Category Archives: Capitalism

The Attack on Facebook is not for our Benefit

It’s some achievement to get me sympathising with Mark Zuckerberg. But denunciations from a powerful combination of a parliamentary committee in the UK and self-appointed watchdogs of the new media like the Guardian almost managed it.

The digital, culture, media and sport select committee finally published a damning report into Facebook after an 18-month investigation, as reported today by the Guardian.

The solutions demanded by the committee, however, are intended not to make Facebook and new media more accountable, as the report claims, but to reassert the dominance of the British state in surveilling the public and revive the declining fortunes of the more trusted old media corporations, the Guardian very much included.

And lurking behind it all is the terror of the political-media class at the spread of a new kind of political insurgency – a rejection of the current status quo for war and neoliberal pillage – given voice on new media platforms that is readily dismissed, by both the committee and the Guardian, as “fake news”.

What is really at issue becomes clear the moment one starts to unpick the report. It intentionally conflates three entirely different problems, muddling them together to win support for all three.

The aim is to hammer Facebook into submission, not for our benefit – as is desperately needed – but so that the state and media establishment can “take back control”.

Let’s look at the report’s conclusions.

First, it rightly accuses Facebook of being “digital gangsters”, harvesting private information so that it can be sold. Facebook, the committee warns, has been monetising our private lives.

“Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states.

It hardly needs pointing out that Facebook is a for-profit company that specialises in accumulating information, the details of our lives we willingly hand over.

It was inevitable that a global company providing a digital platform for sharing information between friends would get greedy and share that same information privately with those who wish to exploit us, whether commercially or politically.

Until data-sharing companies arose, the state and its security services had a near-monopoly on such covert surveillance. Think of all those CCTV cameras dotted along the high street. Or watch an episode of TV show The Hunted, where former police officers quickly hunt down members of the public on the run.

The parliamentary report sounds much less like a clarion call for our privacy to be respected than a threat to Facebook from the establishment over such information being spread around too much.

Because when this kind of data becomes too accessible, you risk unpredictable outcomes, like a Dominic Cummings using it to engineer victory in the Brexit referendum. And who knows, if this carries on, one day the Scottish nationalists might find a way to win independence from London rule.

Second, the committee is exercised by the fact that Facebook has created “market dominance” for itself to “crush rivals” and is “shutting them out of its systems to prevent them from competing with Facebook or its subsidiaries”.

Hmm, doesn’t that sound exactly like what companies are supposed to do in our neoliberal capitalist societies? After all, if we turn our attention to the old media for a moment, hasn’t Rupert Murdoch been allowed to create “market dominance”? Doesn’t he seek to “crush rivals”? Don’t all large companies try to “shut out” competitors? Why is it so bad only when Zuckerberg, does it?

Or is this not really about “market dominance”, but about a young upstart social media corporation replicating the economic models of the old media giants and nudging them into the long grass?

The problem is not that Facebook has market dominance, but that our economies are nowadays premised solely on the idea that a tiny number of corporations gain market dominance. Let’s challenge that idea, not single out Facebook.

Third, we get to the nub of what this is all about. The giveaway is in the report’s remit, as explained by the Guardian: it was set up in response to concerns “about the influence of false information and its ability to spread unscrutinised on social media”. Or as the paper describes it more pithily elsewhere, the committee was investigating “disinformation and fake news”.

The goal here is not just to ensure that the state regains control over our private information and that the old media regain their commercial  advantage.

More importantly still, the goal is that both get to control the political agenda, the ideological narrative. All that fearmongering about “Kremlin bots” and “fake news” on social media is designed to curtail dissidents voices, those who demur from the centrist – warmongering, planet-destroying, neoliberal – consensus.

The critical left – anything to the left of the Blairites, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – are being presented as politically toxic as the white-supremacist right. Both are viewed as equally a threat, as evidence of a dangerous populism, as the wild weeds sown by “fake news”.

The committee report is simply the latest hammer blow against the new media, with Facebook most prominent, to bring it into line, to fully subordinate it to the traditional political and media class.

Tom Watson, the Labour party’s deputy leader, and the man best placed to stab Corbyn in the back should the right moment arrive, is not even shy of making that clear: “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him [Zuckerberg] and his company into line.”

Facebook, of course, has no ideological objections to complying. It does not care about freedom of speech, or pluralism, only about its image and market position.

Karim Palant, the company’s UK public policy manager, happily responded: “We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform.”

What holds it back from full compliance is not the damage that will be inflicted on our political freedoms from a crackdown on dissident views, or “fake news”, but the the economic pain it will incur if it hands back control of the digital data it has amassed.

Charter Schools: Competition Makes All Schools Losers

For most individuals, life without competition is inconceivable. Competition seems to be part of  everything we know and do. It saturates everything. Nothing seems to escape its grip. It directs and conditions people at the conscious and subconscious levels. Competition appears natural, inevitable, and normal, as if it has always existed and can never go away.

Generations of conditioning tells us that competition is what motivates us, drives us, and makes us want to improve, excel, and achieve. Competition is supposedly intrinsic to us and makes us break through barriers and reach new heights every day.

Nothing would ever supposedly get done without competition. Everyone would just be lazy and mope around at home all day eating Doritos and playing video games in their pajamas. People would allegedly aspire to nothing without the fear of winning and losing, without a protocol of rewards and punishments to “motivate” them to be productive. Competition is therefore the only way to overcome laziness and lack of productivity so as to get what one earns and deserves. In the final analysis, winning and losing supposedly brings out the best in everyone and everything and is the main way to ensure quality, excellence, and progress.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines competition as: “The action of endeavouring to gain what another endeavours to gain at the same time’; the striving of two or more for the same object; rivalry.”

Synonyms for competition include: “contention, conflict, feuding, battling, fighting, struggling, strife, war.”

Competition, the close cousin of individualism, consumerism, selfishness, greed, and anxiety is based on many long-standing myths. A main one is the myth of scarcity. According to this myth, things acquire their value from being scarce, and when there is not enough to go around, people will necessarily feud, compete, and fight with each other to obtain scarce things.

But there is no reason to compete for something, especially if it is abundant, as are so many things in the United States, an advanced capitalist economy. Why struggle, fight, battle, and feud for something if there is enough to go around? Why engage in stressful rivalry? For every homeless person in the U.S., for example, there are six vacant homes, proving that what is produced under capitalism is not for social needs, but for narrow private profit. Homelessness is not the product of a scarcity of houses but the direct result of a society based on an outdated economic and political system that embraces competition and does not recognize the rights of humans. No one should have to be homeless in a society overflowing with houses.

But there is also no automatic reason to compete for something even when it is scarce. There is nothing inherent to the scarcity of something that magically and instantly produces the drive to compete. The drive to compete is specific to the type of social order that prevails, specifically the capitalist social order.

Competition assumes, accepts, and perpetuates hierarchies, inequalities, privilege distribution systems, winners and losers. And it often brings out the worst, not the best, in everyone and everything. It rejects the idea that all humans have rights that government is duty-bound to guarantee in practice. Rights belong to people by virtue of their very being and cannot be given or taken away. They are not based on competition or merit. One’s rights, including the right to education, cannot be based on the anarchy, chaos, and violence of the “free market,” competition, individualism, and consumerism. Such a way of living is outdated, inefficient, and barbaric.

Charter school promoters and supporters never tire of reminding everyone that the ideologies of competition and the “free market” are the apex of human achievement and form the bedrock of the charter school movement. Charter schools are “market-driven” schools, they endlessly assert with a straight face. Competition is what schools need according to education privatizers who see everything as a commodity and as a matter of consumerism and individual choices. From the narrow perspective of “free market” fundamentalists, winning and losing, and punishments and rewards, are natural, healthy, normal, and eternal. It is the way things should be done. It is how you get the best. When schools compete, the “bad” ones disappear and the “good” ones prevail, and this way everyone gets to attend the “good” ones. Why, according to charter school supporters, should schools be viewed as being any different from any other commodity like beef jerky and chewing tobacco? The best way to get “good” schools, according to corporate school reformers and neoliberals, is by ruthlessly subjecting them to the same chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.”

In reality, however, both public schools and charter schools, not to mention society and the economy as a whole, suffer when the ideology and practice of competition frame and drive thinking, ideas, arrangements, relations, institutions, activities, and behaviors in society.

Public schools, already chronically underfunded, over-tested, and constantly demonized by the rich and their political and media flunkies, lose billions of public dollars each year to privately operated charter schools rife with fraud, an unimpressive academic record, high teacher and student turnover rates, discriminatory student enrollment patterns, little transparency, no regulations, no publicly elected school boards, and no unions. The “free market,” competition, and privatization have successfully increased chaos, anarchy, and violence in the sphere of education and in the lives of many families, especially those families left uprooted, angry, dislocated, and stressed when a charter school closes, often without warning. Families have no recourse when this happens 200-250 times a year. They are left to fend for themselves like animals, just another casualty of the charter school sector organized and promoted by the rich.

A handful of major owners of capital have gotten vastly richer by creating pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools to expand their private empires, while also working overtime to promote the illusion that charter schools are wonderful, harmless, reasonable, successful, alternative education arrangements for “the kids.” The rich are the only winners when it comes to charter schools and other forms of education commodification and financial parasitism. Charter schools have nothing to do with “empowering parents.”

Another way charter schools, public schools, students, teachers, parents, and society as a whole lose when competition is imposed on education is through the animosity, anger, resentment, stress, and protests that are generated when schools compete for students and funds. Competing for depleted funds makes both types of schools worse off, especially when economies of scale matter. Charter school supporters’ much-vaunted competition has not generated widespread mutually beneficial cooperation and growth in the sphere of education. Instead, a mean ugly spirit prevails between most public schools and charter schools. They do not see each other as allies and friends. On the contrary, the battle between public schools and charter schools has been intensifying with each passing year.

With the rise of privatized education arrangements like charter schools, we now have a fractured decaying society plagued by two sets of education arrangements mired in crisis. Charter school owners-operators have helped move society backward. Nothing has been solved. Instead, more divisions, conflicts, and losses have been inflicted on the majority and society. The “achievement gap,” largely a product of harsh class divisions in society, has not improved in any real and lasting way.

The way out of this deepening crisis is the same as the way out of all the crises society is mired in, namely to work with others to develop modern definitions, thinking, and practical politics that will deprive wealthy private interests of their ability to deprive of us of our power and rights. Supreme decision-making power, sovereignty, must lie with the people, not the financial oligarchy whose only concern is to enrich itself at the expense of the general interests of society. If all major education decisions keep being made by the top one percent of the top one percent, society and education will keep sliding backward. Only the working class and people can usher in a modern human-centered alternative. It is entirely possible and necessary to foster locally-controlled, fully-funded, world-class public schools available to all at all times. People do not need to be treated as narrow selfish consumers who fend for themselves like animals in their anxious quest to secure a great education for their kids in a society that lacks no funds and resources.

Capitalism’s Ownership of Global Warming

Capitalism not only owns global warming, there’s a big red mitigation arrow pointed at the heart of today’s rampant capitalism, which is eerily similar to the loosie goosie version of the Roaring Twenties, but with a high tech twist.

After all, somebody’s got to pony-up for climate change/global warming mitigation. Who better than deep pocket capitalists?

For historical perspective:  Today’s brand of capitalism runs circles around the Eisenhower 1950s with its 90% top marginal tax rate amidst harmony and good feelings all across the land, an age of innocence aka Leave It To Beaver.

In sharp contrast to the fifties era of good feelings with its emergence of spanking new suburbia, today’s landscape resembles the film Blade Runner (1982) high-tech, rich, and gleaming in some places but elsewhere (often times right next door) shabby and weakening as America’s middle class fizzles away attached to a ball and chain of indebted servitude.

With increasing frequency as climate mitigation is investigated certain statistics stand out like a throbbing sore thumb:

The top three greenhouse gas emitters— China, the EU and the US—contribute more than half of total global emissions, while the bottom 100 countries only account for 3.5%.  Collectively, the top 10 emitters account for nearly three-quarters (75%) of global emissions. The world can’t possibly successfully tackle the climate change challenge without significant action from these top-emitting countries.1

Interestingly enough, the socio-politico-economic genesis of global warming as of nowadays is known as Late Capitalism, as defined by Ernest Mandel2 or in the parlance: “Increasing commodification and industrialization of more, and more, sectors of human life” as the social fabric splits apart, delineating “haves” versus “have-nots.”

By definition, that socio/economic paradigm brings in its wake division, and fierce alienation.

So, Late Capitalism, what does it look like? According to Oxfam International, a confederation of 20 independent charitable orgs founded in 1942, sixty-two (62) of the richest billionaires held as much wealth in 2016 as 50% of the entire world population. That number dropped to 8 billionaires in 2017 controlling as much wealth as the bottom half of the world. That remarkable ratio is: 8 : 3,600,000,000.

The 2018 numbers are not yet available, but there’s speculation that the number eight (8) will drop, in time, to two (2) people that control as much wealth as one-half (½) of the world. That’s the absolute epitome, the zenith, of Late Capitalism.

It’s little wonder that wealth disparity, flashed all over the place, has become a target in the context of the climate crisis. In that regard, not many people grasp the issue as well as Kevin Anderson of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research/UK. Tyndall is one of the world’s most prestigious research institutions, and Anderson has a reputation for telling it like it is.

Recently, he spoke at the Oxford Climate Society.

Accordingly, as discussed by Kevin Anderson, knowing that climate change is a serious (existential) threat… what to do… just for starters: (1) The top 10% carbon polluters in the world must cut their CO2 footprint to the same footprint as members of the EU. (2) The remaining 90% of the world makes no reductions. (3) Ipso facto, global CO2 is cut by one-third.

That’s merely a starter, an appetizer for meeting the 2C temperature guardrail as agreed by the nations of the world at Paris 2015. Interestingly, the top 10% polluters are the heart and soul of effective mitigation, which is defined as an “equitable solution,” meaning those who emit the most carbon must carry the heaviest burden. Yet, an equitable solution has not happened, and there are no signals it will happen.

Getting to the heart of the matter, according to Anderson:

The taboo issue of the asymmetric distribution of wealth underpins the international community’s failure to seriously tackle climate change. Only when we acknowledge this can we move from incrementalism to system-change.

Believe it or not (of course, it is true and believable) 1,500 private jets flew attendees to Davos World Economic Forum to discuss, amongst other issues, climate change.

According to Kevin Anderson:

It’s about time we called these people out.

For example, the Davos paradigm, meaning plutocrats taking control, is legitimized (in Anderson’s words) by:

The climate Glitterati, such as, M. Bloomberg, L. DiCaprio, N. Stern, C. Figueres, A. Gore, M. Carney. All of these people have huge carbon footprints, and they fly around the world in private jets to inform us what to do about climate change. They are supported by a whole cadre of senior academics promoting offsetting, negative emissions, geo-engineering, CCS, green growth, etc. These are all ‘an evolution within the system.

Also, annual COP (Conference of the Parties) has been hijacked by climate glitterati-related influencers (COPs are annual UN Climate Change Conferences held to assess progress).

Well, surprise-surprise, not surprised, Royal Dutch Shell had a hand in shaping the Paris Agreement of 2015, and it influenced certain provisions of the “Rulebook” adopted at COP24 in Katowice 2018. This meddling clearly violates the ethics that only member states of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change can determine “texts and rulebooks.” But, it happens with regularity.

At COP 24 in Katowice at a side event organized by the International Emissions Trading Association (a big time biz lobby) Shell’s chief climate adviser, David Hone, publicly announced that Shell should take some credit for inclusion of Article 6 in the Paris Agreement, which enables countries to trade emissions in carbon markets.

Not only, Mr. Hone also took a bow and credit for part of the text in the all-important “Rulebook” adopted at Katowice. By all accounts and according to various environmental groups, big corporations are “greenwashing.”

Fossil fuel companies were significant sponsors at COP24 in Katowice. Their logos were ubiquitous. And, at a mind-blowing out of this world event, the Polish Pavilion was stuffed full of actual lumps of black coal, as samplers.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda told COP24 delegates:

Using coal is not in contradiction with climate protection in Poland because we can lower the emissions and ensure economic growth at the same time.

What!!! Who falls for this kind of claptrap?

ExxonMobil pledged to cut its methane emissions and contribute funds for a carbon tax campaign in the U.S. Oh, please, stop it! Pseudo solutions like carbon markets and geo-engineering promises (that don’t work to scale) are pushed by corporate interests to legitimatize their current CO2 emissions. Oh, please! It’s a ruse because if you lay claim to geo-engineering technology that fixes CO2 emissions, then you legitimize using as much fossil fuel as your little heart desires. But, the brutal truth is the technology is not perfected.  Not by a long shot. Then what?

Climate change is ultimately a rationing issue. But, so far, forget it:

We’ve had 28 years of abject failure on climate change. It’s not that we haven’t brought emissions down. It’s just that we’ve watched them go up. In fact, since 2000, the rate at which they’ve gone up is even faster than the 1990s. (Kevin Anderson)

According to Anderson, the current CO2 global budget is roughly 700Gt of CO2 maximum to adhere to the Paris Agreement of temps below 2C. Meanwhile, 43Gt of CO2 is emitted per year, which equates to 16 years of current emissions to stay under 2C. Thereafter, and in fact, before then, CO2 emissions must drop to zero. (For the record, this has never happened.)

At the end of the day, the only conceivable way forward to prevent the world from turning into an oven is “system change” via transformation to decarbonized energy supply technologies with deep penetration of efficient technologies and a profound shift in behavior and reframing the value propositions re success and progress, an economic model that fits the purpose of mitigation, like eco-economics.

As for the current economic model of high-end neoliberal capitalism, it must be displaced in favor of eco economics. What are the odds? One hundred percent (100%) it will happen but way too late!

According to Kevin Anderson:

Everything is pointed in the wrong direction… We are guaranteed defeat unless we start to think radically differently.

He concludes:

We have an outside chance of still meeting 2C if society addresses the political, social, and economic implications, as well as the technical ones.

But, what if it’s too late?

Postscript:

Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright. In the face of both triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve climate action by doing the same things, the same old ways means defeat. It guarantees defeat.

— Alex Steffen, American award-winning futurist, 2017

  1. World Resources Institute
  2. Late Capitalism, Verso Classics, 1999.

The Lost Morality of Economics

One of the most powerful and effective tools in the hands of capitalist economists is the suggestion that economics in general and capitalism in particular is some sort of science. This illusion – and illusion it is – is strongly assisted by the fact that modern economics is taught with the aid of impressive-looking mathematical equations and “proofs”. Economic textbooks are cluttered with tables, statistics, and graphs which make the books look like physics textbooks, or maths books even. Therefore economics must also be a science, right?

Well, no, actually. For the very simple reason that real sciences, such as physics and chemistry, demand a standard of proof and intellectual rigour that not only doesn’t exist in modern economics, it has never existed at all since the earliest days when some sort of economic theory could be perceived. Early economic principles were conceived in religion, and religion strongly influenced economic practices for at least two thousand years. Capitalism, the dominant economic belief of today, is still more of a religion than a science, because it demands from its adherents a level of blind faith which is little different from any other religious fanatic.

In the beginning

As an atheist I’m not much impressed by the bible, or any other religious work. I accept that there’s some limited utilitarian value in such books, for the slight contribution they make to studying the essential subject of history, but the main purpose they have always served – tools of psychological oppression for the rich to control the thoughts and actions of the poor – is reprehensible, and devalues any use they may have as lessons of history. The bible’s usefulness as a collection of historical documents is helpful for this discussion not because of any particular value to economic thought in the stories themselves, but in the almost undeniable fact that those stories were told, and presumably believed, a very long time ago.

RH Tawney was an economic historian whose work was well known in the first half of the last century, and was strongly influential on the embryonic ethical values of Britain’s Labour Party. He was a devout Christian and lifelong friend of William Temple, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unsurprisingly he clearly felt no conflict of interest between his Christian faith and his staunch support of socialism, and if Tawney’s work is now largely unknown it’s probably due more to the latter fact than the former. However, much of what he had to say is as relevant today as it was in Tawney’s day – if not even more so.

One of his once quite well-known books, Christianity and the Rise of Capitalism, written in the 1930s, is a seriously important piece of work. It’s not an easy read, especially at the beginning where some of the old references he uses appear in the original Latin, Greek, German or French – without translations. And although he wrote with a beautiful elegance which is quite rare today I found I often needed to read some sections two or three times over to properly understand him.

The message of Tawney’s book is, essentially, this: although ruthless exploitation of the poor by the rich is probably as old as human history itself, there appears to have been a significant change in the wider social acceptance of the “rightness” of it starting somewhere around the time of the European Reformation in the sixteenth century.

The early morality of moneylending

I happened to be reading Tawney’s book at the same time as I was reading Ellen Brown’s excellent The Public Banking Solution, which coincidentally has a brief reference to a related point: that over two thousand years ago lending money at interest (which today we’re all conditioned to accept as the only way to do it) was not necessarily recognised as a good thing, and acceptable only in certain circumstances.

The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 23 : 19 says:

Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury.

It’s not clear what was meant by “brother”, but it’s assumed it had a wider meaning than just one’s male sibling, and possibly meant any Jewish person (given that the book is mainly about the Jewish people). Because the very next verse goes on to say:

Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

These biblical references are interesting because they indicate the morality practised by the ancient Jews with respect to the business of lending. Furthermore, the second part of that last verse is intriguing, as it suggests that usury is a good way to help possess new lands. This theme is echoed earlier in Deuteronomy; for Chapter 15 : 6 reads:

For the Lord thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.

So lending at interest was clearly recognised thousands of years ago as a tool to control other lands, and presumably for that reason it was forbidden for Jews to borrow from others.

This biblical chapter has other interesting comments on the morality of lending. It opens, for example, with this:

“1. At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.

  1. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought to his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’s release.”

This is obviously a clear statement that all debts should be wiped out every seven years.

There are further verses in Chapter 15 which clearly describe a high standard for the morality of money lending:

“7. If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:

  1. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
  2. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it shall be sin unto thee.
  3. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.
  4. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

Some of this morality was clearly adopted by the early Christian church, because lending at interest (usury) was regarded as a serious sin, and charity towards the poor was routinely practised by most Christian churches and monasteries, and taught as a Christian virtue. This situation lasted for the best part of fifteen hundred years – until the Protestant Reformation.

 The age of Calvin

Arguably the single most powerful driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, the one thing which, probably more than any other that drove Martin Luther to hammer his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle church on Halloween in 1517, was the cesspool of corruption that had overtaken the Christian Church. The many problems that Luther publicly exposed to the glaring light of day, like the little boy who cried out that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, gradually galvanised like-minded thinkers into action all across Europe.

Although Martin Luther is widely credited with initiating the Protestant Reformation, his interests appear to have been largely focused on reformation of the Church, to try to end the rampant corruption that was decaying the institution which meant so much to Luther for its spiritual values rather than its income-generating qualities. However, there were others, such as Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin, who interpreted Luther’s lead as an opportunity to liberate the business world from the traditional grip of the Church. Of these, Calvin arguably had the most influence on the economic changes that were soon to come about, and which would provide much of the moral justification for what is today widely recognised as capitalism.

Tawney captured the essence of the significant societal change that took place in the new dawn of the European Reformation:

To countless generations of religious thinkers, the fundamental maxim of Christian social ethics had seemed to be expressed in the words of St Paul to Timothy: ‘Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. For the love of money is the root of all evil.’ Now, while, as always, the world battered at the gate, a new standard was raised within the citadel by its own defenders… Not sufficiency to the needs of daily life, but limitless increase and expansion, became the goal of the Christian’s efforts. Not consumption, on which the eyes of earlier sages had been turned, but production, became the pivot of his argument… The shrewd, calculating commercialism which tries all human relations by pecuniary standards, the acquisitiveness which cannot rest while there are competitors to be conquered or profits to be won, the love of social power, and hunger for economic gain – these irrepressible appetites had evoked from time immemorial the warnings and denunciations of saints and sages. Plunged in the cleansing waters of later Puritanism, the qualities which less enlightened ages had denounced as social vices emerged as economic virtues. [My emphasis].1

Although it’s highly unlikely that Calvin ever intended his writing to have the savage effect that modern capitalism has produced on humanity, our planet, and all living creatures, it’s clear to see a watershed moment coinciding with his work. Before Calvin the generally practised morality of everyday economic affairs was largely influenced by the same values the Church had been promoting for over a thousand years, significantly based on Old Testament teaching. But with Luther’s bold attack on the Church’s lucrative and highly corrupt protection racket, the door was flung open to confront any and all inconvenient Church restraints – such as money-lending and profit-making businesses, subjects about which Luther’s famous protest showed no particular interest:

What reason is there [asked Calvin] why the income from business should not be larger than that from landowning? Whence do the merchant’s profits come, except from his own diligence and industry?2

Today these seem innocuous questions, but in Calvin’s day they were almost sacrilegious. However, given the seismic rumblings that Luther had triggered they would have passed almost unnoticed – except by those who could see their potential for economic liberalism.

Tawney provides profound evidence for the effect this new thinking produced:

A practical example of that change in emphasis is given by the treatment of Enclosure and of Pauperism. For a century and a half the progress of enclosing had been a burning issue, flaring up, from time to time, into acute agitation. During the greater part of that period, from Latimer in the thirties of the sixteenth century to Laud in the thirties of the seventeenth, the attitude of religious teachers had been one of condemnation…

[but] When Major-General Whalley in 1656 introduced a measure to regulate and restrict the enclosure of commons… there was an instant outcry from members that it would ‘destroy property’ and the bill was refused a second reading.3

Enclosures in England, like the Highland Clearances in Scotland, were the massive thefts of land from the millions of poor who depended on it for their very survival. It’s easy, and not entirely incorrect, to see the plump hands of the well-nourished aristocracy behind this, but Tawney also draws our attention to the actions of another group who, if anything, are even more despicable than over-pampered patricians, a group who, two hundred years later, would be contemptuously identified as the “bourgeoisie”:

It was not the lords of great estates, but eager and prosperous peasants, who in England first nibbled at commons and undermined the manorial custom, behind which, as behind a dyke, their small savings had been accumulated. It was not great capitalists, but enterprising gildsmen (soc), who began to make the control of the fraternity the basis of a system of plutocratic exploitation.4

Many of those born into lives of luxury and over-pampered indolence, then and now, have no idea of the price paid in human misery and environmental destruction for their grotesque over-consumption. Whereas most of those who emerged from humble backgrounds and ruthlessly clawed and gouged their way to riches are only too well aware of the suffering they left far behind, and their own vital roles in perpetuating it.

Capitalism in its teenage years

There was still a significant ethical component in the teaching of economics two hundred years after Calvin. The subject was still not widely known as economics, merely part of the much wider subject of moral philosophy. Adam Smith, often called the father of capitalism, was not an economist, but occupied the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow University for a number of years.

Smith’s best-known work “Wealth of Nations” is most well-known for one of its least important (and least accurate) phrases – the suggestion that everyone is driven by their own self-interest, and that an “invisible hand” guides their selfish actions toward the overall best interests of society.

Although much of Smith’s book sings the praises of profit-seeking, showing how far times have moved on from pre-Reformation days, the moral philosopher inside him is still cautious about the limitless power of corporations which, in Smith’s day, were just beginning to exercise their full nation-making (or breaking) strength:

The government of an exclusive company of merchants is perhaps the worst of all governments for any country whatever. 5

And he was concerned about the corruptive influence of big business upon the nation’s rulers:

In the mercantile regulations the interest of our manufacturers has been most peculiarly attended to; and the interest, not so much of consumers, as that of some other sets of producers, has been sacrificed to it.6

Although Smith was much mistaken, in my view, about the easy availability and sufficiency of work, it has to be remembered that when Wealth of Nations was written the worst effects of enclosures in England, and the clearances in Scotland were yet to be felt. Most people could still sustain themselves to some extent on the land if they had to, and at least provide basic shelter and prevent starvation for themselves and their families. The worst horrors of the so-called “Industrial Revolution” were still almost a hundred years away. Nevertheless Smith still had a high regard for the importance of human labour, rather than money, as the real source of a nation’s wealth:

Labour was the first price, the original purchase money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased; and its value, to those who possess it and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command…

Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price, money is their nominal price only.7

It’s possible that Smith conceived this thought all by himself, but it’s also possible he obtained it somewhere else. Ben Franklin, for example, wrote the following well before Smith’s book came out:

The riches of a country are to be valued by the quantity of labor its inhabitants are able to purchase and not by the quantity of gold and silver it possesses.8

So it’s reasonable to assume that in Adam Smith’s day the slowly-evolving theory of capitalist economics still retained some of the teachings of the early Christian Church, not least of which was its recognition of the importance of human labour. Consider, for example, the harsh but generally not unreasonable words of 2 Thessalonians 3:10:

[I]f any would not work, neither should he eat.

However, not only was the brutality of the “Industrial Revolution” yet to reveal its advantages to the fledgling capitalists of Smith and Franklin’s day, so too was the steadily growing transatlantic slave trade.

Capitalism reaches full maturity

By the middle of the nineteenth century Capitalism had possibly achieved its zenith. The most powerful empire of the day, based in London, was ruthlessly exploiting the people and resources of so much of the Earth’s surface that the sun never set over it. The United States had seized control over the central landmass of North America by massive acts of genocide of its native people, and waging war with Spanish colonizers. As British colonizers wallowed in the wealth generated by millions of oppressed natives, British workers were literally starving to death in depopulated common land and the industrialised ghettoes of the new manufacturing hell-holes of England. As new US multi-millionaires wallowed in their wealth, the African slave population that was worked to death producing it reached its greatest number, about ten per cent of the total population of the US. Capitalism must have surveyed its work around the globe and smiled in satisfaction.

But to every action there is reaction.

There have always been small groups of oppressed people who have bravely resisted their oppression. For most of human history their small victories have usually been short-lived affairs ending not so much in ideological failure but by the same vicious brutality against which they fought. Even the more successful rebellions, such as the English and French Revolutions, were eventually crushed by the same reactionary forces that were initially overwhelmed. However, these more successful popular uprisings sent out ripples of change, which astute governments were quick to notice. Many of the political and social reforms that were slowly achieved in Britain in the nineteenth century were won not so much because of the ruling aristocracy seeing the wisdom of the reformers’ campaigns, but because of the salutary lesson taught to their French counterparts in the 1790s when they failed to heed the wrath of the masses.

Emerging from early seventeenth and nineteenth century reformers such as the Levellers, Diggers, Luddites and Chartists appeared an even more radical and coherent ideology: communism. Argued and explained in the writings of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, for example, communism inspired rebels all around the world, and with the victorious Russian Revolution in 1917 reason for real hope inspired reformers in almost every country.

Like the English and French Revolutions before it, the ripples spread out from Moscow across the world, and capitalist governments sat up and took notice. Obviously the new Russian upstart must be crushed, and it would indeed be ruthlessly opposed and attacked at every opportunity throughout its life, but in the meantime the rabble-rousers at home had to be carefully handled. Using the tried and tested method of divide and rule, together with liberal use of the more dark and sinister devices that have always been at the fingertips of powerful governments, communism was kept at bay in most of the western world. It was eventually defeated in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev served up his communist country on a platter to the treacherous western powers who would immediately sell his capitulation as a victory of the ideology of capitalism over communism.

Of course, it was nothing of the sort. Given that Russian communism, and later Chinese communism, were savagely and relentlessly attacked throughout their lives by the most powerful nations on the planet, it was not communist ideology that failed, it was western military and economic warfare that won.

But the key point to note, and indeed the point of this essay, is that at the heart of this ancient struggle lies a very simple economic question: whose benefit should the wealth of a nation serve? The capitalist believes that all wealth should be concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority of powerful people, utterly ruthless people driven only by their own greed and ambition and who will stop at nothing to achieve it. They do not openly say this, but it is without question how they behave. The communist believes that wealth should be evenly distributed between all people. Unlike the capitalist, who keeps his ambitions secret, the communist is perfectly open about his aims.

So it all comes down to morality. Who is right, from an ethical perspective, the capitalist or the communist? The communist is perfectly happy to argue his point on ideological grounds, but the capitalist has tried to turn his ideology into a bogus science, not only utterly devoid of any morality whatsoever, but also devoid of any intellectual rigour – and with its real purpose kept permanently hidden from view.

That modern capitalism is wholly conspiratorial in nature was once openly confessed by one of its leading champions, the American economist James Buchanan. Describing the exclusive gatherings of disciples that Buchanan hosted, historian Nancy MacLean explained:

Buchanan made one more important point to his invited guests. The key thing moving forward, he stressed, was that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.”9

But apart from being an ethical vacuum, modern economics as it’s widely taught, which is almost exclusively capitalist economics, is also not a science. It’s a construction composed entirely of fabricated nonsense, unproven and unprovable theories, and perfectly ridiculous claims, all dressed up in mathematical symbols to create the illusion that it’s somehow deep and meaningful. Even professional economists admit to the deceitful gobbledegook that is the subject of economics.

Thomas Balogh, for example, economic adviser in Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, here quoting the economist and Nobel Laureate Wassily Leontief, partly explained how this trickery has succeeded:

The increasingly technical formulations [of mathematics in economics] and the debate over their validity and precision provided employment for many of the thousands of economists now needed for economics instruction in universities and colleges around the world…

Mathematical economics also gave to economics a professionally rewarding aspect of scientific certainty and precision, adding usefully to the prestige of academic economists in their university association with the other social sciences and the so-called hard sciences. One of the costs of these several services was, however, the removal of the subject several steps further from reality. Not all but a very large number of the mathematical exercises began (as they still do) with the words “We assume perfect competition.” In the real world perfect competition was by now leading an increasingly esoteric existence, if, indeed any existence at all, and mathematical theory was, in no slight measure, the highly sophisticated cover under which it managed to survive.10

Australian economist Steve Keen is more direct:

There is one striking fact about this whole literature [of economics], and that is that there is not one single empirical fact in it.11

Even one of the best-known economists of all time, JM Keynes, is positively scathing about the pseudo-science in economics:

Too large a proportion of recent ‘mathematical’ economics are merely concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, and which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.12

Under the careful management of capitalist economists, such as James Buchanan, the philosophy of economics has been entirely sacrificed to the lies and myths and pseudo-science of capitalist theory, a theory which serves no one except the super-rich. Keynes was unequivocal in his condemnation:

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.13

And that was before modern capitalism properly hit its stride. Andy Grove, co-founder and CEO of Intel, provided a more recent, and accurate definition of capitalism:

The purpose of the new capitalism,” he said, “is to shoot the wounded.14

Well, it’s high time the wounded started shooting back. Economics is first and foremost about morality, not money.

  1. Christianity and the Rise of Capitalism, R.H. Tawney, p. 246.
  2. Ibid, p. 246.
  3. Ibid, p. 253 and 256.
  4. Ibid, p. 78.
  5. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, p. 722.
  6. Ibid, p. 841.
  7. Ibid, p. 44 and 47.
  8. The Public Banking Solution, Ellen Brown, p. 123.
  9. Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, p. 117.
  10. The Irrelevance of Conventional Economics”, Thomas Balogh, p. 8.
  11. Debunking Economics, Steve Keen, p. 67.
  12. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, JM Keynes, p. 298.
  13. Extreme Money, Satyajit Das, p. 128.
  14. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Greg Palast, p. 146.

Trust Nothing

Utilizing the power of celebrity (an unprecedented phenomenon for the expansion of capital in the west), today’s global influencers such as Thunberg, are fully utilized to create a sense of urgency in regard to the climate crisis. The unspoken reality is, they are the very marketing strategy to save capitalism. This is a very “inconvenient truth”.

Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer

And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.

— Albert T. Beveridge (Speech in the Senate. “Congressional Record”, Senate, 56th Congress, 1st session,1900)

The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard…

Luther Standing Bear

I want to try to tie together several societal and cultural trends that have been developing beneath the surface (or at least beneath the surface most of the time) for several years. One thing that the Trump presidency seems undeniably to embody is a kind of seismic shift into open fascism — a shift that is global in nature. This is not to suggest that Trump is anything other than a continuation of what came before, but that the very forces that brought the Donald to the Presidency have also made visible the tendencies toward fascism globally.

This is the age of marketing. Only that age began forty years ago, more or less, so this is now the age of hyper marketing or ultra marketing. And that all topics and concerns, literally everything, from education to policing to surveillance to nuclear disarmament, to green or ecological concerns, to politics (sic) to gender and race are all in service to further a total indoctrination of the populace (meaning mostly, but not exclusively the West) and a way to protect capital and solidify the power of the ruling elite. And perhaps it’s not exactly to protect Capital so much as to set the stage for a post capitalist new feudalism.

The global landscape now features in Brazil (5th most populous country on earth) a new openly fascist president in Jair Bolsonaro. This is a man who openly admires Hitler, and suggests he’d kill a son if he found out he was gay. Not to mention his adoration of Israel and bromance with Bibi Netanyahu. (contradiction you say?.. on the surface yes, but perhaps not if one examines all this more closely). Bolsonaro wants to sell off the rain forest, and has all but issued a mass death warrant to indigenous tribes and activists protesting the denuding of the Amazon basin. In India, the second most populous nation on earth, Modi has defined himself and his party the BJP as a nativist neo fascist authoritarianism.

…while we don’t have a fascist nationalism which was in Germany, what we are witnessing is semi-fascist nationalism along religious sentiments.

— Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, The Hindu, June 2017

In Hungary there is Victor Orban, and across Europe are a host of nativist ultra reactionary racist politicans; Geert Wilders in Holland, Matteo Salvini in Italy, or AfD political leader Alexander Gauland in Germany who dismissed Nazi era rule as mere “bird poo” in an otherwise spotless history of German triumph. Or Jimmy Akesson of the Swedish Democrats, or Jussi Hallo Aho of the Finns Party in Finland, or the crack pot religious fanatics of the Law and Justice party in Poland (close with Orban’s party) or, in some ways, the most pernicious of the new reactionary neo fascists is Kristian Thulesen Dahl, head of the Danish People’s Party, a svelte well tailored and hip new fascism growing in legitimacy in the formally tolerant Scandinavian country. Dahl, a Knight of the Danneborog, likes to call his party “an anti Muslim party”. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, from the ostensively center right Venstre Party (it’s not, it’s full on reactionary) is almost equal to Dahl in his xenophobia. The previous Prime Minister (Anders Fogh Rasmussen) left the post in 2009 to head up NATO. (!) A position that then was taken by former Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg (Labor Party). So here we have these supposedly liberal politicians eagerly rolling over and piddling themselves, on command, from the US joint chiefs.

Running beneath all of these “anti immigration” parties is a revanchist colonial mentality. And that’s the point. The corporate media provides cover by stressing that immigration is a ‘real’ concern. The very framing of this question is just another tactic in the rehabilitation of fascism. Never is any mention made of *why* there is an immigration *problem*. And if an aside is voiced it never targets US.and NATO Imperialist wars but rather suggests this is a clash of civilizations thing, echoing the seemingly forever durable Samuel Huntington meme. The fact that all that post 9/11 anti Islamic mythology has been debunked matters not at all. It doesn’t matter because people in the West WANTED to believe it — it reinforced a fantasy that they had clutched to their psychic bosoms long ago. The infidel, the barbarian hordes, and the uncivilizable tribes that threaten that bastion of civilization, white Europe. None of the anti immigration parties now on the ascendent in Europe has voiced opposition to US and NATO military affairs. Victor Orban (Fidesz Party) is rapidly coming to seem Europe’s answer to Donald Trump, or perhaps the new Berlusconi.

90% of all newspapers and media in Hungary is owned by Fidesz party loyalists. And Orban has drastically rewritten the constitution to allow himself enlarged powers. Not for no reason has Steve Bannon called Orban the most exciting politician in Europe. Also note, the Fidesz Party began as an anti-Communist youth group.

But the point is that those lurid drawings of the caves in Tora Bora or videos of dogs being gassed…as practice….or the yellow cake in Niger…were lapped up like milk in the U.S. The photos of Abu Ghraib came and went.

In the U.S. there is now a shifting away from the acute individualism of the ‘snowflake’ privileged and a reforming in the guise of a nostalgia laden colonialist or slave owner. And if you think that an exaggeration then just remember Bill Maher’s tirade last week where he referred very approvingly to the Monroe Doctrine and mentioned Venezuela as part of “our back yard”. I mean, it is stunning, it really is. The new colonial is replicated in another guise by the Israeli military. As I have noted before the IDF no longer bothers much with the ‘most moral army in the world’ argument and just cuts straight to hyper efficient killing machine and overlords of their region. They are applauded as such, too.

In my anecdotal experience the last few weeks I have had countless social media interactions in which my interlocatur was young(ish) white and reasonably well off financially. And two things have emerged as through lines: one was an indelible and core racism. Especially anti black racism, and a clear tendency toward antisemitism. And second, a refusal to surrender privilege. The white privilege is more protected than ever, psychologically. And with that comes an outright refusal to criticize US policy — unless it is viewed as Trump’s policy. And often these two things are buried. They are deeply entrenched, though. I would wager that a vast majority of white America is unmoved by the achievements of the Innocence Project. Freeing black men is simply not something white people can get behind. But it is also the return of the mid 20th century hagiographic adoration of cowboys, the frontier, and rugged individualism. And with hunting. Now there is also a growing anger. I mean, people are losing their lives. Families live under freeway overpasses. There are no jobs. And a new desperation is gripping the nation.

So intersecting then, are this new material desperation and a nostalgic self definition that includes Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, as well as an open embrace of teen symbolism and a kitsch nostalgia for the past as created by Hollywood — 70s styles, or 80s styles, etc. Anything but the present. For there is no style to the present. There is only escape from it. And the ruling elite are not unaware of all this either. Both major parties have the same identical goals. Both protect their privilege and both strategise ways or campaigns to capitalize on the discontent they see around them. (Enter Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. And not to beat this drum again, but the woman is a cretin. The examples are countless. But she remains telegenic and so desperate are people, liberals, to find a new standard bearer, that her gaffes are simply ignored.). The marketing of new candidates meant to suggest “change” is less effective than it was for Obama in his initial run. But it still works. But something else is behind all this. And that is touched on most acutely and brilliantly by Cory Moorningstar in her exhaustive 4 part series The Wrong Kind of Green.

And this is really, for me, something that has been nagging at me during those insomnia hours before dawn. Nagged at me while taking long walks ….and that is how the Ecological and Environmental Crisis is being marketed. And from that, how to process or trust the various conflicting alarms that are a constant now. And for many on the left to even say this much is dangerous. When I wrote that piece on Green Shaming I had started to touch on the outer husk of this, but Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer did simply extraordinary work in researching the mechanisms of exploitation involved in the construction of a new grammar and style for this false Green awareness. The environmental crisis, all too real, is viewed as just another business opportunity. Only it’s more than that, too.

Now when I say it’s an age of hyper marketing, it is useful to really remember that almost everyone who is visible in media is being handled. Or “handled”. Everyone. EVERYONE. And nothing is ever what it seems, if it is visible to the mass public. It is an age in which the very idea of trust has been so eroded as to be almost anachronistic.

Fifty years ago Adorno warned of empty activism. And today that warning has migrated to green actions. It is worth bringing in Venezuela here, as another kind of example. Max Blumenthal wrote in an exhaustive piece on Juan Guaido, that…

While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories. Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power. Though he has been a minor figure in Venezuelan politics, he had spent years quietly demonstrating his worthiness in Washington’s halls of power.

—Max Blumenthal, Grayzone, January 29, 2019)

He was manufactured, much as Goldman Sachs and the IMF and other establishment banking entities manufactured Macron. In fact, it’s the way, on a larger denser and more complex level, Barak Obama was manufactured. It’s the same structural composite that results in the marketing of Pussy Riot or pick any of a half dozen (at least) child victims of US/NATO wars. In fact much of the persuasion of public opinion comes out of invented narratives that either are starkly revisionist or simply never happened. Jessica Lynch was a branch of how that works. But the US and UK (in fact, this is something of a UK specialty) produce just oodles of eye witnesses or “real” Syrians, or Libyans or Haitians or Iraqis or Venezuelans. Much as at one time the manufacturing of eye witnesses to Milosevic’s cruelty were all over the place. And the fact that nearly always these fake “authentic” voices cannot keep their stories or facts straight doesn’t matter –for exactly the same reason it didn’t matter OBL wasn’t in those Tora Bora caves, the ones that didn’t exist.

This brings me back to the Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer in-depth article. The link is here:

But one of the key targets for Western green business has been the global south, and in particular Africa. Not surprising that the US military also “pivoted” to Africa (sic) under Obama.

Gore, with a net worth of approx. 350 million dollars, pays much lip service to subjects of inequality, wealth disparity and poverty. Thus, it is useful to actually take a look at what the much hyped green energy revolution actually looks like, when played out in real life and exactly who is being served by the so-called “green revolution”. M-Kopa Solar – “Power for Everyone” is a pay-per-use solar power provider (in the form of solar kits) created for impoverished African countries by white uber rich capitalists. The countries thus far include rural Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. M-Kopa is the brainchild of Jesse Moore (CEO), Chad Larson and Nick Hughes —who helped develop M-Pesa, which has more than 19 million users in Kenya. Included on the M-Kopa board of advisors is Colin Le Duc, a founding partner of Generation Investment Management and the Co-CIO of Generation’s growth equity Climate Solutions Funds. Other investors/lenders/partners include Shell Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At this juncture, before we continue, it is vital to note that in 2015, M-Kopa estimated that eighty percent of its customers lived on less than $2 (USD) per day. By 2015, M-Kopa had reached over $40 million of revenue.

Naomi Wolf wrote not too long ago…“When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.” But I think that is actually almost too optimistic. People want to believe mythologies that sanctify their own privilege. And this identity-based thought structure, one dimensional by its very nature, then promotes what amounts to a 21st century kitsch mythos. Or as Margaret Rosler said, “people want the fake”.

I am suggesting, in short form, that history matters. And it matters on several levels. Which is why it is being erased. This was a slave owning country in which 12 presidents owned and worked slaves. It was built by slaves and by indentured Chinese workers and it produced Manifest Destiny, a belief in American territorial expansion regardless of the cost. It was at least partly driven by Christian zealotry, and partly by greed. But also by a violence and cruelty which seems to have been the fusion of a variety of factors both historical and cultural. The public wants to find stories that flatter them and provide some, however fleeting, sense of their own significance and power. No country on earth produces men as insecure as the United States. And today, amid the waste of a destroyed union culture, and dead manufacturing base and loss of steel and auto makers…the U.S. worker is forced further and further into a fantasy laden infantilism. This is the world that goes to celebrate the life of sniper Chris Kyle, an unbalanced borderline sociopath and serial liar, at the Houston Astro Dome. This is much of the culture of the flyover states. It is racist at its core, it is aggressive, driven on by deep lacerating insecurities, and it is despises and distrusts intellect and education. The other large group is the city dwelling white liberal, college educated, and today, confused, alienated, suffering serious fertility failures and increasingly medicated with psychotropic drugs and anti depressants. This is much of the target audience for new green marketers.

One might think that if someone were conscious enough to recognise that global ecology was compromised and that pollutants were destroying fresh water, and the land, and that global warming was quite possibly going to make huge swatches of land non arable — you might think that person would look for solutions in a political frame. After all it was global capital that had brought mankind to this historic precipice. But instead, many if not nearly all the people I speak with, frame things in terms of personal responsibility. Stop driving big diesel SUVs, stop flying to Cabo for vacation, stop eating meat, etc-. But these same people tend to not criticize capitalism. Or, rather, they ask for a small non crony green capitalism. I guess this would mean green exploitation and green wars? For war is the engine of global capitalism today. Cutting across this are the various threads of the overpopulation theme. A convenient ideological adjustment that shifts blame to the poorest inhabitants of the planet. And here you find Bill Gates and other NGOs working to “help” the developing (sic) nations through population control.1

Jacob Levich writes…

The Rockefeller Foundation organized the Population Council in 1953, predicting a “Malthusian crisis” in the developing world and financing extensive experiments in population control. These interventions were enthusiastically embraced by US government policymakers, who agreed that “the demographic problems of the developing countries, especially in areas of non-Western culture, make these nations more vulnerable to Communism.”2

And this raises yet another question. The wrong kind of green, to put it in Morningstar’s term, is one that is all about the protection of capitalism. Green anti communism. There are links here between AVAAZ, and Otpor, and the USAID and National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House et al. The world of NGOs has grown in both size and power.

…the evil empire Buffett, Gates and Rockefeller built in the private sector is mirrored in the evil networks of NGOs they — along with Clinton — have constructed to provide cover for widespread environmental devastation, ethnic cleansing and Indigenous genocide committed by their corporate investments. Using bagmen like Tides Foundation in cahoots with magicians like Bill McKibben at 350 dot org, and sleight-of-hand artists like Tzeporah Berman at Tar Sands Solutions Network, Buffett, Gates, Rockefeller and Clinton have become thick as thieves in producing political theatre to distract us from the parade of refugees in their caravan of doom.”

— Jay Taber, Wrong Kind of Green, October 2013

Hollywood acts as an arm to this media intoxication when it comes to the military. Watch virtually any action, sci-fi or suspense movie these days and notice how militarism is seamlessly laced through most of the plot lines. Military hardware is easily available for these productions. Soldiers are almost always cast as virtuous. And this also demonstrates the strain of pernicious authoritarianism within American culture. FBI and CIA agents, detectives, prosecutors, all of them are portrayed with an air of troubled, perhaps flawed, but intact unassailable nobility.

— Kenn Orphan, Counterpunch, 2019

There has been a rightward shift in nearly every field one can find or think of. Recently in Norway I read this…

A majority in Parliament asked the government in 2015 to replace its appeals court jury system with a combination of professional and lay judges. Now the historic reform has taken shape, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Instead of having a 10-member jury decide on guilt or innocence in Norway’s most serious criminal cases, they’ll now be heard in Norwegian appeals courts by two professional judges and five lay judges chosen from the public. The reform changes the way cases have been decided for 130 years.

— News in English Norway Aftenposten

In other words, this is a shift toward a bias for conviction. Two judges will simply determine the case and manipulate or bully if need be, the citizen jurors. The change was made because juries were increasingly found to be unable to follow the complexity of many cases. Lay another gold star on the destruction of public education in Europe and North America.

The racism of most Americans can be tracked, too, in how they digest mainstream propaganda about Venezuela. Many feel kinship with Maher’s position. This is OUR backyard. How dare that uppity “dead communist dictator”(to use Bernie Sanders description) Chavez deign to GIVE us free heating fuel and gas. The presumption. For many this was like the help talking back. Americans by and large are quite indifferent to the accuracy or not of the demonizing of official US enemies. From Castro to Milosevic to Aristide to Assad and Gadaffi …to the DPRK or Mao or Hugo Chavez. As the national front used to say in England…’the wogs start at Calais’. For white America there is always a residual racism and Puritanism at work in their thinking.

Also, one sees the confusion in anti nuke protests. Dennis Riches has done great work in compiling info and arguing the case. He wrote:

If this recent anti-nuclear drive actually succeeded in getting the nuclear powers to ratify an international treaty declaring nuclear weapons illegal, the world would be left with the United States undeterred with a vastly predominant power in conventional weaponry. Intercontinental ballistic missiles would be refitted with precision conventional bombs capable of putting any nation on earth back in the Stone Age within a matter of weeks. This was already achieved with the attacks in attacks on Serbia (1999), Iraq (1991, 2003~) and Libya (2011). All of these were illegal under international law, which raises the question of how the international community would enforce compliance with a new international law banning nuclear weapons. In addition to the fact that international law is ignored continually during so-called peacetime, Russell and Einstein pointed out in their 1955 manifesto that treaties banning nuclear weapons would be abrogated the minute world war breaks.

— Dennis Riches, Lit by Imagination, a blog of Dennis Riches

In other words, nuclear disarmament is seen through the lens of American exceptionalism. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Secondly, insofar as it breeds in itself tendencies which— and here too we must differ—directly converge with fascism. I name as symptomatic of this the technique of calling for a discussion, only to then make one impossible; the barbaric inhumanity of a mode of behaviour that is regressive and even confuses regression with revolution; the blind primacy of action; the formalism which is indifferent to the content and shape of that against which one revolts, namely our theory. Here in Frankfurt, and certainly in Berlin as well, the word ‘professor’ is used condescendingly to dismiss people, or as they so nicely put it ‘to put them down’, just as the Nazis used the word Jew in their day.

— Adorno, Letter to Marcuse, 1969

Adorno was wrong in much of what he did in that later period (calling in the cops for one). But there is a seed of truth in his complaint, too (the Ocasio Cortez phenomenon is evidence of this, I’d say). Much of today’s green left seems profoundly uncritical of the US state department apparatus for propaganda and its infiltration (or creation) of NGOs and activists groups. Or just the predatory capitalists of Al Gore’s Generation Investment…

At this juncture, seeing as we are being led to believe that “sustainable investments” are the pathway to solving our planetary crisis, it might be wise to ask in what sustainable corporations Generation Investment is investing. Generation Investment has created a focus list of some 125 companies around the world in which it invests not based on how sustainable the business is, but rather, “on the quality of their business and management”.

Generation Investment’s portfolio and investments include multinational corporations with horrendous records of malfeasance, such as Amazon, Nike, Colgate, MasterCard, and the Chipotle restaurant chain, with heavy investments in health and technology. And as all of these corporations are heavily invested and/or dependent on fossil fuels, how an investment firm can justify investing in these companies is anyone’s guess. Generation Investment board members include eco-luminaries such as Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and the founder of nonprofit Mary Robinson Foundation. Robinson serves as president to Richard Branson’s B Team, which is managed by Purpose – the public relations arm of Avaaz.

— Cory Morningstar, The Wrong Kind of Green

The problem with discussions of global warming and the destruction of the planet is that so much of that discussion has been coopted by Capital. And it’s often very difficult to quickly know who to trust. One response I get a lot is, well, YOU have to change. This I take it means doing all kinds of feel good greeny things. And yet none of what I can do is going to matter to Bolsonaro as he burns down the Amazon. For that is political. And he is a fascist. And when Bernie Sanders and Ocasio Cortez, or Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris sign off on the coup in Venezuela, this is not and cannot be separated from the occupation of Afghanistan or the slaughter in Yemen, or mass incarceration and a violent militarized domestic police. The deep colonial Orientalism of American culture is tied to how one must start to talk about the environment. They are not separate issues. Sanders, besides slandering Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution, also trashes the BDS movement. What is one to make of this, exactly? And yet his popularity stays intact.

Any green change starts with the overthrow of capital. And that means that it rejects all military activity by the U.S. and NATO. Global warming drove the apocalyptic California wild fires last summer. But thirty or forty years of urban building, of the wrong shrubbery being planted, and crowded subdivisions intensified the fires. And, the practices of fire prevention.. paradoxically made those fires much worse.
Building in or near fire-prone forests has also led to fire prevention land management practices that paradoxically increase fire risk. For instance, policies for preventing wildfires have in some areas led to an accumulation of the dry vegetation that would ordinarily burn away in smaller natural blazes. “The thing that gets missed in all of this is that fires are a natural part of many of these systems,” said Matthew Hurteau, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico studying climate impacts on forests. “We have suppressed fires for decades actively. That’s caused larger fires.
— Umair Irfan, Vox, December, 2017
The frame is not to protect nature but to protect property, and that leads to problems.
The short equation then is this: if it’s a business opportunity, it’s not going to help anything. And if you find yourself on the same page as the US state department and Pentagon you might have to step back and take a breath. The supreme irony is Democrats in particular, who continue to drive the Russia-gate story, having no problem with getting rid of Maduro and replacing him with — for the moment — Juan Guaido. But the real purpose behind the attack on Venezuela is to get rid of socialism in ‘our back yard’. Getting massive oil reserves is a nice bonus but the priority is to turn back the so called Pink Tide. Much as Yugoslavia had to go, so does Venezuela. With Bolsonaro, and Macri in Argentina, and Ivan Duque in Colombia, the forces of reaction are being put in place. (It is worth noting that while Trump’s cabinet is stocked with Domionists, the Supreme Court has had a heavy influence of Opus Dei members and that in Brazil Opus Dei rules the third largest bank…fascism and religion are always intwined). And for white America, this feels almost nostalgic. Adding Elliot Abrams to the mix only heightens that nostalgic feeling. For this suddenly feels like Reagan’s America again. Cowboys and the frontier — and the shining light on the hill. Only now, it all takes place, this kitsch B western, in the shadow of global ecological crises. Crises caused by Capital. By Wall Street and an elite class of 2% that owns more than the bottom 50% of the planet. By a system of exploitation in which human suffering is a foundational component. It’s just like Reagan’s Norman Rockwell fantasy, except now with an all child cast.
The political spectacle is now narrated by ten year olds. Bana Al-Abed is only the latest in this line of manufactured wag the dog props for the Western spin machine. The White Helmets are another branch of the fake. Absolutely invented, only in their case of a particularly grave robber morbidity. The aforementioned Pussy Riot, and AOC is in a sense another version of this. Young lithe and almost (!) childlike. Certainly not fecund and maternal. For that is a threat. Americans see the world as a Hollywood period film. Bring back the Casinos in Havana, that’s so romantic. Same as the Romanoff balls were romantic. Same as colonial salons from Calcutta to Singapore were romantic. An afternoon tea on the verandah at the Raffles Hotel, now those were the days. Nostalgia is a safe psychic retreat now. Even if it’s all make believe. In fact, there is a strange psychic disposition that desires the fake. That wants the artificial. I think it is perhaps fake is associated with fantasy, with the world as if it is a children’s book.
American’s idea of politics is also shaped in large measure by Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing. This is probably not even a tiny exaggeration. This is the vision and fantasy of the educated liberal class in America. But for all their self described tolerance and progressiveness, they will still vote for those Democrats who want a coup in Venezuela and who signed off on all of Trump’s defense spending increases. For the bourgeoisie always side with fascism. That’s simply a fact. In the end they will side with the authoritarian and far right wing, and protect their small corner of the sandbox. And even if one tries to explain that sandbox may well become a sweatshop — they seem undeterred. In the end the liberal press will embrace Bolsonaro, too. As they now do Bush Jr, and well, Elliott Abrams. Negroponte can’t be far behind. The plan is clearly to rehabilitate fascism. Globally. The School of the Americas is due a feature film, no doubt.
  1. See Depa Provera and other reproductive health services.
  2. Aspects of India’s Economy, No 57, 2014.

The Need for a Compelling Anti-Capitalist Narrative

There’s a scene in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia where he describes how the communists propagandized the fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Orwell was with a scruffy, makeshift band of fighters high in the Spanish Alps. Both the communists and fascists were dug into their trenches and a general stalemate had ensued. During the frigid mountain days, certain soldiers were tasked with communicating to the enemy. They would first position themselves in a safe place. Then using a megaphone would recite a prefabricated monologue about how the fascist soldiers were little more than pawns in the service of elite capital interests. They were the disposable implements of war, easily discarded once used. Orwell wrote that nearly everyone on the communist side assumed the efficacy of these communiques. The conscripted fascist, often a teenager and drafted against his will for a fight he had little knowledge of or interest in, would be sunk within a muddy trench, hungry, thirsty, tormented by the alpine freeze of high altitudes. How could the socialist message not appeal to him? Of particular value, Orwell noted, were the segments of the script that announced to the disgruntled fascists that the communist speaker was, at that very moment, consuming a delicious piece of warm, buttered toast. An absurd thing to say, and perhaps the brooding fascist understood how unlikely it was to be true, but the mere image of it, a slightly burnt half of toast slathered in golden melting butter, was enough to destabilize even the most stout-hearted soldier.

The Language of Transformation

The point being, to win “the fight for the minds of men,” as America’s great war propagandist George Creel put it, one must conjure charismatic images, weave imagistic tales, and produce a historical narrative that resonates with and unifies a vast disenfranchised public. Creel served under the Wilson administration and helped turn a pacifist citizenry into a bristling public angry at the fearsome “Hun” it had never actually encountered (not unlike the roving, rape-obsessed immigrants that hysterical Republicans have never encountered, even as they obsessively grease their rifles).

Despite the obvious need for compelling stories, how often do we read interviews or articles with committed leftists or socialists, even the venerable Noam Chomsky, for instance, reminding us in the driest of terms that voting is a mere five-second act that should be given no more attention than a quick, lesser-evil calculation before stepping into the voting booth. Rather, as various authors remind us, like humorless fathers admonishing a frivolous child, that only the hard, laborious, and thankless work of community organizing, conducted tirelessly between elections, will lead to real and lasting change. True as it may be, it is, as framed and presented, a cheerless and dispiriting prospect, a maxim that literally no one wants to hear or is wont to repeat.

What this deadpan delivery misses is how voting is the one event that truly captures the imagination of the public. It is the collective ritual that confirms for many Americans that we are privileged members of a rich and enlightened western democracy. That, despite our problems, we are yet at the forefront of history, participating in the march of human progress with a faith and purpose rivaled on by the Athenian demos and the arbiters of the Magna Carta. It forgets that for many it is a hallowed booth into which we step, where one’s choice is cloaked behind a dark curtain like some kind of secular confessional, and after making their confession, the cleansed citizenry wear bright stickers proclaiming to all and sundry that they did their civic duty.

Voting, perhaps, is the one communal political act which our atomized capitalist society permits us. It rests alongside holiday consumption sprees and sporting rituals as self-defining markers in the firmament of our national consciousness. It may be myth but it is an animating myth of our society. As such, it shouldn’t be discarded with such facile contempt. Rather, it ought to be mined for pointers on how to model a socialist myth that can be evangelized to a public in desperate need of new answers.

Story and Symbol

In Geoffrey Miller’s evolutionary psychology tour de force, The Mating Mind, in which he explores the idea that art and language evolved under sexual selection pressures (rather than by pressures of natural selection), he writes the following:

Imagine some young hominids huddling around a Pleistocene campfire, enjoying their newly evolved language ability. Two males get into an argument about the nature of the world, and start holding forth, displaying their ideologies.

The hominid named Carl proposes: “We are mortal, fallible primates who survive on this fickle savanna only because we cluster in these jealousy-ridden groups. Everywhere we have ever traveled is just a tiny, random corner of a vast continent on an unimaginably huge sphere spinning in a vacuum. There sphere has traveled billions and billions of times around a flaming ball of gas, which will eventually blow up to incinerate our empty, fossilized skulls. I have discovered several compelling lines of evidence in support of these hypotheses…”

The hominid named Candide interrupts: “No, I believe we are immortal spirits gifted with these beautiful bodies because the great god Wug chose us as his favorite creatures. Wug blessed us with this fertile paradise that provides just enough challenges to keep things interesting. Behind the moon, mystic nightingales sing our praises, some of us more than others. Above the azure dome of the sky the smiling sun warms our hearts. After we grow old and enjoy the babbling of our grandchildren, Wug will lift us from these bodies to join our friends to eat roasted gazelle and dance eternally. I think these things because Wug picked me to receive this special wisdom in a dream last night.”

Which ideology do you suppose would prove more sexually attractive? Will Carl’s truth-seeking genes–which may discover some rather ugly truths–out-compete Candide’s wonderful-story genes? The evidence of human history suggests that our ancestors were more like Candide than Carl. Most modern humans are naturally Candides. It usually takes years of watching BBC or PBS science documentaries to become as objective as Carl.

If this is so, is the left guilty of transforming itself into a brooding Carl, arms overflowing with manifestos and tomes, arguing apocalypse to a weary electorate that just wants some good news? Or, at the very least, a piece of escapism, an entertaining tale that removes them from their chronic worries for a couple of hours? Recently, teacher Bruce Lerro illustrated some of the themes he emphasizes in a class he teaches, “Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century”. The gist of his two-part series is that socialism has yet to grasp the theatrical side of human nature that is a requisite of movement building. He points to religion, nationalism, and sports as three fields which have successfully leveraged the tribal, ethnocentric, and ritualistic tendencies within human nature to promote their particular interests.

We know Hollywood and the defense industry often collaborate on films that reify the tropes of patriotic Americanism for each passing generation. We know from marketing that advertising that creates dramatic tension and that draws from the story arcs of conventional dramatic theory improve attention and likability. Metaphors are triggering devices for the senses, hence the durable appeal of the ‘shining city on a hill’ and the visual tropes of the American Dream.

The figure of the charismatic leader has lately done a number on the American imagination. If we are so addicted to facts, as the interminable and farcical Russiagate campaign has so many of us believing, then why is Barack Obama still revered as a peace candidate? A man who as Commander in Chief dropped 26,000 bombs in a single calendar year. Who bombed the Middle East for eight years with the implacable consistency of a religious rite. Who was at war in some fashion or another his entire presidency. Yet Obama was just last month handed the RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award. The organization tweeted an image of the former president in a popular pose: impeccably dressed in an expensive suit of muted azure thread, his face is a portrait of composure and gentle optimism, as his eyes gaze placidly at some unnamable dream far and high and away from where he–and we–are. The gap between the man and the myth is abyssal. Yet one can recall the masterfully rendered illustrations of the young Obama gazing determinedly into the near distance, above bolded letterings of “HOPE” and “CHANGE”, and the flowing waves of the campaign logo.

The Need for a New Myth

All this to say that without a more stirring socialist vision, imbued with the symbols and ritual that instantiate human myth, we will continue to find our attempts to inspire revolution co-opted by monopoly capital, which tend to better stories than the left does. As Henry Giroux points out, “…the lack of mass resistance to [neoliberal] oppression signals more than apathy or indifference, it also suggests that we don’t have an informed and energizing vision of the world for which we want to struggle.” Are we fighting for socialism or against neoliberalism? Are we battling neoliberalism or capitalism itself? Are we after a New Deal or a new society? Is the enemy neoconservatism or the white supremacist? Are we fighting racism, sexism, imperialism, neoliberalism, or all of the above?

This messaging mayhem is not an issue for the establishment. Rather than issuing harsh systemic critiques, the establishment paints pictures. For liberal audiences, Democrats fulminate about Donald Trump as the living manifestation of evil and traffic in the language of tyranny and resistance. For white supremacists, Republicans rouse racist enmities with images of impoverished refugees moving steadily toward our borders, which take on a monstrous character in the minds of MAGA minions. For uncompromising patriots, the armed forces air commercials of heroic young men jumping from helicopters and landing crafts and running across smoke-filled landscapes “toward the sound of chaos.” For bootstrap conservatives, there are Reagan’s welfare queens arriving at the unemployment office in waxed Cadillacs. For humanitarian interventionists, there is Colin Powell’s imagery of a team of mad scientists zigzagging Mesopotamia in mobile weapons labs, or Tony Blair brandishing a dossier warning that a nuclear-tipped WMD could hit central London in just 45 minutes.

In a mediascape littered with symbols, calls for the head of corporate capitalism on a gilded platter are thus swept aside by an interdependent duopoly that thrives on facilitating corporate exploitation with one hand and teasing the inexhaustible well of mass credulity with the other. Belief is the dodgy virtue that venal duopolists deploy the most. Each election cycle is an exercise in peddling hope and fear in alternating cycles, like a trafficker controlling his prisoners by a devious alternation of drug and deprivation. The left has done well illustrating the monstrosities of corporate capital, and the need to colorfully adumbrate the crimes of the ruling class will always be crucial. But so too is the need to craft more compelling stories of a world without war and a land where health and education and work are rites of passage rather than a lifelong ordeal. Can the traditional bearers of bad tidings shape an electrifying vision of a socialist society? A companion narrative that finally replaces the extant portrait of collectivism as a bloodbath of mayhem and menace? The left’s chances for mass appeal likely depend on it. Even the Bolsheviks, who were scathing critics of socialist opportunism, let alone capitalists, headlined their 1917 revolution with the triple promise of, “Peace! Land! Bread!” The workers and the peasants knew exactly what they were fighting for.

The CIA Then and Now: Old Wine in New Bottles

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

Don McLean, “American Pie”, 1971

The Nazis had a name for their propaganda and mind-control operations: weltanschauungskrieg – “world view warfare.”  As good students, they had learned many tricks of the trade from their American teachers, including Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who had honed his propagandistic skills for the United States during World War I and had subsequently started the public relations industry in New York City, an industry whose raison d’ȇtre from the start was to serve the interests of the elites in manipulating the public mind.

In 1941, U.S. Intelligence translated weltanschauungskrieg as “psychological warfare,” a phrase that fails to grasp the full dimensions of the growing power and penetration of U.S. propaganda, then and now.  Of course, the American propaganda apparatus was just then getting started on an enterprise that has become the epitome of successful world view warfare programs, a colossal beast whose tentacles have spread to every corner of the globe and whose fabrications have nestled deep within the psyches of many hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.  And true to form in this circle game of friends helping friends, this propaganda program was ably assisted after WW II by all the Nazis secreted into the U.S. (“Operation Paperclip”) by Allen Dulles and his henchmen in the OSS and then the CIA to make sure the U.S. had operatives to carry on the Nazi legacy (see David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, The CIA, and The Rise of America’s Secret Government, an extraordinary book that will make your skin crawl with disgust).

This went along quite smoothly until some people started to question the Warren Commission’s JFK assassination story.  The CIA then went on the offensive in 1967 and put out the word to all its people in the agency and throughout the media and academia to use the phrase “conspiracy theory” to ridicule these skeptics, which they have done up until the present day. This secret document – CIA Dispatch 1035-960 – was a propaganda success for many decades, marginalizing those researchers and writers who were uncovering the truth about not just President Kennedy’s murder by the national security state, but those of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy.  Today, the tide is turning on this score, as recently more and more Americans are fed up with the lies and are demanding that the truth be told.  Even the Washington Post is noting this, and it is a wave of opposition that will only grow.

The CIA Exposed – Partially

But back in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, some covert propaganda programs run by the CIA were “exposed.”  First, the Agency’s sponsorship of the Congress of Cultural Freedom, through which it used magazines, prominent writers, academics, et al. to spread propaganda during the Cold War, was uncovered.  This was an era when Americans read serious literary books, writers and intellectuals had a certain cachet, and popular culture had not yet stupefied Americans. The CIA therefore secretly worked to influence American and world opinion through the literary and intellectual elites.  Frances Stonor Saunders comprehensively covers this in her 1999 book, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA And The World Of Arts And Letters, and Joel Whitney followed this up in 2016 with Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, with particular emphasis on the complicity of the CIA and the famous literary journal The Paris Review.

Then in 1975 the Church Committee hearings resulted in the exposure of abuses by the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc.  In 1977 Carl Bernstein wrote a long piece for Esquire – “The CIA and the Media” – naming names of journalists and publications (The New York Times, CBS, etc.) that worked with and for the CIA in propagandizing the American people and the rest of the world.  (Conveniently, this article can be read on the CIA’s website since presumably the agency has come clean, or, if you are the suspicious type, or maybe a conspiracy theorist, it is covering its deeper tracks with a “limited hangout,” defined by former CIA agent Victor Marchetti, who went rogue, as “spy jargon for a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals. When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting—sometimes even volunteering—some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case. The public, however, is usually so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further.”)

Confess and Move On

By the late 1970s, it seemed as if the CIA had been caught in flagrante delicto and disgraced, had confessed its sins, done penance, and resolved to go and sin no more.  Seeming, however, is the nature of the CIA’s game.  Organized criminals learn to adapt to the changing times, and that is exactly what the intelligence operatives did.  Since the major revelations of the late sixties and seventies – MKUltra, engineered coups all around the world, assassinations of foreign leaders, spying on Americans, etc. – no major program of propaganda has been exposed in the mainstream media.  Revealing books about certain CIA programs have been written – e.g. Douglas Valentine’s important The Phoenix Program being one – and dissenting writers, journalists, researchers, and whistleblowers (Robert Parry, Gary Webb, Julian Assange, James W. Douglass, David Ray Griffin, Edward Snowden, et al.) have connected the U.S. intelligence services to dirty deeds and specific actions, such as the American engineered coup d’état in Ukraine in 2013-14, electronic spying, and the attacks of September 11, 2001.  But the propaganda has for the most part continued unabated at a powerful and esoteric cultural level, while illegal and criminal actions are carried out throughout the world in the most blatant manner imaginable, as if to say fuck you openly while insidiously infecting the general population through the mass electronic screen culture that has relegated intellectual and literary culture to a tiny minority.

Planning Ahead

Let me explain what I think has been happening.

Organizations like the CIA are obviously fallible and have made many mistakes and failed to anticipate world events.  But they are also very powerful, having great financial backing,  and do the bidding of their masters in banking, Wall St., finance, etc.  They are the action arm of these financial elites, and are, as Douglass Valentine has written, organized criminals.  They have their own military, are joined to all the armed forces, and are deeply involved in the drug trade. They control the politicians. They operate their own propaganda network in conjunction with the private mercenaries they hire for their operations.  The corporate mass media take their orders, orders that need not be direct, but sometimes are, because these media are structured to do the bidding of the same elites that formed the CIA and own the media.  And while their ostensible raison d’ȇtre is to provide intelligence to the nation’s civilian leaders, this is essentially a cover story for their real work that is propaganda, killing, and conducting coups d’états at home and abroad.

Because they have deep pockets, they can afford to buy all sorts of people, people who pimp for the elites. Some of these people do work that is usually done by honest academics and independent intellectuals, a dying breed, once called free-floating intellectuals. These pimps analyze political, economic, technological, and cultural trends.  They come from different fields: history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, political science, cultural studies, linguistics, etc. They populate the think tanks and universities.  They are often intelligent but live in bad faith, knowing they are working for those who are doing the devil’s work. But they collect their pay and go their way straight to the bank, the devil’s bank.  They often belong to the Council of Foreign Relations or the Heritage Foundation. They are esteemed and esteem themselves.  But they are pimps.

El Diablo

Ah, the devil!  He’s their man. A man of many names, but always an impostor.  These pimps know his story and how he works his magic, and this is what their paymasters want from them: ways to use the old bastard’s bag of tricks to conjure confusion, and sow fear and paranoia.  And to do this slow and easy in ways no one will recognize until it is too late.

For like culture, propaganda relies on myths, symbols, and stories.  Some prefer to say narratives.  But nothing is more powerful.  Controlling the stories is the key to powerful propaganda. The pimps can spin many a tale.

Tell people endless tales of the good guys and the bad, of how the bad are out to get you and the good to save you. Think of the use of symbols in the telling of these stories.  They are crucial.  The word symbol comes from a Greek word to throw together.  Symbols that represent the in-group or the “good guys” are used to create social solidarity within the in-group.  Stories are told to accompany the symbols; stories, narratives, or myths tell of how the good guys are fighting to hold the group together and the bad guys are trying to rip the community apart.  The symbolic and its opposite – the diabolic (to throw apart) – the angels against the devils – el diablo.  Very simple, very old.  The aliens are out to get us.  And el diablo is always the ultimate other, the man in red, the reds, the commies, the Russians, the others, immigrants, the blacks who want to move next door, Muslims, gays  – take your pick.  Satanic rituals.  Black magic.  Witchcraft.

Methods of Propaganda

Infecting minds with such symbols and stories must be done directly and indirectly, as well as short-term and long-term.  Long term propaganda is like a slowly leaking water pipe that you are vaguely aware of but that rots the metal from within until the pipe can no longer resist the pressure.  Drip drop, drip drop, drip drop – and the inattentive recipients of the propaganda gradually lose their mettle to resist and don’t know it, and then when an event bursts into the news – e.g. the attacks of September 11, 2001 or Russia-gate – they have been so softened that their assent is automatically given.  They know without hesitation who the devil is and that he must be fought.

The purpose of the long-term propaganda is to create certain predispositions and weaknesses that can be exploited when needed.  Certain events can be the triggers to induce the victims to react to suggestions.  When the time is ripe, all that is needed is a slight suggestion, like a touch on the shoulder, and the hypnotized one acts in a trance.  The gun goes off, and the entranced one can’t remember why (see: Sirhan Sirhan). This is the goal of mass hypnotization through long-term propaganda: confusion, memory loss, and automatic reaction to suggestion.

Intelligence Pimps and Liquid Screen Culture

When the CIA’s dirty tricks were made public in the 1970s, it is not hard to imagine that the intellectual pimps who do their long-range thinking were asked to go back to the drawing board and paint a picture of the coming decades and how business as usual could be conducted without further embarrassment.  By that time it had become clear that intellectual or high culture was being swallowed by mass culture and the future belonged to electronic screen culture and images, not words.  What has come to be called “postmodernity” ensued, or what the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman calls “liquid modernity” and Guy Debord “the society of the spectacle.”  Such developments, rooted in what Frederic Jameson has termed “the cultural logic of late capitalism,” have resulted in the fragmentation of social and personal life into pointillistic moving pictures whose dots form incoherent images that sow mass confusion and do not cohere.  From the mid-1970s until today, this generalized disorientation with its flowing and eternal present of appearing and dissolving images has resulted in what is surely a transformed world, and with it, transformed worldviews.  The foundations have collapsed. Meaning and coherence have become difficult to discern.  Stable personality has been disassociated, memory downloaded, attention lost, the psyche materialized, sexual identity confused, the electronic mind-body interface established, and the electronic and pharmaceutical drugging of the population accomplished.  Really?  Yes.

Did not the intelligence agencies foresee all this?  Did not they see it and plan accordingly?  Did they not notice that about the time their old dirty deeds were being exposed, a movie burst onto the screen that introduced a theme familiar to them and their Nazi friends?  I mean the 1973 hit, The Exorcist, wherein Satan struts his stuff, four years after Mick Jagger strut his across the stage at Altamont, singing “Sympathy for the Devil,” while shortly after a killing took place down in front of him and the 1960s were laid to rest.  But during the 1970s The Exorcist and its theme of the devil’s hold on people came to life and was taken up with a religious fervor by the entertainment industry and promoted by Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera, and other media luminaries, who went about promoting el diablo’s hold on so many helpless victims.  Occult, magic, and satanic themes became pop staples and would remain so up until the present day.  I would suggest that readers put aside their reservations at what may seem sensational and watch this video.  Then ask yourself: what is going on here?

The CIA as Prophetic

But maybe a better question than did the CIA foresee these developments, would be to ask if it has been involved in the occult and satanic world itself, before and after the social developments of “liquid modernity.”   The answer is yes.  Indeed, all the characteristics of the social and cultural developments I mentioned previously in reference to postmodernity have been a major part of its work before this new world emerged: “the disassociation of stable personalities, memory erasure and the implanting of false memories, materializing the psyche, confusing sexual identity, establishing the electronic mind-body interface, and electronic, hallucinogenic (the CIA introduced and spread LSD in the 1960s), and pharmaceutical drugging,” to name but a few.  In anticipating these developments the CIA was at the very least predictive.  Disinformation, acts of terrorism,  coup d’états, assassinations flow out of a marriage to the Nazis made in hell – Talbot’s “devil’s chessboard” – but they are linked to much more.  Peter Levenda, in Sinister Forces: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft, a trilogy on sinister forces in American history, puts it this way:

The CIA, satanic cults, and UFOs, the mythology of the late twentieth century is surprisingly coherent even though the masks change from case to case, from victim to alleged victim.  The CIA, of course, does exist; their mind control programs from BLUEBIRD to ARTICHOKE to MK-ULTRA are a matter of public record.  Their history of political assassinations and the overthrow of various foreign governments is also a matter of record.  Satanic cults – or perhaps we should qualify that and say ‘occult secret societies’ – also exist and are a matter of public record; their attempts to contact alien forces by means of ceremonial magic and arcane ritual (including the use of some of the same drugs and other techniques as the CIA used in its mind control programs) are also well-known and documented.  Some of these practitioners were – and are – well-known men and women who have not denied their involvement (such as rocket scientist Jack Parsons in the 1950s and Army Colonel and intelligence officer Michael Aquino in the 1990s).  The CIA also aggressively researched American cults and secret societies in an effort to discover the source of paranormal abilities and ancient mind control mechanisms. And while the jury is still out on the question of UFOs, there is no doubt that government agencies have attempted to track, to analyze them, and to explain them away.  Again this is a matter of public record, including FBI and CIA documents in addition to military records.

Skeptical readers may find this strange to consider.  That would be a mistake.  The web of connections is there for anyone who cares to look.  For more than fifty years occult themes and rituals have been part of world view warfare.  Drugs, shamanism, black magic, and the occult – staples of the CIA then and now.  It is well known that Hollywood, television, and the media in general have been working closely with the intelligence agencies for a long time. Especially since 2001, films and television programs have glorified the CIA, our “good” spies, and the military. The mystification of reality has found its best friend in the electronic and internet revolution as strange and “subversive” beliefs are dangled like candy for little children.  Good and evil move through the public consciousness like passing sun and shadows.  Weird conspiracy theories “pop up” to titillate and obsess, and to drive out the serious findings of dedicated and disciplined writers and researchers who have discovered the truth about real government conspiracies.  Sowing confusion is the name of this deadly game, and if you find yourself confused, you are in good company.

But many are catching on and realizing that what seems strange but innocent is part of a much larger effort to hypnotize the public to agree to their own destruction through the ingestion of what can only be called black magic.

The eloquent writer and brave American, Jim Garrison, the former District Attorney of New Orleans and the only person to bring a trial in the assassination of President Kennedy, put it this way in On The Trail of The Assassins, the story of his quest to solve the murder of JFK.

I knew by now that when a group of individuals gravitated toward one another for no apparent reason, or a group of individuals inexplicitly headed in the same directions as if drawn by a magnetic field, or coincidence piled upon coincidence too many times, as often as not the shadowy outlines of a covert intelligence operation were somehow becoming visible.

Rub Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, the right way and the CIA emerges into the light.  You can see its shadowy outline with your eyes wide shut.  As it says on CIA headquarters: “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”

We Don’t Need A New Deal: We Need A Whole New Deck

The gap between the earth’s wardens of wealth and the nearly eight billion humans under their control has grown wider and more dangerous, but is beginning to be understood by some as a systemic problem and not simply a matter of evil leaders and villainous followers. When people see and feel their futures ranging from problematic at best to non-existent at worst, we get the resultant turmoil and changes taking place in nations moving in many directions at once but all of them against established power over things as they are.

Whether votes are cast in elections labeled democratic though still under minority control, or issues are subject to mob rule of one extreme or another, they are producing governments at least rhetorically dedicated to change even if often dangerously confused or in merely cosmetic form. Nevertheless, those demanding change beyond simply continuing the rule of market forces under minority control are starting to move up and into more commanding roles in governments. Unfortunately, and especially in America, many still operate as though political change amounts to the candidate’s skin tone, religion or sex, neglecting the philosophy between their ears by concentrating more on the genitals between their thighs.

Thus we have working people going to the polls and electing representatives of wealth operating against their interest but rhetorically speaking of change, which may mean reverting to earlier forms of capital private profit which still leave the public good in poor condition, or worse, sinking into megalomaniacal rule under populists (?) promising to dump even more wrath on those at or near the bottom. Meanwhile, more social democratic forms of capital rule which see the need for avoiding revolution by sharing a little more with the multitudes beginning to loudly complain, are also moving into positions of governmental power. This lesser evil of earlier stages, once called a “new deal” at capitalism’s last sign of collapse, is now dubbed a “green” new deal, in the face of   massive environmental threats only denied by the brain dead among private profiteers, as in the old days when realistic capital supported social democracy even while the troglodytes of capital insisted it was dreadful socialism.

This dichotomy still exists between those who would save the system that most benefits a minority rather than transform it into truly expressing the desires and needs of the majority. Neo-liberal-conservative elements panic at the thought of real democracy enabling all people to survive without having personal trust funds, family inheritance, or earning the salary rewards of work performed on behalf of those with personal trust funds and family inheritance. Rhetorical rule has managed minds into believing in ideals of democracy while materially accepting imitations that don’t even come close.

While national uprisings against despotic tyranny are important parts of past history, the present situation in which a global consciousness is growing that humanity and not just one or another national or identity group must move in the direction of taking control is a new experience for the race. It is being opposed more strongly by the beneficiaries of market forces under the control of creatures akin to gods by comparison to ordinary mortals as the dangers grow more serious. Among the brighter signs are progress towards ending the empire of the west but weaponry beyond imagination controlled by warriors beyond belief threatens humanity as never before.

The reactions coming from global GHQ of international capital are indicative of hysteria bordering on dementia tending towards stark raving insanity. And this from both sides of the ruling coin, with conservatives blathering about socialism and genocidal democracy resulting from wimpy policies merely asking how so few can be so rich while so many are so poor, and what passes for a liberal left more concerned for scandalizing a president and whining about an alleged Russian menace while debt approaches 22 trillion and Israel all but owns the white house and congress. Almost daily screeching about the alleged treachery of the present occupant at the white house, intrigue emanating from the Kremlin endangering all of humanity, and other stories captivating to prisoners of consciousness control threaten to create lynch mobs out of decent people and mass murderers out of frightened crowds.

The solutions offered by many in the face of environmental degradation are all to often connected to the political economics that have created that condition, hoping to somehow clean up filth by covering it with nicer dirt. Thus we have solutions to carbon pollution proposed that charge a price for creating it to somehow limit its production, which is like combating rape by charging a fee for its performance. When we need to totally transform the environment from one dependent on fossil fuel to one running on natural forces like air, wind, water and the sun, too often private profit is expected to do the job when that fanatic focus is already threatening the public good more than at any time in the past.

Back in the 19th century, many social critics warned of what might happen to the earth and its people if the social system of industrial capital continued. Karl Marx was foremost among them and his analysis went beyond anyone else’s and still holds true. They all understood that minority rule based on inherited power and the wealth it controlled was a menace but its newest form, not yet labeled capitalism, was the most malevolent yet. We live in the age in which it has become more obvious to hundreds of millions whose everyday lives are filled with misery and deprivation while a tiny group absorbs most of society’s wealth and shares a bit of it with a class of well paid servants who play the role of pacifying the populace from taking any political action or destroying it in wars when it does.

Whether at Vegas, on the Riviera, or at card tables run by religious groups, when the house seems to be winning even more than usual, one of the gamblers will call for a new deal. This simply means re-shuffling the deck so that cards appear in a slightly different order. At extremes, someone will demand a new deck, but even this only means new cards will be used, but with all of the same suits and numerations as the old. This is the problem with allegedly trying to call for “new” proposed solutions but without moving from a private profit first system to one that demands the public good as primary. Society needs to demand a new deck with different cards, removing the old ones like poverty, war, and racism and replacing them with peace, humanity and the common good. Continuing to reshuffle the old or even replacing it only with new forms that change immaterial labels but maintain material substance will only work to appease some until the next breakdown.

The one coming may be worse than any before, and global action needs to be taken with humanity connected as never before. It is not only possible but necessary, which is why the owners of the Casino are working hard to see to it that all dealers remain under their employ, in governments all over the world, and why citizens and nations must ultimately cross boundaries not simply to escape poverty and war in one place by hiding in another, but to live together in another kind of world which will only arrive if we create it. The next period will hopefully show that we are capable.

Understanding the Red Menace

For anyone who has read or listened to Jordan Peterson, it is obvious that he has an intense dislike of communism. On this subject his reasoning appears very shallow.

Thus the author asserts in his 12 Rules for Life: “Solzhenitsyn’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology or society.”1

First, Peterson’s claim that Solzhenitsyn’s writing demolished “the intellectual credibility of communism” is a non-sequitur for one fundamental reason: there is no dialectical validity whatsoever when support for a claim comes from places with similar or identical ideological views. In this case, for an apparently anti-communist thinker such as Peterson to quote another anti-communist thinker such as Solzhenitsyn in support for his thesis is a futile intellectual exercise in the art of persuasion. In terms of analogy consider this: what do you think of American supremacists or ultranationalists who when asked to prove the notion of so-called American exceptionalism, reply by citing what Barack Obama said on the subject?

Pertinently though, in none of his literary and political writings dealing with communist issues had Solzhenitsyn succeeded at demolishing Marxism — the ideological, economic, and philosophical matrix of communism. His ire, however, was directed at Soviet communism. But even here, Solzhenitsyn was mostly critical of the excesses of the Soviet state while never delving into the details of the positive social manifestations of Soviet social structures. In other words, his tight bias against communism was such that he just saw things through the prism of his personal views.

Second, I am not here to defend or denigrate communism; this is not the subject of this article. But from an intellectual viewpoint, if Peterson wants to demolish either Marxism or communism, he should do that by pointing to where Marx went wrong in his over 20 books and papers, or at least show us where Lenin, the founder of the first communist state, erred in his conception of such a state. It seems that he skipped this crucial step entirely, maybe because dealing with the Marxian concept of historical materialism from multiple angles requires special preparation that he was not ready to undertake. Said alternatively, what passages in Das Capital, Theories of Surplus Value, The Holy Family (Marx and Engels), Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, etc., did Peterson find to be intellectually corrupt enough to demolish communism? Based on the preceding, how is it possible then that Peterson goes straight to the climatic point by giving a verdict without trying to evaluate all philosophical, political, social, or economic debates initiated by Marx?

Furthermore, others might counter that Karl Marx demolished the credibility of capitalism as an ideology that has any place in a morally based society. However, I will not comment on the intellectuality of capitalism. I would not characterize Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as intellectually devoid — quite the contrary. Likeliest, what passes for capitalism today would nonplus Smith. Yet Peterson would hold Marx’s Capital and Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto to be intellectually deficient?

What, in essence, does such a statement reveal? To pronounce on intellectual credibility inescapably means that the person doing the pronouncing considers himself intellectually credible and sufficiently informed of the subject matter. In any case, such a person would be capable of reading Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; tying it to communist theory, as applied in the Soviet Union and elsewhere; and determining the ineluctable, consequential impact of such an ideology on society.

A subsequent epistemological analysis would speak to the veracity of any conclusion having been reached and also to the intellectual rigor of the individual making such a claim.

The events that are documented in The Gulag Archipelago are not denied or contested. What I contest is that the prison labor camps, as is intimated by Peterson, are a predictable outcome of communism. Either the Gulag was an aberration that appeared in a society striving towards a communist state or it was an inevitable outcome of a state on the path to communism. Many more questions arise: for example, were prison labor camps the norm throughout the history the Soviet Union? Or were they bound, particularly, to the authoritarian rule of Josef Stalin? Does the Gulag system exist in other communist states? Does the Gulag system exist in capitalist states?

It is important to understand what is a Gulag. Writing in a forum — which Peterson touts — Konstantin Zhiltsov (whose profile identifies him with a LLB from Moscow State University) wrote: “GULag was a simple administration, not much different from US Federal Bureau of Prisons.”2 Specific to camps, as opposed to locked-in penitentiaries, Zhiltsov wrote that they “existed long before communists and will exist without them just as well.”

On the question of camps:

Do they exist in modern Russia? Of course, yes. The majority of prisoners serve their sentence there. Of course, the regime is much different from Soviet times, much more lenient (that depends on security level, though). For example, prisoner’s labour is a right and not a duty (in the GULag system of camps, for example, it was mandatory, nowadays prisoners decide themselves to work or not to work).

So, the form is the same, but the “soul” inside of them is much different.3

Penitentiaries, rightly or wrongly, exist in most nation states. And forced labor camps are found in the US. It is via the US that in communist Cuba, the most notorious Gulag continues. Irene Khan, Amnesty’s general secretary, described the United States’ incarceration facility at Guantánamo Bay (de facto US-occupied territory in Cuba) as “the gulag of our time.”

Did the fact that Solzhenitsyn criticized the Gulag in the Soviet Union confer his approval of capitalism in the West? Political analyst Radha Rajan wrote, “Solzhenitsyn was as critical of what America and Europe represented in the twentieth century as he was of the Soviet Union and Stalinist repression.”4

Does this point to a bias ingrained in Peterson’s thinking? Nowhere in 12 Rules did Peterson mention, for example, that “Noam Chomsky’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of capitalism, as ideology or society.”5

What happened to the Soviet Union immediately after the fall of communism? Has capitalism burnished its credibility?

If communism is not defined by the Gulag system, then what is it? What is this communism that Peterson despises?

The Real News editor-in-chief Paul Jay spoke with Alexander Buzgalin, a professor of political economy and the director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Buzgalin has lived under communism in the Soviet Union and in post-communist Russia. Thus, he is uniquely positioned to comment on what communism is and was.

PAUL JAY: So, for an American or Western audience, that word, “communism,” has- less and less now, the further we get away from the cold war- but still, the idea of communism, socialism, particularly communism, it means “police state.” It means “tyranny.” For most American ears, they can’t understand how someone would actually hope for communism. What did that mean for your family?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: For us, it was absolutely another meaning because of literature, because of movies, because of some practical communal-associated activity. So, what was communism for us? First of all, labor is pleasure. I am glad, I am happy to have my work. I am going for the work because I like it, not because I must make as small as possible and receive as much money as possible. Another motivation, another logic. Second, at the workplace we have comrades, not competitors, and together we will do something interesting. This is communism. Communism is space where you have beautiful things; useful, beautiful, cheap things around you. Dress, furniture, everything. And these things are just, I don’t know, basis for your life, for interesting life, for communications, creativity. That was the image of communism. And if you read books of Strugatsky, Arkady Strugatsky or Boris Strugatsky, two very famous writers, you will find a very beautiful description of such a world, and some elements of this world, we had sometimes.

PAUL JAY: Like when?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Like when we were together as schoolboys and schoolgirls, we were making something good for Vietnamese kids. We were spending our free time, not to play games with computers, it was no computer or football- we were playing football, but not all the time. But it was interesting to work and to buy bicycles for Vietnamese kids together. Just one example. To help to the elder people together. To create museum with memory about victims of World War II in school, from the fortress of our parents and grandparents, and so on.

So, one example. And an example in university, we have a union of young students and young scientists, scholars. And we made ourselves with state finance, three, four conferences every year for free in different cities of Russia. We were travelling, we were inviting students from other cities and state paid for their trips, for airplanes, for hotels, for us to go to other places. And it was self-organization. We organized these conferences by ourselves. We had a scientific supervisor, but he or she was controlling the program, nothing else.

PAUL JAY: But this vision, I mean, communism, the Marxist vision, a classless society with very little government, if any, as the ideal. But the reality of life was quite the opposite.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but not one hundred percent opposite.6

*****
Peterson continues his criticism of communism: “No educated person dared defend that ideology again after [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago. No one could ever say again, ‘What Stalin did, that was not true communism.’” (loc 3845)7

Peterson attempts to support his contention by ad hominem against those who disagree. Peterson limits the parameters of debate: one must agree that Stalin’s governance was true communism. Moreover, according to Peterson, one must not defend communism or he will be counted among the uneducated. Once again, Peterson relies strongly on Solzhenitsyn to shoot down the entirety of communism:

Solzhenitsyn documented the Soviet Union’s extensive mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders, and showed in painstaking detail how these were not aberrations but direct expressions of the underlying communist philosophy. No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago–not even the communists themselves. (loc 5314)

This comes across as pure bluster. Peterson seems to think that by citing a book he can draw a definitive conclusion. Moreover, even given that the events as described by Solzhenitsyn are unerringly accurate, this does not inextricably bind communism to the Gulag because the Gulag happened under nominal or experimental communism. Now whether that communism was as propounded by Marx is debatable. Marx’s communism was about the liberation of workers. The communism of Marx differs from that put into practice by Lenin and Stalin.8 Moreover, communism was not envisioned as a perfect theory, free from need for revision, to be applied to all societies in all situations. Unless Marx considered himself to embody perfection, then he would not construe his thought as free from error. Indeed, self-criticism is a key component of Marxism. As Marxists are aware: “The use of criticism-self-criticism is widely recognized in the Marxist-Leninist movement as a tool that is vital to improving our work.”9 Thus, just as different countries practice a particular form of capitalism construed to meet the needs of their societies (or, more accurately, to meet the needs of the elitists in society), communism has been adapted to the exigencies of time and location.

Peterson points to the Gulag system as the distinguishing feature of communism. The gulags existed, and as horrific and wicked such places were for so many people, they were an outcome of people in power with out-sized egos and blackened souls.

If the Gulag is not the distinguishing feature of communism, then what is? Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto stated: “The distinguishing feature of Communism is … the abolition of bourgeois property.”

Peterson commits the logical fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc scenario. Because of communism, there are gulags. What is wrong with such a postulation? Did prisons and torture not exist under the Czarist regimes? Do gulags not exist under capitalism? To institute an analogy, did it occur to Peterson that United States gave torture a meaning worse than that used in the former USSR? Could Peterson educate us about “the Gulag Abu Ghraib,” “the Gulag Guantanamo Bay” or “the Gulag Bagram”?

Also, Peterson should realize that a state does not become a full-fledged communist state overnight, and in the Soviet case, not without fierce resistance. Capitalist powers were not inclined to permit a challenge to their preferred economic order.

Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn wrote that by the summer of 1919, 14 western nations and their client states had invaded Bolshevik Russia.10 US Senator William Edgar Borah admitted at that time that the US was at “war with Russia, while Congress has not declared war.… It is a violation of the plain principles of free government.”11

For the next two and a half decades “the anti-democratic and anti-Soviet conspiracy.… kept the world in an incessant turmoil of secret diplomacy, counterrevolutionary intrigue, terror, fear and hatred, and which culminated inevitably in the Axis war to enslave humanity.”12

Peterson writes,

Communism, in particular, was attractive not so much to oppressed workers, its hypothetical beneficiaries, but to intellectuals—to those whose arrogant pride in intellect assured them they were always right. But the promised utopia never emerged. (loc 3909)

This passage by Peterson is not only the epitome of intellectual manipulation because of how it was phrased, but it is also a demonstration that Peterson has no clues regarding the core tenets of Marxism — specifically Marx’s concept of communism.

On the side of manipulation, Peterson clearly implies that communism is no more than an intellectual product that oppressed workers could not possibly relate to or understand. In addition, he seems to be annoyed — better yet, intimidated — by certain intellectuals whom he debits to the arrogance for feeling “always right.” In psychological terms, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson appears to acknowledge that he is short on deploying the necessary intellectual tools to counter the arguments of well-informed intellectuals. This impression is enforced by noting that he resorted to name-calling in the attempt to downgrade the competence of intellectuals on the subject while upgrading his own, which is obviously ridden with serious shortcomings.

On the side of Marxian tenets, the scope of communism is not as he erroneously painted it. Marx never thought of communism as a platform solely directed to workers. What he envisioned was for the working class and intellectual pioneers to lead the struggle to abolish the class system thus creating egalitarian societies without classes, exploitation, and discrimination.

Now let’s turn to the debate on the issue of “credibility.” Obviously Peterson must be referring to intellectuals without credibility, but some might argue that such a premise is a contradiction. This forces one to wonder how well Peterson understands the communism of Karl Marx. Peterson does not define the “promised utopia.” Marx and Engels wrote of an end to the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. At which time the “purely Utopian character” would be revealed by “such as the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individuals, and of the wage system, the proclamation of social harmony, the conversion of the function of the state into a more superintendence of production.”13

Peterson’s second contradiction is acknowledging that workers are oppressed while also arguing that oppressed workers are not attracted to a system to end their exploitation. In other words, one surmises from Peterson that workers would prefer to be exploited by a capitalist class. Or Peterson considers that workers are not exploited under capitalism? But no one could be that deluded.

Marx and Engels shot down the notion of worker acquiescence to the capitalist structure: “But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bot. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation.”14

Moreover, utopia, if ever promised, was never promised overnight. As long as communist countries were surrounded by opposing capitalist countries, the class struggle remained ongoing.

Communism, in name, was brought about through revolution. Hated regimes like Batista in Cuba, the Czars in Russia, and the Guomindang in China were capitalist or feudalistic in orientation.

Peterson seems eager to criticize and excoriate communist states, yet in his book his home country, Canada, emerges relatively unscathed. Peterson rightly denounces Nazi atrocities committed against Jews, although he does not condemn Nazi atrocities against communists, Roma, homosexuals. Now let’s consider Canada. It is a capitalist state established through genocide against the Original Peoples. Why no criticism by Peterson?15

One shouldn’t just read Chomsky, Solzhenitsyn, Marx, and Adam Smith to get a handle on capitalism versus communism and socialism. In particular, one should not solely rely on the clinical psychologist Peterson to get an understanding in political-economics and associated ideologies. However, one should be open to learning from other political-economic systems, especially adding anarchism to one’s reading list. Become well informed. Devour information with open-minded skepticism and form your own conclusions. Above all, don’t unquestioningly accept ex cathedra statements from professors, politicians, intellectuals, or non-intellectuals.

  1. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
  2. In Part 5: understanding the Soviet Union and the fallibility of capitalism
  1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018): loc 2879.
  2. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
  3. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
  4. Radha Rajan, “Russian nationalism through the eyes of an Indian nationalist – 1,” Vijayvaani.com, 28 November 2018.
  5. Chomsky’s focus is not the intellectual credibility of capitalism but the morality of an economic system that leaves behind so many in society. See, e.g., Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Seven Stories Press, 1999).
  6. Growing Up in the USSR – RAI with A. Buzgalin (1/12),” The Real News, 11 July 2018.
  7. Later Peterson’s repeats “The Gulag Archipelago … utterly demolished communism’s moral credibility…” (loc 5307).
  8. See Thomas G. West, “Marx and Lenin,” in Marx and the Gulag (Claremont Paper No. 8, 1987).
  9. Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist) and Friends from the East Coast, “Open Letter on Criticism-Self-Criticism,” in The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 12, 11 September 1978. Available online at marxists.org.
  10. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia Proletarian Publishers (Little, Brown and Company, 1946): 79.
  11. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 85.
  12. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 392.
  13. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Chapter III. Socialist and Communist Literature” in Karl Marx: Selected Writings.
  14. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto in Karl Marx: Selected Writings (London: Essential Thinkers, 2004): 39.
  15. The professor Noam Chomsky proffered a moralistic guideline that people should focus on the actions of their own states: “My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.” See Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (South End Press, 1987).