Category Archives: Communism/Marxism/Maoism

Marx Still Prevents the Progress of Society

If one searches “theory of alienation” in Google, predominately Marx’s theory comes out because other theories of alienation in a political and economic level do not exist. The question is why? What is so incredible in Marx’s statement that workers get alienated from the products of their labour, which alienates them from themselves? It just does not hold much water because everyone who produces for the market gets alienated from the product at the moment of purchase.

Marx strongly contributed to the scientific understanding of capitalism. He stated that capitalists profit from the production, while their workers only receive a fraction of the capitalist’s profit as wages. Capitalists exploit workers by paying them low earnings. Marx was right about this. He believed that exploitation of workers might be eliminated through socialist revolution only. Marx was wrong here because a violent revolution cannot better society. Although a revolution may replace a certain social injustice, it has always been replaced with a new kind. To ensure the lasting effect of revolutions, new leadership are generally autocratic, and therefore spread alienation throughout society with all the unfavourable dictatorial phenomena that are well-known throughout history. Revolutions have never contributed to the improvement of society as it was desired by people. Marx did not have enough data to be able to build his vision of socialism scientifically. As a result, his vision of socialism failed.

Thanks to social scientists, it is still not known what exactly creates exploitation of workers even though the answer is straightforward – unemployment creates exploitation. Unemployed workers are pressured to accept poorly paid jobs to feed their families. When we eliminate unemployment, we will create a fair market for work. The lack of workers will increase their demand on the market so that employers will have to pay them more. This will create a chain reaction in which workers’ salaries will grow, while employers would still make profits. We may say this would eliminate exploitation. There is no formula which would determine what exploitation is, only workers dissatisfied with their earnings may present it. A fair market of work will remove this dissatisfaction.

The rise in workers’ salaries in the fair market can be proved. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed one-third of the European population which suddenly increased demand for workers. The shortage of workers increased the workers’ wages. At Cuxham (Oxfordshire, England), a plowman demanded from his Lord a payment 3.3 times greater in 1350 than in the previous year (The Economic Impact of the Black Death, Economic History Association). “In Parliament, in 1351 the Commons petitioned Edward III for a more resolute and effective response. They complained that “servants completely disregard the said ordinance in the interests of their ease and greed and that they withhold their services to great men and others unless they have liveries and wages twice or three times as great as [prior to the plague] to the serious damage of the great men and impoverishment of all members of the said commons.””1

According to this, if a political party wins an election offering a reduction of work to 5 hours per day; the lack of workers would increase workers’ salaries 2-3 times per hour in one year. The daily wages would rise 30-90% for just a 5-hour shift. Workers would work shorter hours and earn more. It has already happened, and it is much easier to accomplish than raising a revolution.

So who is going to pay for such an increase in salary? The wealthy employers, of course! Right now they collect this money as profit for themselves. Can employers refuse to increase worker salaries? They can, but then their workers would find a new employer who would pay more, and that means they will lose the possibility to maintain their businesses. When workers earn more they will purchase more which will, in turn, increase the employers’ profits. So, why have we not created a good economy so far? Because the more workers earn, the less they depend on the rich. The rich keep their power in society by maintaining the fear of unemployment. More about it is presented in my article: Let’s remove unemployment.

*****

Marx thought that the market economy caused the exploitation of workers, so he proposed the elimination of the market economy by a centrally planned economy. Marx knew that the elimination of market economy removes the indicators of economic efficiency so he called upon for worker conscience to replace it. It revealed a consistency problem of Marx’s philosophy. Human conscience belongs to idealism and it was never able to improve society because it was never accepted on the social level. The planned economy was supposed to produce goods and services in quality and quantity to satisfy people’s needs. But the leaders have never learned how to gather people’s needs, so they decided it for them. Such economy alienates itself from the people. The socialist economy also deteriorates because revolutions replace experienced entrepreneurs with inexperienced theorists. The socialist ideology overprotects workers while also taking their freedom which does not stimulate them to work enough. The planned economy is not able to make the balance between production and consumption leaving people unsatisfied. As a result, the Marxist’s economy failed to satisfy people’s needs sufficiently.

The planned economy was tried in the USSR and China. It has significantly reduced material exploitation of workers which exists in capitalist countries but also, it decreased the efficiency of the economy. The economy in the USSR and China had much lower productivity than capitalist economies. The USSR collapsed due to the inefficiency of the planned economy. Thus, Marxism failed. China has learned on their own mistakes, abandoned the planned economy in 1980, and accepted the regulated market economy. From that moment it has become the fastest growing economy in the world, threatening to take the number one place soon. This explains everything about the Marxist economy.

Taking into account the failures of Marxism, why does it deserve such a significant presence in science, media, and in hearts of Marxists? It would not be possible without the approval of the owners of corporations. Without it, Marxists would not be able to participate in political elections. Neither would they be able to teach Marxism at universities and get media support. Why do the rich help the Marxist ideology which promotes violent confiscation of their property? The rich simply knew Marxism could not be a threat to capitalism. Otherwise, it would be banned. They knew that Marxism is on the wrong track and support it because Marxism prevents the progress of society. If Marx proposed reducing work hours instead of revolution, his philosophy would not be supported, and hardly anybody would know he has ever existed.

This is how the conspiracy of the rich works. By supporting Marx, the rich have successfully prevented a better society for 100 years. Now capitalists know they cannot cheat people by supporting revolutions and planned economy anymore, but they do not abandon Marxism because a large number of people are romantically and emotionally still connected to Marx. Most Marxists accepted Marx’s ideology when they were young. Youthful rebellion based on dissatisfaction and injustice in society made them easy prey for the manipulation of the rich. The rich hid the cause of the exploitation and promoted Marx’s philosophy as the escape from the problem. Marx made revolution scientifically acceptable, and people acknowledged it through the study of his excessive work.

Marxists recognize the failures of Marxism, but they still believe they need to find the right method to implement Marx’s philosophy correctly. By accepting Marxism they cannot change their opinion significantly anymore, especially not if a simple idea like shorter work hours tries to break it. The rich are masters of deception and Marxists cannot admit they have been deceived. Helped by the rich, Marxists got a strong influence in the political Left and by promoting the ideology which does not work, they help the rich. They are also helping the rich by preventing new left ideas from coming.

*****

This is precisely what has happened to me. I have presented how to create a good society in the book Humanism – A Philosophic-Ethical-Political-Economic Study of the Development of the Society. It is available free of charge online. The book is based on an original theory of alienation. It states that subjectivity alienates us from objective reality. Subjectivity puts us on the wrong path so that we cannot satisfy our needs. The escape from all problems of humankind lies in the building of objective vision of reality. Democratic acceptance of equal human rights will do it. The implementation of equal human rights will solve all social problems. Nothing else we need for building a good social life and nothing else can make it.

Marx was right when he called upon for equal human rights among people, but he did not see the scope of its development. The ultimate stage of equal human rights will create an equal possibility for the employment of every worker at every public work post at any time. It will be necessary to open a permanent competition of workers for every public work post. The best worker would get the right to work at any time. I know it sounds impossible because such a division of labour never existed. But the realization of it is just a technical problem. The system I have developed will effectively evaluate the productivity of work offers, define the job responsibilities of workers, and harmonize rewards for work. In short, the workers who offer the highest productivity and responsibility, and demand the lowest salary will get the job. No economy can be more productive than the one where each job gets the best available worker. Public companies will become more productive than private ones so that the latter will go down in history. Only this should be called socialism. I wrote more about it in the article: The Failures of Marxism and the Right Path to Socialism and Communism.

The market is the best choice for the economy. The market of goods allocates every good to the most capable purchaser who needs and loves it the most. The producers profit from it the most as well. The further development of the market will improve the economy much more. The market of work will eliminate work privileges which will make each job equally demanded. Such a market will allocate every job to the most productive worker who needs and loves it the most. Shorter work hours will eliminate unemployment while less desirable jobs will be compensated with higher incomes. The market will help society to reach the best life possible. I have presented the bright future of humankind also through stories in three screenplays: Good Capitalism, Good Socialism, and Good Communism.

Even if my ideas are wrong, which they are not, my effort deserves to be noticed, but I have experienced a total refusal by media, science, politics, and film industry. The people who hear me offering increasing salaries for shorter work time, which is the first step in developing the economy and society, think it is too good to be true no matter what arguments I give. Public discussion may help, but it is prevented. One of the reasons for that is Marxists do not like my work.

However, the rich cannot hide the truth forever. It will break through one day. Then people will accept the benefits of full employment and request shorter work hours. The rich will resist it, of course, but they cannot win against united people. This will be the hardest part of creating a perfect society.

  1. Michael Bennett, The Impact of the Black Death on English Legal History, Australian Journal of Law and Society, 1995, Page 197.

Stop that Gucci and Prada Talk: Chinese and Russian People want to live too!!

I hear this again and again, whenever I speak in the West:

“What kind of Communism is that in China? In all big cities, they have Prada and Gucci in every major department store.”

Western leftists are obsessed with this topic. They do not even realize how ridiculous, how racist their arguments actually are!

China, with some 6,000 years long history, 1.3 billion inhabitants and the second largest economy in the world, has almost eradicated extreme poverty in the cities, and in the countryside. For the first time in modern history, people are moving from the urban centers to the villages. The great Ecological Civilization effort is demonstrating to the world how to save the environment, and the planet. The country is firmly back with its brilliant model of “Communism with the Chinese characteristics”. Its foreign policy is more and more internationalist.

But the more progressive, independent-minded and kind to its people China becomes, the more it is attacked and antagonized by the West. The more is its Communist model scrutinized, under the microscope.

By the Right, by the racists and imperialists naturally, but by the Left?

The problem is that the Western Left subscribes to exceptionalism almost as much as the Right.

It demands purity, great sacrifice and austerity from countries like China and Russia.

As I have already described in many of my essays and books, including Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, there is hardly anything pure left in London or Paris. Hardly anyone is ready to commit to anything ideological, especially to the revolutionary struggle. Sacrifice or austerity is totally foreign to Europeans or North Americans, no matter on what side of the political spectrum they stand.

But the Chinese and Russians are expected to behave like saints.

Actually, the entire planet is supposed to stop consuming, driving expensive cars, wearing designer shoes and bags, and if possible, to stop travelling.

All these privileges are reserved for Westerners, and for the elites in ‘client’ states.

It is never pronounced like this, in one breath. But that is what the Western left-wing intellectuals with their outdated and rejected by the entire world ‘anarcho-syndicalist logic’, really want to push down the throats of all non-Western people.

And I say: such twisted logic is insulting, even disgusting.

For centuries, the West has been robbing and looting everything in all corners of the world.

Designer boots is what the British and French ‘gentlemen’ were kicking ‘un-people’ with, in their crotches and their buttocks. Designer clothes were worn by the first and second generations of those refined European ladies in North America, while the native population was being exterminated, and slaves were laboring and getting raped on the plantations.

I don’t want Westerners to talk about fashion and who has the right to be ‘obsessed with it’. I sincerely believe that Europeans and North Americans have absolutely no right to judge anybody, or to ‘advise’ people anywhere in the world, on how to live, what to wear and consume.

*****

Chinese people, as well as Russian people, work extremely hard. They work much harder than most people anywhere in Germany or France. Unlike Westerners, they do not loot. They do not exploit anyone.

If they make money and want to spend it the way they want, it is not the business of Western hypocrites to protest.

No matter what the half-hearted ‘austerity’ measures the Europeans and North Americans take (like turning the lights off in their toilets, or using half a tank to flush their toilets), the plunder that their countries are continuing to perpetrate, and the privileges that their entire societies enjoy, are overwhelming and unprecedented. And, yes, Europeans recycle a few sheets of paper, while their multi-nationals grab and privatize entire aquifers in South America.

China and Russia are already doing all they can to save the world and the environment from the deadly Western imperialism. If they work for it, their citizens have the full right to buy the latest mobile phones or elegant pair of shoes. If they want to travel to Thailand or to Turkey for vacation, that’s perfectly fine. It does not make them more or any less Communist or internationalist.*****

*****

But that is not what they think in the West.

You see, those ‘comrades’ in France or US or UK actually demand that everyone listens to their definitions about what the Left is, and what is not; or what Communist or capitalist is.

The great cultures of China or Russia cannot be trusted to decide how they define themselves. The definition has to be outlined on some couch in London, or in a bar in New York, or at a Euro-centric university. It has to be some ‘traditional Marxist’ or anarcho-syndicalist who is expected to put their stamp of approval on and tell those ‘savages’ who they really are.

The West may be obsessed with ‘political correctness’, but it is as racist as ever. Racist and fundamentalist, it has to be added.

*****

I have a proposal to make: if the West is so concerned about Chinese and Russian citizens wanting to drive decent cars and to wear elegant clothes, why don’t they push for an end to the production of these items in their own end: in France, Italy, the United States. Their countries would lose millions of jobs, but if they are so principled, then, why not? Why don’t they themselves dress in rags?

But seriously, why don’t they, themselves, build that ‘real and pure’ Communism?

So far, all they, the Western ‘left’, have done was to change colors like chameleons; they betrayed both socialism and Communism, and ended up doing absolutely nothing, instead of fighting, just the constant criticism of others who are actually busy trying to build a much better world.

You know, we are tired of being tutored and advised by them. I have had enough of hearing, in those luxury villas in North America and Europe, over expensive drinks and while being comfortably seated in those plush chairs and sofas, how the Chinese, Russians and Vietnamese people should give up aiming for the latest mobile phones and designer clothes. I am sick of those bizarre statements coming from anarcho-syndicalists who are living in luxury marina compounds somewhere in New England, that “China is not really Communist because it has a few billionaires”.

Periodically, I come to the West to speak, to open my films or to launch my books. I get invited to ‘those places of high abstract morality’ in the evenings, inevitably. Places where dogs have better lives than citizens of the neo-colonized African or Asian countries. It is always the same tune.

And this time, I have had enough.

We don’t need advice, thank you. And we are smart enough to know and to define who we are.

The Western ‘left’ should take care of its own problems. They have lost on their own continents, in their own countries. Presently, they don’t have one single figure that could inspire the world. All they do is to bark at the true revolutionaries, and at the countries where both Communism and Socialism are firmly in power. They bark because they have nothing important to say. They bark because they have no guts to fight. They bark because they will never get elected, and they actually have no strength to govern. They bark, because, I believe, they actually don’t like true Communists and socialists at all; those who are facing the real world, real issues, and real enemies.

Communism and Socialism have won elsewhere, in several places in Asia and Latin America, even in the Middle East. People there fought bravely. Despite the Western left, not because of it, they won.

We have already determined that the pompous self-centered exceptionalism of the West is similar to religious fanaticism. The Western Left is no exception.

They don’t only want us to be ‘pure’, they want us poor, humiliated and submissive. This way they can pity us, and constantly pretend that they are trying to save us (not for our own sake, but for their own).

Unfortunately for them, we do not need their charity. We are winning. Anyone who is not blind can clearly see that China and Russia are standing tall and marching forward. And other independent-minded countries are winning as well.

We know precisely who we are – no need for advice. And what we are will not be threatened if our women and men wear designer clothes, or drive good cars. In fact, claiming otherwise is appallingly patronizing; it is racist rubbish.

IQ, Equal Pay for Equal Work, Population Control, Mao, and Communism

“Prepare for Struggle, Prepare for Famine, Work for the People.”

Jordan Peterson posits IQ tests as indicators of intelligence and predictors of long-term success.1 This is not scientific. Intelligence is definitionally problematic as is designing tests to measure whatever is deemed to denote intelligence. Nowadays, intelligence is considered a multi-faceted concept that cannot be measured comprehensively and accurately by a paper-and-pencil test. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to isolate a multitude of other factors and attribute any result exclusively to intelligence; e.g., parental upbringing, socio-economic levels, health, spiritual beliefs, personal inclinations, etc. Into this mix Peterson adds conscientiousness, with the same problems of how to define and how to measure. So such studies would be subjective, and at best any experimental designs would provide correlational statistics. Even resorting to multivariate analyses would not be without problems.

Multivariate analyses are an aid to, not a substitute for critical thinking in the area of data analysis. Meaningful results can only be produced by these methods if careful consideration is given to questions of sample size, variable type, variable distribution etc., and accusations of subjectivity in interpretation can only be overcome by replication…. Perhaps a major cause of the continuing misuse of statistical methods is the insistence of many journal editors in psychology and related areas, on articles being laced with multivariate analyses, and on encouraging the pedantic use of signifance levels, i.e. the inevitable p less than minus, as if such inclusions lent an air of respectability to their journal which it might not otherwise have had…2

In addition, the argument on IQ tests and the role of conscientiousness in “success” and “happiness” is a mined territory because covertly it recalls the dark side of eugenics. If IQs and conscientiousness are the litmus tests for the rank and suitability of individuals in a given society, then how far are we from doctrines adopted by fascist states vis-à-vis their people? The argument becomes seriously explosive in the context of poverty, depending on how one construes the correlation between IQ and success. For instance, according to many sources, Americans living under the poverty line are over 40 million. A question: would Peterson be poised to say that their poverty is a direct function of their IQ and conscientiousness? Any one who dares to pose the question on IQ or conscientiousness must (1) examine their own shortcoming on both matters, and (2) examine the social, economic, and cultural factors conducive, functionally, to lower IQ and social adaptations. Caveat: examining is not a judgement but a process leading to assumptions that must be further tested for factual or theoretical validity.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Although physicists can unravel the mathematical laws of the universe and rocket engineers can calculate how to launch several probes on missions throughout the solar system, according to Peterson, humans are incapable of determining what is equal. “The introduction of the ‘equal pay for equal work’ argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible. That’s why the marketplace exists.” (loc 5403) And just how fair or effective as a distributive mechanism is the marketplace?

First, since the dawn of time, world societies and their economic systems have varied from Babylonia, Pharaonic civilization, ancient China, Rome, Islamic civilization, aggressive Mongolian expansionism, etc through to modern systems such as capitalism, socialism, communism, Italian fascism, social democracies, etc. Equal pay for all or advocating for equality of pay to all never existed. Roman soldiers took less that centurions, and engineers and artists took more than qualified labor and artisans. Early Islamic social laws, as distinct from religious laws, had legislated that qualified artisans and poets receive special pecuniary treatment, so also that the fighters that took less than their commanders did. Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, and even Vladimir Lenin never advocated for equal pay because they acknowledged the important role of creativity and expertise in the making of a valid economic model.

Why does Peterson accept decision of payment being left to the marketplace regardless of equality for the work done? Is the marketplace an entity that popped into existence by itself? Or did it have human hands behind its creation? Of course humans brought about the formation of the marketplace. And which humans would be expected to benefit the most from such an entity? Or did he expect his readers to absorb his statement naively and leave it unchallenged? To make the point, is there a design behind Peterson’s many groundless assertions? In the end, it seems to me that Peterson’s phrase — “That’s why the marketplace exists” — is a poor ideological construct in terms of cause and consequence. Most likely, he came up with it to close a complex argument by pointing to the predictive power of personality characteristics, however, it does not develop as a compact sequential argument. And why should having a extroverted versus introverted personality, or an assertive versus relaxed demeanor demand differential pay for equal work? Peterson provides such as explanations for unequal pay for the same work; to be fair, he does not say such should be the case. But by leaving it up to the market to determine, Peterson by default chooses the status quo wealth and income allocation.

Second, Peterson is positing that the markets can better provide for fairness in remuneration. However, the grotesque inequality that exists in the world clearly adduces that Peterson is dead wrong.3 Does Peterson agree with a market that pays a CEO in a day what a company worker makes in a year? Remarkably, a system within which such unfairness and such inequality do exist is well known: it is called capitalism. Recently, a study has revealed that 26 persons own as much as 3.8 billion of the poorest people. How has this happened? What’s Peterson theory on the matter?

Yet Peterson writes, “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?” (loc 2926)

And what if a person’s experience is unordered because of the mayhem of the state? What if the state is wreaking havoc with households? Did not the American Revolution occur because Great Britain was wreaking havoc with colonial households through unfair taxation? Does poverty not wreak havoc on households? By taking over a city, people may be able to implement a system and policies that bring about equality and peace. By equality, I mean equal opportunity to all people, with remuneration based on effort and sacrifice — although Peterson will throw up his arms and say something like we don’t know how to measure effort and sacrifice. But we will never know how to measure effort and sacrifice to Peterson’s pleasure until we start trying; because to leave things the way they are, to the caprice of the market, is just intellectual cowardice. We can be sure, however, that the marketplace itself does not know how to remunerate workers equitably for work done.

Peterson’s Rule 6 is: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”

However, there are myriad personality, societal, and worldly factors (greed, sexism, racism, nationalism, war, etc) that work against setting up “perfect” order in one’s house. And what exactly is meant by “perfect” order, and is it even achievable? Perfection is an elusive, and probably unattainable, goal. Therefore, if perfection is unachievable, what Peterson in essence is telling us is tough luck, keep plugging away at trying to reach perfection, and in the meanwhile accept the world the way it is — however imperfect that may be.

If not the marketplace, then who decides what is equal pay for equal work? Of course we decide. We pool our brain power to determine criteria as to what is fair remuneration; afterwards we refine and tweak as is necessary. This is infinitely more sensible than sitting our collective butts and allowing the marketplace of fetid capitalism to lather the masses with inequity and penury.

Peterson opines:

We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce much of everything. The winners don’t take all but they take the most, and the bottom is not a good place to be. People get sick there, and remain unknown and unloved. They waste their lives there. (loc 1784)

“We” (a pronoun used often by Peterson) are all different, certainly in many, many ways. We have different predilections, different desires, and different levels of skills. I avoid stating “different abilities” because abilities can be developed to higher levels through proper training and sheer hard work. Not every person is interested or inclined to sharpen their skills in certain endeavors to exhibit a high level of ability.

Granted we are not equal; everyone is superseded by someone else in some facet. Besides, being ranked number one is often subjective and usually ephemeral.

And I disagree emphatically with Peterson; it is the workers that produce most of what the public consumes. Managers and executives supervise and issue orders but produce little by way of physical work — and perhaps much of the intellectual effort comes from workers. In fact, many of the bourgeoisie may be considered leeches on the working class.

Peterson acknowledges the greed of the “winners.” However, I would not construe a group of humans who selfishly grab an inordinate lion’s share for themselves as “winners” while relegating the rest to a sick, unloved ignominy — quite the contrary.

Why does Peterson prioritize production as deciding distribution of wealth by the marketplace? Is production the end-all and be-all of humans? Does it supersede human attributes such as love, empathy, caring, and sharing?

Peterson is advocating dog-eat-dog capitalism. Fuck the market! It all boils down to what kind of world we want. How do we want our societies to look like? Our societies are a mirror unto who we are, unto our our sense of morality. Do we want and accept a society, as Peterson describes, composed of winners and losers? Do we accept joblessness despite the unemployed being desperate for work? Do we accept homelessness, the hungry, shanty towns, hygienic conditions, etc for any among us? Do any of us feel comfortable walking past someone obviously down-and-out?

Do we desire a society free from the ills that define a sick society?

Or do we roll the dice for each person and let the dice (i.e., the market) decide our happenstance?

Because in a sane and morally centered universe, the most meaningful abilities are the ones whereby we can provide warmth, succor, dignity, compassion, and love to our fellow humans.

Dominance is abhorrent. Enlightened thinkers are well aware of that. Hierarchies, excessive self-indulgence, and profligacy are not to be admired. If a permanent hierarchy, then love and altruism must situate at the pinnacle of the human hierarchy. Even primates have evolved altruistic behaviors.

What does it mean have abilities and only use them for self-serving reasons? What purpose, besides self-love and egoism, does it serve to sit on top of some hierarchy (other than a hierarchy dominated by altruism, love, and goodwill)? When Albert Einstein reached the pinnacle of fame as a physicist, did he preen and become self-important? No, Einstein remains a beloved scientist because he loved his fellow humans. Naturally, Einstein was a socialist.

Importantly, the world would be a better place without inequality. A recent book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-being,4 is a British empirical study that hearkens back to Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation that told of an age where equality and cooperation were the norm in society. A review of The Inner Level relates “how more equal societies reduce stress and improve wellbeing” for all of us.

The Monster Mao? China’s “one-child policy” and Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong in Dandong, China 🄯 Photo by Kim Petersen

Peterson also takes potshots at Chinese communism, especially targeting Mao Zedong for vitriol. He employs wording designed to evoke the ire of the reader: “horrors,” “inferno,” “genocides,” “monster,” “totalitarians.”

“… the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stain, and Mao.” (loc 2100)

“… the inferno of Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China…” (loc 3911) The wording of this sentence, however, points at the countries that Stalin and Mao live in rather than directly at the personnage.

“… the genocides of Stalin and the even greater monster Mao.” (loc 3947)

Peterson joins chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution with China’s one-child policy: “… the horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and its one-child policy.” (loc 5059)

Peterson is speaking loosely (although Peterson is emphatic about the importance of his words5 ) and inaccurately. First, the one-child policy was implemented in China in 1979. Mao Zedong died on 9 September 1976. During his life Mao was a mixed bag on child birth; initially he encouraged large families, but later he saw family planning as more important. It was in 1979 that the one-child policy was enacted under chairman Deng Xiaoping. Second, the one-child policy is not to be understood as an absolute. It applied particularly to the majority Han and especially in urban centers. Minorities and rural Chinese were not stringently regulated under this policy. Third, China had a rapidly growing population at the time the policy was enacted. China’s population has since reached 1.4 billion people. Some estimates say the policy resulted in 400 million fewer Chinese today. What would the population of China look like today without the one-child policy? And what demands would such a huge population pose for the environment, species extinction, quality of life, employment, and several other factors? Consider to what extent the one-child policy has had on curbing population growth and the fact that China today is the world’s largest economy slated to eliminate poverty in 2020.

As for the “monster Mao” a book review of Was Mao Really a Monster? wrote:

The continued attacks by anti-Communist academics and authors on the reputation and standing of Mao Zedong continue unabated. Indeed, they will last as long as there is a bourgeois class trying to prevent socialist revolution, or having failed to prevent it, trying to undermine it in order to restore capitalism.

Peterson points specifically to “Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution.” (loc 5434)

Dongping Han, a history and political science teacher at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, wrote a book that presents a different take on China’s Cultural Revolution than that of the western narrative which portrays great tumult across China, targeting intellectuals for re-education, and rampaging hordes committing violence. There were horrible excesses that occurred. Chinese know well of this, and several Chinese films chronicle the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution. But there were also important improvements in Chinese society. Focusing on Jimu, a rural area in Shandong province, Han details improved living conditions, democracy, health and education, infrastructure, and agricultural practices during this time.6

Furthermore, the Cultural Revolution as some westerners allege did not impact negatively China’s economic growth.7

Nonetheless, the Cultural Revolution, as well as the Great Leap Forward, must be seen, in many respects, as colossal blunders — blunders that cost the lives of far too many people and caused much suffering. Mao as the leader is accountable for the mistakes under his leadership. He was misguided; he became a megalomaniac. But Mao’s goals for the Chinese masses were noble, and he still has a great following among Chinese people.

Population Control

Peterson seems to think the more people on the planet, the merrier.

No one in the modern world may without objection express the opinion that existence would be bettered by the absence of Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Englishmen. Why, then, is it virtuous to propose that the planet might be better off, if there were fewer people on it? (loc 5091)

It is a false analogy. Peterson conflates religious identity, skin color, and nationality. Which sane person proposes this?

First, what Peterson’s hypothetical posits is alarming and genocidal, so morally based people do not express such an opinion. What betterment can be had by genocide?

Second, who claims it is “virtuous to propose” having a planet with fewer people? Whether such a proposal is virtuous or not is irrelevant. Relevant is whether managing the number of humans living in a finite ecosystem, such as Earth, would avert future dangers wrought by rampant population growth or even to bring about a betterment of the present human condition and the condition for the other species on the planet.

Third, as Peterson has worded it, what is proposed by others is depopulation, whereas a morally centered proposal would be for a lowering of the number of humans through birth control and not culling specific groups of people. If that is to be achieved through non-coercive means, then objection should be minimal. If through forced compliance, then there must be a logical and moral rationale for such a decision being reached, and it must have been reached through informed and genuine democratic means applied fairly across peoples and not result from a unilateral decision imposed on the entirety of peoples.

Fourth, there are logical and morally based reasons for limiting population growth that can be discussed elsewhere, among them are exacerbating global warming that imperils life on the planet, the scarcity of resources for sharing, extinction of animal life by human incursions into their territories, habitat despoliation by pollution, etc.

China and Communism

Communist China is currently world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. Many critics deny that China is communist. So what is communism in China? Godfree Roberts lists some important features of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

1. The Party’s Genesis. It was founded by Mao and others because Chinese governance needed a new look after the old one had apparently failed. In fact, it wasn’t that Confucian government had failed: it was because Chinese officials and the Emperor forgot Confucius’ instructions. So Mao called his revolution ‘communist’ even though Confucius’ teaching was much more radical than any written by Marx: The Common Good: Chinese and American Perspectives.

2. Membership qualifications. They must swear to serve the people first and enjoy the fruits of their service last.

3. Membership behavior. Most of the 90,000,000 Party members do, in fact, serve the people first and enjoy the fruits of their service last. That’s a lot of unselfish people and, when they act together, they can influence the whole country.

4. Party power. They use their power democratically and have dismissed several heads of State since 1950. They do not tolerate underperforming leaders as we do.

5. Leadership behavior. You can see that the Party’s leaders and theoreticians are substituting Confucian terminology for Marxist language. China is retiring to the Confucian roots it never left–only this time the Party is interpreting Confucius’ doctrine of compassion radically.

Roberts concludes by quipping, “Marx would be delighted.”

I will quibble with the conclusion of Roberts on point 5. Confucianism still has influence. However, CPC general secretary Xi Jinping stated, “In contemporary China upholding the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics means upholding Marxism in its truest sense.”8 Under Xi’s chairmanship a widespread crackdown on corruption has been ongoing.

In stark contradistinction with neoliberalism, Xi emphasizes public ownership dominance.9 The success of socialism with Chinese characteristics will be determined by measuring the benefits accrued to the Chinese people10 — such as rights to education, employment, health care and care for senior citizens.11 Moreover, the benefits are envisioned as for all the world’s people.12

Xi states China is anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, and anti-war. The rising dragon has a socialist market economy that strives for peace and universal security. This started with Mao Zedong leading his comrades to overthrow the despised Guomindang and establish communist governance in China.

Conclusion

Most of Peterson’s 12 rules are quite sensible. The rules, per se, are trite, cute, and sprinkled with home-cooked wisdom. My focus was Peterson’s digressions, many of which point to a self-assured intellect whose assertions and arguments often fall short. Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life became more than just rules. A self-help book became an anti-communist polemic. Capitalism, atrocities wrought and abetted by capitalism, as well as capitalist gulags eluded criticism. Peterson digressed into political economy, history, wealth distribution, dominance hierarchies, gender differences, religion, free speech and censorship, and more. Peterson’s 12 Rules left this reader feeling unsatisfied and underwhelmed. The author needs to explain the deep themes that guide his elaboration and scope of work. Was his intention to grace readers with 12 idyllic rules of life, or was his undisclosed intent to warn us about the “evils of communism” over and above contemplating his rules?

Throughout 12 Rules, Peterson writes about the hardship of living: “Life is suffering. That’s clear. There is no more basic, irrefutable truth.”13 A misleading statement because life must not be viewed through such a parochial prism. Life is ecstasy, rapture, sorrow, pain, anger, jealousy, hate, love, and much more. This all points to Peterson, on certain matters, being a polemicist. He chooses one end of the pole and pronounces; the other pole, or points along the continuum are often, if not outright denied, just marginalized or ignored.

It is often said that money cannot buy happiness, but unmentioned by Peterson is that money can avoid many of the hardships and suffering that life throws at you. Yet, Peterson is too intelligent not to be aware of this. He skips this because his thinking is not about finding solutions but rather to describe the world as he sees it. Nonetheless, the ability to pay rent, put nutritious food on the table, put clothes on one’s back, and afford necessary transportation go a long way to easing hardships in life.

There are examples of communist governments that have eased the hardships of life and brought great improvements to their people. Cuban communism must be singled out for the great strides it has made during and since the Cuban Revolution — despite US sanctions.14 It is only fair to point out the achievements made by the communist government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — despite US sanctions. Another, of course, is the communist government in China.

As Xi often states, China is only in the earliest stages of socialism,15 and communism is to be attained farther down the road.16 The CPC’s goal of ending poverty in China by 2020 is a massive step in the right direction. To the extent that Chinese socialism is successful, especially compared to the status of western capitalist countries, it poses a challenge to the capitalist classes in these countries. Why would the working class accept being relegated to the lower rungs of a society when they see Chinese in the future thriving in a classless China? China may become the template for an economic and social revolution that brings about a fairer distribution of income (something still lacking in China currently) elsewhere. China is an economic colossus whose success should throw light back on Cuba, North Korea, and also the great achievements made by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

Despite the bombast of Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump, socialism remains a viable force for change in the world.

  1. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.17
  1. Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018: loc 5372.
  2. BS Everett, Abstract to Multivariate analysis: the need for data, and other problems, British Journal of Psychiatry. March 1975, 126: 237-40.
  3. See Part 5.
  4. Allen Lane, London 2018.
  5. Peterson’s Rule 10 is: “Be precise in your speech.” Ergo, the words in 12 Rules must be seen as an accurate reflection of Peterson’s thinking: “I’m very, very, very careful with my words”
  6. See Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Routledge, 2001).
  7. See Gwydion Madawc Williams, “Was the Cultural Revolution a success?” Quora, 11 February 2018.
  8. Xi Jinping, On the Governance of China, (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2014): loc 230.
  9. Xi, loc 1275.
  10. Xi, loc 554.
  11. Xi, loc 707.
  12. Xi, loc 947, 4010.
  13. Jordan Peterson, loc 2947. See also locations 191, 335, 1787, 2768, 2909, 2959, 3780, 4048, 4765, and 5737.
  14. See Isaac Saney, Cuba: A Revolution in Motion, (Fernwood Publishing, 2004) and Arnold August, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, (Zed Books, 2013). Review.
  15. Xi, loc 352, 1566.
  16. It is anarchism that will bring about communal individuality and reduce inequality. See Alan Ritter, Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis, (Cambridge University Press, 1980): 76-83. pdf.
  17. Apologies for the delay in getting out part 6, but I was in East Africa without laptop.

The Lost Morality of Economics

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

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

In the beginning

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

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

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

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

The early morality of moneylending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The age of Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitalism in its teenage years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitalism reaches full maturity

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

But to every action there is reaction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian economist Steve Keen is more direct:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding the Soviet Union, Inequality, and Freedom of Expression

In a book which seemingly offers simple, but clever, rules to help people gain control over their lives, psychologist Jordan Peterson curiously pours a lot of vitriol on Marxism/communism and the nation states that practice(d) communism.1

Peterson writes that Marx discombobulated history and culture:

Marx attempted to reduce history and society to economics, considering culture the oppression of the poor by the rich. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivized. The result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions were subject to oppression rivalling that still active in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. (loc 5256-5257)

As a minimum, what Peterson stated is overtly brazen defamation of Marx. But before defending Marx from the groundless invectives of Peterson, it should be noted with utmost comfort that Peterson’s approach to analyzing the thought of Marx and his role in history and issuing verdicts thereof manifestly demonstrates Peterson’s poor knowledge of Marxian thought. What is remarkable here is that naïve ideological parochialism supplants informed elements of debate. To explain, Peterson is overconfident that he, as a psychologist, can read the mind of Marx. So he volunteered to tell us that when he summoned his spirit to his couch, this told him that he was attempting to “reduce history and society to economics.”

Surprisingly, Peterson comes across as incognizant that Marx’s principle pillar of historical materialism rests on the paradigm that all societies, regardless of stage of development, follow specific and historically developed economic models that inexorably shape their lives and societal structures. Marx gave the greatest example on this matter when he described the endless cycles of a typical Indian village that persisted since the dawn of history until Britain colonized India thus introducing its economic model that gradually obliterated the old system. Another example, when Britain colonized Mali, it instituted that villagers could not tender their produce for barter and had to use money (introduced by the colonial office) as a means of exchange. This forced the villagers to abandon their villages and work as salaried labor in town — and this is exactly what Britain wanted to tighten its grip on Mali.

To expand on this argument, Peterson is attempting to reduce Marxism to what he claims was put into practice in the Soviet Union and Eastern Asia. Marx did not say that culture, per se, oppressed the poor. Marx said that each historical epoch is constructed around a particular mode of production that helps to shape culture. Under capitalism it is the capitalists that control the means of production, thus the bourgeoisie (the rich) are able to manipulate culture to benefit their self-interest over that of the proletariat (working class). John Storey, a British emeritus professor of Cultural Studies explains that Marx situated culture on a ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’:

The ‘base’ consists of a combination of the ‘forces of production’ and the ‘relations of production’… The superstructure consists of institutions (political, legal, educational, cultural, etc.), and what Marx calls ‘definite forms of social consciousness’ (political, religious, ethical, philosophical, aesthetic, cultural, etc.) generated by these institutions. Marx provided a general theory of history and politics, in which it is important to locate a cultural text or practice, there will always remain questions that relate to its formal qualities and specific traditions.

Finally, has Peterson ever been to North Korea? What information does he rely on to draw his conclusions? Wikipedia? Western corporate-state media? Has his home-and-native land, Canada, ever achieved housing for all its citizens? Tuition-free university education for all? Jobs for everyone? One should be aware and cautious before parroting monopoly-media disinformation.

Plunging further into history, Peterson notes:

The decayed social order of the late nineteenth century produced the trenches and mass slaughter of the Great War. The gap between rich and war was extreme, and most people slaved away in [bad] conditions … Although the West received word of the horrors perpetrated by Lenin after the Russian Revolution, it remained difficult to evaluate his actions from afar. (loc 5270)

Peterson leaves out many crucial points. For example, why was there a gap between the rich and the poor? What political-economic ideology precipitated WWI? Why does Peterson not mention western forces fighting in Russia to overturn the revolution? Why would western powers want the revolution overturned?

In part 2 of the Real News interview with Marxist Alexander Buzgalin deals with these points and more:

PAUL JAY: Good. Once again, let me get this right- Professor Buzgalin is Professor of Political Economy and director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, picking up from part one, the 1920s in the Soviet Union, after the revolution, my understanding, at least. It was a time of tremendous excitement, of transformations, beginnings of modern movie-making takes place in the Soviet Union, some of the innovations are world class. Why and how, and I know this is an enormous question, really boil this down- how does something so transformative turn into such bureaucracy?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s a really great, very important and very difficult question. A brief and little bit primitive explanation: The Soviet Union was born in the- appeared in a period of terrible contradictions. So, world capitalism, World War I, terrible bloody war, for what? For killing of millions of people for the profit of corporations. And one result was material basis and cultural basis for a new society. So, it’s like a kid that appeared in the dusty, cold atmosphere without good parents or without parents at all. How to survive? It will be some mutations. And we had mutations and we had very small chances for growing up, for normal development of this kid.

New socialist trend, not socialist country, but trend, movement in socialist direction. And of course, we received a lot of mutations. Firstly, it was real huge energy, created by revolution, by victory in civil war. Energy of creation of new society, enthusiasm and so on. In the same time, in new economic policy in the 1920s, we had a lot of elements of market capitalism and so on. It was, by the way, not a bad model of combination of capitalism, market, and new socialist trends, with big contradictions. But then, because of terrible conditions, absence of material base inside, and the very dangerous, very aggressive-

PAUL JAY: Meaning the absence of any modern industry.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. It was necessary to create, during ten years, modern industry and a huge military complex in order to prevent defeat in the war against world fascism. By the way, I want to stress, in 1930s, fascism became rule. It was Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, then all Europe capitulated.

PAUL JAY: And strong support in Britain and the United States, including the King of England.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and by the way- yeah, Britain and the United States were not very sympathetic to the Soviet Union rule at all. And one minute, one very important fact. When German fascists, Nazi, took power, it was one country around France, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, strong industrial states altogether- Britain, the U.S.- no problem to defeat Germany. And what was the result? Germany occupied France, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Austria. Nobody can resist- democratic liberal capitalism could not resist to fascism. And only this strange mutation, Stalin’s socialism, could have a victory.

PAUL JAY: And I think a lot of people in the West don’t understand how clear this was, what was coming as early as 1930, 31, 32-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but after that, we had this bureaucratic mutation because of all these reasons. And the more we had power of bureaucracy and the less we had the real control from below, real opportunity to make something in social organization from below, the more we had degradation of socialist trends. And we moved from domestic socialism, in the atmosphere of capitalism around, towards attempts to build consumer society, but without the opportunity to consume. The economy of shortage consumer society.2

Peterson read a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, yes, a book that details horrible injustices. But Buzgalin lived in the USSR, saw the fall of the Soviet Bloc, and lived through the transformation to modern Russia. Russia is not communist today, but Russians did try to bring back communism and were thwarted by American interference in the Russian presidential election to get their man, the inebriate Boris Yeltsin, into the Federal Assembly.

Peterson turns to another writer, George Orwell, to expose Stalin’s crimes: “He [Orwell] published Animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release.” (loc 5301)

In the preface to the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm Orwell wrote:

I have never visited Russia and my knowledge of it consists only of what can be learned by reading books and newspapers. Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods. It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.

But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet régime for what it really was. Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism. On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.

Unlike Peterson who sees Marxism as an ideology predestined to produce atrocities, Orwell sees that corrupted humans have corrupted Marxism. Orwell was a contemporary who refused to judge Stalin, whereas Peterson removed in time does judge Stalin. Orwell considers that there may have been circumstances that forced Stalin to act in barbaric fashion. Buzgalin cited some of those circumstances above, although he does not name such as an excuse for Stalin’s barbarity.3 Does Peterson take into account the circumstances and the times when he passes wholesale judgment?

Inequality

Turning to the present, communism has waned in many countries while at the same time the burgeoning of neoliberalism has seen inequality soar.

Peterson offers a puzzling take on inequality. He favors a hands-off approach to it: “We don’t know how to redistribute wealth without introducing a whole host of other problems…. But it certainly is the case that forced redistribution, in the name of utopian equality, is a cure to shame the disease.” (loc 5351)

Tim Di Muzio, a senior lecturer in international relations and political economy at Wollongong University in Australia, states that capitalism is a pathological addiction in which capitalists seek differential accumulation – to primarily increase the wealth gap between themselves and others; in other words, greater wealth inequality. (p 49) For this reason, the capitalist system cannot rid wealth inequality or significantly reduce the inequality, and neither is capitalism — the nebulous invisible hand aside — designed to do this.4

Peterson says we don’t know how to redistribute wealth. Certainly he admits that he doesn’t know how to do it. Indeed, he even warns against trying redistribution, by implying redistribution to be an untoward “utopian equality.” Why in the name of “utopian equality”? Why not in the name of fairness and dignity for all humans? Peterson is at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that one of the freedoms sought is a world where humans are free from want. As stipulated by the UDHR, among those human rights affected by inequality are:

  • Article 23: Right to work, to equal pay for equal work, and to form and join trade unions
  • Article 24: Right to reasonable hours of work and paid holidays
  • Article 25: Right to adequate living standard for self and family, including food, housing, clothing, medical care and social security.

Does Peterson think that the current distribution of wealth is fair? If it is not fair, then does Peterson suggest leaving the current maldistribution as is? And what caused a maldistribution to occur? Should not the conditions that caused such a maldistribution be dealt with? The gap between the rich and the poor is widening. In 1820, the gap was 3:1, in 1950, 35:1, and in 1992, the gap was 72:1.5 The “World Inequality Report 2018” declares an increasing gap between haves and have-nots and points to capitalism as a cause. That this is a gargantuan problem, is adduced by the fact that about half of the planet’s population must get by on less than $2.50 a day (80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day). What “host of problems” is it that Peterson would consider to supersede the dignity of half the globe’s population?

Why focus on redistribution of wealth? What about the capitalist system wherein the maldistribution occurred? Peterson says don’t redistribute. However, if communism leads to Gulags as Peterson claims, then by the same logic does capitalism not lead to maldistribution and inequality? But Peterson does not argue for a economic reform. Would it not be logically and morally preferable to have a system that allows for a fair distribution at the outset that would not require a redistribution. But that might require a revolution, something Peterson also eschews as he considers that would cause suffering.6

Peterson on Compelled Speech

Peterson came into wider public prominence when he railed against the Canadian government’s Bill C-16 which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include “gender identity or expression” as grounds protected from discrimination. Peterson mischaracterized the bill as compelling speech by using hate laws. Nonetheless, Peterson gained a following based on his pro-freedom of expression.

In his book, Peterson seemingly contradicts this pro-freedom of expression stance:

I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them. Such people have a perfect right to their opinions and actions, if they remain lawful. But they have no reasonable claim to public funding. (loc 5359)7

Unlawful opinions? Really?

What does Peterson mean by “demolition of the culture”? Culture is an abstract, something that cannot be physically demolished. Sure, artifacts of the culture can be destroyed, but Peterson did not write cultural artifacts. And what does Peterson mean by “lawful”? He gives no examples of institutions and educators behaving unlawfully. What Peterson writes sounds curiously like a call for censorship. One wonders whether orating for the replacement of capitalism (and its maldistribution of wealth) with communism in western society is beyond the bounds of accepted discourse. In other words, if you don’t like the cultural set-up, and you want to exercise your freedom of speech, then the dominant culture will put you on the street. That would be, in essence, governmental violence, and it would cause suffering — something Peterson says he seeks to avoid.

Peterson appears to be treading a tightrope here. He supports freedom of speech, but seemingly sets out parameters in which free speech may not occur. First, Peterson holds that it must conform to societal dictates as far as public funding is concerned. Yet is that not censorship? It stands as an antipode to compelled speech – something Peterson adamantly opposes. Hate speech aside, but are not forced speech patterns similarly egregious as enforcement aimed at preventing utterances? Second, one might wonder exactly what Peterson means by the “conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them.” Culture? That is a wide-encompassing term. Does Peterson consider “the demolition of the culture” that sends soldiers abroad to overthrow governments not to the home government’s liking, to devastate foreign lands, to decimate civilian populations, and to plunder the resources as deserving of being cut off from public funding? Third, Peterson argues that speech must “remain lawful.” Where is the freedom in that? Of course, freedoms come with responsibilities. One does not run into a public school and foolishly yell “Shooter!” while knowing full well that no shooter has been spotted on campus, thereby causing a stampede of students and a potential for injuries. But the right to dissent, even against a prevailing view in society, is a sine qua non of a country that professes to cherish democracy and freedoms. After all, how often is it that a majority, or substantial section, of a society has gone amuck? Nazi Germany, imperialist Britain, imperialist USA, colonial Canada, Wahhabists, Zionists, all spring to mind to be parked alongside the brutal excesses of some communist governments. It is incumbent upon people whose consciences are pricked by iniquity caused by or in complicity with their society and country to speak out and steer the ship-of-state back on a proper course. Most people whose consciences are seared are not about to be dissuaded from doing what they consider right by a cut off in public funding. Lastly, what does Peterson propose for the criteria and regulating of the “institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture,” so as to determine what and who should be deprived of public funding? Who should decide? As a basis, a standing bureaucracy would be required for this task.

In a so-called representative democracy such as the United States, universities and research and development are largely funded by government. If these institutions and scientists are antithetical to the agenda of the government, then should their funding be cut off? Case in point, the overwhelming majority of the scientific community has sounded the alarm about the increasing potential of a looming catastrophe: fossil-fuel burning causes emissions of greenhouse gases and this is cited as the cause of global warming, melting ice caps, thawing permafrost, and weather calamities. Yet, one can observe the Donald Trump government stacking agencies whose purported agenda is to protect the environment signalling a rejection of climate change, raising the profile of a sprinkling of climate skeptics, and caving in to the interests of Big Oil.

  1. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
  2. Part 6 will discuss IQ, equal pay for equal work, Mao Zedong, and Chinese communism
  1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos (Penguin Random House UK, 2018).
  2. Success and Mutation in the Soviet Union – RAI with A. Buzgalin (2/12),” The Real News, 12 July 2018.
  3. The longtime communist ruler of Albania, Enver Hoxha, in his With Stalin: A Memoir, paints a far more flattering portrait of Sta1in than western historical accounts.
  4. Tim Di Muzio, The 1% and the Rest of Us: A Political Economy of Dominant Ownership (Zed Books, 2015): 48-49.
  5. Anup Shah, “Causes of Poverty,” Global Issues, 30 April 2006.
  6. See part 3.
  7. Peterson: “Neither should we teach them [our children] unsupported ideologically-predicated theories about nature of men and women—or the nature of hierarchy.” (loc 5382)

Understanding the Red Menace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the question of camps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAUL JAY: Like when?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peterson writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communism, Fascism, and Green Shaming

In the United States, for over a hundred years, the ruling interests tirelessly propagated anticommunism among the populace, until it became more like a religious orthodoxy than a political analysis.

— Michael Parenti, Blackshirts and Red, January 1, 2001

… the totality of which the psyche is a part becomes to an increasing extent less ‘society’ than ‘politics’ … society has fallen prey to and become identified with domination.

— Herbert Marcuse, Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics and Utopia, Boston Beacon Press, 1970

By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy … Yet, the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements … Any talk of climate change which does not include the military is nothing but hot air, according to Sara Flounders. It’s a loophole [in the Kyoto Convention on Climate Change] big enough to drive a tank through, according to the report A Climate of War.

— H. Patricia Hynes, Climate and Capitalism, February 2015

I am sensing — at least in the U.S. — a migration of the liberal policing of thought into green movements. A guy (a writer, in fact) arguing about plane travel. And this seems to be a thing. The problem of individual travel on jet airplanes is, of course, dwarfed by military pollution of all kinds, including massive nearly incomprehensible jet fuel usage, corporate air travel, and the world of private jets altogether. In other words there is a qualitative distinction. And I’m quite sure most people getting a short break from their miserable day job appreciate the shaming and hectoring of this polyanna bullshit. I’d be happy to travel by train, but since that’s not possible much anymore, nor is sea travel unless you own a sailboat, the point is to change a system of inequality which would by itself radically reduce the pollution of jet engines. The EU, by the by, suggested a ticket tax (to passengers, of course) for flying. Nothing about reduced truck transport of useless foods, or any rational solution because rational solutions cut into profit. Nothing about military transport. Nothing about improved rail transport — which most people would absolutely prefer. No, just more guilt pinned on the working class for daring to take a trip. To ask people to voluntarily restrict their movement is a very dangerous and disingenuous delusion. And so far, for me anyway, it is always white males who promote this thinking.

But beyond that, one finds very often a kind of Mr Rogers neighborhood prose in this stuff. It’s sentimentalized and full of talk of Gaia and whatever else is au courant in the affluent Prius owning class. The fact is that most people I know would be very happy to travel other ways than by air. But telling people, the working class, to stop flying is very typical of this new shaming impulse in the American psyche and in American society. Young people learn tolerance by travel, learn other cultures, learn period. Better, I guess, to stay home and what? And I want to know how much travel is okay? For whom? I mean, people fly to climate conferences. It becomes all very Ionesco like at a certain point. But is one allowed to take a bus to work? What is the guideline here? Can I fly to help organize anti capitalist resistance?? This is a kind of critique mired in individuality. It’s lacking any class analysis. Unsurprisingly.

So let’s get back to War and the military. If one wants to stop climate change, the first step, before all this hand wringing about vacations, is to protest war. Protest militarism. Protest 900 military bases around the world. Each of which pollutes far far far far more then the country hosting them. Not to mention the attendant sexual violence, public drunkeness, drugs, and prostitution.

The destruction of the land, the denuding of what is left of America’s wild areas, is not helped by this sort of pomposity and moral superiority.

Which segues to another trend I am seeing. The rise of what for lack of a better word I’ll call the anti communist left, of the totalitarian left. There is a position which decries all socialist countries, past and present, as failures. But also simply parodies of “real” socialism. This is nothing new, of course. And while there is a germ of truth in this, the problem is the encoded message that accompanies these critiques. Given the hideous hegemonic growth of U.S. Imperialism, including the NATO countries, the dismissing of socialism as rank failure puts in the service of U.S. anti communism. One becomes allies with the likes of the Dulles Brothers, or Joe McCarthy, or Dick Nixon.

That the Russian and Chinese revolutions achieved almost unimaginable improvements to the lives of nearly everyone in those countries is dismissed. Not even mentioned. As if revolution drops from the sky now and then. That Fidel Castro and Lenin and Mao and Sankara and Ho Chi Minh were all just failures and parodies of real socialism is becoming a very popular meme, and one that coincides with the conflation of communism and fascism. Usually under the rubric of “totalitarian.” Again, in a real world of Imperialist violence and class oppression and manifest inequality, such flagrant hot house beatitudes are very distressing. And it is all but impossible to argue against this (much like the accusation of conspiracy theory) because one is quickly accused of willfully ignoring the flaws and failures that DID, in fact, occur. But it feels almost like a demand for a certain kind of perfection. Again, the gains are ignored. I had one (rather well known leftist) say…”well, health care, free education, art and literature is all fine, but not when you have lost your political voice”. That is a direct quote. One wonders what is meant by political voice. I’d have to say that the people of Venezuela FOUND their political voice for the first time under Chavez. So did the Cubans under Fidel. Health care and free education… ’pfft’, big deal, right? But there are several threads making up this new left anti communism. And oddly, maybe even paradoxically (and maybe not) another influence is Ayn Rand. And, often, Lyndon LaRouche. For the Randian embrace of selfishness is oddly tweeked a bit and becomes a strange doppelganger to real politik for these people. There is, additionally, a green dimension to this.

I wanted to circle back to freedom of movement. The invention of the passport is a relatively recent invention. And one with clear hierarchical reverberations. When I lived in Poland, it was always depressing to go down to immigration when I had to renew this or that bit of paper allowing me to work and live there. I had a U.S. passport and went to the front of the line. Families from Uzbekistan or Sri Lanka or Kenya were treated like cattle and pointlessly made to wait, days sometimes, to find resolution on their Visa status or work papers or whatever.

The rise of a new sort of national identity followed the fall of the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian, not to mention the Russian Empire. And technological developments that made movement easier combined with ideological forces resulted in new forms of paperwork for the populations of Europe. This period saw huge numbers of people escaping political violence. It also saw the Nazi biological racism reinforce certain notions of national identity.

…among other things, the use of the most advanced techniques of population registration and documentary controls on movement to keep track of real or putative enemies and to mobilize the population to achieve the regime’s ends.{ } The 1933 special census of Jews in Germany, however, was only the beginning of the Nazis’ effort to invoke the most sophisticated statistical and administrative means to pursue its program of racial domination. The dozen years of existence of the “thousand-year Reich’ would generate a proliferation of censuses, statistical investigations, registers of foreigners, identity cards, and residence lists that ultimately constituted the administrative foundation for the deportations to Auschwitz and the other death camps. Over time, these diverse methods of “embracing” {erfassert) the German population, and especially certain “negatively .”privileged status groups” within it, became intimately linked to the passport system.
— John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State, November 13, 1999

The post colonial period for the U.K. also presented problems regarding citizenship. Finally the citizens of the former colonies were allowed Commonwealth citizenship and were allowed to enter the U.K. Various other former colonial powers decided on similar laws and regulations. The overall result was a huge increase in identification paperwork. In the 1970s came machine readable passports and the introduction of Visas for some countries. And, of course, a huge uptick in data mining. And in surveillance.

The point is that, really, states have expropriated the right to movement.

John Torpey again….

Despite the emergence of a greater propensity to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of states in recent years, it remains true that “once a population is incorporated into complete citizenship, a nation-state is given almost complete authority to subordinate the population: It can expropriate, kill, and starve, with relatively little fear of external intervention.” Needless to say, this authority extends to nation-states’ control over the movements of persons within their borders as well.

The idea of freedom of movement is significant. And it should not be bundled up with this kitsch eco-sensitivity. Of course, and I said this on TV the other day, everyone has to accept massive changes to how they live their lives. But most people are powerless to do many of the things the privileged eco-warrior can do. Poor families eat what they can afford. The working class does what it can to survive and fend off having to sleep under freeway overpasses. The point again, or one of the points, is that in this real world of U.S. crypto fascism, militarism, police state and surveillance state reality, the conversation is never taking place in a vacuum.

Now, alongside these new green shaming trends there lies the echo or residue of the old eugenics movement. And it has returned (for the fourth or fifth time) under the guise of an overpopulation alarmism. The new overpop mythology is couched in green terms, with its own vocabulary. But the point is always entrenched in a deep Orientalism and racism. It is always THOSE poor countries, usually black, that is conjured up in the minds of those lovers of the planet. The poor consume the least, in fact. And for the record there is no overpopulation. There is also plenty of food. The problem is a for profit system of distribution and overcrowding — the result of irrational industrialization or just austerity and the destruction of traditional farming etc. The planet actually remains rather empty, and fertility rates are falling off a cliff. (Hence the pronounced rise in IVF procedures). This is only second cousin to the old welfare mothers myth of Bill Clinton and Ronnie Reagan. In the global village Africa is simply South Central LA.

The continuation of hunger in the modern world is not the result of an intractable problem thwarting our best efforts to feed people. Rather, agriculture in the capitalist world is directly concerned with profit and only indirectly with feeding people.
— John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport,

Also, there was a small blip this past year, raised by Trump and a couple of his minions. The birthright citizenship debate (or Jus Soli, right of the soil). For what is behind this sudden interest, ultimately, is the normalizing of an idea of tiers of citizenship (see John Torpey quote above). For that is the ultimate goal. Official second class citizens. And remember the Dred Scott case, and citizenship for black Americans and the struggle around that, all the way up to the Wong kim Ark decision. This issue didn’t surface for no reason,

Convicted of a felony? Sorry, you are a citizen class B. (exemptions made for Wall Street convictions or the like). Were your parents undocumented? Sorry, you can have a provisional class C citizenship card. And with this will come severe restrictions of movement. Regional ghettos and work zones.

The state monopolization of the legitimate means of movement may be giving way to the return of the private regulation of movement, rooted in the ownership of property within well-fortified and privately policed enclaves. This appears to be the drift of developments; there are now estimated to be some 20 000 gated communities in the United States, up from a nearzero figure only thirty-five years ago. If it is, passports – a product of the political rather than the economic determination of community membership – may give way to money as the relevant form of “identification” that permits access to specified territories.
— John Torpey1

Keith O’Brien wrote recently, in a review (Lookleft, Dec 25th 2018) of Dominic Losurdo’s War and Revolution

One of the truly remarkable feats of public opinion management is to be seen in the widespread belief that the foundational violence of the USSR and communism in general is or was systemic while violence as perpetrated by liberal democracies is a merely aberrant phenomenon. Ever since the demise of the USSR and the concomitant dismantling of the social states in eastern Europe a contending liberal narrative has become the prevailing one, at least according to the supposed received wisdom as disseminated in the dominant media discourse. This narrative can be succinctly outlined in the proposal that a historical equivalence exists between communism and nazism, an equivalence cynically injurious to the former and perniciously obscurantist where the latter is concerned.

Hitler had a framed photo of Henry Ford in his office. He did not have one of Stalin or Lenin. Hitler admired American eugenics. The idea of sterilizing the defectives came directly from the U.S. medical establishment.

But there are deeper distinctions between socialism and fascism.

Klaus Theweleit wrote Male Fantasies in 1977, analysing the diaries of the German paramilitaries (the Freikorps) that refused to surrender after the WW1 armistice.

But the assimilation of mass movements with floods, swamps, or pits of muck is not just a literary exercise, it’s a political operation. What communism promised the underpayed and underfed working poor was an overhaul of social hierarchies; the revolt of the laboring class was—literally—a threat to the old barriers and entrenched privileges: communism pledged to engulf the old Prussian order, swallowing the lower ranks of the aristocracy that Freikorps recruits typically belonged to. Conflating lifestyle (the maintenance of rentier income) with survival, the Freikorps forged an imaginary identity between the dread of revolution and the dread of drowning and physical dissolution. But everything murky and watery is also a cipher for woman, which is why Theweleit asks to what extent this patriarchal organization of life adopts fascism in order to ensure its own survival.

For all the talk of totalitarianism, there is a stark difference between the psychological underpinning of fascism and that of socialism or communism.

Unlike the New Left, for whom sexual repression was not merely a characteristic of fascism but its very cause, Theweleit didn’t see genocide as the thwarted expression of inhibited sexual energies. His point was rather that the production of gender and sexuality are intimately tied to the content of anti-Semitism and overt racism—both before, during, and after the fall of the Weimar Republic. Fascist sexuality is not so much repressed as it is ideological: it idealizes virility and fertility as political imperatives. Its tropes are worth revisiting not only because there is a continuity between every day sexism—for example, the culturally tolerated misogyny of expressions such as “I would fuck her brains out”— and the Freikorps murderous frenzy; or because conflicts over sexual mores and gender roles have again become an decisive site for political struggle; but mostly because the question of gender is always instrumental in defining the “enemy,” as the “act that brings the collective into being.
— Ana Teixeira Pinto (review of Male Fantasies, E-Flux)

One of the driving forces behind this new left(ish) anti communism is something not terribly far from what Thewelit describes.

And here is a little experiment. Go to your Google search engine and write something like *Why Communism is not like Fascism*.

Then get back to me.

There is also the question of colonialism. The USSR (and Cuba) fought for African independence. The US fought against it. But it needs, also, to be pointed out that Henry Ford’s anti semitism (especially in his book The International Jew) was a great inspiration to Hitler.

The rise of what could be termed an anti-Semitic international movement followed in the wake of the World War I, which had spawned the myth that Jewish financiers had caused and perpetuated it. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which began circulating worldwide in 1919, gave those inclined to nurture apocalyptic interpretations of unsettling world events a key to understanding both the crisis of the liberal West and the Bolshevik takeover. The war and the Protocols profoundly changed anti-Semitism, altering the arguments of antiSemites and the quality and ferocity of anti-Semitic discourse. This transformation remains underappreciated in two respects: the degree to which the new conspiracy theory superseded older religious and biologistic anti-Semitism, and the degree to which the new anti Semitism was international in nature. Based on the specious Protocols, the new anti-Semitic code interpreted both financial capitalism and communism as two strategies in one and the same Jewish plot, an idea that was by no means a Nazi invention.
— Stefan Link

So, the conflating of fascism and communism was born out of a western industrialist’s bigotry and prejudice, and embraced early by western capital. And it found a fertile audience with anti semites of all stripes.

None of this is to say that the Revolutions in Russia and China did not suffer complex and even radical failures. Wilhelm Reich was hugely disappointed in the rejection of psychoanalysis by the USSR. Brecht wrote Benjamin as early as 1937:

In Russia a dictatorship rules over the proletariat. We should avoid disassociating ourselves from this dictatorship for as long as it still does useful work for the proletariat – i.e. so long as it contributes towards a reconciliation between the proletariat and the peasantry, giving prime recognition to proletarian interests.

The sclerotic creep in arts and culture was tragic, but great work was still being done. The Soviet King Lear is among the great films of all time. Paranoia ground away at the national psyche, the accumulative affects from 50 years of Western pressures. But the point is not what worked, or what failed, but rather the alternative. Judging Stalin or Mao or Castro cannot be done from the p.o.v. of western chauvinism. A position that takes for granted the moral primacy of the Imperialist western state. But that is exactly what is happening more and more frequently. And giving any credence to the conflation of socialism and fascism is not just lazy, but deeply reactionary.

One hears constantly what “monsters” Mao or Stalin were. One rarely hears the designers of the genocide against the Indigenous tribes of the Americas referred to as monsters. Was Andrew Jackson a monster? Was Teddy Roosevelt? Were any of those “Indian killers” so venerated in American folklore?

Look up the Gnadenhutten Massacre, where near a hundred Christianized Delaware tribesmen were beaten to death with wooden mallets in 1782, or the slaughter of Creeks (Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811) by William Henry Harrison (who, naturally, became president since nothing so prepares one for the oval office as genocidal violence), or look up “The Indian Removal Act”, or as Donald L. Fixico writes,

On November 29, 1864, a former Methodist minister, John Chivington, led a surprise attack on peaceful Cheyennes and Arapahos on their reservation at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. His force consisted of 700 men, mainly volunteers in the First and Third Colorado Regiments. Plied with too much liquor the night before, Chivington and his men boasted that they were going to kill Indians. Once a missionary to Wyandot Indians in Kansas, Chivington declared, ‘Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians!…I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heavens to kill Indians.’
That fateful cold morning, Chivington led his men against 200 Cheyennes and Arapahos. Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle had tied an American flag to his lodge pole as he was instructed, to indicate his village was at peace. When Chivington ordered the attack, Black Kettle tied a white flag beneath the American flag, calling to his people that the soldiers would not kill them. As many as 160 were massacred, mostly women and children.

‘Indian killers’ like Harrison and Jackson are venerated. Jackson is on the 20 dollar bill.

But Jackson is even worse than his horrifyingly brutal record with regard to Native Americans indicates. Indian removal was not just a crime against humanity, it was a crime against humanity intended to abet another crime against humanity: By clearing the Cherokee from the American South, Jackson hoped to open up more land for cultivation by slave plantations. He owned hundreds of slaves, and in 1835 worked with his postmaster general to censor anti-slavery mailings from northern abolitionists. The historian Daniel Walker Howe writes that Jackson, “expressed his loathing for the abolitionists vehemently, both in public and in private.”
— Dylan Matthews (Vox, 2016)

So, we have a coalescing of white male repressions projecting outward by way of a latent Puritanical reflex, one that must keep someone in the stocks, with an insidious white nationalism out to create hierarchies within hierarchies regards passports and citizenship — in the interest of controlling surplus populations, and a neo left anti communism made up of a structural Ayn Randian Capitalism, with equal parts Lyndon LaRouche, and Hannah Arendt by way of Noam Chomsky.

Nearly 1,000 US military bases trace an arc from the Andes to North Africa across the Middle East to Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea, sweeping over all major oil resources — all related, in part, to projecting force for the sake of energy security. Further, the “upstream emissions” of greenhouse gases from the manufacture of military equipment, infrastructure, vehicles and munitions used in oil supply protection and oil-driven wars should also be included in the overall environmental impact of using gasoline. Adding these factors into their calculations, the authors conclude that about “20 percent of the conventional DoD budget … is attributable to the objective of oil security.
— Liska and Perrin (Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development)

The Soviet Union provided hope, as did Cuba, for millions in the third world fighting for independence and some fragile sense of dignity. And the U.S. fought AGAINST it. The problem of air travel pollution should not be transferred to the people, individuals or families, who might occasionally take vacations. It is the responsibility of the war machine, of global finance, and trans national corporations. Most people can no longer afford much travel, anyway. But that’s not the point. Its this ugly guilt-tripping morality-gestapo that seems so active on social media and throughout the haute bourgeoisies of the West. When I hear and read these veiled and not veiled attacks on socialist countries, I always suspect agent provocateurs but then I’m likely clinically paranoid at this point.

When Castro died the grief from Africa was palpable…

Cuba’s 1975-6 intervention proved decisive in the rapid consolidation of the MPLA as the ruling party in the oil-rich state of Angola in Southern Africa. Cuban internationalists would remain in Angola until 1989 after the defeat of the racist South African Defense Forces (SADF) the previous year leading to the independence of neighboring Namibia (South-West Africa) under the occupation of the apartheid regime based in Pretoria.{ } Numerous African political leaders have expressed their condolences to the Cuban government and people. The nation of Algeria in North Africa declared eight days of official mourning in honor of the revolutionary leader who assisted in the defense of the country during the early years of national independence from France.
— Abayomi Azikiwe (Pambazuka News)

That does not sound like failure to me.2

For white males in this (U.S.) society, over the age of forty, there is always going to be a residual misogyny and racism. The legacies of our fathers. And of their fathers before them. America was a slave owning genocidal nation of killers and thieves. The point is to overcome that residual bigotry and prejudice. It takes work. But this is an aspect of the destruction of education. It stops people acquiring the tools to self educate. Nobody reads anymore. And it opens the door for voices like Jordan Peterson (as just an example) who grant permission to cling to your old judgements and bigotries. Permission to valorize what, in fact, HAS to change. If one wants the world to survive.

The USSR traded civil liberties for a society in which all citizens were lifted out of poverty. A society that can enjoy free health care and education, hugely subsidized housing, and free public transport and an absolute protection against exploitation. That is a real choice. If you are teetering on homelessness, (in Los Angeles today the homeless population is, at least, 75, 000 ..and that has to be a low ball figure) the choice is obvious. If, that is, those people knew there was a choice. Again, this new anti communism comes from people who almost never had to face such problems. It is a new bourgeois conceit to embrace leftism cosmetically, but reject it on a deeper level. The new anti communism on the left, as I say, feels increasingly anti-semitic to me. It decries *totalitarianism* (sic) while shaming those it deems morally culpable. Morally lacking. You know, like people who fly on jet airplanes.

The desire for “real socialism”, as a criticism, was summarised by Michael Parenti years ago…

But a real socialism, it is argued, would be controlled by the workers themselves through direct participation instead of being run by Leninists, Stalinists, Castroites, or other ill-willed, power-hungry, bureaucratic, cabals of evil men who betray revolutions. Unfortunately, this “pure socialism” view is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable; it cannot be tested against the actualities of history. It compares an ideal against an imperfect reality, and the reality comes off a poor second. It imagines what socialism would be like in a world far better than this one, where no strong state structure or security force is required, where none of the value produced by workers needs to be expropriated to rebuild society and defend it from invasion and internal sabotage.

Trump actually declared Nov 7th a national day for the victims of communism. No, this is not The Onion.

By law, members Ukrainian paramilitary groups that fought with the Nazis against the Red Army in the Second World War are now heroes of Ukrainian independence.
— Scott Sehon and Kristin Ghodsee (Aeon Magazine)

Yeah, that should read U.S. supported Ukrainian paramilitaries. Open Nazis. Poland, arch reactionary Poland, has created a law banning Communist symbols, so terrified are they of people’s memories.

From Dehon and Ghodsee’s piece again:

A 2009 poll in eight east European countries asked if the economic situation for ordinary people was ‘better, worse or about the same as it was under communism’. The results stunned observers: 72 per cent of Hungarians, and 62 per cent of both Ukrainians and Bulgarians believed that most people were worse off after 1989. In no country did more than 47 per cent of those surveyed agree that their lives improved after the advent of free markets. Subsequent polls and qualitative research across Russia and eastern Europe confirm the persistence of these sentiments as popular discontent with the failed promises of free-market prosperity has grown, especially among older people.

There is a reason communism so scared the captains of industry in the U.S. The ruling class spent inordinate energy and time propagandizing against socialist ideas. It has gone on for eighty some years and never abated.

Joel Kovel made a huge distinction between ecology and environmentalism. As he often said (I sort of paraphrase)… Our ecological system is broken; the cause is capitalism!

Lest anyone misunderstand here; adopting energy efficient and renewable sources, and expanding public transportation and reducing reliance on private motor vehicles, and on air travel, is all good. But to get there, from here, means starting with the Imperialist project of domination. It does not work the other way round. One has to always start with a class analysis. Our “individual” choices, our “carbon footprint” etc…none of this is meaningful UNTIL the engine behind global destruction is addressed. Our individual choices are not ‘choices ‘ until that happens.

  1. See “Golden visa schemes put at risk the EU’s integrity and security and should be banned, say S&Ds” and “Malta slammed for cash-for-passport program.”
  2. Or read this piece on the Cuban response to the Ebola outbreak.

Syria or Southeast Asia: The West Lied, Lies, and Always Will

Photo:  Andre Vltchek

I’m sitting at the splendid building of the Singapore National Library, in a semi-dark room, microfilm inserted into a high-tech machine. I’m watching and then filming and photographing several old Malaysian newspapers dating back from October 1965.

These reports were published right after the horrible 1965 military coup in Indonesia, which basically overthrew the progressive President Sukarno and liquidated then the third largest Communist party on Earth, PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia). Between one and three million Indonesian people lost their lives in some of the most horrifying massacres of the 20th century. From a socialist (and soon to be Communist) country, Indonesia descended into the present pits of turbo-capitalist, as well as religious and extreme right-wing gaga.

The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Holland and several other Western nations, directly sponsored the coup, while directing both the pro-Western treasonous factions in the military, as well as the religious leaders who stood, from the start, at the forefront of the genocide.

All this information is, of course, widely available in the de-classified archives of both the CIA and U.S. State Department. It can be accessed, analyzed and reproduced. I personally made a film about the events, and so have several other directors.

But it isn’t part of the memory of humanity. In Southeast Asia, it is known only to a handful of intellectuals.

In Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, the Indonesian post-1965 fascism is a taboo topic. It is simply not discussed. “Progressive” intellectuals here are, like in all other ‘client’ states of the West, paid to be preoccupied with their sex orientation, with gender issues and personal ‘freedoms’, but definitely not with the essential matters (Western imperialism, neo-colonialism, the savage and grotesque forms of capitalism, the plunder of local natural resources and environment, as well as disinformation, plus the forcefully injected ignorance that is accompanied by mass amnesia) that have been shaping so extremely and so negatively this part of the world.

In Indonesia itself, the Communist Party is banned and the general public sees it as a culprit, not as a victim.

The West is laughing behind the back of its brainwashed victims. It is laughing all the way to the bank.

Lies are obviously paying off.

No other part of the world has suffered from Western imperialism as much after WWII, as Southeast Asia did, perhaps with two exceptions, those of Africa and the Middle East.

In so-called Indochina, the West murdered close to ten million people, during the indiscriminate bombing campaigns and other forms of terror – in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The abovementioned Indonesian coup took at least 1 million human lives. 30% of the population of East Timor was exterminated by the Indonesian occupation, which was fully supported by the West. The Thai regime, fully subservient to the West, killed indiscriminately its leftists in the north and in the capital. The entire region has been suffering from extreme religious implants, sponsored by the West itself, and by its allies from the Gulf.

But the West is admired here, with an almost religious zeal.

The U.S., British and French press agencies and ‘cultural centers’ are spreading disinformation through local media outlets owned by subservient ‘elites’. Local ‘education’ has been devotedly shaped by Western didactic concepts. In places like Malaysia, Indonesia, but also Thailand, the greatest achievement is to graduate from university in one of the countries that used to colonize this part of the world.

Victim countries, instead of seeking compensation in courts, are actually admiring and plagiarizing the West, while pursuing, even begging for funding from their past and present tormentors.

Southeast Asia, now obedient, submissive, phlegmatic and stripped off the former revolutionary left-wing ideologies, is where the Western indoctrination and propaganda scored unquestionable victory.

*****

The same day, I turned on the television set in my hotel room, and watched the Western coverage of the situation in Idlib, the last stronghold of the Western-sponsored terrorists on Syrian territory.

Russia has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting warning that the terrorists might stage a chemical attack, and then blame it, together with the West, on the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

NATO battleships have been deployed to the region. There can be no doubt – it has been a ‘good old’ European/North American scenario at work, once again: ‘We hit you, kill your people, and then bomb you as a punishment’.

Imperialist gangsters then point accusative fingers at the victims (in this case Syria) and at those who are trying to protect them (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, China). Just like in a kindergarten, or a primary school; remember? A boy hits someone from behind and then screams, pointing at someone else: “It was him, it was him!” Miraculously, until now, the West has always gotten away with this ‘strategy’, of course, at the cost of billions of victims, on all continents.

That is how it used to be for centuries, and that is how it still works. That is how it will continue to be, until such terror and gangsterism is stopped.

*****

For years and decades, we were told that the world is now increasingly inter-connected, that nothing of great importance could happen, without it being immediately spotted and reported by vigilant media lenses, and ‘civil society’.

Yet, thousands of things are happening and no one is noticing.

Just in the last two decades, entire countries have been singled-out by North America and Europe, then half-starved to death through embargos and sanctions, before being finally attacked and broken to pieces: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya to mention just a few. Governments of several left-wing nations have been overthrown either from outside, or through their own, local, servile elites and media; among them Brazil, Honduras and Paraguay. Countless Western companies and their local cohorts are committing the unbridled plunder of natural resources in such places as Borneo/Kalimantan or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), totally ruining tropical forests while murdering hundreds of species.

Are we, as a planet, really inter-connected? How much do people know about each other, or about what is done to their brothers and sisters on different continents?

I have worked in some 160 countries, and I can testify without the slightest hesitation: ‘Almost nothing’. And: ‘Less and much less!’

The Western empire and its lies, has managed to fragment the world to previously unknown extremes. It is all done ‘in the open’, in full view of the world, which is somehow unable to see and identify the most urgent threats to its survival. Mass media propaganda outlets are serving as vehicles of indoctrination, so do cultural and ‘educational’ institutions of the West or those local ones shaped by the Western concepts. That includes such diverse ‘tools’ as universities, Internet traffic manipulators, censors and self-censored individuals, social media, advertisement agencies and pop culture ‘artists’.

*****

There is a clear pattern to Western colonialist and neo-colonialist barbarity and lies:

‘Indonesian President Sukarno and his closest ally the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were trying to build a progressive and self-sufficient country. Therefore, they had to be stopped, government overthrown, party members massacred, PKI itself banned and the entire country privatized; sold to foreign interests. The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are so brainwashed by the local and Western propaganda that they still blame the Communists for the 1965 coup, no matter what the CIA archives say.’

Mossadegh of Iran was on the same, progressive course. And he ended up the same way as Sukarno. And the whole world was then charmed by the butcher, who was put to power by the West – the Shah and his lavish wife.

Chile in 1973, and thereafter, the same deadly pattern occurred, more evidence of how freedom-loving and democratic the West is.

Patrice Lumumba of Congo nationalized natural resources and tried to feed and educate his great nation. Result? Overthrown, killed. The price: some 8 million people massacred in the last two decades, or maybe many more than that (see my film: Rwanda Gambit). Nobody knows, or everyone pretends that they don’t know.

Syria! The biggest ‘crime’ of this country, at least in the eyes of the West, consisted of trying to provide its citizens with high quality of life, while promoting Pan-Arabism. The results we all know (or do we, really?): hundreds of thousands killed by West-sponsored murderous extremists, millions exiled and millions internally displaced. And the West, naturally, is blaming Syrian President, and is ready to ‘punish him’ if he wins the war.

Irrational? But can global-scale fascism ever be rational?

The lies that are being spread by the West are piling up. They overlap, often contradict one another. But the world public is not trained to search for the truth, anymore. Subconsciously it senses that it is being lied to, but the truth is so horrifying, that the great majority of people prefer to simply take selfies, analyze and parade its sexual orientation, stick earphones into its ears and listen to empty pop music, instead of fighting for the survival of humanity.

I wrote entire books on this topic, including the near 1,000-page: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”.

This essay is just a series of thoughts that came to my mind, while I was sitting at a projector in a dark room of the Singapore National Library.

A rhetorical question kept materializing: “Can all this be happening?” “Can the West get away with all these crimes it has been committing for centuries, all over the world?”

The answer was clear: ‘But of course, as long as it is not stopped!”

And so, A luta continua!

First published by NEO New Eastern Outlook

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.

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.