corpse seems to be largely unmourned. The disorganization of the working class has extended into our multi-media moronosphere – it is rare thing for a sitcom to feature even a lower middle class protagonist. The suburbs and the professional class won. And specialization won – who among us believes that the garbageman may be reading Marx, or even Upton Sinclair, on the side?

This happened in my lifetime. When I was a young sprout, the above scenario would not have been artistically implausible. I myself, working as a janitor at a Sears Warehouse, spent my breaks reading Wittgenstein, as the dock guys played dominoes. To my mind, the slap of dominoes and the Philosophical Investigations still belong together.

I’ve been reading Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy, and as is the way of your wired reader, I have also been reading around the reviews. My review: read this fucking piece of high and glorious art this year, don’t wait, don’t hesitate. I have noticed that the reviews concentrate on the issue of gender in the books, and skip right over class. This makes some sense, given our numbness to class, but to me this is prole literature at its finest. I class the CT with two other novels – Hamsun’s Hunger, and Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children – both, as well, about writers. Writers before the program era. Hunger is an obvious predecessor – Hamsun’s protagonist starves in Copenhagen, living off the paltry sums he earns writing, the whole book a fugue of refusal. The Man who Loved Children is more upscale, the Pollit family being, by ancestry and education, more whitecollar – yet existing on little, as happened in the Great Depression. Stead’s sense of the way a vocation is strangled in youth, and has to strangle back if it is to survive – which is the pattern of Louie Pollit’s childhood – echoes with Tove’s own struggle, against overwhelming odds, to be a poet in a neighborhood where being a steadily employed and unionized factory worker is the ultimate good. The class lines are always blurred when you get down to the details – I think of social categories as more polythetic than absolute, if you know what I mean. What do I mean? I mean, there is a cultural family resemblance between the poorly paid school teacher, the furniture factory worker, and the secretary, even if I could well divide up the labor determinants between productive and non-productive labor.

Typically, the reviews erase the class culture in the Copenhagen Trilogy and impose the neoliberal term: poor. Poverty, as Marx realized early on, is a charity term, not a sociological one. It disguises – as it is meant to – the exploitation of low income labor, dipping it in a vaseline smear of piety and disguised culpability-mongering. Being poor is a pitiable state, as well as one that probably is the individual’s own fault. Being poor is not, and is never, a state created by capitalism in order to exploit labor for profit, that surplus value always being absorbed by the top. When you have the poor and the rich, of course the rich become individuals too – self-made individuals, so smart, so hard working! We all know how the wheels spin on this thing. Hilton Als review in the New Yorker is almost a parody of Clintonism.

“Times are hard. But they’ve always been hard. Tove’s parents met while both were employed at a bakery before the First World War. Ditlev, who was ten years Alfrida’s senior, had been sent to work as a shepherd when he was six. Social advancement was connected to economic advancement, and you couldn’t achieve either without an education.”

Of course, you couldn’t achieve economic advancement without unionism, a big theme in the book, and the connection between education and economic advancement – the era of “human capital” and giving our poors the ability to code! – occurred well after Tove Ditlevsen’s death. Tove’s desire is not really for social advancement in the first two books, it is an actual desire to be a published poet. That one’s passion for art doesn’t translate into economic and social advancement is, for our neolib era, a curious perversion, much less understandable that BDSM.

This isn’t to say that the Copenhagen Trilogy is a leftist tale. The immersion in proletarian culture is shot through with political gestures, but not a lot of political thinking. However, the world here is clearly related to an actually existing class and class consciousness. I find it fascinating that this sign system is so utterly unrecognizable – or at least not very acknowledged – now.

 

Danton's fate: notes on Lukacs, Buchner and Epicurus

 

 

 


“Philippeau, welch trübe Augen! Hast du dir ein Loch in die rote Mütze gerissen? Hat der heilige Jakob ein böses Gesicht gemacht? Hat es während des Guillotinierens geregnet? Oder hast du einen schlechten Platz bekommen und nichts sehen können?” - Herault in Danton’s Death

“Philippeau, what sad eyes! Did you rip a hole in your red cap? Did St. Jacob give you the evil eye? Did it rain during the guillotining? Or did you get a bad seat and couldn’t see anything?”

In 1939, Georg Lukacs, who was living, I believe, in Moscow at the time, published an essay about Georg Büchner with a typically tendentious Lukacs-ian title, Georg Büchner and his Fascist Misrepresentation. It was another potshot in Lukacs’s shooting war on European irrationalism, of which the leading philosophical figure was, of course, Heidegger – although as we all know, Lukacs, in his Weber days, writing things like Soul and Form, got pretty fuckin close to irrationality – thought that yearns to be appreciated for its yearning to be thought - himself. Like a cuckoo in the nest, the yearning pushes out content – but in reality, according to Lukacs, the vacuum of content reflects a plenitude of class interest.

Lukacs’ attack is on Büchner ’s alleged despair, and he alludes to the evidence for it that has been pondered by all Büchner scholars – the letter he wrote to a friend about the French Revolution, which he researched before writing the play.

“For several days now I have taken every opportunity of taking pen in hand, but have found it impossible to put down so much as a single word. I have been studying the history of the Revolution. I have felt as though crushed beneath the fatalism of History. I find in human nature a terrifying sameness, and in the human condition an inexorable force granted to all and to none. The individual is no more than foam on the wave, greatness mere chance, the mastery of genius a puppet play, a ludicrous struggle aganst a branzen law which to acknowledge is the highest achievement, which to master, impossible. I no longer intend to bow down to the parade horses and bystanders of History. I have grown accustomed to the sight of blood. But I am no guillotine blade. The word must is one of the curses with which Mankind is baptized. The saying: It must needs be that offenses come; but woe to him by whom the offense cometh” is terrifying. What is it in us that lies, murders, steals? I no longer care to pursue this thought.”

Of course, as Lukacs pointed out, to make this letter Büchner’s final statement on the matter is unfair. Buchner wrote it – and his play – when he was twenty two. And he had already been active in revolutionary politics. . Lukacs thought that the despair of the letter was, indeed, laced through the play, but that it was absorbed by a dialectical message that formed the real political intelligence of the play. Now, say what you will about this interpretation – and, in his defense, it must be said that nobody had better reason to feel the full fatalism of history than Lukacs in 1939! so his rejection is, in its own way, a little heroic or mad – it is useful for seeing a pattern in the play, a conflict that shatters the temporary synthesis of wisdom and happiness embodied  in the image of Epicurus, the true bourgeois messiah.  As Camille Desmoulins puts it in the first scene: “Der göttliche Epikur und die Venus mit dem schönen Hintern müssen statt der Heiligen Marat und Chalier die Türsteher der Republik werden.” (The divine Epicurus and Venus with her beautiful hind end must become the gatekeeper of the Republic, instead of St. Marat and Chalier.”)

Lukacs points out that the epicurean materialism of the philosophes, which is the philosophical perspective broadly represented by Danton, can’t endure, instinctively opposes, the call to class struggle issued by Robespierre. Lukacs has two very useful grafs on this topic, if you are interested in re-reading re-reading history:

“The central dramatic and tragic significance of the figure of Danton resides in the fact that Buchner, showing exceptional depth of poetic insight, not only laid bare the socio-political crisis in eighteenth century revolutionary endeavours at its turning point in the French Revolution but – and the two are inextricably bound up with each other – at the same time portrayed the ideological crisis of this transition, the crisis of the old mechanistic materialism as the ideology of the bourgeois revolution. The figure of Danton, indeed Danton’s fate, is the tragic embodiment of the contradictins generated by historical developments in the period between 1789 and 1848, contradictions which the old materialism was not able to resolve.

The social chacter of epicurean materialism gets lost along the way. As a result of the objective situation, eighteenth century materialists were in a position to believe that their theory of society and history – and both are essentially idealist in philosophical terms – arose from their materialist epistemology; indeed they belived that they could really derive the course their actions should take from their epicurean materialism. Helvetius says: “Un homme est juste, losque toutes ses actions tendent au bien public (sic).” And he judged himself to have derived the substance of such sociality, and its necessary connection with an ethics of the individual, from Epicurean egotism.”

At which point I am reminded of one of the sayings of Epicurus: “don’t engage in politics.” Or in the Vatican sayings: 
We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics. 

                                                                         2.

 

When Lukacs uses the phrase, epicurean materialism, to talk about the nature of the Dantonist resistance to Robespierre in Büchner’s play, he is following a theme which was taken up in the 19th century not only by Marx, but by the historians of the French revolution and of the enlightenment.

Emile Dard’s biography of Herault de Sechelles (1903), for instance, is titled “An epicurean under the terror.” When Büchner’s Robespierre denounces the wealthy and the refers to people who ‘used to live in garrets and now roll around in carriages and sin with former marquesses and baronesses’, he is referring – except for the garret – to hedonists like Herault, who was followed about, as he performed his revolutionary duties, including creating a constitution that gave foreigners the right to vote, by a few aristocratic groupies. And Robespierre’s denunciation of ‘vice” and those who ‘declare war on God and property” as a way of secretly supporting the King – whether they know it or not – he is sounding an old Left theme that has become perennial - the warning against the decadent life style - but that had peculiar resonances in the Revolutionary period, when the carry over from the 1780s was so sexualized. Mirabeau, for instance, was famous for his rather famous erotica before he was famous as the revolution's first great orator. The disabused spirit of the young bucks around Danton was simply an extension of the final moment of the Enlightenment – which, contra the philosophy crowd, was 
codified not in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, but in Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Herault moved in the Valois circle, which met in the Palais Royale, and included Laclos as well as Tallyrand, Sieyes, and others. As Dard puts it, Herault, on his sofa, would become enthusiastic for justice, 'the sole passion that could inflame the sceptics, on the condition that it did not disturb their leisure."

O Herault! I identify.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...