Monday, March 24, 2008

Friedrich Engels- Ten Previously Overlooked Aspects of his Life

John Green is soon to publish a biography of Friedrich Engels and it appears that he is making a convincing case that poor old Fred has been a bit unjustifiably overshadowed by the life and legacy of his great friend Karl Marx. This role was some would say positively embraced by Engels, as he said " All my life I did what I was made for, that is playing second fiddle, and I believe I acquitted myself tolerably well.And I was happy in having so excellent a first violin as Marx"...well thats such a tour de force of self effacement that its hardly surprising that he was a bit prone to over-looking by future chroniclers...In John Green's book there are revealed a number of things that are largely unknown about Engels..

1) His early life bore an uncanny resemblance to that of Che Guevara, they both rejected comfortable privileged backgrounds espousing the cause of the poor and oppressed. He even physically resembled Guevara physically in his early years.

2)In his twenties Engel's dashed around the countryside on horseback and swimming rivers for the challenge, and fought a number of duels for the sheer hell of it.

3)In his twenties he joined a band of guerilla's in the wooded hills of southern Germany, fighting the Prussian army during the unsuccesful revolution of 1848-9. He was then hounded across Europe by the Prussian state, placed top of its most wanted list, after he had retreated across the Swiss border.

4) From the mid 1850's onwards Engels was the acknowledged undisputed leader alongside Marx, of the burgeoning revolutionary movement in Europe, seting up cells across Europe.

5) For many years he lead two seperate lives, one as a respectable middle class businessman in Manchester and the other as a semi-conspiratorial militant. Accepting his role as a capitalist, since that was the dominant mode of production, he conspired nevertheless with tireless enthusiasm for the socialist revolution that he and Marx lived for.

6)Engels was undoubtedly Marx's intellectual equal, he made a significant contribution not only through his own writings, and those that they jointly published. In fact it was a pamphlet by Engel's devoted to a critique of political economy that inspired Marx to turn his attention to economics.It was also Engel's that who wrote many of Marx's articles for the New York Tribune, because Marx's english at that point in his life was not up to scratch.

7)Engels had an amazing capacity for languages, speaking several fluently, and having at least a smattering of at least 26. He told Marx on one occasion 'I have set myself a maximum of three weeks for learning Persian", and that was when he was managing the family cotton mill in Manchester.

8)He was a supporter of Irish liberation and became fascinated with Ireland, being strongly influenced by his successive partners Mary and Lizzie Burns, both being born into an Irish immigrant family,working in the Cotton mills and living in Manchester.

9) His book 'Conditions of the Working Class in England' which he wrote as a 24 year old in 1844 after a years sojourn in Manchester became a classic sociological study, catlaoguing the extreme squalor of the lives of workers in Manchester, paying particularly close attention to the conditions of the many immigrant Irish workers in the slums of Manchesters poorest areas.

10)In his 'The Origin of the Property Family and the State', Engels examined the devlopment of human societies and how private property led to class differentiation and oppression . He was one of the first to show how the emergence of private property led to the oppression of women and the negative impact of this on social health, in this respect he was an early contributor to feminist thinking.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Paul Robeson Singing the Soviet Anthem in English

I am posting this up since I love Paul Robeson's bass baritone voice, what an amazing man he was, an accomplished athlete, a Shakespearean actor of note, and a qualified barrister, all that and a fantastic singer as well as being a consistent defender of peace and progress throughout his life. I am glad that he recorded this song and it is a good video that accompanies it, it must be seen in the context of the USSR after defeating Nazism of course, and is an interesting and still inspiring historical curiousity piece. I hope that the readers of this blog enjoy it as much as I do.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Steve Fullarton;- The Last Surviving Scottish International Brigader Dies

The last surviving Scot to have fought in the Spanish Civil War has passed away in an Edinburgh care home at the age of 87. Steve Fullarton was one of several hundred Glaswegians who travelled to Spain to fight the Fascists led by General Franco. I had the pleasure of meeting Steve in a commemoration of the Battle of the Ebro three years ago, I was struck by his immense fortitude and good humour staying chipper and cheery despite a gruelling sun beating down on us throughout the lengthy ceremonies and speeches.
The contribution of the International Brigades to the fight against Fascism in the 1930's was one of the greatest examples of International working class Soldarity of all time. Volunteers from 52 countries came to the assistance of Spain's government forces who were facing defeat by the fascists of General Franco. Among the International Brigades were several thousand British, among those around 500 Scots and a high proportion of those Glaswegians - like Steve Fullarton who travelled to Spain from his home in Shelttleston at the age of 18. Speaking in 2003, he said: "I was angry at what I saw in the newsreels, the bombing in Spain, so it was a short step for me to go from collecting food to volunteer for the International Brigades and that is how I became involved."
Steve was shot in the leg during the battle of Ebro but recovered. He passed away at the age of 87 on Friday. However, 65 of his fellow Glaswegians perished in Spain fighting a war they believed was between right and wrong, between democracy and totalitarianism.
The statue of the Republican heroine Dolores Ibarruri or La Pasionaria stands at Glasgow's Custom House Quay. As the last of the International Brigade left Barcelona, she bade them farewell and thanked them for their efforts. She said "You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend...we will not forget you."
Comrade Fullarton's funeral will take place in Edinburgh on Friday.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Russia Decides...and its not that bad..

Congratulations to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation presidential Candidate Gennady Zyuganov for increasing his share of the vote in an election which was heavily tilted by the Russian media and the established power base of Vladimir Putin's organisation to ensure that Dimitry Medvedev would take over as President with ease, which he he did of course, garnering a massive 70% of the vote, a preponderance of voting weight which would seem to preclude the possibility of 'rigging' in any way substantially altering the final outcome. The Communist Party candidate, Zyuganov gained a very respectable 17.6% of the popular vote, so much for those who claimed that Russian people would immediately cease supporting the Communists once 'freed' of the 'shackles of soviet power'. My own personal reaction is that the election of the extremely capable Dimitry Medvedev is not a disaster for the forces of progress either, especially in terms of foreign affairs, the dual power base of Medvedev and Putin as Prime Minister will continue to ensure that Russia remains independent of the increasingly aggressive pressure being placed upon Russia by the USA, a trend particularly emphasised by the decision to put the ' Star Wars' anti-missile system into the Czech Republic and Poland.
While the presidential election proved entirely predictable, the transfer of power from Vladimir Putin to Dmitry Medvedev looks likely to be anything but.This will be the first time in the country's history that a popularly elected head of state hands over power to another popularly elected head of state. The lack of precedent is raising some curious constitutional questions over exactly how the Kremlin's impending round of musical chairs is going to work.
"There is not really any previous experience for what happens between an election and the moment the new president assumes power," said Mikhail Krasnov, an author of the Constitution.
While Medvedev is now president-elect and first deputy prime minister, Putin by law will remain president until May 7, exactly four years after his inauguration. Putin has said he will then become prime minister. The constitutional quirks of the interim period mean that, if things stay as they are, President Medvedev on the day of his inauguration will have to approve the resignation of First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev, along with the rest of the government, before nominating Putin to be his subordinate.
Throw into the mix the fact that Medvedev is also currently chairman of Gazprom, and that suggests he could end up simultaneously holding the posts of president, first deputy prime minister and Gazprom chairman.
Confused? You're not the only one. The unprecedented situation has left even constitutional experts and those involved in the process scratching their heads.
"There are a lot of theoretical legal problems connected with this period," said Stanislav Stanskikh, director of the Russian Foundation for Constitutional Reforms.
Part of the problem is that a bill drawn up in 1996 to fully regulate the handover of power between presidents was never approved by the State Duma.
But the main reason for much of the current ambiguity is that eight years ago the ever-unpredictable President Boris Yeltsin quit his post early, said Krasnov, who chairs the constitutional law department at Moscow's Higher School of Economics.
After Yeltsin's dramatic resignation on New Year's Eve in 1999, then-Prime Minister Putin was automatically promoted to the role of acting head of state, allowing Putin to fulfill the role of president before being officially elected to the position in March 2000. That makes the direct transfer from Putin to Medvedev, who, perhaps luckily, is a trained lawyer, unparalleled.
Under Article 116 of the Constitution, the government automatically has to give up its powers when a new president comes in, so one of the first things Medvedev will have to do when he assumes the presidency is to sign off on the dismissal of the Cabinet.
"That means Medvedev will eventually have to fire himself as a member of the government," Krasnov said.
To avoid this scenario, Medvedev could well decide to step down as first deputy prime minister between now and May 7, Krasnov said.
A spokeswoman for Medvedev refused to comment on the transfer of power. A Kremlin spokesman said Putin would continue to hold full presidential powers until the inauguration.
Another possibility is that Putin will replace the Cabinet sometime before the inauguration. Citing Kremlin and government sources, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported late last month that Putin would fire the Cabinet before the election.The dismissal of the government remains a technical possibility, but no such plans are in the works, said the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. "We are only talking purely hypothetically," he said.
Cabinet spokesman Alexander Zharov said he could not comment on the plans for the interim period. "This is not our decision, and you have to ask the president what will happen," Zharov said.
Putin has already transferred some presidential responsibilities to Medvedev. Putin on Monday asked his successor to stand in for him at State Council meetings.
On Monday he also issued a special decree regulating Medvedev's new role as the "newly elected president but not yet the president who has assumed presidential power."
The decree means that the presidential administration can now work toward serving the future president while still serving the current president and hands over duties for guarding Medvedev to the president's Federal Guard Service.
And, according to the decree, the guard service and presidential administration can now set about allocating Medvedev his official residence. Peskov said Thursday, however, that Medvedev's official presidential residence has yet to be decided on.
The Kremlin's legal department had not replied by Thursday to written questions submitted a day earlier.
One thing that constitutional experts agreed on is that, under a law that Putin signed after Yeltsin stepped down, Putin and his family will have immunity from prosecution for life for anything he has done as president over the past eight years.
Over at Gazprom, the transfer of power for its top post is also proving problematic. Gazprom is set to elect current Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov as chairman at its annual general meeting on June 28 -- six weeks after Medvedev becomes president.
A Medvedev spokeswoman directed all queries on the matter to Gazprom.
A Gazprom spokesman said he did not know whether Medvedev could or would remain chairman until June. Gazprom then redirected legal enquiries to the Federal Property Management Agency. The agency had failed to respond to a written query by Thursday.
Legally, there is nothing to stop Medvedev from being both president and Gazprom chairman, said Stanskikh, the constitutional scholar. But he said it could create a conflict of interests due the need for the president to be neutral.

Another intriguing element is what will happen to the presidential administration, an immensely influential body that Putin has packed with powerful, former-KGB colleagues such as deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin and presidential aide Viktor Ivanov.
Unlike the Cabinet, the presidential administration is under no obligation to resign, and any changes in personnel are up to the new president, Stanskikh said.
During a recent news conference, Putin said he expected changes both in the new presidential administration and in the Cabinet.
Speculation is also rife over whether Medvedev will use the same tactics as Putin did to shore up his own power eight years ago and bring in close associates to fill prominent positions in the administration.
"Traditionally in our country the presidential administration has often had more power than even the government," Stanskikh said.
Among the people to watch are former classmates of Medvedev's from the law department at Leningrad State University, including Anton Ivanov, chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court; Ilya Yeliseyev, deputy chairman of Gazprombank; Konstantin Chuichenko, head of Gazprom's legal department; and Nikolai Vinnichenko, head of the Court Marshals Service, analysts said.
"Undoubtedly, the influence of such people will increase," said Mikhail Vinogradov, director of the Center for Contemporary Russian Politics.
Leonid Sedov, an analyst at the Levada Center, warned that there would be a struggle for influence and any change would be a long and difficult process.
Despite the legal curiosities over what could happen over the next few months, the problems are more theoretical than real, the experts said.
The Kremlin and Cabinet are keen to see that any confusion over the handover does not put the brakes on the functioning of government during the period.
"One thing is for sure, we don't have the luxury of spending the next two months just sitting around," said Vladimir Pligin, head of the Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee, at a recent round table.
Given that a presidential term is four years long, the two-month transition period represents almost 5 percent of that time, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a Kremlin consultant.
"We know for certain who is the president now -- that is Putin -- and who will be president in May -- that is Medvedev -- and we can't waste the time dithering," he said.
However it is handled, the fact remains that the Russian people, by voting for Zyuganov in very significant numbers, and also voting for Medvedev in such a huge landlside, are serving notice once again that they are not going to be the puppet of the West, a prospect that was very much in the offing at the time of the Presidency of Boris Yeltsin, a period that now seems a long time ago. The world needs a powerful and self confident Russia, to act as a form of counter-balance to the interests of the USA which would otherwise be entirely unchallenged in its global hegemony.