Because of its growing size, this file has been split into these separate files:
- SA.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Sa-Sb.
- SC.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Sc-Sd.
- SE.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Se-Sg.
- SH.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Sh.
- SI.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Si-Sk.
- SL.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Sl.
- SM.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Sm-Sn.
- SO.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters So.
- SP.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Sp-Ss.
- ST.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters St.
- SU.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Su-Sv.
- SW.htm — Words and phrases starting with the letters Sw-Sz.
Although this older “S.htm” file still exists (in case there are still links to its
contents), all new entries and revisions to old entries are being made to the above files.
[To be added... ]
SAINT-SIMON, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de (1760-1825)
French utopian socialist who had strong sympathies for the poor, but who opposed working-class revolution. He once appealed to the very reactionary king, Louis XVIII, to implement his utopian socialist ideas, thus showing just how silly utopians can be when it comes to their imagined path to a better world!
Originally an anti-Naxalite (counter-revolutionary) vigilante organization in Chhattisgarh state, India. It was first set up in 2005 primarily by local reactionaries, but with hidden and then massively growing and more open state support, participation and direction. The name Salwa Judum means “purification hunt” in the local Gondhi dialect (though it is sometimes translated as “peace march” in bourgeois publications), which demonstrates its intent to exterminate all revolutionary resistance to the ruling capitalists and landlords. The Salwa Judum has often functioned as an unofficial government para-military death squad. One of the methods used by the Chhattisgarh government to train and support the Salwa Judum is to select and train many of its members as SPOs or “Special Police Officers”. This allows the state to pretend that the Salwa Judum is gradually disappearing when in fact it is merely being partially incorporated into the official government suppression apparatus.
See also: “Salwa Judum: A ‘New Front’ of ‘Hidden War’: The Inside Story”, a 16-page pamphlet by the CPI(Maoist) Chattisgarh State Committee, Nov. 30, 2006 (PDF: 486 KB).
“… his [Raman Singh’s] government unleashed Salwa Judum, a controversial,
brutal system of vigilantism that exposed hundreds of thousands of innocents to two-way
violence—state-led as well as Maoist-inflicted—and uprooted more than 50,000 to be deposited
in slum-like ‘concentration’ camps and rehab shelters. Several Maoist-affected states have
steadfastly refused to adopt Salwa Judum-like approaches. Several senior police officers have
told me on the record as to what a disaster Salwa Judum has turned out. …
“In February 2007, I heard [Chhattisgarh] chief minister [Raman] Singh boast in Hindi to a room full of incredulous security analysts and police officers from Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, ‘Salwa Judum cannot be defeated.’ He carried on: ‘It will be written a hundred years from now. Salwa Judum is showing Gandhi is alive, showing non-violence is alive… Salwa Judum is like the fragrance of the forest in summer.’
“Thinking folk resist the temptation to participate in the theatre of the absurd on account of propriety.” —Sudeep Chakravarti, a bourgeois analyst, Livemint.com, April 15, 2010.
“Chhattisgarh’s most notable counterinsurgency ploy, arming an anti-Maoist tribal militia known as Salwa Judum or Peace March, was predictably a violent failure. It displaced over 50,000 villagers and acted as a recruiting sergeant for the Maoists.” —The Economist, April 10, 2010, p. 45.
SAMUELSON, Paul (1915-2009)
The most famous and influential American bourgeois economist of the second half of the 20th century. He took the lead in the construction of the so-called “neoclassical synthesis”, the slight revision of bourgeois economics that incorporated a taste of Keynes’ views, without making any fundamental changes to it. He described himself as a “cafeteria Keynesian”, who just picked out the parts of Keynes’ views that he liked. (The genuine follower of Keynes, Joan Robinson, used the more apt term for Samuelson and his like, “bastard Keynesians”!)
Samuelson wrote a famous textbook, Economics, which was first pulished in 1948 and updated periodically for decades afterwards. It became the most popular textbook of modern bourgeois economics during that era. Early editions had nothing about socialism in them, but in response to the New Left upsurge of the 1960s, Samuelson added a chapter about socialism to show that he was hip. His comments there (and elsewhere) about socialism and socialist economics are totally worthless, as are his occasional comments on and criticisms of Marx. But he was a hero to the bourgeois economics world and in 1970 was awarded the so-called “Nobel Prize” in Economics issued by the Bank of Sweden.
According to The Economist [Dec. 19, 2009, p. 130] Samuelson felt “some responsibility” for the outbreak of the current major economic crisis, since he had helped develop the financial derivatives that served to intensify the crisis. But all he could say by way of excuse is that this proved once again that “free markets do not stabilize themselves”, which falsely implied that the proper regulation of the capitalist economy could prevent crises.
A word in Bengali and related languages which means “solidarity” or “support”. There is a fine website by the name of SANHATI.COM which focuses on the support of various people’s struggles in India, especially those of the adivasis (tribal peoples) in the Jangalmahal area of West Bengal.
Literally, “those without pants”. This was originally a derisive term used by the intellectual elite in France in the period just before the great French Revolution to refer to those writers who were not under the patronage of the salonnières (those in the ruling class who sponsored intellectual or cultural meeting places, the “salons”, at their homes). During the French Revolution, however, this term which was originally meant as an insult was transformed into a badge of honor, and became the name used for the staunchest radical republican revolutionaries. Reactionary intellectuals today, though, sometimes still use the term sans-culottes as a supposed insult for the revolutionary or violent masses.
The idea, put forward by linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf (Sapir’s student), that our conceptualization of the world is partly determined by the categories and structure of our native language. The extreme form of this hypothesis, sometimes called linguistic determinism, is that our conceptualization of the world is largely or even entirely determined in this way. However, this view is rejected by almost all linguists and philosophers. Of course it also goes against historical materialism and even ordinary common sense, which put forth all sorts of other reasons why we have the various concepts we do in different spheres. (In politics, for example, we Marxists hold that the dominant ideas and concepts in society are those of the ruling class, and are certainly not primarily a result of the specific language we happen to speak!)
But there may be some very partial or limited validity to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. For example, in 2009 it was suggested by Stanford University psychologist Lera Boroditsky that speakers of languages in which nouns have a grammatical gender tend to transfer connotations of human gender to inanimate objects. Thus, according to Boroditsky, Germans tend to describe keys (Schlüssel) in terms like hard, heavy, jagged and metal, while Spaniards describe keys (llaves) in terms like golden, intricate, little, and lovely. Schlüssel is grammatically masculine, while llaves is grammatically feminine. There are many more small hints of this sort, including many not related to grammatical gender, which may similarly suggest that our languages do in fact constrain and direct the way we tend to think to some small extent. Still some skepticism is in order here, and we must firmly reject the idealist notion that language categories and forms are the primary determiner of our conceptualization of the world.
“One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm.” —Marx & Engels, The German Ideology (1846), MECW 5:446.
“[Whorf] argued, among other things, that the structure of the Hopi language gave its speakers an understanding of time vastly different from that of Europeans. Although Whorf’s hypothesis continues to inspire research, a good deal of his evidence has been discredited.” —Philip E. Ross, “Math without Words”, Scientific American, June 2005, p. 29.
SARTRE, Jean-Paul (1905-1980)
A prominent French bourgeois philosopher of existentialism, who was also somewhat influenced by Marxism. [More to be added.]
See also: Philosophical doggerel about Sartre.
SAVINGS AND LOAN CRISIS (or “S&L Crisis”)
A major financial crisis in the U.S. in the late 1980s and early 1990s which resulted in the failure of 1043 savings and loan associations (from 1986 to mid-1995). Savings & loan companies are a type of financial institution (technically not “banks”) which accept savings deposits mostly from small investors, and which issue mortgages, car loans, and personal loans. There were many subsidiary causes of the S&L Crisis, including changes to tax law (which made speculation in real estate somewhat less profitable than it had been), neoliberal deregulation of the S&L’s, various financial shenanigans (fraud), exorbitant salaries and looting by top executives, etc. But the fundamental cause was simply that these companies were caught up in the speculative fever of a housing bubble and issued a great many loans which they should not have. William Seidman, former chairman of both the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Resolution Trust Corporation, commented: “The banking problems of the ’80s and ’90s came primarily, but not exclusively, from unsound real estate lending.”
The crisis is estimated to have led to losses of about $160.1 billion. The U.S. government, in bailing out many of the financial capitalists involved, covered $124.6 billion of that loss. (I.e., the U.S. taxpayers did.) The Resolution Trust Corporation was the name of the government agency set up to close down the failing S&L’s and pay off most of their debts. From 1986 to 1995 the number of federally insured S&L’s dropped almost in half, from 3,234 to 1,645. These figures do not include the large number of failures of state-chartered S&L’s during this period, or their additional large losses. From 1986 to 1991 the number of new homes built in the U.S. dropped from 1.8 million per year to just 1 million. As a consequence of this crisis federal agencies such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were given authority to guarantee vast numbers of new mortgages. Commercial mortgage lenders learned that they need not worry about making lots of risky loans, since if there was major trouble the government would likely bail them out. And the stage was set for creation a decade later of the vastly bigger and more serious housing bubble that developed in the years 2003-2007.
[Intro material to be added... ]
[The second stanza of the American translation of the
We want no condescending saviors
To rule us from their judgment hall,
We workers ask not for their favors
Let us consult for all:
To make the thief disgorge his booty
To free the spirit from its cell,
We must ourselves decide our duty,
We must decide, and do it well.
“For the bourgeois world, based upon the principles of these
philosophers [the utopian socialists], is quite as irrational and unjust, and,
therefore, finds its way to the dust-hole quite as readily as feudalism and all the
earlier stages of society. If pure reason and justice have not, hitherto, ruled the
world, this has been the case only because men have not rightly understood them.
What was wanted was the individual man of genius, who has now arisen and who
understands the truth. That he has now arisen, that the truth has now been clearly
understood, is not an inevitable event, following of necessity in the chain of
historical development, but a mere happy accident. He might just as well have been
born 500 years earlier, and might then have spared humanity 500 years of error,
strife, and suffering.
“This mode of outlook is essentially that of all English and French and of the first German socialists, including Weitling. Socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice and has only to be discovered to conquer all the world by virtue of its own power. And as absolute truth is independent of time, space, and of the historical development of man, it is a mere accident when and where it is discovered. With all this, absolute truth, reason, and justice are different with the founder of each different school. And as each one’s special kind of absolute truth, reason, and justice is again conditioned by his subjective understanding, his conditions of existence, the measure of his knowledge and his intellectual training, there is no other ending possible in this conflict of absolute truths than that they shall be mutually exclusive one of the other.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring (1878), MECW 25:20.
SAY, Jean-Baptiste (1767-1832)
French economist who systematized and vulgarized Adam Smith’s theory. Almost exclusively known today for what later came to be known as his “principle” or “Law” (see below).
The simple-minded (and grossly incorrect) claim that capitalist production creates its own demand (i.e. its own full demand), and consequently that there cannot possibly be any “gluts” or overproduction. This so-called “law” is one of the fundamental axioms of bourgeois economics, though it often goes unacknowledged.
[Further material to be added...]
“Say’s earth-shaking discovery [Marx is being ironic here!] that ‘commodities can only be bought with commodities’ simply means that money is itself the converted form of the commodity. It does not prove by any means that because I can buy only with commodities, I can buy with my commodity, or that my purchasing power is related to the quantity of commodities I produce.” —Marx, TSV, 3:119.
SCHELLING, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph (1775-1854)
German idealist philosopher, and the third of the most prominent classical German idealists (after Kant and Fichte). Schelling was the principal philosopher of Romanticism. In later life his partially religious form of idealism became more overtly religious and mystical.
The religious philosophy and theology of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and beyond. This was the dominent philosophy in Europe from the 11th century until the 16th century. In addition to the Bible and other Church documents, and the opinions of Popes and other Church officials, Plato and Aristotle were major influences. At first Plato was the dominant philosopher on matters not already explicitly set forth by Church doctrine. But Thomas Aquinas almost single-handedly switched the Church over to Aristotle in place of Plato. Aquinas was the most influential Scholastic philosopher by far, and remains the primary philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church to this day. Other prominent Scholastics were Abelard, Buridan, Duns Scotus, and Ockham.
See also: Philosophical doggerel about Scholasticism.
A thought experiment in the philosophy of quantum mechanics proposed by the physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, and designed to show that the idealist Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics had to be nonsense. Suppose, said Schrödinger, that you have a cat in a sealed box where a quantum event (such as the detection or non-detection of the decay of a radioactive atom) will determine if the cat will live or die (by either releasing a vial of poison or else not doing so). The Copenhagen Interpretation of the situation is that the cat is either both dead and alive until the box is opened to see the result, or else that the cat is neither dead nor alive until the box is opened. Obviously either way is a complete absurdity. (The defenders of the Copenhagen Interpretation have of course tried to wiggle out of this predicament, but have not succeeded in coherently doing so!)
SCHUMPETER, Joseph (1883-1946) [Pronounced: SHUM-PAY-ter]
Important Austrian bourgeois economist of the first half of the 20th century. His father owned a textile factory, and not surprisingly Schumpeter found great virtues in the capitalist system. He emphasized the importance of change under capitalism, and is famous in bourgeois circles for his description of capitalism as “creative destruction”. (Of course this is old news to us Marxists! In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels say “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.” [MECW 6:487.])
At a time when most bourgeois economists denied that economic cycles should even exist, Schumpeter said there were actually three different ones:
1) A very short-term inventory cycle (which he called the “Kitchin Cycle”, after another bourgeois economist, Joseph Kitchin), and which lasted 3 to 4 years;
2) An approximately 10-year cycle, which is the industrial cycle that Marx focused on (but which Schumpeter—loathe to give any credit to Marx—called “Juglar Cycles”, after a minor French economist, Clément Juglar, who talked about them long after Marx did). These cycles were erroneously explained by Schumpeter as being due to changes in investment patterns; and
3) Schumpeter’s version of Kondratiev’s 45-year long-term waves, which Schumpeter attributed to waves in invention and innovation.
None of his discussion of economic cycles had much validity, but by bourgeois standards even to have recognized the existence of any cycles or waves makes you seem rather smart these days!
One of Schumpeter’s students was Paul Sweezy, the primary founder of the Monthly Review school of Marxist political economy. While Sweezy broke away from Schumpeter and bourgeois economics in many ways, there is still more than a touch of his ideas that were carried over.
SCIENCE OF REVOLUTIONARY MARXISM (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism)
[Intro material to be added... ]
“Marxism-Leninism is a science, and science means honest, solid knowledge; there is no room for playing tricks. Let us, then, be honest.” —Mao, “Reform Our Study” (May 1941), SW 3:22.
Human beings have found that nature is not completely random and chaotic, but that there are certain regularities and patterns to it which can be discovered and often quantified. A scientific law, or law of nature or society, is a statement of an order or relationship between phenomena that so far as is known always holds true under the stated or implied conditions. Thus, for example, the law of gravity is a statement about the mutual attraction (and the strength of that attraction at various distances) between most of the various forms of matter.
On rare occasions, mere tendencies or probabilities are sometimes spoken of as laws, as with Marx’s discussion of what he calls “the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall” (in Part 3 of Volume III of Capital). But the modern practice is to describe such partial regularities not as “laws”, but simply as “tendencies”. In the way the term is almost universally used in science today there are never any exceptions to scientific laws. If exceptions to what was previously thought to be a law are found, then either the scope of the application of that law is narrowed to exclude such situations, or else (if that cannot be done) it is no longer considered to be a law at all.
“I do not agree with the view that the universe is a mystery.... I feel that this view does not do justice to the scientific revolution that was started almost four hundred years ago by Galileo and carried on by Newton. They showed that at least some areas of the universe ... are governed by precise mathematical laws. Over the years since then, we have extended the work of Galileo and Newton.... We now have mathematical laws that govern everything we normally experience.” —Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays. [Of course there are still many mysteries in all the sciences, but there is nevertheless a lot of validity in Hawking’s comment, especially with regard to everyday scientific phenomena. To maintain that “everything is a big mystery” is a way of ignoring or opposing science. —S.H.]
[To be added...]
Scientific theories are the summation of scientific knowledge; theories form knowledge into a logical and coherent structure and make a whole body of investigations comprehensible. Thus the formulation of scientific theories is at the core of science and is its highest goal. (Of course the goal in the application of science is to change the physical or social world in one way or another.)
On the other hand there have often been idealist tendencies in science, particularly in cosmology, “theoretical physics”, and the social sciences, to divorce the construction of theories from the actual results of careful investigations of nature and society, and to engage in wild flights of fancy with little or no evidential foundation. Obviously what is needed instead is a dialectical combination of practice and theory, and of careful investigation and the formulation and testing of theories based on what has been learned in those actual investigations.
Scientific education should consist primarily of two things:
1. Learning the scientific method for science in general, and the specific scientific methods which are useful within particular sciences; and
2. Coming to understand and appreciate the most important scientific theories. That is, science education should be “theory-structured”.
Focusing on the explication of the most important theories in a science actually makes that science both more comprehensible and easier to learn. Speaking of his own science, Linus Pauling said in the preface to his 1947 book, General Chemistry, “The progress made ... in the development of theoretical concepts has been so great ... that the presentation of general chemistry ... can be made in a more simple, straightforword, and logical way than formerly.”
Revolutionary Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, is also a science, and mastering it requires the same approach. One must focus on its central theories and come to understand and appreciate them. And this requires some considerable study along with participation in the ongoing revolutionary movement.
See also: CENTRAL ORGANIZING THEORY
[To be added... ]
SECT (In politics)
In the non-pejorative sense, a sect is simply “a group adhering to a distinctive doctrine or leader”. [Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.] However, the word ‘sect’ also carries with it the connotation of small size, and being outside of the mainstream. Thus a revolutionary sect is a small group which is outside the mainstream of the revolutionary movement. All new political parties either start off as sects, or else form out of other parties or mass movements which themselves started out as sects. There is nothing necessarily wrong about starting out small and different from the mainstream; but it is foolish and self-defeating for any political group to permanently remain just a sect, i.e. a small group unconnected to the masses and the mass movement.
See also SECTARIAN (below), and: CULT
“The International was founded in order to replace the
socialist or semi-socialist sects by a real organization of the working class for
struggle. The original Rules and the Inaugural Address show this at a glance. On the
other hand, the International could not have asserted itself if the course of history
had not already smashed sectarianism. The development of socialist sectarianism
and that of the real labor movement always stand in indirect proportion to each
other. So long as the sects are justified (historically), the working class is not
yet ripe for an independent historical movement. As soon as it has attained this
maturity all sects are essentially reactionary....
“And the history of the International was a continual struggle of the General Council against the sects and attempts by amateurs to assert themselves within the International itself against the real movement of the working class.” —Marx, Letter to Adolphe Hubert, Aug. 10, 1871, MECW 44:252.
[Primary sense in Marxist politics:] 1. Having and promoting ideas which prevent or obstruct a political group or party from connecting up with the masses and the mass movement, and from transforming existing reformist mass struggle into revolutionary mass struggle. (See also: mass perspective.)
[Secondary sense in Marxist politics:] 2. Being unwilling to work with individuals or groups (other than your own) for some common purpose, or obstructing such cooperation and “united fronts” through hostility and disrespect towards those with ideas differing from your own.
[As commonly used in economics, esp. bourgeois economics:] Of or relating to a long term trend. Example: A “secular decline in profits” means “a long trend of indefinite duration in the decline of profits.” The term usually implies that there is some unspecified (and perhaps unknown) force or cause which is behind the trend being mentioned.
[In contemporary financial capitalism:] The bundling together of numerous individual mortgages, or outstanding credit card debts, or auto loans, or other forms of debt into packages, against which bonds are sold to investors. This allows the banks or other financial companies which issued the loans to no longer care whether the loans are ever paid off, and therefore to escape the risk ordinarily involved in making such loans. Those foolish enough to buy the bonds, however, thereby take on risks which they have no real way of even properly evaluating. In short, securitization is a method for the banks and big financial corporations to cheat investors.
See also: COLLATERIALIZED DEBT OBLIGATIONS (CDOs)
“SEEK TRUTH FROM FACTS”
A phrase from Mao’s writings, which was later given a perverted, revisionist interpretation by Deng Xiaoping. [More to be added... ]
“Secondly, there is the Marxist-Leninist attitude.
“With this attitude, a person applies the theory and method of Marxism-Leninism to the systematic and thorough investigation and study of the environment. He does not work by enthusiasm alone... To take such an attitude is to seek truth from facts. ‘Facts’ are all the things that exist objectively, ‘truth’ means their internal relations, that is, the laws governing them, and ‘to seek’ means to study. We should proceed from the actual conditions inside and outside the country, the province, county or district, and derive from them, as our guide to action, laws which are inherent in them and not imaginary, that is, we should find the internal relations of the events occurring around us. And in other to do that we must rely not on subjective imagination, not on momentary entusiasm, not on lifeless books, but on facts that exist objectively; we must appropriate the material in detail and, guided by the general principles of Marxism-Leninism, draw correct conclusions from it. Such conclusions are not mere lists of phenomena in A, B, C, D order or writings full of platitudes, but are scientific conclusions. Such an attitude is one of seeking truth from facts not of currying favor by claptrap. It is the manifestation of Party spirit, the Marxist-Leninist style of uniting theory and practice. It is the attitude every Communist Party member should have at the very least.” —Mao, “Reform Our Study” (May 1941), SW3:22-23.
The branch of linguistics concerned with the meaning of words and sentences. The sub-branch concerned with the meaning of words, specifically, is known as lexical semantics. Scientific semantics should not be confused with the bourgeois pseudo-scientific academic sect which goes by the name of General Semantics.
Characterizing a state where the ruling classes (especially big business, big bureaucrats, and major politicians who together run the country) are still tied to imperialist interests, and are still subservient to them at least to some degree.
Characterizing a state where the feudal relations of production and society have not been completely smashed and eliminated by the completion of the bourgeois revolution, but where instead they remain to a considerable degree (especially in the countryside) while capitalism, and capitalist relations of production, are developed on top of this (especially in the cities). The countries of south Asia for example, including India, fit this discription.
SENECA, Lucius Annaeus (c. 4 BCE-65 CE)
Roman philosopher; one of the great representatives of Stoicism.
SENIOR, Nassau William (1790-1864)
English vulgar economist and apologist for capitalism. Marx called him one of the “economic spokesmen of the bourgeoisie”. He was strongly opposed to the shortening of the work day which at that time was often 12 hours/day, or more!
The sensory qualities of things (colors, shapes, smells, etc.) which we supposedly experience directly, without any rational interpretation, and without any consideration of the physical objects which may be causing them. Empiricists usually make “sense data” the foundation of their theory of knowledge, but doing so tends to beg many questions.
See also: QUALIA
SERFS — Emancipation of in Russia in 1861
“Peasant Reform—the emancipation of the serfs carried out by
the tsarist government in 1861. The Reform was made necessary by the entire course of
Russia’s economic development and by the growth of the mass movement among the peasantry
against feudal exploitation. The Peasant Reform was a bourgeois reform carried out by
serf-owners. Its bourgeois essence was the more obvious ‘the less the amount of
land cut off from the peasants’ holdings, the more fully peasant lands were
separated from the landed estates, the lower the tribute paid to the feudal
landowners by the peasant (i.e., the lower the “redemption” payments)’ [Lenin, LCW
17:121] The Peasant Reform marked a step in Russia’s transformation into a bourgeois
monarchy. In all, 22,500,000 serfs, formerly belonging to landlords, were ‘emancipated’.
Landed proprietorship, however, remained. The peasants’ lands were declared the
property of the landlords. The peasant could only get an allotment of land of the size
established by law (and even then only with the landlord’s consent), and he had to
redeem it, that is, pay for it.
“The Peasant Reform merely undermined but did not abolish the old corvée system of farming. The landlords secured possession of the best parts of the peasants’ allotments (the ‘cut-off lands’—woods, meadows, watering places, grazing lands, and so on), without which the peasants could not engage in independent farming. Until the redemption arrangements were completed the peasants were considered ‘temporarily bound’ and either rendered corvée service to the landlord or paid quit-rent. The redemption of their own allotments was a direct plunder of the peasants by the tsarist government and the landowners. The peasants were compelled to pay hundreds of millions of rubles for their land and this led to the ruin of the farms and to mass impoverishment.
“The Russian revolutionary democrats, headed by Nikolai Cheryshevsky, criticized the Peasant Reform for its feudal character. Lenin called the Peasant Reform of 1861 the first act of mass violence against the peasantry in the interests of the nascent capitalism in agriculture—the landowners were ‘clearing the land’ for capitalism.” —Note 56, Lenin SW I (1967).
SERVE THE PEOPLE
[To be added... ]
See also: PATERNALISM
“The motive of serving the masses is inseparably linked with the effect of winning their approval; the two must be united. The motive of serving the individual or a small clique is not good, nor is it good to have the motive of serving the masses without the effect of winning their approval and benefiting them.” —Mao, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” (May 1942), SW 3:88.
SERVICE (Political Economy)
“A service is nothing more than the useful effect of a use-value, be it of a commodity, or be it of labor.” —Marx, Capital, vol. I, ch. VII, sect. 2: (International, p. 192; Penguin, pp. 299-300.)
“In general, we may say that service is merely an expression for the particular use-value of labor where the latter is useful not as an article, but as an activity.” —Marx, Capital, vol. I: (Penguin, appendix, p. 1047. [Not included in the International edition])
“Where the direct exchange of money for labor takes place without the latter producing capital, where it is therefore not productive labor, it is bought as service, which in general is nothing but a term for the particular use-value which the labor provides, like any other commodity; it is however a specific term for the particular use-value of labor in so far as it does not render service in the form of a thing, but in the form of an activity, which however in no way distinguishes it for example from a machine, for instance a clock.” —Marx, TSV 1:403-4.
That part of the economy which provides services rather than producing articles for sale.
See also: PETTY’S LAW
The view that one sex is superior to, or should be given social primacy over, the other. Since during all human history (at least of class society) men have dominated and oppressed women, in practice sexism almost always means views which support this domination and oppression of women. Sexists believe that there are “natural” intellectual and psychological differences between men and women which supposedly justify this domination and oppression, and special privileges for men. Revolutionary Marxism is of course totally opposed to any form of sexism. And we believe that whatever significant differences there are in average “intelligence” or psychology between men and women in the present society are due virtually entirely to the differences in the ways men and women are brought up and educated (or mis-educated).
See also: WOMEN—Oppression Of
See: SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE
SHADOW BANKING SYSTEM
The part of the capitalist financial industry that performs the functions of banks without formally calling themselves banks, especially facilitating various types of speculation, and often without being regulated as banks by the government, including investment banking, hedge funds, exotic securities operations by insurance companies, and the like. Moreover, even many large banks which do call themselves banks and have their traditional banking operations regulated, also now participate in these newer, more risky, and unregulated (or less regulated) types of financial operations beyond the bounderies of what used to be considered conservative mainstream banking. Much of this involves complex and semi-mysterious new derivatives such as CDOs and credit default swaps, and other financial shenanigans. All of this goes to make up the so-called “shadow banking system” of contemporary finance capitalism.
“Our current system of financial regulation dates back to a time
when everything that functioned as a bank looked like a bank. As long as you
regulated big marble buildings with rows of tellers, you pretty much had things
“But today you don’t have to look like a bank to be a bank. As Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, put it in a widely cited speech last summer, banking is anything that involves financing ‘long-term risky and relatively illiquid assets’ with ‘very short-term liabilities.’ Cases in point: Bear Stearns and Lehman, both of which financed large investments in risky securities primarily with short-term borrowing.
“And as Mr. Geithner pointed out, by 2007 more than half of America’s banking, in this sense, was being handled by a ‘parallel financial system’—others call it ‘shadow banking’—of largely unregulated institutions. These non-bank banks, he ruefully noted, were ‘vulnerable to a classic type of run, but without the protections such as deposit insurance that the banking system has in place to reduce such risks.’
“When Lehman fell, we learned just how vulnerable shadow banking was: a global run on the system brought the world economy to its knees.” —Paul Krugman, “Out of the Shadows”, Op-Ed column in the New York Times, June 19, 2009.
[While it would indeed be more rational of the bourgeoisie to thoroughly regulate investment banking and other types of “shadow banking”, the absence of this regulation was not the reason for the financial crisis which struck so hard in 2008, nor will such regulations prevent this sort of crisis in the future, as Geithner, Krugman, and bourgeois economists in general imagine. They can’t understand or admit that such crises are inherent developments of the capitalist mode of production. —S.H.]
SHAW, George Bernard (1856-1950)
A famous Irish playwright and author, who was strongly influenced by Marxism and a supporter of the socialist Soviet Union, but who was also much influenced by revisionism. He was a prominent member of the Fabian Society. It was said of him that he was a good man who had unfortunately fallen among Fabians!
[Referring to his reading of Marx’s Capital in 1883:] “That was the turning point in my career. Marx was a revelation... He opened my eyes to the facts of history and civilization, gave me an entirely fresh conception of the universe, provided me with a purpose and a mission in life.... [Das Kapital] achieved the greatest feat of which a book is capable—that of changing the minds of people who read it.” —George Bernard Shaw, quote in Francis Wheen, Marx’s Das Kapital (2006), p. 90.
SHORT SALE (in Capitalist Housing Markets)
The sale of a house, or other piece of real estate, for less than the nominal “owner” still owes on his or her mortgage. For example, a family might still owe $250,000 to the bank when they are forced by capitalist economic circumstances (such as losing their jobs) to sell their house for only $220,000. Of course the bank will receive that money, not the nominal seller. The bank normally must approve such a sale, since it will probably take a loss on its loan (in this case $30,000). Banks are sometimes willing to do this in order to at least get back part of their mortgage loan.
Short sales are common after the collapse of a major housing bubble, such as in the U.S. at the present time. (As of September 2009, there were about 1,000 short sales per month in the San Francisco Bay Area, or about 14% of the houses being sold.) The banks have only themselves to blame for this predicament since they were foisting off expensive mortgages (including sub-prime mortgages) on people who could not possibly continue to meet their mortgage payments. Meanwhile, millions of people are losing their homes. The capitalist system simply cannot guarantee even such a basic thing as a home for the masses of people.
SHORT SELLING (in Capitalist Stock or Commodities Markets)
Selling a financial asset such as a share of stock, or some uniform commodity, which the seller does not actually own, but which he or she has only borrowed for the purpose. Speculators do this when they expect the price to decline, and therefore expect to be able to buy back the item after that price decline. They will then pocket the difference in the selling and buying prices, after paying a fee to the broker who loaned them the stock or commodity. If the price of the borrowed asset rises and does not fall, the speculator will have to buy it back at a higher price, and will therefore suffer a loss. In brief, selling short is one of a great many methods of speculative gambling that financial capitalists have come up with.
So-called “naked short selling” is when the speculator sells the asset before he even borrows it, on the assumption that he will be able to borrow it before he has to actually deliver it. In the aftermath of the financial crisis which developed in the fall of 2008 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission prohibited (first temporarily and then permanently) naked short selling.
“SHORT-WORK” SYSTEM [in Germany]
See: PREBISCH THESIS
The major dispute and falling out between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union which first developed after Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in 1956. The dispute spread from merely the appraisal of Stalin and the issue of cults of personality to encompass many other ideological issues, the question of whether the Soviet Union was still on the revolutionary path, and even territorial disputes. Though we revolutionary Marxists may disagree with China on some secondary aspects of this great dispute (especially with regard to Stalin and having cults of personality), overall we strongly side with Mao and China, and condemn the revisionist and social-imperialist nature of the U.S.S.R. in the Khrushchev and later periods.
SISMONDI, Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de (1773-1842)
Swiss economist and historian. Considered by some to be sort of an early socialist. Marxist attitudes towards Sismondi have varied tremendously. Lenin looked down upon him as a vulgarizer of Ricardo. But Marx himself (in volume 3 of TSV which was not available to Lenin at the time he made his judgments) had much more sympathy toward Sismondi and viewed him as understanding some very fundamental points about capitalism that Ricardo could not grasp or accept:
“Sismondi is profoundly conscious of the contradictions in capitalist production; he is aware that, on the one hand, its forms—its production relations—stimulate unrestrained development of the productive forces and of wealth; and that, on the other hand, these relations are conditional, that their contradictions of use-value and exchange-value, commodity and money, purchase and sale, production and consumption, capital and wage-labor, etc., assume ever greater dimensions as productive power develops. He is particularly aware of the fundamental contradiction: on the one hand, unrestricted development of the productive forces and increase of wealth which, at the same time, consists of commodities and must be turned into cash; on the other hand, the system is based on the fact that the mass of producers is restricted to the necessaries. Hence, according to Sismondi, crises are not accidental, as Ricardo maintains, but essential outbreaks—occuring on a large scale and at definite periods—of the immanent contradictions.” —Marx, TSV, 3:56.
Marx does go on to say that Sismondi “wavers constantly” on many issues, and that his ideas are anything but well-worked out. “He [Sismondi] forcefully criticizes the contradictions of bourgeois production but does not understand them, and consequently does not understand the process whereby they can be resolved.” [Ibid.] Nevertheless, Marx later says that “Sismondi was epoch-making in political economy because he had an inkling of this contradiction” (the profound difference between Labor and Capital in the capitalist production process), that Ricardo could not understand. [TSV, 3:259.]
See: STRUCTURED INVESTMENT VEHICLE
1. Questioning, or caution, in accepting things as certainly true.
2. The view that human beings can attain no certain knowledge of the world; i.e., philosophical or epistemological agnosticism.
Sense #1 is clearly rational and scientific, but sense #2 carries things to a ridiculous extreme.
For an essay discussing this matter in more depth, see: “Do We Know For Certain that the Earth Goes Around the Sun?” at: http://www.massline.org/Philosophy/ScottH/certain.htm. See also: DOUBT
SLAM [Student Liberation Action Movement]
This was a multiracial radical student organization based in colleges in New York City from 1996 to 2004, especially Hunter College in Manhattan.
In early 1995 the City University of New York (CUNY) announced a major tuition increase and threatened to end (and later did end) the policy of open admissions, which had been won through earlier student stuggles in 1969. In response the students, under the leadership of an ad hoc coalition, organized a protest of 20,000 people which surrounded City Hall. This demonstration was attacked by the police, but the coalition continued and in 1996 transformed itself into the Student Liberation Action Movement. The group spread to CUNY colleges in all parts of New York City, and worked to construct a “left culture” among students. But over time the movement gradually lost force, and SLAM was disbanded in 2004. It did, however, leave a powerful imprint upon the many college students involved.
See also: http://SLAMherstory.wordpress.com for an oral history project by many of the women students involved in SLAM.
The first form of class society, based on private ownership of property and the outright ownership and exploitation of individuals of one class (the slaves) by individuals (or groups of individuals) of another class (the slave owners). Slave society developed out of primitive communal society, and was replaced by feudalism (though the existence of some chattel slavery continued to exist well into the capitalist era and even still continues today, though nowhere is it the dominant form of exploitation any more. Sometimes people being held in slave conditions (often as prostitutes) are even found in advanced capitalist countries like the United States.
See: BLIND FOLLOWERS
[To be added...]
See also: FAVELA
SMALL GROUP MENTALITY
Thinking of the welfare or interests of a small group of people rather than that of the entire working class, or the masses as a whole. There was a campaign against this tendency during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.
SMITH, Adam (1723-1790)
The most important classical political economist before Ricardo. He gave classical bourgeois political economy its developed form.
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The sum total of all the acquired ideas, opinions, views, concepts, knowledge, theories, dispositions, feelings, moods, abilities, skills, arts, practices, habits, customs and traditions that exist among the individuals in a society and which reflect the social being of its members (the material conditions of their lives).
An idealist theory in which society, law and morality are the result of either a conscious or implicit “contract” concluded among the people, or between the people and the state. The idea is that humans have agreed to give up some of their personal freedoms in exchange for a stable and secure political existence. This doctrine is historically incorrect, in that (among other reasons) it supposes that human society existed in a state of complete anarchy and bestiality (or alternately idyllic freedom according to Rousseau) until the “contract” was concluded. It is a crude, early attempt to understand how slave, feudal and bourgeois society could have developed. The view arose in antiquity but received its greatest development with the rising bourgeoisie in Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.
The theory that the struggle for existence and natural selection govern social development. It is an invalid extension of Darwin’s theory of biological evolution to society. Its most famous exponent was Herbert Spencer, but in various forms it is still quite popular in bourgeois circles.
1. A form of the liberal capitalist welfare state mascarading as genuine socialism.
2. Political parties and movements which have this reformist accomodation with capitalism as their highest goal.
See also: COMMUNISM—Aims Of
“In the past, social democracy called for using the state to offset,
correct, regulate, and otherwise manage the workings of capitalism. It sought a
capitalism with a human face: one with fewer inequalities of wealth, income, power,
and access to culture. The state was to manage capital investment, regulate markets,
and shape the distribution of income and wealth: all in the interest of a society
with a deeper and more widely shared sense of community. Economic growth and efficiency,
attributed to capitalism, were to be supported while state policy would prevent or
counteract the socially undesirable consequences of private capitalist production and
commodity markets. State interventionist capitalism was the solution; private
capitalism free if state controls and interventions was the problem.
“The social democratic solution thus constrained what private capitalists could do in their profit-driven competition with one another and their profit-driven relations with employees and customers. But it left them in the position of receiving and dispensing enterprise profits. Social democracy thus left private capitalists with the incentive to weaken, deflect, or remove those constraints. It also provided capitalists with the means—their retained profits—to do so. In a sense, this was the historic capitalist-socialist compromise of the 19th and 20th centuries. Capitalists could keep their positions as receivers and dispensers of enterprise profits, but the conditions of those positions would be constrained by social(ist) welfare state policies.
“Whatever the benefits, this historic compromise set the stage for new struggles. Welfare states became contested terrains: social democrats sought to strengthen and expand them, while capitalists sought to reduce, weaken, or eliminate them. From gains, the trend moved in the direction that favored capitalists. The trend turned into a rout in the 1970s and has remained so ever since. The capitalists used their profits to improve their business prospects and performance by, among other strategies, undoing welfare statism. By lobbying, moving production outside national borders, immigration, common markets, media campaigns, and countless other mechanisms, the capitalists succeeded in bringing social democracy to its current sorry state.
“Even where trade unions and socialist and communist parties were strong, they proved no match for the profits capitalists could use against them.” —Richard D. Wolff, Capitalism Hits the Fan (2010), pp. 36-37. This is an outline of both the theory of social democracy and of how history has fully demonstrated the flaw in that theory. Social democracy has clearly been proven to be a major mistake, and a complete dead-end, for the working class. Of course this inevitable result was already obvious to revolutionary Marxists such as Marx, Engels and Lenin even at the very start of this whole disastrous social democratic experiment!
SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC FEDERATION (Britain)
A socialist organization in Britain in the late 19th century which later merged with other forces and eventually developed into the Communist Party of Great Britain.
“The Social-Democratic Federation was founded in 1884. Among the leaders there were reformists (Hyndman & Co.), anarchists and revolutionary Social-Democrats, supporters of Marxism (Harry Quelch, Tom Mann, Edward Aveling, Eleanor Marx and others); the last-named group constituted the Left wing of the socialist movement in Britain. Engels criticized the Social-Democratic Federation sharply for dogmatism and sectarianism and for its lack of contact with the mass working-class movement in Britain and ignoring of the specific features of that movement. In 1907 the Social-Democratic Federation was renamed the Social-Democratic Party which in 1911, together with Left elements from the Independent Labour Party, founded the British Socialist Party; in 1920 most of the members of that party helped found the Communist Party of Great Britain.” —Footnote 47, Lenin: SW I (1967).
SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF GERMANY (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands - SPD)
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A person, party, movement or ideology, which is socialist or communist in name, but which in actuality operates in a fascist manner towards the masses. Most revisionist political parties in power are social fascists to one degree or another. For example, during the revisionist period of rule in the Soviet Union (i.e., its last 35 years or so), the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was a social-fascist political party. In India the so-called Communist Party of India (Marxist) [or CPM] is a social-fascist party, as its rule and oppression of the masses in the state of West Bengal has amply demonstrated. (See: HERMAD)
Socialist (or Communist) in name, but imperialist in deeds. For example, the Soviet Union, which was a genuine (if seriously flawed) socialist country while Stalin was alive, became a social-imperialist country when the revisionists came to power after Stalin’s death. The U.S.S.R. then engaged with a long inter-imperialist struggle with the U.S. to see which of the two powers would control the world.
See: PRIMITIVE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION, SOCIOECONOMIC FORMATION
SOCIALISM (Socialist Society)
An intermediate and transitional form of society between capitalism and communism, characterized in its economic aspect by the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work,” and characterized in its political aspect by the genuine control and rule of society by the revolutionary proletariat and its party or parties.
Socialism is still a form of class society, where class struggle still exists, and bourgeois and proletarian ideology and tendencies still do battle. The ruling class in a genuine socialist society is the proletariat. But many countries call (or have called) themselves socialist even though the proletariat either never had power, or else no longer has power, and where society is not (or is no longer) advancing towards communism (e.g., China after Mao’s death in 1976).
SOCIALISM — Contradictions Within
[Intro to be added...]
“Any kind of world, and of course class society in particular, teems with contradictions. Some say that there are contradictions to be ‘found’ in socialist society, but I think this is a wrong way of putting it. The point is not that there are contradictions to be found, but that it teems with contradictions. There is no place where contradictions do not exist...” —Mao, “A Dialectical Approach to Inner-Party Unity” (Nov. 18, 1957), SW5:516.
[To be added... ]
SOCIALIST EDUCATION MOVEMENT
A mass movement launched in 1963 by Mao and the Communist Party of China which promoted socialist values in Chinese society. As part of this campaign, and in order to start to break down the differences between urban and rural labor, many cadres from the cities were sent to the countryside. (This policy was later expanded during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.)
“[A] petty-bourgeois party in Russia, which came into being at the
end of 1901 and beginning of 1902 as a result of a merger of various
Narodnik groups and circles. The S.R.s [Pronounced
ess-airs in Russian. —S.H.] saw no class distinctions between the proletarian and
the petty proprietor, played down the class differentiation and antagonisms within the
peasantry, and refused to recognize the proletariat’s leading role in the revolution.
Their views were an eclectic mixture of the ideas of Narodism and revisionism. In
Lenin’s words, they tried to mend ‘the rents in the Narodnik ideas with bits of
fashionable opportunist “criticism” of Marxism.’ [LCW 9:310]
“The Socialist-Revolutionaries agrarian programme envisaged the abolition of private ownership of the land, which was to be transferred to the village commune on the basis of the ‘labor principle’ and ‘equalized land tenure’, and also the development of co-operatives. This programme, which the S.R.s called ‘socialization of the land’, had nothing socialist about it. In his analysis of this programme, Lenin showed that the preservation of commodity production and private farming on communal land would not do away with the domination of capital or free the toiling peasantry from exploitation and impoverishment. Neither could the co-operatives be a remedy for the small farmers under capitalism, as they served only to enrich the rural bourgeoisie. At the same time, as Lenin pointed out, the demand for equalized land tenure, though not socialistic, was of a progressive, revolutionary-democratic character, inasmuch as it was directed against reactionary landlordism.
“The Bolshevik Party exposed the attempts of the S.R.s to pass themselves off as socialists. It waged a stubborn fight against them for influence over the peasantry, and revealed the damage their tactic of individual terrorism was causing the working-class movement. At the same time, the Bolsheviks, on definite terms, entered into temporary agreements with the Socialist-Revolutionaries to combat tsarism.
“The Socialist-Revolutionary Party’s political and ideological instability and organizational incohesion, as well as its constant vacillation between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat, were due to the absence of class homogeneity among the peasantry. During the first Russian revolution [1905-07], the Right wing of the S.R.s broke away from the party and formed the legal Labor Popular Socialist Party, whose views were close to those of the Constitutional-Democrats (Cadets), while the Left wing split away and formed a semi-anarchist league of ‘Maximalists’. During the period of the Stolypin reaction, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party suffered a complete break-down ideologically and organizationally. During the First World War most of its members took a social-chauvinist stand.
“After the February bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1917, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, together with the Mensheviks and Cadets, were the mainstay of the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government of the bourgeoisie and landlords. The leaders of the S.R. Party—Kerensky, Avksentyev and Chernov—were members of this Cabinet. The S.R. Party refused to support the peasants’ demand for the abolition of landlordism, and stood for the preservation of landlord ownership. The S.R. members of the Provisional Government authorized punitive action against peasants who had seized landed estates.
“At the end of November 1917 the Left wing of the S.R. Party formed an independent party of Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, who, in an endeavor to preserve their influence among the peasant masses, formally recognized Soviet rule and entered into an agreement with the Bolsheviks. Shortly [after], however, they began a struggle against the Soviets.
“During the years of foreign intervention and the Civil War the S.R.s carried on counter-revolutionary subversive activities. They actively supported the interventionists and whiteguards, took part in counter-revolutionary plots, and organized terroristic acts against leaders of the Soviet state and the Communist Party. [Including an attempt to assassinate Lenin which did succeed in severely wounding him. —S.H.] After the Civil War, the S.R.s continued their anti-Soviet activities within the country and in the camp of the White émigrés.” —Footnote 14, LCW 20:566-567.
SOCIALLY NECESSARY LABOR TIME
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One of the following stages in the development of society: primitive communalism (or primitive communism); slave society; feudalism; capitalism; socialism; and communism. Except for the first and the last of these, all are class societies. Slave society, feudalism and capitalism all rest upon the exploitation of one class by another, though this is somewhat hidden from view under capitalism.
These historical stages have been identified primarily through the study of European history, and sometimes variations are hypothesized for other areas, such as the Asiatic mode of production which Marx talked about at times in his writings. It is more common these days to view the “Asiatic mode of production” as a variety of feudalism.
SOCRATES (469-399 BCE)
[To be added...]
See also: Philosophical doggerel about Socrates.
The crazy idealist view that there is only one thinker in the world, me!, and that everyone and everything else is a figment of my imagination. It is doubtful if anyone has ever taken this view seriously, but bourgeois philosophers talk about it a lot since many of them seem to think it is difficult or impossible to refute the notion!
See also: Philosophical doggerel on the topic.
[In religion:] An imagined immaterial essence of a human being which God supposedly “puts into” the body at conception or birth (or sometime in between!), and which “leaves” the body at death to go to heaven or hell or some other “place”. It is hard for a materialist not to simply guffaw at such a primitive, absurd and unscientific notion.
[In wider use:] Because of humanity’s religious past, the word ‘soul’ is also used even by non-religious people, but in more rational (if still somewhat poetic) ways, as in describing the essential aspect or nature of something as its “soul”. Example: “Her hard work and dedication make her the soul of the strike support committee.”
See also: SPIRIT
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SOVIET UNION — Collapse of
[To be added... ]
SOVIET UNION — Revisionist Seizure of Power In
[To be added... ]
See also: PATERNALISM
The word ‘soviet’ means “council” in Russian. During the 1905 Revolution councils, or Soviets, were first formed in a major way by the workers, peasants and soldiers to represent their revolutionary interests. After the defeat of the 1905 Revolution these Soviets mostly ceased functioning. But with the overthrow of the Tsar in the February Revolution, they sprang suddenly back into existence as an even greater force. During the course of 1917 they settled down into being the primary representatives of the workers in their day-to-day struggles against the capitalists, of the peasants against the landlords, of the ordinary soldiers against the officer corps, and of all the masses against the flaky bourgeois Provisional Government. Lenin understood the nature of the situation, that despite the current practice of the Soviets as reformist or union-type organizations, they in effect formed a dual power along with the formal Russian government. He further recognized that because of this, and because the workers, peasants and soldiers viewed the Soviets as their own organizations which truly did represent their interests (unlike the government), that an insurrection could be led with a central slogan being “All power to the Soviets!” And, of course, Lenin proved to be correct in his assessment.
The strategy of working toward the formation of “soviets” or councils of workers in other countries as a step toward revolution has so far not been successful, though it was widely attempted—especially in the first decades after the Bolshevik Revolution. However, in the advanced capitalist world no other strategy has worked so far either, and it is still quite possible that something like workers’ councils will once again prove quite useful in promoting revolution.
SPARTACUS LEAGUE (Spartacists) [Germany, circa World War I]
Organization of German Left Social-Democrats, formed during World War I.
“The Spartacus League was headed by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin and others. It carried on revolutionary propaganda against the imperialist war and exposed the aggressive policy of German imperialism and the treachery of the social-democratic leaders. The Spartacists took up an erroneous position, however, in regard to a number of important questions of theory and policy: they underestimated the leading role of the proletarian party in the working-class struggle, they were afraid of a split with the opportunists, they did not understand the need for an alliance of the working class and the peasantry and the importance of the national-liberation movement, they opposed the principle of the self-determination of nations, including the right to secede and form independent states. In April 1917, the Spartacists joined the centrist Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany in which they retained their organizational independence. After the revolution of 1918 in Germany, the Spartacists broke with the Independents and in December of that year founded the Communist Party of Germany.” —Note 61, Lenin, SW 3 (1967).
SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE (SEZ)
A common term used in many different countries for special areas (frequently along the coasts) set aside for the extra benefit of foreign imperialist corporations. For example, in India at the present time SEZs have been established to allow transnational corporations to set up operations on Indian soil which are not even required to obey many of the laws of India which are in force elsewhere in the country.
China did much the same thing before pretty much the entire country was opened up to almost unrestricted imperialist penetration. Deng Xiaoping specified certain cities for direct foreign investment and adoption of foreign technology. Four cities were originally designated SEZs in 1979, with 14 more added in 1986, along with the entire island of Hainan.
SPECIAL PURPOSE ENTITY [Capitalist Finance]
A semi-independent (or dummy) company set up by a corporation or bank to carry out some function that the mother company prefers not to do in its own name. One common use for SPEs is to have them “purchase” dubious loans which the mother company has made, so as to officially get them off their own books and make the financial health of the mother company look better than it is. The SPE will then pay whatever income it receives from the dubious loans back to the mother company. SPEs therefore are generally a form of corporate misrepresentation and fraud. A recent new type of SPE is known as the special purpose vehicle (see below).
SPECIAL PURPOSE VEHICLE (SPV) [Contemporary Capitalist Finance]
A relatively recent variety of a special purpose entity (see entry above). Essentially SPVs are dummy corporations, usually set up by an investment bank (or major financial corporation, government sponsored enterprise, etc.), for the purpose of pretending that some of their financial shenanigans are being done by another company and to try to safeguard the mother company if something should go wrong in the meanwhile. The specific task most commonly assigned to these SPVs is to take numerous individual mortgages or other loans issued by the mother corporation, package them into batches or pools, and then issue bonds or mortgage-backed securities which are supposedly “secured” by these pools. SPVs thus played an important role in all the securitization activity in the recent housing securities bubble that has now (2007-2010) partially popped.
See also: STRUCTURED INVESTMENT VEHICLE (SIV), CONDUIT
See also: DIVISION OF LABOR
“In a word, specialization necessarily presupposes centralization, and in turn imperatively calls for it.” —Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?” (1902), LCW 5:470.
SPENCER, Herbert (1820-1903)
English philosopher and sociologist, and one of the founders of positivism. [More to be added.]
See also: SOCIAL DARWINISM
SPINOZA, Baruch [or Benedict] (1632-1677)
Dutch semi-materialist philosopher. Spinoza held that morality is based in human nature. He defined ‘good’ in various ways, as that which benefits the individual, as that which brings pleasure, and so forth. Although his ethical theory was not completely consistent and coherent, and certainly included idealistic elements, it represented a tremendous advance at the time, and fostered naturalistic and materialistic thinking in ethics and in philosophy in general.
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The theory that in the imperialist era the capitalist industrial cycle has “split in two”, i.e., into two separate (though connected) cycles with differing periods. The short-term cycle, which like the industrial cycle in the pre-monopoly era still usually lasts from 5 to 10 years, leads to recessions, but most of these tend to be mild and rather easily dealt with through government actions (such as by lowering the prevailing bank interest rates, lowering taxes, increasing Keynesian deficit financing for government expenditures, and the like). The long-term cycle, which is of much more irregular duration, comes to a head when government measures can no longer “short-circuit” the developing economic contradictions which have led to a recession, and therefore which continues to develop into an all out depression. These depressions can only be ended through the massive destruction of the excess capital that has built up since the previous depression.
For an elaboration of this theory see “Chapter 5: The Industrial Cycle Has Split In Two!” of my work in progress, An Introduction to Capitalist Economic Crises at: http://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/crises/Crises05.htm . —S.H.
SPLITTING OF ONE INTO TWO
SPONTANEITY (Of the Masses)
[In Marxism:] Spontaneity is unguided mass activity, that is, struggle which is unguided by conscious proletarian line and leadership.
For a 12-page elaboration on this topic see Chapter 9 of my book The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement. —S.H.
SPONTANEOUS WORKING CLASS IMPULSES
[Intro to be added... ]
“Social-Democracy [Communism] has established a name for itself, has created a trend and has built up cadres of Social-Democratic workers. And now that the heroic proletariat has proved by deeds its readiness to fight, and its ability to fight consistently and in a body for clearly-understood aims, to fight in a purely Social-Democratic spirit, it would be simply ridiculous to doubt that the workers who belong to our Party, or who will join it tomorrow at the invitation of the Central Committee, will be Social-Democrats in ninety-nine cases out of hundred. The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness.” —Lenin, “The Reorganization of the Party” (Nov. 1905), LCW 10:32.
The combination of economic stagnation (see below) and inflation at the same time. According to bourgeois economics this was supposed to be impossible, but when it first reared its ugly head in the U.S. in the late 1970s and 1980s they were forced to admit that it could indeed happen, though they still could not explain why.
From a Marxist standpoint the explanation for stagflation poses no problems: the stagnation aspect is simply an early sign of a developing overproduction crisis, and inflation is just a sign that the government is expanding the currency too fast (because of excessive government budget deficits usually). While it is true that massive Keynesian budget deficits can forestall stagnation or recession (for a while!), lesser bouts of deficit financing may only slightly mitigate the stagnation/recession while at the same time causing inflation.
The failure of an economy to grow, or for it only to grow at a very slow pace. This is often an early indicator of a developing overproduction crisis that is only being kept somewhat in check for a time through the expansion of government or consumer debt but on an insufficient scale to create a more solid rate of growth for the economy.
See also: Paul Sweezy.
STALIN, Joseph [Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili] (1879-1953)
[To be added... ] (See also below.)
STALIN — Errors and Crimes Of
[To be added... ]
See also: PATERNALISM
STANDING TOGETHER TO ORGANIZE A REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT (STORM)
A small multinational “revolutionary cadre organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area”, which existed from September 1994 to December 2002. It was largely composed of students and young people. Its ideology is sometimes described as “Third World Marxism”.
STORM grew out of a Marxist-leaning organization in the Bay Area called Roots Against War (RAW), which emerged in the early 1990s and organized protests around the Gulf War and the Rodney King verdict. STORM originally was an eclectic mixture of anarchists, communists and revolutionary nationalists, but after some internal struggle the anarchists left and the organization became more Marxist in tone. Many members especially respected Mao Zedong and considered him their spiritual leader.
Unlike RAW, STORM had some white members, though its membership was always more than 75% people of color. Its membership was also more than 60% women. Reflecting the problems and tensions of American society, the racial, ethnic and gender composition of STORM, and its leadership committees, was viewed as critically important:
“Throughout its history, STORM was committed to maintaining itself as a majority women, majority people of color organization. This commitment also extended to the areas of mass work in which STORM members collectively worked. Growing out of theoretical frameworks inherited from revolutionary, third wave and Black feminist members of STORM developed the ‘Sisters at the Center’ slogan early on in their organization’s history. Application of this slogan meant a conscious emphasis to keep women of color and working class women at the center of the organization’s analysis, program and practice.” —From the Wikipedia entry on STORM.
Interestingly, most of STORM’s membership had never previously been in any other
revolutionary organization. STORM officially dissolved in December 2002. Perhaps part of
the reason for its disbandment can be seen in the Van Jones Affair. After STORM disbanded,
one of its founders and leaders, Anthony “Van” Jones, moved into the inner circles of the
Democratic Party, and was appointed by President Obama as a “special advisor” with respect
to “Green jobs”. In September 2009 he resigned from this position after some right-wing
red-baiting about his past associations. It has been claimed that nearly all the
members of STORM in its last period were also staff members of various social non-profit
organizations. This may have even developed in the direction of a sort of alternative
social-program bureaucracy, which seems to have led to some resentment on the part of those
outside of STORM. It is very doubtful if this sort of thing can be a good social base for
constructing a revolutionary organization.
See also the 97-page pamphlet summarizing the history, development and disbanding of the group, “Reclaiming Revolution: History, Summation & Lessons from the Work of Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM)” (Spring 2004), online at: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/10717234/Reclaiming-Revolution-history-summation-and-lessons-from-the-work-of-STORM
[In Marxist usage:] The primary instrument of political power in class society, consisting of organs of administration (government departments), and of force (army and police). There are also usually auxillary organs (legislatures or parliaments, and courts of law) which exist both to resolve conflicts within the ruling class and to lend the appearance of fairness and “complete democracy” to the state. The state is thus a mechanism for class rule, the embodiment of the dictatorship of a particular class, no matter how camouflaged it may be.
STATE, The Bourgeois
The bourgeois State is the organ of power and administration which exercises the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (or capitalist class) over all other classes, and especially over the proletariat (working class).
“The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” —Marx & Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Ch. I: MECW 6:486.
1. The form of capitalism in which the capitalists own the means of production (factories, machinery, etc.) collectively and as a class, rather than individually or in small associations (partnerships, corporations, etc.). The Soviet Union was the prime example after the restoration of capitalism there in the mid 1950s and until its collapse in late 1991. It seems fair to conclude these days that state capitalism is unstable and tends to decay back into more traditional forms of monopoly capitalism.
2. [As used by various other left theorists:] Western-style monopoly capitalism, or specific periods of it during which the state plays a more prominent role than other periods. The bourgeois state does play a much increased role in the control and direction of capitalism in the imperialist or monopoly capitalist era (as compared to earlier capitalism); and since the 1930s the role of the state has been further increased in monopoly capitalism. But this state role is still qualitatively much less than it was in the Soviet Union in the revisionist era and it is incorrect and confusing to call any period of Western-style monopoly capitalism by the name “state capitalism” or “state monopoly capitalism”.
STEVENSON, Charles Leslie (1908-1979)
An American bourgeois analytical philosopher in the logical positivist tradition, who specialized in ethics and aesthetics, and is best known for his erroneous theory of emotivism in ethics. He studied with the bourgeois philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore in England.
In articles such as “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms” (1937) and in his book Ethics and Language (1944), Stevenson put forth the positivist notion that moral statements are “meaningless” (and “unscientific”) except for their emotive content. This is one variety of non-cognitivism in ethics. Thus for him, “Killing is bad” would be equivalent to something like: “Killing... UGH!”.
No doubt many statements in morals do carry emotive (or emotional) connotations, but they are also factually meaningful and either true or false (though just which often depends on the precise situation). Thus killing is normally very wrong because it goes against the collective interests of the people, and therefore the statement “Killing is wrong” is indeed true in most situations. This is a simple example of how the scientific investigation of the situation can in fact determine what is right or wrong, despite what Stevenson thought.
Stevenson’s theory is very similar to, and is often viewed as merely an elaboration of the ethical theories of A.J. Ayer and other positivists. They developed such theories because they could not grasp the real basis for morality, namely people’s collective interests (and in class society, their class interests).
See also: CLASS INTEREST THEORY OF ETHICS
STIMULUS or STIMULUS PACKAGE
[Bourgeois economics:] A round of government spending, usually involving a substantial Keynesian deficit, which is design to “stimulate” a weak or recessionary economy.
See also: “PRIMING THE PUMP”
[To be added...]
STOCK MARKET CAPITALIZATION
The total current market value of all the stocks listed on a particular stock market, or else on a group of stock markets considered as a whole. In October 2007 when most of the stock markets of the world were at or near their peaks, the 54 stock exchanges which are monitored by the World Federation of Exchanges had a combined market capitalization of $63 trillion. This world stock market capitalization had fallen by more than half, to $31 trillion, by the end of November 2008. In other words, the stocks owned by the average investor had lost more than half their value in 13 months.
[To be added...]
See also: Philosophical doggerel about Stoicism.
STOLYPIN, P. A. (1862-1911)
The extremely reactionary Chairman of the Council of Ministers in the Tsarist government during the period 1906-11. In the phrase “the Stolypin reaction” his name is associated with the suppression of the first Russian revolution (1905-07) and the following period of harsh political crackdown on even the slightest tendency toward political change.
See: STANDING TOGETHER TO ORGANIZE A REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT
STRATEGY AND TACTICS
[To be added... ]
See also: OCTOBER ROAD
[In linguistics:] A school, or approach, to linguistics which focuses on the structures or systems of elements in languages. One important success of this approach was in phonemics, where each separate sound in a language (or phoneme) is identified through its contrasting interrelationships with the other phonemes. In the broadest sense, all areas and schools of linguistics are “structural” to some degree. However, there is also a more specific sense of linguistic structuralism where the focus is on mere surface structures, and the classification and description of features of utterances. This is often derided as being woefully insufficient by those, such as Noam Chomsky, who seek to uncover the “deep structures” which may underlie the grammar of all languages.
[In the other social sciences:] An extension of the focus in linguistics on structures and their interrelationships, to the elements of society in general. This was an especially strong movement in France in the 1960s, with the most prominent individual being the bourgeois anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009). A prominent assumption of structuralism is that the phenomena of human existence are not intelligible except through their interrelationships and interactions. There is obviously some considerable truth to this, but it becomes highly questionable when made into an absolute, with no other principles of how to investigate and comprehend society being accepted. Structuralism, in other words tends to be skewed and unidimensional in its approach.
On the other hand, since the interrelationships and interactions of the many sorts of social elements (such as kinship relationships, ideologies, class relationships, social labor, educational mechanisms, etc.) tend to be highly complex and go off in many directions, there is a strong tendency among the structuralists to dabble in many other spheres of investigation where their training and knowledge is quite minimal. The fact that a person is a trained and experienced anthropologist, for example, does not automatically make him or her competent to discuss psychology, mythology and religion, philosophy, political economy and so forth. This tendency in structuralism towards unjustified expansion in the scope of the discussion often seems to lead it into a semi-coherent mishmash.
There have been attempts (largely unsuccessful) to extend the structuralist approach to other spheres as well, including literary theory and criticism, psychoanalytic theory, Marxist theory (by Althusser, for example), and even architecture!
STRUCTURED INVESTMENT VEHICLE (SIV) [Contemporary Capitalist Finance]
A special type of “conduit” (dummy corporation set up by financial institutions), which generally uses borrowed money from independent companies to purchase mortgages and other loans (often of highly dubious quality) from its mother company, packages them into pools, and then “securitizes” them (i.e., issues mortgage or loan backed bonds or securities supposedly backed up by these pools), which it sells to investors. Furthermore, often there are different tranches or slices of these securities some of which are claimed to be much “safer” than the lower rated slices. Through this convoluted means, and with the connivance of rating agencies, the investment bank or financial corporation is fraudulently able to sell securities based on highly dubious loans (including sub-prime mortgages) as if they were very safe investments.
STRUGGLE — CRITICISM — TRANSFORMATION
A policy stage during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution promoted by Mao and his followers, starting in 1968. As explained by Mao:
“Struggle-criticism-transformation in a factory, on the whole, goes through the following stages: establishing a three-in-one revolutionary committee; carrying out mass criticism and repudiation; purifying the class ranks; consolidating the Party organization; and simplifying the administrative structure, changing irrational rules and regulations and sending office workers to the workshops.” —Mao, quoted in “Unprecedentedly Excellent Situation in China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, Peking Review, #44, Nov. 1, 1968, p. 12.
STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY (SDS)
[To be added... ]
See: POLITICAL STUDY, REPEATED STUDY
The extreme form of philosophical idealism which claims that everything, including material objects, exists only because they are collections of sensations or “ideas” in someone’s mind, or else in the mind of God. A prominent champion of this bizarre view was Bishop Berkeley.
In a dialectical process, the negation or elimination of an element or aspect (of a dialectical contradiction) which is however preserved in a transformed or partial way in the resulting synthesis. In other words, a simultaneous cancelling and preservation of something. This term was frequently used by Hegel (as in his idealist philosophy about the historical movement of the “absolute idea”), and is occasionally used by Marxists speaking in Hegelian language (especially academics!).
In a multi-stage process (involving a series of sub-contradictions) each of the intermediate stages is sublated by a later or superior stage, which accounts for both the change in and the continuity of the process as a whole. One concrete example, in historical materialism, is the development of the exploitation contradiction in human history. The first stage in the overall development of this contradiction was slavery, which involved the sub-contradiction between slaves and slaveowners and the exploitation of the slaves by the slaveowners. This was eventually transformed (or “sublated”) into the stage of feudalism, which was characterized by the new sub-contradiction between serfs (or peasants) and feudal landlords, but with still the exploitation of the former by the latter. Feudalism in turn was later transformed or sublated into capitalism, where another new sub-contradiction arose, this time between the workers and the capitalists, but still with the same exploitation of one social class by another class. Note that the term “sublation” is by no means necessary in describing this overall process; in fact, if the goal is to clearly explain (rather than to intimidate with esoteric language), the ordinary word “transformation” seems far preferable here! Note also that the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism (and then communism) will not involve the further sublation (or transformation) of the overall exploitation contradiction, but rather its complete abolition. Society as a whole will be much more profoundly transformed, but economic exploitation itself will be eliminated and not just transformed.
A mortgage issued to someone with a fairly poor credit rating.
Why would a bank or other financial institution make such a loan which stands a high likelihood of default? First of all, they usually charge a higher interest rate and a larger up-front fee. However, one of the main reasons that sub-prime mortgages became so common in the first decade of the 21st century is that the issuers of the mortgage (the banks, etc.) found ways to “securitize” it, i.e. to repackage the mortgage with others and sell bonds based on them to other investors in a form where their stupidity was not obvious. (See Collateralized Debt Obligation.) Thus the bank issuing the mortgage would not suffer even if the mortgage did go into default; that would only harm the suckers who bought the “sliced-and-diced” securities. Ironically, many of the issuers of CDOs seem to have got caught up in the marketing hype they generated to sell these wonderful new investments, forgot just what they were up to, and often kept or invested in these securitized bad mortgages themselves! Thus they also got caught in this trap of their own making.
“I don’t think it poses any threat to the overall economy.” —U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, pooh-poohing the dangers in the developing subprime mortgage meltdown, quoted in a Bloomberg.com news report, July 26, 2007. [What became known as the “Great Recession” began that following December, and over the course of the next year or so a major financial crisis broke out! —S.H.]
SUCCESSORS — Revolutionary
See: REVOLUTIONARY SUCCESSORS
See: CHANGE—Sudden, QUALITATIVE LEAP
SUN SPOT THEORY (Of Economic Crises)
A theory originated by the bourgeois economist William Stanley Jevons (1835-82) which claims that the periodic prominence of dark spots on the surface of the sun is responsible for economic cycles in the capitalist economies on earth. Though erroneous, this is not quite as ridiculous as it initally sounds! The sun goes through a 11-year cycle of varying numbers of sun spots, from almost none, to a great many, and back to almost none. These spots are actually plasma storms, and when they are abundant large quantities of charged particles are spewed off into space, some of which reach the earth and cause effects here, including the auroras and interruptions to radio communications. Moreover, the sun’s energy output varies during this 11-year cycle by about 0.1%, which causes the surface temperature of the ocean to fluctuate by a slightly larger amount. It is likely, therefore, that there are at least small changes to crop yields because of atmospheric and weather changes, and this was the basis for Jevons’ theory. (The astronomer William Hershel noted as early as 1801 that when sunspots were rare, the price of wheat in England increased.) However, such crop changes are probably fairly small, and this is only one small aspect of the overall economy. Moreover, neither the peaks nor valleys of the 11-year cycle of sun spots correlate with the varying periods of 5 to 10 years in the standard industrial cycle.
Clearly bourgeois economists come up with rather silly theories like this, which try to explain economic crises by “exogenous” factors (i.e., factors external to the capitalist system), because they simply cannot accept that capitalism itself has any internal flaw which leads to such crises, despite the fact that Marx long ago explained in detail how this occurs.
[From Bengali: Shundorbôn] A very large area of tidal mangrove forest in the Ganges River delta area of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India.
See: BASE and SUPERSTRUCTURE
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
[To be added...]
SUPREME COURT (U.S.)
See: CORPORATION—As a ‘Person’
“The action of labor-power ... not only reproduces its own value, but produces value over and above it. This surplus-value is the difference between the value of the product and the value of the elements consumed in the formation of that product, in other words, of the means of production and the labour-power.” —Marx, Capital, vol. I, ch. VIII: (International, p. 208; Penguin, p. 317.) Or, roughly equivalent, surplus value is the value of the commodities produced by the workers after deducting their wages, the cost of raw materials and the overhead.
“There is not one single atom of [surplus] value that does not owe its existence to unpaid labor.” —Marx, Capital, Vol. I, ch. 24, sect. 1. (Penguin ed., p. 728.)
[To lay bare the essential character of capitalist production:] “This was done by the discovery of surplus-value. It was shown that the appropriation of unpaid labor is the basis of the capitalist mode of production and of the exploitation of the worker that occurs under it; that even if the capitalist buys the labor-power of his laborer at its full value as a commodity on the market, he yet extracts more value from it than he paid for; and that in the ultimate analysis this surplus-value forms those sums of value from which are heaped up the constantly increasing masses of capital in the hands of the possessing classes. The genesis of capitalist production and the production of capital were both explained.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring (1878), MECW 25:27.
SURPLUS VALUE — Absolute and Relative
“The surplus-value produced by prolongation of the working day, I call absolute surplus-value. On the other hand, the surplus-value arising from the curtailment of the necessary labour-time, and from the corresponding alteration in the respective lengths of the two components of the working day, I call relative surplus-value. —Marx, Capital, Vol. I, ch. 12. (International ed., ...; Penguin ed., p. 432.)
SVERDLOV COMMUNIST UNIVERSITY
A higher educational institution originally set up in revolutionary Russia for the further political education and training of members of the Bolshevik Party.
“The Sverdlov Communist University was formed from courses for
agitators and instructors organized in 1918 under the All-Russia Central Executive Committee
and later converted into a school of Soviet work. After the decision of the Eighth Congress
of the R.C.P.(B.) on the organization of a higher school under the C.C. for training Party
cadres, the school was reorganized into the Central School for Soviet and Party Work; in the
second half of 1919, by decision of the Organizing Bureau of the C.C. of the R.C.P.(B.) it
changed its name to the Sverdlov Communist University.
“This was the first Party higher educational institution. Lenin showed great interest in the organization of the University and took part in working out its first syllabus and curriculum.
“On July 11 and August 29, 1919, Lenin delivered lectures on the state in the University. The text of the second lecture has not been preserved. On October 24 of the same year, Lenin made a speech to students of the Sverdlov University leaving for the front.” —Note 106, Lenin, SW 3 (1967).
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, and now has a stronger Maoist flavor to it.
See also: Monopoly Capital (the book).
“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)” —Footnote 50, Lenin, SW 1.
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