Sunday, September 18, 2022

3607. Ten Questions About Marx—More Than Twenty Years After Marx’s Ecology

By John Bellamy Foster and Roberto Andrés, Monthly Review, September 1, 2022

John Bellamy Foster

Roberto Andrés: I have long wanted to interview you about a book that was decisive in my intellectual formation: Marx’s Ecology. This book was published in 2000 in English and immediately translated into Spanish and inaugurated what has become known as second generation ecosocialism, which recognizes the ecological conception of Karl Marx, unlike the previous generation. However, in the more than twenty years since, Marx’s Ecology not only opened a wide debate but was also the object of multiple criticisms (it could not be otherwise). Later, you and Paul Burkett, author of Marx and Nature, published an anti-critique: Marx and the Earth, where you rigorously answered each of those criticisms. And then Kohei Saito further extended this line of inquiry with Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism. All of this has led me to wonder about the answers you gave in 2000 to ten controversial questions that have puzzled analysts of Marx’s vast theoretical corpus for a long time. Given the debates over the last two decades, would you answer these ten questions the same way you did in 2000 with Marx’s Ecology? I tend to believe that, in general terms, much progress has been made during this time in this line of research. That is why I would like to do a very specific interview with you dealing with these ten controversial questions, some twenty years after Marx’s Ecology.

John Bellamy FosterI am of course pleased to provide answers to your questions with respect to Marx and my book Marx’s Ecology two decades after its publication. My views have remained generally the same, though they naturally have been refined over the years. Nevertheless, I am glad to offer some clarifications.

RA: Why did Marx write his doctoral thesis on the ancient atomists?

JBF: The question of why Marx chose to write his doctoral thesis on Epicurus has often puzzled scholars and numerous explanations have been offered. One of the most comprehensive treatments referring to these various interpretations is offered in volume 1 of Michael Heinrich’s Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society, first published in German in 2018. None of these accounts, however, is particularly convincing. Most tend to look for some single-minded theoretical purpose that pushed Marx in this direction. In contrast, I think that Marx’s interest in Epicurus emerged organically as a result of problems that he faced in his own historical time and the intellectual developments then occurring, related to such issues as the Enlightenment, the critique of religion, materialism, dialectics, and Hegel’s philosophy.

We need to remember that Epicureanism was the first philosophical tradition that Marx mentioned in any of his extant writings. Thus, in his Gymnasium examination paper on religion, he opposed Christianity to Epicureanism, to the detriment of the latter. We do not know to what extent Marx was conveying his actual beliefs in that examination, since he was giving answers which were essentially required in the German Gymnasium at the time. But we do know he was already thinking about Epicureanism at the age of 17. Marx, of course, was a child of and then a critic of the Enlightenment. Both his father, Heinrich Marx, and his future father-in-law Ludwig von Westphalen—who was a mentor to him—were deeply enmeshed in elements of Enlightenment thinking, which had penetrated, along with Napoleon’s army, the Trier in which Karl grew up. Heinrich Marx admired the deist Voltaire. Westphalen was enamored with the ideas of the utopian socialist and materialist Henri de St. Simon. Enlightenment secularism and the critique of religion were important parts of this atmosphere.

Among Enlightenment thinkers, from Francis Bacon to Voltaire and Immanuel Kant, Epicurus was seen as a major figure, inspiring the seventeenth-century scientific revolution and the overturning of Aristotelian scholasticism. Karl Marx himself in his doctoral thesis was to depict Epicurus as representing the first glowing of the Enlightenment outlook in antiquity, comparing him to the demigod Prometheus. But Marx was hardly alone in this. G. W. F. Hegel in his History of Philosophy stated that “Epicurus…introduced more enlightened views in regard to what is physical and banished the fear of the gods.” Epicureanism represented, along with other Hellenistic philosophies, the development of “self-consciousness,” which was of immeasurable importance in the Hegelian dialectical view. Marx’s close friend Karl Friedrich Köppen wrote a book on Frederick the Great (dedicated to Marx) in 1840 in which he declared: “All the figures of the Enlightenment are indeed related to Epicurus in many respects, just as from the opposite point of view the Epicureans have shown themselves chiefly to be the Enlightenment figures of antiquity.” Marx, of course, was aware that for most of the history of Christianity, Epicureanism was persecuted as the main manifestation of atheism (though Epicurus did not deny the existence of the gods, only their relation to the world) and anti-Christian views. All the major breakthroughs of the seventeenth-century scientific revolution, as Marx himself emphasized, were closely associated with Epicurean materialism.

Heinrich is correct, in my view, in saying that Marx in his doctoral thesis did not directly address the conflict between materialism and idealism, and that Epicurus’s materialism was chiefly of importance to Marx initially in terms of the critique of religion—which is, of course, how materialism arose—rather than in a strictly ontological sense. Yet, Marx delved more deeply than any other nineteenth-century thinker into Epicurus’s materialist philosophy and carried this into his later work. If, as Frederick Engels said, Marx’s dissertation was influenced by Hegelian philosophy, it was not, as he also noted, in itself a Hegelian work, displaying elements of philosophical materialism as well as philosophical idealism. Marx quoted Baron d’Holbach, the leading French materialist, in his doctoral thesis. It is significant that while working on his thesis, Marx translated much of Aristotle’s De Anima. As Ernst Bloch has taught us, this was the more materialist part of Aristotle, giving rise to what Bloch called the “Aristotelian Left,” carried forward in the Islamic world, but also recognizable in Marx. There is, I believe, no contradiction between this and Marx’s fascination with Epicureanism.

What is certain is that Marx’s treatment of ancient atomistic philosophy of nature took him deep into the roots of materialist philosophy. What he discovered, much to his surprise as we can see from his Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy along with his dissertation itself, is the role of the swerve and thus Epicurus’s non-deterministic, non-mechanistic materialism, which deviates in this respect from Democritus. He also discovered what he referred to as the “immanent dialectic” in Epicurus, along with an emphasis on human freedom (though not in the sense of materialist praxis) and a kind of sensual or corporeal materialism, even a notion of alienation. Time in Epicurus is, as Lucretius put it, mors immortalis (deathless death), which becomes fundamental to Marx’s materialism. Marx had nothing but praise for Epicurus’s ethics. Much of this transcended Marx’s doctoral thesis itself and was to have an impact on his later work, particularly with respect to his materialist conception of nature.

RA: What were the roots of Marx’s materialist critique of Hegel, given the superficial nature of Ludwig Feuerbach’s materialism and the philosophical inadequacies of political economy?

JBF: I think it would be a mistake to consider Feuerbach’s materialism as simply superficial. It may seem that way if one were to read The Essence of Christianity today or if one were to start with Marx and Engels’s later critique of Feuerbach in The German Ideology. However, where Feuerbach principally influenced Marx was in the former’s two essays, “Principal Theses on the Reform of Philosophy” in 1842, and “Principles of the Philosophy of the Future” in 1843. What Marx mainly took from Feuerbach’s analysis here was a corporeal and sensuous materialism, already existent at a deeper level in Epicurus and Lucretius. Like materialism in general, Feuerbach’s materialism arose out of the critique of theology. He sought to invert religion by returning to sensuous humanity, but his critique of Hegel did not go deep enough. As Marx said, Feuerbach’s philosophy was “extremely poor” when placed against Hegel, and he lacked Hegel’s historical perspective, or any conception of praxis. As a result, Feuerbach’s contemplative materialism and his conception of humanity ended up as an empty abstraction, divorced from history and praxis. Marx thus mainly took Feuerbach as a point of departure in the development of his own practical materialism.

Nevertheless, the non-deterministic corporeal and sensuous materialism that Marx took from Epicurus and Feuerbach informed his critique of Hegel, which was most fully developed in the last part of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in which Marx provided his critique of Hegel’s Phenomenology. Here Marx insists on the objective, sensuous, corporeal, and material basis of human existence. There is a close link between this last part of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and Marx’s introduction of his corporeal materialism at the beginning of The German Ideology. This is the focus of Joseph Fracchia’s magisterial new work, Bodies and Artefacts: Historical Materialism as Corporeal Semiotics.

RA: What was Marx’s relationship to the Enlightenment?

JBF: As I noted previously, Marx was quite literally a child of the Enlightenment, based on the views that his father and Westphalen passed on to him and what we know of his own early views. Many aspects of Enlightenment thinking are prevalent in his thought, since it was the Enlightenment that gave rise to modern science and rationalism. But insofar as the Enlightenment was the characteristic form of bourgeois thought, Marx was also a critic. We also need to recognize that there were different traditions within the Enlightenment. Marx gravitated towards the more materialist traditions, as well as dialectical views. Moreover, he was quite hostile, as was the German Enlightenment in general, to the dualism and rationalism of a figure like René Descartes. For example, Marx was highly critical of Descartes’s reduction of animals to machines, while seeing this as characteristic of bourgeois society. Marx was influenced, as was the German Enlightenment in general, by the work of the deist Hermann Samuel Reimarus on animal drives, and thus took an approach radically opposed to Descartes’s dualistic outlook in this area. Marx thus stressed the continuity between human and nonhuman animals—even if the human species developed a more universal transformative relation to nature through labor.

Given his view of the Enlightenment as accompanying the rise of the bourgeoisie, Marx was able to see the Enlightenment, including the seventeenth-century scientific revolution, as constituting a revolutionary viewpoint, insofar as it broke with Christian theology and the medieval Aristotelian scholasticism that had preceded it. At the same time, he engaged in a wider critique of it from the standpoint of the Wissenschaft (systematic knowledge, learning, and science usually translated simply as “science”)pointing to the “higher society” of socialism. Although we tend to reify the Enlightenment today, reducing it to simple forms, it was a very complex development with conflicting social and ideational tendencies, out of which materialist, dialectical, and socialist views also arose by virtue of a process of immanent critique and transcendence. Hegel’s dialectical view was in sharp contrast to what he characterized as the metaphysical and dualist views of the popular German Enlightenment philosopher Christian Wolff. Marx’s own dialectical perspective, rooted in Hegel, meant the rejection of such reductionist and dualist outlooks.

RA: How do you explain the fact that in The Holy Family Marx expressed great esteem for the work of Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke?

JBF: There should be no occasion for surprise in the fact that Marx, in his treatment of “The Critical Battle Against French Materialism” in The Holy Family, should have praised Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke. All the British and French materialists, Marx argued, had drawn heavily on Democritus and Epicurus. Marx saw eighteenth-century French materialism, in particular, as having two sources: (1) the combination of mechanism and metaphysics that characterized Descartes, which had produced good results in the natural sciences but that Marx in general rejected, and (2) a genuine materialism that entered from France via the work of Locke while also drawing on the work of Pierre Gassendi, referred to by Marx as “the restorer of Epicurus.”

In this context, Marx laid emphasis on the importance of Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke, as setting the grounds for modern materialism. Marx had studied Bacon early on, even before his main encounter with Hegel’s philosophy. He saw Bacon as “the real progenitor of English materialism and all modern experimental science,” who had been heavily influenced by the work of Democritus and Epicurus. What Marx clearly esteemed in Hobbes was not his political philosophy, for which he is best known today, but rather his materialism as enunciated primarily in the first part of his Elements of LawNatural and Politic, which included his tract “Human Nature,” and in his De Corpore. Hobbes presented an explicitly corporeal materialism, which saw only one, material, reality. As with Bacon, Hobbes was a sharp critic of any philosophy based on final causes, thus laying the groundwork for materialism. Similarly, Marx paid seemingly no attention to Locke’s political philosophy as such and was interested mainly in his epistemological views in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which had furthered materialism though in the form of English deism.

Already with Hobbes, Marx suggested, materialism had lost some of the quality of a sensuous materialism, which Bacon had preserved. “Hobbes,” Marx wrote, “systematises Baconian materialism” but “knowledge based on the senses loses its poetic blossom, it passes into the abstract experience of the geometrician.” Moreover, “Hobbes had systematized Bacon without furnishing a proof for Bacon’s fundamental principle, the origin of human knowledge and ideas from the world of sensation. It was Locke who, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” according to Marx, “supplied this proof.” Nevertheless, the English, after Bacon, removed all life from materialism, it only takes on “flesh and blood, and eloquence” with the French materialists, leading eventually to the socialists.

This treatment of the history of materialism in Marx was well-known by the first few generations of Marxist theorists. However, with the growth of the Western Marxist philosophical tradition, which steered away from ontological materialism (and from the dialectics of nature), this vital aspect of Marx’s analysis increasingly came to be ignored until the recovery of Marx’s ecological materialism forced it back on our consciousness.

RA: Why did Marx devote himself, throughout his life, to the systematic study of natural and physical science?

JBF: Marx was a materialist and dialectical thinker. He saw his own analysis as a contribution to the materialist conception of history. Nevertheless, he always recognized this was dialectically related to natural science’s materialist conception of nature. The human labor and production process was defined by him as “the social metabolism” that mediated the relationship between humanity and what he referred to as the “universal metabolism of nature.” In addressing the material aspects of the forces and relations of production, as well as the underlying conditions of production, both natural laws and evolution entered in at every point. There could in fact be no materialist conception of history divorced from the materialist conception of nature, any more than human society could be completely divorced from material nature of which it was an emergent form. Human beings were corporeal beings. For this reason, natural-science conceptions and what we would today call ecological notions are pervasive in Capital, though this has frequently been ignored. It could not be otherwise in what Marx saw as materialist analysis. This required continuing attention to natural science, particularly those realms that necessarily entered into the critique of political economy: geology, chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, agronomy, soil fertility, nutrition, machine technology, human physiology—but extending into many other areas as well. Naturally, Marx was not able to make direct contributions to these fields, given his own scientific explorations, but he kept abreast of and carefully examined the main scientific results in his time, along with Engels, who, of course, carried out his own investigations into the history and philosophy of science.

Perhaps the finest essay by the acclaimed British Marxist scientist J. D. Bernal was his Marx and Science, written in the early 1950s, which is well worth reading today to get an understanding of Marx as a scientist, both in relation to his materialist conception of history and also his materialist conception of nature. In looking at Marx’s ecological notebooks, I have marveled at his detailed notes related to how shifts in climatic isotherms generated extinctions in Earth history prior to the existence of humankind.

In his later years, Marx increased, rather than decreased, his natural-science studies, as is evident from the natural scientific notebooks, and particularly in his ecological notebooks, which are now being published as part of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) project. Many of these later natural-scientific studies were clearly related to Marx’s growing concern over the metabolic rift, or ecological crisis. A good discussion of this is to be found in Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism.

RA: What was behind Marx’s complex and continuing critique of Malthusian theory?

JBF: This is a difficult question to answer because the Thomas Robert Malthus of the nineteenth century—Malthus died in 1834—was an entirely different figure than the Malthus of our own time. Crucial here is that Malthus’s population theory had nothing to do with ecological limits as we see them today. As Eric B. Ross conclusively demonstrated in 1998 in The Malthus Factor, there was a conscious effort in the 1940s, following the collapse of eugenics, to reinvent Malthus as an ecological thinker based on his population theory and to use this to justify various controls on populations, particularly in the Global South, at the same time as the introduction of the so-called Green Revolution. This is the non-historical Malthus familiar to us today, but it is not the Malthus that Marx and the nineteenth-century British working class saw as the fierce enemy of the nineteenth-century proletariat.

One of the problems is that those writing about Malthus today almost invariably base their analysis on the 1798 edition of his Essay on Population (also known as the First Essay), while Malthus’s argument was most fully developed and had its greatest impact in his day in his Second Essay on Population of 1803. The Second Essay was really a wholly different work that was much longer, with new arguments, and which was to be extensively revised in subsequent editions. There were six editions of his population essay altogether, counting the First Essay, and the five editions of the Second Essay. It was beginning with the first edition of the Second Essay that Malthus presented his most infamous attacks on the working class and the poor that outraged workers of the day, making him a hated public figure. It is here too that he laid the basis for the notorious New Poor Law of 1834, with its brutal policies.

From an ecological perspective, it is important to recognize that Malthus insisted that an excess of population (he never used the word overpopulation) for any extended period of time was impossible, because population was naturally equilibrated with food supply. The equilibration—where population pressed on food supply and all land was utilized—occurred entirely through increased mortality and lower births, since the fertility of the soil was assumed to be strictly limited. At the same time, Malthus explicitly stated there were no limits to the actual minerals/raw materials of the earth. The main purpose of his work, as Marx underscored, was to argue that there needed to be limits on the population (and income) of the poor to prevent them from dragging down the standard of living of the middle classes.

Marx in the Grundrisse pointed out that Malthus’s analysis was logically flawed, since it assumed that human populations could increase geometrically, but their food supply (that is, plant and animal life generally) could only grow arithmetically—a proposition that, as Marx indicated, made no sense from the standpoint of biology, natural history, or elementary logic. But Marx’s critique of Malthus also extended to the class foundation of his population theory, its lack of any historical basis, its “clerical fanaticism” (most apparent in the First Essay), and what Marx described as Malthus’s persistent plagiarism of the ideas of previous thinkers. For Marx, overpopulation—a word he used, while Malthus did not—was a distinct possibility, but such developments were the products of historically specific laws related to particular modes of production. There were thus historical conditions for population growth and overpopulation in any given instance, something that Malthus left out of account. Marx was most severe on Malthus, though, for his plagiarism of Scottish political economist and agronomist James Anderson’s theory of differential rent, which Malthus presented as his own. Ironically, this theory is now associated with David Ricardo, who developed it further, rather than Malthus who had stolen it from Anderson, its inventor. Anderson’s analysis was particularly important to Marx because it did with respect to soil fertility what Malthus and Ricardo did not: it saw it as subject to historical change. For Marx, Malthus’s contribution to science existed, but was purely negative: “What a stimulus,” he wrote, “was provided by this libel on the human race.”

RA: How do we explain the sudden change of Marx with respect to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who went from being a friend to being an enemy?

JBF: Marx had a lot of admiration for Proudhon’s What Is Property?, which he first read and mentioned in 1842, shortly after becoming editor of the Rheinische Zeitung. He thought of Proudhon as a courageous and sharp-witted thinker. After moving to Paris, Marx got to know Proudhon. They would stay up all night talking about ideas. Marx early on recognized the scientific deficiencies in What Is Property? and its answer that “property is theft.” Proudhon saw all property as bourgeois property and in effect negated all other forms of property, thereby lacking any genuine historical analysis of bourgeois property or bourgeois political economy. Hence, What Is Property? exhibited, for Marx, at best a criticism, one full of invective, not a critique, and limited initially to the standpoint of the French small peasant. Nevertheless, in The Holy Family in 1845, Marx defended the Proudhon of What Is Property? against Bruno Bauer and the Young Hegelians. He even saw Proudhon at the time as being on the side of the proletariat. Although he later regretted it, Marx introduced Proudhon to Hegelian dialectics, so as to enable him to overcome Kantian-style antinomies. But Proudhon’s reading of Hegel was hindered by his reliance on poor translations and his own proclivities, and the effect of this, according to Marx, was the worsening of Proudhon’s analysis, creating theoretical monstrosities.

But the real problem was that Marx and Proudhon were moving in very different directions. These were the years in which Marx and Engels developed their fundamental historical-materialist views. In 1846, Marx and Engels completed their work on The German Ideology, in which historical materialism was given a solid foundation, though they did not find a publisher for it and consigned it, famously, to the gnawing of mice. In the same year, Proudhon published his System of Economical Contradictions, or, the Philosophy of Misery, which—though in many ways a confused work—was, as Marx was to argue, an articulation of petty-bourgeois socialism, thus differing from Proudhon’s earlier work. For Marx, Proudhon in his System of Economical Contradictions had moved away from a historical critique of bourgeois relations of production, turning them into eternal ideas. An open theoretical break with Proudhon was therefore crucial for the development of the proletarian movement and historical socialism. Marx thus wrote his famous critique of Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy, which at the same time revealed the depth of his own developing critique of bourgeois political economy.

In my analysis of The Poverty of Philosophy in Marx’s Ecology, I concentrated especially on Marx’s very pointed critique of Proudhon’s literal Prometheanism, the deification of industrialism and the machine in the name of Prometheus, since this has been a common criticism leveled by ecological critics at Marx himself and an important question in socialist theory today. More recently, I have been concerned with the argument in What Is Property? and the error of confusing bourgeois appropriation, or property relations, with all property relations, thereby negating the many different forms of appropriation in history. This is dealt with in The Robbery of Nature that I co-authored with Brett Clark in 2020.

Marx indicated in his January 1865 letter to J. B. Schweitzer that he had never joined with those who later accused Proudhon of treachery with regard to the revolutionary cause, saying rather that “It was not his fault that, originally misunderstood by others as well as by myself, he failed to fulfill unjustified hopes.”

RA: Why did Marx declare that Justus von Liebig was more important than all the political economists put together for an understanding of the development of capitalist agriculture?

JBF: With respect to the quote from Marx that you mention here, not long before Marx completed Capital, volume 1, he wrote to Engels on February 13, 1866: “I had to plough through the new agricultural chemistry in Germany, in particular Liebig and [C. F.] Schönbein, which is more important in this matter [the understanding of the historical basis of soil fertility] than all the economists put together.” As Saito points out in his Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism, in the original German edition of Capital, volume 1, Marx repeated this statement that Liebig’s agricultural chemistry was more important in this sphere “than all the works of modern political economists put together,” but he then dropped this phrase in later editions, while still praising Liebig. The deletion of this phrase plays a big role in Saito’s argument, because he uses this as his primary evidence to argue that Marx had developed doubts about the adequacy of Liebig’s ecological analysis, which caused him to turn to other thinkers such as Carl Fraas. However, I think this conclusion, based primarily on Marx’s deletion of that one phrase, is unwarranted.

We have to consider the context of the entire footnote in Capital in which this phrase occurred. Marx in this footnote praises Liebig to the skies, saying that, “To have developed from the point of view of natural science the negative, i.e., destructive side of modern agriculture is one of Liebig’s immortal merits.” The deleted phrase merely consists of that part of his statement where he is comparing Liebig’s understanding of soil fertility to that of the classical political economists. In Marx’s Ecology, I explained that Malthus and Ricardo had argued that soil fertility, though it varied from place to place, was eternal and not subject to change. This is what Ricardo meant by referring to “the original and indestructible powers of the soil.” The theory of differential rent, as expounded by these thinkers, had to do with differential qualities of the soil, but not ones that were the result of historical changes or human actions. Liebig, however, had demonstrated conclusively that not only is the soil subject to change, but that capitalist production tended to destroy the soil, contributing to the whole problem of the metabolic rift.

But Liebig, Marx goes on to tell us in that footnote, was out of his element when he addressed political economy, and not only mistook the meaning of labor, but also thought that the theory of differential rent (as expounded by John Stuart Mill) was related to his own argument on the soil, which was false. At this point, Marx launched into the fact that Mill had taken his analysis of differential rent from Ricardo who had taken it from Malthus, who had plagiarized it from Anderson. Marx greatly admired the agronomist, political economist Anderson, who not only developed the theory of differential rent, but also incorporated into his analysis the fact that human agricultural production alters the soil, often destructively, by not restoring the constituent elements of the soil.

Why, then, did Marx remove the phrase indicating that Liebig’s work in this sphere was more important than that of all the political economists? I think the reason was that Marx concluded in the end that such a comparison was misleading and exaggerated, and somewhat inconsistent with his argument in the rest of the footnote. Indeed, Saito himself considers this possibility. Liebig had no scientific understanding of political economy, as Marx indicates. Moreover, Anderson, who is very much the point in the latter part of the footnote, had, long before Liebig—though on the basis of a less developed soil science—grasped, in a combined political-economic and agronomic analysis, the way in which the destruction of the soil and capitalist relations of production were interconnected. To continue to say that Liebig’s work was worth more than all the political economists in this area was to downplay the scale of Anderson’s achievement, which encompassed not only the political economy of ground rent, but also the destruction of the soil and the critique of Malthus’s population theory.

None of this should be seen as taking away from Saito’s careful investigations in the later chapters of his book into the ecological analyses of Fraas and others. Although there is no evidence that Marx saw Liebig’s basic analysis of the soil as in any way flawed, he nonetheless sought, as was his wont, to explore all the other natural-scientific investigations pointing to the historical development and destruction of the soil. In this way, Marx was able to further develop his theory of the metabolic rift, expanding his understanding of the ecological contradictions of capitalism.

RA: What explanation are we to give to Marx’s claim that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection provided “the basis in natural history for our view”?

JBF: Marx was a materialist and evolutionary thinker long before Darwin presented in his theory of natural selection the first fully acceptable scientific theory of evolution. Both Engels and Marx referred to Darwin’s theory as “the death of teleology,” or the notion of final causes, thus definitively establishing the material evolution of species as a natural process independent of theological conceptions. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species therefore represented an enormous advance in the materialist conception of nature (or of natural history), which Marx and Engels viewed as underpinning the materialist conception of history. Marx was so enamored by Darwin that upon the publication of the Origin of Species, as his friend Wilhelm Liebknecht recalled, “we spoke of nothing else for months.” For Marx, of course, what was most interesting was what Darwin’s evolutionary theory suggested with respect to the evolution of human beings. Referring to Darwin’s “epoch-making” work, Marx in Capital quoted Darwin’s reference to the natural organs of plants and animals as built-in tools and specialized instruments, which could be compared to the tools introduced by human beings with which they extended their ability to interact with nature. Marx concluded that it was the social technology of human beings as much as the natural technology of species, human and nonhuman, that constituted the clue to human history/evolution.

The dialectical complexity of Engels’s understanding of Darwin’s theory was extraordinary and is seldom recognized today, though it helped inspire some of the major red scientists in Britain in the 1930s and ‘40s. I provide an extensive exploration of Engels’s complex, dialectical treatment of Darwin in Anti-Dühring and the Dialectics of Nature in my 2020 book, The Return of Nature. Engels’s supreme achievement in this realm, however, was his theory of human evolution presented in “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” in the Dialectics of Nature. Here Engels provided for the first time ever a coherent materialist theory of the evolution of the human species, what Stephen Jay Gould called the leading analysis of “gene-culture co-evolution” anywhere in the nineteenth century, focusing on the role that human labor played in the evolution of the human species. It was Engels’s approach to human evolution based on labor that was to anticipate the discovery of the Australopithecines, with their erect posture, relatively developed hands, and still ape-sized brains—an evolutionary sequence long rejected by the dominant evolutionary perspective of bourgeois science due to its bias toward cerebral primacy, associated with idealism. Such was the unity and penetration of Engels’s analysis here that it is hardly surprising that he also provided in this same work one of the most trenchant ecological critiques of the nineteenth century. Much of this was rooted in the convergence between Darwinian evolutionary theory and historical materialism.

Marx and Engels were of course critical of Darwin for letting some notions of bourgeois political economy creep marginally into his analysis, including those of Malthus. They did not confuse Darwin’s own fundamental views, however, with those of Malthus, as was sometimes the case at the time. Ironically, the very first work in what is known as social Darwinism was Oscar Schmidt’s 1878 Darwinism and Social Democracy, which was explicitly written as an attack on Marx and Engels and the then common association of Darwinism and socialism.

RA: Why did Marx devote his last years mainly to ethnological studies, instead of finishing Capital?

JBF: In his 1978 The Law of Value and Historical Materialism, Samir Amin presented the thesis that “(a) historical materialism constitutes the essence of Marxism, and therefore (b) that the epistemological status of the economic laws of capitalism is such that they are subordinate to the laws of historical materialism.” I think this is completely in accord with Marx. However important Marx’s critique of political economy was, it always took a subordinate place to his wider focus on the materialist conception of history, class struggle, and revolution. Crucial to this outlook was a recognition of a diversity of modes of appropriation, modes of production, and social formations in history.

This shift to ethnological studies in Marx’s last years was related to his growing interest in Russian revolutionary movements and Russian rural property formations, such as the Mir, or peasant commune. In the 1870s, Jenny von Westphalen wrote that her husband began to study the Russian language as though it were a matter of life and death. There were around two hundred Russian books on his bookshelf. Here we have to understand, viewed in a wider sense going beyond his studies of Russia, how important the historical evolution of modes of production was to Marx throughout his life. This was coupled with his growing critique of colonialism beginning in the 1860s, which drove him to search for different answers, learning all that he could about non-capitalist and non-Western social formations.

Critical in all of this was “the revolution in ethnological time,” a phrase used by Thomas Trautmann in a study of Lewis Morgan. The year 1859 was a turning point not only due to the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (and Marx’s Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy), but also in the authentication for the first time, in Brixham Cave, of prehistoric human remains suggesting that humanity had existed, as Charles Lyell later said, for hundreds, even thousands of centuries. At the same time, colonialism was opening up more and more information on other world cultures, though distorted by the colonial lens. New ethnological methods of analysis provided vast new insights into prehistory. Historical time was suddenly lengthened by tens of thousands of years. The rapid expansion of knowledge made a wider world history possible, superseding European history and the Eurocentric worldview. For Marx, this represented a major challenge for historical materialism, or the materialist-scientific approach to human development and the historical evolution of human society that he and Engels had developed over the years. Rather than relying on some linear, supra-historical, or teleological scheme—a rigid approach that he had always rejected—his analysis required understanding the diversity of human forms of social appropriation or modes of production, which also had a bearing on the present and future of history, since what was new always arose out of what was old. Much of this work was associated with his growing recognition of the struggles against the colonialism imposed on Indigenous societies around the world. Confronted with this wider historical and ethnological challenge, he approached it with all the mental vigor of youth, even though his physical condition was rapidly deteriorating.

Marx’s work in this respect—particularly his critique of colonialism, already evident in Capital—and his growing attempts to incorporate Indigenous cultures and struggles into his analysis were addressed in a February 2020 article that I wrote for Monthly Review with Brett Clark and Hannah Holleman, entitled “Marx and the Indigenous.” The depth and breadth of Marx’s ethnological studies, and his attempts to embrace a wider human history identifying with the struggles of Indigenous societies, is quite breathtaking. In 1881, he began to construct a massive chronology of world history, which grew to 1,700 printed pages. Holleman, Clark, and I found Marx’s treatment of Algerian property relations and colonial expropriation, based on the research of Maxim Kovalevsky, to be profound, particularly Marx’s conclusion: “They will go to rack and ruin WITHOUT A REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT.” In our view, this analysis fit with Marx’s critical approach to the expropriation of the land, nature, and human bodies—the corporeal rift—as constituting the original basis of capitalism, tying into Marx’s broader historical and ecological perspective. We argued in our article that here we find in Marx the beginning of “a revolutionary alterity of recognition” akin to that of Franz Fanon. In his ecological critique, anthropology, and approach to world history, as well as in his critique of political economy, Marx thus superseded the Promethean, linear, Eurocentric view, insisting in this way on the necessity of a revolutionary future for all of humanity.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

3606. Young at Heart: Farewell to Fariborz Khasha


By Kamran Nayeri, September 15, 2022

Fariborz Khasha. Photo courtesy of Shahrezad Khasha.

Youg At Heart 

Written by Carolyn Leigh/John Richards, sang by Frank Sinatra.

Fairy tales can come true

It can happen to you if you're young at heart

For it's hard, you will find

To be narrow of mind if you're young at heart

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes

You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams

And life gets more exciting with each passing day

And love is either in your heart or on it's way

Don't you know that it's worth

Every treasure on earth to be young at heart

For as rich as you are

It's much better by far to be young at heart

And if you should survive to a hundred and five

Look at all you'll derive out of bein' alive

And here is the best part, you have a head start

If you are among the very young at heart

And if you should survive to a hundred and five

Look at all you'll derive out of bein' alive

And here is the best part, you have a head start

If you are among the very young at heart

Shahrezad, Fariborz Khasha's parthner for four decades, texted me Sunday afternoon August 28, 2022, that we lost him in the morning.  Fariborz was a special friend of mine since 1977. 

Since 2017, Fariborz was battling cancer.  He showed great courage and determination while viewing these challenges as ordinary aspects of life, a life he always made sure he enjoyed. Sharezad and their their son Siavash and daughter Setareh were equally strong facing up to these challenges.  

As his cancer woes increased, so his available social time decreased.  He limited them so could be with his family. Honoring his wishes, I refrained from calling him. Still, he called me a few times. His last call was about two months ago which way his way to saying goodbye. His cancer had metastasized to vital organs and the doctors had stopped all cancer treatment. He was put on palliative care. He was as a matter of fact about it.  

Fariborz told me: “It is the end of the line.” When children in Tehran, we sometimes rode the red double decker city buses all the way to the end of their route as cheap way to see various neighborhoods of the "big" city. As it turned out, Tehran at the time had barely more than 500,000 inhabitants (now more than 9.3 million).  We found a front seat on the top deck that offered a view into the distance in each neighborhood as buildings were typically no taller than two stories (now, Tehran its a vertical city packed with administrative, commerical, and residetial high-rises). As the bus stopped in each station, the assistant driver called the its name. However, when the bus reached its final destination he would call out: "It is the end of the line!" Anyoe on the bus had to get off. The ride was over. That is what seems be happening to my generation.  Our bus ride is coming to an end as we reach the final destiation.  

*.     *.    *

My friendship with Fariborz, like with many other in the last half a century, was rooted in our common interest in socialism. With a special few of my friends, we also shared the experience of trying to build a revolutionary socialist party in Iran to help resolve the ongoing socioeconomic and political crises of the country.  In retroexpect, it is plain to me that we were far too naive, too politically uneducated and inexperienced, and unrooted in the daily lives of the working peoples to have had a realistic chance of success.  I have written about this in detail elsewhere. The experiment of building a revolutionary socialist party failed by the end of 1982 with the last large massive wave of repression the Islamic Republic regime unleashed against all remaining independently run organizations, from the workers councils and its leaders to the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party that slavishly supported it.  

*.    *.    *

On two occasions, I spent a good deal of time with Fariborz: in Brooklyn, New York, especially in the spring and summer of 1977, and in Tehran during 1979 and the first half of 1982 when I was occassionl a guest at his house.  I the earlier period, we worked together politically. During the three and hald years of the Iranian revolution, we never had a chance to work together closely politically. In both cases, being a full time activist with little or no income Fariborz graciously provided me with meals and a place to sleep as needed.    

Therefore, it is necessary to say a few words about Fariborz's life as a socialist, begining with how as an Iranian college student from Iran, Fariborz turned to socialism in the U.S. in the early 1970s.  

The post-world War II period in which our generation was born was marked with anti-colonist and anti-imperialist revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, Asia, Africa and Latin America.  These national liberation movements sometimes embraced socialist ideology. A number of revolutions including in Yugoslavia, Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba were led by leaderships that called themselves socialist and when in power claimed to work towards socialism. In addition, Eastern European countries which the Red Army occupied in World War II were remolded after the war by parties looking up to Kremlin after the Soviet Union model.  Since the 1930s, Stalin had claimed the Soviet Union to have reached socialism and its supporters called it “Actually Existing Socialism.” In early 1970s, one-third of humanity lived is such “socialist” countries. 

Moreover, in the U.S. the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s to overturn Jim Crow laws in the South brought forth leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X that the youth admired.  The youth radicalization which took pre-revolutionary form in France and  Mexico, turned college campuses into “revolutionary universities” were many issues including the Vietnam war, colonialism and imperialism, feminism, racism, capitalism and socialism were discussed.  In the U.S. young people participated in civil rights, feminist, and especially the  anti-Vietnam war movements.  Many youth turned to Counter-Culture which was a critical reassessment of social norms, including in clothing, music, drugs, sexuality, formalities, civil rights, precepts of military duty, and schooling. A wide range of highly creative music emerged from the Beatles to the poetic lyrics of Bob Dylan.

Starting in the 1950s, Some Iranian students abroad rebelled against the August 1953 CIA coup d’etat that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalist government and installed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in power and in early 1960s organized the Confederation of Iranian Students abroad.  They were particularly affected by the Vietnamese war of national liberation, Algerian revolution, Palestinian fight for self-determination, the Chinese revolution, and the Cuban revolution. 

The Sattar League

Born in January 1950, Fariborz came to northern California from Tehran, Iran, to go to college in early 1970s.  He soon met other radicalizing Iranian students like Siamak and Babak Zahraie who lived with their parents and in close proximity.  The three young men transferred to Washington University in Seattle where Babak was elected a Secretary of the anti-Shah Iranian Student Association.  They also got involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement. 

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) targeted Babak and Siamak Zahraie and another talented member of the ISA, Bahram Attai, for deportation.  Together with the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), the youth group of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), they organized a defense committee for Babak Zahraie with Attai as its spokesperson.  They forced the INS to drop its charges against these activists.  A small group of Iranian student activists who were part of the defense committee and the ISA, which included Fariborz, were won over to the SWP, and Trotskyism, as  revolutionary socialist current organized by Leon Trotsky in the Fourth International in 1938 to maintain and develop the lessons of the Russian revolution and the Bolshevik Party program, strategy, and norms. 

The SWP put these small group of Iranian Trotskyists in touch with another small group of Iranian Trotskyist Iranians around Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh in the east coast.  A native of Tabriz, Azerbaijan, Iran, Mahmoud was a generation older that the rest of us. He had come to the U.S. on a scholarship to study mathematic in 1953.   Together with other Iranian students, he radicalized and joined the Confederation of Iranian Students (CIS) that they formed in Europe and the United States in early 1960s to campaign against the Shah’s dictatorial regime.  CIS was dominated by Maoists and a current originating in the National Front, a nationalist current formed around Mossadegh. From its beginig, CIS was an ulraleft sectrian organization. The Maoists who originally had split from the Tudeh Party after the Khrochev relevation about Stalin's crimes in 1956, soon expelled the Tudeh Party and its sympathisers from CIS.  They continued this policy which in the 1970s resulted in the expulsion of Iranian Trotskyists and their sympethizers critical of the Chinese leadership and Maoism.  Mahmoud, however, was won over by the SWP and joined it in early 1960s.  

In 1974, the two small Iranian Trotskyist groups merged to constitute the Sattar League, named after Sattar Khan, an Azerbaijani leader of the 1906 Constitution Revolution.  The Sattar League (SL) which operated as a clandestine organization was quickly recognized as the Iranian Section of the Fourth International.  

To appreciate the difference between Trotskyists and Stalinists whether of pro-Moscow or pro-Beijing varieties, it is useful to recall how Stalinism destroyed the Bolshevik Party and its program, tradition, and norms. Instead of proletarian internationalism, Stalinism preached “peaceful coexistence” with imperialist and capitalist regimes and claimed it is pursuing building “socialism in one country,” in the Soviet Union and later in China and elsewhere. In the 1930s,  Stalin proclaimed the Soviet Union as already socialist! Trotsky, on the other hand, argued that the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers state and called for a political revolution there. Trotskyists also called for Permanent Revolution.  In the particular case of the future Iranian revolution,  Trotskyists argued that the national democratic revolution must be led by the proletariat (workig class) and would result in a workers and peasant government.  This anti-capitalist government would open the road to socialism conceived as a worldwide system.  In contrast, Stalinist currents advocated a two-stage theory of the revolution.  In the initial bourgeois democratic revolution, they would support for the “national bourgeoisie.” They postponed the socialist revolution to a distant future. In the 1979 revolution, the Stalinists, in particular the Tudeh Party, politically supported the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic. 

Sattar League was organized in tiny “branches” of a few members who were active on campuses. It published Payam-e Danshjoo (Student’s Message), initially a quarterly that became a monthly in 1978.  It also organized a publishing house, Fanus Publishers, which published mostly Farsi translations of Marxist classics, in particular, works by Leon Trotsky. It also played a central role in the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran (CAIFI) dedicated to defense of political prisoners regardless of their political views. It organized large meetings for the American public, mostly on campuses, and enjoyed significant support from liberal and radical public figures. 

*.    *.    *

When in Seattle, Fariborz was a CAIFI speaker.  However, soon he was asked to relocated to New York where the Sattar League’s Political Committee (PC) met, CAIFI national office was, and Payam-e Daneshjoo and  Fanus books were prepared and published.  Fariborz spent a few months working in the SWP print shop.  A former SWPer who told me about it as he also worked in the shop at the same time was puzzled by Fariborz’s short stint.  I can only assume it that he was assigned by the SL/SWP to work in the shop to learn the technical aspects of publishing tperhaps to put him in charge of the teachnical department for Payam-e Danshjoo and Fanus books.  Fariborz also learned to type English and Farsi.  Soon, however, another very talented and dedicated young man, Massoud Nayeri, was brought in from Austin, Texas, where a third Iranina Trotskyist small group was formed, to run the technical department.  He remained in this position until the end of the movement in Iran in 1982. 

Meanwhile, Fariborz quickly moved on to work as a translator, a writer, and an editor for the Sattar League.  Under the pen name of Majid Namvar, he wrote and translated for Payam-e Danshjoo and sometimes he penned articles about the Iranian politics for the SWP weekly newspaper, The Militant, and for the Intercontinental Press which provided excellent analytical articles on key international events for the SWP and the entire Fourth International.  Later, he used the pen name Nasser Khoshnevis (the surname means someone who writes well either as calligraphy or as a literary figure) for internal Sattar League’s information and discussion bulletins. 

The crisis of the Sattar League

In the fall of 1976, the newly established SL went into a deep crisis as political differences surfaced in the five member Political Committee . The cause for the crisis was built into it.  As small group of (former) students, mostly from well-to-do families, with no relationship with the working people or militant organizations inside Iran, and with very little socialist political experience, the Sattar League was established as micro “Leninist party.”  However, Lenin’s proposal for a vanguard party was for the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party which was rooted in the working class with an intellectual cadre of the highest caliber, like Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky, Bogdanov, Zinoviev, and Martov, whose contributions to socialism are still studied. The experience showed that the leaders and members of the Sattar League had no deep grounding in Marxist theory and history, and knew next to nothing about Iranian working class, history, and tradition.  What is worse, a fifteen member National Committee (NC) was designated out of a membership of two or three dozens.  In the democratic centralist model, the NC is supposed to be the leadership for the organization between conventions of the party.  However, Sattar League’s only convention was forced on its actual leadership after a bitter factional struggle and the pressure from the SWP.  Instead, Sattar League was run by the Political Committee (PC) which was as it turned out dominated by one young talented but self-absorbed young man, Babak Zahraie, who had already built a cult of personality in the Seattle group.  Mahmoud was the only non-Seattle group member of the PC.  In effect, the Sattar League was run by Babak Zahraie and his cult and those who stood up to him, including Mahmoud and Fariborz, were marginalized and eventually expelled in Iran from Zahraie's organization in 1980.  

In the summer of 1976, Babak Zahraie proposed to the Political Committee policies that were in sharp contrast to the earlier views of the newly constituted organization.  Mahmoud was the only PC member who questioned these as discounting the value of fighting for the historically democratic tasks of the Iranian revolution such as land reform and unconditional right to self-determination for the oppressed nationalities. He argued that these proposals were telescoping the revolution as mostly socialist in character from the beginning.  At the time, the Iranian industrial working class was about three millions in a country of 36 million people with a majority still living in the countryside or the lamdless peasants who only recently arrived in the big cities in search of work. 

If these political difference were discussed in a comradely and democratic atmosphere, there would not have been a crisis. However, Zahraie chose to use his four to one majority in the PC to marginalize and attack Mahmoud.  Mahmoud in turn decided to declare the Permanent Revolution Tendency which in a healthy organization would have enabled him to air his view in the entire organization and collaborate with all who would join the tendency to work towards a full discussion of the issues involved leading up to a democratic conventio. However, Babak chose to suppress any discussion by using his position as the National Secretary to claim that Mahmoud had a clique gathered in the Permanet Revolution tendency with the goal of spliting from the Sattar League. This in turn forced Mahmoud to declare the Permanent Revolution Faction, a decision that showed a lack of political trust in the PC majority and a decision to work towards forging a new leadership for the organizatio.  Altogether 13 people joined PRF.  However, a majority of three to one remained loyal to Zahraie even though he and the PC majority did not contribute a single written discussion document until the day before the convention. The decision to hold the conventio was forced on the PC majority by the steadfastness of the PRF and the pressure from the SWP which did not want a split in the Iranian Section of the Fourth Internatioal which up to that point was in political solidarity with the SWP.  At the convention held at the end of November 1977 that same three to one majority voted for the PC majority resolution even though it was distribut only a day before the convention  and voted against the Permanent Revolution resolution.  Although the Permanent Revolution Faction urged by the SWP leadership was dissolved at the conclusion of the convention, Babak Zahraie continued developig and using his cult to advance his views until the Iranian Trotskyist parties were effectively disbanded because of the last major wave of repression by the end of 1982. 

Getting to know Fariborz

In February 1977, I arrived in Brooklyn, New York, to join Mahmoud and Fariborz to form the three-member Steering Committee of the PRF .  Being an activist full time as part of the SL branch in Berkeley-Oakland, California, I had no savings and little money when I arrived in Brooklyn.  Mahmoud had assured me that he and Fariborz would provide me with a place to sleep and meals.  I knew Mahmoud from conversations during the SWP conferences and an indepth political discussions we had when he visited San Francisco Bay Area to participate in a branch meeting to discuss his tendency. Of course, the organizer did not allow this acting on behalf of Babak Zahraie.  So Mahmoud met with anyone he found open to a discussion with him. I did not really know Fariborz except for short formal chat during the SWP conferences in Oberlin. 

As it turned out I spent most of my time with Fariborz. He and Marcia Gallo, his companion at the time, lived in a small one-bedroom on the fifth floor of a five story apartment building on 95 Eastern Park Way section of Flatbush in Brooklyn.  There was a tiny bedroom with two twin beds, a small bathroom and shower off the tiny and short hallway leading to a small living room with a couple of chairs, a wooden bench, and a few plants.  There was a narrow kitchen on the other side of the living room with a small old gas stove.  The kitchen directly faced the entry door. A small dining table for two with two small chairs were stuffed in small space between the entry door and where the stove was.   

Marcia left for work at the SWP shop early in the morning and often returned very tired at about 8 at night. Fariborz and I worked on the kitchen table and on the small table in the living room until 6 or 7 o’clock.  We took short breaks including for peanut butter or cold cut or hot dog sandwiches for lunch.  Fariborz cooked dinner for us and sometimes for Marcia if she did not eat before she came home. Both Fariborz and Marcia lived on subsistence from the PRF and from the SWP respectively.  If I remember correctly, it was $85 a week each which made for a very tight budget. A favorite dinner for Fariborz and I was what he called Kaboob dooli made of cheap ground meat rolled into sausages that were pan fried and served with rice or bread and a small lettuce only salad. Some nights when we celebrated we have a very cheap locally produced beer called Brooklyn.  On a hot summer night a cold beer was a welcome drink except Brooklyn beer invariably gave us headache! 

Fariborz was in charge of communication with the PRF members in the field.  He also typed hand written documents by members of the PRF to produce Internal Discussion Bulletins which the Zahraie leadership refused to circulate but we circulated among the members of the PRF.  In effect, we had an ongoing written discussion on issues of program, startegy, and norms for the Sattar League which the rest of the Sattar League refused to participate in thanks to Zahraie's poisonous campaign against Mahmoud and the PRF. 

Once or twice a week, the Steering Committee met in Mahmoud’s apartment to discuss ongoing work of the faction and think through how to proceed. A key task was to draft a political resolution for which Mahmoud took the leading role as he was by far more experienced than the rest of us. 

I was impressed by both Mahmoud and Fariborz.  Although they were both more experienced than I was, they tried to encourage my participation in all aspects of our work.  I was especially impressed that Fariborz who was initially among Babak’s group had sided with Mahmoud based on principled political questions before the Sattar League. Nobody else in Babak’s Seattle group showed any political independence from him and worse followed his ruinous campaign to supress and, if possible, to get rid of the PRF .  

Mahmoud and Fariborz could have each developed much more had they been in a more experienced socialist group. In particular, Fariborz showed a genuine interest in the literary aspects of our work. Becoming a socialist was a change in political outlook but did not endow us with skills as a writer, translator, or editor.  However, Fariborz had taken up these tasks and was doing well.  As I learned later, he was well organized and an elquent speaker. 

Sometimes he found unexpected fun in what he was doing. In the summer of 1975 when I lived with Mary in Amarillo, Texas, after a request from Babak Zahraie I translated “The Long View of History” by George Novack who was a Marxist philosopher and a SWP leader.  Unbeknown to me, Zahraie had give it to Fariborz to edit.  One day when Fariborz and I were relaxing, he brought out my hand written translation in which I had translated the expression “an army marches on its stomach" literary! We both had a belly laugh at my naiveté. 

Fariborz was tall and large-framed for an Iranian man. He had a short black hair with small curls, a distinguished short and small nose for an Iranian, with a tip pointing slightly upward. His black round eyes twitched when he was excited or annoyed.  However, Fariborz tried to keep an even tempere and spoke calmly and deliberately in tense political discussions to cool things off and get his point across.  This mannerism might have been conditioned by his early friendship with the Zahraie family and Babak and Siamk Zahraie in particular, a friendship that I know he kept with Siamak Zahraie, the older brother, until recently. Still, I found it admirable that he found enough courage and a healthy dose of political discipline to break with them politically when he joined Mahmoud’s declared tendency.  Babak Zahraie tried to smear the PRF as an Azerbaijani clique as he also tried to smear some of female PRF members wh were early recruits to Trotskyism as gossip mongerers. However, there was a clear political reason for the Azeri and female members of the Sattar League to join the PRF: Zahrie started on a course to devalue their particular form of oppression.  He even insinuated a conspiracy by Mahmoud and Fariborz to split “their group” to join Baraheni, also an Azerbaijani, forming a new Trotskyist party! 

Baraheni had become very close to the SL. He was a keynote speaker for CAIFI and his prison memoirs Zellollah (The Shadow of God) was published in Farsi as by the SL in 1976. He provided a new translation of The Communist Manifesto and Trotsky's Young Lenin, both published by Fanus publishers. He attended the SWP national gathering in Oberlin College in Ohio in August and was featured at the 1,200 seat Finney Chapel reciting his prison poems for the conference attendees.  Fariborz and Mahmoud tried to keep our relationship with Baraheni on a healthy footing despite Babak’s factionlism. 

Fariborz also was among the few in Sattar League who truly appreciated Reza Baraheni as a poet and a writer.  Most of us viewed him as literary figure who was singled out for repression by the Shah’s regime for his outspokenness about the Azeri language.  Fariborz contributed to the effort to publish  Zellollah, later published in English as God's Shadow: Prison Poems (1976). Fariborz kept his friendship with Baraheni and later his sons. 

Young at heart

In mid-summer, the SWP offered me the use of an empty basement apartment in a nearby building that I shared with a young Puerto Rican Trotskyist named Alexis.  There were just two spring boxes in the apartment on which we slept at night.  Still, it was a step up for me to have “my own apartment” and for Fariborz and Marcia a chance to have their privacy.  I still went  to work in Fariborz’s apartment and enjoyed his company and hospitality. 

The factional struggle took a positive turn.  Under pressure from the SWP, the PC majority agreed to return two PRF members it had expelled and distribute our documets by forammly opening up process leading to the first convention of the Sattar League in late Novembe.  My personal situation also improved markedly. I wsa two thousand dollars in debt and after  consultation with Mahmoud and Fariborz, I applied for and got a full time job in the State University of New York, medical school in Brookly. As I began to get a regular I was able to rent a railroad apartment at the corner of Garfield Place and Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, across Prospect Park from Eastern Parkway. Soon Mary also moved to New York to live together once again.  

The convention was far from democratic and factionalism was still rife. The PC majority submitted its Political Resolution only one day before the convention began.  The PRF Political Resolution was available for in September.  Their resolution registered the retreat of the PC majority from the worse aspects of Zahraie’s earlier positions. The political schism was in plain view when the convention voted along factional lines on resolutions and reports.  Still, the two representatives of the SWP suggested to Mahmoud to dissolve the PRF at the conclusion of the convention which we did.  However, Zahraie continued his hostility toward the former PRF members.  As I will briefly discuss below, by the end of 1980 all former PRF members and those who happened to share the same views as them were expelled from the Zahraie dominated party in Iran.   

The convention also minimaly prepare us for the February 1979 that overthrew the monarchy and ushered in the Khomeini Islamic Republic. We were far from ready to face the emrging clerical capitalist Islamic Republic counter-revolution that began the day after insurrection by reimposing censorship on the national radio and television.  Two weeks later Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree for obligatory Islamic hejab. 

Still, the period after the convention and a few month before the February 1979 Iranian revolution was relatively peaceful and relaxed.  Fariborz and Marcia socialized with Mary and me over dinner parties and in walks in Manhattan or in Prospect Park. Unlike me who was attracted to the 1960s rock and classical music, Fariborz was a fan of big bands especially he liked Frank Sinatra.  His favorite song was “Young at Heart” which he hummed for his friends and sometimes sang out loud perhaps because it resonated with his own character.  It was during these social events that Mary who is good in picking nicknames began to call him Fun Freddie, a nickname that stuck to him in the abbreviated for of Freddie.  

Fariborz in the Iranian revolution of 1979 

In Tabriz, Azerbaijan, in February 1978, hundreds of thousands protested against the Shah’s regime. A year later in three days that began on February 11, 1979, millions of Iranians took to the streets in support of many thousands who stormed the military bases, police stations, SAVAK headquarters, and prisons as the repressive apparatus of the Shah’s regime collapsed.  The Shah and his family had already left Iran on January 16 tears in his eyes. 

The Sattar League sent all its members to Iran in January. On January 22, in a press conference in Tehran, Babak Zahraie, Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh, and Parvin Najafi announced the formation of Hezb-e Kargaran-e Sosialist (HKS—Socialist Workers Party) which was conceived at the timeto replace the clandestine Sattar League.  The new party proclaimed a Bill of Rights for the Working People.  It included the following demands:

• The right to vote for women and participation of women in all the affairs of the society. 

• The right of the oppressed nationalities to use their own languages. • The right of self-determination for the oppressed nationalities. 

• The right of the workers to organize in labor unions.

• The right of the peasants to own the land they till. 

• The right to establish a government of workers and peasants instead of a government of the property-owning classes. 

• The right to nationalize the oil industry and take it away from the imperialists.

• Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. 

• The right to due process instead of the arbitrary penalties and rulings meted out under the control of the monarchy. 

• The right of the people to vote and to elect the representatives of their choice. 

• The right to form committees of people's representatives that would be responsible to the people themselves and not to the monarchy. 

• The right to arm the people and organize a people's militia.

• The right of the mass organizations of the people to administer all the affairs of the towns and provinces. 

• The right to liberation and voluntary cooperation of all the peoples and national ities living in Iran.

• The right of Iran to political and economic independence from imperialism.

These demands were capped with the call for the immediate convocation of a constitutional  assembly organized from below to draft the new constitution. 

After the February 11-13 insurrection,  the Iranian Supporters of the Fourth International in the Near East and Europe headed by Hormoz Rahimian and the Zahraie dominated HKS merged, encouraged by the revolutionary optimism permeating the country and urged by representatives of the U.S. SWP and the Fourth International who were in Iran.  The merger was reached at the top and was simply announced to the membership in a joint assembly.  Rahimian become the National Secretary of the HKS and Babak Zahraie become the editor of its newspaper Kargar (Worker).   The ranks welcomed the merger beause of a long simmering desire for Trotskyist unification. 

The united HKS did quite well thanks to its reasonably argued critical stance towards the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic and the sharp interest in socialism and the revolutionary optimism of the working people and the youth. By the summer of 1979, the HKS had about 500 members and many supporters. Kargar which was the first socialist paper being sold at cross sections in streets and on news stands sold in many thousands.  

However, Ayatollah Khomeini forces began their counter-revolutionary attacks on the newly gained democratic and political rights and organized its repressive forces to wage systematic wave of repression its critics and opponents. They were aided by the popularity of Ayatollah Khomeini and his influence among the lower income working people of the cities and countryside and the crisis of the largely Stalinist Iranian left that was looking for a national bourgeois leadership it can support with many supporting Khomeini. 

By mid-Summer, the HKS split along the old organizational lines: Hormoz Rahimian and Trotskyists trained in the traditions of Fourth International parties in Europe took the name of the party and Babak Zahraie took Kargar and in early fall organized the former Sattar League members into Hezb-e Kargaran-e Enghlani (HKE-Revolutionary Workers Party).  The HKS increasingly became part of the ultra-left sectarian socialist currents that quickly came into armed conflict with the Islamic Republic.  Zahraie, on the other hand, soon began to view the Islamic youth who took over the U.S. embassy and then the universities as the key anti-imperialist current and potentially winnable to socialism. 

Neither Rahimian nor Zahraie ever wrote up a document such as political resolution to justify these views and submit it to discussion leading to a democratic convention.  Quite the opposite happened. When I and a doze members of the HKE members questioned its adaptationist course we were expelled as we declared the Trotskyist Unification Faction (FTU) in April 1980.  In the summer the Islamic Republic launched an military offensive to crush the Kurdish oppressed nationality that was fighting for its national rights.  Kargar and the HKE were quiet about it.  When Mahmoud, Fariborz, and Nader Javadi organized the Marxist Faction to force a discussion of the issue, demand the return of the FTU to HKE, and for a democratic convention, they who also numbered about two dozen were expelled. 

Together with a group of nine dissidents from Rahimian's HKS, who formed the Trotskyist Faction, the Faction for Trotskyist Unification and the Marxist Faction organized and held the first democratic convention of our movement that resulted in the formation of Hezbe Vahdat-e Kargarn (Workers Unity Party, HVK) in January of 1981. HVK published Hemmat as its newspaper and distinguished itself from both the sectarianism of HKS and the adaptationist course of HKE.  Unlike the HKS, it participated in the anti-imperialist mass movement and the war effort to defend the revolution against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran. Unlike the HKE, it did not give political support to policies of the Islamic Republic. 

However, the HVK also began to have a crisis. It too tended to yield under the pressure of the Islamic Republic even after its newspaper was banned in March 1982.  

By the end of 1982, all three parties were for all practical purposes non-functioning.  The Iranian Trotskyist movement had ceased to exist.


For Fariborz, like for most of us, returning to Iran involved a radical change.  After a decade or so trying to adjust to life in the United States, we now had to readjust to living in Iran. Fariborz’s personal life changed dramatically. In Tehran, he lived in a middle class neighborhood off Gandhi Avenue in a well-designed airy two story house with his elderly mother.  His younger brother, Kiomars, lived in the upper story that had a separate entrance with his wife and their toddler. His sister Sosan was married and had a very young daughter lived elsewhere and visited oftern.  Fariborz also had an older half brother, Siavash, a heart surgeon who lived part of the year in Germany, who he really liked.  He was also close to Sosan and her husband Reza who was steeped in Iranian literature and philosophy. In recent years, Fariborz posted Reza's potery on his facebook.  Fariborz’s mother who was an elderly woman at the time was a great cook. 

In the united HKS, there were three branches of about 100 members each in Tehran.  I was in the East Tehran branch and Fariborz in the Central Tehran branch.  So we only met in occasional assemblies Terhan-wide assemblies. But this phase lasted a few months. 

After the summer massive wave of repression when headquarters of political parties were attacked and the united HKS split, Fariborz and I were in the HKE orgnzied as small cells of about five members. When we had a cell meeting, we dressed up as if we are going for a small dinner or luch party. Again, politically we Fariborz and I did not work together.

However, I often visited Fariborz socially as I did not have a place of my own.  Although my parents who lived in northeast of Tehran were delighted I had returned home and did their best to provide for me, they were both unhappy with the revolution and with my socialist activities.  One day, I overheard my father complaining to my mother in the kitchen about my “selling newspapers” in the streets!  They were nice enough to keep quiet about their feelings. But I did not want be imposing on them. 

Azar Gilak who I knew like me studied mathematics at University of Texas at Austin and was in the Sattar League had rented a two-bedroom apartment in a central location in Tehran. She generously offered me a bedroom and shared her meals with me.  She and others who visited made her apartment a socially inviting and politically exciting place.  Still, I also visited Fariborz at his house, stayed for dinner and overnight.  Fariborz's aging mother and I became friends as she share stories about her life in every visit.  In particular, she liked to tell stories about her time in Germany as a young woman.  One recurrent story was about her swimming in a beautiful lake. Apparently, she was a very good swimmer.  On these occasions Fariborz and I socialized.  We talked about the latest political issues, and in a revolution there is something demanding analysis everyday. But he also told me stories about his family.  He was concerned about his younger brother and about the young daughter of her sister who had a serious illness requiring them to seek medical care in England. On nights Sosan and Rez were there and we listen to Reza’s discussion of Islamic philosophy and how it contributed to the development of various Shite currents and their role in the revolution and the formation of the Islamic Republic. Of course, I did not know nothing about these issues as “class analysis” loomed large in my mind. 

When Iranian Trotskyists returned from the U.S. and Europe, many had broken a relationship in the country they had left and most wanted a new romantic relationship in Iran as part of reroot ourselves.  In the first year of our return, many found new romatic relationship and had married almost always with someone else in the movement. Most men I knew married younger Iranian women who were won over to socialism. 

Fariborz also married Afsaneh Izzadi, a recent recruit to the united HKS, who was the younger sister of a brother and sister who were in Sattar League. From then on when I visited, the three of us socialized.  At some point, Fariborz and Afsaneh decided to go on a diet to lose a little weight.  They announced their decision to me over dinner one evening.  A couple of weeks later, I visited again and we had dinner.  They still ate smaller portions.  Later in that night, I was walking to my bedroom passed theirs that I found the door open. The two of them were sitting up in their bed eating ice cream out of a carton!  They must have seen my look of amazement. In response, they sang in unison: “Don’t matter if I am fatter!”  When I burst into laughter It was Fun Freddie at his best!

Fariborz’s and Afsaneh’s marriage did not last long.  I never asked why but I guess the fact that Afsaneh was losing her interested in the revolution and the heavy dose of repression  against women had something to do with it.   She left for Istanbul, Turkey, to pursue her college education. 

Fariborz and I continued to spend time together to relax from time to time. The daily pressure of the revolution and counter-revolution was immense. We with other friends went on lunch picnic from time to time.  After the formation of the HVK, on Fariborz's suggestion we enrolled in a karate class held outdoors. We bought white karate outfit with white belt indicating our beginners status.  As it is the custom in martial arts, at beginning and the end of the class we called out "oss" while bowing to the teacher. Fariborz and I saluted each other for fun with an "oss" and a bow for a time.   

Fariborz in industry

As capable as he was, Fariborz stepped backed when our movement was in relative calm to focus on his party assigned tasks and to enjoy his private life which he always cherished.  In Iran, a central aspect of our work was to carry the “turn to industry.” In November 1979, in its fifth world congress, the Fourth International (FI) leadership voted for the “turn to industry.”  The 1973-75 world recession had announced announced the end of the post-WWII prosperity.  As some FI leaders, in particular Ernest Mandel, had argued, the world economy in its center had entered into a long-term stagnation due to the decline in the average rate of profit.  It was argued, correctly as it turned out, the capitalist classes would launch a frontal attack on the working class and its mass organizations, in particular industrial unions, to push down the wage share boosting profits. In the 1960s and 1970s, sections of the FI had recruited handsomely from the waves of radicalizations and the bulk of its new members were youth and students.

The “Turn to industry” was to send a majority of leaders and members of the FI parties into industrial unions not just to "proletariaize" the movement, but also to position us in the heart of labor resistance to capitalist assault. 

The Iranian Trotskyist saw the 1979 revolution and the role played by the industrial working class as affirmation of the "turn to industry."  Sixtheen HKS members were arrested in Ahwaz in in the summer of 1979 and 12 of them were sentenced to death by Ayatollah Janati in August. They real crime was selling solidarity with the oil workers and socialist literature to oil workers. After an international campaign the charges were dropped and the sixtheen socialists released from prison in the fall of 1979. The united HKS and later the HKE tried to implement the turn to indutry.  However, it proved very difficult as our leaders and members mostly came from the middle class and had lived a number of years in Europe and the United States to find jobs in industry.  The revolution itself had resulted in a sharp decline in industrial activity. Capitalist enterprises whose owners and managers has mostly fled the country were nationalized. A dual power existed in all large firms as state assigned managers faced an organized and militat workforce. There was a shortage of raw materials. 

Further, industrial workers often lacked even a high school education. Not only we had to look like genuine industrial workers but we also had to forge our documents to show similar level of education when applying for industrial jobs.  As many of us returned to our family homes in middle class neighborhood, we live geographically separate from the bulk of industrial workers. 

As it turned out women in our movement did far better in finding industrial jobs than did the men. Sometimes even when we were successful in getting a job offer it was not the type of employment we hoped for.  Twice, my political assigmants allowed me to try to get a job in the industry. In the summer of 1979, the employment office of the Minstry of Labor referred me for a position as industrial worker.  As it turned out it was in a small workshop with a half dozen workers.  We decided that was not where we want to be. The second time spring of 1980, I was offered a job at Iran National, the major car manufacturing. However, it turned out was a security guard positio to check workers' belongings as they left the factory for home to discourage theft!  Again, we decided this was not a job we wanted to have!  

Fariborz was among the relatively few men who got an industrial job.  He landed a job in Arj, one of the two major heating and air conditioning manufactureres in Iran at the time. However, soon the management realized Fariborz could be put to better use than on the assembly line!  He was transfered to a desk job. But Fariborz managed to continue fostering his tied with assembly line workers.  During the Iran-Iraq war, he proudly reported in political discussions about his political work among the assembly line workers. Two episodes I remember was about how he went to work early to joi the assembly line workers by the fire in the yard before the office openned to discuss politics. He also reported workers' solidarity with a Baha'i worker who the management wanted to fire. At the time an anti-Baha'i campaign was underway. Workers had argued that this worker had gone to the front lines of the war to defend the revolution.  The management backed down. 

In the fall of 1980, Fariboz joined Mahmoud and Nader Javadi to organize the Marxist Faction in the HKE after the Zahraie leadership kept quiet in the face of the Islamic Republic war to crush the Kurdish fight self-determination. The Marxist Faction also demanded the reversal of the expulsion of Faction for Trotskyist Unification and the start of written discussion leading to a democratic convention.  They were promptly expelled in an assembly that Zahraie organized presumably to discuss issues raised by the Marxist Faction.  Fariborz spoke elequently at that meeting and later wrote a document detailing how the Zahraie leadership used it to expell them instead of discussing politics.  

In January 1980, Faction for Trotskyist Unification, the Marxist Faction, and the Trotskyist Faction expelled from Rahimian’s HKS established Hezbe Vahdate Kargarn (Workers Unity Party, HVK).  Fariborz was elected to it National Committee. He continued working at Arj factory.

*.    *.    *

In July 1982, after a year-long preparation that included discussions with HVK Political Committee member Mahmoud and Farhad Noori who reported these discussion with the rest of the Political Committee (of which I was a member), I left Iran for New York and joined the Socialist Workers Party its branch in August. 

By December 1982, Mahmoud who was the public face of the HVK in dealing with the Islamic Republic authorities was taken to Evin prison and held for several days.  He was released on the condition to dissolve the HVK.  Fariborz put his house up as the collateral to secure Mahmoud's release. Mahmoud proposed to the Political Committee (PC) of the HVK to abide with the order of the Islamic Republic authorities and dissolve the party. The truth was that the HVK had already agreed to cease the publication of its newspaper Hemmat after the government demanded it.  We had no public presence of any kind and there were sign of demoralization in the ranks and among some leaders.  The PC agreed and the pary was dissolved. 

Fariborz married Shahrezad Salamatian who also belonged to HVK and he was courting in the last months of the demise of the party.  He had found employment as an interpreter at New Zealand embassy.  He also established his own official translation office in Tehran.  

*.    *.    *

I lost contact with Fariborz after 1982.  In 2017 when he called me.  He told me he had moved to Canada years ago and established himself as a Certified Translator and Certified Court Interpreter and notary which in Canada provide certain legal services. Their son Siavash and a daughter Settareh were adults happily living their own lives.   


In our intital phone conversation, we also talked about how he lost his younger brother Kiomars and I lost my younger brother Kamyar to cancer.  In the fall of 2017, he and Sharezad visited the Bay Area and we had a great reunion visiting wineries and restaurants. 

Fariborz loved his family.  Twice I offered to take him and Sharezade as my guests to Costa Rica. For me that would have been a opportunity in a lifetime to spend quality time with close friends. Both times he told turned down my offer due to his plans to be with his children and Sharezade in Hawaii. 

The last time I saw Fariborz was in Vancouver in January 2020. Fariborz was due for a major surgery and his son Siavash had organized a surprise 70th birthday for him inviting his friends and family from all corners.  

Alas, the surgery did not stop the growth and spread of cancer. 

*.    *.    *

I feel fortunate to have known and befriended Fariborz. He belonged to a generation of young men and women in Iran and the world in the 1960s and the 1970s who believed that a better world was possible and dedicated some or all of their lives to making it a reality. He was a reliable friend and comrade, always a source of stability. He was notable for his literary interests and capability. Had he spent his youth developing these, he could have been a well-known Iranian translator, poet, or literary figure. While he sometimes had a quick temper, he never failed to sport a smile and put one on his friends' faces. That is how he was nicknamed Fun Freddie (later Freddie for short). Most of all, he was a man always young at heart. When he found the love of his life and family, he found nothing more pleasurable than being with them. I will cherish and celebrate his life.