Category Archives: Communism/Marxism/Maoism

Why is China Painted as “Capitalist” by Western  Propaganda?

Let us start with the punchline: “Mass media in the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia is depicting the People’s Republic of China as ‘capitalist’ because ‘capitalist’ is now a dirty word. Even people in the West see ‘market economy’ as some sort of filth.”

To call China ‘capitalist’ is to smear China. It is as if to say: “Chinese people are precisely like us. China is doing to the world the same injustice, committing the same crimes as we have been doing for 500+ years.”

Western, but particularly the British and the U.S. demagogy, have managed to reach ‘heights’ of nothing lesser than deadly perfection. They already conditioned billions of brains, in all corners of the world, forced them into the uniformed, servile way of thinking. All this is not just propaganda anymore; it is the true art of indoctrination. It hardly ever misses its target. And even if it fails to convince some strong individuals completely, it always leaves a mark on the psyche of even those who are struggling to be different and ‘independent.’

In short: Western propaganda is perfect. It is deadly. Until now, it is bulletproof.

All those terms like “capitalist China,” “Chinese state capitalism,” are violating the truth, and they are repeated over and over again until no one dares to contradict them anymore.

The same goes for the lies about Uyghurs, Hong Kong, the Sino-Indian border, as well as various historical events.

But why really to lie about China ‘not being socialist’?

The answer is simple: it is because most people associate words like ‘socialism’ and ‘Communism’ with hope. Yes, they do! At least subconsciously. Even after decades of brainwashing and smear campaigns! “Socialist China” means “China which brings optimism to its own people and humanity.” On the other hand, people on all continents associate ‘capitalism’ with something depressing, stale, and regressive. Therefore, call China ‘capitalist’, and it evokes feelings of gloominess and slump.

Imperialist, capitalist West cannot compete with socialism, anymore. Therefore, it tries to drag it through filth, tries to destroy it. Either indirectly, by sanctions and attempts to orchestrate coups in places like Iran, DPRK, Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela, or directly, like in the Middle East. China is being attacked on ‘all fronts,’ from economic ones to ideological, although not yet militarily. The most powerful and repulsive weapon, so far, has been constant injections of lies, contradictions, and nihilism. Just look at Hong Kong!

Nihilism is deadly. It destroys enthusiasm, and it robs countries of confidence and courage.

And that is precisely what the West is trying to achieve: to derail progressive socialist countries from marching forward and prevent nations oppressed by neo-colonialism from dreaming, hoping, resisting. (I described this destructive process in my book Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism).

The Western demagogues know: China robbed of its essence – and the essence is “the Socialism with Chinese characteristics” – is China which cannot inspire, cannot offer alternatives to the world. The most effective way to smear China, to silence it, is precisely to convince the world that it is ‘capitalist.’

Such techniques were used, for instance, by German Nazis who claimed that resistance against their occupation actually consisted of a bunch of terrorists. The U.S. is known to do the same. Or the British Empire, which christened rebellious local people in its colonies as “hordes of savages.” Just reverse the truth and win!

Twist things shamelessly, turn them upside-down, repeat your lies thousands of times, print them in all your mass media outlets. Chances are, your fabrications would be eventually accepted by billions of people.

In the case of China, West is trying to convince the world that PRC is the same type of gangster states like the United States or Great Britain, France, or Canada. It is doing it by calling China capitalist, by calling it even imperialist. By ridiculously equating China’s behavior to the behavior of the Western colonialist powers. By declaring that China is oppressing its own minorities, as the West has been doing for centuries.

*****

But China is not a capitalist country, as it is not an imperialist one. It is the least expansionist major country on the planet.

It does not kill millions of human beings worldwide, it does not overthrow governments in foreign countries, and it is not robbing already destitute nations of all they have left.

It is not governed by bankers and oligarchs. Instead, it is directed by the socialist 5-year plans. Its private and state companies have to obey the government and the people. They have to produce goods and services in order to improve the standard of living of the nation and the world. Companies are precisely told what to do by the government, which represents the people, not the other way around, as happens in the West. Because in the West, it is companies that are selecting the governments!

That is socialism. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The socialism which managed to get rid of all extreme poverty in the country with almost 1.4 billion inhabitants. The socialism which is building “Ecological civilization”. The socialism which is connecting the world, including, until now, the destitute countries on Earth, through the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

In China, democracy is not about sticking pieces of paper into a box. It is literally the ‘rule of the people’; it is all about the country which is developing in a socialist way, consistently making lives of its men, women, and children better and better, year after year.

It is a fresh, optimistic, constantly improving, and evolving system. Ask people in the Chinese cities and the countryside, and they will tell you. The vast majority of them are happy; they are hopeful and optimistic.

Ask people in the North American cities or countryside, and… you know what they will tell you. That increasingly, life is s**t!

*****

The big problem is that majority of North Americans and Europeans know China only from the hardly strategic position of their couch commonly facing the television set or from the heavily censored Yahoo or Google ‘front’ news pages.

Many of those who go to, or who “do China” are traveling in groups, visiting major tourist destinations only. Even that is, of course, much better than nothing. China is impressive everywhere.

But only a small fraction of the Westerners, those who dare to pass judgments, know China in depth. This includes even such ‘top White House advisors,’ like Peter Kent Navarro, Assistant to President Donald Trump and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, who knows close to nothing about China, speaks no Chinese, but writes anti-Chinese books. Or such as senior Republican Senator Marco Antonio Rubio.

And the propagandists in London, Paris, and New York are well aware of the lack of knowledge about China, at least in the West. They feel free to declare and to publish the most outrageous lies and fabrications because they know they’d not be confronted. And if confronted, they’d easily manage to censure those individuals who’d dare to contradict them.

How many times have you seen on a British television channel, a Chinese Communist man or a woman, speaking about his or her country? Never! It is forbidden. Truth is not allowed, at least in the West. Only those Chinese people who are tugging the Western propaganda line can speak freely on Western channels. Never thought about it? Then think! Or, how many Russians, pro-President Putin or pro-Communist, have you ever heard on the British or U.S. radio stations?

The Western firewall is complete.

Media is digging out the filthiest chapters of Western history, and without blinking an eye, turns things around and attributes them to China. Australians, North Americans have been sterilizing native, Roma, Aborigines, or other women. So, they invent, say that China is doing it now. For centuries, West has been locking people in its colonies and even in Europe, in the concentration camps. In a twisted way, propaganda gurus in London and Washington are attributing such behavior to China.

No proof is needed. Let your imagination run wild. People are used to lies. They are obedient, brainwashed. And they like it when other, non-Western nations are smeared, especially when they are accused of the same crimes which Europe and the United States have been committing for centuries. It makes them feel less guilty. They can then say: “The entire world is disgusting. We are all equally terrible!”

Perhaps, after these propaganda assaults, there is no more hope left. But at least, in the West, there is no rush to shed those complexes of superiority, and to get rid of the privileges.

*****

And so, ‘China is capitalist!’ While baobabs are actually bougainvillea. Western-imposed global dictatorship is, believe it or not, democratic. And Western advisors have a full moral mandate to lecture the world.

Some Chinese Communist Party officials are now banned [by the West] from traveling to the United States. In contrast, the U.S. officials, who are responsible for ordering mass killings in all parts of the world, can travel virtually anywhere.

The Communist Party of China is responsible for building a prosperous, highly educated, and increasingly ecologically sound nation of almost 1.4 billion. While the Imperialist apparatchiks of the United States are responsible for overthrowing countless progressive governments, bombing millions of people, ruining the environment in the colonies, and starving hundreds of millions through sanctions. But they are not sanctioned themselves and can go almost anywhere they desire. Strange world? Go figure…

The better China is doing, the more it gets smeared. If it manages to do even better in the future, it may get attacked directly, perhaps even militarily.

And rest assured that socialist China will be doing better and better. Yes, you are guessing correctly: Under the banner of the Communist Party!

So, what should we prepare ourselves for? World War III? Annihilation of the human race? Just because the West doesn’t know how to lose? Just because capitalism and imperialism would not let go of their global grip on power, even if it means the end for all of us?

Just because North America and Europe are notorious liars, suffering from pathological complexes of superiority, as well as genocidal instincts?

I don’t think this is a good prospect for our Planet.

I’d much rather bet on optimistic, socialist China, instead of on the Western system which in the last 500+ years has already murdered hundreds of millions of people and which is, until now, covering up its crimes and its undeniable mental illness.

And not only ‘bet’; I’d rather join China, which is building a much better and ethical world. As we all should do! As some of us are already doing.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

Marxism is a humanism

It is many years ago that Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an essay, which was, in fact, the preface to his magnum opus, The Critique of Dialectical Reason, the title of which was “The Search for Method”.

A significant transformation from his critique of Heidegger, Being and Nothingness, Sartre attempted to liberate European Marxism from its captivity in Russian party ideology and restore its historicity.1

Contrary to liberal interpretations Sartre was not an advocate of either neo-Marxism or post-Marxism. If anything, and this can be seen well in his writings on colonialism, Sartre was arguing for a return to Marx as a historian and not only a political activist.2 His distancing from the French Communist Party was not, in fact, a rejection of communism or Marxism but an insistence — actually consistent with Lenin — that the Russian Revolution produced a communist party for Russia and not for the world. It was incumbent on every revolution to create its own communist party in the consciousness of concrete historical conditions—conditions, which in France were obviously different from those in Russia.

The most important moment in Sartre’s essay is an anecdote that on its face has little to do with Marxism, class struggle or any other conventional political context. He relates a story about a woman who explains that she is filled with love. She is so saturated with love that she has yet to find any partner who is worthy of her, who knows how to appreciate her love — to love her with the immensity of her own love. Sartre writes that this love, about which she speaks; these complaints that she has not yet found someone worthy of her love are self-deception. He says that the only love that is real is that love which is actually lived. This implies in the end that one can question whether “love” is the right term for the lived experience in question, but there is no meaning to love that has no consequences in action.

This meant that the question of whether the PCF was really representing the working class in France or representing something else; e.g., the interests of the Russian communist bureaucracy in the working class in France, was not a theoretical question but an empirical one. It was not a denial of communism in the Soviet Union for Russian and other Soviet citizens. However, it was a refusal to confuse the concrete conditions of the Soviet Union — abstractly – theoretically — with those prevailing in post-WWII France.

In that sense Sartre was far closer to Fidel Castro’s view of communism as class struggle always situated in very specific historical contexts, which, of course, were changed by the struggle itself — a process he then attempted to explain in The Critique of Dialectical Reason. There is a strong liberal school that insists that Castro’s communism was insincere or not truly international because of his disputes with both the Soviet Union and China. However, Castro was very clear that he did not live in Russia or China.

In the Soviet Union, communism was a strategy for industrialisation and thus economic and political independence from the Western financial elite to which the Romanovs had indebted the country. In the West; i.e., in Germany and France the class struggle was for the humanity of the working class. For Castro class struggle did not mean forced industrialisation of Cuba. On the contrary he argued that since Cuba’s economic advantages lay in uniquely favourable agricultural productivity, the first priority of the revolution was food security combined with food export in return for goods that are needed but too expensive to produce domestically. Of course, the economic model of the US and Europe was (and still is) giving glass beads and old guns in return for valuable commodities.3 Therefore class struggle also meant finding the fairest terms of trade and not re-inventing the wheel.

The practical conditions under which a revolution became possible in China were truly “Marxist” — from the historical standpoint — but they only became communist once it was possible for the revolutionaries to act with some security. Before 1500, China- and not England(!)—was the workshop of the world. The collapse of the ancien regime after the Opium Wars left a country whose people could no longer rely on any state to protect them, let alone serve their needs. The most pressing need was obviously to create the conditions for the then overwhelmingly rural population to feed itself. The subsequent land reform, ending the extortionate rents paid to largely absentee landlords, enforced by the 8th Route Army was practical revolution even before theories emerged to define the government of the Chinese Communist Party.4

Again this is entirely consistent with Lenin’s observations and attitude.5 Lenin too did not announce a revolution he knew could not succeed. He led a revolution of the possible. Since a revolution is not a finished product like a simple coup d’état in which one group of masters replaces another, Lenin could not foresee the future and did not try. Instead efforts went to make the future day by day. The fact that the Soviet Union would have to fight foreign intervention for some five years and later have virtually its entire economic accomplishment destroyed by the West in WWII did not permit much leeway for contemplation. On the contrary it forced the establishment and perpetuation of a wartime bureaucracy that became a burden once Western invasions were finally repelled.6

There is every reason to believe that Mao acted the same way—conceiving and fighting a revolution into a civil war based on immediately establishing the possible and the necessary. The civil war was not won by party debates but by peasants who had gained the stake for which they were willing to risk their lives. There seems to be a kind of universal contempt for peasants among those who live in towns and cities, especially if they do not work with their hands. Part of this tension is aggravated by the conditions of industrialisation under which peasants were deprived of their land and forced into labour camps (also called factory towns). There they became dependent on cheap food unless they still had family connections to the land.

The manipulation of this antagonism between rural and urban populations is aggravated by the intellectual and social formations that emerge in towns or cities—which are often opposed to traditional (and in the Western peninsula, ecclesiastical, especially since the Church was and is also a major landowner) formations. Or to put it simply, the clergy dominates the peasant and the worker is dominated by the factory organisation. Business adventurers; i.e., capitalists, exhibited at best indifference toward religion. Later it was recognised that this created an ideological vacuum into which the first communist organisations were able to move. The French Revolution had stimulated numerous attempts to secularise religion.7  Many of the pre-Marxian communist organisations were formed as lodges or fraternities modelled on the orders of the Church (or anti-clerical Freemasonry) they were to replace. Such organisations were not only secular alternatives they were also attempts to acknowledge the intangible elements of struggle, what is known in Roman Catholicism as “spirituality”.

In reaction to the intensified organisation of industrial labour, a parallel movement among the theologians of capital (economists and engineers) developed. On one hand Auguste Comte published his work proposing a “religion of science”, Positivism.8  Then as the 19th century came to a close, amidst the greatest economic depression to date, the business corporation adopted and modified the ideological tools of the Church. This was acknowledged in the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum.9  Although this encyclical is usually considered a sign that the Roman Catholic Church (and hence Christendom) was adopting modern humanism, nothing could be further from the truth. The papacy was simply catching up with industrial capitalism and beginning to develop the defence of its economic (and political power) for the 20th century. Together the Church and the corporation would fight for the “hearts and minds” of those they had neglected so long. Corporations would learn to be more like churches and the Church would align itself more closely with Business.

There are two basic myths of love– at least in Western culture, in which Marxism is clearly rooted. The first is love as praxis, the daily creation of the good for real human beings, which is complemented by struggle since there is no single universal way to create the good and it cannot be created alone. The second is love as an ideal directed inward and enforced by obedience and servility until death.

Christianity in the West has taught the latter. If the Church is the “bride of Christ” then, anti-communism is the harlot. The adulterous spouse of white supremacy is nihilistic, like the Christian dogmatic system from which it derives. The struggle in revolutionary praxis includes the struggle to free oneself from the abstraction and inward obsessions of obedience and servility captured as the love of some “god”– especially the tortured and murdered god of the Greco-Christian tradition.

Love in praxis is what Marxist humanism tries to describe. Liberation and love for real human beings are not ideals but ways of acting in the world. They are not simply intentions directed toward passive recipients but the creations of struggle and thus they are not very effectively bureaucratised, to say the least. Sartre’s Marxism was not opportunistic or vulgar pragmatism but based on a sincere understanding of historical materialism. Fidel Castro insisted that democracy was not to be measured by mere procedures but, most importantly, results.

Today we are faced with a global struggle in which the ruling class is imposing on the world’s real human population, procedures defined as medical, based on a conception of “health” that is as empty as Christianity’s promise of “salvation”.  This should be no surprise. The merger of Church and Business has made it possible for the fear of sin and damnation to be fully secularised, packaged in sickness even the Virgin is too weak to heal. We are told that our obedience and servility is for the good of all. However, neither that good, nor those all, actually exist. Like Sartre’s infinitely loving woman for whom no love need be lived, our rulers like their progenitors in Christendom, hold infinite health and safety but alas, none of us are worthy of it. Yet instead of rejecting their manifest insincerity, their base motives, and their actual violence to us, we cling to that abstract faith of our fathers and mothers. Does this not reflect our own learned and deepest fear to love in struggle for life those with whom we are joined in struggle? Are we simply proving with our fear that we are afraid in the face of those who would rule us to struggle to be truly, real human beings?

  1. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1958), Critique of Dialectical Reason (1976), The Search for Method (1960).
  2. Jean-Paul Sartre, Der Kolonialismus ist ein System in Articles, Speeches, Interviews 1947-1967, German edition of Collected Works, 1988.
  3. Lee Lockwood, Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel, 1969.
  4. Lucie Bianco, Origins of the Chinese Revolution, 1915-1949 (1971).
  5. Concisely formulated in V. Lenin, Left-wing Communism: An infantile disorder, 1920.
  6. See also Mosche Lewin, The Making of the Soviet System, 1985.
  7. Jules Michelet, L’Histoire de Revolution francaise, 1969.
  8. Sartre argues that Comte’s “cult of humanity” leads to a closed system of humanism, and to fascism. (“Existentialism is a humanism”, 1946) An in fact Comte’s positivism was an element of the ideological basis for military governments throughout Latin America; e.g., Brazil.
  9. Pope Leo XIII, 1891.

Anti-Communism is a Fundamentalist Religion now followed by Millions

150 years ago, on April 21, 1870, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin, was born. According to many, he was the greatest revolutionary of all times, a man who gave birth to both internationalism and anti-imperialism.

It is time to “revisit Communism”. It is also time to ask some basic, essential questions:

How is it possible that a system so logical, progressive, and so superior to what is, up till now, governing the world, failed to permanently overthrow the nihilism and brutality of capitalism, imperialism and neo-colonialism?

*****

Without any doubt, you have been told many horrifying things about Communism, especially if you have been living in the West, or in one of the countries that are fully under the control of the centres of anti-Communism: Washington, London or Paris.

You have been forced to read, again and again, about “Stalinism”, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the Khmer Rouge genocide. You have, again and again, been served an elaborate cocktail of half-truths, outright fabrications, as well as twisted interpretations of the world history.

The chances are you have never been to Russia, China or Cambodia; you haven’t done any serious research there.

You have been told that Cambodia is the best example of savage Communism. You never realized that Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge extremists were fully supported by the United States, and not by the Soviet Union and never foolheartedly by China; that they were never actually really “Communist” (I did a detailed in-country research, and even Pol Pot’s personal guards told me that they had no idea about Communism, and only reacted to the monstrous U.S. carpet bombing of the Cambodian countryside, and to the capital’s collaboration with the West). In that period, most people died as a result of precisely that carpet-bombing by the USAF B-52’s, and as a result of a famine. And the famine came after millions of peasants were displaced by the savagery of the bombing, and by the unexploded substances left in the fields, all over the countryside.

It never occurred to you, that one survey after another, conducted in Russia, still shows that the majority of the people there would like to have the Communist Soviet Union back. And even in the former Soviet Muslim-majority states, including Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan, a tremendous majority of the people I encountered there remembered the Soviet Union era as some golden age.

And the so-called Soviet occupation of Afghanistan? I have worked, filmed and reported there, on three occasions, relatively recently. Outraged by the on-going Western occupation of their country, countless Afghan people told me stories, illustrating the contrast between their tolerant, progressive and optimistic socialist era, and the present-day horror, during which their country has sunk to the lowest level in Asia, according to both UNDP and the WHO. I worked in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, Bagram; the same stories, and the same nostalgia for the Soviet teachers, nurses, engineers.

Showered by the relentless Western propaganda, one never really realized how popular the Communist Party of China is in its own country, and how the Communist ideology is supported in Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.

If one goes to their friendly local bookstore in North America, Europe or even in Hong Kong, not to speak of Australia, the chances are is that all one will find there would be tomes written by anti-Communist Chinese or Russian ‘dissidents’, people that have been living off Western grants, receiving countless awards so they can spend all their energy on smearing Communism, and glorifying anti-revolution. Writers such as Svetlana Alexievich, who received the Nobel Prize for literature, for spitting on the graves of the Soviet soldiers who died defending Afghan socialism.

Films one would be allowed to watch, on commercial film channels, would not be any different than the books one had been encouraged to read.

Anti-Communism in the West and in its colonies, is a tremendous industry. It is easily the greatest and on-going propaganda campaign in the history of the world. Its metastasis has been spreading even into the core of the Communist and socialist countries themselves.

All of that is because the Western imperialist countries know perfectly well that their empire can only survive if Communism collapses.

It is because the very essence of Communism is the perpetual struggle against imperialism.

False but very effective slogans, like bugs, that are being implanted into one’s brains. They are repeated constantly, sometimes hundreds of times a day, without one even noticing: “Communism is dead!” you have been told. “It is outdated, boring.” “China is not Communist, anymore.” “Communism is grey. Life under communism is controlled, and it is monotonous”.  “People under Communism have no freedom, and no liberties.”

The opposite is the truth. Building, selfishly and enthusiastically, a new and better society for the people, is definitely more satisfactory (and “more fun”), than rotting in the constant agony of fear: worrying about mortgages, student loans, and medical emergencies. Competing with others, stepping on others, and even ruining other human beings. Living empty, sad, selfish lives.

*****

Absurdly, paradoxically, Western propaganda constantly accuses Communism of violence. But Communism is the biggest adversary of the most violent system on Earth, which is Western colonialism/ imperialism. Hundreds of millions of human beings have already vanished as a result of it, throughout the centuries. Hundreds of advanced cultures have been ruined. Entire continents have been plundered.

Before Soviet Communism, before the USSR itself, there was no true and powerful opposition to Western imperialism. Colonialism and imperialism were taken for granted; they were “the world order”.

The Soviet Union and China helped to de-colonize the world. Cuba and North Korea, two Communist countries, fought bravely and successfully, and brought independence to Africa (something that the West has never forgotten nor forgiven).

But fighting for freedom and for the end of colonialism is not violence; it is defence, resistance and a struggle for independence.

As a rule, Communism does not attack. It defends itself, and it defends countries that are being brutalised. In my future work, I will address two “exceptions”; and explain two cases which are constantly misinterpreted by right-wing propaganda: Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

But back to the so-called “Communist violence”.

My friend and comrade, the legendary Russian intellectual and professor, Aleksandr Buzgalin, wrote in his recent work, “Lenin: Theory as Practice, Practice as Creativity (to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of V.I. Ulyanov-Lenin):

There is a principle at work here: it is not the socialist revolution that provokes mass violence, but the bourgeois counter-revolution, that begins when capital realises that it is losing its property and power. In response to the generally peaceful and in many cases legitimate victory of the left, capital unleashes savage, barbaric violence. The left is then faced with the question of whether to answer this violence or not. If you go to war, then from that point the laws of war apply, and hundreds of thousands are sent to their deaths, planned in advance, so that millions might be victorious. That is the logic of war.

The revolution was carried through. It was victorious. In the broader perspective, the victors were not so much the Bolsheviks as the Soviets, in which the majority supported the Bolsheviks’ position. The revolution was substantially peaceful, prevailing almost without bloodshed. The fiercest fighting occurred in Moscow, where those killed on both sides numbered a few thousand. Beyond that, the picture was of a “triumphal procession of Soviet power” (this heading in Soviet textbooks was no accident). In the winter of 1917-1918 the relationship of forces saw half a million members of the workers’ militia, the Red Guard, pitted against a few tens of thousand White Guard members in the south of Russia. Everything was quiet until the counter-revolution received vast sums of money from the Triple Alliance (primarily from Germany) as well as from the Entente, and all these imperialist countries launched aggression against the young Soviet power.

This is a brilliant take by Aleksandr Buzgalin. I have addressed this topic on many occasions but never so coherently. And this applies to countless examples all over the world where the West first provoked and brutally antagonized socialist or communist countries, then accused them of cruelty, and finally “liberated” them in the name of freedom and democracy, literally raping the will of their people. All this just so European and North American imperialism would survive and thrive.

Let’s recall just a few examples: the USSR, 1965 Indonesia, 1973 Chile, 2019 Bolivia. The biggest attempt to date: to divert, destabilize and overthrow the enormously successful Chinese system. But there are, of course, countless other examples, in all corners of the globe.

*****

Ron Unz, the publisher of The Unz Review, wrote in his report “American Pravda: Our Coronavirus Catastrophe as Bio-warfare Blowback?”, recalling his thoughts, in 1999, when China protested about the NATO bombing of its Embassy in Belgrade:

But when I considered that the Chinese government was still stubbornly denying the reality of its massacre of the protesting students in Tiananmen Square a decade earlier, I concluded that unreasonable behavior by PRC officials was only to be expected….

Such at least were my thoughts on that matter more than two decades ago. But in the years that followed, my understanding of the world and of many pivotal events of modern history underwent the sweeping transformations that I have described in my American Pravda series. And some of my 1990s assumptions were among them.

Consider, for example, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which every June 4th still evokes an annual wave of harsh condemnations in the news and opinion pages of our leading national newspapers. I had never originally doubted those facts, but a year or two ago I happened to come across a short article by journalist Jay Matthews entitled “The Myth of Tiananmen” that completely upended that apparent reality.

According to Matthews the infamous massacre had likely never happened, but was merely a media artifact produced by confused Western reporters and dishonest propaganda, a mistaken belief that had quickly become embedded in our standard media storyline, endlessly repeated by so many ignorant journalists that they all eventually believed it to be true. Instead, as near as could be determined, the protesting students had all left Tiananmen Square peacefully, just as the Chinese government had always maintained. Indeed, leading newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post had occasionally acknowledged these facts over the years, but usually buried those scanty admissions so deep in their stories that few ever noticed. Meanwhile, the bulk of the mainstream media had fallen for an apparent hoax.

Matthews himself had been the Beijing Bureau Chief of the Washington Post, personally covering the protests at the time, and his article appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, our most prestigious venue for media criticism.

On top of it, what Western mainstream media was describing as a group of “freedom fighters” and “pro-democracy movement”, had a substantial number of radicals in its ranks, even outright racists, that were protesting against the presence of black Africans on Chinese university campuses. They demanded a ban on their relationships with the Chinese women. And they were fully supported and at least partially funded by the West, simply because of their savage, aggressive, fundamentalist anti-Communism.

The Chinese government does not even want to touch this subject, anymore. They feel that, faced with massive Western propaganda, they cannot get through with their take on the story; in brief, that they have lost the narrative.

Now fast-forward to 2019 and 2020. Hong Kong. Again, what we are witnessing there is outrageous and extremist anti-Communism. Fascist protesters that are marching, destroying public property, and attacking the Police, all under U.S, U.K and German banners, are hailed by the Western mass media as “pro-democracy activists”. They are physically attacking the supporters of Beijing. They are paid, they are glorified. I have talked to them on many occasions. They are fully, thoroughly brainwashed. They know nothing about facts. They deny the crimes committed by the British and the U.S. colonialists. They admire everything Western, and they despise their own country.

The West has been told to view them as “revolutionaries”. And it promotes them as revolutionaries, all over the world!

Another group unleashed against the Communist China, are the Uyghurs. Many of these people have joined terrorist organizations in Idlib, Syria, in Indonesia, and elsewhere. Or more precisely, they were injected there. The reason? To harden them on the battlefields, so that they could one day return to China, and try to break Communism, as well as the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), the most internationalist mammoth project on Earth. I have covered their activities in Syria, Indonesia, Turkey and elsewhere. I have written extensively about the atrocities they have been committing. But the anti-Communist propaganda is often too massive and too “professional”. It manufactures a “bullet-proof narrative”. It portrays the Uyghurs as the victims!

*****

Ask the common men and women of the streets of London, Paris or New York, what they know about Stalin’s era, or the famines in the early years of the USSR, or in Communist China?

99.99% know nothing. Where these famines took place, or why. But they are absolutely certain that they took place. No doubts, whatsoever. No doubts that they happened “because of Communism”. Westerners are intellectually obedient, like sheep. Most of them do not question the propaganda unleashed by their regime. Are they really “free”?

The famine in the Soviet Union actually took place because the young revolutionary country was totally devastated by the Western and Japanese invasions, which tried to break and plunder the country. British, French, U.S., Czech, Polish, German, Japanese invasions, to name just a few.

But ask, for instance, the Czechs, how much they know about their Legions that controlled the Trans-Siberian railroad on their way from Europe to Vladivostok. Plundering, rape, and mass killing. I tried. I asked in Prague and Pilsen. They thought I was a lunatic. The Legions are portrayed as heroic in their history books. A bullet-proof narrative. No doubts there.

And “Stalinism”? This author is planning to write much more on this subject. But here, just in brief: What kind of country did Stalin really inherit? It was a country thoroughly plundered by foreign invaders, a country devastated by civil war. A country where the anti-revolutionary forces have been, until recently, financed by the U.K., France, U.S. and others. As a result of this brutal civil war unleashed from abroad, criminal gangs roamed all over the vast lands, and inside cities.

From the beginning, the Russian Communists wanted peace, the brotherhood of nations, and peaceful development for its people. I wrote in 2017, in my book Great October Socialist Revolution. Impact on the World and Birth of Internationalism:

The revolutionaries wanted to end all wars immediately. Russian soldiers left their trenches, and embraced their enemies. “We are all brothers!” they shouted. “We were forced to fight each other by ruthless monarchs, priests and businessmen. We should battle real enemies, not each other! Proletariat of the world, Unite!” But the Western officers and commanders were determined: they forced their men back to the trenches, accusing them of treason, pushing them to the battlefields.

Most significantly, the countless foreign invasions were overwhelming of both several major Russian cities and the countryside. As always throughout the previous centuries, the Europeans never thought twice before putting their military boots on Russian soil. In a way, Russia was treated and perceived as a ‘barbaric’ nation that could be attacked, colonized and plundered at will and without much justification, not unlike all those countless unfortunate nations all over the world: located in South America and Central Asia, in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Many Russians looked like whites, like Europeans, but to the Westerners, they were never “white enough”, never really part of the culture of the conquerors and plunderers. Russia always had its own soul, its way of thinking and feeling, its distinct manner of acting and reacting.

In my book, I revisited the subversion tactics of Western imperialism and militant anti-Communism:

The essence and strategy of Western imperialist subversion is essentially very simple: identify all strong and weak points of the country that you are attempting to murder, and try to comprehend its ideology. Study and learn all about its progressive leadership: its plans, and all that the revolution is trying to do for the people: like giving them freedom, equal rights, improved life expectancy, high standards of education, medical care, housing, infrastructure, arts and overall a decent quality of life. Then, attack where it hurts the most: use direct interventions, sabotage, terrorist assaults, or sponsor extremist and even religious fundamentalist groups, in order to spread fear and insecurity to slow down the process of social change and economic growth. Hit so hard that at some point, the democratic revolutionary system will have to react, simply in order to protect its people, their achievements, and even their bare lives. Wherever the West tries to destroy a socialist country, be it Nicaragua or Afghanistan in the 80’s, it first targets hospitals and schools, in order to demolish the great social achievements of the government, and to spread hopelessness among the population. Then it hits even harder, to trigger a strong government reaction, and then immediately declare: “You see, this is the real face of socialism or communism! You want a revolution? Fine: what you get in the package will be this: oppression, political trials, gulags, a lack of freedom, and even some brutal executions!” Use widely, weapons like disinformation and negative propaganda, so the revolution in a progressive but cruelly terrorized country would never have a chance to really influence the rest of the world, and even at home it will begin to suffer after being put under too much pressure…

… Such hideous tactics of the West, deeply injured the Soviet Union before WWII, but it failed to destroy the country.

*****

The Chinese famine took place partially because during the Japanese occupation, the Imperial Army disrupted the food chain supplies, as well as the system of farming, which had been formed and developed throughout thousands of years. Japan was interested in only one thing: how to feed its troops that were occupying a massive part of Asia.

In both cases, Western propaganda made people believe that the real cause for the loss of lives in Russia and China was Communism! The brainwashing has been so successful that even in Russia and China, millions of people have been fully indoctrinated by these countlessly repeated lies coming out of the West.

But ask in London whether people know anything about the fact that under the British occupation of India, tens of millions of people died from starvation; victims of the famines triggered by London, for many reasons, one of them being an attempt to lower the population. Over 50 million Indian people, cumulatively, died in these famines, between 1769 to 1943, in British administered India.

Should we, as a result, ban the British political system? I am convinced that we should! But that is usually not what the people of the world, including the victims of the British colonialist barbarity, are demanding.

So, back to the British or French public. What do they know about their past, and even about their neo-colonialist present? They only know what they have been ordered to believe. In brief: they know nothing. Zero. Only fairytales. But they are convinced that they are well informed. And that they have the right to lecture the world.

They know absolutely nothing about the USSR and about China. They have no clue about why North Korea and Cuba are being continuously demonized (as mentioned above, they both, hand in hand, liberated Africa from Western colonialism).

I have lived and worked all over Africa for years, made films, and written countless essays. The Cuban and North Korean involvement, enormously positive, internationalist and undoubtedly Communist, from Namibia and Angola, from Egypt to Mauritius, has been very well documented. But say it in a Parisian café or a London pub and jaws will drop. Blank stares, emptiness.

Even that “Anti-Communist left” consisting of anarcho-syndicalists and Trotskyists (really mostly British and U.S. brands of pseudo revolutionaries), knows nothing, or wants to know nothing, about true revolutionary Communism.

*****

On 23 April, 2020, Brasil de Fato quoted the Venezuelan Vice-Minister Carlos Ron:

It is very interesting in North American culture, to believe in “manifest destiny”, to think that they have a messianic mission. They believe that their mission is to end communism in Latin America, so they will overthrow Venezuela, Cuba and everything that is red, because all that is red is communist.

In Indonesia, an entire failed, miserable and depressing religious state is based on anti-Communist dogma. Nobody clearly understands there why they are anti-communist, but the more they are ignorant about the subject, the more aggressively they act; banning all Communist concepts and lexicon, building anti-Communist ‘museums’, and producing anti-Communist films. After killing millions of Communists on behalf of the West, anti-Communism has become the essence of their existence. In the past they even used to ban the Chinese and Russian languages. All just to silence the past, when President Sukarno and the PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia), before the US-backed 1965 coup, were building a great, progressive, socialist and non-aligned nation.

In fact, in much of Southeast Asia, perhaps the most grotesquely turbo-capitalist part of the world, Communism has been banned, or at least demonized. The result: confused, consumerist, religious and dismal nations. Communist Vietnam is the shining star, but it is never portrayed as such, definitely not abroad.

*****

Let us celebrate the 150th birthday of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin!

Let us celebrate it by revisiting history, and the present.

The most brutal political system is Western imperialism, colonialism. It has already murdered hundreds of millions of people all over the world. This fact should be repeated again and again.

The goal of Western propaganda has always been to equate Communism and Fascism, the two most antagonistic systems in history in the world. It was the Soviet Communist system, which smashed Nazism to pieces, saving the world, at an enormous cost of approximately 25 million human lives.

Only Western imperialism can be compared to German Nazism. The two are made of the same stuff.

To me, to many of us, Communism means the perpetual struggle against Western interventionism, colonialism.

In this terrible moment in human history, it is important to clearly understand this reality.

If Communism were to be defeated, it would be the end of the struggle for freedom. Only the powerful, centralized, ideologically-sound Communist system can fight and liberate the human race from colonialist shackles, from savage capitalism, and an nihilist empty existence.

Propagandists tell you insane lies, that Communism is outdated and boring. Don’t believe them: it is the most upbeat, still young, and optimistic arrangement of the world. And unlike imperialism and capitalism, Communism is constantly evolving. Not in Europe or North America, but in the rest of the world.

Just look at the West and its colonies. Look at the misery and deprivation brought on humanity by the Western oppressive dictatorial regime.

Happy birthday, Comrade Lenin!

The struggle continues!

• First published by NEO – a journal of the Russian Academy of Social Sciences

Left Gatekeepers Through the New Left: Monitored Rebellion

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders
Cultural containment meant “ring around the pinkos”

Leftist Patron Saints

What do the following people have in common: Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Robert Reich, Michael Albert, Howard Zinn, Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, Norman Solomon, Chris Hedges, Michael Moore, Greg Palast, and Chip Berlet? With the exception of Norman Solomon and Chip Berlet, these are household names among “progressives”. What they appear to have in common is that they are “left.” How far left? On the surface, they appear to run the full spectrum.  After all, Chomsky and Michael Albert are anarchists. Most, if not all, of the rest are advocating some kind of social democracy. Robert Reich and possibly Amy Goodman are New Deal liberals. Have we missed any tendency? Is that it? Yes, we are missing a tendency. The Leninist tradition, whether Trotskyist, Stalinist or Maoist. Are there reasons they are not included?

Why would the most supposedly leftist of all tendencies, the anarchists, get airtime on a show like Democracy Now, while Leninists such as Michael Parenti or Gloria La Riva are rarely, if ever, invited? A crucial key to understanding why this is the case is to clarify the differences between the Old and the New Left.

The Old vs the New Left

What all these patron saints have in common is that they are members of the New Left in the U.S. as opposed to the Old Left. The New left grew up in the early 1960’s on the basis of rejecting the Soviet Union as a model for socialism. For the New Left, some form of social democracy or participatory democracy (anarchist) was the best model. Additionally, the old left emphasized that social class — specifically the working class — was the agent of revolutionary change. The New Left rejected this. For them, the working class has been bought off by capitalism and was no longer a revolutionary class. The New Left turned to philosophers like Herbert Marcuse who claimed that students were the revolutionary class worth organizing.

At the same time, some sections of the middle-class civil rights movement organized around Martin Luther King (a social democrat). The women’s movement had two wings, the liberal Betty Friedan wing and the radical lesbians. But what both these New Left systems of stratification had in common was that race and gender were more important than social class.

There were exceptions to the rule. For example, while the Weatherman were anti-working class, they were secretive (Leninist), and identified with anti-imperialism and the necessity of armed force in order to fight. They tended to idolize third world countries and blindly accept their leadership. Malcolm X had clear roots in the Black working class and poor and maintained a class perspective. He was murdered before he settled within a leftist tendency, but he seemed to be on the way to Trotskyism when he died. So, in the New Left, there were some Leninist tendencies but mostly the social democratic and anarchist orientations won out.

A fourth major difference between the Old and the New Left was the economy. For the Old Left of the Communist Party of Russia, China and Cuba, capitalism by its very nature has contradictions that will drive it to destruction. All Leninists agreed that capitalism was doomed. For the New Left, capitalism seems to have survived its crisis of the Great Depression and the World Wars and was expanding production. It was thought that capitalism could go on forever. The New Left became increasingly cynical that capitalism could be stopped due to any inherent contradictions. Only by revolutionary will would it be possible for capitalism to be overthrown.

Who developed revolutionary theory? For the Old Left, revolutionary theory was developed by professional revolutionaries inside the Communist Party or by members of trade unions. At least hypothetically, if not actually, Leninist theory should be informed by political practice in organizing the working class and its struggles. On the other hand, led by the Frankfurt school, New Leftist theory was developed not within a party or a union but within the academy. Most New Leftist theory after 1970 came out of universities, whether structuralism, Foucault, post-structuralist or postmodernist. These theories were not informed by any connection to practice. They built on each other and increasingly lost touch with any kind of practical tests. One exception to this academic trend was Murray Bookchin and his anarchist followers.

Next, the Old Left did not think much of democracy. Leninist democratic centralism had limited democracy, but once a party decision was made there was no more arguing. Every member of the party carried out the program. For the New Left, democracy was very important. For the social democratic wing, democracy could be obtained by participating in elections either as an independent party, such as the Socialist party, or even by entering the Democratic Party, as had been done for 50 years by the Democratic Socialists of America. The anarchists would have nothing to do with representative democracy but wanted participatory democracy as in the early years of SDS.  This participatory democracy continued in the strikes in France in May 1968, and in the theories of the Situationist International. The social anarchists who followed Murray Bookchin and the Occupy movement of nine years ago incorporated this participatory model.

The attitude towards the arts between the New Left and the Old Left were at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Leninist left thought the responsibility of the artist was to represent reality as it really was from a working-class viewpoint (socialist realism). For the New Left, art was a rejection of the life of the working class. Beat poetry and abstract expressionism moved away from reality and expressed the psychological idiosyncrasies of the artist. What was revolutionary was individual expression.

As for appearance, Leninists tried to emulate the dress of the working-class so that short hair and jeans were a sign of solidarity. For the New Left appearances were determined by the countercultural tastes which included beads, long skirts, bell bottoms and tie-dyed clothes.  Among the Leninist Black New Left, dressing in the clothes of the African country they were originally from was an option.

In terms of social evolution, the Old Left embraced Marx’s linear model of primitive communism through three forms of class society before reaching communism. Like the bourgeoisie of their country, they championed the notion of progress through science and technology. The New Left was having none of this. They questioned whether capitalist society was more evolved than what went before and they were skeptical of science in delivering us to the promised land. They were much closer to romantics, who identified with tribal societies, whether in the United States or around the world.

For the Old Left, one’s personal life had little to do with the political world. It was possible to be withdrawn, apathetic or abusive in personal life and that had nothing to do with the revolution. For the New Left, specifically the women’s movement, “the personal was political”. What this meant was that your personal life needed to be a microcosm of the world you wanted to build. That meant you could not have a bad marriage and a good revolution. You had to “be the change you wanted to have happen”. This was enhanced by pot and LSD trips.

Where does psychology fit into the picture? For the Old Left, personal psychological problems were just “nerves” not worth taking seriously. It is understandable that the Old Left was skeptical or cynical of psychology and dismissed it as “bourgeois”. The work of Vygotsky, Luria and Leontiev in Russia remained untranslated, so they had no “communist psychology” to draw from. The New Left was much more interested in psychology. It was very sympathetic to the Freudian left of Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm. For the socialist women’s movement Karen Horney was a heroine. Reich’s work The Mass Psychology of Fascism helped explain not only the rise of fascism but the failure of the working class to rise up. For the Black Leninist left, Frantz Fanon was the best at explaining self-hatred among colonial people.

For the Old Left ecology was not an issue. They treated the ecological setting as a backdrop for social evolution which was understood as a higher form of nature. In terms of scale, the Old Left took for granted the nation-state as the smallest, most realistic political body to organize around. The Old Left thought of nature as infinitely fecund and able to carry a growing population without limits. But for the New Left, the ecology movement in the 60’s saw nature as under attack and should be defended and appreciated. The romantic tendency of the New Left meant “going back to nature”. This was later accompanied by the “small is beautiful” movement which fit well with anarchist decentralization concepts. Furthermore, in 1972 the Club of Rome issued its first report stating that the carrying capacity of the planet was limited. This meant that unlimited growth could no longer be sustainable. People had to learn to do with less. For the first time since the eugenics movement, the question of too many people on the planet was broached, however tentatively.

The last categorical difference has to do with the differences in religion and spirituality. For the Old Left, atheism was the ideal and organized religion and spirituality were all part of the same superstition. The New Left was more open to institutionalized religion (as in following Martin Luther King), while making a distinction between institutionalized religion and spirituality (which was separate from organized religion). By the early 1970’s, the New Left became susceptible to Eastern mysticism (TM, yoga) and the Gurus who came with it. Women especially were leaving institutionalized religion for wicca and other neo-pagan traditions. Some New Leftists later morphed into Rudolf Steiner Waldorf education and Gurdjieff movement.  Anarchists were more likely to gravitate to the magical work of Aleister Crowley. See table 1 for a summary.

But why does this matter? If the Old Left is marginalized and excluded in the press, magazines and on radio waves today and the New Left —  social democrats and anarchists — are welcomed, what does this have to do with Left Gatekeeping? After all, maybe the Old Left is not paid attention to because they are “out if date” with their Leninist vanguard party and mindless defense of the Soviet Union. To some extent this may be so, but that is far from the whole picture.

Old Left vs New Left – Table I

The Congress for Cultural Freedom

How it started

In his book The Mighty Wurlitzer Hugh Wilford describes the events that led to the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF):

In March 1949, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel hosted a gathering of Soviet and American intellectuals, the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace. This was sponsored by the American Popular Front attended by, among others, Paul Robeson and Lillian Hellman. It was a publicity disaster. The State Department derailed preparations by refusing to grant visas to would-be European participants.  Anti-communist vigilantes were alerted by the Hearst Press. Disruptions were staged by anti-Stalinists, organized by Sidney Hook. (Page 70)

What it did

In her book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Frances Stonor Saunders traces the activity of an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom which existed from 1950 to 1967. The secret mission of the organization was to promote cultural propaganda in Western Europe to keep it from going communist. The idea was to make it seem that the cultural criticism of communism coming from the West about the Soviet Union was a spontaneous irruption, rather than stage-managed. The CIA poured tens of millions of dollars into this project.

As it turns out, groups of ex-communists for the most part inadvertently, helped to invent the weapons with which the CIA fought communism. Later, these ex-communists were sidelined as the spies attempted to professionalize their front operations with their Ivy League recruits.

As Stonor Sanders tells it, the congress:

…stockpiled a vast arsenal of cultural weapons — journals, books, conferences, seminars, art exhibitions, concerts and awards. Whether they knew it or not, there were few writers, poets, artists and historians, scientists or critics in post-war Europe whose names were not in some way linked to the covert enterprise. It consisted of former radicals and leftist intellectuals whose faith in Marxism had been shattered by Stalinism. (Page 2)

In terms of propagandistic goals, as Stoner Saunders says, “The most effective kind of propaganda is where the subjects move in the direction you desire for reasons which he believes are his own” (Page 4)

The strategy of promoting the non-communists was to become the theoretical foundation of the agency’s political operations against Communism over the next two decades. (Page 63)

Suitable texts were easily available from the CCF such as Andre Gide’s account of his disillusionment in Russia, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Yogi and the Commissar, and Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine. Further, the CIA subsidized The New Class by Milovan Djilas about the class system in the USSR. Books with titles like Life and Death in the USSR by a Marxist writer criticizing Stalinism was a book widely translated and distributed with CIA assistance. The compilation of articles made into the book The God That Failed was distributed all over Europe.

On the surface it may seem that the purpose of the CIA front groups was to destroy communism. However, Stoner Saunders denies this.

The purpose of supporting leftist groups was not to destroy or even dominate… but rather to maintain a discreet proximity and monitor the thinking of such groups to provide them with a mouthpiece so they could blow off steam. It was to be a beachhead in western Europe from which the advance of Communist ideas could be halted. It was to engage in a widespread and cohesive campaign of peer pressure to persuade intellectuals to dissociate themselves from Communist fronts. (Page 98)

Besides publishing, the CIA set up front groups for disseminating their ideas. In 1952 it began setting up dummy organizations for laundering subsidies. The formula was:

Go to a well-known rich person and tell them you want to set up a foundation in the name of the government:

  1. Pledge this person to secrecy.
  2. Publish a letterhead with the would-be name of the donor.
  3. Give the dummy organization a neutral sounding name.

When it came to the arts:

With an initial grant of 500,000 Laughlin launched the magazine Perspectives which targeted the non-communist left in France, England, Italy, and Germany. Its aim was not so much to defeat leftist intellectuals as to lure them away from their positions by aesthetic and rational persuasion. (Page 140)

According to Stoner Saunders the animated cartoon of Orwell’s Animal Farm was financed by the CIA and distributed throughout the world. But the CIA did more than distribute. They actually changed the story.

In the original text, communist pigs and capitalist man are indistinguishable, merging into a common pool of rottenness.

In the film, such congruity was carefully elided (Pilkington and Frederick, central characters whom Orwell designated as the British and German governing classes are barely noticeable) and the ending is eliminated. In the book:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig and it was impossible to say which was which. Viewers of the film saw something different — which was the sight of the pigs impelling the other watching animals to mount a successful counter-revolution by storming the farmhouse. By removing the human farmers from the scene, leaving only the pigs reveling in the fruits of exploitation, the conflation of the Communist corruption with capitalist degradation is reversed. (Page 295)

When it came to his novel, 1984, most everyone assumed that the idea of it came from Orwell’s Trotskyist criticism of Stalinism. However, Trotsky’s biographer, Isaac Deutscher, claimed that Orwell got the symbols, plot and chief characters from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s book We.

Image is of author Arthur Koestler, trade-unionist Irving Brown and Professor James Burnham

Who was involved?

What leftists or former leftists were involved in the Congress for Cultural Freedom? Sidney Hook (former Marxist), Arthur Koestler (former communist), James Burnham (former Trotskyist), Raymond Aron, Harold Laski, Isaiah Berlin, Daniel Bell (The End of Ideology), Irving Kristol (former Trotskyist,) Franz Borkenau (former communist), and Lionel Trilling to name just a few.

For the most part, without knowing exactly who they were dealing with, these former communists like Burnham, Koestler and Louis Fischer wanted to directly confront Stalinism politically. They felt no one knew better how to fight communism than they did. Burnham went so far as to say that CCF should form a true anti-communist front embracing the non-socialists right as well. Koestler, Burnham, Hook, Lasky and Irvin Brown met every evening as an unofficial steering committee. But cooler heads prevailed. Michael Josselson, one of the founders of the organization, believed in the soft-sell strategy, which is winning intellectual support for the western cause in the Cold War by fostering a cultural community between America and Europe.

Did these ex-communists know they were working for the CIA?

The parameters of knowing ranges from who knew and who didn’t. But these extremes are too easy. Better to separate points of gradation into:

  • Those who knew everything about the CIA involvement;
  • Those who knew some things and not others and did not want to find out;
  • Those who thought some things were fishy but didn’t inquire further; and,
  • Those who were completely naïve and didn’t know.

One who knew was Sidney Hook, who was in contact with the CIA. He was a regular consultant to the CIA on matters of mutual interest. In 1955 Hook was directly involved in negotiations with Allen Dulles. Another who knew but was not ashamed of it was Diana Trilling who said, “I did not believe that to take the support of my government was a dishonorable act”. Late in his life Orwell knew the CIA was involved and actively supported them. He had handed over a list of suspected fellow travelers to the Information Research Department in 1949.

Deeply suspicious of just about everybody, Orwell had been keeping a blue quarto notebook close to hand for several years. By 1949 it contained 125 names. (The Cultural Cold War, Page 299)

It would seem that most leftists fell into categories two and three. It is highly unlikely that those involved in radical politics both internationally and domestically, and those subjected to the intrigues of Stalin would be completely naïve about the machinations of any other large political organizations that were involved.

Furthermore, as Primo Levi points out insightfully in The Drowned and the Saved, those who consciously lie to others as well as themselves are in the minority:

But more numerous are those who weigh anchor, move off from genuine memories, and fabricate for themselves a convenient reality. The silent transition from falsehood to sly deception is useful. Anyone who lies in good faith is better off, he recites his part better, he is more easily believed. (The Cultural Cold War, Page 414)

How successful was the CIA?

It is tempting to think that an organization as powerful as the CIA would overwhelm and turn to mush another group that stood in its way. But that is not what happened. Ex-communists fought among themselves and twisted the intention of the CIA and took things in another direction. As if to answer Stoner Saunders’ excessive attribution of power to the CIA, Hugh Wilford says that the CIA might have called the tune, but the piper didn’t always play it, nor did the audience dance to it.

Did This Left Gatekeeping End with the Ending of the Congress for Cultural Freedom?

It is fair to say that Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin broke the hearts and backs of The Old Left. The sad story of disbelief and denial of communists who spent years bending over backward justifying Stalinist terrors and show trials was exposed. The Congress of Cultural Freedom contributed to this downfall to some extent, though the whole operation was exposed by Ramparts Magazine in 1967.

But what about the New Left? Since the Congress of Cultural Freedom had ended, was there anything left to monitor? After all, the New Left was not Leninist. Is there a relationship between the characteristics of the New Left in Table I and some new monitoring organizations like foundations, think tanks, public relations campaigns and lobbyists? Or was the New Left an autonomous, spontaneous eruption of the youth culture of the 60’s? Part II will discuss these important questions.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Revolution in the Twenty-First Century: A Reconsideration of Marxism

In the age of COVID-19, it’s even more obvious than it’s been for at least ten or twenty years that capitalism is entering a long, drawn-out period of unprecedented global crisis. The Great Depression and World War II will likely, in retrospect, seem rather minor—and temporally condensed—compared to the many decades of ecological, economic, social, and political crises humanity is embarking on now. In fact, it’s probable that we’re in the early stages of the protracted collapse of a civilization, which is to say of a particular set of economic relations underpinning certain social, political, and cultural relations. One can predict that the mass popular resistance, worldwide, engendered by cascading crises will gradually transform a decrepit ancien régime, although in what direction it is too early to tell. But left-wing resistance is already spreading and even gaining the glimmers of momentum in certain regions of the world, including—despite the ending of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign—the reactionary United States. Over decades, the international left will grow in strength, even as the right, in all likelihood, does as well.

Activism of various practical and ideological orientations is increasingly in a state of ferment—and yet, compared to the scale it will surely attain in a couple of decades, it is still in its infancy. In the U.S., for example, “democratic socialism” has many adherents, notably in the DSA and in the circles around Jacobin magazine. There are also organizations, and networks of organizations, that consciously repudiate the “reformism” of social democracy, such as the Marxist Center, which disavows the strategy of electing progressive Democratic politicians as abject “class collaboration.” Actually, many democratic socialists would agree that it’s necessary, sooner or later, to construct a workers’ party, that the Democratic Party is ineluctably and permanently fused with the capitalist class. But the Marxist Center rejects the very idea of prioritizing electoral work, emphasizing instead “base-building” and other modes of non-electoral activism.

Meanwhile, there are activists in the solidarity economy, who are convinced it’s necessary to plant the institutional seeds of the new world in the fertile soil of the old, as the old slowly decays and collapses. These activists take their inspiration from the recognition, as Rudolf Rocker put it in his classic Anarcho-Syndicalism, that “every new social structure makes organs for itself in the body of the old organism. Without this preliminary any social evolution is unthinkable. Even revolutions can only develop and mature the germs which already exist and have made their way into the consciousness of men; they cannot themselves create these germs or generate new worlds out of nothing.” The Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the DSA is one group that identifies with this type of thinking, but there are many others, including the Democracy Collaborative, the Democracy at Work Institute (also this one), Shareable, and more broadly the New Economy Coalition. Cooperation Jackson has had some success building a solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi.

The numbers and varieties of activists struggling to build a new society are uncountable, from Leninists to anarchists to left-liberals and organizers not committed to ideological labels. Amidst all this ferment, however, one thing seems lacking: a compelling theoretical framework to explain how corporate capitalism can possibly give way to an economically democratic, ecologically sustainable society. How, precisely, is that supposed to happen? Which strategies are better and which worse for achieving this end—an end that may well, indeed, seem utopian, given the miserable state of the world? What role, for instance, does the venerable tradition of Marxism play in understanding how we might realize our goals? Marx, after all, had a conception of revolution, which he bequeathed to subsequent generations. Should it be embraced, rejected, or modified?

Where, in short, can we look for some strategic and theoretical guidance?

In this article I’ll address these questions, drawing on some of the arguments in my book Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States (specifically chapters 4 and 6).1 As I’ve argued elsewhere, historical materialism is an essential tool to understand society and how a transition to some sort of post-capitalism may occur. Social relations are grounded in production relations, and so to make a revolution it is production relations that have to be transformed. But the way to do so isn’t the way proposed by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, or by Engels and Lenin and innumerable other Marxists later: that, to quote Engels’ Anti-Dühring, “The proletariat seizes state power, and then transforms the means of production into state property.” Or, as the Manifesto states, “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.”

Instead, the revolution has to be a gradual and partially “unconscious” process, as social contradictions are tortuously resolved “dialectically,” not through a unitary political will that seizes the state (every state!) and then consciously, semi-omnisciently reconstructs the economy from the top down, magically transforming authoritarian relations into democratic ones through the exercise of state bureaucracy. In retrospect, this idea that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” will plan and direct the social revolution, and that the latter will, in effect, happen after the political revolution, seems incredibly idealistic, unrealistic, and thus un-Marxist.

I can’t rehearse here all the arguments in my book, but I’ve sketched some of them in this article. In the following I’ll briefly restate a few of the main points, after which I’ll argue that on the basis of my revision of Marxism we can see there is value in all the varieties of activism leftists are currently pursuing. No school of thought has a monopoly on the truth, and all have limitations. Leftists must tolerate disagreements and work together—must even work with left-liberals—because a worldwide transition between modes of production takes an inordinately long time and takes place on many different levels.

I’ll also offer some criticisms of each of the three broad “schools of thought” I mentioned above, namely the Jacobin social democratic one, the more self-consciously far-left one that rejects every hint of “reformism,” and the anarchistic one that places its faith in things like cooperatives, community land trusts, mutual aid, “libertarian municipalism,” all sorts of decentralized participatory democracy. At the end I’ll briefly consider the overwhelming challenge of ecological collapse, which is so urgent it would seem to render absurd, or utterly defeatist, my insistence that “the revolution” will take at least a hundred years to wend its way across the globe and unseat all the old social relations.

Correcting Marx

Karl Marx was a great genius, but even geniuses are products of their environment and are fallible. We can hardly expect Marx to have gotten absolutely everything right. He couldn’t foresee the welfare state or Keynesian stimulation of demand, which is to say he got the timeline for revolution wrong. One might even say he mistook the birth pangs of industrial capitalism for its death throes: a global transition to socialism never could have happened in the nineteenth century, nor even in the twentieth, which was the era of “monopoly capitalism,” state capitalism, entrenched imperialism, the mature capitalist nation-state. It wasn’t even until the last thirty years that capitalist relations of production fully conquered vast swathes of the world, including the so-called Communist bloc and much of the Global South. And Marx argued, at least in the Manifesto, that capitalist globalization was a prerequisite to socialism (or communism).

All of which is to say that only now are we finally entering the era when socialist revolution is possible. The earlier victories, in 1917, 1949, 1959, and so on, did not achieve socialism—workers’ democratic control of the economy—and, in the long run, could not have. They occurred in a predominantly capitalist world—capitalism was in the ascendancy—and were constrained by the limits of that world, the restricted range of possibilities. Which is doubtless why all those popular victories ended up in one or another form of oppressive statism (or else were soon crushed by imperialist powers).

If Marx was wrong about the timeline, he was also wrong about his abstract conceptualization of how the socialist revolution would transpire. As he put it in the 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… From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.” The notion of fettering, despite its criticism by exponents of Analytical Marxism, is useful, but not in the form it’s presented here. For to say that relations of production fetter productive forces (or, more precisely, fetter their socially rational use and development) is not to say very much. How much fettering is required for a revolution to happen? Surely capitalism has placed substantial fetters on the productive forces for a long time—and yet here we all are, still stuck in this old, fettered world.

To salvage Marx’s intuition, and in fact to make it quite useful, it’s necessary to tweak his formulation. Rather than some sort of “absolute” fettering of productive forces by capitalist relations, there is a relative fettering—relative to an emergent mode of production, a more democratic and socialized mode, that is producing and distributing resources more equitably and rationally than the capitalist.

A parallel (albeit an imperfect one) is the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Feudal relations certainly obstructed economic growth, but it wasn’t until a “competing” economy—of commercial, financial, agrarian, and finally industrial capitalism—had made great progress in Western Europe that the classical epoch of revolution between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries burst onto the scene. Relative to capitalism, feudalism was hopelessly stagnant, and therefore, once capitalism had reached a certain level of development, doomed.

Crucially, the bourgeoisie’s conquest of political power wasn’t possible until capitalist economic relations had already, over centuries, spread across much of Europe. There had to be a material foundation for the capitalist class’s ultimate political victories: without economic power—the accumulation of material resources through institutions they controlled—capitalists could never have achieved political power. That is to say, much of the enormously protracted social revolution occurred before the final “seizure of the state.”

If historical materialism is right, as it surely is, the same paradigm must apply to the transition from capitalism to socialism. The working class can never complete its conquest of the state until it commands considerable economic power—not only the power to go on strike and shut down the economy but actual command over resources, resources sufficient to compete with the ruling class. The power to strike, while an important tool, is not enough. Nor are mere numbers, however many millions, enough, as history has shown. The working class needs its own institutional bases from which to wage a very prolonged struggle, and these institutions have to be directly involved in the production and accumulation of resources. Only after some such “alternative economy,” or socialized economy, has emerged throughout much of the world alongside the rotting capitalist economy will the popular classes be in a position to finally complete their takeover of states. For they will have the resources to politically defeat the—by then—weak, attenuated remnants of the capitalist class.

Marx, in short, was wrong to think there would be a radical disanalogy between the transition to capitalism and the transition to socialism. Doubtless the latter process (if it happens) will take far less time than the earlier did, and will be significantly different in many other respects. But social revolutions on the scale we’re discussing—between vastly different modes of production—are always very gradual, never a product of a single great moment (or several moments) of historical “rupture” but rather of many decades of continual ruptures.2 Why? Simply because ruling classes are incredibly tenacious, they have incredible powers of repression, and it requires colossal material resources to defeat them—especially in the age of globalized capitalism.

Building a new mode of production

What we must do, then, is to laboriously construct new relations of production as the old capitalist relations fall victim to their contradictions. But how is this to be done? At this early date, it is, admittedly, hard to imagine how it can be accomplished. Famously, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

But two things are clear. First, a significant amount of grassroots initiative is necessary. The long transition will not take place only on one plane, the plane of the state; there will be a tumult of creative energy on sub-state levels, as there was during Europe’s transition into capitalism. (Of course, in the latter case it was typically to establish predatory and exploitative relations, not democratic or communal ones, but the point holds.) The many forms of such energy can hardly be anticipated, but they will certainly involve practices that have come to be called the “solidarity economy,” including the formation of cooperatives of all types, public banks, municipal enterprises, participatory budgeting, mutual aid networks, and so on. In a capitalist context it is inconceivable that states will respond to crisis by dramatically improving the circumstances of entire populations; as a result, large numbers of people will be compelled to build new institutions to survive and to share and accumulate resources. Again, this process, which will occur all over the world and to some degree will be organized and coordinated internationally, will play out over generations, not just two or three decades.

In the long run, moreover, this solidarity economy will not prove to be some sort of innocuous, apolitical, compatible-with-capitalism development; it will foster anti-capitalist ways of thinking and acting, anti-capitalist institutions, and anti-capitalist resistance. It will facilitate the accumulation of resources among organizations committed to cooperative, democratic, socialized production and distribution, a rebuilding of “the commons,” a democratization of the state. It will amount to an entire sphere of what has been called “dual power” opposed to a still-capitalist state, a working-class base of power to complement the power of workers and unions to strike.

The second point is that, contrary to anarchism, it will be necessary to use the state to help construct a new mode of production. Governments are instruments of massive social power and they cannot simply be ignored or overthrown in a general strike. However unpleasant or morally odious it may be to participate in hierarchical structures of political power, it has to be a part of any strategy to combat the ruling class.

Activists and organizations will pressure the state at all levels, from municipal to national, to increase funding for the solidarity economy. In fact, they already are, and have had success in many countries and municipalities, including in the U.S. The election of more socialists to office will encourage these trends and ensure greater successes. Pressure will also build to fund larger worker cooperatives, to convert corporations to worker-owned businesses, and to nationalize sectors of the economy. And sooner or later, many states will start to give in.

Why? One possible state response to crisis, after all, is fascism. And fascism of some form or other is indeed being pursued by many countries right now, from Brazil to Hungary to India to the U.S. But there’s a problem with fascism: by its murderous and ultra-nationalistic nature, it can be neither permanent nor continuously enforced worldwide. Even just in the United States, the governmental structure is too vast and federated, there are too many thousands of relatively independent political jurisdictions, for a fascist regime to be consolidated in every region of the country. Fascism is only a temporary and partial solution for the ruling class. It doesn’t last.

The other solution, which doubtless will always be accompanied by repression, is to grant concessions to the masses. Here, it’s necessary to observe that the state isn’t monolithically an instrument of capital. While capital dominates it, it is a terrain of struggle, “contestations,” “negotiations,” of different groups—classes, class subgroups, interest groups, even individual entities—advocating for their interests. Marxists from Engels, Kautsky, and Lenin to Miliband and Poulantzas to more recent writers have felled forests writing about the nature of the capitalist state, but for the purposes of revolutionary strategy all you need is some critical common sense (as Noam Chomsky, dismissive of self-indulgent “theorizing,” likes to point out). It is possible for popular movements to exert such pressure on the state that they slowly change its character, thereby helping to change the character of capitalist society.

In particular, popular organizations and activists can take advantage of splits within the ruling class to push agendas that benefit the populace. The political scientist Thomas Ferguson, among others, has shown how the New Deal, including the epoch-making Wagner Act and Social Security Act, was made possible by just such divisions in the ranks of business. On a grander scale, Western Europe’s long transition from feudalism to capitalism was accompanied by divisions within the ruling class, between more forward-thinking and more hidebound elements. (As is well known, a number of landed aristocrats and clergymen even supported the French Revolution, at least in its early phases.) Marx was therefore wrong to imply that it’s the working class vs. the capitalist class, monolithically. This totally Manichean thinking suggested that the only way to make a revolution is for the proletariat to overthrow the ruling class in one blow, so to speak, to smash a united reactionary opposition that, moreover, is in complete control of the state (so the state has to be seized all at once).

On the contrary, we can expect the past to repeat itself: as crises intensify and popular resistance escalates, liberal factions of the ruling class will split off from the more reactionary elements in order to grant concessions. In our epoch of growing social fragmentation, environmental crisis, and an increasingly dysfunctional nation-state, many of these concessions will have the character not of resurrecting the centralized welfare state but of encouraging phenomena that seem rather “interstitial” and less challenging to capitalist power than full-fledged social democracy is. But, however innocent it might seem to support new “decentralized” solutions to problems of unemployment, housing, consumption, and general economic dysfunction, in the long run, as I’ve said, these sorts of reforms will facilitate the rise of a more democratic and socialized political economy within the shell of the decadent capitalist one.

At the same time, to tackle the immense crises of ecological destruction and economic dysfunction, more dramatic and visible state interventions will be necessary. They may involve nationalizations of the fossil fuel industry, enforced changes to the polluting practices of many industries, partial reintroductions of social-democratic policies, pro-worker reforms of the sort that Bernie Sanders’ campaign categorized under “workplace democracy,” etc. Pure, unending repression will simply not be sustainable. These more “centralized,” “statist” reforms, just like the promotion of the solidarity economy, will in the long run only add to the momentum for continued change, because the political, economic, and ecological context will remain that of severe worldwide crisis.

Much of the ruling class will of course oppose and undermine progressive policies—especially of the more statist variety—every step of the way, thus deepening the crisis and doing its own part to accelerate the momentum for change. But by the time it becomes clear to even the liberal sectors of the business class that its reforms are undermining the long-term viability and hegemony of capitalism, it will be too late. They won’t be able to turn back the clock: there will be too many worker-owned businesses, too many public banks, too many state-subsidized networks of mutual aid, altogether too many reforms to the old type of neoliberal capitalism (reforms that will have been granted, as always, for the sake of maintaining social order). The slow-moving revolution will feed on itself and will prove unstoppable, however much the more reactionary states try to clamp down, murder dissidents, prohibit protests, and bust unions. Besides, as Marx predicted, the revolutionary project will be facilitated by the thinning of the ranks of the capitalist elite due to repeated economic collapses and the consequent destruction of wealth.

Just as the European absolutist state of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries was compelled to empower—for the sake of accumulating wealth—the capitalist classes that created the conditions of its demise, so the late-capitalist state will be compelled, for the purposes of internal order, to acquiesce in the construction of non-capitalist institutions that correct some of the “market failures” of the capitalist mode of production. The capitalist state will, of necessity, be a participant in its own demise. Its highly reluctant sponsorship of new practices of production, distribution, and social life as a whole—many of them “interstitial” at first—will be undertaken on the belief that it’s the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being the complete dissolution of capitalist power resulting from the dissolution of society.

It is impossible to predict this long process in detail, or to say how and when the working class’s gradual takeover of the state (through socialist representatives and the construction of new institutions on local and eventually national levels) will be consummated. Nor can we predict what the nation-state itself will look like then, what political forms it will have, how many of its powers will have devolved to municipal and regional levels and how many will have been lost to supra-national bodies of world governance. Needless to say, it is also hopeless to speculate on the future of the market, or whether various kinds of economic planning will, after generations, mostly take the place of the market.

As for “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” this entity, like the previous “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” won’t exist until the end of the long process of transformation. Marxists, victims of impatience as well as the statist precedents of twentieth-century “Communist” countries, have traditionally gotten the order wrong, forgetting the lesson of Marxism itself that the state is a function of existing social relations and can’t simply be taken over by workers in the context of a still-wholly-capitalist economy. Nor is it at all “dialectical” to think that a group of workers’ representatives can will a new economy into existence, overcoming the authoritarian, bureaucratic, inefficient, exploitative institutional legacies of capitalism by a few acts of statist will. Historical materialism makes clear the state isn’t so radically socially creative!3

Instead, the contrast that will appear between the stagnant, “fettering” old forms of capitalism and the more rational and democratic forms of the emergent economy is what will guarantee, in the end, the victory of the latter.

An ecumenical activism

In a necessarily speculative and highly abstract way I’ve tried to sketch the logic of how a new economy might emerge from the wreckage of capitalism, and how activists with an eye toward the distant future might orient their thinking. It should be evident from what I’ve said that there isn’t only one way to make a revolution; rather, in a time of world-historic crisis, simply fighting to humanize society will generate anti-capitalist momentum. And there are many ways to make society more humane.

Consider the social democratic path, the path of electing socialists and pressuring government to expand “welfare state” measures. Far-leftists often deride this approach as merely reformist; in the U.S., it’s also common to dismiss the idea of electing progressive Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because supposedly the Democratic Party is hopelessly capitalist and corrupt. It can’t be moved left, and it will certainly never be a socialist party.

According to Regeneration Magazine, for instance, a voice of the Marxist Center network, “Reformism accepts as a given the necessity of class collaboration, and attempts to spin class compromise as a necessary good. One of the more popular strategic proposals of the reformist camp is the promotion of candidates for elected office running in a capitalist party; a clear instance of encouraging class collaboration.”

There are a number of possible responses to such objections. One might observe that if the left insists on absolute purity and refuses to work with anyone who can be seen as somehow “compromised,” it’s doomed to irrelevance—or, worse, it ends up fracturing the forces of opposition and thus benefits the reactionaries. It is a commonplace of historiography on fascism that the refusal of Communist parties in the early 1930s to cooperate with socialists and social democrats only empowered the Nazis and other such elements—which is why the Stalinist line changed in 1934, when the period of the Popular Front began. Then, in the U.S., began Communist efforts to build the Democrat-supported CIO (among other instances of “collaboration” with Democrats), which was highly beneficial to the working class. Leftists, more than anyone else, should be willing and able to learn from history.

Or one might state the truism that social democracy helps people, and so if you care about helping people, you shouldn’t be opposed to social democracy. It may be true that the Democratic Party is irredeemably corrupt and capitalist, but the more left-wing policymakers we have, the better. Democrats have moved to the left in the past, e.g. during the New Deal and the Great Society, and they may be able to move to the left in the future. One of the goals of socialists should be to fracture the ruling class, to provoke splits that provide opportunities for socialist organizing and policymaking.

At the same time, the strategy of electing left-wing Democrats or “reformists” should be complemented by an effort to build a working-class party, not only for the sake of having such a party but also to put pressure on the mainstream “left.” Anyway, the broader point is just that the state is an essential terrain of struggle, and all ways of getting leftists elected have to be pursued.

Personally, I’m skeptical that full-fledged social democracy, including an expansion of it compared to its traditional form, is possible any longer, least of all on an international or global scale. Thus, I don’t have much hope for a realization of the Jacobin vision, that societies can pass straight into socialism by resurrecting and continuously broadening and deepening social democracy. Surely Marxism teaches us that we can’t resuscitate previous social formations after they have passed from the scene, particularly not institutional forms that have succumbed (or are in the process of succumbing) to the atomizing, disintegrating logic of capital. The expansive welfare state was appropriate to an age of industrial unionism and limited mobility of capital. Given the monumental crises that will afflict civilization in the near future, the social stability and coherence required to sustain genuine social democracy will not exist.

But that doesn’t mean limited social-democratic victories aren’t still possible. They certainly are. And in the long run, they may facilitate the emergence of new democratic, cooperative, ecologically viable modes of production, insofar as they empower the left. Even something like a Green New Deal, or at least a partial realization of it, isn’t out of the question.

On the other hand, while mass politics is necessary, that doesn’t mean we should completely reject non-electoral “movementism.” As I’ve argued, the project of building a new society doesn’t happen only on the level of the state; it also involves other types of popular organizing and mobilizing, including in the solidarity economy. The latter will likely, indeed, be a necessity for people’s survival in the coming era of state incapacity to deal with catastrophe.

Not all types of anarchist activism are fruitful or even truly leftist, but the anarchist intuition to organize at the grassroots and create horizontal networks of popular power is sound. Even in the ultra-left contempt for reformism there is the sound intuition that reforms are not enough, and we must always press forward towards greater radicalism and revolution.

An ecological apocalypse?

An obvious objection to the conception and timeframe of revolution I’ve proposed is that it disregards the distinct possibility that civilization will have disappeared a hundred years from now if we don’t take decisive action immediately. For one thing, nuclear war remains a dire threat. But even more ominously, capitalism is turbocharged to destroy the natural bases of human life.

There’s no need to run through the litany of crimes capitalism is committing against nature. Humanity is obviously teetering on the edge of a precipice, peering down into a black hole below. Our most urgent task is to, at the very least, take a few steps back from the precipice.

The unfortunate fact, however, is that global capitalism will not be overcome within the next few decades. It isn’t “defeatist” to say this; it’s realistic. The inveterate over-optimism of many leftists, even in the face of a dismal history, is quite remarkable. Transitions between modes of production aren’t accomplished in a couple of decades: they take generations, and involve many setbacks, then further victories, then more defeats, etc. The long march of reactionaries to their current power in the U.S. took fifty years, and they existed in a sympathetic political economy and had enormous resources. It’s hard to believe socialists will be able to revolutionize the West and even the entire world in less time.

Fortunately, it is possible to combat ecological collapse even in the framework of capitalism. One way to do so, which, sadly, is deeply unpopular on the left, is for governments to subsidize the massive expansion of nuclear power, a very clean and effective source of energy despite the conventional wisdom. The rollout of renewable energy is important too, despite its many costs. Meanwhile, it is far from hopeless to try to force governments to impose burdensome regulations and taxes on polluting industries or even, ideally, to shut down the fossil fuel industry altogether. Capitalism itself is indeed, ultimately, the culprit, but reforms can have a major effect, at the very least buying us some time.

Climate change and other environmental disasters may, nevertheless, prove to be the undoing of civilization, in which case the social logic of a post-capitalist revolution that I’ve outlined here won’t have time to unfold. Nothing certain can be said at this point—except that the left has to stop squabbling and get its act together. And it has to be prepared for things to get worse before they get better. As Marx understood, that’s how systemic change tends to work: the worse things get—the more unstable the system becomes—the more people organize to demand change, and in the end the likelier it is that such change will happen.

The old apothegm “socialism or barbarism” has to be updated: it’s now socialism or apocalypse.

But the strategic lesson of the “purifications” I’ve suggested of Marxist theory remains: the path to socialism is not doctrinaire, not sectarian, not wedded to a single narrow ideological strain; it is catholic, inclusive, open-ended—both “reformist” and non-reformist, statist and non-statist, Marxist and anarchist, Democrat-cooperating and -non-cooperating. Loath as we might be to admit it, it is even important that we support lesser-evil voting, for instance electing Biden rather than Trump. Not only does it change people’s lives to have a centrist instead of a fascist in power; it also gives the left more room to operate, to influence policy, to advocate “radical reforms” that help lay the groundwork for new economic relations.

It’s time for creative and flexible thinking. The urgency of our situation demands it.

  1. Being an outgrowth of my Master’s thesis, the book over-emphasizes worker cooperatives. It does, however, answer the usual Marxist objections to cooperatives as a component of social revolution.
  2. If someone will counterpose here the example of Russia, which didn’t require “many decades” to go from capitalism and late-feudalism to a “Stalinist mode of production,” I’d reply that the latter was in fact like a kind of state capitalism, and therefore wasn’t so very different after all from the authoritarian, exploitative, surplus-extracting, capital-accumulating economy that dominated in the West.
  3. This is why I claim in the above-linked book that my “revisions” of Marxism are really purifications of it, eliminations of mistakes that finally make the properly understood Marxist conception of revolution consistent with the premises of historical materialism.

The First Circle

Probably everyone in the West at least has seen some version of a famous figure by the late 19th century French sculptor Auguste Rodin, called in English, The Thinker. It is a nude man seated in a position we have all learned to understand as contemplative, as thinking. Several years ago, although I actually hate visiting museums, I took a few hours while in Paris to visit the Rodin museum. I confess a very good friend who knows more about the plastic arts than I do gave me the hint. He said this figure is actually only a tiny part of a much bigger sculpture. You need to see it, he said, in its context.

When I was still an adolescent, having heard about the release of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, I asked my grandmother to buy me a copy. I was staying with her at the time. This was my first contact with Russian writers. Solzhenitsyn’s book so fascinated me that I asked for and got a box set of his novels. One of them which I found very curious and at first reading very difficult was called The First Circle. It was about scientists, if I recall correctly, in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. I could check and refresh my memory but that is not the point. There are some things in one’s life or education, which are more important for how one feels at a certain time than the actual content, which may be quite trivial. The significance of the content, his story, only occurred to me when some years later I became familiar with Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Although I still appreciate Solzhenitsyn’s work, what I most appreciate was his refusal to become a public instrument of US anti-Soviet foreign policy while in his Vermont exile. Although by all reasonable measures he was an archconservative and intense opponent of the Soviet Union, he was such a Russian patriot that he could not accept the “American way of life” and refused to promote it. However, that is not my main concern here.

Since events exploded in Wuhan, China in 2019, I have wavered between resignation and the compulsion to react to events in the way I always have since I learned to hold a pencil—by writing.

In 2016 I spent nine hours watching a dramatic presentation of Karl Kraus’ Die letzten Tagen der Menschheit,  an amazing piece of drama about the conditions of the Great War (1915-1918).1 Prior to that Kraus was only known to me by means of an epithet my university mentor was fond of citing: “Why does a man write? Because he does not have enough courage not to”.  I found the original quote in German later, which could be given a slightly different interpretation. However, the point is essentially the same: while writing is a rational act, the decision to write is not necessarily rational.

At the end of nearly 20 weeks since the first barrage of news from Wuhan, China, and the first month of the state of siege proclaimed through most of the European Union, I have addressed myself2 to the current condition some nine times in prose and verse to the so-called corona virus pandemic. As I follow the published and broadcast traces in the West, which describe and/or define the present very unsatisfactory conditions, I keep asking myself if there is really any point to saying more.

My focus has been on the character of the response, its proportionality, but also its legitimacy. From the beginning I have argued that the origin of the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 and the immediate mechanisms of the outbreak are positively deniable and therefore ought not to be the focus of too much debate. It is hard but not impossible to argue that this was a natural catastrophe, perhaps caused by “global warming”. However, I believed and still believe that the focus on the origin of the outbreak and even the details of the disease, known as covid-2019, while in a microcosmic way relevant, on the whole are minor issues. The reason is simple: what needs to be addressed is the global context in which the phenomenon of the “corona virus” has become the key public policy and health issue worldwide—apparently to the exclusion of all else—and the means by which this issue is handled and not least of which by whom?

I have also argued that there is a fundamental difference between the events in China and those in the EU and the US. Therefore simple comparisons between the action of the Chinese government and the reactions of the Western governments, singularly or collectively, do not add much to understanding the crisis. Finally I have argued that this is not a medical crisis but a political crisis.

There is no need to repeat those arguments and why I made them here.

However, in the context of the Easter holiday, a feast which for centuries was the core religious festival of Christendom, not only were the celebrations virtually prohibited, a campaign was apparently begun, or to use the corporate jargon for such an event “kicked-off”.

Prior to the near universal proclamation of the state of siege throughout the EU, there were intimations that the closures—especially of schools and universities—would probably only continue until the end of the Easter recess. In other words, one to two weeks after the Easter holiday. I say intimated because I know of no official pronouncements that the closures would end on any particular day. Since there was no public parliamentary debate and no other conventional public procedure for deciding the terms of the state of siege; e.g., according to what criteria it would lapse or be raised, the credibility of such conjecture was based wholly on a common sense approach. No later than the end of Easter recess people would have to return to work because there are simply no alternatives

The first week after Easter has come to an end and there is little sign of any end to the closures, although some EU members have announced limited and tentative returns to ordinary business and in Sweden, for example, the regime has already been superficially relaxed.

China, where this virus was first detected and the illnesses first reported, has begun to re-open its business and public institutions if in a guarded way.

Meanwhile if reports from the US are to be believed the pandemic has hit very hard in a country that has virtually no concept of public health worthy of the name.

This has given the permanent anti-Trump faction in the US another reason to continue their campaign after the attempt to ram an impeachment and removal through the US Congress failed last year. Now the man who is Vladimir Putin’s right hand in the W**** House is also the cause of a virtually hopeless corona crisis in the Land of Opportunity.

Throughout the great cataclysm, all sorts of questions are asked about the disease, the symptoms, the treatments, the risks, and the responses. Accusations and counter-accusations are fired among those who claim authority over the battlefield/battlespace and us. Those authorities claim the exclusive right to define what actions or omissions caused our current condition and what should be done to change it—presumably by ending the crisis.

Yet careful attention to those with the most access to the public, via mass media and its derivatives, shows that there is no policy for ending the crisis either.

Public debate is staged to focus on the following topics:

  1. Blame for the outbreak and its pandemic quality
  2. The putative risks, including lethality of the virus
  3. Measures to restrain or prevent spread of the virus
  4. Responsibility for formulating, promulgating and enforcing measures
  5. What will happen to the economy in the short-term and long-term?

Leaving aside the dispute between the Americans or the British about China’s liability for the pandemic, there are those who, having failed to impeach Donald Trump, now blame him either for the virus or for its apparent catastrophic spread in the USA. There has also been an on-going debate about the competency or the adequacy of the actions taken by government agencies, either to detect and warn or to communicate and organise and implement counter-measures.

Very slowly but hardly at a volume that would threaten the present regimes, some people are even discussing the failure to respond to previous warnings about the general state of the healthcare system. Yet much of this critique is only directed toward the emergency management capabilities. A fundamental challenge to thirty-plus years of anti-social privatisation and commercialisation of the public health sector for private profit is still largely suppressed, to the extent it has been made at all.

Beyond the conventional mass media; i.e., television, radio, print, which constitutes an amplifier for official government and corporate opinion, there are debates, which range from repetitions of the mass media gossip to name-calling and, of course, the dreaded field of “conspiracy” chatter.

Before going any further let us be clear about one thing.

Contrary to what is often preached in conventional mass media and taught half-heartedly in schools, virtually all serious decision-making is secretive; i.e., conducted out of public view. Naturally almost all business (corporate) decisions are taken secretly by management and announced once they have been taken. The same is generally true for all governmental operations, especially in a society that values business practices more than democratic ones. The government in a parliamentary system may occasionally lose a division or plenary vote. However, the plenary session is not where the bills are drafted or chosen for decision. All of these “democratic” preparations are taken in meetings from which the general public is excluded, but those with a special interest in the acts to be adopted are explicitly included.

This is no more clearly the case than now when most of the European Union is subject to siege regulations that were never debated in public and for which no democratic regulation is provided, especially to provide an end to it all.

Hence those who read further and feel their knee tensions rising, waiting to jerk at any moment with the expletive “conspiracy theory” should bear the foregoing in mind. The controversies found on all sorts of websites and in chat groups are not about whether there are conspiracies (those who do not use the word avoid it out of cowardice or ignorance) but what is the nature and content of the conspiracy or conspiracies that substitute for public health policy and democratic decision-making in the current crisis?

Civil affairs and civic action

We are given two excuses for tolerating an abrogation or suspension of what few democratic processes and civil privileges the citizenry enjoys. These are war and natural disaster. The reason for these exceptions is supposed to be that urgency requires speedy and concentrated action and democratic processes would be too slow or civil privileges would impede efficient action. A banal example but appropriate given the view our rulers have of us is that if a child is about to run into the street where an oncoming truck would hit and injure or kill the child, then it is unreasonable to expect that a discussion precede the command, stop! and the action to restrain the child. So our governments tell us that when an emergency is declared we revert to childhood and therefore forfeit our civil privileges and democratic processes until those governments have declared the emergency or the armed hostilities to be ended.

When the outbreak of the corona virus was announced in the Western mass media with suspicious immediacy in December last, the initial message was simply: yellow peril. China has generated another disease and the world must protect itself from the Chinese infection. Actions around the world were directed at the enemy virus from Asia and its known and secret (unknown) carriers. The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) first announced a cautious warning, reiterated by mouthpieces of the European Union.

However, by mid-January cases began to appear that could not be obviously linked to the Wuhan outbreak, in Europe and then in North America.3 Once infections had been announced in Italy, Spain, Germany, and more or less throughout the EU—with Italy apparently most affected—one head of state or government after another proclaimed a state of emergency. The WHO changed its designation of the virus to a “pandemic”. From that point on the remaining trappings of democratic processes were aborted throughout the European Union and decrees were issued of various severity confining the population to barracks or house arrest, closing small and medium-sized enterprises, schools and universities, cultural and sports venues, in short any place larger than a toilet cubicle. The basis for these decrees was not any legislation adopted in plenary session. Instead it has been asserted that these measures are justified on the basis of public health or medical expertise.

In fact, the dominant narrative is that the entire state of siege/emergency is governed by the scientific imperatives prescribed by public health or medical experts.

Thus much of the debate in the secondary media—the web—has focused on the reliability, accuracy, and completeness of the medical/public health expertise.

More radical debate actually questions the integrity of the expertise and the decisions taken based on it. These debates are obstructed not only in the web but also in the conventional mass media by apparent facticity of the disease as the “frontline” physicians confront it. In other words, attempts to examine the public health and medical expertise upon which government decisions are ostensibly based are answered by the rigorous insistence that all the hospitals and all the doctors and all the deaths reported verify the fundamental seriousness of the situation. Hence any detailed examination of government policy and action is secondary to “stopping the enemy advance!”

However, the information from the “frontline” only appears more factual than the statements made by high officials. No doubt there is hard work being done in all sorts of hospitals and clinics confronting cases of illness. It would be a mistake, however, to take reports from the front at face value. The modern medical profession, despite traditional imagery, is largely an industrial process organised by personnel whose training is more akin to that of soldiers than healers. Beginning with the selection process and proceeding through every stage of medical education, the modern physician is drilled and exercised like an infantry recruit. The modern hospital is a factory and factory organisation and management prevail: more or less strict hierarchies from overworked, underpaid and abused nursing staff to slightly better paid junior physicians whose status as subalterns makes them sacrificial labour until they are promoted or escape to private practice, where they become distributors for the pharmaceutical or medical engineering industries. It can be no wonder then that anonymous reports circulate by hospital physicians that they have essentially forged death certificates to inflate the mortality statistics for corona virus. Moreover there can be no doubt that an employed physician, like the employee in every other factory, is constrained to see what his company teaches or tells him to see. Even without such reports, however, the details from the “front” are filtered through every level of command before they reach the public. Since the medical profession is also governed by a number of overlapping regulations, including patient privacy, disciplinary and departmental guidelines and catalogued diagnostic and therapeutic rules, the raw data is useless until analysed taking all those filters into account. Therein lies the capacity for deception—not necessarily by the practitioner, but by the medical organisation itself with its claims to exclusive jurisdiction over human healthcare.

Beyond that, however, the active agencies and their mouthpieces could be called paramedical or even paramilitary. These are the bureaucratic departments and agencies at local, national and international level where public health or medical policy is made and implemented. Once one leaves the frontline, where doctor, nurse, and patient are engaged, the route back to the population at large is through a huge command structure, each with its own peculiar interest and perspective of the war being fought. There are many but the most important ones in this global war on the virus or GWOV have become the WHO and the US CDC.

Both of these organisations are presented in the mass media, and by the government officials in charge of the war effort, as if they were healthcare or medical institutions. The WHO is a United Nations body. The World Health Assembly, a kind of General Assembly of world health ministers, representing individual countries—like the General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City—meets regularly to consider the health issues on a worldwide basis. The WHO is the equivalent of the Secretariat of the UN. Hence the head of the WHO secretariat is something like the Secretary-General of the UN—in other words, a member of the international civil service bureaucracy. Like the UN Secretary-General, the head of the WHO secretariat is a politician raised by those who have the most power in the World Health Assembly to this high office, often enough as a reward for (political) services rendered. The World Health Organisation is an ordinary bureaucracy that just happens to administer programs defined within the agenda of the World Health Assembly. But like the UN Secretariat it is dependent on the member contributions and donations for its budget. And like the UN Secretariat, especially since 1980, the WHO only implements the programs for which it receives funding.4 In line with contemporary economic orthodoxy this has meant that the UN organisations, including the WHO, are encouraged to accept private (corporate/foundation) funding in lieu of appropriations from member-states.

The US CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were originally founded as the Office of National Defence Malaria Control in 1946. The control of malaria was essentially an element of US imperial operations since malaria was not a major health problem in the continental US. Malaria infection became a chronic problem for the Panama Canal Zone, US invasions or occupations in Central America, the US Pacific protectorates, like the Commonwealth of the Philippines and the expansion of imperial operations in the Pacific basin, especially Asia.

Since the US devoted most of its World War II military effort to conquering the Pacific and suborning Japan, malaria became a serious problem exceeding the relatively small number of cases from Western hemisphere operations. In 1992 the activities and programs that had accumulated over the years were consolidated in the present organisation, located near Atlanta, Georgia.

The CDC is presented as a healthcare agency and is even assigned within the US Department of Health and Human Services. This maintains the general impression that it is a civilian public health service.5

As the drama of corona virus unfolded, the CDC, together with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), claimed the authority over the crisis, at least on the technical side. Soon controversy arose about whether the CDC recognised the crisis, reacted properly or rapidly enough; communicated to the responsible authorities; e.g., the POTUS, true and accurate information. As already mentioned Trump opponents try to exploit this controversy to show somehow that Trump is to blame for any failures. All of this controversy is really distraction. It presumes that the agencies involved actually are responding as public health services in the interest of public health; e.g., stopping the spread of the virus and/or remedying its consequences.

Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification

The CDC is still part of the military establishment, despite the fact that it is formally under the US Department of Health and Human Services. It is not unusual to place military organisations within civilian hierarchies for cover. Its military mission is to provide protection to the war fighters against communicable diseases and biological agents that could impair their fighting capacity. It is also charged with research into biological weapons, ostensibly for defensive purposes. However, given that the US regime has been the world’s leader in the offensive use of biological weapons, it is safe to say that the research is at best to protect the US from damage by its own weaponry.6  The same can be said for the National Institutes of Health. In fact, all of the so-called public health institutions created by the US regime originated in the military. The US Public Health Service is a part of the national defence establishment and one of the uniformed services (the technical term for the armed forces in the US).

When officers of the CDC or NIH pose as disease prevention agents one has to engage in mental imaging and picture a guy like Fauci in the uniform of USA Special Forces at Fort Bragg, talking to the Press about “civic action”, surrounded by people who by night command death squads. Then one can get an approximate emotional reaction to what CDC’s true function is and always has been.

Recruiting health experts for overseas

The CDC especially is a civil affairs activity engaged in what the military calls “civic action”. “Civil affairs” means in US Army doctrine the means by which the army competes to win the population. Civil affairs personnel are trained in special operations because civil affairs and civic action involve psychological warfare as well as the implementation of programs with ostensibly civilian benefits. As a civil affairs activity, the CDC conducts civic action programs that look like disease prevention or other public health work but are based on military objectives—control over the population. Civil affairs operations are intimately linked to counter-insurgency—the military conduct of unconventional warfare (aka terror) against potential threats or enemies among the civilian population.

Another important aspect of the CDC mission is vaccination. Vaccination is the industrial process for immunization. If one thinks of vaccination as a civilian activity it seems quite a conventional act. Most of us can recall getting our shots at school as children. However, in a military context vaccination is also ideological. In Vietnam the US deployed vaccination as a means to immunize the population against communism. There were two kinds of vaccination. One was the injection given to the arm by a medical officer or an enlisted man from the medical corps. The other was the vaccination administered at night by death squads who went into villages to capture or kill the communists infecting the villages.

Civil affairs campaigns comprise the organisation and conduct of civic action operations intended to immunize the population from the enemy and thus win it for the friendly forces. This process is also known as pacification.

In Southeast Asia, quarantine was also applied for pacification. The quarantine program was called the strategic hamlet system. The military deployed to an area with several villages and relocated the villagers in compounds which they helped build and equip. Villagers were trained and equipped to defend them from the enemy; i.e., the communists. The villages were concentrated—but one did not want to call them concentration camps—so that surveillance would be easier and to facilitate the use of free fire zones. All healthy villagers were located in a strategic hamlet; therefore, anyone else must be a communist pathogen to be neutralised. Since the villagers were deprived of their normal means of income and support, the civil affairs authorities had to provide benefits for the hamlet inhabitants.

If careful consideration is given to the policies recommended through the CDC and WHO the similarities to the underlying strategy of pacification will become apparent. It should not surprise anyone that people whose primary activity is the support of civil-military operations should direct governments to implement policies and programs based on those doctrines.

This is a major source of deception by the governments of the EU and the US. Medical or public health cover is given to what is essentially a global pacification campaign. The so-called “lockdown”, despite the penitentiary origin of the term, is much better understood as a huge, modified strategic hamlet program. Even the recent decision to give immediate subsidies to Europe’s “displaced peasantry” is part of the pacification strategy.

This, of course, raises the most emotional question: what is the strategic objective of the accelerated pacification against the corona virus?

In the mainstream, that is to say conventional mass media, official pronouncements and the vast majority of commentary detectable, the strategy is just to stop the virus spreading and prevent deaths due to the virus. On its face that would seem like a plausible and attainable if as yet unscheduled objective. To reach this objective the accelerated pacification campaign is supposed to isolate the population from the virus, leaving the field clear for counter-virus operations. At some point the public health services will only have some mopping up operations to perform and then we will be able to return to our villages with no corona around.

In fact, that is a ridiculous plan on its face as more critical and more sinister people have already observed.

It is ridiculous because there is simply no way to assure that another virus will not come along and cause a similar outbreak. Or just as bad, the virus could be defeated and purged from one part of the world but re-enter from some part of the world not sufficiently pacified.

Of course, there has been speculation about this problem. Slowly people are being told—if they did not notice—that pacification creates a new environment in which vigilance will enjoy higher priority than in the past.

The conventional mass media and all the mouthpieces for our governments have as if in chorus begun to advise us all: “the world has changed since corona”. Where have we heard that before? Wasn’t that in September many years ago?

Again we appear to be standing before the entry to a new era, the era after corona. Will we be able to discuss this within our old democratic processes and using our traditional civil privileges? Will the siege or emergency be lifted before we enter this new era?

Easter is traditionally a festival of renewal. It is the feast of the resurrection in Christian mythology. Many people in Europe wished that Easter also had brought an end to the state of siege. Some countries like Sweden and Austria have indeed announced a relaxation of the hamlet rules, to allow the peasantry back in their fields so to speak (if only because subsidising them under arrest is prohibitively expensive).

Instead Easter was the kick-off of a campaign by the founder of the Microsoft monopoly and co-founder with his spouse of one of the world’s richest corporate tax shelters, also called a foundation. The principal shareholder and one of the richest individuals on the planet appeared in Germany and in Britain in televised interviews conducted by the state broadcasters, ARD in Germany and BBC in the Great Britain. The interviewers provided a platform for the funder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to discuss his plans for the world after corona.

In the BBC Breakfast interview Mr Gates made some interesting points:

1) He called himself a health expert.

2) He described the process by which the vaccines will have to be approved faster than normal and distributed to everyone.

3) He also assumes that there will be insufficient quantities of whatever vaccine is developed.

4) He explained that he believes that there is really no end to the risk. Although developed countries may succeed in controlling and eliminating the virus with their superior infrastructure, the developing countries, which lack all that capacity, could remain sources from which the virus could re-enter the virus-free countries.

What is one to make of these assertions?

  1. a) By any conventional understanding of the term he is not a health expert—although he may employ people who are.
  2. b) Now that is a fairly common observation by those who have heard him speak. However, what he explained in the interview was, for example, that factories producing the vaccine will be in one place and the science will be in another place. What this reveals is the extent to which the corporate structure and intellectual property rights are already established for this vaccine monopoly. Such a structure would make no sense in a public service or genuinely public health-oriented approach. It only makes sense in terms of maximising corporate income streams — which after all is Mr Gates primary interest in life.

What is rather difficult to grasp from the public statements is just how some of this fits together. Robert Kennedy Jr. has gone very far toward showing that the Gates foundation has been conducting illegal and unethical testing in poor parts of the world where the authorities can be bought or where testing can be performed under cover of various activities that appear legitimate or legal.

  1. c) Scarcity, of course, is another factor in monopoly pricing.
  2. d) Therefore it will be necessary to maintain pacification measures in the core and intervene in poor countries to help them defeat the enemy or prevent the enemy from spreading from their countries to other parts of the world.

However, if Mr Gates is not really a health expert and actually has no capacity to produce vaccinations why is he speaking as if he were going to guide us all to the resurrection?

Mr Gates proposes that the way into the future beyond corona is vaccination. In other words he follows and promotes the strategy for which the CDC and the other elements of civil-military operations were created.

Robert Kennedy Jr., a vocal critic of vaccination policies and a critic of the Gates Foundation, has given some hints as to why. Namely, the CDC — a military organisation exempt from most FDA regulation — has become the main agency for vaccination and the vaccination business. The CDC does not have to perform as much testing for safety as is normally required by law. Its exemptions for military expediency make it a wonderful conduit for experimental substances; vaccines are not considered medicine within the scope of US law. Many of CDC’s high officers are directly tied to the vaccination industry. Mr Kennedy is not alone is producing evidence that the Gates Foundation actively promoted and participated in vaccination testing schemes in India and throughout Africa which were condemned as war crimes when performed by German authorities during WWII.7 The revolving door at the Pentagon, where high-ranking military officers become agents and directors for the major arms manufacturers while civilian offices are given to people who worked in those companies that make the weapons the regime buys, is infamous. If the weapons manufacturers own the conventional military, then the chemical and drug companies own the biological warfare divisions. Past directors of CDC sat or sit on the boards of major vaccination manufacturers.8

We sell problems, not solutions

That is one reason why there is a pandemic– this gives the CDC a role it would not otherwise have to obtain vaccinations and order their use.

Now permit a slight diversion: When automobile production in the US started to become a mass market, Standard Oil began to search for ways to strengthen its control over the automobile fuel market. The gasoline engine was promoted over the diesel engine also because gasoline could be sold at a higher price than diesel fuel. However, DuPont and Standard came up with an idea, which for many years gave Standard an edge in the gasoline market. Gasoline could not be patented which would have increased Rockefeller’s monopoly income. So DuPont developed tetraethyl lead as a fuel additive. This lead compound was sold as a so-called “anti-knocking” compound that would make fuel burn more evenly in gasoline engines. DuPont and Standard Oil had already combined to buy most of the small car and truck manufacturers and create General Motors (mergers underwritten by Morgan, like US Steel or General Electric etc.) GM became the single-biggest maker of automobile engines and it prescribed ethyl gasoline for its cars and trucks. DuPont made profits on the poisonous lead compound — prohibited some 60 years later in the US — Standard had an exclusive license to the lead compound and advertised heavily (with the help of GM) — to convince the public that gasoline without lead was inferior. The fact that the lead actually damaged the motors was ignored because damaged motors meant buying new cars. So GM profited from the deal too.

Now let us look at the vaccination business. For decades vaccinations were produced using an ethyl mercury compound patented by Ely Lilly.9  This compound was eventually prohibited in most medicinal uses because the ethyl mercury was found to be a very poisonous neurotoxin. However, it continued to be used in vaccines because the responsible agency for vaccines was none other than the CDC. Allegedly this ethyl mercury compound is a valuable preservative enhancing the shelf life of the vaccine. One can assume, however, that due to the patent and the expense of producing the additive, it makes vaccines more expensive but also more exclusive since competitors have to produce a vaccine with this patented additive (either paying license fees for the right or buying the technology to produce something like it for their own vaccine preparations).

In short a key element in making a chemical or biological product suitable for monopoly is to introduce something, which need not be relevant at all to the active agent, but in combination makes the product subject to patent or cost-intensive protection for the manufacturer.

Mr Gates will participate in a couple or triangle with a pharmaceutical producer, a biotech or even distribution oligopolist and himself as the interface. Years later it was revealed that in more than a few cases GM bribed officials and bought public transport infrastructure to demolish it in favour of roads for cars and trucks. Today there is lots of money to buy officials worldwide and destroy alternatives to the vaccination industry.

Much of the groundwork has already been done. The Gates road show after Easter advocates continuation of the siege until his business model is positioned for launch.

The “corona virus” did not appear with a China incident in Wuhan. This kind of special operation was certainly at least 24 months in the planning — very likely already under Obama in his “Pivot to Asia” programme. In fact, Mr Gates is proud to admit that he gave a speech in 2015 warning that there is risk of a global pandemic. In his BBC interview he alluded to a series of exercises leading up to what could be called the rollout in October last.10

Body count and anti-c and counter-insurgency doctrine

To understand the subtext of the Easter road show, I believe it is helpful to remember some immortal truths held by the US elite to be self-evident. One of these is white supremacy. That is the legal and social construction of a racial myth, which combines what is actually a very diverse population into a fictive unity usually called “white” but often only detectable by minimal yet socially and politically enforced caste distinctions. The origins of this white supremacy —as opposed to vulgar racism have been elaborated elsewhere.11

The other self-evident truth is better called anti-communism than capitalism. American anti-communism is an empty category into which all organised challenges to the ruling oligarchy are put. That is why it has always been senseless to deny being a communist in the US; e.g., a member of a communist party. To be accused of communism is sufficient proof that one is a communist.12 The only choice one has is to recant and be vaccinated. Anti-communism also means a constant campaign of vigilance and vaccination. People who come to the US to live have to declare that they “are not, nor ever have been” infected by communism.

In the war against communism, whether in the Philippines, Vietnam, or Central America, the supreme objective was to eradicate communism, kill the virus. When the patrols returned they had to prove they were doing their job.

During the US war against Vietnam one of the “key performance indicators” was the “body count”: how many communists had been killed. One must understand that the overall US strategy for establishing an independent Republic of Vietnam (RVN) was Vietnamese minus communists — number of South Vietnamese. The concept of Vietnamese in terms of the Geneva accords was not recognised by the US. So the CIA — capitalism’s invisible army — created a number of programs for “making RVN by purging it of anyone not RVN; i.e., communist.

Anti-C: Taking care of “Charlie”

I think we can better understand Mr Gates if we think of anti-corona and anti-communism as the same kind of business. Let’s call it anti-c. It does not matter that communism is not a biological agent. The concept for fighting both is the same. In fact, when he tells the BBC interviewer of the risk that the underdeveloped countries could re-infect the rich countries he is using the same template as all those counter-insurgency warriors before him: the poor have to be defended from contamination by communism. Only now they have to be protected from corona. But is corona really just a virus?

Why are the people who are running the anti-c operations all paramilitary or military bureaucrats? (Mr Trump’s behaviour seems incoherent because he is not a soldier or a career bureaucrat like every other POTUS before him).13 Is this because as a small segment of the vocal and literate public has been saying for years: that the most profitable medical product line is vaccination (just as heroin is the most profitable sister business)? There are already indications that the anti- c campaign has led to “strings of ears” being delivered to the high command as evidence of the numbers of c-targets neutralised. Just as in Vietnam, numbers count. The company and field grade officers are expected to show progress and joint chiefs want to hear “that there is light at the end of the tunnel”.

Keeping people healthy, by means of pure food and drinks, safe working conditions, clean air and water, time for rest and recreation and—when needed affordable health care—are even by Mr Gates admission, not profitable activities for business. Profits lie in producing cheaply (with tax subsidies or inferior inputs) and selling at the highest possible price. This has always been the philosophy of Mr Gates as it was for his idol John D. Rockefeller. That means selling problems, not solutions.

Until recently several counter-insurgency programs had been in place; e.g., GWOT was the main one. At the same time there were continued programs against Cuba, Venezuela, rest of South America, operation in Africa against China, Ukraine (where Germany took the point using US money). The 2008 crash tightened control over financial markets. The war against Syria and the much earlier war to destroy Yugoslavia are all cut from the same anti-c cloth.

However, for a variety of reasons mainly focused in the exhaustion of the NATO internal reserves (both financial and military), there was finally the need for reintroducing a systems approach to coordinate and optimize the massive number of programs.

Aside from the personal and corporate profit streams that are the aim of any aggressive war (whether against states or peoples), there is the organisational problem for a small elite to impose power on numerically superior forces.

What led to the lockdown in the West? After several attacks on the Chinese economy, particularly targeting health and food supplies, failed (Just as they have failed in Cuba!! where there is no doubt that attacks took place), it was necessary not only to cover US tracks but also to systematise the management of all anti-c programs. At the same time these are not just anti-c but anti-p, anti-population, that is. The portion of the population that is not needed for the 1% is surplus. The economic consequences for the vast majority of people in Europe and North America cannot be a surprise. It is impossible that the decisions were prepared and implemented without knowing the short-term and long-term results. This is all the more reason for a counter-insurgency strategy of the sort described here. Population control will be essential for those who own most of the wealth in the West. Of course, there have to be systems to guard that 1% from internal and external threats.

For many readers this may seem quite extreme but there is a precedent. In 1945, Dwight Eisenhower, the liberal-left’s favourite US general, organised the mass incarceration of thousands of Germans, POWs and civilians in camps within the US zone of occupation. Thousands died of starvation, disease and exposure in US prison camps. One explanation offered was Ike’s supposed hatred of Germans. However, there is a far more damning and systematic reason for his actions. After the massive defeat of Germany by the Red Army, there was real fear among the leaders of the US regime and its military that a revolution of the left could occur like in 1918 at the end of the Great War. Then it had been possible for elements of the German army (with Allied financing) to suppress the 1918 revolution. However, in 1945 the Red Army was in Berlin. The US had every reason to fear that a communist-led revolution would have Red Army support and succeed. Taking no chances, Eisenhower fenced in as many Germans as he could, declared them “disarmed enemy” and thus removed them from PoW protection under international law, and let them die. This was very successfully concealed until a Canadian journalist exposed the administrative mass murder.14

The lockdown is really the outward condition for purging the West of any obstacles to its war against Russia and China. In Vietnam this was called “accelerated pacification”. The so-called Phoenix program was a plan to integrate all the anti-c measures into a single program—which was then computerised to become what Jeff Stein called “computerised assassination”.15 The technology was not as developed as it is now nor was the concept fully ripe. In fact, it has taken several mutations before the anti-c virus was ripe for deployment. In 2015 the concept mutated from GWOT to GWOV. If we are to believe him, the global vaccination is the culmination of Mr Gates thought, the jewel in the crown of his philanthropy. Mr Gates got his big business break cooperating with IBM, whose German subsidiary supplied data processing machines for concentration camps. Wearing this crown he and his kind will guide us all into the future. As we are surrounded by the panic in the last days of humanity, we can trust this man who appears quite thoughtful (yet seems to have difficulty holding a coffee mug) to lead us.

The Thinker is usually seen in isolation. Alone his meditative posture suggests something positive. It elicits our sympathy for calm reflection, if not intellect. But the naked man seated in contemplation must be seen in the context of Auguste Rodin’s entire work, a massive set of doors. Rodin was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s monumental poem. The Divine Comedy is composed of three parts, Paradiso, Purgatorio and, of course, Inferno; i.e., Hell. The massive work into which Rodin put his Thinker was just over the entrance to the first circle. He called his sculpture The Gates of Hell.

  1. Karl Kraus, The Last Days of Humanity  (1926).
  2. Part 1: “I am not a Journalist: Against journalistic privilege and for Mr Julian Assange“,  March 12, 2020; Part 2: “Viruses, Real and Virtual“, March 15th, 2020; and  Part 3: “I am not a war correspondent either“, April 11, 2020.
  3. See Larry Romanoff, for example.
  4. Although the USA, as the primary contributor to the United Nations since its founding, has always pressed the organisation to act in accordance with US regime policy. When Ronald Reagan was made POTUS in 1980, the US government announced a strict, public policy of only funding the UN activities that conform to US policies and actively refusing or eliminating funding for programs that did not conform to US policies. This principle has been maintained by the US regime for all its United Nations contributions since then. That principle has also been applied to the WHO.
  5. J. Edgar Hoover liked to portray the FBI as a crime-fighting organisation and was very successful at constructing this myth. The fact, however, is that Hoover was a US “Gestapo” chief and the FBI was founded as a political warfare force under Justice Department cover. People who do not know the history of the NSDAP regime may be surprised to know that the German Geheime Staatspolizei also had a criminal investigation division that pursued undercover what would normally be called “crime”; e.g., theft, murder, embezzlement, fraud, assault etc. However, its main job– like that of the FBI– was to pursue the regime’s opponents or dissidents and enforce the covert policies of the regime.
  6. Names are also forms of deception. The official name for the Harbin, China laboratories and prison compound used by Imperial Japanese Army Detachment 731 for its biological and chemical warfare experiments was the “Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department”.
  7. However, in the Pacific, the Japanese military who conducted biological and chemical tests on prisoners (e.g. Detachment 731) were given immunity and secretly employed by the US regime to help create its post-war biological weapons capabilities.
  8. CDC Website, past directors. A biography check going back at least 40 years shows that nearly all the CDC directors worked for or sat on the boards of major pharmaceutical manufacturers. The connection between CDC and Emory University is particularly pernicious. The university’s Rollins School of Public Health was endowed by the Rollins family—who made their fortune in pest control. One could be forgiven for thinking of Zykon B. Emory University runs one of the largest healthcare/hospital systems in Georgia, offering lots of research potential as well as throughput for CDC work product.
  9. Ely Lilly was an active producer of agents used by the CIA during the course of its MKUltra program. There is at least circumstantial evidence that this cooperation was at high level in the agency since GHW Bush became a member of the company’s board when he left his post as head of the CIA. Ely Lilly also launched one of the first commercial anti-depressant medications, PROZAC, developed about the same time that Bush was CIA director. The CIA and DEA have both been intricately involved in support of corporate pharmaceutical interests worldwide. See Douglas Valentine, The Strength of the Pack (2010) and The Strength of the Wolf (2004).
  10. Event 201 held at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
  11. Gerald Horne, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism (2018).
  12. This is a principle common with the Roman Catholic Inquisition. The only guideline the Holy Inquisition had to follow was anything was permitted “in the interest of the Faith”, anti-communism follows a similar rule but “in the interest of national security”.
  13. In fact, most people react negatively to Trump because they are already subconsciously trained to accept fascist bureaucrats as legitimate managers. They also have “herd immunity” to democracy in any form. This is regardless of whether one agrees with Trump’s actions or not. His personal behaviour in office is actually trivial.
  14. James Bacque, Other Losses (1989).
  15. In Michael McClear, Spooks and Cowboys, Gooks and Grunts (1975).

Cuba: From AIDS, Dengue, and Ebola to COVID-19

Preparing for a pandemic requires understanding that a change in the relationship between people is primary and the production of things is secondary and flows from social factors. Investors in profit-based medicine cannot comprehend this concept. Nothing could exemplify it more clearly than Cuba’s response to the corona virus (COVID-19).

The US dawdled for months before reacting. Cuba’s preparation for COVID-19 began on January 1, 1959. On that day, over sixty years before the pandemic, Cuba laid the foundations for what would become the discovery of novel drugs, bringing patients to the island, and sending medical aid abroad.

For twenty years before the 1959 revolution, Cuban doctors were divided between those who saw medicine as a way to make money and those who grasped the necessity of bringing medical care to the country’s poor, rural, and black populations. An understanding of the failings of disconnected social systems led the revolutionary government to build hospitals and clinics in under-served parts of the island at the same time it began addressing crises of literacy, racism, poverty, and housing.

By 1964, Cuba began creating policlínicos integrales, which were recreated as policlínicos comunitarios in 1974 to better link communities and patients. By 1984, Cuba had introduced the first doctor-nurse teams who lived in the neighborhoods they served. This continuing redesign of Cuban primary and preventive health has lasted through today as a model, allowing it to surpass the US in life expectancy and infant mortality.

It had an overarching concern with health care, even though it had never escaped from poverty. This resulted in Cuba’s eliminating polio in 1962, malaria in 1967, neonatal tetanus in 1972, diphtheria in 1979, congenital rubella syndrome in 1989, post-mumps meningitis in 1989, measles in 1993, rubella in 1995, and tuberculosis meningitis in 1997.

The Committees for Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) became a key part of mobilization for healthcare. Organized in 1960 to defend the country, block by block if necessary, from a possible US invasion, the CDRs took on more community care tasks as foreign intervention seemed less likely. They became prepared to move the elderly, disabled, sick, and mentally ill to higher ground if a hurricane approached. They currently help in removal of mosquito breeding places during episodes of dengue fever, participate in health education programs, ensure distribution of children’s vaccination cards, and help train auxiliary staff in oral vaccination campaigns.

AIDS in a Time of Disaster

Two whammies pounded Cuba in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first victim of AIDS died in 1986, and Cuba isolated soldiers returning from war in Angola who tested positive for HIV. A hate campaign against Cuba claimed that the quarantine reflected prejudice against homosexuals. But the facts showed that (1) soldiers returning from Africa were overwhelmingly heterosexual (as were most African AIDS victims), (2) Cuba had quarantined dengue patients with no outcry, and (3) the US itself had a history of quarantining patients with tuberculosis, polio, and even AIDS.

The second blow landed quickly. In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, ending its $5 billion annual subsidy, disrupting international commerce, and sending the Cuban economy into a free fall that exacerbated AIDS problems. A perfect storm for AIDS infection appeared to be brewing. The HIV infection rate for the Caribbean region was second only to southern Africa. The embargo simultaneously reduced the availability of drugs (including those for HIV/AIDS), as it made existing pharmaceuticals outrageously expensive and disrupted the financial infrastructures used for drug purchases. If these were not enough, Cuba opened the floodgate of tourism to cope with lack of funds. As predicted, tourism brought an increase in prostitution. There was a definite possibility that the island would succumb to a massive epidemic that would rival the effects of measles and smallpox which had arrived with European invaders to the New World.

The government response was immediate and strong. It drastically reduced services in all areas except two which had been enshrined as human rights: education and health care. Its medical research institutes developed Cuba’s own diagnostic test by 1987. Testing for HIV/AIDS went into high gear, with completion of over 12 million tests by 1993. Since the population was about 10.5 million, that meant that persons at high risk were tested multiple times.

Education about AIDS was massive for sick and healthy, for children as well as adults. By 1990, when homosexuals had become the island’s primary HIV victims, anti-gay prejudice was officially challenged as schools taught that homosexuality was a fact of life. Condoms were provided free at doctor’s offices. I witnessed the survival of the education program during a 2009 trip to Cuba; the first poster I saw on the wall when entering a doctor’s office had two men with the message to use condoms.

Despite high costs, Cuba provided antiretroviral (ART) drugs free to patients. One of the great ironies of the period was that those who screeched most noisily about Cuba’s “anti-homosexual” quarantines remained silent as the Torricelli Bill of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, designed to “wreak havoc” on the island,” seriously hindered the government’s efforts to bring ART drugs to HIV victims.

Cuba’s united and well-planned effort to cope with HIV/AIDS paid off. At the same time Cuba had 200 AIDS, cases New York City (with about the same population) had 43,000 cases. NYC residents were far less likely to have recently visited sub-Saharan Africa, where a third of a million Cubans had just returned from fighting in the Angolan war. When the HIV infection rate in Cuba was 0.5 percent, it was 2.3 percent in the Caribbean region and 9.0 percent in southern Africa. During the period 1991–2006, Cuba had a total of 1,300 AIDS-related deaths. By contrast, the less populous Dominican Republic had 6,000 to 7,000 deaths annually. In 1997, Chandler Burr wrote in The Lancet that Cuba had “the most successful national AIDS programme in the world.” Despite having only a small fraction of wealth and resources of the United States, Cuba had implemented an AIDS program superior to that of the country seeking to destroy it.

Dengue and Interferon Alpha 2B

The mosquito-borne dengue fever hits Cuba every few years. Its doctors and medical students check for fever, joint pain, muscle pain, abdominal pain, headache behind the eye sockets, purple splotches, and bleeding gums. What is unique about Cuba is that its medical students leave school and go door-to-door making home evaluations.

Students from ELAM (Spanish acronym for the Latin American School of Medicine) come from over 100 countries and speak with a huge number of accents. They have no trouble walking through homes, looking for mosquito-attracting plants, and peering onto roofs to see if there is standing water.

During a 1981 outbreak of dengue, expanded surveillance techniques included inspections, vector control education, spraying, and “mobile field hospitals during the crisis with a liberal policy of admissions.” Cuba also increased testing for potential cases during a 1997 dengue outbreak. Increased testing of hospital patients was combined with surveillance data to produce predictions concerning secondary infections related to death rates. These campaigns, which combined citizen involvement with health care professionals and researchers, have resulted in reduced incidence of dengue and decreased mortality.

In 1981, Cuba’s research institutes created Interferon Alpha 2B to successfully treat dengue. The same drug became vitally important decades later as a potential cure for COVID-19. According to Helen Yaffe, “Interferons are ‘signaling’ proteins produced and released by cells in response to infections that alert nearby cells to heighten their anti-viral defenses.” Cuban biotech specialist Dr. Luis Herrera Martinez adds that, “its use prevents aggravation and complications in patients, reaching that stage that ultimately can result in death.”

Since 2003, Interferon Alpha 2B has been produced in China by the enterprise ChangHeber, a Cuban-Chinese joint venture. “Cuba’s interferon has shown its efficacy and safety in the therapy of viral diseases including Hepatitis B and C, shingles, HIV-AIDS, and dengue.” Cuba has researched multiple drugs, “despite the U.S. blockade obstructing access to technologies, equipment, materials, finance, and even knowledge exchange.”

Ebola and International Aid

AIDS and dengue were problems that affected the Cuban population; but Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was quite different. Viruses that cause EVD are mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, an area that Cubans had not frequented for several decades.

When the Ebola virus increased dramatically in fall 2014, much of the world panicked. Soon, over 20,000 people were infected, more than 8,000 had died, and worries mounted that the death toll could reach into hundreds of thousands. The United States provided military support; other countries promised money.

Cuba was the first nation to respond with what was most needed: it sent 103 nurse and 62 doctor volunteers to Sierra Leone. With 4,000 medical staff (including 2,400 doctors) already in Africa, Cuba was prepared for the crisis before it began.

Since many governments did not know how to respond to Ebola, Cuba trained volunteers from other nations at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine. In total, Cuba taught 13,000 Africans, 66,000 thousand Latin Americans, and 620 Caribbeans how to treat Ebola without themselves becoming infected.

This was hardly the first time that Cuba had responded to medical crises in poor countries. Only fifteen months after the revolution, in March 1960, Cuba sent doctors to Chile after an earthquake. Much better known is Cuba’s 1963 medical brigade to Algeria, which was fighting for independence from France.

In the very first days of the revolution, there were insufficient medical staff and facilities in rural parts of Cuba that were predominantly black. It was perfectly natural for those who learned of lack of treatment and disasters that plagued other parts of the world to go abroad to assist those in need.

Revolutionary solidarity was often a collective family choice. Dr. Sara Perelló had just graduated from medical school when her mother heard Fidel say that Algerians were even worse off than Cubans and called on doctors to join a brigade to assist them. Dr. Perelló wanted to volunteer but was worried that her elderly mother suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Her mother responded that Sara’s sister and husband would help her as would the government: “Now the thing to do is go forward and don’t worry about your mother, who will be well taken care of.”

Cuban solidarity missions show a genuine concern that often seems to be lacking in health care providers from other countries. Medical associations in Venezeula and Brazil could not find enough of their own doctors to go to dangerous communities or travel to rural areas by donkey or canoe as Cuba doctors do. When Cuban doctors went to Bolivia, they visited 101 communities that were so remote that they did not appear on a map.

A devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010. Cuba sent medical staff who lived among Haitians and stayed months or years after the earthquake was out of the news. US doctors did not sleep where Haitian victims huddled, returned to luxury hotels at night, and departed after a few weeks. The term “disaster tourism” describes the way that many rich countries respond to medical crises in poor countries.

The commitment that Cuban medical staff show internationally is a continuation of the effort that the country’s health care system made in spending three decades to find the best way to strengthen bonds between care-giving professionals and those they serve. Kirk and Erisman provide statistics demonstrating the breadth that Cuba’s international medical work had reached by 2008: it had sent over 120,000 health care professionals to 154 countries; Cuban doctors had cared for over 70 million people in the world; and, almost 2 million people owed their lives to Cuban medical services in their country.

There is a noteworthy disaster when a country refused an offer of Cuban aid. After the 2005 Katrina Hurricane, 1,586 Cuban health care professionals were prepared to go to New Orleans. President George W. Bush rejected the offer, acting as if it would be better for American citizens to die than to admit the quality of Cuban aid. This decision foreshadowed the 2020 behavior of Donald Trump, who searched for a treatment for COVID-19 while pretending that Interferon Alpha 2B does not exist.

Contrasts: Cuba and the United States

These bits of history are background for contrasts between Cuba and the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those of us old enough to remember that in the 1960s, we could still have a relationship with a doctor without an insurance company interceding can appreciate that social bonds between physicians and patients were eroding in the United States at the same time they were being strengthened in Cuba.

Testing. Since Cuba brought both AIDS and dengue under control with massive increases and modifications of testing, it was well prepared to develop a national testing program for COVID-19. Similarly, China was able to quickly halt the epidemic, not simply from lockdowns, but also because it quickly tested suspected victims, took necessary steps for isolation and treatment of those found to be positive, and tested case contacts who were asymptomatic.

It is no accident that the United States is a global leader in neoliberal efforts to reduce or privatize public services, proved incapable of mounting an effective testing campaign, and, by the end of March 2020 was on the way to leading the world in COVID-19 cases. In mid-March, the United States had been able to test 5 per million people, though South Korea had tested more than 3,500 per million.

Symptomatic of governmental incompetence in the United States was Trump’s putting vice-president Pence in charge of COVID-19 control. It was Pence, who as Indiana governor, had drastically cut funds for HIV testing (urging people to pray), thereby contributing to an increase in infections.

Costs of care and medication. Medical care in Cuba is a human right with no costs for treatment and only very small charges for prescriptions. Pharmaceutical companies were some of the first industries nationalized after the revolution. US policies routinely hand over billions of tax dollars to Big Pharma, which routinely gets away with gouging citizens mercilessly.

There are no insurance companies in Cuba to add to medical expenses and dictate patient care decisions to doctors. Even if testing becomes free in the United States, people must still decide if they can afford treatment for COVID-19. Those who think that their insurance will cover their COVID-19 bills, “may receive a large out-of-network bill if the ER has been outsourced to a physician staffing firm that is not covered by the insurance.”

Protecting Workers. When natural disasters halt work, Cuban workers receive their entire salaries for one month and 60 percent of salaries after that. Cuban citizens receive food allotments and education at no cost, and utilities are extremely low. Cuba was able to shift production in nationalized factories so quickly and was able to churn out so much personal protective equipment (PPE) that it could send it to accompany the medical staff going to Italy when it was the pandemic’s center.

In the United States, there were nearly 10 million unemployment compensation claims by the end of the first week in April, and the country is not well-known for helping the unemployed by increasing taxes on the rich or reducing the military budget. There could be over 56 million “informal workers” in the United States who are not entitled to unemployment benefits. Forcing many US citizens to go to work because they cannot afford to go without basic necessities threatens the entire population with further spread of the pandemic. US health care workers have been short of PPE, including masks, gowns, gloves and test kits. Yet, President Trump is allowed to hold ventilators as “rewards” for states whose governors write that they appreciate him.

Comprehensiveness of Health Care. The Cuban revolution immediately reorganized the country’s disconnected health services and today has an integrated system beginning with neighborhood doctor-nurse offices tied into community clinics linked to area hospitals, all of which are supported by research institutes. The health system is connected to citizens’ organizations that have decades of experience protecting the country. This “inter-sectoral cooperation” is a keystone of health care. In Cuba, it would be inconceivable to have fifty different state policies that may or may not be consistent with national policies and may allow counties and cities within them to have their own procedures.

Instead of integrating plans for an effective approach to combating disease, the United States dismantles and/or privatizes whenever it can. Trump disbanded the pandemic response team, tried to underfund the pandemic prevention work of the World Health Organization, and sought to weaken nursing home regulations, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.

Lest anyone think that this is peculiar to Republicans, please remember that Democrats have long been in the forefront of neoliberalism and utilization of the “shock doctrine” approach that Naomi Klein described. Both parties have contributed to dismantling environmental rules so desperately needed.

Rebecca Beitsch reported on March 26 that “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.” Not wanting to be left out, “the oil and gas industry began asking the federal government to loosen enforcement of federal regulations on public lands in response to the coronavirus pandemic.” They sought an extension of two-year permits and the ability to hold onto unused leases. If pandemics such as COVID-19 recur in the future, will added pollution and climate-related diseases weaken human immune systems, making them more vulnerable to infections?

If so, universal medical coverage would be essential to protection for tens of millions of Americans. A recipient of huge donations from medical and pharmaceutical companies, Joe Biden has supported efforts to undermine social security and “suggested he would veto any Medicare for All bill that the House of Representatives passed.”

The Reality of Preparing to Deal with Medical Crises. Pascual Serrano noted that Cuba had already instituted the Novel Coronavirus Plan for Prevention and Control by March 2, 2020. Four days later it updated the Plan by adding “epidemiological observation,” which included specific measures like temperature taking and potential isolation, to infected incoming travelers. These occurred before Cuba’s first confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis on March 11. By March 12, after three Italian tourists were identified as having symptoms, the government announced that 3,100 beds at military hospitals would be available. Vulnerable groups such as seniors receive special attention. Cuba put a cohesive plan into motion that provides citizens with straightforward information, mobilizes workers to protect themselves and the country, and shifts production to necessary supplies.

At the same time, Donald Trump precautioned Americans to be wary of “fake news” about the virus. Then he said, “It will go away.” On February 26, he falsely said the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” He claimed, “It’s going to disappear thanks to what I did… ” Then he told everyone they should go to church on Easter Sunday and that Americans should go to work even if they had the virus. Unquestionably, Trump’s behavior contributed to the spreading of the disease. His statements were consistent with the desires of industry to resume business as usual.

While the United States produces a surplus of unnecessary junk, Cuba produces a surplus of health care professionals. Consequently, Cuba has 8.2 doctors per 1,000 people while the United States has 2.6 doctors per 1,000. While I was on a 2019 trip there, a recently graduated Cuban doctor told me that he only works about 20-25 hours per week. But during medical disasters, it could easily be 80-100 hours per week.

Education. Cuba has used mass education to effectively change behavior during epidemics. In 2003, Dr. Byron Barksdale pointed out how Cuba’s six-week program for AIDS patients was “certainly a longer time than is given to people in the United States who receive such a diagnosis. They may get about five minutes of education.” During dengue outbreaks, medical professionals who go to homes explain in detail why water must be drained or covered and what plants augment mosquito breeding.

The United States confronts health crises with “campaigns” that are grossly inadequate. TV ads run for a few weeks or months, and physicians may receive brochures to give to patients. There is nothing even approaching visits to every home to inspect how families can be contributing to their own illness and how to adopt behaviors to counter the disease.

Donald Trump’s inconsistent rantings about COVID-19 are the epitome of miseducation campaigns. Climate denial has served as a dress rehearsal for COVID-19 denial. The Trump reign has been a practice session in stupefying millions into believing anything a Great Leader says no matter how ridiculous it is. His tweets have a pathological similarity to the intensely anti-intellectual perspective that is dismissive of education, philosophy, art, and literature and insists that scientific investigation should never be trusted.

The day before yesterday, they insisted that the world was flat. Yesterday, they believed that evolution was a theory from Satan. This morning, they insisted that heating of the globe is a fantasy designed to choke corporate expansion. How close must it get to midnight before those drunk with Trump’s Kool-Aid are willing to see the facts of COVID-19 growth unfolding before their eyes?

International Solidarity. Cuba made international headlines the third week in March 2020 when it allowed the British cruise ship MS Braemar to dock with COVID-19 patients aboard. It had been turned away by several other Caribbean countries, including Barbados and the Bahamas, which are both part of the British Commonwealth. There were over 1,000 passengers on board, mainly British, who had been stranded for over a week. Braemar crew members displayed a banner reading “I love you Cuba!” Undoubtedly, Cuban officials felt okay letting the ship dock because its doctors had gained so much experience being exposed to deadly viruses like Ebola while knowing how to protect themselves.

The same week in March, a medical brigade of 53 Cubans left to Lombardy, one of the worst hit areas of Italy, the European country most affected by COVID-19. Soon they were joined by 300 Chinese doctors. A smaller and poorer Caribbean nation was one of the few aiding a major European power. Cuba had also sent medical staff to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, Grenada, and Jamaica.

Meanwhile, the US administration was refusing to lift sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, sanctions that interfered with these countries receiving PPE, medical equipment, and drugs. Yet, it continued sending thousands of personnel to Europe for military maneuvers. It manufactured a smear campaign against President Maduro of Venezuela, portraying him as a drug trafficker. Trump disgraced America by pandering to his most racist supporters by referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus.”

As Cuba shared anti-virus technologies with other countries, reports surfaced that the Trump administration offered the German company CureVac $1 billion if it could find a remedy for COVID-19 and hand over exclusive rights “only for the USA.” This meant endangering the lives of Americans in two ways. By trying to monopolize a drug that had not yet been developed, Trump was trying to distract attention from the existing Interferon Alpha 2B which China was already including among thirty treatment drugs for the disease. By continuing the sixty-year-old blockade, Trump hampered Cuba from receiving supplies for the development of new anti-COVID-19 medications.

What Do Researchers Look For? When Cuban labs created Interferon Alpha 2B to treat dengue, it was just one of many drugs researched to investigate treatments, especially those that would help people in poor countries. Its use of Heberprot B to treat diabetes has reduced amputations by 80 percent.

Cuba is the only country to create an effective vaccine against type-B bacterial meningitis. It developed the first synthetic vaccine for Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), as well as the vaccine Racotumomab against advanced lung cancer. Cuba’s second focus has been to manufacture drugs cheaply enough for poor counties to be able to afford them. Third, Cuba has sought to work cooperatively, with countries such as China, Venezuela, and Brazil, in drug development. Collaboration with Brazil resulted in meningitis vaccines at a cost of 95¢ rather than $15 to $20 per dose. Finally, Cuba teaches other countries to produce medications themselves, so they do not have to rely on purchasing them from rich countries.

In virtually every way, corporate research has been the opposite of that in Cuba. Big Pharma spends millions investigating male pattern baldness, restless legs, and erectile dysfunction because these could reap billions in profits. The COVID-19 pandemic promises to bring in super-profits, and governments are acting to make sure that happens. At the same time Trump was making promises to the German CureVac company, his administration was looking into giving exclusive status to Gilead Sciences for developing its drug remdesivir as a potential treatment for COVID-19. US taxpayers would dole out millions to create a medication that could be too expensive for them to buy.

Though Donald Trump is the nadir of national chauvinism countering global cooperation, it is important to remember that it is the market system that pushes research into investigations that yield the greatest profit instead of where it will do the most good.

Future Pandemics. Cuba’s dengue epidemic in early 2012 seemed odd because outbreaks usually happen in the fall and are over by December. It is rare for them to last into January and February. Climate change is making local conditions more suitable for the mosquitoes that are vectors for dengue. During the last half-century, Cuban health officials have calculated a thirty-fold increase of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main vector.

Corporate media regularly tells us that COVID-19 is “unprecedented,” as if nothing like it will happen when it subsides because, after all, nothing like it has happened before. Not really. Claiming that COVID-19 is the “worst pandemic” to ever hit this continent is either saying that smallpox had no effect on Native Americans or that Native American deaths are irrelevant to medical history.

Many Americans may be receiving a one-time “stimulus check,” which will not recur every time bills need to be paid and will be infinitesimally smaller than sums bestowed upon corporations. But people don’t need a “stimulus” to pay $100-$1,000 for a test. They don’t need a one-time cash payment to cover $200-$2,000 for vaccination. They don’t need $1,200 for partial reimbursement of a $30,000 COVID-19 bill. They don’t need dribbling financial “aid” to pay for bills that go on without end. People need medical testing, treatment, and vaccination for all as a collective human right.

Though creating tests, treatments, and vaccines are essential parts of fighting disease, they will not be sufficient in a society suffering from a pandemic of profit-gouging. The restructuring of social relationships is critical not only to unleash the creative power to invent new things such as necessary medicines, but also to ensure those things benefit all who need them.

China’s Victory over the Coronavirus

People line up to buy face masks from a medical supply company in Nanning, China on 29 January 2020. © 2020 Chinatopix.

What we have experienced in the past two months is too dreamy and now, in retrospect, it seems not so real.

On January 23, the day before Chinese New Year’s Eve, people who were ready to celebrate the New Year were shocked by the sudden outbreak of the virus. Wuhan, a super big city with a population of 11 million, was declared closed by the government. Anxiety and unease quickly enveloped the whole country.

According to the government’s guidance, people cancelled New Year’s travels and family reunions one after another, stayed in their own homes according to experts’ suggestions, and kept updating the news with anxiety.

Usually, during the Chinese New Year, there will be 4 billion trips, 70% of which had been cancelled temporarily.

The government quickly organized forces to build two infectious disease hospitals in about 10 days, and soon dozens of other temporary hospitals were built.

Plane after plane, carrying medical workers from all over the country, quickly descended on Wuhan and, finally, more than 40,000 medical workers from other provinces took part in the war against the epidemic.

All kinds of enterprises across the country moved quickly to work 24 hours a day to expand the production of epidemic prevention materials. Logistics enterprises also moved to ensure that epidemic prevention materials could be quickly transported to the front line. Further, the army dispatched planes, vehicles and personnel to participate in the materiel support work.

In Wuhan, numerous government workers, police and volunteers took part in the epidemic prevention work. When the city pressed the pause button and shut down completely, they did their best to ensure that the basics of what all citizens would need could be delivered in time to every household and family who were isolated in their homes.

As I said, this is a city of 11 million people. Imagine what kind of scene it would be if that distribution of the necessities had not been effectively organised.

While a large number of medical workers were racing against time to save lives in Wuhan under China’s unique political system, prevention and isolation measures have also been implemented to every capillary of the country’s body and to every citizen.

People even joked on social media about the fact that they had never thought to be able to contribute to their country just by lying and relaxing at home!

With all people’s full-hearted efforts, the results began to show, more and more patients recovered and were discharged from hospital, and fewer and fewer new cases were reported.

Finally, after more than 50 days of fighting, there were no more new cases in the country.

This was a great battle in which all 1.4 billion Chinese participated.

However, new challenges are beginning to emerge.

As more and more people come back from other countries, the number of patients is increasing day by day, and everyone’s slightly relaxed, we are beginning to be nervous again.

Relevant departments are actively coping with the situation. In this fight against the virus, I believe we can achieve the final victory.

The cultural roots

Behind all this, there are deep cultural roots. There are several basic concepts here, in the Chinese context, their meanings are completely different.

The word country

First of all, in Chinese, the word country (国家) is composed of two words: country(国) and home(家), which means the “country” is the “home” of all its people, everybody is in the same big family. Only by ensuring the safety of a large family can there be hope for the safety of small families.

This is a concept deeply rooted in the genes of every Chinese.

National interests are higher than individual interests. In fact, there is another word in Chinese culture – “one family in the world,” which means that the whole world is actually a big family. Therefore, in the Chinese way of thinking, it is natural and logical to provide help to countries with serious epidemics such as Iran, Italy and Spain.

The Party

Secondly, the Chinese Communist Party is not a party in the Western sense. It is not a party quarrelling and competing with other parties for the interests of one or the other group. The Party is, rather, a team of experts who have been carefully selected to run the country and serve all the people in the best way.

One hundred years ago, everything collapsed in ancient China. Many people went to the West to look for a rescue plan. They returned and introduced the concept of a political party and formed various parties. However, from ancient times to 1921, the word “party” has always been a negative word in the Chinese context. It represented the self-interest of small groups and was despised by Confucianism.

At present, the “Party” generally refers to the Chinese Communist Party. However, I would like to say that the concept of “party” is only a designation or a suit made according to the Western model and worn by the governing body which is led fundamentally by Confucianism. (More about this philosophy at Wikipedia, at Encyclopædia Britannica, at ReligionFacts and at Ancient History Encyclopedia.)

Therefore, when people in the West think that the one-party system in China is a dictatorship by the Communist Party, it a complete misunderstanding.

Public ownership

Finally, regarding public ownership, China is implementing a basic economic system with public ownership as the main body and multiple different ownership economies developing together. State-owned enterprises are not oriented to maximize profits, but to maximize social benefits, so when the crisis comes, resources can quickly be mobilized.

In fact, China’s public ownership economy has existed for more than 2,000 years. In 120 BC, in the Han Dynasty times, a big debate was held between senior government officials and experts and scholars composed of more than 60 people. The debate lasted for five months.

The theme of the debate was whether salt and iron, as important materials, should be managed by public ownership or private ownership. The conclusion was that public ownership should be maintained, but private economic participation should be appropriately allowed.

Today’s China, coming from more than 5,000 years of long history, carries its deep cultural genes.

Therefore, in order to understand what was done to fight and control the Coronavirus in the Wuhan campaign, it is absolutely essential to understand the significance of these three keywords in the Chinese context.

The “Economic Calculation” Controversy

The economic calculation argument (ECA) has to do with the claim that, in the absence of market prices, a socialist economy would be unable to make rational choices concerning the allocation of resources and that this would make socialism an impracticable proposition. Tracing the historical development of this argument, this article goes on to consider some of its basic assumptions about how the price mechanism actually works in practice; in so doing, it attempts to demonstrate that the argument is based upon fundamentally shaky foundations. A rational approach to the allocation of resources in a socialist economy is then sketched out.  Such an approach is predicated on a particular view of socialism as entailing a largely decentralised – or polycentric – structure of decision-making in contrast to the view typically held by proponents of the ECA that socialism would entail central – or society-wide – planning.  Applying a decentralised model of socialist decision-making, this article identifies a number of key components of such a model and goes on to show how, through the interactions of these key components, the objections to socialism raised by the ECA are decisively overcome.

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Historical Background

The “economic calculation argument” (ECA) is principally linked with the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, who wrote a seminal tract (“Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth”) in 1920, purporting to show that socialism was not a realisable system. Mises was not alone in developing this argument; his contemporaries Boris Brutzkus and Max Weber had independently arrived at the same conclusions that same year. Moreover, a number of earlier commentators – for example, Gossen, Wicksteed, Wieser, Bohm-Bawerk, Pareto, Barone and particularly the Dutch economist, Nikolaas Pierson – had all developed partial elaborations of the ECA before Mises.1

Following the Russian revolution and the emergence of Soviet state capitalism, a vigorous debate ensued on the feasibility of socialism, a term which had been widely understood to be synonymous with Marx’s non-market communism (or, at the very least, meant a system lacking a market for “factors of production” if not consumer goods). The developments in Russia, while serving to stimulate the debate, nevertheless helped to muddy the waters considerably. Thus, Lenin departed sharply from the classical Marxian definition of socialism as a synonym for communism by portraying it instead as a stage between capitalism and communism. The aborted attempt to introduce so called “war communism” in 1918-1921 (in reality, a rigorous system of centralised rationing which, moreover, still retained elements of the market, rather than “free access” communism) was a further source of confusion; it allowed anti-socialists to argue that socialism had been shown to be impracticable in practice and not just in theory. This, of course, completely overlooked the fact Marxists too had argued that socialism was not feasible in Russia at the time given that the necessary preconditions for a socialist revolution to occur had not yet ripened – a mass working class imbued with socialist understanding and a sufficiently developed means of production.

O’Neill contends that it is wrong to suppose there was just one single unified debate at the time. Instead, there were “at least two debates that concerned two independent objections to socialism”.2 The first of these was about “rational choice and commensurability” which is central to the ECA itself. The second, mainly instigated by Mises’ torchbearer, F. A .Hayek, had to do with an “epistemic objection to socialism” concerning centralised – or society wide – planning and the dispersal of knowledge among economic actors in an economy. While these two different streams of discourse may have been conducted along relatively independent lines I will argue (later) that they are nevertheless organically linked. Indeed, much of what is demonstrably false about the ECA stems from a misconceived and myopic assumption that socialism can only be a centrally planned economy, a claim that Mises himself tirelessly promoted. This, however, effectively precludes the possibility of a spontaneously ordered or decentralised version of socialism which alone, I would maintain, decisively overcomes the objections to socialism raised by the ECA.

The high watermark of the “economic calculation” controversy was in the 1920s and 30s. O’Neill distinguishes between an earlier and relatively neglected German-speaking phase of the debate which pitted Mises and his supporters against the likes of Otto Neurath, Karl Polanyi and Otto Bauer, and a later English-speaking phase which involved neoclassical “market socialists” like Fred Taylor and Oskar Lange. In the 1940s Mises’ reputation as a free market economist waned along with the free market itself, as the fashion for Keynesian state intervention took hold. It was only after the failure of Keynesian reformism in the 1970s and the collapse of state capitalist regimes in Eastern Europe in the 1980s that Mises’ ideas were rescued from obscurity and underwent a partial revival.

An Illustrative Example

So what exactly is the ECA about? To elucidate its core claims it would be helpful to use a hypothetical – and highly simplified – example.

Assume a factory in socialism manufactures a particular kind of consumer good, X. Assume that in order to manufacture X only two kinds of inputs are needed, A and B. Let us then suppose that there are three different methods for producing 1 unit of X which involve three different combinations of A and B, as follows:

Method 1 requires 9 units of A and 10 units of B; Method 2 requires 10 units of A and 9 units of B; Method 3 requires 10 units of A and 10 units of B

This prompts the question: which method should this factory chose in order to produce 1 unit of X? One might argue that it would make sense to use as few resources as possible to produce a given output since that would leave more resources over for doing other things. This alludes to what economists call “opportunity cost”. The opportunity cost of doing something is the best alternative you forego as a result. If you use a certain quantity of resources to produce one thing, then you deny yourself the opportunity of using those same resources to produce something else. By minimising your opportunity costs you maximise the amount of resources that can be used for other purposes.

In terms of our example, this would require our factory at the outset to reject method 3. Why? Because while method 3 uses the same number of units of B as method 1, it uses more units of A. Compared with method 2, on the other hand, it uses the same number of units of A but more of B. So methods 1 and 2 are both more “technically efficient” than method 3. This means they do not make use of any more of either A or B than method 3 while using less of at least one of these inputs than method 3. In other words, there is no opportunity cost involved in rejecting 3 in favour of 1 or 2 assuming the output is identical in each case. However, it is possible method 3 may result in a slightly higher quality version of X because of the additional unit of A or B used (compared to method 1 or 2) in which case a small opportunity cost might be incurred.

All this is fairly straightforward and there is no suggestion by proponents of the ECA that a socialist economy cannot ascertain whether one method of producing something is more – or less – technically efficient than another. A socialist economy will have no problem in seeing the need to reject method 3. The problem arises when we come to choose, in the case of our example, between the remaining methods 1 and 2. How would we know which of these two methods made least use of resources, thereby freeing up more resources for other uses? Here we encounter a quite different notion of efficiency – namely, economic efficiency. According to the ECA this requires us to directly compare A and B by reducing each to a common denominator so that we can select the least costly combination of A and B – method 1 or method 2 – to produce 1 unit of X. For that, it is argued, you need a price system, allowing units of A and B to be costed in money terms. So if 1 unit of A cost one dollar and 1 unit of B cost 2 dollars, the total cost of producing 1 unit of X using method 1 would be 29 dollars and 28 dollars using method 2. Therefore, it would be advisable for the factory to select method 2 as the “least costly combination” of inputs A and B.

The problem is that a socialist factory would not have recourse to monetary prices in order to make such a “rational decision”. Socialism is based on the common ownership of the means of production. Without private property in the means of production, according to Mises, there can be no market for the means of production. Without a market for a means of production, it will be impossible to attach monetary prices to the means of production. Without monetary prices, reflecting the relative scarcity of these inputs, socialist decision-makers will be unable rationally to calculate how best to allocate these inputs in a way that ensures economic efficiency. In other words, they will be unable to compare the proceeds of any economic activity with the costs incurred to determine whether it was worthwhile or not – that is to say, whether or not it realises a “net income”. The likelihood then is that these decision-makers “groping in the dark” will select more, rather than less, costly combinations of inputs and so use up more resources than would be the case had they recourse to a system of monetary prices. The cumulative effect of such economically inefficient decision-making would be to precipitate a sharp fall in output and living standards which the population is unlikely to accept. Hence Mises’ claim that “Socialism is not a realizable system of society’s economic organization because it lacks any method of economic calculation”.3

Preliminary Criticisms of the Misesian Model

At first blush, the ECA would appear to be highly plausible. However, on closer inspection we can discern hairline fractures in the very foundations of this model which render it highly vulnerable to sustained criticism. Let us consider some of these defects first before turning our attention to the organisation of production and the allocation of production goods in a socialist economy.

a) Subjective valuation and price

According to Mises and the Austrian School of Economics, the value of goods and services is necessarily subjective and does not inhere in the good or service in question; economic costs are essentially subjective, opportunity costs and utility preferences can only be expressed along an ordinal scale – i.e. ranked – as opposed to a cardinal scale which entails precise measurement. How then do we arrive at the necessary data upon which a system of economic calculation is predicated? Salerno puts it thus. The problem with socialism, he claims, is that it lacks:

a genuinely competitive and social market process in which each and every kind of scarce resource receives an objective and quantitative price appraisal in terms of a common denominator reflecting its relative importance in serving (anticipated) consumer preferences. This social appraisal process of the market transforms the substantially qualitative knowledge about economic conditions acquired individually and independently by competing entrepreneurs, including their estimates of the incommensurable subjective valuations of individual consumers for the whole array of final goods, into an integrated system of objective exchange ratios for the myriads of original and intermediate factors of production. It is the elements of this coordinated structure of monetary price appraisements for resources in conjunction with appraised future prices of consumer goods which serve as the data in the entrepreneurial profit computations that must underlie a rational allocation of resources. 4

But what is actually happening in this “transformation process” whereby the “incommensurable subjective valuations” of individuals purportedly come to be expressed as objective exchange ratios or prices? Do the latter, in fact, actually capture the former? There is a kernel of truth in the claim that they do in that obviously if someone is willing to pay a price for a good he or she must ipso facto subjectively value that good. Otherwise the “willingness to pay” for it would not have arisen. But, of course, in a market economy mere “willingness to pay” is not enough; the means of payment – purchasing power- is what is crucially required and it is only willingness to pay that is backed up by purchasing power that actually affects prices. This is what economists call “effective demand” (presumably to be distinguished from “ineffective demand”). The subjective valuation that a pauper places on a square meal may be considerable but in the absence of the wherewithal to pay for such a meal, this counts for nothing. In short, the subjective valuations individuals place on goods cannot reasonably be said to be captured or embodied; by the objective prices such goods attract in the market. Indeed, one might add that to suggest that they do, flatly contradicts a key myth of bourgeois economics – namely, that our wants are essentially “infinite” and the resources to meet them, limited.

It may be objected that while it does not aim to “quantify” our wants as such (along a cardinal scale), price does nevertheless reflect our subjective valuations insofar as it sheds light on our preferences (along an ordinal scale). Thus, if we prefer roast beef to a McDonald’s hamburger this will be reflected in the higher price we would be willing to pay for such an item. However, this still does not get round the basic problem: in a market economy you cannot express a preference if you do not have the means to do so: purchasing power. You might prefer roast beef but after consulting your wallet may discover to your consternation that you will just have to resign yourself to the hamburger instead. While, according to conventional economics, effective demand determines price in conjunction with supply of the goods demanded, this effective demand is itself grossly unequally distributed by virtue of the unequal distribution of income. Austrians respond to this by arguing that such differentials reflect the valuations individuals place on different occupations and the different contributions they make to society (which “society” duly “rewards” them for) but there is no way of testing this claim since such valuations are themselves subject to the limitations of “effective demand”. Salerno’s “integrated system of objective exchange ratios” (prices) reflects, or is conditioned by, this unequal distribution of effective demand. Thus, frivolous luxury goods can be “valued” more highly – i.e., attract a higher price – than food for the hungry because a rich elite has vastly more purchasing power at its disposal to competitively bid for, and so push up the price of, the former compared to the latter.

We should bear these points in mind in considering the merits or otherwise of the ECA; it is based on so-called objective data that are fundamentally biased or skewed and cannot be said to correspond truthfully to the subjective valuations of economic actors in the market as claimed. To believe otherwise is to commit what is called the Fallacy of Composition – the illusion that what is true for each part of a whole must be true for the whole.  It is an error that overlooks the interrelationships between the different parts of the whole.

b) What do we mean by “costs”?

D. R. Steele contends: “The total cost of producing anything is the total effect in reducing production of other things because of the factors used up. This what we mean by the ‘cost of production’. It is this that we always want to minimise when we produce anything”.5  As we saw earlier, this definition of cost equates with opportunity cost. Opportunity costs are often counter-posed to accounting costs. The latter are usually taken to denote the explicit costs represented by the cash outlays that a firm makes in purchasing its inputs, whereas the former are associated with implicit or hidden costs and may be difficult or impossible to quantity, or even be completely unknown. For example, the opportunity cost of spending more money on a new school may be to forego spending this money on improving the local ambulance service which could have meant more lives being saved. But just how do you weigh up the cost of a life?

Going back to our example of consumer good X, we can see that the ECA relies on the notion of accounting cost rather than opportunity cost, despite its copious lip service to the latter. This is because it involves comparing the explicit cash outlays to be made on different combinations of A and B to arrive at a notional “least cost combination”. Certainly there is an opportunity cost in making that decision – this almost goes without saying – but this is not what this example of economic calculation is about. It is not measuring what a factory foregoes in opting to produce 1 unit of Y using method 2. Choosing a least cost combination of factors has essentially to do with accounting costs, not opportunity costs. That being so, one might well ask, how does this help one to calculate the “total effect in reducing production of other things because of the factors used up”? Acknowledging there is, theoretically speaking, a “total effect” is not the same as saying that this is what is being precisely measured – or, indeed, that it can ever be precisely measured. Moreover, who decides which is the “best alternative foregone”? One person’s preference may not be another’s. Such considerations are simply brushed under the carpet by the ECA.

Nevertheless, it is on the point of “precise measurement” that the ECA presses its claim. As Steele points out:

In this case, it so happens that it would be sufficient merely to know which was ‘more’ or ‘less’ but that is just an accident of the way I have set up the example. Generally, we should have to know exactly how much more or less. For instance, if the choice were between a method using 4lbs of rubber and 5 pounds of wood and a method using 5 lbs of rubber and 3 pounds of wood, it would not be enough to know that wood were more costly by weight, then rubber; we should need to know how much more costly.6

Certainly, accounting costs are amenable to “exact calculation” using monetary prices but the question is what exactly is being accounted for in the process?. “Precise measurements” doesn’t tell us much; a game of monopoly entails precise measurement too but nobody suggests this implies some earth-shattering insight we would be foolish to overlook. What, then, is the significance of what is being precisely measured using monetary prices?

The ECA asserts that a socialist economy would be unable rationally to chose between different combinations of factors to arrive at a least cost combination. In answer to the obvious retort that a socialist economy would not concern itself with costs in this monetary form, it might be contended that there will still be a need to reckon costs in some other guise and that it is precisely these substantive costs – or if you like, “real world” costs – that the price mechanism is able faithfully to represent via its pattern of objective exchange ratios. But how could this be proven? To prove this is the case one would have to demonstrate a precise correlation between these “substantive costs” and their monetary representations. One can determine whether such a correlation exists only by measuring one against the other. But that presents a problem for the ECA since, in doing this, one would have inadvertently shown that costs can indeed be independently measured, and rendered calculable, without recourse to market prices.

This places the proponents of the ECA in a invidious position since failure to demonstrate a putative correlation between these substantive costs and their alleged market representations means that all they have to fall back on is a tautology: that only a market economy is able to perform economic calculations couched in market prices. Steele himself has attempted to circumvent this argument with the (specious) claim that it is “parallel to arguments which have frequently been levelled against general theories. Thus every year or so some new genius discovers that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is vacuous, because it says that the fit survive, but there is no way to measure who are fit except by seeing who survive”.7  But, of course, the analogy is completely inapt; the relationship between “fitness” and “survival” is a causal one which simply does not apply in this case. What is involved here is nothing quite so grand as a “general theory” but a modest proposition concerning the alleged statistical correlation between two sets of data without causation being invoked in any way.

Finally, if the ECA is really about narrow accounting costs rather than opportunity costs as such then presumably we have a solid basis for testing the proposition that a system of market prices can faithfully calculate the costs incurred in production decisions. Here we are referring to “costs” in their positive sense, not opportunities foregone. It is evident that in this sense, market-based calculations are far from adequate. There is an enormous literature on the problem of externalities and spill-over effects which illustrates this point very well. Suffice to say that in a competitive market economy there will always be an obvious in-built incentive for competing firms to externalise their costs as far as practically possible or to the extent to which they can get away with doing this. Pollution costs are one example of this and typically necessitate some intervention by the state to impose curbs on the offending firm in question in the interests of other firms who may have to indirectly pick up the tab. “Social costs” are another example. A firm may consider it necessary to lay off part of its workforce to reduce its production costs and remain competitive. However, this reduction of its labour costs has costly repercussions for the workers involved and society in general which tend not to be accounted for on the firm’s own balance sheet.

Attempts to get round the problem of externalities and spill-over effects through the application of concepts such “willingness-to-pay” (WTP) and “willingness-to-accept” (WTA) are problematic and provide little, if any, comfort for proponents of the ECA. WTP has to do with what people would be prepared to pay to mitigate or avert some undesirable effect while WTA refers to the level of financial compensation they would be willing to receive for having to put up with such an effect. Mainstream economists tend to regard the costs involved in both instances as roughly equivalent but there is considerable evidence based on surveys to suggest that this is simply not the case – not according to people’s “subjective evaluations” of environmental losses and gains, at any rate.  In fact, environmental losses tend to be more highly valued than environmental gains even where similar sums of money are involved. There are a number of other problems associated with these techniques (e.g. the tendency to underestimate the value of future resources; the problem of non-use values and option values which are to do with resources that you do not yourself make use of or might only do so at a later date) all of which highlight the shortcomings of market valuations, shortcomings which the ECA tends to gloss over.

c) The problem of “net income”

According to the ECA not only is there a need to discover the least cost combinations of inputs required to produce a given good; there is also a need to ensure that the revenue obtained from the sale of this good is sufficient to cover the cost of producing it. This can only be done by attaching prices to a firm’s inputs (A and B in our example) as well as its output (good X).

“Net income” is the difference between a firm’s revenue or proceeds and its costs. Positive net income is what is usually referred to as profit; negative net income, as loss. As Mises put it:

Every single step of entrepreneurial activities is subject to scrutiny by monetary calculation. The premeditation of planned action becomes commercial pre-calculation of expected costs and expected proceeds. The retrospective establishment of the outcome of past action becomes accounting profits and losses.8

This statement is revealing. It inadvertently highlights a serious flaw in the ECA. The ability to compute profit and loss is what in theory is supposed to ensure the efficient – that is “profitable” – allocation of resources. But it turns out that it ensures nothing of the sort. Just because a system of market prices affords one a set of figures with which one can perform precise calculations does not mean that these figures will turn out to be correct – that is to say, will unerringly guide the entrepreneur towards a positive net income.

As Steele puts it: “Since all production decisions are about the future and the future is always uncertain, decision makers have to make guesses, take gambles, play hunches and follow their experienced noses.”9  and “In the market, entrepreneurs anticipate, speculate, agonise, guess and take risks. They also frequently perform elaborate calculations, aware that the results of such calculations are only as good as their assumptions. Always enveloped in a cloud of ignorance, market decision-makers strain to discern the indefinite contours of the changing shapes that loom ambiguously out of the fog.”10

This seems unambiguous enough but then, curiously, Steele feels prompted to ask:

Does the fact that production is actually guided by estimates of future prices, and not by reading off ‘current’ (recent) prices, destroy the force of the Mises argument? Apparently not, for two reasons: 1. past prices are a guide which helps people to make more accurate (though still fallible) estimates of future prices; and 2. people’s estimates of future prices are eventually confirmed or refuted. There is an objective test of the accuracy of the estimates: profit and loss. 11

Steele’s first point rather undercuts his previous claim that production cannot actually be guided by current (recent) prices and he does not quite seem able to make up his mind on how relevant the latter are. By his own admission, entrepreneurs can and often do get things spectacularly wrong when relying on current /recent prices – the energy crisis of the 1970s being a case in point. It is also to be noted that these current/recent prices are a record of accounting costs, not opportunity costs, and so do not shed much light on the opportunities foregone in making a production decision since the latter are a “tacit reference to hypothetical future income”10 which can only be guessed at. He admits that entrepreneurs are fallible yet does not seem to see the inconsistency in admitting this and claiming that the price system ensures “exact calculation”.

Steele’s second point – that there is an objective test of the accuracy of entrepreneurial estimates – is presumably the more important one but, even so, holds no water. Remember that what we are looking for is some way of reliably guiding the entrepreneur to make sound production decisions concerning net income in the future – otherwise there would be little point in going on about the need for “exact calculation”. The fact that the market process is retrospectively “self-correcting” in eliminating or bankrupting those firms that err (incur an economic loss) in their future estimates is completely irrelevant. The resource allocations these firms committed themselves to constitute what economists call “sunk costs” and cannot be retrieved once made. Bygones, as the saying goes, are bygones. More importantly, there is no guarantee that those entrepreneurs, having had the good fortune to estimate future prices accurately, will continue to do so. We are emphatically not talking about some selective process at work here which incrementally refines the abilities of entrepreneurs generally to make sound economic judgements which Steele seems to be implying. If this were the case, then the history of the market economy would manifest itself as a progressive reduction in uncertainty and risk.

On another matter, when Steele refers to profit and loss as an objective test of the accuracy of estimates of future prices one presumes he is using “profit” here to mean accounting profit or net income. However, this is a little confusing. This is because he also uses the term “profit” in another, more specialised, sense as well. The entrepreneur’s return on her capital, he contends, is called “interest” (or what we would normally called profit) and where this is equal to her accounting profits “there is no profit in the strict economic sense. True profit is a return above interest; loss, a return below interest”.12  The irony is that such profit can only arise where the economy departs from the abstract model of perfect competition and optimal resource allocation. As Lachmann observes “profits are earned whenever there are price-cost differences; they are thus a typical disequilibrium phenomenon”.13  Thus, according to the free marketeers’ own theory of how the market behaves, the very imperfections which they deplore (such as monopolistic tendencies) “are, in fact, key profit-generating dynamics in the economic system. In other words, market imperfections are the main source of profit in the economy”.14  Such profit, as Steele points out, is the result of the entrepreneur outguessing the market and benefiting society in the process. Presumably, such benefits would not be forthcoming in the idealised (and completely unrealistic) competitive model of the free market which free marketeers strive to realise and that what is needed instead is a less competitive model in which price distortions are allowed more free play. But that, of course, undermines an important assumption of the ECA about the need for market forces to be given free rein in order to ensure the “accuracy” of market prices.

According to the ECA, in the absence of market prices that allow entrepreneurs to make profit and loss computations, economic efficiency cannot be assured. This, it is argued, is incompatible with the maintenance of a developed economic infrastructure. However, we have seen just how problematic such profit and loss computations are in the real world despite the evidence of a developed economic infrastructure around us (which the proponents of the ECA themselves delight in pointing out and attributing to the market). This suggests that there must be something seriously awry with the theory itself.

In any event, the claim that a socialist economy would need to be able to calculate “net income” in some sense does not stand up to close scrutiny. The notion of “net income”, in fact, derives purely from the functional requirement of capitalism to realise profit through market exchange – that is, it is system-specific. Certainly, this requires inputs and outputs to be reduced to a common denominator – to facilitate comparison and thereby ensure that when one commodity is exchanged for another, they are equivalent to each other. Indeed, market transactions necessitate such equivalence. However, it does not follow that this kind of comparison making use of a common denominator would be required in a socialist economy. In such an economy, “economic exchange” of any sort would no longer apply. It would not be necessary to determine whether “more” or “less” wealth in general was being created than was being used up in the production of that wealth for the very simple reason that the concept of wealth “in general”, a completely abstract and crudely aggregated notion of wealth, is of no practical use in itself and would be utterly meaningless outside the context of commodity exchange. This emphatically does not mean that a socialist economy will have no way of ensuring that resources would be efficiently allocated (which I will consider later); it simply means that such an economy does not need to operationalise this wholly unsatisfactory notion of “net income” in order to achieve this efficient allocation.

d) Estimating the negative effects of misallocation

Mises was clearly adamant that socialism could not be realised because it lacked any method of rational calculation. The implication of such a claim is that the effect of not having such a method would be so devastating as to prevent socialism from ever being realised. However, as Bryan Caplan points out, this flatly contradicts Mises own opinion that “economic theory gives only qualitative, not quantitative laws”.15 According to Mises in Human Action (quoted in Caplan), “economics is not, as ignorant positivists repeat again and again, backward because it is not quantitative. It is not quantitative because there are no constants”. But if that is the case, how could you quantity the negative effects of this supposed misallocation in a hypothetical socialist economy and come to the conclusion that they were so severe as to make socialism infeasible?

The Misesian argument would appear to rest on the claim that while there is only a finite number of options concerning the use of inputs that would lead to their efficient allocation, whereas there is an infinity of options that would result in those same inputs being misallocated. The chances are that without the means of making economic calculations, decision-makers in a socialist economy would choose one of the latter options. As Mises put it, economic calculation “provides a guide amid the bewildering throng of economic possibilities. It enables us to extend judgements of value which apply directly only to consumption goods – or at best to production goods of the lowest order – to all goods of higher orders. Without it, all production by lengthy and roundabout processes would be so many steps in the dark … And then we have a socialist community which must cross the whole ocean of possible and imaginable economic permutations without the compass of economic calculation”.16

However, as we shall see later, a socialist economy would be quite capable of avoiding this fate through the institutionalisation of a set of constraints that steer decision-makers towards the efficient allocation of resources. In any case, Mises’ claim about the lack of a reliable compass to guide these decision-makers might as well be directed at market capitalism. This is what can be inferred from the Theory of The Second Best formulated by Richard Lipsey and Kelvin Lancaster in 1956.17 Looking at the “general equilibrium” model of the economy, they argued that in order for equilibrium (pareto optimal allocation) to obtain a number of equilibrium conditions need to be simultaneously satisfied such as the supply of all goods being exactly equal to the demand for them, the output price of goods being equal to marginal cost of producing them and the long term profit for all firms being equal to zero. Where just one of these optimal conditions is not met then the ‘second best’ position can only be reached by departing from all the other Paretian conditions. To put it in a nutshell, any single price distortion leads to all other prices being distorted because of its ramifying consequences for exchange ratios throughout the economy and since price distortions are inevitably going to arise in the market, capitalist decision-makers will likewise have to contend with whole ocean of possible and imaginable economic permutations in which their ability to perform precise calculations using market prices will be to little avail. This is because such prices, being distorted as it were, will almost by definition be unable to provide a reliable guide (in terms of price theory). Of course, the notion of a “general equilibrium” is merely an abstraction and has no empirical basis in fact. While Mises acknowledged this he did not seem to perceive the devastating consequences that this had for his own theory of “economic calculation”.

The implication of Mises’ argument is that the more scope one allows for the free interplay of market forces the more efficient and reliable the allocation process. Can this claim be empirically tested? It is often argued, for example, that so-called free market economies perform better than their more interventionist, state capitalist competitors. But this can be for any number of reasons other than “economic calculation”: differences in natural and labour resource endowments, the prevalence of natural disasters, historical circumstances (e.g. civil conflict), the incentive problem in oppressive regimes (a point that Caplan makes) and economic dependence (a reference to “dependency theory” and the argument that the already developed First World systematically “under-develops” the Third World). There is a further problem of disentangling cause and effect. For example, is it the case that relatively successful economies are successful as a result of implementing free market policies or are those policies themselves the result of economic success? Those economies that are more competitive are likely to be more favourably disposed towards free trade for the obvious reason that they have little to fear from competition, whereas, conversely, less competitive or economically successful economies will tend to want to adopt a more protective and interventionist approach to protect their own interests. Indeed this is what enabled Germany, at the end of the 19th century, to overtake Britain in terms of industrial production: Whereas the latter was still relatively laissez-faire in its outlook, Germany and other continental economies at the time relied heavily on tariffs and other interventionist measures to build up their industries.

Empirical support for the economic calculation thesis is thus remarkably weak. In any case, there is not, never has been and never will be such a thing as a strictly “free market” economy in the real world. In the real world, the market necessarily operates closely in tandem with the capitalist state, varying only in the degree to which this happens. As Karl Polanyi has noted:

The road to the free market was opened up and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organised and controlled intervention.18

e) The costs of economic calculation

What is often overlooked is that accounting, while it might concern itself with cutting costs, is itself a significant cost. This has important implications for the ECA. Parallel to a system of physical accounting (see section 5) what we have today as well is a system of monetary accounting. Monetary accounting is a highly complex process in which all enterprises in a capitalist economy must of necessity engage, even though it plays a supernumerary role as far as the physical process of organising production is concerned. In earlier class-based social formations money played a secondary role in the economic life of society; in modern capitalism, however, its influence is all-pervasive. Its purpose is not to ensure the efficient allocation of resources as such but to expedite market exchanges by providing a universal equivalent against which all other commodities exchange, so enabling the computation of profits and losses by competing actors engaged in these market exchanges. That is why it eventually supplanted the traditional system of barter – because of the obvious structural shortcomings of the latter which impeded market exchanges. For example, you cannot swap your pig for two chickens from your neighbour if he or she already has an ample supply of pigs; paying your neighbour in cash overcomes this problem.

As well as enjoining economic actors to engage in monetary accounting, the development of capitalism gave rise to a whole plethora of institutions and economic activities directly or indirectly concerned with the handling and circulation of money rather than the production of use values as such – for example, banks, insurance companies, pay departments, building societies and so on. Indeed, this already vast and steadily proliferating sector of the economy is a natural outgrowth of the systemic needs of an economic system centered on the competitive accumulation of capital; such institutions and activities arose precisely to service those needs. One might want to argue that a bank, for example, performs a useful role in that it lends money to a factory and thus enables the latter to manufacture useful things that consumers in a market economy may value. Therefore, banks perform no less a useful role than factories in the production of these useful things. But this is to engage in a sleight of hand; it is to overlook the distinction that needs to be made between the specific conditions under which a factory has perforce to operate within a given socio-economic system and the physical process of production itself. It is the former that is precisely being questioned which proponents of the ECA, on the other hand, take wholly for granted and assume is seamlessly linked to the latter. That is to say, they assume what they need to prove: that you cannot operate a modern system of production without market prices (and hence those kind of institutions – like banks – linked with market exchanges in capitalism).

It is the elimination of such activities and institutions, essential though they may be to a functioning market economy but unproductive in themselves from the standpoint of producing use values or meeting human needs, that constitutes perhaps the most important (but by no means only), productive advantage that a socialist economy would have over a capitalist economy. The elimination of this structural waste intrinsic to capitalism will free up a vast amount of labour and materials for socially useful production in socialism. Just how much resources will be made available for socially useful production in this way is a moot point. Most estimates suggest at least a doubling of available resources by comparison with the present.19  Yet the proponents of the ECA, while claiming that socialism would sink into the slough of inefficiency and falling output without the guidance of market prices, seem wilfully determined to deny socialism this particular productive advantage that it has over capitalism by positing the necessity for institutions such as banks – or some analogue of banking – in a socialist economy. This is a specious claim; it is unwittingly reading into socialism the functional requirements of capitalism.

Socialism and the Red Herring of Central Planning

One of the sacred cows of the Left is the idea of a “planned economy”. This can be quite misleading. Given the Left’s traditional hostility towards the “free market”, this may convey the impression that the free market is somehow antithetical to “planning”. But this is not the case at all. The free market is replete with plans of every kind. The difference is that the interconnections or interrelationships between these myriad plans are unplanned, spontaneous and anarchic.

“Central planning” is the proposal to eliminate altogether this unplanned spontaneity by assimilating these different plans into a single society-wide plan. For free market critics of socialism like Mises and Hayek, it is taken for granted that a socialist economy would be a centrally planned economy in this sense of the term. It is argued that this central direction of economic activity would necessarily go hand in hand with a command structure (what Mises called the “Fuhrer principle”) to ensure production targets are met in accordance with the central plan and without any deviations that would threaten the coherency of the plan. The ineluctable consequences that flow from this are that a socialist economy could not be run democratically, that centralised rationing would have to replace free access and that voluntary labour would have to give way to coerced labour. In short, we would no longer be talking about “communism” or “socialism” as these terms were traditionally conceived by individuals like Marx, Engels, Morris and Kropotkin.

It is beyond the scope of this article to consider in detail the problematic nature of this particular notion of “central planning”. Suffice to say, it would be logistically impossible to collate together all the dispersed information concerning the supply and demand for every conceivable kind of production good or consumer good throughout the economy. In theory, that would entail constructing a stupendously complicated and labyrinthine input-output matrix to accommodate all this information but, even then, unforeseen changes such as natural disasters or population movements would seriously disrupt the input-output ratios with ramifications that would spread uncontrollably to every other area of the economy. This would necessitate a reformulation of the plan in toto. Since change is an endemic fact of life, it follows that the plan would never have the opportunity to be put into effect; it would be constantly confined to the drawing board assuming a big enough drawing board could be found for this purpose. While this does not strictly touch on the ECA as such, it can be seen as a supplementary argument to demonstrate the impossibility of socialism (or communism) as a form of economic organisation. Indeed this explains why critics of socialism so often maintain that the abandonment of a price mechanism could only really work at the level of a “Robinson Crusoe” economy; given the complexity of modern production, it is impossible for any single mind – like Crusoe’s – to grasp the totality of the interconnections this entails.

Is the assumption that a communist or socialist economy would entail centralised or society-wide planning a reasonable one to make? It might if it could be shown that is what was being advocated by supporters of such an economy. Steele is unequivocal in thinking this is the case. He cites Marx’s and Engels’ objections to the anarchy of capitalist production and the allocation of resources “behinds the backs of the producers” as well their advocacy of “conscious social control” and the implementation of a “definite social plan”.20 It may seem a reasonable inference from such language that what Marx and Engels had in mind was indeed the kind of society-wide – or central – planning. to which Steele refers.

However, as Steele himself acknowledges, the word “plan” has many shades of meaning;21  it could embody just a set of intentions or it could embrace also the means to execute these intentions. Some of the points that Steele makes flatly contradict his claim that Marx and Engels stood unequivocally for central planning. Thus, he acknowledges that “Marx sees the communist administration as a federation of self-governing groups largely concerned with their internal affairs and collaborating for the comparatively few purposes that concern all the groups”.22 This vision of communism is unquestionably incompatible with Steele’s version of “central planning”.

The reference to “anarchy of production” is highly misleading and it does seem very much that Steele has got the wrong end of the stick in assuming that Marx and Engels implied by this the desire to replace a situation in which you had a myriad of plans (and the unplanned interconnections between them) with a single society-wide plan where the total pattern of production is planned. On the contrary, it seems more reasonable to assume that by “anarchy of production”, Marx and Engels were referring to the blind ungovernable economic laws of capitalism which intercede in human affairs and get in the way of conscious human intentions. Often this phrase is linked in their writings to the capitalist trade cycle which is a particularly apt manifestation of those ungovernable laws. Here you have a perverse situation of “overproduction” alongside increased misery and want. What could better convey the idea of subjective intentions being wilfully denied and flouted by forces operating beyond the control of those very intentions?

Further evidence in support of this interpretation of “anarchy of production” is provided by Engels’ claim in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific that anarchy in capitalism grows to a “greater and greater height”. This is an allusion to the increasing severity of economic crises he imagined would occur in capitalism. Whether or not he was correct in supposing this is beside the point. Steele maintains that Marx and Engels subscribed to the idea that there was an inherent tendency in capitalism towards centralisation and concentration – in other words a gradual diminution in the area of unplanned spontaneity existing between competing units by virtue of the decline in the number of such units competing in the market. Strictly speaking, this would imply less “anarchy” on Steele’s interpretation of the word but as we see in Engels’ case, such anarchy is likely to grow to a “greater and greater height”. Clearly this directly contradicts Steele’s claim that “For Marx, anarchy of production is not an emergent quality of the market. The market does not cause anarchy of production. Anarchy of production causes the market.”23

But even if Marx and Engels were advocates of central planning, that does not mean that every socialist or communist must necessarily follow suit. What of those who clearly do not advocate central planning and, indeed, explicitly reject the idea? Insofar as they embrace a vision of a future society which entails a multitude of interacting plans and significant decentralisation, this may be said to conform to Steele’s notion of “anarchy of production”. The question is, does such anarchy of production necessarily “cause the market” as he provocatively contends?

Steele has little to say on the subject and other attempts to deal with concept of relatively decentralised non-market economy – such as Kevin McFarlane’s tract, Real Socialism wouldn’t work either (Libertarian Alliance 1992 Economic notes no. 46 ) have been theoretically slight or plainly misconceived. Such is the grip of central planning on the thinking of free market critics of socialism that they find it difficult to envisage it being organised on any other basis.

As I suggested earlier, this has profound repercussions for the discussion on economic calculation. It is not that the ECA necessarily implies or, in itself, relies on a vision of socialism entailing central planning. However, insofar as supporters of the ECA do hold such a vision, it is precisely this, I will argue, that prevents them from coming to recognise an effective response to the ECA. That is predicated on a solution that necessitates a vision of socialism that, on the contrary, is relatively decentralised and spontaneously ordered. It is to just such a vision that we now finally turn.

Anatomy of a Socialist Economy

By “socialism” or “communism”, as we saw earlier, was traditionally meant a society without markets, money, wage labour or a state. All wealth would be produced on a strictly voluntary basis. Goods and services would be provided directly for self-determined need and not for sale on a market; they would be made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange. The sense of mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency arising from this would profoundly colour people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society. We may thus characterise such a society as being built around a moral economy and a system of generalised reciprocity.

Free access to goods and services is a corollary of socialism’s common ownership of the means of production; where you have economic exchange you must logically have private or sectional ownership of those means of production. Free access to goods and services denies to any group or individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others (a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class-ased systems). This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level.24  In this sense, a socialist economy would be a polycentric, not a centrally planned, economy.

Over and above these broad defining features of a socialist economy one can identify a number of derivative or secondary features which interact with each other in coherent fashion and have particular relevance to the question of resource allocation. As with consumption goods, production goods would be freely distributed between production units without economic exchange mediating in this process. We can list these various interlocking secondary features of a socialist economy as follows:

a)  Calculation in kind

Calculation in kind entails the counting or measurement of physical quantities of different kinds of factors of production. There is no general unit of accounting involved in this process such as money or labour hours or energy units. In fact, every conceivable kind of economic system has to rely on calculation in kind, including capitalism. Without it, the physical organisation of production (e.g. maintaining inventories) would be literally impossible. But where capitalism relies on monetary accounting as well as calculation in kind, socialism relies solely on the latter. This is one reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over capitalism; by eliminating the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary accounting.

A criticism of calculation in kind is that it does not permit decision-makers to compare the total costs of alternative aggregates of bundles of production factors to arrive at a “least cost” combination. This, as we saw earlier, is based on a complete misunderstanding. In a socialist economy there will be no need to perform such an operation. However, this does not mean that it will not be possible to compare alternative bundles of factors – like methods 1, 2 and 3 in our example – on some other basis and arrive at a decision as to which is the most efficient to use as we shall see later.

Possibly the most prominent advocate of calculation in kind was Otto Neurath. Neurath wrote up a report to the Munich Workers Council in 1919 entitled “Through War Economy to Economy in Kind” which Mises later attacked. In this report, Neurath argued that the Germany’s war economy had demonstrated the possibility of dispensing with monetary calculation altogether. However, his position at the time was somewhat weakened by virtue of the fact that he also subscribed to a system of central planning. This made him vulnerable to the Misesian arguments against central planning about the problems of collating the dispersed information of economic actors in an economy. Neurath in later life moved away from a centrally planned conception of socialism and developed instead an “associational conception of socialism” which entailed a “decentralised and participatory account of socialist planning”.25

In his debate with Mises, Neurath was scathing in his criticism of the “pseudorationalism” employed by Mises and the mistaken assumption that rational decisions require commensurability of different values.26  This, as O’Neill points out, reduced decision making to a “purely technical procedure” which left out “ethical and political judgement” (as we saw in our discussion of externalities). One of the advantages of a system of calculation in kind is that it opens up the possibility of a much more rounded and nuanced approach to decision-making and gives more weight to factors such as environmental concerns often overlooked in market calculations.

b) A self-regulating system of stock control

The problem with a centrally-planned model of socialism is inter alia its inability to cope with change. It lacks any kind of feedback mechanism which allows for mutual adjustments between the different actors in such an economy. It is completely inflexible in this regard. A decentralised or polycentric version of socialism, on the other hand, overcomes these difficulties. It facilitates the generation of information concerning the supply and demand for production and consumption goods through the economy via a distributed information (and today, largely computerised) network in a way that was possibly unimaginable when Marx was alive or when Mises first wrote his tract on economic calculation. This information, as we shall see, would play a vital role in the process of efficient resource allocation in a socialist economy.

Stock or inventory control systems employing calculation in kind are, as was suggested earlier, absolutely indispensable to any kind of modern production system. While it is true that they operate within a price environment today, that is not the same thing as saying they need such an environment in order to operate. The key to good stock management is the stock turnover rate – how rapidly stock is removed from the shelves – and the point at which it may need to be re-ordered. This will also be affected by considerations such as lead times – how long it takes for fresh stock to arrive – and the need to anticipate possible changes in demand. These are considerations that do not depend on the existence of a market economy at all. Interestingly, Marx wrote in Capital Vol. II of the need for a socialist economy to provide a buffer of stock as a safeguard against fluctuations in demand.

A typical sequence of information flows in a socialist economy might be as follows. Assume a distribution point (shop) stocks a certain consumer good – say, tins of baked beans. From past experience it knows that it will need to re-order approximately 1000 tins from its suppliers at the start of every month or, by the end of the month, supplies will be low. Assume that, for whatever reason, the rate of stock turnover increases sharply to say 2000 tins per month. This will require either more frequent deliveries or, alternatively, larger deliveries. Possibly the capacity of the distribution point may not be large enough to accommodate the extra quantity of tins required in which case it will have to opt for more frequent deliveries. It could also add to its storage capacity but this would probably take a bit more time. In any event, this information will be communicated to its suppliers. These suppliers, in turn, may require additional tin plate (steel sheet coated with tin), to make cans or beans to be processed and this information can similarly be communicated in the form of new orders to suppliers of those items further down the production chain. And so on and so forth. The whole process is, to a large extent, automatic – or self-regulating – being driven by dispersed information signals from producers and consumers concerning the supply and demand for goods and, as such, is far removed from the gross caricature of a centrally planned economy.

It may be argued that this overlooks the problem of opportunity costs which lies at the heart of the ECA. For example, if the supplier of baked beans orders more tin plate from the manufacturers of tin plate, then that will mean other uses for this material being deprived by that amount. However, it must be born in mind in the first place that the systematic overproduction of goods that Marx talked of – i.e., buffer stock – applies to all goods, consumption goods as well as production goods. So increased demand from one consumer/producer need not necessarily entail a cut in supply to another – or at least, not immediately. The existence of buffer stocks provides for a period of re-adjustment. This brings us neatly to our second point – namely, that this argument overlooks the possibility of there being alternative suppliers of this material or indeed, for that matter, more readily available substitutes for containers (say, plastic). Thirdly, and most importantly, as we shall see, even if we assume a worst case scenario – that we face a stark choice between having more tins of baked beans and less of something else by virtue of diverting supplies of tinplate to the manufacture of additional tins – there is still a way of arriving at a sensible decision that would ensure the most economically efficient allocation of resources under these constrained circumstances.

c) The Law of the Minimum

The “law of the minimum” was formulated by an agricultural chemist, Justus von Liebig, in the 19th century. What it states is that plant growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available to a plant but by the particular factor that is scarcest. This factor is called the limiting factor. It is only by increasing the supply of the limiting factor in question – say, nitrogen fertiliser or water in an arid environment – that you promote plant growth. This, however, will inevitably lead to some other factor assuming the role of limiting factor.

Liebig’s Law can be applied equally to the problem of resource allocation in any economy. Indeed Liebig’s dismissal of the claim that it is the total resources available to a plant that controls its growth finds an echo in the socialist dismissal of the claim that we need to compare the “total costs” of alternative bundles of factors. For any given bundle of factors required to produce a given good, one of these will be the limiting factor. That is to say, the output of this good will be restricted by the availability of the factor in question constituting the limiting factor. All things being equal, it makes sense from an economic point of view to economise most on those things that are scarcest and to make greatest use of those things that are abundant. Factors lying in between these two poles can be treated accordingly in relative terms.

To claim that all factors are scarce (because the use of any factor entails an opportunity cost) and, consequently, need to be economised is actually not a very sensible approach to adopt. Effective economisation of resources requires discrimination and selection; you cannot treat every factor equally – that is, as equally scarce – or, if you do, this will result in gross misallocation of resources and economic inefficiency. On what basis should one discriminate between factors? Essentially, the most sensible basis on which to make such a discrimination is the relative availability of different factors and this is precisely what the law of the minimum is all about.

Indeed one can go further. Because a socialist economy would to a large extent be a self-regulating economy involving a considerable degree of feedback and mutual adjustment, it would be driven willy-nilly in the direction of efficient allocation by the kind of constraints alluded to in Liebig’s law of the minimum. These supply constraints will operate inevitably in every sector of the economy and at every point along every production chain. When a particular factor is limited in relation to the multifarious demands placed on it, the only way in which it can be “inefficiently allocated” (although this is ultimately a value judgement) is in choosing “incorrectly” to which particular end use it should be allocated (a point we shall consider shortly). Beyond that, you cannot misuse or misallocate a resource if it simply isn’t available to misallocate (that is, where there are inadequate or no buffer stocks on the shelf, so to speak). Of necessity, one is compelled to seek out a more abundant alternative or substitute (which would be the sensible thing to do in this circumstance).

The relative availability of any factor is determined 1) by the crude supply of this factor vis-à-vis other factors in any aggregate of factors required to produce a given good, as revealed via the self-regulating system of stock control and 2) the technical ratio of all those factors in this aggregate, including our factor in question, required to produce this given good. This ratio tells us how much of each factor is needed which can then be compared with the supply of each factor in order to arrive at some idea of the relative availability of the factor in question in relation to other factors.

Let’s look at how this might work in practice. Let us say one unit of a given good Y can be produced using 3 units of factor M and 2 units of factor N. If there are 6 units of M and 6 units of N then we easily work which of these factors – M or N – is the limiting factor. In this case it is M because if 1 unit of Y can be produced using 3 units of M and there are only 6 units of M it follows that you can only produce 2 units of Y altogether (if you disregard N). On the other hand, if 1 unit of Y can be produced using 2 units of N and there are 6 units of N altogether this would allow us to produce 3 units of Y (if we disregard M). If the total demand for Y was only 2 units or less then we might not have much cause for concern. However, if the demand was for more than 2 units of Y we might have to consider ways of increasing the supply of Y, for example, by altering the technical mix of inputs so that it requires fewer units of M and more of N. In other words we would be reducing the supply constraints that M exerts in limiting the output of Y. Note that all of this is perfectly feasible without recourse to market prices whatsoever. Note also that it takes cognisance of, and puts into operation, the concept of opportunity costs with which the ECA is ostensibly concerned. Thus, if we decided to divert 4 units of N away from the production of Y to the production of another good – let us call it Z – then we know very well what we have foregone by thus cutting back on the supplies of N needed to produce Y. The 2 units of N that we are left with after the other 4 have been diverted to Z will only suffice for the production of 1 unit of Y. Whereas before we could produce 2 units of Y where M was the limiting factor diverting 4 units of N to Z would mean, in effect, that N would replace M as the limiting factor in producing Y and that the opportunity costs of diverting 4 units of N to Z would amount to the loss of 1 unit of Y.

Slowly but ineluctably we are closing the net around the ECA. It remains for us to identify just one more of socialism’s interlocking production features to close the circle completely.

d) A hierarchy of production priorities

In any economy there needs to be some way of prioritising production goals. In capitalism, as we have seen, this is done on the basis of purchasing power. From the standpoint of meeting human needs, however, this can be extraordinarily inefficient. The economist, Arthur Pigou, argued in his influential work Economics of Welfare that it is “evident that any transference of income between a relatively rich man to a relatively poor man of similar temperament, since it enables more intense wants to be satisfied at the expense of less intense wants, must increase the aggregate sum of satisfactions.”27 Pigou’s point is that the marginal utility of, say, a dollar to a poor man was worth much more than it was to a rich man. Thus society as a whole would benefit – that is, its total utility would be enhanced – were an income transfer to take place between the latter and the former. The problem is that this kind of income distribution, however much it makes for a palpably inefficient outcome, is not only a consequence, but also a functional requirement, of a market economy. Indeed, this is a point which advocates of a free market economy themselves routinely make. Redistribution, they claim, is likely to undermine the very structure of incentives upon which a thriving economy depends.

It is this grossly unequal distribution of income or purchasing power which has become even more glaringly unequal in recent decades at both the national and global levels, which exerts such a profound effect on the whole pattern and composition of production today – and the consequent allocation of resources that underpins this. It is reflected in the kind of production priorities that manifest themselves around us: conspicuous consumption in the midst of the most abject poverty. Such consumption is the cornerstone of a system of status differentiation which, in turn, provides the ideological underpinnings of an accumulative capitalist dynamic. It is from such a dynamic that the myth of insatiable demand springs. The logic of economic competition expresses itself as an economic imperative that enjoins competing enterprises to seek out and stimulate market demand without limit. Increased consumption translates into increased status while, at the same time, conveniently affording those enterprises increased opportunities to realise profit.

As Thorstein Veblen suggested in his work The Theory of the Leisure Class (1925), within such a status hierarchy in which social esteem is closely related to an individual’s “pecuniary strength” it is how those at the top of this hierarchy exercise their pecuniary strength that provides the key signifier of social esteem in this hierarchy. Hence, the emphasis is on extravagant luxury which only the rich can really afford. But as Veblen shrewdly observes this does not prevent those lower down this hierarchy from imitating those higher up – even if this means the wasteful diversion of their limited incomes from meeting more pressing needs:

No class of society, not even the most abjectly poor, forgoes all customary conspicuous consumption. The last items of this category of consumption are not given up except under stress of the direst necessity. Very much of squalor and discomfort will be endured before the last trinket or the last pretence of pecuniary decency is put away.28

The irony is that even a modest redistribution of wealth, if it were possible, would significantly enhance the productive potential of hundreds of millions trapped in the mire of absolute poverty by improving their mental and physical capacities. To put it simply such inequality is not only morally offensive; it is also grossly inefficient.

In a “free access” socialist economy the notion of income or purchasing power would, of course, be devoid of meaning. So too would the notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth. Because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services, this would fundamentally alter the basis upon which society’s scale of preferences was established. It would make for a much more democratic and consensual approach altogether and enable a system of values reflecting this approach to emerge and shape this agenda. It is perhaps this that really lies behind the notion of society wide planning – some co-ordinated and commonly agreed approach in setting society’s priorities.

How might these priorities be determined? Here Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” springs very much to mind as a guide to action. It would seem reasonable to suppose that needs that were most pressing and upon which the satisfaction of others’ needs were contingent, would take priority over those other needs. We are talking here about our basic physiological needs for food, water, adequate sanitation and housing and so on. This would be reflected in the allocation of resources: high priority end goals would take precedence over low priority end goals where resources common to both are revealed (via the self regulating system of stock control) to be in short supply (that is, where the multifarious demands for such resources exceeds the supply of them). Buick and Crump speculate, not unreasonably, that some kind of “points system” might be used29  with which to evaluate a range of different projects facing such a society. This will certainly provide useful information to guide decision-makers in resource allocation where choices have to be made between competing end uses. But the precise mechanism(s) to be used is something that will have to be decided upon by a socialist society, itself.

Conclusion

We have seen that a socialist economy would need to have some system of production priorities and how this might be arrived at. We have seen how this would impact on the allocation of resources where the supply of such resources falls short of the demand for them. We have looked at the mechanism of a self-regulating system of stock control, using calculation in kind, which would enable us to keep track of this supply and demand. We have established that the need to economise on the allocation of resources is positively correlated with their relative scarcity and that that, in turn, is a function not only of crude supply as revealed via the self-regulating system of stock control but is also a function of demand and of the technical ratios of inputs involved. Comparison of the relative scarcity of different inputs allows us to operationalise Liebig’s law of the minimum. Having identified our limiting factors we can subject them to the guidance of our established system of production priorities to determine how they are to be allocated. In short, what we have finally arrived at is a coherent and functioning system of interlocking parts that at no point has need of economic calculation in the form of market prices whatsoever. What, then, remains of the Economic Calculation Argument? Based on a highly unrealistic set of assumptions about how a market economy actually operates in practice, it attacks what is clearly a gross caricature of a socialist economy which would be unworkable, in any case, on grounds other than that of economic calculation. In truth, the fortunes of the ECA were inextricably bound up with the rise of state capitalist alternatives to the so-called free market, parading as socialist economies, which were the real targets of its hostility. By that token, the historical relevance of the Misesian argument has disappeared along with the collapse of these self same state capitalist regimes.

  1. D. R. Steele, Chapter 42, “From Marx to Mises: Post-capitalist society and the challenge of economic calculation”, (Illinois; Open Court, 1992).
  2. J. O’Neill, November/December, 1995, “In partial praise of a positivist: the work of Otto Neurath”, Radical Philosophy No. 74;  p. 303.
  3. L von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1949), p. 679.
  4. J. Salerno, 1994, “Reply to Leland B. Yeager on ‘Mises and Hayek on Calculation and Knowledge’”, Review of Austrian Economics 7 (2), pp. 111–25.
  5. Steele, p. 11
  6. Steele,  p. 10
  7. D.R. Steele, Libertarian Student, Vol. 3, No. 1, [n.d.], p. 7.
  8. L von Mises, p. 229.
  9. Steele, 1992, p. 15.
  10. Steele, p. 169.
  11. Steele, p. 16.
  12. Steele, p. 419.
  13. L. M. Lachmann, Macro-economic thinking and the Market Economy (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1973).
  14. D. King, The New Right: Politics, Markets and Citizenship” (London: Macmillan, 1987), p. 80.
  15. Bryan Caplan
  16. L von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1922), pp. 101, 105.
  17. R. G. Lipsey and K Lancaster, “The General Theory of Second Best”, Review of Economic Studies, Vol. XXIV , October 1956, pp. 11-32.
  18. K. Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston,1957), p. 140.
  19. K Smith K, Free is Cheaper (Gloucester: John Ball Press, 1988).
  20. Steele, p. 255-6.
  21. Steele, p. 256.
  22. Steele, p. 316.
  23. Steele, p. 50.
  24. Socialism as a Practical Alternative (London, SPGB pamphlet, 1994).
  25. O’ Neill, p. 35.
  26. O’Neill, p. 31.
  27. Quoted in M Lutz & K Lux, Humanistic Economics: The New Challenge; (New York: Bootstrap Press, 1988), p. 132.
  28. Quoted in M J Lee (ed), The Consumer Society Reader ( Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), p. 39.
  29. A Buick & J Crump, State Capitalism: the Wages System under New Management (New York: St Martins Press, 1986), p. 139.

You Write Injustice on the Earth; We Will Write Revolution in the Skies

‘Scientists are wrong’, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said with a warm smile on his face. ‘Human beings are not made of atoms; they are made of stories’. It is why we want to sing and draw, tell each other about our lives and our hopes, talk about the wonders in our lives and the wonders that we dream about. These dreams – this art – are what make us get up each day, smile, and go forward into the world. It is so common for human beings, even in the most wretched situation, to find a way to lift the spirit through our own forms of art, as is clear in Brazil’s Jongo traditions and in the ovi songs of agricultural workers in India, whose singers push aside the drudgery of their work in the fields and factories with songs of their lives and of nature – songs of the hot summer, teasing songs from older women about how their young son cannot tolerate the heat,

And then comes the turbulence.

If you walk through the streets of Santiago (Chile) or Baghdad (Iraq) or Delhi (India), you will find that the walls and streets have become an art gallery, that the protest sites have become a music hall, that libraries have appeared on the streets, that pamphlets and leaflets are being clutched in the hands of the people as they brave the whirlwind. You will find that language cascades out of its strict proportions, that new phrases are coined, that the limits of grammar and of meter are discarded. If you sit for a minute at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, the translucence of the new culture will grip you and move you and force you to reconsider the stresses and strains of your life. You will sing the poems, to shout out aloud, but not by yourself; that is the majesty of the protest – you will sing in a chorus of strangers who become comrades even if the notes are discordant and the lyrics are unfamiliar. Some of the songs will be older ones, Víctor Jara’s 1971 anthem for Vietnam, El derecho de vivir en paz (‘The Right to Live in Peace’); others will be new songs, chants that become songs. You will welcome the poets, who will come shyly to the stage with their notebooks in their hands and their powerful words tumbling through the hastily erected speakers. These poets will try out their work in public, and then be taken by videographers and editors to clean up their performance, the new videos viral on social media.

Not far from where Aamir Aziz conjured up this poem is Shaheen Bagh, one of the epicentres of the Indian uprising. Here, young artists painted a mural of the women who have been the sentinels of this protest; they are joyous and free, carrying a picture of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar – who comes from an oppressed community and wrote India’s 1950 Constitution – and a line from the Pakistani Communist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz: ‘We will see. Certainly, we too shall see’.

Aamir Aziz’s Everything Will Be Remembered comes out of this unending protest in India against the citizenship act and against a government that is insensitive to the call from the street.

Kill us, we will become ghosts and write
of your killings, with all the evidence.
You write jokes in court;
We will write ‘justice’ on the walls.
We will speak so loudly that even the deaf will hear.
We will write so clearly that even the blind will read.
You write ‘black lotus’;
We will write ‘red rose’.
You write ‘injustice’ on the earth;
We will write ‘revolution’ in the sky.
Everything will be remembered;
Everything recorded
So curses may be sent to you;
So your faces may be smeared;
Your names and your faces will be remembered;
Everything will be remembered;
Everything recorded.

This outpouring of the human spirit is taking place in a time of revolt, when the fetters of propriety are set aside.

This outburst of expression and emotion is far more dramatic in the immediate aftermath of a revolution when the old order is defeated and a new one struggles to be born. It is hard to capture the immensity of feeling in the new Soviet Republic as 1917 slipped into 1918, and as poets and actors, as writers and painters, as designers and philosophers swept aside the old clichés and tried to produce – out of the muck of ages – a new sense of the world. It was as if the clouds had parted and the sun was shining, as if the shoulders that had slumped in the depression of wartime and factory-time could now lift up. The Soviet Republic, in December 1917, passed a decree on popular education to end illiteracy and ignorance in the country. Free education was obligatory, said the decree. The point was not simply to learn to read and write; it was to make art. Every school and college developed, for instance, a photography club and a painting club. Students went to see the great art of the past in museums, and they saw the work of the Soviet artists in galleries. Vladimir Tatlin, the painter and stage designer, dismissed the entire debate that made art stand aside from politics; ‘to accept or not to accept the October Revolution? There was no such question for me. I organically merged into active, creative, social, and pedagogical life’.

Varvara Stepanova, Five Figures on a White Background, 1920

Between 28 January and 2 February 2020, our Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research team and the International People’s Assembly held a Meeting on Art and Culture in People’s Struggles in Cuernavaca, México. Thirty-two people came from fifteen countries, most of them militant artists who discussed a range of issues, from broad questions of art and politics to the narrower focus on street theatre in India and graphic arts since the Cuban revolution.

This meeting builds on both the tradition of the art of national liberation and on the urgency of making art out of the popular struggles that now enfold the world. Cuernavaca is in Morelos, the land that produced Emiliano Zapata, who led the Mexican Revolution of 1911 and then – having gained Mexico City – went back to his rural life. This is the land of the ancient pyramids of Tepoztlán; the land of a once vibrant cultural centre that welcomed exiled Latin American and Mexican artists alike, such the communist muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974). His energy manifested itself into the desire amongst those who came to the meeting to build an international network of artists and designers. For more about this network, please be in touch with our lead designer, Tings Chak at gro.latnenitnocirtehtnull@sgnit.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Del Porfirismo a la Revolución (1957-1966)

On 21 February, thousands of people around the world will gather in public places for Red Books Day, which emerged from three urgencies:

  1. To stand up against the attack on Left writers, Left publishers, and Left bookstores.
  2. To defend the Marxist outlook against obscurantism and irrationality.
  3. To build a network of Left publishers across the world.

At these gatherings, from Japan to Chile, people will read the Communist Manifesto in their own languages. It was on 21 February 1848 that Marx and Engels first published this remarkable text, now available in most of the world’s languages.

Ten thousand people across Tamil Nadu in India will read the text in a new Tamil translation, while thousands of people will read it across South America in Portuguese and Spanish. In Johannesburg, at The Commune, the Manifesto will be read in Zulu and Sotho; in Delhi, at May Day, it will be read in Assamese, Bengali, German, Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Odiya, Punjabi, Telugu, and Urdu.This is an act of audacity, a stroll into the public space to demand – in these cadaverous times – the right to write revolution in the skies.