Category Archives: Karl Marx

Dr. Chris Wright: “Critical and Informed Thinking Is Dangerous to the Powerful”

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote Worker Cooperatives and Revolution where you talk about workers’ cooperatives. In this fascinating book, we note your optimism about the coming of a new era where the human is at the center. You give the example of the cooperative New Era Windows, in Chicago. In your opinion, are we in a new era where the union of workers in the form of a cooperative will shape the future of the world?

Dr. Chris Wright: I think I may have been a little too optimistic in that book about the potential of worker cooperatives. On the one hand, Marx was right that cooperatives “represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new.” They’re microcosmic socialism, since socialism is just workers’ democratic control of economic activity, which is essentially what cooperatives are. Even in the large Mondragon firms that have seen some conflicts between workers and the elected management, there is still vastly more democracy (and more equal pay) than in a typical large capitalist enterprise.

Moreover, there’s an expanding movement in the U.S and elsewhere to seed new cooperatives and promote the transformation of existing capitalist firms into co-ops (which, incidentally, are often more productive, profitable, and longer-lasting than conventional businesses). Countless activists are working to spread a cooperative ethos and build a wide range of democratic, anti-capitalist institutions, from businesses to housing to political forms like participatory budgeting. (Websites like Shareable.net and Community-Wealth.org provide information on this movement.) This whole emerging “solidarity economy” is really what interested me when I was writing the book, though I focused on worker co-ops. I was struck that the very idea of a socialist society is just the solidarity economy writ large, in that all or the majority of institutions according to both visions are supposed to be communal, cooperative, democratic, and non-exploitative.

It’s true, though, that a new society can’t emerge from grassroots initiative alone. Large-scale political action is necessary, since national governments have such immense power. Unless you can transform state policy so as to facilitate economic democratization, you’re not going to get very far. Cooperatives alone can’t get the job done. You need radical political parties, mass confrontations with capitalist authorities, every variety of disruptive “direct action,” and it will all take a very, very long time. Social revolutions on the global scale we’re talking about take generations, even centuries. It probably won’t take as long as the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, but none of us will see “socialism” in our lifetime.

Marxists like to criticize cooperatives and the solidarity economy for being only interstitial, somewhat apolitical, and not sufficiently confrontational with capitalism, but, as I argue in the book, this criticism is misguided. A socialist transformation of the country and the world will take place on many levels, from the grassroots to the most ambitiously statist. And all the levels will reinforce and supplement each other. As the cooperative sector grows, more resources will be available for “statist” political action; and as national politics becomes more left-wing, state policy will promote worker takeovers of businesses. There’s a role for every type of leftist activism.

MA: Do you not think that the weakening of the trade union movement in the USA and elsewhere in the world further encourages the voracity of the capitalist oligarchy that dominates the world? Does not the working class throughout the world have a vital need for a great trade union movement?

CW: The working class desperately needs reinvigorated unions. Without strong unions, you get the most rapacious and misanthropic form of capitalism imaginable, as we’ve seen in the last forty years. Unions, which can be the basis for political parties, have always been workers’ most effective means of defense and even offense. In the U.S., it was only after the Congress of Industrial Organizations had been founded in the late 1930s that a mass middle class, supported by industrial unions with millions of members, could emerge in the postwar era. Unions were important funders and organizers of the American Civil Rights Movement, and they successfully pushed for expansion of the welfare state and workplace safety regulations. They can serve as powerful allies of environmentalists. It’s hard to imagine a livable future if organized labor isn’t resurrected and empowered.

But I don’t think there can be a return of the great postwar paradigm of industry-wide collective bargaining and nationwide social democracy. Capital has become too mobile and globalized; durable class compromises like that aren’t possible anymore. In the coming decades, the most far-reaching role of unions will be more revolutionary: to facilitate worker takeovers of businesses, the formation of left-wing political parties, popular control of industry, mass resistance to the global privatization and austerity agenda, expansion of the public sphere, construction of international workers’ alliances, etc.

Actually, I think that, contrary to old Marxist expectations, it’s only in the 21st century that humanity is finally entering the age of the great apocalyptic battles between labor and capital. Marx didn’t foresee the welfare state and the Keynesian compromise of the postwar period. Now that those social forms are deteriorating, organized labor can finally take up its revolutionary calling. If it and its allies fail, there’s only barbarism ahead.

MA: Your book Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis asks a fundamental question, namely, do we live in a real democracy?

CW: We certainly don’t. None of us do. The U.S. has democratic forms, but substantively it’s very undemocratic. Even mainstream political science recognizes this: studies have shown that the large majority of the population has essentially zero impact on policy, because they don’t have enough money to influence politicians or hire lobbyists. Practically the only way for them to get their voices heard is to disrupt the smooth functioning of institutions, such as through strikes or civil disobedience. We’ve seen this with the gilets jaunes protests in France, and we saw it when air traffic controllers refused to work and thus ended Donald Trump’s government shutdown in January 2019. We live in an oligarchy, a global oligarchy, which isn’t constrained much by the normal “democratic” process of voting.

But voting can be an important tool of resistance, especially if there are genuine oppositional candidates (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example). In that case, society can start to become a little more democratic. So it remains essential for the left to organize electorally, even if it will take a while for there to be a big policy payoff.

MA: Do you not think a new crisis of capitalism is in progress? Does not the capitalist system generate crises?

CW: I’m not an economist, but anyone can see that capitalism has a deep-rooted tendency to generate crises. There’s a long tradition of Marxist scholarship explaining why crises of overproduction and underconsumption (among other causes) repeatedly savage capitalist economies; David Harvey, Robert Brenner, and John Bellamy Foster are some recent scholars who have done good work on the subject. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “excessive capitalist empowerment,” to quote Harvey, leads to “wage repression” that limits aggregate demand, which constrains growth. For a while the problem doesn’t really appear because people can borrow, and are forced to borrow more and more. But accumulation of debt can’t go on forever if there’s no growth of underlying income. Huge credit bubbles appear as borrowing gets out of control and capitalists invest their colossal wealth in financial speculation, and the bubbles inevitably collapse. Then things like the Great Depression and the Great Recession happen.

As horrible as economic crises are, leftists should recognize, as Marx did, that at least they present major opportunities for organizing. It’s only in the context of long-term crisis and a decline of the middle class that there can be a transition to a new society, because crisis forces people to come together and press for radical solutions. It also destroys huge amounts of wealth, which can thin the ranks of the hyper-elite. And the enormous social discontent that results from crisis can weaken reactionary resistance to reform, as during the 1930s in the U.S. (On the other hand, fascism can also take power in such moments, unless leftists seize the initiative.)

There is no hope without crisis. That’s the paradoxical, “dialectical” lesson of Marxism.

MA: You wrote an article about Obama’s mediocrity. Don’t you think that the current US President Donald Trump is competing with Obama in mediocrity?

CW: In the competition over who’s most mediocre, few people hold a candle to Trump. He’s just a pathetic non-entity, an almost impossibly stupid, ignorant, narcissistic, self-pitying, cruel, vulgar little embodiment of all that’s wrong with the world. He’s so far beneath contempt that even to talk about him is already to lower oneself. So in that sense, I suppose he’s a suitable ‘leader’ of global capitalism. Obama at least is a good family man, and he’s intelligent. But he’s almost as lacking in moral principles as Trump, and he has no moral courage at all. I don’t know what to say about someone who announced in 2014, as Israel was slaughtering hundreds of children in Gaza, that Israel has a right to defend itself, and went on to approve the shipment of arms to that criminal nation right in the midst of its Gaza massacre. He’s a self-infatuated megalomaniac without morality.

MA: You wrote in one of your articles that the US government considers its citizens as enemies by using generalized surveillance. Does not the real danger come from this system which spies on everyone?

CW: I think Glenn Greenwald is right that few things are more pernicious than an expansive “national security” state. Surveillance is a key part of it, facilitating the persecution of protesters, dissenters, immigrants, and Muslims. The so-called “law and order” state is a lawless state of extreme disorder, in which power can operate with impunity. It begins to approach fascism.

One danger of the surveillance state is that it might operate like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: because people don’t know when they’re being watched or targeted, they monitor and regulate themselves all the time. They avoid stepping out of line, being obedient drudges and consumers. Any misstep might sweep them up in the black hole of the police state’s bureaucracy. So they internalize subservience. Of course, in our society there are many other ways of making people internalize subservience. Surveillance is only one, though a particularly vicious and dangerous one.

Another reason to be concerned is that internet companies’ ability to “spy” on users allows them to censor content, whether on their own initiative or from political pressure. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other such companies are constantly censoring leftists (and some on the right) and deleting their accounts. Critics of Israeli crimes are especially vulnerable, but they’re hardly alone. The only real way to solve this problem would be to make internet companies publicly owned, because private entities can do virtually whatever they want with their own property. It’s absurd that leftists can connect and coordinate and build movements only subject to the approval of Mark Zuckerberg and other corporate fascists. It’s also terrifying that a surveillance alliance can develop between corporate behemoths and governments. That’s another feature of fascism.

MA: How do you see the inhuman treatment of Julian Assange and the persecution of him by the British and American administrations?

CW: As left-wing commentators have said, the persecution of Assange is an assault on journalism itself, and on the very idea of challenging the powerful or holding them to account. In that sense, it’s an assault on democracy. But that’s pretty much always what power-structures are doing, trying to undermine democracy and expand their own power, so the vicious treatment of Assange is hardly a surprise. But I doubt that the U.S. and Britain will be able to win their war on journalism in the long run. There are just too many good journalists out there, too many activists, too many people of conscience.

MA: This capitalist society is based on consumption but boasts of concepts such as “freedom of expression”, “human rights”, “democracy”, etc. Don’t we live rather in a fascist system?

CW: I wouldn’t say the West’s political economy is truly fascist. It has fascist tendencies, and it certainly cares nothing for freedom of expression, human rights, or democracy. But civil society is too vibrant and gives too many opportunities for left-wing political organizing to say that we live under fascism. The classical fascism of Italy and Germany was far more extreme than anything we’re experiencing now, especially in the U.S. or Western Europe. We don’t have brownshirts marching in the streets, concentration camps for radicals, assassinations of political and union leaders, or total annihilation of organized labor. There’s still freedom to publish dissenting views.

But major power-structures in the U.S. would love to see fascism of some sort and are working hard to get there. And they have armies of useful idiots to do their bidding. American “libertarians,” for example, of whom there are untold millions, are essentially fascist without knowing it: they want to eliminate the welfare state and regulations of business activity so as to unfetter entrepreneurial genius and maximize “liberty.” They somehow don’t see that in this scenario, corporations, being opposed by no countervailing forces, would completely take over the state and inaugurate the most barbarous and global tyranny in history. The natural environment would be utterly destroyed and most life on Earth would end.

In one sense of fascism, Marxists from the 1920s and 1930s would, as you suggest, say we do live in a rather fascist system. For them, the term denoted the age of big business, or, more precisely, the near-fusion of business with the state. Insofar as society approached a capitalist dictatorship, it was approaching fascism. We don’t literally live under that kind of dictatorship, but without determined resistance it could well be our future.

MA: Isn’t there a need to reread Karl Marx? How do you explain the disappearance of critical thinking in Western society?

CW: I actually think there’s a lot of critical thinking in Western society. The rise of “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is evidence of this, as is the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. The left is growing internationally — although the right is too. But insofar as society suffers from a dearth of critical thinking, the reasons aren’t very obscure. Critical and informed thinking is dangerous to the powerful, so they do all they can to discourage it. Lots of studies have probed the methods of corporate and state indoctrination of the public, and the enormous scale of it. Noam Chomsky is famous for his many investigations of how the powerful “manufacture consent”; one of the lessons of his work is that the primary function of the mass media is to keep people ignorant and distracted. If important information about state crimes is suppressed, as it constantly is, and instead the powerful are continually glorified, well then people will tend to be uninformed and perhaps too supportive of the elite. It’s more fun, anyway, to play with phones and apps and video games and watch TV shows.

The mechanisms by which the business class promotes “stupidity” and ignorance are pretty transparent. Just look at any television commercial, or watch CNN or Fox News. It’s pure propaganda and infantilization.

As for Karl Marx: there’s always a need to read Marx, and to reread him. He and Chomsky are probably the two most incisive political analysts in history. But Marx was such an incredible writer too that he’s a sheer joy to read, and endlessly stimulating and inspiring. He rejuvenates you. (His political pamphlets on France, for instance, are stylistic and analytic masterpieces.) Besides, you simply can’t understand capitalism or history itself except through the lens of historical materialism, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

Of course, Marx wasn’t right about everything. In particular, his conception and timeline of socialist revolution were wrong. The “revolution,” if it happens, will, as I said earlier, be very protracted, since the worldwide replacing of one dominant mode of production by another doesn’t happen in a couple of decades. Even just on a national scale, the fact that modern nations exist in an international economy means socialism can’t evolve in one country without evolving in many others at the same time.

I can’t go into detail on how Marx got revolution wrong (as in his vague but overly statist notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution I devote a couple of chapters to it. It’s unfortunate that most contemporary Marxists are so doctrinaire they consider it sacrilege if you try to update or rethink an aspect of historical materialism to make it more appropriate to conditions in the 21st century, which Marx could hardly have foreseen. They’re certainly not honoring the Master by thinking in terms of rigid dogma, whether orthodox Marxist or Leninist or Trotskyist.

MA: You are a humanist and the human condition is central in your work. Are you optimistic about the future of humanity?

CW: Frankly, no, I’m not. The forces of darkness just have too much power. And global warming is too dire a threat, and humanity is doing too little to address it. It’s worth reflecting that at the end of the Permian age, 250 million years ago, global warming killed off almost all life. If we don’t do something about it very soon, by the end of the century there won’t be any organized civilization left to protect.

And then there’s the problem of billions of tons of plastic waste polluting the world, and of the extinction of insects “threatening the collapse of nature,” and of dangerous imperialistic conflicts between great powers, and so on. I don’t see much reason for optimism.

We know how to address global warming, for example. But the fossil fuel industry and, ironically, environmentalists are acting so as to increase the threat. According to good scientific research, as reported in the new book A Bright Future (among many others), it’s impossible to solve global warming without exponentially expanding the use of nuclear power. (Contrary to popular opinion, nuclear power is generally very safe, reliable, effective, and environmentally friendly.) Renewable energy can’t get the job done. The world has spent over $2 trillion on renewables in the last decade, but carbon emissions are still rising! That level of investment in nuclear energy, which is millions of times more concentrated and powerful than diffuse solar and wind energy, could have put us well on the way to solving global warming. Instead, the crisis is getting much worse. Renewables are so intermittent and insufficient that countries are still massively investing in fossil fuels, which are incomparably more destructive than nuclear.

But the left is adamant against nuclear power, and it’s very hard even to publish an article favorable to it. Only biased and misinformed articles are published, with some exceptions. So the left is working to exacerbate global warming, just as the right is. Why? Ultimately for ideological reasons: most leftists like the idea of decentralization, dispersed power, community control of energy, and anti-capitalism, and these values seem more compatible with solar and wind energy than nuclear. The nuclear power industry isn’t exactly a model of transparency, democracy, or political integrity.

But the Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot is right: sometimes you have to go with a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater one, in this case the collapse of civilization and probably most life on Earth. Is that a price environmentalists are willing to pay so they can preen themselves on their political virtue? So far, it seems the answer is yes.

We humans have to break free of our tribal ways, our herd-thinking ways. We have to be more willing to think critically, self-critically, and stop being so complacent and conformist. The younger generation, actually, seems to be leading the way, for instance with the Extinction Rebellion and all the exciting forms of activism springing up everywhere. But we still have a terribly long way to go.

I haven’t lost hope, but I’m not sanguine. The next twenty or thirty years will be the most decisive in human history.

Real Populism is the Answer to Climate Crisis

It is worth considering what “populism” represents outside the kneejerk scaremongering of the liberal media. Conditions are created for populism when there is widespread loss of faith in a society’s traditional organs of authority: the political class, the “mainstream” media and expert institutions.

Those most exercised about populism, unsurprisingly, are the professional class in charge of those very same institutions. Their job has always been to guard the economic interests of the ruling elite.

The rise of populism in both its rightwing and leftwing manifestations, and the more general political polarisation in our societies, are the symptoms of a breakdown in trust, a collapse of consensus, a rupture of the social contract. And the reasons for these developments are staring us in the face.

Brexit, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and Ilhan Omar aren’t the causes of our problems. They are the products of increasingly confused, frustrated and angry electorates desperate to smash the stranglehold on our societies of failed “experts” – the political, media and academic class – that have so clearly betrayed us on behalf of the real power-holders: the corporations that run our societies.

Estranged from nature

One doesn’t need to be a Marxist to see that more than 150 years ago Karl Marx offered profound insights into the society of his time – and of our time too. He correctly observed that capitalism contained within it the seeds of its own destruction, and that industrialised workers suffered from “alienation” – they had lost any meaningful sense of their own humanity as they became little more than cogs in the vast, compassionless machinery of production processes. As a result, they were increasingly estranged from the natural world.

What was obvious to Marx then should be far easier for us to comprehend now.

Even so, his analysis was inevitably limited to what it was possible to imagine about the industrialised economies of that period. He could not have properly understood then that capitalism’s logic was as much a threat to the planet’s climate as it was to the working class, or that social media would one day offer the potential for us to liberate ourselves from official propaganda, even if at the same time it overwhelmed us with so much information, good and bad alike, that many of us have been left seeking solace in simplistic counter-narratives, turning real life into our very own version of Game of Thrones.

Nonetheless, these twin developments are very much the logical outgrowths of our highly corporatised societies. Climate change highlights capitalism’s inherent self-destructiveness, making it unmistakeable to growing sections of western publics. And at the same time the information revolution embodied by social media offers the hope of personal and collective transformation, a path to change and to ending the alienation that has brought us to the brink.

Easy bogeymen

Today, the battle is between those who wish to cling to the sinking wreckage of the existing order – a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism – and those who urgently want to encourage us down the path of radical change.

In the US context, the struggle is between the new insurgency politicians, on the one hand, and the Russiagaters who dominate the political and media landscape, on the other. Between those trying to reshape the political conversation so that it addresses for the first time in living memory issues that actually matter – the US imperial role in foreign wars; America’s long-standing anti-black racism, which Trump is formalising into an explicit white supremacism; the power of the gun and banking lobbies; the rule of the corporations – and those reassured by a lazy patriotism that pins America’s woes on easy bogeymen like Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In the UK context, the battle is between devout Remainers – those who beatify the European Union, thinking it can somehow save us from ourselves – and the activists of Extinction Rebellion, who understand that we need radical new thinking and ideas, not a return to the 1970s. The divide is between those infuriated by peaceful demonstrations that briefly disrupt major highways and those warning that the near-permanent congestion on roads is one sign of our civilisation’s imminent demise.

Forget the politicians and the media: the issue is not whether the Brexit or Remain camp is right. Rather, the debate itself is an evasion, an endless displacement activity from the reality that we have a few years left to save ourselves; that we are just one of those 1 million species on the verge of extinction; and that all these species, us included, will either sink or swim together. No exceptions.

The Brexit-Remain debate is a symptom of our continuing arrogance, our refusal to confront the real challenge of what it means to be in harmony not only with other human beings but with life itself.

Waking from a slumber

Climate breakdown should be the wake-up call for us all, and yet there are still those who wish to distract themselves from the natural world from which we have been so deeply alienated. They still want to debate whether climate change is real; whether it is imminent and serious; whether human beings are responsible; whether we can fix it with technology; whether we can escape it by living in space.

Until we understand that these debates are an illness, a pathology that capitalism cultivated in us, such arguments will continue even as the planet’s colours, viewed from space, turn from green and blue to a scorched yellow and a burnt black.

But even as we try to wake up from our long slumber, we risk stepping into another trap. We have become so distrustful of experts and of our institutions that the starker the reality, as the facts of climate change reveal themselves physically, the more some people start to believe the dawning reality is a lie too.

This is another kind of evasion, but one that hides from itself – posing as dissent, as radicalism. These “dissidents” argue that the climate science is bogus, that the scientists are distorting the data to justify their salaries and funding, and that corporations are really behind what is simple alarmism.

This approach forgets that context is everything. Climate change is not new, even if many of us are waking up to it only now, very belatedly. It has been measurable for more than a century, even if the necessary intellectual framework for making sense of the science was absent.

The tree museum

British scientist James Lovelock, who had worked for Nasa on predictive modelling of the climates on other, unexplored worlds such as Mars, published the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s, offering western publics the chance to understand Earth and its life systems holistically.

Of course, for decades his work was derided, including by other scientists, as a form of crackpot new ageism – even though today the idea that the planet is governed by a delicate balance of forces that can be easily disrupted and set off in dramatic new directions by feedback loops is the very basis of climate science.

Ecologists and a few artists of the time started to sense too that the western way of life was out of sync with nature, and that our species arrogance was endangering other life forms. In her song “Big Yellow Taxi” of 1970, Joni Mitchell not only condemned both our preference for the tarmac of parking lots over nature and the ecocidal habits of intensive agriculture, but reminded us of our ultimate alienation from the living world in this memorable and prophetic rhyme:

They took all the trees, and put ’em in a tree museum /
And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em

The 1980s were my formative political years. Throughout that decade I dabbled in a simplistic environmentalism that focused on the responsibilities of individuals and the free market, rather than the state, to sort out the trail of ecological damage we were leaving.

I helped set up one of the first newspaper recycling banks in the UK and did my postgraduate journalism project on global warming. (Being trained as a “mainstream” journalist, I made sure not to alarm readers, concentrating instead on a jokey angle about the – admittedly very real – threat that ever larger herds of cows, farmed for McBurgers, were emitting through their farts vast quantities of the ultimate greenhouse gas, methane.)

Short-term fixes

The 1980s were probably the last chance we had to manage climate change in a controlled manner. And yet there was almost no pressure to make even the most superficial changes to our way of life. This was before most towns and cities had installed even rudimentary bicycle lanes, and before most shops sold long-life light bulbs – technology that had been around for almost a century and discarded because it was not profitable to the bulb manufacturers.

At that point it was all about short-term fixes that would not harm the profits of the big corporations, or better still might increase them: taking the poisonous lead out of petrol, and removing CFC chemicals from deoderants and fridges that were creating a hole in the protective ozone layer that surrounds the planet.

There were almost no scientists speaking out then, or at least not in ways that made any impact. Climate science was in its infancy, there was no funding for climate change research, and the academies trained scientists with a set of assumptions that precluded, or penalised, investigating climate change.

In a cautionary tale from that period, it was discovered that ground stations at the north and south poles had unwittingly identified the ozone hole many years before the alarm was raised in the late 1970s. But scientists had programmed the computers watching the skies to ignore anomalous results, such as large-scale ozone depletion. The data was there but the scientists’ own limited imaginations had meant they looked straight past it.

And that was what happened with climate change for many decades. It was staring the scientists in the face, but most were unable to see it – or comprehend its significance – because they were programmed, like the rest of us, to ignore it.

Secret climate research

During the 1980s that began to change. The evidence became so overwhelming, so evident on so many fronts, that most of the leading scientists were already agreed about the threat of climate change as I was mocking up my “green” newspaper front-page at journalism school in 1987.

In fact, we now know that by 1982 scientists working secretly for ExxonMobil had already plotted the future course of global warming. The science, even then, was so exact that the scientists predicted the critical moment would arrive in 2019 – 37 years hence – when carbon dioxide levels would reach 415 parts per million in the atmosphere and the mean global temperature would rise dangerously, by 0.9C. At that point, they warned, it would be impossible for the oil corporations to dissimulate any longer by pretending climate change was normal weather fluctuations.

The scientists’ forecast of 415ppm was exactly right. The threshold was crossed this week. They were slightly out on the temperature rise: it ocurred two years earlier than they had expected. The rapid track upwards of their graph from 2019 onwards should have us all terrified.

The climate memo was one of several fascinating documents unearthed in 2015 by a Pulitzer-finalist series of stories by reporters

If this research was concealed, the public evidence was soon so incontrovertible that the oil corporations briefly abandoned trying to deny it. By 1991 the Shell oil company had funded a half-hour video on the dangers of climate change for showing in schools and colleges. The film was not intended to be controversial. It simply outlined the standard scientific view of the period, noting that a serious concerns about climate change were “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990.”

This was a moment of reckoning for Shell and other oil corporations. The film was part of its public efforts to look responsible and serious about a well-documented threat to the planet, while at the same time, behind the scenes, the oil firms actively sought to subvert the science, to make sure it would soon have no impact on the public debate – or the industry’s profits. Those of us who lived through that period know exactly how the battle was won.

Clouded by uninformed opinion

As the science of climate change became stronger, and those studying it more expert, the noise about the danger it posed grew weaker. The science became clouded by uninformed opinion. Suddenly Margaret Thatcher’s former finance minister Nigel Lawson was regularly wheeled out by the BBC to pontificate on the climate – a subject he had precisely no qualifications to speak about. Lawson was just one of many other, self-appointed experts who were given plenty of room in the state-corporate media. They reassured us constantly that there was no reason to be concerned, that it should be big business as usual – a subject Lawson, for one, was eminently well paid to speak about.

The problem was not just climate denial. Through the 1990s a belief in what was then called environmentalism quickly came to be seen as cranky, fringe, alarmist. We were told – I was told – it reflected unresolved father issues, or a childish need for attention. We were just the modern equivalent of those Victorian doom-mongers with their blackboards warning that “The end is nigh!”

For nearly two decades the scientists seemed to be largely absent, and I – and probably a lot of other activists and potential activists – drifted away to find other issues to be concerned about (in my case Israel-Palestine). How were we to fight the general climate of climate denial if most scientists were not there to support us? How were we to persuade a confused public of the urgency of the matter if no one else, including the scientists, seemed overly concerned? If climate change really was the pressing threat we claimed, why were the BBC and the Guardian not treating it as an emergency too?

In the 1990s and the 2000s, climate change was treated as a far-off, theoretical problem, and one there would be plenty of time to think about should it turn out to be real.

Science didn’t stand a chance

It is hard for me to judge whether the scientists really did disappear. Was it the innate conservatism of the academy in capitalist societies that kept them quiet: the need for tenure, for corporate funding, for the approval of colleagues? Was it the fear of tarnishing their professional reputations by speaking out?

Or were the scientists afraid of being sent into the gladiatorial arena of the corporate media, where paid propagandists would disembowel them with soundbites, where trivialising news agendas would make them look comically earnest, where the journalists themselves would be bound to side with their billionaire owners over the science?

Or was it simpler still: that these scientists rarely, if ever, got invited by the media to offer their expertise?

It barely matters. What this period teaches us is that the whole structure of our societies ensured that the science – and the scientists – didn’t stand a chance.

Capitalism has a use for experts only in so far as they fulfil a narrow institutional role: to inflate the profits of the corporations, to shore up the media-manufactured consensus in favour of a rapacious neoliberal capitalism, to provide a veneer of legitimacy to a deeply corrupt and corrupting system of power. The science – which showed that our continued use of hydrocarbons would start killing us in a few decades – had to be coopted or silenced. And that is exactly what happened through the 1990s and the 2000s.

Time for genuine populism

Change only began in the 2010s, and alarm – the required response – has only just begun to register with a significant proportion of the population in advanced western societies, at maybe a third or so.

But the sudden concern about climate collapse among sections of the professional class – among some politicians, journalists, and academics – as well as among almost all of the expert class – the climate scientists – isn’t a reason to be distrustful. It isn’t evidence that we are being conned again by our elites, that the masters of spin are winning once more.

Rather it is a sign that, despite the best efforts of the corporations to deceive us over the past four decades, the game is up, the truth is out. Climate collapse is so close at hand, the window to avert our fate so narrow, that only the insane, the deeply propagandised and those so alienated from the natural world that they have lost all sense of themselves and what matters can still ignore the reality. We are teetering over the precipice.

Incredibly, a survey of the UK suggests that this alienated, propagandised group is still in the majority, at about two-thirds of the public. That is the true scandal, an indictment of the professional classes – the politicians, the journalists, the professors – for failing to speak out earlier, for failing to speak out more clearly, for leaving it so late.

The problem of our societies was, and is, not populism. We needed a genuine populism in the 1980s when the damage to the planet’s life-support systems became clear. Back then we needed the professionals and the experts to represent the interests of the public, the interests of themselves and their descendants, the interests of all the planet’s species, not the interests of a tiny corrupt elite determined to ignore the science and their own humanity to drive onwards oil-based economies they knew we were heading for the abyss, that would take us to the brink of extinction.

Today, we desperately need the populism of Extinction Rebellion, of Greta Thunberg and the school strikes, of politicians prepared to stand by a Green New Deal and declare real climate emergencies. Yes, the corporations – pathological to the bitter end – will try to coopt these groups and derail their actions, and produce their own versions of populism, the reactionary kind.

That is not reason to abandon populism. It is reason to stop trusting those who represent not us, not the planet, not its bounteous species  but the corporations, wherever they are found – in our parliaments, in our media and in our universities. It is time to listen not to them, but to the still small voice inside each of us that was long ago battered into silence and submission.

Understanding the Soviet Union, Inequality, and Freedom of Expression

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

Peterson writes that Marx discombobulated history and culture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plunging further into history, Peterson notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAUL JAY: Meaning the absence of any modern industry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peterson on Compelled Speech

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

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

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

Unlawful opinions? Really?

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

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

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

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

Understanding the Red Menace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the question of camps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAUL JAY: Like when?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peterson writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Post-Modern Anarchist Revolution

Part 1

Because post-modernism does not go far enough, because post-modernism has not reached the zenith and apex of its critique and programme due to the fact it has been divorced from its motor force, anarchism, revolution/insurrection is unavoidable. In fact, post-modernism demands it.  It demands the total realization of anarchism, that is, its own essence. Post-modernism demands the full-maturation of its inherent principles, radical equality, radical plurality and the total demolition of all meta-narratives. Its only recourse is post-modern anarchist revolution.

In contrast, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism impedes post-modern growth and post-modern development at every turn. And, bourgeois-capitalism refuses to secede its rule and its dominion to intelligence and the future, calmly and quietly. As a result, revolution is unavoidable and a must. The revolution is a post-modern anarchist revolution. Namely, a revolution organized to overthrow all the lasting meta-narratives of the Enlightenment, specifically, bourgeois-capitalism. The objective of the post-modern anarchist revolution is nothing less than radical plurality, radical equality, and radical pragmatic-egalitarianism in all its shapes and forms.

Nothing must be left unchanged. The post-modern anarchist revolution shall reach its logical conclusion, only when anarchist demolitionism rids the earth of the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, including the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy built and sustained upon it.

Paraphrasing Karl Marx that “the capitalist mode of production…begets, with the inexorability of a natural process, its own negation, [wherefore]…the development of …industry…cuts from under its feet [its] very foundation”1 According to Nikolai Bukharin, revolutions emanate from the antagonism between the forces of production and the relations of production, inside the dominant mode of production of an epoch. As Bukharin states:

The cause of revolution, of a violent transition from one type [of society] to another, must be sought in a conflict proceeding between the productive forces, and their growth, on the one hand, and…the production relations on the other hand.2

In essence, it is the radical disconnect between the productive forces of a society and its production relations, inside a dominant mode of production, which, if not rectified, eventually results in the violent overthrow of society; that is, the violent overthrow of the current, dominant, socio-economic framework of a society.

Specifically, according to both Marx and Bukharin, this is exactly what happened with the rise of bourgeois-capitalism and the capitalist mode of production on the back of the feudalist mode of production. However, whereas, Bukharin argues that revolutions are due to the productive forces having outgrown the envelope of production relations for post-modern anarchism, it is the other way around. It is the networks of production relations which outgrow the productive forces and, in effect, begin to press heavily upon the productive forces so as to make them evolve or perish. New relations of production require new organizational forms of production; i.e., new configurations of productive forces. In essence, new networks of relations embody new sets of requirements. And, this demand for new requirements places undue pressure upon the forces of production. They must meet these new requirements through reorganization or perish.

For Bukharin and Marx, “the evolution of the production relations is conditioned by the movement of the productive forces”3, while, for post-modern anarchism, it is vice versa. It is the evolution of the productive forces that is conditioned by the movement of the relations of production. Namely, demand determines supply, consumption determines production. Therefore, contrary to Bukharin and Marx, it is the new requirements of the relations of production which stimulate the technological evolution of the productive forces. And, when the productive forces cannot evolve to accommodate the new parameters and expansions of the relations of production, revolution, catastrophe, and crisis ensues in order to re-configure the sum of the productive forces along a new set of relations, a new mode of production. It is relations which inevitably drag the forces of production into the future.

Indeed, in a rare slip, Bukharin acknowledges the supremacy of socio-economic relations over the productive forces when he states:

It is upon the production relations of cooperation [and equality], maturing in the womb of capitalist production relations, in general, that the temple of the future will rest”.4

Meaning, it is the relations of production, not the productive forces, which is the bedrock for any revolutionary change.

Contrary to Bukharin, according to post-modern anarchism, productive forces only buttress socio-economic relations, they do not determine their form and content. The productive forces mirror and reflect the relations of production.  It is the relations of production which constantly bring forth new forces of production so as to maintain and perpetuate themselves, not the other way around as Marx and Bukharin would have us believe. As a result, revolutions stem from the active side of the antagonism between the forces of production and the relations of production, inside a dominant mode of production. In short, it is the living and dynamic relations of production that instigate revolution, not the dead and static productive forces of capital.

Contradicting his own notion of the supremacy of the productive forces over the relations of production, Bukharin even states “revolutions [always] begin… with ideology [and end with] technical revolutions, a sort of reverse order, as it were,”5 where, in the final analysis, relations of production are deemed superior to the productive forces in the sense that it is always the relations of production which lead the way into the future. Therefore, according to post-modern anarchism, it is the dynamic socio-economic relationships, which interweave the social fabric and exert command over the forces of production, which instigate revolution, not the forces of production. The revolution of the relations of production precede the revolution of the forces of production, not vice versa.

Revolutions begin in, and across, the relations of production and end with the re-arrangement and transformation of the forces of production, which are violently re-configured, or transformed, anew to service the newly established networks of productive relations, which have arisen prior, during, and after the revolution.

And, whenever conceptual and material acts of demolitionism transpire in large numbers in and across everyday life, socio-economic relations have developed new needs and new requirements. And, these new needs and requirements are pressing evermore upon the old organizational forms of the productive forces. In effect, the forces of production and their organizational forms have remained stagnant and, because of this, increasing acts of demolition have ensued. As a result, for post-modern anarchism, technological revolutions are founded on new relations of production, that is, socio-economic relations, demanding more evolved productive forces, which better align with the new requirements of these newly-minted relations. In short, technological revolutions do not precede new relations of production.  They develop and grow out of them so as to accommodate the new set of relational requirements. Demolitionism is a consequence of this conflict and these crises.

Following Bukharin’s notion that the initial step towards revolution “takes place when…objective evolution places the oppressed…in an intolerable situation…causing [the oppressed] to feel clearly that no improvement can be obtained under the existing order”6, a gestalt-switch is needed. In turn, post-modern anarchism stipulates that revolutions begin with disillusionment and nihilism; i.e., radical shifts in the relations of production, rather than radical shifts in the forces of production. As Bakunin states, the people “are made revolutionary by necessity, by the intolerable realities of their lives, their violent hatreds…[being] illegitimately diverted to support…the exploiters of labor,…the bourgeoisie”.7 Consequently, for post-modern anarchism, akin to Bukharin, it is intolerable situations, whatever these may be, arising from the networks of productive relations, which stimulate revolutionary change and acts of demolition.

Contrary to Bukharin, Marx and the communists, it is not the evolution of the productive forces which drive societies towards revolution, it is the evolution of the relations of production. It is outmoded and obsolete forces of production, which are made outmoded and obsolete by the arrival of new relations, new ways of connecting, arising out of the bustling daily-interactions of people, which drive societies towards revolution. It is not the forces of production. The reason is that productive forces are inanimate, passive and, in the end, their evolution is guided by the relations of production while, in contrast, the relations of production are animate and active, constantly bustling and buzzing with frenetic activity. It is the frenetic networks of relations which inadvertently prompt abrupt leaps and breaks with the old organizational framework of productive relations and forces of production. This is what sparks revolutions, demolitions and radical social change.

Indeed, from the perspective of post-modern anarchism, the initial catalyst to revolution is radical social change in the old networks of socio-economic relations, prompting radical change in the old networks of productive relations, which in turn, themselves, increasingly come to weigh heavily upon the old forces of production. The old mode of production either re-organizes itself and/or succumbs to bolder and bolder acts of demolitionism.

If the old forces of production are able to evolve and meet the new requirements of the newly, re-configured, socio-economic relations, then crisis is rectified and averted. If not, the new requirements of the newly, re-configured, socio-economic relations smash the old organizational form of the forces of production into irreparable pieces, resulting in systemic breakdown, revolution, demolition, and eventually, the re-configuration of society upon a new foundation, that is, a new mode of production. Namely, a new mode of production that is more conducive to the new burgeoning networks of socio-economic relations; i.e., the new relations which have thrown-off the old production relations, including their old organizational form.

In short, all evolutionary and revolutionary capacities lie within the evolutionary and revolutionary capabilities inherent in the networks of socio-economic relations. The litany of competitive dynamic interactions within the networks of socio-economic relations, either spearheads technological revolution and the continued stability of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism; or instead, results in the demolition of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism and the foundation upon which this meta-narrative is welded and bonded. If the bourgeois-capitalist mode of production is a vertical, centralized, homogeneous mode of production, which it is, then, in all likelihood, the post-modern, anarchist mode of production is, or shall be, a horizontal, decentralized, heterogeneous mode of production, that is, a set of multiple modes of production centred around autonomy, equality and heterogeneity, rather than bourgeois-capitalist unity, inequality and uniformity, namely, any omnipresent bourgeois herd-mediocrity.

Part II

According to Bukharin, over an extended period of time, it is inevitable that “production relations [become such an] emphatic…brake on the evolution of the productive forces that [both productive forces and production relations] simply must be broken up if society is to continue to develop”.8 And, if the productive forces, including the relations that direct these productive forces, are not burst asunder in order to accommodate the newly-minted socio-economic relations, then, according to Bukharin, “the entire society will become stagnant and retrogressive; i.e., it will enter upon a period of decay”.9 Such is the case with the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism and the bourgeois-capitalist system. It is stagnant and retrogressive in nature and, thus, must be demolished and burst asunder as bourgeois herd-mediocrity reigns supreme, along with a degenerate, state-finance-corporate-aristocracy.

Essentially, the entire contemporary capitalist edifice and the bourgeois socio-economic landscape have descended into a stagnant, retrogressive period of decay, because the old socio-economic relations of bourgeois-capitalism, best exemplified in the ruling oligarchy, cling fanatically to the outmoded capitalist-mode of production. They cling to a set of socio-economic relations which, in fact, hinder socio-economic development, stifling growth and the advent of the post-modern/anarchist age.

Indeed, an outmoded capitalist mode of production, bent on continuing ad infinitum, invariably kills off anything, or anyone, which threatens its rule, even if this means killing off any possibility of socio-economic growth and/or development. Specifically, the senile capitalist-mode of production and its antiquated, state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, are resolved to stifle all new sets of burgeoning relations of production, which might be antithetical to the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism and its own existence.

Therefore, today, the objective of bourgeois-capitalism is to maintain the trajectory of socio-economic retrogression and decay, by any means necessary, since the outdated capitalist mode of production supports a small antiquated elite, whose survival is welded to the failing capitalist mode of production. In short, the senile capitalist mode of production supports a specific set of organizational relations over another subset of organizational relations, which threaten its rule. Consequently, the proponents of the outdated capitalist mode of production; i.e., the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, deny with certain religious-fanaticism, the basic fact that western societies have entered into a period of terminal, socio-economic retrogression and decay.

In fact, the reality of this retrogression and decay is emphatically denied and passed-over in silence by the ruling institutions of the ruling relations of production. In contrast, such socio-economic retrogression and decay is passed-off onto the general-population as a form of socio-economic progress and development via elitist propagandist machines. That is, the empty-celebratory monologue of bourgeois-capitalism, droning on and on, ad nauseam, celebrating bourgeois-centrism as the most reasonable and the most revolutionary. In effect, today, the monologue of bourgeois-capitalism drones on and on throughout the capitalist mass media, about the glorious superiority of bourgeois-capitalism over all other forms of organization. Wherefore, to be reasonable is to be bourgeois and to be bourgeois is to be part of the capitalist vanguard, a dependable stern proponent of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism.

Notwithstanding, according to Mikhail Bakunin, revolutions are a natural fact. They occur regardless of any controlled preparations undertaken by the ruling powers that reign over capitalist society. Indeed, states Bakunin:

Revolutions [are] a natural fact…[they do] not take place according to a preconceived plan but [are] produced by uncontrollable circumstances, which no individual, [or group] can [predict or] command.10

Therefore, similar to Marx’s claim that “crises can only be educed from…capitalist production, competition and credit”11 and, in the final analysis, are truly unpredictable.  For Bakunin, revolutions are as well an inescapable fact of the capitalist mode of production and bourgeois-capitalism, in general.

For, both Bakunin and Marx, “capital contains within itself the possibilities of [endless] interruptions”12 interruptions, which are in essence unpredictable, random, and at times, explosive. Consequently, a post-modern anarchist revolution is a revolution founded upon “local and spontaneous organization”13, an organization, which mirrors and reflects the seeming spontaneity and randomness of economic crisis. The post-modern anarchist revolution is in essence incessant interruption, without end or solution, culminating in the demolition of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, namely, a total gestalt-switch and paradigm-shift.

Like Bakunin’s notion of revolution, the post-modern anarchist revolution is a revolution sparked by an intolerable situation, requiring nothing less than a total gestalt-switch and paradigm-shift, requesting:

freedom for all individuals as well as collective bodies, associations, communes, provinces, regions. [Such a revolution]…seeks the confirmation of…equality [for all] by [establishing] economic equality [for all]. [Of course,] this is not the removal of natural differences, but equality in the social rights of every individual from birth… [to] equal means of subsistence, support, education…and equal resources and [access to] facilities [for all].14

Therefore, the objective of any post-modern anarchist insurrection is to do away with all meta-narratives, specifically, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, while establishing a series of anti-capitalist and post-capitalist institutions, which emphasize maximum equality, autonomy and heterogeneity. As a result, to quote Bakunin:

The post-modern anarchist revolution starts by destroying, above all, all…[bourgeois-capitalist] institutions and…[bourgeois-capitalist relationship] organizations [like] churches, parliaments, tribunals, administrations, banks, universities, etc., which constitute the lifeblood of the [bourgeois-capitalist] state. [The bourgeois-capitalist] state must be entirely demolished and declared bankrupt…[so] the people in the…[anarchist] communes [may collectively] confiscate…all state property [for themselves].15

To have a successful post-modern anarchist revolution, it is necessary to pragmatically demolish, both conceptually and materially, bourgeois-capitalist socio-economic conditions; i.e., capitalist forces of production and capitalist relations of production, in order to install a patchwork plurality of autonomous-collectives, narratives and worker-cooperatives.

Specifically, a successful post-modern anarchist revolution will demolish the concept of private property and the bourgeois-state so as to foster forms of communal organization that maximize equality, autonomy and heterogeneity. To quote Bakunin, the goal is to have a society where all micro-narratives have equal access to resources, in relative equal measure, whereupon no-one is privileged over anyone else and “workers take possession of all [forms of] capital and the tools of production”16, whether, these are conceptual tools and/or material tools. No meta-narrative must be allowed to have dominion over the plethora of micro-narratives, sharing the sum of capital, in relative equal measure.

In brief, the post-modern anarchist “revolution requires extensive and widespread destruction, a fecund and renovating destruction, since in this way, and only this way, are new worlds, [relations and productive forces] born”.17  The ultimate goal of any post-modern anarchist “revolution is the extirpation of the principle of [totalitarian] authority”.18 That is, it is the eradication and demolition of all despotic, overarching meta-narratives, specifically, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism in favor of a horizontal-constellation of microscopic narratives, sharing the sum of socio-economic resources equally. Namely, a horizontal-constellation of micro-narratives which exercise decision-making-authority, among themselves, with relative equal force, devoid of any centralized, hierarchical, state-apparatus or meta-narrative.

In sum, any post-modern anarchist revolution, including any post-modern, anarchist, socio-economic formation, is a type of heterogeneous formation exercising power “from all points. [Whereupon, power does] not depend on a single directing center. [In effect,] the center [is] not…the source, but the product [of the periphery.] [It is] not the cause, but, the effect”19 of the peripheral, horizontal-constellation of micro-narratives. This set of peripheral micro-narratives, determining the political-economic center, are to be organized in a manner by which they can freely express their localized authority together, onto one another, in relative equal measure, where none is superior to another. The result is an equilibrium of force and power between a varying array of horizontally organized micro-narratives. These micro-narratives are to function and operate together, as a loose shifting federation or collective-patchwork, devoid of any overarching meta-narratives, specifically, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. They are to function and operate as an open-participatory-democracy.

All told, the post-modern anarchist revolution is perpetual. It is permanent. It is the demolition of meta-narratives, bourgeois-capitalism, without end. The post-modern anarchist revolution shall reach its end only when the earth trembles from end to end with the awesome power of demolitionism, that is, post-modern anarchism!

  1. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes, (London  Eng.: Penguin, 1990) pp. 929-930.
  2. Nikolai Bukharin, Historical Materialism: (A System of Sociology), (New York, New York: International Publishers, Martino Publishing, 1925) p. 249.
  3. Ibid, p. 244.
  4. Ibid, p. 253.
  5. Ibid, p. 262.
  6. Ibid, p. 256.
  7. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) pp. 191-192.
  8. Nikolai Bukharin, Historical Materialism: (A System of Sociology), (New York, New York:      International Publishers, Martino Publishing, 1925) p. 249.
  9. Ibid, p. 249.
  10. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), p. 357.
  11. Nikolai Bukharin, “Crisis Theory”, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) p. 455.
  12. Ibid, p. 464.
  13. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p.180.
  14. Ibid, pp. 96-97.
  15. Ibid, p. 100.
  16. Ibid, p. 358.
  17. Ibid, p. 334.
  18. Ibid, p. 202.
  19. Ibid, p. 180.

The Economist on Marx’s 200 years

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx has prompted The Economist to devote an article on Marx in its issue of May 5, 2018. Characteristically titled, “Reconsidering Marx. Second time farce. Two hundred years after his birth, Marx remains surprisingly relevant”!1 The article combines recognition that Marx was a genius with reactionary slandering that he was, after all, an evil genius and without him the world would certainly had been much better.

Naturally, one could not expect something different. Since the time Marx’s ideas gained recognition in the labor movement, the main concern of the apologists of capital has been to “refute” them as false, dogmatic and dangerous. Nor do, of course, The Economist’s journalists offer something new; they simply repeat the usual simplistic distortions and misunderstandings their predecessors have offered innumerable times in the past. However, their argument is nevertheless of a certain interest. On the one hand, the part of it in which they vilify Marx displays the rancor and hatred of the apologists of the ruling classes, who being unable to counter the great thinker, embrace all kinds of nonsense they come across to slander and debase him. On the other hand, when discussing Marx’s predictions, they openly confess their reactionary bourgeois fears regarding capitalism’s present deadlock and his vindication, at least in some important points. It is worthwhile, therefore, to take a look at both aspects; all the more because The Economist is not a minor journal but the semi-official voice of the markets and of the views of the liberal (and in our times neo-liberal) wing of the bourgeoisie.

Marx’s “failures”

“A good subtitle for a biography of Karl Marx”, The Economist’s gentlemen begin, “would be ‘a study in failure’… His ideas”, they continue, “were as much religious as scientific – you might even call them religion repackaged for a secular age. He was a late date prophet describing the march of God on Earth. The fall from grace is embodied in capitalism; man is redeemed as the proletariat rises up against its exploiters and creates a communist utopia” (p. 71, same in the following quotations).

The proofs are all very weighty:

Marx claimed that the point of philosophy was not to understand the world but to improve it. Yet his philosophy changed it largely for the worst: the 40% of humanity who lived under Marxist regimes for much of the 20th century endured famines, gulags and party dictatorships. Marx thought his new dialectical science would allow him to predict the future as well as understand the present. Yet he failed to anticipate two of the biggest developments of the 20th century –the rise of fascism and the welfare state– and wrongly believed communism would take root in the most advanced economies.

Whence, then, Marx’s influence, that makes even The Economist’s gentlemen confess that “for all his oversights, Marx remains a monumental figure” and that “interest in him is as lively as ever”? How do they explain the steadily increasing mass of publications, discussions and events about his work? How is it that in his 200 years even Jean-Claude Juncker, the in no way Marxist president of the EU, finds it necessary to visit Marx’s birthplace, Trier, and make a speech about the importance of his work? “Why”, as they themselves snobbishly ask, “does the world remain fixated on the ideas of a man who helped produce so much suffering?”

The answer, according to The Economist’s luminaries, will be found in the combination of genius with malice, which were Marx’s chief traits. His influence is due to the “sheer power of these ideas” and “the power of his personality”.

Marx was in many ways an awful human being. He spent his life sponging off Friedrich Engels. He was such an inveterate racist, including about his own group, the Jews, that even in the 1910s, when tolerance for such prejudices was higher, the editors of his letters felt obligated to censor them… Michael Bakunin described him as ‘ambitious and vain, quarrelsome, intolerant and absolute… vengeful at the point of madness’… But combine egomania with genius and you have a formidable power. He believed absolutely he was right; that he had discovered a key in history that had eluded earlier philosophers. He insisted on promoting his beliefs whatever obstacles fate (or the authorities) put in his way. His notion of happiness was ‘to fight.

The only conclusion to be drawn from all that is that if The Economist’s columnists lag far behind Marx with regard to genius, they certainly outweigh him vastly in egomania. In their attempt to prove their superiority –and the superiority of their beloved capitalism– to Marx’s predictions, they inevitably prove their inferiority, their inability to understand even Marx’s most basic positions, necessarily ending up to combine traces of truth with tons of falsehood and lies. Let us briefly bring out some points for their benefit.

First of all, there is nothing new in portraying Marx as a “religious” thinker and a “metaphysician”. This, in fact, was a beloved theme of all reactionaries of his time, who being unable to counter his theories and discoveries, resorted to such abuse and slander. For these of priests of capital and the “free markets”, of course, the “natural” was identical with capitalism, while everything going beyond it was anathematized as “religious” etc.

To limit ourselves to just one example, immediately after Marx’s death, Paul Boiteau, an official French economist, wrote in the conservative Journal des débats:

Karl Marx, who has just died, was in his lifetime one of the most listened prophets and theologians of the religion of social wrongs. He has had no difficulty in passing to the rank of its gods, and he will no doubt share in their fate, which is to disappear rather quickly into the void where socialism successively buried its divinities. But, for the moment, his memory receives the censers to which he was entitled, and, in both worlds, the meetings of the initiates declare that the Gospel of Marx must henceforth be the text par excellence of the preachings of international socialism.2

It would seem that The Economist’s folks have not advanced very far from Boiteau’s views. And, judging from the fact that everyone still knows Karl Marx while almost no one remembers Boiteau, it seems unlikely that they will get a better place in the hall of fame than he did.

Secondly, Marx never portrayed capitalism as a “fall from grace”, a hell that took the place of a previous earthly paradise, and the proletariat as the Messiah of our time. This was, in fact, the position of some Utopian communists of his time, whose primitivism he criticized. On the contrary, Marx acknowledged and stressed, at least after having laid the foundations of his theory, that capitalism represents a great advance in relation to feudalism, and that it substantially expanded the technological basis and horizons of human society. At the same time, however, he argued that by rapidly developing productive forces and socializing production, capitalism undermines its very foundation, makes unnecessary and anachronistic the exploitative relations on which it rests, and creates for the first time the possibility of a non-exploitative organization of the economy, based on the common ownership the means of production. The Economist’s journalists, lacking the courage to address the second point, blur and obscure the first, attributing to Marx things that are not part of his theory.

Thirdly, there is nothing in Marx’s works that contains even a trace of anti-Semitism or racism. Anti-Semites included, among others, Bakunin, whose slanderous criticism of Marx The Economist approvingly quotes, and Bruno Bauer, both of them Marx’s opponents. Bauer argued in particular that Jews would be unable to free themselves as long as they did not discard their religion and that until then they should be deprived of their political rights. Marx, answering him in his brochure on the Jewish question, which is frequently falsely presented by reactionaries as “anti-Semitic”, had rejected any idea of political, religious or other discrimination against the Jews. He countered that the partial liberation of the Jews was possible through their participation in the political struggles of the time, without presupposing any renunciation of their religion, and that their total liberation would take place when society was liberated from all kinds of slavery.

Marx’s perhaps only “anti-Jewish” comment appears in a letter he wrote to Engels, to which The Economist’s folks apparently allude, where he contemptuously labeled Lassalle a “Jewish nigger”.3 However, this letter was written under very special circumstances when Lassalle had stayed for some days at Marx’s home in London during 1862. Lassalle, as Marx mentions, besides his refusal to lend him an amount of money, had proposed him, as a means of getting rid of his financial problems, to hand over one of his daughters as a companion to a bourgeois family, and had unsettled his calmness and work. These things had enraged Marx and he wrote an aggressive letter to Engels, with all sorts of strong comments, which cannot be seen as an expression of his positions on racism or on any other matter. In order to seriously criticize Marx as a “racist”, one would have to point out some explicit or indirect support for racism in his works, which is impossible to do for him or any other serious Marxist.

Let us note by the way, as an example of how strongly prejudiced The Economist’s journalists, who imagine themselves “enlightened”, are, that even some neo-Nazis quote and comment more honestly Marx’s views on the Jews. In an article about Bruno Bauer posted on the National Vanguard, one of the key neo-Nazi websites in the United States, after speaking of Bauer as one of the forerunners of anti-Semitism, R. Pennington refers to Marx’s criticism of his views as a rejection of anti-Semitism: “Bauer’s anti-Semitism”, she writes, caused Marx a great deal of intellectual grief”; Marx’s critique was intended to “releasing the Jews from any intimidation by society or the state”.4 As an orthodox ultra-right, Pennington prefers, of course, to Bauer, honoring his anti-Semitism and condemning “Marxist obscurantism”, but at least she presents somewhat accurately Marx’s position.

Marx, they tell us further, failed to predict fascism and the welfare state. In the same way, one could say Darwin failed to predict (in 1871!) the discovery of DNA or that The Economist failed to predict, not 50 years, but not even 50 days beforehand, the outbreak of the global economic crisis in 2007. To blame Marx for things it was clearly impossible for him to predict, and for the analogue of which they would never blame, let us say, Darwin or themselves, isn’t that a manifestation of egomania and rancor?

Of course, Marx did not explicitly predict the above developments, but he identified the trends that made them possible. In many of his writings on the revolutions of 1848, in his criticisms of vulgar bourgeois political economy and in his analyses of the Commune, he showed and documented the bourgeoisie’s turn towards reaction, one of the ultimate consequences of which was fascism. In his The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he also referred to the development of reactionary petty bourgeois movements; i.e., peasants’ movements “who, in stupefied seclusion… want to see themselves and their small holdings saved”,5 thereby turning against the proletariat; a trend whose exacerbation in the imperialist era contributed decisively in the development of fascism. On the other hand, in his analysis of Malthus’s views in Theories of Surplus Value, Marx extensively referred to the bourgeoisie’s attempts to increase the intermediate strata between itself and the proletariat as a safety valve for its regime, considering that “this is the course taken by bourgeois society”.6 So here, too, he revealed the socio-economic basis of the developments that led to the so-called “welfare state”; i.e., the strengthening of the intermediate strata, which is possible within capitalism, as long as it does not radically contradict the falling tendency of the rate of profit.

Let’s turn now to The Economist’s main claim that Marx’s bad influence helped produce most of the 20th century’s misery, which could otherwise have been avoided. Putting the issue in this way is, of course, foolish; the true question to be asked and answered is: which tendencies in the 20th century have had positive results, those emerging from capitalism and contributing to its perpetuation, or the revolutionary tendencies that, finding their foundation in Marx, were promoting the overthrow of the capitalist system?

Capitalism was exclusively responsible for the first great war of the 20th century, the world imperialist war of 1914-18, with its more than ten million victims. Imperialist intervention was largely responsible for millions of victims in the initially almost bloodless Russian Revolution of 1917. The great crisis of 1929 and fascism were both children of capitalism, as was the case with World War II, an effort of the most reactionary wing of capital to eliminate the achievements of the Russian Revolution. It is true that the course of the USSR was marked, especially in Stalin’s years, by the negative phenomena The Economist points out; i.e., the 1932-33 famine, gulags, massive cleansing, terror and oppression, as was also the case in China during the Great Leap Forward. However, these phenomena have been explained by Marxists as a degeneration process, the result of the backwardness of the countries where the revolution first took place and of the rise of Stalinist bureaucracy, which did not promote but betrayed world revolution both in the USSR –its first victims there being the leaders of October– and abroad. In addition, they were not the only ones and did not characterize the whole experience of the USSR. During the 1920s and early ’30s there took place in the USSR a vast cultural revolution, whose achievements were undermined by Stalinism but nevertheless partly survived and developed in the later phases of the regime. The Soviet people took up the main burden of the anti-fascist struggle, which objectively was a continuation of October’s progressive legacy, while after 1956 the most odious aspects of Stalinist oppression were put aside.

The imperialist plunder of the Third World, interventions, establishment of dictatorships and the condemnation of entire peoples in starvation, continued on the contrary throughout the 20th century, before and after World War II. The concessions of the ruling classes in the capitalist centers after 1945 were prompted chiefly by their fear of the post-war ascend of communism and anti-fascist movements. Where it not for the USSR, who would have stopped Nazism and force these concessions to the ruling classes? Moreover, while the existence of the USSR checked the aggression of imperialism, after its dissolution its real tendencies have again been manifested openly and unimpeded, producing their true devastating effects. It took just 15 years to take world-wide inequality to unprecedented heights, start many local wars, exacerbate the great powers’ competition to a point threatening a hot conflict, trigger the global economic crisis of 2007, and revive fascism and far-right nationalism worldwide. Even the few positive elements of the latest period, such as the great capitalist development of China, are closely linked to the positive heritage of the 20th century’s revolutions. In China, the fact that a great popular revolution lasting two decades eroded feudalism and imperialist dependence, allowed capitalism to develop without internal and external obstacles and benefit a comparatively significant part of the population; in India, on the contrary, where there was no revolution, but only a bourgeois renovation from above, the growth of the last decades was much weaker and a much larger part of the population is stuck in extreme poverty. Capitalism prevailed in its competition with the USSR due to its higher level of development of the productive forces and the devastating effects of Stalinism, but experience shows that this did not allow capitalism to overcome its contradictions.

The Economist’s journalists make every effort to reject not only Marx himself, but the whole Communist movement and its eminent theorists after his death:

After Marx’s death in 1883 his followers –particularly Engels– worked hard to turn his theories into a closed system. The pursuit of purity involved vicious factional fights as the ‘real’ Marxists drove out renegades, revisionists and heretics. It eventually led to the monstrosity of Marxism-Leninism with its pretentions of infallibility (‘scientific socialism’), its delight in obfuscation (‘dialectical materialism’) and its cult of personality (those giant statues of Marx and Lenin).

Here again, the negative experiences of Stalinism, dogmatism and the necrosis of Marxism, are exploited to discard as nonsense the whole development of Marxism after Marx. However, Marxism in that period had important representatives such as Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Mehring and, after Lenin’s death, Trotsky, Bukharin, Gramsci and Lukacs, who cannot be put aside so easily. These Marxists analyzed developments after Marx’s death, guided the October Revolution and developed Marxism further. That this development involved a clearing of Marxism from alien influences was not something special to Engels or Lenin: Marx had also fought fiercely against the pseudo-socialists of his time, such as Proudhon and the “true socialists”, and Marxists after Lenin, especially Trotsky and Lukacs, explained Stalinist dogmatism as an alien influence and distortion of Marxism.

Paradoxically, and while one would expect that after all these tirades, everything about Marx has been dismissed, The Economist’s gentlemen conclude their reference to his “failures” with a reservation that would seem to distinguish something fertile in his thought. But as it immediately becomes clear, they consider “fertile” only what they themselves want to read or think they can find in Marx.

The collapse of this petrified orthodoxy has revealed that Marx was a much more interesting man than his interpreters have implied. His grand certainties were a response to grand doubts. His sweeping theories were the results of endless reversals. Toward the end of his life he questioned many of his central convictions. He worried that he might have been wrong about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He puzzled over the fact that, far from immiserating the poor, Victorian England was providing them with growing prosperity. (ibid, p. 71-72).

Here The Economist’s gentlemen remarkably agree with the representatives of the so-called “New reading of Marx”, that is, representatives of professorial academic wisdom who falsify Marx, such as Michael Heinrich. Marx, of course, rethought and improved his assumptions constantly, but contrary to the claims of these scholars, there is no evidence that he had revised his analysis of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, or that Engels distorted his positions. Moreover, the entire evolution of capitalism in the 20th century has confirmed this fundamental to its historical fortunes law discovered by Marx. The main transformations and models of capitalism, Fordism, Keynesianism, neoliberalism, were, in fact, just ways of reacting to the downward rate of profit, and the fact that the bourgeoisie is forced to replace them after profitability crises proves that they can counteract it only temporarily and that their potential is always exhausted.

Engels was perhaps not as deep as Marx, and he occasionally made some mistakes. But to dismiss Engels for Heinrich’s sake means to read Marx in a systemic way, to make Engels’s mistakes an alibi in order to accept a total mistake. Marx’s concerns at the end of his life had to do with a better conceptualization of the complexity of capitalism’s tendencies, and hence of the revolutionary process, not with their general direction.

Marx’s successes and further “failures”

This brings us to Marx’s successes, some of which are so obvious, that even The Economist’s columnists cannot but recognize them, although still charging him with some other failures.

“The chief reason for the continuing interest in Marx, however”, we read further, “is that his ideas are more relevant than they have been for decades. The post-war consensus that shifted power from capital to labour and produced a ‘great compression’ in living standards is fading. Globalisation and the rise of a virtual economy are producing a version of capitalism that once more seems to be out of control. The backwards flow of power from labour to capital is finally beginning to produce a popular –and often populist– reaction. No wonder the most successful economics book of recent years, Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, echoes the title of Marx’s most important work and his preoccupation with inequality” (p. 72, same in the following).

So, if inequality has once again become a central issue, to the extent that 1% of the world’s population owns over 50% of the world’s wealth, and 3.7 billion of the poorest account for just 2.7%7, how can “dogmatic” and “fanatical” Marx be confirmed after so many “reforms” and “advances” made by the ruling classes? Let’s see what The Economist’s gentlemen have to say about this as things become more interesting now.

Marx argued that capitalism is in essence a system of rent-seeking: rather than creating wealth from nothing, as they like to imagine, capitalists are in the business of expropriating the wealth of others. Marx was wrong about capitalism in the raw: great entrepreneurs do amass fortunes by dreaming up new products or new ways of organising production. But he had a point about capitalism in its bureaucratic form. A depressing number of today’s bosses are corporate bureaucrats rather than wealth-creators, who use convenient formulae to make sure their salaries go ever upwards. They work hand in glove with a growing crowd of other rent-seekers, such as management consultants… professional board members… and retired politicians…

By reading such passages, one gets convinced that The Economist’s “liberals” will never understand even Marx’s simplest positions, not due to lack of knowledge, but because they do not want to understand them, since this goes contrary to their class interests. Marx never defined capitalism as a rent-seeking system. This was also a feature of feudalism which knew various kinds of rent. The distinctive feature of capitalism, according to Marx, is expansion, the development of production for production’s sake, the accumulation of capital. And what capitalists accumulate is surplus value, the unpaid labor of the workers, which they usurp. Ideas could never create stocks and capitals; and it is absurd to base economic analysis on the difference between the good ideas of capitalists and the bad ideas of managers, etc. Moreover, if it was just a matter of good or bad ideas, one could perhaps solve many problems and save capitalism by imposing a negative rent for some obviously bad ideas of the capitalists and their ilk, such as weapons of mass destruction. The Economist’s gentlemen, distorting Marx in that way, shift the problem from the structure of capitalism to the behavior of the one or other of its agents, bureaucrats, managers, and so on. Yet, while rent is, of course, important –and Lenin, Hobson and others showed how rentiers multiply in the imperialist era with capitalism’s increasing parasitism– according to Marx, it is production and not distribution that defines the essence of capitalism, as of every other economic system.

However, just after that we find two better passages. One is about globalization, which, it is acknowledged, Marx had already foreseen:

Capitalism, Marx maintained, is by its nature a global system: ‘It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’. That is as true today as it was in the Victorian era. The two most striking developments of the past 30 years are the progressive dismantling of barriers to the free movement of the factors of production—goods, capital and to some extent people—and the rise of the emerging world. Global firms plant their flags wherever it is most convenient… The World Economic Forum’s annual jamboree in Davos, Switzerland, might well be retitled ‘Marx was right’.

So Marx did predict something correctly after all. And it seems that he did not only predict this, but also something else too, the tendency of capitalism to create monopolies and, along with the accumulation of wealth on the one side, to produce an army of unemployed and occasionally employed in the other:

“He thought”, we read further, “capitalism had a tendency towards monopoly, as successful capitalists drive their weaker rivals out of business in a prelude to extracting monopoly rents. Again this seems to be a reasonable description of the commercial world that is being shaped by globalisation and the internet. The world’s biggest companies are not only getting bigger in absolute terms but are also turning huge numbers of smaller companies into mere appendages. New-economy behemoths are exercising a market dominance not seen since America’s robber barons. Facebook and Google suck up two-thirds of America’s online ad revenues. Amazon controls more than 40% of the country’s booming online-shopping market. In some countries Google processes over 90% of web searches. Not only is the medium the message but the platform is also the market.

In Marx’s view capitalism yielded an army of casual labourers who existed from one job to the other. During the long post-war boom this seemed like a nonsense. Far from having nothing to lose but their chains, the workers of the world—at least the rich world—had secure jobs, houses in the suburbs and a cornucopia of possessions… Yet once again Marx’s argument is gaining urgency. The gig economy is assembling a reserve force of atomised labourers who wait to be summoned, via electronic foremen, to deliver people’s food, clean their houses or act as their chauffeurs. In Britain house prices are so high that people under 45 have little hope of buying them. Most American workers say they have just a few hundred dollars in the bank. Marx’s proletariat is being reborn as the precariat.

The analysis perhaps is not flawless, but we may assume without much danger of error that had Marx read it, he would have rated The Economist’s analysts at least with a 5 (full marks being 10). Unfortunately, is not so with the immediately following argument, for which he would definitely make them repeat the same class:

Still, the rehabilitation ought not to go too far. Marx’s errors far outnumbered his insights. His insistence that capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level is absurd. The genius of capitalism is that it relentlessly reduces the price of regular consumer items: today’s workers have easy access to goods once considered the luxuries of monarchs… Marx’s vision of a post-capitalist future is both banal and dangerous: banal because it presents a picture of people essentially loafing about (hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, raising cattle in the evening and criticising after dinner); dangerous because it provides a licence for the self-anointed vanguard to impose its vision on the masses.

It is tragic indeed to encounter such expositions of Marx’s views.

First of all, Marx never claimed that “capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level”. This was, in fact, Lassalle’s position, expressed in his famous “Iron Law of Wages”, which states precisely this thing. Marx criticized Lassalle’s law, showing that the workers, with their organization and struggles, could improve their position, and that there is a difference, historically defined in each country, between the wage corresponding to subsistence level and the real average wage.8

Secondly, it is funny to imply that a thinker of Marx’s level had not noticed and pointed out the ability of capitalism to limit the prices of consumer goods through technological progress, productivity gains, etc. In fact, Marx was the first economist to recognize and explain this possibility, as well as the historical movement of wages at the various stages of capitalism, with his distinction between absolute and relative surplus value. Let us explain this distinction, for the benefit of The Economist’s columnists.

Absolute surplus value, according to Marx, is the type of capitalist accumulation that dominated the early stages of capitalism, in the so-called period of primitive accumulation of capital. During that period, accumulation was promoted by increasing the working day – for example, the worker was forced to work 12 instead of 10 hours daily, his salary remaining the same. This means an increase in exploitation: if, for example, in the initial 10 hours, 6 hours correspond to the reproduction of the labor force and 4 hours to unpaid labor (i.e., production of surplus value), the final 12 will include 6 unpaid hours. Absolute surplus value goes hand in hand with absolute impoverishment, as pay per hour of work decreases. The brutal expropriation of the rural population and its relocation to the cities under wretched conditions, the deadly work of children and women, etc., were some of the misfortunes of this phase, described in novels by Dickens, Gorky and others.

However, when the development of capitalism, and hence its technological base, reaches a relatively high point –what Marx calls “the real subordination of labor to capital”– absolute surplus value is replaced by relative surplus value. The distinctive feature of the latter is that accumulation is now promoted not by the increase of the working day but by the limitation of the part of the working day devoted to the replacement of the worker’s labor power. In the previous example, if the time for the reproduction of labor power (the necessary labor) is reduced to 2 hours from 6, then even with a reduction of the working day from 10 to 8 hours, the worker will produce more surplus value than before, offering 6 hours of surplus labor instead of 4. Relative surplus value corresponds to relative impoverishment because the salary per hour of work increases. In addition, it is a constituent part of Marx’s analysis that the price of labor power in the latter case will correspond to a larger number of goods, since by the development of specialization, etc., the needs of the worker also grow. Of course, the great limitation of necessary labor is made possible because, due to technological progress, an hour of work in developed capitalism produces a much larger mass of commodities than what it produced in its earlier stages. The total value of these goods remains roughly the same, but the value per unit is drastically reduced.

In Marx’s time relative surplus value had progressed only in Britain, yet this did not prevent him from recognizing it as the main form for developed capitalism and assess its impact on the workers’ living standard. In an excerpt in Capital he sums it up quite clearly:

Under the conditions of accumulation… which conditions are those most favorable to the laborers, their relation of dependence upon capital takes on a form endurable or, as Eden says: ‘easy and liberal’. Instead of becoming more intensive with the growth of capital, this relation of dependence only becomes more extensive, i.e., the sphere of capital’s exploitation and rule merely extends with its own dimensions and the number of its subjects. A larger part of their own surplus-product, always increasing and continually transformed into additional capital, comes back to them in the shape of means of payment, so that they can extend the circle of their enjoyments; can make some additions to their consumption-fund of clothes, furniture, etc., and can lay by small reserve-funds of money.9

Of course, as Marx explains at various points, this improvement has certain limits defined by the needs of capitalist accumulation, and tends to take place in periods of economic growth, while in recessions wages are being pressed. But this is a far cry from presenting him as an advocate of the view that no improvement in the lot of the workers is possible under capitalism.

Marx’s position that in the post-capitalist society people will be able to hunt in the morning and go fishing in the evening was a poetic image of the many sided, cultivated man who will replace the disintegrated, individualistic human existence to which capitalism gives rise. Marx insisted that labor itself will always be “the realm of necessity”, but shorter working hours when everyone will work will give all members of society enough free time for a variety of other activities. It was Marx’s deep conviction that in the future society even The Economist’s journalists will find some better things to do than to exhort capitalism and abuse Marx.

For the time being, of course, no such thing is in sight, so they continue listing some more of Marx’s “failures”. “The World Bank”, we are told, “calculates that the number of people in ‘extreme poverty’ has declined from 1.85bn in 1970 to 767m in 2013, a figure that puts the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers in perspective”. Marx, evidently, failed to anticipate that momentous progress too…

Here again it is a case of progresses existing in the apologists’ heads rather than in reality. Extreme poverty is defined at making less than 1.90$ per day, so that it would hardly look like a great advance to half the number of those caught in it. Moreover, the very definition of extreme poverty by the World Bank is under severe criticism, while if one puts aside China, the picture in the rest of the world is hardly encouraging.

In fact The Economist’s gentlemen are very close to repeating arguments regarding general welfare, which their predecessors advanced in Marx’s time. “Delightful is it thus to see”, one of them went, “under Free Trade, all classes flourishing; their energies are called forth by hope of reward; all improve their productions, and all and each are benefited” (The Economist, 2/1/1853). To which Marx replied by pointing to the numerous cases of starvation in this “generally beneficial” social order10. One has just to look at the thousands of peasants in India who commit suicide due to starvation –according to official estimates, more than 12,000 yearly after 201311 – to see that The Economist’s present attempt to paint a similar worldwide tranquility is not a bit better.

There follows Marx’s worst “mistake”:

Marx’s greatest failure, however, was that he underestimated the power of reform—the ability of people to solve the evident problems of capitalism through rational discussion and compromise. He believed history was a chariot thundering to a predetermined end and that the best that the charioteers can do is hang on. Liberal reformers, including his near contemporary William Gladstone, have repeatedly proved him wrong. They have not only saved capitalism from itself by introducing far-reaching reforms but have done so through the power of persuasion. The ‘superstructure’ has triumphed over the ‘base’, ‘parliamentary cretinism’ over the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

So, what do The Economist’s geniuses tell us? To what does their wisdom end up?

They tell us that Marx was right in verifying those laws and trends of capitalism that bring them and their ilk to the foreground –globalization, monopolization, etc.– but that they, the “superstructure”, the various “think tanks” of capital, with their special astuteness and wisdom, succeeded in changing the action of these laws, making them produce different results than those predicted by Marx. Isn’t that a form of egomania?

We have already seen that Marx recognized the possibilities of reforming capitalism, ultimately based on relative surplus value. He himself refers to them in the Preface to the 1st edition of Capital, pointing out that “present society is not a solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and is constantly changing”.12 Marx, however, showed at the same time the limits of these possibilities. To clarify this last, vital point, let us listen first to The Economist’s gentlemen final confessions:

The great theme of history in the advanced world since Marx’s death has been reform rather than revolution. Enlightened politicians extended the franchise so working-class people had a stake in the political system. They renewed the regulatory system so that great economic concentrations were broken up or regulated. They reformed economic management so economic cycles could be smoothed and panics contained… Today’s great question is whether those achievements can be repeated. The backlash against capitalism is mounting – if more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity. So far liberal reformers are proving sadly inferior to their predecessors in terms of both their grasp of the crisis and their ability to generate solutions. They should use the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth to reacquaint themselves with the great man – not only to understand the serious faults that he brilliantly identified in the system, but to remind themselves of the disaster that awaits if they fail to confront them.

Well, well, truth must be admitted after all! What we see during the last two decades is the decline of the liberal elites, their constant shift to intensified reaction, their failure to find any viable way out of the crisis and the deadlocks of capitalism, their –as The Economist itself aptly puts it– sad inferiority to the circumstances. However, their failure inexorably raises a relentless question that The Economist’s gentlemen fail to raise: Is this a chance, subjective failure or error of the leading circles of capital? Or does its cause lie in something more profound; i.e., that there exists no longer such a reformist way?

Can capitalism reform itself anew?

So, can capitalism reform itself anew, as it has done in the past, or is its present, self-destructive course definitive?

This question emerges from all modern developments and we can give at least some credit to The Economist’s journalists for posing it openly and sharply as a “life and death” question for capitalism. Yet it cannot be posed in a Shakespearean, “to be or not to be” philosophical way, as they pose it. It must be examined in relation to the whole of social experience, the directions of bourgeois governments and organizations, etc. And any such discussion will inexorably force answering it in the negative. A few concrete questions will clarify that.

If there is a real possibility of a new New Deal today, why do we nowhere see a significant portion of the ruling classes expressing and supporting it? In the 1930s there was a Roosevelt, after World War II there were representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie such as De Gaulle and the Kennedy brothers. Where is their current analogue? Why does the “liberal” wing, whose voice The Economist is, can only oppose Trump with a Hillary Clinton; i.e., something just a trifle better? Why do the few progressive representatives of the bourgeoisie like Sanders prove completely incapable of proposing any positive reform program and are forced, confusing others and themselves, to talk about “socialism”?

All these are sure indications that an internal reform of capitalism which would provide a real economic revival is no longer possible. We will understand why it is so by returning to Marx’s analysis of relative surplus value. The development of mature capitalism, as Marx has shown particularly in his Results of the Direct Production Process, consists essentially in generalizing relative surplus value, through its successive expansion to the various branches of economy. This was done in previous stages with the technological intensification of industry, agriculture and the state sector, services, etc. And the reason capitalism could at those stages have some able representatives was that there were still non-intensified sectors of the economy, whose reshaping, as well as the overall reshaping of the system based on this process, required certain abilities.

The distinctive feature of globalization, on the contrary, is that, at least in the developed countries, there is no longer a non-intensified economic sector. The service and public sectors, the last remaining ones, were intensified in the neoliberal era, this being its essential content. Things like “green economy” are aspirins, while the generalized automation futurists like Mason are dreaming of is inconceivable under capitalism as it would decisively hit the rate of profit. The very fact that capital is now forced to resort to absolute surplus value, increasing again the length of the working day in order to support the rate of profit (and thereby reviving again absolute impoverishment!), is a further proof of the exhaustion of its reformist margins. So at capitalist metropolises at least, there remains nothing else, nothing new to be done; there is no new model of accumulation and consequently no possibility of a new cycle. This makes globalization the last phase, the last moment of the imperialist era and capitalism in general, during which the capitalist system will necessarily leave the historical scene.

All this does not imply, of course, a complete impossibility of reforms, but any such possibilities refer to measures, changes, etc., which fulfill possibilities of the current stage, not of a hypothetical, non-existent future stage. Or to put it otherwise: there is no chance of capitalism presenting something radically new, a modern “New Deal”, but only –and this at a theoretical level– of normalizing and prolonging a bit globalization, by softening for some time its worst conflicts.

Two such possibilities are basically at hand. Relative surplus value has already exhausted its potential in the capitalist centers and is now fulfilling it in Asia and Latin America. But there is a continent where it has not yet been expanded; i.e., Africa. Africa’s participation in globalization could provide a growth momentum when China recedes, opening a further round. Of course, in order to bring this about, that participation should be on comparatively equal terms, not like that of Yemen, which picks up globalization’s bombs, but roughly that of China. Secondly, the North-South gap in the European Union suggests a similar, albeit proportionally smaller, possibility of capitalist progress for the European South, but this also presupposes a change in the EU structure towards true convergence.

Historical experience so far proves that the weakened liberal leaders of capitalism cannot implement these changes or even aid them. Obstacles on their way are more than obvious. Africa is already the field of competition between China and the West, and the great powers are not interested in its development, but in enhancing each one’s sphere of influence and plundering at the expense of the rest. In addition, American imperialism’s policies of past decades, interventions around the world, etc., have strengthened the worst, most adventurous forces in its protectorates, the consequence being that change stumbles not only on the directions of imperialism itself, but also on local cliques, “compradorial” segments, etc. Africa’s current growth rate of about 4% reflects these barriers, being extremely low for a continent with a population of 1.3 billion and less than one-third of US GDP.

It would be erroneous to imagine that when China’s momentum fades, capital will flow in Africa and start a new swift rise there. Firstly, China’s potential as capitalism’s steam engine has already been half-halted. Yet Africa’s development has not gained momentum, but has receded during the last years, from 5.5% in 2012 to 2.7 in 2016, and an anemic recovery in 201713 In the second place, China’s huge capitalist progress was made possible by the fact that the revolution had created a viable social order, a skillful and educated working class, etc. Only traces of these will be found in Africa, which is moreover divided in a multitude of small, unsustainable states, with extreme poverty increasing strongly during the last decades. In practice, moving these barriers aside will require at least some Chavez type revolutions in Africa, like those of Latin America during the last two decades. A key condition for a steady development in that continent will be that the leading circles of imperialism support these processes, yet wherever they have happened so far, either in Africa itself in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, or in Latin America recently, imperialism has constantly tried to stifle them.

On the other hand, the European Union, the only intensive global integration process, remains, as Mr. Juncker acknowledged in his recent Marx speech, extremely fragile. “The European Union”, he said, “is not a flawed, but an unstable construction. Unstable also because Europe’s social dimension until today remains the poor relation of the European integration. We have to change this”14 But of what change can one speak of, when, in a construct that its own leaders confess its instability, all the pressures of the crisis are directed to its weakest joints? It is not clear that the next crisis, which even according to them, is probably a short time away, will break it into pieces? And what will the consequences be then? Under the present circumstances, these can only be chaos, a fascist takeover of power in at least some European countries and war conflicts.

Of course, Trump’s election in the United States, the developing commercial wars and the existence of anachronistic regimes, such as Syria, Iran, and so on, belonging to Russian sphere of influence, obstruct economic progress even more at a world level. Add to this the whole parasitic raff of globalization, which in not limited to bureaucrats and politicians as The Economist would have it, but also includes all kinds of market speculators, lobbyists, mafias, etc, who loot world economy –movies like Gavras’s “Le Capital” and Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack” depict their range– and you will see why it is utopian to expect something different from the ruling elites.

One last point that deserves some comment in The Economist’s arguments is their hints that Marx’s revolutionary forecast has been refuted in the capitalist centers. While Marx “believed communism would take hold in the most advanced economies… The only countries where Marx’s ideas took hold were backward autocracies such as Russia and China”. And even today, in period of severe crisis, opposition to capitalism appears “more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity” (p. 71, 72).

These arguments are not new, yet there is a grain of truth in them, which has also been adequately dealt by Marxists. After Marx’s death, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky recognized the bourgeoisie’s ability to create a “working class aristocracy”, by sharing a small part of the booty of colonial exploitation, a fact allowing it to stabilize its hold in the capitalist centers. On the other hand, the obvious reason recent opposition to capitalism has so far been manifested chiefly by the rise of (often far-right) populism is that the crisis hit first the petty bourgeoisie, who tend to seek to restore their previous position at the expense of the working class15 All that, however, belongs to the kind of complications and difficulties with which Marx struggled in the last phase of his life, when he clearly envisaged some of them (e.g., the possibility of a revolution in Russia) and in no way counters his central claims. Doesn’t the fact of “the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers” (p. 72), to which The Economist reluctantly refers, prove indeed that the main stabilizing factor in the capitalist centers belongs to the past?

Let us sum up in a graphic way. Capitalism is a Titanic that, due to the very materials and contradictions ingrained in its frame, is doomed to break up and sink. It is composed, of course, of several levels, each one of them having its own watertight parts which delay for a while flooding from incoming water. In the previous stages or levels, there was a difficult way out of Titanic to the new ship of socialism, but there were also higher levels to which one could move when the previous ones were flooded. The peculiarity of the current level is that there no more exists a level above. There is only a possibility of delaying the flooding of the current level either by increasing its space (a relatively equal participation of Africa in globalization) or by absorbing some of the pressures on the walls by channeling them to their strongest points (allocating part of the burdens of the EU crisis to Germany, France, etc.). We do not see any of these possibilities being realized today; on the contrary, the policies pursued are in the exactly opposite direction.

We have already explained why this is so and why a realization of the progressive possibilities of the current stage by the ruling classes is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. Moreover, if they were to be implemented, this should have been prepared during the past decades; e.g., by instituting a United Nations program to combat poverty in Africa and elsewhere, such as that proposed in the 1960s by the Kennedy brothers (who were murdered incidentally by their own class), rather than conducting military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. If, however, The Economist’s gentlemen are of another opinion and consider such a program possible, nothing prevents them from becoming its preachers, even if a little late.

In conclusion

Marx in his time never held The Economist in any high esteem. He called it, the “optimist conjurer of all things menacing the tranquil minds of the mercantile community”.16

The Economist’s article on Marx’s 200 years confirms his judgment. It is a mirror of the illusions of the condemned classes concerning their “eternity” and of their gaudy front, from which “superstitions and prejudices emerge like frogs”.17 How could Marx be a great thinker and a racist egomaniac at the same time? If he was a racist, why has he been an anathema for all reactionaries? Questions like these The Economist’s gentlemen are unable even to pose; prejudice blocks them from surfacing in their minds. And in this way, they unwittingly offer the best proof that Marx was right both in his opinion about The Economist, which has not advanced far since then, and in his overall predictions about capitalism’s fate.

However, The Economist’s journalists are wrong when they say that the practical implication of these predictions is to “hang on the chariot of history”. Such passivity was alien to Marx; on the contrary, he stressed that history presents active possibilities, the content of which, according to his famous statement, lies in “shortening the birth pangs”. It is on the contrary the “free market” apologists who hang on it and never prepare anything.

From this point of view; e.g., a capitalist development in Africa similar to that of China cannot be indifferent to Marxists as it would limit the sufferings of the next capitalist crisis and help realize the transition to socialism under better conditions. But herein lies the problem, that all such possibilities are hampered by the bourgeoisie itself, by the oligarchies of the developed countries. As Trotsky points out:

In the conditions of capitalist decline, backward countries are unable to attain that level which the old centers of capitalism have attained. Having themselves arrived in a blind alley, the more civilized nations block the road to those finding themselves in a process of civilizing themselves.18

Despite The Economist’s reformist optimism, all realities of our time cry in chorus that the necessary progressive reforms, even those in principle theoretically possible within capitalism, can only be fulfilled in a revolutionary way. And their fulfillment is only conceivable as a step, a starting point in the process of transition to socialism.

  1. See Readers of the World Read Karl Marx, The Economist, May 3, 2018. In the electronic edition the title is different, “Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx!” Roughly one year ago The Economist had published a similar item on Marx, expressing its “scorn” regarding John McDonnell’s praise of him but also admitting that Marx “becomes more relevant by the day”. The Economist, 11/5/2017.
  2. P. Boiteau, “Mort le Karl Marx”, Journal des débats, 25/3/1883.
  3. See K. Marx – F. Engels. Collected Works, Progress Publishers, vol. 41, p. 388-391.
  4. R. Pennington, “Bruno Bauer: Young Hegelian”. That article had appeared first at Instauration, an ultra-right periodical, in 1976. Of course, Pennington goes on to invent an antithesis between Marx and Engels, by presenting the latter as an anti-Semite. This is a lie, Engels had written an article against anti-Semitism, exposing it as an ultra-reactionary current: “anti-Semitism”, he said, “serves… reactionary ends under a purportedly socialist cloak; it is a degenerate form of feudal socialism and we can have nothing to do with that” (F. Engels, “On anti-Semitism”.

    The myth of Marx’s “anti-Semitism” is ably refuted by R. Fine in “Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism”.  Unfortunately Fine, in his otherwise excellent article, attributes wrongly the above quoted phrase of Engels to Marx.

  5. K. Marx, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, in K. Marx – F. Engels, Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 479-480.
  6. K. Marx, Theories of Surplus value, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975, vol. 3, p. 63.
  7. See “World wealth increases, inequality rises“, Kathimerini, 15/11/2017.
  8. In a well-known passage in Capital, in the part on labor power, Marx emphasizes this point; see K. Marx, Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 168.
  9. K. Marx, ibid, p. 579.
  10. K. Marx, Dispatches for the New York Tribune. Selected Journalism of Karl Marx, Penguin Books, London 2007, p. 111-113.
  11. Dhananjay Mahapatra, “Over 12,000 farmer suicides per year, Centre tells Supreme Court”.
  12. K. Marx, ibid, p. 21.
  13. See “Economy of Africa”.
  14. See “EU president Juncker defends Karl Marx’s legacy”. Regarding predictions of a new crisis by EU and IMF officials see  “Juncker’s article on Europe in ‘Ta Nea”, C. Lagarde. “A new crisis is possible”,  and Lagarde. “The Eurozone must be ready for the next crisis”, .
  15. This, let us remark by the way, means that it will be necessary to overcome great difficulties in turning social protest to the left, which implies, among other things, a confrontation with neo-Stalinist, nationalist and other pseudo-socialist currents and the unification of the nowadays scattered revolutionary and oppositionist groups that do not share the above errors. But this requires time so that the ruling classes’ tendency to avoid any progressive reform, partly explained by their usual fear of opening up the appetite of the movement and triggering revolutionary developments, is not right presently.
  16. Κarl Marx. “Revolution in China and in Europe”, New York Daily Tribune, June 14th, 1853.
  17. Α. Arnellos, A Game of Chess, Tipothito Editions, Athens 2002, p. 77.
  18. L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, Allagi Editions, Athens 1988, p. 15.

The Economist on Marx’s 200 years

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx has prompted The Economist to devote an article on Marx in its issue of May 5, 2018. Characteristically titled, “Reconsidering Marx. Second time farce. Two hundred years after his birth, Marx remains surprisingly relevant”!1 The article combines recognition that Marx was a genius with reactionary slandering that he was, after all, an evil genius and without him the world would certainly had been much better.

Naturally, one could not expect something different. Since the time Marx’s ideas gained recognition in the labor movement, the main concern of the apologists of capital has been to “refute” them as false, dogmatic and dangerous. Nor do, of course, The Economist’s journalists offer something new; they simply repeat the usual simplistic distortions and misunderstandings their predecessors have offered innumerable times in the past. However, their argument is nevertheless of a certain interest. On the one hand, the part of it in which they vilify Marx displays the rancor and hatred of the apologists of the ruling classes, who being unable to counter the great thinker, embrace all kinds of nonsense they come across to slander and debase him. On the other hand, when discussing Marx’s predictions, they openly confess their reactionary bourgeois fears regarding capitalism’s present deadlock and his vindication, at least in some important points. It is worthwhile, therefore, to take a look at both aspects; all the more because The Economist is not a minor journal but the semi-official voice of the markets and of the views of the liberal (and in our times neo-liberal) wing of the bourgeoisie.

Marx’s “failures”

“A good subtitle for a biography of Karl Marx”, The Economist’s gentlemen begin, “would be ‘a study in failure’… His ideas”, they continue, “were as much religious as scientific – you might even call them religion repackaged for a secular age. He was a late date prophet describing the march of God on Earth. The fall from grace is embodied in capitalism; man is redeemed as the proletariat rises up against its exploiters and creates a communist utopia” (p. 71, same in the following quotations).

The proofs are all very weighty:

Marx claimed that the point of philosophy was not to understand the world but to improve it. Yet his philosophy changed it largely for the worst: the 40% of humanity who lived under Marxist regimes for much of the 20th century endured famines, gulags and party dictatorships. Marx thought his new dialectical science would allow him to predict the future as well as understand the present. Yet he failed to anticipate two of the biggest developments of the 20th century –the rise of fascism and the welfare state– and wrongly believed communism would take root in the most advanced economies.

Whence, then, Marx’s influence, that makes even The Economist’s gentlemen confess that “for all his oversights, Marx remains a monumental figure” and that “interest in him is as lively as ever”? How do they explain the steadily increasing mass of publications, discussions and events about his work? How is it that in his 200 years even Jean-Claude Juncker, the in no way Marxist president of the EU, finds it necessary to visit Marx’s birthplace, Trier, and make a speech about the importance of his work? “Why”, as they themselves snobbishly ask, “does the world remain fixated on the ideas of a man who helped produce so much suffering?”

The answer, according to The Economist’s luminaries, will be found in the combination of genius with malice, which were Marx’s chief traits. His influence is due to the “sheer power of these ideas” and “the power of his personality”.

Marx was in many ways an awful human being. He spent his life sponging off Friedrich Engels. He was such an inveterate racist, including about his own group, the Jews, that even in the 1910s, when tolerance for such prejudices was higher, the editors of his letters felt obligated to censor them… Michael Bakunin described him as ‘ambitious and vain, quarrelsome, intolerant and absolute… vengeful at the point of madness’… But combine egomania with genius and you have a formidable power. He believed absolutely he was right; that he had discovered a key in history that had eluded earlier philosophers. He insisted on promoting his beliefs whatever obstacles fate (or the authorities) put in his way. His notion of happiness was ‘to fight.

The only conclusion to be drawn from all that is that if The Economist’s columnists lag far behind Marx with regard to genius, they certainly outweigh him vastly in egomania. In their attempt to prove their superiority –and the superiority of their beloved capitalism– to Marx’s predictions, they inevitably prove their inferiority, their inability to understand even Marx’s most basic positions, necessarily ending up to combine traces of truth with tons of falsehood and lies. Let us briefly bring out some points for their benefit.

First of all, there is nothing new in portraying Marx as a “religious” thinker and a “metaphysician”. This, in fact, was a beloved theme of all reactionaries of his time, who being unable to counter his theories and discoveries, resorted to such abuse and slander. For these of priests of capital and the “free markets”, of course, the “natural” was identical with capitalism, while everything going beyond it was anathematized as “religious” etc.

To limit ourselves to just one example, immediately after Marx’s death, Paul Boiteau, an official French economist, wrote in the conservative Journal des débats:

Karl Marx, who has just died, was in his lifetime one of the most listened prophets and theologians of the religion of social wrongs. He has had no difficulty in passing to the rank of its gods, and he will no doubt share in their fate, which is to disappear rather quickly into the void where socialism successively buried its divinities. But, for the moment, his memory receives the censers to which he was entitled, and, in both worlds, the meetings of the initiates declare that the Gospel of Marx must henceforth be the text par excellence of the preachings of international socialism.2

It would seem that The Economist’s folks have not advanced very far from Boiteau’s views. And, judging from the fact that everyone still knows Karl Marx while almost no one remembers Boiteau, it seems unlikely that they will get a better place in the hall of fame than he did.

Secondly, Marx never portrayed capitalism as a “fall from grace”, a hell that took the place of a previous earthly paradise, and the proletariat as the Messiah of our time. This was, in fact, the position of some Utopian communists of his time, whose primitivism he criticized. On the contrary, Marx acknowledged and stressed, at least after having laid the foundations of his theory, that capitalism represents a great advance in relation to feudalism, and that it substantially expanded the technological basis and horizons of human society. At the same time, however, he argued that by rapidly developing productive forces and socializing production, capitalism undermines its very foundation, makes unnecessary and anachronistic the exploitative relations on which it rests, and creates for the first time the possibility of a non-exploitative organization of the economy, based on the common ownership the means of production. The Economist’s journalists, lacking the courage to address the second point, blur and obscure the first, attributing to Marx things that are not part of his theory.

Thirdly, there is nothing in Marx’s works that contains even a trace of anti-Semitism or racism. Anti-Semites included, among others, Bakunin, whose slanderous criticism of Marx The Economist approvingly quotes, and Bruno Bauer, both of them Marx’s opponents. Bauer argued in particular that Jews would be unable to free themselves as long as they did not discard their religion and that until then they should be deprived of their political rights. Marx, answering him in his brochure on the Jewish question, which is frequently falsely presented by reactionaries as “anti-Semitic”, had rejected any idea of political, religious or other discrimination against the Jews. He countered that the partial liberation of the Jews was possible through their participation in the political struggles of the time, without presupposing any renunciation of their religion, and that their total liberation would take place when society was liberated from all kinds of slavery.

Marx’s perhaps only “anti-Jewish” comment appears in a letter he wrote to Engels, to which The Economist’s folks apparently allude, where he contemptuously labeled Lassalle a “Jewish nigger”.3 However, this letter was written under very special circumstances when Lassalle had stayed for some days at Marx’s home in London during 1862. Lassalle, as Marx mentions, besides his refusal to lend him an amount of money, had proposed him, as a means of getting rid of his financial problems, to hand over one of his daughters as a companion to a bourgeois family, and had unsettled his calmness and work. These things had enraged Marx and he wrote an aggressive letter to Engels, with all sorts of strong comments, which cannot be seen as an expression of his positions on racism or on any other matter. In order to seriously criticize Marx as a “racist”, one would have to point out some explicit or indirect support for racism in his works, which is impossible to do for him or any other serious Marxist.

Let us note by the way, as an example of how strongly prejudiced The Economist’s journalists, who imagine themselves “enlightened”, are, that even some neo-Nazis quote and comment more honestly Marx’s views on the Jews. In an article about Bruno Bauer posted on the National Vanguard, one of the key neo-Nazi websites in the United States, after speaking of Bauer as one of the forerunners of anti-Semitism, R. Pennington refers to Marx’s criticism of his views as a rejection of anti-Semitism: “Bauer’s anti-Semitism”, she writes, caused Marx a great deal of intellectual grief”; Marx’s critique was intended to “releasing the Jews from any intimidation by society or the state”.4 As an orthodox ultra-right, Pennington prefers, of course, to Bauer, honoring his anti-Semitism and condemning “Marxist obscurantism”, but at least she presents somewhat accurately Marx’s position.

Marx, they tell us further, failed to predict fascism and the welfare state. In the same way, one could say Darwin failed to predict (in 1871!) the discovery of DNA or that The Economist failed to predict, not 50 years, but not even 50 days beforehand, the outbreak of the global economic crisis in 2007. To blame Marx for things it was clearly impossible for him to predict, and for the analogue of which they would never blame, let us say, Darwin or themselves, isn’t that a manifestation of egomania and rancor?

Of course, Marx did not explicitly predict the above developments, but he identified the trends that made them possible. In many of his writings on the revolutions of 1848, in his criticisms of vulgar bourgeois political economy and in his analyses of the Commune, he showed and documented the bourgeoisie’s turn towards reaction, one of the ultimate consequences of which was fascism. In his The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he also referred to the development of reactionary petty bourgeois movements; i.e., peasants’ movements “who, in stupefied seclusion… want to see themselves and their small holdings saved”,5 thereby turning against the proletariat; a trend whose exacerbation in the imperialist era contributed decisively in the development of fascism. On the other hand, in his analysis of Malthus’s views in Theories of Surplus Value, Marx extensively referred to the bourgeoisie’s attempts to increase the intermediate strata between itself and the proletariat as a safety valve for its regime, considering that “this is the course taken by bourgeois society”.6 So here, too, he revealed the socio-economic basis of the developments that led to the so-called “welfare state”; i.e., the strengthening of the intermediate strata, which is possible within capitalism, as long as it does not radically contradict the falling tendency of the rate of profit.

Let’s turn now to The Economist’s main claim that Marx’s bad influence helped produce most of the 20th century’s misery, which could otherwise have been avoided. Putting the issue in this way is, of course, foolish; the true question to be asked and answered is: which tendencies in the 20th century have had positive results, those emerging from capitalism and contributing to its perpetuation, or the revolutionary tendencies that, finding their foundation in Marx, were promoting the overthrow of the capitalist system?

Capitalism was exclusively responsible for the first great war of the 20th century, the world imperialist war of 1914-18, with its more than ten million victims. Imperialist intervention was largely responsible for millions of victims in the initially almost bloodless Russian Revolution of 1917. The great crisis of 1929 and fascism were both children of capitalism, as was the case with World War II, an effort of the most reactionary wing of capital to eliminate the achievements of the Russian Revolution. It is true that the course of the USSR was marked, especially in Stalin’s years, by the negative phenomena The Economist points out; i.e., the 1932-33 famine, gulags, massive cleansing, terror and oppression, as was also the case in China during the Great Leap Forward. However, these phenomena have been explained by Marxists as a degeneration process, the result of the backwardness of the countries where the revolution first took place and of the rise of Stalinist bureaucracy, which did not promote but betrayed world revolution both in the USSR –its first victims there being the leaders of October– and abroad. In addition, they were not the only ones and did not characterize the whole experience of the USSR. During the 1920s and early ’30s there took place in the USSR a vast cultural revolution, whose achievements were undermined by Stalinism but nevertheless partly survived and developed in the later phases of the regime. The Soviet people took up the main burden of the anti-fascist struggle, which objectively was a continuation of October’s progressive legacy, while after 1956 the most odious aspects of Stalinist oppression were put aside.

The imperialist plunder of the Third World, interventions, establishment of dictatorships and the condemnation of entire peoples in starvation, continued on the contrary throughout the 20th century, before and after World War II. The concessions of the ruling classes in the capitalist centers after 1945 were prompted chiefly by their fear of the post-war ascend of communism and anti-fascist movements. Where it not for the USSR, who would have stopped Nazism and force these concessions to the ruling classes? Moreover, while the existence of the USSR checked the aggression of imperialism, after its dissolution its real tendencies have again been manifested openly and unimpeded, producing their true devastating effects. It took just 15 years to take world-wide inequality to unprecedented heights, start many local wars, exacerbate the great powers’ competition to a point threatening a hot conflict, trigger the global economic crisis of 2007, and revive fascism and far-right nationalism worldwide. Even the few positive elements of the latest period, such as the great capitalist development of China, are closely linked to the positive heritage of the 20th century’s revolutions. In China, the fact that a great popular revolution lasting two decades eroded feudalism and imperialist dependence, allowed capitalism to develop without internal and external obstacles and benefit a comparatively significant part of the population; in India, on the contrary, where there was no revolution, but only a bourgeois renovation from above, the growth of the last decades was much weaker and a much larger part of the population is stuck in extreme poverty. Capitalism prevailed in its competition with the USSR due to its higher level of development of the productive forces and the devastating effects of Stalinism, but experience shows that this did not allow capitalism to overcome its contradictions.

The Economist’s journalists make every effort to reject not only Marx himself, but the whole Communist movement and its eminent theorists after his death:

After Marx’s death in 1883 his followers –particularly Engels– worked hard to turn his theories into a closed system. The pursuit of purity involved vicious factional fights as the ‘real’ Marxists drove out renegades, revisionists and heretics. It eventually led to the monstrosity of Marxism-Leninism with its pretentions of infallibility (‘scientific socialism’), its delight in obfuscation (‘dialectical materialism’) and its cult of personality (those giant statues of Marx and Lenin).

Here again, the negative experiences of Stalinism, dogmatism and the necrosis of Marxism, are exploited to discard as nonsense the whole development of Marxism after Marx. However, Marxism in that period had important representatives such as Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Mehring and, after Lenin’s death, Trotsky, Bukharin, Gramsci and Lukacs, who cannot be put aside so easily. These Marxists analyzed developments after Marx’s death, guided the October Revolution and developed Marxism further. That this development involved a clearing of Marxism from alien influences was not something special to Engels or Lenin: Marx had also fought fiercely against the pseudo-socialists of his time, such as Proudhon and the “true socialists”, and Marxists after Lenin, especially Trotsky and Lukacs, explained Stalinist dogmatism as an alien influence and distortion of Marxism.

Paradoxically, and while one would expect that after all these tirades, everything about Marx has been dismissed, The Economist’s gentlemen conclude their reference to his “failures” with a reservation that would seem to distinguish something fertile in his thought. But as it immediately becomes clear, they consider “fertile” only what they themselves want to read or think they can find in Marx.

The collapse of this petrified orthodoxy has revealed that Marx was a much more interesting man than his interpreters have implied. His grand certainties were a response to grand doubts. His sweeping theories were the results of endless reversals. Toward the end of his life he questioned many of his central convictions. He worried that he might have been wrong about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He puzzled over the fact that, far from immiserating the poor, Victorian England was providing them with growing prosperity. (ibid, p. 71-72).

Here The Economist’s gentlemen remarkably agree with the representatives of the so-called “New reading of Marx”, that is, representatives of professorial academic wisdom who falsify Marx, such as Michael Heinrich. Marx, of course, rethought and improved his assumptions constantly, but contrary to the claims of these scholars, there is no evidence that he had revised his analysis of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, or that Engels distorted his positions. Moreover, the entire evolution of capitalism in the 20th century has confirmed this fundamental to its historical fortunes law discovered by Marx. The main transformations and models of capitalism, Fordism, Keynesianism, neoliberalism, were, in fact, just ways of reacting to the downward rate of profit, and the fact that the bourgeoisie is forced to replace them after profitability crises proves that they can counteract it only temporarily and that their potential is always exhausted.

Engels was perhaps not as deep as Marx, and he occasionally made some mistakes. But to dismiss Engels for Heinrich’s sake means to read Marx in a systemic way, to make Engels’s mistakes an alibi in order to accept a total mistake. Marx’s concerns at the end of his life had to do with a better conceptualization of the complexity of capitalism’s tendencies, and hence of the revolutionary process, not with their general direction.

Marx’s successes and further “failures”

This brings us to Marx’s successes, some of which are so obvious, that even The Economist’s columnists cannot but recognize them, although still charging him with some other failures.

“The chief reason for the continuing interest in Marx, however”, we read further, “is that his ideas are more relevant than they have been for decades. The post-war consensus that shifted power from capital to labour and produced a ‘great compression’ in living standards is fading. Globalisation and the rise of a virtual economy are producing a version of capitalism that once more seems to be out of control. The backwards flow of power from labour to capital is finally beginning to produce a popular –and often populist– reaction. No wonder the most successful economics book of recent years, Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, echoes the title of Marx’s most important work and his preoccupation with inequality” (p. 72, same in the following).

So, if inequality has once again become a central issue, to the extent that 1% of the world’s population owns over 50% of the world’s wealth, and 3.7 billion of the poorest account for just 2.7%7, how can “dogmatic” and “fanatical” Marx be confirmed after so many “reforms” and “advances” made by the ruling classes? Let’s see what The Economist’s gentlemen have to say about this as things become more interesting now.

Marx argued that capitalism is in essence a system of rent-seeking: rather than creating wealth from nothing, as they like to imagine, capitalists are in the business of expropriating the wealth of others. Marx was wrong about capitalism in the raw: great entrepreneurs do amass fortunes by dreaming up new products or new ways of organising production. But he had a point about capitalism in its bureaucratic form. A depressing number of today’s bosses are corporate bureaucrats rather than wealth-creators, who use convenient formulae to make sure their salaries go ever upwards. They work hand in glove with a growing crowd of other rent-seekers, such as management consultants… professional board members… and retired politicians…

By reading such passages, one gets convinced that The Economist’s “liberals” will never understand even Marx’s simplest positions, not due to lack of knowledge, but because they do not want to understand them, since this goes contrary to their class interests. Marx never defined capitalism as a rent-seeking system. This was also a feature of feudalism which knew various kinds of rent. The distinctive feature of capitalism, according to Marx, is expansion, the development of production for production’s sake, the accumulation of capital. And what capitalists accumulate is surplus value, the unpaid labor of the workers, which they usurp. Ideas could never create stocks and capitals; and it is absurd to base economic analysis on the difference between the good ideas of capitalists and the bad ideas of managers, etc. Moreover, if it was just a matter of good or bad ideas, one could perhaps solve many problems and save capitalism by imposing a negative rent for some obviously bad ideas of the capitalists and their ilk, such as weapons of mass destruction. The Economist’s gentlemen, distorting Marx in that way, shift the problem from the structure of capitalism to the behavior of the one or other of its agents, bureaucrats, managers, and so on. Yet, while rent is, of course, important –and Lenin, Hobson and others showed how rentiers multiply in the imperialist era with capitalism’s increasing parasitism– according to Marx, it is production and not distribution that defines the essence of capitalism, as of every other economic system.

However, just after that we find two better passages. One is about globalization, which, it is acknowledged, Marx had already foreseen:

Capitalism, Marx maintained, is by its nature a global system: ‘It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’. That is as true today as it was in the Victorian era. The two most striking developments of the past 30 years are the progressive dismantling of barriers to the free movement of the factors of production—goods, capital and to some extent people—and the rise of the emerging world. Global firms plant their flags wherever it is most convenient… The World Economic Forum’s annual jamboree in Davos, Switzerland, might well be retitled ‘Marx was right’.

So Marx did predict something correctly after all. And it seems that he did not only predict this, but also something else too, the tendency of capitalism to create monopolies and, along with the accumulation of wealth on the one side, to produce an army of unemployed and occasionally employed in the other:

“He thought”, we read further, “capitalism had a tendency towards monopoly, as successful capitalists drive their weaker rivals out of business in a prelude to extracting monopoly rents. Again this seems to be a reasonable description of the commercial world that is being shaped by globalisation and the internet. The world’s biggest companies are not only getting bigger in absolute terms but are also turning huge numbers of smaller companies into mere appendages. New-economy behemoths are exercising a market dominance not seen since America’s robber barons. Facebook and Google suck up two-thirds of America’s online ad revenues. Amazon controls more than 40% of the country’s booming online-shopping market. In some countries Google processes over 90% of web searches. Not only is the medium the message but the platform is also the market.

In Marx’s view capitalism yielded an army of casual labourers who existed from one job to the other. During the long post-war boom this seemed like a nonsense. Far from having nothing to lose but their chains, the workers of the world—at least the rich world—had secure jobs, houses in the suburbs and a cornucopia of possessions… Yet once again Marx’s argument is gaining urgency. The gig economy is assembling a reserve force of atomised labourers who wait to be summoned, via electronic foremen, to deliver people’s food, clean their houses or act as their chauffeurs. In Britain house prices are so high that people under 45 have little hope of buying them. Most American workers say they have just a few hundred dollars in the bank. Marx’s proletariat is being reborn as the precariat.

The analysis perhaps is not flawless, but we may assume without much danger of error that had Marx read it, he would have rated The Economist’s analysts at least with a 5 (full marks being 10). Unfortunately, is not so with the immediately following argument, for which he would definitely make them repeat the same class:

Still, the rehabilitation ought not to go too far. Marx’s errors far outnumbered his insights. His insistence that capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level is absurd. The genius of capitalism is that it relentlessly reduces the price of regular consumer items: today’s workers have easy access to goods once considered the luxuries of monarchs… Marx’s vision of a post-capitalist future is both banal and dangerous: banal because it presents a picture of people essentially loafing about (hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, raising cattle in the evening and criticising after dinner); dangerous because it provides a licence for the self-anointed vanguard to impose its vision on the masses.

It is tragic indeed to encounter such expositions of Marx’s views.

First of all, Marx never claimed that “capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level”. This was, in fact, Lassalle’s position, expressed in his famous “Iron Law of Wages”, which states precisely this thing. Marx criticized Lassalle’s law, showing that the workers, with their organization and struggles, could improve their position, and that there is a difference, historically defined in each country, between the wage corresponding to subsistence level and the real average wage.8

Secondly, it is funny to imply that a thinker of Marx’s level had not noticed and pointed out the ability of capitalism to limit the prices of consumer goods through technological progress, productivity gains, etc. In fact, Marx was the first economist to recognize and explain this possibility, as well as the historical movement of wages at the various stages of capitalism, with his distinction between absolute and relative surplus value. Let us explain this distinction, for the benefit of The Economist’s columnists.

Absolute surplus value, according to Marx, is the type of capitalist accumulation that dominated the early stages of capitalism, in the so-called period of primitive accumulation of capital. During that period, accumulation was promoted by increasing the working day – for example, the worker was forced to work 12 instead of 10 hours daily, his salary remaining the same. This means an increase in exploitation: if, for example, in the initial 10 hours, 6 hours correspond to the reproduction of the labor force and 4 hours to unpaid labor (i.e., production of surplus value), the final 12 will include 6 unpaid hours. Absolute surplus value goes hand in hand with absolute impoverishment, as pay per hour of work decreases. The brutal expropriation of the rural population and its relocation to the cities under wretched conditions, the deadly work of children and women, etc., were some of the misfortunes of this phase, described in novels by Dickens, Gorky and others.

However, when the development of capitalism, and hence its technological base, reaches a relatively high point –what Marx calls “the real subordination of labor to capital”– absolute surplus value is replaced by relative surplus value. The distinctive feature of the latter is that accumulation is now promoted not by the increase of the working day but by the limitation of the part of the working day devoted to the replacement of the worker’s labor power. In the previous example, if the time for the reproduction of labor power (the necessary labor) is reduced to 2 hours from 6, then even with a reduction of the working day from 10 to 8 hours, the worker will produce more surplus value than before, offering 6 hours of surplus labor instead of 4. Relative surplus value corresponds to relative impoverishment because the salary per hour of work increases. In addition, it is a constituent part of Marx’s analysis that the price of labor power in the latter case will correspond to a larger number of goods, since by the development of specialization, etc., the needs of the worker also grow. Of course, the great limitation of necessary labor is made possible because, due to technological progress, an hour of work in developed capitalism produces a much larger mass of commodities than what it produced in its earlier stages. The total value of these goods remains roughly the same, but the value per unit is drastically reduced.

In Marx’s time relative surplus value had progressed only in Britain, yet this did not prevent him from recognizing it as the main form for developed capitalism and assess its impact on the workers’ living standard. In an excerpt in Capital he sums it up quite clearly:

Under the conditions of accumulation… which conditions are those most favorable to the laborers, their relation of dependence upon capital takes on a form endurable or, as Eden says: ‘easy and liberal’. Instead of becoming more intensive with the growth of capital, this relation of dependence only becomes more extensive, i.e., the sphere of capital’s exploitation and rule merely extends with its own dimensions and the number of its subjects. A larger part of their own surplus-product, always increasing and continually transformed into additional capital, comes back to them in the shape of means of payment, so that they can extend the circle of their enjoyments; can make some additions to their consumption-fund of clothes, furniture, etc., and can lay by small reserve-funds of money.9

Of course, as Marx explains at various points, this improvement has certain limits defined by the needs of capitalist accumulation, and tends to take place in periods of economic growth, while in recessions wages are being pressed. But this is a far cry from presenting him as an advocate of the view that no improvement in the lot of the workers is possible under capitalism.

Marx’s position that in the post-capitalist society people will be able to hunt in the morning and go fishing in the evening was a poetic image of the many sided, cultivated man who will replace the disintegrated, individualistic human existence to which capitalism gives rise. Marx insisted that labor itself will always be “the realm of necessity”, but shorter working hours when everyone will work will give all members of society enough free time for a variety of other activities. It was Marx’s deep conviction that in the future society even The Economist’s journalists will find some better things to do than to exhort capitalism and abuse Marx.

For the time being, of course, no such thing is in sight, so they continue listing some more of Marx’s “failures”. “The World Bank”, we are told, “calculates that the number of people in ‘extreme poverty’ has declined from 1.85bn in 1970 to 767m in 2013, a figure that puts the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers in perspective”. Marx, evidently, failed to anticipate that momentous progress too…

Here again it is a case of progresses existing in the apologists’ heads rather than in reality. Extreme poverty is defined at making less than 1.90$ per day, so that it would hardly look like a great advance to half the number of those caught in it. Moreover, the very definition of extreme poverty by the World Bank is under severe criticism, while if one puts aside China, the picture in the rest of the world is hardly encouraging.

In fact The Economist’s gentlemen are very close to repeating arguments regarding general welfare, which their predecessors advanced in Marx’s time. “Delightful is it thus to see”, one of them went, “under Free Trade, all classes flourishing; their energies are called forth by hope of reward; all improve their productions, and all and each are benefited” (The Economist, 2/1/1853). To which Marx replied by pointing to the numerous cases of starvation in this “generally beneficial” social order10. One has just to look at the thousands of peasants in India who commit suicide due to starvation –according to official estimates, more than 12,000 yearly after 201311 – to see that The Economist’s present attempt to paint a similar worldwide tranquility is not a bit better.

There follows Marx’s worst “mistake”:

Marx’s greatest failure, however, was that he underestimated the power of reform—the ability of people to solve the evident problems of capitalism through rational discussion and compromise. He believed history was a chariot thundering to a predetermined end and that the best that the charioteers can do is hang on. Liberal reformers, including his near contemporary William Gladstone, have repeatedly proved him wrong. They have not only saved capitalism from itself by introducing far-reaching reforms but have done so through the power of persuasion. The ‘superstructure’ has triumphed over the ‘base’, ‘parliamentary cretinism’ over the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

So, what do The Economist’s geniuses tell us? To what does their wisdom end up?

They tell us that Marx was right in verifying those laws and trends of capitalism that bring them and their ilk to the foreground –globalization, monopolization, etc.– but that they, the “superstructure”, the various “think tanks” of capital, with their special astuteness and wisdom, succeeded in changing the action of these laws, making them produce different results than those predicted by Marx. Isn’t that a form of egomania?

We have already seen that Marx recognized the possibilities of reforming capitalism, ultimately based on relative surplus value. He himself refers to them in the Preface to the 1st edition of Capital, pointing out that “present society is not a solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and is constantly changing”.12 Marx, however, showed at the same time the limits of these possibilities. To clarify this last, vital point, let us listen first to The Economist’s gentlemen final confessions:

The great theme of history in the advanced world since Marx’s death has been reform rather than revolution. Enlightened politicians extended the franchise so working-class people had a stake in the political system. They renewed the regulatory system so that great economic concentrations were broken up or regulated. They reformed economic management so economic cycles could be smoothed and panics contained… Today’s great question is whether those achievements can be repeated. The backlash against capitalism is mounting – if more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity. So far liberal reformers are proving sadly inferior to their predecessors in terms of both their grasp of the crisis and their ability to generate solutions. They should use the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth to reacquaint themselves with the great man – not only to understand the serious faults that he brilliantly identified in the system, but to remind themselves of the disaster that awaits if they fail to confront them.

Well, well, truth must be admitted after all! What we see during the last two decades is the decline of the liberal elites, their constant shift to intensified reaction, their failure to find any viable way out of the crisis and the deadlocks of capitalism, their –as The Economist itself aptly puts it– sad inferiority to the circumstances. However, their failure inexorably raises a relentless question that The Economist’s gentlemen fail to raise: Is this a chance, subjective failure or error of the leading circles of capital? Or does its cause lie in something more profound; i.e., that there exists no longer such a reformist way?

Can capitalism reform itself anew?

So, can capitalism reform itself anew, as it has done in the past, or is its present, self-destructive course definitive?

This question emerges from all modern developments and we can give at least some credit to The Economist’s journalists for posing it openly and sharply as a “life and death” question for capitalism. Yet it cannot be posed in a Shakespearean, “to be or not to be” philosophical way, as they pose it. It must be examined in relation to the whole of social experience, the directions of bourgeois governments and organizations, etc. And any such discussion will inexorably force answering it in the negative. A few concrete questions will clarify that.

If there is a real possibility of a new New Deal today, why do we nowhere see a significant portion of the ruling classes expressing and supporting it? In the 1930s there was a Roosevelt, after World War II there were representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie such as De Gaulle and the Kennedy brothers. Where is their current analogue? Why does the “liberal” wing, whose voice The Economist is, can only oppose Trump with a Hillary Clinton; i.e., something just a trifle better? Why do the few progressive representatives of the bourgeoisie like Sanders prove completely incapable of proposing any positive reform program and are forced, confusing others and themselves, to talk about “socialism”?

All these are sure indications that an internal reform of capitalism which would provide a real economic revival is no longer possible. We will understand why it is so by returning to Marx’s analysis of relative surplus value. The development of mature capitalism, as Marx has shown particularly in his Results of the Direct Production Process, consists essentially in generalizing relative surplus value, through its successive expansion to the various branches of economy. This was done in previous stages with the technological intensification of industry, agriculture and the state sector, services, etc. And the reason capitalism could at those stages have some able representatives was that there were still non-intensified sectors of the economy, whose reshaping, as well as the overall reshaping of the system based on this process, required certain abilities.

The distinctive feature of globalization, on the contrary, is that, at least in the developed countries, there is no longer a non-intensified economic sector. The service and public sectors, the last remaining ones, were intensified in the neoliberal era, this being its essential content. Things like “green economy” are aspirins, while the generalized automation futurists like Mason are dreaming of is inconceivable under capitalism as it would decisively hit the rate of profit. The very fact that capital is now forced to resort to absolute surplus value, increasing again the length of the working day in order to support the rate of profit (and thereby reviving again absolute impoverishment!), is a further proof of the exhaustion of its reformist margins. So at capitalist metropolises at least, there remains nothing else, nothing new to be done; there is no new model of accumulation and consequently no possibility of a new cycle. This makes globalization the last phase, the last moment of the imperialist era and capitalism in general, during which the capitalist system will necessarily leave the historical scene.

All this does not imply, of course, a complete impossibility of reforms, but any such possibilities refer to measures, changes, etc., which fulfill possibilities of the current stage, not of a hypothetical, non-existent future stage. Or to put it otherwise: there is no chance of capitalism presenting something radically new, a modern “New Deal”, but only –and this at a theoretical level– of normalizing and prolonging a bit globalization, by softening for some time its worst conflicts.

Two such possibilities are basically at hand. Relative surplus value has already exhausted its potential in the capitalist centers and is now fulfilling it in Asia and Latin America. But there is a continent where it has not yet been expanded; i.e., Africa. Africa’s participation in globalization could provide a growth momentum when China recedes, opening a further round. Of course, in order to bring this about, that participation should be on comparatively equal terms, not like that of Yemen, which picks up globalization’s bombs, but roughly that of China. Secondly, the North-South gap in the European Union suggests a similar, albeit proportionally smaller, possibility of capitalist progress for the European South, but this also presupposes a change in the EU structure towards true convergence.

Historical experience so far proves that the weakened liberal leaders of capitalism cannot implement these changes or even aid them. Obstacles on their way are more than obvious. Africa is already the field of competition between China and the West, and the great powers are not interested in its development, but in enhancing each one’s sphere of influence and plundering at the expense of the rest. In addition, American imperialism’s policies of past decades, interventions around the world, etc., have strengthened the worst, most adventurous forces in its protectorates, the consequence being that change stumbles not only on the directions of imperialism itself, but also on local cliques, “compradorial” segments, etc. Africa’s current growth rate of about 4% reflects these barriers, being extremely low for a continent with a population of 1.3 billion and less than one-third of US GDP.

It would be erroneous to imagine that when China’s momentum fades, capital will flow in Africa and start a new swift rise there. Firstly, China’s potential as capitalism’s steam engine has already been half-halted. Yet Africa’s development has not gained momentum, but has receded during the last years, from 5.5% in 2012 to 2.7 in 2016, and an anemic recovery in 201713 In the second place, China’s huge capitalist progress was made possible by the fact that the revolution had created a viable social order, a skillful and educated working class, etc. Only traces of these will be found in Africa, which is moreover divided in a multitude of small, unsustainable states, with extreme poverty increasing strongly during the last decades. In practice, moving these barriers aside will require at least some Chavez type revolutions in Africa, like those of Latin America during the last two decades. A key condition for a steady development in that continent will be that the leading circles of imperialism support these processes, yet wherever they have happened so far, either in Africa itself in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, or in Latin America recently, imperialism has constantly tried to stifle them.

On the other hand, the European Union, the only intensive global integration process, remains, as Mr. Juncker acknowledged in his recent Marx speech, extremely fragile. “The European Union”, he said, “is not a flawed, but an unstable construction. Unstable also because Europe’s social dimension until today remains the poor relation of the European integration. We have to change this”14 But of what change can one speak of, when, in a construct that its own leaders confess its instability, all the pressures of the crisis are directed to its weakest joints? It is not clear that the next crisis, which even according to them, is probably a short time away, will break it into pieces? And what will the consequences be then? Under the present circumstances, these can only be chaos, a fascist takeover of power in at least some European countries and war conflicts.

Of course, Trump’s election in the United States, the developing commercial wars and the existence of anachronistic regimes, such as Syria, Iran, and so on, belonging to Russian sphere of influence, obstruct economic progress even more at a world level. Add to this the whole parasitic raff of globalization, which in not limited to bureaucrats and politicians as The Economist would have it, but also includes all kinds of market speculators, lobbyists, mafias, etc, who loot world economy –movies like Gavras’s “Le Capital” and Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack” depict their range– and you will see why it is utopian to expect something different from the ruling elites.

One last point that deserves some comment in The Economist’s arguments is their hints that Marx’s revolutionary forecast has been refuted in the capitalist centers. While Marx “believed communism would take hold in the most advanced economies… The only countries where Marx’s ideas took hold were backward autocracies such as Russia and China”. And even today, in period of severe crisis, opposition to capitalism appears “more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity” (p. 71, 72).

These arguments are not new, yet there is a grain of truth in them, which has also been adequately dealt by Marxists. After Marx’s death, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky recognized the bourgeoisie’s ability to create a “working class aristocracy”, by sharing a small part of the booty of colonial exploitation, a fact allowing it to stabilize its hold in the capitalist centers. On the other hand, the obvious reason recent opposition to capitalism has so far been manifested chiefly by the rise of (often far-right) populism is that the crisis hit first the petty bourgeoisie, who tend to seek to restore their previous position at the expense of the working class15 All that, however, belongs to the kind of complications and difficulties with which Marx struggled in the last phase of his life, when he clearly envisaged some of them (e.g., the possibility of a revolution in Russia) and in no way counters his central claims. Doesn’t the fact of “the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers” (p. 72), to which The Economist reluctantly refers, prove indeed that the main stabilizing factor in the capitalist centers belongs to the past?

Let us sum up in a graphic way. Capitalism is a Titanic that, due to the very materials and contradictions ingrained in its frame, is doomed to break up and sink. It is composed, of course, of several levels, each one of them having its own watertight parts which delay for a while flooding from incoming water. In the previous stages or levels, there was a difficult way out of Titanic to the new ship of socialism, but there were also higher levels to which one could move when the previous ones were flooded. The peculiarity of the current level is that there no more exists a level above. There is only a possibility of delaying the flooding of the current level either by increasing its space (a relatively equal participation of Africa in globalization) or by absorbing some of the pressures on the walls by channeling them to their strongest points (allocating part of the burdens of the EU crisis to Germany, France, etc.). We do not see any of these possibilities being realized today; on the contrary, the policies pursued are in the exactly opposite direction.

We have already explained why this is so and why a realization of the progressive possibilities of the current stage by the ruling classes is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. Moreover, if they were to be implemented, this should have been prepared during the past decades; e.g., by instituting a United Nations program to combat poverty in Africa and elsewhere, such as that proposed in the 1960s by the Kennedy brothers (who were murdered incidentally by their own class), rather than conducting military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. If, however, The Economist’s gentlemen are of another opinion and consider such a program possible, nothing prevents them from becoming its preachers, even if a little late.

In conclusion

Marx in his time never held The Economist in any high esteem. He called it, the “optimist conjurer of all things menacing the tranquil minds of the mercantile community”.16

The Economist’s article on Marx’s 200 years confirms his judgment. It is a mirror of the illusions of the condemned classes concerning their “eternity” and of their gaudy front, from which “superstitions and prejudices emerge like frogs”.17 How could Marx be a great thinker and a racist egomaniac at the same time? If he was a racist, why has he been an anathema for all reactionaries? Questions like these The Economist’s gentlemen are unable even to pose; prejudice blocks them from surfacing in their minds. And in this way, they unwittingly offer the best proof that Marx was right both in his opinion about The Economist, which has not advanced far since then, and in his overall predictions about capitalism’s fate.

However, The Economist’s journalists are wrong when they say that the practical implication of these predictions is to “hang on the chariot of history”. Such passivity was alien to Marx; on the contrary, he stressed that history presents active possibilities, the content of which, according to his famous statement, lies in “shortening the birth pangs”. It is on the contrary the “free market” apologists who hang on it and never prepare anything.

From this point of view; e.g., a capitalist development in Africa similar to that of China cannot be indifferent to Marxists as it would limit the sufferings of the next capitalist crisis and help realize the transition to socialism under better conditions. But herein lies the problem, that all such possibilities are hampered by the bourgeoisie itself, by the oligarchies of the developed countries. As Trotsky points out:

In the conditions of capitalist decline, backward countries are unable to attain that level which the old centers of capitalism have attained. Having themselves arrived in a blind alley, the more civilized nations block the road to those finding themselves in a process of civilizing themselves.18

Despite The Economist’s reformist optimism, all realities of our time cry in chorus that the necessary progressive reforms, even those in principle theoretically possible within capitalism, can only be fulfilled in a revolutionary way. And their fulfillment is only conceivable as a step, a starting point in the process of transition to socialism.

  1. See Readers of the World Read Karl Marx, The Economist, May 3, 2018. In the electronic edition the title is different, “Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx!” Roughly one year ago The Economist had published a similar item on Marx, expressing its “scorn” regarding John McDonnell’s praise of him but also admitting that Marx “becomes more relevant by the day”. The Economist, 11/5/2017.
  2. P. Boiteau, “Mort le Karl Marx”, Journal des débats, 25/3/1883.
  3. See K. Marx – F. Engels. Collected Works, Progress Publishers, vol. 41, p. 388-391.
  4. R. Pennington, “Bruno Bauer: Young Hegelian”. That article had appeared first at Instauration, an ultra-right periodical, in 1976. Of course, Pennington goes on to invent an antithesis between Marx and Engels, by presenting the latter as an anti-Semite. This is a lie, Engels had written an article against anti-Semitism, exposing it as an ultra-reactionary current: “anti-Semitism”, he said, “serves… reactionary ends under a purportedly socialist cloak; it is a degenerate form of feudal socialism and we can have nothing to do with that” (F. Engels, “On anti-Semitism”.

    The myth of Marx’s “anti-Semitism” is ably refuted by R. Fine in “Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism”.  Unfortunately Fine, in his otherwise excellent article, attributes wrongly the above quoted phrase of Engels to Marx.

  5. K. Marx, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, in K. Marx – F. Engels, Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 479-480.
  6. K. Marx, Theories of Surplus value, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975, vol. 3, p. 63.
  7. See “World wealth increases, inequality rises“, Kathimerini, 15/11/2017.
  8. In a well-known passage in Capital, in the part on labor power, Marx emphasizes this point; see K. Marx, Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 168.
  9. K. Marx, ibid, p. 579.
  10. K. Marx, Dispatches for the New York Tribune. Selected Journalism of Karl Marx, Penguin Books, London 2007, p. 111-113.
  11. Dhananjay Mahapatra, “Over 12,000 farmer suicides per year, Centre tells Supreme Court”.
  12. K. Marx, ibid, p. 21.
  13. See “Economy of Africa”.
  14. See “EU president Juncker defends Karl Marx’s legacy”. Regarding predictions of a new crisis by EU and IMF officials see  “Juncker’s article on Europe in ‘Ta Nea”, C. Lagarde. “A new crisis is possible”,  and Lagarde. “The Eurozone must be ready for the next crisis”, .
  15. This, let us remark by the way, means that it will be necessary to overcome great difficulties in turning social protest to the left, which implies, among other things, a confrontation with neo-Stalinist, nationalist and other pseudo-socialist currents and the unification of the nowadays scattered revolutionary and oppositionist groups that do not share the above errors. But this requires time so that the ruling classes’ tendency to avoid any progressive reform, partly explained by their usual fear of opening up the appetite of the movement and triggering revolutionary developments, is not right presently.
  16. Κarl Marx. “Revolution in China and in Europe”, New York Daily Tribune, June 14th, 1853.
  17. Α. Arnellos, A Game of Chess, Tipothito Editions, Athens 2002, p. 77.
  18. L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, Allagi Editions, Athens 1988, p. 15.

Notes on Some Classical Thinking

Notice the “notes” in the title. Part 3 is no textbook. Part 3 is a miniscule “Cliff Notes.” Notice, too, that the title reads “classical” thinking, not “early” thinking. There’s a difference. Since I regard human transactions as the bedrock of any economy and economic system, were I to choose the latter over the former qualifier I would have a lot of ground to cover, namely, that of early humans and their thinking as deduced from artifacts. An impossible task for me.

It’s not at all impossible for me, however, to skim the thinking of three classicists, Aristotle (384-322 BC), Adam Smith (1723-1790) and Karl Marx (1813-1883). Of the three, Marx came the closest to being a quasi-economist. He wrote about his vision of socialism 19 years before he wrote his Das Kapital, yet he began his career as a radical journalist that got him expelled by the governments of three countries. The same experience might have befallen me had I not kept my mouth mostly shut during my career.

Aristotle’s Thinking

Aristotle (384-322 BC) may just be the premium thinker of all time. And he thought a lot about the economies of his era. It behooves me, therefore, to “consult” with him through his writings and their interpretations since great minds (his, certainly not mine) live on.

In his day the Greek word for economy meant “household management” within the context of the community. Today in the USA economy means banksters and Wall Street.

Economic activity in his view consisted of individuals doing things necessary for survival and for the good life, which to him meant a moral life of virtue that leads to happiness. He criticized money-making as a way of gaining wealth, thought it was unnatural for people to use money to make more money — the essence of capitalism-and considered usury, or predatory lending, to be the most immoral form of economic activity. Seeking wealth is justifiable, Aristotle thought, only if it amounted to no more than an accumulation of material goods sufficient for the household.

While there were banks in his day, there is a running debate by scholars over whether or the extent to which lending was done productively, that is, with the intent of making money from the loans. I can’t imagine, though, any banking business done then as criminally as it is done today.

It’s interesting to note that a totally free market was not the custom in ancient Greece. For instance, public officials monitored measurements, levied taxes on various transactions, and even fixed retail prices! Ancient Greece survived without a free market, America’s corpocracy couldn’t survive with it! Ancient Greece had a fair market. America has an unfair market.

I feel a special bonding with Aristotle. Why? To him human action was the fulcrum of an economy. That is precisely my thinking! Please recall that in Part 1 I wrote this: “Economics, any economy, and any economic system such as capitalism are not what orthodox thinkers in general and economists particularly think they are. They are first and foremost human inventions and human actions—.”1 And, if I may be so smug, I thought of it before doing some additional reading on Aristotle where I read that: “Aristotle then goes on to derive a number of economic ideas from axiomatic concepts including the necessity of human action (emphasis mine).2  And, if I may be so smug one more time, my pal Aristotle and I are unorthodox thinkers (actually, throughout my career I was regarded as an “iconoclastic” organizational psychologist)!

Adam Smith’s Thinking

Dialogue from the Netherworld

Democracy requires unfettered capitalism.
— Milton Friedman (1912-2006)

No, it’s your corpocracy that requires it.
— Adam Smith (1723–1790)

I begin this by imagining a dialogue “overheard” from somewhere between the putative father of capitalism, Adam Smith, and the Nobel laureate in economics and guru of free-market capitalism, Milton Friedman. The views of the two gentlemen have little in common, and I can imagine a lively debate.

Adam Smith’s espousal of a free market has been far overblown. He made only a passing reference to “the invisible hand” in his Wealth of Nations and never once in it used the term “capitalism.”3 He would have recoiled at today’s corpocracy and its capitalism, for he thought the emerging corporations of his time posed threats emanating from their unlimited life span; unlimited size; unlimited power; and unlimited license. Look familiar, don’t they? He foresaw corpocratic capitalism. I foreswore it.4

But Smith and I part company when it comes to his view of the human nature underlying capitalism.  It is, in my opinion, an immoral view even though, ironically, he is known as a moral philosopher.

Read this passage of his and see if you agree with me:

[M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, . . . It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.5

Since self-love and selfish behavior are at odds with what I know to be the universal moral values found (usually more in words than deeds) throughout time and place, I am leaving Smith quickly to move to the next classical thinker.6

Karl Marx

I have never been, or will I ever be a communist or a socialist because of their downsides, such as centralized or state planning and the diminution of individualism. But I feel a special affinity to Karl Marx and would place him far above Adam Smith in my pantheon of brilliant, radical and humane thinkers. I feel this way about him because his primary objective in life was “to integrate extensive knowledge of the past and present with a moral imperative in order to provide a goad and a guide for contemporary action to create a more humane and equitable culture—he had the dream of people making their own history as individuals creating a community.”7 Marx, in other words, was heads and shoulders above Smith when it comes to propounding economic and political ideas that if implemented would lead to a more humane way of life.

In at least one respect, Marx is like all other human beings. What he thought and wrote was influenced by events of his era, with the most significant being the industrial revolution that was enslaving workers in dehumanizing factories with deplorable working conditions and paltry wages. The industrial revolution had a significant impact on his thinking and writing.

I will give you here my succinct interpretation of his magnum opus, Das Kapital. I will zero in on just two of his ideas, the nature of the worker and the work day, because his ideas vibrate within my very being.

The worker, like any human being, has needs to be met as best as possible; security needs, social needs, leisure needs, etc. Given capitalism, to Marx (and to me) the worker becomes an entity, not a human being, commodified by the capitalist.

As for the work day, if the worker takes some time off to attend his mother’s funeral, the capitalist sees it as the worker stealing value from the capitalist, and Marx and I see it as a thieving capitalist. I am reminded of a major war contractor giving a 10-year employee a layoff notice the very day the employee returned from bereavement leave following the death of the employee’s young son.8

In Closing

Three classical thinkers all thinking on the same topic, economies and economic systems. Of the three, one will mostly be cast aside as we continue through this series, Adam Smith.

As you can probably tell, I’m a Marxist without being a communist or a socialist. If Marx were alive today and read my writings he surely would agree with all of them and might not mind being called a “Brumbackist” if he could forgive my shunning communism and socialism. Maybe he could even accept a theme of this series, namely, that there’s bad capitalism everywhere, but there could also be good capitalism.

Read Part 1 here; Part 2 here;

  1. Brumback, GB. “Economic Sanity and Alternative Economic Systems”, Part 1. Introduction to the Series. OpEdNews, May 16; Dissident Voice, May 17, 2018.
  2. Younkin, EW. “Aristotle and Economics”, quebecoislibre.org, September 15, 2005 paper number 158.
  3. Smith, A. The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  4. See my books, The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave it in the Lurch; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.
  5. Smith, A. Op. Cit., p. 638.
  6. See Josephson, M. Teaching Ethical Decision Making and Principled Reasoning. Ethics: Easier Said than Done. 1988, 1, pp. 27-33.
  7. Williams, AW. “The Legacy of Karl Marx: Or, the Inheritance We Dare Not Squander”, A talk presented at a symposium marking the one-hundredth anniversary of Marx’s death, Oregon State University, 1983.
  8. Brumback, GB. America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying, 2015, p. 117.

For His 200th Birthday, Honoring Marx As An Activist

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

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

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

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

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

Marx Was a Political Activist Working to Change the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Dean Chahim/flickr/cc)

Our Tasks: Expose Inequality, Create New Economic Systems

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

The Independent reports on Marx’s anniversary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marx believed that:

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

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

The Life of Fidel Castro: A Marxist Appreciation


Marxism taught me what society was. I was like a blindfolded man in a forest, who doesn’t know where north or south is. If you don’t eventually come to truly understand the history of the class struggle, or at least have a clear idea that society is divided between the rich and the poor, and that some people subjugate and exploit other people, you’re lost in a forest, not knowing anything.

— Fidel Castro

[Humans] make [their] own history, but [they] do not make it out of the whole cloth; [they] do not make it out of conditions chosen by [themselves], but out of such as [they] find close at hand.

Karl Marx

The Epoch of Fidel

Fidel Castro was one of the outstanding revolutionary leaders over the entire course of recorded world history. His astonishing and heroic life experiences are intertwined with the accomplishments, example, and practice of the Cuban Revolution that he was the central leader of.

The political and personal integrity of Fidel Castro stood rock-solid in the face of decades of tremendous, unremitting pressures directed by the US government to destroy the Cuban Revolution (and him personally through murder).

The skilled resistance Fidel personified at the head of the politically conscious, organized, and mobilized Cuban masses gave him the moral high ground over decades in the treacherous waters of world politics in the “Cold War” era and beyond.

As I wrote in my October 9, 2017 essay “Our Che: 50 Years After His Execution“:

… During the Fidel hate-fest produced by the US media oligopolies after his death, there were small demonstrations, in the hundreds at most, of “die-hard” longtime opponents of the Cuban Revolution – a clear minority today even among Cuban-Americans. The antecedents of these now fast-fading counter-revolutionary forces in 1962 filled the Orange Bowl football stadium in Miami to welcome the return to the United States of the captured mercenary invaders who were defeated at the so-called Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron in Cuba). That occurred after the Cuban revolutionary government exchanged them, well fed and in one piece – that is, never tortured – in exchange for medicines, after negotiations.

The relatively tiny and politically insignificant anti-Fidel protests in 2017 Miami were endlessly repeated in incessant, loop coverage by the cable oligopolies, in a crude manipulation aimed at creating the impression that Fidel was a hated ‘dictator.’ Meanwhile, in Cuba, millions upon millions of Cubans, across every generation, lined the cities and countryside throughout the nation to pay respect and love for ‘the undefeated’ Fidel to his final resting place in Santiago de Cuba.

The ashes of Fidel Castro on the way to Santiago de Cuba

Fidel and the enduring example of the Cuban Revolution consumed the US ruling class with an unrelenting scorn and hatred. They seethed at the sheer effrontery of the Cuban revolutionaries carrying out a socialist revolution in the interests of the working class, the peasantry, and the oppressed, that is, in the interests of the vast majority of the Cuban people.

This is the case, notwithstanding the mass migrations encouraged – and uniquely expedited legally to the United States – by Washington for decades. This reached 7-10% of the Cuban population, resulting in a kind of Cuban diaspora. This self-exiling was centered initially on the Batista-era police, army, and gangster personnel, followed by the Cuban ex-bourgeoisie and owners of expropriated latifundia, and, finally, as the political confrontation between revolutionary Cuba and the United States government intensely sharpened, quickly came to include broad layers (but by no means all) in the Cuban professional and middle classes, a relatively affluent small minority. For example, some 3,000 out of the 6,000 doctors in Cuba before the Revolution emigrated from Cuba to the United States in this period. Most Cuban workers and peasants rarely, if ever, saw a doctor their entire lives in “the good old days” when median life expectancy in Cuba was 52 (it’s now 78). For many years now, the island has produced some 10,000 Cuban doctors a year and, at the Latin American School of Medicine, the largest medical school in the world, has trained, free of charge, tens of thousands of doctors from all over the world who are now practicing in working-class and impoverished communities in their countries. Similar comparisons can be made for all other contemporary Cuban professions.

The special venom and hatred preserved for Fidel Castro by Washington and Wall Street, by all the representatives and spokespeople of world capitalism and imperialism, was, of course, a badge of honor for the Cuban revolutionary. Certainly, the once powerful virtual industry of anti-Castro misinformation and propaganda has been politically defeated worldwide. But it has resources and lingers on in the continued, weakened US anti-Cuba policy of economic war and political hostility, and in the renewed efforts by the Donald Trump White House to pressure and threaten socialist Cuba, following the establishment of formal Washington-Havana diplomatic relations in 2015.

Of course, genuine social and people’s revolutions, such as the Cuban Revolution, inevitably generate bitter hatreds and resentments from the overthrown and vanquished ruling classes. The special hatred of the overturned Cuban ruling classes, allied with Washington and defeated in the course of the Cuban Revolution, toward Fidel, the personification of their social and political vanquishers, is of a piece with how the representatives and beneficiaries of the Confederate slavocracy in their era – and their dwindling band of political heirs, to this day – felt about Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and others, not to speak of revolutionary abolitionists like John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and Harriet Tubman.1

Fidel after laying a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC in 1959.

The fact is that Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution successfully and heroically, under the banner of revolutionary socialism, defied the US government diktat. At the time, this was unique in US-Latin American relations. This in an era of full-spectrum US economic, financial, military, and political dominance across the Americas. This was seen by successive US White Houses and Congresses as an utter and unacceptable affront. Rampant CIA (always under the direction of the Executive Branch of the US government) disinformation and misinformation campaigns – perhaps the classic “fake news” model – began in the 1960s in response to the Cuban Revolution and its successful development and world resonance. This is factually unassailable and has long been part of the public record from released, once “classified” documents.

Two books that document covert US anti-Cuban subversive campaigns.

Washington’s Factories of Fabrication

There were, in fact, (now known in detail from then-secret government documents released under the US Freedom of Information Act), major US government operations, with significant assigned personnel and large budgets, employed specifically to disseminate disinformation and misinformation, that is false information with the deliberate intention to deceive, about the actual reality and facts of the Cuban Revolution and its leadership. This was a classic “fake news” model.

Many millions of dollars, employing no doubt hundreds of personnel directly and indirectly – were spent on so-called “psychological-warfare operations” (psy-ops) to spread lies – about revolutionary Cuba in the form of gossip, innuendo, and rumors made up out of whole cloth, on the theory, I suppose, that if you throw enough bullshit against a wall, some is bound to stick.

The modus operandi in the CIA’s factories of falsification were the spreading of conspiracy theories, fabricated to cause confusion and, hopefully, cause divisions and splits in the revolutionary leadership. Among the most notorious lies spread far and wide concerned two of the Cuban Revolution’s most revered revolutionary heroes and martyrs, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto Che Guevara.

Camilo Cienfuegos and Fidel Castro

Revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos didn’t really die in a plane crash after a mission to counter anti-revolutionary activity centered around Huber Matos in Camaguey, but was actually killed by Fidel Castro, who was “threatened” and “feared” Camilo’s popularity. (Matos, an icon of counter-revolutionary exiles for years, was sentenced and incarcerated for 20 years for sedition and treason, that is, collaboration with US government agencies in the period leading up to the Bay of Pigs mercenary invasion. Camilo Cienfuegos was dispatched to relieve Matos of his military command and arrest him and his top adjutants. Matos was one of a relative handful of revolutionary combatants in M-26-J who opposed the radicalization of the Revolution in a socialist direction, politically split from the Movement, and went over to the side of US subversion and intervention.)

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

Another particularly notorious example of such CIA “psychological operations” was the worldwide effort to plant false stories in big-business and other media outlets, about a supposed falling out and political rupture between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Che Guevara did not really go out of public view to organize anti-imperialist struggles in Africa and Latin America, but was actually imprisoned and even killed by Fidel Castro. (When that Big Lie was no longer operative, a new mendacity was promoted that Fidel refused to “rescue” Che in Bolivia and “allowed” him to die, still peddled to this day.)

This was during a period in 1965-66 where Che, with the full moral and political support of Fidel and the central Cuban communist leadership, had disappeared from public view and was preparing and organizing revolutionary armed struggles in first the Congo, and then Bolivia.

Such efforts by US intelligence agencies over the years were, of course, accompanied, and complemented by, more direct, material attempts – hundreds of times in documented fact – to assassinate Fidel Castro and other popular leaders of the Revolution and the Cuban government and other repeated acts of terrorism and economic sabotage.

The ”Dictator”

Commitment to overturning the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro in Cuba was never, for over five decades, a source of serious division between the Democratic and Republican parties ruling in Washington. The Fidel Castro government was caricatured and slurred as a personal dictatorship in Cold War propaganda, as well as a puppet and client of the Soviet Union.

The most common presentation and image of Fidel Castro in these circles was that of a “bellicose” and “unaccountable” dictator. The more “moderate” version, which, more or less, acknowledges the big social and human advances of the Cuban Revolution and its record, unmatched in this world, of international solidarity, presents a “benevolent” dictator (whose absence would surely be the end of Cuban socialism).

Contrary to this boilerplate of anti-Castro propaganda, perhaps Fidel Castro’s most distinct leadership quality was how he continually, in the most difficult and challenging circumstances, before, during, and for decades after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, was his skill, ability, and political perspective to forge teams of outstanding individuals, the opposite of “yes-men,” toadies, and sycophants. There has never been anything in Cuba remotely resembling a state-fostered Stalin- or Mao-like “cult of personality” around Fidel. Just the opposite, laws were enforced keeping his name, and any other living leader, off public sites such as statues and streets. Raul Castro, in his moving tribute to Fidel on December 3, 2016, said, “Fidel was always against the cult of personality until his dying days. He was consistent with that attitude, insisting that after his death his name and figure never be used to name plazas, avenues, streets, and other public places, as well as the building of statues.” The Cuban National Assembly has passed a law implementing Fidel’s wish.

The reality was that Fidel Castro was never any kind of personal dictator with the inclination, desire, or power to rule arbitrarily. Undoubtedly Fidel Castro had great political authority and personal popularity. Nevertheless, one of Fidel Castro’s greatest strengths and characteristics as a revolutionary and a leader was his ability to foster and develop united team leadership based on ideas, program, and revolutionary ethics. To forge inclusive and collaborative teams of revolutionary fighters, men and women, of Spanish, African, and other national origins, and from different social and class backgrounds.

This was the case not only during the revolutionary struggle for power, but over decades in the face of all the enormous challenges and threats from a resentful imperial ex-overlord ninety miles away during the Cold War. These disciplined and revolutionary teams navigating the treacherous waters of that tumultuous era in world politics. Revolutionary fighters such as Ricardo Alarcon, Juan Almeida, Raul Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, Victor Dreke, Vilma Espin, Ernesto Che Guevara, Armando Hart, Melba Hernandez, Jose Ramon Machado, Frank Pais, Manuel Pinero, Jorge Risquet, Raul Roa, Celia Sanchez, Haydee Santamaria, Ramiro Valdes, Harry Villegos, and countless others who were the remarkable individual products of the struggle for the Cuban Revolution, its defense, and its revolutionary internationalism around the world. Such individual human material, capable of organizing, leading, and sustaining a mass revolutionary struggle for power, has to have within themselves the discipline, sacrifice, creative thinking, tactical savvy, culture, and humanity that are the opposite of sycophants and toadies.

At any rate it is ludicrous beyond even the most primitive logic to think that “one-man rule” (as Hillary Clinton once described the Cuban government led by Fidel) could have survived the unremitting onslaught of US imperialism – the most powerful economic and military counter-revolutionary machine in world history – for nearly 60 years. Actually, all of the truly bloody right-wing military and family dictatorships that Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean endured throughout the 20th Century – from Batista’s Cuba to Somoza’s Nicaragua to Pinochet’s Chile, from Guatemala to Haiti to Uruguay to Argentina — were sustained, supported, and armed by Washington.

This era of US domination peaked during the era of “Operation Condor,” from the mid-1970s, where Washington and its ultrarightist military partners in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay ran death squads and other terrorist operations against working-class, peasant, democratic, and revolutionary forces across the Americas. In those terrible years, “totalitarian” “Communist” Cuba was perhaps the major force in the Hemisphere that was actively promoting grass-roots struggle to restore democratic rights and space in Latin America and fight for social justice. This goes a long way to explaining the broad contempt and derision held for US anti-Cuba policy across the Americas.2

Under the leadership of this popular revolutionary team, with the indefatigable Fidel as the central spokesperson and holding great political authority, Cuba forged an infant revolutionary government stamped by the interests, social dominance, and political authority of workers and farmers.

This translated socially and politically to concrete measures and progressive policies, backed by mass mobilizations and assemblies of Cuban working people and the clear, large majority of the Cuban population. These policies included: radical land reform; massive youth-led drives that succeeded in eradicating illiteracy; the legal obliteration of race discrimination and historic advances for Afro-Cubans; the self-organization of Cuban women into the Federation of Cuban Women and truly remarkable in policies and practices promoting women’s rights and equality; the massive expansion of trade unions and workers control and management of industry; and the establishment of free, high-quality health care and education for all Cubans.

All of this was in the interests of, and with the participation of, the large majority of Cuban society. Counter-revolutionary organizations grew up that became aligned to the US government and acted under its general political direction. Like all great revolutionary transformations and overturns in history, the Cuban Revolution became marked by profound social and class – and thereby political – polarization. There never has been, and never will be a genuine people’s revolution – overturning the existing social and political order – that does not, by definition, impose its authority on the defeated classes.3

The Main Source of Fidel’s Legacies

Fidel Castro was a great humanitarian, one of the world’s great promoters of universal health care and universal access to quality education. He inspired and led the organization of an amazing legacy of Cuban medical internationalism and relief and aid for peoples devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, and other so-called “natural disasters.” All of this has gained near-universal recognition and love.

Fidel Castro led some of the greatest advances in the fight against racism and white supremacy and the oppression of women for any nation-state in world history.

Fidel Castro had a mastery of the strategy and tactics, the art, of revolutionary politics. But this was never not some abstract Machiavellian skill-set in intrigue, as portrayed in literature and drama from time immemorial.

Fidel Castro was a world-historic military figure and commander. This aspect of his legacy is often ignored or downplayed in the “democratic West.” But the truth is that Fidel was at the center of two distinct, major, world-impacting military campaigns: the 1956-1958 Cuban revolutionary war and the war with apartheid South Africa from 1976-1990 in Angola and southern Africa. In both cases Fidel stands out as a practitioner of military science and the logistics, organization, strategy, and tactics that were tested and led to clear victory. In both cases Fidel was fighting forces backed clearly, albeit covertly, by the United States government. These were two world-changing events with a decisive military component. Both unfolded under the military command of Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro also became, as head of state, a skilled and savvy “statesman” and negotiator who advanced and expanded Cuba’s diplomatic ties and relations on a world scale in the face of the US blockade, as well as in Cuba’s highly complex relations with both enemies, allies, and friends. Picking up steam in the 1980s and 1990s Cuban diplomacy eventually established diplomatic relations with every country in the western Hemisphere, Washington being the last holdout until 2015 under the Barack Obama administration. Fidel had an important political part in breaking open negotiations that led to cease-fires and an eventual end to decades of armed conflicts and war in Colombia.

Fidel Castro had great oratorical and literary skills. He communicated largely through speeches. These may have been famous, generally, for their length, and were thus easily and cheaply caricatured by his opponents as a way to avoid dealing with their content. I have had the personal privilege and excitement of witnessing a dozen or so speeches by Fidel Castro, short, long, and very long (up to six hours), in both massive and much smaller settings. While sometimes exhausted and straining to concentrate, I was never bored.

Fidel’s speeches, especially addresses to the Cuban people, registered the candor and transparency of familiarity, taking up the social, economic, international, and other challenges facing Cuba. Fidel’s speeches were full of statistics and empirical data, quotes from studies, news accounts, books, political opponents word-for-word, and international press agencies. But they were also filled with big ideas, razor-sharp analysis, political acuity, and philosophical depth.

Fidel sometimes found it hard to resist imparting any and every important fact, document, or statistic to his audience. How his clearly “photographic memory” could even retain ten percent of them all (as he generally spoke with few notes, and, of course, without a teleprompter) was beyond my wildest ability to understand. All of this without a trace of the racist, “populist,” megalomaniacal bombast associated with the most effective fascist demagogues like Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler.

Fidel often said his style was not to impose his ideas but to convince.  In the early years of the Revolution Fidel’s speeches explaining to Cubans the historic roots of racist discrimination and the oppression of women and the revolutionary government’s policies are master classes in this method.4

In his speeches to mass rallies, workplaces, large and very small communities, revolutionary international gatherings, and in historic speeches to the United Nations General Assembly, Fidel retained an unsurpassed ability to break down and communicate big ideas and history. This rational and fact-based mastery of the spoken word undoubtedly places Fidel Castro in the pantheon of great orators in contemporary history. (See a comprehensive archive of Fidel’s speeches here.)

Fidel’s Marxism

Any of these specific accomplishments stand out on their own.  Any one by itself would mark an exceptional life. Taken together, looking at Fidel’s life and practice as a whole, they all flowed from Fidel’s embrace of socialism and Marxism as a coherent world outlook and guide to revolutionary action, as he understood it and further developed it, in the course of the Cuban revolutionary struggle. Fidel fought his entire conscious political life under that banner.  Moreover, Fidel’s works – written and spoken – made a great contribution to the development of Marxism and socialism, in theory and practice. Fidel’s life underlines the truth of Lenin’s political and organizational perspective that ‘’without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.”

Influenced by revolutionary democratic, socialist, and Marxist ideas and theories as a young, rebellious man, already familiar with the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, he embraced, assimilated, and developed the dialectical and materialist world outlook and methodology.

Fidel defended the Marxist method and the integrated philosophical world outlook of dialectical and historical materialism. And yet Fidel Castro, the staunch communist and materialist-atheist, inspired and was embraced by countless Christians, Muslims, Jews and believers of every denomination and creed. Of course, as with everything else about the “polarizing” Fidel this was usually – but not mechanically or uniformly – expressed along class lines. (See the brilliant dialogue between Fidel and the Christian Liberation Theologist Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo, known as Frei Betto, in the best-selling, widely translated Fidel and Religion (Ocean Press, 2006).5

Proletarian Internationalism

All of us are products of the space and times we live in, but Fidel, to an extraordinary degree, also shaped his times, the times of an entire epoch. Fidel’s impact was not in the interests of the oppressors and exploiters, the colonial masters and white supremacists; the imperialist warmongers out for markets and loot; and the ruling-class beneficiaries of grotesque inequality, racism, and misogyny. His life, and the historical impact of his life, was dedicated to the interests of toiling humanity, of workers and peasants, of oppressed nations and nationalities, of women ground down by unspeakable subjugation and “tradition.” Fidel Castro was the ally and champion of all who fought for social justice, for human progress and a better world, and for the revolutionary transformation of the capitalist world order and its inhuman social relations. Fidel practiced international solidarity decade after decade, under always changing objective circumstances in the world, and often under conditions of great difficulty and danger for revolutionary Cuba.  He embodied what the Marxist movement had once termed proletarian internationalism. Fidel and the Cuban Revolution’s legacy of international solidarity remains the anchor of Cuba’s foreign policy to this day.

For Fidel and the young Cuban revolutionaries he was part of and led, this was not a hollow, ritual phrase, something to give lip service to only to contradict in practice, but a genuine belief and a genuine practice. In 1976 Cuba sent volunteer revolutionary combatants to the front-line of newly independent Angola to beat back the invading behemoth of the South African apartheid state (covertly backed by Washington). In 2014 Cuba rushed doctors and medical personnel to West Africa in what became the decisive turning point in containing and overcoming the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic.

Marx and Engels

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of scientific socialism, gave, as theoreticians, activists, and political leaders, a tremendous impulse and dynamic to the modern workers movement in the late 19th Century and beyond to this day. But, of course, neither revolutionary wielded governmental or state power, although they both, as leaders of the International Working Men’s Association, keenly observed and drew the lessons from the 1871 Paris Commune – following the unfolding Franco-Prussian War which exploded in the heart of Europe – the first seizure of governmental power by a mass working-class and popular movement.

Marx and Engels

Furthermore, both Marx and Engels died at the dawn of the qualitative leaps in the development of 19th Century capitalism. Their prescient writing on the development of British imperialism in their lifetimes anticipated, but did not directly experience, the qualitative, epochal transformation of world capitalism into 20th Century nationally-based, monopolized, and oligarchic finance capitalism. And the concurrent revival of direct imperialist expansion out of the rapidly industrializing capitalist centers and a massive overproduction of capital searching for raw materials, cheap labor, new markets to conquer and subordinate, and super-profits.

Colonial Empires were spawned in the United Kingdom, France, and much of the rest of Western Europe; e.g., Belgium in the Congo, the Netherlands in Indonesia, and so on. German colonialism was late to the European enterprise and the United States entered the “Age of Empire” signaled and accelerated by the 1898 Spanish-American War. This directly impacted on the burning question of Cuban independence and sovereignty, as the colonial rule in Cuba of the pre-capitalist fraying and hollowed-out Spanish Empire disintegrated, and was displaced by US neo-colonialism and decades of yanqui economic and political domination.

The 20th Century Latin American political arena which was characterized by a state of, more or less, permanent political turmoil and intensifying class struggle under conditions of massive poverty and social inequality, that was interlocked with foreign, mainly US, economic and political domination. Since the 1898 Spanish-American War, which marked the origins of the modern American Empire, Washington engaged in frequent overt and covert violent invasions, interventions, and subversion across the Americas, over the subsequent decades. (For a comprehensive list of US interventions in the Americas since 1898 click here.)

Lenin

Vladimir Lenin

V.I. Lenin, the central leader of the November 7, 1917 Russian Revolution, and the Communist International founded in 1919, died in January 1924, at the age of 55, as the Soviet workers state he led, was beginning to recover from the utter devastation of the 1918-22 Civil War. This was an exceedingly brutal war, coming directly on top of the carnage of World War I, starting in 1914 on the Eastern-Russian front. Millions upon millions of dead and brutalized.

The Civil War pitted conservative and reactionary forces from the overthrown ruling classes – with liberal and “moderate socialist” forces forming at the end of the anti-Bolshevik line – aiming to crush the new revolutionary power.  These fragmented forces, without any agreed social or military policies between them, gained strength as they were soon backed up, armed, and otherwise supported by the allied major powers; e.g., Great Britain, France, and the United States, who were still, but not for much longer, furiously engaging in the World War I bloodbath.

These forces were beyond livid that Lenin’s government had withdrawn Russia from the war and called for the immediate end, on all sides, to what they accurately termed an imperialist war. The Bolshevik-led government dispatched People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Leon Trotsky to negotiate with the German imperialists in the name of the Russian state they now headed, and which was still formally at war with Germany and its allies (and losing badly to).

Adding insult to injury, in what was a huge political blow and embarrassment, Trotsky was authorized to publicly release the secret protocols between the overthrown Tsarist Monarchy (and the “Provisional Government” which followed it) and the European military powers. These released documents were politically explosive as they exposed the expansionist, aggrandizing, and colonial aims of the warring imperialist powers.

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution accelerated and deepened the growth of global mass anti-war sentiment and action, including among soldiers. With the – totally intertwined politically with the Bolshevik Revolution – outbreak of anti-war and revolutionary struggle inside Germany in 1918, and the political collapse of its war effort, the political imperative to end the inter-imperialist slaughterhouse became inevitable, and an armistice was signed in November 1918.

The thus victorious – if exhausted and facing political turmoil and instability at home – British, French, and US “Allied Powers” hardly lost a beat and stepped up military attacks and intervention against the Bolshevik government. Eventually well over a dozen other major or lesser powers directly intervened on Russian territory, joining in the cause to overthrow Lenin’s government, fighting in conjunction with the so-called “White Army.” This greatly added to the length and ferocity of the Civil War.6

Lenin’s revolutionary government was under siege from practically the moment it took power through the mass organizations of elected workers, soldiers, and poor peasant councils (soviets) in November 1917. There was hardly any period of time while Lenin was alive that his revolutionary government could lose its focus on defeating the imperialist-backed counterrevolution.

When Lenin died in January, 1924, his actual political legacy became practically buried inside the Soviet Union by the massive impoverishment and military bleeding of Russian society over the entire period. The subsequent political developments in the battered Soviet Union after Lenin’s death, and the consolidation of governmental power under Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s and early 1930s, led to the eventual physical elimination of the entire generation of revolutionaries, including virtually the entire Red Army leadership, identified with Lenin, from 1936-1938. Conservative figures for the Stalinist purges start with over 100,000 Communists executed. And yet another false, endlessly repeated, assertion and narrative is that Stalinism was the continuation of Leninism when the two were actually antithetical. As I will return to below, opponents and propagandists against the Cuban Revolution, including those positioning themselves on the left, have generally tried to smear Fidel Castro and the Revolution itself as “Stalinist.” (For Fidel’s actual views on Stalin and Stalinism, see the last sections of this essay.)

The Longevity of Fidel

In Fidel’s political lifetime, peers such as Malcolm X, Maurice Bishop, and Thomas Sankara also emerged as outstanding revolutionary leaders. Malcolm X was a strong supporter of the Cuban Revolution. More and more consciously in the last two years of his life, following his split from Elijah Muhammed’s Nation of Islam, Malcolm X had started to embrace anti-capitalist and socialist views when he was murdered in February 1965. (See my essay “To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination.)

Maurice Bishop led the 1979 Grenadian Revolution and Thomas Sankara led a revolutionary popular government from 1983-87 in Burkina Faso. Both were conscious revolutionary Marxists who briefly wielded central governmental and state power. Maurice Bishop was overthrown and murdered in a coup by counter-revolutionary secret factions in the government and state led by Bernard Coard. Thomas Sankara  was overthrown and assassinated in a coup led by Minister of State Blaise Compaore, with covert support from the French state, in October 1987.

The brutality, terror, and chaos from Coard’s counter-revolutionary coup became the pretext for the Ronald Reagan Administration to invade and occupy Grenada and dispatch Coard’s hated regime. Cuban construction workers, who were working on the unfinished, renamed in 2009 Maurice Bishop International Airport, resisted the US invasion. Fidel Castro was furious at the anti-Bishop coup and Maurice Bishop’s murder along with seven of his leading comrades from the New Jewel Movement-led revolutionary government that lay destroyed.

Compaore managed to consolidate a repressive and regressive regime, under the cover of a series of rigged elections, that lasted 27 years. He was forced to resign in October 2014 after a sustained mass uprising, fleeing to the Ivory Coast. Maurice Bishop was 39 and Thomas Sankara was 37 when they were executed.

Fidel and Malcolm X

Fidel and Maurice Bishop

Fidel and Thomas Sankara

Ernest Che Guevara, born in Argentina and of Irish heritage, was recruited to Fidel Castro’s July 26 Movement as the guerrilla army’s doctor in Mexico in 1956. In the Cuban revolutionary war, Che became a top military commander and led the decisive Battle of Santa Clara that opened the road to the collapse of the Batista regime and the triumphant march of Fidel into Havana.  Che left Cuba in 1965 to organize revolutionary internationalist missions in the Congo and then Bolivia, fully backed by Fidel and the Cuban government. Che was executed after his capture in Bolivia in October 1967 at the age of 39. (See my essay Our Che: Fifty Years After His Execution.)

Che Guevara

Fidel survived and carried on. His example is bound to be a permanent, weighty, and material political force for future generations and time immemorial. Fidel’s example is certain to be continually renewed and embraced again and again by new generations of social-justice fighters and revolutionaries.

Without exaggeration or illusion, this is politically true also in the United States, where accurate information about Cuba is available and disseminated, and where there is clear and large majority opposition to continuing US economic and travel sanctions. There is also a growing layer of Americans who are politically sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution and its social and internationalist policies, as they hear even some of the truth.

Many hundreds of thousands of US citizens and legal residents have visited the island over the decades and especially in recent years, and seen its reality with all its strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and contradictions, which the Cuban people and government disdain to ignore or sweep under the rug.7

Unintended Consequences of World War II

An entire epoch of anti-imperialist and revolutionary struggle was ushered in by the titanic consequences and dynamics of World War II and the post-war era. A new world relationship of forces was consolidated “geopolitically” in the post-war “Cold War” period. There was a shift in the gravitational forces of revolutionary struggles towards colonial independence struggles which became intertwined with class struggles in the advanced capitalist-imperialist states.

Coming seemingly out of the blue, less than fifteen years after the end of World War II, the Cuban Revolution entered the world as the dust was starting to settle from the consequences of the post-World War II.

These consequences, intended and unintended, included:

1) The decline and displacement of the British, French, and other European colonial Empires. These had been, more or less, maintained up until World War II but were now completely upturned by the actual unfolding of events during and after the war.

2) The rise of US imperialism, which displaced the European powers militarily, economically, financially, and politically in world capitalist economic and military structures. This registered the relative dominance of US capital in the post-war capitalist order. US capitalism boomed during the war, which was not fought on continental US soil. In heavy and industry, manufacturing, finance, and living standards, US capitalism dwarfed its capitalist rivals.

3) The rise of the Soviet Union – its survival and geographic and political expansion – followed its utterly heroic victory over Nazi Germany at an exceeding bloody price in the largest bloodbath in human history on the World War II Eastern Front. The Soviet government and Red Army went from the cusp of annihilation in the opening five months of Hitler’s invasion with the Nazi war machine advancing on Moscow in late 1941 to the conquering of Berlin in April 1945.  This gave a new lease on life and great political prestige to the Stalin-led Soviet Union and the “world Communist movement,” despite gross political errors and crimes (a point I will return to). In Europe, Communist Parties in a number of countries such as Yugoslavia, Italy, France, and Greece became mass parties leading broad military formations and where they were leading forces in largely working class and popular anti-Nazi resistance movements. A people’s revolution became a socialist revolution in Yugoslavia. Communist Parties in France and Italy for many years after got up to 40% of the vote in national parliamentary elections.

Revolution in Asia

Japan was the most advanced, industrialized capitalist economy in all of Asia and had secured its colonial rule in a territorially united Korea from 1905-10. A brutal, militarized Japanese imperialism struggled mightily to displace European colonial rule with its own in the World War II period.  That war era in the entire Asian Continental and Pacific Rim, South Asia, and southeastern Asia began militarily years sooner than the September 1, 1939 German-Nazi invasion of Poland. Imperial Japan’s 1931 invasion and occupation of Chinese Manchuria deepened in 1937 into full-scale Japanese anti-China aggression. This was ineffectively countered by the Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-chek. After the Japanese government decided to bomb the US territory and major naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941 the so-called “Pacific Theater” became a bloody back-and-forth war between the established colonial powers and the ambitious Empire-building and consolidating (or so they hoped) Japanese imperialist aggressors, who became allied with Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and other Axis forces.

The main unintended consequence of World War II in Asia was that the violent and bloody conflict between imperialist powers created space for independence and national liberation struggles. Invariably the most consistent and courageous independent fighters were influenced by, and many embraced, left-wing, socialist, and communist world outlooks, looking to the oppressed masses, workers and peasants, as the primary force to deliver national salvation. The war and the erosion of the colonial empires accelerated an unstoppable dynamic toward national sovereignty and independence. In particular, the Chinese and Vietnamese Revolutions, led by liberation forces and leaderships identifying themselves as Communist, such as Mao Zedong and Zhu De in China and Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap in Vietnam, had a worldwide political impact and influence.

This was certainly the case with Fidel Castro’s generation of revolutionary-minded patriotic youth in Cuba and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, including Ernesto Guevara in Argentina, all living under the dominance of the US behemoth in the Western Hemisphere. This domination of US capital and US power in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America generally took different forms than direct colonial rule on the European model.

Fidel Castro devoured these world events as he came of age in exactly this mid-20th Century vortex of history growing up as a teenager, student, and young adult on the island of Cuba in the center of the Caribbean. Fidel developed a political consciousness and identity that was forged, in its essential core, out of the global colonial independence and national liberation struggles.

Fidel and the Historical Moment

The Cuban Revolution took place in a Western Hemisphere firmly in the “sphere of influence” of Washington and US capital. Cuba found itself at the center of the Cold War. The Cuban Revolution ushered out the 1950s period: from the Korean War and its stalemated end; the 1953 death of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khruschev’s “de-Stalinization; the 1954 Vietnamese victory over French imperialism at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Accords imposed on the Vietnamese; the 1956 British-French-Israel Suez War with Egypt; the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary; and the late-Eisenhower era abortive thaw and détente of US-Soviet relations.

In any case, immediately upon the seizure of power, the Cuban revolutionaries began to establish fraternal, internationalist links with anti-imperialist fighters worldwide. But Fidel and the other young revolutionary fighters around the July 26 Movement also looked to and had an independent political (and sympathetic) stance toward the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, augmented by their total embrace of the 1949 Chinese Revolution and the Ho Chi Minh-led national liberation movement in Vietnam. Cuba was the first Latin American nation to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1960.

Volatility and Permanent Crisis in Today’s Capitalist World Order

Today’s volatile political world – over 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact-allied governments – is increasingly marked by an accelerating unraveling of that great post-World War II capitalist world order, politically dominated by US military and economic power and a so-called “socialist camp” centered on the Soviet Union, that was also a world military power. Nevertheless, the old, fraying world structures still stamps the framework of world economics, finance, politics, and social relations towards the end of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century.

What has been developing, with accumulating force again today, ten years after the financial crash and near-meltdown of the so-called “Great Recession” of 2007-08, is the relative erosion and decline of US economic, financial, and political power, and Washington’s overall weight in world politics and “global affairs” today. This has been unfolding objectively over a number of years, in this still-young 21st Century.

This political reality has been much lamented by Democratic and Republican party establishments, and has deepened political divergences and factionalism within, across, and between both big-business parties. This has been deepening in the opening period of the Donald Trump White House. (As the US rulers wring their hands over whether Trump is accelerating this erosion and decline with his impulsive methods and demagogy in the US and internationally, I cannot recall, in my lifetime, such a joint crisis within both capitalist parties, and the lesser-evil, two-party oligarchy.)

In this context, revolutionary Cuba today – and this is the living legacy of Fidel – has become, in word and deed, the leading voice for working people and oppressed nations and peoples in every tribune at hand in today’s world.  In the worldwide Battle of Ideas that Fidel stressed continually in his last years, the Cuban Revolution is the living, resonant, politically attractive socialist alternative to today’s capitalist world disorder with its grotesque inequality and permanent fueling of war. Understanding this is the opposite of any residual 1960s or ancient Cold War-era nostalgia.

Before the Revolution: Fidel the Activist and Organizer

Fidel Castro, the offspring of a Spanish-immigrant who became a prosperous landowner, entered political life as a student activist at the University of Havana. He set up a law practice under permanent financial stress insofar as his clients were invariably poor and destitute working people facing the daily blows and rigged social relations of the Cuban neo-colonial state. And he could never bring himself to charge them.8

Fidel remained true to his rebel student youth in this period. He deepened his youthful convictions and principles through theoretical and political study, with and was active in, the multi-class Orthodox People’s Party founded and led by Eduardo Chibas in 1947. That party put the fight against the corruption that enveloped Cuban politics and economics at its center and projected what could be termed a left-wing “populist” program for the promotion of a Cuban identity, economic independence, and social reforms. (See Ramonet p. 83-88 for Fidel’s assessment of the Ortodoxos and the other middle-class political tendencies.)

The late-1940s and early 1950s was a rich period in Cuban politics in general, and student and youth politics in particular. Revolutionary ideas were in the air, transmitted through such figures as the revolutionary socialist martyrs Julio Antonio Mella and Antonio Guiteras. This was a period of mounting social and political crisis in Cuba leading up to the 1952 military coup that installed Fulgencio Batista in power. Fidel entered into this with all his heart and soul and brain. “I began to acquire a more radical political awareness, and I was learning more and more about Marx and Lenin. I was reading Engels and other authors and works on economics and philosophy, but mainly political works – the political ideas, the political theories of Marx.” (See Ramonet, p. 89-90.)

The seizure of power by military forces led by Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952 abrogated the 1940 Cuban Constitution, a relatively progressive document that incorporated land reform, health care, public education, and a minimum wage. The 1940 Constitution was itself inspired by the 1933-34 mass struggles of workers and youth and the political upheavals that followed the collapse of the repressive regime of Gerardo Machado. Batista, a prominent military figure, had emerged from the turmoil and political instability of the “1933 Revolution” as the dominant figure in the Cuban state across a series of “elected” weak and corrupt regimes.

Batista managed to get himself directly elected President during World War II from 1940-44, posing as a progressive in the “anti-fascist world camp.” Cuban Communists, renamed the Popular Socialist Party (PSP) in 1944, actually joined the Batista Cabinet, taking two ministerial posts in those years. This became an important factor in the development of the July 26 Movement as an independent revolutionary formation in the period that opened up after the Batista coup.9

During this time Batista accumulated a tidy fortune, living it up in south Florida after his single term allowed under the Constitution ended. Facing certain defeat in the 1952 election he was contesting, Batista orchestrated the military coup which was backed by Washington, the real power in the Cuban neo-colony.

Batista’s coup accelerated the political and social crisis in Cuba, as he moved to consolidate an exceedingly venal and repressive regime. Batista’s government allied itself with top US organized-crime mafias, promoting a tourism based on promoting Cuba’s island beauty and beaches with casino gambling and prostitution on a grand scale. The period is captured with great artistry and verisimilitude in the classic Francis Coppola film The Godfather Part II. The dictatorship allied with the most reactionary sectors of Cuban society, and with the US organized crime families and gangster enterprises that had become a key component of Havana and Cuba’s economic and commercial activity. Even as the Batista government became more unpopular and more hated by the year, it necessarily became even more dependent on, subservient to, and propped up by Washington, then under the Republican Dwight Eisenhower Administration, with Democratic Party control of both the US House of Representatives and Senate. The support for Batista was solid and bipartisan, if increasingly anxious, in Washington right up to the collapse of the regime.10

Under the conditions of Batista’s deeply unpopular regime, there sprung up a plethora of competing factions, student and left-wing radicals, the Popular Socialist Party, small groups calling themselves “Trotskyist,” militant workers in the divided Cuban labor movement working clandestinely, and among the bourgeois liberal and conservative opposition political forces. All contested for political influence and a mass base amidst the general opposition and revulsion to the Batista coup and its attempts to consolidate a stable government.

Fidel exploded into the center of Cuban politics on July 26, 1953 with a highly organized armed attack by 160 young, largely working-class, fighters on the Moncada and Bayamo Barracks of the Batista dictatorship. These were highly disciplined and trained combatants motivated by patriotic and revolutionary purpose.

Along with Fidel, the other central leaders of the preparation and organization of the July 26, 1953 attacks were Abel Santamaria and Jesus Montane. The plan and political perspective of the Moncadista insurrectionists was to seize the two Barracks, disarm the government troops, seize broadcast and other means of communication, and call for a mass uprising.

The outcome of the assault can be said to be a classic example of military defeat becoming political victory. In this case a military defeat transformed into a dynamic political advance and the ultimate victory of the Cuban Revolution within less than five years. (See Ramonet pages 104-134 for a fascinating account of the Moncada assault, the unanticipated difficulties and errors, and the necessary retreat and aftermath.)

Abel Santamaria was tortured to death by Batista’s troops following his surrender and capture. Fidel, Jesus Montane, Raul Castro, Juan Almeida and other rebels survived with some luck, but the post-attack scene was mark by extraordinary bestial conduct, which quickly became public, on the part of Batista’s henchmen, with unspeakable torture and murder of disarmed youth being the fate of most. Cuban public opinion was horrified, and this became a factor in preserving the lives of the survivors.

Public revulsion also began to overlap with growing sympathy for the July 26 youth. Growing anti-Batista mass demonstrations and protests mounted against the increasingly isolated and repressive regime. Fidel’s stirring speech in his defense before the kangaroo court – “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” – presented the program and political orientation of the insurrectionists. It was reproduced and widely circulated by the growing cadre of organized supporters who became the July 26 Movement (M-26-J). The pamphlet History Will Absolve Me became a key recruiting tool for the Movement and its major programmatic document.

Political pressure on the Batista government became focused on a mass campaign for amnesty for the Moncada fighters, which also built the Movement. All the fighters were released after barely two years of incarceration. Batista and his goons evidently believed their death squads would be more likely to get away with murder outside the prison walls than within. The July 26 Movement emerged as the most, dynamic, creative, and attractive political force in the unfolding pre-revolutionary situation developing inside Cuba in the mid-1950s.

Raul Castro, Juan Almeida, Fidel Castro and other Moncadistas released in May 1955

Fidel, Raul, Juan Almeida, and other Moncadistas were eventually able to get to Mexico where colonies of Latin American freedom fighters were to be found, and who worked and played in overlapping social and political circles.

In Mexico, Fidel and his team began recruiting cadre who received military training (from a veteran Republican fighter in the 1930s Spanish Revolution and Civil War) for a planned landing in the Cuban countryside, the launching of a rural guerrilla war, and the concurrent launching of a nationwide revolutionary movement politically connected to the armed struggle in every corner of Cuba. What became a vibrant, clandestine urban movement led by figures like Armando Hart, Enrique Oltuski, Frank Pais, Celia Sanchez, and Haydee Santamaria whose responsibilities included funneling arms and trained cadre to the guerrilla army.

Among the first recruits to the expeditionary army was Dr. Ernesto Guevara, an Argentine and the only non-Cuban among the guerrilla army in formation. Guevara had organized a clinic for impoverished workers and peasants in Guatemala before escaping, and also ending up in Mexico, one step ahead of the death squads of the CIA-installed murderous military regime that overthrew the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz government. Soon he had befriended a number of July 26 Movement cadre, including Raul Castro. Ernesto became Che, the affectionate moniker affixed to him by his Cuban pals soon to become his comrades.

It was the July 26 Movement that emerged at the head of a genuinely mass, revolutionary movement to overthrow Batista and his regime. M-26-J seized state power under a clear and definite social and political program that it began to implement. Fidel became the central leader of a revolutionary government directing and organizing a new type of state power and social relations in the 20th Century and reaching out politically everywhere across the Americas and worldwide.

The July 26 Movement was, in practice, a centralized combat organization, the expression, in a political-military form, of a political vanguard. In the military defeat of Batista’s US-backed Cuban army, what became, from the twelve or so (out of 82) ambushed survivors of the Granma expedition, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) that defeated the far more numerous – and strongly equipped and armed by Washington –  Cuban army under Batista’s command.11

Leading a Socialist Revolution

In the definition given by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution, “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events…the forcible entry of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.” In that sense, the Cuban Revolution was a genuine people’s revolution.

Its radicalization and transformation into a socialist revolution was based on mass mobilizations and mass participation. All flowing out of a new mass consciousness. But this collective united action of the popular majority was the concentrated political expression of the transformation of millions of individual human beings who, in the words of Karl Marx, describing the insurgent workers of the Paris Commune, decided to “storm the heavens.” This dialectical interplay between individual and mass is the dynamic human spring in any genuine people’s revolution.

The working teams of outstanding cadre forged and trained under Fidel’s central leadership had boundless faith in the ability of working people and the oppressed to enter the realm, on a truly mass scale, of struggle and organization. These were professional revolutionaries, volunteers for a cause, motivated by patriotic and, for many, socialist convictions. Individuals prepared to embrace the discipline required for effective action, if, and it was a big “if,” there was a leadership that was honest, self-sacrificing, politically savvy, courageous, and prepared to go all the way. In a 1987 interview with Italian television journalist Gianni Mina, Fidel said, “You can’t be a revolutionary without a large dose of idealism and a tremendous confidence in human beings. A sceptic can’t be a revolutionary. A revolutionary is an optimist, someone who believes in human beings.”

What the Cuban Revolution conquered socially, in the interests of the large majority in its opening years, is all the more remarkable when we realize it was done in the teeth of violent, unscrupulous, permanent aggression by the United States government. This aggression included the April 1961 mercenary invasion by counter-revolutionary exiles organized by the CIA that was smashed at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron to Cubans).12

President John Kennedy’s “Operation Mongoose,” a program of unbridled terrorism, economic sabotage, death squads and assassination teams (some 600 assassination plans and programs were put into play against Fidel Castro alone by the spooks of Washington in these years) was now intensely in play after the Bay of Pigs debacle. Concrete preparations and projections were well underway for a direct US invasion, which “Mongoose” aimed to soften the ground for.

These were the conditions, with Cuba facing the total devastation of a full-scale US assault by air, land, and sea, that led the Soviet government led by Nikita Khrushchev to propose to the Cuban government placing nuclear weapons in Cuba as a deterrence to the coming US invasion. Decisive in the Cuban government’s reluctant acceptance, was the Soviet presentation of the necessity of the missile placement, in order to, as Castro put it in the Ramonet interviews, ”to improve the balance of strategic forces.” Specifically, Khrushchev hoped to acquire, with a fait accompli, the leverage to eliminate operational US nukes near Soviet borders in Turkey. (See my essay55 Years After: Political Legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis” for more on Operation Mongoose and the unfolding of events leading to the nuclear missile crisis.

Revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s became the political and organizing center across the Americas for revolutionary struggle against US domination and the rule of the oligarchies – two things that were hand in glove.

In the early years after the triumph of the Revolution, the CIA set up in South Florida the largest base operation at that point, in its history. Daily operations were spun and run into Cuba involving plans for sabotage, terrorism, assassination, and so on. Organized, trained, funded, and directed from Washington, the operatives – by and large – were Cuban exiles. Thousands of Cuban citizens lost their lives as a result of such actions over the years.

The Agrarian Reform

With all this as a daily backdrop, Fidel and the Cuban revolutionaries carried out their program and policies, with mass support and mobilizations, utterly transforming Cuba.

The centerpiece for implementing, through popular mobilization and governmental power, the July 26 Movement’s program of radical social reforms was the transformation of the Cuban countryside by the Agrarian Reform Law. Agrarian reform was the fulcrum for the social and economic transformations heralded by the Revolution. Deliberations to codify in law, and implement in practice, a comprehensive agrarian reform began within the central July 26th Movement leadership almost immediately after the military victory, and the establishment of a provisional government. The most profound direction and input came from the collaboration between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. The agrarian reform was seen as the necessary foundation and catalyst for Cuba’s industrial development.13

The National Institute of Agrarian Reform was organized to implement the Law, with Fidel Castro as President and Che Guevara appointed head of the Department of Industrialization on October 8, 1959. Che held the central political and administrative responsibility within INRA.

Che organized and trained an INRA militia of 100,000. Their responsibilities included seizing control of expropriated land, supervising distribution, and helping to establish viable farm cooperatives. Some 500,000 acres of confiscated land was owned by US corporations. INRA, under Che’s direction, financed highway construction, built housing for peasants and farming cooperatives, and other industrial projects, including resorts for tourists.

All these economic measures dynamically interacted with the implemented radical social policies and laws that fundamentally altered and transformed social relations on the island to the clear benefit of the oppressed and exploited large majority of the Cuban population. These included a massive, successful campaign to wipe out illiteracy, and, what was particularly annoying to foreign and domestic big-business owners, progressive labor laws that greatly expanded trade-union membership and facilitated struggles for higher wages and better working conditions. Revolutionary laws and policies abolished racist Jim Crow-style segregation and discrimination policies, leading to huge advances for Cubans of African origins. The Revolution dealt big blows against the oppression of women including: legalizing the right to abortion (the first country in the Western Hemisphere to do so); the establishment of day-care facilities; equality in pay; greater access to education and professional training; and the eradication of organized prostitution with job training for ex-prostitutes. (It is estimated that one out of three women in Havana were super-exploited in the gangster-run commercial “sex industry.”)

These measures were not yet explicitly socialist; banking, manufacturing, and large-scale wholesale and retail distribution remained in private hands. However, the anti-capitalist tendency was clear and the encroachments on the prerogatives of domestic and foreign capital were intolerable to the ruling classes. With the implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law it was clear to all that social relations in Cuban society were being fundamentally transformed and that working people in the city and countryside were becoming politically and socially dominant.

Moreover, the evaporation of the old neo-colonial state and its repressive apparatus – the Cuban “deep state” so to speak — left a vacuum in political and social relations, into which stepped the highly radicalized, organized, and mobilized Cuban working people and youth led by the team around Fidel Castro. This was a leadership team of exceptional political and personal audacity and courage, who knew where they wanted to go and were not afraid of the dangers and consequences. The neo-colonial Army, police, courts, prisons, and the entire “criminal justice system” evaporated and were dismantled, with the new bodies and institutions stamped with a different class character.

The unfolding of the Cuban Revolution recalls the poetry of Bob Dylan’s classic “The Times They Are A-Changin’:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Fidel and the Liberation of Southern Africa

April 1974 saw a coup by left-wing military officers in Portugal against the semi-fascist Salazarist regime there and its unsustainable colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and the Cape Verde Islands where Portugal held colonies, more or less, for centuries. The coup unleashed pent-up mass struggles inside Portugal for democratic and workers’ rights. First and foremost, it expedited the collapse of Portugal’s colonial holdings. Negotiations with the new Portuguese government led to the target date of November 11, 1975 for the establishment of formal Angolan independence.

The broadest-based and predominant Angolan independence organization was the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) which was poised to take governmental power out of the political situation left with the disintegration of Portuguese rule and the withdrawal of Portuguese troops.

The South African apartheid regime sensed the danger to it in these developments. Prior to the formal, scheduled Angolan Declaration of Independence, South African forces forged alliances, which they clearly dominated, with reactionary forces of the more narrow and insular, ethnic-tribal-based Angolan FNLA and UNITA organizations. These organizations were also aligned with the United States as well as the pro-imperialist and exceedingly venal Mobutu dictatorship in “Zaire.” (Joseph Mobutu’s regime had changed the name of the Congo to “Zaire,”) The apartheid South African regime, with covert US support, had begun incursions into Angola, which led to a full invasion on October 1975, weeks before the formal establishment of Angolan Independence.

With Mobutu’s troops directly supporting the FNLA from Zaire to the west, and apartheid South Africa’s troops accompanying UNITA from bases in the South African colony of Namibia (an illegal occupation under rulings by the United Nations), the South African apartheid army and its pro-imperialist allies were on the verge of seizing the Angolan capital of Luanda when, in one of the most selfless acts of revolutionary internationalism in history, the Cuban government dispatched the first contingents of what became tens of thousands of combat troops. Within months the Cuban forces had routed the South African-Zairean invasion.

Cuban leader Jorge Risquet, the African director of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, who was centrally involved in the policymaking and execution of policy within the Cuban government in those historic days, pointed out in an interview from the excellent French documentary “Cuba: An African Odyssey,” that “Angola needed soldiers and weapons at that time. The South Africans were advancing, so they couldn’t wait until the 11th because the South Africans and Mobutu would reach Luanda. There’d be no independence. [Angolan President Augustino] Neto sent a message to the Soviet government, but they said they weren’t prepared to do anything inside Angola before November 11. We, however, were ready.”

Fidel Castro said, in the same film, “When on October 23, Angola was invaded by regular South African forces, we couldn’t just sit and watch. And when the MPLA asked for our help, we offered the aid necessary to prevent apartheid from being installed in Angola.”14

The Cubans assembled every available, and then some, air transport carrier to transport heavy-weapons specialists and Special Forces on the first flights, making 70 transatlantic crossing round trip to Luanda between November 7 and December 9, 1976. The bulk of Cuban troops, which initially reached 35,000 infantry by the end of 1976, and equipment were transported by ship, boats, and other waterborne vessels commandeered from all available ships in the Cuban Merchant Marine. The volunteer troops were conscious of the political and military imperative of the mission at the gates of Luando.

The Cuban leadership carried this out without even informing the Soviet government beforehand, which they knew would have opposed the Cuban intervention as an obstacle and irritant to their pursuit of post-Vietnam possibilities of détente with Washington. What Cuba did was done for nothing material in return, out of pure revolutionary duty, and human solidarity.

Cuban troops routed the South African-led invasion and repelled the otherwise inevitable South African seizure of the Angolan capital of Luanda. Cuban troops remained in Angola for over a decade to check South African military aggression. During this extraordinary period the clear victories of the largely Afro-Cuban military forces and their African allies defeated the mighty apartheid army. The political impact of South African military reversals inspired the entire continent, not least of all the militant, revolutionary-minded youth of South Africa’s townships and the South African Black working class.

The South African racists were bitter that the covert support and encouragement given to them by the Ford-Kissinger government could not be publicly expressed. As word of the South African aggression became public, Washington was paralyzed politically, unable to identify openly with the apartheid regime it was allied with covertly. South African Defense Minister and future South African President P.W. Botha, said in 1978, “[W]e crossed a border …in the case of Angola [and] we did so with the approval and knowledge of the Americans. But they left us in the lurch. [We] …went in there and operated in Angola with their knowledge…they encouraged us to act and, when we had nearly reached the climax, we were ruthlessly left in the lurch.”

The stunning “fact-on-the-ground” was that the mighty white supremacist army (which included puppet African troops) had been stopped and pushed back on the road to Luanda by largely dark-skinned Cuban and Angolan forces, with Cuban combat fighters the decisive factor.

Months after the victory over the apartheid army by the Cuban armed forces – made up of internationalist volunteers – came the June 1976 mass upsurge inside apartheid South Africa. The urban townships exploded following the historic high-school student uprising in the impoverished Johannesburg ghetto of Soweto (South West Township). There is no question of the interconnection. Oppressed South Africans, especially industrial workers and youth in the Townships and “Bantustans,” connected to the mass African National Congress underground resistance, knew about, and were emboldened by, the defeat of the racist army in Angola by the revolutionary Cuban combatants. Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu certainly knew about it in the prisons of Robben Island, apartheid’s Alcatraz, off Cape Town.

Despite bloody repression that murdered 600-700 in the streets of Soweto, the South African regime began to weaken and politically disintegrate. The Soweto Uprising, in fact, signaled the beginning of the end for the apartheid regime and that hated imperialist bastion.

At each political and military turning point of the 1976-1999 war between Cuba and its allies and apartheid South Africa and its allies, covertly backed by Washington, Fidel’s clear Marxist revolutionary perspective was that a military victory of apartheid South Africa in Angola would inevitably be a decisive victory that would prolong the life of the white-supremacist regime for an entire, and not inconsiderable period. It would be akin in its political impact to Hitler’s destruction of the German worker’s movement, Franco’s defeat of the Spanish Republic, and Pinochet’s coup in Chile. It takes a long time for the working class and oppressed nations to recover and revive after an historic defeat or major setback. This is a law of the class struggle and politics.

The ability to clearly see the price, first of all for the African masses of every country in southern Africa, of an apartheid state victory, is what led to the bold (and exceedingly risky for the Cuban state) measures undertaken in 1976 and again in the decisive 1988 crisis and emergency. The latter events involved initially an on-the-ground and in-the-air debacle and disaster, under the direction of Soviet military advisors, that went forward against the strong, razor-sharp opposition of Fidel and all the top Cuban leadership on-the-ground in Angola. What Fidel and the Cubans did was to turn a disaster into a decisive military victory at the small town of Cuito Cuanavale on the banks of the Lomba River in Angola.15

After the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the apartheid army was forced into a headlong retreat back to South Africa where the African townships were now in open, permanent, mass rebellion. It was Endgame for the apartheid regime. The South African rulers, and eventually their covert allies in the Ronald Reagan Administration, were forced to negotiate massive concessions in formal talks with revolutionary Cuba, the ANC, and other southern African liberations forces. In 1990, Namibia won its independence; Nelson Mandela and all the anti-apartheid political prisoners were freed; and the ANC and all the banned anti-apartheid organizations were legalized.

Over 300,000 Cubans – doctors, teachers, and engineers alongside combatants – served in Angola in the over ten-year period. Over 2,000 died.

Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela

These giant, world-historic, world-changing accomplishments – defending the sovereignty and independence of Angola, winning the independence and sovereignty of Namibia, and the unraveling and defeat of the apartheid state – unfolded with Fidel’s political and military leadership the decisive factor. These events without question laid the historic foundation for the new, relative rise of Africa in the world. This alone would be enough to secure Fidel’s role at the top summits of history’s liberators.

Preventing “Another Cuba” in the “Cold War” Years

Cuba did become allied to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact-states during the “Cold War” decades. This was probably decisive in preventing the Cuban Revolution from being overwhelmed by the economic and military power of the United States in the first years of the Revolution. The fate and survival of the Cuban Revolution – at the Bay of Pigs and during the Cuban Missile Crisis – became a major “flashpoint” of that “Cold War” period.

From its beginning, the Cuban Revolution and its leadership found a great resonance worldwide, and especially across Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Both big-business parties in the US were determined to use the apparatus of US power in the Hemisphere to counter that sympathy and prevent the emulation of the Cuban Revolution, and its extension in a period of intensifying national liberation and class struggles in the Americas. This included inside the United States with the rising Black liberation struggle and the growing mass movement against US aggression in Vietnam and Indochina. There was a growing layer, particularly among African-Americans, Latinos, and student youth, but also many others, who were attracted to and sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution.

Washington’s policy was to overturn the revolutionary Cuban government and stamp it out as a dangerous, but short-lived, revolutionary meteor that would crash back down to earth. But, Washington failed to defeat the Cuban Revolution. Nevertheless, US imperialism did manage, at a huge cost to the working people and for democratic rights in the Hemisphere, to defeat revolutionary struggles and popular upsurges in Latin America in the 1960s and 70s, and again in Central America in the 1980s.

It was the liberal Democratic Administration of Lyndon Johnson, continuing the policy of his assassinated predecessor, that orchestrated and provided key material and political support to the 1964 military coup in Brazil that deposed the reformist government of Joao Goulart in Brazil. The brutal military regime there lasted until 1985. Among the greatest of Goulart’s sins in the eyes of Washington was his government’s refusal to break diplomatic relations with Cuba. The Johnson Administration invaded the Dominican Republic with nearly 25,000 troops in 1965 to “restore stability” after a military coup against the elected, progressive government of Juan Bosch, and to prevent an unfolding revolutionary dynamic there. Johnson demagogically presented this gross violation of Dominican sovereignty as the need to prevent “another Cuba.”

Additionally, the Johnson White House, as it was escalating the US war against Vietnam, also oversaw the defeat of continental guerrillas, under the leadership of Ernesto Che Guevara, that were battling US-backed military and oligarchic regimes across the Americas from bases in Bolivia. The Johnson “National Security team” expedited the murder by summary execution of Che – captured in combat and unarmed – by US-backed Bolivian military forces in October 1967. The subsequent Republican White House of Richard Nixon, at the same time it was exerting itself to prevent a political-military collapse and defeat in Vietnam and Indochina, closely collaborated with the Chilean military and bourgeoisie to overthrow the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile in September, 1973.

Chile

On September 4, 1970 Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile with a plurality of the vote, 36.6 percent, against two divided liberal and conservative bourgeois parties. Allende was a leader of the Chilean Socialist Party (SP), a mass working class party. The SP-led government and coalition, Unidad Popular, included the Chilean Communist Party, another large working-class party, and liberal middle-class parties and groups.

Allende’s government coalition in its first year carried out a number of far-reaching and popular reforms, including nationalizing foreign holdings in the copper, nitrate, iron, and coal industries. Land reform legislation passed under previous capitalist Christian Democratic-party led government began to be implemented, in a political dynamic where landless peasants were already seizing land and working it. Space was conquered for increased trade union organization and workers won and received under Unidad Popular significant wages increases. A law was passed guaranteeing a daily quart of milk for children. Thousands of political prisoners were released. Allende’s government re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1971 and quickly developed warm relations with the revolutionary Cuban government. It spoke out strongly against US aggression in Vietnam, infuriating the Richard Nixon Administration.

In subsequent municipal and national legislative elections Unidad Popular increased its vote to up to nearly 50%, some 44 per cent in the 1973 parliamentary elections. Class, social, and therefore political polarization sharply increased. The Allende-led governmental coalition faced tremendous pressures from big-business and financial class forces, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and broad middle-class layers in Chile. These forces, in turn, were backed by, and actively collaborated with, United States government agencies and spooks. Washington carried out destabilization projects and plots, under the Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger White House and State Department. These were widely known at the time, but, many years later, have been officially documented in great detail from records and archives released under the Freedom of Information Act.

(Pathfinder Press has published Fidel Castro on Chile, New York, 1982 with an introduction by Elizabeth Stone, a comprehensive compilation of speeches, interviews, press conferences, and interactions with Chilean workers and trade unionists, peasants, and students from November 10 to December 4, 1971. In speech after speech, Castro foresees – in a cumulative master class in the Marxist method – the gathering, impossible-to-be-avoided political, social, and class showdown. He did everything in his power to prevent a historic defeat and slaughter of working people in Chile similar to what Che Guevara had witnessed in 1954 Guatemala. The classic documentary The Battle of Chile, shot during the Allende years, smuggled out of Chile, and finished in Cuba, shows how workers and peasants, ready to defend their gains, arms in hand, waited in vain to be mobilized, organized, and armed as the defense of democratic space and constitutional legality that was being abandoned by the Chilean ruling classes and was, in fact, collapsing.)

A wave of brutal, bloody US-backed military regimes ruled across the South American continent during this period. Washington’s policies were largely motivated by a hatred and fear of the consequences of any potential extension of the Cuban Revolution. That is, revolutionary Cuba’s appeal to the oppressed and exploited peoples of the Hemisphere to rise up and conquer their national and social liberation. During these dark days of brutal rule by the US-backed militaries and oligarchies it was, in fact, the Cuban “dictatorship” that aided in every way it could – in a non-sectarian manner – the progressive and revolutionary forces defending democratic freedoms, political space, trade union legality, farmers rights, and so on. Is it any wonder that Washington’s shameless lectures to Cuba on “human rights” and “democracy” are met with such derision and contempt and have been unable to gain significant political traction in this Hemisphere.

Fidel speaking to a mass rally in Chile, November 1971

Certainly Washington’s problem with Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution is that, to his everlasting credit, the revolutionaries he led did not turn the other cheek, and give in, in the face of imperialist subversion and aggression. Revolutionary Cuba did not turn into 1954 Guatemala or 1973 Chile. They defended themselves and continue to defend themselves. Washington, the European Union “statesmen,” and the big-business media and house pundits call this “violations of human rights.”

Central America Revolutionary Upsurge in the 1980s

A decade of revolutionary upsurge, fierce counter-revolutionary response, in the finest traditions of the Latin American oligarchies and ruling classes, and US covert and increasingly open intervention and threats, was ushered in with the 1979 triumphs of the Nicaraguan Revolution, led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and the Grenadian Revolution, led by Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement. Revolutionary armed struggles against military tyrannies in El Salvador and Guatemala unfolded in the early-1980s.

The response of Washington, under the new Ronald Reagan White House, and Democratic Party majorities in both Houses of Congress, was the not-secret-for-long covert campaign to arm, train, finance, and organize logistics for the terrorist contra army. The contras naturally drew heavy on remnants of the overthrown Somoza-family dictatorship and oligarchy. Washington fostered a large base in Honduras to stage bloody terrorist raids into Nicaragua.

In El Salvador, Reagan’s team worked hard to put a “democratic’ face on the “moderate” “center” Jose Napoleon Duarte regime, but the operative, dynamic force, over this entire period, umbilically tied to the growing US military presence and intervention, were the rightist death squads slaughtered some 70,000, in a country of around 4.5 million at the time. (That would be the equivalent of 3.5 million people in the US at the time or 1,167 separate 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center at around 3,000 an attack.)16

Fully in line with its proletarian internationalist traditions, Cuba did everything its could to promote and defend the Sandinista Revolution, the Grenadian Revolution, and the liberation forces in El Salvador and Guatemala. In Nicaragua and Grenada, the revolutionary workers and farmers governments and mobilized working people and youth in both countries were carrying out powerful economic policies and social programs in the interests of workers and peasants, with immediate results in massive growth is popular access to health care, education, and the arts.

The Reagan Administration counter-revolutionary drive also targeted Cuba, which, in the words of then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig, was the “source of the problem.”

In Nicaragua, despite the military defeat of the contra army, the war-battered, exhausted, and devastated country saw an erosion of mass participation and support for the Revolution by the late-1980s. In that context and pressure, there were also important political shifts in Sandinista policies, in particular delays in the implementation of land reform, that contributed to the electoral defeat and collapse of the Sandinista-led government in 1990. In this same period, by the late 1980s, military and political stalemates led to negotiated settlements in El Salvador and Guatemala. All of this meant that the revolutionary wave from 1979 had definitively ended without further victories, and with two historic losses in Nicaragua and Grenada.

The shock, and accompanying positive material effect for the capitalist class, of the political and economic stabilization of neo-colonial capitalist rule, after the great expectations and inspiration 1979 ushered in, could only lead to a widespread political demoralization and a trend toward the rejection of Marxist and socialist ideas for so-called “neo-liberalism” exemplified by the rightist trajectory of some prominent ex-leftist intellectuals such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Teodoro Petkoff, and Jorge Castenada. Suddenly, the “Washington Consensus” and “neoliberalism” were ascendant. Neo-liberal governments were elected from Argentina to Peru to Brazil carrying out the Pinochet “Chicago School” economic program under a veil of capitalist “democracy.” A decade of “neo-liberal globalization” carried out a program of attacking workers and unions, driving down the value of labor, driving farmers off the land, and promoting anti-labor austerity and cutting already minimal social programs while promoting financial speculation, borrowing, and massive debt.

Moreover, by 1991, the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp” had politically collapsed. Triumphalist propaganda exalted the supposed “triumph of liberal capitalist democracy,” “the end of socialism,” and even “the end of history” altogether. The capitalist ideological and political offensive, full of righteous arrogance and full of itself, was on full throttle.

Nevertheless, in the “neo-liberal decade” of the 1990s, it was Cuba, and popular organizations like the Confederation of Cuban Workers CTC) or the Cuban Institute for Friendship With the People’s (ICAP) that called and organized trade unionists and solidarity activists across the Western Hemisphere and around the world to Conferences dedicated to struggle against “neo-liberal globalization.”

The “Special Period”

The collapse of the USSR and the “socialist camp” devastated the Cuban economy, threatening the gains of the Revolution and the Revolution itself, more than it had ever been, before or since, even when Washington nuclear missiles were aimed at it, when US invasion forces were gathering, and when the US Navy was sealing Cuba off from the world.

Cuba’s economy had become tied to the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp” to the point where 85% of its economic exchange was with it. Fidel had attempted to shift the Cuban economy, through the mid-1980s “Rectification” campaign, a politically-led attempt to revive Che’s economic policies and orientation, among other important social and political changes. But this was aborted under the rapid unfolding of events in the USSR and Eastern Europe from 1989-1992.

Almost overnight economic exchanges and ties to the “socialist camp” evaporated. Cuba’s economic output fell 35%. Factories shut down for lack of parts. Produce rotted in fields as farm equipment could not move. Oxen replaced tractors. Surgeries were performed in the open sun for lack of electricity. Blackouts were the norm. Those dog days across the 1990s became known as the “Special Period.”

It was precisely at this time that US economic and travel sanctions were deepened and intensified. Bipartisan Washington, under both the first George Bush and William Clinton White Houses hoped that, once and for all, it could be rid of the “pestilence” of the Cuban Revolution, its example and outsized political resonance and influence in the Americas and the world. It was inconceivable to the US government that the “Castro” Revolution could survive these blows. Washington passed legislation, the Torricelli and Helms-Burton “Acts,” that tightened the US economic, commercial, and financial embargo and attempted to “internationalize” it into a de facto military blockade. This was to be done by pressuring and threatening with penalties other countries or enterprises that independently traded with Cuba.17

The Cuban Five meet Fidel and his wife Dalia Soto del Valle

It can be said that Fidel’s last great triumph as a revolutionary leader was the struggle, with the Cuban people, to successfully lead the nation through, and beginning to fight its way out of, the “Special Period.”

Cuba began to climb out from the “Special Period” at the turn of the 20th Century. Fidel’s government deployed teams of economists, diplomats, and negotiators around the world seeking investment capital, negotiating trade deals and financing, figuring out ways of getting around the US blockade, and so on, and making important progress. Cuban working people stepped up to the plate to build high-rise and other new hotels and food markets to rebuild the tourism industry. Tourism, which quickly expanded, brought in urgently needed foreign exchange to maintain the basic conquests of the Revolution in free and high-quality medical care and education. A key to Cuban economic advances was new economic and political relations with Venezuela, Brazil, and other Latin American countries that were prepared to stand up to Washington’s pressure, as well as increased economic ties with China and Vietnam.

At this time Latin America was undergoing major political shifts with mass resistance growing to the so-called “neo-liberal Washington Consensus” policies of austerity and assaults on working people. In particular, the Bolivarian government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, elected President in 1998 after a mass uprising against austerity measures was met with murderous repression, forged a close alliance with revolutionary Cuba, that included providing oil and energy needs to the island, while Cuba provided 30,000 thousand doctors and teachers that greatly boosted the access to 10 million Venezuelan working people to quality medical care and education. Over time, in this period, all Latin American governments united to oppose Washington’s attempts to isolate and overturn the Cuban government and Revolution. It was Fidel Castro’s government that mobilized world public opinion against the US-backed attempted coup of April 2002 in Venezuela.

Fidel, the “world Communist movement” and Socialism

Fidel politically defeated his enemies in his lifetime and in history. The Cuban Revolution not only survived the decades-long US government onslaught, but implemented and consolidated historic social and cultural advances. To this day, Cuba’s example and its deeds of international solidarity resonate in today’s political world and with new generations of socialist and revolutionary-minded fighters in every corner of the globe.

It is clear that Cuba punches “way above its weight” in world politics. Fidel’s enemies for all their efforts have not been able to manufacture a false narrative – and have it stick – on the great Cuban revolutionary.

Fidel was an opponent of dogma and often expressed a striking critique of the stultification of Marxism in the Soviet bloc. In a January 12, 1968 speech at the closing session of the Cultural Congress of Havana at the Charles Chaplin Theater, Castro said:

[N]othing could be more anti-Marxist than dogma, nothing could be more anti-Marxist than the petrification of ideas. And there are even ideas propounded in the name of Marxism which seem to be truly fossils. Marxism has had thinkers of genius: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Lenin, to mention the outstanding founders. But Marxism needs to develop, break away from a certain rigidity, interpret today’s reality from an objective, scientific viewpoint, conduct itself as a revolutionary force and not as a pseudo-revolutionary church. These are the paradoxes of history. How, seeing sectors of the clergy becoming revolutionary forces, can we resign ourselves to seeing revolutionary forces become ecclesiastical forces.

The emergence of the independent Cuban communist leadership was a political and ideological challenge to the bastions of “official” Marxism in the Soviet Union of the post-Stalin and Khrushchev era from 1953-1964 and also to the variant coming out of the political, economic, and human turmoil in China during the era of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution where intense political-factional warfare broke out within the Chinese Communist Party and government.

There may seem to be little immediate residual relevance to these decades-ago polemics and divisions within what was once called the “world Communist movement.” But for a revolutionary Marxist and the working-class movement, understanding the lessons and history of the past are indispensable in developing a consciousness, methodology, and program for today and tomorrow.

Today, all “traditional” political tendencies in the workers movement and the “left” are being shaken up by the ascent of so-called populist movements and parties, “right” and “left.” Longstanding social-democratic parties and organizations have been thrown into turmoil and crisis in country after country in Europe and attempts to forge a similar “progressive,” “mixed economy” perspective in in Latin America and elsewhere in the so-called “emerging markets.” (What I would call a “Left Keynesian” outlook and perspective.)

Today, the permanent crisis of building effective, international working-class leadership and organizations, based on fraternal collaboration and solidarity in common struggle, remains weak and unresolved. But it is increasingly on the table as social and class polarization, and inevitable political volatility and instability, mounts everywhere, from the richest to the most destitute countries on Earth, and everywhere in between.

Today, the permanent crisis of building effective, international working-class leadership based on fraternal collaboration and solidarity in common struggle, remains weak and unresolved. But it is increasingly on the table as social and class polarization, and inevitable political volatility and instability, mounts everywhere.

Yet, this is also an era where the fact and example of the Cuban Revolution survives and leads. It is this anti-imperialist, socialist, and Marxist legacy of Fidel Castro needs to be studied by young people turning to anti-capitalism and socialism, and to revolutionary struggle around the world, including in the United States, Europe, and other industrialized capitalist countries. Many will perhaps be surprised at the fruits of their study.

Fidel and Stalinism

Political and ideological attacks on Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionary government from the propaganda machinery of the capitalist world have generally attempted and continue to attempt to identify the Cuban Revolution with “Stalinism,” no matter how little serious understanding of that actual historical phenomenon there is on the part of anti-Cuban propagandists. Of course, defenders and apologists for capitalism and imperialism love to equate “Communism” and Marxism with Stalinism, and to collapse the latter into the former.

Historically, the terms “socialism” and “communism” were more or less interchangeable. After the Russian Revolution, a sharp polarization in the workers movement developed between supporters and opponents of the Bolsheviks in the radicalizing workers movement, with Lenin and the Bolsheviks identifying as “Communists.” This political division was reflected and registered in the different labels. This deepened with the consolidation of Stalin’s regime which retained the label “Communist” as did the large majority of Communist Parties in the world that allied with the Soviet government and Stalin’s Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The objective and subjective circumstances facing the Cuban Revolution, and the responsibilities upon Fidel as the central spokesperson of the revolutionary leadership, made a certain circumspection a necessary political quality and characteristic. The art of revolutionary politics – a test that every sectarian fails – is not always saying everything you may think you know, but saying what is necessary, always speaking the concrete truth, and backing up your words with deeds, and with action.

At the same time, the alliance – including the military component – with the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp,” was decisive in the very material survival of the Cuban Revolution, at least in the crucial early years when Washington’s open commitment, backed by furious actions and deeds, was to utterly eradicate the revolutionary government. Moreover, Fidel and the Cuban leadership were genuinely grateful for the solidarity and material aid they received from the Soviet Union and its allies.

The Fidelistas were drawn into, whether they liked it or not, the raging political battles within the “world Communist movement.” This was a period where the schisms between the Soviet and Chinese Communist Parties and governments were becoming toxic even as US aggression against Vietnam began to escalate and eventually dominate world politics throughout the decade of the 1960s and early 1970s. The contemporary questions roiling the “world communist movement” essentially dealt with the long decades of the rule of Joseph Stalin’s government in the Soviet Union from its consolidation of power by the late-1920s, following the January 1924 death of Lenin, and the failure of Lenin’s death-bed attempts to remove Stalin as the General Secretary and a central leader of the Soviet Communist Party.

The Cuban leaders thought deeply about all these questions. Che Guevara, in particular, grappled with these questions very concretely as he prepared to depart from Cuba to provide central revolutionary political-military leadership for revolutionary armed struggle first in the Congo and then Bolivia and the Latin America Continent. Even before that in the period prior to 1965, when Che was a primary spokesperson and emissary of the Cuban Revolution in world politics, making numerous political and diplomatic travels, establishing relations with many countries, and visiting the “socialist camp.” The experience led him to think out, develop, and write down serious criticisms of the economic, social, and political practices of the Soviet and Eastern European governments and parties.

Cuban practices, despite pressures to conform to and assimilate the economic and social policies of their Soviet bloc allies, tended to diverge in many concrete arenas: land reform, the approach to family farmers and the peasantry as a class, culture and art, criminal justice and legal norms, hostility to torture, electoral procedures, women’s rights, and foreign policy. But, and this was central to the “Rectification” campaign, and, later, the lessons drawn from the “Special Period,” there was a tendency to copy, especially in economic practices, the experience and mechanisms of the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp.”

Under these circumstances, Fidel and the Cuban revolutionary leadership could not say everything they thought publicly, although if we look at the actual historical record, it is quite remarkable how much was said and how the independent revolutionary perspectives of the Cuban leadership was projected internationally. Vietnam was the sharpest expression of this, in the public speeches and statements of Fidel and Che.18

Fidel’s 1973 visit to Quang Tri in southern Vietnam raising the Khe Sahn Battalion Flag

The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

As I note in the essay, “55 Years Later: Political Legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis“:

Soviet-Cuban tensions escalated in this mid-1960s period, although never to the point of a public break. Nevertheless, sharp, concrete political and theoretical differences were registered between the Soviet and Cuban leaderships in this period over the US escalation in Vietnam and serious political divergence in Latin America. In several speeches in 1966 and 1967 Fidel Castro publicly excoriated the Soviet government for its economic and political relations with Latin American repressive and reactionary regimes.

The betrayal and execution of Che in 1967 sharpened the existing tensions and was followed by the [Anibal] Escalante intrigue and covert plotting against the revolutionary government. In terms of the economic relations and exchange between Cuba and the Soviet Union during these clashes, there was limited but noticeable Soviet measures affecting the struggling Cuban economy which was being whipped by the US economic blockade, particularly in the Americas. In this period, the first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba struggled with diplomatic isolation in the Western Hemisphere under US pressure, with only Canada and Mexico maintaining formal diplomatic ties.

While all of this was impacting on the Cuban leadership and Cuban-Soviet relation –  and while, at the same time, the United States government, on the cusp of the Vietnamese “Tet Offensive,” had 500,000 troops and personnel in Vietnam, employing massive, destructive, and murderous firepower – in August 1968, the Soviet Union, with the participation of troops from four other of its allied Warsaw Pact states, invaded Czechoslovakia with some 200,000 troops, and overthrew the “reform” and popular government of Alexander Dubcek, who was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

Fidel Castro gave very critical, even bitter, support to the invasion in a highly anticipated public speech. The speech was so critical that the Soviet press maintained a censorious public silence on its content, despite the bottom-line support. Aside from the inevitable denouncement from Washington and the European capitalist powers who had been handed by Moscow a propaganda bonanza and opportunities for political advantage in the “Cold War” chessboard, the Soviet invasion caused huge divisions and opposition from large Communist Parties in Europe and elsewhere, and near-universal opposition among left-wing forces and revolutionary-minded tendencies worldwide.

Fidel’s position as elaborately, and even passionately, presented in an August 23, 1968 highly anticipated speech, was internally consistent. He said the invasion “unquestionably entailed a violation of legal principles and international norms” and “it cannot be denied that the sovereignty of the Czechoslovak State was violated. That would be a fiction [and] an untruth. And the violation was, in fact, of a flagrant nature…From a legal point of view, this cannot be justified…Not the slightest trace of legality exists. Frankly, none whatsoever.”

Nevertheless, Fidel accepted the premise and assertion that Czechoslovakia was heading toward a restoration of capitalism which meant it would fall into the arms of world imperialism, weaken the “socialist camp,” and thereby greatly weaken anti-imperialist struggles around the world, particularly in Vietnam, but also the Cuban Revolution at that conjuncture. Leaving aside whether Fidel Castro was accurately assessing the dynamics of the so-called “Prague Spring” of Dubcek reforms and government, it is clear that Fidel’s position was shaped by anti-imperialist “camp” theories that was a seemingly intractable political framework at that height of the Cold War.

The Cuban Revolution paid a high price politically for a number of years for their position, despite the harsh criticisms and nuances in Fidel’s speech. It reinforced the views of those who identified the Castro leadership with “Stalinism,” and won over even more liberals, progressives, and leftists to that subjective, shallow viewpoint.

Nevertheless, Fidel never reversed his initial judgment and position of critical support for the Soviet invasion. (In the Ramonet interviews, Fidel said “[F]urthermore, we said we thought that the first issues raised in Czechoslovakia were unobjectionable, because they tended to improve Socialism. The denunciation of the methods of governance, the bureaucratic policies, the divorce [from] the masses, all those denunciations were unquestionably correct. But from fair slogans there had been a move towards an openly reactionary policy.  And we – bitterly, sadly – had to approve that military intervention. The preservation of the unity and strength of Socialism in the face of imperialism was for us vital, of first priority.” For his full nuanced position in Ramonet see pages 579-580. (In 1979 Fidel opposed the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan on grounds of international law.)

Fidel on Stalin

On a number of occasions Fidel Castro spoke clearly and forthrightly, with great reflection and insight, on the figure of Joseph Stalin and Stalin’s impact on history and world politics, including the politics of the “world Communist movement.” In the Ramonet interviews Fidel said,

I, deep inside, was more critical of Stalin, because of some of his mistakes. He was to blame, in my view, for the invasion of the USSR in 1941 by Hitler’s powerful war machine, without the Soviet army ever hearing a call to arms. Stalin also committed serious errors – everyone knows about his abuse of force, the repression, and his personal characteristics, the cult of personality. But yet he showed tremendous merit in industrializing the country, in moving the military industry to Siberia – those were decisive factors in the world’s fight against Nazism. So, when I analyse it, I weigh his merits and also his great errors, and one of those was when he purged the Red Army due to Nazi misinformation – that weakened the USSR militarily on the eve of the Fascist attack…He disarmed himself, he weakened himself, and he signed that terrible German-Soviet pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and other things.

In a 1992 interview with Sandinista leader Tomas Borge, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro went into more detail:

We should keep in mind, first of all, that the Soviet Union had the misfortune of Lenin dying relatively young. It needed him to live a further 10, 15 or 20 years…Lenin would have been able to rectify many of the negative trends that arose within the soviet revolutionary process after his death. Thus, Lenin’s absence – the vacuum his death left in the theoretical sphere as well as the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union – is a factor that had a great influence on what happened next.

Castro then focused on “first of all, for his infringements on legality. Stalin committed enormous abuses of power,” as well as “Stalin’s character, his terrible distrust of everything, [which] made him commit several other mistakes: one of them was falling in the trap of German intrigue and conducting a terrible, bloody purge of the armed forces and practically beheading the Soviet Army on the eve of war.”

Going into detail Fidel contrasts the practice of revolutionary Cuba to Stalin’s “worst mistakes” in agricultural policy and “forced collectivization” of farms.

It seems to me that the process of socialization of the land should have been started earlier and developed progressively…It seems to me that the attempt to socialize the land in an extremely short period of time historically, by means of violence, was very costly, both economically and in terms of human suffering. That was a serious mistake under Stalin’s leadership…What I don’t believe is that anything forced them to have then carried out an accelerated process of compulsory collectivization…We’ve always understood that small plots of land have limited production possibilities, but we never engaged in any compulsory collectivization.

Estimates of the number who died in the mass famines in Soviet Ukraine in this period are in the millions.

Castro credits Stalin’s organizational and administrative talents, and his eye for detail, for the relatively rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and for the, by any measure, heroic accomplishment of Soviet workers of dismantling and transporting whole war industries and factories east of the Ural Mountains, and out of the range of the Nazi Luftwaffe, as the Nazi onslaught advanced, a process Stalin evidently directly oversaw and supervised. By this point, Stalin had given considerable ground in military decision making to the rebuilt Red Army officer corps.

Castro’s stated views on Stalin are particularly animated and sharp on the period leading up to and during World War II, particularly on the political morality of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact. These give important insights into the primacy that Fidel gives, in revolutionary politics, to internationalist Marxist principles, and not giving up the moral high ground. He contrasts and compares – within the limits of any analogy – the practice of the Cuban Revolution to Stalin and Stalinism. The Borge interview takes place in the real-time period where the Soviet Union had just collapsed as a nation-state. As he recalled to Borge:

I was 13 when World War II began, and I read all the newspapers. I had been avidly reading all of the newspapers, all the international news, ever since the Spanish Civil War…I read the newspapers in the years proceeding World War II, and I read the news every day during the war years. This is without mentioning the books I read about the military events of the time and about political events after the war.

Stalin [did] something that I will always criticize, because I think it was a flagrant violation of principle: his seeking peace with Hitler at all costs, to gain time. In our long revolutionary life and in the already relatively long life of the Cuban Revolution, we have never negotiated even one principle to gain time or obtain any other kind of practical advantage…all my life, ever since I developed a political and revolutionary awareness, I have considered that pact to have been a terrible mistake in Soviet foreign policy, a mistake that Stalin made in those years leading up to the war…Moreover, I think that, far from providing more time, that nonaggression pact reduced the time available…I think it was a terrible mistake from the point of view of principles and of international opinion…all my life, I’ve thought that the little war against Finland was another terrible mistake, both from the viewpoint of principles, and from that of international law. That’s what I have always thought.

He drives home this crucial point, which was also made in the November 2005 speech at the University of Havana:

[Stalin] went on making one mistake after another that brought the Soviet Union into disrepute among large sectors of world public opinion and placed Communists around the world…in an extremely difficult position, having to defend all those things in their own countries. Communists all over the world…had to engage in a kind of hari-kari to defend the Soviet Union…they found themselves forced to defend such unpopular things as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the occupation of a part of Polish territory, and the war with Finland.

At this point he tells Borge:

Now that we’re talking about this, I should take the opportunity to tell you that I’ve never spoken about these things this way with any journalist before.

Castro continues:

I think they were terrible political mistakes – and mistakes of principle as well – that we would never have made. The history of the Cuban revolution bears this out, because the Revolution never abandoned its principles. Never, for national convenience or any other reason, did the Revolution abandon any legitimate cause in the world, nor did it abandon any revolutionary movements, even though our adversary was the powerful US government….The things I mentioned go contrary to…doctrine…[and] political wisdom. Even though it is true that the Soviet Union had a year and nine months between September 1939 and June 1941 in which to rearm, the one who made himself much stronger – ten times as strong – was Hitler. If Hitler had gone to war against the Soviet Union in 1939, he would have done it less damage than in June 1941…He made another extremely serious mistake in June 1941 when the German had concentrated millions of soldiers, thousands of planes, tens of thousands of tanks and armored vehicles and hundreds of divisions…along the border. Faced with such clearly aggressive intentions – it was impossible to disguise them – Stalin clung to the theory that it was an act of provocation…and acted like an ostrich, sticking his head in the sand. He didn’t mobilize the troops…So what happened?…Hitler launched a “surprise” attack on the Soviet Union…How do you launch a “surprise” attack with millions of soldiers? Well, it was done, and Hitler’s troops attacked a country that wasn’t mobilized.

Fidel on Stalinism – Brazil 1990

In March 1990 Fidel traveled to Brazil to attend the Inauguration of Fernando Collor de Mello, the first directly elected president since the Brazilian military regime gave up formal political power in 1985. Collor de Mello defeated the left-wing Workers Party candidate Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva by 6%, in what was widely considered a manipulated outcome. Collor de Mello was the scion of one of the top ruling-class families of Brazil with vast media holdings. His was one of the first governments identified with the “Washington Consensus” and “neoliberal austerity” policies, registering pro-imperialist advances under conditions of inflationary spirals and massive state debt, to take office in the wake of the end of the revolutionary upsurge in Central America and the Caribbean and the collapse of the USSR and the governments of its Warsaw Pact allies. Within two years Collor de Mello was impeached for numerous “gross corrupt acts.”

In that period, the political dynamic in Latin American, where mass struggles for democratic rights were growing, was also prying open democratic and political space in a number of countries and, at the same time, registering a relative political slippage and retreat in Washington after the brutal “Condor” years. Politically, Fidel’s visit was part of the successful initiatives of Cuban revolutionary diplomacy in this period. The Cuban government saw, and seized on, the new, and highly contradictory, political conditions in Latin America in that period, to break out of Washington’s imposed diplomatic isolation for socialist Cuba in the Americas. This was a very successful campaign over a number of years, occurring at the same time Cuba was reeling from, coping with, and struggling mightily to ameliorate and get out of the “Special Period.”

Fidel’s expansive trip to Brazil was six days full of speeches and encounters up and down Brazilian society.

In 1990 Brazil, in this period when the “socialist camp” was disintegrating in real time and the Cuban government had begun preparing the Cuban people for the economic tsunami that they knew was about to smash into Cuba, Fidel spoke expansively on Stalinism and the Cuban Revolution. The political importance represented by Fidel’s remarks was underlined by the publication in Cuba of the small book Back in Brazil in 1990, under the copyright of both Fidel and the Jose Marti Publishing House.

In a meeting with a Christian “base community” at the Anhembi Convention Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil on March 17, 1990 Fidel gave an extensive back-and-forth in the mass meeting attended by 1300 activists and chaired by prominent Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff, Methodist Minister Taria Marra, and Lutheran Minister Milton Schwantes.

Asked about Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika in the USSR (in what turned out to be the last year-and-a-half of the Soviet state) and if Cuba would have such an “opening” and “democratic process,” Castro answered:

[We] had already begun our process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies. Naturally, our process couldn’t be the same as that of the USSR, because we didn’t make the same mistakes they made.  We made other mistakes of a different kind and we had to rectify them, because doing the things they did over there would have been like removing a corn with a remedy prescribed for a toothache…We didn’t have phenomena like those stemming from Stalinism in our country – that never occurred and neither did abuse of authority, for at certain historical moments highly negative violent processes against peoples took place in the Soviet Union.

We’ve never used violence against even a single one of our citizens; we’d never stoop to doing that, because the day we did such a thing, using torture, committing crimes, we’d be outraged ourselves. There’s never been a case of political crime in our country; we had revolutionary laws, revolutionary courts, revolutionary trials, and even spies, terrorists who were executed with due process, but we’ve never laid a finger on anybody to make him speak or tell anything…That hasn’t stopped people from spreading the most atrocious and infamous lies about our country…but, obviously, great abuse of authority took place at certain times in the USSR, and there were phenomena which did not exist in Cuba.

…Other things happened in Cuba and one of them was that, in spite of the originality our Revolution always had, there were some things we copied from them and in our process of rectification this is one of the things we’ve rectified so far. I mean methods we copied from them with bad results in our country…We are distancing ourselves from mistakes; we don’t think much of using capitalist categories in constructing socialism while they, on the other hand, are moving in the direction of introducing capitalist categories more and more…We respect what they’re doing, because I really think [what] a country does must be respected. I’m simply answering your question…We’ve been careful to avoid as much as possible privileges for our leaders, officials, cadres; we struggle against that but, above all, we’ve made a big effort to uphold the unity between our Party and the people, between the Revolution and the people. Because what has happened in several of these countries is that there was a gap between the Party and the people, between the government and the people. If we commit those mistakes we won’t last two minutes next to the United States, a powerful country that blockades us, pressures us, harasses us, wants to destroy us. Without a united, organized, and armed people to defend the Revolution, we couldn’t exist next to the United States, and so reality shows that we haven’t made those types of errors.

Driving home the point, Fidel indicates the steely political resolve that led Cuba successfully through the “Special Period” and into the new horizons, and challenges, for Cuban socialism today:

Does it seem like the easiest thing in the world to make a revolution 90 miles away from the United States and resist for over 30 years the imperialist blockade, the hostility, the slander, the war against us, the permanent threats, which have forced us to invest so many resources and so much energy, and make so many sacrifices. Who was going to save socialism in Cuba, the Soviet tanks? The Soviets were over there, far away from us, they couldn’t have arrived in Cuba in time. The tanks that can come rapidly to Cuba are the US tanks, do you understand? That actually helped us a lot.

Instead of saying, what a misfortune it is living so close to the United States, I can say, what a good fortune to have lived so far away from the borders of the Soviet Union. It never occurred to us to trust that the Soviets would come to save our Revolution, had we divorced ourselves from the masses and the people and started to make all sorts of mistakes. And, in addition, what good fortune that was, because any revolution that is unable to defend itself is a revolution not worth saving. What good is any revolution that must depend on others to save it?

Fidel Castro and the Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership in the World

History will record that the team of revolutionary fighters gathered around Fidel Castro made a giant effort to move forward the struggle for revolutionary leadership in the world. Cuban revolutionary theory and practice was animated by a strong anti-bureaucratism articulated in the speeches and writings of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, that was bound together by a profound internationalist spirit of solidarity. This entire perspective and outlook was a return to – and spurred the revival of in a new generation of revolutionary-minded youth – a creative, and human-being centered, Marxism after decades of stultification and dogma in theory, as well as horrible crimes and betrayals in its name in practice, by the government led by Joseph Stalin and his acolytes in the Soviet Union and the so-called “socialist camp.” (See especially Socialism and Man in Cuba by Che Guevara, Pathfinder Press edition and Fidel Castro’s 1962 speech on sectarianism and bureaucracy.)

The consolidation of the socialist Cuban Revolution meant that for the first time since the opening years of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, revolutionary internationalists were in the leadership of a workers’ state. They not only held domestic power but, in their foreign policy, had the political perspective of extending the Revolution and using the political authority and material resources of the workers state – within the limits of the possible – to collaborate with and aid fellow revolutionists.

Taken as a whole, Fidel’s accomplishments stand unique in the history of the revolutionary workers’ movement and the national independence and liberation struggles that unfolded fiercely in the blood-soaked 20th Century.

In the following year after the 2005 University of Havana speech, Fidel underwent emergency intestinal surgery with a long recovery period. In February 2008 Fidel announced that he would not take up his government positions and on February 24, 2008 Raul Castro became President of the Cuban Council of State. On April 19, 2011 Fidel resigned from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. At each step of Fidel’s illness and his physical inability to continue in his positions, his class enemies and anti-Cuba propagandists, who were tied to the line of “the dictator” and the “one-man show” smugly prophesized the quick collapse and implosion of the Cuban Revolution. Some are reverting to the same nonsense as President Raul Castro prepares to step down in April 2018 at the end of his term.

When Fidel Castro delivered the famous October 18, 1967 memorial speech for Ernesto Che Guevara in the Plaza de la Revolucion before over one million Cubans, he said about Che that, “An example such as this can never be eliminated by anything or anyone.” No more profound truth can be said about Fidel. It was Fidel’s fate, to the great benefit of oppressed and exploited humanity, to survive as a revolutionary fighter, head of state, dominant figure in international politics, and so much more until the age of 90. His ideas, ethical revolutionary practice, moral stature, and identification with revolutionary Marxism and the struggle for a socialist world and a classless society are immortal and imperishable and will never be erased.

As Frederick Engels said at the graveside of Karl Marx:

Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat…Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival… His work [including]… a host of militant pamphlets, work in organizations in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the great International Working Men’s Association — this was indeed an achievement of which its founder might well have been proud even if he had done nothing else. And, consequently, Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were a cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow workers — from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America…His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.

Let the oppressors, the warmongers, the racists, the oppressors of women, the oligarchies, and the capitalist ruling classes rage and tremble at the memory of Fidel Castro, and rejoice at his passing. His towering physical presence is now ashes buried in Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of the Cuban Revolution. But they are not finished, they will never be finished, with Fidel Castro. And he is not through with them.

• Author’s Note: This essay is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Febe Velasquez

  1. Lincoln’s great merit was sanctioning and implementing, in the crucial 1863-64 period culminating in his 1864 re-election, truly revolutionary measures to actually abolish slavery on the ground (and later constitutionally with the Congressional passage of the Thirteen Amendment), and thereby implementing the radical abolitionist program. These measures included the recruitment and training of free Black and ex-slaves into the Union Army, which became a decisive factor in the defeat of the Confederate Army, as the Union forces became a vehicle for the escape, migration to Union Army lines, and liberation of millions of slaves (although large numbers died of disease, malnutrition, and poverty in the process). In my judgement, this fact transcends and overcomes the bulk of Lincoln’s pre-Civil War political and legislative career, with its fine distinctions, measured gradualism, adaptations to white-supremacist ideology, and his overweening pragmatism on the “slavery question.” Fidel was a lifelong admirer of Lincoln, laid a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1959, and always kept a bust of Lincoln in his office. Also see Karl Marx and Frederick Engels profound and essential writings and correspondence on the US Civil War and Lincoln.
  2. See Isaac Saney’s “Cuba, Human Rights, and Self Determination: A Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission” for an objective, fact-based, and compelling presentation of Cuban election procedures and participatory democratic norms, constitutional, and political space. Fidel once commented on the development of Cuban political institutions, “You strangle us for forty years and then criticize us for the way we breathe.”
  3. See Frederick Engels seminal essay and polemic “On Authority”.
  4. On March 29, 1959, for example, Fidel took up, without pandering one milligram to residual popular prejudice or social backwardness, the question of racism at a mass rally of Cuban workers: “I believe it is my duty to tell the people about the things on my mind and how they must collaborate with their revolutionary government and how it is helping them…But not everybody’s mentality has developed enough in the revolutionary way; a revolutionary consciousness is lagging behind the people’s feelings.  The people’s feelings are all revolutionary, but their mentality is still not wholly so.  The people’s mentality is conditioned by many inherited prejudices, many vestiges of the past, and many old customs.  If the people want to overcome this evil they must begin by recognizing it…Battles must be won by us…the battle against unemployment; the battle to raise the standards of the lowest paid workers; the battle to bring down the cost of living; and one of the most just battles that must be fought, a battle that must be emphasized more and more, which I might call the fourth battle — the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. I repeat:  the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers.  Of all forms of racial discrimination, the worst is the one that limits the colored Cuban’s access to jobs.  It is true that there is in our country in some sectors the shameful procedure of barring Negroes from jobs. Everybody knows I am not a demagogue. Everybody knows I hate demagogy…[The first form] of racial discrimination we must combat is racial discrimination at work centers…

    [This]…limits access to places where a living can be earned.  It limits the Negro’s chances of satisfying his needs, and so we commit the crime of denying the chance to work to the poorest group particularly. While the colonial society made the Negro work as a slave, made the Negro work more than anybody else, and without pay, we commit the crime in our current society, which some have wanted to call a democratic society, of doing just the opposite and trying to prevent him from working to earn a living.  And so, while the colony worked him to death and beat him to death, we want to starve our colored brothers to death. It ought to be necessary to issue a law to establish a right that is earned by the mere fact of being a human being and a member of society.  It ought not to be necessary to issue a law against an absurd prejudice.

    What should be proclaimed is anathema and public condemnation against those men, full of leftover prejudices, and who are unscrupulous enough to discriminate against a Cuban, to mistreat a Cuban, over a matter of lighter or darker skin, because, after all, we all have a lighter or darker skin…But nobody can consider himself of a pure race, least of all the whites. The same way that we are going to organize and wage a campaign for buying domestic products, without a law or legal penalties being needed, we are going to put an end to racial discrimination at work centers by waging a campaign to end this shame, to end this hateful, repugnant system with a new slogan:  work opportunities for every Cuban, without discrimination for race or sex.  Let there be an end to racial discrimination at work centers; let whites and blacks all get together to end hateful racial discrimination at work centers.  In this way we will gradually build the new fatherland. We must mingle at recreation centers…At school black and white learn to live together like brothers. And if they mingle in the public schools they mingle afterwards at recreation centers and they mingle everywhere. But when they are educated separately, and the aristocrats educate their children apart from the Negroes, it is logical that later whites and blacks cannot mingle at cultural or recreation spots. [We will build] playing fields at public schools where blacks and whites can play together, and also establish clubs — or let us change the name and call them recreation centers — as we are going to do at all beaches; we are going to provide recreation centers for public school children, where they can have fun, play, and enjoy the bounties of nature, and know the joy to which every child has a right, the white child and the black together, as in the schools…”

  5. There has never been, in the practice of the Cuban Revolution, any laws or campaigns against religious belief or believers, although religious cover was often used by CIA-trained counter-revolutionary enemies of the Cuban Revolution in their violent struggle against the revolutionary Cuban government, leading to tensions and pressures, including with church hierarchies. A sectarian rule barring religious believers from being members of the Cuban Communist Party was not overturned until 1991. In 1992 the Cuban Constitution was amended to deem Cuba a secular state, as opposed to the previous characterization as “atheist.”
  6. The caricature that has become the mainstream narrative of the Russian Revolution in “Western” academic and journalistic circles paints it as a minority coup against a “democratic” government. This will be repeated ad nauseum in this centenary year of the Bolshevik triumph. In actual fact, the overthrown Provisional Government was never elected to anything by anyone and continually postponed having universal parliamentary elections. Such elections were actually held after the November 7 Revolution, under Lenin’s government, from previously drawn up candidate lists, that no longer accurately registered the fundamental changes on the ground, most importantly the major split of the peasant-based Socialist Revolutionary (SR) party, with the reconstituted Left SR’s now allied with the new Bolshevik government, that was carrying out land reform and ratifying land seizures taking place on a mass scale by landless peasants, including soldiers from the broken ex-Tsarist Army.

    The election results were majorities or large pluralities for the Bolsheviks in the cities and majorities for the former Socialist Revolutionary (SR) party in the countryside, and the collapse of electoral support for the liberal capitalist and “moderate” socialist parties. The Bolsheviks were the overwhelming choice of soldiers who voted at the various war fronts. (See John Reed’s 10 Days That Shook the World for the actual numbers of the Constituent Assembly elections). After foreign subversion and intervention began and the bloody Russian Civil War broke out and deepened, and the Bolshevik government dissolved the, by then, incoherent “Constituent Assembly.” The Bolshevik idea was to transcend and replace the bourgeois parliamentary system that had developed out of early British class struggles, the 1776 US and 1789 French Revolutions, 19th Century Latin American independence struggles, and the 1848 bourgeois-democratic revolutionary upsurge in Europe, with the soviet system of mass workers, peasants, and soldiers elected councils. This political program and perspective came under overwhelming pressure during the Civil War and its aftermath and Lenin’s death in January 1924. The soviet system eventually became, under Stalin’s rule, a formal construct with little political content or genuine working-class or popular participation. The closest approximation to the forms and norms the Bolsheviks tried to develop is in Cuba today.

  7. Every year since 1992 the United Nations General Assembly has voted to condemn Washington’s “Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo” against Cuba.  As I wrote in a 2013 article, “Isolation: Another Vote on Washington’s Anti-Cuba Policy at the United Nations“:

    Washington’s formal political isolation over its anti-Cuba policy can hardly be more complete. Is it possible to imagine any significant political issue in world politics uniting so many disparate entities often in significant conflict with each other — from the semi-feudal ultra-reactionary ‘Sunni’ Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the ‘Shi’ite’ Islamic Republic of Iran, from India to Pakistan and Syria to Turkey; ‘North’ Korea and ‘South’ Korea; Russia and Georgia, and so on across the spectrum from the most industrialized capitalist ex-colonial powers in Europe and Japan to their most ‘underdeveloped’ ex-subjects in the so-called Third World?

    And, it has to be underlined, that this vote was in defense of Cuba — a revolutionary socialist government ruling over a state where capitalist property relations have been overturned since the early 1960s and which has renounced nothing of its revolutionary legacy, heritage, and program even as it maneuvers and navigates in the reality of a disintegrating capitalist world order?

    On November 1, 2017 the UN General Assembly voted by the margin of 191-2 (with the United States and Israel voting no) registering the posture of the Donald Trump White House which has escalated bellicose rhetoric against Cuba and moved to further restrict travel back and forth between Cuba and the United States. In 2016, in the last period of the Barack Obama Administration, which had seen through the establishment of US-Cuban formal diplomatic relations in 2015, Washington and Tel Aviv had abstained. US bilateral and extraterritorial economic, commercial, and financial sanctions against Cuba continued under the Obama Administration. Despite its deferential vote with Washington at the UN, Israel and Cuba have significant economic exchanges with no sanctions and freedom of travel between the two nations.

  8. In Fidel Castro: My Life, A Spoken Autobiography by Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet, Scribner 2008, Fidel describes how “[In] July 1947, at the age of twenty-one I joined the Cay Confites expedition to fight against the dictatorship of Trujillo, since in my first year [at the University of Havana] I’d been designated chairman of the [Federation of University Student’s] Committee for Dominican Democracy. I’d also been named Chairman of the Committee for Puerto Rican Independence.” While the expedition was a debacle, Castro called it “an experience of great political importance,” which he describes on p. 97-98.
  9. In one of his last addresses to the Cuban people on November 17, 2005, Fidel gave a major speech at the University of Havana before becoming ill and undergoing major surgery less than one year later.  The wide-ranging speech is a remarkable and noteworthy document for many reasons. In it Fidel zeroed in on questions of economic waste, bureaucracy, and corruption as Cuba was beginning to emerge from the economic crisis and “Special Period” starting in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    In the speech Castro spoke candidly about how the PSP was politically discredited among the revolutionary-minded youth of his generation, when it allied with Batista and joined his government. Referring to “the erroneous direction that was imposed by Stalin on the international movement,” pushing the PSP alliance with Batista. “By then, Batista had suppressed the famous strike of April 1934 that followed his coup against the provisional government in 1933 which was unquestionably revolutionary in nature and to a large degree, the result of the historical fight of the workers’ movement and the Cuban communists. Before that anti-fascist alliance, Batista had assassinated countless numbers of people and robbed incredible sums of money, and had become a flunky of Yankee imperialism.  The order came from Moscow: organize the anti-fascist front.  It was a pact with the devil.  Here the pact was with the fascist ABC and Batista, a fascist of a different color, who was both a criminal and robber of the public coffer. And further in the speech, “[T]hat alliance with Batista…who had repressed students and the public in general. The young people resented [Batista’s] power very much; the workers who had always seen their interests continuously defended by the communist leaders were firmly loyal to the Party, but it was amongst the youth and wide popular sectors of society that there was the most justified rejection of Batista.”

  10. See Contesting Castro: The United States and the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution by Thomas Patterson, Oxford University Press, 1994 on the Dwight Eisenhower White House’s endeavors to make contact with anti-Batista forces, including the July 26 Movement. This, of course, was conditioned by the growing political turmoil and crisis in Cuba as the Batista regime grew more hated and isolated, and as the armed struggle – politically led by Fidel Castro – was advancing.
  11. Ernesto Che Guevara’s Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War 1956-58, (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1996), remains the classic, first-hand account of the course of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. It is a literary and historical gem.
  12. A panel at The Cuban Playa Giron Museum commemorates the defeat of the counter-revolutionaries. One of its panels reads: “The social composition of the mercenary brigade revealed the interests that they hoped to re-establish. An analysis of prisoners demonstrated that 800 of them, or their families, had owned 370,628 hectares of land [around 916,000 acres], 9,666 houses or buildings, 70 factories, 10 sugar refineries, five mines and two banks. They also included 135 soldiers of the tyrant Batista, and 65 criminals, among whom were three known murderers and torturers.” Fidel Castro personally interviewed and interrogated each prisoner and reported these figures and more at a massive May Day 1961 rally in Havana, eight days after the Cuban victory.
  13. Accurate statistics for pre-revolutionary Cuba regarding social and class composition and demographics are often incomplete, unreliable, and easy to manipulate. Slightly less than half of the Cuban population lived in the countryside according to the 1953 Cuban Census. Categories of landless peasants, family farmers (also mostly impoverished), and agricultural workers overlapped. Land ownership was dominated by giant monopolies or latifundia. The overriding factor to understand the pre-revolutionary social and class structures and system in Cuba was the domination of US capital in the overall Cuban economy. In his first-hand 1968 account, The Economic Transformation of Cuba (Monthly Review Press, New York), Edward Boorstein writes, “Sugar dominated the economy. Together with its byproducts, alcohol and molasses, sugar made up about 80 percent of the exports and paid for the bulk of the imports. The sugar companies controlled 70 to 75 percent of the arable land; they owned two-thirds of the railroad trackage; most of the ports and many of the roads were simply adjuncts of the sugar mills. The sugar industry employed about 25 percent of the labor force. The export of sugar and its byproducts constituted 20 to 30 percent of the gross domestic product. But this last percentage does not give sugar its true importance: most of the rest of the gross product depended on sugar.

    “The sugar industry was seasonal, unstable, and stagnant, and it imparted these characteristics to the whole economy. It employed about four to five hundred thousand workers to cut, load, and transport the cane during the three or four months of the harvest season, and then left them to starve during the rest of the year. The price and demand for sugar rode up and down with war and peace and business cycles, taking the whole Cuban economy with them. Since export outlets for Cuban sugar were growing only slowly, the whole Cuban economy stagnated.

    “Even apart from sugar, there was great concentration in Cuban exports. When tobacco, minerals, and coffee are added, 94 to 98 percent of total exports is accounted for. Tobacco exports, next in importance after sugar, also stagnated. They were about as high in 1957-1958 as in 1920-1921. The earnings from minerals and coffee were small and uncertain.

    “With exports stagnating, the only way the Cuban economy could have advanced was by increasing production for domestic use…[But] diversification and growth of agricultural output was blocked by the landholding system…Some new manufacturing industries producing for the Cuban market were being established, but they were foreign enclaves, appendages of the American or some other foreign economy…

    “Most of the land in Cuba was monopolized by huge latifundia – sugar plantations and cattle ranches – that sprawled across the countryside. Both sugar grower and rancher practiced extensive agriculture which wasted land, limited employment opportunities, and kept agricultural output down.”

  14. For a dramatic, beautifully rendered account, by the Nobel Prize in Literature-recipient Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of the Cuban mission, named “Operation Carlota,” in honor of an African slave in Cuba who, in 1843, was killed leading an uprising of women slaves in the city of Matanzas, against the Spanish slave masters and colonizers, click here.
  15. For the full, documented, and riveting account of all of this, see Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa 1976-1991 by Piero Gleijeses, University of North Carolina Press, 2013. This volume, along with the previous Conflicting Missions University of North Carolina Press 2003 are classic works where Gleijeses weaves together in meticulous detail and documentation, the amazing history of Cuban internationalism in Africa, telling the full story of the defeat and unraveling of the South African apartheid state. Gleijeses, a noted scholar at Johns Hopkins University, was able to gain unprecedented access to US, Soviet-bloc, apartheid South African, and Cuban previously secret archives and documents.
  16. I visited El Salvador in November 1988 as part of an international labor delegation, representing the Washington Area Labor Committee on Central America and the Caribbean. We went there to attend the 20th Congress of the National Federation of Salvadoran Worker’s Unions (FENASTRAS). FENASTRAS organized, at the time, some 20,000 workers in many industries, including textile, garment, transport, and fishing. FENASTRAS wanted to test the waters and political space to hold a public Congress. Having an international trade-union delegation, with representatives from the US, UK, and other European countries (including, as I remember, a top Norwegian union leader) to physically attend the Congress was not only an act of solidarity but would hopefully be a protection for the gathered Salvadoran workers. The US folks flying into San Salvador were met furtively by two FENASTRAS leaders. Both were targeted by death squads. We learned details of the astonishing 800 FENASTRAS members and leaders who had been murdered by right-wing death squads tied to Washington. When we arrived to the FENASTRAS headquarters sandbags were stacked ten-feet high. I remember five minutes before the Congress was to start there were only the international delegation and a handful of Salvadorans. As I was thinking to myself, “well, this is a bust,” within the next five minutes hundreds of workers poured in using routes and means planned out for enhanced security. The Congress was a big success, but one year later, two of our hosts, including the dynamic and courageous General Secretary Elizabeth Velasquez, affectionately called Febe by workers, a textile worker and mother of three who organized a large plant making Levis and Calvin Klein jeans in San Salvador, and another FENASTRAS leader, Jose Daniel Melendez were among the ten people murdered when a powerful bomb devastated the FENASTRAS headquarters.
  17. At this time, anti-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations, with histories of violence and terrorism against Cuba, illegally organized from US territory, stepped up subversive provocations against Cuba, targeting in particular the rapidly expanding Cuban tourism industry. A terrorist bomb killed an Italian tourist. After repeated attempts to get the US government to act against this, a team of Cuban revolutionaries were dispatched to South Florida to infiltrate and monitor these groups clandestinely. Until they were arrested in 1998, the Cuban Five – Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, and Ramon Labanino – preempted a number of planned attacks. A major international campaign organized over many years demanding freedom for the Cuban Five. The last three incarcerated Cuban heroes were released in December 2014, as part of the agreement between Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama to restore US-Cuban diplomatic relations. Fidel had promised the Cuban people they would return, and he lived to see it.
  18. Che’s “Message to the Tricontinental,” was published by the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Ospaal) in April 1967, while Che was fighting in Bolivia. It included a direct, stinging rebuke to the Soviet and Chinese governments: “US imperialism is guilty of aggression — its crimes are enormous and cover the whole world. We already know all that, gentlemen! But this guilt also applies to those who, when the time came for a definition, hesitated to make Vietnam an inviolable part of the socialist world; running, of course, the risks of a war on a global scale-but also forcing a decision upon imperialism. And the guilt also applies to those who maintain a war of abuse and snares — started quite some time ago by the representatives of the two greatest powers of the socialist camp.