“Alexandrian philosophy—several philosophical schools and trends that arose during the early centuries of our era in Alexandria, Egypt. Their distinguishing feature was their attempt to unite Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy and the mystical Eastern [religious] cults.” —Note 108, LCW 38.
A recipe or explicit step-by-step procedure to accomplish some goal. In mathematics this is usually required to involve only a finite number of discrete steps, though some algorithms may involve apparently infinite loops which are eventually broken out of, thus bringing the procedure to an end.
Are there algorithms in politics, or methods similar to this? Yes, there are some! For example, the mass line method of revolutionary leadership involves the endless repetition of this three-step algorithm:
1) Gather the ideas of the masses about what to do;
2) Process (select from) these ideas in light of the revolutionary goal and the principles of revolutionary Marxism, and in light of a scientific study of the objective situation;
3) Take these concentrated ideas back to the masses, popularize them more broadly, and lead the mass movement on this basis.
Each iteration of this 3-step algorithm is designed to advance the mass struggle in the direction of social revolution, or toward a new level of achievement in that revolution.
The past wealth created by labor which now exists as capital and no longer belongs to the workers who produced it, and furthermore which now confronts the workers as an alien force dominating them and working against their interests.
“To the same extent as political economy developed ... it presented labor as the sole element of value and the only creator of use-values, and the development of the productive forces as the only real means for increasing wealth; the greatest possible development of the productive power of labor as the economic basis of society. This is, in fact, the foundation of capitalist production. ... But in the same measure as it is understood that labor is the sole source of exchange-value and the active source of use-value, ‘capital’ is likewise conceived by the same economists ... as the regulator of production, the source of wealth and the aim of production, whereas labor is regarded as wage-labor, whose representative and real instrument is inevitably a pauper (to which Malthus’s theory of population contributed), a mere production cost and instrument of production dependent on a minimum wage and forced to drop even below this minimum as soon as the existing quantity of labor is ‘superfluous’ for capital. In this contradiction, political economy merely expressed the essence of capitalist production or, if you like, of wage-labor, of labor alienated from itself, which stands confronted by the wealth it has created as alien wealth, by its own productive power as the productive power of its product, by its enrichment as its own impoverishment and by its social power as the power of society.” —Marx, TSV, 3:258-259.
1. The process or result of transforming the products of human activity (that is, the products of labor, social and political relations, morality, and other forms of social consciousness) into something independent of humanity and alien to it. From something which should be serving humanity they are transformed into something which dominates humanity.
2. The psychological transformation of phenomena and relationships into something different than what they actually are; the distortion of such phenomena and relationships in people’s minds.
ALTHUSSER, Louis [Pronounced (roughly): al-toos-er] (1918-1990)
A French academic philosopher often described as a “Marxist”, but whose supposed “contributions” to Marxism are difficult for a revolutionary Marxist to see. He was a life-long member of the Communist Party of France, which was a revisionist party for the entire period that Althusser was a member. Although he criticized it from time to time, he never left it. He also opposed the great student uprising in France in 1968 as “infantile”. Nevertheless, Althusser and those he influenced remain popular in “left” student academia.
One of Althusser’s pet theories is that Marx remained “under the spell of Hegel” only for the first part of his life, and that Marx made an “epistemological break” with Hegel in his writings starting in the late 1840s. (As opposed to this, most Marxists recognize that while Marx and Engels did in fact break with Hegel’s idealism before the 1840s, they continued to uphold the dialectical approach they first learned from Hegel (and then put on a sound materialist basis) throughout their lives. There are thus no grounds for seeing any sort of “epistemological break” between “the early Marx” of the mid 1840s and “the later Marx”.)
Althusser’s notion of the “later Marx’s” dialectical and historical materialism is also quite distorted. He views things through a “structuralist” lens, or in other words, through one sort of restrictive bourgeois lens. This involves interpreting Marx as an anti-humanist and anti-historicist (thus having Marx supposedly agreeing with the positivist viewpoint of Karl Popper, who lambasted what he called Marx’s “historicism”). Althusser also had an affinity for various pseudo-scientific intellectual fads and philosophies such as Freudian psychoanalysis, and used the confused notions from such spheres to corrupt Marxist concepts such as dialectical contradiction. Like most academic Marxists, Althusser was fixated on long, meandering and essentially worthless discussions of ideology, into which he also inserted a lot of psychoanalytic nonsense. Althusser divorced Marx from political practice and activity, which is not surprising since this reflected his own academic approach to “Marxism”.
Althusser suffered from life-long bouts of mental instability, and in 1980 he murdered his wife, the sociologist Hélène Rytmann, and was locked up in a psychiatric hospital. While his reputation suffered because of this, it is surprising how seriously he is still taken by many revolutionary-minded students at universities! Among the many other academics (some of whom also have thought of themselves as “Marxists” at times) who were influenced by Althusser are Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Nicos Poulantzas, Jacques Derrida, Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, and even Che Guevarra’s one-time theoretician, Régis Debray.
“The full extent of Althusser’s ignorance was laid bare in his posthumous memoir, The Future Lasts Forever (1994), where he confessed to being ‘a trickster and a deceiver’ who sometimes invented quotations to suit his purpose. ‘In fact, my philosophical knowledge of texts was rather limited. I... knew a little Spinoza, nothing about Aristotle, the Sophists and the Stoics, quite a lot about Plato and Pascal, nothing about Kant, a bit about Hegel, and finally a few passages of Marx.’” —Francis Wheen, Marx’s Das Kapital (2006), pp. 109-110.
The subordination or sacrifice of one’s own personal interests to those of others. The opposite of egoism.
ALWAYS ATTACK FROM THE LEFT!
This is a political maxim for Marxist revolutionaries. It means that when criticizing ideas or policies of the ruling class we should strive to do so from a genuinely left perspective, and not from a liberal bourgeois perspective. Some right-wing ideas and policies of the government are also opposed by liberals, but their opposition is from within the framework of overall support for the capitalist system—and that is not the stance we should take.
For example, in opposing fascist laws such as the Patriot Act in the U.S. we should not use liberal bourgeois arguments such as that the law is “unnecessary to maintain public order”, but rather openly defend the right of the people to speak out freely even if that might sometimes lead to “disorder”. In condemning restrictions on voting rights, we should not give the impression that we think bourgeois democracy is the greatest political system; on the contrary, we should at the same time expose the essential limitations and restrictions of bourgeois democracy for the working class, and the ultimate need to overthrow the bourgeoisie and institute revolutionary proletarian democracy in its place.
In short, revolutionaries should not argue as if they were merely liberals.
A Japanese term referring to the common practice of important government officials in agencies which regulate various industries (such as nuclear power generation) who upon their retirement from government take on lucrative jobs in the industries which they formerly regulated. The prospect of such jobs for those who please these “regulated” corporations is one important means by which these “regulators” are brought to more fully serve the interests of the capitalists owning these industries. This phenomenon is very widespread in all capitalist countries, including the United States, though we don’t seem to have a specific name for this practice here. It is just one of many additional reasons why “regulated capitalism” simply doesn’t work in the interests of the people.
AMERICAN DREAM, The
A bourgeois fantasy inculcated into large sections of the people in the United States during the modern capitalist-imperialist era, according to which every person will enjoy an increasingly prosperous life providing only that they work hard. In addition, this apply named Dream promises the masses that their children will be even more prosperous and successful. The limited material basis for this Dream was the extraordinary exploitation of the rest of the world by U.S. imperialism which, for a time, did allow the ruling class to permit the living standards of at least a considerable section of the working class (and especially the top crust, or “labor aristocracy”) to improve during the quarter century following World War II. (But even then only because of union organizing, strikes, and other forms of struggle.)
When the post-World War II boom ended in the early 1970s the modest improvements in the lives of the U.S. working class also pretty much ended. However, during the next quarter century of the Long Slowdown, the real wages, benefits, and conditions of life of American workers declined only a little. But starting with the new millennium and especially with the Great Recession (of 2007-09), and continuing in its aftermath, millions of Americans have been losing their jobs, or having their wages and benefits cut in a bigger way, and many of them have also been losing their homes. Similarly, college tuition is jumping up wildly, and more and more families are unable to send their kids to college. It is suddenly becoming apparent to millions that the so-called American Dream is not coming true after all. We have entered a period of massive disillusionment about this. However, so far, the American people have not begun to understand that this is due to the very nature of capitalism, and many of them still look for one or another set of bourgeois politicians to restore their fading dream for them.
“Americans are obsessed with terrorism, China, and other threats from
beyond our borders, said Gregory Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times. But the
biggest threat to our future comes from the recent and dramatic erosion of ‘that rather
nebulous notion we call the American dream.’ An ABC News/Yahoo News poll last week found
that only half of us still believe in the dream—defined as the promise that ‘if you
work harder you’ll get ahead.’ More than 40 percent no longer think that’s true. The
Great Recession may explain some of this gloom, but polls from as far back as 1995 have
documented ever-rising doubts about the dream. This is alarming news, because ‘the dream
is the glue that keeps us all together.’ In this ‘diverse, highly competitive society,’
it’s the belief that our lives and the lives of our children will get better that keeps
our myriad ethnicities, races, religions, and regions ‘from ultimately tearing each
“Americans have every reason for their doubts, said Ronald Brownstein in [the] National Journal. The 10-year period between 2000 and 2009 was ‘an utterly lost decade for many, if not most, Americans.’ In inflation-adjusted dollars, the incomes of white families declined 5 percent over the decade, while the incomes of Hispanic families dropped 8 percent, and those of African-American families, 11 percent—an almost ‘unimaginable’ reversal, after decades of steady progress. More than 12 million people fell into poverty. Even though the population grew by 25 million, fewer people held jobs at the end of the decade than when it began. If Americans feel as though ‘the ground beneath them is cracking,’ can we blame them?” —“The American Dream: Going, going... gone?”, The Week, Oct. 8, 2010, p. 23.
AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
See: THINK TANK
Any of a series of quite erroneous ideas, theories or doctrines popular within various circles in the United States that this country is somehow so different from others that the political and historical laws and processes that work everywhere else do not apply here. Examples include:
1. The theory that political classes do not exist in the U.S. to the same degree they do in other countries, that the capitalist class does not really exercise a class dictatorship here, and therefore that there is no necessity in the U.S. for an actual proletarian revolution to overthrow a ruling bourgeoisie. (This version of American Exceptionalism has been promoted by various revisionists, including some of the leaders of the so-called Communist Party USA.)
2. The theory that the U.S. has been uniquely blessed by nature, by history, by its remoteness from Europe or by divine benevolence to pursue a more moral and peaceful course than other countries, and especially as compared to the countries of Europe. (This notion goes back to colonial days, but remains popular especially among religious patriots.)
3. The theory that American imperialism, if it is admitted to exist at all, is more benign and enlightened than that of all other imperialist powers in history.
4. [Sort of a corollary to the last notion:] The theory that the United States is destined to spread its “unique gifts of democracy and capitalism” to all the other countries of the world. (This version has been quite popular within the U.S. ruling class since the late 19th century, and has become a common “justification” for U.S. imperialism and its nearly constant wars of aggression.)
“Belief in ‘American exceptionalism’—the notion that this country is divinely sanctioned with ‘a special mission’ in the world—has become a litmus test of patriotism, said Michael Kinsley. Indeed, ‘the theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters.’ I find this conceit both puzzling and dangerous. ‘Does any other electorate demand such constant reassurance about how wonderful it is?’ Belief in exceptionalism has consequences, because its first tenet is that ‘the rules don’t apply to us.’ Thus, when we choose to start a war like the one in Iraq, the United Nations becomes irrelevant; when we lack the money to pay for our benefits and goodies at home, and our world-shaping ambitions abroad, we borrow what we can’t afford. [We believe] our greatness is destined by the stars...” —Summary of the comments of the bourgeois political columnist Michael Kinsley on Politico.com; quoted in The Week, Nov. 19, 2010, p. 14.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR
An organization of American trade unions, formed in 1881, on the guild principle. This meant that it had member unions for specific skilled trades, such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and locomotive engineers. Thus it primarily organized the labor aristocracy on the basis of separate skilled trades rather than all the workers at a company based on their common exploitation by that company, let alone all the workers in a particular capitalist industry.
The A. F. of L. has always been only a reformist organization and has always strongly opposed revolution and socialism. It favors “class cooperation” and openly supports the capitalist system. It consistently opposes the political class struggle, and serves to seriously divide the American working class. It gives active and consistent support to the policies of U.S. imperialism, including aggression and genocidal wars.
In 1955 the A. F. of L. merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, with the merged A. F. of L.—C. I. O. continuing the very same bourgeois trade union political line as before. In the modern period this has been a more notorious sell-out organization even with regard to workers’ wages and benefits. It is the most important bourgeois organization within the ranks of the “labor movement”.
AMIN, Samir (1931- )
A prominent Egyptian-born Marxist-influenced economist, who now lives in Dakar, Senegal. He is variously associated with dependency theory; the “World Systems Theory” viewpoint; the quasi-Marxist trend known as “Third World Marxism”; and with the Marxist-Keynesian Monthly Review School.
Amin’s Egyptian father and French mother were both medical doctors. He was schooled in France and graduated with degrees in statistics and economics in 1956-1957. While studying in Paris he joined the revisionist Communist Party of France, but later broke with Soviet-style “Marxism” and was for a time associated with circles there who were influenced by Maoism. His university thesis was about the origins of underdevelopment in the Third World, and this has been his central focus ever since. After graduating, Amin returned to Cairo and worked for 3 years in government economic research. Then he worked from 1960-1963 as an adviser in the Ministry of Planning in Mali. From 1963 to 1980 he was associated with the Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP), the last ten years as its director. In 1980 Amin left IDEP and became a director of the Third World Forum in Dakar.
Amin is a prolific author, but his many books are usually short and sometimes tend to have an air of hurried superficiality to them. Furthermore, he has a poor writing style and it is often hard to understand exactly what views he is putting forth and defending. It is likely that this reflects the continuing confusion in his own ideas. Among his many works available in English are: Imperialism & Unequal Development (1976), The Future of Maoism (1981), Eurocentrism (1988), Maldevelopment (1990), Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (1997), Spectres of Capitalism: A Critique of Current Intellectual Fashions (1998), The Liberal Virus (2004), Beyond US Hegemony: Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World (2006), The World We Wish to See (2008), The Law of Worldwide Value (2010), Global History—a View from the South (2010).
As that last title suggests, Amin views the world as “North versus South”, the “center versus the periphery”, or the developed world versus the Third World. This tends to blur the very different characteristics of different countries such as by lumping China together with Mali and Senegal. Although he does constantly mention imperialism, he thinks of imperialism in a somewhat non-Marxist way (rejecting Lenin’s conception of the equivalence of capitalist imperialism and monopoly capitalism).
Amin attributes the exploitation of and dominance over the Third World by the “center”, or “North”, or “the triad” (the U.S., Europe & Japan), as being due to “five monopolies” which the “center” possesses: 1) technology; 2) control over the global financial system; 3) access to natural resources; 4) international communication and the media; 5) the dominant military forces and means of mass destruction. These 5 monopolies are said to allow the extraction of “imperialist rent” from the periphery, though exactly what this means, and precisely how this is done (beyond just unfavorable terms of trade), are never clearly explained. Amin also believes that he has somehow transformed the Law of Value into something qualitatively deeper, which he calls the Law of Worldwide Value. This vague notion seems to have the effect of making the concept of surplus value more complex, less definite, and less clearly understandable.
In discussing the crisis of modern capitalism Amin pretty much follows Sweezy, Baran and the Monthly Review School, as he himself notes. But he adds to this some further dubious innovations. He views the entire period of 1873 to 1945 as being one long economic crisis, which seems to reflect something like the General Crisis of Capitalism Theory. Then there is his bizarre claim that modern capitalism now has a “Third Department” to it (in addition to Departments I & II which Marx described, the departments for the means of production and for consumption goods). This Department III supposedly absorbs surplus value in the form of financial speculation and the like. There is undoubtedly a huge sphere of financial speculation in modern capitalism, but how it helps to clarify anything by calling this a “Third Department” of production is never explained. —S.H.
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