Category Archives: Equal Rights

This Year’s Wellness Exam

For our flu shots, my wife and I drive eight familiar miles, basically the route to a school where she taught, and the placid, ordinary neighborhoods and business locales we’ve passed through a thousand times are no longer friendly. The habit of isolation colors what we see. It dims the glare of familiarity and reveals dangers. Isolation is something like hiding.

We’re in a mood, you might say, going to expose ourselves to what a busy Pharmacy encloses, its air, its merchandise, and its people. It will be the first building we enter besides our house and our grandchildren’s home in seven months. The CDC Covid-19 categorizes us as among the most vulnerable to fatality from it: over 70 years old with adverse physical conditions. Obviously, everyone on earth is subject to it also, “7.8 billion as of September 2020 according to the most recent United Nations’ estimates…by Worldometer,” but also obviously we are NOT “all in this together” as spokespeople for our ineffectual governing bodies claim.

Not here, not in Dayton, not in Ohio, not anywhere in the US. Not in the sense that we are all doing our best to counter the threat, to work for its elimination, to help as many fellow citizens as possible to survive. Mutual purpose, concern, and respect are absent. Discovering that this kind of unity does not exist has replaced trust with fear, insecurity, anger and depression.

What is the meaning of the videos showing mask-less crowds jamming together at beaches, restaurants, bars, parties, and political rallies? It’s the same meaning my daily hikes teach. Encountering others walking or biking is usually not much of a problem. But some people do nothing to assure safe distance. Some unleash their dogs, which can carry the virus, allowing them to run free and even jump on other people. A few block narrow passages, do nothing when requested to make room in which to pass, and a few even curse someone asking to get by.

What justifies such behavior? Television newscasts have often aired this answer: I have rights and I will exercise them. I will gather as closely as I want with other people, I will go without a mask, I will not quarantine myself, and if others happen to get Covid-19 from the coronavirus I might carry, they are just unfortunate collateral damage. My rights are sacred. Your life is not as important as my rights. In fact, I’ve seen bumper stickers that say, “I don’t give a fuck about your feelings.” Meaning? Basically, your life means nothing to me.

Certainly such thinking existed before, but not to the extent it does now. Until this pandemic, an emphasis on ME, on MY rights superseding the rights of other people, would have faced overwhelming derision. Most people would have embarrassed themselves expressing it, and American courts and politicians would have condemned it. It was commonly understood that every right has limits. The “original author…[of] the State of World Liberty Index…defines ‘freedom’ as ‘the ability for the individual to live their lives as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same.'”

The last clause of that statement is what our nation taught and few citizen’s questioned until now. Not applying it during a pandemic has effects as bad as the virus. What vaccine can protect us from this inhumane, selfish attitude?

The post This Year's Wellness Exam first appeared on Dissident Voice.

White Allies For Black Lives Matter

We’re now emerging from an intense period of racial justice protests that began after the killing of George Floyd. It was exhilarating and pride-inspiring to witness the multitudes in the Lehigh Valley (Pa) who “took it to the streets” on behalf of racial equality, especially the waves of Black and white young people. According to the Pew Research Center, some 15 million adults participated in the protests which makes it the largest movement in American history. In terms of interracial composition, three times as many whites as Blacks participated and the percentage of Hispanics was higher than that for Black people. Further, so many young people participated that it could be rightly characterized as a generational revolt. But, will these events remain a historic “moment” or the start of an ongoing liberation movement?

After an interminable and unconscionably overdue response, we saw significant white allyship and we finally realized that white people must listen to Black voices and be accountable. However, in that vein, a key question remains: which voices should white allies heed? As Black activist Eric Jenkins reminds us, no organization speaks for all Black people and some Black-led organizations are totally disconnected from the lives of the Black working class. As Jenkins notes, some traditional Black organizations are even leery to accept white activists lest it disrupt their relationship with the dominant white power structure.

So, should white allies listen to the voices of the “go-along to get-ahead” types, like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), composed of 55 members? The late Bruce Dixon, an editor at Black Agenda Report, characterized the CBC as part of the “Black Political Class,” whose first allegiance is enabling the 1% to rule, a class to which most Black Americans do not belong. “Blackness,” here, is just an image brandished to banksters, military contractors and corporate interests.” As Dixon asserted, CBC takes its marching orders from the Democratic Party and obscene gobs of cash donations from white corporate sponsors in exchange for safe Congressional seats, cushy lifestyles and undeserved status. Aside from rhetoric, they do nothing to advance the interests of 40 million Black citizens,

Should we listen to the Black voices those attempting to co-opt and neuter the system transforming potential Black Lives Matter by diverting it simply into voting for Democrats. As a Facebook friend recently wrote, “The Democratic Party is now “An upper-middle class party that’s singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ fifty years too late.”

Or, rather, should we be attentive to Black voices in our midst who echo the powerful legacy of social and political transformation derived from Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson to W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Audre Lorde to more recent voices like bell hooks, Margaret Kimberley, Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Mary Hooks? Their work strongly suggests they would all advocate a gradual merging of BLM demands like “Stop Killing Black People,” ending mass incarceration (one in three Black boys can expect to be locked up during their adult lives) and abolishing institutional and cultural racism with demands to dismantle capitalism in all its predatory forms. The aforementioned social justice activists knew that a reckoning with America’s history of racism and economic injustice can never be realized without joining both sets of demands.

For example, as Martin Luther King matured as a leader, thinker and radical activist, be became openly anti-capitalist (and anti-U.S. imperialism). In a speech to his staff in South Carolina, just one month before his assassination on April 4, 1968, Dr. King spoke approvingly about the new and dynamic young radicals in the movement who understood that “only by structural change can current evils be eliminated because the roots are in the [capitalist] system rather than in men or in faulty operations…they all understand the need for direct, self-transforming and structural transformation. This may be their most creative collective insight.”

Finally, meaningful change will only come about when tens of thousands of people are willing to engage in large-scale civil disobedience and risk arrest in the revolutionary tradition of Dr. King. Is there any doubt that were he alive today he would be all about grass-roots organizing and planning another rally for the indefinite occupation of Washington, DC. This type of movement is the worst nightmare for those who own and rule the country. Doing anything less than attempting to bring their apparition to life would be wasting a convergence of favorable factors that may not appear again.

We Need To Talk About Romanticism

Satire on Romantic Suicide (1839) by Leonardo Alenza y Nieto (1807–1845)

Introduction

Why do we need to talk about Romanticism? What is Romanticism? And how does it affect us in the 21st century? The fact is that we are so immersed in Romanticism now that we cannot see the proverbial wood for the haunted-looking trees. Romanticism has so saturated our culture that we need to stand back and remind ourselves what it is, and examine how it has seeped into our thinking processes to the extent that we are not even aware of its presence anymore. Or why this is a problem. The Romanticist influence of intense emotion makes up a large part of modern culture, for example, in much pop music, cinema, TV and literature; e.g., genres such as Superheroes, Fantasy, Horror, Magical realism, Saga, Westerns. I will look at the origins of Romanticism, and its negative influence on culture and politics. I will show how Enlightenment ideas originally emerged in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Church and led to the formation of a working class ideology and culture of resistance.

Romanticism and the modern world

The whole exuberance, anarchy and violence of modern art … its unrestrained, unsparing exhibitionism, is derived from [Romanticism]. And this subjective, egocentric attitude has become so much a matter of course for us … that we find it impossible to reproduce even an abstract train of thought without talking about our own feelings.
— Arnold Hauser, (1892–1978), A Social History of Art, Vol. 3, p. 166

Romanticism arose out of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century as a reaction to what was perceived as a rationalisation of life to the point of being anti-nature. The Romantics were against the Industrial Revolution, universalism and empiricism, emphasising instead heroic individualists and artists, and the individual imagination as a critical authority rather than classical ideals.

The Enlightenment itself had developed from the earlier Renaissance with a renewed interest in the classical traditions and ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order based on reason and science. On a political level the Enlightenment promoted republicanism in opposition to monarchy which ultimately led to the French revolution.

The worried conservatives of the time reacted to the ideas of the Enlightenment and reason with a philosophy which was based on religious ideas and glorified the past (especially Medieval times and the ‘Golden Age’) — times when things were not so threatening to elites. This philosophy became known as Romanticism and emphasised medieval ideas and society over the new ideas of democracy, capitalism and science.

Romanticism originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1890. It was initially marked by innovations in both content and literary style and by a preoccupation with the subconscious, the mystical, and the supernatural. This period was followed by the development of cultural nationalism and a new attention to national origins, an interest in native folklore, folk ballads and poetry, folk dance and music, and even previously ignored medieval and Renaissance works.

The Romantic movement “emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature.” The importance of the medieval lay in the  pre-capitalist significance of its individual crafts and tradesmen, as well as its feudal peasants and serfs.

Thus Romanticism was a reaction to the birth of the modern world: urbanisation, secularisation, industrialisation, and consumerism. Romanticism emphasised intense emotion and feelings which over the centuries came to be seen as one of its most important characteristics, in opposition to ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ Enlightenment rationalism.

Origins of Enlightenment emotion

Whence this secret Chain between each Person and Mankind? How is my Interest connected with the most distant Parts of it?
Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746), An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), Treatise II: An Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, Sect. I.

However, this ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ scenario is actually very far from the truth. In fact, the Enlightenment, itself, had its origins in emotion. Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century tried to create a philosophy of feeling that would allow them to solve the problem of the injustice in the unfeeling world they saw all around them.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) believed that all human beings had a ‘natural affection’ or natural sociability which bound them together.  Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) wrote that “All Men have the same Affections and Senses”, while David Hume (1711–1776) believed that human beings extend their “imaginative identification with the feelings of others” when it is required. Similarly, Adam Smith (1723–1790), the writer of Wealth of Nations, believed in the power of the imagination to inform us and help us understand the suffering of others.1

Portrait of Denis Diderot (1713-1784), by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767

For the Enlightenment philosophers the relationship between feeling and reason was of absolute importance. To develop ideas that would progress society for the better, a sense of morality was essential. Denis Diderot (1713–1784) a prominent French philosopher of the Enlightenment in France, for example, had strong views on the importance of the passions. As Henry Martyn Lloyd writes:

Diderot did believe in the utility of reason in the pursuit of truth – but he had an acute enthusiasm for the passions, particularly when it came to morality and aesthetics. With many of the key figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, such as David Hume, he believed that morality was grounded in sense-experience. Ethical judgment was closely aligned with, even indistinguishable from, aesthetic judgments, he claimed. We judge the beauty of a painting, a landscape or our lover’s face just as we judge the morality of a character in a novel, a play or our own lives – that is, we judge the good and the beautiful directly and without the need of reason. For Diderot, then, eliminating the passions could produce only an abomination. A person without the ability to be affected, either because of the absence of passions or the absence of senses, would be morally monstrous.

Moreover, to remove the passions from science would lead to inhuman approaches and methods that would divert and alienate science from its ultimate goal of serving humanity, as Lloyd writes:

That the Enlightenment celebrated sensibility and feeling didn’t entail a rejection of science, however. Quite the opposite: the most sensitive individual – the person with the greatest sensibility – was considered to be the most acute observer of nature. The archetypical example here was a doctor, attuned to the bodily rhythms of patients and their particular symptoms. Instead, it was the speculative system-builder who was the enemy of scientific progress – the Cartesian physician who saw the body as a mere machine, or those who learned medicine by reading Aristotle but not by observing the ill. So the philosophical suspicion of reason was not a rejection of rationality per se; it was only a rejection of reason in isolation from the senses, and alienated from the impassioned body.

Michael L. Frazer describes the importance of Enlightenment justice and sympathy in his book The Enlightenment of Sympathy. He writes:

Reflective sentimentalists recognize our commitment to justice as an outgrowth of our sympathy for others. After our sympathetic sentiments undergo reflective self-correction, the sympathy that emerges for all those who suffer injustice poses no insult to those for whom it is felt. We do not see their suffering as mere pain to be soothed away when and if we happen to share it. Instead under Hume’s account, we condemn injustice as a violation of rules that are vitally important to us all. And under Smith’s account, we condemn the sufferings of the victims of injustice as injustice because we sympathetically share the resentment that they feel toward their oppressors, endorsing such feelings as warranted and acknowledging those who feel them deserve better treatment.2

Cooper, Hume and Smith were living in times, not only devoid of empathy, but also even of basic sympathy. Robert C. Solomon writes of society then in A Passion for Justice: “There have always been the very rich. And of course there have always been the very poor. But even as late as the civilized and sentimental eighteenth century, this disparity was not yet a cause for public embarrassment or a cry of injustice. […] Poverty was considered just one more “act of God,” impervious to any solution except mollification through individual charity and government poorhouses to keep the poor off the streets and away from crime.”3

Enlightenment emotion eventually gave rise to social trends that emphasised humanism and the heightened value of human life. These trends had their complement in art, creating what became known as the ‘sentimental novel’. While today sentimentalism evokes maudlin self-pity, in the eighteenth century it was revolutionary as sentimental literature

focused on weaker members of society, such as orphans and condemned criminals, and allowed readers to identify and sympathize with them. This translated to growing sentimentalism within society, and led to social movements calling for change, such as the abolition of the death penalty and of slavery. Instead of the death penalty, popular sentiment called for the rehabilitation of criminals, rather than harsh punishment. Frederick Douglass himself was inspired to stand against his own bondage and slavery in general in his famous Narrative by the speech by the sentimentalist playwright Sheridan in The Columbian Orator detailing a fictional dialogue between a master and slave.

As Solomon notes: “What distinguishes us not just from animals but from machines are our passions, and foremost among them our passion for justice. Justice is, in a word, that set of passions, not mere theories, that bind us and make us part of the social world.”4

The Man of Feeling  (Henry Mackenzie)

Writers such as the Scottish author Henry Mackenzie tried to highlight many things that he perceived were wrong during his time and showed how many of the wrongs were ultimately caused by the established pillars of society. In his book, The Man of Feeling, he has no qualms about showing how these pillars of society had, for example, abused an intelligent woman causing her to become a prostitute (p. 44/45.), destroyed a school because it blocked the landowner’s view (p. 72), and hired assassins to remove a man who had refused to hand over his wife (p. 91.), etc.5 Mackenzie shows again and again the injustices of British military and colonial policy, and who is responsible. As Marilyn Butler writes:

Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771), is pointedly topical when it criticizes the consequences of a war policy – press-ganging, conscription, the military punishment of flogging, and inadequate pensions – and when, like the same author’s Julia de Roubigné (1777), it attacks the principle of colonialism. An interest in such causes was the logical outcome of art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity. It was a period when the cast of villains was drawn from the proud men representing authority, downwards from the House of Lords, the bench of bishops, judges, local magistrates, attorneys, to the stern father; when readers were invited to empathize with life’s victims.6

It took a long time for the ideas of sentimentalism (emotions against injustice) to filter down to the Realism (using facts to depict ordinary everyday experiences) that Dickens used in the nineteenth century to finally evoke some kind of empathy for people impoverished by society. As Solomon notes: “It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Dickens shook the conscience of his compatriots with his riveting descriptions of poverty and cruelty in contemporary London, […] that the problem of poverty and resistance to its solutions [e.g. poorhouses] has become the central question of justice.”3

Buss, Robert William; Dickens’s Dream; Charles Dickens Museum, London;

European literary sentimentalism arose during the Enlightenment, and partly as a response to sentimentalism in philosophy. In England the period 1750–1798 became known as the Age of Sensibility as the sentimental novel or the novel of sensibility became popular.

Romanticist emotionalism: the opposite of Enlightenment sentimentalism

Classicism is health, romanticism is sickness.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832)

However, sensibility in an Enlightenment sense was very different from the Romanticist understanding, as Butler notes:

It is, in fact, in a key respect almost the opposite of Romanticism. Sensibility, like its near-synonym sentiment, echoes eighteenth-century philosophy and psychology in focusing upon the mental process by which impressions are received by the senses. But the sentimental writer’s interest in how the mind works and in how people behave is very different from the Romantic writer’s inwardness.7

She writes that ‘neither Neoclassical theory nor contemporary practice in various styles and genres put much emphasis on the individuality of the artist’ (p. 29). This is a far cry from the apolitical, inward-looking, self-centered Romantic artists who saw themselves outside of a society that they had little interest in participating in, let alone changing for the better. Butler again:

Romantic rebelliousness is more outrageous and total, the individual rejecting not just his own society but the very principle of living in society – which means that the Romantic and post Romantic often dismisses political activity of any kind, as external to the self, literal and commonplace. Since it is relatively uncommon for the eighteenth-century artist to complain directly on his own behalf, he seldom achieves such emotional force as his nineteenth-century successor. He is, on the other hand, much more inclined than the Romantic to express sympathy for certain, well-defined social groups. Humanitarian feeling for the real-life underdog is a strong vein from the 1760s to the 1790s, often echoing real-life campaigns for reform.8

This movement over time towards the Romanticist inward-looking conception of emotion and feelings has had knock-on negative effects on society’s ability to defend itself from elite oppression (through cultural styles of self-absorption, escapism and diversion rather than exposure, criticism and resistance), and retarded ‘art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity’. Solomon describes this process:

What has come about in the past two centuries or so is the dramatic rise of what Robert Stone has called “affective individualism,” this new celebration of the passions and other feelings of the autonomous individual. Yet, ironically, it is an attitude that has become even further removed from our sense of justice during that same period of time. We seem to have more inner feelings and pay more attention to them, but we seem to have fewer feelings about others and the state of the world and pay less attention to them.9

Thus while Enlightenment sentimentalism “depicted individuals as social beings whose sensibility was stimulated and defined by their interactions with others”, the Romantic movement that followed it “tended to privilege individual autonomy and subjectivity over sociability”.

Romanticism as a philosophical movement of the nineteenth century had a profound influence on culture which can still be seen right up to today. Its main characteristics are the emphasis on the personal, dramatic contrasts, emotional excess, a focus on the nocturnal, the ghostly and the frightful, spontaneity, and extreme subjectivism. Romanticism in culture implies a turning inward and encourages introspection. Romantic literature put more emphasis on themes of isolation, loneliness, tragic events and the power of nature. A heroic view of history and myth became the basis of much Romantic literature.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, painted by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier

It was in Germany that Romanticism took shape as a political ideology. The German Romanticists felt threatened by the French Revolution and were forced to move from inward-looking ideas to formulate conservative political answers needed to oppose Enlightenment and republican ideals. According to Eugene N. Anderson:

In the succeeding years the danger became acutely political, and the German Romanticists were compelled to subordinate their preoccupation with the widening of art and the enrichment of individual experience to social and political ideas and actions, particularly as formulated in nationalism and conservatism. These three cultural ideals, Romanticism, nationalism and conservatism, shared qualities evoked by the common situation of crisis. […] The Germans had to maintain against rationalism and the French a culture which in its institutional structure was that of the ancien régime. German Romanticism accepted it, wished to reform it somewhat, idealized it, and defended the idealization as the supreme culture of the world. This was the German counter-revolution. […] They endowed their culture with universal validity and asserted that it enjoyed the devotion of nature and God, that if it were destroyed humanity would be vitally wounded.10

The reactionary nature of German Romanticism was demonstrated in its hierarchical views of society, its chauvinist nationalism, and extreme conservatism which would have serious implications for future generations of the German populace. As Anderson writes:

The low estimate of rationalism and the exaltation of custom, tradition, and feeling, the conception of society as an alliance of the generations, the belief in the abiding character of ideas as contrasted with the ephemeral nature of concepts, these and many other romantic views bolstered up the existing culture. The concern with relations led the Romanticists to praise the hierarchical order of the Ständestaat and to regard everything and every-one as an intermediary. The acceptance of the fact of inequality harmonized with that of the ideals of service, duty, faithfulness, order, sacrifice – admirable traits for serf or subject or soldier.11

Anderson also believes that the Romanticists remained swinging “between individual freedom and initiative and group compulsion and authority” and as such could not have brought in fundamental reforms, because: “By reverencing tradition, they preserved the power of the backward-looking royalty and aristocracy.”12

Thus Romanticist self-centredness in philosophy translated into the most conservative forms for maintaining the status quo in politics. Individual freedoms were matched by authoritarianism for the masses. The individual was king all right, as long as you weren’t a ‘serf or subject or soldier’.

Beyond morality: Working Class perspectives on Reason and Sentiment

We have never intended to enlighten shoemakers and servants—this is up to apostles.
Voltaire (1694–1778)

Around the same time of the early period of Romanticism, Karl Heinrich Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) were born. They grew up in a very different Germany. Capitalism had become established and was creating an even more polarised society between extremely rich and extremely poor as factory owners pushed their workers to their physical limits. On his way to work at his father’s firm in Manchester, Engels called into the offices of a paper he wrote for in Cologne and met the editor, Marx, for the first time in 1842. They formed a friendship based on shared values and beliefs regarding the working class and socialist ideas. They saw a connection between the earlier Enlightenment ideas and socialism. For example, as Engels writes in Anti-Duhring:

in its theoretical form, modern socialism originally appears ostensibly as a more logical extension of the principles laid down by the great French philosophers of the eighteenth century. Like every new theory, modern socialism had, at first, to connect itself with the intellectual stock-in-trade ready to its hand, however deeply its roots lay in economic facts.13

However, once they had connected themselves to the Enlightenment they soon saw the limitations of both Enlightenment concepts of reason and sentiment. They realised that the new bourgeois rulers would be limited by their conceptions of property, justice, and equality, which basically meant they only applied universality to themselves and their own property. The new rulers were buoyed up by the victory of their ideological fight over the aristocracy but incapable of applying the same ideas to the masses who helped them to victory. Thus Marx and Engels viewed the struggle for reason as important but limited to the new ruling class’ world view, just like the aristocracy before them:

Every form of society and government then existing, every old traditional notion was flung into the lumber room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudices; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. Now, for the first time, appeared the light of day, henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality based on nature and the inalienable rights of man. We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realisation in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, the Contrat Social of Rousseau, came into being, and only could come into being, as a democratic bourgeois republic. The great thinkers of the eighteenth century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.14

As for sentiment, they were well aware of the Realist critical nature of modern writers (the Realist movement rejected Romanticism) and indeed praised them (e.g. G. Sand, E. Sue, and Boz [Dickens]), but limited themselves to offering some advice. While recognising that progressive literature had a mainly middle class audience (and were happy enough with these authors just ‘shaking the optimism’ of their audience), they knew that this was not by any means a socialist literature and were

I think however that the purpose must become manifest from the situation and the action themselves without being expressly pointed out and that the author does not have to serve the reader on a platter — the future historical resolution of the social conflicts which he describes. To this must be added that under our conditions novels are mostly addressed to readers from bourgeois circles, i.e., circles which are not directly ours. Thus the socialist problem novel in my opinion fully carries out its mission if by a faithful portrayal of the real conditions it dispels the dominant conventional illusions concerning them, shakes the optimism of the bourgeois world, and inevitably instills doubt as to the eternal validity of that which exists, without itself offering a direct solution of the problem involved, even without at times ostensibly taking sides.15

Sentimental literature focused on individual misfortune, and constant repetition of such themes certainly appeared to universalise such suffering, so that, as David Denby writes, “In this weeping mother, this suffering father, we are to read also the sufferings of humanity.” Thus, “individualism and universalism appear to be two sides of the same coin”. Sentimental literature gives the reader the ‘spectacle of misfortune’ and a representation of the reaction of a ‘sentient and sensible observer’ who tries to help with ‘alms, sympathy or indeed narrative intervention.’ Furthermore, the literature of sentiment “mirrors eighteenth-century theories of sympathy, in which a spontaneous reaction to the spectacle of suffering is gradually developed, by a process of generalisation and combination of ideas, into broader and more abstract notions of humanity, benevolence, justice.”16

Workers in the fuse factory, Woolwich Arsenal late 1800s

This brings us then to the problem of interpretation, as Denby suggests: “should the sentimental portrayal of the poor and of action in their favour be read as an attempt to give a voice to the voiceless, to include the hitherto excluded? Or, alternatively, is the sentimentalisation of the poor to be interpreted, more cynically, as a discursive strategy through which the enlightened bourgeoisie states its commitment to values of humanity and justice, and thereby seeks to strengthen its claims to universal domination?”17

While such ideas of giving a ‘voice to the voiceless’ was a far cry from monarchical times, and claims of commitment to humanity and justice were laudable, the concept of universality had a fundamental flaw: “The universal claims of the French Revolution are opposed to a [aristocratic] society based on distinctions of birth: it is in the name of humanity that the Revolution challenges the established order. But for Sartre this does not change the fact that the universal is a myth, an ideological construct, and an obfuscation, since it articulates a notion of man which eliminates social conflict and disguises the interests of a class behind a facade of universal reference.”18

Striking teamsters battling police on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 1934

Thus for Marx and Engels defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, that is, a universal moral theory, could not be achieved while society is divided into classes:

We maintain […] that all moral theories have been hitherto the product, in the last analysis, of the economic conditions of society obtaining at the time. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. That in this process there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, no one will doubt. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which stands above class antagonisms and above any recollection of them becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life.

Marx and Engels worked towards that morality through their activism with working class movements and culture. Their critical writing also formed an essential part of working class ideology and culture of resistance and has remained influential in resistance movements the world over.

The culture of resistance today still uses realism, documentary, and histories of oppression to show the harsh realities of globalisation. Like during the Enlightenment, empathy for those suffering injustice forms its foundation. And unlike Romanticism, reason and science are deemed to be important tools in its struggle for social emancipation and progress.

Conclusion: Enlightenment and Romanticism today

When we are asked now: are we now living into an enlightened age? Then the answer is: No, but in an age of Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

There is no doubt that the influence of Romanticism has become ever stronger in twentieth and twenty-first century culture. Romanticist-influenced TV shows on Netflix are watched world wide. Love songs dominate the pop industry and superheroes are now the mainstay of cinema. Even Romanticist nationalism is making a comeback. Now and then calls for a new Enlightenment are heard, but like the original advocates of the Enlightenment, they are limited to the conservative world view of those making the call and whose view of the Enlightenment could be compared to a form of Third Way politics, that is, they avoid the issue of class conflict.

  1. Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment: And Why it Still Matters (Oxford Uni Press, 2015) p. 72/73.
  2. Michael L Frazer, The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Oxford Uni Press, 2010) p. 126/127.
  3. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 13.
  4. Ibid., p. 45.
  5. Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling (Oxford World’s Classics Oxford Uni Press, 2009.
  6. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 31.
  7. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 29/30.
  8. Ibid., pp. 30/31.
  9. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 37.
  10. Eugene N. Anderson, German Romanticism as an Ideology of Cultural Crisis, p. 301-312. Journal of the History of Ideas, June, 1941, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 301-317. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press.
  11. Ibid., pp. 313-314.
  12. Ibid., p. 316.
  13. Marx and Engels, On Literature and Art (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1978) p. 270.
  14. Ibid., p. 271.
  15. Ibid., p. 88.
  16. David J. Denby, Individual, universal, national: a French revolutionary trilogy? (Studies of Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 335, Voltaire Foundation, 1996) p. 28/29.
  17. Ibid., 117.
  18. Ibid., p. 27.

Racism: Are We All Prejudiced?

Loud acts of racism, like the atrocious killing of George Floyd by a US police officer; the disproportionate number of black men incarcerated in American prisons or the high percentage of young black or minority ethnic (BAME) men subjected to ‘stop and search’ by police in Britain are blatant and ugly. But an individuals ‘unconscious bias’ and the institutionalized racism festering deep within organizations is subtler, perhaps harder to recognize.

Racism is prejudice against BAME people/groups, it has deep historical roots within ex-colonial cultures (particularly in countries with large migrant populations, like Britain, France and the US), it is vile and abhorrent and it must be driven out of society. It is one of many forms of prejudice that exist all over the world. Prejudice against women, or LGBT individuals and groups, people with disabilities, tribal people and other minorities, prejudice against religious groups, certain nationalities and people of various ages. No matter how liberal minded and ‘progressive’ we believe ourselves to be, are any of us truly free from all forms of prejudice?

Learning to hate

Prejudice in all its foul forms, including racism, is not innate  – nobody is born a racist – it is learnt. It results from psychological and sociological conditioning, which is absorbed unconsciously from birth and for the most part is acted on habitually, without thinking or awareness. Decisions, choices and actions that proceed from this position are in some way or other limited, colored, and distorted by dogma, motivated by desire and fear.

Such actions take place all the time; most are petty and relatively limited in their impact. But when prejudice is involved and the action is constantly repeated or exercised from a position of power – an employer, government official, a parent, someone in uniform or education then the effects can have long-lasting detrimental effects. Worse still, when racism has seeped into the fabric of the perpetrator and turned to blind hate, allowing for abuse (like kneeling on a defenseless man’s neck while arresting him for a petty incident) to occur the results can then be much more serious: recurring mental health illnesses, physical injuries, and sometimes death, of an individual, or in the case of genocide (the organized expression of hate) the systemic annihilation of a whole community.

Prejudice then is a form of conditioning; it is discrimination or bias unconsciously expressed in varying degrees, fuelling hurtful destructive patterns of behavior and social division. This does not in any way legitimize or excuse acts of racism and prejudice, but if such actions are the consequence of conditioning we have a key to eradicating this poison from society.

Young children do not on the whole exhibit signs of prejudice. They see other children simply as children, they don’t see black, white, brown, Asian etc., children. That is, until they are conditioned into seeing ‘difference’, into dividing people based on race, gender, religion, nationality etc., and encouraged to make judgments based on that prejudice. The agents of conditioning are (most commonly) ignorant parents, peers who have already taken the poison, government policy (on immigration, for example) and the media.

In 1968 an exercise in racial conditioning was famously demonstrated by the schoolteacher and campaigner Jane Elliot (credited with inventing the concept of diversity training): On 5th April, the morning after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr, she segregated the 28 children (eight/nine year olds) in her classroom based on eye color, with one group adopting superior status to the other. The following day the roles were reversed. It was a brilliant exercise that aimed to show what it would feel like to be discriminated against and also to discriminate.

Once the seed of prejudice and division is planted, false notions of superiority and inferiority are fed and the belief that some people are ‘like us’ and some people ‘are not’ is adopted. The idea of ‘the other’ separate from me, potentially a threat to me, takes root, and this, if reinforced by competition and fear (as is commonly the case) leads to distrust, further division and hate. Allowing for the creation of a violent minority, and, in extreme cases the birth of a flag-waving, swastika-bearing racist or bigot. In the majority prejudice leads to what is commonly called ‘unconscious or implicit bias’.

How unconscious is Unconscious Bias

In October 1998 social psychologists from the University of Washington and Yale conducted the ‘Implicit Association Test (IAT)’. An online research tool designed to “measure implicit or unconscious evaluations and beliefs that spring from strong, automatic associations of which people may be unaware.” The study found that 90-95% of people held such unconscious prejudices. The researchers, including Mahzarin Banaji, professor of psychology at Yale, stated that unconscious prejudice “results from the culture they [people] live in and the culture’s attitudes towards stigmatized groups …a culture leaves an imprint on the mental structure, and most people have more or less the same mental imprint.” This is sociological conditioning.

Various studies since have revealed that unconscious bias affects a range of everyday decisions impacting on people from minority groups. Job prospects, education opportunities and health care, as well as prejudicial treatment by criminal justice systems. While it may be unclear just how ‘unconscious’ an individual’s bias is, what isn’t in dispute is that it exists, impacting on almost all of us, creating division and injustice. But, as Professor Banaji said “the same test that reveals these roots of prejudice has the potential to let people learn more about and perhaps overcome these disturbing inclinations.”

Action not words

As Jane Elliot said, ‘there is only one race, the human race’: humanity is one, brothers and sisters of one humanity. This has been proclaimed many times, most famously perhaps by Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, like peace, brotherhood and justice, equality is nowhere to be found. It remains a noble ideal, but ideals, which are not made manifest become tools of deceit, feeding complacency and apathy, allowing destructive attitudes and behavior to remain intact, and to proliferate.

In the years since the introduction of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in March 1966 attitudes have changed and much progress has been made. But there is a long way to go if we are to create a world that is completely free from all forms of discrimination. To rid society of racism and prejudice a number of things need to take place simultaneously.

Education, inclusion and awareness (de-conditioning) are key, together with the introduction of urgent practical steps within all areas where institutionalized racism exists. The essential element to individual liberation from prejudice is awareness; the unconscious impulse of discrimination needs to be brought into the light of awareness where, when seen, it can be rejected. Institutionalized racism collects out of the individual prejudice of people working within a particular organization, whether a police force, government department, school, university, corporation or small business. Eradicating prejudice from all such organizations and encouraging diversity and greater representation of minority groups must become a priority; more support needs to be given to children from BAME families (often among the poorest in society) to ensure equal education opportunities and, in order to limit prejudice by employers, schools, universities etc., the mandatory introduction of ‘blind CVs’ (without personal details concerning the applicant’s gender, age or ethnicity) should be brought about immediately.

The global response to the appalling killing of George Floyd and the widespread calls for fundamental change must not be ignored or the focus lost by distracting arguments about statues and artifacts. Certainly, following community debate, some statues should be removed – not torn down – and placed in museums, and items stolen by colonialists and now held in western museums returned.

But the primary issue is not what happened in the shameful past, it is changing existing attitudes and behavior. The momentum for change must not be lost as the mainstream media turn their attention elsewhere and politicians ruminate and set up yet more committees. Action is needed now, not endless speeches by duplicitous ambitious politicians. The rise of racism and all types of hate crime parallels the increase in political populism and tribal nationalism; these ideologies of division have stoked racial tensions and fed hate among the hateful. They are of the past and must be collectively rejected. The path to equality, social harmony and peace will come about through unity not division, cooperation not competition, tolerance not bigotry. It is these qualities that need to be adopted and cultivated, not as ideals, but as living principles animating and pervading all aspects of life.

Parallels between Minneapolis and Jerusalem are More than Skin Deep

It is hard to ignore the striking parallels between the recent scenes of police brutality in cities across the United States and decades of violence from Israel’s security forces against Palestinians.

A video that went viral late last month of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, killing a black man, George Floyd, by pressing a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes has triggered a fortnight of mass protests across the US – and beyond.

The footage was the latest disturbing visual evidence of a US police culture that appears to treat Black Americans as an enemy – and a reminder that rogue police officers are all too rarely punished.

Floyd’s lynching by Chauvin as three other officers either looked on, or participated, has echoes of troubling scenes familiar from the occupied territories. Videos of Israeli soldiers, police and armed settlers beating, shooting and abusing Palestinian men, women and children have long been a staple of social media.

The dehumanisation that enabled Floyd’s murder has been regularly on view in the occupied Palestinian territories. In early 2018 Israeli snipers began using Palestinians, including children, nurses, journalists and the disabled, as little more than target practice during weekly protests at a perimeter fence around Gaza imprisoning them.

Widespread impunity

And just as in the US, the use of violence by Israeli police and soldiers against Palestinians rarely leads to prosecutions, let alone convictions.

A few days after Floyd’s killing, an autistic Palestinian man, Iyad Hallaq – who had a mental age of six, according to his family – was shot seven times by police in Jerusalem. None of the officers has been arrested.

Faced with embarrassing international attention in the wake of Floyd’s murder, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare statement on the killing of a Palestinian by the security services. He called Hallaq’s murder “a tragedy” and promised an investigation.

The two killings, days apart, have underscored why the slogans “Black Lives Matter” and “Palestinian Lives Matter” sit naturally alongside each other, whether at protests or in social media posts.

There are differences between the two cases, of course. Nowadays Black Americans have citizenship, most can vote (if they can reach a polling station), laws are no longer explicitly racist, and they have access to the same courts – if not always the same justice – as the white population.

That is not the situation for most Palestinians under Israeli rule. They live under occupation by a foreign army, arbitrary military orders govern their lives, and they have very limited access to any kind of meaningful legal redress.

And there is another obvious difference. Floyd’s murder has shocked many white Americans into joining the protests. Hallaq’s murder, by contrast, has been ignored by the vast majority of Israelis, apparently accepted once again as the price of maintaining the occupation.

Treated like an enemy

Nonetheless, comparisons between the two racist policing cultures are worth highlighting. Both spring from a worldview shaped by settler-colonial societies founded on dispossession, segregation and exploitation.

Israel still largely views Palestinians as an enemy that needs to be either expelled or made to submit. Black Americans, meanwhile, live with the legacy of a racist white culture that until not so long ago justified slavery and apartheid.

Palestinians and Black Americans have long had their dignity looted; their lives too often are considered cheap.

Sadly, most Israeli Jews are in deep denial about the racist ideology that underpins their major institutions, including the security services. Tiny numbers protest in solidarity with Palestinians, and those that do are widely seen by the rest of the Israeli public as traitors.

Many white Americans, on the other hand, have been shocked to see how quickly US police forces – faced with widespread protests – have resorted to aggressive crowd-control methods of the kind only too familiar to Palestinians.

Those methods include the declaration of curfews and closed areas in major cities; the deployment of sniper squads against civilians; the use of riot teams wearing unmarked uniforms or balaclavas; arrests of, and physical assaults on, journalists who are clearly identifiable; and the indiscriminate use of tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to wound protesters and terrify them off the streets.

It does not end there.

President Donald Trump has described demonstrators as “terrorists”, echoing Israel’s characterisation of all Palestinian protest, and threatened to send in the US army, which would replicate even more precisely the situation faced by Palestinians.

Like Palestinians, the US black community – and now the protesters – have been recording examples of their abuse on their phones and posting the videos on social media to highlight the deceptions of police statements and media reporting of what has been taking place.

Tested on Palestinians

None of these parallels should surprise us. For years US police forces, along with many others around the world, have been queueing at Israel’s door to learn from its decades of experience in crushing Palestinian resistance.

Israel has capitalised on the need among western states, in a world of depleting resources and the long-term contraction of the global economy, to prepare for future internal uprisings by a growing underclass.

With readymade laboratories in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel has long been able to develop and field-test on captive Palestinians new methods of surveillance and subordination. As the largest underclass in the US, urban black communities were always likely to find themselves on the front line as US police forces adopted a more militarised approach to policing.

These changes finally struck home during the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 after a black man, Michael Brown, was killed by police. Dressed in military-style fatigues and body armour, and backed by armoured personnel carriers, local police looked more like they were entering a war zone than there to “serve and protect”.

Trained in Israel

It was then that human rights groups and others started to highlight the extent to which US police forces were being influenced by Israel’s methods of subjugating Palestinians. Many forces had been trained in Israel or involved in exchange programmes.

Israel’s notorious paramilitary Border Police, in particular, has become a model for other countries. It was the Border Police that shot dead Hallaq in Jerusalem shortly after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

The Border Police carry out the hybrid functions of a police force and an army, operating against Palestinians in the occupied territories and inside Israel, where a large Palestinian minority live with a very degraded citizenship.

The institutional premise of the Border Police is that all Palestinians, including those who are formally Israeli citizens, should be dealt with as an enemy. It is at the heart of a racist Israeli policing culture identified 17 years ago by the Or Report, the country’s only serious review of its police forces.

The Border Police increasingly look like the model US police forces are emulating in cities with large black populations.

Many dozens of Minneapolis police officers were trained by Israeli experts in “counter-terrorism” and “restraint” techniques at a conference in Chicago in 2012.

Derek Chauvin’s chokehold, using his knee to press down on Floyd’s neck, is an “immobilisation” procedure familiar to Palestinians. Troublingly, Chauvin was training two rookie officers at the time he killed Floyd, passing on the department’s institutional knowledge to the next generation of officers.

Monopoly of violence

These similarities should be expected. States inevitably borrow and learn from each other on matters most important to them, such as repressing internal dissent. The job of a state is to ensure it maintains a monopoly of violence inside its territory.

It is the reason why the Israeli scholar Jeff Halper warned several years ago in his book War Against the People that Israel had been pivotal in developing what he called a “global pacification” industry. The hard walls between the military and the police have crumbled, creating what he termed “warrior cops”.

The danger, according to Halper, is that in the long run, as the police become more militarised, we are all likely to find ourselves being treated like Palestinians. Which is why a further comparison between the US strategy towards the black community and Israel’s towards Palestinians needs highlighting.

The two countries are not just sharing tactics and policing methods against protests once they break out. They have also jointly developed longer-term strategies in the hope of dismantling the ability of the black and Palestinian communities they oppress to organise effectively and forge solidarity with other groups.

Loss of historic direction

If one lesson is clear, it is that oppression can best be challenged through organised resistance by a mass movement with clear demands and a coherent vision of a better future.

In the past that depended on charismatic leaders with a fully developed and well-articulated ideology capable of inspiring and mobilising followers. It also relied on networks of solidarity between oppressed groups around the world sharing their wisdom and experience.

The Palestinians were once led by figures who commanded national support and respect, from Yasser Arafat to George Habash and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The struggle they led was capable of galvanising supporters around the world.

These leaders were not necessarily united. There were debates over whether Israeli settler colonialism would best be undermined through secular struggle or religious fortitude, through finding allies among the oppressor nation or defeating it using its own violent methods.

These debates and disagreements educated the wider Palestinian public, clarified the stakes for them, and provided a sense of a historic direction and purpose. And these leaders became figureheads for international solidarity and revolutionary fervour.

That has all long since disappeared. Israel pursued a relentless policy of jailing and assassinating Palestinian leaders. In Arafat’s case, he was confined by Israeli tanks to a compound in Ramallah before he was poisoned to death in highly suspicious circumstances. Ever since, Palestinian society has found itself orphaned, adrift, divided and disorganised.

International solidarity has been largely sidelined too. The publics of Arab states, already preoccupied with their own struggles, appear increasingly tired of the divided and seemingly hopeless Palestinian cause. And in a sign of our times, western solidarity today is invested chiefly in a boycott movement, which has had to wage its fight on the enemy’s battlefield of consumption and finance.

From confrontation to solace

The black community in the US has undergone parallel processes, even if it is harder to indict quite so directly the US security services for the loss decades ago of a black national leadership. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement were hounded by the US security services. They were jailed or felled by assassins, despite their very different approaches to the civil rights struggle.

Today, none are around to make inspiring speeches and mobilise the wider public – either black or white Americans – to take action on the national stage.

Denied a vigorous national leadership, the organised black community at times appeared to have retreated into the safer but more confining space of the churches – at least until the latest protests. A politics of solace appeared to have replaced the politics of confrontation.

A focus on identity

These changes cannot be attributed solely to the loss of national leaders. In recent decades the global political context has been transformed too. After the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, the US not only became the world’s sole superpower but it crushed the physical and ideological space in which political opposition could flourish.

Class analysis and revolutionary ideologies – a politics of justice – were shunted off the streets and increasingly into the margins of academia.

Instead, western political activists were encouraged to dedicate their energies not to anti-imperialism and class struggle but to a much narrower identity politics. Political activism became a competition between social groups for attention and privilege.

As with Palestinian solidarity activism, identity politics in the US has waged its battles on the terrain of a consumption-obsessed society. Hashtags and virtue-signalling on social media have often appeared to serve as a stand-in for social protest and activism.

A moment of transition

The question posed by the current US protests is whether this timid, individualised, acquisitive kind of politics is starting to seem inadequate. The US protesters are still largely leaderless, their struggle in danger of being atomised, their demands implicit and largely shapeless – it is clearer what the protesters don’t want than what they do.

That reflects a current mood in which the challenges facing us all – from permanent economic crisis and the new threat of pandemics to impending climate catastrophe – appear too big, too momentous to make sense of. We are caught in a moment of transition, it seems, destined for a new era – good or bad – we cannot discern clearly yet.

In August, millions are expected to head to Washington in a march to echo the one led by Martin Luther King in 1963. The heavy burden of this historic moment is expected to be carried on the ageing shoulders of the Rev Al Sharpton.

That symbolism may be fitting. It is more than 50 years since western states were last gripped with revolutionary fervour. But the hunger for change that reached its climax in 1968 – for an end to imperialism, endless war and rampant inequality – was never sated.

Oppressed communities around the globe are still hungry for a fairer world. In Palestine and elsewhere, those who suffer brutality, misery, exploitation and indignity still need a champion. They look to Minneapolis and the struggle it launched for a seed of hope.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Death of the “Usual”: Economic Evolution and the Emergence of the New

Humanity is faced with a series of self-made, interrelated crises, from the environmental catastrophe to poverty, inequality, the absence of peace and an unprecedented level of displaced persons, among other pressing issues.  All have been brought about by the negative behaviour of mankind, by the pervasive modes of living, the corrosive values and ideologies that dominate all aspects of contemporary life.

The latest crisis is the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the potential resulting collapse of the world economy. It is a collective crisis the like of which we have never seen before. Whole populations are being forced to change behaviour, to stop travelling, to withdraw, stop shopping, stay at home and to support others in the community. It is forcing people to shift their focus and slow down, to simplify and re-examine their lives. Worrying and unsettling in the immediate term, but potentially liberating, providing the space in which to be quiet, to reflect and look within, and good for the natural environment.

With crisis comes opportunity, the possibility for growth and realignment with purpose; for change to take place – change that inculcates harmony, allowing for that which has hitherto been inhibited to be to be expressed.

The inevitability of crises

There is a natural order to life and certain fundamental laws that underpin all manifestation. When this rhythm is inhibited – individually or collectivelystasis takes place leading to dis-ease, and a crisis of some kind occurs. The greater the resistance the more inevitable and intense the crisis becomes.

Current modes of living are disharmonious, the socio-economic and political systems are totally unjust, favouring the few at the expense of the many; driven by divisive materialistic values and the reductive ideology of greed they sit at the core of most if not all of our problems. Ecosystems have been disrupted by self-centred human activity, weather patterns completely altered by the poisons daily poured into the atmosphere, leading to disharmony within the climate. Huge numbers of people recognize these facts and the need for a new way of living, but resistance among governments and corporate power is fierce; attachment to the status quo deep; fear of loss of power and privilege, intense. And so the required changes are consistently blocked; the natural order, which forever moves towards harmony for that is its inherent quality is consistently blocked, creating further inflammation.

The Coronavirus is beyond the control of governments, institutions and corporate bodies of power. It is causing widespread chaos and this will intensify and broaden in scope, affecting not just public health but social order and will devastate the consumer-led economy. As stock markets tumble, businesses fail, global supply chains fracture and nations are forced to turn within, governments (predictably) talk about the ‘fundamental strength of the economy’ and the ability of the markets to ‘bounce back’ quickly after the crisis has passed, returning to business as usual. The ‘usual’, however, is the problem: the ‘usual’ has poisoned the planet, created enormous levels of inequality, set one against another, nation against nation, sustained widespread exploitation of the vulnerable and encouraged a pernicious value system fuelling all manner of social ills. It is of the past and must now come to an end.

In the short-term, businesses that are in danger of going under need government support, and, more or less, this is taking place; employment/salaries need to be guaranteed, mortgages and rent payments suspended, as well as bank overdrafts and loans, credit card debt etc., but once the dust settles, instead of attempting to refurbish the out-dated, patch up the inadequate and carry on as normal, the opportunity for an Economic Evolution should be grasped; an opportunity to reimagine the way the socio-economic system functions, to recognize that the current model has had its day and to create a new system based on sharing, with social justice and cooperation at its heart. Indeed, if the collapse is as deep as it threatens to be, there may be no option. Welcome or not, this crisis could force the changes that some dread but many long for, and prove to be the final blow to the existing systems; inadequate forms that are already in a state of terminal disintegration as the energy that had sustained them is withdrawn and we transition from one age or civilization into a new, as yet undefined, time.

The teacher for this time

Standing back of outward events and unknown to most is the teacher for this time, the Lord Maitreya, head and leader of our spiritual hierarchy, a body that many in the West in particular, may be unfamiliar with. Foretold to come at this time by Gautama Buddha some 2,600 years ago and awaited by all the World’s religions under various names (Christ, the Imam Mahdi, Maitreya Buddha, the Messiah, Krishna), Maitreya has been patiently waiting for the right time to come forward, to be invited to begin His full and open public work. The Covid-19 crisis could well be the factor that allows this event to take place, an unprecedented event that would potentially change everything.

Together with a large group of His closest disciples, the Masters of Wisdom, Maitreya will offer advice and guidance, pointing the way out of our troubles. It is up to humanity to listen and respond though; if there is a world saviour it is humanity itself. As Maitreya has said, “I am the Architect, only, of the Plan. You, My friends and brothers, are the willing builders of the Shining Temple of Truth.” The ‘temple of truth’ is the new civilization.

The presence, and gradual emergence (since July 1977) of Maitreya, was made known, up until his death in October 2016, by the British artist and writer Benjamin Creme: for forty years he travelled the world spreading what is an extraordinary, albeit controversial, story of hope to anyone who would listen. The coming of a teacher at specific times of crisis and/or transition is quite normal, expected, in fact; historically a teacher has always come forward from the ranks of the Spiritual Hierarchy. Now, as many realize, is such a time.

Maitreya is not a religious leader but a guide in the broadest sense, concerned with the pressing issues of the day. He is, Alice Bailey relates in The Reappearance of The Christ, “that Great Being Whom the Christian calls the Christ; He is known also in the Orient as the Bodhisattva and as the Lord Maitreya.” He is the great “Lord of Love and of Compassion” as the Buddha was “the Lord of Wisdom.” He is the Christ for this planet, a fact that many Christians will no doubt struggle to accept. He is the Master of all the Masters, and to Him “is committed the guidance of the spiritual destinies of men [mankind]. He is the World Teacher for this coming cycle; He is the Coming One.”

Some of Maitreya’s thoughts and aspects of His teachings were made known in the 140 extraordinary messages He gave between September 1977 and May 1982. “Allow Me to show you the way,” He says in one such message, “forward, into a simpler life where no man lacks; where no two days are alike; where the joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men. And in another asks, “how to start? Begin by dedicating yourself and all that you are and have been to the service of the world, to the service of your brothers and sisters everywhere. Make sure that not one day passes without some act of true service and be assured that My help will be yours.”

As the world faces the Covid-19 crisis, a coordinated response to the health demands and the economic impacts are needed; community service and simple acts of kindness are essential, as is sharing. This is a global crisis and a united response is called for, enough of competition and tribal nationalism – America first, China first, India first, etc., humanity and the planet first. Unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding; these, together with sharing, are the hallmarks of the time and must guide our thoughts and actions, now more than ever.

The pandemic will be overcome, and, if we embrace the opportunity this crisis offers, there is a real chance that afterwards life could be fundamentally changed forever and for the good. A chance to re-imagine how to live, to introduce new modes of living that encourage the good, that cultivate unity, peace and natural happiness and allow the space in which to be.

Bit by bit Israel aims to squeeze out the Palestinian Christians

Gaza’s minuscule community of Christians will spend this Christmas feeling even more under siege than normal. The Israeli military authorities have denied the vast majority of the enclave’s 1,100 Christians a permit to exit the Palestinian territory for the holiday season.

Unlike previous years, none will be allowed to join relatives in Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Nazareth, or visit their holy places in the West Bank and Israeli cities. Alongside the enclave’s nearly two million Muslims, they will be forced to celebrate Christmas in what is dubbed by locals as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Israel has issued 100 permits for travel abroad, via Jordan, but even those are mostly useless because only one or two members of each family have been approved. No parent is likely to choose to enjoy Christmas away from their children.

As ever, Israeli authorities have justified their decision on security grounds. But no one really believes this tiny, vulnerable minority poses any kind of threat to Israel’s giant military and intelligence-gathering machine.

For decades Israel has pointed to the steady decline of the Palestinian Christian community as proof of a supposed clash of civilisations in which it is on the right side. The gradual exodus of Christians, it argues, is evidence of the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Palestinians’ Muslim majority. Claiming to represent Judeo-Christian values, Israel supposedly stands as their sole protector.

In fact, the fall in Palestinian Christian numbers relates chiefly to other factors.

A lower fertility rate than Muslims means Christians have been shrinking as a proportion of the overall population. More significantly, however, Christians have been fleeing oppression – not by Muslims, but by Israel.

That began with the country’s creation in 1948 and the events Palestinians call their Nakba, or Catastrophe. Christians, who lived historically in Palestine’s main cities, were among the first targets of the new Israeli army’s ethnic cleansing operations.

Since then, those in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza have sought to escape from decades of occupation, while those belonging to a Palestinian minority living as citizens in Israel have tried to break free from the institutionalised discrimination they face in a self-declared Jewish state.

Christians have enjoyed greater success than Muslims in bolting the region because of their historic connections to international churches. The legacy of missionary activity – church-founded schools and hospitals in the region – have offered a gateway to the West and a new life.

The current treatment of Gaza’s Christians hints at the lie in Israel’s claim that it protects Christians. It has denied them permits for two reasons unrelated to security.

First, in violation of its commitments under the Oslo accords, it has been reinforcing the complete physical separation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Christians of Gaza, with family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, are a reminder that all belong to the same Palestinian people, forcibly dispersed by Israel 71 years ago and then imprisoned in different ghettos. Rather than view Gaza and the West Bank as two territories integral to an emerging Palestinian state, Israel has been carefully fashioning a narrative of division that dominates in the West.

Gaza is presented as an abhorrent, Islamic terrorist entity on Israel’s doorstep, which would exterminate its Jewish neighbours given half the chance. The occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, meanwhile, have been depicted as the epicentre of the Jewish people’s national revival.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settler-right are gripped by a fear that their chauvinist, exclusivist approach might be subverted by a Christian counter-narrative. That is, in part, why the West Bank’s Christians and holy sites in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem are as besieged – by concrete walls – as Gaza’s own Christians.

Far from respecting and nurturing Palestinian Christians, Israel has treated them as a grave threat to its self-serving, contorted narrative of a clash of civilisations.

Second, the blanket denial of permits is a reaction to previous years in which a proportion of Christians failed to return to Gaza at the end of the holiday break. They disappeared into the West Bank cities, given shelter by relatives. From there, some left for a new life in the US, Latin America or Europe.

In other words, Christians have taken advantage of the chance to escape Gaza for the West Bank, where Israel’s chokehold is a little looser and its military footprint a little less menacing and lethal.

The family members denied permits this year are being held ransom, an insurance policy ensuring that those few allowed out return.

The reasons why Gaza’s Christians would want to flee are manifold. Like their Muslims neighbours, most are desperate to find release from a blockade entering its 14th year.

We are only days away from the year 2020, which the United Nations warned several years ago would mark the moment when Gaza would become “uninhabitable” – were Israel not to change course.

That prediction was not wrong. Unemployment and poverty are rife; schools overcrowded to bursting point; hospitals lack medicines and their equipment is failing; power supplies are intermittent; rivers of sewage bubble up into the streets after heavy winter rains; and drinking water is so polluted as to be dangerous to human health.

Infrastructure and many homes are in ruins or crumbling after waves of Israeli military attacks.

For Gaza’s unemployed young, Christian and Muslim alike, the future looks bleaker still. Families unable to raise a dowry or build a home have little hope of persuading another family to give their daughter’s hand away. Most of the next generation are unlikely ever to be in a position to support a family of their own.

Back in 2006, an adviser to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon explained that the aim of the blockade – a policy then being formulated – was to engineer the population’s chronic starvation. “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die,” Dov Weissglass said.

Nearly 14 years later, Gaza’s population is increasingly emaciated – physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. It is the outcome of a policy devised by army generals and politicians to immiserate Palestinians, to inject into their lives a gnawing fear and to force them to focus exclusively on daily survival.

The decision to trap Christians in Gaza this Christmas is only a prelude to a larger, seemingly contradictory longer-term plan.

The choking blockade is designed to sap the people of the will to stay and struggle for what is theirs. Rumours in the media and elsewhere have suggested for some time that both Israel and the US ultimately want to push the Palestinians into the neighbouring Sinai peninsula, if Egypt can be arm-twisted into agreeing.

By keeping all of Gaza’s population under siege this Christmas, Israel hopes that a few Christmases hence it will receive the gift it craves most: the permanent exodus of most of the enclave’s Palestinians, to make them someone else’s problem.

• First published in The National

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Christians that nobody is talking about

Palestine’s Christian population is dwindling at an alarming rate. The world’s most ancient Christian community is moving elsewhere. And the reason for this is Israel.

Christian leaders from Palestine and South Africa sounded the alarm at a conference in Johannesburg on October 15. Their gathering was titled: “The Holy Land: A Palestinian Christian Perspective”.

One major issue that highlighted itself at the meetings is the rapidly declining number of Palestinian Christians in Palestine.

There are varied estimates on how many Palestinian Christians are still living in Palestine today, compared with the period before 1948 when the state of Israel was established atop Palestinian towns and villages. Regardless of the source of the various studies, there is near consensus that the number of Christian inhabitants of Palestine has dropped by nearly ten-fold in the last 70 years.

A population census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017 concluded that there are 47,000 Palestinian Christians living in Palestine – with reference to the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. 98 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the West Bank – concentrated mostly in the cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem – while the remainder, a tiny Christian community of merely 1,100 people, lives in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The demographic crisis that had afflicted the Christian community decades ago is now brewing.

For example, 70 years ago, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, was 86 percent Christian. The demographics of the city, however, have fundamentally shifted, especially after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in June 1967, and the construction of the illegal Israeli apartheid wall, starting in 2002. Parts of the wall were meant to cut off Bethlehem from Jerusalem and to isolate the former from the rest of the West Bank.

“The Wall encircles Bethlehem by continuing south of East Jerusalem in both the east and west,” the ‘Open Bethlehem’ organization said, describing the devastating impact of the wall on the Palestinian city. “With the land isolated by the Wall, annexed for settlements, and closed under various pretexts, only 13% of the Bethlehem district is available for Palestinian use.”

Increasingly beleaguered, Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem have been driven out from their historic city in large numbers. According to the city’s mayor, Vera Baboun, as of 2016, the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped to 12 percent, merely 11,000 people.

The most optimistic estimates place the overall number of Palestinian Christians in the whole of Occupied Palestine at less than two percent.

The correlation between the shrinking Christian population in Palestine, and the Israeli occupation and apartheid should be unmistakable, as it is obvious to Palestine’s Christian and Muslim population alike.

A study conducted by Dar al-Kalima University in the West Bank town of Beit Jala and published in December 2017, interviewed nearly 1,000 Palestinians, half of them Christian and the other half Muslim. One of the main goals of the research was to understand the reason behind the depleting Christian population in Palestine.

The study concluded that “the pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians,” who are finding themselves in “a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves”.

Unfounded claims that Palestinian Christians are leaving because of religious tensions between them and their Muslim brethren are, therefore, irrelevant.

Gaza is another case in point. Only 2 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the impoverished and besieged Gaza Strip. When Israel occupied Gaza along with the rest of historic Palestine in 1967, an estimated 2,300 Christians lived in the Strip. However, merely 1,100 Christians still live in Gaza today. Years of occupation, horrific wars and an unforgiving siege can do that to a community, whose historic roots date back to two millennia.

Like Gaza’s Muslims, these Christians are cut off from the rest of the world, including the holy sites in the West Bank. Every year, Gaza’s Christians apply for permits from the Israeli military to join Easter services in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Last April, only 200 Christians were granted permits, but on the condition that they must be 55 years of age or older and that they are not allowed to visit Jerusalem.

The Israeli rights group, Gisha, described the Israeli army decision as “a further violation of Palestinians’ fundamental rights to freedom of movement, religious freedom and family life”, and, rightly, accused Israel of attempting to “deepen the separation” between Gaza and the West Bank.

In fact, Israel aims at doing more than that. Separating Palestinian Christians from one another, and from their holy sites (as is the case for Muslims, as well), the Israeli government hopes to weaken the socio-cultural and spiritual connections that give Palestinians their collective identity.

Israel’s strategy is predicated on the idea that a combination of factors – immense economic hardships, permanent siege and apartheid, the severing of communal and spiritual bonds – will eventually drive all Christians out of their Palestinian homeland.

Israel is keen to present the ‘conflict’ in Palestine as a religious one so that it could, in turn, brand itself as a beleaguered Jewish state in the midst of a massive Muslim population in the Middle East. The continued existence of Palestinian Christians does not factor nicely into this Israeli agenda.

Sadly, however, Israel has succeeded in misrepresenting the struggle in Palestine – from that of political and human rights struggle against settler colonialism – into a religious one. Equally disturbing, Israel’s most ardent supporters in the United States and elsewhere are religious Christians.

It must be understood that Palestinian Christians are neither aliens nor bystanders in Palestine. They have been victimized equally as their Muslim brethren, and have also played a major role in defining the modern Palestinian identity, through their resistance, spirituality, deep connection to the land, artistic contributions and burgeoning scholarship.

Israel must not be allowed to ostracize the world’s most ancient Christian community from their ancestral land so that it may score a few points in its deeply disturbing drive for racial supremacy.

Equally important, our understanding of the legendary Palestinian ‘soumoud’ – steadfastness – and of solidarity cannot be complete without fully appreciating the centrality of Palestinian Christians to the modern Palestinian narrative and identity.

One Year After Khashoggi’s Brutal Murder: Business as Usual?

Heinous. Savage. Ghastly. It’s hard to find the words to describe the act of luring journalist Jamal Khashoggi into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, suffocating him, chopping him up and dissolving his bones. Yet a year later, governments and business people around the world are eager to forgive and forget — or already have.

So far, not a single Saudi official has been found guilty or punished for this crime. The Saudi government has put 11 officials on trial but these trials, which began in January and drag on behind closed doors, are a mockery of justice. The government is prosecuting lower-level officials but not the top guns who are truly responsible. The defendants have not been named, but it is known that Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) and the alleged mastermind of the murder, is not a defendant and the government refuses to say where he is.

And what about the crown prince himself? In a September 29 PBS interview, MbS accepted responsibility for the killing because it happened “under his watch” — but he denied having prior knowledge. The CIA, however, concluded in November that the prince, who maintains tight control in the kingdom, likely ordered the killing. A report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard said there was “credible evidence” linking him to the murder and cover up of what she said was undoubtedly a “state killing.” Still, the trials continue even though they do nothing to indict the person who gave the orders.

When Khashoggi was murdered, the outrage had a major effect on US congressional support for the Saudis, manifested by growing opposition to the US support for the catastrophic Saudi war in Yemen. Several key Republicans turned against MbS, not in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen but in response to the public outcry against Khashoggi’s horrific murder. A broad-based coalition of peace, human rights and humanitarian groups was able to convince a majority in both the House and the Senate to cut off support for the Saudi war in Yemen, a necessary step to hold MbS accountable for his complete disregard for human life. Even some of the most hawkish Republicans stepped up in response. Lindsey Graham, for example, called MbS a “wrecking ball” and voted to end support for the war, explaining in a statement, “I changed my mind because I’m pissed. The way the administration had handled [Khashoggi’s murder] is just not acceptable.” The bills were vetoed by President Trump but Congress is still trying to force the President’s hand by including an amendment in the must-pass military funding bill (NDAA).

On the heels of Khashoggi’s death, businesses, embarrassed by their Saudi connections, started pulling out of deals. Dozens of companies and notables, from the New York Times to Uber CEO to the head of the World Bank, decided to skip the major annual Saudi Future Investment Initiative, also known as Davos in the Desert. Talent agent Endeavor returned a $400 million investment from Saudi Arabia. Several think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and the Middle East Institute, announced that they would no longer accept Saudi funding. In the past year, five PR firms — Glover Park Group, BGR Group, Harbour Group, CGCN Group and Gibson, Dunn & Crutche — have severed ties with the kingdom. At the behest of groups including the Human Rights Foundation, singer Nicki Minaj canceled her performance in Saudi Arabia, citing concerns about the treatment of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression. Freedom Forward was successful in getting the New York Public Library to cancel its “Youth Forum” with MbS’s charity, the Misk Foundation.

Still, the Saudis have been investing huge sums of money in companies and notables to “rebrand” the Kingdom, prompting CODEPINK to launch a full-blown Boycott Saudi campaign in January. The campaign includes urging entertainers not to perform, asking Vice Media to stop producing promotional/propaganda videos for the Saudis, encouraging Lush Cosmetics to close their Saudi stores, and pushing the G20 nations to reconsider their decision to hold their 2020 meeting in Saudi Arabia. The campaign’s long list of targets shows just how much money Saudi invests in whitewashing its crimes and how overreaching its influence is.

While human rights groups work to hold the private sector accountable, the biggest obstacle to holding Saudi accountable is the Trump administration continued support. Trump has focused on Saudi Arabia’s key role as a purchaser of US weapons and an ally against Iran. In the wake of the September 14 attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure, Trump announced the deployment of 200 troops and Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia to bolster its defences against Iran. It is also Trump who vetoed legislation to end military assistance for the Saudi war on Yemen on three different occasions and went so far as to declare a state of emergency to sell $8 billion in weapons to the Saudis while bypassing Congressional disapproval.

Trump has not only stood by MbS but pushed for his rehabilitation on the world stage. With the “Davos in the Desert” Future Investment Initiative taking place this year, on October 29-31, Jared Kushner is expected to lead a robust US delegation. Big banks and investment firms, including Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, CitiGroup, are once again lining up to attend. It seems the money to be made in the anticipated initial public offering of the world’s wealthiest company, the Saudi oil company Aramco — valued at between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion — is just too enticing.

Khashoggi, himself, was critical of the international community’s unwillingness to take substantive steps to hold the Saudi regime accountable. In a column about the need for freedom of speech in the Arab world, he remarked that the repression by Arab governments “no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.” The sad irony is that in response to his own murder, governments and private interests are proving his point.

One year later, their silence has allowed MbS to tighten his grip on power and increase repression against political rivals and women activists. It has given the green light for governments around the world to sell weapons to the Saudis to destroy Yemen. It allows businesses to rake in billions in petrodollar investments and foreign entertainers to provide a veneer of normalcy and modernity to the kingdom. Far from being held accountable for Khashoggi’s murder, MbS is thriving — thanks to his rehabilitation by an international community that cares more about money than it does human rights.

In times like this, it’s difficult not to ask oneself: Who is more evil — the maniacal Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and the murder of tens of thousands of  Yemenis, or the mendacious world leaders and business people who continue to embrace what should be a pariah state?

How to find a Tiger in Africa

Agostinho Neto declaring independence of Angola 11 November 1975

What I want to do here is something very simple. I want to explain how I began to search for Agostinho Neto. I also want to explain the perspective that shapes this search.1

When I was told about the plans for a colloquium I was asked if I would give a paper.2 I almost always say yes to such requests because for me a paper is the product of learning something new. So I went to the local bookstores to buy a biography of Dr Neto. The only thing I found available was a two-volume book by a man named Carlos Pacheco called Agostinho Neto O Perfil de um Ditador, published in 2016. The subtitle of the book is “A história do MPLA em Carne Viva”. When I went to the university library I found another book, a collection of essays by Mr Pacheco and a book by Mr Cosme, no longer in print.3

Obviously the sheer size of Mr Pacheco’s book suggested that this was a serious study. Since these two ominous tomes were the only biography I could find in print in a serious bookstore, it seemed to me that the weight of the books was also designed as part of Mr Pacheco’s argument. The two volumes, in fact, comprise digests of PIDE4 reports and Mr Pacheco’s philosophical musings about politics, culture, psychology etc. There is barely anything of substance about the poet, physician, liberation leader and first president of Angola, Agostinho Neto, in nearly 1,500 pages.

As I said, I knew little about Dr Neto, but I knew something about Angola and the US regime’s war against the MPLA.5 I was also very familiar with the scholarship and research about US regime activities in Africa since 1945—both overt and covert. I also knew that dictators were not rare in Africa. However, in the title of Mr Pacheco’s book was the first time I had ever heard Dr Neto called a dictator. What struck me was that Dr Neto was president of Angola from the time of independence until his death in 1979—a total of four years. In contrast his successor remained president for almost 40 years. So my intuition told me if Agostinho Neto was a dictator he could not have been a very significant one. However, I wanted to know what the basis of this charge was. Certainly he was not a dictator on the scale of his neighbour, Joseph Mobutu.6 I reasoned that Agostinho Neto was called a dictator for the same reason all heads of state are called “dictators” in the West—because he held office by virtue of processes not approved in London, Paris or Washington. In the jargon of the “West”—a euphemism for the post-WWII US Empire—anyone called a communist who becomes a head of state must be a dictator, since no one in their right mind could elect a communist and no communist would submit to an election.

However, there was apparently more to this accusation than the allegation that Dr Neto must be a communist and therefore a dictator. Agostinho Neto had good relations with the Cuban “dictator” Fidel Castro and he enjoyed the support of the Soviet Union. When there still was a Soviet Union, anyone enjoying its support, no matter how minimal or ambivalent, could be considered at least a “potential dictator”. Then I read about a brief but serious incident in 1977, an attempted military coup against the Neto government on 27 May, led by Nito Alves and José Van Dunen. The coup was defeated and all sources agree there was a purge of the MPLA and many were arrested and killed. Writers like Mr Pacheco argue that Dr Neto directed a blood bath in which as many as 20-30,000 people died over the course of two years. There appears to be agreement that many people were arrested and killed but the exact figures vary.7

However, I still wondered whether this incident and its apparent consequences were enough to justify calling Dr Agostinho Neto, dictator of Angola.

While researching for this paper, while searching for Agostinho Neto, I found many people who had an opinion about him but very few who actually knew anything about Neto, and often they knew very little about Angola.

First I would like to deal with the coup attempt and the aftermath because that is the most immediate justification for this epithet. I am unable to introduce any data that might decide the questions I feel must be raised, but that does not make them less relevant to an accurate appraisal of Dr Neto’s four years in office.

  1. How, in the midst of a civil war, and military operations to defend the country, including the capital from a foreign invader—the Republic of South Africa—are the casualties and deaths to be distinguished between police actions and military actions? What reasonably objective apparatus existed to produce the statistics upon which the count could be based?
  2. What was the specific chain of command and operational structure in place to direct the purge on the scale alleged by Dr Neto’s detractors? What was the composition of the forces operating under government direction during this period? What was the composition of the command at local level?

Without claiming to answer these questions—they would have to be answered by research in Angola—there are some points that make the bald assertions of those like Mr Pacheco, who claim Dr Neto is responsible for the violent aftermath, for the thousands of victims, far from proven.

Casualty reporting during war is highly unreliable even in sophisticated military bureaucracies like those of the US or Britain. There were rarely bodies to count after saturation bombing or days of artillery barrage. To add a sense of proportion Sir Douglas Haig, commanding the British Expeditionary Force at the Somme during World War I, ordered the slaughter of nearly 20,000 British soldiers in one day with total casualties of some 50,000—the excuse for this was war.8 One’s own casualties are usually a source of embarrassment. But in Angola, like in other African countries, the presence of a stable and professional bureaucracy capable of generating any kind of statistics was certainly sparse. Whether those statistics can be deemed objective is another issue.

The absence of written orders or minutes is not by itself proof that no orders were given. In fact, as has been established in the research on the whole sphere of covert action, written orders can be issued “for the file” while operational orders are transmitted—deniably—by word of mouth.9 Then the question has to be answered in reverse: how did the actual enforcement officers receive their instructions and from whom? Here it is particularly important to note that the MPLA could not have replaced all police and other security force rank and file with personnel whose loyalty to the new Angolan government was certain. This means that many police or other security personnel had been performing under orders of the New State officers until independence and were still on duty.10 The actual relationships these personnel had to the people in the districts where they were deployed would have been known, if not notorious. It is not unreasonable to infer that a general purge would give opportunities to people at all levels to solve “problems” arising from the fall of the Portuguese regime.

Then there is one other factor—a question raised by the fact that Mr Pacheco’s book relies almost entirely on PIDE reports about the MPLA. One can, in fact, read in several accounts of the independence struggle that the MPLA was thoroughly infiltrated by PIDE operatives. So do we know if the orders which rank and file personnel took were issued by bona fide MPLA cadre acting on instructions from the president or issued by PIDE operatives within the MPLA command structure? In fact, it is a highly practiced routine of covert operations, also by the PIDE during the independence war, to appear and act as if they were the MPLA while committing acts intended to discredit it.11 While it is true that the Salazar/ Caetano regime had collapsed the people who had maintained the regime—especially in covert operations—did not simply disappear. Moreover, the world’s premier covert action agency, the CIA, was an active supporter of all MPLA opposition and certainly of factions within the MPLA itself. We know about IA Feature because of the revelations of its operational manager, John Stockwell.12 We also know that the PIDE and the CIA worked together and we know that the US ambassador to Portugal during the period (1975 to 1979) was a senior CIA officer.13 We also know many details about the various ways in which covert operations were run then.14 What we do not know is the extent to which it may have been involved in the coup against Dr Neto. But there is room for educated guessing.

I do not believe it is possible to reconstruct the events of the purge with evidence that can provide reasonable assurance of what responsibility Agostinho Neto bears for the deaths and casualties attributed to that period—beyond the vague responsibility which any head of state may have for actions of the government apparatus over which he presides. There, are however, grounds for a reasonable doubt—for a verdict at least of “not proven”.

Which brings me to my second argument: from what perspective should the brief term of Agostinho Neto as president of the Angola be examined.

First of all we must recognise that Angola prior to 1975 was a criminal enterprise.

It began with the Atlantic slave trade, which really only ended in the 1880s (although slavery did not end). Then, like in all other colonies created by Europeans, a kind of licensed banditry was practiced, euphemistically called “trade”. By the end of the 19th century most of this organised crime was controlled by cartels organised in Europe and North America.15

Why do I call this organised crime and not commerce? First of all if one uses force to compel a transaction; e.g., a gun to make someone give you something, this is generally considered a crime and in Europe and North America usually subject to punishment as such. To travel to a foreign land with a gun and compel transactions, or induce them using drugs or other fraudulent means, does not change the criminal character—only the punitive consequences.

Angola’s economy was based on stolen land, forced labour, unequal/ fraudulent trading conditions, and armed force, the colour of law not withstanding. Neither Portuguese law (nor that of any other European state) would have permitted inhabitants of Angola to come to Portugal, kidnap its youth or force its inhabitants to accept the same conditions to which all African colonies and “protectorates” were submitted.

In other words, Agostinho Neto was the first president of an Angolan state. He, together with his supporters in the MPLA, created a republic out of what was essentially a gangster economy protected by the Portuguese dictatorship in Lisbon. Does this mean that all European inhabitants of Angola were gangsters? Certainly it does not. However, it can be argued that many Europeans or children of Europeans who were born in Angola recognised this when they began to demand independence, too. Some demanded independence to run their own gangs free of interference from abroad and some certainly wanted an end to gangsterism and the establishment of a government for the benefit of the inhabitants.

The performance of Dr Neto as president of Angola has to be measured by the challenges of creating a beneficial government from a system of organised crime and defending this effort against foreign and domestic armies supported by foreigners, specifically the agents of the gangsters who had been running the country until then.

But stepping back from the conditions of Angola and its plunder by cartels under protection of the New State, it is necessary to see Dr Neto’s struggle and the struggle for independence in Angola within the greater context of African independence. Like Nkrumah, Lumumba, Toure, Nasser, Qaddafi, Kenyatta, Nyerere and Cabral, what I would call the African liberation generation, Neto was convinced that Angola could not be independent without the independence of all Africa.16  In other words, he was aware that the independence from Portugal was necessarily only partial independence. Like the others of this generation Neto rejected race as a basis for African independence.

The position of African liberation leaders who rigorously rejected racialised politics has often been criticised, even mocked as naïve. It has often been pointed out—accurately—that the African states were created by Europeans and hence the ethnic conflicts that have laid waste to African development are proof that these liberation leaders were wrong: that either Africa could not transcend “tribalism” or that the states created could not manage the inherited territories in a modern way.

On the contrary, the African liberation generation was well aware of the problems inherited from European gangster regimes. Moreover they understood quite well that race was created by Europeans to control them, that there was no “white man” in Africa before the European coloniser created him. The “white man” was an invention of the late 17th century. First it was a legal construct—the granting of privileges to Europeans in the colonies to distinguish and separate them from African slave labourers. Then it was elaborated into an ideology, an Enlightenment ideology—white supremacy. By uniting the colonisers, who in their respective homelands had spent the previous thirty odd years slaughtering each other for reasons of religion, ethnicity, language, and greed, the Enlightenment ideals of ethnic and religious tolerance or even liberty bound Europeans together against slave majorities. By endowing these European servants with the pedigree of “whiteness” the owners of the plantation islands could prevent them from siding with other servants—the Africans—and overthrowing the gangsters and their Caribbean drug industry. The white “identity” was fabricated to prevent class alliances against the new capitalists.17

It is not clear if the African liberation generation understood the impact of African slavery in North America. Many post-war liberation leaders have admired the US and seen in it a model for independence from colonialism. Perhaps this is because in the preparations for entering WWI, the US regime undertook a massive propaganda campaign of unparalleled success in which the history of the US was virtually re-written—or better said invented. There are numerous stories about photographs being changed in the Soviet Union under Stalin to remove people who had fallen from favour or been executed. There is relatively little attention devoted to the impact of the Creel Committee, a group of US advertising executives commissioned by President Woodrow Wilson to write the history people now know as “the American Dream” and to sell it throughout the world.18 This story turns a planter-mercantile slaveholder state into an “imperfect democracy” based on fine Enlightenment principles of human liberty. In fact, the contemporaries of the American UDI saw the actions in Philadelphia and the insurgency that followed in the same terms that people in the 1970s saw Ian Smith and his Rhodesian National Front. It is very clear from the record that the US regime established by the richest colonials in North America was initiated to avert Britain’s abolition of slavery in its colonies. It was not an accident that African slaves and Native Americans were omitted from the protections of the new charter. On the contrary the new charter was intended to preserve their exclusion.

Which brings me to my concluding argument. I believe there are two widely misused terms in the history of the post-WWII era, especially in the histories of the national liberation struggles and so-called Third World: “Cold War” and “anti-communism”. Since the end of the Soviet Union it is even very rare that these terms are explained. The reintroduction of the term “Cold War” to designate US regime policies toward Russia is anachronistic and misleading.

To understand this we have to return to 1945. In San Francisco, California, shortly before the end of formal hostilities representatives of the Allies met and adopted what would be called the Charter of the United Nations. Among the provisions of this charter were some ideas retained from the League of Nations Covenant (which the US never ratified) and some new ideas about the future of what were called non-self-governing territories (i.e. colonies, protectorates etc.) The principle of self-determination, a legacy of the League used to carve up Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, was to be extended to all empires. After the propaganda war by which colonial troops (natives) were deployed in masses against Germany, Italy and Japan, to defend freedom and independence, it became clear that the exhausted and even more heavily indebted European colonial powers could not return to the status quo ante. Britain was incapable of controlling India and with the independence of India it would become increasingly difficult to justify or sustain rule of the rest of the empire. The Commonwealth idea basically kept the “white” dominions loyal.19 But how were the “non-whites” to be kept in line? The US regime made it clear that there would be no support for European empires of the pre-war type. So the stated policy of the Charter was that independence was inevitable—meaning that all those who wanted it had a license to get it.

At the same time, however, an unstated policy was being formulated—penned largely by George Kennan—that would form the basis for the expansion of the US Empire in the wake of European surrender. That unstated policy, summarised in the US National Security Council document0 – NSC 68 – was based on some fundamental conclusions by the regime’s policy elite that reveal the essential problem with which all liberation movements and new independent states would be faced but could not debate. NSC 68 was promulgated in 1947 but remained secret until about 1978.

Kennan who had worked in the US mission to the Soviet Union reported confidentially that the Soviet Union, although it had won the war against Germany, was totally exhausted and would be incapable of doing anything besides rebuilding domestically, at least for another 20 years! In another assessment he pointed out that the US economy had only recovered by virtue of the enormous tax expenditure for weapons and waging WWII. It would be devastating to the US economy—in short, a massive depression would return—if the war industry did not continue to receive the same level of funding (and profit rates) it received during the war.

Furthermore, it was very clear that the US economy consumed about 60 per cent of the world’s resources for only 20 per cent of the population. Kennan argued the obvious, that this condition could not continue without the use of force by the US regime.

Although the US appears as (and certainly is) a violent society in love with its military, in fact, foreign wars have never enjoyed great popularity. It has always been necessary for the US regime to apply extreme measures—marketing—to generate support for wars abroad. The war in Korea was initially just a continuation of US Asia-Pacific expansion (aka Manifest Destiny).20 When US forces were virtually kicked off the Korean peninsula, the machinery that had sold WWI to the masses was put in motion and the elite’s hatred of the Soviet Union was relit in what became known as the McCarthy purges. The McCarthy purges were necessary to turn the Soviet Union—an ally against Hitler—into an enemy even worse than Hitler (who, in fact, never was an enemy of the US elite, some of whom counted the Führer as a personal friend.21  It was at this point that anti-communism became part of the arsenal for the unstated policy of the US regime. Anti-communism was enhanced as a term applicable to any kind of disloyalty—meaning failure to support the US regime in Korea or elsewhere. It also became the justification for what appeared to be contradictions between US stated anti-colonial policy and its unstated neo-colonialism.

The term “Cold War” has been attributed to US banker and diplomat Bernard Baruch and propagandist Walter Lippman. It has become accepted as the historical framework for the period from 1945 until 1989.  However, this is history as propaganda. The facts are that as George Kennan and other high officials knew in 1947, the Soviet Union posed absolutely no threat to the US. On the contrary the secret (unstated) policy of the US—declassified in the 1990s—was to manufacture enough atomic weaponry to attack the Soviet Union twice. Generals like MacArthur and Le May were not extremists. They simply discussed US strategy openly.22 The point of the “Cold War” was to create a vision, which would explain the non-existent Soviet threat as a cover for the unstated policy of US imperial expansion—against national liberation movements—while officially supporting national liberation.

Together with anti-communism, the Cold War was a propaganda/ marketing strategy for undermining what every member of the African liberation generation knew intuitively, that the liberation of Africa depends not only on the liberation of every African country on the continent but on the liberation of the African diaspora. Anti-communism and the Cold War myth successfully isolated African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans from the international struggles for liberation and human dignity and an end to racist regimes.23 In that sense anti-communism is a direct descendant of white supremacy and served the same purpose. It is particularly telling that Malcolm X, who had matured in a sectarian version of black consciousness- the Nation of Islam—was assassinated after he returned from Mecca and an extensive tour of Africa and began to argue not only that African-Americans must demand civil rights, but that they must demand human rights and that these are ultimately achieved when humans everywhere are liberated.24 Malcolm was murdered not just for opposing white supremacy but also for being an internationalist.

If we look at the fate of the African liberation generation we will find that those who were committed internationalists and non-racialists were also socialists and not did not confuse possessive individualism with human liberty. We will also find that all the leaders of newly independent African states who were most vilified, deposed or murdered were those who did not surrender those ideals or the practices needed to attain them. They were not Enlightenment leaders building on European hypocrisy. They were Romantic revolutionaries who knew that there was no salvation—only honest struggle for liberation.25 I believe that Agostinho Neto was one of those Romantic revolutionaries. And the honest struggle is not over.

Neto’s Funeral in September 1979

• Photos courtesy of Fundação Antonio Agostinho Neto

  1. Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (1983) includes an episode set in South Africa as a parody of the film Zulu (1964). The upshot is that an army medical officer suggests that a tiger could have bitten off the leg of a fellow officer in the night. To which all respond, “a tiger in Africa?!”. Of course, tigers are indigenous to Asia but not Africa. Salazar was also to have attributed the indigenous opposition to Portuguese rule in Africa as “coming from Asia”. See also Felipe Ribeiro de Meneses, Salazar A Political Biography (2016).
  2. Presented at the colloquium “Agostinho Neto and the African Camões Prize Laureates” at the University of Porto, Portugal, on the 40th anniversary of Agostinho Neto’s death.
  3. Leonel Cosme, Agostinho Neto e o sua tempo (2004).
  4. PIDE, Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, Salazar secret political police, also trained in part by the Nazi regime’s Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo).
  5. MPLA, Movimento popular de libertação de Angola: Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.
  6. (Joseph) Mobutu Sese Seko, (1930 – 1997) dictator of Republic of the Congo (Zaire), today Democratic Republic of the Congo, aka Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from the French Congo/ Congo Brazzaville, previously Congo Free State and Belgian Congo. Mobutu seized power in the wake of the overthrow and murder of Patrice Lumumba and ruled from 1965 until 1997. See Georges Zongola-Talaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila (2002).
  7. Alberto Oliveira Pinto, História de Angola (2015); Adrien Fontaellaz, War of Intervention in Angola (2019),
  8. Jacques R. Pauwels, The Great Class War 1914-1918 (2018).
  9. Ludo De Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba (2001) originally De Moord op Lumumba (1999). The Belgian foreign minister during the “Congo Crisis” wrote several memoranda in which the government’s position was that no harm should come to Patrice Lumumba while the Belgian secret services were actively plotting his kidnapping and assassination. Historical research generally privileges documents and they survive eyewitnesses.
  10. Estado Novo, the term used to designate the Portuguese regime under the dictatorial president of the council of ministers (prime minister) Antonio Salazar Oliveira from 1932 until 1968 and then under Marcelo Caetano until April 1974.
  11. This is also discussed in Fernando Cavaleiro Ângelo, Os Flêchas: A Tropa Secreta da PIDE/DGS na Guerra de Angola 1969 – 1974 (2016) history of the PIDE’s Angolan counter-insurgency force. Since the concept and organisation of the Flêchas bears considerable resemblance to the PRU formed by the CIA in Vietnam under the Phoenix Program, it would not be surprising ifCIA cooperation with the PIDE extended to “Phoenix” advice (see Valentine, 1990 p. 159 et seq.).
  12. John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies (1978) Stockwell had left the agency before the extensive covert support for UNITA was enhanced under Ronald Reagan, despite the Clark Amendment. However, Stockwell noted that when he had returned from Vietnam duty and before getting the paramilitary assignment for IA Feature, he noticed that the busiest desk at headquarters was the Portugal desk.
  13. Frank Carlucci (1930 – 2018), US ambassador to Portugal (1975 – 1978), Deputy Director of the CIA (1978 – 1981).
  14. Philip Agee, CIA Diary (1975), and Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (1990) and The CIA as Organized Crime (2017) Douglas Valentine uses the terms “stated policy” and “unstated policy” to show the importance of overt and covert language in the conduct of political and psychological warfare.
  15. See Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (1944) and Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1982).
  16. Ghana, Congo-Kinshasa, Guinea-Conakry, Egypt, Libya, Kenya, Tanzania and Guinea Bissau, Mozambique: Nkrumah was overthrown by a military coup and forced into exile. Lumumba was deposed and murdered by a Belgian managed corporate conspiracy with US/ UN support. Cabral was assassinated. Both Mondlane and Machel were murdered. Years later Qaddafi would be overthrown after massive armed attacks, tortured and murdered by US agents. The general attitude rejecting “race” and “racialism” can be found in the speeches and writings of these leaders, esp. those delivered on the occasion of independence. See also CLR James, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977) and A History of Negro Revolt (1985) See also Jean-Paul Sartre Kolonialismus und Neokolonialismus (1968) in particular “Der Kolonialismus ist ein System” and “Das politische Denken Patrice Lumumbas” originally published in Situations V Colonialisme et Neocolonialisme.
  17. For a thorough elaboration of this see Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776 (2014) and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism (2018).
  18. George Creel, How We Advertised America (1920) also discussed in Stuart Ewen, PR: A Social History of Spin (1996).
  19. “Dominion” status was granted under the Statute of Westminster 1931 to the “white colonies”: Canada, Irish Free State, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. This gave these colonies so-called responsible government based on local franchise, largely eliminating the jurisdiction of the British parliament in London.
  20. US war against Korea, combined with a Korean civil war, began in June 1950. A ceasefire was agreed on 27 July 1953. However, the war has not officially ended and the US regime maintains at least 23,000 personnel in the country—not counting other force projection (e.g. regular manoeuvres, atomic weapons and naval power, etc.).
  21. Prescott Bush, father/grandfather of two US Presidents Bush, was nearly prosecuted for “trading with the enemy” due to his dealings with the Nazi regime. Henry Ford had even been awarded a decoration by the regime. These were the most notorious cases in the US. There were many other forms of less visible support to the Hitler regime from US corporations before, during and after the war. The fact is that the US did not declare war against Hitler’s Germany. Hitler declared war on the US in the vain hope of bringing Japan into the war against the Soviet Union. See Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War (2002) The US war against Japan was a continuation of its standing objectives for expansion into China—see also Cummings (2009).
  22. This argument has been made and documented in the work of Bruce Cummings, The Origins of the Korean War (1981, 1990) and Dominion from Sea to Sea (2009).
  23. Gerald Horne, White Supremacy Confronted (2019).
  24. Also formulated very clearly in his Oxford Union speech, 3 December 1964. Malcolm X was assassinated on 21 February 1965.
  25. For an elaboration of the term “Romantic revolutionaries” see the work of Morse Peckham, especially a collection of essays, Romantic Revolutionaries (1970).