Category Archives: Capitalism

Climate Change, Extreme Weather, Destructive Lifestyles

Throughout the world heat waves, flooding and uncontrollable wildfires have caused widespread havoc, lives have been lost, homes destroyed, livelihoods ruined.

Unprecedented levels of heat have been recorded in North America, Europe and Asia, as well as the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. According to The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) record cold May temperatures were registered in “northeastern Canada and the northern Atlantic Ocean, off the southern coast of Greenland.” Global temperatures for the first five months of the year were the highest on record for a La Niña year; higher temperatures, “lead to more frequent and long-lasting heat waves causing adverse environmental impacts.”

These extreme weather patterns are the ferocious signs and sights of climate change in 2018, and, because so little is being done to tackle the causes, year on year they become more and more intense. Planet Earth is becoming a world in which the extreme becomes the expected, the disastrous the everyday.

How bad must it get?

The year began with the coldest first week of January on record for numerous cities in eastern America; freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall swept across Europe in March as the “Beast From the East” hit. Britain was severely affected, with up to three feet of snow in some areas and temperatures down to minus 10ºC.

Floods have affected East Africa killing dozens of people, tropical cyclones hit Somalia, Djibouti, Yemen and Oman, dust storms killed hundreds in India, and Pakistan had an intense heat wave with temperatures exceeding 40ºC. Heavy rains and 70 mph winds in Bangladesh caused landslides, deaths and injuries. California had the largest wild fires ever recorded, and down under, Australia is becoming the ‘Land of Drought’ according to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

A heat wave of unprecedented temperatures scorched Europe and Japan, where 40ºC (104ºF) temperatures were recorded, 30 people died and thousands needed medical treatment for heat related conditions. A month earlier Japan had some of the worst floods in its history, more than 200 people lost their lives and almost 2 million people were evacuated; the Caribbean is bracing itself for this year’s hurricane season, while “still recovering from last year’s devastation,” which, the UNFCC say, was “the costliest on record”.

The list of extreme weather events across the word is endless; extremes that are increasingly normal as the impact of man-made climate change become more and more apparent, and yet little is being done to address the primary causes. How bad does it have to become before substantive action is taken to reverse the terrible damage we are doing to the natural world?

The mechanics of climate change

Climate change is being triggered by global warming; Global warming, described by NASA as “the unusually rapid increase in Earth’s average surface temperature…primarily due to the greenhouse gases released as people burn fossil fuels” occurs, “when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.” This happens when so-called greenhouse gases (Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O), being the three main culprits) clog the lower levels of Earth’s atmosphere. This leads to a range of effects: The planet overall becomes warmer (average ground temperature rises), causing “extreme weather events and other severe natural and societal impacts” to become more frequent; glaciers in the Arctic region melt sending huge quantities of water into the ocean, which raises the sea level, oceans are made warmer and expand, further contributing to rising levels. As the sea level rises land is flooded, cities, towns and villages are threatened, lives lost, homes destroyed, communities ripped apart, people displaced.

Man-made greenhouse gases (GGE) are produced by a range of sectors and activities: Animal agriculture produces the largest amount (18% of the total according to the UN, other sources put the figure much higher), followed by electricity and heat production, transportation and industry – all through burning fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas. GGEs have been increasing since the industrial revolution, leading to a rise in global ground temperatures, which to date has reached about 1ºC above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures continue to increase at around 0.17ºC per decade.

One degree doesn’t sound like much but, as the extreme weather events show, the effect of this modest rise on the climate is huge, the consequences far reaching, potentially catastrophic.

In 2015 the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was reached and signed by every country in the world; under President Trump America has since pulled out. Hailed as historic, its central aim is to keep global rises in temperature “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” Even if these rather optimistic targets are met, a recent study by an international team of scientists writing in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests, “there is a risk of Earth entering what the scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.” The BBC report that the group believe 2ºC of warming “could turn some of the Earth’s natural forces [forests, oceans and land] – that currently protect us – into our enemies…As the world experiences warming, these carbon sinks could become sources of carbon and make the problems of climate change significantly worse.”

If this occurs they forecast the climate stabilizing at “a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today.” This would mean that some parts of the Earth would become uninhabitable. In order to avoid this nightmare scenario the authors make clear that “a total re-orientation of human values, equity, behavior and technologies is required. We must all become stewards of the Earth.” This requires a major shift in human attitudes.

Unhealthy destructive lifestyle

Climate Change and the environmental disaster in its various colors is the result of human activity and complacency; we have poisoned the oceans, rivers and streams, cleared 85% of the world’s tropical rainforests, mainly for livestock, and are turning healthy land into desert; we are filling the air we breathe with toxins, creating dead zones in the oceans and causing the eradication of species at an unprecedented rate. Collectively we seem to have no respect or love for the natural environment and whilst some people are acting responsibly, the majority fails to see the connection between lifestyle and disaster and appear content to treat the planet like a giant rubbish tip.

The natural order has been thrown into disarray by the widespread adoption of a selfish, destructive way of life: A particular lifestyle, or collection of related ‘lifestyle choices’, are responsible for the production of man-made greenhouse gases that are triggering the extreme weather patterns we are seeing all around the world.

Hedonism and consumerism sit at the heart of the unhealthy mode of living that is driving the catastrophe and making us ill; mankind’s relentless consumption of stuff, the vast majority of which is not needed, combined with an animal-based diet (common to 97% of the global population), has created a cocktail of chaos within the natural world, bringing about the greatest crisis in the history of mankind. It is a materialistic lifestyle that the global economy, and by extension the corporate state depends on and ceaselessly promotes. This is why, despite the intense urgency of the environmental issue, we hear little on mainstream media and virtually nothing from governments, who are more concerned with economic growth and petty domestic politics than the stability and health of the planet.

The harmony of the natural world has been thrown into chaos by the same approach to life that has separated us one from another, and fuelled internal conflict resulting in a global mental health epidemic. In all areas, where there should be unity and right relationship we see enmity, discord and disease. Restoring the planet to health and creating a world in which human beings can live healthy peaceful lives are inextricably linked. Both require a fundamental change in values, a shift away from divisive modes of living built on competition and greed to inclusive ways in which social/environmental responsibility is cultivated and embraced.

Such ideas are not new and are frequently championed, but the prevailing socio-economic ideology actively works to suppress such principles, and powerfully promotes values of division and selfishness. Despite this widespread conditioning, an unstoppable current of change can be seen sweeping the world; social responsibility is growing apace, and perennial values of goodness – cooperation, tolerance and sharing – are increasingly influencing the minds of men and women everywhere.

To galvanize this global movement a major public education program should be undertaken by governments and schools to increase awareness of climate change and lifestyle and create a sense of urgency and engagement. Change can be slow, but these are extraordinary times, and there is a growing recognition that if we unite all things are possible. If not, if we continue in the selfish, greedy, divisive ways of the past, the weather patterns will become more extreme and unpredictable, the air and waterways will become more toxic, loss of life will increase and the associated environmental ills will deepen. The choice is ours.

An Updated and Improved Marxism

It is the rare intellectual who can withstand the pressures of groupthink. This is a fundamental truth, or a truism, borne out not only by daily experiences in an academic or other “intellectual” context (e.g., the newsroom or editorial board of any establishment media outlet) but also by critical scholarship from the likes of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky. Left-wing intellectuals tend to be vigilantly aware of irrational groupthink among mainstream, establishment types, or even among other leftist sects with which they don’t identify; but, like all intellectual cliques—indeed, like nearly all individual intellectuals—they’re reluctant to turn their critical gaze on themselves. They imbibe certain ideas and ideologies in their formative years and perhaps refine them as they mature, but on the whole their commitment to the ideology is apt to become rigid and uncritical.

This complacency has always most disturbed me with regard to Marxists, whose system of thought, if correctly formulated, is precisely the most critical, the most self-critical, the most democratic and revolutionary ideology ever devised. I expect intellectual laziness from mostpostmodernists,” from liberals and centrists, from all witting or unwitting servants of power. I’m disappointed, though, when I see it in Marxists and semi-Marxists. There’s a pronounced dogmatism in most Marxist circles. Personally, I’ve tried to stimulate some critical rethinking of Marxism in various publications, including my book Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States and this distillation of some of its arguments (though disregard the editor’s oversimplified summary at the top of the page), but I haven’t had much success. These writings appear to have been ignored.

Which is unfortunate, because I’m convinced it’s necessary in the twenty-first century to revise the Marxian conception of revolution. Conditions have changed from what they were a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago; Marx would likely be appalled by the lack of creative rethinking that has met these altered conditions. It’s an unfortunate situation when millions of activists across the world are struggling to build new modes of production, new modes of politics, and Marxist scholars and thinkers still confine themselves, more or less, to quoting staid formulations from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (This fact, ironically, supports Marx’s argument that old ideologies tend to hang on doggedly even as changing material conditions make them progressively irrelevant.) Writers and ‘critical ideologists’ can play an important role in the laborious construction of a new society from the ground up, but instead they’re usually content with elaborating on old slogans about seizing the state or smashing it, establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, creating a vanguard party, and so on.

An article that Jacobin recently published provides an example of this stubborn immersion in the past, as well as an opportunity to propose a more critical and up-to-date interpretation of revolution. The article in question is actually an essay by the famous British Marxist Ralph Miliband, entitled “Lenin’s The State and Revolution,” published in 1970. In itself it’s a perfectly respectable and sophisticated meditation on Lenin’s classic work, indeed counseling a proper critical attitude towards it. But the reposting of it on the website of a “cutting-edge” left-wing journal almost fifty years later highlights just how stagnant (in some respects) Marxist thinking continues to be, especially given the editorial comment with which Jacobin introduces the piece:

Marx famously proclaimed the need to “smash” the bourgeois state. But what does that mean in practice? If our aim is a democratic, non-bureaucratic socialism, what kind of state should we be striving for?

Those looking for answers have often turned to Lenin’s State and Revolution, where the famed revolutionary confidently speaks of transforming “a state of bureaucrats” into “a state of armed workers.”

In the following essay, Ralph Miliband…offers a critical appraisal of Lenin’s pamphlet and explains why “the exercise of socialist power remains the Achilles’ heel of Marxism.” …[T]he essay is still the sharpest reading of State and Revolution available.

The accuracy of this introduction is rather sad. In 2018 we’re still looking for inspiration to a brief critical analysis written in 1970 of a short work written in 1917—in completely different conditions than prevail today—that itself was but a commentary on sketchy ideas put forward in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. (One can argue, moreover, that State and Revolution was intended as little more than cynical propaganda for the Bolshevik party, in light of its deviation from Lenin’s earlier party line and his later authoritarian practice.) Surely we can do better than this.

Miliband is still right, though, that “the exercise of socialist power remains the Achilles’ heel of Marxism.” This is true not only of practice but of theory—which is to say, as I’ve argued in my paper “The Significance and Shortcomings of Karl Marx,” that the concept of proletarian revolution is Marxism’s main weakness. In the rest of this article I’ll again summarize, very briefly, some of the points from my book, in the hope of shedding a little light on an old problem.

*****

The conceptual revisions I proposed in the book offer two main advantages: first, they bring the strategic or prescriptive aspect of Marxism up to date, incorporating the increasingly popular idea and practice of the “solidarity economy” (while simultaneously providing a systematic theoretical framework to interpret the latter’s potential); second, they correct certain inconsistencies and logical errors that Marx’s sketchy proposals on revolution introduced into the theory of historical materialism. That is, with my “revisions,” Marxism has been made more logically defensible and consistent with itself. And the road is cleared for even orthodox Marxists to engage creatively with the burgeoning alternative economy of cooperatives, public banks, and other experimental ideas/institutions.

We can start with Marx’s formulation of revolution in the following four sentences from the famous Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms—with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

One problem with this classic statement is that its notion of “fettering” is meaningless. And nowhere else in his writings does Marx flesh it out with sufficient content. Capitalist production relations, especially in the last hundred years, are, in fact, constantly fettering the use and development of productive forces—and yet no post-capitalist revolution has happened. Recessions and depressions certainly “fetter” the productive forces; so do legal obstacles to the dissemination of knowledge, such as intellectual copyright laws; so do ideologies and practices of privatization, which hinder the public sector’s more socially rational and dynamic use of science and technology. On the other hand, even in decadent neoliberalism the productive forces continue to develop in various ways. So it seems wrong or meaningless to say that production relations fetter productive forces and then revolution breaks out.

A slight revision can remedy the problem, and at the same time changes the whole thrust of the Marxist theory of revolution. Rather than a conflict simply between production relations and the development of productive forces, there is a conflict between two types of production relationstwo modes of productionone of which uses productive forces in a more socially rational and “un-fettering” way than the other. The more progressive mode slowly develops in the womb of the old society as it decays; i.e., as the old dominant mode of production succumbs to crisis and stagnation. In being relatively dynamic and democratic, the emergent mode of production attracts adherents and resources, until it becomes ever more visible and powerful. The old regime can’t eradicate it; it spreads internationally and gradually transforms the economy, to such a point that the forms and content of politics change with it. Political entities become its partisans, and finally decisive seizures of power by representatives of the emergent mode of production become possible, because reactionary defenders of the old regime have lost their dominant command over resources. And so, over generations, a social revolution transpires.

This conceptual revision saves Marx’s intuition by giving it more meaning: the “fettering” is not absolute but is in relation to a more effective and democratic mode of production that is, so to speak, competing against the old stagnant one. The most obvious concrete instance of this notion of revolution is the long transition from feudalism to capitalism, during which the feudal mode became so hopelessly outgunned by the capitalist that—after the emergent economy had already broadly colonized society—bourgeois “seizures of the state” finally became possible.

You see that the simple conceptual revision I’ve proposed changes the Marxian theory from advocating a statist “dictatorship of the proletariat” to advocating a more grassroots, gradual, unambiguously democratic transformation of the economy that proceeds at the same time and to the degree that the old society deteriorates. This change of emphasis is itself an advantage, since the old overwhelmingly statist theory (notwithstanding Lenin’s semi-anarchistic language in State and Revolution) was idealistic, un-dialectical, and utopian. Which is to say un-Marxist.

In the orthodox account of the Communist Manifesto and later writings, the social revolution occurs after a seizure of state power by “the proletariat” (which, incidentally, isn’t a unitary entity but contains divisions). But this account of revolution contradicts the Marxian understanding of social dynamics—a point, oddly, that few or no Marxists appear ever to have appreciated. It exalts a relatively unitary conscious will as being able to plan social evolution more or less in advance, a notion that is utterly undialectical. According to “dialectics,” history happens behind the backs of historical actors, whose intentions never work out exactly as they’re supposed to. Marx was wise in his admonition that we should never trust the self-interpretations of political actors. And yet he suspends this injunction when it comes to the dictatorship of the proletariat: these people’s designs are supposed to work out perfectly and straightforwardly, despite the massive complexity and dialectical contradictions of society.

The statist idea of revolution is also wrong to privilege the political over the economic. In supposing that through sheer political will one can transform an authoritarian, exploitative economy into an emancipatory, democratic one, Marx and Lenin are, in effect, reversing the order of “dominant causality” such that politics determines the economy (whereas, in fact, the economy “determines”—loosely and broadly speaking—politics).1 Marxism itself suggests that the state can’t be socially creative in this radical way. And when it tries to be, what results, ironically, is overwhelming bureaucracy and even greater authoritarianism than before. (While the twentieth century’s experiences with so-called “Communism” or “state socialism” happened in relatively non-industrialized societies, not advanced capitalist ones as Marx anticipated, the dismal record is at least suggestive.)

Fundamental to these facts is that if the conquest of political power occurs in a still-capitalist economy, revolutionaries have to contend with the institutional legacies of capitalism: relations of coercion and domination condition everything the government does, and there is no way to break free of them. They can’t be magically transcended through political will; to think they can, or that the state can somehow “wither away” even as it’s forced to become more expansive and dominating (to suppress capitalist resistance), is to adopt a naïve idealism and utopianism.

In short, the interpretation of revolution that contemporary Marxists have inherited is backward. It is standing on its head; we have to turn it right-side up in order to comprehend our activism and our goals properly. Of course, this isn’t to deny the importance of engaging in political work, whether it takes the form of constructing a workers’ party, electing socialists under the aegis of the Democratic Party, or lobbying for particular laws. As during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, it’s essential to target the state at every step of the way. We simply have to recognize that a paramount strategy is to take advantage of openings and divisions in the capitalist state to politically facilitate the long-term construction of new relations of production, on the foundation of which the new society will gradually emerge. The revolution can’t happen in any other way. Certainly not through a historical rupture in which “the working class” dramatically seizes power, suppresses (somehow) all its opponents, and organizes a new economy on the basis of utopian blueprints. In the twenty-first century, any such ruptural conception, even if moderated by realism on some point or other, is astoundingly naïve.

The truth is that revolutionaries have to dig in for the long haul: a global transition to a post-capitalist society will take a century or more. Cooperative and socialized relations of production (in forms that it’s futile to predict at this point) will spread through generations of bitter struggle. Meanwhile, the conquest of political power will occur piecemeal—at different rates in different countries—suffering setbacks and then proceeding to new victories, then suffering more defeats, etc. It will be a time of world-agony, especially as climate change will be devastating civilization; but the sheer numbers of people whose interests will lie in a transcendence of capitalism will constitute a formidable weapon on the side of progress.

*****

As Chomsky has said on more than one occasion, the job of intellectuals, or one of their jobs, is to make simple things appear complicated. You’re supposed to think that in order to understand anything about the world, you have to be able to read and write long articles or books full of citations and arcane terminology and long discussions of other writers, delving into the intricacies of their arguments, minutely dissecting the meanings of their favored terms, spinning out paeans to verbiage like a crafty spider trying to snare the unwary. This is how intellectuals protect their territory and ward off democratic challenges to their status. But the truth is that old-fashioned commonsense reasoning can get you pretty far. It only takes a bit of reading and a bit of critical thought to find approximate answers to classic questions about the nature of society, the nature of a good society, and the revolutionary path to the latter. And, in fact, in the sociological domain, you’re never going to do much better than approximate answers. With interactions between billions of people to take into consideration, too little will always be understood.

So, to get back to the old question that Lenin and Miliband tackled: what does it mean to “smash” the bourgeois state? What kind of democratic state should we be striving for? Well, the notion of “smashing” the state is just a pithy metaphor that provides no guide to action. We should stop being bewitched by old and unhelpful imagery. In conditions very different from those that confronted Marx and Lenin, we should simply focus on the matters at hand rather than endlessly poring over what the god Lenin said. Keeping in our mind the Marxist and anarchist ideal of a stateless, non-coercive, economically democratic society, we should just do what we can to make the state we’re immediately confronted with more democratic and more just. We do what we can to expand democracy in the real world, and step by step we find ourselves approaching the distant moral ideal that guides us. It’s hopeless to try to spell out the ideal in detail. Marx understood this, which is why he was so reluctant to get bogged down in these kinds of questions, confining himself to some vague suggestions that, not surprisingly, turned out to be largely mistaken.

The task of Marxists now, aside from continuing to critically analyze society, is to rethink the old prescriptions and abandon tired formulations. In so doing, they’ll not only make themselves more relevant to the contemporary world, a world teeming with democratic and nonsectarian initiative; they’ll also, in effect, finally rid Marxism of its lingering traces of irrational dogma, internal inconsistency, and parochial nineteenth-century ideology. The system will at last have realized the old ambition of being a genuine science of society.

  1. In reality, of course, political and economic relations are fused together. But analytically one can distinguish economic activities from narrowly political, governmental activities.

Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class

The decision by Democrat party president Harry Truman to bomb the cities of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on the 9th with the newly developed nuclear weapon signaled to the world that the U.S. was prepared to use military force to back up its new-found position as the leader of the Western colonial-capitalist powers, now referred to as the “Western alliance.” The main audience for that grotesque display of racist violence in 1945 was the Soviet Union but some 73 years later, militarism and war continue to be the central instruments of U.S. foreign policy.

This is the lesson we must stress continually as the public is being subjected to a constant barrage of incitements to support the use of military force by the U.S state against a growing array of enemies and potential enemies from Russia and China to Iran and the never-ending war on terror. Working-class and poor people must oppose war in part because they are the expendable cannon fodder used to advance ruling-class dominance under the banner of protecting the “national interests,” which are really only those of the economic elites. Fighting for those interests means killing poor and working-class people in other parts of the world.

In this era of economic warfare between competing capitalist nations and newly forming capitalist blocs, taking an anti-war position is a pro-working class, pro-poor, pro-displaced peasant/farmer, and internationalist position. The economic sanctions (a form of warfare) that the U.S. levies against various nations have nothing to do with concerns for human rights – official rationales notwithstanding – but everything to do with undermining economic competitors and non-compliant states and movements as in Venezuela. It should be clear that supporting U.S. aggression in the form of economic warfare, subversion, proxy war and direct military intervention is, in fact, supporting the interests of the U.S.-based transnational capitalist class. Yet many leftists have embraced a crude national chauvinism and joined liberals in demonizing various peoples and nations and thus objectively providing support to and political cover for the capitalist/imperialist system that they pretend to oppose.

The structural crisis of international capital is also a crisis of the nation-state, especially in the centers of global capital from London to New York. The imposition of neoliberal economic restructuring in the West generated a crisis of legitimacy for the neoliberal global architecture that was carefully crafted over the last four decades. The post-war compromise between capital and labor that was officially negated with the economic crisis of 1973-75 and the turn to neoliberalism produced the conditions and politics that produced Donald Trump in 2016.

But the crisis of legitimacy also produced something else – a more pronounced dependency by the state on the use of force, be it in the Black and Brown colonized areas where the economically marginalized reside or in the Black and Brown areas of the world that are no longer accepting their suffering as an inevitable and unchanging condition of their existence.

The $717 billion military budget Congress passed that transfers public resources to the pockets of the military-industrial criminals who profit from war is not only a rip-off scheme but also a recognition on the part of the rulers that military might is their best and perhaps only means to hold on to the loot they stole from the peoples of the U.S. and the world. And it is also why taking an anti-war and an anti-imperialist position is such a political threat to the rulers at this specific moment in history.

In April the Trump administration called on all agencies to expedite the process for increased arms sales abroad. So when Trump raises questions about NATO, we know he is hustling for the military industrial complex. When he calls on NATO countries to increase their military spending, the beneficiaries of that spending will be the shareholders of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics Corporation, United Technologies and Northrop Grumman. At the same time, his critique of NATO begs legitimate questions: Why does NATO still exist, and why are nations like Colombia being brought into its structure?

It is an absurd position for the left to bash the Trump administration for undermining the so-called Western alliance when he criticizes NATO. For oppressed people around the world, NATO is an instrument of Western capitalist dominance, a structure of European/U.S. colonial power that is an enemy of humanity. So the responsibility of the left is to build on Trump’s anti-NATO remarks – whatever his motivations – by offering a real critique of NATO.

When Trump meets with Kim Jong-Un, the anti-war and anti-imperialist position would be to support any de-escalation of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. If it wasn’t for U.S. imperialism there would be no North and South Korea in the first place, so how can any self-respecting leftist not support at least the rhetoric of peaceful resolution, knowing full well that the U.S. is eventually going to have to be kicked out of Korea entirely?

The same thing goes with capitalist Russia. How can someone position themselves on the left and align with a fraction of the ruling class to agitate against Trump’s Russia policies? What do those policies have to do with the economic contradictions facing workers in the U.S., unless those policies lead to potential conflict that must be opposed?

The imperial left has entangled itself in all kinds of political and ideological contradictions. It finds itself in alignment with the neoliberal right because it desperately believes the neoliberal right that controls the state (don’t be confused – governments/administrations come and go, but the state endures until it is smashed) will somehow put the brakes on the more extreme right that is not even in power! The left’s embrace of bourgeois patriotism and support for liberal totalitarianism in the form of collusion between the state and big telecommunications firms to restrict and control speech and information provides a foundation for the legitimization and expansion of fascistic forms of rule.

Our analysis of the duopoly must be unsparing. Both parties are the enemies of the people. Both parties are committed to policies that deny human rights to the people of the U.S. but also the world. And both parties have never hesitated to support the use of military force to advance U.S. geostrategic interests.

When Trump demanded more spending by European governments on NATO, that demand was widely panned as an assault on the interests of working-class Europeans. Many correctly noted that more expenditures by European governments for NATO amounted to policies that would “plunder and loot their citizens through higher taxation to help pay for NATO’s exorbitant expenses.” But the Democrats join the Republicans in the wholesale plundering of the public with obscene levels of military expenditures, including the commitment of more than a trillion dollars to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years while claiming there are no resources for housing, universal child care, public transportation, services for elders and clean water for the working class.

Therefore, we must engage in unrelenting agitation against both parties while urgently developing independent non-state and non-electoral popular structures. While we do this, we must build an anti-war movement and embrace the position of the Black Alliance for Peace that says without equivocation: “not one drop of blood from the working class and poor to defend the interests of the capitalist oligarchy.”

Cuba and America: A Primer on History and Politics

The relationship between Cuba and the United States is a relationship of history and politics. It is a relationship which shows the nature of Capitalism and Imperialism. It is a relationship which also shows the nature of the struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution. Cuba, the first revolutionary Socialist state in Latin America, has managed to survive as a revolutionary Socialist state despite that relationship — a relationship forced upon Cuba by the most powerful Capitalist state in the history of the World — the United States. In many ways the relationship between Cuba and the United States defines part of the nineteenth-century, the twentieth-century and the present-day — between Revolution and Counter-Revolution. In history and politics the old struggle and old relationship between Cuba and the U.S. defines much of the history and politics surrounding us today.

The history and politics between Cuba and the United States began in the nineteenth-century. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is a product of the nineteenth-century, and the twentieth-century; a product of Imperialism, Capitalism, Revolution, Rebellion, Class Struggle, and War. In the nineteenth-century, the United States effectively took Cuba from the Spanish Empire and fought a war with Spain in 1898 over the issue of American power in Cuba. In the twentieth-century, the United States effectively controlled Cuba and Cuban politics — before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

The political relationship between Cuba and the United States has been defined by the Cuban Revolution. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is also the product of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 — the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959, the Cuban Revolution of 1959-1962. The Revolution changed the relationship between Cuba and the United States by making Cuba both independent of the power of the United States and in conflict with the United States. The conflict which has persisted between Cuba and the United States, since then, has been a fundamental reality of the Cuban Revolution — as an anti-Imperialist Revolution and one determined to see Cuba retain its Independence from foreign domination, specifically that of the United States.

Since 1959, to the present, the United States has sought to undermine the Cuban Revolution and the Revolution in Cuba. This struggle against Cuba and the Cuban Revolution has defined Cuba since 1959. This struggle, from the American and Cuban sides, has also helped to define both States during and since the Cold War. In the United States it has shown the persistence of the U.S. Government to overcome the Cuban Revolution. In Cuba it highlights the success and strength of the Revolution of 1959, both politically and socially. For the rest of South America and Central America the Cuban Revolution still represents the possibility of social progress and revolution. In the terms of the history of South America and Central America, the Cuba Revolution represented the ability of a State, Society and Nation in the American hemisphere to break from the United States and to chart its own social development and economic development. That the Revolution in Cuba survived the twentieth-century, and still survives to this day, is a testament not simply to Cuba, the Cuban State, the Cuban Communist Party or the Cuban Revolutionaries of 1959, but to the Cuban people themselves.

The political and historical relationship between Cuba and the United States cannot be seen in isolation from the history of American Imperialism in the rest of South America and Central America.1 From the nineteenth-century, through the terrors of the twentieth-century, the United States has acted to maintain its own power and its own Imperialism in both South America and Central America — preventing both social progress there and social revolution. The history of American relations in South America and Central America is the history of U.S. support for dictatorships, oppression, exploitation, coups and military occupation. It is a history which continues in the politics of today — in U.S. Imperialism and U.S. policy.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 began and defined the relationship between Cuba and the United States – a war in which Cuba traded Spanish Imperialism and Spanish Domination, for American Imperialism and American Domination. In 1898, the United States formally invaded Cuba as part of its War against Spain, beginning an occupation which would last until formal Cuban independence in 1902. In political terms and economic terms this merely transferred Cuba from Spain to the United States, despite American promises that Cuba would be allowed to be both free and independent as an independent republic. Much of this period of Cuban history, from 1898 to 1959, can formally be called the ‘American Period’ — in which Cuba was both formally and informally part of the American sphere, American power and American interests. At the same time, besides political subservience to the United States, Cuba became economically dependent and economically subservient to the United States, beginning a process of economic domination which would not end until the Revolution of 1959. After 1898, Cuba was nominally independent, but would remain an American puppet and an American satellite, through various interventions, coups and counter-revolutions, until the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The period of 1898 to 1959, the first period of Cuban history in modern history, was one where Cuba was prevented from both political independence and economic independence — again a period which lasted as part of Cuba’s history until the triumph of the Revolution of 1959.

American interest in Cuba began long before 1898. Before 1898, in the nineteenth-century, the United States had taken an interest in Spanish Cuba — as part of the emerging U.S. doctrine of American interests in Latin America and the Monroe doctrine. As part of the process of emerging American Imperialism, in both the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century, Cuba was part of American visions and American designs for American power in Central America — of American power and American Imperialism outside of the United States.

This Imperialist interest in Cuba, by the United States, as with all American interests in South America and Central America, has defined the history and politics of the United States in Cuba. A history and politics from the 1820s, through the 1860s and 1890s, through the twentieth-century, through the Revolution of 1959, to the present day.

Cuban politics, on the Left, understood the nature of American Imperialism and American exploitation in Cuba. This formed the basis of Cuban revolutionary politics in the twentieth-century and the Cuban Revolution of 1959, alongside the need to free Cuba from the Batista dictatorship of 1952 to 1959.

José Marti, the great hero of Cuban Independence and Cuban Freedom, in the nineteenth-century, always noted the danger of American intervention and American Imperialism in Cuba. Like many in Cuba, from the 1890s to the present, from Marti to Castro, from 1898 to 1959, Marti worried and feared the power of the United States in distorting Cuban independence and Cuban freedom. For Marti, the hope of the American Revolution of 1776 had turned quickly into the reality of American Imperialism.

Fidel Castro, as leader of the Cuban Revolution, based his Revolution on opposing U.S. Imperialism in Cuba and Latin America. Castro, as leader of the 26th July Movement of 1953, leader of the revolt of 1953, leader of the revolutionary war of 1956-1959, leader of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and leader of the Cuban Revolution in general, understood this history and this politics in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. Even in the immediate aftermath of the victory of the Revolution of 1959, when relations between Cuba and the United States might have travelled in another direction, Castro and the Revolutionaries of 1959 seem to have been cautious about American intentions, and most of them understood the history and politics of America’s history and America’s politics in Cuba.

The Revolution of 1959 in Cuba is the decisive event in the history of Cuba — and the history of Cuban-American relations since 1898. The victory of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 changed the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Just as the wars of independence in the nineteenth-century, the 1895 war for Cuban Independence and the Spanish-American War of 1898 all changed Cuba’s relationship with Imperial Spain, so too did the Cuban Revolution change America’s power in Cuba. In political terms and economic terms the Revolution of 1959 destroyed America’s power in Cuba. The Revolution, effectively, ended one period and replaced it with another — with the victory of the Revolution itself. With the downfall of the Batista regime and the victory of the Revolutionaries, Cuba became free from American influence and American dominance — in both political terms and economic terms. This change in the relationship between Cuba and the United States, was one that the United States could not accept – given the reality of American power in South America and Central America in all the centuries since the nineteenth-century. With the victory of the Revolution the United States resolved to recapture Cuba and restore American influence to Cuba — a policy which has continued to this day, in differing terms and differing wording. With the victory of the Revolution, Cuba became a target for further American aggression and American Imperialism — as the United States attempted to overthrow the revolutionary government for its own political and economic interests. In terms of the relationship the victory of the Revolution of 1959 was the single most important event — as it ended the old relationship and started a new one. Cuba gained its own political independence in the event of the Revolution of 1959.

The Cuban Revolution, due to Cuban politics and American politics, has had to face many foes. The Cuban Revolution, due to the dynamics of having to face both a national foe (the Batista Government, the Batista Dictatorship, Cuban Capitalism) and an international foe (the United States of America, American Capitalism and International Capitalism), has had to settle accounts with both national enemies and international enemies. This dynamic within the Cuban Revolution, while not unique in the history of Revolutions, has certainly affected the Politics of the Cuban Revolution. Instead of simply facing a national bourgeoisie or a national dictatorship the Cuban Revolution had to face down the external threat of a Capitalist Superpower, while also trying to make a Social Revolution and a Political Revolution.

The political relationship between Cuba and the United States, after 1959, was structured by the nature of the Cuban Revolution itself. In order to free Cuba from the social reality of its oppression and exploitation, the Cuban Revolutionaries had to struggle against more than simply the National Capitalist Class of Cuba, or even the Batista dictatorship, they had to struggle against the USA itself. This fact became apparent after the events of 1960-1962, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The historical relationship between Cuba and the United States was also defined by the necessities and realities of the Cold War. At the height of the Cuban drama with the United States, the events of 1959-1963, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, it was impossible for Cuba to avoid the wider struggle of the Cold War — between the USA and the USSR. This aspect of the struggle between Cuba and the United States furthered the social context and international context of the Cuban Revolution; both for the better and for the worse; that it was a Revolution in the American sphere; that it was a Revolution in Uncle Sam’s backyard. This heightened the potential of the Cuban Revolution, in the 1950S and the 1960s, but also left it isolated — and even more vulnerable to the wrath of the United States. Cuba, in the age of the Cold War, could not be allowed to provide a model of a successful Revolution or a successful Society. The result was the reality of U.S. Policy towards Cuba — one of confrontation, aggression, threats, blockade, sabotage, terrorism, and threatened invasions. This U.S. Policy, a relationship of antagonism and U.S. Threat, has survived even the Cold War itself — surviving into the 1990s, the 2000s and the present. Despite this Cuba managed to survive and achieve its own form of Social Progress and Social Revolution.

One further reality of the U.S. and Cuban relationship is the reality that the Cuban Revolution turned into a major Revolution of the twentieth-century. That Cuba attempted to re-assert its independence in 1959 was something which already upset the United States — and provoked U.S. Reaction. That Cuba declared its willingness to a make a Socialist Revolution in Cuba, and a Revolutionary Society in Cuba, was something which the United States would not accept and could not accept. Both a Social Revolution and a Political Revolution, indeed a Socialist Revolution, in Cuba, were all events which the United States could not accept from Cuba or from Latin America. This is the reason why the United States pushed for reaction and counter-revolution in Cuba and did all it could, for decades, to undermine both Cuba and the Cuban Revolution. That the Cuban Revolution of 1959 turned from a Nationalist Revolution into a Socialist Revolution was part of both Cuban politics and Cold War politics, but it also reinforced the revolutionary threat that Cuba posed to the United States — that it threatened the strength of U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere and in Latin America. If Cuba could free itself from foreign and U.S. domination then other states in Latin America, in both South America and Central America could do the same. The United States feared this wave of revolutions that Cuba’s experience and Cuba’s example could inspire. This reality of the Cuban Revolution, as a Revolution which inspired International Revolution, throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Third World, was what made the Cuban Revolution a danger to the United States — and was what provoked the reaction of the United States. The Cuban Revolution, even today, still inspires with is powerful international example of Social progress and Social Revolution — across Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. But the key fact of why the United States spent so much of the Cold War fearing a Revolution which emerged from such a small island was the reality that the Cuban Revolution was an inspiration, both in Cuba and the rest of the World. The Cuban Revolution showed that American Imperialism could be confronted and defeated — a lesson which still remains today in the struggle for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America.

The Cuban Revolution is also part of a wider political history in Latin America — between Latin America and the United States. The history and the politics of the Cuban Revolution cannot be understood without reference to the wider history of Latin America — specifically the relationship between Latin America and the United States.2 In basic terms the history and politics of Cuba’s relationship with the United States is similar, almost exactly the same, as the relationship between Latin America and the United States.3 In terms of understanding the traditional and historical conflict of the peoples and states of Latin America to the United States the reality of American Imperialism and American support for the Right in Latin America is vital. The history of Latin America and the United States is a history of Imperialism of the latter against the former. This is what makes the Cuban Revolution, and the history of Cuba, so important in both political and historical terms. Cuba’s history with the United States, and the trajectory of the Cuban Revolution, marches what has occurred in Latin America across two long centuries of American Imperialism and American Empire. In terms of the politics of Latin America, and Cuba, today, that relationship still haunts the politics of the region. Only a further Social Revolution, and Socialist Revolution, in the region, can hope to break that history — and with it the dominance of the United States. The victory of the Latin American Revolution is vital for the hopes for a Revolution in the United States.

The relationship between Cuba and America is the product of history and politics. The political future of the political relationship between Cuba and the United States will probably be over-determined by the history and past of that relationship.4 It will be determined by the old struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. If the Cuban Revolution is to survive the early decades of the twenty-first century, the present-day, it must remember the reality of its previous relationship and current relationship with the United States — one in which the United States sought to overthrow the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban State and to return Cuba to the status of being a economic colony dominated by the United States. Indeed a better relationship between Cuba and the United States would be preferable — a softening and opening up of relations between the two based on equality and mutual respect, as almost happened in the 2010s — but that does not seem to be the ideal of the United States or its Government. Indeed the majority of American Presidents have seen the Cuban Revolution as a threat and American governments have remained the impassable foe of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba itself. In the context of the wider struggle for social change, social revolution and socialist revolution in South America, in Central America, in Latin America, it seems that the United States will remain a foe of that progress, until the day that major social and political change occurs in the United States itself. For Latin America the relationship between the United States and the Cuban Revolution is their relationship with the United States in microcosm. Cuba, despite its real problems in the twentieth-century, has managed to survive against U.S. Imperialism. The survival of the Cuban Revolution is a victory for the Latin American Revolution.

  1. American Imperialism began in Central America and South America. The history and politics of U.S. Imperialism, from the nineteenth-century, found their origins in American foreign policy in Central America and South America, from the earliest days of the United States.
  2. See the work of Richard Gott, Cuba: A new history (2004).
  3. See the work of Hugh Thomas, Cuba: A History (2010).
  4. The history of Cuban politics and Cuban society really cannot be understood, from 1898, from 1959, without the impact of U.S. Imperialism; both in terms of Cuban political ideas and Cuban political concerns.

India: The State of Independence

India celebrates its independence from Britain on 15 August. However, the system of British colonial dominance has been replaced by a new hegemony based on the systemic rule of transnational capital, enforced by global institutions like the World Bank and WTO. At the same time, global agribusiness corporations are stepping into the boots of the former East India Company.

The long-term goal of US capitalism has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade underpinned by export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the global market and debtThe result has been food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the displacement of traditional, indigenous agriculture by a corporatized model centred on transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and world food security. The global food regime is in effect increasingly beholden to unregulated global markets, financial speculators and global monopolies.

India, of course, has not been immune to this. It is on course to be subjugated by US state-corporate interests  and is heading towards environmental catastrophe much faster than many might think. As I outlined in this previous piece, the IMF and World Bank wants India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture and has been directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions.

The plan for India involves the mass displacement of people to restructure agriculture for the benefit of western agricapital. This involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities. A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million.

One of the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, says:

The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.

The drive is to entrench industrial agriculture, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India. It could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work (India is heading for ‘jobless growth’). Given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine a countryside with vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly degrading to become a mere repository for a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides.

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

Some like to call this adopting a market-based approach: a system in the ‘market-driven’ US that receives a taxpayer farm bill subsidy of around $100 million annually.

The WTO and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture are facilitating the process. To push the plan along, there is a strategy to make agriculture financially non-viable for India’s small farms. The result is that hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic liberalisation.

The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

For all the discussion in India about loan waivers for farmers and raising their income levels, this does not address the core of the problem affecting agriculture: the running down of the sector for decades, spiralling input costs, lack of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This has effectively driven down prices thereby reducing farmers’ already meagre incomes. We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

On the one hand, there is talk of India becoming food secure and self-sufficient; on the other, there is pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and ‘free’ trade. But this is based on hypocrisy.

Writing on the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, Sachin Kumar Jain states some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US govt provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma, subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

How can the Indian farmer compete with an influx of artificially cheap imports? The simple answer is that s/he cannot and is not meant to.

In the book The Invention of Capitalism, Michael Perelmen lays bare the iron fist which whipped the English peasantry into a workforce willing to accept factory wage labour. A series of laws and measures served to force peasants off the land and deprive them of their productive means. In India, we are currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) capital and turn farmers into a reserve army of cheap industrial/service sector labour. By moving people into cities, it seems India wants to emulate China: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, migrants – stripped of their livelihoods in the countryside – are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs.

Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as it is not creating anything like the number of jobs required and the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

India’s high GDP growth has been fuelled on the back of debt, environmental degradation, cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population, including public sector workers, has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head than it did 40 years ago.

Amartya Sen and former World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu have argued that the bulk of India’s aggregate growth occurred through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder. Furthermore, Global Finance Integrity has shown that the outflow of illicit funds into foreign bank accounts has accelerated since opening up the economy to neoliberalism in the early nineties. ‘High net worth individuals’ (i.e. the very rich) are the biggest culprits here.

While corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans, they have failed to spur job creation; yet any proposed financial injections (or loan waivers) for agriculture (which would pale into insignificance compared to corporate subsidies/written off loans) are depicted as a drain on the economy.

Making India ‘business friendly’

PM Modi is on record as saying that India is now one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. The code for being ‘business friendly’ translates into a willingness by the government to facilitate much of the above, while reducing taxes and tariffs and allowing the acquisition of public assets via privatisation as well as instituting policy frameworks that work to the advantage of foreign corporations.

When the World Bank rates countries on their level of ‘ease of doing business’, it means national states facilitating policies that force working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on free market fundamentalism. The more ‘compliant’ national governments make their populations and regulations, the more ‘business friendly’ a country is.

The World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ entails opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds with farmers working to supply transnational corporations’ global supply chains. Rather than working towards food security based on food sovereignty and eradicating corruption, building storage facilities and dealing with inept bureaucracies and deficiencies in food logistics, the mantra is to let ‘the market’ intervene: a euphemism for letting powerful corporations take control; the very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights thereby indicating that the ‘free’ market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clichés about letting the market decide.

Foreign direct investment is said to be good for jobs and good for business. But just how many get created is another matter – as is the amount of jobs destroyed in the first place to pave the way for the entry of foreign corporations. For example, Cargill sets up a food or seed processing plant that employs a few hundred people; but what about the agricultural jobs that were deliberately eradicated in the first place to import seeds or the village-level processors who were cynically put out of business via bogus health and safety measures so that Cargill could gain a financially lucrative foothold?

The process resembles what Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book about the ‘structural adjustment’ of African countries. In The Globalization of Poverty, he says that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p.16)

The opening up of India to foreign capital is supported by rhetoric about increasing agricultural productivity, creating jobs and boosting GDP growth. But India is already self-sufficient in key staples and even where productivity is among the best in the world (as in Punjab) farmers still face massive financial distress. Clearly, productivity is not the problem: even with bumper harvests, the agrarian crisis persists.

India is looking to US corporations to ‘develop’ its food, retail and agriculture sectors. What could this mean for India? We only have to look at the business model that keeps these companies in profit in the US: an industrialised system that relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed many small-scale farmers’ livelihoods.

The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies’ taxpayer-subsidised business models are based on overproduction and dumping on the world market to depress prices and rob farmers elsewhere of the ability to cover the costs of production. They rake in huge returns, while depressed farmer incomes and massive profits for food retailers is the norm.

The long-term plan is for an overwhelmingly urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Walmart-type supermarkets that offer a largely monoculture diet of highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food based on crops soaked with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security.

Various high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies. There is also a need to protect indigenous agriculture from rigged global trade and trade deals. However, the trend continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto, Cargill, Bayer and other transnational players.

Devinder Sharma has highlighted where Indian policy makers’ priorities lie when he says that agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades. Some 60% of the population live in rural areas and are involved in agriculture but less than 2% of the annual budget goes to agriculture. Sharma says that when you are not investing in agriculture, you are not wanting it to perform.

It is worth considering that the loans provided to just five large corporations in India are equal to the entire farm debt. Where have those loans gone? Have they increased ‘value’ in the economy. No, loans to corporate houses left the banks without liquidity.

‘Demonetisation’ was in part a bail-out for the banks and the corporates, which farmers and other ordinary folk paid the price for. It was a symptom of a country whose GDP growth was based on a debt-inflated economy. While farmers commit suicide and are heavily indebted, a handful of billionaires get access to cheap money with no pressure to pay it back and with little ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

Corporate-industrial India has failed to deliver in terms of boosting exports or creating jobs, despite the hand outs and tax exemptions given to it. The number of jobs created in India between 2005 and 2010 was 2.7 million (the years of high GDP growth). According to International Business Times, 15 million enter the workforce every year. And data released by the Labour Bureau shows that in 2015, jobless ‘growth’ had finally arrived in India.

So where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of agricultural workers who are to be displaced from the land or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as transnational corporations move in and seek to capitalise small-scale village-level industries that currently employ tens of millions?

Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Now we have dogma masquerading as economic theory that compels developing countries to adopt neoliberal policies. The notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and the concept of poverty depoliticised and separated from structurally embedded power relations, not least US-driven globalisation policies resulting in the deregulation of international capital that ensures giant transnational conglomerates are able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.

Across the world we are seeing treaties and agreements over breeders’ rights and intellectual property being enacted to prevent peasant farmers from freely improving, sharing or replanting their traditional seeds. Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs are trying to eradicate traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers

Corporate-dominated agriculture is not only an attack on the integrity of ‘the commons’ (soil, water, land, food, forests, diets and health) but is also an attack on the integrity of international institutions, governments and officials which have too often been corrupted by powerful transnational entities.

Whereas some want to bring about a fairer, more equitable system of production and distribution to improve people’s quality of lives (particularly pertinent in India with its unimaginable inequalities, which have spiralled since India adopted neoliberal policies), US capitalism regards ‘development’ as a geopolitical tool.

As economics professor Michael Hudson said during a 2014 interview (published on prosper.org under the title ‘Think Tank Times’):

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could further accelerate the corporatisation of Indian agriculture. A trade deal now being negotiated by 16 countries across Asia-Pacific, the RCEP would cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food.

RCEP is expected to create powerful rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. It could allow foreign corporations to buy up land, thereby driving up land prices, fuelling speculation and pushing small farmers out. If RCEP is adopted, it could intensify the great land grab that has been taking place in India. It could also lead to further corporate control over seeds.

Capitalism and environmental catastrophe joined at the hip

In India, an industrialised chemical-intensive model of agriculture is being facilitated. This model brings with it the numerous now well-documented externalised social, environmental and health costs. We need look no further than the current situation in South India and the drying up of the Cauvery river in places to see the impact that this model has contributed to: an ecological crisis fuelled by environmental devastation due to mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture based on big dams, water-intensive crops and Green Revolution ideology imported from the West.

But we have known for a long time now that India faces major environmental problems, many of which are rooted in agriculture. For example, in an open letter written to officials in 2006, the late campaigner and farmer Bhaskar Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, and the soil is alive and porous, at least half of this rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers, or ‘groundwater tables’. Save argued that the living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs gifted free by nature.

Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

Save went on to note that while the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. Much of this is mindless wastage by a minority. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

According to Save, more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra, for example, has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters.

One acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. This could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

While rice is suitable for rain-fed farming, its extensive multiple cropping with irrigation in winter and summer as well is similarly hogging water resources and depleting aquifers. As with sugarcane, it is also irreversibly ruining the land through salinization.

Save argued that soil salinization is the greatest scourge of irrigation-intensive agriculture, as a progressively thicker crust of salts is formed on the land. Many million hectares of cropland have been ruined by it. The most serious problems are caused where water-guzzling crops like sugarcane or basmati rice are grown round the year, abandoning the traditional mixed-cropping and rotation systems of the past, which required minimal or no watering.

Unfortunately, policy makers continue to look towards the likes of Monsanto-Bayer for ‘solutions’. Such companies merely seek to break farmers’ environmental learning ‘pathways’ based on centuries of indigenous knowledge, learning and practices with the aim of getting farmers hooked on chemical treadmills for corporate profit (see Glenn Stone and Andrew Flach’s paper on path-breaking and technology treadmills in Indian cotton agriculture).

Wrong-headed policies in agriculture have already resulted in drought, expensive dam-building projects, population displacement and degraded soils. The rivers are drying, farmers are dying and the cities are creaking as a result of the unbridled push towards urbanisation.

In terms of maintaining and creating jobs, managing water resources, regenerating soils and cultivating climate resilient crops, agroecology as a solution is there for all to see. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are now making a concerted effort to roll out and scale up zero budget agroecological agriculture.

Solutions to India’s agrarian crisis (and indeed the world’s) are available, not least the scaling up of agroecological approaches which could be the lynchpin of rural development. However, successive administrations have bowed to and continue to acquiesce to the grip of global capitalism and have demonstrated their allegiance to corporate power. The danger is that without changing the capitalist relations of production, agroecology would simply be co-opted by corporations and incorporated into their global production and distribution chains.

In the meantime, India faces huge problems in terms of securing access to water. As Bhaskar Save noted, the shift to Green Revolution thinking and practices has placed enormous strain on water resources. From glacial melt in the Himalayas that will contribute to the drying up of important rivers to the effects of temperature rises across the Indo Gangetic plain, which will adversely impact wheat productivity, India has more than its fair share of problems. But despite this, high-level policy makers are pushing for a certain model of ‘development’ that will only exacerbate the problems.

This model is being driven by some of the world’s largest corporate players: a model that by its very nature leads to environment catastrophe:

… our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.

— Jason Hickel

While politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi might be facilitating this economic model and all it entails for agriculture, it is ultimately stamped with the logo ‘made in Washington’. Surrendering the nation’s food sovereignty and the incorporation of India into US financial and geopolitical structures is the current state of independence.

Final thoughts

Neoliberalism and the drive for urbanisation in India have been underpinned by unconstitutional land takeovers and the trampling of democratic rights. For supporters of cronyism and manipulated markets, which to all extents and purposes is what economic ‘neoliberalism’ across the world has entailed (see thisthis and this), there have been untold opportunities for well-placed individuals to make an under-the-table fast buck from various infrastructure projects and privatisation sell-offs.

According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, the doubling of income inequality has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, struggles (violent and non-violent) are taking place in India. The Naxalites/Maoists are referred to by the dominant class as left-wing extremists who are exploiting the situation of the poor. But how easy it is to ignore the true nature of the poor’s exploitation and too often lump all protesters together and create an ‘enemy within’. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its redistributive responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment’ pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows and largely unaccountable corporations.

Powerful (mining) corporations are shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India and have signed secretive Memorandums of Understanding with the government. The full backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land in order to hand it over to mineral-hungry industries to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development. Around the world, this oil-dependent, urban-centric, high-energy model of endless consumption is stripping the environment bare and negatively impacting the climate and ecology.

In addition to displacing people to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, unconstitutional land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land.

Farmers (and others) represent a ‘problem’: a problem while on the land and a problem to be somehow dealt with once displaced. But food producers, the genuine wealth creators of a nation, only became a problem when western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image.

This is a country where the majority sanctifies certain animals, places, rivers and mountains. It’s also a country run by Wall Street sanctioned politicians who convince people to accept or be oblivious to the destruction of the same.

Many are working strenuously to challenge the selling of the heart and soul of India. Yet how easy will it be for them to be swept aside by officialdom which seeks to cast them as ‘subversive’. How easy it will be for the corrosive impacts of a rapacious capitalism to take hold and for hugely powerful corporations to colonise almost every area of social, cultural and economic life and encourage greed, selfishness, apathy, irretrievable materialism and acquisitive individualism.

The corporations behind it all achieve hegemony by altering mindsets via advertising, clever PR or by sponsoring (hijacking) major events, by funding research in public institutes and thus slanting findings and the knowledge paradigm in their favour or by securing key positions in international trade negotiations in an attempt to structurally readjust retail, food production and agriculture. They do it by many methods and means.

Before you realise it, culture, politics and the economy have become colonised by powerful private interests and the world is cast in their image. The prevailing economic system soon becomes cloaked with an aura of matter of factuality, an air of naturalness, which is never to be viewed for the controlling hegemonic culture or power play that it really is.

Seeds, mountains, water, forests and biodiversity are being sold off. The farmers and tribals are being sold out. And the more that gets sold off, the more who get sold out, the greater the amount of cash that changes hands and the easier it is for the misinformed to swallow the lie of Wall Street’s bogus notion of ‘growth’ – GDP.

If anyone perceives the type of ‘development’ being sold to the masses is actually possible in the first instance, they should note that ‘developing’ nations account for more than 80% of world population but consume only about a third of the world’s energy. US citizens constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians.

Consider that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and if you scale this to 46 years then humans have been here for just four hours. The Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time, 50% of the Earth’s forests have been destroyed.

We are using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have also poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitats, driven species to extinction and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere – among many other things.

Levels of consumption were unsustainable long before India and other countries began striving to emulate a bogus notion of ‘development’. The West continues to live way beyond its (environmental) limits.

This wasteful, high-energy model is tied to what ultimately constitutes the plundering of peoples and the planet by powerful transnational corporations. And, as we see all around us, from Libya and Syria to Afghanistan and Iraq, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources.

The type of ‘progress and development’ and consumerism being sold makes beneficiaries of it blind to the misery and plight of the hundreds of millions who are deprived of their lands and livelihoods. In Congo, rich corporations profit from war and conflict. And in India, tens of thousands of militias (including in 2005, Salwa Judum) were put into tribal areas to forcibly displace 300,000 people and place 50,000 in camps. In the process, rapes and human rights abuses have been common.

If what is set out above tells us anything, it is that India and other regions of the world are suffering from internal haemorrhaging. They are being bled dry from both within and without:

There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations – the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.

— Noam Chomsky.

Underpinning the arrogance of such a mindset is what Vandana Shiva calls a view of the world which encourages humans to regard man as conqueror and owner of the Earth. This has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering and nuclear energy. Shiva argues that it has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.

And therein lies the true enemy of genuine development: a system that facilitates such plunder, which is presided over by well-funded and influential foreign foundations and powerful financial-corporate entities and their handmaidens in the IMF, World Bank and WTO.

If we look at the various western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to for inspiration, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialist intent. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared? The same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda hidden behind terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’.

Is India willing to see Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations deciding on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed. A corporate takeover spearheaded by companies whose character is clear for all to see:

The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture with agribusinesses like Monsanto, WalMart, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and ITC in its Board made efforts to turn the direction of agricultural research and policy in such a manner as to cater their demands for profit maximisation. Companies like Monsanto during the Vietnam War produced tonnes and tonnes of ‘Agent Orange’ unmindful of its consequences for Vietnamese people as it raked in super profits and that character remains.

— Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric that is driving the overhaul of Indian agriculture is a brand of corporate imperialism which is turning out to be no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was in England for its peasantry. The East India company might have gone, but today the bidding of elite interests (private capital) is being carried out by compliant politicians, the World Bank, the WTO and lop-sided, egregious back-room trade deals.

Socialism or Barbarism?

Being run by business, American culture suffers from an overwhelming preponderance of stupidity. When a set of institutions as reactionary as big business has a virtual monopoly over government and the media, the kinds of information, entertainment, commentary, ideologies, and educational policies on offer will not conduce to rationality or social understanding. What you’ll end up with is, for instance, an electorate 25 percent of whose members are inclined to libertarianism. And the number is even higher among young people. That is to say, huge numbers of people will be exposed to and persuaded by the propaganda of the Cato Institute, the magazine Reason, Ayn Rand’s novels, and Milton Friedman’s ideological hackery to express their rebellious and anti-authoritarian impulses by becoming “extreme advocates of total tyranny,” to quote Chomsky. They’ll believe, as he translates, that “power ought to be given into the hands of private, unaccountable tyrannies,” namely corporations. They’ll think that if you just get government out of the picture and let capitalism operate freely, unencumbered by regulations or oversight or labor unionism, all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. And they’ll genuinely believe they’re being subversive and anarchistic by proposing such a program.

The spectacle of millions adhering to such a breathtakingly stupid ideology would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. I’m an atheist, but Christianity strikes me as a more rational—and moral—religion than this “libertarian” (really totalitarian) one of absolute faith in universal privatization, marketization, corporatization, and commoditization. To be a so-called libertarian is to be deplorably ignorant of modern history, economics, commonsense sociology, human psychology, and morality itself. (Regarding morality: if the Golden Rule is an essential maxim, then the communist slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” which is basically a derivative of the Golden Rule, is fundamental to any humane social organization. Greed and Social Darwinism—every man for himself—are hardly morally luminous principles.) Given this reactionary philosophy’s intellectual sterility and the fact that it’s been refuted countless times, it’s tempting to simply ignore it. And most leftists do ignore it. But that’s a mistake, as the frightening figure quoted a moment ago (25 percent of the electorate) indicates. It’s necessary to challenge “free market” worship whenever and wherever it appears.

The economist Rob Larson has performed an important service, therefore, in publishing his new book Capitalism vs. Freedom: The Toll Road to Serfdom, the more so because the book’s lucidity and brevity should win for it a wide readership. In five chapters, Larson systematically demolishes the glib nostrums of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek (in the process also dispatching those other patron saints of the right wing, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard). Even the book’s title is highly effective: the message “capitalism vs. freedom” should be trumpeted from the hills, since it challenges one of the reigning dogmas of our society. Liberals and leftists themselves sometimes buy into the view that capitalism promotes freedom, arguing only that socialist equality and justice are more important than capitalist freedom. But this is a false framing of the issue. The fact is that socialism, which is to say workers’ democratic control of the economy, not only means greater equality and justice than capitalism but also greater freedom, at least for the 99 percent. It is freedom, after all, that has inspired anarchists and even Marxists, including Marx himself.

Larson begins with a brief discussion of two concepts of freedom, negative and positive (a distinction that goes back, as he notes, at least to Isaiah Berlin). Crudely speaking, negative freedom means the absence of external constraint, of a power that can force you to act in particular ways. Positive freedom is the ability or opportunity actually to realize purposes and wishes, to “control your destiny,” so to speak. It involves having the means to satisfy desires, as when you have the means to assuage hunger, be adequately clothed and sheltered, and have adequate sanitation. Positive freedom can be thought of as “freedom to,” whereas negative freedom is “freedom from.” Classical liberals like John Stuart Mill and modern conservatives like Friedman and Hayek are more concerned with negative freedom, which explains their desire for a minimal state; socialists are concerned also with positive freedom, sometimes believing that a stronger state (e.g., a social democracy) can help ensure such freedom for the majority of people.

Friedman and Hayek argued that free-market capitalism, with minimal intervention by the state, is the surest guarantee of negative liberty. Larson’s book is devoted mainly to refuting this belief, which is widely held across the political spectrum; but it also defends the less controversial claim that capitalism is incompatible with widespread positive liberty too. “Capitalism,” Larson writes, “withholds opportunities to enjoy freedom (required by the positive view of freedom) and also encourages the growth of economic power (the adversary of liberty in the negative view of freedom).” That concentrations of economic power in themselves threaten negative liberty might be challenged, but this is a weak argument, among other reasons because it’s clear that centers of (economic) power will tend to dominate and manipulate the state in their own interest. They’ll construct coercive apparatuses to subordinate others to their power, which will itself enable further accumulations of power, etc., until finally the society is ruled by an oligarchy. Thus, from “pure” capitalism you get an oligarchy with the power to coerce.

However obvious this point may seem to those possessed of common sense, it’s far from obvious to libertarians and most conservatives. According to Friedman, “the kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.” Here we encounter the typical naïve idealism of conservatives (and, indeed, of centrists and liberals), which I’ve discussed at length here. Rather than analyzing the real conditions of real social structures, conservatives traffic in airy abstractions about “freedom,” “the separation of political and economic power,” the lofty virtues of “competitive capitalism,” and so on. Evidently it doesn’t occur to Friedman that economic power will tend to confer political power, and therefore that, far from offsetting each other, the two will be approximately fused. The economically powerful might not directly hold political office, but because of the resources they possess, they’ll have inordinate power and influence over political leaders. This is intuitively obvious, but it’s also borne out by empirical research.

It’s worth pointing out, too, something that Larson doesn’t really focus on: within corporations, freedom, even negative freedom, is severely curtailed. In the absence of a union, the employee has hardly any rights. There’s no freedom of expression, for example, and the boss can threaten you, manipulate you however he wants, verbally abuse you, behave horrendously towards you with probably no repercussions for himself. Capitalism, in fact, is a kind of fragmented totalitarianism, as privately totalitarian corporate entities proliferate all over society and constitute its essential infrastructure, its foundation. The more oligopolistic they become, to some degree even fused with the state, the less “fragmented” and more dangerous the totalitarianism is. Eventually the “libertarian” millennium might be achieved in which all countervailing forces, such as unions, are eradicated and the population is left wholly at the mercy of corporations, reveling in its sublime freedom to be totally dominated.

Anyway, to resume the thread: Larson is right that “in portraying [the] concentration of money in society as a reasonable development”—e.g., as a reward for successfully competing against other capitalists—“the libertarian tradition completely dismisses the power of concentrated money.” Hayek, for example, claims that in a “competitive society” (a meaningless abstraction: different kinds of societies can be “competitive”) nobody possesses excessive power. “So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people.” Okay, fine, maybe not exclusive power, but to the degree that property is divided among fewer and fewer owners, these people can achieve overwhelming power to determine the income and position of others. Such as by acquiring greater “positive freedom” to dominate the state in their interests and against the interests of others, who thus proportionately lose positive freedom and possibly (again) even negative freedom; e.g. if the wealthy can get laws passed that restrict dissidents’ right to free speech or free assembly.

More generally, it goes without saying that positive freedom is proportional to how much money you have. It apparently doesn’t bother most libertarians that if you’re poor and unable to find an employer to rent yourself to (in the gloriously “free, voluntary, and non-coercive” labor market), you won’t be able to eat or have a minimally decent life. Hopefully private charities and compassionate individuals will come forward to help you; but if not, well, it’s nothing that society as a whole should care about. Strictly speaking, there is no right to live (or to have shelter, food, health care, education, etc.); there is only a right not to be interfered with by others (except in the workplace). What a magnificent moral vision.

Libertarians admit that concentrations of wealth emerge in capitalism, but they deprecate the idea that capitalism leads to competition-defeating market concentration in such forms as oligopolies, monopolies, and monopsonies (like Wal-Mart). Usually these are created, supposedly, by government interference. But most businessmen and serious scholars disagree, pointing, for instance, to the significance of economies of scale. The famous business historian Alfred Chandler showed that many industries quickly became oligopolistic on the basis, in large part, of economies of scale. Historian Douglas Dowd observes that large-scale industrial technology has made it both necessary for firms to enlarge and possible for them to control their markets, while Australian economist Steve Keen argues that “increasing returns to scale mean that the perfectly competitive market is unstable: it will, in time break down [into oligopoly or monopoly].”

Larson might have gone further in this line of argument by emphasizing just how much capitalists hate market discipline—i.e., the “free market”—and are constantly trying to overcome it. They’re obsessed with controlling markets, whether through massive advertising campaigns, destruction or absorption of their competitors, price-fixing and other forms of collusion, or the formation of hundreds of trade associations. The historian Gabriel Kolko’s classic study The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900–1916 revealed that the hatred of market anarchy is so extreme that Progressive-Era oligopolists were actually the main force behind government regulation of industry (to benefit business, not the public), as with the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Federal Reserve Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act. Andrew Carnegie and Elbert H. Gary, head of U.S. Steel, even advocated government price-fixing! So much for the corporate propaganda about how wonderful free markets are.

If government regulation is primarily responsible for monopoly elements in industries, as Friedman and Hayek argue, then you’d think that the deregulation tsunami of the neoliberal era would have led to greater competition across the economy. Did it? Not exactly. Larson quotes a Forbes article:

Since freight railroads were deregulated in 1980, the number of large, so-called Class I railroads has shrunk from 40 to seven. In truth, there are only four that matter… These four superpowers now take in more than 90% of the industry’s revenue… An estimated one-third of shippers have access to only one railroad.

Quod erat demonstrandum. But there are many other examples. The deregulatory Telecommunications Act of 1996 was supposed to throw open the industry to competition; what it accomplished, according to the Wall Street Journal, was “a new phase in the hyper-consolidation of the cable industry… An industry that was once a hodgepodge of family-owned companies has become one of the nation’s most visible and profitable oligopolies.” These trends have occurred throughout the media, on a global scale.

The same consolidation is found in the airline industry, where deregulation “set off a flurry of mergers” (as the Journal notes), “creating a short roster of powerful giants. And consumers are, in many cases, paying the price.” In fact, it’s well known that deregulation has facilitated an enormous wave of mergers and acquisitions since the 1980s. (Similarly, the big businesses, and later the mergers, of the Gilded Age appeared in a time of little public regulation.) All this market-driven oligopolization has certainly not increased consumer freedom, or the freedom of anyone but the top fraction of one percent in wealth.

Speaking of communications and the media, another classic libertarian claim is hollow: far from encouraging a rich and competitive diversity of information and opinion, the free market tends to narrow the spectrum of opinion and information sources. When Hayek writes of totalitarian governments that “The word ‘truth’ ceases to have its old meaning. It describes no longer something to be found, with the individual conscience as the sole arbiter… it becomes laid down by authority,” referring to the “spirit of complete cynicism as regards truth…the loss of the sense of even the meaning of truth,” it is easy to think he’s describing the mass media in the heavily capitalist United States. For one thing, because of scale economies and other market dynamics, over time fewer and fewer people or groups can afford to run, say, a successful and profitable newspaper. Across the West, in the twentieth century competition eventually weeded out working-class newspapers that had fewer resources than the capitalist mass media, and the spectrum of information consumed by the public drastically narrowed. “Market forces thus accomplished more than the most repressive measures of an aristocratic state,” to quote the authors of an important study.

At the same time, the sources of information became less and less independent, due to the development of the advertising market. Advertisers “acquired a de facto licensing power because, without their support, newspapers ceased to be economically viable.” As Edward Herman says, it wasn’t the final consumer’s but the advertiser’s choices that determined media prosperity and survival, and hence the content (broadly speaking) of the news and opinion pieces. Moreover, the media increasingly consisted of giant corporations who had basically the same interests as advertisers anyway. The result corresponded less to Friedman’s slogan Free to Choose than to Edward Bernays’ slogan Free to Imagine That We Choose (because what we’re choosing from is a narrow range of corporate and government propaganda).

Capitalism vs. Freedom also has a chapter on “political freedom,” and another on the “freedom of future generations”—which is nonexistent in a strictly capitalist society because future generations have no money and therefore no power. They have to deal with whatever market externalities result from their ancestors’ monomaniacal pursuit of profit. Including the possible destruction of civilization from global warming, a rather large externality. Even in the present, the IMF has estimated that the “external” costs of using fossil fuels, counting public health effects and environmental ramifications, are already $5 trillion a year. Again, this should suggest to anyone with a few neurons still functioning that markets aren’t particularly “efficient.” Especially considering the existence of major public goods that are undersupplied by the market, such as roads, bridges, sanitation systems, public parks, libraries, scientific research, public education, and social welfare programs. What do Friedman and Hayek think of these things? Well, Hayek was writing for a Western European audience, so he had to at least pretend to be reasonable. “[T]he preservation of competition [is not] incompatible with an extensive system of social services,” he wrote, which leaves “a wide and unquestioned field for state activity.” Okay. But that’s a significant concession. Apparently his “libertarianism” wasn’t very consistent.

For Friedman, public goods should be paid for by those who use them and not by a wealthy minority that is being taxed against its wishes. “There is all the difference in the world,” he insists, “between two kinds of assistance through government that seem superficially similar: first, 90 percent of us agreeing to impose taxes on ourselves in order to help the bottom 10 percent, and second, 80 percent voting to impose taxes on the top 10 percent to help the bottom 10 percent.” Thus, the wealthy and powerful shouldn’t have to pay taxes to maintain services from which they don’t directly benefit. We shouldn’t subtract any of the positive freedom from people who have an enormous amount of it (i.e., of power, the concentration of which libertarians are supposed to oppose) in order to give more positive freedom to people who have very little of it. That would be unforgivably compassionate.

Most of Larson’s chapter on political freedom consists of salutary reminders of how politics actually works in the capitalist United States. Drawing on Thomas Ferguson’s investment theory of party competition, Larson describes the political machinations of big business, the concerted and frequently successful efforts to erode the positive and negative freedoms of the populace, the permanent class war footing, the fanatical union-busting, the absurdly cruel austerity programs of the IMF (which, again, serve but to crush popular freedom and power), and the horrifying legacy of European and U.S. imperialism around the world. Readers who want to learn more about the dark side of humanity can consult William Blum’s Killing Hope, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (which also describes Hayek and Friedman’s love-affairs with neo-Nazi Latin American generals), Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilization, and most of Noam Chomsky’s books. In light of all these practices and policies that have emerged, directly or indirectly, out of the dynamics of the West’s market economy, to argue that capitalism promotes human freedom is to be a hopeless intellectual fraud and amoral minion of power.

(If that judgment sounds harsh, consider this gem from Hayek, directed against measures to ensure worker security: “It is essential that we should relearn frankly to face the fact that freedom can be had only at a price and that as individuals we must be prepared to make severe material sacrifices to preserve our liberty.” More exactly, working-class individuals have to make severe sacrifices to preserve the liberty of the capitalist class.)

In fact, to the extent that we have freedom and democracy at all, it has been achieved mainly through decades and centuries of popular struggle against capitalism, and against vicious modes of production and politics (including slavery and Latin American semi-feudalism) that have been essential to the functioning of the capitalist world-economy. Göran Therborn’s classic article “The Rule of Capital and the Rise of Democracy” gives details, as does Howard Zinn’s famous People’s History of the United States.

Larson, unlike the charlatans whose work he reviews, actually does believe that “concentrated power is opposed to human freedom,” so he dedicates his final chapter to briefly expositing a genuinely libertarian vision, that of socialism. Here I need only refer to the work of such writers as Anton Pannekoek, Rudolf Rocker, Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Murray Bookchin, and others in the anarchist and/or left-Marxist tradition. There’s a lot of talk of socialism these days, but few commentators (except on the left) know what they’re talking about. For instance, like Hayek and Friedman, they tend to equate socialism with state control, authoritarianism, the Soviet Union, and other boogeymen. This ignores the fact that anarchism, which reviles the state, is committed to socialism. So virtually all mainstream commentary on socialism is garbage and immediately refuted from that one consideration alone. The basic point that conservatives, centrists, and liberals refuse to mention, because it sounds too appealing, is that socialism means nothing else but worker and community control. Economic, political, and social democracy. It is, in essence, a set of moral principles that can theoretically be fleshed out in a variety of ways, for instance some preserving a place for the market and others based only on democratic planning (at the level of the neighborhood, the community, the firm, the city, the nation, etc.). The core of socialism is freedom—the absence of concentrated power—not absolute equality.

Whether a truly socialist, libertarian society will ever exist is an open question, but certain societies have approached the ideal more closely than others. The Soviet Union was, and the U.S. is, very far from socialism, while Scandinavian countries are a little closer (since the population generally has more freedom and power there than in the U.S. and the Soviet Union). The Bolivian Constitution of 2009 is vastly closer to socialism, which is to say morality and the ideal of human dignity, than the reactionary U.S. Constitution. On a smaller scale, worker cooperatives—see this book—tend to embody a microcosmic socialism.

Larson ends his book on the note sounded by Rosa Luxemburg a century ago: socialism or barbarism. Margaret Thatcher’s infamous declaration “There is no alternative” can now be given a more enlightened meaning: there is no alternative to socialism, except the destruction of civilization and maybe the human species. Morality and pragmatic necessity, the necessities of survival, now coincide. Concentrated corporate power must be dismantled and democracy substituted for it—which is a global project that will take generations but is likely to develop momentum as society experiences ever-greater crises.

In the end, perhaps Friedman, Hayek, and their ilk will be seen to have contributed to the realization of a truly libertarian program after all, albeit indirectly. For by aiding in the growth of an increasingly authoritarian system, they may have hastened the birth of a democratic opposition that will finally tear up the foundations of tyranny and lay the groundwork for an emancipated world. Or at least a world in which Friedmans and Hayeks can’t become intellectual celebrities. For now, I’d settle for that.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook: Serf Labor, Overpriced iPhones, and Wasted Burning Profits

The New York Times screamed its Headline— “In 1997, Apple was 90 Days from Going Broke. On Thursday [Aug. 2, 2018], It Became the first publicly traded American company to be valued at…$1,000,000,000,000.” The first trillion dollar company!

The boosters and commentators cheered, adding, “How High Could it Go?” In CEO’s Tim Cook’s announcement, we learned that there were $20 billion more of the shareholders money spent on wasteful stock buybacks. Stock buybacks enable fatter compensation metrics for Apple’s bosses (see Steven Clifford’s The CEO Pay Machine). Corporate managers love stock buybacks.

Earlier this year Apple executives dictatorially announced that it was going to spend $100 billion to buying back its stock, without of course, receiving the owners-shareholders’ approval. The owners might have preferred that some of that amount be used to pay them greater cash dividends. More far-sighted shareholders consider the presumably longer-view: institutional shareholders might have recommended more productive and equitable uses for that vast sum.

Some suggestions: Two billion dollars (a mere 2 percent of that $100 billion) would double the wages of its 1.3 million serf-workers driven to the wall by Apple’s Chinese-based mega-factory contractor. Another two billion would have made major improvements in the global recycling of the present deadly (to the environment and workers) handling of toxic discarded iPhones and computers. Some of that $100 billion could have gone to productive investments, R&D, shoring up Apple’s pension plan, raising wages of Apple’s employees, paying Apple’s fair share of taxes or, consumers take note, lowering the prices of their over-priced phones and components.

Apple’s media cheerleaders can only see blizzards of dollars. They don’t see the damage that this touted “successful business model” is doing to Apple stakeholders.

Exceptionally, Mark Phillips in his page one New York Times story on Apple’s report takes note of the corporate concentration in business profits and markets. “Economists,” he writes, “are starting to look into whether the rise of so-called super-star firms is contributing to the lackluster wage growth, shrinking the middle class and raising income inequality in the United States. The vast social and political influence wielded by their mega-companies has prompted lawmakers to demand more regulation to rein them in.”

Apple’s business model rests on low wage-labor in China and gouging iPhone consumers in the U.S. The federal cops on the corporate antitrust beat have been asleep for years— a somnolence well recognized by Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google.

Phillips reports, “Apple and Google provide the software for 99% of all smartphones. Facebook and Google take 59 cents of every dollar spent on online advertising in the United States. Amazon exerts utter dominance over online shopping and is quickly getting bigger, fast, in areas liking streaming of music and videos.”

The CEOs of these companies behave like “Emperors,” a designation levelled at Exxon/Mobile’s CEO years ago by prominent shareholder advocate Robert Monks at the company’s annual meeting. These new CEOs exude arrogance (sometimes with false Zuckerberg-like public humility). Once they hook their customers, the network costs for customers switching to a competition become higher with time and also serve to discourage any new would-be competitor. Years ago, dominant Hertz rent-a-car had Avis as a competitor. Who are the domestic non-collusive Avis equivalents to the aforementioned Big Four today?

The big institutional shareholders like Vanguard, Fidelity and giant worker pension-funds better wake up. Tim Cook can ignore small shareholder complaints with impunity. The big institutional shareholders, with their skilled staff, can get his attention. They can take a longer, responsible view and demand that he stop burning all their shareholder money with buybacks and give shareholders more in cash dividends and other important investments that produce productive and equitable outcomes.

Concentration of market power in other fields feed the likelihood of future instability through a domino effect. The top five megabanks in the U.S. control about half of the deposits, compared to about one-fifth twenty years ago. Labor’s annual share of the nation’s wealth gains have been declining since the 1990s. Speculation on Wall Street, slowed after the great crash of 2008, is roaring ahead toward the inevitable cliffs of unbridled greed. More taxpayer bailouts?

Grave risk levels are signaling caution; yet incredibly, a Republican Congress and Trump have loosened regulation on Wall Street.

As for you the people, your next big chance to grab hold of Congress and slow down these corporate supremacists comes in November. Do a little homework and find out who is on your side. “Slogan voters” are suckers.

The History of the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill

At a time when the American population is radicalizing, when popular movements are coalescing around “radical” demands—Medicare for All, the abolition of ICE, tuition-free college, in general the demand to make society livable for everyone—it can be useful to draw collective inspiration from the past. Irruptions of the popular will have on innumerable occasions reshaped history, remade the terrain of class struggle such that the ruling class was, at least for a moment, thrown on the defensive and forced to retreat. Especially when pundits and politicians are insisting on the virtues of centrism and the essential conservatism of Americans, it is important to remember just how false these shibboleths are, particularly in a time of economic stagnation and acute social discontent.

One of the most remarkable demonstrations of the deep-seated radicalism of “ordinary people” has been all but forgotten, even by historians: namely, the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill (or Workers’ Bill) that was introduced in Congress in 1934, 1935, and 1936. Despite essentially no press coverage and extreme hostility from the business community and the Roosevelt administration, a mass movement developed behind this bill that had been written by the Communist Party. The tremendous popular pressure that was brought to bear on Congress secured a stunning victory in the spring of 1935, when the bill became the first unemployment insurance plan in U.S. history to be recommended by a congressional committee (the House Labor Committee). It was defeated in the House—by a vote of 204 to 52—but the widespread support for the bill was likely a factor in the easy passage later in 1935 of the relatively conservative Social Security Act, which laid the foundation for the American welfare state.

Aside from its direct legislative importance, the Workers’ Bill is of interest in that it shows just how left-wing vast swathes of the population were in the 1930s and can become when a political force emerges to articulate their grievances. This bill, which was far more radical than provisions in the Soviet Union for social insurance, was endorsed by over 3,500 local unions (and the regular conventions of several International unions and state bodies of the American Federation of Labor), practically every unemployed organization in the country, fraternal lodges, governmental bodies in over seventy cities and counties, and groups representing veterans, farmers, African-Americans, women, the youth, and churches. In the West, the South, the Midwest, and the East, millions of citizens signed petitions and postcards in support of it. And this was all despite the active hostility of every sector of society that had substantial resources.

It is puzzling, then, that historians have almost entirely overlooked the Workers’ Bill. For instance, in his book Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression, Alan Brinkley doesn’t devote a single sentence to it. Neither does Robert McElvaine in his standard history, The Great Depression: America, 1929–1941. David Kennedy devotes half a sentence to it in volume one of his Oxford history of the Depression and World War II, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War. Instead, the less sophisticated and less radical Townsend Plan for old-age insurance, which was proposed around the same time and was widely publicized in the press, tends to monopolize historians’ attention (only to be ridiculed). The neglect of the Workers’ Bill lends credence to a still-dominant interpretation of the American citizenry during the Depression and throughout its history, viz. as being relatively centrist and conservative, especially as compared with the historically more “socialist” populations of Western Europe.

Brinkley sums up this strain of thinking derived from the postwar Liberal Consensus school of historiography, which still influences pundits, politicians, and academics:

The failure of more radical political movements to take root in the 1930s reflected, in part, the absence of a serious radical tradition in American political culture. The rhetoric of class conflict echoed only weakly among men and women steeped in the dominant themes of their nation’s history; and leaders relying upon that rhetoric faced grave, perhaps insuperable difficulties in attempting to create political coalitions…

This is a simplistic interpretation. For one thing, there is a serious radical tradition in American political culture, as embodied, for example, in the Populist movement of the 1890s and the Socialist Party and IWW of the early twentieth century. But even insofar as a case can be made that “the rhetoric of class conflict echoe[s]…weakly,” it’s plausible to understand this fact as simply a reflection of the violent and ruthless repression of class-based movements and parties in American history. When they have a chance to get their message out, they attract substantial support—precisely to the extent that they can get their message out. There is no need to invoke deep cultural traditions of individualism or a lack of popular understanding of class (which is a simple notion, after all: those who own and those who don’t are in conflict). One need only appeal to the skewed distribution of resources, which prevents leftists from being heard. When Earl Browder, head of the U.S. Communist Party, was given a chance by CBS to broadcast his message over the radio one night in 1936, his listeners around the country considered it “good common sense” and wanted to learn more about Communism. Maybe this is why Communists were almost never allowed on the radio.

In this article I’ll tell the story of the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill, both to fill a gap in our historical knowledge and because it resonates in our own time of troubles and struggles.

*****

As soon as the Communist Party had unveiled its proposed Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill in the summer of 1930, as the Depression was just beginning, it garnered extensive support among large numbers of the unemployed. The reason isn’t hard to fathom: it envisioned an incredibly generous system of insurance. In the form it would eventually assume, it provided for unemployment insurance for workers and farmers (regardless of age, sex, or race) that was to be equal to average local wages but no less than $10 per week plus $3 for each dependent; people compelled to work part-time (because of inability to find full-time jobs) were to receive the difference between their earnings and the average local full-time wages; commissions directly elected by members of workers’ and farmers’ organizations were to administer the system; social insurance would be given to the sick and elderly, and maternity benefits would be paid eight weeks before and eight weeks after birth; and the system would be financed by unappropriated funds in the Treasury and by taxes on inheritances, gifts, and individual and corporate incomes above $5,000 a year. Later iterations of the bill went into greater detail on how the system would be financed and managed.

Had the Workers’ Bill ever been enacted, it would have revolutionized the American political economy. It was a much more authentically socialist plan than existed in the Soviet Union at the time, where only 35 percent of the customary wage was paid to those not working, and that for a limited time (unlike with the Workers’ Bill). Nor was the Soviet insurance system administered democratically by workers’ representatives.

By 1934, when the plan had become widely enough known to be critically examined by economists and other intellectuals, it was frequently criticized for incentivizing malingering. Defenders of the bill—and by then it was advocated by many left-wing economists, teachers, social workers, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals—replied that this supposed flaw was, in fact, a strength. By withdrawing workers from the labor market, it would force wage rates to rise until they at least equaled unemployment benefits. “The benefits to the unemployed,” economist Paul Douglas noted, “could thus be used as a lever to compel industry to pay a living wage to those who were employed.” It was the abolition of poverty and economic insecurity that was envisioned—by a frontal attack on such fundamentals of capitalism as the private appropriation of wealth, determination of wages by the market, and maintenance of an insecure army of the unemployed.

The Unemployed Councils were at the forefront of agitation for the proposed bill, but it was also publicized through other auxiliary organizations of the Communist Party, in addition to activists in unions. As mass demonstrations for unemployment relief became more frequent—daily “hunger marches” in cities across the country, occupations of state legislative chambers, marches on city halls, “eviction riots”—the demand for unemployment insurance echoed louder and farther every month. From Alaska to Texas, requests for petitions flooded into the New York office of the National Campaign Committee for Unemployment Insurance. United front conferences of Socialist and Communist workers’ organizations took place from New York City to Gary, Indiana and beyond. In February, 1931 delegates presented the Workers’ Bill and its hundreds of thousands of signatures to Congress, which simply ignored them.

So activists continued drumming up support for the next few years. Hunger marchers in many states demanded that legislatures pass versions of the bill; two national hunger marches the Communist Party organized in December 1931 and 1932 gave the bill further publicity; delegates periodically presented more petitions to Congress, and campaigns were organized to mail postcards to legislators. Despite the fervent hostility and smear campaigns of the national AFL leadership, several thousand local unions eventually endorsed the bill, especially after it had been sponsored, in 1934, by Representative Ernest Lundeen of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party. Its newfound national prominence in that year gave the movement greater momentum, and a new organization was founded to lend the bill intellectual respectability: the Inter-Professional Association for Social Insurance (IPA). Within a year the IPA had dozens of chapters and organizing committees around the country, as distinguished academics like Mary Van Kleeck of the Russell Sage Foundation proselytized for the bill in the press and before Congress.

Meanwhile, conferences of unemployed groups grew ever larger and more ambitious. For instance, in Chicago in September 1934, hundreds of delegates from such groups as the National Unemployed Leagues, the Illinois Workers Alliance, the Eastern Federation of Unemployed and Emergency Workers Union, and the Wisconsin Federation of Unemployed Leagues—in the aggregate claiming a membership of 750,000—endorsed the Lundeen Bill (as it was now called) and made increasingly elaborate plans to pressure Congress for its passage.

Congress took essentially no action on the bill in 1934, so Lundeen reintroduced it in January 1935. This would become the year of the “Second New Deal,” when the Roosevelt administration turned left in response to massive discontent and disillusionment with its policies. Senator Huey Long had become a hero to millions by denouncing the wealthy and proposing his Share Our Wealth program, an implicit criticism of the New Deal’s conservatism. The “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin had acquired heroic stature among yet more millions by constantly “talking about a living wage, about profits for the farmer, about government-protected labor unions,” as one journalist put it. “He insists that human rights be placed above property rights. He emphasizes the ‘wickedness’ of ‘private financialism and production for profit.’” His immensely popular organization — the National Union for Social Justice — was no mere politically anodyne instrument of his own ego. It enshrined such principles as nationalization of “public necessities” like banking, power, light, and natural gas; control of all private property for the public good; a “just and living annual wage which will enable [every citizen willing and able to work] to maintain and educate his family according to the standards of American decency”; abolition of the privately owned Federal Reserve and establishment of a government-owned central bank; and in general the principle that “the chief concern of government shall be for the poor.”

The tens of millions of people who flocked to the banners of Huey Long and Father Coughlin—not to mention the Communist Workers’ Bill (or Lundeen Bill)—put the lie to any interpretation of the American people as being irremediably conservative/centrist or wedded to capitalism. During the Great Depression, arguably a majority wanted the U.S. to become, in effect, a radical social democracy, or a socialist democracy.

The hearings in 1935 that were held before the Labor subcommittee on the Lundeen Bill are a remarkable historical document, “probably the most unique document ever to appear in the Congressional record,” at least according to the executive secretary of the IPA. Eighty witnesses testified: industrial workers, farmers, veterans, professional workers, African-Americans, women, the foreign-born, and youth. “Probably never in American history,” an editor of the Nation wrote, “have the underprivileged had a better opportunity to present their case before Congress.” The aggregate of the testimonies amounted to a systematic indictment of American capitalism and the New Deal, and an impassioned defense of the radical alternative under consideration.

From the representative of the American Youth Congress, which encompassed over two million people, to the representative of the United Council of Working-Class Women, which had 10,000 members, each testimony fleshed out the eminently class-conscious point of view of the people back home who had “gather[ed] up nickels and pennies which they [could] poorly spare” in order to send someone to plead their case before Congress. At the same time, the Social Security Act—known then as the Wagner-Lewis Bill, since it hadn’t been passed yet—was criticized as a cruel sham, as “a proposal to set up little privileged groups in the sea of misery who would be content to sit on their small islands and watch the others drown” (to quote a professor at Smith College). What most Americans wanted, witnesses insisted, was the more universal plan embodied in the Lundeen Bill.

Interestingly, most congressmen on the subcommittee were sympathetic to this point of view. For instance, at one point the chairman, Matthew Dunn, interrupted a witness who was observing that all the members of Congress he had talked to had received far fewer cards and letters in support of the famous Townsend Plan—which the press was continually publicizing—than in support of the more radical Lundeen Bill. “I want to substantiate the statement you just made about the Townsend bill and about this bill,” Dunn said. “May I say that I do not believe I have received over a half dozen letters to support the Townsend bill… [But] I have received many letters and cards from all over the country asking me to give my utmost support in behalf of the Lundeen bill, H.R. 2827.”

Most of the letters congressmen received were probably in the vein of this one that was sent to Lundeen in the spring of 1935, when Congress was considering the three competing bills that have already been mentioned (the Wagner-Lewis, the Townsend, and the Lundeen):

The reason I am writing you is, that we Farmers [and] Industrial workers feel that you are the only Congressman and Representative that is working for our interest. We have analyzed the Wagner-Lewis Bill [and] also [the] Townsend Bill. But the Lundeen H.R. (2827) is the only bill that means anything for our class… The people all over the country are [waking] up to the facts that the two old Political Parties are owned soul, mind [and] body by the Capitalist Class.

Even more revealingly, that spring the New York Post conducted a poll of its readers after printing the contents of the three bills. Out of 1,391 votes cast, 1,209 readers supported the Lundeen, 157 the Townsend, 14 the Wagner-Lewis, and 7 none of them. This was no scientific poll, but its results are at least suggestive.

As stated above, while the House Labor Committee recommended the Lundeen Bill, it was—inevitably—defeated in the House. Being opposed by all the dominant interests in the country, it never had a chance of passage. But as far as its advocates were concerned, the fight was not over. Throughout the spring and summer of 1935 the flood of endorsements did not let up. The first national convention of rank-and-file social workers endorsed it in February; the Progressive Miners of America followed, along with scores of local unions and such ethnic societies as the Italian-American Democratic Organization of New York (with 235,000 members) and the Slovak-American Political Federation of Youngstown, Ohio. Virtually identical state versions of H.R. 2827 were, or already had been, introduced in the legislatures of California, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and other states. Conferences of unions and fraternal organizations were called in a number of states to plan further campaigns for the Workers’ Bill.

In January 1936, Representative Lundeen introduced the bill yet again, this time joined by Republican Senator Lynn Frazier of North Dakota. The hearings before the Senate Labor Committee in April resembled the hearings on H.R. 2827, with academics, social workers, unionists, and farmers testifying as to the inadequacy of the recently passed Social Security Act and the necessity of the Frazier-Lundeen Bill. A representative of the National Committee on Rural Social Planning spoke for millions of agricultural workers, sharecroppers, tenants, and small owners when he opined that this bill was “the only one which is likely to check the fascist terror now riding the fields” in the South (directed largely against the Southern Tenant Farmers Union).

The fascist terror continued unchecked, however, for the bill did not even make it out of committee. After its dismal fate in 1936, it was never introduced again.

Despite its failure, the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill was a significant episode in the 1930s that certainly hasn’t deserved to be written out of history. Both substantively and in its popularity, a case can be made that it was more significant than the Social Security Act and the Townsend Plan, its two main competitors.

*****

Above I referred to a radio broadcast that Earl Browder gave in March 1936. This unusual but telling incident may serve as a coda to the story of the Workers’ Bill, reinforcing the lesson that most Americans were and are, beneath the surface layers of indoctrination, quite left-wing in their values and beliefs. It’s only a question of reaching them, of being heard by them, and of acquiring the resources to organize them.

In order to advertise its liberal position on freedom of speech, CBS invited Browder to speak for fifteen minutes (at 10:45 p.m.) on a national radio broadcast, with the understanding that he would be answered the following night by zealous anti-Communist Congressman Hamilton Fish. Browder seized the opportunity for a national spotlight and appealed to “the majority of the toiling people” to establish a national Farmer-Labor Party that would be affiliated with the Communist Party, though it “would not yet take up the full program of socialism, for which many are not yet prepared.” He even declared that Communists’ ultimate aim was to remake the U.S. “along the lines of the highly successful Soviet Union”: once they had the support of a majority of Americans, he said, “we will put that program into effect with the same firmness, the same determination, with which Washington and the founding fathers carried through the revolution that established our country, with the same thoroughness with which Lincoln abolished chattel slavery.”

According to both CBS and the Daily Worker, reactions to Browder’s talk were almost uniformly positive. CBS immediately received several hundred responses praising the speech, and the Daily Worker, whose New York address Browder had mentioned on the air, received thousands of letters. The following are representative:

Chattanooga, Tennessee: “If you could have listened to the people I know who listened to you, you would have learned that your speech did much to make them realize the importance of forming a Farmer-Labor Party. I am sure that the 15 minutes into which you put so much that is vitally important to the American people was time used to great advantage. Many people are thanking you, I know.”

Evanston, Illinois: “Just listened to your speech tonight and I think it was the truest talk I ever heard on the radio. Mr. Browder, would it not be a good thing if you would have an opportunity to talk to the people of the U.S.A. at least once a week, for 30 to 60 minutes? Let’s hear from you some more, Mr. Browder.”

Bricelyn, Minnesota: “Your speech came in fine and it was music to the ears of another unemployed for four years. Please send me full and complete data on your movement and send a few extra copies if you will, as I have some very interested friends—plenty of them eager to join up, as is yours truly.”

Sparkes, Nebraska: “Would you send me 50 copies of your speech over the radio last night? I would like to give them to some of my neighbors who are all farmers.”

Arena, New York: “Although I am a young Republican (but good American citizen) I enjoyed listening to your radio speech last evening. I believe you told the truth in a convincing manner and I failed to see where you said anything dangerous to the welfare of the American people.”

Julesburg, Colorado: “Heard your talk… It was great. Would like a copy of same, also other dope on your party. It is due time we take a hand in things or there will be no United States left in a few more years. Will be looking forward for this dope and also your address.”

In general, the main themes of the letters were questions like, “Where can I learn more about the Communist Party?”, “How can I join your Party?”, and “Where is your nearest headquarters?” Some people sent money in the hope that it would facilitate more broadcasts. The editors of the Daily Worker plaintively asked their readers, “Isn’t it time we overhauled our old horse-and-buggy methods of recruiting? While we are recruiting by ones and twos, aren’t we overlooking hundreds?” Again, one can only imagine how many millions of people in far-flung regions would have been quickly radicalized had Browder or other Communist leaders been permitted the national radio audience that Huey Long and Father Coughlin were.

But such is the history of workers and marginalized groups in the U.S.: elite efforts to suppress the political agenda and the voices of the downtrodden have all too often succeeded, thereby wiping out the memory of popular struggles. If we can resurrect such stories as that of the Workers’ Bill, they may prove of use in our own age of crisis, as new struggles against oppression are born.

High Plains Radicals

The Sun was shining as I was strolling
The wheat field waving the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice was chanting
This land was made for you and me
— Woody Guthrie

With socialism, even in a diluted and inchoate form, assuming a higher profile, I’m reminded of my early years in North Dakota during the 1950s.  On the one hand, it wasn’t the Gestapo-like scenes from Standing Rock, today’s widespread sex trafficking in the booming oil fields in the western part of the state or the Trump-friendly votes of current Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. On the other hand, it was hardly idyllic with its duck-and-cover drills, loyalty oaths, McCarthyism, and stifling Evangelical Lutheran social mores. Still, there was at least a vague awareness that things had once been better.

I wasn’t a red or even a pink diaper baby, those who for better or worse gazed at Communist Manifesto picture books for toddlers and inherited their parents’ radical politics. In fact, red, white and blue diapers would be a more apt description.   However, through cultural osmosis I must have internalized some sense of what remained of North Dakota’s radical political legacy.

In the early 1900s, 9 of 10 North Dakotans were farmers who were being bankrupted by ruthless out-of-state economic conglomerates.   In response, they organized the Nonpartisan League (NPL) a socialist insursurgency movement.  Together with elements of the Socialist Party and the IWW, the NPL quickly became a force to be reckoned with and in the 1918 election, won both houses of the state legislature.   Along with new safety net legislation, among the first laws to be passed were the creation of a publicly owned grain mill, the North Dakota Mill and Elevator and a publicly owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota.  The latter was envisioned as a credit-union style institution to liberate farmers from predatory lenders. Incidentally, I grew up assuming the Bank of North Dakota, a quasi-socialist institution, had a counterpart in every state. In fact, it was the only one of its kind.

The initial success of the NPL also helped spawn the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) in neighboring Minnesota where both sets of my grandparents had emigrated from Norway and Sweden in the 1870s.  Although never made explicit, the experiences of my elders bequeathed to me a deeply ingrained distrust toward “Big Shots” in general and more specifically, those in the Twin Cities (Mpls/St.Paul) and further east in Chicago. Such people did not have our best interests at heart. I also prefer imagining now that if monsters were hiding under my bed at night they were eastern bankers, grain merchants and railroad tycoons.

Alas, this period was short-lived. Then, as now, the capitalist state performed its primary function as protector of the ruling class. The devastating effects of the government’s campaign against labor unions, embodied in anti-radical hysteria, the first Red Scare in 1920, jailing and deportation of radicals, the Palmer Raids and imprisonment of Eugene Debs, all but extinguished radical prairie populism. Both major political parties toiled endlessly to make socialism synonomous with “Un-American”.  The  final blow occurred when many farmers gravitated toward the Democratic Party, the graveyard of radical progressive movements.

This heinous chapter in American history joins racism, a belief in U.S. exceptionalism, nativism, and ruthless imperialism as being as American as baseball and apple pie.

But lest we forget, the less well known but countless examples of courageous resistance to these execrable episodes is also part of the American tradition. In keeping with this spirit, I recommend viewing John Hanson and Rob Nilsson’s “Prairie Trilogy,” a reissued assemblage of three short films about North Dakota’s radical past.  Shot from 1978-1980, Praire Fire, Rebel Earth and Survivor, have been lovingly restored and couldn’t be more timely.

As reviewer Joshua Brunsting, puts it, “While thousands of people are turning to what they believe to be a groundbreaking socio-political movement, they don’t stop to realize that this type of worker-focused ideology is at the very heart of the American political experience. Maybe not as those living in 2018 think of socialism, but the DNA runs deep and runs clear.” The recent surge of public activism and the rejection of capitalism by today’s millennials are fully consonant with this sanguine conclusion.

The West has Performed a “Philosophical Coup” Against the Left

It has been happening for quite some time, but no one has been paying much attention: Western academia, mainstream media, and the most visible propagandists, were trying to convince the world that 1) ideology has died, or at least became irrelevant 2) in case it did not die, the Left is actually… hold your breath…right-wing!

Especially the Left that is holding power, particularly in Asia and in Latin America, is being ‘re-defined’ in London, Paris and Washington. The Western propaganda gurus are apparently rejuvenated lately, as there are great budgets available to them, in the United States, United Kingdom, and elsewhere. They are openly told to go after certain countries, particularly Russia, China and Iran.

This is an extremely complex but important development. You see, the West has been losing, and so has capitalism and especially imperialism, which is synonymous with neo-colonialism.

People all over the world had enough. Even certain groups inside the imperialist countries, have had enough.

The main problem is that after decades, during which philosophy has been locked up, imprisoned, inside the decaying aulas of the toothless universities, most people have lost any idea what really disgusts them; what they are against, and what they desire.

Philosophy and such deep and essential topics like ‘in what direction the world should be evolving’, are not discussed at UNESCO meetings anymore, as they are not debated by talk show hosts and ‘public intellectuals’, at least not in the open.

Light pop music, horror movies, the promotion of selfish, often infantile values and desires, never really deeply satisfied the masses, but they damaged them, reducing people’s ability to think freely, to analyze and to make sober and well-informed conclusions.

‘-isms’ have been spat at, particularly the left-wing ‘-isms’. Increasingly, the left was smeared and then compared to the extreme right, even with fascism. In fact, pronouncing Communism and fascism in one breath, became tremendously well rewarded. In the West, thousands of ‘thinkers’ and ideologues made a great living doing nothing else than that.

*****

This essay has been inspired by an exchange with an Irish academic, who called, in his email to me, one of ‘my’ publications (NEO – New Eastern Outlook), an ‘extreme right-wing Russian nationalist magazine’.

I exploded, wrote back, clarifying that NEO is a left-wing, internationalist magazine, and that the people who are running it have nothing to do with anything right-wing, whatsoever. But I soon realized that this was not about the evidence, but about something very different.

Bizarre and unpleasant exchange did not end there. The academic declared, after watching my film (which I describe as a ‘poetic documentary’) about North Korea (Faces of North Korea), that I am wrong and that the DPRK is not Communist, nor socialist.

I was supposed to participate in his book project, but I withdrew. My friend Eduardo Galeano used to say about such people: “I don’t know for whom he works, and he wouldn’t tell”.

Similar, confusing messages are coming from everywhere, whenever I go to Europe or North America, or whenever I tune in to their television or radio channels. Something twisted is being broadcast, day and night. Political reality gets extremely fuzzy. Great left-wing political leaders are called names: demagogues, populists, even worse. And those constant, insane Cold War propagandist comparisons of Stalin and Hitler (any logical comparisons never appear, like Hitler = Churchill, German Nazism = European colonialism, etc.).

The biggest problem is that a great majority of Western citizens have succumbed to this propaganda. They are not capable of questioning anything related to these issues anymore, and were they to want to question, they don’t even know where to search for the sources that could effectively challenge the official dogma.

They are indoctrinated, but they think that they are free. Not only that, they don’t realize that they are deeply conditioned and brainwashed: they actually think that they are in a position to preach, obliged to enlighten others, instructing the world with what they have been taught. And so, they speak and write, get paid for it. They join the U.N., ‘international cultural institutions’ and the NGOs, universities, and they continue spreading all those dogmas developed by the Western ideologues for one and the only purpose: to exploit and to control the world. They do not present these fabrications as theses, but as facts. Of course, there are no facts behind what they are preaching, as there is no hard evidence, but who would search for the evidence, and how? Even the Internet is not so easy to navigate, anymore, and Western bookstores are nowhere as diverse as those in China or Russia.

 *****

Back to the main issue: it is essential for the West to discredit socialism, Communism, and also all anti-imperialist movements that are now getting stronger all over the world.

In fact, many propagandists in London, Paris and Washington, are clearly realizing that the West and its control over the world, is almost finished. The more they are aware of this fact, the more aggressively they go after their adversaries (their jobs often depend on that control, and the privileges of their nation, of course, too).

Attacking socialists or Communists who are holding power in Asia or Latin America, is not enough, anymore.

Now the Empire is spreading pessimism, defeatism and dark nihilism, both at home and abroad (please read my latest book: Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism). “All people are the same”, it says. Sounds nice, but what it means is actually extremely sinister: “All people are maniacal egotists like us, mass murderers like us, and, of course, thieves!”

Terms and definitions get all mixed up, confused. Nothing is defined precisely.

For instance, when the left-wing governor of Jakarta, ‘Ahok’, began cleaning the most polluted city on Earth, building public transportation, providing the poor with social housing, several Indonesian NGOs paid by the West, as well as countless individuals, began calling ‘Ahok” a ‘right-winger’, because he was evicting petite capitalist street vendors and thugs who were shamelessly blocking the few sidewalks that the turbo-capitalist Jakarta has in its possession. Thugs and street vendors, who flourished during the fascist, anti-Communist dictatorship, have been terrorizing the city and its mainly poor dwellers for decades. But the argument went: “The Governor is against the little people”.

There was actually a ‘great danger’ that this deeply popular governor could make it to a much higher post, even the highest one in the country. That would be unacceptable, and the servile ‘city planners’, academics and ‘civil society’ groups shamelessly teamed up against him. First, he was discredited (being called right-wing), then accused of insulting religion (Islam) and finally, thrown into prison. He is rotting there until now, for being a true socialist (a word that is even still illegal to pronounce in Indonesia, as it is being connected with Communism).

The Jakarta scenario is, of course, no exception. The same is happening in the Philippines. The West and its local lackeys are attacking, with the same twisted ‘logic’ and zeal, countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, but especially China, Iran and Russia.

To call China by what it really is: ‘Communist (with the Chinese characteristics) and presently the most successful country on Earth”, would be totally unacceptable, anywhere in the West or its ‘client’ states. That would greatly boost China’s popularity. Why? Because even deep in the dark belly of the capitalist and imperialist beast – Europe and North America – the common people actually want something ‘left-wing’, something socialist, even Communist. They were told to hate it, to trash it publicly, and they do. But deep inside, many are still longing for it.

The Empire knows psychological warfare extremely well: to discredit China, it really has to be called capitalist. Or call it imperialist. Say it is ‘like us’. (“Like us” is definitely not good. The people on all continents hate ‘us’). Say that China is not helping African people by building infrastructure, hospitals and schools (although that is precisely what China is doing, if you ask Africans – something that no Western journo is bothering to do). Say that China is ‘following its own interests’, and that it is doing business (again, these days, a dirty word, except in a few Southeast Asian helplessly corrupt and servile ‘client’ states).

The same is true when it comes to Russia. The foreign policy of Russia is clearly anti-imperialist. In many ways, it is still that good old Soviet foreign policy – internationalist, egalitarian, based on humanism. Present-day Russian diplomats are brilliant, soft-spoken philosophers. The West can never match them. Therefore, it smears them, their country and everything that it stands for. President Putin is portrayed as some right-wing strongman and lunatic, and Russia as a capitalist state. It is thorough nonsense, as Russia is in many ways, increasingly, similar to its close ally – China. Russia counts on a mixed economy with a great accent on social welfare, and it is a country that is ready to defend and protect those who are brutalized by Western neo-colonialism. It occupies nobody, overthrows no governments. It is increasingly a good, solid and compassionate country, but the more it is, the more demonized it gets. The better it behaves, the more it gets smeared, mostly by being called ‘capitalist’, ‘right-wing’, an ‘oligarchy’. Well, great propaganda barks for sure; the Western demagogues and intelligence officers certainly know their trade.

Syria, oh, how is it being defined by the Western demagogues! How it is being defamed! It is never called by what it really has been for decades – a Pan-Arab socialist state! Its ‘regime’ (a favorite British derogatory term, which I actually love to use against their own, British fascist, stale, passive-aggressive monarchy) is constantly branded as ‘dictatorial’. You will never hear expressions like ‘socialist’ or ‘internationalist’. You know why? Because, let me repeat it again, these terms, deep inside, evoke sympathy in the ears of people worldwide, even in the hearts of some Westerners, subconsciously.

‘Socialist’, ‘serving the people’ – you may smear it, but that is what people really want, and wanted for decades and centuries. That is what they have fought for, were dying for; on the barricades. Some instincts are still there, in people’s hearts, or do you think that they were sacrificing their lives in order to be governed by individuals like Macron or May?

Therefore, the socialists, not some European pseudo-traitors-socialists, but true socialists and Communists, are constantly branded by the West as ‘populists’, demagogues and often, even as right-wingers.

This negative, nihilist, depressing propaganda blurs and confuses the people everywhere. It calls white, black, and black, white. It labels Communists as fascists, and then declares that both fascists and Communists are the same.

Now the people, at least those who are the most exposed to the Western mass media, are ‘unable to commit themselves’ to anything, from political labels, to revolutionary ideals, and even to each other. They go ‘by issues’, arrogantly selfish (hundreds of millions of atomized centers of the universe) in both personal lives and in politics. In London or Paris, not to speak of New York City, those who are believed to be the ‘most educated’, are sadly the most conditioned, indoctrinated and feeble.

It is quite remarkable that in some parts of the world like Southeast Asia, the West has managed to create an absolutely bizarre West-lookalike-but-not-really-alike ‘upper class’, by injecting an idiotic type of education and cheap ‘cultural values’ (I will address this issue soon, in my upcoming essay). The result is – obedient and soulless countries unable to create anything new and substantial.

*****

All of this, just in order to prevent the world from following its instincts – from choosing socialism and Communism.

You see, the task of the Western regime is tremendous: to break, to pervert, the natural reflexes of human beings. Whenever people anywhere in the world have been given a true opportunity, they voted, or fought for, some type of socialism, or Communism.

Basically, all the countries of Latin America selected, democratically, left-wing governments. And they were overthrown by the West and by their lackeys. It is happening to this day. Millions have been dying in the process.

In Africa – precisely the same. It began with Patrice Lumumba and his murder, and it never stopped. Fascist monsters and mentally sick individuals were injected from abroad, and paid to govern.

Asia? Absolute horror: from the socialist Iran in 1950’s to internationalist, Communist Indonesia before 1965, people wanted Communism and got murdered, raped and in the end, robbed of everything. By whom: by the West and its apparatchiks and local spooks from the colonial era. Countries that resisted and won, like China, and Vietnam, are now much better off than others.

They all wanted socialism, all over the world: The Middle East, too, and yes, Europe as well! It truly takes great discipline and continuous brainwashing, to forget that the US and UK intelligence services prevented Europeans in France, Italy and even West Germany, from voting in Communists after WWII. Nazis were employed to intimidate and to murder left-wing candidates. Then they were shipped to South America, where they either ‘retired’, or began collaborating with the fascist pro-Western regimes. I know it: I spoke, couple of decades ago, to those old beasts who were allowed to escape with their loot of gold teeth from the concentration camps – to Paraguay, Argentina, Chile.

Destroying the natural human longing for socialism is the main task of the Western regimes, be they ‘constitutional monarchies’ or ‘guided multi-party hoaxes’.

The result is total global schizophrenia. Intuitively, people desire something, but they are told that it is wrong, and then they are ordered what to desire (unless they want to become unemployable).

It is the same with love and sex. We, men, are told that our bodies should be longing for certain types of women. Women are instructed what type of man to desire.

It is the same with jobs, or how people pass their free time: banging into mobile phones, playing degenerate video games, and studying some nonsense at university, just to get a diploma that certifies them as some good future servants of the regime.

What did they do to people, really? Adults, fathers and mothers, ‘respected’ individuals are moving their fingers all over the phone monitors, playing infantile games and making babyish faces, while taking their own photographs at every corner. European intellectual cinema has collapsed, as well as literature. And everyone is grinning like idiots. And almost everyone is suicidal.

It is clearly a post-coup situation. It is abnormal.

Pathological. Almost nobody is happy. Everyone pretends to be happy.

You see, deep inside, people like to dream about a better world, they like to commit, even sacrifice themselves for another being, or for an ideal, or revolution.

This insanity, which the West has spread, just so its dear capitalism and neo-colonialism stays in control of the planet, will not last much longer.

Soon, people will realize that there is nothing more glorious than to build his or her country, to improve conditions all over the world, to clean up our environment, to love and to fully commit to that love.

Before that, however, the lies have to be exposed. White is white and black is black. War is war, peace is peace. Aggressors are aggressors and victims are victims.

The West has immobilized people all over the world with its filthy, depressing lies. It stares at humans, like a cobra stares at a tiny, poor mouse.

Soon, I am sure the world will rise and demand the truth! With the truth, the psychological balance will return. People will learn how to dream again. With dreams, the insanity that the West has been spreading will be confronted. Imperialism will shout, howl; it will try to bite everything that moves, but relatively quickly, it will lose all its power and, hopefully, kick the bucket. I believe in it. Millions are now, again, ready to fight for it.