Turning Money Into Rebellion edited by Gabriel Kuhn reviewed part 1
Turning Money Into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers (Kersplebedeb, 2014) is a wake-up call for the legions of wannabe anti-imperialists and Marxists who populate the First World so-called “left” today. It is a collection of documents that chart the development of those revolutionaries who would later be known in the mainstream press as the “Blekingegade Group.” These Robin Hoods from the First World turned to illegal activities, especially bank robbing, in order to fund liberation struggles in the Third World to the tune of millions of dollars. Their presence was mostly unknown until their arrest in 1989 revealed the extent of their activities, which had been very successful and gone largely unnoticed. Law enforcement and the bourgeois media sensationalized and embellished the story for their own purposes. Wild tales of a dark, seedy world of international terrorism keep European audiences reading after their arrest. One of the goals of the book is to dispel many misconceptions about the group in the popular imagination. The interviewees tell their story in a matter-of-fact, non-sensationalized way. The articles and interviews come off as honest, even self-critical at times. There seems to be little myth making here. When we were asked to review this work, we agreed mostly to be nice. After all, a million tasks cry out to be done, and a million more. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the book. We thank the individual who gave us this additional burden. We had known about this group before, our German website contains several articles that mention them. What we did not know was just how sophisticated this group was. There are obvious parallels between our work and theirs. When compared to the rest of the so-called “left” in the First World, our work may seem very similar to theirs. However, big differences exist also, and we should not lose sight of these. Importantly, unlike the trends that would lead to the Blekingegade Group, the Leading Light was formed through the convergence of several trends in many countries. Thus Leading Light’s history and approach are a little more complex. The Blekingegade Group was a First World group committed to aiding the Third World. The Leading Light, by contrast, is an international group that operates primarily in the Third World, but also in the First World. Even so, reading the words of the interviewees generated a sense of deja vu for some of our First World cadre. It was not only Blekingegade Group’s broad analysis and practical orientation that seem too familiar, but even very specific and technical points raised in the interviews. The Leading Light is in full agreement that talk is cheap, to quote the Blekingegade Group, real “solidarity is something you can hold in your hands.” Like echoes like. Like finds like, even if it is decades later. You are shining stars in the midnight of the First World so-called “left.” Respect, brothers and sisters.
Quick history and timeline
The “Blekingegade Group” is a media name for an organization that traces its origins back decades to the Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds (KAK). The KAK’s history goes back to 1963 when Gotfed Appel, a charismatic literary historian, was banned from the Communist Party of Denmark, a Moscow-loyal, revisionist party, for his sympathy with China. Gotfed Appel and others went on to form the KAK, which soon became recognized as fraternal by the Chinese Communist Party. The KAK worked closely with the Chinese embassy in Copenhagen. The KAK participated in traditional activism, including some of the first anti-Vietnam war protests. They founded a publishing house and newspaper. The KAK published and distributed copies Mao’s “little red book.” One thing that set them apart from the rest of the left was Gotfed Appel’s “parasite state theory,” the belief that the Western working class was not a revolutionary agent. As a result, the group focused on solidarity efforts, both legal and illegal activism, to aid Third World liberation movements. The KAK was serious enough about its analysis that it broke off relations with Beijing in 1968 when the Chinese communists continued to misjudge the situation in the First World. A decade later, in 1978, the KAK split when an anti-sexism campaign ran amok through the organization. According to the interviewees, the campaign was used opportunistically by Gotfed Appel’s leadership to silence others. (133) A new group critical of the old leadership was born: the Manifest-Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe (M-KA). After the split, the KAK continued to recognize the lack of revolutionary potential in the First World. The KAK moved away from active solidarity. They adopted the line that they would prepare the way for a future when conditions for proletarian revolution in Denmark would change in their favor. Whatever their Third Worldist pretense, the KAK returned to more traditional First Worldist activism, abandoning clandestine work for the most part. Also, the KAK patched things up with Beijing, even following the twists and turns of Chinese foreign policy even as China aligned with the Western imperialists. Predictably, the KAK’s influence waned. The M-KA moved in a more scientific, creative and less dogmatic direction. Although the M-KA continued some legal fundraising efforts, their illegal activities, especially bank robbing, became their focus. They mostly stayed off the radar of authorities and the First World “left.” The M-KA became a very capable, clandestine organization that raised lots of money for Third World liberation, especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). They were finally arrested in 1998 when they were discovered by accident. It is this latter group, the M-KA, that was mostly sensationalized as “Blekingegade Group.”
Parasite state theory and imperialism
Lenin taught that without theory, practice is blind. The practice of this trend was very much connected to their Third Worldism, which was very advanced at the time. Their theory was originally developed in the 1960s by Gotfed Appel. According to their “parasite state theory,” the First World working class was not an ally of the Third World proletariat and the fight for socialism at the present time. (4) This concept was very familiar, although usually poorly articulated, during the de-colonial struggles before and after World War 2. As early as 1933, Even Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, wrote:
“It is said that capitalism managed to prolong its life to our day because of a factor which perhaps Marx did not fully consider. This was the exploitation of colonial empires by the industrial countries of the West. This gave fresh life and prosperity to it, at the expense, of course, of the poor countries so exploited.” (30)
Julius K. Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, similarly stated:
“The only difference between the two situations is that the beneficiaries in the international situation now are the national economies of the rich nations — which includes the working class of those nations. And disagreements of the spoils, which used to exist between members of the capitalist class in the nineteenth century, are now represented by disagreement about the division of the spoils between workers and capitalists in the rich economies.” (31)
Others voiced similar sentiments. Although somewhat ambiguous, there was Che Guevara’s famous call for “many Vietnams.” There was also Lin Biao’s 1960s conception of the global countryside encircling the global city. Even Engels discussed that the whole of England, including its working class, was becoming bourgeois on the backs of its colonies. These kinds of ideas were somewhat popular in the 1960s and 1970s as anti-colonial struggles raged and as China sought to revitalize socialism through its Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Even though many expressed similar views, especially outside the West, few advanced the idea as forcefully as the KAK. Later, even fewer would add the scientific depth of the M-KA as they incorporated Arghiri Emmanuel’s theories of unequal exchange to Gotfed Appel’s. Today, Leading Light has advanced political economy even further.
The KAK did see the First World working class as exploited, but the class was bribed at the same time. This bribe made it so the First World workers had more in common with the imperialists than they did with Third World workers. In 1975, the KAK explained:
“[T]he working class in the developed countries of Western Europe and North America occupies a two-fold position. It is at one and the same time exploited (in so far as it produces surplus value) and bribed (in so far as its standard of living and hence its economic — and cultural — needs and its ‘trade union’ demands are based on decades of sharing in the imperialist world’s former colonial, now ‘neo-colonial’ plunder). Furthermore, the bribery factor is today the dominant factor of the two.
This bribery should not be understood in such a way that one can actually calculate how large a part of of the wage-packet’s contents is payment for the value of labour, and how large a part is bribery. It should be understood as meaning that the whole of the imperialist world’s economic, industrial, technical, cultural and social development in the last analysis is based upon robbery and plunder in the former colonies and dependent countries, now the ‘Third World’.” (191)
Thus the KAK’s view was a bit different than our own. The KAK’s description of First World laborers as exploited, but bribed and non-revolutionary is needlessly confusing. Our view is that, generally speaking, First World populations should not be considered exploited. Contrary to the KAK, we believe there are approaches to the question that can quantify the degree of parasitism, the size of the bribe, so to speak. Although their terminology is different, the KAK’s view, as articulated here, is not unlike the concept of net-exploitation found in our own tradition. The KAK’s main points of reference were the classic works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao, especially Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Although the KAK was describing an important phenomenon, their approach seems limited and dogmatic. After their split, the M-KA would deepen the analysis by breaking from the KAK’s orthodoxy:
“Jan: KAK’s reference points were always the classical texts of Marxism-Leninism. As far as imperialism was concerned, everything circled around Lenin’s text. This didn’t even change when our empirical studies in the 1970s showed that this analysis was no longer applicable: Lenin’s theories on monopolization, finance capital, foreign direct investments, etc., could no longer explain the enormous gaps in wealth. But it needed KAK’s demise and the founding of M-KA for us to be able to improve our analysis.
Torkil: It’s actually amazing that such a short and somewhat muddled text, written hastily in a Swiss library with limited access to source material, could be regarded as the ne plus ultra in the Marxist analysis of imperialism for over half a century. It really shows the position that Lenin had within the left and the power of Soviet propaganda.” (102)
One-time M-KA members explain just how different production is now than in the past:
“Torkil: If we take the purchasing power of Copenhagen with its one million inhabitants, then it equals the purchasing power of Tanzania with forty-six million people. Neoliberalism allows you to move production to where wages are low and then ship the products to where purchasing power is high. That way you profit on both ends. You can send a design for a Nike sneaker as a PDF to Vietnam, where you get the sneakers produced for next to nothing before moving them in modern containers to the U.S., where you can sell them for a multiple of the production costs. Making profit has never been easier. Once you have functioning logistics, modern technology, and safe transport, you are set. In the metropole, production is no longer key — what counts is design and marketing. The technologies are very different to the 1970s, but they perpetuate and even strengthen, the same patterns of exploitation. At the time, we spoke of ‘parasite states.’ Today, we might want to speak of ‘producer states’ and ‘consumer states.’” (167-168)
This foreshadows our own analysis. Despite pretenses of being led by scientific ideology, the so-called “left” is mired in dogma. This is true of almost every movement claiming to be revolutionary in both the First and Third World. What exists are not movements genuinely led by revolutionary science, but movements led by vulgarized, dogmatized ideologies of past revolutions. These movements fail to understand that the world has changed greatly since 1949, even more so since 1917. Revisionism, the abandonment of real revolutionary science, has led the so-called “left” into insignificance and irrelevance. The M-KA embraced a more advanced political economy in its effort to understand global class. They embraced more advanced understanding of imperialism. And they embraced a more advanced practice than other First World movements at the time. Like ourselves, the M-KA rejected dogmatic orthodoxy of First Worldism without falling into liberalism and wishy-washy movementarianism. In their context, they avoided both the dogmatism and liberalism that are so prevalent in the First World so-called “left.” The M-KA continue to maintain their correct orientation toward the Third World even to this day. One interviewee states:
“Torkil: …Despite the anti-imperialist liberation struggles disappearing in the 1980s, the main contradiction in the world remains the one between the rich capitalist countries in the North and the exploited countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Future anti-imperialist struggle is inevitable.” (181)
Leading Light has pointed out that at least until the end of World War 2, Lenin’s understanding of imperialism was more correct than others. At the time, it was more correct than Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism. The world did enter a cycle of world wars as imperialists vied with each other for the colonial world. However, world wars threatened the capitalist system as a whole. The first world war weakened capitalism so much that proletarian revolution rose to power in the old Russian empire. The second world war saw the rise of Maoist China. So weakened were the old empires that a massive de-colonial movement swept the world as European empires were no longer able to hold onto their colonies. The system as a whole was so threatened that measures were taken to avoid future world wars. Globalization moved forward. International institutions were created to resolve or minimize conflicts. Imperial cultures mixed with each other. Transnational Non-Governmental Organizations emerged. Economies were integrated. Capital became more and more transnational. Corporations and other capitalist entities were no longer loyal to this or that single country. Rather, a transnational First World empire begins to emerge that exploits the masses across the Third World. To understand this ongoing process, it is necessary to go beyond the dogma of the past.
The science of oppression is constantly advancing. The oppressors recruit some of the best and the brightest to populate a network of intelligence and military agencies, think tanks, academic departments, and legislatures. In order to beat the oppressor, to make revolution, it is necessary to advance revolutionary science to ever new heights. Old dogma won’t cut it. Although the M-KA’s political economy, in some respects, anticipates the rise of Leading Light Communism, it is important to understand that the problem facing the revolutionary movement is not so simple. It is not as though Maoism or national liberation plus Third Worldist political economy is the solution. The current impasse of the revolutionary movement stems from a much deeper epistemological problem, from lack of advanced scientific leadership, from dogmatism. The problem, and solution, is much bigger than political economy. The question of “what is to be done?” must not simply be asked by First World comrades, but also Third World comrades. Although delivering real support to this or that people’s struggles is truly honorable, more money alone is not going to tip the fundamental balance. The key to victory is revolutionary genius, all-round, all-encompassing, all-powerful scientific advance: Leading Light Communism. One people. One Earth. One Global People’s War. One organization. One leadership. Leading Light.
Kuhn, Gabriel. Turning Money Into Rebellion (Kersplebedeb, 2014)