Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

—   Sw - Sz   —

A paramilitary police unit used where the bourgeois ruling class deems that the ordinary high level of police violence is insufficient to subdue or kill the masses. The acronym ‘SWAT’ is short for “Special Weapons and Tactics”, which really means military-type weapons and tactics including machine guns, grenades, and armored vehicles.

“Early one morning a team of heavily armed police officers burst into the home of Eugene Mallory, an 80-year old retired engineer in Los Angeles county. What happened next is unclear. The officer who shot Mr Mallory six times with a submachine gun says he was acting in self-defence—Mr Mallory also had a gun, though he was in bed and never fired it. Armed raids can be confusing: according to an investigation, the policeman initially believed that he had ordered Mr Mallory to ‘Drop the gun’ before opening fire. However, an audio recording revealed that he said these words immediately after shooting him. Mr Mallory died. His family are suing the police.
        “Such tragedies are too common in America. One reason is that the police have become more militarized. Raids by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units used to be rare: according to Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University there were only about 3,000 a year in the early 1980s. Now they are routine: perhaps 50,000 a year....
        “Some of the uses to which SWAT teams are put defy belief. In Maryland paramilitary police have been sent to break up illegal poker games; in Iowa, to arrest people suspected of petty fraud; in Arizona, to crack down on cockfighting.
        “American courts tend to smile on SWAT tactics. They have ruled that police may enter a home without knocking if announcing their presence might give a criminal a chance to destroy evidence...
        “Having armed men burst into one’s home is terrifying. Startled citizens may assume they are being burgled—the ‘flashbang’ grenades that SWAT teams toss in to (temporarily) blind and deafen their targets tend to add to the confusion. Some people shoot back, with tragic consquences. Radley Balko, a campaigning journalist, has identified more than 50 innocent civilians who have been killed in SWAT raids.
        “Two factors have pushed the American police to militarize. First, thanks to the ‘war on terror’, there is plenty of money available for weapons. Between 2002 and 2011 the Department of Homeland Security handed out a whopping $35 billion in grants to state and local police. In addition, the Pentagon supplies surplus military hardware to police forces at virtually no cost. That is why the quiet little town of Keene, New Hampshire has an armoured personnel carrier called a BearCat, which the local police chief said might be used to protect its pumpkin festival.
        “... the militarization of American law enforcement is alarming. The police are not soldiers. Armies are trained to kill the enemy; the police are supposed to uphold the law and protect citizens. They should use the minimum force necessary to accomplish those goals.”
         —“Law enforcement in the United States: Armed and Dangerous”, Economist, March 22, 2014, p. 14.
        [The Economist is a British ruling class magazine, and like all bourgeois ruling classes they see the “need” for ever-more powerful police forces to protect the rich and their property, and to try to keep the masses from rebelling. But the fascist-like continuing militarization of the police in the U.S. is too much even for them! Even so, they also try to perpetuate the ruling-class myth that the police in this society exist to “protect citizens”. —S.H.]

SWEEZY, Paul Malor   (1910-2004)
Paul Sweezy was an influential American Marxist political economist and in 1949 the co-founder (along with the Marxist historian, Leo Huberman) of the important publication for the American Left,
Monthly Review. Along with Paul Baran and Harry Magdoff he formed the core of the “Monthly Review school” of Marxist political economy centered around that magazine.
        Sweezy was born in New York City, the son of a bank executive. He attended an elite prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy and then Harvard University where he graduated in 1931. He then spent a year at the London School of Economics where he was first exposed in a serious way to Marxist economic ideas. He returned to Harvard as a graduate student, where one of his professors was Joseph Schumpeter. He received his doctorate in 1937, and then began teaching economics at Harvard. During World War II he was a member of the research and analysis division of the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to the CIA), where one of his jobs was in effect to spy on the British government! (U.S. imperialism was already thinking very seriously about the contention among the victors in the war for the control of the world that would ensue after it ended.)
        In 1942 Sweezy published one of his most important books, The Theory of Capitalist Development, which summarized Marxist economic ideas (though with a partially Keynesian interpretation), and argued for what its opponents call an “underconsumptionist” theory of capitalist economic crises. This was one of the first books in English to extensively deal with a number of important topics in Marxist political economy, including the “transformation problem”.
        In 1966 there appeared another important book, Monopoly Capital, by Sweezy and Paul Baran. This put forth the theory that modern monopoly capitalism is inherently prone to stagnation. However, a lot of the argument in that book is actually about how the capitalists can overcome (at least to a large degree and for a long time) this tendency. The authors say this can be done through massive corporate waste, through enormously intensified marketing, through a special focus on military production for the government, through innovation and new industries, and through the massive build-up of debt of all kinds (consumer, business and government debt). That last point is the most central, and does not receive sufficient emphasis in the book. Moreover, it seems to me that their position here is somewhat between that of Keynes and Marx. Sweezy and Baran seemed to grant the capitalists too much in the way of an ability to permanently forestall another great depression, and even—it seems at times—to grant them too much ability to forestall the lesser difficulty of “stagnation” that they talked about. That is, they did not seem to fully understand that Keynesian deficits, consumer debt, etc., themselves have definite limits and must fail in the end, and they may not have realized just how serious this would become for capitalism. Today, in early 2009, we are already getting a glimmer of the fact that for the capitalists, the real problem is not just a “tendency toward stagnation”, but something far, far worse: the inevitability of a prolonged, intractable economic depression.
        Politically, Sweezy and Magdoff (who became co-editor of Monthly Review after Huberman’s death) generally improved their outlook over time. While initially enamored by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, they later developed a more cautious attitude. As time went on they became more appreciative of Mao and the great Chinese Revolution. However, like most Marxists of their generation they found it hard to completely break with the triumphant revisionism of the Soviet Union. Sweezy was one of those who used to talk about “actually existing socialism” in the USSR, meaning that with all its actual faults, it should still be viewed as “socialism”. (At least from the mid-1950s on this was definitely not the case!)
        The articles that Sweezy and Magdoff themselves wrote for MR were in general much better than many of the articles they accepted for the magazine as its editors. While some of those articles were also quite good, there were also quite a number of others supporting revisionist “Euro-Communism”, reformist politics, and the like. Late in his life Sweezy admitted that their magazine should also have played a much greater role in helping to create a new revolutionary proletarian party in the U.S. Interestingly, after Sweezy and Magdoff died, and under its new editor, John Bellamy Foster, MR has further improved.
        See also: Monopoly Capital (the book).

A swidden is a temporary agricultural plot produced by cutting back and burning the existing vegetation. Typically a series of different crops are then planted from one year to the next, and when the land is exhausted for agricultural use it is allowed to return to its original forest or vegetation for a prolonged period.
        Thus swidden agriculture is also known as slash-and-burn agriculture. This is an ancient form of agriculture which traditionally did little harm to the environment over the long run because the vegetation or forest cover in a region was allowed to fully recover before being slashed and burned again. However, in the capitalist era it has become more common for slash-and-burn methods to spread to wider and wider areas, and to no longer allow the land and forests to recover to their prior condition at all. This is resulting in massive environmental damage to the world, and the capitalist system—far from stopping this horrendous damage—has been increasingly promoting it.

“Shifting cultivation was still being practised as a viable and stable form of agriculture in many parts of Europe and east into Siberia at the end of the 19th century and in some places well into the 20th century. In the Ruhr in the late 1860s a forest-field rotation system known as Reutbergwirtschaft was using a 16 year cycle of clearing, cropping and fallowing with trees to produce bark for tanneries, wood for charcoal and rye for flour (Darby 1956, 200). Swidden farming was practised in Siberia at least until the 1930s, using specially selected varieties of “swidden-rye”.... In Eastern Europe and Northern Russia the main swidden crops were turnips, barley, flax, rye, wheat, oats, radishes and millet. Cropping periods were usually one year, but were extended to two or three years on very favourable soils. Fallow periods were between 20 and 40 years.... In Finland in 1949, Steensberg ... observed the clearing and burning of a 60,000 square metre swidden 440 km north of Helsinki. Birch and pine trees had been cleared over a period of a year and the logs sold for cash. A fallow of alder (Alnus) was encouraged to improve soil conditions. After the burn, turnip was sown for sale and for cattle feed. Shifting cultivation was disappearing in this part of Finland because of a loss of agricultural labour to the industries of the towns. Steensberg ... provides eye-witness descriptions of shifting cultivation being practised in Sweden in the 20th century, and in Estonia, Poland, the Caucasus, Serbia, Bosnia, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria and Germany in the 1930s to the 1950s.
        “That these agricultural practices survived from the Neolithic into the middle of the 20th century amidst the sweeping changes that occurred in Europe over that period, suggests they were adaptive and in themselves, were not massively destructive of the environments in which they were practised.” —From the Wikipedia entry for Swidden Agriculture (accessed 3/7/12). [The article goes on to argue that it was not agricultural practices by themselves which had led to the disappearance of most European forests.]

The drastic and disastrous initial carving up of the Ottoman Empire by the British and French imperialists near the end of World War I. This was done entirely to promote the preditory interests of the British, French, Italian and Russian imperialists, and without any regard for the interests of the peoples in the regions they were carving up. And it has led to constant wars and social disasters ever since. It is the greatest single proof of the general rule that imperialist intervention in other countries “virtually always makes things worse”. The reason, of course, is simple: that intervention is being done to advance their own exploitative capitalist interests, and not at all the interests of the local peoples.
        In the discussion below, the important British ruling class magazine, the
Economist, itself now admits that the Sykes-Picot Carve-Up has proven to be a continuing disaster for the Middle East and the world, and has helped lead to a great many additional imperialist interventions and wars:

Unintended Consequences: The Sykes-Picot carve-up led to a century of turbulance
        THE MODERN FRONTIERS of the Arab world only vaguely resemble the blue and red grease-pencil lines secretly drawn on a map of the Levant in May 1916, at the height of the first world war. Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot were appointed by the British and French governments respectively to decide how to apportion the lands of the Ottoman empire, which had entered the war on the side of Germany and the central powers. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, was also involved. The war was not going well at the time. The British had withdrawn from Gallipoli in January 1916 and their forces had just surrendered at the siege of Kut in Mesopotamia in April.
        Still, the Allies agreed that Russia would get Istanbul, the sea passages from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and Armenia; the British would get Basra and southern Mesopotamia; and the French a slice in the middle, including Lebanon, Syria and Cilicia (in modern-day Turkey). Palestine would be an international territory. In between the French- and British-ruled blocs, large swathes of territory, mostly desert, would be allocated to the two powers’ respective spheres of influence. Italian claims were added in 1917.
        But after the defeat of the Ottomans in 1918 these lines changed markedly with the fortunes of war and diplomacy (see map). The Turks, under Kemal Pasha Ataturk, pushed foreign troops out of Anatolia. Mosul was at first apportioned to France, then claimed by Turkey and subsequently handed to Britain, which attached it to the future Iraq. One reason for the tussle was the presence of oil. Even before the war, several Arab territories—Egypt, north Africa and stretches of the Arabian Gulf—had already been parcelled off as colonies or protectorates.
        Even so, Sykes-Picot has become a byword for imperial treachery. George Antonius, an Arab historian, called it a shocking document, the product of “greed allied to suspicion and so leading to stupidity”. It was, in fact, one of three separate and irreconcilable wartime commitments that Britain made to France, the Arabs and the Jews. The resulting contradictions have been causing grief ever since.
        In the end the Arabs, who had been led to expect a great Hashemite kingdom ruled from Damascus, got several statelets instead. The Maronite Christians got greater Lebanon, but could not control it. The Kurds, who wanted a state for themselves, failed to get one and were split up among four countries. The Jews got a slice of Palestine.
        The Hashemites, who had led an Arab revolt against the Ottomans with help from the British (notably T.E. Lawrence), were evicted from Syria by the French. They also lost their ancestral fief of the Hejaz, with its holy cities of Mecca and Medina, to Abdel Aziz bin Saud, a chieftain from the Nejd, who was backed by Britain. Together with his Wahhabi religious zealots, he founded Saudi Arabia. One branch of the Hashemites went on to rule Iraq, but the king, Faisal II, was murdered in 1958; another branch survives in a little kingdom called Transjordan, now plain Jordan, hurriedly partitioned off from Palestine by the British.
        Israel, forged in war in 1948, fought and won more battles against Arab states in 1956, 1967 and 1973. But its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was a fiasco. The Palestinians, scattered across the Middle East, fought a civil war in Jordan in 1970 and helped start the one in Lebanon in 1975. Syria intervened in 1976 and did not leave Lebanon until forced out by an uprising in 2005. More than two decades of “peace process” between Israel and Palestine, starting with the Oslo accords of 1993, have produced an unhappy archipelago of autonomous areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
        Morocco marched into the western Sahara when the Spanish departed in 1975. The year after Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, Iraq started a war that lasted eight years. It then invaded Kuwait in 1990, but was evicted by an American-led coalition.
        The Suez Canal and vast oil reserves kept the region at the forefront of cold-war geopolitics. France and Britain colluded with Israel in the war against Egypt in 1956 but were forced back by America. Yet America soon became the predominant external power, acting as Israel’s main armourer and protector. After Egypt defected from the Soviet camp, America oversaw the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979. It intervened in Lebanon in 1958 and again in 1982. American warships protected oil tankers in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war. And having pushed Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991, America stayed on in Saudi Arabia to maintain no-fly zones over Iraq. In response to al-Qaeda’s attacks on Washington and New York in September 2001, America invaded Afghanistan in the same year and then Iraq in 2003.
        “Lots of countries have strange borders,” says Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut. “Yet for Arabs, Sykes-Picot is a symbol of a much deeper grievance against colonial tradition. It is about a whole century in which Western powers have played with us and were involved militarily.”
         —“Special Report: The Arab World”, Economist, May 14, 2016, p. 5.

See also:
Richard WOLFF

Revolutionary syndicalism—a petty bourgeois semi-anarchist trend that appeared in several parts of Western Europe at the close of the [19th] century. The Syndicalists repudiated working-class political struggle, the leading role of the party and proletarian dictatorship, believing that the trade union (syndicates) could overthrow capitalism without a revolution, through a workers’ general strike, and take over control of the economy. Lenin pointed out that ‘revolutionary syndicalism in many countries was a direct and inevitable result of opportunism, reformism, and parliamentary cretinism’. (LCW 13:166)” —Note 50, Lenin, SW 1.

A statement that from the definition of its words alone is not automatically true. Thus, “A duck is sitting on the grass” is a synthetic statement, while “A duck is a bird” is an
analytic statement (automatically true because of the meaning of the word ‘duck’) and is therefore not a synthetic statement.

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