16 October 2008

The value of democracy

My discussion of the reasons for the demise of the Soviet Union in lecture 35 may be seen by some as an endorsement of the system of parliamentary democracy. Maybe it is important to emphasize that the principle of democracy, i.e. the exercising of power through the people, can take many forms but that the system of "parliamentary democracy" is not one of them.

Parliamentary democracy is the form of government during the period of fully developed capitalism. It serves the purpose to make the people think that they can exercise power and to hide the fact that the power is and remains in the hands of the ruling class and its agents in parliament. (This does not mean that every parliamentarian works for the benefit of the ruling class, but the system always makes sure that the majority does.) As capitalism matures the political parties become more and more interchangeable, and it becomes more and more difficult to influence future development of society through parliamentary elections.

Experience shows that in a capitalist society real progress does not come from parliaments. Real power by the people is usually exercised though actions outside parliament such as strikes, demonstrations and other forms of direct action. If you need proof look at my other blog, The Woolloomooloo murals.

10 October 2008

Minor updates to the text of the lectures

Those who have seen the book version of the web site know that the book follows the text of the lectures. Nevertheless, some minor improvements in the presentation were made during the preparation of the book chapters. As a consequence the book presents some material in a clearer way, and some passages are easier to read in the book than on the web.

In the coming weeks I intend to remedy this and go through the text of the web lectures and associated material to bring them into alignment with the book version. Any changes will be very minor and not change the essence of the text. Amended lectures will be annotated with the date of the last update from now on.

Industrialization in the Soviet Union

In lecture 35 I said: "Supporters of capitalism point towards the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as proof that there is no alternative to capitalism. They ignore that socialism turned the Soviet Union from a backward feudal state into a superpower in a time span of less than 40 years." For today's generation it is indeed difficult to grasp the enormous achievement that the industrialization of the Soviet Union represents. Some figures can provide some background:

In 1923, when the internal enemies of the October Revolution had finally been defeated, "the national income was only one-third of its level in 1913. Industry produced less than one-fifth of the goods, the coal mines yielded only one-tenth, and iron foundries only one-fortieth of their normal output." Many city people were forced to live in the country just to feed themselves: "Russia's cities and towns ... had become so depopulated that in 1921 Moscow had only one half and Petrograd only one third of its former inhabitants." (quotations from David Horowitz: Imperialism and Revolution. London: Allen Lane the Penguin Press, 1969.)

US president Kennedy described the situation in 1963 with these words: "No nation in the historic battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union in the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and families were burned or sacked. A third of the nation's territory, including two-thirds of its industrial base, were turned into a wasteland - a loss equivalent to the destruction of this country east of Chicago." (quoted in Horowitz, loc. cit.)

The bombing of Hiroshima

In lecture 29 I said about the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima: "Whether it was instrumental in bringing Japan to surrender is questionable. The Japanese forces were already exhausted, and surrender could not have been delayed much longer. There can, however, be no doubt that the second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki 3 days later, can only be classified as a war crime."

It appears that I was giving the US military the benefit of the doubt, and this quite unjustifiably. Others have been much more damning in their assessment. The nuclear physicist Patrick M. S. Blackett, who in 1947 received the Nobel price in physics for his work on atomic and cosmic-ray physics, "was the first to point out that the Atomic Bombs dropped on Japan fulfilled diplomatic objectives vis-à-vis the U.S.S.R. rather than military objectives which could not be accomplished by other means." (P.M.S. Blackett: Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy. London: Turnstile Press, 1948; quoted in David Horowitz: Imperialism and Revolution. London: Allen Lane the Penguin Press, 1969.)

In other words, the sole purpose of the Japanese deaths in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki was to frighten Stalin and establish a position of strength for the Cold War. This would place not just the Nagasaki bomb but both bombs into the category of war crime.