JR'S Free Thought Pages
Whence Cometh the Revolution?
By JR, November/December, 2020
A revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief – Max Horkheimer
Nobody knows what democracy really is, but many know what it is not – Francois-Xavier Verschave
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be take away even that which he hath – Matthew 25:28-29
Those who buy and sell land and are land lords, have got it either by oppression, murder or theft– Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676) *
*Gerrard Winstanley was a 17th century heretical English Protestant reformer, political philosopher, activist and proto-anarchist during The Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Winstanley was the leader and one of the founders of the English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers for their libertarian social democratic beliefs and actions. Winstanley, not unlike Leo Tolstoy over two centuries later, came to identify God as the Principle of Reason, synonymous with Tolstoy’s metaphorical notion of “The Kingdom of God is within you.” In one of his pamphlets, highly critical of the religious zealots of his time, he declared:
Where does that Reason dwell? He dwells in every creature according to the nature and being of the creature, but supremely in man. Therefore man is called a rational creature. This is the Kingdom of God within man. Let reason rule the man and he dares not trespass against his fellow creatures, but will do as he would be done unto. For reason tells him - is thy neighbor hungry and naked today? Do thou feed him and clothe him; it may be thy case tomorrow and then he will be ready to help thee.
Winstanley decided that it was his mission to speak up for the disinherited, for the common people who had been very little helped by Cromwell's victory, and in 1649 he published a pamphlet called The New Law of Righteousness which began with a denunciation of authority as thorough and as basic as anything in later anarchist literature. “Everyone that gets an authority into his hands tyrannizes over the others,” he declared, and went on to show that not only masters and magistrates, but also fathers and husbands “do carry themselves like oppressing lords over such as are under them . . . not knowing that these have an equal privilege with them to share the blessing of liberty.”
“Anarchism” was not in the English lexicon at this time and didn’t arise until the mid nineteenth century when Pierre Joseph Proudhon became the first to call himself an anarchist by defiantly shouting out his now famous slogan “Property is Theft!”
Let us now move forward from the “Matthew Effect”and the English Civil War of the 17th century to early 19th century United States and the views of popular writer James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans, whose political philosophy was influenced by men of the Enlightenment such as as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu. Cooper's political ideas were both democratic, a classical liberal republicanism that endorsed ideas such as consent of the governed, direct democracy and the rights of the individual as fundamental. Not unlike today’s scandalous financial scams, pyramid schemes and grand larceny underwritten and supported by the capitalist state, Cooper was both disturbed and anxious of the debauchery of financial speculation he witnessed in his own day that he deemed destructive of civic virtue and the common good, warning Americans that it was a "mistake to suppose commerce favorable to liberty" that would lead to a new "moneyed aristocracy”. How prophetic! JC would be considered a “socialist”, an enemy of the corporatist state, in our contemporary globalized socio-economic dogma of casino capitalism with its neo-fascist corporatism and financial predation:
Whenever the government of the United States shall break up, it will probably be in consequence of a false direction having been given to public opinion. This is the weak point of our defenses, and the part to which the enemies of the system will direct all their attacks. Opinion can be so perverted as to cause the false to seem true; the enemy, a friend, and the friend, an enemy; the best interests of the nation to appear insignificant, and trifles of moment; in a word, the right the wrong, and the wrong, the right. In a country where opinion has sway, to seize upon it, is to seize upon power. As it is a rule of humanity that the upright and well-intentioned are comparatively passive, while the designing, dishonest and selfish are the most untiring in their efforts, the danger of public opinion’s getting a false direction is four-fold, since few men think for themselves - James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, 1838)
On to the 20th century and a citation from one of that century's icons of investigative journalism:
The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing – for the sheer fun and joy of it – to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it – I. F. Stone
Stone’s quote is like a mini-capsule history of the political left from the French Revolution to the current neo-liberal era of corporatism and the rule of capital combined with widespread social and economic injustice and neo-fascism represented by the psychopathic demagoguery of Donald Trump and other unhinged far right wing leaders throughout our FUBAR undemocratic capitalist world of financial parasitism. Although in addition to being a racist, sexual predator, con artist and corporate criminal, is a fascist, it seems quite obvious he has no conception or understanding of fascism or any other political ideology whether it be socialism, communism, conservatism, liberalism or anarchism. Fascism is often defined in terms of what we might refer to as its super structural aspects, which means the ways in which fascism is mobilized within a particular ideology that is driven by the sanctity of the authoritarian capitalist state dominated by patriotism, militarism, ultra-nationalism and conservatism grounded in an ethnic base of paternalism and white supremacy. But I think it's important to recognize that those super structural components are ultimately rooted in deep material relations of capitalist accumulation generally combined with obsession with security over freedom, creation of scapegoats, religious fundamentalism, corporatism and cronyism, anti-labor, anti-union, anti-communism and obsession with crime and punishment, police corruption and violence against dissent. If we think specifically about the fascism that emerged between the two World Wars of the 20th Century and how it rose to power, it's important to recognize that this was at a moment in time at which the capitalist world system was heading for a deep systemic crisis that would implode with a massive stock market bubble crash followed by the Great Depression. This all occurred on the heels of the first successful workers' revolution in 1917 in Russia. Some of the central driving forces beneath the super structural or ideological aspects of fascism on which one needs to focus is the need to impose, maintain, and intensify capitalist social relations. And the other is to confront the multiple threats of workers' organizations and more specifically communism and socialism.
If the reader has not seen the 2010 award winning documentary Inside Job about the suicidal greed ridden antics of the global financial system that led to the 2008 global collapse and its aftermath, do it now. You may be able to watch the entire agonizing disgusting worse than you could ever imagine spectacle here:
The documentary convincingly demonstrates the Machiavellian moral vacuum of the end justifies the means degeneracy of the toxic global neo-liberal capitalist edifice. As the late French philosopher Bernard Stiegler wrote in States of Shock: Stupidity and Knowledge in the 21st Century, focusing on the complicity of governments and academia in the global debacle which has become even more systemic and decadent as we witness the ongoing ravenous thievery of banks and financial behemoths in 2020, exploiting the shocks and misery of the covid-19 pandemic:
“…in 2011 the private ratings agencies downgraded the ‘ratings’ of Ireland, Greece, Spain, the United States, Japan and Italy (as well as certain French banks) – radically challenging the very idea of sovereignty, an idea that lies at the base of those historical movements that emerged from the eighteenth century and shaped the modern world, a world in which, until recently, we more or less believed we still lived (however ‘postmodern’ it may have become).
The movements that arose in the nineteenth century in order to constitute a ‘public thing’, itself forming a sovereign public power – that is, a res publica, and in this sense a republic – led to the widespread introduction of public education, positing in principle and by right that any citizen should have the chance and the duty to receive an education that will grant them access to that autonomy referred to by Kant as Mündigkeit, that is, ‘maturity’ or ‘majority’, through which the foundation would be laid for a public community and a sovereign politics.”
In other words, the questions raised by Inside Job in the field of economics were echoed in appeals and articles about the dilapidated state of academic research and public education, and the collapse, and not just in Europe, of the economic and political credibility of the Western world, and of its legacy for the entirety of humanity, all this belonging on the same register. All these questions and the calamities accompanying them (and in particular the protean regression they threaten to bring with them) are generated by the very system that is sending us headlong into a world where political and economic sovereignty are eliminated and the forming of maturity via education is abandoned, a maturity that, as the autonomy obtained by frequently engaging with rational knowledge, was for the Aufklärer the sine qua non of such a sovereignty.” (Introduction, p. 1)
In a recent piece coauthored by Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad, they wrote “Countries in North America and Europe have eviscerated their public function as the state has been turned over to the profiteers and civil society has been commodified by private foundations. This means that the avenues for social transformation in these parts of the world have been grotesquely hampered. Terrible social inequality is the result of the relative political weakness of the working class. It is this weakness that enables the billionaires to set policies that cause hunger rates to rise. Countries should not be judged by the words written in their constitutions but by their annual budgets; the U.S., for example, spends almost $1 trillion (if you add the estimated intelligence budget) on its war machine, while it spends a fraction of this on the public good (such as on health care, something evident during the pandemic). The foreign policies of Western countries seem to be well lubricated by arms deals: the United Arab Emirates and Morocco agreed to recognize Israel on the condition that they could purchase $23 billion and $1 billion worth of U.S.-made weapons, respectively. The rights of the Palestinians, the Sahrawi, and the Yemeni people did not factor into these deals. The use of illegal sanctions by the United States against 30 countries including Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela has become a normal part of life, even during the COVID-19 public health crisis. It is a failure of the political system when the populations in the capitalist bloc are unable to force their governments—which are in many ways democratic in name only—to take a global perspective regarding this emergency. Rising rates of hunger reveal that the struggle for survival is the horizon for billions of people on the planet (all this while China is able to eradicate absolute poverty and largely eliminate hunger).”
This is a depraved socio-economic world order that Naomi Klein in her revelatory book The Shock Doctrine called “disaster capitalism” is beyond redemption to the point of no return; it simply cannot be repaired. The modest reforms that were implemented following the Great Depression and two World Wars have been rescinded following the neo-conservative and neo-liberal counterrevolutions that began in the late 1970s. We have now returned to a new Gilded Age of unprecedented economic inequalities, plutocracy and political dysfunction, as Mark Twain called the pillage, plunder and thievery of his own Robber Baron era. As the great neo-conservative/neo-liberal counterrevolution was well underway and debilitating effects being felt by the US population, Bruce Springsteen wrote a great song in protest to this great unraveling and dismal state of affairs for the working classes called The Ghost of Tom Joad, lifting a few lines from John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. Watch and listen to this great inspiring song with Tom Morello’s amazing guitar presentation:
People are justified in their frustration, resentment and anger, demanding some instant elixir to the structural problems and systemic economic injustices that are simply not presently resolvable. Reform has been tried and those minor tweaks and concessions created during the Great Depression and post World War II eras have now been rescinded and rolled back by the aforementioned counterrevolutions against any semblance of compassionate capitalism with a human face. We are now experiencing a Gilded Age neo-feudalism/neo-fascism run by financial criminals and multi-billionaire oligarchic parasites. Before the debacle of the global financial meltdown and nauseating aftermath , Simon Critchley in his 2007 book titled Infinitely Demanding wrote, “Ours is a universe where human relations have been reduced to naked self-interest, to unfeeling hard cash, and where all social life is governed by one imperative: conscienceless free-trade; a life of open, unashamed, direct and brutal exploitation. We inhabit what Marx would see as an M–C–M (money for commodities for more money) matrix of the increasingly centralized expropriation of the vast majority of humanity.” As the world of 2020 is mired in the midst of a global pandemic, we are witnessing the just how low the degrading levels of depravity the capitalist system has descended as the vultures of Wall Street and Bay Street are once again bailed out as they profit from human misery, life threatening debilitation and death. This, as we’re hypocritically and cynically informed by our corporate masters of the neo-liberal mega-machine in that: “We’re all in this together”, “How many plastic bags (at 10 cents apiece) did you use today?”, ”Would you like to donate today?”, “Your call is important to us”, and the inane corporate classic in banality “Have a nice day”. Bullshit!
There’s an old adage that “money always returns to its rightful owners.” The very insistence on a single, cure-for-all-answer betrays their unwillingness to see the structural and systematic nature of the insoluble problem – other than a global revolution which seems unlikely in an unthinking ADHD distracted zombie fragmented society of docile complacent people bombarded by data and primarily useless information while permanently glued to a screen. Meanwhile they have faith in the duplicitous “solutions” which are concocted by the capitalist vultures that have created the problems. The capitalist fox guarding the hoi polloi henhouse is asked to be fair and just regarding the chickens. Those “solutions” are bound to be strictly incremental and reformist, otherwise the self-serving nature of the overall trajectory becomes blatantly obvious.
As the rich get richer, money makes money, as the devil takes the hindmost and der Teufel nimmt immer eine Scheiße auf dem größten Haufen as inculcated by Matthew 25:28-29 we have now reached the shocking nadir whereby six billionaires own half the wealth of the world. In the most economically unequal country in the West, the United States, one-tenth of one percent of the population has more wealth than the bottom 90%. And for the growing numbers of white Christians out there who are eternally distracted staring into their cell phones and prosperity gospel apps, they seem to have embraced this new world order of greed and plunder that ironically (or not) their god man guru Jesus described in his own era as a “den of thieves”. In our neo-liberal privatized, deregulated (i.e., no ethics) and corporatized world, God apparently favors the wealthy, big business, non-interventionist imperialist war mongering governments (save for corporate and big bank bailouts every 7-10 years), rewards individualism, greed and entrepreneurial spirituality (profit before all else combined with minimum wages and no benefits for your employees). Yeah I know, “the poor will always be with us” - and naturally it’s their own fault. Certainly the no-show Christian deity is asleep at the wheel in this regard.
I vaguely recall an infamous all-too-common bullshit TV advertisement for a certain brokerage house - now long ago absorbed by a larger octopus outfit like Goldman Sachs - featuring the creepy stone-faced actor John Houseman who proclaimed that Smith Barney “makes money the old fashioned way; they earn it.”This, claim, like most economic nonsense and hocus pocus, is not only a tautology, but prime bovine excrement. Money is simply a mode of exchange – illusory capital that has precious little to do with “work”. The central banks like the Bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve in the USA, once public entities set up to serve the common good, have been transmogrified into instruments for the rich in order to create fictitious mammon – “money for nothing”, as the 1980s Dire Straits song informs. In the past decade there have been two massive multi-trillion dollar bailout scams of banks, financial con men and major corporations, the one in 2008 and the current covid-19 plague incited miracle whereby mammon is mysteriously created out of an economic immaculate conception or shaman’s magical cap, then floating out of the financial heavens to the rich bastards on earth that should be permanently locked in a pillory while the working poor take turns sticking pitch forks in their fat asses for eternity. But this mysterious abstraction called “money” kills. Simply ask the family of Guadalupe Olivera, a butcher at a Tyson beef-packing plant in Richland, Washington about the death cult of money. When his daughter asked him what special precautions were in place at the plant, he replied, "There was nothing. It was business as usual." So, did this man die because of covid-19, or did he die because of money? Was he a sacrificial hero, as the demented crotch-grabbing Caligula of Mar-a-Lago Donald Trump claimed? Or was it more like what John Ruskin felt when he wrote in Munera Pulveris, "Labor is that quantity of our toil which we die in." 
Since US President Tricky Dick (“I’m not a crook”)Nixon abandoned the gold standard in 1971, money lost its material grounding to reality and is now merely an illusionary floating abstraction that trades on the equally mysterious “free markets” like any commodity such as grains and pork bellies. Most commodity market trades are manipulated by big players such as brokerages, hedge funds and yes, the federal government central banks. This includes the fraudulent stock markets, the trades of which are generated primarily by mathematical algorithms and executed by instructions from computer programs. The rest of human driven market trades are a function of human irrationalities, impossible predictions and the emotions of fear (sell) and greed (buy). But should you follow the advice of these so-called master traders and financial gurus, including the math wizards and programmers who write the algorithmic codes? Perhaps fewer errors are made such as the cavalier boondoggle of a Morgan Stanley power of a positive thinking acolyte trader who cost the company $9 billion on a credit default swap trade. But that’s chump change when compared with the trillions of dollars of bailout money from government (aka taxpayers) who throw out the golden parachute for these incompetent irresponsible banking bandits every time they screw up. An important point in all this is not to confuse markets with capitalism. Markets and free exchange have been in existence throughout history and long predate the predatory and vile exploitive dogma of capitalism which places the well-being of any individual person, as well as the natural world as a whole, at the mercy of “the market” as metaphysically/theologically conceived and understood by banks and other predatory institutions of corporatist finance capitalism.
This debased state of affairs did not come about by accident, but was rather the upshot of a globally imposed political agenda over the past fifty years. But the conservatives and liberals who feared dissent and defiance on their left and from below was powerfully articulated in 1956 by sociologist C Wright Mills in his book The Power Elite. Mills’ book, in the midst of McCarthyism, Communist witch hunts and the phony fear mongering of Cold War explained how the existence in the West of a ruling class was in control not only of the modern means of industrial production, mass media, education and communication, but exposed the corporate, state and military power as an integrated nexus, in the hands of a ruling caste with a consistent coherent reactionary world view. The same people circulate through the commanding heights of all of the institutions at the disposal of “the power elite”, rendering democracy and representative government mere shams. The mass parties no longer control their leaders as one-way communication has usurped the space of civil dialogue and the notion of politics as public service.
When some wealthy oligarch (Mill’s infamous power elites) informs you he got rich by hard work, simply ask: “whose”? Anyone who understands history knows that meritocracy is an egregious lie. Of course there is no excuse for sloth; hard work – as my mother taught me- is important in any endeavor in life but nobody has ever achieved financial security or big wealth by “hard work” alone. One’s chances in life are determined primarily by genetics and the class of the family you were born to. Although considering the three decade post World War II eruption of a sufficient degree of minimal democracy and egalitarianism, the notions of hard work combined with the opportunities for a debt free university education did pay off for some of those who had the innate intelligence, ambition and determination. But that rare brief period of “democracy breakout”, mediated meritocracy and opportunity for the offspring of working class families like mine was primarily motivated by fear from the ruling elites and corporate masters in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, widespread social and labor unrest, numerous long strikes, the Great Depression and the anti-establishment anti-conservative counterculture of the 1960s. But, despite the current widespread social unrest, that revolutionary culture, along with trade unions, have all but disappeared. We are now heading back to the normalcy of deep economic inequality, injustice and dictatorship of ruling capitalist hierarchies as the rich get richer, poor get poorer and the prevalence of the “iron law of oligarchy”. And anything that poses a threat to the dictatorship of capital, the system either assimilates or co-opts that threat – such as Che Guevara posters, slogans and t-shirts, 1960’s counterculture and protest songs shamelessly deployed in TV marketing and even Buddhism is made compatible with capitalism’s greed and drive for affluence as it is fraudulently reconfigured and redefined as “mindfulness”, rendered scientifically palatable to corporate board rooms and penthouse offices. There’s even a “Buddhify App” for busy consumer driven newbie Buddhists designed to keep up with a business hustler’s stress reducing meditation regimens. Will a capitalist Zen Master be next? The great Buddhist teacher and guru Alan Watts must be rolling over in his grave. Anything the corporate beast cannot control, it cynically co-opts, embraces, distorts, transmogrifies, contaminates and then markets for propaganda and profit. Corporate bullshit is endless: “Your call is important to us”, “We’re in this thing together”, “How many plastic bags did you use?”, “Would you like to donate today?” and the never ending required vacuity: “Have a nice day”.
One of the great equalizers of the immediate post World War II era was high taxation on capital gains, corporate profits and high wage earners. During the 1950s in both North America and Europe the highest marginal tax rates were over 90%, even as high as 98% in some Western jurisdictions. But after the reactionary policies of Ronald (“Iran-Contra”) Reagan and Margaret (“there is no such thing as society”) Thatcher that upper tax rate has been reduced to about 28%.This trend continues as corporate tax rates, for example, are at an all time low, now below 20% - and 0% for those who launder their massive wealth and profits through offshore tax havens, once again confirming that old capitalist adage that “money always returns to its rightful owners”. Cambridge sociologist Göran Therborn has written, that “inequality always means excluding some people from something. When it doesn’t literally kill people or stunt their lives, inequality means exclusion: excluding people from possibilities produced by human development. The empirical evidence is indisputable; inequality kills” (The Killing Fields of Inequality, 2013, pp. 13, 26). This is a hegemonic ideology and process of affluent chauvinism, contempt for ‘unproductive’ people (and often racism and paternalism) for which the working - and particularly the middle classes - uncritically accept.”
The unraveling of the post World War II social democracies and the subsequent conservative reactionary counter-revolutions that began in the mid 1970s can be traced to the vile individual libertarian capitalist ideology of Ayn Rand (author of the oxymoronic book title The Virtue of Selfishness) and her cultish “greed is good” disciples such as the Rand zealot former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. It was primarily the deadpan amoral Greenspan who rescinded financial rules and deregulated markets and financial oversight, thus creating a gluttonous free for all no holds barred exploitation and pillage of the commons and everything in the public realm, thus detonating two of the biggest stock market debacles and financial bubbles in history – the Dot Com mania in 1999-2000 and the global financial sub-prime mortgage meltdown and massive public bailouts in 2007-09. The mania continues today with the 2020 covid-19 tidal wave of endless central bank cash funneled to banks and corporations, feeding another massive debt fuelled market bubble based on fictitious capital. And who pays for this? Just examine capitalism’s sordid historical ruse of “privatizing profits and socializing costs”. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Theodor Adorno, in a famous book of over 1000 pages, wrote about oppression and despotism, describing the “authoritarian personality” as someone who aspires to maintain his own social and economic position by deferring to those above him and beating down those below. This study was written in the immediate aftermath of World War II, ostensibly a fight against fascism in all its horrific manifestations. The f-word applies to Donald Trump and his many deluded Christian evangelicals and working and lower middle class disciples who are the new recruits of this demented ideology defined by Adorno that is now returning in a mutated form throughout the world. Trump’s chip off the old man’s block son, Eric Trump, echoing Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, told a Pennsylvania rally that protestors are “beta people” and exhorted the crowd to “tear them to pieces.” “Fascism” is, of course, the descriptor of an increasingly authoritarian, hierarchical, bureaucratic, racists police state, corporatist, anti-democratic regime, a violent movement that will very likely endure no matter who wins the presidency in the upcoming November election.
After all, one cannot make sense of globalized capitalism without understanding the instrumental role of the state within capitalist social and economic arrangements. The state is a recent invention, having replaced other forms of authoritarianism in the past such as theocracies and monarchies. It exists to indoctrinate and propagandize the public in order to facilitate capitalist plunder and exploitation while externalizing risk and collateral damage which is offloaded onto the public. This is accomplished not only by the corporate controlled mainstream media, but by the complicity of state authorities and its massive smoke screen bureaucracy. Most of the ADHD cell phone addicted populace are so brainwashed by the corporate controlled media and its endless marketing that we can barely imagine a functioning world without capitalism. Our semi-literate intellects and imaginations have been rendered semi-comatose by twitter and other gossip ridden social media as we are bombarded by useless information, celebrity worship and trivia. In capitalist societies, “honesty is the second best policy” and “crime definitely pays”; in fact one is rewarded for bad behavior and criminality are offered “get out of jail free cards”, assuming they are prosecuted at all, which is extremely rare. The only country with a moral compass that prosecuted their bandit bankers in 2008 was Iceland.
Real democracy has never existed, and today our fraudulent representative governments are, and always have been mere simulacrums. Their true purpose, along with the police, military, massive surveillance systems and secret police exist to serve wealth and power within the capitalist classes. In the past monarchs rewarded the clerical class for mass mind control to inculcate the docile passive masses into notions such as “divine right” to rule and the preposterous enticement of an “afterlife”. This supernatural hocus pocus differs little from “the invisible hand of the marketplace”, the manipulated stock markets, monopolization and arcane economic theologies that rationalize global pillage and financial parasitism.
Trump is the apotheosis of the corrupt neo-fascist American financial elite of high class hucksters, stock market manipulators and financial crooks - a clandestine secretive class of superrich who own most of the wealth of America and the rest of the globalized capitalist world. This billionaire class is as much divorced from the daily challenges and struggles of ordinary working people as the medieval feudal lords were detached from and oblivious to the miseries of the peasants they had enslaved. However, as opposed to wage slavery, at least medieval serfs had access to the land and the delusional palliatives of liturgies, prayers, music and community of an ecumenical and unified Church, however corrupt. The majority of pious Americans today have no unified Church, save the thousands of arcane denominations such as Pentecostalism, Mormonism and other countless racist prosperity gospel money-driven mega-churches preaching vulture capitalism and god’s work and the evils of democratic socialism , Jews, Moslems and other competing religions. [1a]
And it would seem that for 21st century prosperity gospel Christians, Jesus who was if anything a dissident and Che Guevara style revolutionary against the Roman Empire - and executed because of it - is today assumed a capitalist as American Christians, especially evangelicals, consider socialism the anti-Christ. And like the rest of the solipsistic US populace they indulge in endless distractions and palliatives such as the spectacles of commercial TV and its violent sports, mind numbing programming and non-stop marketing of superfluous products and finally the gossip, misinformation and conspiracies of social media. Social media contributes to the overwhelming glut of information and the insidious surveillance and control mechanisms of corporations such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple FAGMA) and the semi-literate rant and slogan platform called “Twitter” apparently designed for 21st century semi-literate twits. These platforms are not making us more intelligent, as the inanities and irrationalities of religion have also not done for centuries, but people seem to have even lost the ability to discern the difference between truth and fiction, fact and opinion and distinction between information and knowledge. A disturbing fact is we have learned nothing from history which includes centuries of religious wars and the horrors of the bloody 20th century, as a mutant formation of fascism is back and, as in the past, the Christian churches are willing disciples. 
In a recent book States of Shock: Stupidity and Knowledge in the 21st Century the late French philosopher Bernard Stiegler sets out to confront and answer these serious issues of primarily self imposed ignorance. Stiegler engages mathematics to explain the difference between information and knowledge. Consider Pythagoras’s Theorem, taught in most junior high school mathematics curriculums. In a mathematics class, rather than teaching conceptually and from the perspective of why a rule of formula is true, math teachers, who are quite often not trained as mathematicians, teach didactically, employing a recipe approach. One might simply tell a student that the sides of any right-angled triangle are always related by the formula a2+b2=c2, literally the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. This is useful information to any carpenter or other tradesperson but it is not knowledge without justification and/or evidence. Knowledge is acquired deductively in mathematics as opposed to induction, the methodology of scientific inquiry, experimentation, repeatability, probability, plausibility, assessment of evidence and discovery. Students need to know the distinction between inductive and deductive reasoning at the earliest opportunity, at least in junior high school. When students are shown one of the clever proofs of Pythagoras’s Theorem, they will come to understand why it is always true, rather than just taking this fact on faith or the teacher’s authority. If students have properly learned the proof, not by rule based rote-learning like a parrot, but by reconstructing the logical steps of the reasoning process, they should be able to reproduce it themselves. The point of learning geometry or any other branch of mathematics is not merely to acquire reams of information, but to train our capacity for reasoning from data and information to real knowledge. In this way, we hopefully become less stupid and more open to, logic, evidence and argument. This distinction between knowledge and information is far from new; rather it underlies the very origins of Western philosophy, the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, hopefully enabling a student to learn to think – and think critically - on his own.
One significant source of promoting stupidity and irrationality is the capitalist market economy. It is not the existence of a market system per se (after all, markets have existed long before capitalism) which has this effect, but rather the market’s elevation as the court of last appeal for all decisions – the final justification of all human actions. In this manner, it has hijacked the place of rationality and collective democratic decision making in our society, resulting in a situation of not only corporatist hierarchy, bureaucracy and authoritarianism, but generalized stupidity. “It is in this context,” writes Stiegler, “that, having totally abandoned the task of making Europe a scholarly society, the European Commission has committed itself exclusively to constituting the European market and to submitting academic life solely to efficient causality, thereby confusing knowledge and information” (p.218). Governments are turning places of learning into mere corporatized businesses and training for the workplace, rather than for real education. The liberal arts at the college level have been decimated, replaced by the mind destroying banalities of marketing and business administration. In this way “it is thought itself that will have been destroyed, a destruction that brings with it generalized proletarianization and systematic stupidity” (p.219).
The only antidote for this sad state of affairs is to restore the superior claims of logic, reason, scepticism, critical thought and the restoration of liberal arts such as history, philosophy, literature, mathematics and of course all the sciences. In recent decades all of these important areas of intellectual inquiry have been degraded, depreciates and diminished in some corporatized manner; in some cases eliminated altogether. Because of this, a particular responsibility must be entrusted to schools and universities not to collaborate in the demise of free thought, reason and values of the Enlightenment. Sadly, faced with this challenge, academics, many who have lost tenure and academic freedom, are being relegated to the gig economy of short term contracts. Unfortunately teachers and professors have seen their unions co-opted or destroyed and have been repeatedly unable to defend their interests, having increasingly become mere servants of the financial aristocracy and the lords of privatization and financial predation. Hence Stiegler’s plea in the final part of this book for a renewal of critical reasoning within high schools and universities, with the hope that it might then spread to all levels of the educational system and society as a whole. It’s no secret the capitalist financial parasites (vampires euphemistically referred to “private equity firms”) have been salivating over the possibility of privatizing public education at every level as the corporatization and anti-intellectualization of our schools and universities has been ongoing for decades. Soon university degrees on offer will be restricted to the banalities of “marketing”, entrepreneurship” and “business administration”. The covid-19 pandemic is providing an opening for this coup as all disasters have done in recent decades, including those frequent financial calamities regularly caused by rapacious capitalist criminals themselves.
Bernard Stiegler is surely right in claiming that the critical study of digital media should be a central concern for intellectual inquiry today. We need to ask how these media can support thinking, rather than oxidize it into fragmented, bite-sized flashes. Stupidity and ignorance are is increased by the steady barrage of marketing and primarily unnecessary products, useless information and transitory emotions, sensations and satisfactions channeled through the cluttered spaces of cell phones, computer screens and social media– attention deficit inducing and demanding words, phrases, slogans and images rendering the curious inquiring brain anaesthetized and intellectually unfulfilled and nullified. New uses of our modern modes of interconnection are needed to silence twittering trivialities with more connected, undistracted and continuous thinking which require time, space and tranquility. The reality of thoughtful inquiry is this: the intellectual life and the pursuit of truth is hard work, not for head bangers, pot heads and slackers. Once people have swallowed enough brightly-colored sweets, Doritos, Kraft dinner, Big Macs and other junk food down their throats, one might hope that a craving for a nutritious meal might eventually arise. And understanding the mechanisms of advertising, marketing, propaganda and indoctrination is our best protection against their debilitating intellectual effects. We might then become conscious of the mind numbing depths of stupidity, credulity and ignorance into which we are descending and with an epiphany of sharp attention and wake the fuck up.
Let us all learn from Stupidity – Michel de Montaigne
In 1971, reflecting on the civil rights movements , anti-war and black power organizations of his era (such as the Black Panthers), Gil Scott-Heron released the popular proto-rap/hip hop mass media bashing song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the lyrics of which can be read here.
Revolution, at least in the sense of a major transformation of the dismal state of the world at the time, there remained a tacit assumption that a better world was possible, revolution a live option and imminent. This is surely not the case today, despite an increasingly dysfunctional corrupt world that has deeply deteriorated politically, economically, ecologically, ethically and existentially. Not only will the revolution not be televised, it’s seems clear that it is not going to happen at all, barring World War III or a total implosion of the anti-democratic neo-liberal corporatist ideology, dictatorship of money and culture of oligarchic greed and pillage that now prevail throughout our overpopulated increasingly agitated world.
In an interview two decades later, Scott-Heron explained, “You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move… The thing that’s going to change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It will just be something you see and all of a sudden you realize, ‘I’m on the wrong page’”.
Revolution was still in the air during the 1960s and early 70s but to contemplate the possibility today, given the far right wing neoliberal counter-revolution that ensued - and despite global unrest, frustration and anger - revolution seems extremely remote. In consideration of the cultural vacuum, complacency and docility of mind numbing technology, consumerism, endless marketing, identity politics, the atomization of the individual as autonomous entrepreneur, human malfunction as failure of the self, political fragmentation of the left, growing authoritarianism that includes return of fascism, unprecedented economic and social inequalities combined with lack of working class solidarity, nihilistic narcissism and quasi-religious pervasive ignorance that prevails on Face Book and other social media, the prospect of real bottom up revolution is remote. Given the spectre of global warming, overpopulation, environmental degradation, failing ecosystems and now a global pandemic, all life’s species are facing extinction (except humans – at least for now) the world as we know it will end before a much needed revolution happens.
And sadly environmentalism like the post WW II counterculture (including the music of the 1960s and 70s), has been shamelessly hijacked, misrepresented, whitewashed and co-opted by our corporate capitalist masters for exploitation, propaganda and profit. For the renegade Christian theologian Paul Tillich, “god” was for him, not some anthropomorphic cosmic ruler of the universe but what he called “ultimate concern”, a profound moral principle for which there is no compromise and conflation of ends and means. For the entrepreneurial and corporate capitalist, global warming and other environmental concerns are finite engineering or balance sheet compromises and concessions they call “sustainability”- never “ultimate concerns”. For Tillich, “sin” was not some biblical imperative or violation of god’s will, but rather whatever detached us from our consciousness and deeply felt moral obligations – our “ultimate concerns”. To cite one of countless examples, former Canadian Prime Minister/Pastor Stephen (Petro Pete) Harper criticized the expression “Tar Sands” to describe the land from which toxic bituminous gunk is being steamed up from Alberta’s delicate ecosystems in the Athabasca Valley and nearby Indigenous people’s lands and waterways of the once pristine Athabasca River and Jasper National Park. Christian fundamentalist, prosperity gospel capitalist and Rapture believer Steven Harper, now a corrupt businessman pimp facilitator and advisor to big business for seamless corporate mafia connections with the equally corrupt Canadian government, he euphemistically preferred “oil sands” and “ethical oil”. After all we Canadians are much more polite than those slimy Islamic Saudis. Oh yeah, you bet Stevie old boy, the collateral damage and cost of capitalist plunder can be easily offloaded to the public and future generations as it always has; privatize profit and socialize cost is and always has been the name of the capitalist game . Will taxpayers be responsible for finding a new habitable planet? Sigmund Freud’s “Prosthetic Gods” is an apt description of modern capitalists, both conservative and liberal, who have always accepted the dictums “Devil take the hindmost”, might is right and preat mundus, dum ego salvus sim and that their sordid activities depend on abuse and suffering as long as they are not on the receiving end. Some people persist in their belief in human “progress”. Can it be that the modern corporate oligarch and larcenous banker, Adam Smith’s 21st century “masters of mankind”, is the apotheosis of such progress? As Tom Waits put it in one of his songs, “the earth dies screaming” while we continue our dreams of phantom benevolent gods and electric sheep.
The 18th century Enlightenment philosopher, humanist and critic, Voltaire  was once asked, once eliminated, what he would do to replace the oppressive dual tyranny of monarchy and theocracy. His response was, “A ferocious animal has sucked the blood of my relatives. I tell you to rid yourselves of this beast, and you ask me what you shall put in its place?” This is not unlike today when conservatives - and many liberals - who challenge those who want to replace the authoritarian, anti-human, environmentally destructive, exploitive, unjust, corrupt and violent state sanctioned dictatorship of capitalism? If democracy is no more than another form of elitism, hierarchy and control, we humans ought to be the authors our own destinies. Surely our imaginations and intellects are not so barren as to not be able to conjure up far better alternatives to what is an unsustainable immoral social and economic arrangement? Money, for example, is not just a benign medium of exchange, but a source of greed, war, theft and violence. The reformism that emerged after the Second World War was only meant to be temporary as the “masters of mankind”, the oligarchic elites and financial master minds, will eventually reverse this stop gap measure. I’m reminded of an old left wing adage: “Money always returns to its rightful owners.” They want it all back and have, for the most part accomplished this during the trickle down neo-liberal reversal of the past forty years, as economic inequality is back to normalcy – in fact now at unprecedented levels. The predatory pimps of capital now own and completely control the increasingly authoritarian political regimes throughout the world, as fascism is making a big comeback, an ideology that worked harmoniously with capitalist states between and during the 20th century’s two world wars. Why working people in our sham elections vote for conservatives and the ghouls of the current malformation of liberalism remains a mystery; after all, these are the bastards who have waged a forever war against labor unions and social services, ultimately destroying or at least co-opting and corrupting them, rendering them almost useless. Preferring a liberal candidate of today over a conservative is like choosing death by a thousand lashes with barbed wire over an exploding bullet to the forehead.
Several years ago comedian, actor and social critic Russell Brand was interviewed by BBC newsperson Jeremy Paxton, reminding one of Voltaire in his response to the state of dysfunction, inequality, austerity rampant corruption and injustice of the current capitalist world order. Brand lives in the UK, second only to the USA in levels of poverty and levels of economic inequality among Western nations. In the following exchange, Brand asserts his refusal to participate in the farcical exercises of elections:
is it true you don’t even vote?”
Paxman: “Well how do you have any authority to talk about politics then?”
Brand: “Well I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere, for alternatives that might be of service to humanity - Alternate means; alternate political systems.”
Paxman: “They being?”
Brand: “Well I’ve not invented it yet, Jeremy. I had to do a magazine last week. I’ve had a lot on me plate. But I say, but here’s the thing that you shouldn’t do. Shouldn’t destroy the planet; shouldn’t create massive economic disparity; shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people. The burden of proof is on the people with the power, not people, like, doing a magazine for a novelty.”
Paxman: “How do you imagine that people get power?”
Brand: “Well I imagine there are sort of hierarchical systems that have been preserved through generations…”
Paxman: “They get power by being voted in, that’s how they get power…”
Brand: “Well you say that Jeremy…”
Paxman: “You can’t even be arsed to vote?”
quite a narrow, quite a narrow prescriptive parameter that changes within in the
I don’t think it’s working very well, Jeremy. Given that the planet is being
destroyed. Given that there is economic disparity of a huge degree. What are you
saying? There’s no alternative? There’s no alternative? Just this sick system?”
Brand: “You don’t have to listen to my political point of view. But it’s not that I’m not voting out of apathy. I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now. And which has now reached fever pitch where you have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system, so voting for it is tacit complicity with that system and that’s not something I’m offering up.”
Paxman: “What’s the scheme, that’s all I’m asking. What’s the scheme? You talked vaguely about a revolution, what is it?”
Brand: “I think a socialist egalitarian system, based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment… I think they should be taxed. I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron said profit isn’t a dirty word, I say profit is a filthy word. Because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. And this system currently doesn’t address these ideas. And so why would anyone vote for it? Why would anyone be interested in it?”
would levy these taxes?”
Paxman: “A government?”
Brand: “Yes, well, maybe call it something else. Call them like the Admin Bots so they don’t get ahead of themselves.”
Paxman: “And how would they be chosen?”
Brand: “Jeremy, don’t ask me to sit here in an interview with you, in a bloody hotel room and devise a global, utopian system. I’m merely pointing out that the current…”
Paxman: “You’re calling for revolution!”
absolutely. I’m calling for change. I’m calling for genuine alternatives.”
Paxman: “The current system is not engaging with all sorts of problems, yes. And they feel apathetic, really apathetic. But if they were to take you seriously, and not to vote…”
Brand: “Yeah, they shouldn’t vote, they should, that’s one thing they should do, don’t bother voting. Because when it reaches..there’s a point…You see these little valves, these, like, sort of cosy little valves of recycling and Prius and like you know turns up somewhere, it starts reaching the point where you think ‘oh this is enough now. Stop voting. Stop pretending. Wake up. Be in reality now. It’s time to be in reality now’. Why vote? We know it’s not going to make any difference? We know that already?”
Paxman: “It does make a difference.”
have more impact at West Ham United, cheering them on, and they lost to City,
Paxman: “You’re not going to solve world problems by facetiousness.”
Brand: “We’re not going to solve them with the current system. At least facetiousness is funny.”
Brand: “Yeah, sometimes, Jeremy. So listen. So let’s approach this optimistically. You’ve spent your whole career berating and haranguing politicians. And then when someone like me, a comedian, goes ‘they’re all worthless, what’s the point in engaging with any of them’, you sort of have a go at me because I’m not poor anymore. I’m sorry!”
Paxman: “I’m not having a go at you about that. I’m just asking why we should take you seriously when you’re so unspecific about what…?”
Brand: “You don’t have to take… Firstly, I don’t mind if you take me seriously. I’m here just to draw attention to a few ideas; I just want to have a little bit of a laugh. I’m saying there are people with alternative ideas that are far better qualified than I am, and far better qualified, more importantly, than the people that are currently doing that job. It’s because they’re not attempting to solve these problems. They’re not. They’re attempting to placate the population. Their measures that are currently being taken around climate change are indifferent, will not solve, will not solve the problem.”
Paxman: “You don’t think it’s possible that, as human beings, they’re simply overwhelmed by the scale of the problem?”
Brand: “Not really, well possibly. It might be that, but that’s all just semantics really, whether they’re overwhelmed by it or tacitly maintaining it because of habitual… I mean like, mate, this is what I noticed when I was in that Houses of Parliament. It’s decorated exactly the same as Eton, is decorated exactly the same as Oxford. So a certain type of people goes in there and thinks ‘this makes me nervous’ and then another type of people go in there and go ‘this is how it should be’. And I think that’s got to change now. We can no longer have erroneous, duplicitous systems held in place unless it’s for the serve…only systems that serve the planet and serve the population of the planet can be allowed to survive. Not ones that serve elites, be they political or corporate elites and this is what’s currently happening.”
Paxman: “You don’t really believe that.”
Brand: “I completely believe it. Don’t look at me all weary, like you’re at a fireside with your pipe and your beard.”
mean Ed Miliband (inaudible)…”
Paxman: “He did but he then went to a comprehensive school in north London.”
that’s very good. That’s all well and good. But what I’m saying is, within the
existing paradigm, the change is not dramatic enough, not radical enough. So you
can well understand public disturbances and public dissatisfaction, when there
are not genuine changes and genuine alternatives being offered. I say when there
is a genuine alternative, a genuine option, then vote for that. But until then,
pffft, don’t bother. Why pretend? Why be complicit in this ridiculous illusion?”
Brand: “I don’t think so because the time is now, this movement is already occurring, it’s happening everywhere, we’re in a time where communication is instantaneous and there are communities all over the world. The Occupy movement made a difference in, even if, only in that, it introduced, to the popular public lexicon, the idea of the 1% versus the 99%. People for the first time in a generation are aware of massive, corporate and economic exploitation. These things are not nonsense. And these subjects are not being addressed. No one is doing anything about tax havens, no one is doing anything about their political affiliations and financial affiliations of the Conservative Party, so until people start addressing things that are actually real, why wouldn’t I be facetious, why would I take it seriously? Why would I encourage a constituency of young people that are absolutely indifferent to vote? Why would we? Aren’t you bored? Aren’t you more bored than anyone? Have you not been talking to them year after year, listening to their incessant lying, their nonsense. Then it’s this one that gets in and then it’s that one gets in but the problem continues. Why are we going to continue to contribute to this facade?”
Paxman: “I’m surprised you can be facetious when you’re that angry about it.”
Brand: “Yeah, I am angry, I am angry. Because for me it’s real, because for me it’s not just some peripheral thing that I just turn up to once in a while to a church féte for. For me, this is what I come from. This is what I care about.”
Paxman: “Do you see any hope?”
that…yeah, totally, there’s going to be a revolution. It’s totally going to
happen. I haven’t a flicker of doubt. This is the end. This is time to wake up.
Considering Russell Brand’s justifiable frustration and disgust with our fraudulent corporatist “democracies”, what are the possibilities for any major transformation of our current global predicament, given past experience? Prior to the First Russian Revolution in 1905 which was violently crushed by the Tsar and his Cossack military thugs and police goon squads , Vladimir Lenin wrote an essay called What Is To Be Done?, perhaps inspired by Leo Tolstoy book with the same title.
Karl Marx’s View
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas; the class
which is the ruling material force in society is at the same time the ruling
What can we say about a society that almost universally displays an amoral anaesthetized conscience towards the suffering of others and towards the ecological commons itself? Our innate conscience and moral sensibilities are desensitized as they pass through powerful capitalist dominated cultural obfuscations and firewalls. I find it very difficult not to accept that the global hegemony of neoliberal capitalist culture of greed and financial predation has deadened the sentiments of community and social solidarity that deeply affects how we view ourselves, impeding and inhibiting our natural feelings of compassion, empathy and moral responsibility. Dominant cultural belief systems and inculcated ideologies tend to override our neurobiological, evolutionary heritage as our brain’s malleability conforms to corporate capitalist ideology. We are endlessly bombarded with the notion that the amoral capitalist market is the ultimate final sanctuary of any and all decision making. Contra Biblical imperatives of “you are your brother’s keeper” and “love your neighbor as yourself”, is the notion that you only need to serve your personal interests and care about people who are biologically or emotionally inked to you. Even traditional mainstream Christians ignore these ethical adages, including the parable of the Good Samaritan, having embraced the capitalist contaminated “prosperity gospel of “God and Jesus wanting you to be rich”.
It’s a truism that cultural norms are invented and inculcated by elites and their institutions, including our alleged “democratic” governments, systems of laws and education to serve their particular interests. Capitalism is no exception, a system anathema to justice and real democracy and arguably one of the most hierarchical, authoritarian and exploitive of any socio-economic arrangements in history. So how do our brains, wired for morality, cooperation and empathy as science is slowly discovering, come to embrace the opposite. The Italian radical and anti-fascist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who died in one of Benito Mussolini’s infamous prisons argued in his Prison Notebooks that it’s all explained by class, power and privilege as the ideas of the ruling class are assimilated by the masses, eventually taking on the status of everyday common sense and universal verities. These include assumptive “truths” about human nature and a sense of determinism of how the world works and thereby informed by our corporate masters that nothing can be done to change anything about the current dismal status quo. We have apparently reached the end of history and have accepted the dubious biblical pronouncement that “the poor will always be with us”.
Setting aside the 3-5 percent of the world’s population that can be classified as psychopaths, what then can we conclude about an entire society that displays a cavalier and uncaring disposition regarding the widespread poverty and angst of others and especially towards the natural environment and the degraded state of its endangered species and ecosystems? UBC professor emeritus Robert Hare is considered the world expert in psychopathological behavior, the worst of whom he called “snakes in suits”, to be found at the highest levels of business, government, law enforcement and the military. Hare argued that the percentage of psychopaths and sociopaths for those in positions of power may be as high as 25%. This percentage may be disturbing, albeit unsurprising since it would seem reasonable those people with psychopathic or authoritarian inclinations would gravitate to positions of power in order to wield power over others. Despite the existence of many critics of the corrupt neo-liberal capitalist system and its militarism and imperialism they have been marginalized and shunned by the right wing mainstream media. These are radical intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn , John Pilger, Michael Parenti, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and many others of courage who speak “truth to power”. But the psychopathic political and corporate elites to whom these critics and Robert Hare are referring will without conscience always sleep soundly every night.
It is a common error to read philosophers out of their historical context; we attempt to make the Procrustean bed in order to make them address contemporary needs and problems without fully understanding those of our forebears. This is not least the case with Karl Marx and his colleague Friedrich Engels, arguably the most influential philosophers of the past 175 years. When capitalism seemed to be on the verge of disintegration in financial debacle of 2008, incited by financial swindles of epic proportions, many dusted of their mangled copies Das Kapital, The Communist Manifesto or any one of dozens of other of Marx and Engel’s voluminous works. Certainly without the disgraceful multi-trillion dollar bailouts throughout the world, collapse would quite likely have been the outcome. We see the same pathetic disgrace occurring in 2020 with the covid-19 plague. As Martin Luther King rightly observed, capitalism is a system of “socialism for the rich”, by far the primary recipient of government welfare programs and would not survive without them. Dog eat dog capitalism is reserved for the hoi polloi of destitute workers scrambling and competing for diminishing jobs, most of which are nothing but wage slavery.
The depiction of 19th century capitalism that Marx brilliantly describes is a compelling one, not least because he captures for the first time what we might think of as its permanent and essential features, including the vile financial obfuscations, mysticisms and swindles that prevail today. That is, we see particularly in Volume One of Das Kapital capitalism’s vast dynamic and adaptable innovative nature, transgressing national boundaries and ideologies in its global predation and relentless pursuit of profit, wherever profit can be siphoned off regardless of the consequences to people, their communities or the natural environment; and its reduction of all decisions by an appeal to the gods of the market as human interests and dreams are conflated with the financial. We might be tempted to dismiss this ugly horror story of capitalism as one pertinent to its earlier phases but not to its alleged more benign later variations. But how benign can a deeply immoral system such as capitalism ever be? How benign is it now? After all, it is not as if sweat-shops, child labor, appalling factory and slave-like gig economy conditions have disappeared from the planet, they are just in different forms and locations. Capitalists in the West, and in South-East Asia, have not hesitated to outsource work to where they can find cheap labor and unregulated financial requirements such as offshore tax havens exploited by big corporations and wealthy clients. Exploitation is scarcely a thing of the past as the low prices we pay for many of our often superfluous consumer items in Canada, the USA and Europe are precisely the result of deplorable human exploitation and desecration of the earth’s ecosystems.
The crash of 2008 was scarcely unprecedented, except in terms of its criminality, parasitism and scale, its cause in the devious cunning in the marketing of highly dubious and outright swindles of arcane financial instruments devised by bankers, hedge funds and other financial mafia in the short-term interest of earning obscene profits and multi-million-dollar bonuses for the executive drones and pimps who do their bidding. Marx may have known nothing of predatory hedge fund operators, derivatives and credit default swaps, but he was fully aware of the difference between productive capital and what he called “fictitious capital”, and how financial markets and credit bubbles could balloon out of all proportion to the economy of ordinary people. We witness this dissolute contradiction today as misery, debilitation and death from a global pandemic, unemployment, widespread poverty and bankruptcies of small businesses and human misery are coterminous with record levels of global stock markets and fictitious capital. [2a]
Throughout its sordid history, the crises of capitalism have occurred with often predictable regularity, on average about once every 7-10 years and perhaps one of them may yet prove fatal such as when the nanny state refuses or is simply unable to provide a golden parachute. But modern states exist to underwrite and support capitalism, so don’t count on it. Capitalism has been able to adapt to and even embrace any reactionary ideology as it has with authoritarian regimes such as fascism in the era from 1920-45. And we see this happening today with neo-liberalism which I would describe as an evil confluence of neo-fascism and neo-feudalism. The level of depravity is so depressing and degraded that it profits from war and other disasters (both natural and contrived), and shocks such as the current global killer virus. This is a corrupt undemocratic system of plunder that is not only foul, but one that cannot be fixed. The only conceivable possibility seems to be that it will eventually implode, collapse into its own cesspool of excess and depravity.
The richest one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of Americans now owns more wealth than the bottom 90%. Moreover, America’s billionaires now have an absolute veto-power against any candidate in either of the two capitalist parties Presidential primaries. Then there is social democrat lefty liberal Bernie Sanders, whom no billionaire wants as a President; only candidates who are backed by at least a few billionaires has any realistic chance at all of becoming a presidential candidate. Any candidate whom no billionaire backs has zero probability of winning the nomination of either of the major Parties. Unfortunately, enough gullible Americans are sufficiently duped and manipulated to be deceived by the endless media propaganda that’s funded by the super-rich. So, any candidate who opposes the super-rich has virtually no chance to win any election to the federal government.
Behold a shocking revelation that ought to make your head spin and your brain melt: According to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s table that features the headline “Distribution of Household Wealth in the U.S. since 1989”, the percentage of U.S. privately owned wealth which is held by the richest 1% has risen from 5% in 1990 to 36% today, more than a seven-fold increase. If it had instead been a twenty-fold increase, then the richest 1% would already own the entire country, but they instead seem to be heading to reach that 100% by around the year 2035. They’ve been roughly doubling their percentage of America’s privately owned wealth every decade since 1990; and, at that rate, they’d reach 72% by around the year 2030. Once they own everything, everybody else would be either working for them or in debt to them. The poor 99% would no longer be able to buy what the companies that the richest 1% own would be offering for sale. Obviously, an enormous economic crash is coming, but no one can say how soon before around the year 2035 that mega-crash will occur. Given the biggest stock market bubble in history during a global pandemic coupled with economic chaos, widespread unemployment , misery and death no less - and some “black swan event” to set it off - the implosion and global financial collapse could be next week.
The nagging question persists: “Whence the Revolution?”
The History of the West as the History of a “Master Race Democracy”
The history of the so-called “civilized” capitalist West has been one of racism, colonialism, genocide of indigenous people, slavery and land theft that confronts us with a nasty paradox. It becomes intelligible if we begin with the history of its leading country today, the United States of America. The putative “democracy” of the American Christian white community developed pari passu with the enslavement of black people and the decimation and marginalization of Native Americans. For thirty-two of the first thirty-six years of the USA’s existence, the presidential incumbents were slave-owners, as were the men who drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In the absence of slavery and the subsequent racial segregation in concentration camps called “reserves” one will understand little or nothing of American “liberty”, so often touted.
In connection with this paradox in the history of their country, US scholars have spoken of a “Herrenvolk democracy”; that is, a democracy that applies exclusively to the “master race” to use the language beloved of Hitler who patterned his concentration camps on the North American reservation system for what remained of its native populations. The clear line of demarcation between whites, on the one hand, and blacks and Native Americans, on the other, was conducive to the development of relations of relative equality within the hierarchical white community.
The category of “Herrenvolk democracy” is also of use in explaining the history of the West in general. From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth, the extension of suffrage in Europe went hand-in-hand with the process of colonization and the imposition of servile or semi-servile labor relations on subjugated peoples. The rule of law in the metropolis was merged with police violence and arbitrary bureaucratic oppression combined with states of emergency in the colonies. In the final analysis, these are the same phenomena as occurred in the history of the USA, except that in the case of Europe they proved less obvious because the colonial populations, rather than residing in the metropolis, were separated from it by an ocean.
Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners.
We want to achieve a new and better order of society: in this new and better society there must be neither rich nor poor; all will have to work. Not a handful of rich people, but all the working people must enjoy the fruits of their common labor. Machines and other improvements must serve to ease the work of all and not to enable a few to grow rich at the expense of millions and tens of millions of people. - Vladimir Lenin
It is very difficult to find a critique of such “Herrenvolk democracy” in liberal thought, which instead is often a theoretical expression of that regime. Thus, in a text devoted in its very title to liberty, we find a theorization of the “absolute obedience” required of “races” that are still in their “infancy”. Despotism is a legitimate form of government in dealing with those considered “barbarians”. Ironically, the author of these sentiments in the second half of the nineteenth century was John Stuart Mill, who on another occasion blended considerations on the excellence of representative government which he saw embodied primarily in the Anglo-Saxons with depiction of “the great majority of the human race” as still “in a savage or semi-savage state”, and of some colonial peoples as barely above the level of higher animal species.
The main target of Lenin’s struggle was precisely Herrenvolk democracy based on “the enslavement of hundreds of millions of working people in Asia, in the colonies in general, and in the small countries” by “a few chosen nations”. The Russian revolutionary leader meticulously highlighted the major clauses of exclusion from liberal freedom applying to “colored races”, as well as immigrants ‘from the more backward countries’. As in a game of mirrors, the West that glorified the rule of law was faced with the truth of the colonies: “The most Liberal and Radical personalities of free Britain … become regular Genghis Khans when appointed to govern India.”
J S Mill could celebrate the British Empire as a step towards “universal peace, and general friendly co-operation among nations”. However, even if we overlook the conflict between the great powers that subsequently issued in the First World War, this celebration involves a monstrous repression: the great powers’ expeditions to the colonies are not regarded as wars. We are dealing with wars in which few Europeans died, whereas hundreds of thousands of people belonging to the nations they were subjugating died in them. And so, continues Lenin in stinging fashion, “Can you call them wars?” Strictly speaking, they were not wars at all, and you could forget about them. The victims were not even granted the honors of war. Colonial wars were not deemed such because their victims were inferior folk, in fact, barbarians, who could not be regarded as nations at all (you couldn’t very well call those Asians and Africans nations!) and who were ultimately excluded from the human community.
The 1917 October Revolution effected a radical turn vis-à-vis an ideological and political tradition in which colonial arrogance and racial prejudice were a self-evident, undisputed fact. In these conditions, appeals for a liberation struggle addressed to the slaves of the colonies, and to the “barbarians” present in the capitalist metropolis itself, was bound to seem a deadly threat to the white race, the West, and civilization as such. Bolshevism was perceived by much of the European and US media as a sworn enemy not of democracy per se, but of Herrenvolk democracy and, above all, of the global white supremacy on which the latter rested. Communists were branded and treated as renegades from the white race. An eminent member of the exclusive club of civilized peoples and the West when ruled by the Czarist autocracy and ancien régime, Russia became barbaric following the October Revolution and in Oswald Spengler’s words, revealed to be “Asiatic”, a member of the colonial world and “populations of color”.
We can now understand what happened in the US south even after Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president as the policy of segregation and lynching of blacks continued its rampage. Members of the US Communist Party officially condemned it and were subsequently branded as “foreigners” and “nigger lovers” by the dominant capitalist liberal ideology. An American historian Robin D G Kelley describes the courage they were forced to display: “Their challenge to racism and to the status quo prompted a wave of repression one might think inconceivable in a democratic country.” To be a Communist - and have the temerity to challenge white supremacy - meant “facing the possibility of imprisonment, beatings, kidnapping, and even death”.
That the October Revolution and the Communist movement had a racial, rather than a political, origin was likewise the opinion of Henry Ford. For him, the authors of this barbaric upheaval were not the colonial peoples and Asians strictly speaking, but primarily the Jews, who were themselves to be regarded as alien to the West and Civilization on account of their Oriental origins. The myth of the ‘Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy’ enjoyed particular success in Germany and solemnized its bloody splendors after Hitler’s arrival in power. The Jewish philologist Victor Klemperer in The Language of the Third Reich described the insults and humiliations involved in wearing the Star of David in harrowing terms. However,
“…a removal man who is friendly towards me following two moves … is suddenly standing in front of me in the Freiberger Strasse, takes my hand in both of his paws and whispers in a tone which must be audible on the other side of the road: ‘Well, Herr Professor, don’t let it get you down! These wretched brothers of ours will soon have reached rock bottom!”
Klemperer comments with affectionate irony that those who thus challenged the regime at a time when the racist contagion seemed irresistible were “good people with more than a whiff of the KPD [German Communist Party].”
Branded as a direct or mediated expression of the barbarism of races that were inferior or extraneous to civilization, the Communist movement performed an extraordinary educational/propaganda role, as well as a political one, and not only in the colonies, but also in the advanced capitalist countries. A historiography that ignores all this ends up taking the form of a tool for ideologically transfiguring Herrenvolk democracy.
We have seen that the twentieth century had signaled the advent of what we now call “democracy”. We may now pose a further question: was the twentieth century the only one in which the phenomena of deportation, concentration camps, genocide first made their appearance? Or was it the century when all these horrors erupted into Europe? Unless we want to repress or transfigure the colonial tradition, the second answer manifestly dictates itself. Hence, given the undeniable horrors of the twentieth century, is not escape into the past, to happier, less cruel centuries, problematic. Among the innumerable massacres that marked it the 19th century, it is enough to think of the decimation of the Congo’s population, referred to by Hannah Arendt and more recently in Adam Hochschild’s best selling masterpiece King Leoplod’s Ghost : A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998). Moreover, it was the century in whose wake Hitler situated himself, committed as he was to reviving the racist hubris of colonialism expansionism. What of the 18th century? The fate reserved for the internal colonies of Scotland and Ireland by The English was horrific, while between the two Atlantic coasts and in America the Black Holocaust - in the definition ventured by descendants of black slaves - or American Holocaust, graphically described by historian David E Stannard (1993) in a book with the same title - according descendants of the Native Americans - was consummated. These are gory tragedies that were already in full swing in the seventeenth century – the century which, with its Thirty Years’ War proper, serves as a reference point for numerous historians in interpreting the twentieth century. Must we go back even further, to the sixteenth or fifteenth centuries? We then encounter what an eminent intellectual, Tzvetan Todorov, has characterized as “the greatest genocide in human history”. Moreover, it would be bizarre to seek to counter-pose the epoch of the Conquest to the century of Hitler’s infamies, given that with his war of extermination against the “natives” of Eastern Europe he might be regarded as the last of the conquistadores!
While escaping to happy times past and denying the emancipation label to the Communist movement proves fruitless – a liberating movement which was not allowed to succeed by the capitalist West - the latter’s major contribution to the horror of the twentieth century cannot be denied. What historical victory could ever justify it? In fact, on closer inspection, did not the catastrophe precisely begin with Marx’s presumption in sacrificing morality on the altar of the philosophy of history and the impending radiant future? This is the principal theme in the tendency, today extremely widespread, to search for a kind of philosophical original sin, reverting from the Russian Revolution to the philosopher with whom it has been identified.
Having portrayed a dreadfully dismal picture that fully accords with the reality of British colonial rule in Ireland, an eminent English liberal historian G M Trevelyan in his History of England (1979) stressed what in his view was the essential aspect: the subjugation of the unhappy island “saved Protestantism in Europe and enabled the British Empire to launch forth strongly on its career of prosperity, freedom and expansion overseas”. Horrendous human costs are justified in the name of a country’s imperial mission: we are in 1942, in the midst of the catastrophe caused by the Third Reich or the Germanic Third Empire. Compare the English historian’s philosophy with that of Karl Marx. The latter recognized that, despite its arbitrary and brutal character, British colonial rule in India had a modernizing impact. In this sense, “progress” had been realized, but progress resembling “that hideous pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain”!
This is not an isolated point as Marx’s main work can be read as a critical reflection on the Western bourgeois philosophy of history. Having stressed that “capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt” – converting Africa into a preserve for the commercial “hunting of black skins” and bringing about “the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population” in America – the chapter on ‘original accumulation’ in Capital ironically paraphrases the motto with which Virgil summarized the foundation of a city destined by the gods to rule the world: Tantae molis erat. (Capital: Volume I) This denunciation remained operative with Lenin, who defended the claims of the “red and black skins” against the arrogance of a “few chosen nations”.
The search for the original philosophical sin that allegedly explains the horrors of our time does not stop at Marx. Predating the Bolsheviks by 125 years we find the model of the Jacobin Terror, whose protagonists often alluded to Jean Jacques Rousseau. Such is the mandatory starting-point – the holism of the author of The Social Contract, who many assume to mean the sacrifice of individualism on the altar of the vague notion of “general will”. But the truth of the matter is that any such attitude was so alien to Rousseau that in a letter of 27 September 1766, written when the contradictions resulting in the French Revolution were already evident, he asserted: “the blood of one man is more valuable than the liberty of the whole human race”. (Complete Correspondences, Volume XXX, p.385)
Ironically, Rousseau continues to be viewed by many as the father of the French Revolution’s descent into terror - even the grandfather of Hitler’s death camps and Stalin’s gulags. Set against him is once again the Anglo-American liberal tradition, replete, as we are continually assured, with sacred respect for the claims of morality and the sanctity of the individual. However, less than three decades after the letter we have just mentioned, we encounter another, no less eloquent one. It is the summer of 1792 and the Terror is already on the horizon in France. In seeking to justify it, the author of this letter declares that, rather than tolerating the triumph of the cause of despotism, “I would have seen half the earth desolated.” More precisely: “Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than it now is.” The author was Thomas Jefferson. A direct line seems to lead from the view expressed by Jefferson here to a slogan that became widespread in the worst years of the Cold War and Joseph McCarthy witch hunts. This was an era also dominated by the specter of nuclear holocaust and for anyone on the political left, you were told you are “better dead than red!” The liberty of the human race seems to demand much more than endless conservative reactionary persecution and “the blood of one man”.
This is a complete inversion of Rousseau’s position as the Jacobins were indeed inspired by his writings. At this point, we might be tempted to reflect and regret: if only they had complied with the author they venerated, instead of providing the Bolsheviks with a model in the ensuing terror? Unfortunately, the criterion formulated by the great Geneva philosopher does not withstand the test of reality. On the one hand, it is too restrictive. Taken literally, it would require condemnation of any revolution. Even an assassination attempt on Hitler would be difficult to justify, and it would be quite difficult to justify a police operation that involved possible bloodshed. The police, the army and the judiciary (at least in countries where the barbarism of the death penalty is still in effect) operate on the basis of the presupposition that the blood of one or more human beings is worth less than the liberty, not of the human race, but of a particular political community. The capitalist state representing wealth, power and privilege as such entails this principle for which police and military are created to serve, protect and defend. In Rousseau’s letter, we can read a vague aspiration to the extinction of states – the anarchist ideal adopted by not only Mikhail Bakunin, but Karl Marx and, subsequently, the Bolsheviks. We are returned to the vicinity of a revolution which, at first blush, seems separated by an abyss from the criterion formulated by Rousseau.
What becomes clear is that such a criterion, on the other hand, is too all-encompassing. It is a pious illusion to believe that adhering to the absolute value of the individual is in and of itself an antidote to revolutionary upheavals and the ensuing potential for violence. Rousseau reiterates that absolute value when, in the Discourse on Political Economy, he asserts that the social contract would risk being null “if in the state there perished even a single citizen who could have been assisted, if even a single trial were to end with a manifestly unjust sentence”. It would be imperative to remedy that eventuality, uninhibited by the “pretext of the public good”, or public order, that terrible “curse”. No society was, or is, in a position to meet the challenge contained in such a view.
This is where we must start in order to understand the dialectic that developed during the French Revolution. In articulating the “new idea of happiness”, Saint-Just formulated an extremely ambitious and pugnacious program: “Not a single poor, unhappy being in the state will be tolerated …let Europe learn that you no longer wish to see either an unhappy being or an oppressor on French territory.” We are a few months from the fateful Thermidor of 1794, which saw Saint-Just go to the guillotine along with Robespierre. Two years later, this program was adopted verbatim by Babeuf, in a speech to the judges of the tribunal that shortly afterwards likewise sentenced him to death.
As well as invoking Saint-Just, Babeuf referred to the 1793 Constitution, article 34 which states that “there is oppression of the social body when there is oppression of a single one of its members”. But the politico-social order already tends to be impugned by poverty and unhappiness, which are no longer treated as a natural calamity or divine punishment, as in the ideology of the Ancien Régime. The misery and unhappiness of a single human being suffice for a condition of oppression to obtain, but then continues the Jacobin Constitution, “insurrection becomes the most sacred of rights and the most imperative of duties”. From a factor of potential conservatism in Rousseau’s letter of 1766, the sentiment of the absolute value of the individual is converted into an agenda of Leon Trotsky’s notion of a permanent revolution whereby people must be eternally vigilant of reactionary forces against any past hard won gains in liberty, justice and ever diminishing social services. In no instance is it permissible to sacrifice the individual to societal means to some end any more than it is to sacrifice the common good to the greed of corporate vultures and financial predators that only care about profit. Formulated with a vision of the future, highlighting the dangers contained in any project of social transformation, this Kantian categorical imperative can elicit resignation. Formulated with a focus on the present, with its suffering and sacrifices, it opens up the possibility of an opening for endless negation. The criterion stated by Rousseau is surely too narrow for any concrete political action and project to be capable of dealing with it, and too broad to be capable, if not of obstructing, then at least of containing and vetting impulses to rebellion.
In 1952, another famous French writer, the great existentialist philosopher, atheist, humanist, harsh critic of religion and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Albert Camus (1913-1960) published the book “L’homme Révolté” (The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt). In this book Camus’ thoughts conclude with a universal call to revolution in the sense of an incessant struggle for a higher degree of freedom, democracy and justice. To realize the absurdity of the state of the world, reflecting Bertolt Brecht’s lines in a famous poem “The laughing man has only not yet received the terrible news”, is to rebel against it. In this act of incessant rebellion, man would find himself – borrowing a variation of a famous line by Rene Descartes - “I rebel, therefore I am!” This eternally rebellious person desires neither earthly political promises nor religious reassurances about the hereafter. The latter is a delusion and the former is a promise usually broken. For the realist rebel, the pronouncement of a future utopian kingdom on earth or the non-existent one in heaven, he is ambivalent and unmoved. In both cases one had to wait, and during this time the innocent do not stop dying. The working exploited masses, tired of suffering and dying from reforms of a tyranny all too quickly rescinded, would be a life of permanent revolution without utopian or heavenly dreams. For free people and their revolt in the name of human rights, real freedom and dignity, there would be no higher aspiration than the realization of freedom for all. We have reached a point in human history when the gradualist reformist strategy to revolution has been proven to be a dismal failure. Gains in the form of reforms forced into place by working people following decades of struggle with the capitalist beast up to the Great Depression and the brief period following World War II era has failed. With a global pandemic and the exposure of the voracious Godzilla of disaster capitalism is once again profiting from human misfortune and misery. Systemic corporate corruption, financial parasitism, erosion of government sovereignty, ecological collapse and other ominous existential threats demand the urgent creation of a mass revolutionary movement, an international solidarity of the masses to overthrow the current dictatorship of capital and the oligarchic technocratic billionaire class that are replacing our compliant undemocratic state governments throughout the world.
For Rousseau the subjugation and unhappiness of a single human being is deemed intolerable. Babeuf seems to realize the utopian character of the sanctification of the individual and, in fact, sometimes alludes to the utility of “happiness of the greatest number”, a formulation subsequently advocated by Jeremy Bentham. The idea of happiness thus becomes more pragmatic as the unhappiness of a certain number of persons, if not most, is now taken into account. The possible conflict between the happiness of some (those “brief respites from chronic unhappiness” as more than one philosopher has written) and that of others is now seemingly configured as a conflict between liberties. Focusing on the British colonists in America, where a kind of local self-government by white colonists - who were often slave-owners - obtained, Adam Smith observed that slavery could more easily be suppressed under a “despotic government” than a “free” one, “where every law is made by their masters, who will never pass anything prejudicial to themselves”. From this the Lectures on Jurisprudence draw an extraordinary conclusion: “The freedom of the free was the cause of the great oppression of the slaves … And as they are the most numerous part of mankind, no human person will wish for liberty in a country where this institution is established.” What a scandalous assertion from the standpoint of contemporary apologetic liberals is the preference indirectly expressed here for “despotic government” as the only form that can eliminate the institution of slavery.
This anticipates the political and moral dilemmas of the American people on either side of the issues in the Civil War. We can restate the political dilemma, contra Adam Smith, thus: it involved choosing not between “liberty” and “despotic government”, but between the freedom of blacks reduced to slavery and the freedom of their owners to enslave others. Slavery was only de jure abolished following a bloody war conducted by Lincoln with remorseless Jacobin energy and a subsequent military dictatorship over the secessionist states. When the Union abandoned the iron fist, whites were once again granted habeas corpus and local self-government, but blacks were de facto deprived not only of political rights, but also, in large part, of civil rights.
The political dilemma was also a moral dilemma so let us set aside self-declared defenders of the institution of slavery. Those who hoped for a gradual, painless reform process accepted an albeit temporary reduction of black slaves to means and things; the more radical abolitionists, who first pressed for a confrontation and then supported the military dictatorship over the South, in effect accepted the reduction of the victims of the war and subsequent military dictatorship to means to an end. The situation was reversed with the return of the ex-slaves to semi-serfdom and the condition of sacrificial victims, immolated on the altar of new-found harmony within the white community and restored “democracy” for the master race.
The Civil War achieved a lasting result by the often ignored legal abolition of slavery, but at the cost of a terrible bloodbath as the number of casualties surpassed those incurred by the US during the two world wars combined. Was it necessary? Might it not have been better, suggested by revisionist historians, to await the natural course of things, especially given that acceleration of the emancipation process did not have the anticipated effects? What has been called the second American Revolution evinces a half-baked balance sheet. It did not achieve liberty for blacks; it abolished slavery only to make way for the arbitrary violence of the regime of white supremacy.
Certainly, the international influence of the abolitionist revolution weighs on the other side of the scale. It occurred in the same period as the abolition of serfdom in Russia and at a time when the most odious aspects of what not only Marx, but an abundant literature, denounced as wage slavery (now having returned in the 21st century gig economy) or white slavery were being challenged in Western Europe. We should also not lose sight of the fact that 1867 saw the passage in Britain of the Second Reform Bill, which significantly extended the suffrage. At a time when American blacks were conquering, or seemed to be conquering, political rights along with civil rights, it was hard to deny the white working class the former. Again in 1884, during demonstrations to secure the Third Reform Act and a further extension of citizenship, British workers waved flags invoking the Union’s struggle to abolish slavery.
That gesture might seem rather naive to contemporary historians: it appears to ignore the white supremacy which had supervened in the interim. Compared with the pre-Civil War years, the condition of blacks had in a sense even deteriorated. They were now forced to endure a situation of permanent isolation, intimidation and terror (cases of lynching multiplied). The restoration of racial hierarchy, which had been experienced by its victims as natural for so long, but which had then fallen into crisis, required a surcharge of violence and brutality. Something similar occurred after the 1917 October Revolution and the appeal addressed to the slaves in the colonies. In Ethiopia and Eastern Europe, the reassertion of colonialism and the process of re-colonization assumed forms that were all the more horrible given the difficulties encountered in reversing the course of history.
The abolition of slavery, following a bloody war conducted as a Crusade for freedom, strengthened the North American republic’s democratic good conscience and sense of mission. Colonial and imperial impulses received a strong impetus, as demonstrated by the war with Spain, the radicalization of the Monroe Doctrine and theorization of a pedagogical “big stick” for the recalcitrant peoples of Latin America, the annexation of the Philippines, and so forth. An analogous dialectic developed after the Bolshevik Revolution. Issuing from a revolution that waved the banner of oppressed mainly peasant populations in Czarist Russia, the colonies and the world generally, the USSR in turn felt itself invested with a program that pushed it to the point of theorizing a kind of Monroe Doctrine for the countries of Eastern Europe, to which it conceded only a limited sovereignty. Thus, while they significantly advanced an emancipation processes, the ideas that governed the abolitionist revolution in the first instance, and the Bolshevik Revolution thereafter, functioned as an instrument for legitimizing imperial ambitions.
Once again, then, the crucial question emerges in the case of both revolutions: were they worth it? But the question is ill-formulated. When Lincoln decided to respond to the challenge of the secessionist states, violence was already in process and not only because the enslavement of a people is in itself, as Rousseau pointed out, an act of war. The bloody assault by rebel troops on Fort Sumter had already occurred, and was itself preceded by attempts on the part of abolitionists in the North to introduce weapons into the South and appeals to the slaves to rebel. The war had been brewing for decades.
This consideration applies a fortiori to the Russian Revolution, which erupted when the genocide it wanted to prevent had been raging for years. In the view of many young people who gravitated to Communism, it was for the Russians the First World War and the brutal Civil War of 1918-21 that followed the revolution that seemed like a gigantic, inhuman experiment in social engineering. This “furnace”, “smelting furnace”, and instrument of “regeneration of present social existence” were celebrated by Gaetano Salvemini and Benedetto Croce. Across the Atlantic, even after the signature of the armistice, Herbert Hoover credited the war with “purifying” men and thereby preparing “a new golden age”. His conclusion was a bizarre one: “We are proud to have taken part in this renaissance of humanity.”
On the other side, Antonio Gramsci’s irony about the enormous human and social costs of “five years of purification, regeneration and martyrdom” was scathing. The fact that they had been imposed by elites from above confirmed that the subaltern classes were mere “human material”, “raw material for the history of the privileged classes”. In the young revolutionary’s view, there was a direct line leading from the liberal tradition to interventionism. Regarded for centuries as lacking in human dignity in the full sense, the semi-bestial multitude, or “swinish multitude” of arch conservative Edmund Burke, could be calmly sacrificed in a war whose stake was also, or primarily, a drive to acquire colonies or dominion over populations even more manifestly reduced to mere commodities, work tools and automatons to forced complicity in the foreign pillage of their own lands.
Having arrived in power on the back of protests against this world, Communism in turn involved the sacrifice of millions of human beings, who were reduced to “raw material” for building a new society. Wasn’t it Rousseau’s admonition not long before the outbreak of the revolution that he unquestionably helped induce comes to mind once again?: “the blood of one man is worth more than the freedom of the whole human race”. Albeit perhaps utopian, it contains an essential lesson that might be reformulated in Kantian terms: as an autonomous moral subject, every human being is an end in itself rather than a means to someone else’s end and cannot be degraded into an instrument for the attainment of allegedly noble ends.
This truth is often mobilized to liquidate the Jacobin-Bolshevik tradition that is also at work behind it. We have seen distinguished liberal thinkers equate wage-workers with work horses, machines and work tools, thereby denying them the dignity of moral, economic and political subjects. Even more radically and persistently, such a denial has operated to the detriment of members of “inferior” races, Orwell’s un-people. The decisive blows dealt to this world are key moments in conferring on every human being, regardless of race, socio-economic status and sex, the dignity of a moral subject, of being a Kantian end in itself, never a means. Making a major contribution to the attainment of this result, paradoxically, the French Revolution and Russian Revolutions helped develop the theoretical and moral tools that enable us to adopt an attitude of mature critical distance towards them, which has nothing to do with the commonplace demonization beloved of authoritarian conservative sophistry. When, focusing on their blameless victims, the autonomous moral subjects objectively reduced to means in the course of the many revolutions that marked the birth of today’s world, people question their legitimacy and expediency. They are unaware of the fact that such questioning was precisely made possible by those very revolutions.
On the other hand, it would be naive to think that with the neo-liberal “end of history”, political and moral dilemmas have magically disappeared. Was it right to support the two Gulf wars and the deadly prolonged economic embargo imposed on Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children? The consequences of the latter were described thus in an article in the Washington Post signed by the director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights: “According to estimates by UN agencies, more than 500,000 Iraqi children have died from hunger and disease – roughly the combined toll of the barbarism of two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 and the recent scourge of ethnic cleansing.” That calculation dates from 1996; thereafter the toll increased considerably.
We are dealing with a kind of postmodern version of the concentration camp. In the age of globalization, there is no need to deport a people: it is enough to block the flow of food and medicines – especially if one succeeds in destroying aqueducts, water supplies, drainage systems and health infrastructure with “intelligent” or “strategic” bombing, as happened in Iraq. What will future historians say about this man-made famine, this collective death sentence, pronounced not in the course of a ruthless civil war or a dramatic life-and-death struggle between great powers, but in peace time, without even the phony justification of the Cold War?
Such criticisms are generally answered by pointing to the need to pursue the struggle against a dictatorial, criminal regime. But here is the reply of the article cited above: however grave the list of charges against Iraq’s leaders it cannot justify resort to a terrible collective punishment, a practice typical of totalitarianism. If the collective punishment inflicted on an already exhausted people had really aimed to defend the cause of democracy and peace, and it is possible to entertain the strongest doubts, a bitter conclusion would impose itself. We might formulate it by referring to a text by Marx that we have already cited. It invokes a “great social revolution” bringing about a situation where “human progress” ceases to “resemble that hideous pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain” (Marx & Engels). While faith in a “great social revolution”, definitively resolving things, has vanished, the tragedies to which it sought to put an end are still the order of the day.
Lenin’s and Trotsky’s View
You need to indoctrinate empathy out of people in order to arrive at extreme capitalist positions - Frans de Waal
If there ever has been a period of time, at least since the early 1980s in which the dismal state of the world has arrived at the point at which we have been in danger of confirming Lenin’s old maxim, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”, surely it is today as covid-19 is out of control like a medieval plague, exposing additional flows of trillions of dollars to the already wealthy (even worse than 2008), rampant corruption and unending crises of a cancerous capitalism – surely it is now. We are dealing with a global neo-fascist/neo-feudal system of rampant plunder and parasitism that is beyond reform or redemption; that is, it simply cannot be fixed. Leaders of big corporations, big banks, financial mafia and their sycophantic sock puppet governments, as they do in times of war, hypocritically spew out typical platitudes, bullshit and outright lies such as “It’s in the ‘national interest’”, “We’re “fighting for your freedoms and protection”, “We’re in this thing together” and “Your call is important to us”. Hypocritical and duplicitous conservative and liberal politicians alike who underfunded and eliminate health care research and services praise the underpaid and overworked health care workers, nurses, doctors and caregivers as they try to cope with over-burdened hospitals, substandard protection and equipment.
Consider what Vladimir Lenin asserted on “The Fundamental Law of Revolution” and what happens when in Hegel's terms reason morphs into unreason.
He wrote that “the fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realize the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the lower classes do not want to live in the old way and the upper classes cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph.” And most importantly, when the working class protectors of the status quo – the police and military – come to their senses and refuse to continue business as usual; namely, serving, protecting and fighting for the interests of wealthy oligarchs, banks and corporate oligarchs (defending the infamous “national interest”).
This is what happened in the Bolshevik Revolution - and all other successful revolutions.
This reality can be expressed in other ways. Revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis affecting both the exploited and the exploiters. It follows that, for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realize the intolerability of the status quo and that revolution is necessary; that they should be prepared to die for it; second, that the ruling classes should be suffering from an insoluble governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward unthinking masses into the cynicism of today’s hollowed out politics (symptomatic of any genuine revolution is a rapid, tenfold and even hundredfold increase in the size of the working and oppressed masses -hitherto apathetic - who are capable of waging the political struggle), that weakens government, and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to rapidly overthrow the ruling classes. History handed Lenin a gift in the form of the First World War, a bloodbath incited by the greedy colonialists of Western and Central Europe. He grasped it with both hands and used it to craft an insurrection. It is revolutions that make history happen. Liberals of every sort, with rare exceptions, are found on the other side.
In the great David Lean movie Dr. Zhivago, recall the amazing scene as the Czars troops - mostly ill-equipped and without proper uniforms and even weapons marching down the streets of St. Petersburg being blessed by the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church on their way to the Easter Front and almost certain death.
The reader might recall another key scene in the movie Dr. Zhivago in which the bedraggled mutinous motivated soldiers returning from the Eastern Front were being replaced, led by an arrogant aging monocle wearing Cossack.
“It’s your country, officer!”
Without the First World War and the events of February 1917, Vladimir Lenin would have died in exile, one of the many Russian revolutionaries destined to miss the fall of the Romanoff autocracy and Leon Trotsky could easily have become a famous Russian novelist and essayist in the classic tradition. Even when conditions are favorable for revolution there are rarely organizations capable of taking advantage of them. Failed insurrections, uprisings and revolutions litter the history of our chaotic authoritarian world. Why did Spartacus lose? Why did the French Revolution descend into conflict, violence and chaos? Why did Toussaint Louverture win the Haitian Revolution, even if for a brief period? Why did the Paris Commune of 1871`fail? Each answer is embedded in the history of the eras in which they lived; similarly the case with Lenin.
For more insights on Lenin’s pre-revolution thoughts in 1901-02, read his “What is to be done?”. Lenin’s persistence in answering this question, at that time and afterwards, brought his Bolsheviks to the point where they were able to play a decisive role with minimal violence in destroying the despotism of the Tsarist monarchy during the October 1917 Russian Revolution. If revolutionaries are to play a constructive role in the battles over neo-liberal globalism and corporatist neo-fascist neo-feudalism that working people face today, they must still have the strategic and tactical capacity to answer that same Leninist question. Before the crisis in the Second International caused by the First World War, in which most of the socialist and social democratic movement’s leaders abandoned socialist internationalism and sided with their own ruling classes in supporting the carnage in the trenches, this way of looking at strategy and tactics was not common. “Before the war we did not, as a rule, make this distinction,” writes Trotsky. “In the period of the Second International we were restricted by the methodologies of social democratic tactics - nor was this accidental.” It was not accidental, in Trotsky’s view, because the Second International had in reality all but abandoned the goal of socialist revolution. All that was left for it was a series of tactical activities unrelated to the goal of revolution – aiming, in fact, at simply reforming the existing exploitive capitalist system.
In his famous addendum to What Is to Be Done? Lenin had invoked the image of an orchestra to illustrate how to organize the party from a central apparatus:
“In order that the centre can not only advise, convince and debate with the orchestra – as has been the case till now – but really to direct it, we need detailed information: who is playing which violin and where? What instrument is being mastered and has been mastered and where? Who is playing a false note (when the music starts to grate on the ear) – and where and why? And whom to relocate to where and how in order to correct the dissonance?”
What this concept assumes is not only a strong will but also an interplay of egalitarianism, economic justice, real bottom up democracy and solidarity and leadership inside the party and, by extension, in society as a whole. This is why Lenin believed that a revolution in Germany post WW I was so vital and, had it been successful, would have been instrumental in the young Soviet Republic move forward much more seamlessly both economically and politically. As for the ability of a party to work in a clandestine manner, this was important not just for Russia, but for the Communist-led resistance movements in France, Italy, Greece, China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia throughout the Second World War as well. The leaders and Communist parties in these countries were extremely popular after the war for their Fascist/Nazi resistance. Were it not for the financial and military interference of the West in the Russian Civil War of 1918-21, primarily by Britain and the USA, all of these countries would have elected communist governments in any free election and the world would have been much different from which it became.
In one of his last injunctions, Lenin insisted that if one was defeated politically through a combination of one’s own mistakes, contingencies and circumstances, one must learn from the defeat in order to understand why it had occurred and then begin one’s revolutionary work again. Socialism was an approximation and not born fully formed; therefore socialists must openly admit their mistakes. Socialist ideas persisted long before Karl Marx and without this acknowledgement they would never make much progress. Following the disasters of Stalinism, neither Khrushchev nor even Gorbachev had the vision or the capacity to start again. Lenin died of a second stroke in early 1924, but had he lived at least another five or ten years, the country and the party would have moved forward quite differently than it had under Stalin’s paranoia and tyranny. Did not Rosa Luxemburg as early as 1918 predict the rise of a bureaucratic technocratic authoritarianism of the Stalinist variety? The New Economic Policy would have been dismantled with greater care, and the accelerated brutal leap to industrialization might not have transpired. Nor would Lenin, as did Stalin, have killed off the majority of Old Bolsheviks on the Central Committee and in the country as a whole. To what extent and with what degree of success he would have implemented change will always remain a subject for debate.
In Ian Birchall’s book Jean Paul Sartre against Stalin, Sartre is quoted as saying that “When the authorities find it useful to tell the truth, it’s because they can’t find any better lie”. This was the fate of Nikita Khrushchev when in a famous 1956 speech he revealed and denounced the horrors of Stalin’s many crimes which set in motion a process leading to his own demise in 1964 and ultimately the entire Soviet system and his country in 1989. The mass subjective illusions regarding the nature of the fraudulent socialism and state apparatus could no longer be sustained and a deep cynicism set in which even Mikhail Gorbachev could not repair. The fragmentary political left has yet to recover as any attempt to repeat Lenin’s feat is to not repeat what Lenin did by seizing the day, but what he failed to do, the missed opportunities, one of which may have led to a successful German Revolution in 1919, which was crucial to the Soviet Union to overcome its future status of “socialism in one country”.
Putin’s Russia did not be mark the centenary in either February or October.
“These dates are not in our calendar,” Putin said to a leading Indian newspaper
publisher and editor. Other Russians, including some of Putin’s opponents, do
not even accept that there was a “Russian” Revolution. It was, according to
them, all the work of the Jews. One of the few who are above criticism these
days is Stalin, largely because of the “Great Patriotic”
When thinking of Leon Trotsky’s ideas, it is difficult to resist the temptation to quote at length from his exceptionally lucid writings. At the very least, even if one disagreed with his arguments, one would certainly be impressed by the exceptional aesthetic experience. Setting aside one’s political predispositions, any reader capable of rendering objective judgment would be hard pressed to deny that Trotsky ranks among the greatest writers of the twentieth century. It’s not just the sheer volume of work but the brilliance of his many books such as the monumental History of the Russian Revolution would surely be impressed by the emotional and intellectual impact of any first encounter with his engaging prose.
Leon Trotsky with Red Army recruits during the Russian Civil War (1918-21)
The most significant aspect of the Russian Revolution (including the first in 1905) was the dominant political role played by the working classes in the struggle against the Tsarist Monarchy. Against the background of general strikes and insurrection, the tactics of the political leaders of the Russian bourgeoisie appeared trifling and treacherous. There was no Robespierre, Danton or Lenin to be found among the bourgeoisie. The Cadet Party representing Constitutional Democrats did not at all resemble the Jacobins of the French Revolution. For Lenin, at the very heart of his democratic revolution was the resolution of the “agrarian question”, by which he meant the destruction of all the economic and juridical remnants of feudalism. The vast landholdings of the monarchy and fawning nobility constituted a seemingly immovable barrier to the democratization of Russian life, in addition to the development of a modern capitalist economy.
Recognizing the immense social tasks implicit in Russia’s impending democratic revolution, Lenin - as opposed to Plekhanov - insisted that their success would not be possible under the political leadership of the Russian business classes. The triumph of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia was possible only if the working class waged the struggle for democracy independently of and, in fact, in opposition to the bourgeoisie. But due to its numerical weakness, the mass basis of the democratic revolution could not be provided by the mostly uneducated working class alone. The Russian proletariat, by advancing an uncompromisingly radical democratic resolution of the agrarian issues, had to mobilize behind it the multi-million population of the feudalistic Russian peasantry.
The position of Trotsky differed radically not only from that of the social democratic/left liberal Mensheviks, but also from Lenin. Notwithstanding their disagreements and different conclusions, both Plekhanov and Lenin based their perspectives on an estimate of the given level of Russian economic development and the existing relations of social forces within the country. But Trotsky’s real point of departure was not the existing economic level of Russia or its internal relation of class forces, but rather the world- historical context within which Russia’s belated democratic revolution was destined to unfold.
Trotsky traced the historical trajectory of the bourgeois revolution, from its classical manifestation in the eighteenth century, through the vicissitudes of the nineteenth century and finally, in the modern context of 1905. He explained how the change in historical conditions - especially the development of world economy and the emergence of the international working class - had altered the social and political dynamics of the bourgeois democratic revolution. Traditional political equations based on the conditions that prevailed in the middle of the nineteenth century were of little value in the new situation.
Trotsky identified the political limitation of Lenin’s formula. It was politically unrealistic since it evaded the nagging problem of state power. Trotsky did not accept that the Russian proletariat would limit itself to measures of a formally parliamentary or republican democratic character. The reality of class relations would compel the working class to exercise its political authority against the economic interests of the capitalist classes. In other words, the struggle of the working class would of necessity assume a socialist character. But how was this possible, given the backwardness of Russia, which, considering the limitations of its own social and economic development was clearly not ready for socialism?
Looking at the Russian Revolution from within, there did not seem to be any solution to this problem; but examining it from the vantage point of both world history and the international development of the capitalist economy, an unexpected solution became evident. As early as June 1905, Trotsky noted that “capitalism has converted the whole world into a single economic and political organism.” If only Trotsky could witness the neo-liberal global Godzilla that exists today? But Trotsky grasped the implications of these changes in his own era in the structure of world economy:
“This immediately gives the events now unfolding an international character, and opens up a wide horizon. The political emancipation of Russia led by the working class will raise that class to a height as yet unknown in history, will transfer to it colossal power and resources, and make it the initiator of the liquidation of world capitalism, for which history has created all the objective conditions. “(Leon Trotsky, Permanent Revolution, London: New Park, p. 240)
Trotsky’s approach was a unique theoretical breakthrough, shifting the analytical perspective from which revolutionary processes were viewed. Prior to 1905, the development of revolutions was seen as a progression of national events, whose outcome was determined by the logic of its internal socio-economic structure and relations. Trotsky proposed another approach: to understand revolution in the modern epoch as essentially a world-historic process of social transition from class society, which is rooted politically in nation-states, to a classless quasi-anarchic society developing on the basis of a globally-integrated economy and internationally-unified humankind.
Trotsky developed this conception of the revolutionary process at the point at which the socialist movement was being confronted with a flood of socio-economic and political information that could not be adequately processed within the existing theoretical framework. The sheer complexity of the modern world economy defied the older formal definitions. The impact of world economic development influenced, to a heretofore unprecedented extent, the contours of each national economy. Within even backward economies there could be found - as a result of international foreign investment - certain highly advanced features. There existed feudalist or semi-feudalist regimes, whose political structures were steeped in the remnants of the Medieval Ages that presided over a capitalist economy in which heavy industry played a major role. Nor was it unusual to find in countries with a belated capitalist development a bourgeoisie that showed less interest in the success of its own purported democratic revolution than did the indigenous working class. Such anomalies could not be reconciled with formal strategic precepts whose calculations assumed the existence of social phenomena less driven by internal contradictions.
Trotsky’s great achievement consisted in elaborating a theoretical structure that was equal to modern social, economic and political complexities. There was nothing utopian in Trotsky’s approach as it represented, rather, a profound insight into the impact of world economy on social and political life. A realistic approach to politics and the elaboration of effective revolutionary strategy was possible only to the extent that socialist parties took as their objective starting point the primacy of the international over the national. This did not simply mean the promotion of international proletarian solidarity. Without understanding its essential objective foundation in world economy, and without making the reality of world economy the basis of strategic thought, proletarian internationalism would remain a utopian ideal, essentially unrelated to the program and practice of nationally-based socialist parties.
Proceeding from the analysis of the historical development of world capitalism and the objective dependence of Russia on the international economic and political environment, Trotsky foresaw the socialist development of Russia’s revolution as permanent, forever vigilant of counterrevolutionary forces from both within and without. The Russian working class would be compelled to take power and adopt measures of a socialist character. Yet in proceeding along socialist lines, the working class in Russia would inevitably be faced with the limitations of the national environment. How would it find a way out of this dilemma? By linking its fate to the European and world revolution of which its own struggle was, in the final analysis, a manifestation.
Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution made viable a realistic conception of world revolution. The age of national revolutions had come to an end, or to put it more precisely, national revolutions could only be understood within the framework of the international socialist revolution. In “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle,” philosophy professor emeritus and civil rights activist Angela Davis invokes a song from the Freedom Movement, which says freedom is a constant dying, we’ve died so long we must be free. Davis obviously recognizes the irony: “We’ve struggled so long, we’ve cried so long, we’ve sorrowed so long, we’ve moaned so long, we’ve died so long, we must be free.” And of course there’s both resignation and promise in that line, critique and inspiration: we must be free, we must be free but are we really free?” In reflecting on history, the struggle against oppression and for freedom and justice is never ending – Leon Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”.
Victor Serge’s View
From a family of anti-tsarist émigrés, Victor Serge - a pen name; his real name was Victor Lvovich Kibalchich - had been active as an anarchist and taken part in an insurrection in Spain, was jailed multiple times for his political views, incarcerated in a French concentration camp and released as part of a deal in which several leading Russian revolutionaries in detention in the west were allowed to travel to Soviet Russia in exchange for the release of western diplomats who had been arrested there.
Adam Hochschild wrote in the foreword to the most recent release of Memoirs of a Revolutionary:
“Victor Serge began and ended his life in exile, and spent much of it either in prison or in flight from various governments trying to put him there. He was born Victor Kibalchich in 1890; his parents were Russian revolutionaries who had fled to Belgium. He had little formal schooling but was tutored by his free thinking intellectual parents. . As a child he often had only bread soaked in coffee to eat. In Brussels, he recalled, ‘On the walls of our humble and makeshift lodgings there were always the portraits of men who had been hanged.’ As a teenager he belonged to a small radical group in Belgium that boldly criticized King Leopold II’s blood soaked rule over the Congo, then the most brutal colonial regime in Africa. But he went farther than others in taking a stand against colonialism itself - a rare position in Europe at that time. He left home while still in his teens, lived in a French mining village, worked as a typesetter, and finally made his way to Paris. There he lived with beggars, read Balzac, and grew fascinated by the underworld. But soon the revolutionary in him overcame the wanderer. He became an anarchist and the editor of one of the movement’s newspapers. For refusing to testify against some comrades he was sentenced, at age twenty-two, to five years in a French maximum security prison. Released in 1917, he eventually managed to make his way to revolutionary Russia - the ancestral homeland he had never seen.”
Working for the Communist International after he arrived in Russia in 1919, like another famous anarchist Emma Goldman before him, Serge soon began to question the people’s revolution aims, tactics and policies. Following the Kronstadt insurrection and subsequent violent intervention by Lenin and Trotsky, in which thousands of soldiers, sailors and workers were killed, captured and executed, Serge wrote: “The truth was that emergent totalitarianism had already gone halfway to crushing us. The word totalitarianism did not yet exist as a word; but as an actuality, it began to press hard on us, even without our being aware of it.” The totalitarian state did not emerge until after Lenin’s death and the emergence of Stalin but the conditions of authoritarianism existed especially following social and economic chaos of post World War I conditions and the brutal Western capitalism supported (financial and military) Russian Civil War (1918-21) that devastated the country that barely emerged with victory after Leningrad had been totally surrounded. Even Canada shamelessly sent 4000 troops to Vladivostok.
Fearlessly criticizing the Soviet leaders and joining forces with the Workers’
Opposition to combat them, Serge never surrendered his
Somehow, along the way, Serge also produced several poems and interesting novels, including The Case of Comrade Tulayev, perhaps the best fictional recreation of Stalin’s purges. His health was compromised by years of incarceration, struggle and poverty, eventually dying of a heart attack in Mexico City in November 1947. Although some have speculated that he may have been poisoned by Stalin’s agents who were also responsible for the brutal axe murder of Leon Trotsky, also in Mexico. Though he does not put himself at the centre of this extraordinary story, the strand that links everything together is the man Victor Serge himself, a highly intelligent, courageous and generous man who was loyal to his vision of how revolution could usher in a new era in human justice and genuine democratic society.
At the same time, possibly for that very reason, Serge was consistently deluded about how the revolution would develop. Lenin and Trotsky knew that revolution is by nature a ruthlessly violent and inherently undemocratic business, no nun’s picnic. Without firing squads, mass imprisonment, the use of royal family and other elitist members as hostages and the routine use of torture by the Soviet Secret Police, the Soviet regime would have been overthrown soon after it came to power. As Serge admits, the Kronstadt massacre and the harsh methods during the Civil War were clearly unavoidable if the revolution was to survive. In Memoirs of a Revolutionary, he tells us: “After many hesitations, and with unutterable anguish, my Communist friends and I finally declared ourselves on the side of the Party.” He goes on to record how the party newspapers celebrated the anniversary of the Paris Commune even as the repression of the workers continued. “Meanwhile the muffled thunder of the guns over Kronstadt kept shaking the windows.”
Authoritarian repression was not a regrettable departure from the high ideals of communist ideology, an unfortunate error of judgment on the part of the Bolshevik leaders, many of who were brilliant intellectuals with a deep sense of ethical oversight. They really had no alternative, given the conditions of WW I and the all-too-typical Civil War that followed. Mass terror was a condition of their very survival. In so many ways an admirable human being, Serge perhaps refused to face the inexorable logic of revolution in which power never concedes anything without violence.
Adam Hochschild on Serge once again:
“In all of his books, and particularly Memoirs of a Revolutionary, his masterpiece, his prose has a searing, vivid, telegraphic compactness. Serge’s style comes not from endless refinement and rewriting, like Flaubert’s, but from the urgency of being a man on the run. The police are at the door; his friends are being arrested; he must get the news out; every word must tell. And he is not like the novelist in a calmer society who searches and experiments to find exactly the right subject at last; his subject—the Russian Revolution and its aftermath - almost killed him. During Stalin’s dictatorship, it is estimated today, somewhere between ten and twenty million Soviets met unnatural deaths—from the deliberate famine brought on by the forced collectivization of agriculture, from the firing squads, and from the Arctic and Siberian network of labor camps that devoured victims of mass arrests. Driven by Stalin’s increasing paranoia, these arrests and executions peaked in the Great Purge of the late 1930s, when millions of Soviet citizens were seized in midnight raids. Many were never seen by their families again.
Serge’s opposition to Soviet tyranny meant that his work could never be published in Stalin’s USSR, but his radicalism long kept much of it out of print in the United States as well. Today, however, he has won due recognition at last. Recent decades have seen studies and articles about him by many writers and a biography by Susan Weissman; Richard Greeman has translated a number of his novels into English for the first time; older editions o f other Serge books have been reprinted; and there is now even a Victor Serge Library in Moscow. These memoirs of his life belong on the same small shelf as the other great political testaments of the twentieth century, books like Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Orwell felt akin to Serge, and tried unsuccessfully to find him a British publisher.
Serge was part of the generation that at first saw the Russian Revolution as an epochal step forward from the political system which, in the First World War, had just taken the lives of more than nine million soldiers, and left twenty-one million wounded and millions of civilian dead as well. His great hopes make all the more poignant his clear-eyed picture of the gathering darkness as the Revolution turned slowly into a vast self-inflicted genocide. It was the era when, as a character in his novel Conquered City says, “We have conquered everything, and everything has slipped out of our grasp.” A poem Serge wrote captures the same feeling:
If we roused the peoples and made the continents quake, ... began to make everything anew with these dirty old stones, these tired hands, and the meager souls that were left us, it was not in order to haggle with you now, sad revolution, our mother, our child, our flesh, our decapitated dawn, our night with its stars askew...
Serge’s eyewitness account of this “decapitated dawn” is nowhere more tragic than in chapter 6 of Memoirs, where he describes coming back to Russia in 1926 after a mission abroad. “A return to Russian soil rends the heart. ‘Earth of Russia,’ wrote the poet Tyutchev, 'no corner of you is untouched by Christ the slave! The Marxist explains it in the same terms: ‘The production of commodities was never sufficient...’ ” In the countryside, hungry poor have taken to the roads. The streets of Leningrad are filled with beggars, abandoned children and prostitutes. “The hotels laid on for foreigners and Party officials have bars that are complete with tables covered in soiled white linen, dusty palm trees, and alert waiters who know secrets beyond the Revolution’s ken.” One after another, people Serge knows and admires - labor organizers, poets, veteran revolutionaries—commit suicide.
In 1933, Stalin had Serge arrested again, and exiled him and his family to the remote city of Orenburg, in the Ural Mountains. People were starving; children clawed each other in the streets for a piece of bread. Serge became fast friends with the other political exiles there, a small group of men and women who shared food and ideas, nursed one another through illnesses, and kept each other alive.
Fluent in five languages, Serge did almost all his writing in French. By the time of his exile in Orenburg, his books and articles had won him a small but loyal following among independent leftists in the West who were alarmed by both Fascism and Stalinism. In 1936, protests by French intellectuals finally won him the right to leave Russia. This was the year that the Great Purge began in earnest, with mass arrests and executions on a scale unmatched in Russian history. Serge’s release from the Soviet Union almost certainly saved his life. The secret police seized all copies of the manuscripts of two new books he had written, including the novel he thought his best. Thanks to his exile, Serge said wryly, these were “the only works I have ever had the opportunity to revise at leisure.” People have searched repeatedly for these manuscripts in Russian archives intermittently opened since the end of Communism, but with no success.
When he arrived from Russia in Western Europe, Serge’s politics again made him an outsider. Neither mainstream nor Communist newspapers would publish his articles, and the European Communist parties attacked him ferociously. His primary forum was a small labor paper in Belgium. There, and in a stream of new books and pamphlets, he railed against the Great Purge, defended the Spanish Republic, and spoke out against the Western powers for accommodating Hitler. These ideas were not popular. To make ends meet he had to work at his old trade as a typesetter and proofreader, sometimes correcting the galleys of newspapers that would not publish his writing.
Meanwhile, Stalin’s agents roamed Western Europe, on occasion assassinating members of the opposition in exile. Back in the Soviet Union things were still worse: Serge’s sister, mother-in-law, two brothers-in-law, and two sisters-in-law disappeared into the Gulag. His wife, Liuba Russakova, became psychotic and had to be put in a French mental hospital. The Germans invaded France; when Nazi tanks reached the suburbs of Paris, Serge left the city. The United States refused him a visa. The Nazis burned his books. Just ahead of the Gestapo, he and his teenage son left Marseilles on a ship to Mexico.
One of the many unexpected things about Serge’s memoirs is that the book he thought he was writing is not exactly the one we admire him for today.
In both this book and some twenty others—fiction, nonfiction, biography, history, and poetry—his driving passion was to rescue the honor of the idealists who participated in the Russian Revolution from the Stalinists who took it over and turned it into a horror show. It is easy to understand Serge’s feelings. He grew up acutely aware of the injustices of the Europe of his day, bled white by the horrendous war of 1914-18, and poured all his energy and talent into the Revolution that promised to end them. But looking back on those times today, we cannot share Serge’s hope that the fractious Left Oppositionists who coalesced around Leon Trotsky could have created the good society in Russia, even though surely none of them would have constructed a charnel house as murderous as Stalin’s. And, indeed, Serge’s brilliant capsule portrait of Trotsky in these pages shows both the man’s wide-ranging intellect and his harsh, authoritarian streak.
What moves us in this book now is not so much Serge’s vision of what the Revolution might have been. It is, rather, two qualities of the man himself.
The first is his ability to see the world with unflinching clarity. In the Soviet Union’s first decade and a half, despite arrests, ostracism, theft of his manuscripts, and not having enough to eat, he bore witness. This was rare. Although other totalitarian regimes, left and right, have had naive, besotted admirers before and since, never has there been a tyranny praised by so many otherwise sane intellectuals. George Bernard Shaw traveled to Russia in the midst of the manmade famine of the 1930s and declared that there was enough food for everyone. Walter Durantv, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent in Moscow, downplayed reports of famine as a gross exaggeration. In Soviet Russia the great muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens saw, in his famous phrase, the future that worked. An astonishing variety of other Westerners, from the Dean of Canterbury to American ambassador Joseph Davies, saw mainly a society full of happy workers and laughing children. American vice president Henry Wallace made an official visit during World War II to the Kolyma region, on the Soviet Union’s Pacific coast. It was then the site of the densest concentration of forced labor camps ever seen on earth, but Wallace and his entourage never noticed anything amiss. By contrast with all these cheerful visitors, Victor Serge had what Orwell, in another context, called the “power of facing unpleasant facts.”
Serge’s other great virtue is his novelist’s eye for human character. He never lets his intense political commitment blind him to life’s humor and paradox, its sensuality and beauty. You can see this in photographs of him as well, which show kindly, ironic eyes that seem to be both sad and amused by something, set in a modest, bearded face. “I have always believed,” he writes, “that human qualities find their physical expression in a man’s personal appearance.” In what other revolutionary’s autobiography could you find something like this thumbnail sketch of a French Communist Serge knew in Russia?
Guilbeaux’s whole life was a perfect example of the failure who, despite all his efforts, skirts the edge of success without ever managing to achieve it He wrote cacophonous poetry, kept a card index full of gossip about his comrades, and plagued the Cheka [the secret police] with confidential notes. He wore green shirts and pea-green ties with greenish suits; everything about him, including his crooked face and his eyes, seemed to have a touch of mold. (He died in Paris, about 1938, by then an anti-Semite, having published two books proving Mussolini to be the only true successor of Lenin.)
In Serge’s best novel, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, three members of the Trotskyist opposition meet on skis in the woods outside Moscow. They talk of the injustices around them, agree that things are hopeless and that prison and early death probably await them; then they have a snowball fight. In Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Serge describes fighting White saboteurs on the rooftops of Petrograd in 1919, during the “white night” of the far northern summer, “overlooking a sky-blue canal. Men fled before us, firing their revolvers at us from behind the chimney pots The men we were after escaped, but I treasured an unforgettable vision of the city, seen at 3 a.m. in all its magical paleness.”
After I first discovered Serge’s writings, I tried to look for traces of him in Russia. In the summer of 1978, visited what Serge called “this city that I love above all.” When he first arrived there it was Petrograd, later Leningrad, and today once again is, as it was a century ago, St. Petersburg. I began at the Smolny Institute. Before the Revolution, the Smolny was Russia’s most exclusive girls’ finishing school, under the personal patronage of the Tsarina. In 1917 the Bolsheviks took it over as their headquarters and planned their coup d’etat from classrooms where daughters of the aristocracy had once studied French and Latin. Serge had his office here, as the infant Revolution defended itself against the attacking White armies. In one of his novels, he describes how the barrels of cannons poked out between the school’s elegant columns.
Now I found the building closed to the public; the grounds were a park. Fountains played; a warm breeze rustled the trees. Two old men talked on a bench. There was no suggestion of the history that had taken place at this spot; it felt ghostly by its absence. By 10 p.m. the sun had just set, but the sky still glowed with the same mysterious “magical paleness” that had caught Serge’s eye, even while he was being shot at, so many decades before.
In October 1919, when the Revolution was menaced from all sides, Serge took up arms in defense of this city. He fought in the decisive hillside battle that turned back the White Army at Pulkovo Heights, site of an old observatory outside the city. Some sixty years later, a puzzled cabdriver waited while my wife and I climbed the hill at Pulkovo. A beech grove shaded us from the hot sun. On one side, a peasant woman in a red kerchief walked slowly around the edge of a field, in search of something—wildflowers? mushrooms? From the hilltop we could see the distant city. On the horizon was a gleam of gold from the towers of the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. This hill was as far as the White Army got. When the Whites fell back, the tide of the Russian Civil War turned, the battles died away, but the Russia that took shape was not the one that Serge had risked his life for.
On another day we went in search of the apartment where Victor Serge and his family had lived. It was on a street lined with weathered stone buildings where gates to enclosed courtyards seemed to open onto another century. I found the right building and mounted marble steps still lined by a pre-Revolutionary wrought-iron railing and banister. Outside the large wooden door on the top floor, there was no telling which bell to ring, because it was a communal apartment, with seven doorbells for the seven families who lived there. I picked one. A tenant said, “Wait. I’ll get someone. She has lived here many years.”
We remained on the landing. Finally a woman came out: stocky, broad-faced, with gold teeth and slightly suspicious eyes. She said she was sixty years old; she had lived in this apartment since she was seven. No, she said, defying my arithmetic, she did not remember the man I was asking about in my clumsy Russian—although, oddly, she did recall the Russakovs, Serge’s wife’s family. But when asked about Serge, she shook her head firmly, arms crossed on her chest. Another nyet came when I asked if we could come in. Evidently she feared getting into trouble if she allowed a foreigner into the apartment. Anyway, she added, the whole place has been remodeled, so it is not the same as when this man—is he a relative of yours?—lived here.
Curiously, despite the no’s, she was happy to talk, and we stood on the landing for more than half an hour. I peered past her, trying to glimpse inside. According to Serge, the apartment had been hastily abandoned by a high Tsarist official and still had a grand piano. In the bookcase had been the many volumes of Laws of the Empire, which, savoring the symbolism, Serge burned for heat one by one in the winter months of early 1919.
I brought up Serge s name again, and suddenly her eyes narrowed.
“This man—was he an anarchist?”
“Aha, so you do remember him!”
“No.” Her arms crossed again firmly; she shook her head. “Absolutely not.”
That evening, back at our hotel, I checked some dates in these memoirs. I f she told me her age correctly, this woman was ten when the police knocked on that same door at midnight and arrested Serge the first time. And she was fifteen when, in front of a pharmacy still standing on a nearby corner, he was arrested again and sent into exile in the Urals. Fifteen years old. A family she shared a kitchen with. Could she really have forgotten? Did she only remember the “anarchist” from some later denunciation? Then I noticed another passage in the memoirs. Serge says that in the mid-i9ios, the Soviet authorities moved a young secret police officer “plus his wife, child, and grandmother” into the communal apartment to keep an eye on him. The dates fit. Was this woman the child?
Even crossing the Atlantic to Mexico, on the final flight of his exile filled life, Serge never allowed himself to feel exiled. An internationalist always, he felt at home wherever there were people who shared his beliefs. He recorded the clenched-fist salute his shipload of anti-Nazi refugees got from Spanish fishermen; he organized even at sea: “Out in the Atlantic, past the Sahara coast, the stars pitch up and down above our heads. We hold a meeting on the upper deck, between the funnel and the lifeboats.”
In Mexico he stayed true to his vision as both a radical and a believer in free speech, and again met resistance. Communist Party thugs at one point shot at him; on another occasion they attacked a meeting where he was speaking, injuring some seventy people, many of them seriously. His young daughter was covered with blood, from stab wounds in the body of a man who had bent over her to protect her. His politics cut off his access to both the mainstream and leftist, pro-Soviet Mexican press. Book publishers were no better. He wrote anyway, finishing both his panoramic novel of the Great Purge, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, and these memoirs. He tried and failed to find an American publisher for the memoirs, and neither book appeared before his death, at the age of fifty-six, in 1947.
These pages are, among many other things, a gallery of firsthand sketches of an astonishingly large proportion of the significant leftwing writers and political figures of the first half of the twentieth century. One portrait is of Serge’s friend Adolf Joffe. A Russian Jew, Joffe was from the generation of revolutionaries whose desire to change the world was matched by a deep, free-ranging curiosity about it. He read widely, and as an exile in Vienna before World War I, underwent psychoanalysis by Freud’s disciple Alfred Adler. From a wealthy family, he donated his entire inheritance to the revolutionary movement. He was originally trained as a doctor, and, writes Serge, he “reminded one of a wise physician.. .who had been summoned to the bedside of a dying patient.” After the Revolution, Joffe became a Soviet diplomat. In 1917, he returned to Moscow from his post as ambassador to Japan, seriously ill and in despair at the direction the Revolution had taken. As an act of protest, he committed suicide, leaving behind a message saying that he hoped his death would help “reawaken the Party and halt it on the path that leads to Thermidor.”
Serge came to Joffe’s apartment and helped to organize the procession that accompanied Joffe’s body to Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery. The authorities tried to foil the march at every step. Even the most pessimistic of the marchers could not have imagined that theirs was to be the last antigovernment mass demonstration permitted in Moscow for the next sixty years.
In 1991, sixty-four years after Joffe’s death, I went to see his daughter Nadezhda at her apartment in Moscow. Stalin had wiped out his opponents and their family members with such thoroughness that it was amazing to find one of them still alive. Nadezhda Joffe had spent some two decades of her life in prison camps and internal exile. A vibrant, gray-haired woman of eighty-five, she was probably the last person alive in Russia who had once known Victor Serge. As the spring sun streamed through her window, we spent a morning talking about him and her father and the Russia that might have been if people like them had prevailed. Just before I left, she told me a story.
“A descendant of the Decembrists [reformer aristocrats who rebelled against the Tsar in the 1820s] sees a crowd demonstrating in the street and she sends her daughter outside: ‘Masha! Go and see what’s going on.’
“Masha returns and says, ‘Lots of people are out on the street.’
“ ‘What do they want?’
“ ‘They’re demanding that no one should be rich.’
“ ‘That’s strange,’ says the woman. ‘My grandfather went out onto the street and demanded that no one should be poor.’ ”
The artist in Victor Serge would have liked this parable, I think. And the idealist in him would have liked its hint of the path not taken, of a revolution leading to a better society and not to one drenched in blood. He would have been in the grandfather’s crowd and not the later one. In this book you will find a man who saw both types of crowds - humans at their best and at their worst - and who left us a record o f the world he knew in a voice o f rare integrity.
There was one last visit, this one in April 2002, Cuernavaca, Mexico. Outside the open door bursts of lush green vegetation climb everywhere; sunlight reflects dazzlingly from whitewashed walls. Inside, this one room building seems almost the size of a small gymnasium. The ceiling is dotted with more than a dozen skylights. Oil paintings lean against the walls; a table is piled high with black-and-white prints; and to one side is a large, old-fashioned, iron printmaking machine, with a big wheel that must be turned slowly by hand. At the far end of the room, against the back wall, is a work in progress, a giant canvas more than twenty-three feet high, a symphony of brilliant colors.
The artist who has welcomed a friend and me to his studio is Vlady Kibalchich, Victor Serge’s eighty-one-year-old son. Three years later he would be dead, but on this spring day he is a spry, gray-haired man with a warm face, a flat Russian cap such as Lenin wears in photographs, and a belted Russian peasant’s blouse. Depending on who comes in and out of the studio this morning, he speaks in Russian, French, or Spanish, equally at home in all. Among the books on shelves at the side of the room are volumes by his father, in many editions, and from time to time as we talk, he goes over and retrieves one to make a point. Vlady was born in revolutionary Petrograd in 1910, was dandled as a baby on Lenin’s knee, and for the first twenty-seven years of his life he shared that of his father: hunger, the arrests of family friends, exile in Orenburg and Western Europe, and then the final voyage to Mexico.
Like his father, Vlady has had troubles with the authorities. The Mexican government - long proud of the country’s muralists - commissioned him to do four big paintings for the Interior Ministry headquarters. They were unveiled with great public fanfare in 1994. Several months later, they disappeared. Officials had judged one of them to be too sympathetic to the Zapatista peasant rebels in the state of Chiapas.
Vlady remembers well his childhood years in the 1910s and early ’30s, as darkness closed over Russia. Two rooms in that Leningrad communal apartment where he grew up were occupied by families of policemen (one possibly including the woman I had met), and “each time Serge went to the telephone, someone opened a door” to listen. Serge told his young son Russian fairy tales at night and took him cross-country skiing on the snow-covered ice of the Neva River. But a normal childhood became increasingly difficult as arrests mounted and the newspapers filled with articles demanding death for people judged traitors to the Revolution. The translation work on which Victor Serge depended for his income dried up. Vlady was twelve when his father was arrested for the second time.
“He telephoned me, from his prosecutor’s office. He told me that I was now the man of the house that I had to take care of my mother, to study, to brush my teeth, to speak French, to draw.
“Things were very tense at home. I went out one evening, and I passed the building of the GPU [the secret police]. I ran in the door.
There were two soldiers with bayonets, and a red carpet on a big staircase.
“ ‘Stop!’ ”
“There was a door, and a man there, in uniform, who asked, ‘What’s going on?’
“ ‘You’ve arrested my father!’
“ ‘Who is he?’
“I remember he had a corner office. He picked up the telephone, talked, and then said, ‘Your father is in Moscow.’
“ ‘It’s not true!’
“He telephoned Moscow, and then said, ‘He’s in the Lubyanka [national secret police headquarters].’ ”
At home, Vlady’s maternal grandparents, who were taking care of him, were aghast that he had entered the secret police building. Ten months later the family finally received permission to join Serge in exile in Orenburg. Vlady and his mother sold their books and furniture, and left for the Urals. “We had a particularly hard time with hunger there. People were dropping like flies.” But Orenburg was where, with strong encouragement from his father, Vlady really began to draw.
When Vlady speaks of Victor Serge as a human being, what he remembers most warmly is his father’s calm, optimism, and equanimity.
“He never swore—even though he had been long in prison, with some
terrible people.” And, wherever they were—at home, in exile, on shipboard - whether there was hope of publication or not, Serge wrote. He and Vlady were stuck in an internment camp for some weeks in Martinique in 1941, trying to get to Mexico at a time when many countries were turning away refugees. Even in the camp, Serge kept writing, prose and poems—Vlady makes the motion of a writer’s hand holding a pen and crossing a page—“he worked just as if he were at home.”
Have his father’s beliefs influenced Vlady’s art? One answer lies in the giant canvas on the end wall of his studio, which Vlady has been painting and repainting for many years, interrupted by public viewing at an exhibition. The painting shows the Persian emperor Xerxes, who invaded Greece in 480 B.C. When a storm destroyed the pontoon bridges he built to cross the Dardanelles, the narrow strait between Asia and Europe, the enraged Xerxes ordered his soldiers to whip the sea in punishment. Xerxes is a Cyclops in Vlady’s painting, mounted on a dragon the color of fire; the soldiers whipping the deep green sea are tiny figures, in keeping with the hopelessness of their task. More than half a century after Victor Serge’s death, his artist son has gone back two and a half millennia to find an image for one lesson that Serge’s own life taught them both, about the folly of an autocrat’s grasping for absolute power.”
Black Panther Party View
Originally named the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the BPP had a self-defense strategy against the brutal terrorism of the police. The strategy unashamedly and unapologetically maintained that Black people have human rights that are to be respected, including the right of armed self-defense, and BPP members had a right to intervene with those arms if necessary when law enforcement – those touted as the ones whose job was allegedly to protect and serve everyone, not just white wealth, power and privilege – violated those rights. The Panthers’ self-defense strategy has been primarily ridiculed and condemned as militarist and adventurist but rarely acknowledged as a central tenet of human rights activism. If we focus on the idea of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and not the images we have been given, the idea makes perfect democratic sense. Both the military and the police, ironically composed of primarily working class men, were and continue to be instruments of elite power and are merely the most obvious oppression and brutality of a socio-economic system built on the enslavement of both indigenous (including land theft and genocide) and people of color in the pursuit of profit, exploitation and domination that we in both the United States and Canada know as the “American way”.
After reading most of the writings of Angela Davis, James Baldwin and Malcolm X, in addition to fascinating books by Black Panther founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, I took note of a new history of the Party called Black against Empire: the History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. This is a great read for anyone interested in the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and early 70s. This history is vitally important to understanding the ongoing racism, oppression, police brutality, the American injustice system, its incarceration gulags and the current emergence of organizations such as Black Lives Matter. After Newton was locked up, which by the way he viewed as a continuation of the education system, only contributed to his further radicalization, Newton and his fellow revolutionaries Bobby Seal and David Hilliard developed community programs such as the free breakfast program for destitute black children and their parents. While they had breakfast they were taught black history and the revolutionary ideas of Marx, Lenin, Malcolm X and Che Guevara. In addition to building their own schools, by 1969 they were feeding 10,000 children a day in cities across the country and quickly expanded the Survival Programs by creating free health clinics. They recruited local physicians and nurses to volunteer their services providing free health care, managing to create at least 11 free health clinics. [3a]
Such programs also served to raise the revolutionary question of “why is it that America the richest and most powerful country on the planet is unable to provide food, housing and health care to its citizens yet always has hundreds of billions of dollars to wage imperialist war on poor people oversees”? For a fraction of the cost of the Vietnam War the United States could have ended world hunger. The answer is the intrinsic immorality and injustice of the American capitalism as the USA was literally waging war on the planet to preserve systemic poverty and gross inequality - so of course they let poverty stricken American children starve. Huey Newton’s own father worked three jobs buy still could not own a home or care for his family. The BPP developed ten demands in their political philosophy, based loosely on those of Malcolm X:
We want freedom. We Want Power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
We want full employment for our people.
We want an end to the robbery by the capitalist of our Black Community.
We want decent housing fit for shelter of human beings.
We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black People.
We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county, and city prisons and jails.
We want all Black People when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group, or people from their Black Communities as defined by the constitution of the United States.
We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.
After reading the Ten Point Program of the Panthers, one will not see a radical Marxist document that calls for the installment of a dictatorship of the proletariat or a program to install a racially designed anti-white regime. Rather, the ten stipulations merely demanded justice, fairness and some reparations for the historic enslavement of African-Americans by the white-skinned Christian rulers of the American colonies and the early United States. The Panthers viewed the situation of black people in the United States as comparable to that of a colony, and that perception is still not that much of an exaggeration even today, over 50 years after the founding of the Party. One can argue the various theoretical inadequacies of this perception, but the general truth of the economic status of most African-Americans in today’s world is this: they own little property; they are subject to the whims of the major capitalist and political powers, including their self-crafted system of laws and cops, that work hand in hand to keep power among the corporatist rich who are also mostly white skinned; in those venues where they do produce goods or services, the control remains with the colonial or neocolonial power; and in terms of the culture of the colonized, it is even more expropriated, manipulated, and exploited than when the Panthers were founded in 1967. [3b]
The Panthers focused on the evils of the US prison system and the system of injustice that put them at the forefront of issues that still exist today. Sadly given the explosion in the ever more privatized prison systems and increase in black prison population and the exploitation by corporations, the Black Panthers critique of American injustice and racism is more relevant than ever. They began movements to free political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal, Reverend Edward Pinkney and the many Panthers members and black revolutionaries still being held today. The United States prison system is the largest in the world; with 4% of the global population, it has 25% of all people in the world incarcerated. Sadly I know from the experiences of a friend that the system still values $70.00 far higher than a black man’s life. Jonathan Jackson’s heroic rescue attempt of August 7 1970 and the martyrdom of George Jackson on August 21 1971 are what inspired the creation of Black August a month to remember black resistance to slavery and imperialism. Less than a month after the death of George Jackson on Sep 9 1971 the Prisoners at Attica staged an uprising demanding to be treated as men not beasts. On September 13 1971 Governor Nelson Rockefeller sent in a thousand heavily armed national guardsmen, killing 28 prisoners and 9 hostages.
The Panther’s vast influence stretched not only across the country but across the world, making contacts with revolutionary movements around the world. They made contact with oppressed peoples in North Korea, China and in Vietnam. They became allies of the ANC in South Africa, the Frelimo in Mozambique and even in social democracies such as Sweden they discovered allies and mass support. They helped inspire the creation of the Red Army Faction in Germany, received support from Cuba and in Algeria were even recognized as the official representatives of the United States and given all the privileges of a diplomatic service. They also gave their support Indigenous Americans and to the Palestinians in their struggle for liberation against genocide and theft of their home land. And they launched an international legal case for black self determination and reparations before the UN.
The Panthers were a truly revolutionary movement. In the face of police brutality and the murder of blacks they formed self defense patrols. In the face of poverty they built community programs that would feed 20,000 children a day. The federal government was forced to massively expand their own social programs in order to save face and compete. They threatened to turn gangs into revolutionary armies, educating the masses about the fraudulent capitalist “democracy”. The Black Panthers built alliances around the world, inspiring not only black revolutionaries but Asians, Latinos, indigenous groups, and the student anti-war movement. What began in October of 1967 as only three men Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Lil Bobby Hutton to police the thuggish racist killer cops grew into a nationwide movement as fifty years later they still provide a blueprint for revolution that should continue to be studied and put into practice.
Consider reading the June 2020 interview with veteran BPP member Aaron Dixon, author of My People are Rising:
Herbert Marcuse’s View
Marcuse and his brilliant student Angela Davis
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Herbert Marcuse was considered one of the world’s most important living political and social theorists. A member of the Frankfurt School of critical inquiry, he was acclaimed throughout the world as a philosopher of liberation and revolution. He was a prominent figure in the Zeitgeist of the times, deeply influencing the New Left and counterculture oppositional movements. His work was passionately debated by individuals of every political and theoretical persuasion, and he deeply influenced a generation of radical intellectuals and activists. Rare for a philosopher, his books even reached a general public and he was discussed, attacked and sometimes celebrated in the mass media, as well as scholarly publications. Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man was a revelation to many who were gravitating to the aforementioned New Left movement. Marcuse reflected and explained our own feelings of irrelevance, oppression and alienation from an increasingly totalitarian capitalist universe that arrogantly trumpeted its narrow conception of freedom at every possible opportunity.
Marcuse spoke to a deep sense of dissatisfaction and alienation in the 1950s and 60s. “The pure form of servitude,” he wrote, is “to exist as an instrument, as a thing". And this mode of existence is not abrogated if the “thing” is animated and chooses its material and intellectual nourishment, if it does not feel being as an object, if it is a pretty, clean, mobile thing.” Moreover, “Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves.” The “society without opposition” Marcuse described was mobilized against the enemy to the point of threatening all-out nuclear destruction. It was based on the “supreme promise” of “an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action.” Their “many liberties and comforts” only “perpetuated and intensified” their “subjection to [the] productive apparatus.”
As one reads One-Dimensional Man today, do we not once again seem to be encountering the militarized, controlling, confined, atomized, alienated neo-fascist technocratic surveillance state society in which we live?
The distinguishing feature of advanced industrial society is its effective shrinking of those needs which demand liberation - that which is tolerable, creative, rewarding and comforting - while it sustains and absolves the destructive power and repressive functions of ruling elites, financial parasites, propagandists and corporate oligarchies. Here, the social controls exact overwhelming inculcated need for the production and consumption of superfluous products requiring stupefying over-managed workplaces. People work much longer, often at low paying service work devoid of the need for more free time and modes of relaxation which allow for citizenship and participatory democracy. Who in their right mind would want to be an Uber, Lyft or Skip the Dishes driver, on call 24-7?
Since his death in 1979, however, Herbert Marcuse’s influence has been steadily waning as the world has been taken over by even more reactionary political orders as fascism is launching a comeback. There has been, to be sure, a steady stream of books on Marcuse and the release of some of his unpublished texts could lead to new interest in his work. Referring to the “society without opposition” and its centralized yet diffused strategies of control and domination, Marcuse wrote that “the distinguishing feature of advanced industrial society is its effective suffocation of those needs which demand liberation,” because the centralized production of needs and aspirations by the technocrats, bureaucrats and administrators of society have integrated individuals into internalizing the values of the capitalist establishment and its restrictive rules of thought and behavior.
Marcuse argued that one-dimensional infrastructure produces one-dimensional people and a cognitive dissonance which stultifies the transformative, restorative power of negative, dialectical thought and critical rationality. In the closed-off universe, which has steadily increased with technology and the surveillance and distractive internal controls of the internet and other invasive technologies there is little space for the existence for solidarity and the formation of a genuine revolutionary movement. As Marcuse once prophetically remarked, “We have the capacity to turn the world in to hell, and are well on the way to doing so.” Because he perceived the possibility of utopia, Marcuse wrote with a view to diagnosing and determining those forces that may bring about radical change. In 1969, writing after the seismic 1968 uprising of students and workers in France which revived the egalitarian ideals of the 1871 Paris Commune, and against the backdrop of uprisings and dissent in America, Marcuse evaluated the prospects for rebellion against the abhorrent capitalist/imperialist world order. As a form of acknowledgement of the critical influence of the radicals on the febrile atmosphere of protest worldwide, he hailed, in An Essay on Liberation, that a fresh generation of activists had “proclaimed” an era of “the permanent challenge, the permanent education“… “the great refusal“, a species of rebellion in which, he argued to Adorno a little later, consisted possibilities for “the internal collapse of the system of domination today”. Within Marcuse’s philosophy of liberation, which came to be a highly regarded and influential source of guidance to oppositional movements of the New Left, the goal of radical politics was to establish a non-repressive society “based on a fundamentally different experience of being, a fundamentally different relation between man and nature, and fundamentally different existential relations” to the oppressive ones incarnate in contemporary capitalist society.
As well as reflecting Marcuse’s independent research as both student and professor of the new false consciousness, the theory of one-dimensionality also contributed to the Frankfurt school project which aspired to a critical theory of society and sought to explain the cooptation and subversion of politics, art and culture by the industrial society of his day, which has created more uniformity, docility and oppression in the neo-liberal capitalist dystopia of the 21st century.
While the waning of the revolutionary movements with which he was involved help explain Marcuse’s slip in popularity, the lack of new texts and publications has also contributed to the malaise. For while there have been a large number of new translations of works by Benjamin, Adorno and Habermas during the past decade, little un-translated or uncollected material by Marcuse has appeared. In addition, while there has been great interest in recent years in the writings of French postmodern, or poststructuralist theorists, such as Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, Lyotard and others, Marcuse did not fit into the fashionable debates concerning modern and postmodern thought. Unlike Adorno, Marcuse did not anticipate the postmodern attacks on reason and enlightenment, and his dialectics were not “negative.” Rather, Marcuse subscribed to the project of reconstructing reason and of positing utopian alternatives to the existing society- a dialectical imagination that has fallen out of favor in an era that rejects revolutionary thought and grand visions of liberation and social reconstruction.
What Happened to the counterculture?
Although today far worse than it was in the 1960s, Theodore Roszak, in his influential book The Making of a Counterculture, described capitalism thus:
“We call it "free enterprise." But it is a vastly restrictive system of oligopolistic market manipulation, tied by institutionalized corruption to the greatest munitions boondoggle in history and dedicated to infantilizing the public by turning it into a herd of compulsive consumers.”
Corporate head honchos and their political hacks are always talking about the economy. Does anyone ever ask exactly what that amorphous thing called “the economy” actually is - and whose interests are served?
Consider some of those who have greatly benefited by this abominable immoral system. For example, super rich parasites such as Donald Trump don’t pay income tax and are regularly bailed out by his wealthy pals and criminal banks such as Deutsche Bank. The outrageous amounts of income tax my wife and I pay which is increasing as we have reached our early seventies and have been compelled to collapse our RRSPs into RIFs which are now taxed as income. “We want our fucking money back” says Revenue Canada, an incredibly incompetent, irresponsible and corrupt institution. But we are better off than most seniors having both had long careers in unionized professional capacities with benefits and pensions. Many people today cannot retire and even those who have are cash strapped, having to resort to the criminal scams of “reverse mortgages” which are shamelessly peddled on TV by celebrities like the former sportscaster such as the pathetic Bill Good. In order to survive, many seniors have been compelled to give their homes back for a steady stream of subsistence income.
And these reverse mortgages which would, like payday loan sharks, lotteries and gambling casinos deemed illegal in any genuine democracy and just society, continue unabated, like the corporate welfare and “too big to fail” multi-trillion dollar public bailouts of bandit banks and crooked corporations every 7 or 8 years. These financial vultures and vipers live by their own rules. I’ve complained endlessly to Revenue Canada about the bank mafia not sending out T3s and T5s in a timely fashion. But these blood sucking pimps are not required to live by the rule of law like the rest of us peons, protected from their systematic thievery by our equally corrupt authoritarian capitalist sock puppet lackey governments. This is up front and personal for me after being involved in four class action suits launched against these bastard bank blood suckers for the past two decades.
Corporate tax rates in Canada are among the lowest in the world, about the same as someone paying income tax on minimum wage or welfare. Many evade taxes (a crime in every country) by hiding their wealth in offshore tax havens. Moreover, financial oversight and regulatory mechanisms on our banks and their risk taking brokerage adjuncts is basically no-existent. They take outrageous risks because they know the nanny state will bail them out, as they have done in the past – “too big to fail” we’re told. I urge the reader to educate themselves about the magnitude of this grand larceny by reading Bruce Livesey’s blow by blow horror story of Canada’s financial oligarchy, The Thieves of Bay Street. Canada is one of the most lax countries in the world as billions are scammed from Canadian citizens every year and as offshore tax havens are facilitated for the 0.1 % wealthy elite and big corporations by our corrupt larcenous private banks such as RBC, CIBC and TD. The system to which I refer is, of course, capitalism which has calcified into a religious dogma, not unlike one of the three monotheisms that pollute what’s left of the world’s intellect.
As I have mentioned earlier, the daily thievery of banks is simply business as usual, like the aforementioned deeply immoral and predatory reverse mortgages that the snake oil salesman and former well-known sports reporter mediocrity Bill Good peddles relentlessly on business news channels and elsewhere on TV. The low life slimy bastard ought to be taken to a pillory followed by a public tar and feathering. “Come invest with me” this shameless SOB implores seniors who are destitute living off the Old Age Pension (OAP) dime and are now forced through impoverishment – even after working for 40-50 years – to return their homes to the bandit banks. Most people today are even worse off, cannot afford to buy a home and will not retire, working until they croak.
Revolution, at least in the sense of a major transformation of the dismal state of the world, is currently a non-starter. During the 1960s and even early 70s, despite the horrors of the Vietnam War and many other atrocities back then, there remained a tacit assumption that a better world was possible, revolution a live option and imminent. This is surely not the case today, despite a far worse world that has greatly deteriorated politically, economically ethically, existentially and in every other respect. Not only will the revolution not be televised (to recall once again the great song by Gil Scott Heron in 1971) , it’s not going to happen at all, barring World War III or a total implosion of the anti-democratic hegemonic neo-liberal corporatist ideology, dictatorship of money and culture of oligarchic greed and pillage that now prevail throughout the world.
As mentioned, revolution was still in the air during the 1960s and early 70s but to contemplate the possibility today, given the far right wing neoliberal counter-revolution that ensued - and despite global unrest, frustration, widespread police state brutality, mass incarceration and anger - the much needed revolution still seems extremely remote. In consideration of the cultural vacuum, complacency and docility of mind numbing consumerism and marketing, identity politics, political fragmentation of the left, growing authoritarianism that includes return of fascism, unprecedented economic and social inequalities combined with lack of working class solidarity, nihilistic narcissism and pervasive ignorance that prevails on Face Book and other social media, the prospect of real bottom up revolution is a delusion. Given the spectre of global warming, overpopulation, environmental degradation, failing ecosystems and all life’s species facing extinction (except humans – at least for now) the world as we know it will end before the end of capitalism and the much needed revolution happens. Multiculturalism that seemed to workable and entail the potential for racial and cultural solidarity and revolutionary zeal has fizzled into fractious politics of identity, gender splits and combinations, fragmentation and banality as the key issue of class has all but collapsed. This despite unparalleled gaps in economic inequality such as in the United States in which one-tenth of one percent (that’s 0.1%) have more wealth than the bottom 90%. On the global scene, six billionaires have more wealth than half the world’s population. These shocking statistics are the result of a counterrevolutionary reaction to the 1960s freedom movements - deliberate implemented elitist capitalist political and economic agendas that we now call neo-liberalism that was set in motion in the mid to late 1970s. The oppressed people of the world are beginning to react, but the resistance and revolts, although at times impressive, have been anemic. Most people however adapt to the inequities, injustices and tyrannies, having collapsed into states of complacency, uncaring docility and OCD mobile phone solipsism. But the corporatist bureaucrats and technocrats, financial elite pimps and their dupes in government have typically reacted with ramping up the propaganda machine, police state cyber-surveillance, out of control police brutality and mass incarceration.
The current neo-liberal authoritarian and corrupt political and pathetic economic system of exploitation and financial pillage has become so systemic, entrenched, hegemonic and authoritarian that it CANNOT be fixed. And, as if we’ve learned nothing from the horrors of 20th century history, we are headed for full blown fascism or some vile variant of it. It will eventually implode but perhaps the inevitable ecological Armageddon will arrive first. In that case the ideology that oppresses and rules us will be irrelevant.
Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution
At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love – Che Guevara
The typical orthodox assertions by conservative and sadly, many liberals, on Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are deluges of bile internalized and repeated from the daunting US propaganda system, the most pervasive and effective whitewashing in the world. Most people acquire their views from ruling elites and their institutions that include education, corporate controlled media and their sock puppet governments that do serve interests of privilege and power. Like trained seals most people merely repeat the banal slogans, verities and truisms from public toilet walls, beauty shop gossip and right wing media such as CTV, CNN and Fox News. Those smears and prevarications have been circulating at least since the 1920s during the first big “Red Scare” and there's not a shred of historical evidence to corroborate most of what they spew out. The US government that represents the interests of wealth, power and the American imperialist empire with the docile compliance of the corporate media has been able to dupe the gullible public regarding the reasons for every regime change, “humanitarian” intervention and imperialistic war they illegally and immorally instigate, including Vietnam and the two invasions of Iraq. After millions of innocent people were slaughtered, many of the sheep-like populace may discover the real unvarnished truth – but far too late – only to be played the fool once again.
Consider Cuba. For several centuries pre-revolutionary Cuba was a ruthlessly exploited colony of Spain, and then by the United States who stole it and many other colonies such as the Puerto Rico and Philippines from them in 1899 following the Spanish American War. The Philippine people thought they had finally been liberated from Spanish colonialism but when they realized that one tyranny was merely being replaced by another, they rebelled, as a cost of over 300,000 deaths, thanks to the newly instituted American Empire. But in the Philippines the locals revolted (with nothing more than machetes to defend against US machine guns and other modern weapons of the time) after they realized the Americans had no intention of granting them independence and freedom. The US military eventually slaughtered some 300,000 Philippine rebel insurgents. Philippine people actually deluded themselves into believing that the US would liberate them from hundreds of years of Spanish brutality, but no, of course not. One colonialist master was simply replaced by another as the Philippines had natural resources the US coveted. The rest of Philippine history is a horror story, one that continues into the 21st century, as their people, their land and its resources and have been ruthlessly pillaged, overseen by a series of brutal dictators.
Cuba, where the Spanish American War was fought, was a template for the neo-colonialism and imperialism that continues unabated today. Almost all of Latin America was under the domination of US capitalism at one time or another, motivated by capitalist greed and lust for power, surely the most unsavoury, venal and immoral of human propensities and attributes. Tracing back to the invasion of Mexico in the 1840s and the theft of the top half of the country, Latin America has been considered the back yard of the USA, available for control, exploitation and plunder.
Sierra Maestra Mountains, 1957, Fidel Castro (fourth from left)
This year Cubans are commemorating the 62nd Anniversary of their independence from the USA and Spain. During this January month in 1959, the Cuban Revolution was successfully conducted by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement and became an enduring symbol of resistance to Western neo-colonialism, capitalism and domination. As a result, Cuba’s corrupt and brutal dictator, Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973), who had the full backing of the US government, left the island and escaped to the Dominican Republic, along with some of his loyal supporters. The victory of the Cuban Revolution meant that January 1, 1959 marked the first time in 467 years that Cubans were not subject to slavery, serfdom and exploitation by a foreign power. Spain was the first country to exercise dominion over Cuba, beginning in 1510. However, Spain’s defeat at the hands of the Americans in the Spanish-American War of 1898 did not bring about the emancipation that Cubans were expecting, as the island was subsequently transformed into a US neo-colony.
Victory March down the streets of Havana
In the period between the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the US exercised imperial power over Cuba, exploiting its natural and human resources, dictating its domestic and foreign policies. When Batista, who had been supported by Washington since 1933, came to power via a coup d’état on March 10, 1952, he and his corrupt associates immediately collaborated with Washington and the American mafia to facilitate the continued exploitation Cuba’s people, lands and resources.
Batista became America’s lap poodle, even permitted the American mafia to take control of all the casinos in Havana and the rest of the island in exchange for millions of dollars being deposited into his Swiss bank account. America had no problem with that as long as they called the shots and could steal anything in Cuba with impunity. Meanwhile, throughout the entire period when Americans exercised imperial power over Cuba, Washington used its power and authority to advance the interests of American corporations which ended up controlling all of the economic sectors on the island, in addition to gaining ownership of the best agriculture land, mines and natural resources. In fact, by the 1950s, the U.S. controlled 80 percent of Cuban utilities, 90 percent of Cuban mines, close to 100 percent of the country’s oil refineries, 90 percent of its cattle ranches, and 40 percent of the sugar industry. The domination of Cuba at the hands of the Americans was best explained by Fidel Castro when in 1968 he stated:
“The Yankees took over our economy. In 1898, US holdings in Cuba amounted to 50 million pesos; in 1906 they amounted to some 160 million; and in 1927, to 1.45 billion…I don’t believe there is another country in which economic penetration has taken place so incredibly quickly, allowing the imperialists to take over our best lands, all our mines, our natural sources. They controlled the public services, the greater part of the sugar industry, the most efficient industries, the electricity industry, the telephone service, the railroads, the most important businesses and the banks.”
Like most of Latin America, the island of Cuba was essentially a playground for Americans that featured casino gambling, drug trafficking, mafia gangsters and prostitution, with Batista serving as their loyal puppet. Although Batista’s dictatorial and corrupt regime oppressed the Cuban population, violated human rights and committed countless crimes against democratic principles of equality and freedom, it was never criticized nor condemned by the crooks in Washington. Batista’s dictatorial rule was accompanied by extreme rural poverty, misery, illiteracy, an increase in the number of sex workers, exploitation, and high unemployment rates. Almost half of Cuba’s adults and 37.5% of the total population were illiterate, and as much as 70% of all children did not have access to a teacher during the period of US dominance. Furthermore, most Cubans could not obtain housing or access decent healthcare services, and electricity and water infrastructure were very limited. These conditions, exacerbated by American domination in all segments of the economy, led to most Cubans experiencing exploitation, racism, police brutality, starvation and humiliation. Women were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, as many girls from urban areas elected to serve as prostitutes for American tourists and businessmen. It did not take very long for the American mafia operating on the island to realize that they could profit from this situation, which eventually led to them operating almost 300 brothels in Havana to supplement the money they earned from selling illegal drugs.
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara faced daunting obstacles following the defeat of the US puppet dictator Batista, especially when the United States enforced the embargos that continue today. No country in the world could survive under such conditions, Canada included. Castro was not really a communist or Marxist ideologue but he was forced into the lap of the Soviet Union due to the actions of the US. His family actually had large land holdings in Cuba which he personally distributed to the peasants following the successful revolution. Fidel Castro was forced into taking measures he would not otherwise have considered if the US had left him alone. The embargos were devastating because many other capitalist countries followed the lead, given that the US was the dominant power after WW II.
It difficult to argue with the contention that the Christian capitalist white man has been the most rapacious greed-ridden destructive species on the planet in history, hands down. The people who made buckets of money in Cuba prior to 1959 did it on the backs of the Cuban people and a corrupt complicit political tyranny. The fairy tale notion of a meritocracy and an even playing field with equal opportunity is one of the biggest myths and lies of the capitalist system.
The problem is not so much with capitalism, communism, socialism or any other enlightenment ideology since all have both their merit and potential for evil. It's people who use these political and economic philosophies for their own ends (power and wealth for themselves at the expense of everything else) that destroys any possibility of democracy, sense of community and the common good - including justice and fairness for all.
A few years ago I read an excellent history of the Mexican revolution by Stuart Easterling and one finds it remarkable how similar many revolutions have been and how they were invariably either crushed by conservative counterrevolution or co-opted by the same wealthy oligarchs they were trying to eliminate. The Russian Revolution was somewhat of an anomaly for several reasons, not the least of which was that Russia was a barbaric feudal monarchy with little or no industrialization and a mass of docile uneducated feudal peasants who were enslaved in peonage under abysmal conditions under the control of both the monarchy, church and the wealthy land barons.
Rosa Luxemburg's warning to Lenin that revolution can move seamlessly from the dictatorship of the working class to the dictatorship of a party, to be followed by the dictatorship of a committee of that party and eventually by the rule of a single man who will soon enough dispense with that committee was prophetic. The same thing has happened with capitalism. We've never had real democracy, not even anything close and what we have now is an oligarchic plutocracy that seems to be heading for some sort combination of neo-fascism and neo-feudalism. What is happening to the United States is disturbing and depressing to say the least. It's an empire in financial and moral free fall, heading for some dystopian abyss. Political discourse in the US, as in Canada, is farcical. Read, for example, an excerpt from an interview with a former US president, the repentant John F Kennedy. JFK clearly had many regrets about the US government's callous and barbarous treatment of Cuba, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara following the revolution in 1959, an i interview that took place about a month before his assassination, of which many unanswered questions remain
For the curious reader I recommend delving into some bottom up history and a few biographies that come from someone other than the likes of the village idiots on Fox news. I highly recommend Jon Lee Anderson's 1000 page biography of Che Guevara and Volker Skierka's biography of Castro, the most balanced accounts among several others. In fact at Nelson Mandela's funeral, Mr. “Hope and Change” President Barrack Obama apparently shook Raúl Castro's hand (Fidel was obviously too ill to attend the funeral) – insincere or not, now all he needs to do is lift the brutal embargos that have been in effect since 1959. But since Obama did nothing but maintain the status quo throughout his wasted eight years, it’s unsurprising that nothing was done about the toxic relationship the US has had with Cuba since 1959. Unlike the MAGA USA, Cuba provides free education and free health care for all, including the distinction of having one of the highest literacy rates in the world; certainly far exceeding the United States for which about 25% of the population is functionally illiterate. Moreover, Cuba has greater longevity and lower levels of infant mortality and far superior mathematics and science understanding than the US. How does the self-described greatest and richest country in the world explain those uncomfortable contradictory facts?
Before he was assassinated I think John F Kennedy began to have many regrets about the stupid, cruel, intolerant and disastrous US policies against Cuba which before the Revolution was a US client state they won from Spain in 1899 and which had a US imposed brutal puppet dictator who held the populace in serfdom, illiteracy and ignorance. Consider this JFK mea culpa:
"I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear." - U.S. President John F. Kennedy, interview with Jean Daniel, 24 October 1963
Following the revolutionary takeover in Cuba in 1959 there were expedited trials and executions of vile murderous criminal thugs of the US puppet Batista regime, at least for those who didn't escape. But the US made sure they got off their man Batista off the island before Castro’s police got to him. I certainly don't agree with many of the tactics Fidel and Che resorted to during the periods of intense stress and expediencies immediately following the victory of the revolution. But suspicions of infiltrators, jackals and agents provocateurs often justify harsh policies during and following a bottom up revolution. War, including revolution, is hell and certainly if it would have been possible for revolutions to occur peacefully, it's certainly preferable to war, especially civil wars which are often the most violent and barbaric. Like the decadent monarchs and aristocrats in the French revolution, they were guilty merely by their murderous historical record.
Tyrannical regimes simply do not relinquish their power and entitlements willingly or out of remorse, regret, moral shame or guilt - they never have. Entrenched power rarely concedes anything - and rarely without a fight. Autocratic political power has in almost every case solicited the support of organized religion to maintain their control over the masses. That was the case in the French and Bolshevik Revolutions and perhaps even the American Revolution and all the other revolutions from below as against conservative tyrannies from monarchies, theocracies and other forms of elitist dictatorship. Today we are dealing with authoritarianism on a scale that is perhaps unprecedented; the dictatorship of banks, corporations and billionaires compare and perhaps surpass any theocracy, monarchy or totalitarian state from the past. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!
The Conservative Neo-liberal Corporate Welfare State now rules us; welcome to neo-fascism, neo-feudalism and debt peonage.
The right wing always alludes to the tyrannies caused by so-called communist regimes (that were certainly not genuine communist orders envisioned by Karl Marx or any other socialist or communist philosopher) like Stalin's Russia or Pol Pot’s Cambodia - that would never have happened if the creepy criminal Tricky Dick (“I’m not a crook”) Nixon had not bombed the country into the Stone Age. Capitalism produced more than 100 million corpses prematurely in “democratic” capitalist India between the years 1947 and 1979 according to Nobel economist Amartya Sen's analysis. And that's just one capitalist or capitalist controlled country. Every eight years, capitalist India continues producing as many premature deaths as what China created in all its years under Mao Tse Tung.
While on the subject of Mao, the US and British backed Chiang Kai-shek managed to murder 10 million before Maoists chased him and his gangsters to Formosa and Burma. Maoists had to doff their red bandanas in the presence of Kai-shek's mercenaries lest they be executed on the spot. They'd have murdered millions more given the opportunity. Instead they fled with the wealth of the Bank of China and imperial jewels. Those who collapsed under the weight of the booty they were forced to carry were typically shot to death or beheaded then and there. Chiang Kai-shek went on to create WACL and helped to finance other right wing mercenaries around the world, like the Contras in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America, the barbarity of which reached its peak of contra death squads orchestrated by the US war criminal President Ronald Reagan.
May their blood scream forever as Canadian folk-rock artist Bruce Cockburn vividly expresses in his two great songs from the “Stealing Fire” Album in the 1980s: If I had a Rocket Launcher and Lovers in a Dangerous Time (also see the official video here). Cockburn wrote this album after visiting Guatemala and elsewhere in Central, witnessing the US financed and armed military fascist goons, butchers and death squads who were attempting to take down democratically elected socialist governments in countries in Latin America which they have for over a century deemed their own playground of plunder and exploitation. During Expo 86 in Vancouver I and my family had the pleasure of a experiencing a great concert by Bruce Coburn who featured many of his excellent songs, including these two, from the “Stealing Fire” album. Later, Cockburn visited Santiago, Chile, to support banned artists that followed the 1973 coup, murder of socialist Dr. Salvadore Allende and CIA/US installed military fascist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. A Chilean singer repeated each line of “If I had a Rocket Launcher, some son of a bitch would die” in Spanish following Cockburn’s lyrics in Spanish.
Every year anywhere from 4 to 13 million children alone die agonizing deaths around the capitalist controlled third world. This has been happening every year since at least the potato famine and Black 1847 in Ireland when millions starved to death while pork and corn were exported from 13 Irish Sea ports to "the tyrannical gods of the market". The English used the experience of their ruthless pillage and exploitation of Ireland as a template for their emerging colonial empire. Every year the absurd market diktats of capitalism are directly responsible for a holocaust. Every year millions of human beings are sacrificed on the nauseating altar of false free market gods and the theology of neo-liberalism. Most forms of capitalism have been colossal failures and the perverted neo-liberal form we have today has been an unmitigated calamity as every few years the corporate criminals and banking bandits are not punished, but bailed out by the corporatist nanny state. It's a monstrous immoral ideology and is heading for collapse. Once levels of corruption that we now witness have set in, the end is near, as the collapse of empires of the past have graphically illustrated.
Confucius once remarked that “the superior man knows what is right, whereas the inferior man only knows what sells”. And isn't it ironic how the right wing proto-fascist business class vilifies and demonizes Che Guevara while at the same time exploiting his martyrdom among the masses by making billions in profits in marketing his name, pictures, posters and other memorabilia of the revolutionary hero idealized by so many. These cockroaches have no sense of reality or decency; whatever turns a profit is justified. But who with any honesty has ever suggested that capitalism has any moral standards or integrity? No one, in fact capitalism’s greatest economist John Maynard j Keynes admitted its intrinsic amoral depravity. But if a profit can be made out of something, anything goes. Some conservatives and liberals try to stretch our minds to credulity by inventing courses at universities called "Business Ethics"; is there a more egregious oxymoron than that? Colleges and universities, destroyed by corporatization now offer bullshit degrees in the mind bending banalities of bullshit academic courses for bullshit careers such as “Marketing” and “Business Administration”, replacing genuine intellectual endeavours such as philosophy, literature and even mathematics and the sciences. No, sorry to disappoint those who wasted four years or more; economics, accounting and marketing are not sciences.
Despite the disastrous economic consequences of the “special period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent increase in the severity of the American embargos that accompanied it, Cuban socialism continued to produce many impressive achievements, including the attainment of full employment, universal access to free education and health care services, and improving social justice. As a result, the island was able to achieve higher literacy rates and life expectancy, and lower child mortality, child malnutrition, and poverty rates compared to any other Latin American country. In fact, the World Bank acknowledged that Cuba’s international ‘success in the fields of education and health, with social services that exceeds those of most developing countries and, in certain sectors, are comparable to those of the developed nations.’ Furthermore, according to estimates from the United Nations Development Program, Cuba ranks third in Latin America on the Human Development Index (HDI). More precisely, according to the United Nations Human Development Report 2017, Cuba’s 2017 HDI of 0.777 is above the average of 0.757 for countries in the high human development group and above the average of 0.758 for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.’
In addition to its success in areas of human development, Cuba has also been active in providing practical foreign aid in the form of sending highly-trained specialists, such as teachers, doctors and engineers to developing countries where they are urgently needed. Since 1959, Cuba has sent more than 300,000 healthcare professionals to various countries in Latin American and Africa that were otherwise unable to meet the health care needs of their citizens on their own. This is a practice for which Cuba is particularly well-regarded. Compare poor country Cuba’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic with that of the bumbling Donald MAGA Trump’s United States of America, the world’s richest country with 4% of the global population but with 25% of confirmed cases and deaths from the virus.
Currently, around 50,000 Cuban health workers are operating in 66 countries. To put that figure into perspective, in 2014, ‘Cuban medical staff were caring for more than 70 million people in the world, more than the whole G8 plus the World Health Organization and Médicins Sans Frontières put together. Cuba also helps combat doctor shortages by providing free medical school for students from various developing countries. In fact, Havana’s Latin American Medical School is ‘the largest medical school in the world’, producing approximately 29,000 doctors from 90 countries since 2005. The quality of the Cuban health care system has been acknowledged by former US president Jimmy Carter, who stated that: “Of all the so-called developing nations, Cuba has by far the best health system. And their outreach program to other countries is unequalled anywhere.”
Castro’s government was also well-known for its commitment to the environment, as demonstrated by the country’s sustainable use of natural resources and its efforts to combat over-consumption and global warming. Since 2006, Cuba was the only country in the world that managed to attain sustainable development, as defined by the United Nations Development Program. In 2014, Cuba registered a low ecological footprint[x]of less than 1.8 hectares per capita, well below the 2.8 world average.
Outside of the western mainstream press, Cuba is actually widely-renowned for its commitment to peace, social justice, equality, and humanitarian aid since its socialist Revolution in 1959. Likely nowhere else in the world did the spirit of international solidarity in Cuba become so deeply accepted. In 1963 Fidel Castro’s government organized the “Committee in Solidarity with Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia” which sought to provide these countries with assistance during the Vietnam War by sending Cuban medical professionals, engineers and technological advice. Castro’s government was also an enduring supporter of Palestinian liberation, as evidenced by Cuba becoming the first country to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. In addition to consistently expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause, Castro permitted numerous Palestinian students to study in Cuba, sent 4,000 Cuban soldiers to defend Syrian territory from invasion by the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and condemned Israel’s sealing off of the Gaza strip in 2012 as a “Palestinian Holocaust”. Fidel Castro also condemned the disastrous NATO-led military intervention of Libya that commenced in March 2011. Such actions and strong positions have made Fidel Castro highly-respected throughout the Middle Eastern Arab world since the early years of the Cuban Revolution.
Cuba also played a prominent role in liberation movements on the African continent. For example, in 1961, Cuba supported the National Liberation Front in its fight against French colonialism in Algeria. Subsequently, in October 1963, after Algeria had been liberated from France, Cuba sent troops to help safeguard Algeria’s recently acquired independence against Moroccan expansionism during the Sand War (Fidel Castro, May 1, 2003 Havana). Cuba also sent material and military assistance in support of the Marxist Movement for the Liberation of Angola in the late 1960s. After Angola gained independence from Portugal in November 1975, Cuba supported the leftist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) by sending 25,000 troops to help repel interventions on the part of South Africa and Zaire, which were supported by Washington. After Zaire and South Africa withdrew their forces, Cuban troops remained to support the MPLA government during much of the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002), eventually leaving in 1991.
The impact of the Cuban Revolution was not limited to freeing Cubans from subservience to American domination; it was also viewed as a model for national liberation movements opposing imperialism and colonialism throughout Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. ‘The case of Cuba is not an isolated one. It would be an error to think of it only as the case of Cuba. The case of Cuba is that of all underdeveloped nations. It is the case of the Congo, it is the case of Egypt, it is the case of Algeria, it is the case of Iran, and finally, it is the case of Panama, which wants its canal back. It is the case of Puerto Rico, whose national spirit they are destroying. It is the case of Honduras, a portion of whose territory has been seized. In short, without specifically referring to other countries, the case of Cuba is the case of all underdeveloped and colonized countries…The problems of Latin America are like the problems of the rest of the underdeveloped world, in Africa and Asia. The world is divided up among the monopolies, and those same monopolies that we find in Latin America are also found in the Middle East. Oil in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and in every corner of the earth is in the hands of monopolistic companies that are controlled by the financial interests of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France…The monopolistic interests are not concerned with the development of the peoples. What they want is to exploit the natural resources of our countries and exploit the peoples.’[xi]
The Cuban people have been struggling against “the most formidable imperial power ever known to humankind for 60 years. It could be said that, never has the world witnessed such an unequal conflict when considering the relative sizes, populations, and military strengths of the two countries” (Fidel Castro, May 1, 2003 Havana). However, despite these disparities in favour of the US, “Cuba crushed the Bay of Pigs mercenary invasion organized by a US administration, thereby preventing a direct military intervention…In 1962, Cuba confronted with honor, and without a single concession, the risk of being attacked with dozens of nuclear weapons…It stoically endured thousands acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks organized by the US government. It thwarted hundreds of assassination plots against the leaders of the revolution” (Fidel Castro, May 1, 2003 Havana). Cuba was able to achieve these victories because “there is something more powerful than weapons, [no matter how sophisticated and powerful those weapons may be]: ideas, reason and the morality of cause” (Fidel Castro, May 1, 2003 Havana). “These ideas are not born of human beings; nor do they perish with an individual’” (Fidel Castro, June 23, 2007).
The Anarchist’s View
Privileged elites, bosses, political and religious leaders and other authoritarian followers are agitated by and fear anarchists not simply because the primary goals of the movement have been to abolish the sources of elite hierarchical power such as the state, church, military, police, patriarchy and capitalism. Most anarchists also reject the idea of constitutions, regarding them as rigid calcified and generally outdated institutionalized sets of laws and pronouncements that serve the interests of wealth and power. But the fears of the powerful are intensified perhaps because anarchism offers a more equitable, just, democratic and viable alternative form of social and political organization that is grounded in environments such as workplace collectives, bottom-up federations, neighborhood assemblies, child-centered free schools and a variety of cultural organizations operating on the basis of cooperation, solidarity, mutual aid, direct participatory democracy and other forms of horizontal organization. Anarchists believe in the adage that “power corrupts” and are thereby opposed to all forms of hierarchy, domination, coercion and exploitation. Anarchists work in creating a culture grounded in equal access to resources making the genuine exercise of freedom possible. Over the past century and a half, and particularly in the last two decades, the self-managing principles of anarchism have proliferated around the world and have also become part of the standard operating procedures of protest. Since elites would be rendered redundant in an anarchist egalitarian society, it is not surprising that capitalist politicians, bosses, rulers, managers and others that covet power tremble at the thought of anarchist models of organization and jurisdiction. The Zapatistas of Mexico are one good recent example of anarchism in action.
While today’s protests are not about regime change, but about social and political change, there is reason for hope that today’s protests will create an historical inflection point that will be far more significant than merely changing the occupant of a state ruler. As our societies and their political establishments continue to be mired in chaos caused by undemocratic corrupt institutions, farcical elections ruled by money, grotesque economic inequalities and authoritarianism, anarchism offers a viable way out, a way to organize ourselves in a free and cooperative fashion outside the electoral process. Partly for this reason, elites do whatever they can to misinform, misconstrue and distort what anarchism is all about.
Like the anti-communism, violations of free speech, free assembly and Red Scares of the past, grotesque deformations and caricatures of anarchism have always been deployed by capitalists and their careerist sock puppet politicians to frighten citizens and justify the murder, beating, deportation and incarceration of anarchists whose only crime was belief in the possibility of a world without gods, bosses, rulers, leaders and other tyrants. How ironic, then, that it is anarchists who are perceived as violent, when in fact the vast majority of violence throughout history has been perpetrated by cops, military, secret police and others working for capitalists and the capitalist state. Nevertheless, anarchists made major contributions to our history by creating space for new possibilities in the process of “demanding the impossible.” Anarchist strategy today is very different from its 19th Century origins, but the core principles remain the same and can be seen in action on the streets and in work going on in the neighborhoods of cities and towns large and small.
There is growing widespread recognition in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world of the failure of the state and its predecessors, monarchy and theocracy, as viable sources of social organization and justice. Beginning several decades ago with disillusionment over the illegal, immoral and bloody American wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, the Watergate scandal, and revelations regarding the role of the FBI and CIA in suppressing social movements at home and abroad, the inadequacy of the state has been graphically exposed by the inept federal response to the corona virus pandemic, a torn social safety net that protects only the mafia style financial oligarchs and wealthy parasites, global warming and ecological collapse, mass extinction and destruction of biodiversity, cyberspace surveillance and systemic racism enforced by the brutality of militarized police. It is increasingly clear that the current top down models of governance cannot create a viable democracy nor solve the multiple crises we face, many of which are existential. Anarchists present fundamental alternatives to capitalist hierarchy and corporate power which are grounded in indoctrination, propaganda, surveillance, coercion, incarceration, exploitation, rampant corruption and gross injustice.
Pierre Joseph Proudhon, the first person to call himself an anarchist, had this to say:
“Man, in order to procure as speedily as possible the most thorough satisfaction of his wants, seeks rule. In the beginning, this rule is to him living, visible, and tangible. It is his father, his master, his king. The more ignorant man is, the more obedient he is, and the more absolute in his confidence in his guide. But, it being a law of man's nature to conform to rule, - that is, to discover it by his powers of reflection and reason,-man reasons upon the commands of his chiefs. Now, such reasoning as that is a protest against authority, a beginning of disobedience. At the moment that man inquires into the motives which govern the will of his sovereign, at that moment man revolts.” (From Qu'est-ce que la Propriete?, 1840, translated by Benjamin Tucker, 1876)
Five decades later Oscar Wilde, an anarchist who never referred to the label to describe his political beliefs, wrote this:
“... The virtues of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much to be regretted. We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannize over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table? They should be seated at the board and are beginning to know it. As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings, and such a low mode of life, would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or country laborer to practice thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly fed animal.” (From The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891) 
As we are on the cusp of a New Year 2021 expectations for something better are grim and scant as the essential class dynamic and demented logic of the global capitalist system of plunder, parasitism and profit at all costs have never been more starkly evident. Billions of people throughout the world confront the escalating effects of the covid-19 virus which is now mutating into perhaps more resistant forms, the destruction of millions of jobs and small businesses, impoverishment and increasingly obscene levels of economic disparity, including in some cases the threat of starvation and the destruction of a viable future for an entire generation of young people. Yet the ruling financial oligarchy is enriching itself to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars every month. The year 2020 is ending amidst the greatest economic contraction since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But Wall Street, leading the way for global stock markets around the world, is finishing the year at a record high, fuelled by fiat “money for nothing” from corporatist bank bandit governments. When the economic and financial effects of the pandemic began to become apparent in March, Wall Street and global markets lost as much as 35% of their value within weeks as the DJIA shed 12,000 points. But the US Federal Reserve and the US government, together with central banks and governments around the world, stepped in to organize the greatest bailout of the financial oligarchy in history, pumping more than $10 trillion into the financial system, making the 2008 bailouts look like chump change. And there’s more to come.
In the US, the Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell declared the Fed would “do whatever it takes”, thereby issuing a virtual blank check to Wall Street, committing itself to purchasing all classes of financial assets so that the siphoning off of wealth of from the rest of society into its upper layers of corporate multi-millionaires and billionaires could continue bereft of any inconvenient basic moral imperatives. To hell with the golden rule or any other ethical principle: the end justifies the means.
Since its fall, bottoming out in mid-March, the S&P 500 index has risen by 66 percent, a classic bubble as traditional valuations such as P/E, P/B and debt to equity have tanked. But this is only a partial expression of what has taken place, as the stock prices of dozens of companies have rose at a much faster rate. Tesla shares, despite not having earned a penny in profit to date, are up by 691 percent so far this year, fuel cell manufacturer Power Plug shares have increased by more than 1,000 percent, Zoom Communications is up 451 percent.
At the same time, a new class of billionaires is emerging, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, as their fortunes are bloated beyond belief by the rise in share prices of companies associated with the development of vaccines and their distribution. Shares of Moderna, one of the companies that like Pfizer has fast-tracked covid-19 vaccine, have risen by 532 percent. When governments and central banks launch their multi-trillion-dollar bailout maneuvers, they claimed the extraordinary measures were necessary to save “the economy”; but whose? In 2008 the bullshit ruse was “too big to fail”. Surely no thinking person accepts these massive frauds any longer. The sole concern of the ruling oligarchy was not the health and economic well-being of the mass of the population, but that of the financial crooks and their pyramid schemes that caused the financial unraveling. If you steal billions, you are granted a “get out of jail free” card.
But the really interesting case of political collapse is right here and now as every country in the world is playing the same con game. The inability of our political institutions to cope with the corona virus right from the beginning - and the spread now at record levels - and then the inability of the nation to hold an election without at least the strong suspicion of fraud, has certainly undercut a confidence in national government that has grown increasingly meager in the last few decades. In the Wall Street Journal recently Gerald Seib pointed out that “this year’s election can be seen as the culmination of a two-decade period of decline in faith in the basic building blocks of democracy”- quite an obituary for an arrogant American capitalist system once happy to proclaim its virtues around the world.
Add to the disgraceful bailouts of the financial oligarchy and the sense common perception that democracy is a sham and that governments are working only for a tiny layer of wealthy plutocrats and corporate elite and for working, as a Pew Research poll put it, only 17 per cent of Americans trust the government “to do the right thing just about always.” It seems clear that loyalty to a cause or a race or an ideology is far greater than loyalty to the state, no longer quite seen as legitimate, and many commentators these days suggest that some form of separation, political collapse and even a civil war, are distinct possibilities.
And lastly the underlying depression that we (the 99%) have been in since March - despite the frantic gyrations and contradictions of a central bank-fueled stock market - is just one sign that the American economy, like those of most of the Western world, is heading for widespread disaster. The United States is burdened by an unsustainable national debt verging on of at least $27 trillion and national unfunded liabilities of more than $100 trillion, with a GDP of just $21 trillion to handle it. But this is a feature of the rest of the global economy as the world’s debt was a staggering $258 trillion at the start of the pandemic, some 320 per cent larger than the entire world’s GDP, meaning we’re all living in a fairy tale nightmarish delusion in which the question is: as many have lost faith in government issued fictitious money out of a vacuum and are flocking to gold and crypto-currencies, who will pay the piper?
And the problem that no one wants to discuss is overpopulation and overconsumption (the dogma of economic growth) by the rich nations that continues to explode as it is irreversibly eroding both the global ecosystems and the economy. Support systems are collapsing: ecosystems, pollution, species extinction and diminishing biodiversity, depletion of topsoil, forests, oceans, rivers and global warming. These problems will eventually reverse economic growth regardless of what the corporate and banking lords of finance and their pimps in government want. Governments are steadily losing sovereignty and are everywhere both morally and financially bankrupt. And as long as government is merely an appendage of corporations and the wealthy, reforms needed to benefit the people and protect the environment will never happen. We are facing a global system that looks more and more like a combination of fascism and feudalism. Citizens United was the straw that broke Camel’s back by giving corporations personhood (in fact more rights than real live humans) and access to unlimited bribery (lobbying) and campaign contributions as people, “democracy” and freedom have become commodities like everything else.
 Think of the deaths caused by the abominable environmental disaster of the Alberta Tar Sands. As Curtis White wrote in a recent article on Salon:
“Money is a killer far more deadly than a biological virus. The plague driving climate change is money: Profit, Rent seeking and rip-offs, Financial scams such as “reverse mortgages” and stifling student debt, "Natural resource extraction," as our statesmen glibly put it. Through the single-minded pursuit of profit, humanity becomes what Reginald Morrison called a "plague species." All the industrial toxins released on land, water, and air, all the wasted forests and wetlands, all the petro-dollars poured into the same few pockets while animals of every kind wither where they stand and fall where they stood, disconsolate, inconsolable, cheerless - all murdered by money. As Albert Camus wrote in The Plague, "[The] social order around me was based on the death sentence."
According to the medical journal The Lancet, 9 million people died of air and water pollution in 2015. And on May 4, 2020, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted that by 2070 between 2 and 3.5 billion people across the globe would be trying to live in places that had become unlivable. In an interview in the Guardian, Michael Pollan commented:
“As terrible as the corona virus is, the heat waves, droughts, fires and floods driven by an overheated planet have killed many more people. And if current trends persist, the death toll will increase exponentially through the end of the century.”
We die, animals die, so that money may thrive. It's a joke fit for a Marx Brothers routine, like this one from "Coconuts", which came out in 1929 (the year of the Wall Street crash):
Chico: Right now I'd do anything for money. I'd kill somebody for money. I'd kill you for money.
[Harpo looks dejected.]
Chico: Hahaha. Ah, no. You're my friend. I'd kill you for nothing.
One of the enduring images to come out of the pandemic was the pitiless spectacle of super-yachts floating off-shore, as far away as possible from us, the "huddled masses." This shouldn't be a surprise: the rich have always self-isolated. They've always practiced social-distancing. So much so that they're not quite sure that the rest of us actually exist. They've seen us on TV, read about our problems in newspapers, but they are never among us. We are a rumor to them, something that they've "heard about." We are not quite real, and certainly not as real as the people in the next yacht over.
The wealthy among us try to protect themselves against disease not by hoarding toilet paper or freeze-dried pad thai; they protect themselves by hoarding money. They save money in order to protect themselves from money. They gather money to themselves hoping for warmth, but it only provides, as we say, cold comfort. They hoard money with no idea how much is enough. They want to feel safe, but at what point does that happen?
Thus, consider our own Trump-loving, MAGA-hat-wearing, belly-thumping, face-mask-hating and gun-crazy countrymen.
Through all of this, money remains unmoved. Like Ozymandias, money still says, "submit," even though its head is rolling around on the ground. It can't say anything other because it is afraid. Afraid of what happens if we don't submit. Afraid of what happens when we refuse its work regime and begin to self-organize and self-develop in order to create our own satisfactions—just as we are doing now in many ways. We are beginning to reclaim what Marx called our "rich individuality" in a new way—through local and regional autonomy.
For example, the pandemic has done us the favor of stimulating the growth of "Mutual Aid" organizations that grow through local fund raising in order to meet entirely local needs. (The Black Panther's "survival programs"—including a free Breakfast for Children Program and health care services—were among the earliest experiments in radical localism, that is, localism outside of money.) In addition, there are grocery co-ops all over the country selling local products, and many, many CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) groups, delivering boxes of fresh produce to neighbors. CSAs are "building a new world in the shell of the old," as the Wobblies (IWW) said. It is true that gun sales are "through the roof" now, but so are the sales of chicken coops.
In short, our survival depends on flourishing local autonomy, wayward but enlightened communities enlarging their capacities within progressive regions, all with the hope that more and more places around the country and around the world will see these communities and like what they see. Working in this way, we will be enacting what Carl Boggs called "prefigurative" politics: creating now the "forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal." Occupy Wall Street was prefigurative, and so was Seattle's short-lived CHOP/CHAZ, the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone: they were theatrical and earnest introductions to autonomy. CHAZ residents planted a vegetable garden. Did they imagine that they'd stay long enough to harvest? No, but that wasn't the point. It was a demonstration garden.
So we should not merely hunker down with our hoarded food and money, hoping that we can wait it out until the economy "returns to normal." The money on Wall Street is betting big that normal is on the way, but let's see if we can offer an alternative wager. No more normal if it only means death. Let our alternative be what Buddhist dharma teacher Thanissara calls the "Samadhi of the Collective." This is a homely enlightenment in a place of mutuality and generosity. Because samadhi is not only about individual release from suffering; it is also about life thriving. Samadhi is solidarity.
As jazz Arkestra leader Sun Ra said, "Heaven is where you'll be when you are okay right where you are.
[1a] To be a slave, Aristotle writes at the beginning of Politics, is to be the property of another, a ‘living’ commodity (ktêma empsukhon), an executant. This implies that he does not belong to himself; his body, movements and his entire life are the property of the master. He is a tool, an instrument under the control of others, a mere commodity that is exchanged and resold, whose owner disposes of him as he sees fit, having the enjoyment of him and able to use and abuse him at will. Does this seem all too familiar in the 21st century dictatorship of corporatist finance capital and billionaires who now own over half of the planet’s wealth?
The slave does not initiate or control anything, he is not the originator of anything even the movements of his appendages, the gestures of his body, are simply the echo, the replica, the subconscious obedience, and consequence of an imperative global technocratic hierarchy, world political authoritarianism and cultural hegemony that wields power over him. He is reduced to a powerless automaton, his eyes glued to an inanimate screen for most of his daily workday and free time. The wealthy elites, corporate oligarchs, hedge fund operators and other financial manipulators and parasites earn more in a day than does the gig economy wage slave in his entire work life of perhaps 40 years or more, likely until he drops dead. A long standing conundrum that can be traced from Étienne de La Boétie to David Hume, Simone Weil and particularly countless anarchists from William Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, to Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky is why throughout human history the vast majority of people have so easily submitted to arbitrary power and tyranny by a tiny minority. Habit, fear, superstition and mindless deference to authority, so prevalent in monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam (Islam literally meaning “submission”) are surely three factors which still demand answers. Freedom of course is a vacuous without the intense desire and passionate sense of responsibility of every person to be free. One might sum up with an oft quoted passage from Étienne de La Boétie’s Discours de la Servitude Volontaire:
“Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities; where does he get them if they are not your own?”
This passage demands an answer.
 Although they walk and talk the same, it’s important to distinguish the fascism of the 20th century between the two World Wars and the return of fascism today. Of course, fascism has never left; it lurks within mainstream conservatism and the far right hyper-capitalist mutant form of classical liberalism called neo-liberalism. It will arise anytime ruling elites among these two capitalist groups feel threatened by regime change from the left or even that too many concessions have been handed to the hoi polloi.
Even before Trump’s 2016 victory, Noam Chomsky commented on the threat fascism posed today. When Chris Hedges interviewed him in 2010, he compared the U.S.A. to Weimar Germany:
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany. The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
As much as I admire both Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges, when I listened to this exchange, I felt thought that Chomsky failed to flesh out the differences necessary contrast between Germany of 1919- 1933 and the United States today.
One distinction is the difference between the German working class in the Weimar Republic and the American experience today. There is no 1930s style fascist threat in the U.S. today because there is no popular Communist or Socialist Party or a strong union movement that even remotely threaten the hegemony of the neo-liberal status quo and the dictatorship of finance capital. The two fascist movements, however, are dialectically related. Despite all the hysterical ludicrous rants about rampant “socialism”, even in the hyper-capitalist Democratic Party by Trump and the right wing media such as Fox News, Tea Party rallies and right wing radio, there is not the slightest sign that American workers are thinking in class terms, let alone thinking in revolutionary terms. Sadly, not only have remaining trade union hierarchies been hijacked and corrupted by corporate pimps for decades, the overall response of workers to regular economic crises have been pretty much as has been for every downturn since the early 1970s, namely to resort to identity politics and personalized reactions. This conclusion is obvious to anyone with an understanding of the very violent American labor history from the mid-nineteenth century onward.
In 1989, Michael Moore made his first documentary “Roger and Me” that examined the impact of unemployment and the anemic union movement in Flint, Michigan, his hometown. But this was a standard tale throughout what is now called the US Rust Belt. One worker featured in Moore’s documentary was raising rabbits to sell as food; another, from rumors he had heard, had decided to move to Texas, where there were apparently plentiful albeit low paid jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities such as dog walker, “life coach”, renting yourself out as a high tech lackey, ass-kissing butler or “skip the dishes” driver. What you did not see was organized resistance but rather complacency and docility which was certainly not the case when many unions were run by communist party members and other anti-capitalists. Now if you are not homeless, you live with your parents or sit at home unemployed in your derelict 80 year old apartment watching Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil, Oprah or Beavis & Butthead reruns, UFC and Wrestle Mania all day on the cultural wasteland called cable TV (if you can’t afford cable there’s always the rabbit ears). Paul Goodman, in his 1960 book Growing up Absurd in an era in which jobs were plentiful, yet deadly boring, they generally offered a livable wage with health benefits and pension, but no one asked the important question of whether it was honorable or useful. Sixty years later, today’s work is far worse, working at two or three “gig” jobs for 40 or more hours a week, living in your parent’s basement with no prospect of owning a home. No one working in the mainstream capitalist economy questions the morality and justice of such a brutal system and more importantly who is served by it. As Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith whose honesty was a rarity, once said about his own bullshit profession, “We have for long had a respected secular priesthood whose function it has been to rise above the questions of ethics, kindness and compassion and show how these might have to be sacrificed on the altar of the national interest.” Let’s be honest, if the minimalist ethical principles, the Golden Rule or the notion of “I am my brother’s keeper” were accepted by everyone, capitalism would not last a week. Sadly, Christians in the United States and Canada are Republicans and Conservatives respectively, the two political parties that are in their respective countries, vulture capitalist on steroids “doing God’s work”.
If Trump poses the same threat as Hitler in 1932, the only conclusion you can draw is that it is, like the Reagan version in the 1980s a counter-revolution without a reactive revolution. While Mussolini style fascism, which he called “corporatism”, ended after the Axis defeat in 1945, there were still far right wing tyrants such as Francisco Franco in Spain that threw off a putrid stench of fascism. The Communist Parties in post World War II Europe, however, especially in France, Italy and Greece for example, were extremely popular as it was they who formed the partisan base for the anti-Nazi and anti-fascist resistance. But the United States and Britain, in particular made sure these countries and others did not go communist, which they were surely destined to do as they crushed the movements. In Greece a civil war was fought from 1945-49 as Churchill and Truman re-instated a tyrannical monarchy.
In each case, the oligarchic capitalist classes and financial elite threw their weight behind military coups that promised to re-establish law and capitalist order. Pinochet in Chile was perhaps the closest the US came to installing classical fascism, but there were other examples as well as the aforementioned 1965 General Suharto led a coup in Indonesia that wiped out the country’s left, just as happened in Chile eight years later. Once in power, Pinochet and Suharto wiped out what remained of unions and the political left with brutal death squad executions to keep the masses intimidated. Neither country has ever recovered from such anti-communist traumas as neither have the strong radical movements in both the US and Canada following the post WW I and Post W II hysteria of the infamous “Red Scares”. The proto-fascist antics of Joseph McCarthy in the US were particularly toxic as lives and careers were literally destroyed in both countries.
Today, such traditional 20th Century fascist-like states will likely not reappear for the simple reason that Communism and democratic socialism of the Salvadore Allende Chilean strain disappeared with the disgraceful Nixon/Kissinger fascist coup in 1973. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s re-absorption into the capitalist world, workers and peasants have few powerful allies upon which to rely. In 1965, China had close ties with the leftist liberal President Sukarno, who Suharto, with the interventions of the CIA and US death squads that murdered hundreds of thousands of communists, socialists, activists and labor leaders, would overthrow. China has a similar relationship with Indonesia today, even though the Communist Party, a Frankenstein mutation of its former self, still controls the Chinese state and economy. What has changed? Both countries embrace exploitation of labor, plunder of the environment and capitalist property relations even if Xi Jinping pays duplicitous lip-service to the Maoist past. Despite increasing popularity of a confused and distorted socialism in the west, including the United States, socialism has been on the ropes (like Mohammed Ali’s “rope a dope”) since 1990. Many Americans - and all who watch neo-fascist Fox News - think Bernie Sanders, for example, who remains a member of the neo-liberal Democratic Party and is still endorsing Wall Street financial crooks and the imperialist war mongering corporatist pimp Biden, is a “socialist”. Bernie Sanders is at best a squishy New Deal style liberal capitalist “reformer”.
While the United States never had massive working-class revolutionary parties like Chile and Indonesia, there was a radical movement between 1965 and 1973 that fed off the existing socialism of those years. Che Guevara from Cuba provided material and logistical aid to guerrilla movements in Latin America, while Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam fought off the both the French colonialists and most powerful military in the world. It also put down the red carpet for American delegations that included Noam Chomsky and Jane Fonda but ultimately paid a huge price in a country that was bombed into oblivion with poisonous defoliants and napalm, with the casualty rate as many as 5 million and hundreds of thousands maimed for life. In the U.S.A there were probably thousands of Maoist activists and of course the Black Panther Party, a community mutual aid group that the FBI was determined to eradicate by surveillance, smear campaigns and assassinations.
With the end of the war in Vietnam, Cuba’s retreat from revolutionary internationalism, and the collapse of the U.S.S.R., the radical movement in the U.S.A. declined dramatically. It was only the 2008 economic crash and subsequent corporate bailouts, Occupy Wall Street and the more recent development of Black Lives Matter that a new spirit of resistance has taken shape. However, the American working class remains fragmented, complacent and docile. Unlike the 1960s, when auto, steel and coal were industries that leftists and revolutionaries unionized, the most important sectors of the American mostly service and security economy are now outside the production sphere. Amazon has one million workers but they produce absolutely nothing. Instead, they package, ship and deliver bundles of goods made in China ,South East Asia Mexico, Latin America or other parts of the world where wage slave labor is the norm, including Vietnam, the erstwhile foe of American anti-communism and imperialism. If American workers no longer enjoy the kind of wages and benefits they once received working for Ford and General Motors, they can at least save
Despite BLM, anti-fascist groups, anti-capitalist and anti-police state protests, American society is relatively stable with little prospect of a revolution in the near future. Attempts to liken the Proud Boys or Q-Anon to Hitler’s Brown Shirts fail when examined under a historical lens. By 1932, the Nazi Party had 400,000 men that had years of experience as goons breaking up and cracking skulls of working-class demonstrators. By contrast, the loosely organized antifa confrontations with Trump thugs are skirmishes that generally rarely involve a casualty. When one does occur, as was the case with Kyle Rittenhouse, the left expresses outrage while placing his acts actions into context and perspective. Like the maniacal driver who plowed his car into Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, this was an exception to the rule. America’s would-be fascists are primarily looking for punch out street fights not to kill anyone – at least for now.
Of key importance is his distinction between unemployment that triggered mass revolts of both the left and right in the 1920s and debt, the key element of today’s malaise as the late David Graeber pointed out:
“Instead, economic malaise today focuses on the ‘downsides’ of globalization—the relocation of manufacturing jobs abroad, to be replaced by growing precariousness, longer hours worked for falling real pay and rising household debt—thrown into relief by the trillion-dollar banker bailout. The personal debt-to-income ratio in the United States exploded in the run-up to 2008 and now averages around 150 per cent of household income, with huge regional variations: on the coasts and in Appalachia, debt runs at three or four times household income. In social terms, indebtedness is not a collective experience, in the way that mass unemployment is, but an intrinsically individual one: every debtor has a quantitatively specific credit score, for example, and the crisis for her or him takes the form of difficulty in paying the bills. Debt therefore tends towards an individualization, or serialization, of political activity. Rather than collectivizing wage-earners, it atomizes the population into what Marx famously described as ‘a sack of potatoes’. But ‘potatoes’ don’t make for fascism; they make for Bonapartism—rallying as individuals to a charismatic leader, rather than forming a coherent paramilitary bloc. If they are to be galvanized today, it is likely to be on the defensive basis of protectionist nationalism, rather than yet further imperial aggression.”
Moreover, workers in the 1920s did not live in suburbs; rather they lived close to their workplace and usually got there by trolley car, bus or on foot. In their neighborhoods, there were close ties mediated through a local church or some other community organization. When a factory closed, the workers embraced solidarity as they invoked the anarchist principle of “mutual aid”, closing ranks to help bail each other out, like resisting an eviction or hosting a help with the rent party. Throughout most American cities there were enormous housing projects filled with Communist Party members and other radical leftist groups. When organizers tried to build a CIO union, they relied on networks in these projects and the surrounding neighborhood but today workers are atomized. Once a hotbed of Communist garment workers, the gentrified Lower East Side of Manhattan for example is now home to NYU students, web developers and boutique owners. The rents are so outrageously high all over Manhattan and other gentrified zones of big cities in the US and Canada that radical groups can’t afford to open even a small headquarters or bookstore.
Unlike Hitler, Trump uses subterfuge, deceit and a litany of lies, rather than violence to achieve his goals. Using executive power and the reactionary Supreme Court as his primary vehicles, he appoints generally fundamentalist Christian capitalist “entrepreneurial” people to head government agencies whose stated purpose they seek to re-invent or defy. If the Department of Education exists to support public education, once the core of American style “democracy”, he installs billionaire Christian zealot Betsy DeVos in charge, a woman who wants to abolish public schools, replacing them with privatized and corporatized charter schools. The anti-science head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not seek to protect the soils or water we drink but to help make it easier to fill with carcinogens and other pollutants. And there’s no need for Brown Shirts when the big business oligarchs, banks and financial parasitic legal system and laws that have been crafted to serve their interests is working to perfection. The corporatist plutocrats simply cannot fail, regardless of how badly they fuck up, as the coffers of the public purse stand ready to bail them out with regularity after they have plundered and screwed the rigged system to the point of global bankruptcy.
One might need to be reminded of the fact that the ridiculous meaningless slogan “Make America Great Again” was first uttered by Reagan, not Trump. The relentless attack on ordinary people by the neo-liberal “trickle down” bullshit has been ongoing for several decades to the point we are at now whereby one tenth of one percent (that’s 0.1%) of Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 90%.
[2a] Fictitious Capital is the focal point of the neo-liberal shift to post-industrial corporatist capitalism and finacialization. The immoral cesspool of financialization cannot be considered in isolation from the three contemporary markers of corrupt deregulated financial parasitism that plagues capitalism today – globalization, the fusion of the state with capitalist predation and the supporting ideology of neo-liberalism. It is above all distinguished by the accumulation of drawing rights over “values” that are yet to be produced.
What are the roots of contemporary financialisation? And, more importantly, what pressures, social destabilization and injustices does it generate? In a regulatory environment in which the golden t rule prevails the system can be civilized and rendered partly at least partially egalitarian and finance prodded and monitored by a set of mechanisms capable of temporarily containing the contradictions and dissonances of capital accumulation. In their own very different or even radically opposed ways, post-Keynesian and Hayekian approaches each point to a capitalist dynamic distressed and destabilized by inappropriate regulatory, budgetary and monetary policies. A Marxist point of view privileges the contradictions and conflicts that undermine – and at the same time drive – a mode of production through its historical developments. From this perspective, the eruption of a financial world order that is parasitic on the commons is nothing other than a manifestation of capitalism running out of exploitive ideas, as evidenced by the succession of increasingly violent financial crises since the early 1980s.
The contemporary accumulation of fictitious capital is already laden with the frosts of a dystopian winter. For a time, the increasing creativity and cunning of financial shenanigans has permitted a certain concealment of the growing disconnect between, on the one hand, the exhaustion of the productive dynamic, and, on the other, the needs of capital and popular discontent with the status quo. The 2007–8 global financial crises stripped away the veil revealing grotesque banking and financial criminality leading to obscene government bailouts, austerity policies, ineffective structural reforms and the priority given to financial stabilization to ensure that it is capital’s needs and not the people’s that prevail. Such is the basis for today’s great social regression, made even more debilitating by the covid-19 pandemic which capitalism is finding devious ways to profit. What we are witnessing is an economic model that resembles a theocracy complete with theology including the deity of the “invisible hand of the market” and its arcane incoherent doctrines such as the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH). EMMF has been debunked by the Grosman-Stiglitz paradox that claims that if a market is information efficient, that all the relevant information is built into market prices, then no agent would have any motivation to acquire the information on which prices are based. Yet if no one seeks this information, then it is impossible for it to be revealed by the interactions of market agency. Of course cheating, insider information and manipulation of markets by hedge funds, brokerage houses and other advantaged big players is widespread, relegating most economic theory, including the traditional market strategies of the average “investor” to the trash heap.
The ongoing magnitude of the corruption and criminality of finance capitalism is scandalous and shocking. Recall the sordid machinations of Wall Street and their government whores during the last big melt down and disgraceful bailouts in 2007-09. In the United States the Federal Reserve, without any oversight or even awareness by Congress, secretly funneled a cumulative $29 trillion into Wall Street bailout programs. One of the same programs the Fed is using today, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF), secretly funneled $8.95 trillion in cumulative loans to teetering Wall Street and foreign banks, much of that at interest rates below 1 percent interest. Two-thirds of that $8.95 trillion went to just three Wall Street trading houses - Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. The harsh reality was that millions of struggling consumers had been foreclosed on by Citigroup (using an alias) and forced to pay high double-digit interest rates on their Citigroup credit cards, while the Federal Reserve had given that insolvent bank $2.5 trillion in cumulative loans as the bank lied to the public about its financial condition. Other major Wall Street banks also continued to charge high double-digit interest rates to consumers on their credit cards and engaged in illegal foreclosures as they were being secretly bailed out by the enabler fictitious capital gangsters at the Federal Reserve.
 Voltaire, whose real name was Francois Marie Arouet, was synonymous with the anti-theological and anti-monarchical movements of the 18th Century Enlightenment. He adopted the pen name “Voltaire” during one of his many stints in the Bastille, thanks to the intolerance, persecution and cruelty of the Christian Church. Voltaire was perhaps the modern world’s first civil rights activist. His demands for freedom of speech spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, inciting challenges to the feudalistic duality of church and monarchist tyranny. Thomas Paine wrote of Voltaire in The Rights of Man: “His forte lay in exposing and ridiculing the superstitions which the priesthood, united with statecraft, had interwoven with governments.” Voltaire’s famous anti-Christian slogan with which he signed off on his many pamphlets and letters was Ecrasez l’infame! - crush the loathsome thing, referring of course the Christianity. In a letter to Frederick the Great, he wrote, “Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.”
[3a] Consider a very interesting incident that occurred in 1969 involving the Black Panthers and Canada’s greatest political icon Tommy Douglas and his daughter Shirley. Tommy, former CCF (later renamed NDP) Premier of Saskatchewan for 16 years and was federal leader of the NDP in the late 1960s. At the time Shirley Douglas was the wife of then famous Canadian actor Donald Sutherland.
Shirley, a political leftist fireplug herself, was recently divorced from her first husband and moved to California with Sutherland who was working on a film project. She had met Sutherland in Rome while she was dubbing voiceovers for spaghetti Westerns. Shirley, who idolized and loved her father dearly, had always been active in progressive political movements and continues to be so today. Her political activism didn’t change with the arrival of twins Kiefer and Rachel, born in 1967. In 1969, she joined a group called "The Friends of Black Panthers," to raise money for the Panthers' legal expenses and for a breakfast-for-children program they ran in Los Angeles. The Black Panthers were a diverse group from a variety of radical backgrounds and positions ranging from revolutionary anarchist, communist, Maoist to socialist to left wing liberal. Some like Huey Newton and many of the leaders dreamed about replacing the entire capitalist system of greed, privilege and imperialism (the Vietnam War was raging) that was enslaving and oppressing indigenous populations and people of color for centuries. Shirley Douglas, on the other hand, like a good reformist socialist, simply wanted to help feed some hungry ghetto kids.
At 5:30 a.m. on October 2, 1969, a scene like one you would see in an old movie about the Gestapo in Nazi Germany was played out at the Sutherlands' Beverly Hills home. A squad of ten officers and FBI agents burst through the door and began to molest Shirley who resisted, traumatize the children and ransacked their home. They later claimed that they had information that Shirley and a friend of hers, playwright Donald Freed, were storing weapons for the Black Panthers. Tad, Shirley's ten-year old son, stood against one wall, terrified while the twins Rachel and Kiefer were in a bedroom, crying.
The raiders found nothing and despite and substantive evidence, charged Shirley with "conspiracy to obtain a destructive device". The alleged weapons they could not locate. The U.S. attorney responsible for the case claimed that Shirley and Freed had purchased them from an undercover cop. Later, the prosecution claimed to have found the weapons at Freed's apartment but it was eventually revealed that they had been planted.
When father Tommy Douglas heard about the arrest, he called a press conference in Ottawa, not merely to protest that his daughter was innocent, but to commend her: "I am proud that my daughter believes, as I do, that hungry children should be fed whether they are Black Panthers or White Republicans." The next day, October 5, he flew down to Los Angeles, where he was met by a throng of reporters anxious to interview the leader of what they described in their newspapers and television reports as "the Canadian Communist Party." They told him his daughter wasn't at the airport to meet him and asked, "Are you disappointed?" "Who says she's not?" the irate Douglas shot back; and there she was, making her way politely and slowly through the swarm of journalists.
The charges did not get to court until 1970, when they were dismissed for lack of even a shred of evidence to support them. Even so, U.S. immigration officials mounted a campaign to deport her, and in 1978 she returned to Canada and was blacklisted from further work in the United States, although her son Kiefer eventually followed in his father’s footsteps to Hollywood stardom. By this time however, her marriage to Sutherland had dissolved.
[3b] The Panthers were the targets of the most concerted governmental internal counterinsurgency effort while they existed, if not in the entire history of the United States. After they began observing Oakland police by following them around as they performed their duties the Party began to incur the cops’ wrath. It was because the Panthers carried loaded guns during their observations that the California State Legislature outlawed that practice in California. The sight of Black men with loaded guns was too much for the fearful white culture. In April 1968, one of the first members of the Panthers was killed by Oakland police. Sixteen year old Bobby Hutton was shot down in a confrontation that also saw the arrest of Eldridge Cleaver, who had joined the party after his release from prison in 1967. Cleaver then went into exile after being released on bail. His theoretical differences with some of the original party members, especially Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, would be exploited by FBI agents and others involved in the counterinsurgency campaign waged against the Panthers. This campaign was a major part of the COINTELPRO program and involved everything from infiltration to murder. Bobby Hutton’s death was but the first of many.
By 1971, the Party had seen its leaders imprisoned on charges that were at best questionable and often completely bogus. It had seen the assassination by government death squads of some of its members, most notably Illinois Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Government agents and informers facilitated rumors regarding their sexuality and infidelities that caused jealousies and mistrust. Furthermore, they hung snitch jackets on members in an attempt to destroy the credibility of the organization within the party and in the greater community. With the leadership in prison or constantly in court, membership continued to increase. Unlike earlier days, the political education was not broad enough to keep up with the increase in membership. This created a situation where street toughs that joined the party for their personal gain were provided a political motivation or kicked out if they refused to change their ways. In addition to all this government murder and mayhem, there were always drugs – the government’s perennial counterinsurgency tactic against the poor and disenfranchised.
 To my mind, the greatest anarchist was the Russian Mikhail Bakunin whose works, including God and the State, can be read online. Bakunin wrote:
“The abolition of the Church and the State must be the first and indispensable condition of the true liberation of society; only after this can society be organized in another manner, but not from the top downwards ·and according to an ideal plan, dreamed up by a few sages or scholars, and certainly not by decrees issued by some dictatorial power or even by a national assembly elected by universal suffrage. As I have already shown, such a system would lead inevitably to the creation of a new state, and consequently to the formation of a governmental aristocracy, that is to say a whole class of individuals having nothing in common with the mass of the people, which would immediately begin to exploit and subdue that people in the name of the commonwealth or in order to save the State.
Some declare that the harmonization and universal solidarity of the interests of individuals and society can never in fact be realized because these interests, since they are contradictory, can never come into equilibrium or even reach the slightest mutual understanding. To objections of this kind I answer that if up to the present these interests have been nowhere and never in accord; because of the State, which has sacrificed the interests of the majority to the profit of a privileged minority. In other words that famous incompatibility and that struggle between personal interests and those of society are no more than trickery and a political lie, born of a theological lie, which invented the doctrine of original sin to dishonor man and destroy his inner consciousness of his own worth. This same false idea of the antagonism of interests was also spawned by the dreams of metaphysics, which, as everyone knows, is the close cousin of theology. Failing to understand the sociability of human nature, metaphysics regarded society as a. mechanical and purely artificial aggregate of individuals, abruptly brought together under the blessing of some formal and secret treaty, concluded either freely or under the influence of some superior power. Before entering into society, these individuals, endowed with some sort of immortal soul, enjoyed total freedom.
But if the metaphysicians, above all those who believe in the immortality of the soul, affirm that outside society men are free beings, we arrive inevitably at the conclusion that men can unite in society only at the price of renouncing their liberty, their natural independence, and of sacrificing their interests, first the personal and then the local ones. Such a renunciation, such a sacrifice of the self must by that same token is all the more imperative where the society is more populous and its organization more complex. In such a case, the State is the expression of all individual sacrifices. Existing in such an abstract and at the same time violent form, the State continues - it goes without saying - more and more to hinder individual liberty in the name of the lie which it calls 'public good', even though quite obviously it represents exclusively the interests of the dominant class. In this way the State appears before us as an inevitable negation, an annihilation of all liberty, of all interests, individual as well as general.
Thus it appears that all metaphysical and theological systems are linked together in such a way that they are mutually explanatory. This is why, with a clear conscience, the logical defenders of these systems can and must continue to exploit the popular masses by means of Church and State. Stuffing their pockets and satisfying all their filthy lusts, they can console themselves at the same time with the thought that they are laboring for the glory of God, for the victory of civilization and for the eternal bliss of the proletariat.
We have little intention of embarking on the history of religious absurdities, whether theological or metaphysical, and even less of discussing the successive unfolding of all the divine incarnations and visions created by the centuries of barbarism. Everyone knows that superstition has always given birth to frightful misfortunes and has ended in streams of blood and tears. We will be content to say that all these revolting aberrations of poor humanity were inevitable historical circumstances in the normal growth and. evolution of social organisms. Such aberrations engendered in society that fatal notion, which came to dominate the human imagination, that the universe is governed by a supernatural power and will. Century followed century, and societies grew so used to this idea, that finally they killed within themselves all inclinations towards further progress and all capacity to attain it.
In politics, as in religion, men are only machines in the hands of exploiters. But robbers and robbed, oppressors and oppressed, live beside each other, governed by a handful of individuals whom one must regard as the real exploiters.
There is no need to discuss the problem of eternal salvation, since we do not believe in the immortality of the soul. We are convinced that the most harmful of all things, for humanity and for truth and progress, is the Church. Could it be otherwise? Does it not fall on the Church to pervert the younger generations and especially the women? Is it not She who by her dogmas, her lies, her stupidity and her ignominy, seeks to destroy logical thinking and science? Does She not menace the dignity of man by perverting his notions of right and justice? Does She not turn what is living into a corpse, cast aside freedom, and preach the eternal slavery of the masses for the benefit of tyrants and exploiters? Is it not this implacable Church that tends to perpetuate the reign of shadows, of ignorance, of poverty and of crime? If the progress of our century is not to be a lying dream, it must make an end to the Church.” (From Oeuvres, Vol. IV, 1910, translated by George Woodcock)
Mikhail Bakunin (May 30, 1814 - Jul. 1, 1876)