Category Archives: Communism/Marxism/Maoism

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 *****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pragmatic Deconstruction of the Temporal Single System Interpretation

Introduction

There are internal inconsistencies; i.e., contradictions, with the Temporal-Single-System-Interpretation (TSSI), pertaining to its claims of having rectified the logical contradictions within Marx’s Capital, concerning the law of value. This paper will not be going extensively into what the Temporal-Single-System-Interpretation is reacting against, namely, the charge against Marx of internal inconsistencies, which, for over one-hundred years, have hung over Marx’s work like a dark foreboding cloud. Instead, this paper will be presenting the internal consistencies of the Temporal-Single-System-Interpretation, itself, in relation to Marx’s work, which by association also presents the internal consistencies within Marx’s own analysis. In sum, TSSI’s demonstrations have not succeeded in refuting the century old proof of Marx’s logical inconsistencies because TSSI passes over in silence many of the contradictory claims Marx made about the characteristics of the law of value. Dmitriev, Okishio, Bohm-Bawerk and Bortkiewicz may have faltered in fully outlining the inconsistencies in Marx’s Capital; nevertheless, they were correct that Marx’s analysis; i.e., law of value, is riddled with irreparable, internal-logical inconsistencies.

Foremost, the TSSI imposes unto Marx’s analysis a framework that is just not there in Marx’s work. In actuality, TSSI has simply side-stepped certain Marxist premises over others; i.e., picked certain premises over others, which are contradictory, so as to arbitrarily construct a truncated Marxist interpretation, which can enable TSSI to dubiously claim that it is the only interpretation able to rescue Marx’s labor theory of value from its century old prison term, the damning sentence of internal-logical-inconsistency. In fact, to believe TSSI one would have to live in a perpetual state of suspension of disbelief, to pass over in silence the many internal contradictions emanating from Marx’s own statements, concerning the law of value. Specifically, having an interpretation that forgoes some of Marx’s premises for others does not remove the claim of internal inconsistency. One can find the Bible internally consistent as well if one chooses to pass over certain contradictory passages and premises. The bible, or any other text, will as well make sense, and seem logically plausible if one refuses to acknowledge, or deal with, the conflictual premises and statements within a text. Contrary to Kliman, when one interpretation makes a text make sense does not make it more plausible, or more correct when the particular interpretation abandons core premises and statements the text makes in favor of more sympathetic premises and statements. When this sort of thing happens, we have left the solid ground of reason and are in the mystical clouds of ideology and theoretical fetishism.

Part I

First and foremost, TSSI is a reductive and distorted interpretation of Marx’s analysis in the sense that TSSI has abandoned many of the premises Marx outlined pertaining to the law of value. Thus, TSSI’s claim to have returned Marx’s analysis to wholeness and an analytical totality, casting-off all charges of internal inconsistency against Marx, is blatantly incorrect and screams of ideological bias from the get-go. For example, according to Andrew Kliman, “TSSI deduces Marx’s conclusion that surplus labor is the exclusive source of profit—in every case, without exception”.1 This is one of the many fundamental premises of TSSI. However, Marx stated, within the logical confines of Capital (Volume 1) that:

Capitalist production… in capitalist agriculture is a progress in art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil. Capitalist production… only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process production by simultaneously sapping the original sources of  all wealth, the soil and the worker.2

Essentially, according to Marx, wealth; i.e., surplus value, is generated through sapping the soil and workers of value. The soil and the worker are, for Marx, the sole founts of surplus value, that is, for any value, not just the exploitation of labor-time. Consequently, this flies directly in the face of TSSI, but more importantly, this flies directly in the face of Marx, himself, who continually repeats throughout Das Capital that “labor is the source of all wealth”;3 value. The same applies for TSSI, wherefore, repeatedly Andrew Kliman reminds us that “value is [solely] determined by labor-time”.4  This is an internal-logical-inconsistency in Marx’s analysis, which invariably skews the numbers and his holy trinity of economic equalities, pertaining to the law of value. As a result, once again we have an internal-logical contradiction; i.e., a logical inconsistency, within Marx’s analysis, which rattles the Marxist law of value to the core.

This internal inconsistency rattles Marx’s labor theory of value because when values; i.e., wealth, escape the strict confines of labor-time calculations, the Marxist trinity of economic equalities can go awry. It is for this reason that Kliman has reduced Marx’s law of value to the strict confines of labor-time in the sense that all sorts of unquantifiable values, derived from the land and soil, devoid of labor-time, can magically augment values and prices, by seeping into the capitalist-system unannounced and unquantified. Contrary to Kliman, and in line with Marx, it is more appropriate to conceive that capital makes labor and the earth produce, and labor and the earth produce surplus value, due to the fact, contrary to TSSI, the source of surplus value, by Marx’s own statements, is both the earth and labor-power, not strictly labor-power, itself. This explains why total values and total prices do not equate, or could ever equate, unless huge TSSI arbitrary readjustments are applied to Marx’s analysis and premises, beginning with his fundamental premise that the soil; i.e., the natural environment, does produce value, value which in some instances is devoid of any labor-time.

For example, in Capital (Volume 2), when Marx was looking for the original source of surplus value found in the market; i.e., the circulation sphere, which could account for the paradox that capitalists receive more value in return to what they inject into the market on a yearly basis, discovered that the extra surplus value in the market, which is devoid of labor-time, originates from Gold. Namely, that the mineral itself, gold, like labor-power, was throwing more value into circulation; i.e., the market, than the value it was being assigned in return by capitalists through the calculation of labor-time within gold production. Meaning, that gold production was both supplying the market with surplus labor derived from workers plus an extra amount of surplus value, atop of surplus labor-time calculations, which was providing the extra unaccounted surplus value in the market by which capitalists were able to realize their annual surplus product.

For Marx, in Capital (Volume 2) a certain amount of value, conceivably surplus value, was not being accounted for in gold production. As a result, gold’s unaccounted value was supplying the initial surplus value that the market needed in order to facilitate capitalist transactions; i.e., enabling capitalists to realize their over-extended surplus at the end of each year. That is, gold’s unaccounted value was permitting capitalists to extract more from circulation; i.e., the market, than he or she initially was putting into circulation, meaning a segment of free value, initially injected in the market, gratis, was operating in the market, free of labor-time, providing unaccounted surplus value and profit so all capitalists could extract more than they were throwing into the market. As Marx states:

Only in gold production—in so far as the gold product contains or is bearer of surplus value is new wealth created, and it is only to the extent that the whole new gold product steps into circulation that it increases the money material for potential new…capitals. …The surplus-value of the gold producer, produced in gold, would then be the only fund from which all the other capitalists drew material with which to realize their annual surplus product.5

Therefore, exactly, like labor-power, according to Marx, gold production is cheated out of a certain excess amount of value, which goes unpaid, unrewarded and unaccounted for in order to provide the excess surplus value; i.e., profit, the markets need, which enables capitalists to realize their annual surplus product in and across the circulation sphere. Contrary to TSSI, gold, like labor-power, the soil, like the worker, provide the founts for any capitalist profit and surplus value. Thus, once again, the internal-logical-inconsistencies have manifested within Marx’s Capital, between the plethora of Marx’s statements professing that the only fount of surplus value is labor-time and those other statements, correctly articulating that the soil and the worker, together, are, in fact. the wellsprings of capitalist profit, value and wealth.

In many instances, labor-time has nothing do with an augmentation of value; i.e., surplus value. An excellent example of this is when Marx describes the autonomous, value-producing power of waterfalls, which graciously augment value, free of labor-time, when their energy is harnessed, appropriately, according to the dictates of capitalism. According to Marx:

A natural force…does not belong to the general conditions of the sphere of production…Capital cannot create a waterfall from its own resources. The surplus profit that arises from [the] use of the waterfall…arises not from the capital [invested] but from the use by capital of a monopolizable and monopolized natural force. Under these conditions,…surplus profit…accrues to the owner of the waterfall.6

Therefore, here we have a textbook example of the internal-logical-inconsistencies found throughout Marx’s Capital. If socially necessary labor-time is the only source of value, then a waterfall should not be autonomously providing surplus value, devoid of labor-time, which it is, and Marx concedes this fact. Consequently, contrary to TSSI, value is not solely a product of socially necessary labor-time, meaning value can be created outside the production sphere and Marx inadvertently acknowledges this fact, when he states a natural force, like a waterfall, does not belong to the sphere of production. Inadvertently, this also opens the door to the damning conclusion that value can be produced outside of production, such as we see with gold and the waterfall, assuming these two examples are not anomalies.

Moreover, this means that TSSI is implausible and a bastardization of what Marx said and meant in Capital. If the point of any interpretation is to make a text make sense, as Kliman states, then the point is also to acknowledge the discrepancies within a text, with honesty. The point is not to pick and choose premises, here and there, in order to arrive at a dubious interpretation which somehow makes sense and retains a sense of fuzzy totality, a suspicious totality, which comes at the insurmountable cost of textual verity, honest scholarship and the basic fact that Marx’s Capital is riddled with internal-inconsistencies. There is no side-stepping this fact. TSSI has skewed Marx’s statements and premises in a feeble attempt to refute the fact of internal inconsistency within Marx’s Capital. To quote, Kliman, “Marx’s value theory would be necessarily wrong if it were internally inconsistent…An internally inconsistent theory simply cannot be right”7 and this is exactly the case with Marx’s analysis. It is internally inconsistent and thus is not completely right, hence, the reason why the charge of internal inconsistency has lasted so long and the reason why so many attempts have been made to refashion Marx’s analysis into something new yet inspired by Marx’s analysis. The point is not to beat a dead horse over and over again. The point is to accept the facts. The point is not to retreat into ideology and Marxist fetishism, as the TSSI has clearly done, but to move on.

Part II

Another one of the many fundamental premises of TSSI is its fundamental claim that “valuation is temporal, so input and output prices can differ”,8 meaning that output prices/values of commodities can be lower than the input prices/values of the means of production initially going into the production process at the beginning. However, this leads to an internal inconsistency within Marx’s analysis in the sense that Marxist holy trinity of equalities becomes out of whack if inputs and output prices differ, substantially. First, according to Marx and the TSSI, the three aggregate value-price equalities are:

* Total profit equals total surplus value.

* Total price equals total value.

* The aggregate “price” rate of profit equals the aggregate “value” rate of profit…

[And,] in Marx’s view, these aggregate equalities were immensely significant [as]…they confirmed both the law of value and his theory that all profit has its origin in the exploitation of workers.9

However, as shown previously, it is evident that profits do not have their sole origin in the exploitation of workers, but also have their origin in the free exploitation of the soil, which augments profit devoid of any labor-time. And, this is enough to skew Marx’s holy economic equalities, which Marx argues must in the last instance always equalize. As Engels states, in the preface of Capital (Volume 3), “the total sum of prices equals the total sum of values…in the last instance, [meaning any] incongruence disappears” 10 in the end. However, if amounts of profit; i.e., value, enter calculations, devoid of labor-time, which they do, then total values and total prices can never equate, in the last instance, due to the fact there will be segments of total price and total value, which will be devoid of labor-time and unable to be accounted for by socially necessary labor-time.

Notwithstanding, for argument sake, let us take one of Kliman’s simple economic models, when inputs and outputs prices differ, and take this economic model as an economic totality. That is, an economy as a whole, which falls into recession and/or depression wherefore outputs do not equal inputs at the level of totality. First, in this instance, total price and total value will differ due to discrepancies in output and inputs. Second, like a chain reaction, this will also mean that total profit and total surplus value will differ, due to discrepancies in output and inputs. And third, the aggregate “price” rate of profit and the aggregate “value” rate of profit will differ, thus, annulling Marx’s and the TSSI’s holy trinity of economic equalities. Taking a look at Kliman’s, TABLE 2.2., pertaining prices of production and average profits, where Marx’s holy economic equalities are maintained, we can see that everything Marx and TSSI indicated is in order:11

In effect, this reproduction of Kliman’s economic model, reproduces Marx’s holy economic equalities. As determined by Kliman, “total profit and total surplus value both equal 48,… total price of production and total value both equal 118”12 and, of course, the aggregate price and value rates of profit also both equalize at 16%. Therefore, according to TSSI, Marx appears vindicated of internal inconsistency when inputs and outputs are valued temporally. When inputs and outputs are temporal; i.e., valued temporally, Marx’s holy economic equalities remain intact.

Now, let us assume that Kliman’s economic model is a totality, comprising the only two economic branches in the economy. Indeed, this simplification is valid in the sense that Kliman does this sort of thing; i.e., simplification, throughout his book, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital. That is, he simplifies, reducing complex economies to two or three economic branches for the sake of clarity and edification. Consequently, let us say, the chemical sector remains as is, in the new economic model, while the restaurants sector, due to various socio-economic conditions, is in trouble, troubles of various kinds which seriously curtail the surplus value produced and lower profits into the negative.

At the end of the year, this totally new, independent, and separate economic model, different from Kliman’s example, has a surplus value measured at 16, with a value rate of profit calibrated at 5.3%. Total value is 86 while total price is 92, which is unequal. However, profit, due to catastrophic socio-economic conditions, is only registered at 22, while, in turn, the price of production rate of profit is 7.3%, thus manifesting divergence in all of Marx’s holy economic equalities in the final analysis.

In this newly constructed economic model, the eateries sector is producing at a loss, despite the value rate of profit being extracted from the workforce at a positive 8%. The extra surplus value of 8 is either deteriorating via rotting food-commodities, or is simply wasted labor-power. The fact is that, because people are not eating out, or whatever, profit is registered in the negative at -10 and the price rate of profit is -10%., ultimately skewing Marx’s and TSSI’s holy economic equalities at the level of totality in the final analysis. As a result, according to this totally new, independent economic model, because there is significant losses in the restaurant/eateries sector while the chemical sector is in the black, all three of Marx’s holy economic equalities no longer equate, at the abstract level of economic totality, even if inputs and outputs are calibrated in a temporal fashion.

In addition, even if both sectors of this totalizing economic model registered positive numbers for surplus value, as long as there are significant profit losses, due to catastrophic pricing conditions, Marx’s economic equalities will not equate, despite the fact that, according to Marx, they should equate in the last instance. Of course, in response, Marx argues that “surplus value by no means coincides in the majority of cases with profit”,13 which Marx admits occurs at the level of everyday economic occurrences, but he certainly holds onto the verity that at the general level of economic totality total value and total price will, without a doubt, equate. The internal inconsistencies arise because Marx refuses to acknowledge the logical fact and consistency that deviating prices and values at the level of everyday economic transactions inevitably leads to deviations in total values and total prices at the abstract level of economic totality. You cannot have one without the other in the sense that deviations between price and value do not magically disappear at the level of economic totality. This is a contradiction in logic and rationality, which exacerbates the fact that Marx’s Capital is riddled with internal consistencies, if one honestly takes all of what Marx said into consideration.

In a classic Marxian statement, screaming of internal logical-inconsistency, Marx states “the sum of prices of production for the commodities produced in society as a whole—taking the totality of all branches of production—is [bound to] equal to the sum of their values”14 in the final analysis. Basically, regardless of rampant deviations at the level of everyday economic transactions, prices and values mystically equalize at the abstract level of economic totality. It might be argued that the three holy economic equalities eventually will equate, but this is not “proof” of logical-consistency, if it contradicts the dictates logic, itself, namely, that logical consistency pervades reality, from alpha to omega, not just the ephemeral plain of economic totality. Secondly, it might be argued that these results disproving Marx’s holy trinity of economic equalities, are not the final analysis; however, this depends on where one chooses to draws the finishing line.

All in all, it is internally and logically inconsistent to articulate that prices and values can differentiate, in everyday economic occurrences, while at the same time arguing that at the abstract level of economic totality, both the sum of prices and the sum of values magically equate, contrary to any logical reasoning. Consequently, this is logically inconsistent and contradictory, unless an arbitrary and artificial adjustment is perpetrated between the different sums of values and prices, an adjustment which can only be dishonest and simultaneous.  For instance, as Marx states, “whatever may be the ways in which the prices of different commodities are first established or fixed in relation to one another, the law of value governs their movement”;15 what Marx argues is that prices can be determined in a variety of ways, prices cannot be reduced to strict quantities of labor-time, despite somehow being governed by labor-time, nonetheless. Following Marx’s inherent logical-contradiction here, contrary to TSSI, we are dealing with two measurement systems, which Marx is trying to commensurate under one umbrella due to the fact that, at the absolute  level of economic totality, he wishes to claim that “surplus value and profit are, in fact, the same and even numerically identical”,16 which has just been proven is not the case in the final analysis.

In effect, contrary to Marx and TSSI, prices continually escape the strict confines of value measured in labor-time, namely, value strictly determined by the fundamental Marxist premise of labor-time, both in everyday economic occurrences and, following the dictates of logic, at the abstract level of economic totality. For Marx and TSSI, values and prices differ at the microscopic level of everyday economic occurrences, and then magically unify and equate at the abstract level of economic totality. This is an internal logical-contradiction; i.e., an internal logical-inconsistency in Capital, brought about by faulty premises. In fact, contrary to Marx and TSSI, differentiations between value and price occur both at the microscopic level of everyday economic occurrences and at the abstract level of economic totality, ALWAYS! Because both the soil and labor-power are sources of surplus value and because price-value differentiations at the micro-level of everyday economic transactions also means, following the dictates of logic, there are price-value differentiations at the macro-level of economic totality.

Marx’s holy economic trinity in actuality never equate, without serious readjustments and conscious machinations. Meaning TSSI, like Marx, cannot validate Marx’s holy trinity of economic equalities either. As a result, both Marx and TSSI are the subject of internal logical-inconsistencies, derived from their unfounded beliefs that price and value differentiations at the micro-level of everyday economic occurrences can magically unify and equate at the abstract level of economic totality despite having incommensurable foundations. Consequently, it is inconsequential whether inputs and outputs are determined in a temporal fashion and/or in a simultaneous fashion in the sense that, in the final analysis, contrary to TSSI and Marx, nothing equates because value and price cannot be distorted and reduced to labor-time. Nothing equates between value and price because value and price are not solely subject to the strict confines of socially necessary labor-time, meaning, value and price are two separate manners of allocating numerical sums onto commodities. Both value and price have two different incommensurable foundations for analyzing, assessing and determining worth. In effect,  they constantly clash.

Part III

Finally, another one of the many fundamental premises of TSSI is its fundamental claim that Marx was a single-system theorist, namely, that he conceived the price-system and the value-system as strictly founded on socially necessary labor-time, and being synonymous at the abstract level of economic totality, all the while both being interdependently constituted with each other. For TSSI, this interdependence ultimately validates Marx’s holy trinity of economic equalities. As states, for TSSI, Marx believed that at the level of totality, price and value equate, profit and surplus value equate and the value and price rates of profit equate, meaning, there can only be one system of economic measurement for determining worth; i.e., the price-value system.

Notwithstanding, there is ample evidence throughout Marx’s Capital that Marx conceived of value and price as two separate systems, that is, two independent appraisal systems for assigning numerical coefficients onto commodities. Both of which are different and in many instances, dissimilar, due to the fact that, contrary to TSSI, socially necessary labor-time is not the foundation of both. Of course, Kliman slyly slips into his narrative in Reclaiming Marx’s Capital that both value and price are determined by labor-time, but this is a machination. It is an attempt to disavow and pass over in silence what Marx, in fact, said. Namely, it is an attempt on Kliman’s part to square the circle, that is, to forcefully smash a square peg into a round hole, claiming Marx intended it to make sense that way.  As Kliman states, “values and prices…are measured in the same units”,17 meaning, they are both measured in labor-time due to the fact that, according to TSSI, value is always measured in labor-time, and likewise, price must also be measured in labor-time, if values and prices are to correlate interdependently and equate at an abstract level. The fact is that, according to Marx’s own words, there are two systems for assigning values and prices, both of which are founded on different, incommensurable premises.

Foremost, taking Kliman’s premise for granted, and assuming Marx wanted value reduced to the strict confines of socially necessary labor-time, we shall assume that the Marxist value-system is based strictly on socially necessary labor-time. However, contrary to TSSI, there are ample examples throughout Marx’s Capital that the price-system exceeds the strict confines of socially necessary labor-time and by logical extension the Marxist value-system as well, therefore, demonstrating that price and value are two different systems for assigning and determining worth founded on two different, incommensurable premises. For example, Marx argues in Capital (Volume One), the price-system can operate, and does operate, independently of labor-time calculations and the value-system. The pricing-system can only do this if it is a completely independent system from any value-determinations founded on labor-time.

As Marx states,  “the possibility that the price may diverge from…value, is inherent in the price-form itself”18 and the reason for these inherent divergences is the fact that price is not strictly, or if at all, based on labor-time, “the price-form…[for Marx]…harbors a qualitative contradiction, with the result that price ceases altogether to express value”.19 The reason price ceases altogether to express value is because price is inherently incommensurable with value; it is a system completely independent of value, due to the fact that it has a different foundation than the value-system. Marx is correct to argue that the problem of commensurability between price and value is inherent in the price-form as we are dealing with two different systems with two different foundations. And Marx readily acknowledges this when he states:

Things which in and for themselves are not commodities, things such as, conscience, honor, [vacant unused land] etc., can be offered for sale by their holders, and thus acquire the form of commodities through their price. Hence, a thing can, formally speaking, have a price without having a value. The expression of price is…imaginary.19

It may be correct, as TSSI stipulates, that the Marxist value-system is strictly founded upon labor-time, but the price-system certainly is not. In fact, the price-system, according to Marx, is founded on the imagination. As Marx states, “to establish…price it is sufficient for [a commodity] to be equated…in the imagination”.19 This means that value and price have incommensurable foundations. Marxist value is founded on labor-time and price is founded on the imagination. In essence, these are two different systems for assigning numerical sums onto commodities, stemming from two different foundations; i.e., incommensurable premises. Price can be accommodated to value, but this is a distortion and a reduction of the pricing-system to the Marxist value-system in the sense that the price-system, being founded on the imagination, exceeds the strict parameters of the Marxist value-system, that is, socially necessary labor-time. As Marx states:

Although invisible…value…is signified through [its] equality with [price], even though this relation with [price] exists in [the] head, so to speak….the expression of the value of commodities in [price] is a purely ideal act, we may use purely imaginary or ideal gold to perform this operation.20

Of course, TSSI acknowledges that “the distinction between value and price exists in real life”,21 but at the abstract level of economic totality, this distinction disappears; however, this is a logical contradiction within TSSI and Marx’s Capital, which invariably always reverberates across Marx’s holy trinity of economic equalities, forever destabilizing them, unless some form of gross numerical manipulations is enacted. Moreover, TSSI acknowledged that “Marx himself affirmed that value is a mental construct”,22 yet simultaneously TSSI argues that Marx’s “value is [strictly] determined by labor-time”.23. This is a logical contradiction in the sense that TSSI fails to notice that mental constructs, despite “being part of the real world”24 do not have to abide by the strict standards of the real world. There is much leeway and approximations as to the verity of mental constructs because being mental constructs, they are subjective, arbitrary and artificial fabrications, more or less privy to the imaginary whims of conceptual-perception.

Subsequently, contrary to TSSI, labor-time is not always the sole determining factor of value since it is a mental construct. As Marx states, price and “the life of the worker [also] depends on the whim of the rich and the capitalists”,25 meaning, “in its function as measure of value, [price]…serves only in an imaginary or ideal capacity”,26 it is an arbitrary, or ideal, connection subject to debate and discrepancy because price does not follow the parameters of scientific measurement, namely, those of socially necessary labor-time. The price-system is something imposed upon things, regardless of labor-time, due to the fact that the price-system is a system independent of the Marxist value-system. The price-system is its own independent system just as the Marxist value-system is its own independent system. The price-system has a different foundation than the Marxist value-system, which obeys the strict dictates of socially necessary labor-time while the Marxist value-system has a different foundation than the price-system, which obeys, more or less, the vagaries of the imagination; hence, how apples and oranges can be arbitrarily and artificially compared.

As Marx describes at the end of Capital (Volume One), in the United-States in order for the capitalist mode of production to take root in America, it was argued that “the government set an artificial price on the virgin soil, a price independent of the law of [value]…a price that compels the immigrant to work a long-time for wages before he can earn enough money to buy land”.27 This artificial price was a matter of power and imagination; and thus is the product of a different appraisal system than the Marxist value-system, which is based on labor-time. Consequently, there are two appraisal systems at work in Marx’s Capital, two evaluation systems running independently of each other, founded on different, incommensurable premises. One obeys the strict dictates of socially necessary labor-time, while the other does not, and is more or less based on the whims of capitalists; i.e., the power of the imagination. Ultimately, TSSI does not exonerate Marx of internal-logical-inconsistencies because there are two incommensurable, appraisal systems in Marx’s Capital, each functioning according to different incommensurable premises in assigning numerical coefficients onto commodities.

Conclusion

All in all, TSSI is unable to banish the claims that Marx’s analysis and law of value is riddled with internal-logical-inconsistencies. In fact, TSSI only exacerbates the internal-logical-inconsistencies of Marx’s Capital in the sense that to ascribe to the TSSI version of Marxism, requires one to overlook huge discrepancies in Marx’s Capital, namely, all the contradictory statements and premises, which skew the results and prevent any holistic understanding of Marx’s analysis and law of value. And maybe Marx wanted it this way due to the fact that capital, itself, is not a homogenized, internally, consistent system, but a system, itself, riddled with internal-logical-inconsistencies; i.e., contradictions. At best, if one is honest, scholarly and true to what Marx stated in Capital, without regressing into ideology, as Kliman has done, the law of value is a loose manner of conceiving how and why the capitalist mode of production functions and operates.

In actuality, Marx’s analysis is an approximation, which is not ironclad, but subject to loose parameters wherefore things are never exact and ultimately precise because Marx’s holy trinity of economic equalities, in effect, never do equate, both at the micro-level of everyday economic transactions and at the macro-level of economic totality. We must remember that Marx’s Capital is an ideal conception of the capitalist mode of production, not an exact replica of the capitalist-system, itself. The fact that some economists, like Kliman, can make Marx’s three holy economic equalities equate on paper can only be the result of gross numerical manipulations and readjustments, which forgo some of Marx’s premises in favor of other more sympathetic premises.  Essentially, the result of Marx’s economic equalities equating on paper can only be the outcome of ramming square pegs into round circular holes which were never meant to fit and/or equate.

Of course, according to Andrew Kliman: “TSSI demonstrates [that] it is possible to make Marx’s texts cohere [and] in cases such as this, the criterion of coherence clearly implies that interpretations that fail to make the text cohere are inadequate”,28 while those that make the text cohere are valid and of higher value. However, this is false if the interpretation that somehow makes a text cohere passes over in silence many of the contradictory premises this text states and bases itself upon. The point is not to make a text cohere; the point is to get an accurate sense of a text, even if it is riddled with irreparable internal contradictions as Marx’s Capital clearly is. There is no side-stepping this damning fact by retreating into the narrow-mindedness of ideology, and keeping a blind-eye to the internal-inconsistencies within Marx’s Capital. That is acting, talking, writing and teaching as if there are no internal-logical-inconsistencies within Marx’s analysis and law of value. This is just bad scholarship. Kliman’s Reclaiming Marx’s Capital is just bad scholarship in the sense that it is an intellectually dishonest output, which has side-stepped many of the blatant contradictions throughout Marx’s analysis and law of value, skewing the results by simply not addressing any contradictory statements and/or premises. To turn Kliman’s argument on its head, the very fact that Marx’s arguments can be interpreted by picking and choosing, accepting and forgoing certain Marxist premises for others so as to arrive at some form of distorted internal consistency concerning Marx’s analysis and law of value, demonstrates that internal consistency cannot be proven pertaining to Marx’s analysis and law of value since this internal consistency requires serious ideological blinders in order to be accurate, and more importantly, to be anywhere to being right.

No matter how much Kliman screams implausibility, invalidity, falsehood, and error, throughout his text at his detractors and those who disagree with TSSI, it does not make his interpretation right in the least, because to believe that TSSI has removed the verdict of internal-logical-inconsistency from Marx, one would have to lobotomize one’s mind. So the fact that Kliman, in the conclusion to Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, smugly bemoans the grounding fact that the myth of inconsistency holds and persists, even after-all of TSSI’s dubious conclusions, only proves that TSSI’s extremely reductive economic analysis and perspective has not eliminated the internal-logical-inconsistencies in Marx. TSSI has not removed the internal-inconsistencies within Marx’s Capital, because anyone with a working brain, regardless of education, can logically infer the internal contradictions within Marx’s analysis and/or law of value. Ultimately, Kliman is correct that “it is up to the present generation to set the record straight”,29 pertaining to TSSI, but he will not like the verdict since TSSI is certainly on the losing end of this debate. Indeed, history is proving most cruel in her verdict concerning Marxism and TSSI, a complete and total silence. So why are proponents of TSSI, like Kliman, fanatically “devoted to the pursuit of a theory with nothing but failure to show for it?”30 — in a word, ideology. And, with any homogenizing fanatic-ideology, as Max Planck put it, “truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather [triumphs] because its opponents eventually die”.30

  1. Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007) p. 185.
  2. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London, Eng.: Penguin, 1990) p. 520.
  3. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume Two), Trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1992) p. 563.
  4. Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007) p.13.
  5. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume Two), Trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1992) p. 567.
  6. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume Three), Trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1991) pp. 784-785.
  7. Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007) pp. 3-4.
  8. Ibid, 2.
  9. Ibid. 144.
  10. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume Three), Trans. David Fernbach (London Penguin Books, 1991) p. 104.
  11. Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007) pp. 26-28.
  12. Ibid, p. 28.
  13. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume Three), Trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1991) p. 141.
  14. Ibid, p. 259.
  15. Ibid, p. 277.
  16. Ibid, p. 139.
  17. Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007), p. 32.
  18. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London, Eng.: Penguin, 1990), p. 196.
  19. Ibid, p. 197.
  20. Ibid, pp. 189-190.
  21. Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007) p. 140.
  22. Ibid. 141.
  23. Ibid. 93.
  24. Ibid, p. 141.
  25. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Ed. Martin Milligan (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc., 2007) p. 21.
  26. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London, Eng.: Penguin, 1990), p.190.
  27. Ibid, p. 938.
  28. Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007) p. 62.
  29. Ibid, p. 212.
  30. Ibid, p. 209.

The West Really Hates China

It appears that the Western public, both relatively ‘educated’ and thoroughly ignorant, could, after some persuasion, agree on certain very basic facts – for instance that Russia has historically been a victim of countless European aggressions, or that countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Iran or North Korea (DPRK) have never in modern history crossed the borders of foreign nations in order to attack, plunder or to overthrow governments.

OK, certainly, it would take some ‘persuasion’, but at least in specific circles of the otherwise hopelessly indoctrinated Western society, certain limited dialogue is still occasionally possible.

China is different. There is no ‘mercy’ for China in the West. By many standards, the greatest and one of the oldest cultures on Earth, has been systematically smeared, insulted, ridiculed and arrogantly judged by the opinion-makers, propagandists, ‘academia’ and mainstream press with seats in London, New York, Paris and many other places which the West itself calls the centers of ‘erudition’ and ‘freedom of information’.

Anti-Chinese messages are sometimes overt, but mostly thinly veiled. They are almost always racist and based on ignorance. And the horrifying reality is: they work!

They work for many reasons. One of them is that while the North Asians in general, and the Chinese people in particular, have been learning with zeal all about the rest of the world, the West is thoroughly ignorant about almost everything Asian and Chinese.

I personally conducted a series of simple but revealing ‘experiments’ in China, Korea and Japan, as well as in several countries of the West: while almost every North Asian child can easily identify at least a few basic ‘icons’ of Western culture, including Shakespeare and Mozart, most of the European university professors with PhDs could not name one single Korean film director, Chinese classical music composer, or a Japanese poet.

Westerners know nothing about Asia! Not 50% of them, now even 90%, but most likely somewhere in the area of 99.9%.

And it goes without saying, that Korea is producing some of the best art films in the world, while China and Japan are renowned for their exquisite classical art, as well as modern masterpieces.

In the West, the same ignorance extends to Chinese philosophy, its political system and history. In both Europe and North America, there is absolute darkness, withering ignorance, regarding the Chinese vision of the world. In Paris or Berlin, China is being judged exclusively by Western logic, by Western ‘analysts’, with unsurpassable arrogance.

Racism is the only fundamental explanation, although there are many other, secondary reasons for this state of affairs.

Western racism, which used to humiliate, attack and ruin China for centuries, has gradually changed its tactics and strategies. From the openly and colorfully insulting and vulgar, it has steadily evolved into something much more ‘refined’ but consistently manipulative.

The spiteful nature of the Western lexicon of superiority has not disappeared.

In the past, the West used to depict Chinese people as dirty animals. Gradually, it began depicting the Chinese Revolution as animalistic, as well as the entire Chinese system, throwing into the battle against the PRC and the Communist Party of China, such concepts and slogans as “human rights”.

We are not talking about human rights that could and should be applicable and respected in all parts of the world (like the right to life) protection for all the people of the Planet. That’s because it is clear that the most blatant violators of such rights have been, for many centuries, the Western countries.

If all humans were to be respected as equal beings, all countries of the West would have to be tried and indicted, then occupied and harshly punished for countless genocides and holocausts committed in the past and present. The charges would be clear: barbarity, theft, torture as well as the slaughter of hundreds of millions of people in Africa, the Middle East, what is now called Latin America, and, of course, almost everywhere in Asia. Some of the most heinous crimes of the West were committed against China and its people.

The ‘human rights’ concept, which the West is constantly using against China is ‘targeted’. Most of the accusations and ‘facts’ have been taken out of the context of what has been occurring on the global scale (now and in the history). Exclusively, Eurocentric views and ‘analyses’ have been applied. Chinese philosophy and logic have been fully ignored; never taken seriously. No one in the West asks the Chinese people what they really want (only the so-called ‘dissidents’ are allowed to speak through the mass media to the Western public). Such an approach is not supposed to defend or to help anybody; instead it is degrading, designed to cause maximum damage to the most populous country on Earth, to its unique system, and increasingly, to its important global standing.

It is obvious that the Western academia and mass media are funded by hundreds of millions and billions of dollars to censor the mainstream Chinese voices, and to promote dark anticommunist and anti-PRC nihilism.

I know one Irish academic based in North Asia, who used to teach in China. He told me, with pride, that he used to provoke Chinese students: “Do you know that Mao was a pedophile?” And he ridiculed those who challenged him and found his discourses distasteful.

But such an approach is quite acceptable for the Western academia based in Asia. Reverse the tables and imagine a Chinese academic who comes to London to teach Chinese language and culture, beginning his classes by asking the students whether they know that Churchill used to have sex with animals? What would happen? Would he get fired right away or at the end of the day?

*****

The West has no shame, and it is time for the entire world to understand this simple fact.

In the past, I have often compared this situation to some medieval village, attacked and plundered by brigands (The West). Food stores were ransacked, houses burned, women raped and children forced into slavery, then subjected to thorough brainwashing.

Any resistance was crushed, brutally. People were told to spy on each other, to expose “terrorists” and “dangerous elements” in society, in order to protect the occupation regime.

Only two “economic systems” were allowed – feudalism and capitalism.

If the villagers elected a mayor who was ready to defend their interests, the brigands would murder him, unceremoniously. Murder or overthrow him, so there would always be a status quo.

But there had to be some notion of justice, right?

Once in a while, the council of the brigands would catch a thief who had stolen few cucumbers or tomatoes. And they would then brag that they protect the people and the village. While everything had already been burned to ashes by them

Given the history and present of China, given the horrid and genocidal nature of the Western past, ancient and modern, given the fact that China is by all definitions, the most peaceful large nation on Earth, how can anybody in the West even pronounce the words like ‘human rights’, let alone criticize China, Russia, Cuba or any other country that it put on its hit-list?

Of course, China, Russia or Cuba are not “perfect countries” (there are no perfect countries on Earth, and there never will be), but should a thief and mass murderer be allowed to judge anybody?

Obviously yes! It is happening, constantly.

The West is unapologetic. It is because it is ignorant, thoroughly uninformed about its own past and present deeds, or conditioned to be uninformed. It is also because the West is truly a fundamentalist society, unable to analyze and to compare. It cannot see anymore.

What is being offered by its politicians and replicated by the servile academia and mass media, is totally twisted.

Almost the entire world is in the same condition as the village that I just described.

But it is China (and also Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, and other nations) that is being portrayed as villains and tormentors of the people. Black becomes white. War is peace. Slavery is freedom. A mass rapist is a peacemaker and a cop.

*****

Once again: The West hates China. Let us be totally honest.

China has to understand it, and act accordingly. Sooner rather than later.

As we have already determined, the hatred towards China is irrational, illogical, purely racist; mainly based to the superiority complex of Western “thinkers”.

But also, it is based on the subconscious fear of the Westerners that Chinese culture and its socialist system (with all its ‘imperfections’) are greatly superior to the culture of terror and thuggery spread throughout our Planet by both Europeans and then North Americans.

Several years ago, I was interviewed by various Chinese media outlets, including the legendary People’s Daily, China Radio International and CCTV (now CGTN).

They all wanted to know why, despite all those great efforts of China to befriend the world, there is so much Sino phobia in Western countries. I had to face the same question, again and again: “What else could we do? We tried everything… What else?”

Because of its tremendous hereditary optimism, the Chinese nation could not grasp one simple but essential fact: the more China does for the world, the less aggressively it behaves, the more it will be hated and demonized in the West. It is precisely because China is, unlike the West, trying to improve the lives of the entire planet Earth, that it will never be left in peace, it will never be prized, admired or learned from in such places like London, Paris or New York.

I replied to those who were interviewing me:

“They hate you, therefore you are doing something right!”

My answer, perhaps, sounded too cynical to the Chinese people. However, I wasn’t trying to be cynical. I was just trying to answer, honestly, a question about the psyche of Western culture, which has already murdered hundreds of millions of human beings, worldwide. It was, after all, the greatest European psychologist of all time, Carl Gustav Jung, who diagnosed Western culture as “pathology”.

But Who Really Hates China and How Much?

But let’s get numbers: who hates China and how much? Mainly, the Westerners – Europeans and North Americans. And Japan, which actually murdered tens of millions of Chinese people, plus China’s main regional rival, Vietnam.

Only 13% of the Japanese see China favorably, according to a Pew Research Center Poll conducted in 2017. 83% of the Japanese, a country which is the main ally of the West in Asia, see China “unfavorably”. In Italy which is hysterically anti-Chinese and scandalously racist at that, the ratio is 31% favorably, 59% unfavorably. Shocking? Of course, it is. But Germany does not fare much better, with 34% – 53%. The United States – 44% – 47%. France 44% – 52%. Entire half of Spanish nation sees China unfavorably – 43% – 43%.

Now something really shocking: the “rest of the world”. The numbers are totally the opposite! South Africa: 45% see China favorably, 32% unfavorably. Argentina 41% – 26%. Even the Philippines which is being pushed constantly by the West into confrontation with China: 55% favorably – 40% unfavorably. Indonesia that perpetrated several anti-Chinese pogroms and even banned the Chinese language after the US-sponsored coup in 1965: 55% favorably – 36% unfavorably. Mexico 43% – 23%. Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela: 52% – 29%. Chile 51% – 28%.

Then it gets even more interesting: Lebanon: 63% – 33%. Kenya: 54% – 21%. Brazil 52% – 25%. Tunisia 63% – 22%. Russia: 70% – 24%. Tanzania 63% – 15%. Senegal 64% – 10%. And the most populous country in Sub Saharan Africa, Nigeria – 72% – 13%.

The 2017 BBC World Service poll, Views of China’s influence by country, gives even more shocking results:

At the two extremes, in Spain, only 15% see China’s influence as positive, while 68% see it as negative. In Nigeria, 83% as positive and only 9% as negative.

Now, think for a while what these numbers really say.

Who is really benefiting from China’s growing importance on the world scene? Of course – the wretched of the Earth; the majority of our Planet! Who are those who are trying to stop China from helping the colonized and oppressed people? The old and new colonialist powers!

China is predominantly hated by Western imperialist countries (and by their client states, like Japan and South Korea), while it is loved by the Africans), most Asians and Latin Americans, as well as Russians.

Tell an African what is being said to the Europeans – about the negative or even “neo-imperialist”, influence of China on the African continent – and he or she will die laughing.

Just before submitting this essay, I received a comment from Kenya, from my comrade Booker Ngesa Omole, National Organizing Secretary, SDP-Kenya (Socialist):

The relationship of China and Kenya particularly and Africa generally has not only led to tremendous development both in infrastructure but also a genuine cultural exchange among the Chinese and African people, it has also made African people understand the Chinese people firsthand, away from the daily half-truths and lies generated against China and the Chinese people and transmitted en masse globally through the lie factories like CNN. It’s has also shown that there is a different way to relate to the so called development partners and the international capital, the Chinese have developed a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country as opposed to USA and Western Countries through IMF and World Bank who have imposed destructive policies on the continent that has led to the suffering and death of many African people, like that infamous Structural Adjustment Plan, that was a killer plan, after its implementation Kenyans unemployment skyrocketed, our country also became bankrupt .

Another comparison is the speed at which the projects are done, in the past we had a gruesome bureaucratic expensive process, which could take several years before any work could start on the ground. This has changed with the coming in of Chinese capital, we see the projects are being effected just in time, we see very high quality work contrary to what the western media want to portray that everything from China and Russia are fake before arrival.

*****

The Chinese system (Communism or socialism with Chinese characteristics), is in its essence truly internationalist.

As Chairman Mao Tse Tung wrote in his “Patriotism and Internationalism”:

Can a Communist, who is an internationalist, at the same time be a patriot? We hold that he not only can be but also must be… The victory of China and defeat of the invading imperialists will help the people of other countries…

Chairman Mao wrote this during the China’s liberation struggle against Japanese invaders. However, not much has really changed since then.

China is definitely willing and capable of putting much of the world devastated by Western imperialism, back onto its feet. It is big enough to do it, it is strong enough, it is determined and full of optimism.

The West produces, directly manufactures, crises and confrontations, like the one that took place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, or the one that never really managed to ‘take off’ (mainly due to the disgust of the majority of the local people with the selfish and pro-Western protesters) in Hong Kong, in 2014.

However, those Western implants and proxies are all that most Europeans and North Americans know about China (PRC): ‘Human Rights’, Falun Gong, Tibet, Dalai Lama, ‘Northwest of the Country’ (here, they don’t remember, or cannot pronounce the names, but they were told in the mainstream Western media that China is doing ‘something sinister’ there, so that’s what they are repeating), Tiananmen Square, Ai Wei-Wei and few other disconnected barks, ‘events’, and names.

This is how this colossus with thousands of years of history, culture and philosophy, is perceived, judged, and how it is (mis-) understood.

The entire situation would be laughable, if it were not so tragic, so thoroughly appalling and dangerous.

It is becoming clear who really hates China: it is not the “world”, and it is not those countries on all the continents that have been brutalized and enslaved by the Western imperialists. There, China is loved.

Those who hate China are the nations which are not ready to let go of their de facto colonies. The nations who are used to a good, too good and too easy life at the expense of others. To them, historically egalitarian and now for many decades socialist/Communist (with Chinese characteristics) China poses a truly great threat. Threat – not to their survival or peaceful existence, but threat to their looting and raping of the world.

China’s internationalist attitude towards the world, its egalitarianism and humanism, its emphasis on hard work and the tremendous optimism of its people, may soon, very soon, break the horrid inertia and the lethargy injected by Europe and the United States into the veins of all raped, plundered and humiliated nations.

China Has Already Suffered Enough!

In his ground-breaking book “China Is Communist, Damn It!” a prominent China expert, Jeff Brown (who is presently based in Shenzhen) writes about the dehumanizing treatment, which the Chinese people had been receiving from Westerners, for centuries:

…untold numbers in the 19th century… were pressganged and kidnapped, to be sent to the New World to work as coolie slaves.

The racism conducted on these Chinese coolies was instructive. On the ocean voyage from China to Vancouver, Canada, they were tightly packed and kept in dark, poorly ventilated holds for the three-week trip, so they would not have any contact with the Whites traveling aboveboard. No sunlight, no fresh air. The crew on the ships routinely talked about these Chinese allies in terms of “livestock” and they were handled and treated as such. Actually, they were treated worse than cattle, pigs, sheep and horses, as there are laws that require animals get so much open air and exercise per day, while in transit…

This kind of inhumane treatment of Chinese citizens is dispassionately captured in the diaries of a British officer, charged with overseeing them,

‘As children, we were taught that Cain and Coolies were murderers from the beginning; no Coolie was to be trusted; he was a yellow dog… The task of stowing away Coolies is a tiresome one. In orders, it is alluded to as “embarkation”. By those experienced in the job, it is known more as “packing”. The Coolies are not passengers capable of finding each his cabin. The Coolies are so much cargo, livestock, which has to be packed away. While experiences are ceaselessly pressing upon him, his attitude towards existence is the attitude of a domesticated animal.’

British 2nd Lieutenant Daryl Klein, from his memoir, “With the Chinks”, spoken like a true Western imperial racist. Of course, chinks is the worst slur word to be used against the Chinese. It’s the equivalent of yellow nigger. The term Coolie is not any better. It’s like calling someone from Latin America a wetback. At least Lt. Klein was honest in his total dehumanization of the Dreaded Other.

There are countless examples of discrimination against, and humiliation of, the Chinese people by the Western colonialists, on the territory of China. The Chinese were literally butchered and enslaved in their own territory, by the Westerners and the Japanese.

However, there were also despicable crimes committed against Chinese people on the territory of the United States, including lynching, and other types of killing.

Hard working, many Chinese men were brought as slave laborers to the United States and to Europe, where they were often treated worse than animals. For no other reason but for just being Chinese. No apologies or compensation were ever offered for such acts of barbarity; not even decades and centuries later. Until now, there is a silence surrounding the topic, although one has to wonder whether it is really simple ‘silence’ that grows from ignorance, or whether it is something much more sinister; perhaps defiance and conscious or subconscious refusal to condemn the fruits of Western culture, which are imperialism, racism and consequently – fascism.

Gwen Sharp, PhD, wrote on June 20, 2014 for Sociological Images in his essay ‘Old “Yellow-Peril” Anti-Chinese Propaganda’:

Chinese men were stereotyped as degenerate heroin addicts whose presence encouraged prostitution, gambling, and other immoral activities.  A number of cities on the West Coast experienced riots in which Whites attacked Asians and destroyed Chinese sections of town. Riots in Seattle in 1886 resulted in practically the entire Chinese population being rounded up and forcibly sent to San Francisco. Similar situations in other towns encouraged Chinese workers scattered throughout the West to relocate, leading to the growth of Chinatowns in a few larger cities on the West Coast.

Throughout history, China and its people have suffered at the hands of Westerners, both Europeans and North Americans alike.

According to several academic and other sources, including a publication “History And Headlines” (History: October 9, 1740: Chinezenmoord, The Batavia Massacre):

On October 9, 1740, Dutch colonial overlords on the Island of Java (now a main island in Indonesia) in the port city of Batavia (now Jakarta, capital of Indonesia) went on a mad killing spree of ethnic cleansing and murdered about 10,000 ethnic Chinese. The Dutch word, “Chinezenmoord,” literally means “Chinese Murder.

Anti-Chinese massacres were also repeatedly committed by the Spanish occupiers of the Philippines, and there were countless other cases of anti-Chinese ethnic cleansing and massacres committed by the European colonialist administrations, in various parts of the world.

The ransacking of Beijing’s Summer Palace by French and British forces was one of the most atrocious crimes committed by Westerners on the territory of China. An outraged French novelist, Victor Hugo, then wrote:

We call ourselves civilized and them barbarians. Here is what Civilization has done to Barbarity.

*****

The West cannot treat Chinese people this way, anymore, but if it could get away with it, it definitely still would.

The superiority complex in both Europe and North America is powerful and unapologetic. There is real great danger that if unchecked and unopposed, it may soon terminate all life on our Planet. The final holocaust would be accompanied by self-righteous speeches, unrestrained arrogance, gasping ignorance of the state of the world, and generally no regrets.

Chinese people cannot be beaten on the streets of Europe or North America, anymore; they cannot be, at least theoretically, insulted directly in the face just for being Chinese (although that is still happening).

But there are many different ways to hurt and deeply injure a human being or the country.

My close friend, a brilliant Chinese concert pianist, Yuan Sheng, once told me, right after he left a well-paid teaching position in New York, and moved permanently back to Beijing:

In the United States, I used to cry late into the night, almost every night… I felt so helpless. Things they were saying about my country… And it was impossible to convince them that they were totally wrong!

Several years later, at the “First World Cultural Forum” held in Beijing, an Egyptian-French fellow thinker Amin Said argued that we are all victims of capitalism. I strongly disagreed, and confronted him there, in Beijing, and later in Moscow where we spoke, again, side by side.

Western bigotry, brutality and imperialism are much older than capitalism. I believe that the things are precisely the opposite: Western violent culture is the core of the savage capitalism.

Recently, while addressing students and teachers at one of old alternative and officially progressive schools in Scandinavia, I finally understood the scope of the creeping anti-Chinese sentiments in Europe.

During my presentation about the global conflicts being fueled by the United States and Europe, the audience was silent and attentive. I spoke at a huge hall, addressing some 2 – 3 hundred people, most of them future educators.

There was some sort of standing ovation. Then questions. Then discussion over coffee. There, precisely then, things got very wrong.

A girl came and with an angelic smiled uttered: “Sorry, I know nothing about China…. But what about the Northwest of the country?”

The northwest of China is a few times bigger than Scandinavia. Could she be more specific? No, she couldn’t: “You know, the human rights… Minorities…”

An Italian girl approached me, saying she is studying philosophy. The same line of questions: “I don’t know much about China, but…” Then her questions got aggressive: “What do you mean when you talk about ‘China’s humanism?’”

She was not asking, she was attacking. I snapped at her: “You don’t want to listen, you simply want to hear yourself repeating what they brainwashed you with.”

One of the organizers of the conference hated my interaction with her spoiled, rude, self-centered and uneducated brats. I could not care less. I told her directly to her face.

“Then why did you accept the invitation to be a keynote speaker?” she asked. I answered, honestly: “To study the Europeans, anthropologically. To face your racism and ignorance.”

Next day, the same. I showed my shocking documentary film Rwanda Gambit about how the West created the totally false Rwanda narrative, and how it triggered real genocide, that in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But all that the audience wanted to discuss was China!

One said: “I saw a Chinese government company building two sports stadiums in Zambia. Isn’t it strange?”

Really? Strange? The Chinese health system is mainly based on prevention and it is successful. Building stadiums is a crime?

Another one recalled that in West Africa, “China was planting cashew nuts.” That was supposed to match centuries of horrors of Western colonialism, the mass murder and slavery of hundreds of millions of Africans at the hands of the Brits, French, Germans, Belgians and others.

At the airport, leaving back for Asia, I wanted to throw up and simultaneously, to shout from joy. I was going home, leaving this brainwashed continent – this intellectual bordello behind.

The West was beyond salvation. It will not stop or repent.

It can only be stopped, and it has to be stopped.

*****

Jeff Brown in his book China Is Communist, Damn It! pointed out one essential difference between the Chinese and Western mindset:

China and the West could not be more different. Western civilization is founded on Greek philosophy, culture, politics and economy. Ancient Greece was composed of hundreds of relatively small, independent city-states, which on a daily basis, were comparatively isolated from each other. They were separated by water or mountain ranges, ensconced in bays and valleys. Each city-state’s population could usually be counted in the thousands, not millions. There were a number of different dialects, with varying degrees of mutual comprehension, from familiar to total misunderstanding. Contact with each other was based on commerce and trade, grounding Western economy in the precepts of capitalism. The notion of personal agency in the West is founded in this economic system, where farmers, landowners, merchants and craftsmen were able to work and make business decisions individually, between themselves. Each city-state had its own independent government and over the centuries, there were phases of monarchy, oligarchy, tyranny and democracy. Local wars were frequent, to settle disagreements. These battles happened steadily, as ancient Greece’s agricultural production was not abundant, due to poor soils and limited tillable land. When food became scarce with droughts, agricultural trade could be interrupted, due to shortages, thus stoking the need for war, to reclaim the lost purchases of food.

Ancient and modern China could not be more radically different. Life, the economy and development all revolved around a large central government, headed by the emperor. Instead of being based on trade and commerce, China’s economy has always been founded on agricultural production and the harvests were and still are largely sold to the state. Why? Because the government is expected to maintain the Heavenly Mandate, which means making sure that all of the citizens have enough to eat. Therefore, farmers always knew that the grain they grew could very easily end up in another part of China, because of distant droughts. This whole idea of central planning extended to flood control. Communities in one area of China would be tasked to build dams or canals, not to help reduce flood risk for themselves, but for other citizens far away, downstream, all for the collective good.

The idea of independent city-states is anathema in China, as it always signaled a breakdown in the central power’s cohesion and governance, from border to border, leading to warlordism, strife and hunger.

Chinese socialist (or call it Communist) system has clearly roots in China’s ancient history.

It is based on sharing and cooperation, on solidarity and harmony.

It is a much more suitable system for humanity, than what the West spread by force to all corners of the world.

When the West succeeds in something, it feels that it has “won”. It drives the banner pole into the earth, gets some fermented drink to celebrate, and feels superior, unique.

China thinks differently: “if our neighbors are doing well and are at peace, then China will prosper too, and will enjoy peace. We can trade, we can visit each other, exchange ideas.”

In the ancient days Chinese ships used to visit Africa, what is now Somalia and Kenya. The ships were huge. In those days, Europe had nothing so enormous at its disposal. Chinese ships were armed against the pirates, but they mainly travelled with scribes, scholars, doctors and researchers.

When they reached the African shore, they made contacts with the locals. They studied each other, exchanged gifts (some Chinese pottery and ceramics are still being found near the island of Lamu).

There was not much common ground between those two cultures, at that time. The Chinese scribes recorded: “This is not yet right time for permanent contact”. They left gifts on the shore, and sailed home. Nobody died. Nobody was “converted”. No one was raped. African land still belonged to Africans. African people were free to do what they chose.

A century or two later, the Westerners arrived…

*****

I know China, but even better, I know the world in which China operates.

The more I see, the more I am impressed – I actually want China to be everywhere, and as soon as possible!

I have worked in all the tiny and large nations of Oceania (Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia), except in Niue and Nauru. There, the West divided this gorgeous and once proud part of the world, created bizarre borders, literally forced people to eat shit (dumping animal food in local stores), burdened them with foreign loans and introduced a culture of dependency and destruction (nuclear experiments, and military bases). Due to global warming, RMI, Kiribati and Tuwalu began “sinking” (in reality, the water is rising).

China came, with real internationalist determination. It began doing everything right – planting mangroves, building sport facilities for people in countries where over half of the population has to often live with diabetes. It constructed government buildings, hospitals, schools. The response of the West? They encouraged Taiwan to come, bribe the local governments and to make them recognize Taipei as the capital of an independent country, forcing China to break diplomatic relationships.

In Africa, I saw Chinese people building roads, railroads, even city trams, schools, hospitals, fighting malaria. This continent was only plundered by the West. Europeans and North Americans built nothing there. China did, and still does, miracles. Out of solidarity, out of internationalist principles so clearly defined decades ago by Chairman Mao.

And I don’t really care what the Western propagandists and ideologues think about the Chinese Communist Party, about Mao and about President Xi Jinping. I see results! I see China, huge, compassionate and confident, rising, and with its close allies like Russia, ready to defend the world.

China saved Cuba. The Western “left-wing” intellectuals said nothing about it. I did. I was attacked. Then, Fidel personally confirmed that I was correct.

China helped Venezuela and it helped Syria. Not for profit, but because it was its internationalist duty.

Saw China in action in East Timor, (Timor Leste), a tiny poor country that the West sacrificed, delivering it on a silver platter to the murderous Indonesian dictator Suharto and his military cronies. 30% of the people were brutally massacred. After independence, Australia began robbing the weak new government of the natural gas in a disputed area. China came in, built the energy sector and an excellent modern hospital (public), staffed with top Chinese surgeons (while Cuba sent field doctors).

Afghanistan? After 16 years of monstrous NATO occupation, this once proud and progressive (before the West manufactured terrorist movements there, to fight socialism) country is one of the poorest on Earth. The West built walls, barbed wire fences, military bases and total misery. China? China built a huge modern hospital wing, actually the only decent and functioning public medical facility in the country.

These are just some of many examples that I have been witnessing during my work, all over the world.

When I lived in Africa (I was based in Nairobi for several years), across the floor was a flat housing four Chinese engineers.

While the Westerners in Africa are almost always secretive, snobbish and arrogant, this group of Chinese builders was loud, enthusiastic and always in a great mood. They power-walked downstairs, in the garden, they ate, joked together. They looked like a good old “socialist realism” poster. They were clearly on a mission. They were building, trying to save the continent. And it was so clear how confident they were.

They were building, and I was making documentary films about what the West did to Africa, including my above-mentioned Rwanda Gambit.

It was clear where I stood. It was clear where the Chinese engineers stood. We stood with the people of Africa. Firmly. No matter what the Western propaganda, academia and mass media keep inventing, that is where we stood, and that is where we are standing right now, although geographically far apart. Once comrades, always comrades. And if we fall, that is how we fall – with no regrets, building a much better world.

And the people of Africa, of Oceania, Latin America and increasingly of Asia, are beginning to realize, to understand.

They are learning what The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is. They are learning about “Ecological Civilization“. They are slowly learning that not everyone is the same; that each country has a different culture and goals. They are learning that not everything in life is a lie or for profit. Yes, of course, resources are not unlimited and expenses have to be sometimes covered, but there is much more to life than just cold calculations.

The West and its client states cannot understand this. Or they can, but do not want to. As a moral entity, they are finished. They can only fight for their own interests, as their workers in Paris are only fighting for their own benefits; definitely not for the world.

The West tries to smear everything that is pure and it repeats that “everyone in this world is essentially the same” (a thief).

Their (mainly Western, but also South Korean, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Japanese) academia is deeply involved. It has already infiltrated the entire world, particularly Asia, including China itself. It teaches young Chinese people that their country is actually not what they think it is! At some point, Chinese students were travelling to the West, in order to study… about China!

North American and European universities are spreading funding and trying to manipulate the best Chinese minds.

In other parts of Asia, again through funding and scholarships, the local academics “get matched” with the anti-Communist and pro-Western counterparts that operate at the universities inside the PRC.

This problem has been, fortunately, identified in the PRC, and the shameless attacks against the Chinese education system are being dealt with.

Mass media and bookstores are not far behind. Anti-Chinese propaganda is everywhere. Anti-Communist propaganda is everywhere.

Yet, China is rising. It is rising despite racism, the lies, and fake news.

Socialist, internationalist China is slowly but confidently marching forward, without confronting anyone, without making too much noise about the unfair, aggressive treatment it receives in the West and from countries like Japan.

It appears that its leadership has nerves of steel. Or perhaps those long thousands of years of great culture are simply allowed to speak for themselves.

When a great Dragon flies, you can bark, shout insults, even shoot at it. It is too big, too ancient, too wise and determined: it will not stop, turn back or fall from the sky. And when the people on Earth have enough time to observe it in its full glory and in full flight, they may, just finally may understand that the creature is not only mighty, but also tremendously beautiful and kind.

*****

• Originally published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Semper Fidelis or Das Kapital Uber Alles: From Eisenhower to Trump!

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

— Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1935)

I don’t think so. I think that the – the hook for many of our supporters was the idea that this was an unusual messenger for an important environmental message. You know, people who support environmental issues are constantly trying to find a way to preach beyond the choir, to reach beyond their base of people who are already on board, and I think one of the things that’s very appealing about the film, but primarily Jerry as a messenger, is that you don’t expect this message to come from a career military person.

And through Jerry, you’re – we’ve been able to reach this audience of military folks who maybe wouldn’t be attuned to the environmental message about the effects of toxins on health and things like that. So I think there was a real appeal to many of those organizations from that perspective.

— Rachel Libert, co-producer of filmSemper Fi

I’m thinking harder and harder about the Continuing Criminal Enterprise that is the Corporate State. Thinking hard about the buffoonery, really, “regular” citizens, and members of the armed services, taking hook-line-and-sinker the foundational belief that it’s we the people, by the people, for the people, because of the people.

How wrong my old man was, 32 years combined Air Force and Army, believing he was upholding some decency, some safety nets for all, old folks homes, jobs for college grads and those without any training. Turning in his grave, absolutely, if he could now witness the evisceration of our post office, libraries, public schools, health care, roads and infrastructure. He fought for government oversight, EPA, FDA, and the rights of nature over the thuggery of madmen and Mafiosi and financial philanderers. He witnessed the abuse and fraud of the US Military Lobbying Corporate Ripoff complex, up close and personal. When he was in Korea, he had the utmost respect for Koreans, on both sides of the line. When he was in Vietnam, he had the utmost respect for the Vietnamese. He taught me the words of General Smedley Butler when I was 12. Now how fucked up is that, man. Living half a century on that graveyard of lies, propaganda and insufferable patriotism.

Daily, that American exceptionalist clarion call is pummeled and delegitimized by purveyors of Capitalism – rapacious, arbitrary, steeped in usury, couched in profits over all, cemented by the few elites and their soldiers – Little Eichmann’s – to define all human and non-human life as anything for the taking, consequences be damned. It’s a bought and sold and resell system, United States. Many times, it’s a rip-off after rip-off system of penalties and penury.

Think of Capitalism as, in spite of the people, against the people, forever exploiting the masses. Daily, I have seen this played out as a kid living on military bases around the world; or in just one of a hundred examples, as a student at the University of Arizona watching white purveyors of capital squash the sacred mountain, Mount Graham, in the name of telescopes and tens of thousands of profits per hour for anyone wanting to peer through the scopes. Sticking to the Sonora, I saw the developers in Tucson and then in Kino Bay, Guaymas, all there to push ecosystems toward extinction and to hobble the people – of, for, by, because – with centuries of collective debt and decades of individual fines, levies, taxes, penalties, tolls, externalities. This has been a Greek tragedy of monumental proportions, my 61 years of hard living, shaped by Marxist ideology and informed with communitarian reality.

Name a system or an issue, and then I quickly and easily jump to the cause and effect of the problem, and searching for intended and unintended consequences, and then comprehending shifting baselines, and then inevitably, realizing the tragedy of the commons tied to anything enshrined in consumer capitalism, and then, finally, acceding to the full context of how exponential growth and the limits of growth all come pounding like an aneurysm into my brain.

Call it death by a thousand rules, death by a thousand loopholes, death by a thousand fine print clauses, death by a thousand new chemicals polluting land, soil, air, water, flesh. Death by another thousand PT Barnum adages from dozens of financial-extracting arenas — “a sucker is born every minute,” all tributes to this casino-vulture-predatory capitalism which is insanity as we go to war for, because, despite it all.

Teacher-journalist-social worker-activist-unionist: Who the hell said I had any place in this society of “money takes/speaks/controls/shapes all,” or the Holly-dirt celebrity that is Weinstein or Rosanne Barr, the lot of them, and the unending perversion of big business-big media-big energy-big finance-big pharma-big arms manufacturing-big war as the new coded and DNA-embedded value system, the existential crisis (hog) of culture, civil society, the commons, community, and nature?

The men and women I work with now, after a cavalcade of careers under my belt, are wounded soldiers, sometimes wounded warriors, and many times wounded children – both the inner child and the literal children of soldiers. We’ve had one-day-old babies and 83-year-old veterans in this shelter. Every type of service, every type of discharge, every kind of military history. Some were never deployed overseas, some were but in support capacities, and others saw combat.

That is the microcosm of society reflected in this homeless shelter. I’ve written about it here and here and here. The prevailing winds of one or two strikes, then one or two bad debts, then one or two evictions, or one or two convictions, and, one or two co-occurring maladies, or one or two levels of trauma, and you are almost out; and mix that up with failed relationships, and capitalism and militarism, joined at the hip like a six-legged frog, and we have homelessness. Living in garages, in mini-vans, on couches, in tents, on floors, in wooden boxes, in abandoned buildings, in cemeteries, in cars.

For veterans, there is some level of dysfunctional help through the VA, the medical and dental system, the psych wards, and with housing vouchers and some debt relief. Thank a veteran for his or her service to the country, well, that’s a sloppy invocation of superficial respect.

The crumbs of the octopus that is capitalism wedded to war trickle down to some sectors of society – those who were diagnosed before 18 with some developmental-psychological-intellectual disability and veterans who served. I am talking about vets who didn’t go full-bore and retire after 20-plus years. These vets sometimes ended up in for four or five years, some a few months, and as is the case, here, the hierarchy of character and demographics kicks in, as veterans deployed to war and those who were wounded in war get a higher level of “benefits” than, say, someone who was in a few months or a year with no splashy combat rejoinder to his or her record.

We have vets in continuous, long bureaucratic lines working on their service connected disability claims, and, it’s sometimes a huge Sisyphus game of producing medical record after medical record going up against the hydra of the US government, Arms Service Committee pols, and the western medical system that was bound for failure after the striped barber pole days ended. The military does not help, denying injuries on the job, in combat or otherwise.

Tinnitus or loss of hearing, well, that’s usually a given after even a few months of service in the military. Knees, hips, feet, back problems. Anxiety, depression, skin issues. Kidney, teeth, TBI issues. PTSD and MST (military sexual trauma). The list is a ten-volume encyclopedia.

What I’ve found is most guys and gals are not wired for the obscene confusion, machismo and endless stupidity of repetition and humiliation of barking dehumanizing orders and tasks coming out of service to our country – all branches of the military make the Sanford Prison Experiment look like a walk in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

A Documentary About Cover-up, Collective Guilt, Toxins in the Water, Death

The precipitating factor behind a review of a 2011 documentary, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, directed and produced by Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon, is I am working with a former Marine client as his social worker. In a homeless shelter for veterans; that moniker – social worker — is a deep one, a cover-all assignment, with wide ranging responsibilities, some anticipated and others surprisingly serendipitous.

His case, age 63, former Marine, in at age 17 with parents’ permission, is complicated – as if the other cases are not. A lot of these cases involve young men and women, virtually boys and girls, getting out of Dodge. Some with a sense of patriotism, for sure, and a few with aspirations of turning the military into a career. But make no bones about it, these people many times got caught up in the rah-rah patriotism of the day, Apple Pie, Mom, Hot Dogs and Football. Some were in it for the macho badge, and others wanted to learn avionics, electronics, logistics and nursing, etc. Many were discharged because of physical injuries or some sort of mental strain, or many were rifted for the unjust downright downsizing.

I’ll call my man Larry, and he grew up on the Oregon Coast, ending up hitching up with the Marine Corps because he wanted out of bubble of the small town and wanted in with a band of brothers.

Today, he is still tall, but a bit hunched over. His face is frozen in a heavy screen of sadness and fear. Both hands he is attempting to calm, but Parkinsonian tremors have taken over; he can’t hold a tray of food and drink, and he has no signature left. He has bruises on his arms and shines from falling over, tripping. He repeats himself, and knows it, telling me his words are coming out slurred.

He spent two years in prison for what amounts to minor (in my mind) medical fraud with his company. Those two years, he tells me, were nirvana. “The prison guards told me they had never anyone say they were glad to be in prison. I told them this was the calmest and most level I had ever been, or for at least years.”

His life was one of overwork, overreach, clients all over the Pacific Northwest, gambling addiction, big money from his business, lot of toys and big home, and children who ended up spoiled and broken as adults. Larry’s juggling a hoarder wife whose mother is dying, a heroin-addicted daughter with a child, another daughter in an abusive relationship, and countless appointments now to the VA, psychologists, counselors, OT and PT professionals, and support groups.

Today, he is quickly slipping into miasma of Parkinson’s, with all the symptoms and negative cycles of someone with Parkinson’s hitting him daily. He barely got a diagnosis, as early on-set, a few months ago; in fact, he’s been living with the Parkinsonian-triggered suite of maladies for up to 12 years, he tells me. “I remember my clients telling me I was repeating myself. I really think the stupid decision to defraud the state for a few hundred dollars was triggered by Parkinson’s.”

He and I have talked to support groups, looked at the literature around Parkinson’s, watched TED Talk’s focusing on the disease, gone to Michael J. Fox’s web site, and just honed in on what his life will be like in a year, two years, and five.

Right now, his Parkinson’s is one of nine major maladies tied to service connected disabilities the VA is now processing. This ties into the movie – Semper Fi – because my client was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as part of the Marine Corps where learning the art of war was also combined with the silent spring of water contamination that eventually resulted in diseases that both affected the veterans but also their families, and civilians who used the water, as well as their offspring.

This is a three decades long exposure, 1957 – 1987, with an estimated 750,000 to 1,000,000 people who may been exposed to the cancer- and neurological disorder-causing chemicals. They consumed and bathed in tap water contaminated with “extremely high concentrations of toxic chemicals.”

The documentary follows three main protagonists fighting for their lives, the legacy of loved ones who were affected, and for the truth.

This is Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and according to the epidemiologists and scientists from the National Academy of Sciences, it is one of largest water contamination incidents in US history. We learn in the film the main carcinogens the people were exposed to — benzene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE), three known human carcinogens, in addition to perchloroethylene (PCE), a probable carcinogen.

The list of physical damage caused by exposure is long — Birth Defects, Leukemia, Neurological Damage, Bladder Cancer, Liver Damage, Ovarian Cancer, Breast Cancer, Lymphoma, Prostate Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Lung Cancer, Scleroderma, Kidney Damage, Miscarriage, Skin Disorders.

My guy Larry is afraid of watching the documentary, as he is now in a spiraling malaise and deep anxiety tied to the reality of what life with Parkinson’s is, and that maybe many of his life decisions, from infidelity in a marriage to spontaneous behavior like gambling addiction may have stemmed from the stripping of his neurological web by these solvents and fuels that were leaking into the water supply, a contamination known by the United States’ Marines.

Knowledge is power but it can be a leveling power, one that forces people to look at the totality of their lives as may be based on a stack of lies and false ideologies. The movie reveals to the audience that this is one of 130 military sites in the USA with contamination issues. Alas, as I’ve written about before, the US military is the largest polluter in the world, and other militaries have the same standards or lack thereof for storing fuel, solvents, cleaners and other chemicals utilized in the war machine of the West.

Three Lives Following the Chemical Trail, Lies and Deceit

The documentary looks at three lives intensely – a 24-year veteran of the Marines whose 9-year-old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, a man who was born on the base and raised there and then developed male breast cancer, and a female Marine who served years at the Camp and who throughout the film is going through chemo to fight her rare disease.

We see the gravestones at the military cemetery at Camp Lejeune and remarkable typographic evidence of strange deaths – babies buried after a day living, stillborn babies buried, families with two or three deceased individuals, the offspring of serving Marines buried in plots surrounded by others who prematurely died.

Jerry Ensminger, the former drill sergeant, pushes hard to attempt to understand how the Marines could have lied and covered up the years of contamination. He fights to understand how the chemical producers through their lobbyists could hold sway over the common sense duty of protecting the citizens of the United States who swore an oath to defend the US Constitution. In the end, Jerry Ensminger (Janey’s dad), Michael Partain (male breast cancer survivor), and Danita McCall (former Marine enlisted soldier) make for compelling film making, since the project went on for four years.

Here, Rachel, the co-producer, talks about Danita:

The woman who shook her head is a woman named Danita, who we also followed in the film. When we met Danita, she was actually healthy, but shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer that honestly had metastasized so much in her body that I don’t think they could even say what the organ of – you know, what organ it started in. And we began to – in addition to following Jerry and Tom and the others, we also followed Danita as she fought to stay alive, as well as fought to get this issue out.

She did not make it in the time that we were making the film. And neither my co-director or I had ever experienced that in a project we’d worked on, and it was really hard. But Danita felt very strongly that her story should be in the film, and she – even though there were times where she was not feeling so great when we were trying to film her, because she had chemo treatment and whatnot, she really rallied through.

The ultimate sacrifice fighting for your life because of chemical-toxin induced cancers are eating at your very soul while also going up against the PR and hellish propaganda systems that define America, define the powerful, the political, the lobbies, the Captains of Industry, in this case, the chemical purveyors who have been given carte blanc the right to kill entire neighborhoods and classes of people and non-people species because Capitalism is predicated on unfettered rights of any snake oil salesman or demon shyster to bilk, bust, and bill for all the disease they perpetrate. Is anyone with a sound mind going to believe that Agent Orange and PCBs were not already deemed harmful to human life before they were even sprayed on the innocents of Vietnam? Does anyone believe the polluted, lead-flecked water of Flint doesn’t kill brain cells? Off-gassing, Volitile Organic Compounds, plastics, solvents, flame retardants, pesticides, fungicides, diesel fumes, nitrous oxide, fluoride, well, the list goes on and on, and those demons will hide, obfuscate, and downright lie to keep the pennies from Capitalism’s Heaven falling into their fat, off-shore, tax-free bank accounts.

Here, Jerry, talking to C-SPAN:

When any family ever have a child, especially a child, that’s diagnosed with a long-term catastrophic illness, without exception — because I’ve talked to so many other families, when Janey was sic– the first thing after you have a chance to sit down after the shock of the diagnosis wears off is that nagging question: Why? Well, I was no exception.
And I looked into her mother’s family history, my family history, no other child had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

We are talking about over one thousand Freedom of Information requests to have Navy, Marines and other government agency files open for public viewing. The concept of we the people, by the people, for the people – public health, safety, welfare – has never really been a reality, but a myth. For filmmaker Rachel Libert, she too has been caught with wide open eyes around how rotten the systems in place are for supposedly cross-checking and protecting people’s lives:

It’s been eye-opening for me. I think the thing that was probably the most eye-opening – I don’t consider myself a naive person, but I – I actually believed that our regulatory agencies were doing their job and protecting us, bottom line, that things that were really, really harmful and known to be carcinogens wouldn’t really be in our environment, in our water and things. And in making this film, I realized that that system is very flawed and that we aren’t as protected, and that was a very difficult thing for me to accept.

I mean, I certainly didn’t go into it thinking, oh, the government’s perfect and there are no problems, but that was a big revelation.

Again, the film is a microcosm of the world I live in, the world I work in, and the world of a Marxist struggling to make sense of the psychology of power and the impact of that power on the common people. Yes, schooling has helped with the American mythology of greatness. Yes, the Madison Avenue shills have aided and abetted the stupidity of a collective. Yes, the genocidal roots of this country’s illegal origin continue to splay the DNA of Americans. Yes, the food is bad, the air contaminated, the medicines polluted and the human spirit malformed in the collective American household. Yes, those in power are perversions, open felons, war mongers and money grubbers.

But, when you see over the course of four years – these main “actors” in the documentary are not paid – the Don Quixotes flailing at windmills, just replace Camp Lejeune with Love Canal or Monfort slaughter house, or fence-line communities around Houston or the flaming waters of the Cuyahoga River. Just spend a few years studying the largest Superfund site, Hanford in southern Washington. Just spend time looking at the research on Glyphosate (Monsanto’s DNA-killing Round-up). Just delve into the research on EMFs and cancers, or cell phones and brain lesions. Again, this so-called exceptionalist country is a purveyor of lies, purveyor of mentally deranged uber patriotism, and without exception, eventually, anyone going up against the system will quickly hold to him or her self the belief we all have been snookered by the Titans of Industry and the Wolves of Wall Street.

Here, the good Marine, 24 years in, Semper Fi, now a farmer in North Carolina, wondering just what he was fighting for:

Well . . . one thing that they’ve done over the years is that they have obfuscated the facts so much, they have told so many half-truths and total lies, they’ve omitted a lot of information to the media, and now if they were to sit down with me face-to-face, I could show them with their own documents and counter what they’ve been saying, and they don’t want to do that.

I mean, I have been very, very cautious throughout this entire fight to speak truth. I’ve told Mike Partain, when he got involved in it, and everybody else that gets involved in this situation, don’t ever speculate. If you’re talking to the media, if you’re talking to Congress, never speculate. If you don’t have a document out of their own files to back up what you’re saying, keep your mouth shut.

And going back to Mike Partain, when Mike got involved in this back in 2007, Tom was starting to fall out of the hike. Tom’s in his 80s. And Mike was a godsend. I mean, Mike has a degree in history. And he has also got investigative skills, because he is an insurance adjuster. He couldn’t – he couldn’t pay to raise his family on high school teacher’s pay, history teacher’s pay, so he went and got a job as an investigator.

Admirable, the story telling and truth Sather qualities in this film, for sure. The audience gets up close and personal with Jerry and Mike and Danita, and the directors let the soldiers tell the story. We get the cold hard stare down of the military brass. Indeed, for the uninitiated this story is compelling.

But also on the outer edges of this piece are the obscenities of blind obedience to command. There are some ugly truths to being a Marine, of following orders, of sadomasochistic drill sergeants, the culture of rape, the outright racism, and all the attendant issues tied to military service.

This is the fiftieth year after the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. The two or three soldiers who stood down some of the killers and reported the crime were vilified. That bastion of war, Colin Powell, was a junior officer whose job was to hunt down any incriminating evidence against the soldiers who reported the murders. Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer for his reporting on My Lai. Yet, Colin Powell rose to power, ending up in another war criminal’s administration – Bush Junior. To think of all the illegal wars these soldiers have prepped for and gone to, one wonders if any soldier can believe anything around their sometimes teary-eyed salute the flag patriotism.

The USS Liberty, 51 years ago, and Israel murders 34 sailors, and wounds 171, yet deniability, no repercussions, and here we are, US DoD and US Military are the beckon call of Israel firsters running our government, and the blind allegiance to the apartheid and genocidal state 70 years after forced trail of tears for Palestine, and all those deniers now in positions of Fortune 500 power, and who decide the fate of the plebes, the foot soldiers of industry and military services.

Conversing with my veterans, so many are confused about aliens and Area 54 and reverse engineering from that Roswell kid from space; somehow a Trump is more palatable than an Obama than a Bush. How many times have I been spat upon and cursed when I fought against illegal wars, overt or proxy, in South America, Central America, the Middle East? How many times have I been yelled at for fighting against chemical plants or fighting for clean air, water, soil? How many times have I been called a Pinko Fag for fighting for spotted owls or gray wolves?

As an avowed revolutionary, Marxist, one who has been hobbled by the middling mush that is America, from acidified sea to oil slick sea, I can only say that George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain, respectively, say it correctly about this thing called “patriotism”:

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

— George Bernard Shaw

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

— Mark Twain

I’ve got a more horrific story to tell about Larry, my former Marine. Yes, he might get some more service connected disability money coming in for the toxic water exposure he attained in North Carolina while on the Marine Corps base for a few years.

He is now stagnant, fearful of uncontrollable tremors, fearful of not getting words out, fearful of falls, fearful of a life now full of attendants, and as we all are, fearful of ending up destitute (he is in a homeless shelter, readers), and alas, his one asset — his brain — is now fogged and riddled with the bullet holes of anxiety and paranoia.

Yet, his toxic waters story pales in comparison to what happened to him as a 17-year-old at boot camp in Dan Diego. A story so bizarre and troubling, that it’s one the military has dealt with since time immemorial, when the first militaries came about under those pressed into service rules of the rich needing bodies to fight their unholy skirmishes, battles and world wars.

That story and series of human penalties Larry encompasses will come soon, but for now, imagine, a country run by the likes of Obama, Bush, Clinton, Trump, et al. Imagine those swollen jowls and paunchy millionaire politicians. Imagine their lies, their sociopathic inbreeding. Imagine the tortures they foment at night. Imagine these people sending people to war, and imagine the entire lie that is America, the land of the free.

Hell, in my own neck of the woods, Portland, again, we are a third world country when it comes to we, for, by and because the people:

In one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the fight for clean water is taxing. From Salem, Oregon to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and from Flint, Michigan to the L’eau Est La Vie Camp in Louisiana, Americans are finding their access to clean water threatened.

Emma Fiala

The Significance of Karl Marx

I often have occasion to think that, as an “intellectual,” I’m very lucky to be alive at this time in history, at the end of the long evolution from Herodotus and the pre-Socratic philosophers to Chomsky and modern science. One reason for my gratitude is simply that, as I wrote long ago in a moment of youthful idealism, “the past is a kaleidoscope of cultural achievements, or rather a cornucopian buffet whose fruits I can sample—a kiwi here, a mango there—a few papayas—and then choose which are my favorite delicacies—which are healthiest, which savory and sweet—and invent my own diet tailored to my needs. History can be appropriated by each person as he chooses,” I gushed, “selectively employed in the service of his self-creation. The individual can be more complete than ever in the past!” But while this Goethean ideal of enlightened self-cultivation is important, perhaps an even greater advantage of living so late in history is that, if one has an open and critical mind, it is possible to have a far more sophisticated and correct understanding of the world than before. Intellectual history is littered with egregious errors, myths and lies that have beguiled billions of minds. Two centuries after the Enlightenment, however, the spirit of rationalism and science has achieved so many victories that countless millions have been freed from the ignorance and superstition of the past.

Few thinkers deserve more credit for the liberation of the human mind than Karl Marx. Aside from the heroes of the Scientific Revolution—Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, a few others—and their philosophical ‘translators’—Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Diderot, David Hume—hardly any come close. But not only did Marx contribute to our intellectual liberation; he also, of course, made immense contributions to the struggle for liberation from oppressive power-structures (a struggle that, indeed, is a key component of the effort to free our minds). These two major achievements amply justify the outpouring of articles on the bicentennial of his birth, and in fact, I think, call for yet another one, to consider in more depth both his significance and his shortcomings.

My focus in this article is going to be on his ideas, not on his life or his activism. He was certainly an inspiration in the latter respect, but it is his writings that are timeless. The fanatical and violent hatred they’ve always elicited from the enemies of human progress, the spokesmen of a power-loving, money-worshipping misanthropy, is the most eloquent proof of their value.

*****

The central reason for Marx’s importance and fame is, of course, that he gave us the most sophisticated elaboration of the most fundamental concept in social analysis: class.

He was far from the only thinker to emphasize class. One might even say that the primary of class verges on common sense (despite what postmodernists think—on whom, see below). In his Politics, Aristotle already interpreted society according to the divergent interests of the poor and the rich. The semi-conservative James Madison, like other Enlightenment figures, agreed, as is clear from his famous Federalist No. 10:

[T]he most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes actuated by different sentiments and views.

Could anything be more obvious than this proto-historical materialism?

But Marx was unique in systematically expounding this materialism and grounding it in rigorous analysis of production relations—the concept of which he practically invented, or at least self-consciously elevated to a determining status and analyzed with exhaustive thoroughness. As everyone passingly familiar with Marxism knows, such notions as exploitation, surplus, surplus-value, and class struggle acquired a quasi-scientific—which is to say exact and precisely explanatory—character in the context of Marx’s investigation of production relations, in particular those of capitalism.

Given that historical materialism is often ridiculed and rejected, it isn’t out of place here to give a simplified account of its basic premises, an account that shows how uncontroversial these premises ought to be. This is especially desirable in a time when even self-styled Marxists feel compelled, due to the cultural sway held by feminism and identity politics, to deny that class has priority over other variables such as gender, sexuality, and race.

The explanatory (and therefore strategic, for revolutionaries) primacy of class can be established on simple a priori grounds, quite apart from empirical sociological or historical analysis. One has only to reflect that access to resources—money, capital, technology—is of unique importance to life, being key to survival, to a high quality of life, to political power, to social and cultural influence; and access to (or control over) resources is determined ultimately by class position, one’s position in the social relations of production. The owner of the means of production, i.e., the capitalist, has control over more resources than the person who owns only his labor-power, which means he is better able to influence the political process (for example by bribing politicians) and to propagate ideas and values that legitimate his dominant position and justify the subordination of others. These two broad categories of owners and workers have opposing interests, most obviously in the inverse relation between wages and profits. This antagonism of interests is the “class struggle,” a struggle that need not always be explicit or conscious but is constantly present on an implicit level, indeed is constitutive of the relationship between capitalist and worker. The class struggle—that is, the structure and functioning of economic institutions—can be called the foundation of society, the dynamic around which society tends to revolve, because, again, it is through class that institutions and actors acquire the means to influence social life.

These simple, commonsense reflections suffice to establish the meaning and validity of Marx’s infamous, “simplistic,” “reductionist” contrast between the economic “base” and the political, cultural, and ideological “superstructure.” Maybe his language here was misleading and metaphorical. He was only sketching his historical materialism in a short preface, the Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, and could hardly have foreseen that generations of academic sophists would later pore over his words, pick at them, cavil at them, fling casuistries at each other until a vast scholarly literature had been produced debating Marxian “economic determinism.” As if the relative primacy of economic institutions—which is to say relations of production, class structures—that are, by definition, directly involved in the accumulation and distribution of material resources and thus power, isn’t anything but a truism, and can be seen as such on the basis of such elementary reasoning as in the preceding paragraph.

The Communist Manifesto’s epoch-making claim, therefore, that the history of all complex societies has been the history of class struggle is not ridiculous or oversimplifying, contrary to what has been claimed a thousand times in scholarship and the popular press; it is, broadly speaking, accurate, if “class struggle” is understood to mean not only explicit conflict between classes (and class-subgroups; see the above quotation from Madison) but also the implicit antagonism of interests between classes, which constitutes the structure of economic institutions. Particular class structures/dynamics, together with the level of development of productive forces they determine and are expressed through, provide the basic institutional context around which a given politics and culture are fleshed out.1

Thus, to argue, as feminists, queer theorists, and confused Marxists like Peter Frase are wont to, that class is of no special significance compared to group identities like gender and race is quite mistaken. Neither feminism nor anti-racist activism targets such institutional structures as the relation between capitalist and worker; or, to the extent that these movements do, they become class-oriented and lose their character as strictly feminist or anti-racist. If you want a society of economic democracy, in which economic exploitation, “income inequality,” mass poverty, imperialism, militarism, ecological destruction, and privatization of resources are done away with, the goal of your activism has to be to abolish capitalist institutions—the omnipotence of the profit motive, the dictatorial control of capitalist over worker—and not simply misogyny or vicious treatment of minorities. These issues are important, but only anti-capitalism is properly revolutionary, involving a total transformation of society (because a transformation of the very structures of institutions, not merely who is allowed into the privileged positions).

Moreover, as plenty of feminists and Black Lives Matter activists well know, you can’t possibly achieve the maximal goals that identity politics pursues while remaining in a capitalist society. Most or all of the oppression that minorities experience is precisely a result of capitalism’s perverse incentives, and of the concentration of power in a tiny greedy elite. This ties into the fact that, since the time of Marx and Engels, a colossal amount of empirical scholarship has shown the power of the Marxian analytical framework. (I summarize some of the scholarship here.) Even ideologies of race, nation, and gender are largely a product of class—of slavery and its aftermath in the U.S., of European imperialism, of attempts by the Victorian upper class to control working-class women’s lives and sexuality.

In the case of religious fundamentalism in the U.S., for example, historians have shown that since early in the twentieth century, and especially since the 1970s, conservative sectors of the business community have subsidized right-wing evangelical Christianity in order to beat back unionism and liberalism, which have been tarred and feathered as communist, socialist, godless, etc. More generally, for centuries the ruling class has propagated divisive ideas of race, religion, nationality, and gender in order, partly, to fragment the working class and so control it more easily and effectively. By now, leftists see such arguments, rightly, as truisms.

On the other hand, most intellectuals, including many academically trained leftists, also see Marxian “economistic” arguments as overly simplifying and reductivist. Mainstream intellectuals in particular consider it a sign of unsophistication that Marxism tends to abstract from complicating factors and isolate the class variable. “Reality is complicated!” they shout in unison. “You also have to take into account the play of cultural discourses, the diversity of subjective identities, etc. Class isn’t everything!” Somehow it is considered an intellectual vice, and not a virtue, to simplify for the sake of understanding. It’s true, after all, that the world is complex; and so in order to understand it one has to simplify it a bit, explain it in terms of general principles. As in the natural sciences, a single principle can never explain everything; but, if it is the right one, it can explain a great deal.

Noam Chomsky, with characteristic eloquence, defended this point in an interview in 1990. I might as well quote him at length. Since he is in essence just an idiosyncratic and anarchistic Marxist—in fact one of the most consistent Marxists of all, despite his rejection of the label—his arguments are exactly those to which every thoughtful materialist is committed.

Question: But you’re often accused of being too black-and-white in your analysis, of dividing the world into evil élites and subjugated or mystified masses. Does your approach ever get in the way of basic accuracy?

Answer: I do approach these questions a bit differently than historical scholarship generally does. But that’s because humanistic scholarship tends to be irrational. I approach these questions pretty much as I would approach my scientific work. In that work—in any kind of rational inquiry—what you try to do is identify major factors, understand them, and see what you can explain in terms of them. Then you always find a periphery of unexplained phenomena, and you introduce minor factors and try to account for those phenomena. What you’re always searching for is the guiding principles: the major effects, the dominant structures. In order to do that, you set aside a lot of tenth-order effects. Now, that’s not the method of humanistic scholarship, which tends in a different direction. Humanistic scholarship—I’m caricaturing a bit for simplicity—says every fact is precious; you put it alongside every other fact. That’s a sure way to guarantee you’ll never understand anything. If you tried to do that in the sciences, you wouldn’t even reach the level of Babylonian astronomy.

I don’t think the [social] field of inquiry is fundamentally different in this respect. Take what we were talking about before: institutional facts. Those are major factors. There are also minor factors, like individual differences, microbureaucratic interactions, or what the President’s wife told him at breakfast. These are all tenth-order effects. I don’t pay much attention to them, because I think they all operate within a fairly narrow range which is predictable by the major factors. I think you can isolate those major factors. You can document them quite well; you can illustrate them in historical practice; you can verify them. If you read the documentary record critically, you can find them very prominently displayed, and you can find that other things follow from them. There’s also a range of nuances and minor effects, and I think these two categories should be very sharply separated.

When you proceed in this fashion, it might give someone who’s not used to such an approach the sense of black-and-white, of drawing lines too clearly. It purposely does that. That’s what is involved when you try to identify major, dominant effects and put them in their proper place.

But instead of trying to systematically explain society by starting from a general principle and evaluating its utility, then proceeding to secondary factors like race or sex and using them to elucidate phenomena not explained by the dominant principle, the approach that tends to prevail in the humanities and social sciences is a sort of methodological relativism. In historical scholarship, for example, especially social history, you’re generally expected just to describe things from different perspectives. You should discuss gender, and race, and class, and various relevant “discourses,” and how people identified themselves, how they reacted to given developments, and perhaps issues of sexuality and the body, etc. Some knowledge may be gained, but often this work amounts to unanchored description seemingly for its own sake—description from an idealist perspective, not a materialist one. The anti-Marxian idealism is an essential quality of this mainstream writing, and is quite dominant in the humanities and social sciences.

*****

On the bicentennial of Marx’s birth, it’s intellectually shameful (though predictable) that idealism is still the primary tendency in scholarship and journalism. I’ve criticized bourgeois idealism elsewhere, for example here, here, and here, but it is worth discussing again because of how dominant it is, and how damaging.

What idealism means, of course, is an emphasis on ideas or consciousness over material factors, whether “social being”—economic conditions, institutional imperatives (the need to follow the rules of given social structures), interests as opposed to ideals or ideologies, and the necessities of biological survival—or, in the context of philosophical idealism such as that of Berkeley, Schopenhauer, and the logical positivists, the existence of mind-independent matter. Philosophical idealism, while no longer as respectable as it once was, persists in forms less honest and direct than that of Berkeley, especially in postmodernist circles and schools of thought influenced by the Continental tradition (e.g., phenomenology) and even American pragmatism. More important, though, is the type of idealism that disparages class and social being.

This idealism comes in different varieties. Its most common manifestation is the uncritical tendency to take seriously the rhetoric and self-interpretations of the powerful. As Marx understood and Chomsky likes to point out, humans are expert at deceiving themselves, at attributing noble motives to themselves when baser desires of power, money, recognition, institutional pressures, etc. are what really motivate them. The powerful in particular love to clothe themselves in the garb of moral grandeur. They insist that they’re invading a country in order to protect human rights or spread democracy and freedom; that they’re expanding prisons to keep communities safer, and deporting immigrants to keep the country safe; that by cutting social welfare programs they’re trying honestly to reduce the budget deficit, and by cutting taxes on the rich they only want to stimulate the economy. When journalists and intellectuals take seriously such threadbare, predictable rhetoric, they’re disregarding the lesson of Marxism that individuals aren’t even the main actors here in the first place; institutions are. The individuals can tell themselves whatever stories they want about their own behavior, but the primary causes of the design and implementation of political policies are institutional dynamics, power dynamics. Political and economic actors represent certain interests, and they act in accordance with those interests. That’s all.

The example I like to give of academics’ idealism is Odd Arne Westad’s celebrated book The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, which won the Bancroft Prize in 2006. Its thesis is that “the United States and the Soviet Union were driven to intervene in the Third World by the ideologies inherent in their politics. Locked in conflict over the very concept of European modernity…Washington and Moscow needed to change the world in order to prove the universal applicability of their ideologies…” It’s a remarkably unsophisticated argument, which is backed up by remarkably unsophisticated invocations of policymakers’ rhetoric. It rises to the level of farce. At one point, after quoting a State Department spokesman on George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq—“I believe in freedom as a right, a responsibility, a destiny… The United States stands for freedom, defends freedom, advances freedom, and enlarges the community of freedom because we think it is the right thing to do”—Westad states ingenuously that the Iraq invasion was a perfect example of how “freedom and security have been, and remain today, the driving forces of U.S. foreign policy.” As if gigantic government bureaucracies are moved to act out of pure altruism!

Related to this idealism is the self-justifying faith of liberal intellectuals that ideals truly matter in the rough-and-tumble of political and economic life. John Maynard Keynes gave a classic exposition of this faith in the last paragraph of his General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, which has stroked academic egos for generations:

…[T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. [?!] Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas… [S]oon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.

These are backward fantasies, which grow out of a poor sociological imagination. The point is that the ideas that come to be accepted as gospel are those useful to vested interests, which are the entities that have the resources to propagate them. (In the typically bourgeois language of impersonal ‘automaticity,’ Keynes refers to “the gradual encroachment of ideas.” But ideas don’t spread of themselves; they are propagated and subsidized by people and institutions whose interests they express. This is why “the ruling ideas of a society are the ideas of its ruling class,” which has the resources to spread them.)

Keynes’ famous book itself contributed not at all to the so-called Keynesian policies of FDR and Hitler and others; in fact, such policies were already being pursued by Baron Haussmann in France in the 1850s, because they were useful in giving employment to thousands of workers and raising aggregate demand and thereby economic growth. Is it likely that had Keynes not published his book in 1936, the U.S. government during and after World War II would have pursued radically different, un-Keynesian economic policies? Hardly. Because they were useful to vested interests, those policies were bound to be adopted—and economists, tools of the ruling class, were bound to systematize their theoretical rationalizations sooner or later.

But liberals continue to believe that if only they can convince politicians of their intellectual or moral errors, they can persuade them to change their policies. Paul Krugman’s columns in the New York Times provide amusing examples of this sort of pleading. It’s telling that he always ends his analysis right before getting to a realistic proposal: he scrupulously avoids saying that for his ideas to be enacted it’s necessary to revive unions on a systemic scale, or to organize radical and disruptive social movements to alter the skewed class structure. Such an analytic move would require that he step into the realm of Marxism, abandoning his liberal idealism, and would thus bar him from being published in the New York Times.

If I may be permitted to give another example of liberal idealism: I recall reading a few years ago Richard Goodwin’s popular book Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties (1988), a memoir of his time as speechwriter and adviser to John F. Kennedy. It’s a flabby centrist whitewashing of history, a nostalgic apotheosis of Kennedy and America and democracy, etc., not worth reading on its merits. However—to quote myself

The book is enlightening as a window into the mind of the Harvard liberal, revelatory of the sort of thoughts this person has, his worldview. Liberalism from the inside. A prettified ideology, bland but appealing, with the reference to spiritual truths, reason, ideals of harmony and peace, a rising tide lifting all boats, the fundamental compatibility of all interests in society (except for those we don’t like, of course), the nonexistence of class struggle, government’s ability to solve all social ills, history as a progressive battle between knowledge and ignorance, light and darkness, reason and unreason, open-mindedness and bigotry, and any other set of binary abstractions you can think of. The whole ideology hovers above reality in the heavenly mists of Hope and Progress. It’s all very pretty, hence its momentary resurgence—which quickly succumbed to disillusionment—with Barack Obama. And hence its ability to get through the filters of the class structure, to become an element in the hegemonic American discourse, floating above institutional realities like some imaginary golden idol one worships in lieu of common sense. It serves a very useful purpose for business, averting people’s eyes from the essential incompatibility of class interests toward the idea of Gradual Progress by means of tinkering at the margins, making nice policies.

Such is the function of liberal idealism for the ruling class.

One other type of idealism that must be mentioned is the postmodernist variety (or rather varieties). It’s ironic that postmodernist intellectuals, with their rejection of “meta-narratives” and the idea of objective truth, consider themselves hyper-sophisticated, because in fact they’re less sophisticated than even unreflective doctrinaire Marxists. They’re not so much post-Marxist as pre-Marxist, in that they haven’t assimilated the important intellectual lessons of the Marxist tradition.

In both its subjectivism and its focus on “discourses,” “texts,” “meanings,” “vocabularies,” “cultures,” and the like, postmodernism is idealistic—and relativistic. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, for example, tends to ignore class and particular economic and political contexts, instead concentrating on the opinions of reformers, philosophers, politicians, and scientists. (Far better—more illuminating—is Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer’s Marxist classic Punishment and Social Structure, published in 1939.) Later on things got even worse, as with Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler’s much-heralded collection Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (1997). I can’t go into depth here, so suffice it to say that this book, like so much of postmodernism, consists essentially of playing around with ideas of cultural “contestations” and the tensions involved in people’s “negotiations” of disparate identities. The analyses are so particularistic and so purely descriptive, focusing, say, on (the cultural dimensions of) some little village in Senegal or some protest movement in Ecuador, that no interesting conclusions can be drawn. Instead there is a fluctuation between hyper-particularity and hyper-abstractness, as in the typical—and utterly truistic—“arguments” that the colonized had agency, that colonized cultures weren’t totally passive, that “colonial regimes were neither monolithic nor omnipotent” (who has ever said they were?), that “meanings” of institutions “were continually being reshaped,” and so on. After all the “analysis,” one is left asking, “Okay, so what?” It’s all just masturbatory play undertaken for the sake of itself. No wonder this sort of writing has been allowed to become culturally dominant.

The postmodern focus on the body, too, is, ironically, idealistic. Subjectivistic. Which is to say it’s more politically safe than Marxism, since it doesn’t challenge objective structures of class (except insofar as such subjectivism, or identity politics, allies itself with a class focus). Any intellectual who finds himself being accepted by mainstream institutions, as hordes of Foucault-loving postmodernists and feminists have—contrary to the treatment of materialists like Gabriel Kolko, Thomas Ferguson, Jesse Lemisch, David Noble, Staughton Lynd, Rajani Kanth, Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, and many others—should immediately start to question whether his ideas get to the heart of the matter or do not, instead, distract from the workings of power.

Said differently, the problem with identity politics is that it doesn’t completely reject Margaret Thatcher’s infamous saying, “There is no such thing as society.” It takes a semi-individualistic approach to analysis and activism. A revolutionary answers Thatcher with the statement, “There is no such thing as the individual”—in the sense that the focus must be on institutional structures, which mold us and dominate us. To the degree that the focus turns toward the individual, or his identity, his body, his subjectivity, the radicalism becomes more anodyne (while not necessarily ceasing to be oppositional or important).

There is a great deal more to be said about postmodernism. For instance, I could make the obvious point that its particularism and relativism, its elevation of fragmentary “narratives” and its Kuhnian emphasis on the supposed incommensurability of different “paradigms,” is just as useful to the ruling class as its idealism, since it denies general truths about class struggle and capitalist dynamics. (See Georg Lukács’ masterpiece The Destruction of Reason for a history of how such relativism and idealism contributed to the cultural climate that made Hitler possible.) Or I could argue that the rationalism and universalism of the Radical Enlightenment, which found its fulfillment in Marxism, is, far from being dangerous or containing the seeds of its own destruction—as postmodernists and confused eclectic Marxists like Theodor Adorno have argued—the only hope for humanity.

Instead I’ll only observe, in summary, that idealism is not new: it is as old as the hills, and Marx made an immortal contribution in repudiating it. Idealism has always afflicted mainstream intellectual culture, all the way back to antiquity, when Plato viewed the world as consisting of shadows of ideal Forms, Hindus and Buddhists interpreted it in spiritual terms and as being somehow illusory, and Stoics were telling “the slave in the mines that if he would only think aright he would be happy” (to quote the classicist W. W. Tarn). Idealism persisted through the Christian Middle Ages, Confucian China, and Hindu India. It dominated the Enlightenment, when philosophes were arguing that ignorance and superstition were responsible for mass suffering and a primordial conspiracy of priests had plunged society into darkness. Hegel, of course, was an arch-idealist. Finally a thinker came along who renounced this whole tradition and systematized the common sense of the hitherto despised “rabble,” the workers, the peasants, the women struggling to provide for their children—namely that ideas are of little significance compared to class and material conditions. The real heroes, the real actors in history are not the parasitic intellectuals or the marauding rulers but the people working day in and day out to maintain society, to preserve and improve the conditions of civilization for their descendants.

Had there been no Marx or Engels, revolutionaries and activists would still have targeted class structures, as they were doing before Marxism had achieved widespread influence. Unions would have organized workers, radicals would have established far-left organizations, insurrections would have occurred in countries around the world. Marx’s role has been to provide clarity and guidance, to serve as a symbol of certain tendencies of thought and action. His uniquely forceful and acute analyses of history and capitalism have been a font of inspiration for both thinkers and activists, a spur, a stimulus to keep their eyes on the prize, so to speak. His prediction of the collapse of capitalism from its internal contradictions has given hope and confidence to millions—perhaps too much confidence, in light of the traditional over-optimism of Marxists. But having such a brilliant authority on their side, such a teacher, has surely been of inestimable benefit to the oppressed.

As for the narrow task of “interpreting the world,” the enormous body of work by Marxists from the founder to the present totally eclipses the contributions of every other school of thought. From economics to literary criticism, nothing else comes remotely close.

*****

Marx did, however, make mistakes. No one is infallible. It’s worth considering some of those mistakes, in case we can learn from them.

The ones I’ll discuss here, which are by far the most significant, have to do with his conception of socialist revolution. Both the timeline he predicted and his sketchy remarks on how the revolution would come to pass were wrong. I’ve addressed these matters here, and at greater length in my book Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, but they deserve a more condensed treatment too.

Regarding the timeline: it has long been a commonplace that Marx failed to foresee Keynesianism and the welfare state. His biggest blind-spot was nationalism, or in general the power of the capitalist nation-state as an organizing principle of social life. Ironically, only a Marxian approach can explain why national structures have achieved the power they have, i.e., why the modern centralized nation-state rose to dominance in the first place. (It has to do with the interconnected rise of capitalism and the state over the last 700 years, in which each “principle”—the economic and the political, the market and the state—was indispensable to the other. See, e.g., Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times.)

In essence, while Marx was right to locate a capitalist tendency toward relative or even absolute immiseration of the working class, he was wrong that this tendency could not be effectively counteracted, at least for a long time, by opposing pressures. That is, he underestimated the power of tendencies toward integration of the working class into the dominant order, toward “pure and simple trade-unionism,” toward the state’s stabilizing management of the economy, and toward workers’ identification not only with the abstract notion of a social class that spans continents but also with the more concrete facts of ethnicity, race, trade, immediate community, and nation. These forces have historically militated against the revolutionary tendencies of class polarization and international working-class solidarity. They have both fragmented the working class and made possible the successes of reformism—the welfare state, social democracy, and the legitimization of mass collective bargaining in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II. Like other Enlightenment thinkers, Marx was too optimistic.

On the other hand, he was right that capitalism isn’t sustainable—because of its “contradictions,” its dysfunctional social consequences, and also its effects on the natural environment. No compromises between capital and wage-labor, such as the postwar Keynesian compromise, can last. The market is just too anarchic, and capital too voracious. Stability is not possible. Sooner or later, with the continued development of the productive forces, capital mobility will increase, markets—including the labor market—will become more integrated worldwide, elite institutional networks will thicken worldwide, and organized labor will lose whatever power it had in the days of limited capital mobility. In retrospect, and with a bit of analysis, one can see that these tendencies were irresistible. Genuine socialism (workers’ democratic control) on an international or global scale never could have happened in the twentieth century, which was still the age of oligopolistic, imperialistic capitalism, even state capitalism. In fact, it wasn’t until the twenty-first century that the capitalist mode of production was consolidated across the entire globe, a development Marx assumed was necessary as a prerequisite for socialism (or communism).

The irony, therefore—and history is chock-full of dialectical irony—is that authentic revolutionary possibilities of post-capitalism couldn’t open up until the victories of the left in the twentieth century had been eroded and defeated by hyper-mobile capital. The corporatist formations of social democracy and industrial unionism, fully integrated into the capitalist nation-state, had to decline in order for class polarization in the core capitalist states to peak again, deep economic crisis to return, and radical anti-capitalist movements to reappear on a massive level (as we may expect they’ll do in the coming decades). Many Marxists don’t like this type of thinking, according to which things have to get worse before they get better, but Marx himself looked forward to economic crisis because he understood it was only such conditions that could impel workers to join together en masse and fight for something as radical as a new social order.

The best evidence for the “things have to get worse before they get better” thesis is that the relatively non-barbarous society of the postwar years in the West was made possible only by the upheavals of the Great Depression and World War II, which mobilized the left on such an epic scale and so discredited fascism that the ruling class finally consented to a dramatic improvement of conditions for workers. Similarly, it’s quite possible that decades from now people will think of neoliberalism, with its civilization-endangering horrors, as having been a tool of (in Hegel’s words) the “cunning” of historical reason by precipitating the demise of the very society whose consummation it was and making possible the rise of something new.

But how will such a revolution occur? This is another point on which Marx tripped up. Despite his eulogy of the non-statist Paris Commune, Marx was no anarchist: he expected that the proletariat would have to seize control of the national state and then carry out the social revolution from the commanding heights of government. This is clear from the ten-point program laid out in the Communist Manifesto—the specifics of which he repudiated in later years, but apparently not the general conception of statist reconstruction of the economy. It’s doubtful, for example, that he would have rejected his earlier statement that “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class.” Moreover, he seems to have endorsed Engels’ statement in Anti-Dühring that “The proletariat seizes state power, and then transforms the means of production into state property.” It appears, then, that both he and Engels were extreme statists, even though, like anarchists, they hoped and expected that the state would (somehow, inexplicably) disappear eventually.

In these beliefs they were mistaken. The social revolution can’t occur after a total seizure of state power by “the proletariat” (which isn’t a unitary entity but contains divisions)—for several reasons. First, this conception of revolution contradicts the Marxian understanding of social dynamics, a point that few or no Marxists appear ever to have appreciated. It exalts a centralized conscious will as being able to plan social evolution 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 a liberatory, democratic one, Marx is, 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).2 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 “wither away” even as it becomes more expansive and dominating, is to adopt a naïve idealism.

Corresponding to all these errors are the flaws in Marx’s abstract conceptualization of revolution, according to which revolution happens when the production relations turn into fetters on the use and development of productive forces. One problem with this formulation is that it’s meaningless: at what point exactly do production relations begin to fetter productive forces? How long does this fettering have to go on before the revolution begins in earnest? How does one determine the degree of fettering? It would seem that capitalism has fettered productive forces for a very long time, for example in its proneness to recessions and stagnation, in artificial obstacles to the diffusion of knowledge such as intellectual copyright laws, in underinvestment in public goods such as education and transportation, and so forth. On the other hand, science and technology continue to develop, as shown by recent momentous advances in information technology. So what is the utility of this idea of “fettering”?

In fact, it can be made useful if we slightly reconceptualize the 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 ‘socially effective,’ 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 mode of production that is, so to speak, competing with the old stagnant one. The most obvious concrete instance of this conception of revolution is the long transition from feudalism to capitalism, during which the feudal mode became so hopelessly outgunned by the capitalist that, in retrospect, the long-term outcome of the “bourgeois revolutions” from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries was never in doubt. Capitalism was bound to triumph after it had reached a certain level of development.

But the important point is that capitalist interests could never have decisively “seized the state” until the capitalist economy had already made tremendous inroads against feudalism. Likewise, socialist or post-capitalist interests can surely not take over national states until they have vast material resources on their side, such as can only be acquired through large-scale participation in productive activities. As the capitalist economy descends into global crisis/stagnation over the next twenty, fifty, and a hundred years, one can predict that an “alternative economy,” a “solidarity economy” of cooperative and socialized relations of production will emerge both in society’s interstices and, sooner or later, in the mainstream. In many cases it will be sponsored and promoted by the state (on local, regional, and national levels), in an attempt to assuage social discontent; but its growth will only have the effect of hollowing out the hegemony of capitalism and ultimately facilitating its downfall. And thereby the downfall, or radical transformation, of the capitalist state.

I can’t go into the detail necessary to flesh out this gradualist notion of revolution, but in my abovementioned book I’ve argued that it not only radically revises the Marxian conception (on the basis of a single conceptual alteration), in effect updating it for the twenty-first century, but that it is thoroughly grounded in Marxian concepts—in fact, is truer to the fundamentals of historical materialism than Marx’s own vision of proletarian revolution was. The new society has to be erected on the foundation of emerging production relations, which cannot but take a very long time to broadly colonize society. And class struggle, that key Marxian concept, will of course be essential to the transformation: decades of continuous conflict between the masters and the oppressed, including every variety of disruptive political activity, will attend the construction—from the grassroots up to the national government—of anti-capitalist modes of production.

Glimmers of non-capitalist economic relations are already appearing even in the reactionary United States. In the last decade more and more scholars, journalists, and activists have investigated and promoted these new relations; one has but to read Gar Alperovitz, Ellen Brown, and all the contributors to Yes! Magazine, Shareable.net, Community-Wealth.org, etc. A transnational movement is growing beneath the radar of the mass media. It is still in an embryonic state, but as activists publicize its successes, ever more people will be drawn to it in their search for a solution to the dysfunctional economy of the ancien régime. Local and national governments, unaware of its long-term anti-capitalist implications, are already supporting the alternative economy, as I describe in my book.

I’ll also refer the reader to the book for responses to the conventional Marxian objections that cooperatives, for instance, are forced to compromise their principles by operating in the market economy, and that interstitial developments are not revolutionary. At this point in history, it should be obvious to everyone that a socialist revolution cannot occur in one fell swoop, one great moment of historical rupture, as “the working class” or its Leninist leaders storm the State, shoot all their opponents, and impose sweeping diktats to totally restructure society. (What an incredibly idealistic and utopian conception that is!) The conquest of political power will occur piecemeal, gradually; it will suffer setbacks and then proceed to new victories, then suffer more defeats, etc., in a century-long (or longer) process that happens at different rates in different countries. 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 corporate capitalism will constitute a formidable weapon on the side of progress.

One reasonable, though rather optimistic, blueprint for the early stages of this process is the British Labour Party’s Manifesto, which lays out principles that can be adapted to other countries. Such a plan will necessarily encounter so much resistance that, early on, even if the Labour Party comes to power, only certain parts of it will be able to be implemented. But plans such as this will provide ideals that can be approximated ever more closely as the international left grows in strength; and eventually more radical goals may become feasible.

But we must follow Marx, again, in shunning speculation on the specifics of this long evolution. He is sometimes criticized for saying too little about what socialism or communism would look like, but this was in fact very democratic and sensible of him. It is for the people engaged in struggles to hammer out their own institutions, “to learn in the dialectic of history,” as Rosa Luxemburg said. Nor is it possible, in any case, to foresee the future in detail. All we can do is try to advance the struggle and leave the rest to our descendants.

*****

Marx is practically inexhaustible, and one cannot begin to do him justice in a single article. His work has something for both anarchists and Leninists, for existentialists and their critics, cultural theorists and economists, philosophers and even scientists. Few thinkers have ever been subjected to such critical scrutiny and yet held up so well over centuries. To attack him, as usefully idiotic lackeys of the capitalist class do, for being responsible for twentieth-century totalitarianism is naïve idealism of the crudest sort. Ideas do not make history, though they can be useful tools in the hands of reactionaries or revolutionaries. They can be misunderstood, too, and used inappropriately or in ways directly contrary to their spirit—as the Christianity of Jesus has, for example.

But in our time of despair and desperation, with the future of the species itself in doubt, there is one more valid criticism to be made of Marx: he was too sectarian. Too eager to attack people on the left with whom he disagreed. In this case, Chomsky’s attitude is more sensible: the left must unite and not exhaust its energy in internecine battles. Let’s be done with all the recriminations between Marxists and anarchists and left-liberals, all the squabbling that has gone on since the mid-nineteenth century. It’s time to unite against the threat of fascism and—not to speak over-grandiosely—save life on Earth.

Let’s honor the memory of all the heroes and martyrs who have come before us by rising to the occasion, at this climactic moment of history.

  1. In my summary of G. E. M. de Ste. Croix’s 1981 masterpiece The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, from the Archaic Age to the Arab Conquests, I added the following thoughts to the foregoing account: “Class struggle is central to history in still more ways; for instance, virtually by analytical necessity it has been, directly or indirectly, the main cause of popular resistance and rebellions. Likewise, the ideologies and cultures of the lower classes have been in large measure sublimations of class interest and conflict. Most wars, too, have been undertaken so that rulers (effectively the ruling class) could gain control over resources, which is sort of the class struggle by other means. Wars grow out of class dynamics, and are intended to benefit the rich and powerful. In any case, the very tasks of survival in complex societies are structured by class antagonisms, which determine who gets what resources when and in what ways.”
  2. In reality, of course, political and economic relations are fused together. But analytically one can distinguish economic activities from narrowly political, governmental activities.

For His 200th Birthday, Honoring Marx As An Activist

In 1888, Marx wrote, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

On this 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx we focus on Marx as a political activist, rather than what he is best known for, an economist and philosopher who wrote some of the most important analyses explaining capitalism and putting forward an alternative economic model.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote, “The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles.” He believed political change stems from the history of conflicts between people who are exploited against the people who are exploiting them. This exploitation leads to conflict and revolt. Marx posited revolution as “the driving force of history.”

The root of the political struggle for Marx was the economic system creating a struggle between classes. This conflict has varied throughout history; e.g., the serfs vs. the lords in the Feudal Era, the slaves vs. their owners in the era of slavery, and today between workers and their bosses or capitalists.

Iconic picture of the 1848 revolution in Berlin. Unknown artist. Public domain.

Marx Was a Political Activist Working to Change the World

In an interview with Immanuel WallersteinMarcello Musto described Marx’s political activism, noting:

For all his life, Marx was not merely a scholar isolated among the books of London’s British Museum, but always a militant revolutionary involved in the struggles of his epoch. Due to his activism, he was expelled from France, Belgium and Germany in his youth. He was also forced to go into exile in England when the revolutions of 1848 were defeated. He promoted newspapers and journals and always supported labor movements in all the ways he could. Later, from 1864 to 1872, he became the leader of the International Working Men’s Association, the first transnational organization of the working class and, in 1871, defended the Paris Commune, the first socialist experiment in history.

Wallerstein adds that Marx played a major role in organizing people on an international level and that “Marx’s political activity also involved journalism…. He worked as a journalist to get an income, but he saw his contributions as a political activity. He had not any sense of being a neutral. He was always a committed journalist.”

At 24 years of age, Marx was writing fiery articles opposing Prussian authoritarianism. The newspaper he edited was closed in 1842 by the government, he was exiled and moved to Paris from where he was expelled in 1844.

In 1848, Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto.  “The Manifesto” was written as a declaration of the principles of socialism for the Communist League in Brussels. It remains a statement of the core principles of socialism to this day. At 45 years of age, Marx was elected to the general council of the first International where he was active in organizing the International’s annual congresses.

Marx’s vision of socialism had nothing in common with one-party dictatorships like the former Soviet Union that declared themselves to be socialist or communist. For Marx, the key question was not whether the economy was controlled by the state, but which class controlled the state. A society can only be socialist if power is in the hands of workers themselves.

Photo: Dean Chahim/flickr/cc)

Our Tasks: Expose Inequality, Create New Economic Systems

Marx’s critique of capitalism focuses on how it inevitably leads to concentration of wealth. Marxism was seen as extinct after the Reagan-Thatcher eras and the end of the Soviet Union. But, now after nearly 40 years of neoliberalism, the inequality of deregulated global capitalism has made the occupy meme of the 99 percent versus the one percent a factual reality.

The Independent reports on Marx’s anniversary:

Unsurprisingly, several decades of neoliberalism have been the greatest testament to how a deregulated capitalism, red in tooth and claw, siphons wealth to the top 1 per cent or even 0.1 per cent. Recent figures show that the wealthiest eight billionaires in the world (whom you could fit into a people carrier) have as much wealth as the bottom half of the global population, or some 3. 5 billion people. Astonishingly, the equivalent figure was the 62 wealthiest billionaires in 2016. Back in 2010 it was more than 300. This is how rapidly wealth is being sucked up to the top – this may be termed the vacuum-up effect as opposed to the myth of trickle-down economics.

In the United States, three people hold more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the domestic population, “a total of 160 million people or 63 million American households.” Roughly a fifth of USians “have zero or negative net worth.” That figure is even higher for black and Latino households, the result of decades of discrimination. In some US corporations, the CEO earns more than 1,000 times the average worker; i.e., workers would have to toil more than nine centuries to make as much as the CEO makes in just one year.

The contradiction between extreme wealth and widespread poverty and economic insecurity, between the efficient production of goods and services and the refusal to share the prosperity created by efficiency, and between the use of natural resources and the destruction of the planet and enormous threats of climate change are leading people to see the failures of capitalism.

In 2017, the National Review reported that a poll found as many as 40 percent of people in the U.S. “now prefer socialism to capitalism.” A 2016 YouGov survey found that respondents younger than 30 rated socialism more favorably than capitalism, 43 percent vs. 32 percent. “Socialism” was the most looked-up word on Merriam-Webster’s site in 2015. “Socialism has been near the top of our online dictionary look-up list for several years,” said editor-at-large Peter Sokolowsk.

In 2014, David Harvey, a top Marxist academic, wrote, in Seventeen Contradictions And the End of Capitalism, that the extreme contradictions are leading to major transformations:

“It is in a political climate such as this that the violent and unpredictable eruptions that are occurring all around the world on an episodic basis (from Turkey and Egypt to Brazil and Sweden in 2013 alone) look more and more like the prior tremors for a coming earthquake that will make the post-colonial revolutionary struggles of the 1960s look like child’s play.”

How will that change occur? The answer is in part up to what those working for change do. Youssef El-Gingihy writes in the Independent of one likely possibility:

The transition of capitalism to an alternative political and economic system will likely play out over a protracted period, even if it is catalyzed by revolution. Much in the same way that feudalism evolved into capitalism through the dual industrial (economic) and French revolutions (political), in which the bourgeoisie superseded the aristocratic order preceded by the 17th-century English civil war.

We see the slow transition in process with the development of a myriad of economic democracy projects that give workers control of their employment through worker cooperatives, give communities control over their development through land trusts, give people direct control over budget decisions through participatory budgeting and democratize banking through public banks. These are some efforts to create an economy that serves the people without limiting control to workers, whose numbers are shrinking due to automation. Many of these new economic models are in their early stages of development.

Marx believed that:

No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.

The lessons of Karl Marx show that our tasks are to heighten class conflict by exposing the reality of abhorrent inequality and create new systems to replace failing capitalism.

Is China Neoliberal?

On 2 March, the Real News interviewed Steve Cohn, author of Competing Economic Paradigms in China (Routledge, 2017). Host Sharmini Peries began by asking:

Professor Cohn, in your book you analyze the transition of the Chinese economy from Maoist to ‘iron rice bowl’ policy to a neoliberal policy. What kind of domestic factors contributed to this transition?

Part of Cohn’s response was:

I think the Chinese government, starting with Deng Xiaoping but has continued since then, came to the conclusion that certain capitalist-oriented policies were necessary to increase the social surplus under the state’s control and also to prevent China from falling behind technologically. These leaders, I think, felt that neoclassical economics was a reliable theory that would facilitate this project of adopting some capitalist techniques, and they supported it very aggressively in many ways… [Italics added]

China neoliberal?

The present writer has been living off-and-on in various parts of China since 2003. At first I was skeptical to Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, but I have observed the development in China first-hand along with the diminishment of poverty (as evidenced by the relative scarcity of mendicancy and homelessness).

Neoliberalism

What is neoliberalism? To start, it is not new, and it is not liberal. It is predicated on prioritizing the private sphere over the public sphere; i.e., allowing the so-called free-market to decide. Hence, the role of the government is to be minimized, with privatization, cutting social programs, deregulating finance, and imposing austerity prescribed.

Yet, can one seriously ascribe neoliberalism to China with its state-owned enterprises, state-owned banks, and expanding social programs?

In his book Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Seven Stories Press, 1999), distinguished professor Noam Chomsky referred to a World Bank report that China was not following neoliberal dictates; instead China was described as “the most interventionist and price-distorting government of all.”

Chomsky quoted the eminent economic historian Paul Bairoch who stated that “there is no doubt that the third world’s compulsory economic liberalism in the nineteenth century is a major element in explaining the delay in its industrialization.” Given the enviable economic development of China, the Communist Party was evidently correct to eschew neoliberalism and chart its own course.

*****
Host Peries presented another surprising nugget that the US was directing the Chinese economy:

… You write about international or US-based organizations such as the American Economic Association, the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, and other such institutions that the Chinese sort out to influence their economic policy and drive the direction of a capitalist economy that they adopted. The interesting point you make about this is that this influence was invited. Why did the Chinese government officials accept this or want this kind of influence?

Cohn replied,

I don’t think the Chinese even to this day fully realize the extent to which there’s a socialization, as well as an intellectual kind of understanding involved with graduate school.

So I think they underestimated it, that impact on the students and the difficulty of unpacking these ideological and political factors… [Italics added]

Cohn uses terms such as thinks and feels throughout the interview. This conveys an appearance of uncertainty as to what he discusses.

Later Cohn said,

You can see what they’ve [Chinese Communist Party officials] done; you’re not quite sure what they’re thinking. There certainly have been a lot of social problems, environmental problems, inequality in particular, financial fragility, the problem of various debt crises in China. But my suspicion is that the Chinese leaders feel that their strategy has in some important ways to them empowered China. And I think that they probably feel they can deal with problems of environmental and other side effects of this.

What’s interesting in terms of paradigm competition is trajectories… [Italics added]

One Chinese Trajectory: Poverty Elimination

What are the Chinese trajectories? One example should suffice to refute the notion of China as a neoliberal state: China is on target to eliminate poverty. What capitalist country prioritizes such a goal?

A Global Times op-ed argued,

As a socialist country, it would be an agony — if not a disgrace — for the country’s elites to sit idle and not extend a helping hand to the needy.1

Xinhua reported, “China lifted 12.89 million rural people out of poverty in 2017 as it progresses towards its target of eradicating poverty…”2

This poverty elimination is verified by the World Bank which cites 753 million people lifted out of poverty between 1978 and 2010. China is presented as an example for the rest of the world in how to eliminate the scourge of poverty:

The country’s poverty reduction offers lessons for other countries…. Its approach combines combines government leadership and support from all social sectors with farmers playing a major role, and integrates general and special favorable policies, poverty alleviation programs and social safety nets.3 [Italics added]

Tiananmen Square

Particularly noteworthy in the Real News interview were the references to “Tiananmen Square protests” and “the repression following Tiananmen Square.” No mention was made of a Tiananmen Square massacre, as has been a repetitive staple in corporate media reporting.

Wei Ling Chua wrote a compelling exposé on this disinformation, Tiananmen Square “Massacre”? The Power of Words vs. Silent Evidence, which noted the many retractions of what many western journalists had initially reported.4

Missing Background to the Real News Interview

I asked Wei, who also wrote Democracy: What the West Can Learn from China, for his take on the Real News interview. Wei wrote back:

There are too many issues in the video, I would like to have a quick comment on the following:

1. People tend to overlook the fact that it was Mao who lay the foundation for Chinese access to the world that allowed Deng economic integration with the world economy in 1978:

  1. in 1949, China was broken and bankrupt at the time Mao took over;
  2. Due to the Cold War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war, China was under western economic, financial, technological and banking sanctions; as well as USSR technological sanctions;
  3. despite these adversaries, Mao managed to defeat the US led military coalition in the Korea War; helped the Vietnamese defend itself from US invasion. That made China a world force that the US could not ignore;
  4. Mao managed to make use of the complex relationship between the USSR and US, and woo the US via ping-pong diplomacy, and eventually resulted in Nixon’s visit to China, laying the foundation for China to access the world;>
  5. Mao’s vision of classifying the world into First World (Western nation), 2nd world (USSR), and the Chinese alliance with the 3rd world (Africa, Latin America, Asia etc) eventually paid off after making use of the new relationship with Nixon, and  winning the majority vote in the UN to get the PRC onto the UN security council.
  6. Without all these foundations for China to access the world, there would have been no reforms under Deng.
  7. At the time Deng took over the leadership in China, Mao had already eliminated illiteracy, doubled the life expectancy of the population, armed China with nuclear, rocket and satellite technology, and a lot of basic industries for consumer products. Without all these, there would be no foundation for any further progress to access the world.
  8. So to credit China prosperity solely on Western capitalism is not objective.

2. The author [Cohn] also failed to mention the fact of the Chinese modelling more towards the Singaporean economic model than the west. Despite Singapore being recognised as one of the freest economies in the world, 60% of Singapore’s GDP is generated by the Singaporean government investments; so in China, despite being opened up to international and private funds and investment, the state still controls much of the economy;

3. 30 years after Deng’s reforms, China encountered problems like any western society: income gaps, housing affordability and the growth in GDP v social stress; but it is China who acts on to ratify the issues;

4. [Current Chinese chairman] Xi Jinping only wants the part of market logic to award and motivate people who work hard and be innovative, but dislikes an uncontrolled market economy that allows the wealthy to eventually dictate supply and prices of everything;

5. Unlike the west that privatised everything, Xi not only wants SOEs to become bigger and stronger, he also introduced a policy for the government to pay for and own a 1% share of every registered business in China; the law states that with the 1%, government officials will attend all executive meetings and have the power to stop any decision that is harmful to the country.

Conclusion

For those who aspire to a world not riven by extreme wealth and income inequality, China is a potential antipode to unfettered capitalism. China pursues socialism. The Chinese Communist Party also rejects hegemony and war. Thus China stands forth as an alternative model to aggressive capitalist imperialism. However, it is important that China be considered as to which point it is in its political-economic trajectory. At present, Chinese leaders state that China is in the earliest stages of socialism. Nevertheless, along its trajectory China ought to be fairly scrutinized for adherence to it announced political and social goals.

  • The original source of this article is Asia-Pacific Research.
    1. Li Hong, “Shaking off poverty is an obligation for China,” Global Times, 14 January 2018.
    2. Xinhua, “China brings nearly 13 mln people out of poverty in 2017,” Global Times, 1 February 2018.
    3. Chengwei Huang, “Ending poverty in China: Lessons for other countries and the challenges still ahead,” World Bank, 14 October 2016.
    4. See review.

    Why is China Lifting the Two-term Limit for Xi Jinping?

    The modern, affluent new China. Incomprehensible to many Western minds.

    Why does the CPC want to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” from the country’s Constitution?

    Why is China lifting the two-term limit for Xi? The answer can be found by reading the amendment itself (and remembering a little history):

    1. In the seventh paragraph of the Preamble to the Constitution, “the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents” is amended to read “the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”; “improve the socialist legal system” is amended to read“improve the socialist rule of law”; before “work hard and self-reliantly” is inserted “apply a new vision of development”; and “promote the coordinated development of the material, political and spiritual civilizations, to turn China into a socialist country that is prosperous, powerful, democratic and culturally advanced” is amended to read “promote the coordinated development of the material, political, spiritual, social and ecological civilizations, to turn China into a strong modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful, and to realize the great rejuvenation for the Chinese nation.” This paragraph is accordingly amended to read: “The victory in China’s New-Democratic Revolution and the successes in its socialist cause have been achieved by the Chinese people of all nationalities, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, by upholding truth, correcting errors and surmounting numerous difficulties and hardships. China will be in the primary stage of socialism for a long time to come. The basic task of the nation is to concentrate its effort on socialist modernization along the road of Chinese-style socialism. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the Chinese people of all nationalities will continue to adhere to the people’s democratic dictatorship and the socialist road, persevere in reform and opening to the outside world, steadily improve socialist institutions, develop the socialist market economy, develop socialist democracy, improve the socialist rule of law, apply a new vision of development, and work hard and self-reliantly to modernize the country’s industry, agriculture, national defense and science and technology step by step and promote the coordinated development of the material, political, spiritual, social and ecological civilizations, to turn China into a strong modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful, and to realize the great rejuvenation for the Chinese nation.”1

    A little history: In 1980, Deng Xiaoping challenged China to provide a basic xiaokang society by 2020, ‘a society in which no one is poor and everyone receives an education, has paid employment, more than enough food and clothing, access to medical services, old-age support, a home and a comfortable life’.

    That goal will be 100% achieved in 2020, so it’s time to set new goals that will take China in the direction Mao set for it: a harmonious dàtóng society.2 Since, as Mao observed, it will probably require 100 years to reach dàtóng and since Reform and Opening has achieved its purpose, it’s time to set China back on the Communist road again. That is, after all, the overall job of the Communist Party! Duh!

    The only people who will be surprised by Xi’s return to (more) Communism is those who thought that Reform and Opening represented China’s capitulation to Capitalism, the Western media and Western Chinese ‘experts’. The Chinese people will not be. 90% of them greatly enjoyed their earlier experiments with Communism, despite their problems and shortcomings. Today, 75% of them feel nostalgic about the Cultural Revolution and President Xi called it ‘a dream that could not be realized at the time’.

    Why could not the dream of the Cultural Revolution be realized in the 1960s? Because the West placed China under crushing embargoes and constantly threatened it with nuclear attacks, so Deng decided to get strong before permitting any more communist progress–for which he was much criticized by Maoists, though he was probably correct (the USA only stopped bombing China in 1989).

    2021 will begin a new era, in which China is strong enough to do whatever it chooses so Xi is responsible for coming up with his own thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.

    He will fill in the details on June 1, 2021, the centenary of Mao’s founding of the CCP but Xi told the 19th Party Plenum in 2017:

    1. China’s GINI under Mao was the best in the world but, as Deng warned, some grew richer than others during Reform and Opening and China became almost as unequal as the USA. So, until 2039, we must devote ourselves to re-creating a society in which wealth and income are so equitably distributed that the world will envy us.
    2. Once our GINI is fixed, until by 2049, we must complete the job of making China, once again, the envy of the world: the richest, most beautiful, most powerful, most harmonious society on earth: a prosperous, modern, Socialist society.

    Since Xi is the architect of this program and since his first term was so successful, it makes sense for him to stay for a third term, just as it did for America’s greatest President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

    In the early twentieth century, the great Chinese thinker and reformer Kang Youwei wrote a book entitled Dàtóng shu (Book on the Great Community) in which he advanced an original and radical interpretation of datong, drawing mainly on both Liyun and another of the Confucian classics—the Gongyang Commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, which propounds a theory of progress in human history from the Age of Disorder to the Age of Ascending Peace and finally to the Age of Universal Peace, the idea of the common good in traditional Chinese social and political philosophy. The Chinese Communist Party’s current ideology, including the “preliminary stage of socialism” and the “xiaokang society,” are best understood in light of the concept of “datong” (Mao constantly advocated datong).

    Deng conferring with Mao: Two visionary giants


    Datong is where the Great Way prevails. It is usually interpreted to refer to a Golden Age in prehistoric times, that the ideal society that has subsequently declined. In the datong society “the world was shared by all alike. The worthy and the able were promoted to office and men practiced good faith and lived in affection. Therefore they did not regard as parents only their own parents, or as sons only their own sons.”

    Although this has never been officially recognized, there is in fact a surprising degree of convergence between some important ingredients of Kang Youwei’s datong thought and the official ideology currently propagated by the Chinese Communist Party. According to this ideology, the Marxist vision of the communist society is still the highest ideal pursued by the Party and the Chinese people. However, this ideal can only be realized after socialist society has reached a high level of development. “The development and perfection of socialism is a long historical process.”10 China is, and will remain for a long time, in the “preliminary stage of socialism,” because China, as an “economically and culturally backward” nation, needs to undergo “socialist modernization.”11 The theory of the preliminary stage of socialism implies that full socialism cannot be practiced yet, and China may legitimately borrow capitalist techniques from the West. Not all means of pro- duction will be socialized and subject to public ownership, and there will still be economic inequality among the Chinese people. The idea that the ideals of social- ism and communism will be realized, and will only be realized, in the course of a long process of historical development and social evolution thus converges with Kang’s idea of historical progress and his vision of the datong world in which socialist or communist principles will be applicable in economic life.

    The official view of the current level of economic development in Chinese society is that it has just reached the xiaokang level. It is hoped that by the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (2021), China will have reached a “higher level of xiaokang society,” and by the centenary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (2049), it will have reached the level of a middle-level developed country and will have “basically completed its modernization”.  Thus the term xiaokang, which dates back more than two millennia ago to Liyun, is still being used today to refer to the second-best level of development. The concept of “harmonious society” advocated in recent years by the Chinese Communist Party also draws on traditional Chinese thought, particularly the Confucian vision of social harmony and amicable social relationships.

    In the final analysis, the datong philosophy in Liyun and in Datong shu speaks not only to the Chinese people but to the whole of humankind. It is a philosophy that is universalist in nature rather than particularistic and dependent on a particular culture or religion. As a philosophy of the common good, it is a valuable contribution to the common heritage of mankind. Though ancient in origin, it still speaks to the needs, circumstances, and challenges faced by the contemporary world. Though Chinese in origin, datong is capable, as Kang Youwei has demonstrated,of entering into dialogue with the utilitarian, socialist, and liberal traditions of the West. It is to be hoped that datong thinking will continue to develop and contribute to the Chinese social and political philosophy of the twenty first century.

  • First published at the Greanville Post.
    1. This article, among other changes, adds Presidents Hu Jintao’s and Xi Jinping’s political ideologies to the Preamble; replaces “legal system” (法制) with “rule of law” (法治; which is effectively rule bylaw, one could argue); and modifies the goal of the Chinese people’s endeavors in accordance with the phrase used in Xi’s report to the Party’s 19th Congress.] — NPC Observer
    2. The Concept of “Datong” in Chinese Philosophy as an Expression of the Idea of the Common Good. Albert H.Y. Chen. The Common Good: Chinese and American Perspectives.