Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

—   Ar   —

A series of revolts, uprisings and mass demonstrations that have spread throughout the Arab world (North Africa and the Middle East) in 2011 against corrupt and brutal tyrannies. The event that initially sparked the movement was the death of a young Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, whose fruit stand was shut down by corrupt local officials in Tunis. His self immolation and resultant death sparked the revolt that led to the ousting of the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Inspired by these events, as well as by its own local outrage (this time the beating death of another young man, Khaled Mohamed Saeed, at the hands of police) protestors in Egypt mobilized in their millions and ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, a long-time servant of US imperialism and collaborator with Israel. The revolts have spread to Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, with ruthless subsequent crackdowns by the authorities.
        Where possible, imperialism has tried to co-opt these movements to its own benefit, as seen most clearly in Libya with the NATO operation aimed at ousting Gaddhafi and installing a more pliable regime. The region’s dictators are clearly nervous at their prospects, and have offered a series of concessions to try to maintain their rule. But these overtures have been seen (rightfully) as “too little, too late”. On the other hand, the use of repression has only aggravated the situation, by giving people the sense that they no longer have anything to lose by protesting.
        The uprisings have been largely liberal-democratic, reformist and nationalist in orientation (with some Islamist elements becoming more vocal and active as well, particularly in Yemen and Libya); Communist and Socialist parties have played an active, though as yet relatively minor role (and one certainly ignored by the mainstream media). Nothing approaching the
mass line method of revolutionary leadership has so far transpired. The region, even if it does finally rid itself of the awful tyrannies that have suffocated it for so long, and even if it does boot out imperialism and Zionist aggression, still has a long way to go in terms of building up Communist mass-consciousness.
        In spite of its severe political and ideological limitations, the Arab Spring is an inspiration to the world proletariat. Even while events threaten to see the whole process aborted, rebellions in the Middle East show how, even with misguided politics, it is possible for people to rise up against the cruelest dictatorships. —L.C.

A highly offensive and inflammatory Hebrew term of ethnic bigotry and hatred for Palestinians and other Arabs which is widely used by Israeli Zionists. Noam Chomsky explains that this word is a slang counterpart of “kike” or “nigger” in English. [Chomsky: Who Rules the World? (2016), p. 25.] Every ultra-reactionary country or movement engaged in systematic discrimination, ethnic cleansing and even genocide against some particular group of people requires that those people be dehumanized. And as part of that, they require terms of abuse and ethnic slurs to use against them, at least within their own reactionary circles. The Zionists are no exception.

ARBENZ GUZMÁN, Jacobo   (1913-1971)
Guatemalan social democrat who was the democratically elected president of that country from 1950-1954. He was one of the main leaders of the Guatemalan bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1944-45 which overthrew first the dictatorship of Jorge Ubico y Castaneda and then overthrew one of his generals who had seized power. After becoming president, Arbenz instituted large-scale land redistribution to the poor peasants, permitted the organization of labor under nominally “Communist” leadership, and nationalized portions of the country’s industry. The U.S. imperialists would not stand for this. In 1954 the
CIA organized a coup, with the support of the Guatemalan military and reactionary classes, and ousted Arbenz. Thereafter he lived in exile, first in Uruguay, and later in Cuba.

The simultaneous purchase and sale of the same asset in two different markets (such as in two different countries) in order to profit from the price differential between them. This is just one of the many ways that capitalist fianciers cheat each other, though in bourgeois economic theory it is considered to be a necessary process, and even a “virtue”.

One of the three kingdoms of life on Earth. They are single-celled organisms which are only superficially similar to bacteria, and quite distinct from an evolutionary perspective and in precisely how they function. They produce methane. The adjective “archaean” can refer to either archaea or to the Archaean Era (see below), even though these are completely different things.

ARCHAEAN ERA   [Geology]
The second of four eons in the geological history of the Earth. (See
Geologic Time.) It began about 3.8 billion years ago and ended around 2.5 billion years ago. Life on Earth began either at the beginning of the Archaean Era, or perhaps shortly before. By the end of the Archaean Era oxygen producing photosynthesis was well established.

ARCHIMEDES (of Syracuse)   (c. 287-c. 212 BCE)
Ancient Greek mathematican, scientist and engineer. He was the greatest of all mathematicians and scientists in antiquity, and one of the greatest mathematicians in all history. Through the use of concepts such as the
infinitesimal and the method of exhaustion he anticipated the development of the differential and integral calculus in modern times. However, following the mathematical tradition of that age, Archimedes always provided proofs of his discoveries made with such methods via rigorous geometrical demonstrations.
        See also: INTEGRAL CALCULUS [Gellert quote]

See also:

ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN [For the Existence of God]
This is a religious argument for the existence of God that claims that biological organization and complexity “demonstrate” the agency of a divine “designer”. Adherents of this view will often point to a highly complex biological entity (like the vertebrate eye or some biochemical pathway in a cell) and infer from this that it could “only” have come about through divine agency. This notion was seen to have several glaring problems even before the advent of the theory of evolution by natural selection as enunciated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace. The Scottish philosopher David Hume famously rebuked the design argument by saying that if design is invoked as an explanation for biological complexity, then the analogy should be carried further and applied to the designer itself. For example, it would make more sense to suppose that a team of deities, rather than a single one, was involved in crafting the biosphere. After all, most human artifacts are produced via inputs by many people (and this becomes all the more necessary with today’s technology, which has become so complex that whole teams of people are needed to design and construct even minor components of machines, though the process of automation is itself offering a countervailing tendency to this in many cases). Even if we suppose that there was only one designer, this designer need not have been particularly intelligent; it might well be a bumbling fool who produced the world and its inhabitants after countless failures.
        Secondly, Hume pointed to a logical problem posed by invoking an all-powerful being: if complexity requires a conscious agent to bring biological entities into the world, then all the more must this being itself require an explanation in just such terms. Thus, the design argument doesn’t terminate the regress, but instead bumps it up another level, and in fact hopelessly aggravates it. Hume mused that perhaps it wasn’t a mind that produced biological nature, but a process in which countless configurations were “tried out” and tested. This was a prelude of sorts to the theory of evolution by natural selection, but in fact evolutionary ideas and notions had been around since the ancient Greeks. It was, however, Darwin and Wallace who started to properly formulate these ideas and back them up with empirical content, and subsequent discoveries in biology have strengthened (while also modifying in important ways) these basic concepts.
        Finally, modern neuroscience definitively shows that minds are products of material processes taking place in highly organised configurations; they cannot exist as “stand-alone” “things” detached from any material basis, as such an entity would be devoid of any components required for the requisite processes of information transfer, retrieval, storage and so forth to take place. Minds are necessarily late-comers in the universe, and cannot possibly be used as an account for how biological complexity ultimately originated. —L.C.


ARISTOTLE   (384-322 BCE)
As Marx said, the greatest philosopher of antiquity. Engels commented that Aristotle “was the most encyclopedic intellect” of all the ancient Greek philosophers [MECW 25:21]. He had a more down-to-earth outlook than did his teacher
Plato, and emphasized the observation of nature. Nevertheless he vacillated between materialism and idealism. He defended slave society and its political economy, and “was the first to analyze value and the two primitive forms of capital (merchant capital and money-lending capital)”. In the year 335 BCE he established an important school called the Lyceum in Athens.
        Unfortunately, long after his death Aristotle was enlisted as an authority by the Roman Catholic Church (with regard to “non-spiritual” matters), and his ideas have often been considerably twisted because of this. As Lenin put it, “Clericalism killed what was living in Aristotle and perpetuated what was dead.” [LCW 38:367]
        See also below, and: ENTELECHY,   FINAL CAUSE,   and Philosophical doggerel about Aristotle.

“Modern science is a newcomer, barely four hundred years old. Though indebted in deep ways to Plato, Aristotle, and Greek natural philosophy, the pioneers of the ‘new philosophy’ called for a decisive break with ancient authority. In 1536, Pierre de La Ramee defended the provocative thesis that ‘everything Aristotle said is wrong.’” —Peter Pesic, “Bell and the Buzzer: On the Meaning of Science,” Daedalus, Fall, 2003. [Well, of course not everything that Aristotle said was wrong! But in a Scholastic intellectual climate where his every word was considered as certain as scripture (as long as it did not disagree with scripture!), it was clearly very important to knock down Aristotle as a supposed infallible authority. —S.H.]

ARISTOTLE — and Ethics

“The Greek philosopher Aristotle did not merely condone slavery, he defended it; he did not merely defend it, but defended it as beneficial to the slave. His view was that some people are, by nature, unable to pursue their own good and best suited to be ‘living tools’ for use by other people. ‘The slave is a part of the master, a living but separated part of his bodily frame.’
        “Aristotle’s anti-liberalism does not stop there. He believed that women were incapable of authoritative decision making. He decreed that manual laborers, despite being neither slaves nor women, were nonetheless prohibited from citizenship or education in his ideal city....
        “Aristotle thought the value or worth of a human being—his virtue—was something that he acquired in growing up. It follows that people who can’t (women, slaves) or simply don’t (manual laborers) acquire that virtue have no grounds for demanding equal respect or recognition with those who do.
        “As I read him, Aristotle not only did not believe in the conception of intrinsic human dignity that grounds our modern commitment to human rights, but also has a philosophy that cannot be squared with it. Aristotle’s inegalitarianism is less like Kant’s and Hume’s racism and more like Descartes’s views on nonhuman animals: The fact that Descartes characterizes nonhuman animals as soulless automata is a direct consequence of his rationalist dualism. His comments on animals cannot be treated as ‘stray remarks.’”
         —Agnes Callard, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, in an op ed article in the New York Times entitled “Aristotle Is a Jerk, but We Shouldn’t Cancel Him”, July 23, 2020.
         [As her title suggests, Prof. Callard goes on to say that “Yet I would defend Aristotle, and his place on philosophy syllabuses...”, and thus presumably she believes that Aristotle’s views should still be studied and taken seriously in discussions of ethics and political theory. This is in fact foolish nonsense! Of course some specialists in the history of philosophy will still need to study Aristotle and all sorts of other totally outmoded and incorrect philosophies. But contrary to the way that philosophy is now taught in bourgeois society, in socialist society philosophy should be taught as the science it really should be, and the focus should be on its scientific core—dialectics and materialism—rather than on all the endless discussions of idealist and reactionary doctrines that have infected it in past ages. Any focus on Aristotle (or Kant or Wittgenstein) has no more place in most philosophy courses today than does an extended discussion of the
phlogiston theory in a chemistry class! In most philosophy courses Aristotle, Kant, et al., should still be briefly discussed, but from a strongly critical persective, and primarily for the purpose of summing up their erroneous ideas. Moreover, when it comes to Aristotle’s views on morality, ethics and political theory specifically, there really is very little worth spending much time on there—even from a scientific critical point of view. At least that’s my experience. —S.H.]

ARISTOTLE — and Logic

[Speaking of Aristotle’s book Metaphysics:] “Highly characteristic in general, throughout the whole book..., are the living germs of dialectics and inquiries about it....
         “In Aristotle, objective logic is everywhere confused with subjective logic and, moreover, in such a way that everywhere objective logic is visible. There is no doubt as to the objectivity of cognition. There is a naïve faith in the power of reason, in the force, power, objective truth of cognition. And a naïve confusion, a dialectics of the universal and the particular—of the concept and the sensuously perceptible reality of individual objects, things, phenomena.
         “Scholasticism and clericalism took what was dead in Aristotle, but not what was living; the inquiries, the searchings, the labyrinth, in which man lost his way.
         “Aristotle’s logic is an inquiry, a searching, an approach to the logic of Hegel—and it, the logic of Aristotle (who everywhere, at every step raises precisely the question of dialectics), has been made into a dead scholasticism by rejecting all the searchings, waverings and modes of framing questions. What the Greeks had was precisely modes of framing questions, as it were tentative systems, a naïve discordance of views, excellently reflected by Aristotle.” —Lenin, “Conspectus on Aristotle’s Book Metaphysics” (1915), LCW 38:368-9.


For decades the U.S. has been, overall, the largest seller of military weapons by far. The U.S. imperialists are not only directly responsible for most of the many wars over recent decades, they are indirectly a major contributing factor facilitating and intensifying many of the other wars. The figures fluctuate from year to year, but in 2011 U.S. arms sales trippled from 2010 to $66.3 billion. This was 78% of the total world sales of arms in 2011. Russia was a distant second with $4.8 billion in sales. [Figures from the Library of Congress Congressional Research Service, as reported in the New York Times, Aug. 26, 2012.] A large part of current U.S. arms sales are to countries in the already very volatile Persian Gulf area, where the U.S. imperialists and/or Israel and other U.S.-client regimes are preparing for a probable attack on Iran.

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[Intro to be added... ]

“Politics, whether revolutionary or counter-revolutionary, is the struggle of class against class, not the activity of a few individuals. The revolutionary struggle on the ideological and artistic fronts must be subordinate to the political struggle because only through politics can the needs of the class and the masses find expression in concentrated form.” —Mao, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” (May 1942), SW 3:86-87.

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        1. A traditional workers’ or craftsmen’s cooperative in Russia in the Tsarist era and also after the Russian Revolution of 1917 but before the nearly universal socialist transformations in industry that produced state-owned workers’ enterprises in the Soviet Union during the 1920s.
        2. A similar sort of agricultural cooperative among peasant farmers which began to develop after the 1917 Revolution but which became much more widespread in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Artels were the basic form that Soviet cooperative farming took, and which lasted for decades.

“The early experience of building socialism in the [Soviet] countryside [i.e., before the 1930s] was important for testing the effectiveness of different forms of collective farming and choosing those which the peasants found suited them best. It was in those years that three types of collective agricultural enterprises emerged: communes, artels and associations, differing in their degree of socialization of the means of production by the peasants, especially the land, and in the proportion of the common effort that the peasants put into different farming operations.
        “A commune was run on the principle that its members shared all the land and all the agricultural implements which were used in their common effort. In an artel the peasants had common use of the principal means of production, while retaining as their personal property meat and dairy cattle, poultry, the plots around their homes, and some agricultural implements. The associations for the joint cultivation of the land were set up only on part of socialized farm fields which were worked collectively with machines and implements bought by all their members.
        “In the first year after the 1917 Revolution more than fifty per cent of all the collective farms were communes, while in subsequent [early] years the most stable form of collective farming was the agricultural artel.” —Valeria Selunskaya & Vladimir Tetyushev, “How Collective Farming Was Established in the USSR: Facts and Fiction”, Moscow: 1982), p. 18, [online at:
https://www.bannedthought.net/USSR/Economy-CapitalistEra/HowCollectiveFarmingWasEstablishedInTheUSSR-1982-OCR-sm.pdf ].
        [The artel form thus became the model for all the agricultural collectivization in the Soviet Union during the 1930s and beyond. Unlike the situation in China, where collectivization proceded step-by-step in an ever more socialized manner all the way up to the Chinese People’s Commune form, rural cooperation in the Soviet Union remained fixed at the artel level with little or no later effort by the CPSU to transform it into more socialized forms, let alone into state farms. (Though a number of state farms did exist in parallel with the much larger number of rural cooperatives.) —Ed.]

        1. The capability of a machine (which is either a
computer or which includes a computer) to perform actions which—if done by a human being—would be viewed as demonstrating intelligence. (In this sense, AI only imitates or emulates genuine human intelligence.)
        2. The capability of a machine or artificial entity of some sort to actually be intelligent in various ways. (It is not commonly understood that the first sense of the term merges into this second sense, and that genuine intelligence is not the mysterious thing it is often imagined to be.)
        More or less everything that computers can do might be considered to be AI in the first sense, including even just adding two numbers together. The early work by computer scientists in the field of artificial intelligence was generally more like the first sense, whereas the goal has pretty much always been to develop AI in the second sense. At the present time the results of work in AI research are just beginning to move from the first sense of the term to the second sense, the real goal.
        Serious efforts to develop artificial intelligence began during the 1950s, and it was not originally understood how difficult it would be to create computer programs which were truly intelligent. There were many naïve predictions that computers as intelligent as people were only a decade or two away. However, this initial and frequently repeated excessive optimism has led many people to falsely conclude that true AI will never really come about—even though we are seeing some major breakthroughs at the present time.
        Once the initial notions that writing intelligent computer programs would be easy came to naught, a number of AI researchers turned to a more serious study of how the human brain works, and efforts were made to artifically model the networks of neurons which make up the brain. This showed some initial promise during the 1990s, but then seemed to reach a dead end. However, around 2009 some new thinking in this area (along with much faster computers) led to a sudden breakthrough. (See the entry below on ARTIFICIAL NEURAL NETWORKS.) And now the AI field is advancing very fast.
        These advances in computers and artificial intelligence mean that jobs which are done by human beings are disappearing ever more rapidly. One recent study (2013) by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University looked at the feasibility of automating 702 occupations and found that 47% of workers in the United States had jobs with a high risk of potential automation in the near future. [See: “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?”, online at: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf]
        Longer term, the situation for employment is even more dire. Over the next few decades, and largely because of the rapid development of artificial intelligence, it will be possible to automate the vast majority of jobs out of existence. Under socialism or communism this would be a wonderful thing! People would be completely freed of almost all the unpleasant work, and the remaining work—which could become more of a thing of joy and self-fulfillment—would be rationed out to the population. Moreover, the scope for individual and collective participation of people in the arts, sciences and other human pursuits, would be truly opened up to the masses for the very first time.
        However, under capitalism the disappearance of work will be such a major catastrophe that the capitalist system will likely not survive. Adding this rapid disappearance of jobs to the still developing world overproduction crisis, the constant imperialist wars, the capitalist distruction of the environment, and the already existing misery of literally billions of people, the capitalist-imperialist system is rapidly demonstrating once and for all that it is totally incompatible with the continued existence of humanity.

“It’s apparent that society is hitting a tipping point where humans are engineering our own obsolescence.” —Samuel Greengard, quoted in Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016), p. 106.

A computational program loosely modeled on the structure of neurons in the brain and the varying strength of the interconnections among them. In the simplified representation at the right each brown circle represents an individual “neuron” (or node). Input data arrives from the left and is then processed by the input nodes, which send information to one or more “hidden layers” of nodes, which then finally send data to the output nodes. While this approach to artificial intelligence computer processing may not be exactly the way the brain itself works, it has nevertheless been found to be very effective in simulating a number of brain and mental processes, such as the identification and appropriate labeling of visual images.
        See also:
DEEP LEARNING,   MACHINE LEARNING,   and for more extensive and technical information see the Wikipedia entry at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_neural_network

“Artificial neural networks [ANNs] are biologically inspired networks of artificial neurons, or brain cells.
        “In a biological brain, each neuron can be triggered by other neurons whose outputs feed into it, and its own output can then trigger other neurons in turn. A simple ANN has an input layer of neurons where data can be fed into the network, an output layer where results come out, and possibly a couple of hidden layers in the middle where information is processed. (In practice ANNs are simulated entirely in software.) Each neuron within the network has a set of ‘weights’ and an ‘activation function’ that controls the firing of the output. Training a neural network inolves adjusting the neurons’ weights so that a given input produces the desired output. ANNs were starting to achieve some useful results in the early 1990s, for example in recognizing handwritten numbers. But attempts to get them to do more complex tasks ran into trouble.
        “In the past decade new techniques and a simple tweak to the activation function has made training deep networks feasible. At the same time the rise of the internet has made billions of documents, images and videos available for training purposes. All this takes a lot of number-crunching power, which became readily available when several AI research groups realized around 2009 that graphical processing units (GPUs), the specialized chips used in PCs and video-games consoles to generate fancy graphics, were also well suited to running deep-learning algorithms. [One research group] found that GPUs could speed up its deep-learning system nearly a hundredfold.”
         —Tom Standage, “The Return of the Machinery Question, Special Report on Artificial Intelligence”, the Economist, June 25, 2016, p. 5.


Every work of art (including every piece of literature and music) is ordinarily viewed as being in some style. A style, in this aesthetic sense, is a sub-category of works in that area of art. In painting, for example, there are the styles known as socialist realism, impressionism, expressionism, cubism, Chinese painting, classical Dutch genre painting, and so forth. Styles come in hierarchies; thus within the broader style of classical European painting there is Dutch painting of the 17th century, and within that style there is the narrower style of Dutch genre painting of that period, and within that there is the style of Frans Hals, and even within that there is the style of Hals’ painting “Singing Boy with a Flute” (a style used by Hals in some of his other paintings, but by no means all of them).
        However, while the term ‘style’ can in analytical contexts refer to either major or minor categories of works of art, and be used to draw different distinctions at completely different levels, it is common within some art forms—especially literature and painting—for the term to be used primarily to draw attention merely to rather superficial differences between the works of different writers, or different painters, whose overall styles are really essentially the same.
        The concept of style is one of the most important basic categories in aesthetics. Aesthetic criticism, for example, can only be objective by comparing a work to the
standards appropriate to some particular style.
        See also: LITERARY STYLE

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