The Syrian Army’s Attack on Jihadists at Deraa

The US authorities gave prior notice to the “Opposition's Armed Forces” in South Syria that it would not intervene during the attack of the Syrian Arab Army. This decision has stunned its allies. Yet there is no rational basis for their stupor: President Trump's decision is simply following through with his anti-terrorist policy which he articulated a little more than a year ago, in his speech at Riyad . The Syrian Forces, 40 000 men strong, emboldened by the support of the Russian Air Force, (...)

The Crisis Intensifies in Iran

The crisis is intensifying in Iran: the national currency, the Rial, has plummeted (55 % down in six months) whilst unemployment is spiralling (40% of the population are said to be unemployed but we cannot verify this figure). Very shortly, new US sanctions will kick into force. President Hassan Rohani has condemned the US plot to destroy the hopes of his people. Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, Leader of the judicial branch of state power and brother of the President of Parliament, has (...)

Trump challenges Nato’s anti-Russian activities

It would appear that the US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, presented to President Putin a draft agreement for the cessation of military manoeuvres on Nato's eastern flank. Under this draft, the Atlantic Alliance would stop organizing war drills in Poland and the Baltic States. In return, Russia would abstain from similar actions on the other side of the border, that is, on Russian territory. The US President, Donald Trump, is scheduled to meet his Russian homologue in Helsinki, (...)

Trump Threatens Canada: “Defence” Community Remains Silent

A volatile leader in charge of a military behemoth prone to aggression has repeatedly attacked Canada and its prime minister in recent weeks. But, this country’s “defence” community, which often hypes Russian, Jihadist and other threats, has barely made a peep.

Citing a concern for its “national security”, the US slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports at the end of last month. Since then Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Justin Trudeau and two of the US President’s top advisers called the prime minister “dishonest”, “weak” and “rogue” and said “there’s a special place in hell” for him.

The bombastic rhetoric targeting the Trudeau government is coming from a state that has substantial military capacity close to the Canadian border and has repeatedly invaded nearby nations. The US is currently dropping a bomb every 12 minutes on seven different countries and its troops are fighting/operating in dozens more. And its Commander-in-Chief is highly impulsive.

Despite this aggressive posture from Washington, Canada’s “defence” community hasn’t raised the alarm or sought to capitalize on the tension by asking for more weapons and troops. Contrast this with the academics and think tanks funded by arms companies and the Department of National Defence who regularly hype lesser threats in a bid to increase military spending.

Why the difference in treatment of “threat” assessments?

The “defence” sector ignores US threats because it is not oriented towards protecting Canada from aggression. Rather, Canada’s military, weapons companies and “defence” intellectuals/think tanks are aligned with the US Empire’s quest for global domination.

According to DND, there are “80 treaty-level agreements, more than 250 memoranda of understanding, and 145 bilateral forums on defence” between the two countries’ militaries. In 2015 CBC reported on sustained, high-level, Canadian and US military discussions to create a so-called Canada-U.S. Integrated Forces. Not shared with Canadian political leaders, the plan was to set up integrated air, sea, land and special forces to operate under a unified command when deployed internationally.

The depth of the Canada-US military alliance is such that if US Forces attacked this country it would be extremely difficult for the Canadian Forces to defend our soil. In fact, given the entanglements the Canadian Forces would likely enable a US invasion: As with the 2003 invasion of Iraq — which Ottawa officially opposed — some Canadian troops on exchange in the US might march north; As is the norm when the US invades another country, Canadian officers would likely operate NORAD systems aiding the aggression; As with the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, weaponry produced in Canada would certainly be used by US soldiers marching north.

The Canadian “defence” sector has tied its ship to our southern neighbour’s massive military industrial complex. But, the truth, unpalatable as it may be to some, is that the USA is the only nation that could realistically invade Canada.

This is not an argument for a military policy that views the US as a threat. Canada’s best defence against an invasion is making sure hundreds of millions of people in the US and elsewhere know this country is not their enemy. Additionally, Canadians face far more pressing dangers (cars, industrial pollutant, climate disturbances, etc.) than a foreign invasion.

Instead of responding to Trump’s belligerence by ramping up military preparedness —which the US president demanded in a letter to the Prime Minister last week — we should be debating the point of a Canadian “defence” sector unwilling to even discuss defending our country from its primary military threat.

A critical question to ask: Why do we spend over $20 billion a year on a Department of National Defence?

GM Crops in India: Approval by Contamination?

The regulatory system for GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in India is in tatters. So said the Coalition for a GMFree India (CGMFI) in 2017 after media reports about the illegal cultivation of GM soybean in the country.

In India, five high-level reports have already advised against the adoption of GM crops:

  1. The ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal [February 2010];
  2. The ‘Sopory Committee Report’ [August 2012];
  3. The ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee’ [PSC] Report on GM crops [August 2012];
  4. The ‘Technical Expert Committee [TEC] Final Report’ [June-July 2013]; and
  5. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests [August 2017].

Given the issues surrounding GM crops (including the now well-documented failure of Bt cotton in the country), little wonder these reports advise against their adoption. Little wonder too given that the story of GM ‘regulation’ in India has been a case of blatant violations of biosafety norms, hasty approvals, a lack of monitoring abilities, general apathy towards the hazards of contamination and a lack of institutional oversight.

Despite these reports, the drive to get GM mustard commercialised (which would be India’s first officially-approved GM food crop) has been relentless. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has pushed ahead regardless by giving it the nod. However, the case of GM mustard remains in limbo and stuck in the Supreme Court due to various pleas lodged by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues.

Rodrigues argues that GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no testing) and a lack of public scrutiny: in other words, unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency.

Moreover, this crop is also herbicide-tolerant (HT), which is wholly inappropriate for a country like India with its small biodiverse farms that could be affected by its application.

GM crops illegally growing

Despite the ban on GM cops, in 2005, biologist Pushpa Bhargava noted that unapproved varieties of several GM crops were being sold to farmers. In 2008, Arun Shrivasatava wrote that illegal GM okra had been planted in India and poor farmers had been offered lucrative deals to plant ‘special seed’ of all sorts of vegetables.

In 2013, a group of scientists and NGOs protested in Kolkata and elsewhere against the introduction of transgenic brinjal in Bangladesh – a centre for origin and diversity of the vegetable – as it would give rise to contamination of the crop in India. As predicted, in 2014, the West Bengal government said it had received information regarding “infiltration” of commercial seeds of GM Bt brinjal from Bangladesh.

In 2017, the illegal cultivation of a GM HT soybean was reported in Gujarat. Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), a national farmers organisation, claimed that Gujarat farmers had been cultivating HT crop illegally – there is no clearance from the government for any GM food crop.

There are also reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India. In a paper appearing in the Journal of Peasant studies last year, Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs show how cotton farmers have been encouraged to change their ploughing practices, which has led to more weeds being left in their fields. The authors suggest the outcome in terms of yields (or farmer profit) is arguably no better than before. However, it coincides with the appearance of an increasing supply (and farmer demand) for HT cotton seeds.

It doesn’t take a dyed-in-the-wool cynic to appreciate that the likes of Bayer, which has now incorporated Monsanto, must be salivating at the prospect of India becoming the global leader in the demand for GM.

All of this is prompting calls for probes into the workings of the GEAC and other official bodies who seem to be asleep at the wheel or deliberately looking the other. The latter could be the case given that, as Stone indicates, senior figures in India regard GM seeds (and their associated chemical inputs) as key to modernising Indian agriculture.

CGMFI spokesperson Kavitha Kuruganti says that the regulators have been caught sleeping. It wouldn’t be the first time: India’s first GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat, spread surreptitiously and illegally by the biotech industry. Kuruganti said the GEAC was caught off-guard when news about large scale illegal cultivation of Bt cotton emerged, even as field trials that were to decide whether India would opt for this GM crops were still underway.

In March 2002, the GEAC ended up approving Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in India. To this day, no liability was fixed for the illegal spread.

The tactic of contaminate first then legalise has benefited industry players before. In 2006, for instance, the US Department of Agriculture granted marketing approval of GM Liberty Link 601 (Bayer CropScience) rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports. The USDA effectively sanctioned an ‘approval-by-contamination’ policy.

Illegal GM imports

Despite reasoned argument and debate having thus far prevented the cultivation of GM crops or the consumption of GM food in India, it seems we are to be witnessing GM seeds and crops entering the food system regardless.

Kuruganti says that a complaint lodged with the GEAC and a Right to Information (RTI) application seeking information regarding the illegal GM soybean cultivation in the country has stirred the apex regulatory body to bring the issue to the notice of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), months after the issue became public.

In reply to the RTI application, the GEAC responded by saying it had received no complaint about such illegal  cultivation. Kurauganti says this is a blatant lie: the BKS had collected illegally cultivated soybean samples for lab testing and the report was sent to the GEAC along with a letter of complaint. GM HT soybean has not been granted permission for field trials, let alone large-scale cultivation.

It is also understood that apart from the BKS, the Government of Gujarat also alerted the GEAC to the illegal cultivation.

Kuruganti says:

The fact that the GEAC is writing now to the DGFT to take action (on preventing the illegal GM imports), makes it clear that it lacks any real intent to take serious action about the violations of its own regulations. It also indicates that it is putting up a show of having “done” something, before an upcoming Supreme Court hearing on PILs related to GMOs.

Her assertion is supported by Rohit Parakh of India for Safe Food:

Commerce Ministry’s own data on imports of live seeds clearly indicates that India continues to import genetically modified seeds including GM canola, GM sugar beet, GM papaya, GM squash and GM corn seeds (apart from soybean) from countries such as the USA… with no approval from the GEAC as is the requirement.

Kuruganti concludes that the regulatory system is a shambles and is not preventing GMOs from being illegally imported into the country or planted. Moreover, the ruling BJP has reneged on its election promise not to allow GM without proper protocols.

Offshoring Indian agriculture

It is not a good situation. We have bogus arguments about GM mustard being forwarded by developers at Delhi University and the government. We also have USAID pushing for GM in Punjab and twisting a problematic situation to further Monsanto’s interests by trying to get GM soybean planted in the state. And we have regulators (deliberately) asleep at the wheel.

The fact that India is importing so many agricultural commodities in the first place doesn’t help. Relying on imports and transnational agribusiness with its proprietary (GM) seeds and inputs is not a recipe for food security. In the 1960s, Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter. Today, courtesy of World Bank, IMF and WTO interventions, the continent imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer.

Is this what India wants? Based on its rising import bill, self-reliance and food security seems to be an anathema to policy makers. In response to the government’s decision to abolish import duty on wheat in 2017, Ajmer Singh Lakhowala, head of the Punjab unit of Bharatiya Kisan Union, said sarcastically:

The import of cheap wheat will bring the prices down. It appears the government wants the farmers to quit farming.

As previously outlined, at the behest of the World Bank and courtesy of compliant politicians in India, it certainly seems to be the case.

Self-sufficiency is not to the liking of the US and the World Bank. Washington has for many decades regarded its leverage over global agriculture as a tool to secure its geostrategic goals.

Whether it involves the import of subsidised edible oils, wheat, pulses or soybean – alongside the ongoing neglect of indigenous agriculture and farmers by successive administrations – livelihoods are being destroyed, food quality is being undermined and Indian agriculture is slowly being offshored.

The Supreme Court’s Deference to the Pentagon

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Imagine a county sheriff that took a suspected drug-law violator into custody more than 10 years ago. Since then, the man has been held in jail without being accorded a trial. The district attorney and the sheriff promise to give the man a trial sometime in the future but they’re just not sure when. Meanwhile the man sits in jail indefinitely just waiting for his trial to begin.

Difficult to imagine, right? That’s because most everyone would assume that a judge would never permit such a thing to happen. The man’s lawyer would file a petition for writ of habeas corpus. A judge would order the sheriff to produce the prisoner and show cause why the prisoner shouldn’t immediately be released from custody. At the habeas corpus hearing, the judge would either order the release of the prisoner based on the violation of his right to a speedy trial or he would order the state to either try him or release him.

The same principle would apply on the federal level to, say, DEA agents who had been holding some suspected drug lord in jail for ten years without according him a trial. A federal judge would proceed to handle a petition for habeas corpus in the same manner that the state judge would. It is a virtual certainty that the federal judge would either order the prisoner’s release or order the DEA to “try him or release him.”

In either case, the judicial branch’s order would be supreme over the sheriff and the DEA. They would be expected to comply with the judge’s order. If they refused to do so, the judge would cite the sheriff or DEA officials with contempt and order them incarcerated until they complied with his order. The contempt order would be carried out by state law-enforcement personnel or by deputy US Marshals.

Not so, however, with the national-security establishment, specifically the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. As Michael Glennon, professor of law at Tufts University, points out in his book National Security and Double Government, the national-security establishment has become the most powerful part of the federal government, one to which the judicial branch (as well as the other two branches) inevitably defers in matters that are critically important to the Pentagon, the CIA, or the NSA.

An excellent example of this phenomenon is the Pentagon’s prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. When the Pentagon initially established Gitmo as a prison camp after the 9/11 attacks, it did so with the intent that it would be totally independent of any interference or control by the federal judiciary. That’s why it chose Cuba for the location of its prison — so that it could argue that the US Constitution did not apply and the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to interfere with its operations. (It was an ironic position given the oath that all military personnel take to support and defend the Constitution.)

Maintaining the veneer of control, however, the Supreme Court ultimately held that it did in fact have jurisdiction over Guantanamo. But as a practical matter, the Court deferred to the ultimate power of the Pentagon, as manifested by the fact that there are prisoners at Guantanamo who have been incarcerated for more than a decade without being accorded a trial.

In other words, what the judiciary would never permit to happen under a local sheriff or the DEA has been permitted to happen under the Pentagon. That’s because the judiciary knows that given the overwhelming power of the Pentagon (and the CIA and NSA), there is no way that some federal judge would be able to enforce a contempt order with some deputy US Marshals confronting, say, the 82nd Airborne Division.

Sure, the federal judiciary has issued habeas corpus releases on some prisoners at Guantanamo and the Pentagon has consented to complying with them. But that’s all just for appearance sake, to maintain the veneer that everything is operating “normally.” Federal judges know that whenever the Pentagon says “No more,” that’s the way it’s going to be.

How do we know this? How do we know that the Pentagon, not the federal judiciary, is ultimately in charge and that when push comes to shove the judiciary will defer to the power of the military? We know it by virtue of the fact that there are some prisoners at Guantanamo who have been incarcerated for more than a decade without being accorded a trial. We know that judges would never permit that sort of thing to happen with a sheriff or the DEA.

There is another way we can recognize the supreme power of the Pentagon vis a vis the Supreme Court. After the Court took jurisdiction over Guantanamo, the Pentagon established its own “judicial” system to try terrorist suspects. I place the word “judicial” in quotation marks because it really isn’t a judicial system in the way that we think of judicial systems here in the United States. The Pentagon’s “judicial” system more closely resembles the “judicial” system that the communist regime in Cuba employs than the judicial system that exists here in the United States.

For example, trial is by military commission rather than trial by jury. Evidence acquired by torture is admissible. The accused is presumed guilty and can be tortured into making admissions and confessions. Hearsay evidence is admissible. Lawyer-client conversations can be monitored by military authorities, a grave breach of the attorney-client privilege that is recognized here in the United States. There is obviously no right to a speedy trial. In fact, the entire “trial,” when it finally is permitted, is nothing more than what is called a “show trial” in communist countries. That’s because a guilty verdict is preordained but is made to look like it has been arrived at fairly and justly.

There is one big thing to note about the Pentagon’s “judicial” system at Gitmo: There is nothing in the Constitution that permits the Pentagon to establish and operate such a “judicial” system. The Constitution, which is meant to control the entire federal government, establishes one and only one judicial system to try terrorist suspects and other people accused of federal crimes. That system is the U.S. federal court system that the Constitution authorized the federal government to establish when the federal government was initially called into existence.

Thus, when the Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over Guantanamo, it had the legal duty to immediately declare the Pentagon’s “judicial” system in Cuba unconstitutional. After all, if a local sheriff or the DEA established a new independent “judicial” system to try drug-war violators, federal judges wouldn’t hesitate to declare it illegal under our form of government. But this is the Pentagon that we are dealing with. The Supreme Court knows that the Pentagon will permit the judicial branch to go only so far when it comes to interfering with its operations.

In 1961, President Eisenhower issued a stark warning to the American people. He said that the military-industrial complex, which, as he pointed out, was a relatively new feature in American life, posed a grave threat to the freedom and democratic processes of the American people. The Pentagon’s prison camp, torture center, and “judicial” system at Guantanamo Bay confirms how right Eisenhower was.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

The Supreme Court’s Deference to the Pentagon

undefined

Imagine a county sheriff that took a suspected drug-law violator into custody more than 10 years ago. Since then, the man has been held in jail without being accorded a trial. The district attorney and the sheriff promise to give the man a trial sometime in the future but they’re just not sure when. Meanwhile the man sits in jail indefinitely just waiting for his trial to begin.

Difficult to imagine, right? That’s because most everyone would assume that a judge would never permit such a thing to happen. The man’s lawyer would file a petition for writ of habeas corpus. A judge would order the sheriff to produce the prisoner and show cause why the prisoner shouldn’t immediately be released from custody. At the habeas corpus hearing, the judge would either order the release of the prisoner based on the violation of his right to a speedy trial or he would order the state to either try him or release him.

The same principle would apply on the federal level to, say, DEA agents who had been holding some suspected drug lord in jail for ten years without according him a trial. A federal judge would proceed to handle a petition for habeas corpus in the same manner that the state judge would. It is a virtual certainty that the federal judge would either order the prisoner’s release or order the DEA to “try him or release him.”

In either case, the judicial branch’s order would be supreme over the sheriff and the DEA. They would be expected to comply with the judge’s order. If they refused to do so, the judge would cite the sheriff or DEA officials with contempt and order them incarcerated until they complied with his order. The contempt order would be carried out by state law-enforcement personnel or by deputy US Marshals.

Not so, however, with the national-security establishment, specifically the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. As Michael Glennon, professor of law at Tufts University, points out in his book National Security and Double Government, the national-security establishment has become the most powerful part of the federal government, one to which the judicial branch (as well as the other two branches) inevitably defers in matters that are critically important to the Pentagon, the CIA, or the NSA.

An excellent example of this phenomenon is the Pentagon’s prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. When the Pentagon initially established Gitmo as a prison camp after the 9/11 attacks, it did so with the intent that it would be totally independent of any interference or control by the federal judiciary. That’s why it chose Cuba for the location of its prison — so that it could argue that the US Constitution did not apply and the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to interfere with its operations. (It was an ironic position given the oath that all military personnel take to support and defend the Constitution.)

Maintaining the veneer of control, however, the Supreme Court ultimately held that it did in fact have jurisdiction over Guantanamo. But as a practical matter, the Court deferred to the ultimate power of the Pentagon, as manifested by the fact that there are prisoners at Guantanamo who have been incarcerated for more than a decade without being accorded a trial.

In other words, what the judiciary would never permit to happen under a local sheriff or the DEA has been permitted to happen under the Pentagon. That’s because the judiciary knows that given the overwhelming power of the Pentagon (and the CIA and NSA), there is no way that some federal judge would be able to enforce a contempt order with some deputy US Marshals confronting, say, the 82nd Airborne Division.

Sure, the federal judiciary has issued habeas corpus releases on some prisoners at Guantanamo and the Pentagon has consented to complying with them. But that’s all just for appearance sake, to maintain the veneer that everything is operating “normally.” Federal judges know that whenever the Pentagon says “No more,” that’s the way it’s going to be.

How do we know this? How do we know that the Pentagon, not the federal judiciary, is ultimately in charge and that when push comes to shove the judiciary will defer to the power of the military? We know it by virtue of the fact that there are some prisoners at Guantanamo who have been incarcerated for more than a decade without being accorded a trial. We know that judges would never permit that sort of thing to happen with a sheriff or the DEA.

There is another way we can recognize the supreme power of the Pentagon vis a vis the Supreme Court. After the Court took jurisdiction over Guantanamo, the Pentagon established its own “judicial” system to try terrorist suspects. I place the word “judicial” in quotation marks because it really isn’t a judicial system in the way that we think of judicial systems here in the United States. The Pentagon’s “judicial” system more closely resembles the “judicial” system that the communist regime in Cuba employs than the judicial system that exists here in the United States.

For example, trial is by military commission rather than trial by jury. Evidence acquired by torture is admissible. The accused is presumed guilty and can be tortured into making admissions and confessions. Hearsay evidence is admissible. Lawyer-client conversations can be monitored by military authorities, a grave breach of the attorney-client privilege that is recognized here in the United States. There is obviously no right to a speedy trial. In fact, the entire “trial,” when it finally is permitted, is nothing more than what is called a “show trial” in communist countries. That’s because a guilty verdict is preordained but is made to look like it has been arrived at fairly and justly.

There is one big thing to note about the Pentagon’s “judicial” system at Gitmo: There is nothing in the Constitution that permits the Pentagon to establish and operate such a “judicial” system. The Constitution, which is meant to control the entire federal government, establishes one and only one judicial system to try terrorist suspects and other people accused of federal crimes. That system is the U.S. federal court system that the Constitution authorized the federal government to establish when the federal government was initially called into existence.

Thus, when the Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over Guantanamo, it had the legal duty to immediately declare the Pentagon’s “judicial” system in Cuba unconstitutional. After all, if a local sheriff or the DEA established a new independent “judicial” system to try drug-war violators, federal judges wouldn’t hesitate to declare it illegal under our form of government. But this is the Pentagon that we are dealing with. The Supreme Court knows that the Pentagon will permit the judicial branch to go only so far when it comes to interfering with its operations.

In 1961, President Eisenhower issued a stark warning to the American people. He said that the military-industrial complex, which, as he pointed out, was a relatively new feature in American life, posed a grave threat to the freedom and democratic processes of the American people. The Pentagon’s prison camp, torture center, and “judicial” system at Guantanamo Bay confirms how right Eisenhower was.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

Borneo: Not Just Nature, But Also Great Ancient Culture Has Been Destroyed

Would you ever think of the third largest island on Earth – Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia) – as one of the cradles of the world’s democracy? Perhaps you wouldn’t, but you should.

This is how Kalimantan used to be

While Europe was engaged in myriads of internal as well as expansionist wars, in the once lush, tropical Borneo, people who belonged to the ancient local cultures, used to decide things communally, by consensus, or should we use the Western term, “democratically”. Judged by today’s standards, they were also living the lives of determined ‘environmentalists’, showing great respect for the nature around them – for all living creatures, plants, deep forests, wide rivers as well as humble creeks.

True, local people – Dayaks – were often marked as “headhunters”, at least by the European Orientalists. But that was only one of many features of their culture. Dayaks spoke at least 170 languages and dialects, enjoying complex fabric of cultures, customs and laws.

The bottom line is: in many ways and for many centuries, traditional Dayaks were able to co-exist perfectly well with their island and with the surrounding environment.

If left alone, that is what they would still be doing now – living their own lives, in their own place, and most likely, living well.

Unfortunately, that was not meant to be.

Borneo was attacked, colonized and devastated by European invaders. For a short period, the Japanese occupied the island, and then the Europeans came back again, before “independence” saw the island divided between three sovereign countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.

Things did not get much better. The brutality – almost madness – of the Indonesian plunder which took place after the 1965 Western-orchestrated military coup (backed by foreign mining and logging interests); the plunder of the natural resources of Kalimantan, has been legendary. For Jakarta and for its foreign handlers, the so-called transmigration made looting much easier, while turning local people into a minority and into serfs on their own land.

Dayak culture is now only truly ‘alive and well’ in a few untouched pockets in the deep interior.

There, people still remember and know how Borneo used to be. They also understand what should and could be done in order to save it. But no one seems to be willing to learn from them, or even to listen.

*****

The longest longhouse in the world, deep in the rainforest

Travelling through the so-called Heart of Borneo (HOB) is not easy. But it is possible, and while collecting footage for our documentary films and for the book, we managed to visit, in May 2018, several remote communities located between the Indonesian city of Putussibau, and the border with Malaysia.

Putussibau lies on the shores of the mighty Kapuas River – on its upper stream. Unlike other major cities in Indonesian Kalimantan, it is still mainly surrounded by untouched primary forests, as it lies inside the protected areas.

After the almost absolute devastation of Kalimantan that we have been witnessing in western and southern parts of the island for months, the HOB appeared to be remarkably pristine.

Dayak people surrounded by their environment

The inhabitants of various traditional ‘longhouses’ located tens of kilometers outside the city appeared to be very well-informed about the present state of Borneo, and even willing to fearlessly comment on the situation. They were also knowledgeable about the history and traditional cultures of their geographical area, and of the island in general.

Paulus Tulung Daun, a longhouse chief

Borneo native, Paulus Tulung Daun, an old Dayak man who is the head of a traditional longhouse, explained:

We, especially the Dayak Taman (the name of one Dayak sub-ethnic community living in  the interior of Borneo), have wisdom and traditions from our ancestors. We know how to live in harmony with the nature. That’s why here we don’t destroy the environment. Without nature, there is no life. We teach our young people, to keep this essential value in their daily existence, and we tell our children not to be easily influenced by the immigrants from other part of the country and from abroad; from those who are coming here and keep devastating Kalimantan.

We will also continue to live in this longhouse because we believe that there is wisdom in living in a longhouse, compared to conventional houses. Here we live in harmony with the entire community; we help each other and share our possessions. All important decisions are made after the consultations with the members of our community.

Palm oil companies came to us on many occasions, offering to buy our lands, but we always refuse because we know that palm oil would bring harm to the nature and to our lives. In other places, I think people are lured by money and promises from the companies, so they sell all they have, and as a result lose their forest.

A younger man, Hendri, joins the conversation. He is very enthusiastic; dreaming about working in the health sector and improving the lives of his community. It is soon clear that both generations are on a very similar wave:

Selling land to the businesses is not a good idea. First, there is never a clear MoU between the companies/government and the local people, so we do not trust them.

Second, the palm oil could maybe bring some benefits, but only for the short-term period. But what about our future generations? We don’t want our water to be contaminated, we don’t want to lose our forests – to rob our children and grandchildren of their future.

“What about the gold mining?” We ask. It is clear than in other parts of Kalimantan, the ‘illegal’ (although in reality fully protected and even sponsored by the government, police and the military) extraction of gold from the rivers and shores has already poisoned entire communities and waterways with mercury and other highly toxic substances.

Hendri (known only by his first name) does not hesitate:

We do not allow any gold mining here. In this traditional area, even when people cut down one single tree, without the permission of our leader, we will punish them using our customary law. So, we do not allow gold mining here at all, because we know how bad the devastation caused by the gold mining can get.

We want to know about the “democratic principles” that have been governing the local communities and dwellings (like longhouses) for decades and centuries.

Yes, in a way we live our own form of democracy, for many years and decades. But for us, it is just a natural form of life.

*****

Democracy. ‘Rule of the people’ in Greek. It is officially promoted by the West, but in reality, it disappears, is immediately blocked from being practiced in the places that are conquered and colonized by the Europeans and their offspring.

In Borneo, there was the LanFang Republic (Chinese: 蘭芳共和國).

According to the Lan Fang Chronicles (a multi-faceted project inspired by the histories and investigations of the 18th century Lan Fang Republic, which was founded by Hakka Chinese in West Borneo):

The Lan Fang Republic was the first democratic republic in South East Asia, set up by the Hakka Chinese in West Borneo. Founded by Luo Fang Bo in 1777, the Republic existed for 107 years with 10 presidents until its reigns came to an end with the Dutch Occupation in 1884.The Chinese first came to Borneo as gold miners and formed various clans grouped by the area of their origins. Originally known as Lan Fang Kongsi (Company), Luo Fang Bo united all the Hakkas in the area to form the Lan Fang Republic.

After the Dutch invasion, the descendants fled across the region to Sumatra, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Many scholars believe that one of the descendants later became the founding father of Singapore. While the Hakkas are a minority in Singapore, it is the Hakkas who played an important part in the establishment of Singapore as a cosmopolitan city-state today.

As quoted by various sources, including (Sarawak Museum Journal, Volume 19” 1971):

As Dutch imperialism encroached upon modern-day Indonesia, Luo established the Lanfang Republic in 1777 (with its capital in East Wanjin) to protect the Chinese settlers from Dutch oppression… The settlers subsequently elected Luo as their inaugural president. Luo implemented many democratic principles, including the idea that all matters of state must involve the consultation of the republic’s citizenry. He also created a comprehensive set of executive, legislative, and judicial agencies. The Republic did not have a standing military but had a defense ministry that administered a national militia based on conscription…

While I discussed this impressive republic, in Nagasaki, Japan, with a leading Australian historian Geoffrey Gunn, he expressed great admiration for its achievements: “Yes, it was enormously advanced. Not only politically, but also technologically – in terms of hydraulics, building dykes…”

Prof. Mira Sophia Lubis, a native of Kalimantan, who has been researching the island for many years, explained:

In Jakarta and elsewhere, many people believe that the inhabitants of Kalimantan are too simple, lacking knowledge and intellectualism. But let’s face what really happened here: the great and progressive Lanfang Republic was destroyed by the Dutch colonialists. The Japanese then murdered almost all educated people in West Kalimantan, many of whom were of Chinese descent. And then, in many ways, Kalimantan has been marginalized by the government in Jakarta, especially during Suharto era.

*****

We drove with Mr. Hendri all the way to Ensanak Village, some 200 kilometers from Putussibau. There, again, oil palm plantations are covering enormous sprawls of land. “Protected areas” are far away from here. As everywhere else in the Indonesian Kalimantan, the creeks passing through these plantations are dark red or black from the carcinogenic chemicals that are used by the companies.

Near Malaysian border, total destruction

Mr. Hendri wanted us to talk to his relative, Mr. Mawan, who used to be a true firebrand activist, fighting against the oil palm plantations. He even used to block the company trucks and to initiate legal cases on behalf of the local communities.

But after the long and arduous journey, Mr. Mawan was unwilling to speak about the terrible ordeal of the local people.

His tiny village was fully encircled by the plantations. There was no tiniest piece of pristine land left, in a radius of tens of kilometers. Yet he spoke about the benefits of the oil palm plantations, not about their devastating effects on the people.

“They bought him!”, shouted Hendri in the car, on the way back. “They keep buying our people.”

Back in Bali Gundi longhouse, chief Paulus Tulung Daun floated his important theory:

People who go to schools in Indonesia, they think they are getting smarter, but, in fact, they end up working for the government and private companies, and they do nothing to help their villages and hometowns. As long as they get money they do not care anymore. In brief: The more “educated” people are, here, the more they support corporations. They return from schools and begin promoting destructive activities. Political system here, too – is clearly destructive.

*****

Putussibau may be in a somehow better state than other provincial cities of Kalimantan, such as Sintang (a city badly devastated by nearby gold mining). But even here, the situation for the local people is pitiful. The collapsing giant – Indonesia – is still somehow surviving because of the unbridled extraction of natural resources from Papua, Sumatra and Kalimantan, but it gives very little (or close to nothing) back to the people inhabiting these islands.

According to Greenpeace:

Indonesia’s rainforests are a biodiversity hotspot, rich in endemic species, and vital in regulating the Earth’s climate. But these forests are being torn down for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations – making Indonesia the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter and threatening endangered species such as orang-utans with extinction.

Indonesia is now the largest producer of palm oil in the world (over 21 million tons), Malaysia being close second. This business generates incomes of tens of billions of dollars. Yet the native population in Indonesian Kalimantan remains dirt-poor.

In the evening, before leaving Patussibau, we crossed the river from the city center, to the area which was recently devastated by a landslide – Kedamin.

There we saw a parcel of land which literally broke in half, one part remained standing on the hill, while the other one collapsed and fell down to the river. The house was gone. There were only some debris left.

The owners of the house – a man and his wife Yeni – were sitting on a makeshift bench shaded by what was left of a tarpaulin roof.

A couple that lost the house in Patussibau

Dispassionately first, they recounted what happened to them two weeks ago:

The water of Kapuas River kept rising and it was moving with great speed. Suddenly it hit our house, at 3 am. Land facing the bank of the river suddenly cracked and fell down. Part of the house – the kitchen and the dining room – disappeared in the troubled waters. The remaining part of the house was reduced to rubble.

At one point, the woman began to cry. Now she and her family have to rely on the help of neighbors and relatives. One of the neighbors had offered them a temporary shelter.

As always in such situations, the government did close to zero. It did not asses the danger before the tragedy occurred, it did nothing to reinforce the shore. After the family became homeless, it only offered one-time ‘relief’ – a blanket!

Local people can count on nothing. There is no place they can turn to when they need help. Everything has been taken away from Kalimantan, but nothing is being given back, with the exception of some “infrastructure” – meaning roads, which are built in order to facilitate even the greater extraction of the natural resources.

Not far from where Ms. Yeni was sitting, a man was defecating into the water, crouching on the jetty behind his house. A few meters down the stream, someone was washing clothes, and then bathing.

Clearly, in the cities, not much is left of the former glory of Borneo, and of the deep and proud Dayak culture!

*****

Had it not been attacked, colonized and enslaved by the Dutch, British and Japanese invaders, had it not later been taken over by tremendous greed and Machiavellian politics streaming from Java, the island of Borneo would have most likely developed into one of the most traditional and at the same time, prosperous parts of the Southeast Asia.

Here, when left alone, both Dayak and Chinese people were co-existing peacefully. Both cultures had their own, democratic ways of governing. Both respected the nature. But both were too weak to fight the superior weapons and unbridled greed of the invaders. They were defeated, humiliated and forced into submission.

We know what followed. It is clearly visible all over the island: almost everything is burned, mined out and destroyed. The misery in which the people are forced to live, is appalling.

In the old longhouses, deep inside the forest, people still resist, by living their lives as they did before the occupation.

Inside those splendid longhouses, can be found the secrets of Borneo, as well as the answers to those countless questions, including the most burning of all: “why the disaster has taken place”.

There, in the minds and hearts of the local people – those people who are still able to resist the mainstream ‘education’ imposed from Jakarta and from abroad – may also lie solutions, the way forward and the salvation for this once most beautiful island on Earth.

• Photos by Andre Vltchek and Mira Lubis

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Venezuela: Towards an Economy of Resistance

The Government of Venezuela called an international Presidential Economic Advisory Commission, 14-16 June, 2018 to debate the current foreign injected economic disturbances and seeking solutions to overcome them. I was privileged and honored to be part of this commission. Venezuela is literally being strangled by economic sanctions, by infiltrated elements of unrest, foreign trained opposition leaders, trained to disrupt distribution of food, pharmaceutical and medical equipment. Much of the training and disturbance in the country is financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an “NGO” that receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department to “spread democracy” and provoke “regime change” around the world, by boycotting and undermining the democratic processes of sovereign nations that refuse to bend under the yoke of the empire and its ‘allies’ — meaning vassals, afraid to stand up for inherent human values, and instead dance spinelessly to the tune of the murderous North American regime and its handlers.

Imagine, Venezuela has by far the world’s largest known reserves in hydrocarbon under her territory. more than 300 billion barrels of petrol, vs. 266 billion barrels, the second largest, of Saudi Arabia. Venezuela is a neighbor, just across the Caribbean, of the United States’ arsenal of refineries in Texas. It takes about 3 to 4 days shipping time from Venezuela to the Texan refineries, as compared to 40-45 days from the Gulf States, from where the US imports about 60% of its oil to be shipped through the high-risk Iran controlled Strait of Hormuz. And on top of this, Venezuela, is a socialist country defending the rights of the working class, fostering solidarity, human rights and sheer human values, so close to the borders of an abject neoliberal and increasing militarized greed-driven dictatorship, pretending untouchable ‘exceptionalism’. Daring to stand up against the threats of boots and bombs from the North, is simply intolerable for Washington.

A real foreign imposed economic crisis is in full swing. Venezuela’s black money market is manipulated by Twitter mainly from Miami and occasionally corrected from Colombia, depending on the availability from Venezuela stolen contraband, offered to better-off cross-border customers. This is missing merchandise on Venezuela’s supermarket shelves. It’s imported merchandise – mostly food and medical supplies – fully paid by the government. This has nothing to do with Venezuela being broke and unable of paying for needed imports. The media which propagate such slander are criminal liars, typical for western “journalism”. It is merchandise stolen, captured at the ports of entry by US trained gangs and deviated as smuggle-ware mostly to Colombia, the new NATO country. The scheme is a carbon copy of what happened in 1973 in Chile, orchestrated by the CIA to bring the Allende Government to fall. People have a short memory – or they like to forget – to keep implementing their disastrous neoliberal agenda.

The big difference though is that Chile’s socialist government was then barely 3 years old, whereas Hugo Chavez, who brought and solidified socialism to Venezuela, was elected in 1998, some 20 years ago. Chavismo has survived relentless attacks, including the Washington induced failed coup on 11 April 2002. A month ago, on 20 May 2018, Presinet Nicolas Maduro was overwhelmingly re-elected with 68% – with a solid block of 6 million Venezuelans, who withstood constant attacks, physical violence, foreign induced slander propaganda, empty supermarket shelves, at times sky-rocketing inflation. But this solid socialism is a basis the empire cannot so easily sway its way.

However, Venezuela is in a State of Emergency. A State of Emergency, exacerbated by NATO newly stationed on 7 US military bases throughout Colombia, and by a 2,200 km border with Venezuela, of which about 1,500 km is a porous jungle, difficult to control. Accordingly, State of Emergency measures ought to be taken. Fast. Among them: de-dollarization of Venezuela’s economy, diversification of imports and an ardent strive towards food autonomy, as well as import-substituting industrial, pharmaceutical and medical production. Today, Venezuela imports about 70% of her food, though the country has the capacity, arable land and human resources-wise, to become self-sufficient.

As Mr. Putin said already two years ago, the sanctions were the best thing that happened to Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. It forced the new Russia to reorganize her agricultural sector, as well as to rebuilding her defunct industrial arsenal and become a scientific vanguard, all of which has happened since 2000 under the leadership of President Putin. For the last three years, Russia has been the world’s largest wheat exporter and has one of the world’s most modern industrial parks, and cutting edge scientific learning and development institutions.

Venezuela has similar potentials. Venezuela also has solid allies in Russia, China and Iran – and indeed in the entire Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an association of currently 8 members, including China, Russia and India, comprising close to half the globe’s population with one-third of the global GDP. Venezuela has already started decoupling from the dollar, by launching the world’s first government owned and controlled cryptocurrency, the hydrocarbon and mineral backed Petro which has already been accepted internationally — foremost by China, Russia, Turkey and the Eurozone.

Despite the Yankee boot on her neck, Venezuela has demonstrated the audacity to launch a dollar-independent incorruptible cryptocurrency that is slated to become a new world reserve currency, especially as other countries are having similar plans; i.e., Iran, Russia, China, India, to name just a few, and as the dollar is rapidly losing ground as the world’s major reserve asset. In the last 20 years the dollar has lost from a worldwide 90% reserve-security to less than 60% today, a trend that continues, especially as hydrocarbon trade is increasingly detached from the dollar and carried out in local currencies, gold-convertible Chinese yuan, rubles and now also the Venezuelan Petro.

This is a heavy blow to the dollar. Though, it isn’t enough. As long as the dollar is still a major player in Venezuela’s economy, the battle and related hardship goes on. Radical measures are in order. This is all the more difficult, since Venezuela, like Russia, Iran and most other non-obedient countries, are heavily infested with disastrous and destructive Fifth Column elements which are primarily controlling or manipulating the financial sectors. But the east is full with successful examples on how to detach from the fraud and greed-driven western monetary system. It is a simple model of “Resistance Economy” — local production for local markets with local money through local public banks that work for the local economy. China followed this example until she reached food- health- education and shelter self-sufficiency around the mid-1980s, when Beijing started opening up to the world, including the west, but with primary trade focus on ‘friendly’ nations. The Russian example is mentioned above, and Iran is now following her own track of “Resistance Economy”.

An Economy of Resistance is also applicable for Venezuela. It is a matter of urgency and a question of political will and perseverance. President Maduro, his Cabinet, as well as the solid and broad-based socialism in solidarity of over 6 million citizens will prevail.

Is This the Real Culture War? Art Movements and the People’s Movement

Introduction

Ever since the achievements of Renaissance humanism with the triumph of art over nature, with the development of new artistic techniques (the optics of perspective, the structure of anatomy, the mixing of pigments, and the development of movement) art was strengthened and, combined with the scientific explorations and achievements of the Enlightenment, led to the idea that Man could become stronger and better and hold an optimistic view of the future. He could improve his well-being and even take control of nature to create a better life for all.  This view continued through the decades and was associated with social revolutions and political activity which connected progressive ideas about society to artistic forms of expression which would illustrate and advance the hopes and desires of the masses for a better life and future. These artistic movements changed and developed from the Enlightenment to Realism to Social Realism and then to Socialist Realism as artists both inspired and reflected the people’s progressive movements the world over.

However, at every juncture, oppositional movements also stepped in and opposed progressive change and revolution by the people; from the Romantic movement in Revolutionary France to the Modernist movement to Postmodernism and now Metamodernism. These movements have derided every aspect of the progressive forces, from the quietist “l’art pour l’art” of Romanticism to the attack on artistic form by Modernism, to the later attack on ideological content by Postmodernism and now the ‘oscillation’ between the two (form and content) of Metamodernism, a movement caught between self-obsession and the pressing desire of the masses for ideas and culture that will deal with climate change, financial crises, terror attacks and the neo-liberal squeeze on the social welfare system.

These two movements, Romanticism and the Enlightenment, have their basis in attitudes towards and beliefs in the efficacy of the burgeoning scientific movement. Romanticism, beginning in the 1770s, formed the basis of an anti-scientific strand in culture over the last two hundred years while the Enlightenment formed the basis of a scientific strand roughly between between 1715 and 1789. Both strands have been in opposition ever since, their ideas reflected through various cultural movements which sprang up in different countries and at different times, some revolutionary and some reactionary.

Let’s take a look at these two opposing strands in more detail.

The Anti-Scientific Strand

Romanticism

One of the most important movements is Romanticism particularly as it still has a strong anti-science influence today. Romanticism
was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism and glorified the past and nature, putting emphasis on the medieval rather than the classical traditions of ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order.  The Romantics rejected the norms of the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific rationalization of nature which were important aspects of modernity. Isaiah Berlin believed that the Romantics opposed classic traditions of rationality and its basis in moral absolutes and agreed values which led “to something like the melting away of the very notion of objective truth”.

Objective truth and reason were elevated by the artists and philosophers of the Enlightenment to understand the universe and solve the pressing problems of the world. However, Romanticism promoted the individual imagination as a critical authority allowed of freedom from classical notions of form in art (harmony, symmetry, and order). Romantics were distrustful of the human world, and tended to strive for a close connection with nature to escape elements of modernity such as urbanisation, industrialisation and population growth and therefore allowed them to avoid questions centred around the working class, such as alienation, the ownership of the means of production, living conditions and conditions of employment. The Romantics pursued the idea of “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake) believing that art did not need moral justification and could be morally neutral.

According to Arnold Hauser in The Social History of Art:

Revolutionary France quite ingeniously enlists the services of art to assist her in this struggle; the nineteenth century is the first to conceive the idea of “l’art pour l’art” which forbids such a practice. The principle of “pure”, absolutely “useless” art first results from the opposition of the romantic movement to the revolutionary period as a whole, and the demand that the artists should be passive derives from the ruling class’s fear of losing its influence on art.1

This position originated with the elites in the nineteenth century and still serves the same function, Romanticism being the main influence of culture today.

Modernism

By the  beginning  of  the  20th  century, the  Modernist  movement was generally referred to as the “avant-garde” until the word “Modernism” became more popular. Modernism was the rejection of tradition, and the creation of new forms using reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision  and  parody. The Modernist ‘rejection of tradition’, like with Romanticism, is the rejection of classical notions of form in art (harmony, symmetry, and order). Modernism (like Romanticism) also rejected the  certainty  of  Enlightenment thinking.  Modernism emphasised form over political content and rejected the ideology of Realism and Enlightenment thinking on liberty and progress.

The Realist movement began in the mid-19th century as a reaction to Romanticism, and Modernism was a revolt against the ‘traditional’ values of Realism. Realist painters used common laborers, and ordinary people in ordinary surroundings engaged in real activities as subjects for their works. However, Modernism rejected traditional forms which over time became less and less ´real´ and more abstract and conceptualised.

The Great War brought about more disillusionment with Enlightenment ideals of progress among the Modernists who turned inwards and attacked art forms, instead of war-mongering capitalism. The Romantic continuity in Modernism produced individual, horrified reactions but were ultimately no threat to the ruling elites. Like an angry child smashing his own toys, the Modernist attacked his particular cultural forms and then expected the public to pick up the pieces. What was left was atonalism and abandonment of traditional rhythmic strictures in music, the departure from traditional realist styles in art and the prioritisation of the individual and the interior mind and abandonment of the fixed point of view in literature. The Dada movement, for example, was developed in reaction to the Great War by ‘avant-garde’ artists who rejected the logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society but then only to respond with nonsense and irrationality in their art works.

As for the Great War, the avant-garde and Modernism – like the Romantic movement and the French Revolution – failed the masses again as it stood outside the people’s movement, turning in on itself and attacking reason instead of uniting with the progressive forces against war. In the end it was mainly the political movements of James Connolly in Ireland and V.I. Lenin in Russia (the two geographical ends of Europe) who organised the working classes against the war and destruction.

David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), the revolutionary artist and founder of the Mexican Mural Movement, had this to say about the Modernist ‘avant-garde’:

If we look closely at their work it is the most reactionary movement in the history of culture. It has not developed anything new in composition or perspective and has lost much of that which has been accumulated over twenty centuries. It is based on the hysteria of novelty for the sake of novelty, in order to satisfy a parasitic plutocracy. The artist who changes his style every 24 hours is the best-known artist. When he has exhausted all the solutions, the others become his followers and sink into repetitious imitation.2

The allusion here presumably to Picasso (1881–1973), famous for changing his style many times, is interesting in relation to Joaquín Sorolla (1863–1923) the great Spanish artist whose depictions of ordinary Spanish people in monumental works of social and historical themes was overshadowed by Picasso until relatively recently. Cubism, credited to Picasso as its inventor, was an art style that conflicted with the representational system in art that had prevailed since the Renaissance, as the subject was depicted from differing viewpoints at the same time within the same painting.

Many pseudo-scientific explanations were given to explain Cubism regarding art in modern society, new scientific developments etc. but even Picasso himself ridiculed this: “Mathematics, trigonometry, chemistry, psychoanalysis, music and whatnot, have been related to cubism to give it an easier interpretation. All this has been pure literature, not to say nonsense, which brought bad results, blinding people with theories”.3 Indeed, Cubism is probably the most parodied of all forms of Modernist art.

Other Modernist forms such as Expressionism have been seen to be at least critical of capitalism and war, but according to Lotte H. Eisner who quotes a ‘fervent theorist of this style’, Kasimir Edschmid: “The Expressionist does not see, he has ‘visions’. According to Edschmid. “the chain of facts: factories, houses, illness, prostitutes, screams, hunger’ does not exist; only the interior vision they provoke exists.” [p. 10] Therefore, the external reality of life and death for the working class is ignored for the ecstasy of ‘interior visions’.

For Eisner, writing in The Haunted Screen, German Expressionist cinema is a visual manifestation of Romantic ideals. She writes:

Poverty and constant insecurity help to explain the enthusiasm with which German artists embraced this movement [Expressionism] which, as early as 1910, had tended to sweep aside all the principles which had formed the basis of art until then. [pp. 9-10]

Richard Murphy also notes: “one of the central means by which expressionism identifies itself as an avant-garde movement, and by which it marks its distance to traditions and the cultural institution as a whole is through its relationship to realism and the dominant conventions of representation.”3 Expressionists rejected the ideology of realism, and Expressionist art, in common with Romanticism, reacted to the dehumanizing effect of industrialization and the growth of cities with extreme individualism and emotionalism, not collective social empathy and political change.

After the Great War and the Russian Revolution, in the 1920s and 1930s, the idea of depicting ordinary people in art spread to many countries in Realist and Social Realist forms especially as a reaction to the exaggerated ego encouraged by Romanticism. In the United States the Ashcan School was well known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York city’s poorer neighborhoods. However, the unsettling depictions of the darker side of capitalism by the Ashcan School was soon displaced with Modernism in the Armory Show of 1913 and the opening of more galleries in the 1910s who promoted the Modernist artwork of Cubists, Fauves, and Expressionists.

This takeover by Modernism in New York continued into the 1940s and 1950s with the development of Abstract Expressionism, an art form which was soon promoted globally as a counterweight to the Socialist Realism style developed in the Soviet Union, especially during the Cold War. The loose, splashing and dripping of paint in the work of Jackson Pollack became used as a symbol of the ideology of freedom and free enterprise in the United States. The victory of Modernism in the United States served two purposes: national and international. It dampened down the critical dissent of the Ashcan School while at the same time serving as a useful tool of foreign policy.

According to Frances Stonor Saunders in The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Abstract Expressionism was “Non-figurative and politically silent, it was the very antithesis to socialist realism. It was precisely the kind of art the Soviets loved to hate.”4 This was Modernism at its zenith as the wealthiest of art investors and the most influential art critics promoted Abstract Expressionism as “independent, self-reliant, a true expression of the national will, spirit and character.”4 However, the size of the confidence trick being perpetrated on the unsuspecting public became unsettling. According to Saunders:

It was this very stylistic conformity, prescribed by MoMA and the broader social contract of which it was a part, that brought Abstract Expressionism to the verge of kitsch. ‘It was like the emperor’s clothes,’ said Jason Epstein. ‘You parade it down the street and you say, “This is great art,” and the people along the parade route will agree with you. Who’s going to stand up to Clem Greenberg and later to the Rockefellers who were buying it for their bank lobbies and say, “This stuff is terrible”?5

The imposition of Modern Art on the public was also noted by the journalist, Tom Wolfe, who wrote about the 1960s and 1970s art scene in New York in The Painted Word:

The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in Modern Art, the notion that the public scorns, ignores, fails to comprehend, allows to wither, crushes the spirit of, or commits any other crime against Art or any individual artist is merely a romantic fiction, a bittersweet Trilby sentiment. The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened. […] We can now also begin to see that Modern Art enjoyed all the glories of the Consummation stage after the First World War not because it was “finally understood” or “finally appreciated” but rather because a few fashionable people discovered their own uses for it.6

It was also in the early 1970s that the Irish artist Seán Keating (1889–1977), a Realist painter who painted images of the Irish War of Independence, the early industrialization of Ireland and many portraits of the people of the Aran Islands, was brought face to face with Modernism. In a well-known televised interview, Keating, now in his 60s, was brought around the ROSC’71 exhibition and asked to give his opinion on the exhibits. As Eimear O’Connor writes: “When confronted by The Table, made by German artist Eva Aeppli (b.1925), Keating said it was ‘downright horrible perversity, nightmare stuff … an old lady who had gone completely mad and is dangerous … I think it is morose … vengeful against the human race…'”7 This baiting of a famous Irish humanist whose love of the Irish people and progress displayed the new confidence of the Irish elites who had jumped on the Modernist bandwagon as an symbol of fashionability and of final acceptance by the European elites who would allow Ireland to join the EEC (EU) in 1973.

Economic Pressure by Seán Keating (1949)
Scene of man bidding farewell to his family as he prepares to emigrate from Aran Islands.
(The Irish peasant betrayed: elevated as a national symbol before Independence yet ignored afterwards.)

Postmodernism

In the meantime, Postmodernism was gaining strength. Some features of Postmodernism in general can be found as early as the 1940s but it would compete with Modernism in the late 1950s and became predominant by the 1960s.

Postmodernism is defined as follows:

Postmodernism, also spelled post-modernism, in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Postmodernism as a philosophical movement is largely a reaction against the philosophical assumptions and values of the modern period of Western (specifically European) history—i.e., the period from about the time of the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries to the mid-20th century. Indeed, many of the doctrines characteristically associated with postmodernism can fairly be described as the straightforward denial of general philosophical viewpoints that were taken for granted during the 18th-century Enlightenment, though they were not unique to that period.

In other words, Postmodernism had a direct line of descent from Modernism and Romanticism before that. The same Romantic characteristics show up again – the suspicion of reason, subjectivism and denial of the ideas of the Enlightenment. Once again cynicism towards the idea of progress and working class improvement is the mainstay. Every technique and trick of avoidance of the important issues facing the people’s movement is used in Postmodernism: “common targets of postmodern critique include universalist notions of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, language, and social progress” and “postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, subjectivism, and irreverence.”

Postmodernist artists decided that past styles (once criticised for being ‘traditional’) were now usable in a parodic way along with appropriation and popular culture. The Postmodernist critique of universalist notions of objective reality and social progress, or the Grand Narratives, has particular implications for the working classes and popular political movements as their liberatory philosophy and ideologies are based on them – whatever their supposed successes or failures in the past. To take them away is to fall back on the neo-liberal philosophy of the end-of-history and more of the same globalised capitalism ad infinitum. After the attack on Form in Modernism, we now get an assault on Content in Postmodernism.

When applied to the people’s movement itself, such as the French Revolution, Postmodernist historiography, for example, all but wipes out its historic relevance and importance. As Richard J Evans writes in In Defence of History, Simon Schama’s book Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution over-emphasises the bloody and violent nature of the revolution as if the politically-conscious people taking their lives into their own hands were irrational beings exploding with an animal lust for violence. Evans comments:

In Citizens, indeed, the French Revolution of 1789-94 becomes almost meaningless in the larger sense, and is reduced to a kind of theatre of the absurd; the social and economic misery of the masses, an essential driving force behind their involvement in the revolutionary events, is barely mentioned; and the lasting significance of the Revolution’s many political theories and doctrines for modern European and world history more or less disappears.8

The more opaque forms of relativistic Postmodernist writing and thinking were exposed when Alan Sokal refused to get into line and exposed the French Postmodernists in a hoax essay published in Social Text in 1996. According to Francis Wheen in How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World:

As a socialist who had taught in Nicaragua after the Sandinista revolution, he [Sokal] felt doubly indignant that much of the new mystificatory folly emanated from the self-proclaimed left. For two centuries, progressives had championed science against obscurantism. The sudden lurch of academic humanists and social scientists towards epistemic relativism not only betrayed this heritage but jeopardised ‘the already fragile prospects for a progressive social critique’, since it was impossible to combat bogus ideas if all notions of truth and falsity ceased to have any validity.9

The obvious contradictions and cul-de-sacs of Postmodernism eventually brought it into decline and soon doors opened for a new obfuscatory philosophy to buttress increasingly crisis-ridden globalised capitalism – Metamodernism.

Metamodernism

According to Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker in ‘Notes on Metamodernism‘:

The postmodern years of plenty, pastiche, and parataxis are over. In fact, if we are to believe the many academics, critics, and pundits whose books and essays describe the decline and demise of the postmodern, they have been over for quite a while now. But if these commentators agree the postmodern condition has been abandoned, they appear less in accord as to what to make of the state it has been abandoned for. In this essay, we will outline the contours of this discourse by looking at recent developments in architecture, art, and film. We will call this discourse, oscillating between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, metamodernism. We argue that the metamodern is most clearly, yet not exclusively, expressed by the neoromantic turn of late.

So there you have it – this is the best that Metamodernism can offer – a return to Romanticism! We have now come full circle as “the metamodern is most clearly, yet not exclusively, expressed by the neoromantic turn of late”.

And where is this pressure coming from, to allow a little reality back into the arts?

Some argue the postmodern has been put to an abrupt end by material events like climate change, financial crises, terror attacks, and digital revolutions […] have necessitated a reform of the economic system (“un nouveau monde, un nouveau capitalisme”, but also the transition from a white collar to a green collar economy).

So the contemporary crises of capitalism and climate change are finally impinging on the disintegrating Postmodern artistic consciousness and the answer is reformism and ‘new capitalism’. However, Metamodernism is “Like a donkey it chases a carrot that it never manages to eat because the carrot is always just beyond its reach. But precisely because it never manages to eat the carrot, it never ends its chase”. With a little bit of progressive critique, the Metamodern artist can regain credibility without ever really challenging the status quo.

From all of the above we can see the common threads tying Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism and Metamodernism together: individualism, art for art’s sake, suspicion of reason, subjectivism and denial of the ideas of the Enlightenment. All individualist movements that oppose the idea of collectivist ideology and action. Movements that ultimately serve the status quo and the ruling elites. Yet some of these same elites were involved in the development of the concepts of the Enlightenment in the beginning. What happened to them?

Night’s Candles Are Burnt Out by Seán Keating (1927-28)

Ardnacrusha: Ireland’s first power-station built by Siemens post-independence in the 1920s, a hydro-electric dam built on the river Shannon, north of Limerick.
(Disillusioned Irish workers unemployed and drinking as the new elites begin the process of state-building.)

The Scientific Strand

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century. Enlightenment thinkers believed in the importance of  rationality and science. They believed that the natural world and even human behavior could be explained scientifically. They felt that they could use the scientific method to improve human society. For the artists and philosophers of the Enlightenment, the ideal life was one governed by reason. Artists and poets strove for ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order, valuing meticulous craftsmanship and the classical tradition. Among philosophers, truth was discovered by a combination of reason and empirical research.

In the field of political philosophy the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual, the natural equality of all men and the idea that legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on the consent of the people. Therefore the Enlightenment popularised the idea that with the use of reason and logic social development and progress would be the norm for the masses and science and technology would be the instruments of human progress. The ideas of the Enlightenment paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries as it undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church. The French Revolution became the first main conflict between the men of the Enlightenment and the aristocracy. Within the arts this conflict arose between those who believed that art had a role to play and those who believed in art-for art’s-sake. As Hauser notes:

It is only with the Revolution that art becomes a confession of political faith, and it is now emphasized for the first time that it has to be no “mere ornament on the social structure,” but “a part of its foundations.” It is now declared that art must not be an idle pastime, a mere tickling of the nerves, a privilege of the rich and the leisured, but it must teach and improve, spur on to action and set an example. It must be pure, true, inspired and inspiring, contribute to the happiness of the general public and become the possession of the whole nation.1

However, the rising bourgeoisie who advocated the ideas of the Enlightenment realised that their objectives and those of the revolutionary public were not the same:

Yet as soon as the bourgeoisie had achieved its aims, it left its former comrades in arms in the lurch and wanted to enjoy the fruits of the common victory alone. […] Hardly had the Revolution ended, than a boundless disillusion seized men’s souls and not a trace remained of the optimistic philosophy of the enlightenment.10

Thus began the conflict between the new rulers, the bourgeoisie, who wanted to set limits on progress, and the interests of the toiling masses who had not yet achieved one of the most basic concepts of Enlightenment philosophy: the natural equality of all men. This struggle for political and social freedom took different forms over the next century or so but had as one of its bases the idea that the arts would play a role.

Realism

As the bourgeoisie stepped up its development of capitalist society building factories and markets, the Realist movement reacted to Romanticist escapism in favor of depictions of ‘real’ life, emphasizing the mundane, ugly and sordid. The Realist artists used common laborers and ordinary people in their normal work environments as the main subjects for their paintings. Its chief exponents were Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Honoré Daumier, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Courbet hated the aristocracy and royalty, and advocated political and social change. He painted ordinary people and in sizes usually reserved for gods and heroes. Realist movements, like the Peredvizhniki or Wanderers group in Russia, developed in many other Western countries.

Social Realism

Meanwhile, as the the Industrial Revolution grew in Britain, concern for the factory workers led to a meeting between Marx and Engels and a major change in the ideology of the working class organisations seeking better conditions. While the Romantics believed that the Industrial Revolution and its exploitative extremes in the factories was the result of science, the Marxists instead questioned the ownership of the factories and who benefited from the greatly increased power of the new means of production, means that could benefit society as a whole. Therefore while the Romantics looked back to the medieval artisans and peasants, the Marxists saw science creating new possibilities for a better future for everybody.

Social Realism grew out of these changes as Social Realist artists drew attention to the everyday conditions of the working class and the poor and criticised the social structures which maintained these conditions. The Mexican and Russian revolutions gave a fillip to the Social Realist movement which reached its height of popularity during the 1920s and 1930s when capitalism was under severe pressure from the global economic depression. The Ashcan School in the USA and the Mexican muralist movement were two groups who exerted a huge influence at the time and many of the artists involved at the time were supporters of political working class movements. While contemporary Social Realism has been kept in the background it is still a popular style with progressive artists.

Socialist Realism

As nationalist struggles of the nineteenth century changed into socialist struggles during the twentieth century, the style and form of the art changed too as ordinary people were now depicted as subjects with dignity and power. This style became known as Socialist Realism. It was pronounced state policy at the Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934 in the Soviet Union and became a dominant style in other socialist countries. Like Social Realism, Socialist Realism also met with fierce denunciations and controversy. However, despite its caricature as a style that depicts people as naïve, happy, joyous ciphers, its originators condemned any attempt to portray people living in an idyllic paradise as the work of shallow artists who would never be taken seriously by the populace:

An artist who tried to represent the birth of socialism as an idyll, who tried to represent the socialist system, which is being born in hard-fought battles, as a paradise populated by ideal people – such an artist would not be a realist, would not be able to convince anyone by his works. The artist should show how socialism is built out of the bricks of the past, out of the material which the past has left us, out of the material which we ourselves create in the sweat of our brow, in the blood of our toil and struggle, in, the hard battles of classes and in the hard toil of man to remold himself.

Socialist Realism went into decline in the 1960s as the Soviet Union itself went from crisis to crisis until its end in 1991. Today it is a style which is still much criticised. Why is Socialist Realism such a taboo? Because Socialist Realism is a quadruple whammy – it contains four elements that elites don’t like:

1 Anything to do with the Soviet Union (then) or Russia (today);
2 Any depictions of the working class anywhere (which are not subservient);
3 Any discussion of socialism or socialist ideology (past, present or future); and,
4 Any realist depiction of opposition to capitalism (that could influence others).

If one looks at ‘history of Western art’ books it becomes apparent that there are very few positive images of the working class but plenty of images glorifying monarchs, aristocrats, the middle classes and Noble Peasants (the useful idiots of nationalism). Representations of peasants usually take the form of non-threatening genre paintings and any Socialist Realist art is excluded.

Irish Industrial Development (oil on wood panels) by Seán Keating (1961)
International Labour Offices (ILO) Geneva, Switzerland
(Positive images of Irish workers by Irish artist in Geneva – must be Socialist Realism!)

Conclusion

The fact is that Romanticism in its different forms has made sure to keep the working classes out of the picture and the only response of the people’s movements should be to keep Romanticist influences at arms length. Romanticism has become the capitalist art par excellence. Romanticism vacillates between cultures of despair and Nihilism. It is opposed to logic and reason and its extreme individualism ensures a divisive affect on any collectivist organisation. Romanticism pervades most mass culture today and sells egoism and impotence back to the very people who turn to it for solace from desperation.

The long conflict between Romanticism and Enlightenment ideas contained in art movements over the last two centuries is set to continue as new responses to the contemporary crises of capitalism try to ameliorate the situation or fundamentally change the system underpinning it. What is needed are new national debates on the role and function of art in maintaining or changing the structure of society. Debates similar to those described by an eyewitness to the Paris Commune, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, who wrote: “a whole population is discussing serious matters, and for the first time workers can be heard exchanging their views on problems which up until now have been broached only by philosophers.”11

  1. Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art,  Vol 3 (Vintage Books, 1958) p. 147.
  2. D. Anthony White, Siqueiros: Biography of a Revolutionary Artist (Booksurge.com, 2008) p. 413.
  3. Richard Murphy, Theorizing the Avant-Garde: Modernism, Expressionism, and the Problem of Postmodernity (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,1999) p. 43.
  4. Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press, 1999) p. 254.
  5. Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press, 1999) p. 275.
  6. Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word (Bantam Books, 1987) pp. 26/7.
  7. Eimear O’Connor and Virginia Teehan, Sean Keating: In Focus (Hunt Museum, 2009) p. 33.
  8. Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (Granta Books, 2000) p. 245.
  9. Francis Wheen, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World (Harper Perennial, 2004) pp. 89/90.
  10. Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art,  Vol 3 (Vintage Books, 1958) p. 157.
  11. Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, in Le Tribun du Peuple, May 10, 1871, quoted in Stewart Edwards, The Paris Commune 1871 (Quadrangle, 1977) p. 283.