Category Archives: Capitalism

My Response to the PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

The Civil War which ended in 1865, demolished slavery and emancipated four million human beings. What happened next in the South remains largely unknown to most Americans.  In a recent poll of high school graduates, only 20 percent had even heard of Reconstruction, in part because history classes about this period invariably end with the South’s surrender.

During the short Reconstruction period from 1865-1877, the Federal state was empowered to act on behalf of freed black men and poor whites.  Unprecedented changes followed, including new public hospitals, schools, aid to the poor and public programs offering a wide range of services that gave preference to the needs of those previously deprived of them.  The beginning of meaningful democracy was exemplified by new Federal courts, replacing state governments and well-attended state constitutional conventions to Black suffrage, ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1875, This mandate’s enforcement could rely on the full force and protection of Federal troops in five military zones.

Political power was prodigiously evident as blacks were elected to state governments (600), the U.S. Congress (14) and Senate (2), and as judges, sheriffs and countless lower offices in the former slave states. Organizations like the Union League and the Southern Farmer’s Alliance appeared across the South to encourage and advise alliances between ordinary blacks and whites that would liberate both from economic bondage.

It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that in 1865, African-Americans experienced exhilaration, pride and virtually limitless enthusiasm after two hundred and fifty years of enslavement. Paramount among these expectations was the prospect of owning one’s own land gained by the political power realized from the right to vote. If achieved, this would be the single most radical structural change in US. history.

This astonishing political revolution is effectively portrayed via commentary by dozens of  experts, interviews, documents and graphic, often heart rending visuals in the first two episodes of “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War,” a four-part series written and narrated by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS. It links to Gates’s book, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy and the Rise of Jim Crow, (New York: Penguin, 2019).  The series makes for compelling even compulsory viewing.  As Eric Foner, the dean of living writers about this period, concluded in a 2015 essay, “freedom, rights, democracy” were at the apex of Reconstruction. All remain vexing issues today.

I would also be remiss not to credit parts of the program (especially episode #3) for their compelling description of the means employed to totally eviscerate Reconstruction: pseudo-scientific racism, eugenics, elaborate mythologies about plantation life,” Sambo art” representation in novels, cartoons, and advertising, rape imagery, Blackface, and the infamous, incalculably detrimental film, J.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,” the Jim Crow system and, of course, the ubiquitous deployment of terroristic lynchings, massacres and the KKK.  It’s not cited in the series but according to the Smithsonian Magazine, some 53,000 thousand African-Americans were targeted for murder across the 11 former Confederate states.  Viewers will have to come to grips with the massacre of 250 African-American men, women and children in Opelousas, Louisiana in 1868.

Other topics receiving careful attention include: creative disenfranchisement maneuvers, the exploitation of enervating indebtedness attendant to new-slavery in the form of sharecropping (neo-slavery) and still another iteration, namely, convict-leasing. We also learn about the black resistance and its manifestation in literature, photography, music, success in higher education, self-sustaining communities, and the founding of the NAACP. I was especially taken with the courageous, indefatigable activism of Ida Tarbell and role of speaker, organizer and towering public intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois.

Critique:

In a preview to the PBS series, viewers are promised the full truth of about this “misrepresented and misunderstood” chapter of American history. In my opinion, this pledge was not entirely kept. The program’s viewers might be forgiven for gaining the impression that an “indifferent North” was a major factor in Reconstruction’s total overthrow. That Northerners — without specifying their class identity — eventually “grew tired” of the South’s seemingly intractable racial problems, withdrew Federal troops in 1877 and “tragically” allowed the South to restore white supremacy and re-subordinate the black labor force. For me, this serious glossing over what actually happened imposed limits on what lessons might be derived from Reconstruction and applied to our situation today.  If asked to suggest a fifth episode, I would add something like the following, beginning with three quotes:

Without slavery there would be cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry

— Karl Marx,1

The consolidation of capitalism in the US during the Reconstruction period required the radical curtailment of substantive popular power and democratic rights for the vast majority of producers… Put another way, the experience of Reconstruction provides yet another example of the incompatibility of substantive democratic power and capitalist class relations.

— Charlie Post,2

The American Civil War was fought over which type of slavery would exist in the United State; chattel slavery, as was practiced in the South, or wage slavery, as practiced in the North. These two economic systems were both subdivisions of Capitalist, or private ownership of the means of production. Theoretically, it is impossible for these two subsystems to coexist peacefully in an economy; so an ultimate conflict to determine the future of capitalist production was inevitable.

— Kent Allen Halliberton,3

I’ve included Marx’s quote because the program failed to devote sufficient attention to the fact that slavery and capitalism were deeply enmeshed and the former was indispensable to the nation’s economic development. Slaves produced the nation’s most valuable export and there wasn’t a close second, as Northern financiers, bankers and textile factory owners amassed fortunes from slavery.

For just one example, as historian Edward Baptist’s pioneering research demonstrated, in Lowell, Massachusetts, massive mills owned by a group called Boston Associates, “consumed 100,000 days of enslaved people’s labor every year” and this  resulted in enormous profits, investments for further expansion and lavish life styles. Further, owners of New England factories were profiting from shipping provisions like shoes, hoes, hats, nails and probably whips to South Carolina, Mississippi and Virginia.4

The North and the South were not discrete economies as commodities and capital flowed between them. As such, narratives about Reconstruction that neglect to portray slavery as a national institution and refer to it as a “Southern problem” are limited in their explanatory power.  Should we be surprised that the word “capitalism” isn’t listed in the index to Gates’s book and if memory serves, it also remained unmentioned in the series? Viewers might ponder the reason for this omission.

The inclusion of the other two quotes is a response to the oft-asked question, “What if Reconstruction had succeeded?” The point here is that the question suggests an outcome that was never an option.  In the early days of Reconstruction, the expectation of northern business interests had been that the post Reconstruction period would see chattel slavery replaced by wage slavery (euphemistically called “free labor”) to serve the rapidly growing needs of an industrializing nation. We see a paradox here in that Northern monied elites could righteously oppose slavery while retaining circumscribed notions of inequality (and racism) in a post-slavery world. Again, the parallels with today’s Democratic Party “We are all capitalists” hierarchy are transparent.

However, as historian Heather Cox Richardson explains, reactionary Southerners and liberal anti-slavery Northern elites eventually persuaded enough people that Reconstruction was in a sense, anathema to the American system. That, in fact, “an active government redistributes wealth from hardworking white people to lazy African-Americans.”5 Again, the resonance of this liberal posture with our last forty years of neoliberalism is impossible to ignore.

The Northern power elite gradually came to view Reconstruction as too ambitious, too dangerous, because it raised expectations, especially regarding land tenure and its implications for wealth redistribution. One episode in the series does mention that Union General William T. Sherman had confiscated some 400,000 acres of land to be allocated in roughly 40 acre plots. Under General Sherman’s famous special Field Order No.15 some few thousand newly emancipated black families were settled on land in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. Others are far more qualified to judge Sherman’s motives  but we can’t rule out the possibility that he only sought to temporarily pacify the recipients.  It’s a moot point because President Andrew Johnson, the southerner who succeeded Abraham Lincoln and hated African-Americans, quickly nullified the order and the land was returned to the wealthy plantation owners. Here we see the inherent constraints on a bourgeois revolution imposed from above rather than one emerging from a mass movement. In short, we see the critical difference between a political revolution and a socio-economic one, a scenario that would become all too familiar during the next century.

Union organizing and strikes in the North cast doubt on the convenient conviction that workers would be satisfied  with their new “free labor” status. What if they wanted to own the means of production? In any event, poor workers in the South could not be trusted with the vote because they were “fledging revolutionaries” and “given the chance, they would insist on wealth redistribution.” Northern elites, not Southerners, were firmly in control of national politics and their priority was to protect capital (property) from an aroused, potentially dangerous working class that was beginning to respond to worsening conditions.

The New York Tribune featured an interview with a prominent former slaveholder who opined “Only those who owned property should govern it, and men who had no property had no right to make laws for property holders.” The New York Times would echo this argument and when workers in Paris established a commune, its editors responded with disingenuous euphemisms not unknown in our day, “The great ‘middle class’ which now governs the world, will everywhere be terrified at these terrible outburst[s] and absurd[ities], they will hold a strong rein on the lower.” Even the liberal Nation magazine warned that changes in the South were making “socialism in America the dangerous deadly poison it is.”6 Note that the race card is held back.

WE.B. Du Bois knew that the “economic foundation” of the northern bourgeoisie would never allow them to follow through on Reconstruction. From that he drew the lesson that blacks and poor whites in the South must unite against the ruling class. He was to expand on this when categorizing the American worker into four sets: “The freed Negro, the Southern poor white, and the Northern skilled and common laborer” and grieved over the fact that “These groups never came to see their common interests and the financiers and capitalists easily kept the upper hand.”7 This begs the question of how far class consciousness has advanced today.

Du Bois compared black resistance to slavery as a “proletarian revolution within a bourgeois republic.” And when poor white men were successfully turned against their black brothers they “surrendered the hope of democracy in America for all men.” Even though only 7 percent of the total Southern population owned three million of the four million enslaved blacks, white workers came to accept their wage labor status because, in historian David Roediger’s felicitous phrase, they might lose everything “but not their whiteness.” These “wages of whiteness” or what Du Bois formulated as a “psychological wage” — differentiated from a material wage — set them apart from and against black workers and according to Frederick Douglas the slaveholders were then able to “divide both to conquer each” This formed part of the ideology perpetrated by the ruling class even as it reverberate in contemporary politics.

My sense is that gaining a deeper understanding of the Reconstruction period can contribute to our analysis of contemporary issues like voting rights, affirmative action, reparations, white supremacy, and the meaning of citizenship. In that vein, Naima Wandile, my friend and fellow FB rabble rouser, recently drew my attention to the fact that although the PBS series makes reference to current events it does so in a highly selective manner. She noted that the series “failed to fully (or forcefully enough) connect past history with current events. For example, policies like black codes, peonage and slave patrols are very much in effect today in the form of stop-question-frisk, bail traps, and extra-judicial executions in cities across the US and still serve the same purpose.” She adds that “These are the main reasons blacks protest, but many Americans do not fully understand these are the most effective tools in a capitalist toolbox.”

Finally, as I mentioned above, we can glean helpful insights from sources like this PBS series but only by conjoining them with an analysis of the class dynamics of the period can we use this knowledge on behalf of our quest for a just society.

  1. Karl Marx, Collected Works, Vol. 32 (New York: Progress Publishing, 1982, Pp. 101-102.
  2. Charlie Post, “Is Democracy Compatible with Capitalism,” The Brooklyn Rail, April 4, 2018.
  3. Kent Allen Halliburton, “The American Civil War, 1964-1876: A Marxist Perspective.
  4. Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p.317.
  5. Heather Cox Richardson, “Killing Reconstruction,” Jacobin, August 19, 2015.
  6. Ibid.
  7. W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New Brunswick: Transaction, 2013), p. 216.  Originally published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1935; Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor addresses these matters in his “Review of Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction” in ISR, Issue 57, January-February, 2008. Taylor’s piece is highly instructive and recommended for further exploration of this subject.

Poetry Matters One Soul and One Orbit at a Time

I think poetry, if it’s going to be really engaging and engaged, has to be able to come at the issues of our lives from all kinds of angles and all kinds of ways: loudly and quietly, angrily and soothingly, with comedy and with dead seriousness. […] Our lives are worth every risk, every manner of approach.

— Tim Seibles

Part one of the DV tribute to National Poetry Month is here: A World is Right When We Learn to Preserve and Embrace the Word Like a Poet

The question always comes up: Does poetry matter? Better yet, does art matter? This in a time of cult of celebrity, cult of nothingness, the cult of instant fame and repetitive prequels and sequels.

Even though everything is new under the sun in the 21st century, the way this country – Western Civilization, that is – rolls, more and more so-called artists, and that includes poets, are the dust bunny kings and queens. We aren’t taking chances – the big chances we have to take to stave off predatory, parasitic capitalism.

So, true art counts. If you can’t figure out what true art is and have to employ some arbiter of style and humanities to do the interpreting and defining for you, then you are lost in la-la land.

These are, of course, cynical questions, possibly steeped in a Western mindset where business as usual is all tied to the economics of relationships, and that includes the co-option of everything in American society wrapped around the barbed wire gulag that is Capitalism. No matter how frail the artistic expression is, or nuanced or nascent, the cynic would ask, “Does poetry in a time of our doomsday clock one minute to midnight and with 410 ppm Co2 in the atmosphere, in addition to the reality we are surviving, barely, under the strafing toxic clouds of the of one warped super power advancing in every aspect of humanity’s lives, including art, for total control of every blink, click of the mouse, lifted hand in artistic disbelief or fealty, count, matter, mean anything?”

Doing The Math?

by Raymond Nat Turner / August 19th, 2018

Knitting my brow, I’m
wondering whether we
have a word
Problem—
numerical,
mathematical,
logical,
or
political
Problem?

Scratching my head,
searching
for its formula I found:
Money Talks
to
our
representatives
Year-round and
Votes
boots, batons, fists, tasers,
Glocks, and cuffs cutting
off circulation—
24/7—
365…

Yet, I’m tutored,
3
minutes
2/4 Dance
is our
1
chance to
Advance…?

We are what we read, what we watch, what we think, what we discuss, what we believe, what we profess, what we say, and, then, what we buy, consumer, eat, build, destroy, create, throwaway, what we buy, sell, purchase, steal, take, give away, and what we drink – the Kool-Aid of Empire or the elixir of rebellion and revolution.

There will be a better day, and we have that thumb and toe hold inside, as poets – and as artists;  which in the end we call to them as our guides and our echoes, and the reflectors of universal humanity and chroniclers of struggle and celebration of glory in a human culture, in the individual. This planetary and spiritual life can sometimes be best reflected in and by and for “the poet.” Whether we see art as a song of the self, the poetry of creation and creativity, for those who create, show, and then sometimes lucky enough to live off of the stuff they create, somehow we/they have to have a more revered place in societies, and revered spaces for all humanity to partake in the action of being in-with-for-outside-inside the artist’s mind and heart, belly and soul.

But it’s poetry, no less, and we have this April as NPM, national poetry month. It’s not all razzle-dazzle in small communities where I live and work in – Oregon’s Central Coast, Lincoln City, Newport, Toledo, Siletz. Because in reality, a certain cultural critical mass has to cluster around so many elements to the humanities and arts as worthy of a cross-sectional interest in a community for those of us to put weight on the more lofty things like the arts, and in this case, the written and spoken word, poetry. Small towns or less populated communities and regions just don’t have the density of people who are willing to sacrifice a lot to try and be an expressive artist. Poets are like monks, Tibetan monks, in a small place like where I currently live.

If you haven’t met a poet, then the unusualness of it might intimidate.

However, there is some poetry going on here, and some of it is celebrated, in very small and rare moments. Read the piece I wrote on Kim Stafford, Oregon’s poet laureate here. He came to town and had a standing room only venue at the local public library! Here, Flotsam Central Oregon. Then my poem about interacting with Kim Stafford: Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from “Oregon Trail“,

Think about how difficult it is to get the attention of small-town America when so many colluding forces of economic pain and retrenchment of services and erosion in the public good/health/welfare/safety nets that really hit these 10,000 and 15,000 population communities that are tied to mostly servicing tourists and with timber and fish.

Then, when and where and how can we get overworked teachers and over-stimulated movers and shakers of a community to concentrate just a bit on the vitality of poets in their communities to exhibit that wonderful “business” of translating sight, sound, touch, taste and perception, philosophy, universality, psychology, intellect, joy, struggle, pain and transcendence?

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility — William Wordsworth

A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great — Randall Jarrell

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.  —  Percy Bysshe Shelley

Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people. — Adrian Mitchell

Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters. — ee cummings

Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.  — Carl Sandburg

I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.  —  Bob Dylan

Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.  — Dylan Thomas

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.  — Robert Frost

The poet is the priest of the invisible. — Wallace Stevens

Poetry is, at bottom, a criticism of life.  — Matthew Arnold

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.  — Emily Dickinson

There you have it, “as if the top of my head were taken off,” that is poetry. What more of a graphic image do we need to follow the crumbs there? Poetry —  That process allows humanity to share the act of being, because without words, there are no ideas, nothing, really, to bring forth the passing of knowledge. Naming of plants, planets, porpoises, peoples, it all involves the art form of discovery and teaching. What better way than to draw people to it with a poem.

That brain surgery Emily Dickinson alludes to is the value of poetry, everyday – it comes to people in unexpected ways, a dance, inside, especially for those who never thought the poet would emanate from the soul of a biker or street walker or drug user or incarcerated man or high-falluten debutante.

All sorts of ways to study and express poetry, categorizing, throwing movements into time-frames, geographical locations, cultural, ethnic, racial, national, self-identity framing modalities. Think of a poetic movement or some other poetry foundation, and then there you go. In today’s parlance, should stave off the madness. Below are a few poems, challenging, possibly tied to what this essay is attempting to get at — is there a form for ecological thinking, deep ecology, psychology of Sixth Mass Extinction, a sociological consideration tied to an earth/Earth without ice?

Form as in poetry!?

Ecopoetics

Similar to ethnopoetics in its emphasis on drawing connections between human activity—specifically the making of poems—and the environment that produces it, ecopoetics rose out of the late 20th-century awareness of ecology and concerns over environmental disaster. A multidisciplinary approach that includes thinking and writing on poetics, science, and theory as well as emphasizing innovative approaches common to conceptual poetry, ecopoetics is not quite nature poetry. The influential journal Ecopoetics, edited by Jonathan Skinner, publishes writing that explores “creative-critical edges between making and writing” and features poets such as Jack Collom, Juliana Spahr, and Forrest Gander.

This is not enough, though, now is it?

What short stories and poems will arise from the intersections of heart, mind, soul, belly and the cascading realities of a world on the skids?

To that point, thousands of miles from Siberia, Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks found freeze-ups of permafrost shifting from mid-January to as late as March, happening since 2014.

Additionally, from National Geographic: “It’s worrisome,’ says Sue Natali, a permafrost expert, also with Woods Hole, who saw an active layer not re-freeze recently during a research trip to Alaska’s Yukon region. ‘When we see things happening that haven’t happened in the lifetime of the scientists studying them, that should be a concern.”

The stakes in the Arctic are high. It’s common knowledge that if permafrost layers are consistently exposed to thawing, consequences can be hard, fast and not pleasant. Counter intuitively, once it’s unfrozen, permafrost can potentially release GHG year-round, not only in summertime. And, that’s a huge problem without a solution, unless well-beforehand Homo sapiens halt GHG emissions. No chance.

Dangerous territory, looking at climate, earth, raging tipping points, put into the prism of poetry. Many many Americans coming out of MFA schools, well, this is verboten, pushing themes or social conscious issues as the germination of poetry.

Some Effects of Global Warming in Lackawanna County

By Jay Parini

The maples sweat now, out of season.
Buds pop eyes in wintry bushes
as the birds arrive, not having checked
the calendars or clocks. They scramble
in the frost for seeds, while underground
a sobbing starts in roots and tubers.
Ice cracks easily along the bank.
It slides in gullies where a bear, still groggy,
steps through coiled wire of the weeds.
Kids in T-shirts run to school, unaware
that summer is a long way off.
Their teachers flirt with off-the-wall assignments,
drum their fingers on the sweaty desktops.
As for me, my heart leaps high—
a deer escaping from the crosshairs,
skipping over barely frozen water
as the surface bends and splinters underfoot.

I can hear those MFA’s now — “Oh god, not more of this tripe. Poetry is about me, us, me myself and I, about angst and living hard, about my bi-polar disorder, about me in the system, me in the matrix, about me and my feelings and how I see the world.”

I have had argument after argument about the valueness of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a program that was borne of Cold War logic and the greatness of America (sic, sic).  Interestingly, the Workshop’s second director, Paul Engle, embodied everything the 1950s conservative mind embodied. Read this piece on the MFA program here, How Iowa Flattened Literature With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and egg-headed abstraction. The damage to writing lingers.

To have read enough to feel the oceanic movement of events and ideas in history; to have experienced enough to escape the confines of a personal provincialism; to have distanced yourself enough from your hang-ups and pettiness to create words reflecting the emotional complexity of minds beyond your own; to have worked with language long enough to be able to wield it beautifully; and to have genius enough to find dramatic situations that embody all that you have lived and read, is rare. It’s not something that every student of creative writing—in the hundreds of programs up and running these days—is going to pull off. Maybe one person a decade will pull it off. Maybe one person every half century will really pull it off.

Of course, we live in an age that cringes at words like “greatness”—and also at the notion that we’re not all great. But ages that didn’t cringe at greatness produced great writing without creative-writing programs. And people who attend creative-writing programs for the most part wish to write great things. It’s sick to ask them to aspire but not to aspire too much. An air of self-doubt permeates the discipline, showing up again and again as the question, “Can writing be taught?”

Faced with this question, teachers of creative writing might consider adopting (as a few, of course, already do) a defiant rather than resigned attitude, doing more than supervising the building of the bases of pyramids. They might try to get beyond the senses. Texts worth reading—worth reading now, and worth reading 200 years from now—coordinate the personal with the national or international; they embed the instant in the instant’s full context and long history. It’s what the Odyssey does and what Middlemarch does and what Invisible Man does and what Jonathan Franzen’s and Marilynne Robinson’s recent novels try to do. But to write like this, you’re going to have to spend some time thinking.  — Eric Bennett

That’s a whole other story, MFA programs and the flattening of literature, fiction, and, alas, the same holds true of poetry. Maybe not, though, since how do poets learn to channel their voice and to develop writerly ways? Maybe in groups, sure, workshops in some senior center, right, but why not schools; i.e., community colleges and universities? I’ve taught a few writing classes in colleges, and outside colleges. Poetry is a tough one to get young and old to wrap their brains around, but, alas, poetry is where the immediate song of the person gets to lift off like a kite on a good windy beach day!

Poetry and the environment?

What does Jean-Paul Satre say about African poets? Black Orpheus

When you removed the gag that was keeping these black mouths shut, what were you hoping for? That they would sing your praises? Did you think that when they raised themselves up again, you would read adoration in the eyes of these heads that our fathers had forced to bend down to the very ground? Here are black men standing, looking at us, and I hope that you–like me–will feel the shock of being seen. For three thousand years, the white man has enjoyed the privilege of seeing without being seen; he was only a look –the light from his eyes drew each thing out of the shadow of its birth; the whiteness of his skin was another look, condensed light. The white man –white because he was man, white like daylight, white like truth, white like virtue –lighted up the creation like a torch and unveiled the secret white essence of beings. Today, these black men are looking at us, and our gaze comes back to our own eyes; in their turn, black torches light up the world and our white heads are no more than Chinese lanterns swinging in the wind. A black poet –unconcerned with us–whispers to the woman he loves:

Naked woman, black woman
Dressed in your color which is life .. .
Naked woman, dark woman,
Firm fleshed ripe fruit, somber ecstasies of black wine.

and our whiteness seems to us to be a strange livid varnish that
keeps our skin from breathing –white tights, worn out at the
elbows and knees, under which we would find real human flesh
the color of black wine if we could remove them. We think we
are essential to the world — suns of its harvests, moons of its
tides; we are no more than its fauna, beasts. Not even beasts:

These gentlemen from the city
These proper gentlemen
Who no longer know how to dance in the evening by moonlight
Who no longer know how to walk on the flesh of their feet
Who no longer know how to tell tales by the fireside . . .

Formerly Europeans with divine right, we were already feeling our dignity beginning to crumble under American or Soviet looks; Europe was already no more than a geographical accident, the peninsula that Asia shoves into the Atlantic. We were hoping at least to find a bit of our greatness reflected in the domesticated eyes of the Africans. But there are no more domesticated eyes: there are wild and free looks that judge our world.

Maybe poetry needs some of that crumbling under the look of a new Anthropocene world!

There is Kickstarter, and an Earth Day 2019 goal of a book of poems that looks at climate, ecology, us inside the environment, Gaia.

The cover will feature photography by Daniel Bosma depicting an "aerial view of amazing natural shapes and textures created by tidal changes," with design by VJB/Scribe.

Elizabeth J. Coleman’s new anthology, Here: Poems for the Planet, published by Copper Canyon Press and live on Kickstarter now, is a collection of poems from over 125 authors — Pulitzer Prize winners, Poet Laureates, activists, emerging writers, and youth poets as young as six — that confront climate change. It has “an arc that bends towards hope,” says Copper Canyon editor Elaina Ellis, who worked on the book with Coleman.

“Poetry is moving and touching in a way that dry facts are not,” Coleman says. “You can reach people’s hearts. If you tell someone about the hell we’re heading towards, people just despair. They become indifferent. It’s too big. It seems very different when you talk about ‘the polar bear drifting out of history on a wedge of melting ice,’” as a poem by Paul Guest puts it.

Here is the long list of poets and translations of poems (125) in this collection.

A unique way to create activism at the end of the collection:

The Union of Concerned Scientists created a Guide to Activism just for this project, to follow the poetry in Here: Poems for the Planet. After the poems have helped you feel what’s at stake, the guide will help you take action toward a better future.

The guide walks through best practices for anyone who wishes to:

  • Contact your Representatives and others holding governmental power
  • Put pressure on corporations to commit to green practices
  • Communicate with media about environmental issues and actions
  • Connect with others in the community who are working for environmental justice, against climate change, or on an issue you’re passionate about

By mobilizing scientists and combining their voices with those of advocates, educators, business people, and other concerned citizens, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has amassed an impressive history of accomplishments. UCS scientists and engineers develop and implement innovative, practical solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems—from combating global warming and developing sustainable ways to feed, power, and transport ourselves, to fighting misinformation, advancing racial equity, and reducing the threat of nuclear war.

The editor of Here: Poems for the Planet has chosen to donate all royalties from the book (including those copies reserved through this Kickstarter campaign) to UCS.

Here you go, Earth Day coming up, and National Poetry Month in a time of despise, syphilitic tweets, uncompromising crass commercialization of humanity. A few picks, hodgepodge style.

Remember

Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

Once the World Was Perfect

By Joy Harjo

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

Nolan,

By Ed Roberson

The apparition of these faces in the crowd…)
riding the bullet train
the view passes by so fast
it is either a blur they say

or —like night lightning
strobes the raindrops
to a stop in midair

in that soundless moment—
maybe from the train you can glimpse
waiting there

one of those famous petals stopped still
in midair holding its wave to you
in place.    write us

and tell us if
this is so.

Storm Fear

By Robert Frost

When the wind works against us in the dark,
And pelts the snow
The lower chamber window on the east,
And whispers with a sort of stifled bark,
The beast,
‘Come out! Come out!’—
It costs no inward struggle not to go,
Ah, no!
I count our strength,
Two and a child,
Those of us not asleep subdued to mark
How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length,—
How drifts are piled,
Dooryard and road ungraded,
Till even the comforting barn grows far away
And my heart owns a doubt
Whether ‘tis in us to arise with day
And save ourselves unaided.

Song of Myself, 22

By Walt Whitman

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,
We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.

Sea of stretch’d ground-swells,
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths,
Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell’d yet always-ready graves,
Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea,
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases.

Partaker of influx and efflux I, extoller of hate and conciliation,
Extoller of armies and those that sleep in each others’ arms.

I am he attesting sympathy,
(Shall I make my list of things in the house and skip the house that supports them?)

I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.

What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,
My gait is no fault-finder’s or rejecter’s gait,
I moisten the roots of all that has grown.

Did you fear some scrofula out of the unflagging pregnancy?
Did you guess the celestial laws are yet to be work’d over and rectified?

I find one side a balance and the antipodal side a balance,
Soft doctrine as steady help as stable doctrine,
Thoughts and deeds of the present our rouse and early start.

This minute that comes to me over the past decillions,
There is no better than it and now.

What behaved well in the past or behaves well to-day is not such a wonder,
The wonder is always and always how there can be a mean man or an infidel.

**

Early in the book, Ishmael (Daniel Quinn, 1992) a man, the narrator, answers a newspaper ad that says:

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

The narrator meets the teacher — Ishmael, a thousand-pound gorilla who communicates telepathically. Using the Socratic method, Ishmael implores the narrator to think for himself on “how things came to be this way” and to come to the understanding that our culture has been enacting a story from the book of Genesis: that Man is here to conquer the earth.

Ishmael separates humans into two groups — “Leavers” and “Takers.” “Leavers” formed cultures that thrived for thousands of years before the agricultural revolution — hunters and gatherers, herders, indigenous societies. Those cultures lived lightly and took only what they needed. “Takers” are us — the people who killed or annexed those cultures and continue to do so; logging and farming in the Amazon threatens some of the last uncontacted tribes on Earth.

“Mother Culture teaches you that this is as it should be,” Ishmael tells the narrator. “Except for a few thousand savages scattered here and there, all the peoples of the earth are now enacting this story. This is the story man was born to enact [according to the mythology], and to depart from it is to resign from the human race itself. … There’s no way out of it except through death.”

Unlike “Leaver” societies, which sustained themselves and the natural world for thousands of years, our “Taker” society will run out of things to kill and will die. Quinn likens the agricultural revolution to humans’ first attempts at flight. Those attempts failed because we tried to mimic a bird. Only when we discovered the law of aerodynamics did we learn to fly.

Through “Ishmael,” Quinn argues that no law or theory underpins “Taker” culture — and that’s why it has been in free fall since its adoption.

Quinn emphasizes that the natural world, which includes “Leaver” cultures, sustains itself through what he calls the law of limited competition. Under this peace-keeping law, he says, you may not hunt down competitors or deny them food or access to it. You also may not commit genocide against your competition.

“And only once in all the history of this planet has any species tried to live in defiance of this law — and it wasn’t an entire species, it was only one people, those I’ve named the Takers,” Ishmael tells the narrator. “Ten thousand years ago, this one people said, ‘No more. Man was not meant to be bound by this law,’ and they began to live in a way that flouts the law at every point.” Source: Pete Reinwald

Chaos, Anarchy, and Violence in the Charter School Sector

Chaos, anarchy, and violence are inherent features of the free market.1 Instability, uncertainty, disequilibrium, unevenness, imbalance, volatility, turmoil, impulsiveness, alienation, greed, anxiety, jealousy, risk, irrational behavior, and “animal spirits” are fellow-travelers of advanced commodity production and exchange, especially in the final and highest stage of capitalism.

The free market abhors security, predictability, certainty, stability, and harmony—the very things modern humans need in today’s complex and evolving society. Hourly fluctuations and dislocations in the economy and society are considered good, desirable, and normal by free market fundamentalists. Such disruptions are not seen as a problem or something that belongs to a bygone era.

The “invisible leviathan” also guarantees winners and losers, hierarchies and inequalities, rewards and punishments. In addition, it constantly “innovates” more exotic and toxic forms of financial parasitism and decay that further enrich the top one percent while wreaking havoc in the productive sector and broader society.

The free market has been revealed time and again to be an anachronistic and damaging way of organizing society and the economy. It has failed millions for generations and simply does not meet the needs of the present or the future.

It is comical and tragic to hear and read the views of free market ideologues like former long-time chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, regarding how their free market worldview was shattered by the Wall Street-engineered economic collapse of 2008 that no one went to jail for—a fiasco that continues to stunt growth, degrade economies worldwide, and confuse economists and “leaders.” All major free market ideologues have long been members of the know-nothing club, which is why they have never been able to find a way to extricate the outmoded economic system from recurring crises that always leave millions unemployed, underemployed, impoverished, indebted, miserable, and insecure. No “policy,” “regulation,” or “reform” has stopped the tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Few laws, if any, have actually empowered those who produce society’s wealth.

Free market ideology and categories have long distorted social consciousness, and now, once again, both stand discredited and lack any explanatory power. The main role of free market ideology is to apologize for the status quo which privileges a tiny elite and marginalizes the majority. People are supposed to believe that the free market is supernatural and stands above society, the human factor, and social consciousness. The free market is allegedly a mystery that does not lend itself to comprehension and control.

Charter school supporters and promoters have long gone out of their way to parade their free market loyalties, commitments, and credentials. Their perception and cognition are objectively conditioned by a capital-centered outlook, not a human-centered perspective. Consequently, they are unable and unwilling to cognize and understand that the free market is precisely what is wreaking havoc in education, society, and the economy.

Charter school supporters and promoters come undone every time someone exposes the basic truth that charter schools exist mainly to enrich a handful of individuals who self-servingly claim to “value choice” and “care about the kids.” Charter school boosters would rather have people believe that the free market magically (invisibly) gives rise to the best of all worlds for “the kids” and that nothing sinister or nefarious is ever going on.

It is worth noting here that none of the highest-performing nations in the world have charter schools. And in late 2017, the government of New Zealand launched an organized effort to rollback its relatively new charter school program because it is harmful and ineffective. Many in New Zealand oppose school privatization and do not want schools treated as commodities that enrich a handful of wealthy individuals at the expense of “the kids.” In the U.S., six states still have no laws enabling the creation of charter schools. Charter schools remain largely a U.S. phenomenon. No other nation comes close.

The idea of “here-one-day-gone-the-next” is one of many that appears natural and normal—even healthy—to those influenced by free market ideology. Charter school supporters and promoters claim that under-performing charter schools (and there are many of them) should not only be closed (in the name of “accountability”), but that they should be “closed ruthlessly” so as to quickly enable another “entrepreneur” to scramble in and launch a new, more “innovate” and more “successful” charter school to serve “consumers”—the same way one shoe store quickly replaces another out-of-business shoe store at the mall. Schools, in this antisocial view, are nothing more than commodities; they are a business, just like any other business preoccupied with maximizing profit as fast as possible.

For privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers,” education as an organized collective social responsibility and basic right free of the corrosive effects of competition is an alien idea.

It is no accident that more than 1,000 charter schools have closed over the last five years. The free market, as noted earlier, is inherently unstable and destructive—the opposite of what modern humans need. Well over 3,500 charter schools have closed in 28 years. Currently, about 200-250 nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close each year, leaving thousands of families feeling stressed, angry, and violated. This is stunning in its own right, but it is extra striking given that there are currently only 7,000 charter schools across the country. Charter schools have always had a high rate of failure and closure; they have never been the panacea that its advocates have regularly claimed they are. Closely related problems like endless scandals, low transparency, persistently high student turnover rates, and underpaid, overworked, deunionized teachers across the charter school sector are topics for another article.

This relentless normalized churn, wrecking, and upheaval in the deregulated, non-transparent, deunionized, poorly supervised, segregated charter school sector is deemed acceptable, even a virtue, because this is how the free market “works”—through chaos, anarchy, and violence. It is “natural,” in other words, that schools, which are meant to be a large-scale socially-organized human responsibility, should close and open like any store at the mall.

And the free market is great because it supposedly works so well in other spheres of life. Regular economic booms and busts, many recessions and depressions, and the endless failures and crimes of thousands of corporations are apparently not part of the normal daily functioning of the free market and should be ignored.

The wrecking activity and callousness in the charter school sector are so severe that it is not uncommon for nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, even ones that have been around for years, to close abruptly and with little or no advance notice to parents, leaving them shocked, appalled, and betrayed. So much for “empowering parents” and giving them “better alternatives.” Besides being rife with fraud, racketeering, and waste, charter schools have been disempowering parents every year of their existence. And they have kept thousands of others on a never-ending roller-coaster of hope and despair in other ways. In New Orleans, parents do not even have the option of sending their child to a public school because all schools in that city of 400,000 residents are now charter schools. “Choice” becomes a form of coercion in this context.

It is no surprise that unprecedented public school and charter school teacher strikes that have been sweeping the nation for many months have consciously and deliberately targeted charter schools. People are openly rejecting privatized education arrangements that annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s youth. Equally unsurprising is the large number of parents, students, women, activists, and workers from other sectors who have stood shoulder to shoulder with striking teachers to affirm their rights and to oppose the fleecing of public schools by wealthy private interests. People are increasingly combatting loud and incessant charter school disinformation. They do not want millionaires, billionaires, and their retinue to decide and control educational affairs. People want to control their own institutions without the influence of extremely wealthy cartels and monopolies who act in the narrowest, most retrogressive, and most self-serving fashion.

A modern society based on mass industrial production must provide its members with world-class, fully-funded, locally-controlled public schools open to all, at all times. No one should have to worry about receiving a great education in a society drowning in an overabundance of wealth and resources.

Education is a right and should never be based on geography, competition, consumerism, performance, the ability to pay, or the narrow aims of major owners of capital. As a basic human social responsibility, education cannot be left to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the free market. It can and must be organized in a collective responsible manner to meet the needs of individuals, the economy, society, and life.

If charter schools wish to exist, so be it. But they must never receive any kind or any amount of public property, wealth, funds, resources, facilities, assets, or authority. They have no legitimate claim to public property.

By definition, public property belongs only to the public and no one else.

Public and private are antonyms. They do not mean the same thing and should not be mixed up. Charter schools are not public schools, no matter how often privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers” ignorantly, belligerently, and self-servingly claim they are. Something does not become public just because someone calls it public over and over again. Nor does something become public just because it receives public funds or is allegedly “tuition-free.” Being public requires much more.

Legally, politically, economically, and educationally charter schools differ fundamentally from public schools that have been around for more than 150 years. Deliberately misequating antonyms like “public” and “private” is itself a long-standing feature of the irrationalism, chaos, and wrecking within the Wild West charter school sector.

The very idea of public schools and charter schools competing for funds and students is one that people 50 years from now will find obscene, backward, and bizarre. Many already recognize how irrational and detrimental this is. They reject the commodification of education and the view that parents and students are mainly consumers and shoppers who may or may not “get into” a “good school.”

There is a pro-social alternative to this outmoded irrational state of affairs. It begins with consciously and repeatedly rejecting the current antisocial direction and working with others to reorganize society on a human-centered pro-social basis, free of the influence of owners of capital.

This means intentionally discarding a capital-centered outlook and taking responsibility for investigating society, the economy, and education. It means engaging in a conscious act of finding out so that one does not end up being a hapless victim of disinformation all the time. Such inquiry has to be serious, disciplined, deep, and uninterrupted. It cannot end.

Patient and focused study and analysis are needed to cut through the thick fog created by an anachronistic capital-centered outlook. Skim reading and digitally-induced literacy styles are useless here. They will not contribute to coherence and enlightenment. Shooting from the hip or talking off the cuff also fail to develop consciousness. Quick and clever one-liners or blind repetition of isolated facts are also unhelpful. None of these approaches will shed light on what is going on. None of these approaches help people to reject the false solutions put forward by the rich, their politicians, their cheerleaders, and their media.

With the massive never-ending onslaught of disinformation coming from those with class privilege and power, a conscious life-long commitment to questioning and investigating phenomena so as to avoid confusion and serve human-centered interests is an urgent necessity. The natural instinct to reject anything that comes from the rich needs to evolve into a full-fledged well-fortified social consciousness that further unleashes the human factor to usher in changes that favor the general interests of society.

  1. The “free market” has long been monopolized by large corporations, monopolies,  and oligopolies; it has been far from “free” for more than 150 years. Markets are rigged in endless ways. “Pure competition” has largely been a fantasy. Furthermore, college economics courses routinely present the capitalist “free market” in its most abstract and prettified form, divorced from its harsh realities.

Why I am a Socialist

For starters, it sounds quite contrarian, antiquarian even, in this day and age, to assert one’s “socialism” in the obvious face of History, which changes its make-up several times a decade, anymore: a dab of recession here, a little more war-paint there.

Well, lipstick traces of all possible revolutions notwithstanding, it seems that most advanced Capitalist nations are, in fact, Socialist to a large degree; ironic that a country like China has emerged as an avatar of Capitalism after over half-a-century hatching a billion-plus plots behind its Great Wall of Communism.

The Man-in-the-Street might say: “Communism? Capitalism? It’s all Chinese to me…” Yet, in the West, it used to be Greek, as in Democracy, that most sacred of secular words, except that the man-in-the-street never got Greek: it all just sounded like “Bar-bar-bar”: a barbaric blur of barliamentary politics.

But I digress… In a nutshell, it seems to me that every Capitalist is a Socialist, yet the vast majority of Socialists are not Capitalists: or, at least, not very good ones. Capitalists, that is. Statistically stated, the so-called 1% depend upon the other 99%, in the same way that any given 1% of society—be they rich, poor, or possibly undecided—depend upon the other 99%, no matter how we slice the socio-economic pie. Ain’t nobody rowing the ship of Civilization alone.

Take away the other 99%, for example, and the remaining 1%–or the uncommonly wealthy—will have to work very hard, indeed. Hey: Who’s going to pick up the trash? Even the possibility of a high standard of living vanishes without the help of the other 99%. In reality, this “help” amounts to the most basic, and extensive, case of Welfare there can be.

The fact of affluence itself is entirely relative: one literally gets rich at the expense of all the others. Which is to say: everyone else foots the bill for one’s uncommon wealth. If you are outnumbered 99 to 1, it stands to reason that you will absolutely require more than a little acquiescence, or “help,” from the other 99 in order to produce and maintain your privileged status. Thus the curious paradox of our system, that the most affluent among us represent the most dependent class.

To restate things a scoche: everyone in society is by definition a Socialist; the Capitalist—strictly a fancy pants kind of Socialist.

Being a Socialist, for me, then, simply involves a basic reality check, which I would rather cash in the denomination of actual affirmation, a positive disposition. If I were to look in the mirror and declare: “Hey there, you Capitalist, you!”—that would be an exercise in sheer denial, a frivolous vain conceit. Narcissists, famously, don’t get along well with others, unless those “others” are mirrors.

Being a Socialist, then, is good for the self-esteem, and I recommend it—although 4 out of 5 doctors may disagree. Much better to recognize yourself as something you are, a social being, than to define yourself in terms of something you are, in all probability, not. Moreover, for the self-aware Socialist, the Future is Today: interest-bearing grave plots, not so much (how now: a Pyramid for your bones?) Co-operation, not Competition, is the engine that runs every society: how things get done. Competition itself is a derivative of Co-operation, and is meaningless outside of a co-operative framework to support it.

In conclusion, I’ll note that describing myself as a socialist does not imply any particular political party affiliation. It merely involves a critical awareness of the way things stand. Democrats and Republicans, for example, are all equally Socialists, too, no matter how many times they hit the snooze button on their “dogmatic slumber.”

Now, ever mindful of the Fairness Doctrine, beyond the landscape of this socialist analysis, I will propose an alternative model for your consideration: If the Owners, the Stakeholders, that exceptional One Percent, are still seen as “Capitalists,” then the rest of us, we Ninety-Niners, might be more accurately labeled as Table Scrapitalists.

So: “Trickle me down, Elmo; Trickle me Now!”

From Brexit to Trump, it’s Death by 1,000 Cuts

Has anyone else noticed how over the past few years the corporate media has been dedicating ever more space to articles on how to deal with loneliness, anxiety and insomnia, as well as ways to immerse ourselves in escapist new technology?

Our attention is being diverted away from the political to the cultural, medical and technical. When our elites have no solutions to the most pressing problems of the day, when all the objective evidence indicates that the political system they oversee and have designed to enrich themselves is driving us over a cliff edge, with our economies going bankrupt and our planet dying, they desperately need to rechannel our energies. Instead of blaming them, we are told to fix ourselves – or at least to pacify ourselves with entertainment.

That, of course, all sounds a lot more plausible when we clearly do need to fix ourselves. We are more anxious, more isolated, more confused than ever before. And for very good reason.

A new poll finds that 83 per cent of Britons are exhausted by hearing blow-by-blow news of Brexit, Britain’s interminable struggle to find a credible way to leave the European Union. Two-thirds believe that the anxiety provoked by this slow-motion plunge into the unknown is bad for people’s – presumably including their own – mental health. They are not wrong.

Heavy emotional toll

Meanwhile, Russiagate – the establishment-promoted conspiracy theory that Donald Trump stole the 2016 presidential election by colluding with Russia – has similarly sucked out all oxygen from the US political arena. For more than two years pundits there have spoken and thought about little else.

I suspect surveys of US public opinion would find a similar ennui among most Americans about these wildly improbable, and now disproven, claims against Trump. American friends who consider themselves part of the so-called #resistance to Trump tell me they wish they could just shut their eyes and the whole mess go away. It’s clearly not helping their mental health either.

A heavy emotional and psychic toll is being inflicted even on those fronting these establishment narratives, as was evident when Rachel Maddow, TV cheerleader-in-chief for the Russiagate conspiracy theory, had to announce on air that the Mueller investigation she had so excitedly played up for two years was a dud. Robert Mueller had found zero evidence of collusion.

Maddow’s pained facial contortions, her manic laughter as she tried to prop up the last vestiges of a narrative that had just been discredited by the very establishment she is a key pillar of was distressing to watch. Here was a woman who looked more in need of therapy than a major TV show.

Boring us to death

But maybe it’s too simple to see this as nothing more than an example of mass cognitive dissonance. Maybe the emotional, mental and spiritual breakdown is actually the point. Maybe the goal is to frustrate and bore us quite literally to death.

Politically and ideologically we are stuck. Capitalism has failed – and not marginally but ignominiously. Any ideology premised on an outcome that burns the planet to a crisp, or grows the world’s population until the resources to support it are exhausted, or both, is not only mistaken but dangerously deluded. Insanity, in fact.

But for decades we have all been caught up in that spell. Think of the Thatcher and Reagan years, of how most of us lapped up the idea that there was no such thing as society, that each of us was an island as our governments sold off public infrastructure and the common good. And at some level we all absorbed those mantras, even those of us in the UK who railed against Thatcher’s poll tax and supported the miners.

We all watched “serious” debates on TV in which eminent intellectuals told us that history had ended and that free-market capitalism had triumphed. We were on our journey to nirvana. Even when some of us wondered whether such arguments might be wrong or too simplistic, we rarely greeted them with the derision they so obviously deserved.

Now the delusion, the insanity cultivated in us over those past decades, is coming home to roost. We have so deeply imbibed the ideology of those who exploit us that we cannot imagine – we even fear – the possibility of being liberated from it.

Distracted by baubles

The elites whose power and wealth derives from the current system have absolutely no interest in changing course, in allowing new ideas, new paradigms to emerge. They are no more likely to provide a platform for radical or experimental thinking either in the establishment media or in our legislative echo-chambers than they are to fund Extinction Rebellion or shut down the offshore tax havens where they hoard their gargantuan wealth.

Even efforts to return us to the order that predated Thatcher and Reagan – one that placed some value in the collective – is being aggressively snuffed out by our elites, whether it’s Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or Bernie Sanders and the Congress’s insurgency lawmakers in the US.

The self-destruction of capitalism – the signs of its internal contradictions, its need for endless economic growth on a resource-finite planet – has been evident for some time. Once we could be distracted with baubles, with new iPhones and home entertainment systems, and by politics as fun-filled spectacle. Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK may be the logical endpoints of that political process.

Political paralysis

Now we are moving from spectacle, from politics as entertainment, to politics as death by a thousand cuts.

Britain cannot leave the EU, but also it cannot stay. The UK cannot move forward, and it has no possibility to move back. It is trapped, politically paralysed. A decision either way will tear the fabric of the social contract to shreds.

Does Brexit not offer us a parable for our times? It is in miniature our predicament as a species. We cannot move forward with capitalism because it is killing us and most life on the planet, but the capitalist class will not allow us the space or resources to find another way out of the mess they created. And brainwashed for so long, we fear even a modest diversion from our current suicidal path.

So we aimlessly watch TV unfold as if we have no power over either our individual fates or our collective fate. We stare into the abyss, a mixture of boredom and creeping anxiety our only responses to our own imminent demise.

We feel lonely, anxious and confused. We medicate ourselves with trivia, with entertainment, and we allow ourselves to be briefly distracted with establishment shadow plays that invert reality, from Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism to US war criminals assigning themselves the right to pick Venezuela’s president.

No time for boredom

We have been on this path to collective insanity for a while, as the renowned psychologist Erich Fromm warned decades ago. It is at least a sign of hope that it is finally dawning on many of us that we are immersed in delusion, that we are mentally, emotionally and spiritually at a dead end.

That requires understanding that Trump isn’t the enemy, he is a symptom of our collective illness. Similarly, Brexit isn’t really the end of the world, it is grand displacement activity – our effort to distract ourselves from much deeper questions. Whether the UK stays in Europe or leaves, capitalism will still be herding us towards extinction. Brexit is unlikely even to affect how quickly we bring about such end-times.

The deeper questions we have been evading force us to address who we are as individuals and as a society, and whether we wish to have a future, to belong to a planet that possibly uniquely in our small corner of the universe can sustain higher life forms and the supreme achievement of our evolutionary branch-line, human beings.

Only in facing those questions can we rid ourselves of our political confusion and our individual anxiety. Standing on the edge of an abyss should be no time for boredom. It is time for deep reflection, and rapid personal and collective growth.

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Can a Socialist Win in the U.S.A.?

It’s a stretch to assume, the way all cable news anchors do, that a self-avowed socialist cannot become U.S. president, due to a supposedly inherent, gut-level American antipathy to socialism. The talking heads posit this in an attempt to convince the viewers that any hopes they have for fundamental change are hopeless if they challenge the omnipotent capitalist system. Don’t even think about it!

The fact is, Bernie Sanders was the most popular politician in the country in 2016; he would likely have won the Democratic nomination had the Democratic National Committee not skewed the primaries in Hillary’s favor. (Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz herself declared in a leaked memo to staff that it would be “silly” to think Sanders would ever become president. Recall how she had to resign in disgrace when the rigging was revealed, at the Democratic National Convention, once the sabotage had been done. Her punishment? She’s a Representative of Florida in the Congress.)

But since Bernie has again declared his candidacy, taking off with a fundraising roar, the talking heads agree that Bernie’s time is past. Okay, we’ll grant that he put up a good effort last time, and can be credited with placing certain issues like health care for all, student debt relief, tuition-free colleges, and income inequality on the table. But last time there was a narrow Democratic field, and this time it’s crowded with “progressive” candidates who will steal some of Sanders’ fire. He is thus unnecessary and redundant.  The good parts of his message are echoed by his rivals, who meanwhile repeat the loyalty oath: “I’m a capitalist.”

Elizabeth Warren boasts: “I’m a capitalist.” Echoes Beto O’Rourke: “I am a capitalist.” “I am not a democratic socialist,” says Kamala Harris, “I believe that capitalism has great strengths when it works for all people equally well.” “I’m a capitalist,” says soon-to-declare Joe Biden. These are the safe candidates who could win the next presidential election against Trump.

So socialism is a big Sanders negative. Senior correspondents and analysts agree that association with socialism is “toxic” in America, that it’s Kryptonite for the Democratic Party.

Then there’s his age. He appears in good health and has stamina. He is not a typical 77-year-old U.S. male, as his socialist identity shows, and indeed he has admirable, understated history of anti-racist activism that contributes to his appeal among youth. But his critics listing his problems include this one.

Worse than being old, Sanders is white; and “experts” on cable news say that being white may be a negative in the race. And he’s male–an old white male whose staff last time included some men who sexually harassed women. (So he’s possibly a secret sexist?) Worse, he’s Jewish–and not the religious sort beloved of the Zionist Christian Evangelicals but probably an atheist.

So, obviously a hopeless cause. Not because of his age, really: the establishment’s favored candidate Biden is 76. Nor because of his whiteness, really; again, the media fawns on Biden and O’Rourke. Nor because of Sanders’ Jewishness (and his progressive politics which are rooted in New York City Jewish activism). No, it’s his (supposed) socialism that makes him a necessary target.

As Counterpuncher Paul Street noted in his excellent piece March 13, MSNBC has in particular raged against the prospect of a socialist running for president (again). The network is as a matter of policy promoting capitalism as the national creed, the key to American prosperity (such as it is), the socio-economic embodiment of Freedom. Joe Biden positively demands from his guests their endorsement of the system; when Joe Scarborough asked Col. Governor John Hickenlupper, who co-founded a Denver brewing company, if he was a capitalist, and Hickenlupper hedged on the matter, Scarborough was horrified. The clip of Hickenlupper declining to boast about being a capitalist was repeated endlessly on MSNBC to underscore the seriousness of the problem of anti-capitalist sentiment.

To such a state have we fallen! When over half of young people see socialism positively, and capitalism negatively. And some presidential candidates might calculate that they’re better off not advertising themselves in what many see as negative terms.

Last week MSNBC commentator and advertising executive Danny Deutsch fumed on Morning Joe: “I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being… I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist [Democratic presidential candidate or president] because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.”

Wow. As a capitalist, Deutsch’s lot is with despicable Trump, versus Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (and Denmark). He wants to draw the line there.

This is in a way an enlightening time to live, when things that were not discussed clearly before now come out into full sight. During my childhood, we were taught that the big struggle in the world was Communism versus Democracy, it being understood that democracy includes free market principles. (The term “capitalism” was avoided, associated as it was with Marxist discourse.) But with the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the USSR, the triumph of capitalism was shouted from bourgeois rooftops. What a revolutionary force in the world, so superior to the discredited, defeated socialism!

But since 1991 global capitalism has not succeeded very well, at least not in producing the positive changes people want. Certainly in this country today, young people live less affluently than their parents’ generation did; things are not getting better in many ways. It makes sense for youth to feel attracted to socialism, in the broadest sense, and ideally, to study some theory and engage in activism. The youth have not been successfully brainwashed to associate socialism automatically with  gulags, ideological conformity, and political oppression.

It is precisely because capitalism is in deep crisis that its high priests must insist on its inherent, eternal superiority and chide the youth for their foolish idealism.

I’m reminded of how, in 1925, just as the voting franchise in Japan was expanded suddenly to include all adult males, the existing law forbidding any questioning of the doctrine of the kokutai (the “national essence” of Japan as a country created by the gods, led by an unbroken line of emperors “coeval with Heaven and Earth” descended from the Sun Goddess) was augmented with a ban on criticism of the “system of private property.”  Of course it was already impermissible to criticize the emperor, or the Meiji Constitution he had given the people out of his benevolence. Now criticism of capitalism itself

was also firmly banned and harshly punished with prison terms.

Think of that. The emperor had been viewed as sacred, beyond criticism. Now capitalism was placed on a par with the kokutai, as something to revere.

Danny Deutsch wants us all to love capitalism. MSNBC does in general. CNN too, and Fox. They are, after all, capitalist networks whose advertisers impact the content of what they sponsor. Joe and Mika should alert the viewer each morning: “This is a capitalist network, paid for by capitalists who use 15 minutes per hour to sell their products and services. We accordingly report the news from a pro-capitalist, American point of view.” But that would be too blatant.

It’s good in any case that lines are being drawn, vaguely though they are; the commentators agree that young voters’ perceptions of socialism are unsophisticated. Sanders’ socialism is not that envisioned by Lenin but the type of welfare-state capitalism that has succeeded best in Scandinavia. Those who support socialism have many different ideas about what it is or should be, but they are clear on the fact that capitalism is one mode of production, very creative historically but not eternal, not the “end of history” but a mere stage beyond which humans can progress.

That’s really the key point of Marxist thought: the understanding that socio-economic structures are historically transitory. They come and go. There is still slavery in the world, but it has diminished over centuries. There are still millions chained to the soil and controlled like serfs, but wage-labor is more and more the global norm. The relationship between the worker and the capitalist employer, on the rise in Europe from the sixteenth century, constitutes capitalism. It had a birth in time, and will die in time.

What follows will probably be called socialism.  It will draw upon the Soviet and Chinese experiences of centralized planning, learning from successes and failures, but with a much deeper understanding of how markets work. Capitalism will be recalled as the dominant system in an era of  several hundred years, during which as Marx observed, the bourgeoisie played a revolutionary role. But today’s Danny Deutsches are no revolutionaries but reactionaries horrified that Capital is being questioned. “The soul of the capitalist is capital,” Marx observed. Threatened at the soul-level, the bourgeois commentariat takes aim at the Democratic Socialists, socialism in general, tuition-free college, medicaid for all.

Good, good. Let them attack. Let there be discussion. May capitalism and socialism become household words and debate rage. It’s high time.

India’s Agrarian Crisis: Dismantling “Development”

In his 1978 book India MortgagedT.N. Reddy predicted the country would one day open all sectors to foreign direct investment and surrender economic sovereignty to imperialist powers.

Today, the US and Europe cling to a moribund form of capitalism and have used various mechanisms to bolster the system in the face of economic stagnation and massive inequalities: the raiding of public budgets, the expansion of credit to consumers and governments to sustain spending and consumption, financial speculation and increased militarism. Via ‘globalisation’, Western powers have also been on an unrelenting drive to plunder what they regard as ‘untapped markets’ in other areas of the globe.

Agricapital has been moving in on Indian food and agriculture for some time. But India is an agrarian-based country underpinned by smallholder agriculture and decentralised food processing. Foreign capital therefore first needs to displace the current model before bringing India’s food and agriculture sector under its control. And this is precisely what is happening.

Western agribusiness is shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India. Over 300,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GMO) cash crops and economic liberalisation.

Other sectors have not been immune to this bogus notion of development. Millions of people have been displaced to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other large-scale projects. And the full military backing of the state has been on hand to forcibly evict people, place them in camps and inflict human rights abuses on them.

To help open the nation to foreign capital, proponents of economic neoliberalism are fond of stating that ‘regulatory blockages’ must be removed. If particular ‘blockages’ stemming from legitimate protest, rights to land and dissent cannot be dealt with by peaceful means, other methods are used. And when increasing mass surveillance or widespread ideological attempts to discredit and smear does not secure compliance or dilute the power of protest, brute force is on hand.

India’s agrarian crisis

India is currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) agricapital and the running down of the existing system of agriculture. Millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are suffering economic distress as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them.

At the same time, the country’s spurt of GDP growth – the holy grail of ‘development’ – has largely been fueled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head of population than it did 40 years ago. Meanwhile, unlike farmers, corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans but have failed to spur job creation.

The plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and remaining farmers will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

US agribusiness corporations are spearheading the process, the very companies that fuel and thrive on a five-year US taxpayer-funded farm bill subsidy of around $500 billion. Their industrial model in the US is based on the overproduction of certain commodities often sold at prices below the cost of production and dumped on the rest of the world, thereby undermining farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture in other countries.

It is a model designed to facilitate the needs and profits of these corporations which belong to the agritech, agrochemicals, commodity trading, food processing and retail sectors. A model that can only survive thanks to taxpayer handouts and by subsidising the farmer who is squeezed at one end by seed and agrochemical manufacturers and at the other, by powerful retail interests. A model that can only function by externalising its massive health, environmental and social costs. And a model that only leads to the destruction of rural communities and jobs, degraded soil, less diverse and nutrient-deficient diets, polluted water, water shortages and poor health.

If we look at the US model, it serves the needs of agribusiness corporations and large-scale retailers, not farmers, the public nor the environment. So by bowing to their needs via World Bank directives and the US-Indo Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, what is the future to be for India?

A mainly urbanised country reliant on an industrial agriculture and all it entails, including denutrified food, increasingly monolithic diets, the massive use of agrochemicals and food contaminated by hormones, steroids, antibiotics and a range of chemical additives. A country with spiralling rates of ill health, degraded soil, a collapse in the insect population, contaminated and depleted water supplies and a cartel of seed, chemical and food processing companies with ever-greater control over the global food production and supply chain.

But we don’t need a crystal ball to look into the future. Much of the above is already taking place, not least the destruction of rural communities, the impoverishment of the countryside and continuing urbanisation, which is itself causing problems for India’s crowded cities and eating up valuable agricultural land.

So why would India want to let the foxes guard the hen house? Why mimic the model of intensive, chemical-dependent agriculture of the US and be further incorporated into a corrupt US-dominated global food regime that undermines food security and food sovereignty? After all, numerous high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies.

Yet the trend in India continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational players.

The plan is to shift hundreds of millions from the countryside into the cities to serve as a cheap army of labour for offshored foreign companies, mirroring what China has become: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, rural migrants are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs. Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as jobless ‘growth’ seems to have arrived as the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

If we look at the various Western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to in order to ‘modernise’ the country’s food and agriculture, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialism. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared?

Fueled by capitalism’s compulsion to overproduce and then seek out new markets, the same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda: terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ embody little more than the tenets of neoliberal fundamentalism wrapped in benign-sounding words. It boils down to one thing: Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations will decide on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed.

Alternatives to development

Current policies seek to tie agriculture to an environmentally destructive, moribund system of capitalism. Practical solutions to the agrarian crisis must be based on sustainable agriculture which places the small farmer at the centre of policies: far-sighted and sustained policy initiatives centred on self-sufficiency, localisation, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and agroecology.

The scaling up of agroecological approaches should be a lynch pin of genuine rural development. Other measures involve implementing land reforms, correcting rigged trade, delinking from capitalist globalisation (capital controls) and managing foreign trade to suit smallholder farmers’ interests not those of foreign agricapital.

More generally, there is the need to recognise that genuine sustainable agriculture can only be achieved by challenging power relations, especially resisting the industrial model of agriculture being rolled out by powerful agribusiness corporations and the neoliberal policies that serve their interests.

What is required is an ‘alternative to development’ as post-development theorist Arturo Escobar explains:

Because seven decades after World War II, certain fundamentals have not changed. Global inequality remains severe, both between and within nations. Environmental devastation and human dislocation, driven by political as well as ecological factors, continues to worsen. These are symptoms of the failure of “development,” indicators that the intellectual and political post-development project remains an urgent task.

Looking at the situation in Latin America, Escobar says development strategies have centred on large-scale interventions, such as the expansion of oil palm plantations, mining, and large port development.

And it is similar in India: commodity monocropping; immiseration in the countryside; the appropriation of biodiversity, the means of subsistence for millions of rural dwellers; unnecessary and inappropriate environment-destroying, people-displacing infrastructure projects; and state-backed violence against the poorest and most marginalised sections of society.

These problems, says Escobar, are not the result of a lack of development but of ‘excessive development’. Escobar looks towards the worldviews of indigenous peoples and the inseparability and interdependence of humans and nature for solutions.

He is not alone. Writers Felix Padel and Malvika Gupta argue that adivasi (India’s indigenous peoples) economics may be the only hope for the future because India’s tribal cultures remain the antithesis of capitalism and industrialisation. Their age-old knowledge and value systems promote long-term sustainability through restraint in what is taken from nature. Their societies also emphasise equality and sharing rather than hierarchy and competition.

These principles must guide our actions regardless of where we live on the planet because what’s the alternative? A system driven by narcissism, domination, ego, anthropocentrism, speciesism and plunder. A system that is using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have poisoned the rivers and oceans, destroyed natural habitats, driven wildlife species to (the edge of) extinction and have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere to the point that runaway climate change seems more and more likely.

And, as we see all around us, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources, while nuclear missiles hang over humanity’s head like a sword of Damocles.

 

Wealth Concentration Drives a New Global Imperialism

Regime changes in Iraq and Libya, Syria’s war, Venezuela’s crisis, sanctions on Cuba, Iran, Russia, and North Korea are reflections of a new global imperialism imposed by a core of capitalist nations in support of trillions of dollars of concentrated investment wealth. This new world order of mass capital has become a totalitarian empire of inequality and repression.

The global 1%, comprised of over 36-million millionaires and 2,400 billionaires, employ their excess capital with investment management firms like BlackRock and J.P Morgan Chase. The top seventeen of these trillion-dollar investment management firms controlled $41.1 trillion dollars in 2017. These firms are all directly invested in each other and managed by only 199 people who decide how and where global capital will be invested. Their biggest problem is they have more capital than there are safe investment opportunities, which leads to risky speculative investments, increased war spending, privatization of the public domain, and pressures to open new capital investment opportunities through political regime changes.

Power elites in support of capital investment are collectively embedded in a system of mandatory growth. Failure for capital to achieve continuing expansion leads to economic stagnation, which can result in depression, bank failures, currency collapses, and mass unemployment.  Capitalism is an economic system that inevitably adjusts itself via contractions, recessions, and depressions. Power elites are entrapped in a web of enforced growth that requires ongoing global management and the formation of new and ever expanding capital investment opportunities. This forced expansion becomes a worldwide manifest destiny that seeks total capital domination in all regions of the earth and beyond.

Sixty percent of the core 199 global power elite managers are from the US, with people from twenty capitalist nations rounding out the balance. These power elite managers and associated one percenters take active part in global policy groups and governments. They serve as advisors to the IMF, World Trade Organization, World Bank, International Bank of Settlements, Federal Reserve Board, G-7 and the G-20. Most attend the World Economic Forum. Global power elites engage actively on private international policy councils such as the Council of Thirty, Trilateral Commission, and the Atlantic Council. Many of the US global elites are members of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Business Roundtable in the US. The most important issue for these power elites is protecting capital investment, insuring debt collection, and building opportunities for further returns.

The global power elite are aware of their existence as a numerical minority in the vast sea of impoverished humanity. Roughly 80% of the world’s population lives on less than ten dollars a day and half live on less than three dollars a day. Concentrated global capital becomes the binding institutional alignment that brings transnational capitalists into a centralized global imperialism facilitated by world economic/trade institutions and protected by the US/NATO military empire. This concentration of wealth leads to a crisis of humanity, whereby poverty, war, starvation, mass alienation, media propaganda, and environmental devastation have reached levels that threaten humanity’s future.

The idea of independent self-ruling nation-states has long been held sacrosanct in traditional liberal capitalist economies. However, globalization has placed a new set of demands on capitalism that requires transnational mechanisms to support continued capital growth that is increasingly beyond the boundaries of individual states. The financial crisis of 2008 was an acknowledgement of the global system of capital under threat. These threats encourage the abandonment of nation-state rights altogether and the formation of a global imperialism that reflects new world order requirements for protecting transnational capital.

Institutions within capitalist countries including government ministries, defense forces, intelligence agencies, judiciary, universities and representative bodies, recognize to varying degrees that the overriding demands of transnational capital spill beyond the boundaries of nation-states.  The resulting worldwide reach motivates a new form of global imperialism that is evident by coalitions of core capitalist nations engaged in past and present regime change efforts via sanctions, covert actions, co-options, and war with non-cooperating nations—Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and Russia.

The attempted coup in Venezuela shows the alignment of transnational capital-supporting states in recognizing the elite forces that oppose Maduro’s socialist presidency. A new global imperialism is at work here, whereby Venezuela’s sovereignty is openly undermined by a capital imperial world order that seeks not just control of Venezuela’s oil, but a full opportunity for widespread investments through a new regime.

The widespread corporate media negation of the democratically elected president of Venezuela demonstrates that these media are owned and controlled by ideologists for the global power elite. Corporate media today is highly concentrated and fully international. Their primary goal is the promotion of product sales and pro-capitalist propaganda through the psychological control of human desires, emotions, beliefs, fears, and values. Corporate media does this by manipulating feelings and cognitions of human beings worldwide, and by promoting entertainment as a distraction to global inequality.

Recognizing global imperialism as a manifestation of concentrated wealth, managed by a few hundred people, is of utmost importance for democratic humanitarian activists.  We must stand on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and challenge global imperialism and its fascist governments, media propaganda, and empire armies.