Category Archives: Neoliberalism

A Radical Call To Action  

A radical call to action has never been more vital than today, as the abomination of capitalism known as neoliberalism tears apart society from stem to stern, continuing the grand experiment that originated under the watchful eyes and vision of aristocratic plantation-owners like Washington and Jefferson as wealthy patriots.

In honor of their hard fought war to avoid taxation as much as possible, Trump retroactively honored them with a gigantic tax cut for their distant namesakes, the wealthy.

Lo and behold, he has hardened the battle lines between them (1%) versus us (99%). Will the lines be crossed and how so?

The Trump tax cut for corporations and rich individuals drops a trillion-and-a-half ($1.5T) out of the hands of federal tax collectors, helping to sustain a $1trillion unsustainable deficit that makes Democrat deficits look like small potatoes. “Instead of trickling down to workers, the 2017 tax cuts have largely served to line the pockets of already wealthy investors—further increasing inequality—with little to show for it.”1

Meanwhile, assuming Trump gets away scot-free with his impeachment proceedings, he’ll likely use that miscarriage of justice to enhance his standing among easily swayed impressionable voters as well as solidifying his overt ownership of dumbed-down members of Congress. It’s mind numbing and would be comical if not for the tragedy that’s unfolding.

Forthwith, it’s time to sharpen swords, as the onset of full-dress authoritarianism by the least qualified president in history is sure to ensue, aka: fascism in full living color. The previews are over.

A radical call to action, similar to the 60s, may be the country’s only salvation. In that regard, a guidebook to what ails society is a requirement so that radical fighters thoroughly understand why, who, and what they’re fighting.

Fortunately, there is a good radical textbook already in publication. It explains what eco warriors encounter during the late stages of capitalism, like today. It just so happens that’s the underlying footnote on almost every page of The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (AK Press, 2018.)

It’s a wonderful tome filled with eyewitness events, brass tacks explanations of rampant ecological damage, and it explains how humanity and the planet have become incompatible largely because of wrong politics and upside down economics that wreak havoc for the great majority of people that purportedly live in a democracy, as a rank odor drifts by.

Meanwhile, and of utmost importance, the prescient words of Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, co-authors of The Big Heat:

The world may be changing faster than humans can properly grasp which only means we must alter our perspective and change our tactics to defend it. In short, it’s time to get radical. (pg.2)

The Big Heat comprehensively, very comprehensively, covers the anthropogenic footprint, from loss of wolf habitat – stupid humans trampling landscape – oceans without fish – and lots more but most importantly it’s a Full Monty exposure of America’s insanity politics. As for one example of one among many: “Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death.” (pg. 183)

Really?  “Acceptable Death”

But, first to start at the start, the initial article, “The Wolf at Trout Creek” finds co-author Jeffrey St. Clair on a field trip in Yellowstone National Park, or thereabouts, to observe bison and wolves. Along the way, he accidentally (of course, it’s accidental) plunges down a mossy cliff at “a waterfall in the Absaroka Mountains, ripping the nail off my big toe.” (pg. 8)

That article includes the fate of one of the most important animals (the wolf) for maintaining healthy ecosystems. And, sorrowfully, it includes mention of the state of Idaho granting 6,000 hunting licenses to gun down, in cold blood, “an allotment” of 220 wolves. How could they miss?

Not only that, but with so many trigger-happy guys/gals out and about, it’s a wonder they don’t shoot and kill each other (shades of Dick Cheney) They probably do kill somebody but we’ll never, tongue in cheek, hear about it, Evidently, wolf eradication is a big political draw in the great state of Idaho.

The Big Heat, inclusive of 387 pages and 50 stand alone articles, is an exposé of the detrimental impact of the neoliberal brand of capitalism, as, time and again, it feasts upon ruination of federal rules and regulations which impede corporate profits, even if only by a slight margin.

Indeed, the book brings to surface, for all to see, some behind scenes maneuvers initiated by powerful lobbyists to upend safeguards for all of the citizenry, which, one would think, could also impact their own families (the lobbyists). But, then again, when playing in the big rough and tumble playground of payoff politics, money talks, people get hurt, who cares?

For example, in the article: “Pesticides, Neoliberalism, and the Politics of Acceptable Death” (Pg. 183-188) the food and chemical industries lobbied hard for decades to remove the Delaney Clause, which served to block carcinogens in processed foods ever since the 1950s, but that blockade was removed by Congress in 1996, signed by President Clinton.

With the Delaney Clause dead on the floor of Congress, some 80 pesticides that were about to be outlawed as carcinogens now remain in use. (Pg. 184)

The shock value of that one simple sentence speaks volumes.

It should be noted The Big Heat isn’t the only one to take note of harmful alterations to federal regulations, especially regarding food safety. According to the irrepressibly brilliant Donella Meadows (The Limits to Growth – a classic):

It’s probably just as well that the clear, brave language of Delaney no longer stands to deceive us into thinking that our food supply is risk-free.  How much risk there really is, no one knows. (Donella Meadows, Farewell to the Delaney Amendment, Sustainability Institute, 1996)

Really! “How much risk there really is, no one knows.” Hmm.

Meanwhile, back to St. Clair/Frank for more on toxic stuff: According to Dr. Joseph Weissman, professor of medicine at UCLA, cancer killed 3 out of every 100 Americans in 1900 but nowadays it’s 33 out of every 100.

Weissman reckons that a fair slice of this explosion in cancer mortality can be laid at the door of petro-chemicals, particularly those used by the food industry. (Pg. 183)

Then, does that mean that Americans are consuming cancer-causing foods, which, over time, alter or destroy human cells? Well, for starters:

The average apple and peach has eight different pesticides embedded in it. Grapes have six and celery five. Children get as much as 35 percent of their likely lifetime dose of such toxins by the time they are five. (Pg. 185)

After all, toxins accumulate in the body over time before striking hard at tissues, and such, otherwise known as human organs, blood, and bone.  Along those lines, here’s proof that something is horribly wrong: According to a Rand Corporation 2017 study (Chronic Conditions in America: Price and Prevalence) nearly 150 million Americans are living with at least one chronic condition of which 100 million have two or more chronic conditions.

Meaning, nearly fifty percent (50%) of Americans (whew!) live with at least one chronic condition, like diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, high cholesterol, arthritis, Parkinson’s, and heart disease. Sound familiar? Almost every family in America has at least one family member with a chronic condition.

Is that normal, to be expected, or is something somewhere somehow horribly wrong?

Rand calculates that, over time, it’ll translate into more than $1 trillion per year in overall health care costs. Then, what of universal health care? It’ll soon become an absolute necessity. Alternatively, millions will suffer and then, of course, they’ll die while suffering even more.

The Big Heat is an important book. It exposes disasters that ricochet straight out of neoliberalism dicta like bolts of lightning. And, it humanizes the importance of fighting back. It brings to light individual heroes who sacrifice their own safety to benefit society at large, yet mainstream news and governmental officials inevitably label these real American heroes as terrorists or criminals. That’s one more sign that something is horribly wrong.

“On the Front Lines of the Climate Change Movement: Mike Roselle Draws a Line” brings to light society’s stupid treatment of eco heroes. (pg. 295) Roselle, a co-founder of Earth First, stood up to mountain top coal removal. After all, somebody had to stand up to such a deadly, putrid business that was responsible in December 2008 for a major spill of more than 500 million gallons of highly toxic coal ash into the Tennessee River, 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. The total costs for toxic water of downstream cities and assorted environmental costs are still not known to this day.

Because Mike Roselle stood up to the coal interests, a Fox TV affiliate aired a story about him, labeling Roselle:

An eco terrorist… tomorrow night don’t miss the ‘Roselle Report’ when we’ll take a closer look at how this man’s radical methods of protest may put lives at stake in West Virginia. (pg. 295)

In Fox News’ view: The man standing nose-to-nose to stop a caterpillar tractor from razing a mountaintop is a dangerous terrorist.

The Big Heat is a treasure trove built upon blood, sweat, and tears, compiling years of hard work and astute research to help people better understand a bastardized psycho-socio-politico-economic system; i.e., neoliberalism, which is kinda like an outer space soulless alien devoid of humanity taking control over the planet.

The most critical portion of The Big Heat is found on pages 373-377, the “Epilogue, The End of Illusion”. It nails down the overriding issue, exposing the illusion of “hope…  hope is the enemy. The antidote is action.”

After all “hope” and “groupie protests” are dead-enders to nowhere.

Then, what is a radical call to action?

Here’s what it’s not: It is not marching a couple of times a year; it is not typing your name on a MoveOn petition; it is not a selfie with a celebrity protesting fracking in front of the governor’s mansion.

Action is standing arm-in-arm before water cannons and government snipers on the frozen plains of North Dakota… hanging from a fragile perch 150-feet up in Douglas fir tree in an ancient forest grove slated for clear-cutting…chaining yourself to a fracking rig… or camping out in the blast zone at a Mountain Top Removal site in the hills of West Virgina…Action is stopping bad shit from going down. (pg. 374)

The time for one-off protests is over. They don’t work. And, most likely none of them work, one-off or not.

If they did work, especially when consideration is given to the number of global climate change rallies and demonstrations worldwide these past few years, then CO2 would not be continuing at ever-faster rates (setting new record levels in 2019) blanketing the atmosphere, where it stays for at least 100 years. That’s the problem.

Earth’s sister planet Venus’ atmosphere is 96.5% CO2 by volume. Its temperature is 864F.

Carbon counts!

  1. “Trump’s Corporate Tax Cut Is Not Trickling Down”, Center for American Progress, September 26, 2019.

The Imminent Threat of Trump and the Value of Progressive Third Parties

As predictable as death and taxes is the quadrennial injunction from liberals for progressive third parties to cease and desist. Equally predictable is the admonition that this will be the most decisive presidential election in US history. Given the prospect of four more years of Trump, do they have a valid thesis or are they once again just sheep-dogging those of little faith back into the true church of the Democratic Party?

Prominent left-liberals Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Leslie Cagan, Ron Daniels, Kathy Kelly, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters and Michael Albert issued an Open Letter entreating third parties to “remove themselves as a factor” in the 2020 presidential election to “benefit all humanity and a good part of the biosphere.” They were addressing Howie Hawkins’ The Green Party Is Not the Democrats’ Problem. Hawkins is running for the Green Party’s presidential nomination.

Chomsky et al. “agree with much” that Hawkins argues except for the matter of whether third parties should engage in electoral politics. To be more precise, they think that it is perfectly copacetic for third parties to run in safe states where they don’t have a chance of affecting electoral outcomes, but not in swing states. Third parties should feel free to do what the Open Letter condescendingly describes as their “feel-good activity” if they are guaranteed to be ineffectual, but not otherwise. In short, these left-liberals are adverse to an independent left outside of the Democratic Party.

Shamelessly, the Open Letter proclaims: “we too are furious at Democrats joining Republicans in so many violations of justice and peace.” These left-liberals agree the Democrats have indeed become ever more odious and indistinguishable from the Republicans. They understand that the degeneration of the Democratic Party has progressed so far that sugar-coating it doesn’t pass the red face test.

The left-liberal mantra is support the Dems despite their politics, not because of their politics, to avoid an even greater evil. Their solution, however, is to reward bad behavior by pledging – even before the primaries – to vote for whomever the Democrats dredge up.

Hawkins advises the Dems to stop obsessing about third parties and concentrate on mobilizing their base because they have more registered voters than the Republicans. In the long run, replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote. Republicans Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016 lost the popular vote.

Further, the best way for the Democrats to avoid losing votes to a progressive third party is to preempt their issues for combatting global warming, reducing income inequality, dismantling the national security state, and ending militarism. A left alternative in the electoral arena challenges the Democrats to be progressive. Otherwise they have little incentive to raise these crucial issues and instead can content themselves by continuing to whip the dead horse of Russiagate. Removing a third-party challenge from the left is tantamount to encouraging the Democrats to shift to the right with the assurance that their progressive-leaning captured constituencies such as ethnic minorities and labor have nowhere else to go.

When Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000 as a Green, he offered to drop out of the race if Democratic candidate Al Gore would adopt a minimal progressive platform. Gore refused. If progressive third parties don’t contest and raise the important issues of the day, those issues will die in the “graveyard of social movements,” also known as the Democratic Party.

The Open Letter, it should be noted, calls for progressive third parties to capitulate even before the Democratic presidential candidate has been chosen and the platform drafted. This is the opposite of moving the Democrats in a progressive direction.

To use a popular term, there is no quid quo pro. Progressives are entreated to drop out but get no assurances in return. What is virtually assured by the Open Letter strategy is that Democrats will run on a de facto single-issue platform: we are not Trump. Wall Street backers of the Democratic Party will be delighted.

The fact that the Open Letter demands that third parties abstain from effectively raising issues is symptomatic of the crisis of liberalism within the Democratic Party and the larger polity. As Chomsky himself perceptively observed, Republican Richard Nixon was “the last liberal president.” Nixon created the EPA and OSHA, recognized the People’s Republic of China, supported the equal rights amendment, expanded food stamps and welfare assistance, substantially cut military spending, and signed a suite of environmental and affirmative action acts. Since Tricky Dick, virtually no major progressive legislation has passed.

Liberalism, which made progressive contributions in the past, is dead but not down. As exemplified by the Open Letter, liberalism today has been relegated to (1) attacking and suppressing the independent left while (2) legitimizing the purveyors of neoliberalism and imperialism. The authors of the Open Letter have made immense contributions to progressive causes in the past. Yet leaning on their well-earned laurels does not obviate the bankruptcy of their current position.

Yet does the imminent threat of Trump render all other concerns moot? From a left perspective, the Open Letter is right on target in cautioning that the reelection of Trump would be “global catastrophe.” But would election of a Democrat avoid such an outcome or is the problem deeper?

The Democratic Party is now the full-throated proponent of neoliberal austerity at home, aggressive militarism abroad, and the ubiquitous national security state. Democrats gave landslide approvals to a record high war budget and renewal of the Patriot Act, while Pelosi’s “pay-go” act doomed prospects for future progressive legislation. The last Democratic president’s deportations, drone strikes, wars in seven countries, multi-trillion-dollar upgrading of the US’s nuclear war fighting capacity, multi-trillion-dollar quantitative easing gift to finance capitalists, extension of the tax cut for the rich, and so forth also rise – giving credit where credit is due – to the level of catastrophe.

But what about the environment? Here, giving credit where credit is due, the Dems may be better but not better enough, if avoiding environmental disaster is our metric. The biosphere, to use the terminology of the Open Letter, has the choice of climate change deniers and those who recognize global warming and do nothing about it.

Actually, that is giving the Dems more credit than they deserve. To quote no lesser an authority than Mr. Obama: “Suddenly America is the largest oil producer, that was me, people … say thank you.”  When oilman Bush the younger was president, US oil production declined; under Obama, it nearly doubled.

What is needed is a break from rapacious capitalism, and this will not happen with either of the two parties of capital. Voting for the lesser evil of your choice does not break the calamitous rightward trajectory of worse and worse presidential prospects but perpetuates it. So, yes, Trump is arguably worse than Dubya (now viewed favorably by a majority of the Dems) or Romney or McCain.

The downward political spiral precipitated by lesser evil voting is reflected in Time magazine’s observation in 2011: “Now Obama is fashioning his own presidency to follow the Gipper’s [Ronald Reagan] playbook.” If the vicious cycle of voting for the lesser evil is not broken, future generations of progressives may look back nostalgically to the Trump years.

Left-liberals toil to influence the Democratic Party from within – what could be characterized as their feel-good activity – which gave us hawkish Hillary Clinton in 2016. (To be evenhanded, the outcomes to date seem to suggest that working within the Democratic Party and working outside have had similarly quixotic results.)

The progressive third-party strategy is to pull the political spectrum to the left from the outside, which has a greater potential than unconditionally joining the lesser evil party. To paraphrase Hawkins, third parties don’t spoil elections; they improve them.

Indeed, left third parties must contest the Democratic Party’s presumptive electoral hegemony with its ruinous directions in both warmongering and environmental turpitude, often outdoing the Republicans in the former and peddling a go-slow, soft-denialist approach to the latter.  The Open Letter is correct that the situation is dire. Their solution is to make it more so.

Trump is the hook; the Dems are the bait. Don’t swallow it and get reeled in by the two-party duopoly. A better world is possible.

Now Three Years into the Reign of Trump, What’s Left?

On January 20, Donald G. Trump completed his third year in office. My one blog that received five-digit Facebook shares predicted Trump would lose in 2016. I was spectacularly wrong but not alone. Even the Las Vegas bookies thought Clinton was a shoo-in with her unbeatable two-punch knockout of (1) I’m not Trump and (2) World War III with the Russians would be peachy at least until the bombs start falling. What could possibly have gone wrong?

More to the point, the unexpected victory of Trump was the historical reaction to the bankruptcy of Clinton-Bush-Obama neoliberalism. Now after three years of Mr. Trump, what’s left?

During the George W. Bush years – he’s now viewed favorably by a majority of Democrats – Democrats could wring their tied hands to the accolades of their base. My own Democrat Representative Lynn Woolsey stood up daily in the House and denounced Bush’s Iraq war. For a while there was a resurgent peace movement against US military adventures in the Middle East, which was even backed by some left-leaning liberals.

But the moment that Obama ascended to the Oval Office, the Iraq War became Obama’s war, Bush’s secretary of war Gates was carried over to administer it, and Woolsey forgot she was for peace. No matter, Obama, the peace candidate, would fix it. Just give him a chance. For eight years, Obama was given a chance and the peace movement went quiescent.

Trump takes office

Surely a Republican president, I thought, would harken a rebirth of the peace movement given the ever-inflated war budget and the proliferation of US wars. The US is officially at war with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger. To the official list are any number of other states subject to drone attacks such as Iran, Pakistan, and Mali. And then there are some 30 countries targeted with illegal unilateral coercive measures as form of economic warfare. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the demonstration.

With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, my expectation was that Democrats would safely take a giant step to the right in accordance with their Wall Street funders, while safely keeping a baby step to the left of the Republicans appeasing their liberal-leaning base. To certain extent, this is what happened with Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy. The Democrats could and did claim that their hands were once again tied…wink, wink to their Wall Street handlers.

Yet on many more fundamental issues, the Democrats did not take advantage of paying lip service to their base’s economic priorities by attacking the Republicans on their weak left flank. No, the Democrats mounted an assault on the Republicans from the right with what The Hill called Pelosi’s “fiscally hawkish pay-as-you-go rules,” increasing the war budget, and launching Russiagate. Instead of appealing to working people on bread and butter issues, the Democrats gave us turbo-charged identity politics.

Bernie Sanders had raised genuine issues regarding runaway income inequality and plutocratic politics. However, Sanders was suppressed by a hostile corporate press and an antagonistic Democratic Party establishment, which arguably preferred to risk a Republican victory in 2016 than support anyone who questioned neoliberal orthodoxy.

Sanders’ issues got asphyxiated in the juggernaut of Russiagate. His legacy – so far – has been to help contain a progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party, the perennial graveyard of social movements. Had Mr. Sanders not come along, the Democrats – now the full-throated party of neoliberal austerity at home and imperial war abroad – would have needed to invent a leftish Pied Piper to keep their base in the fold.

So, after three years of Trump, the more than ever needed mass movement against militarism has yet to resurrect in force, notwithstanding promising demonstrations in immediate response to Trump’s assassination of Iran’s Major General Soleimani on January 3 with more demonstrations to come.

Imperialism and neoliberalism

Dubya proved his imperialist mettle with the second Iraq war; Obama with the destruction of Libya. But Trump has yet to start a war of his own. Though, in the case of Iran, it was not from lack of trying. The last US president with a similar imperialist failing was the one-term Carter. But Trump has 12 and possibly 60 more months to go.

In his short time in office, Trump has packed his administration with former war industry executives, increased troops in Afghanistan, approved selling arms to the coup government of Ukraine, made the largest arms sale in US history to Saudi Arabia, supported the Saudi’s war against Yemen, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and killed more civilians in drone strikes than “Obomber.” In the empire’s “backyard,” Trump tightened the blockade on Cuba, intensified Obama’s sanctions on Venezuela to a blockade, oversaw the devastation of Puerto Rico, and backed the right wing coup in Bolivia. The Venezuelan Embassy Protectors are fighting the US government for a fair trial, while Julian Assange faces extradition to the US.

Now that Trump has declared the defeat of ISIS, the US National Defense Strategy is “interstate strategic competition” with Russia and China. This official guiding document of the US imperial state explicitly calls for “build[ing] a more lethal force” for world domination. Giving credit where it is due, back in 2011, Hillary Clinton and Obama had presciently decreed a “pivot to Asia,” targeting China.

Closer to home Trump has been busy deregulating environmental protections, dismantling the National Park system, weaponizing social media, and undoing net neutrality, while withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on global warming. What’s not to despise?

Russiagate and impeachment

Russiagate – in case you have a real life and are not totally absorbed in mass media – is about a conspiracy that the Russians and not the US Electoral College are responsible for Hillary Clinton not getting her rightful turn to be President of the United States.

For the better part of the last three years under the shadow of Trump in the White House, a spook emerged from the netherworld of the deep state and has toiled mightily to expose wrongdoers. This man, former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, we are told is only one miracle short of being canonized in blue state heaven. Yet even he failed to indict a single American for colluding with Russia, though he was able to hand out indictments to Americans for other wrongdoings not related to Russia.

Undeterred by this investigation to nowhere, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi initiated impeachment proceedings against the sitting president in the Democrat’s first successful step to promote Mike Pence as the next POTUS.

When an unelected and unaccountable CIA operative in secret collusion with opposition politicians (e.g., Adam Schiff) and with backing from his agency seeks to take down a constitutionally elected president, that is cause for concern. Operating under the cloak of anonymity and with privileged access to information, national security operatives skilled in the craft of espionage have the undemocratic means to manipulate and even depose elected officials.

What has arisen is an emboldened national security state. The CIA, lest we forget, is the clandestine agency whose mission is to use any means necessary to affect “regime change” in countries that dare to buck the empire. Latin American leftists used to quip that the US has never suffered a coup because there is no US embassy in Washington. There may not be a US embassy there, but the CIA and the rest of the US security establishment are more than ever present and pose a danger to democracy.

Now Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence and serial perjurer James Clapper holds the conflicted role of pundit on CNN while still retaining his top security clearance. Likewise, Obama’s former CIA director, torture apologist, and fellow perjurer John Brennan holds forth on NBC News and MSNBC with his security clearance intact.

Class trumps partisan differences

The Democrats and Republicans mortally combat on the superficial, while remaining united in their bedrock class loyalty to the rule of capital and US world hegemony. The first article of the Democrat-backed impeachment is the president’s “abuse of power.” Yet, amidst the heat of the House impeachment hearings, the Democrats, by an overwhelming majority, helped renew the Patriot Act, which gives the president war time authority to shred the constitution.

Contrary to the utterances of the Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail about limiting US military spending, the latest $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is $22 billion over the last. The Democratic Progressive Caucus didn’t even bother to whip members to oppose the bill. On December 11, in an orgy of bi-partisan love, the NDAA bill passed by a landslide vote of 377-48.

President Trump tweeted “Wow!” Democratic Party leader and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith called the bill “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”

This bill gifts twelve more Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets than Trump had requested and green-lights funding of Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Stripped from the bipartisan NDAA “compromise” bill were provisions to prohibit Trump from launching a war on Iran without Congressional authorization. Similarly dropped were limits to US participation in the genocidal war in Yemen.

A new Space Force is authorized to militarize the heavens. Meanwhile the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set the doomsday clock at 2 minutes before midnight. Unfortunately, the Democrat’s concern about Trump’s abuse of power does not extend to such existential matters as nuclear war.

Trump’s renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (i.e., USMCA), an acknowledged disaster, was renewed with bipartisan support. On the domestic front, Trump cut food stamps, Medicaid, and reproductive health services over the barely audible demurs of the supine Democrats.

Revolt of the dispossessed

Behind the façade of the impeachment spectacle – Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz are now on Trump’s legal team – is a ruling class consensus that trumps partisan differences. As political economist Rob Urie perceptively observed:

The American obsession with electoral politics is odd in that ‘the people’ have so little say in electoral outcomes and that the outcomes only dance around the edges of most people’s lives. It isn’t so much that the actions of elected leaders are inconsequential as that other factors— economic, historical, structural and institutional, do more to determine ‘politics.’

In the highly contested 2016 presidential contest, nearly half the eligible US voters opted out, not finding enough difference among the contenders to leave home. 2020 may be an opportunity; an opening for an alternative to neoliberal austerity at home and imperial wars abroad lurching to an increasingly oppressive national security state. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbord and before them Occupy point to a popular insurgency. Mass protests of the dispossessed are rocking France, India, Colombia, Chile, and perhaps here soon.

We Work, They Scam: The Art of the Con in Terminal-Stage Capitalism

Recently, the ridiculous real estate company WeWork has faced intense scrutiny after their business model was absurdly overvalued and their CEO, one Adam Neumann, was exposed as an abusive boss as well as an overall crazy person. Investors from the Saudi royal family, companies like SoftBank and J.P. Morgan, and numerous venture capitalists poured vast sums of money into the company, fueling its overvaluation, which ran as high as 47 billion dollars. Unfortunately, mainstream media continues to trot out this story, as well as other famous instances of corporate fraud, corruption, and malfeasance as anomalies, aberrations. Somehow, absurd corporate business models, outright fraudulent behavior, and speculative overvaluations are seen as exceptions to the rule.

The bare truth of the matter is that various forms of fraud and cons are the rule for the vast majority of large corporations.  WeWork is basically a tiny fish in the ocean when we step back and consider the scale of cons from various transnational corporations. For more recent and humorous examples, check out Current Affairs 2019 “Griftie” Awards.

All the signs of brazen criminality are in front of us. We have to do no more than look at the public figurehead of the con economy, our own president. His personality is the distillation of the elite grifter, a hollow shell of a human, heir to a fortune which has created a uniquely toxic mix of entitlement, hubris, ignorance, and malignant narcissism; a truly pathetic man molded by late capitalism, celebrity and TV culture. His wealth bequeathed by inheritance, profits acquired through real estate scandals and “university” scams; his brain is addled by a diet of fast food; and his worldview warped by utterly deluded conservative media.

For instance, the spurious idea that 1.5 trillion in tax cuts will help grow our economy through job creation, or new business ventures, is a fraud on its face, but represents an exquisite example of capitalist propaganda. This is a lie that millions of US citizens either sincerely believe or acquiesce to due to generations of mainstream media indoctrination. As for the corporate scams cited below, there are similar factors involving coercion and propaganda, and they are similarly undemocratic: the ownership class and upper management dictate narratives in the media, how the labor is done, how the con will play out, and workers carry out immoral orders against their better judgment.

For instance, take Boeing and the two tragic crashes involving its 737 Max 8 jet. The market valuation of the company fluctuates today at around 200 billion dollars, even as it knowingly and deliberately sold its newest model without the needed software updates (MCAS), as well as without the needed sensor reading and indicator light to multiple foreign airlines, and in many cases without training pilots on the new system. Now, you might think that the software needed to keep a plane from nose-diving might come standard with the purchase of a multimillion dollar passenger jet, but you’d be wrong. In its infinite wisdom, Boeing decided to not to include the computer programmed safety features, selling them for extra and deeming them “optional.” Internal Boeing emails make clear there was systemic negligence and incompetence with the implementation of the MCAS program.

Let’s take another somewhat dated example, the behemoth Volkswagen, which had a huge emissions scandal in regard to its diesel vehicles produced from 2009-2015. Volkswagen installed “cheat software” to fool emissions tests in 11 million of its diesel cars, which, when driven for real world road tests, pumped out up to 40 times the permissible amount of nitrogen oxides. Further studies with other car manufacturers showed that many other brands were also well above the allowable limit for diesel emissions. One air pollution expert confided that the added pollution in European cities would result in “thousands of deaths.”  Volkswagen was forced to fork out 2.8 billion dollars to the US for their troubles. That might seem like a lot, but with 11 million cars sold in the process, and taking a guess and using a round number of $20,000 for each new car sold, it adds up to 220 billion in car sales just for these diesel automobiles.

Let’s shift to finance, a sector just filled with the most outlandish, craven, and fraudulent criminal activity. We could go on and on down the line from Bank of America to Wells Fargo to Deutsche Bank. By the way, media devoted to following the practices of these hallowed institutions have “scandal timelines” and lists of the “biggest scandals” just to help us make sense of the dizzying and insane levels of depravity these corporations have reached. One might think that encyclopedic chronologies and compendiums documenting these bank scams would shame and humble these corporations into adopting a semblance of corporate responsibility, but no.

Recently, Goldman Sachs has been in the news for their involvement in the 1MBD scandal. Haven’t heard of it? This was a massive scheme involving the Malaysian government and Goldman Sachs executives to sell billions of dollars worth of bonds to a giant Malaysian shell company functioning effectively as a Ponzi scheme, a “massive, international conspiracy to embezzle billions of dollars,” in the words of a wealth fund which was bilked in the process. Seventeen Goldman Sachs employees face charges in Malaysia, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein met with the disgraced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the mastermind of the scam, one Jho Low, who is now believed to be on the run in China (check the Chinese wine caves?).

In all likelihood, these scandals are just the tip of the iceberg. Even if someone like Blankfein did time for his involvement in 1MBD, it might be analogous to Al Capone doing time for tax evasion. The amount of immoral criminality is staggering when one attempts to tally how many countries have been ripped off and commons privatized, how much land and assets seized, how many poor and vulnerable people have had benefits cut and prices of necessities jacked up to benefit a tiny elite, how many desperate people have died to serve neoliberal business models. These untold atrocities are barely hidden, and all one has to do is scratch the surface of our system to reveal the sordid deeds which must stay hidden for the economy to stay afloat and for public morale not to wane and stir folks to revolution. No one is ever held responsible for financial crimes under capitalism, just like our war criminals, even though the culprits roam free in broad daylight, and even though these crimes have devastating real world consequences.

No corporate media will ever acknowledge that these are just the cases we know about. What else lies under the surface? Who among us has the means and the guts to find out if the mainstream media won’t? If these companies are willing to go to these lengths to defraud their customers, there is really nothing they won’t do. If we knew the full scope of the Mafioso-like corruption and barbaric behavior of these multinationals, people might actually revolt and overthrow our inhumane capitalist system. Mainstream media thus has a distinct role, and performs excellently for the transnational corporations (TNCs), by not investigating and not pushing for prosecution of guilty parties. This “balanced” approach to news is justified in the name of being “objective,” and trying to show “both sides of the issues.”

It’s not just corporate leaders, politicians, and the media who are shirking their duties. The judicial system is just as complicit. On January 17th, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a case (Juliana vs. United States) brought by twenty one young plaintiffs who argued that “the US government acts as a barrier to climate action” and quite rightly pointed out that “the US government [is] violating their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by enacting policies that contribute to the climate crisis.” The majority 2-1 ruling “reluctantly concluded that the plaintiff’s case must be made to the political branches or the electorate at large.” Isn’t it revealing that these judges view the judicial system as somehow above politics?

The dissenting judge called her fellow colleagues out for their cowardice:

It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation…my colleagues throw up their hands, concluding that this case presents nothing fit for the Judiciary.

Here we can clearly see the Kafkaesque institutional evasion of responsibility. Everyone in these elite institutions is to blame, so no one can be blamed, for it risks exposing the system as the root cause. In the West, we are stuck in a time where no one accepts a public duty to do anything regarding climate change, corporate criminality, etc. As Mark Fisher succinctly explained in Capitalist Realism:

The supreme genius of Kafka was to have explored the negative atheology proper to Capital: the center is missing, but we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there – it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility.

As Fisher and others have shown, the lack of responsibility taken and lack of corporate and governmental transparency, and lack of differentiation between the corporate, judicial, legislative, and media bodies is a defining feature of late capitalism. We can view the contours and delineate between the modern and postmodern periods, in terms of the sea change from a Foucauldian disciplinary society to a Deleuzian society of control. In the modern period, there were bounded, separate domains of work, home life, recreation, public and private, etc. In our late-stage dystopia, it becomes exceedingly obvious that “all that is holy is profaned,” for instance, judges (supposed impartial arbiters of fairness and democratic values) who are supposedly duty-bound to uphold basic issues of social, environmental, and economic justice, yet do not have the temerity to overturn the death-grip fossil fuel multinationals have over our country.

Whereas before disciplinary action – punishment and jail time – could act as a bit of leverage to limit outright corporate crimes, now we have interconnected, networked, embedded elite coteries who can no longer be distinguished as serving private or public functions: the “revolving door” phenomenon. Today, our elites also cannot distinguish or internalize their own actions and take responsibility for them. Internal checks could at least possibly prevent catastrophes, or lead to feelings of shame and regret for past actions in the old-fashioned, modern way. For this reason, we can view someone like Robert McNamara as perhaps the last modernist public servant in the old-school disciplinary age. His actions were unconscionable, but it is well known he at least regretted his part in the Vietnam War afterwards. The bizarre but true story of McNamara almost getting thrown off a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard in deep ocean in 1972 by an enraged anti-war citizen with family who had served in Vietnam confirms this. Afterwards, McNamara refused to press charges, making clear he knew on some level he deserved punishment.

On the contrary, take the figures of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld today. They are insulated by layers of ideology (and bodyguards), inebriated by luxurious lifestyles and sycophantic think tanks who parrot their every word, and interwoven within the framework and institutions of imperialist and conservative power who no longer have the capacity for self-reflection. Their perceptions and self-image, in other words, are managed by a network of power, control, and domination, in this example the interests of the national security state. Figures such as Bush, Obama, and Trump operate under the aegis of the capitalist/imperial postmodern society of control, which has continually formulated, modulated, subdued and attenuated any tension, any tendency to self-doubt, or any capacity to think critically and examine the atrocities committed by their orders.

It is a world where instantaneous feedback can assuage and soothe the troubled nerves of the elites, by providing media and/or classified reports that justify their grotesque barbarism in real time. We can observe this on a smaller scale when examining how social media algorithms create echo chambers and polarize those with opposing belief systems. The type of worldview our war-criminal presidents are subject to is a “higher immorality” as C. Wright Mills put it. It was best summed up by an unnamed senior Bush regime official, supposedly Karl Rove, speaking to journalist Ron Suskind:

People like you are still living in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

The commonality between all these absolutely absurd scams is that, unlike the relatively small size and bumbling ineptitude of a WeWork, the fetishization of and overvaluation of hare-brained tech with a company like Theranos, the pyramid scheme of a Bernie Madoff, or the cooking-the-books accounting of an Enron, companies such as Boeing, Volkswagen, and Goldman Sachs form the commanding heights of the world economy. These are supposedly the bona fide, respectable “blue-chip companies” which many middle class investors look to for stable, steady growth of their wealth. These companies and their corporate owners cannot clearly view “reality,” (who can? but still) and the public is simply “left to just study what they do.”

Another aspect is the proliferation of marketing and advertising, which hypnotizes the middle classes, which in the West are approaching comatose status in regards to the scale of these interlocking crises of corporate greed and climate disruption. Abject submission and conformity are the key features of the professional-managerial class, who hype new trends and fads, and even business models (such as WeWork). Pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than research and development, which lead the most sycophantic employees to top positions with deadly repercussions (for example, in the Vioxx scandal) and leads to modern pharmacological advances being in many cases guided by snake-oil peddling quack researchers and their corporate overlords.

Individuals, as well as our artistic preferences, and urban spaces, increasingly are modulated by these corporate structures, leading to a flattened consumerist aesthetic. In a brilliant essay, Andru Okun explains using quotes from author Oli Mould:

As Mould argues, ‘Neoliberalism is about the marketization of everything, the imprinting of economic rationalities into the deepest recesses of everyday life’ … [Mould] posits that 21st-century capitalism, ‘turbocharged by neoliberalism,’ has co-opted the conceptual framework of creativity in the interest of endless growth. Even movements interested in destabilizing capitalism can be ‘viewed as a potential market to exploit,’ subsumed by the very world they seek to transform. ‘Creativity under capitalism is not creative at all… it merely replicates existing capitalist registers into ever-deeper recesses of socioeconomic life,’ writes Mould.

This form of “imprinting” becomes clear when examining the professional-managerial classes and the petit-bourgeois class. Class locations, as Erik Olin Wright pointed out, invariably determine the psychological states of the middle classes, who exert exploitative pressure upon their subordinates as well as pressure from above. When advances and promotions are made within the confines of the professional class structure, one can view the accommodation to capital with near-empirical precision: “Individual consciousness is related to position within the class structure.  That is, the attitudes and behaviour of individuals has a connection to the location they occupy within the division of labour and the contradictory locations that exist in capitalism.” Thus, Mark Fisher explains how the individual actions of managers to change corporate culture are futile:

The delusion that many who enter into management with high hopes is precisely that they, the individual, can change things, that they will not repeat what their managers had done, that things will be different this time; but watch someone step up to management and it’s usually not long before the grey petrification of power starts to subsume them. It is here that the structure is palpable – you can practically see it taking people over, hear its deadened/deadening judgments speaking through them.

Again, the activities of these huge conglomerates which dictate the global economy, public discourse, and private and individual aesthetic preferences are not exceptions; they represent the rule when it comes to the behavior of TNCs and international finance. Scamming is what they do best, whether by illegal software or the TV commercial, and the scam-ees quite often turn out to be other elite venture capital and banking firms hoodwinked by the allure of profit no matter the unseemly source or the ridiculousness of the business model. Climate denialism is also a very profitable scam for its elite adherents in the fossil fuel industries and the media, one that plays a key role by influencing public opinion just enough to convince judges, politicians, and CEOs that nothing can be done within their hallowed institutions.

The assertion I’ll lay out here, and it’s admittedly not a particularly original or insightful one, is simply that the falling rate of profit as we approach what we might call terminal-stage capitalism has convinced these TNCs to slightly adjust their calculus. The adjustment is to supplement the neoliberal grip on power with the brazenness of the scam.

The neoliberal era, stretching from approximately the mid-1970s until now, can be defined quite rightly by David Harvey as being driven by a process of “accumulation by dispossession.” In his brilliant 2004 essay “The New Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession”, Harvey explains the four main policies which drive this process as privatization (selling out the commons to private interests), financialization (the penetration of all parts of the economy by banks, loans, institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, the WTO, excessive debt, etc), management and manipulation of crises (for instance, see Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine), and state redistributions (huge subsidies and contracts for the fossil fuel and military-industrial corporations, “socialism for the rich”, as it were).

Perhaps today we can add a fifth category: accumulation by the scam. If a Volkswagen or Boeing or Goldman Sachs stands to make hundreds of billions of dollars by swindling their customers, and can somewhat accurately guess that the level of future fines will be small or negligible; that lobbyists can protect future interests; that their teams of corporate lawyers can derail federal investigations; that federal regulators will be hamstrung due to lack of expertise, power, and/or resources; and that their customer base and supply chains will remain relatively stable, there is more of an incentive to cheat than ever before.

If the gravediggers of capital ultimately end up being a united working class, and/or the ecological crises combined with global warming-induced climactic Armageddon, perhaps it’d be helpful to think of these corporate grifters as the grave robbers, exhuming and reanimating whatever scam du jour they deem necessary to circulate capital. Not only does this reliance on fraud betray the moral failings of the people and institutions implicated, but it reinforces that Marx was right: the falling rate of profit over time and over-accumulation continues to force new methods of creative destruction to enter our midst to necessitate continuous expansion. Neoliberal economics officially saw its death-knell during the 2008 recession, but twelve years later this undead ideology maintains hegemony in a world teetering on the brink of disaster. Zombie Economics, if you will.

Profit and GDP growth at all costs to line elites’ pockets and increase national tax bases is killing the planet and working classes. Put another way, from a humorous statement by @Anarchopac on twitter: “The problem with capitalism is eventually you run out of planet to destroy to maximize short-term profit.” Put yet another way, John Maynard Keynes pointed out: “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

In our late capitalist reality, there are barely any new frontiers to shift capital and production to, and the possibility of opening new markets in underdeveloped nations is also limited. The colonialist frontiers have been tapped and the system begins to cannibalize itself. A rentier economy coalesces and the contours of a neo-feudal regime based on debt and precarity are readily apparent now. Speculation and passive income from the FIRE sectors (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) are near all-time highs, but their assets are so overvalued that sooner or later it will spur on an economic downturn that at this point is unavoidable. Consider, for instance, that the Dow Jones at its low point in March 2009 stood at around 6,600. Here in 2020, we find the average hovering over 29,000. No one can legitimately say that our markets or average families are four times as well off or any more resilient and economically secure than ten years ago. The next crash could very well make terms like “housing bubble” and “tech bubble” seem quaint. The entire US economy is a bubble, a rigged casino designed to implode.

Since financial, real estate, and stock speculation has in some sense reached a tipping point of limited returns on investment, our hypothesized 5th category, accumulation via fraud, is implemented. It fits into our upside-down world nicely: since what is productive for one class is often unproductive for another, one-percenters elide reality to maintain their own class interests at all costs, and block any real public discussion in the media of what constitutes productive versus unproductive labor. The masters know what is good for us. Capitalist elites see no moral qualms in the most debased forms of wealth acquisition. It’s all relative to them, and where previous Taylorist models focused on planned obsolescence of products, now we construct products that do not even work initially; i.e., jets that literally fall out of the sky without the necessary software updates.

In all likelihood these examples are just harbingers of things to come, as the structural instability of capital demands new avenues for expansion even as it teeters before the inevitable collapse. The brazen criminality and fraudulence of the system bubbles to the surface and can no longer be rationalized away as an “aberration.” As real material conditions deteriorate for the multitudes, resistance to capitalism must intensify as it enters its final death throes.

Challenging the Flawed Premise Behind Pushing GMOs into Indian Agriculture

A common claim is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are essential to agriculture if we are to feed an ever-growing global population. Supporters of genetically engineered (GE) crops argue that by increasing productivity and yields, this technology will also help boost farmers’ incomes and lift many out of poverty. Although in this article it will be argued that the performance of GE crops to date has been questionable, the main contention is that the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching the issues of hunger and poverty from their political contexts to use notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy. There exists a ‘haughty imperialism’ within the pro-GMO scientific lobby that aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’ which is a distraction from the root causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and genuine solutions based on food justice and food sovereignty.

Last year, in the journal Current Science, Dr Deepak Pental, developer of genetically engineered (GE) mustard at Delhi University, responded to a previous paper in the same journal by eminent scientists PC Kesavan and MS Swaminathan which questioned the efficacy of and the need for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture. Pental argued that the two authors had aligned themselves with environmentalists and ideologues who have mindlessly attacked the use of genetic engineering (GE) technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak at 11.2 billion. Pental added that aspects of the two authors’ analysis are a reflection of their ideological proclivities.

The use of the word ‘mindlessly’ is telling and betrays Pental’s own ideological disposition. His words reflect tired industry-inspired rhetoric that says criticisms of GE technology are driven by ideology not fact.

If hunger and malnutrition are to be tackled effectively, the pro-GMO lobby must put aside this type of rhetoric, which is designed to close down debate. It should accept valid concerns about the GMO paradigm and be willing to consider why the world already produces enough to feed 10 billion people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which 821 million were classed as chronically undernourished in 2018).

Critics: valid concerns or ideologues?

The performance of GE crops has been a hotly contested issue and, as highlighted in Kevasan and Swaminathan’s piece and by others, there is already sufficient evidence to question their efficacy, especially that of herbicide-tolerant crops (which by 2007 already accounted for approximately 80% of biotech-derived crops grown globally) and the devastating impacts on the environment, human health and food security, not least in places like Latin America.

We should not accept the premise that only GE can solve problems in agriculture. In their paper, Kesavan and Swaminathan argue that GE technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they say that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient. In this respect, conventional options and innovations that outperform GE must not be overlooked or sidelined in a rush by powerful interests like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate the introduction of GE crops into global agriculture; crops which are highly financially lucrative for the corporations behind them.

In Europe, robust regulatory mechanisms are in place for GMOs because it is recognised that GE food/crops are not substantially equivalent to their non-GE counterparts. Numerous studies have highlighted the flawed premise of ‘substantial equivalence’. Furthermore, from the outset of the GMO project, the sidelining of serious concerns about the technology has occurred and despite industry claims to the contrary, there is no scientific consensus on the health impacts of GE crops as noted by Hilbeck et al (Environmental Sciences Europe, 2015). Adopting a precautionary principle where GE is concerned is therefore a valid approach.

As Hilbeck et al note, both the Cartagena Protocol and Codex share a precautionary approach to GE crops and foods, in that they agree that GE differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GMOs are used in food or released into the environment. There is sufficient reason to hold back on commercialising GE crops and to subject each GMO to independent, transparent environmental, social, economic and health impact evaluations.

Critics’ concerns cannot therefore be brushed aside by claims that ‘the science’ is decided and the ‘facts’ about GE are indisputable. Such claims are merely political posturing and part of a strategy to tip the policy agenda in favour of GE.

In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GE crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about India’s prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GE crops.

As we have seen with the push to get GE mustard commercialised, the problems described by the TEC persist. Through her numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Aruna Rodrigues has argued that GE mustard is being pushed through based on outright regulatory delinquency. It must also be noted that this crop is herbicide tolerant, which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

While the above discussion has only scratched the surface, it is fair to say that criticisms of GE technology and various restrictions and moratoriums have not been driven by ‘mindless’ proclivities.

Can GE crops ‘feed the world’?

The ‘gene revolution’ is sometimes regarded as Green Revolution 2.0. The Green Revolution too was sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. However, emerging research indicates that in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased.

Globally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with the consolidation of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land) and (unfair) liberalised trade, linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF structural adjustment-privatisation directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas. And yet, the corporations behind this system of dependency and their lobbyists waste no time in spreading the message that this is the route to achieving food security. Their interests lie in ‘business as usual’.

Today, we hear terms like ‘foreign direct investment’ and making India ‘business friendly’, but behind the rhetoric lies the hard-nosed approach of globalised capitalism. The intention is for India’s displaced cultivators to be retrained to work as cheap labour in the West’s offshored plants. India is to be a fully incorporated subsidiary of global capitalism, with its agri-food sector restructured for the needs of global supply chains and a reserve army of labour that effectively serves to beat workers and unions in the West into submission.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are not the result of a lack of productivity. As long as these dynamics persist and food injustice remains an inbuilt feature of the global food regime, the rhetoric of GE being necessary for feeding the world will be seen for what it is: bombast.

Although India fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains and has ensured there is enough food (in terms of calories) available to feed its entire population. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, fruit and cotton.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food security for many Indians remains a distant dream. Large sections of India’s population do not have enough food available to remain healthy nor do they have sufficiently diverse diets that provide adequate levels of micronutrients. The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18 is the first-ever nationally representative nutrition survey of children and adolescents in India. It found that 35 per cent of children under five were stunted, 22 per cent of school-age children were stunted while 24 per cent of adolescents were thin for their age.

People are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, including inadequate food distribution, (gender) inequality and poverty; in fact, the country continues to export food while millions remain hungry. It’s a case of ‘scarcity’ amid abundance.

Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GMO lobby says GE will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income. Again, this is misleading: it ignores crucial political and economic contexts. Even with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress.

India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling from the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and predatory global agri-food corporations . Little wonder then that the calorie and essential nutrient intake of the rural poor has drastically fallen.

However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GMO agriculture, the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynch pins of its promotional strategy.

GE was never intended to feed the world

Many of the traditional practices of India’s small farmers are now recognised as sophisticated and appropriate for high-productive, sustainable agriculture. It is no surprise therefore that a recent FAO high-level report has called for agroecology and smallholder farmers to be prioritised and invested in to achieve global sustainable food security. It argues that scaling up agroecology offers potential solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems, whether, for instance, climate change and carbon storage, soil degradation, water shortages, unemployment or food security.

Agroecological principles represent a shift away from the reductionist yield-output industrial paradigm, which results in among other things enormous pressures on soil and water resources, to a more integrated low-input systems approach to food and agriculture that prioritises local food security, local calorific production, cropping patterns and diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience, good soil structure and the ability to cope with evolving pests and disease pressures. Such a system would be underpinned by a concept of food sovereignty,  based on optimal self-sufficiency, the right to culturally appropriate food and local ownership and stewardship of common resources, such as land, water, soil and seeds.

Traditional production systems rely on the knowledge and expertise of farmers in contrast to imported ‘solutions’. Yet, if we take cotton cultivation in India as an example, farmers continue to be nudged away from traditional methods of farming and are being pushed towards (illegal) GE herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds. Researchers Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs note the results of this shift from traditional practices to date does not appear to have benefited farmers. This isn’t about giving farmers ‘choice’ where GE seeds and associated chemicals are concerned. It is more about GE seed companies and weedicide manufactures seeking to leverage a highly lucrative market.

The potential for herbicide market growth in India is enormous and industry looked for sales to reach USD 800 million by 2019. The objective involves opening India to GE seeds with herbicide tolerance traits, the biotechnology industry’s biggest money maker by far (86 per cent of the world’s GE crop acres in 2015 contain plants resistant to glyphosate or glufosinate and there is a new generation of crops resistant to 2,4-D coming through).

The aim is to break farmers’ traditional pathways and move them onto corporate biotech/chemical treadmills for the benefit of industry.

Calls for agroecology and highlighting the benefits of traditional, small-scale agriculture are not based on a romantic yearning for the past or ‘the peasantry’. Available evidence suggests that (non-GMO) smallholder farming using low-input methods is more productive in total output than large-scale industrial farms and can be more profitable and resilient to climate change. It is for good reason that the FAO high-level report referred to earlier as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, call for investment in this type of agriculture, which is centred on small farms. Despite the pressures, including the fact that globally industrial agriculture grabs 80 per cent of subsidies and 90 per cent of research funds, smallholder agriculture plays a major role in feeding the world.

That’s a massive quantity of subsidies and funds to support a system that is only made profitable as a result of these financial injections and because agri-food oligopolies externalize the massive health, social and environmental costs of their operations.

But policy makers tend to accept that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be owners and custodians of natural assets (the ‘commons’). These corporations, their lobbyists and their political representatives have succeeded in cementing a ‘thick legitimacy’ among policy makers for their vision of agriculture.

From World Bank ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ directives to the World Trade Organization ‘agreement on agriculture’ and trade related intellectual property agreements, international bodies have enshrined the interests of corporations that seek to monopolise seeds, land, water, biodiversity and other natural assets that belong to us all. These corporations, the promoters of GMO agriculture, are not offering a ‘solution’ for farmers’ impoverishment or hunger; GE seeds are little more than a value capture mechanism.

To evaluate the pro-GMO lobby’s rhetoric that GE is needed to ‘feed the world’, we first need to understand the dynamics of a globalised food system that fuels hunger and malnutrition against a backdrop of (subsidised) food overproduction. We must acknowledge the destructive, predatory dynamics of capitalism and the need for agri-food giants to maintain profits by seeking out new (foreign) markets and displacing existing systems of production with ones that serve their bottom line.  And we need to reject a deceptive ‘haughty imperialism within the pro-GMO scientific lobby which aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’.

King Tides and Who’s King of the Hill?

I’m watching the Pacific heave up a king tide in the tiny town of Waldport on the Oregon Coast. Houses right above the beach line are now soaked, their back and front yards littered with driftwood, logs and tree stumps.

And water. The power of that expanding ocean and the rising tides lend pause for any sane person realizing that this yearly cyclical event is a premonition: what I am seeing now is going to be the new normal. Everything shifts with one-three-nine feet of ocean rise in the next 20-30-50-100 years. The winds are pushing up more sea spray, and the entire scene is both amazingly beautiful and dangerous to the future of my town, a million towns across the globe.

That “normal” is no more beaches, or, that is, until the ocean takes out homes and front and back yards to sweep away more of the land to deposit beach materials to create beaches.

The idea of humanity is to deploy hard mitigation techniques to fight the tide of rising oceans — dikes, boulders, trillions of tons of earth, cement, sea wall, diversion conduits, stilts, bloated and expensive channeling and walling off wetlands.  You know, more and more busy bees, busy ants trying to push back on the forces of nature. Then there is retreat and abandonment. Obviously, we see how well retreat works when so many investments in capitalism are tied around the real estate and infrastructure of so many of their industries and businesses being so close to the impending ocean inundation. Forgot about abandonment for a long while, as we can see for obvious reasons beach community after beach community rebuilding after powerful hurricanes, that will look like rain storms under the impending new normal of heating ocean currents, etc.

There are other ways to plan for a world without ice, but we are an insane species who have let overlords control every blinking, swallowing, thinking, defecating, urinating, masticating, breathing, bleating, REM-ing moment of our lives. We have been so brainwashed and colluded and controlled that we can’t think even though we should and are capable of fixing the mitigation plans. Retrenchment is out of the question when it comes to capitalism, USA all the way, arrogance, and war making against people, planet, species. Ecosocialism!

Unless we change the conversation. Unless we get people to start thinking about and talking about and working for a viable alternative to the market-driven collapse of civilization. Our job, as ecosocialists is to put forward a practical plan to slam the brakes on emissions, an emergency response to the climate emergency. This plan has to begin with brutal honesty:

We can’t have an infinitely growing economy on a finite planet.

We can’t suppress emissions without closing down companies.

We need to socialize those companies, nationalize them, buy them out and take them into public hands so we can phase them out or retrench them.

If we close down/retrench industries then society must provide new low- or no-carbon jobs for all those displaced workers and at comparable wages and conditions.

We have to replace our anarchic market economy with a largely, though not entirely, planned economy, a bottom-up democratically planned economy.

The environmental, social and economic problems we face cannot be solved individual choices in the marketplace. They require collective democratic control over the economy to prioritize the needs of society and the environment. And they require national and international economic planning to reorganize and restructure our economies and redeploy labor and resources to those ends. In other words, if humanity is to save itself, we have to overthrow capitalism and replace it with some form of democratic eco-socialism.

Yeah, I know, we didn’t all sign up for the pollution, the massive surveillance, the penury, the ecosystems destruction, the addictions promoged and promulgated by consumerism, the predilections of greed, the gentrification, McDonaldization, Walmartization, Facebook-Google-IZATION of our worlds, for sure. But all of that didn’t just happen, since this country has a DNA-warp which allows for almost complete deification of the rich and the powerful and the controlling. Celebrity cultism doesn’t even scratch the surface of how colonized the Western mind has become.

Yep, we were sleeping when all the psy-ops, info-wars, algorithmic predictive shit came barreling into our lives. And complicit in the entire colonization of our minds, bodies, hearts, souls, futures and fates by a Brave New World corporate SOP and a big brother government.

Wet, Wild, Unpredictable

I’m talking to a few people who are here in Waldport photographing with phones the king tide phenomenon, and they dance back and forth out of the surge of high tide and the sneaker waves pummeling parking lots, cars and yards.

Some say, “Well, this is man’s doing. Or it will be more and more each decade. Amazing we think we are the highest forms of life in our universe.”

Yes. this is a direct quote from one of the bystanders who also told me she plants as many trees on her five acres, and she sees the little town of Waldport sort of vanishing in the coming decades because she knows there is no will of the people to work together to move it, or to put in hard barriers, which in the end won’t do that much.

Oh, those 7 R’s: retrench, retreat, regroup, reorganize, reassess, reinvent, revive.

In my slow (by many of my friends’ standards) life here, I am faced with a lot of time to write, a lot of people who are precarious, faced with poverty and with people who end up in my column for a little rag on the coast. Some of those pieces end up in Dissident Voice.

Not exactly tinged with revolution and Marxism and anarchy and ecosocialism and hard left zeal to at least give a decent run at this perverse society of exploitative and predatory capitalism, the columns are my emotional and intellectual Prozac, man, insulating me for a few nanoseconds from the madness of this world and the reimagining of my own sanity. I’ve got a friend out there who sees the scientists and others I feature in this rag of a column as sell outs, as reasons for the many precipitates  the communities and the cultures within those communities are failing.

Scientists and capitalism, an old pairing that has done wonderfully destructive things to people, planet, ecosystems big and small. And I get it, really, as I plod through slipstream after slipstream. Man, I am on the thin ice of aging (63 next month) and being made anachronistic daily by my idiotic dream of still getting something out there on some mainstream best sellers or notable list for my brand of literary fiction.

Reimagining Sanity - Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (Paperback): Paul Haeder

I daily have fights on various channels and in person about how people like us, like me, give zero to society.

What great invention or engineering feat have you done? What contribution to the good of humanity have you done? I bet everything you do — including typing your idiocy on your computer — is the result of engineers and technologists and doers. Take your poor ass liberal teaching (indoctrination) and Podunk writing (who the hell reads your irrelevant stuff?) and crawl back to your tie-dyed, smoked out Oregon. Another libtard/turd . . . Living in Oregon? ‘Nuff said!

This is the hard-wired brain of many Americans — and the so-called left and the wavering liberals are part and parcel part of that mindset because so many in my lifetime have denigrated my brand of revolution, perspective and analysis as way too extreme or radical. Irrelevant. Utopian. Impossible. Foolish. Something along those lines, as tempered as the above quote really is since most people I run into who label me commie, socialist and libtard are threatening my life, want my expulsion from love-it-or-leave-it-in-a-coffin USA. It gets worse what these pigs of capitalism and red-white-blue Military Industrial Complex say to me on-line and sometimes in person.

They are here to wear us down . . . 

Nothing works, it seems. Each big, small, tiny, gargantuan community is flooded with takers, and the leavers of the world, the givers, are not only out-gunned, but the entire fabric of capitalism and consumer culture and this military-might-makes-right society is flooded with those Yankees.

Begging for a countywide warming shelter, no free clinics, no dentists, reckless law enforcement hobbling the poor with more violations and court dates and jail time. The RV-with-Jeep-in-tow-and-vacation-home America against the very people who do the oil changes, the plumbing fixes the burger flipping, the road . . . .

Have a beer and celebrate when the video of Saddam’s neck is snapped by a rope. Celebrate with tailgaters when Osama bin Laden’s supposed dead body is sealed up in body bags  by those magnificent SEALs.

Despair is easy in this country, with the wide gape of peering into the belly of the beast, which is really us, US, USA.

I work as a substitute teacher and also work for a national non-profit that has designed this anti-poverty program around social capital and unconditional cash transfers. I am daily struggling to see how my two books that are coming out will make a drop in any bucket, and I am plagued with the fear of lifelong bad decisions, with a general anxiety disorder, and my own form of collective Stockholm Syndrome just daily slogging along in this messed up culture, society and country.

Let me reframe here — Any creative artist who is revolutionary and communist in purpose is going to be whacked hard in this competitive, superficial, predatory, hard-boiled, violent, usury-drawn country. Every single monetary interchange and human exchange is filled with duality after duality. Contradictions. Counter-intuitive thinking. Equivocation. Rationalization.

Daily it’s as if I have to fight very hard to stave off the insanity from surfacing, or at least battening down all those mental duress points from congealing. Daily, I have to quell the anger. Daily, I have to resort to looking toward some spiritual  formula to stay sane, pacific, and within the constraints of the social contracts laid out to keep me from going ballistic.

And yet . . . . I also work with people in complete struggle against all aspects of capitalism — shitty jobs, low pay rates; shitty vehicles or vapid public transportation; shitty local culture for people with no money, or no places for children to gather without throwing in dollars for the ride; shitty schools for their kids; shitty housing situations; shitty social capital and community resources; shitty backgrounds; shitty family dynamics; shitty physical and mental health; shitty credit scores; shitty prospects; shitty people controlling their shitty lives; shitty air and water.

Then, it’s up against this backdrop of drive-in fast-food culture, in this homogenization of every mile of roadside attraction country. Little things like — Did you know that the 7-11 corporation is directly responsible for all those bodegas and cool little family holes in the wall in places like New York going belly up? Colonization, like cancer . . . page from the playbook of Starbucks, Walmart, Amazon, the lot of them. Flipping 7-11 “convenience” stores flooding neighborhoods using economies of scale and the power of billions to push out the mom and pop’s, the little guy or gal. Rents go out the roof, and that’s it, RIP small town/big town America.

Yet . . . but . . . however . . . hold on a minute! Many of these people living under shitty circumstances can muster some sense of positive daily outlook. Sure, many have false hope, and many believe that hype and propaganda of the American Dream, that anyone can be a millionaire — forgetting that there is-will be-was always a million suckers born every minute in this stolen land.

Given that, though, my whole life has been compelled to understand that survivable character in these people — how they can get a can of sardines and believe they have caviar. You know, the old lemons made into lemonade axiom.

That’s what the new short story collection coming out, Wide Open Eyes — Surfacing from Vietnam, galvanizes in the 17 short stories: the will to survive, and not always thrive. Like that coyote chewing leg out of trap to limp on three legs to still live another day and another. Three-legged Americans, these characters in this collection are all somehow tied to the Vietnam War, plagued by their own survival or someone close to them. It’s not thematic, and each story is a stand-alone. I didn’t even try and thread this or that juxtaposition to make the collection super cohesive or interlinked. Alas, though the book is a stand-alone in that all the stories have that atmospheric and gritty demarcation between failure and giving up and just going on, moving ahead . . . no matter the circumstances of past, present or future.

In that sense WOE is an American book, like the wide scope of American literature. That’s Wide Open Eyes from Cirque Press, available, gulp, on Amazon, my arch nemesis. There will be a review of the book here soon. Looking at maybe four sales from my DV crowd. Oh well.

That little detail is like death by a thousand cuts, and, coming around the bend to 63 years old, I am having a difficult time having my principles stick. Everything about Amazon, about Bezos, about the people who plan the company from coder to software and logistics engineer, who develop AI and flood the world with the non-competitive shit that is the company, I despise . . . and yet, here we are, Year of the Rat, 2020, and I have just given over my soul in a Faustian Bargain to Amazon hawking my book with their bloody cut of the deal.

Checking out isn’t an option, and the fight is now for the little guy and gal, the child, the wordless old man with Parkinson’s, the bent over old lady checking items at the Safeway. There may be MAGA in some of those struggling souls, and that’s a whole other deal. For now, though, what is this country, and what is the ordinary man-woman-child?

Country as an idea, country as something that doesn’t exist, country as something continually changing because of outside forces. Country as a word from the enemy, meaning the empire. — Roque Dalton, Salvadoran poet

Joseph Campbell (“The Power of Myth”) quote roiling around my busy mind:  I don’t think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.

What Passes for Reality Is Not Worth Respecting

In October of last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its flagship World Economic Outlook. In that report, the IMF said that the global growth rate would stumble at 3% in 2019. A month ago, the IMF’s main economists returned to this theme; ‘Global growth’, they wrote, ‘recorded its weakest pace since the global financial crisis a decade ago’. The analysis of why there was such a low growth rate rested on the trade war between the United States and China and on ‘associated weaknesses’. (The IMF promises a fuller discussion about the crisis in its World Economic Outlook Update, which it will release on 20 January).

Strikingly, the IMF economists note that as a result of global turbulence, ‘firms turned cautious on long-range spending and global purchases of machinery and equipment declined’. What this means is that firms are not investing in their expansion or in new technologies. Instead, firms are beginning to rely more and more on outsourced production, precarious employment, and a permanent regime of low-wage work. In other words, firms are cannibalising society – putting immense pressure on fragile networks of family and community, deepening the conservative impulses in society, and decreasing society’s health and well-being.

Denis Mubiru, Tukoola Bagaya?! (My Work Goes Unnoticed), 2015.

To prevent a major collapse, central banks around the world have lowered interest rates permanently and have provided cheap money to the business world. These firms – which have not invested in the productive sector – are borrowing trillions of dollars which they then put into the world of what Karl Marx called ‘fictitious capital’. The value of global stock markets is now nearly $90 trillion (according to Deutsche Bank), putting it ahead of global GDP (if you add in the total value of global financial stock – including bank deposits, government and private debt securities, and equities – the figure in 2004 was $118 trillion; it was over $200 trillion in 2010 – over 200% of global GDP). This expansion of fictitious capital has come more and more within borders, and not through global cross-border capital flows. These flows – which include foreign direct investment – has shrunk by 65% since 2007, from $12.4 trillion to $4.3 trillion.

For almost five decades, these two processes have confronted human society: a slowdown in productive investment from capitalist firms and an increase in the volume and importance of financial capital. Profit rates have declined overall, and debt rates have increased. No real attempt has been made to solve this problem, largely because there is no easy solution from within the confines of the capitalist system. Three main avenues opened up to lessen the severity of the crisis on the capitalist system, but not to solve the cascading crisis:

1) The policy slate of neoliberalism not only freed the capitalist class from the chains of taxation; it also deregulated finance and foreign direct investment, privatised state services, and commodified social wealth. The entire drive of neoliberalism weakened the capacity of States to formulate national economic policies; since formulating economy policy did not strengthen a democratic order, States delivered the advantage to multinational firms (including international banks).

2) The collapse of the Third World Project and the weakening of the socialist bloc delivered hundreds of millions of workers into the global working class and thereby allowed firms to bid down wages through subcontracting at the same time as State regulations collapsed through ‘labour market reforms’ pushed by the IMF.

3) A massive expansion of debt through lowered interest rates and easy access to credit. The Institute of International Finance shows that global debt is now at $250 trillion and counting; it is now 230% of the global GDP. Government debt accounts for nearly $70 trillion; half of the global debt is in the hands of the non-financial private sector. A new report from the World Bank called Global Waves of Debt shows that debt in emerging and developing countries alone continues to break its own records, rising to over $55 trillion in 2018, ‘marking an eight-year surge that has been the largest, fastest, and most broad-based in nearly five decades’. This debt in the emerging and developing countries is now 170% of the global GDP. But it is this debt that has fuelled what growth can be measured, and it is this mountain of debt that perches perilously over the fate of the world.

We, at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, have been closely following these developments and offering our analysis of what appears to be a long-term structural crisis for capitalism. In our dossier no. 24 (January 2020), we offer a thumbnail assessment of this long-term crisis and of the continued policy of austerity, then we pivot to an analysis of the emergence of the rivalry between the United States and China. We are of the view that the ‘trade war’ between the United States and China is not an irrational phenomenon, but that it is precisely the outgrowth of both the long-term economic crisis and of the policies of austerity. This assessment allows us to provide a brief analysis of the approach towards these matters that is being developed by the Institute for International Relations at Tsinghua University (Beijing).

The key finding of the Tsinghua approach is that we are entering a ‘bipolar world order’ in which there will – eventually – be two major powers in the world, the United States and China. Either these two powers will come to some understanding over the international organisations – such as the IMF and the World Bank – or more regional organisations will appear with different standards and a more heterogenous understanding of trade and development. Whether these fissiparous tendencies will make an impact on the world financial system is not part of any of these discussions, which seems to indicate that it will remain intact. For countries in the Global South, the implication of continuities of financial power means that no major change at a global level will be possible in this bipolar dispensation. What alternatives there will be for austerity regimes are unclear.

The slow attrition of US power and the emergence of the bipolar order can be glimpsed in the ongoing crises in West Asia. The US assassination of an Iranian general – who was carrying a diplomatic passport and was on a diplomatic mission in Iraq – and the widening of the gates of hell as missiles fly across the Iran and Iraq border; growing pressure from China and Russia with regard to this crucial part of Eurasia and the attempt by the US to encircle Eurasia – all of this suggest just these shifts. Anti-austerity protests intersect with protests against social toxicity. A general strike in India on 8 January combined the demands of the working class and the peasantry with a social compact that does not disadvantage minorities. Much the same kind of dynamic is visible in Latin America, where popular fronts have emerged against regimes of authoritarian austerity. Beneath the storm and stress of the shifts in the balance of power lie myriad struggles; this is why our dossier is called The World Oscillates Between Crises and Protests.

The general attitude in these protests is that what passes for reality is not worth respecting; the establishment leaders and their callousness is to be disregarded. US President Donald Trump threatens to destroy Iran’s cultural sites, a threat that is in the nature of a war crime; Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison watches his country burn and reacts with muffled unscientific and crude noises; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says nothing when the police and hooligans of his political orientation enter its universities and beat and arrest students. Social media explodes with anger against these men and their inhumanity. Young faces have their chins up, their fists in the air; they are not afraid.

It is true that these are protests of the youth, but it would be inaccurate to believe that youth can be reduced to age. There are many young people who have surrendered to reality, who cannot see beyond the horizon of the present; there are many older people who are youthful in their desire for full-scale transformation. The point is not age but attitude, the sensibility that the world we have need not be the world for eternity. ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’, Wordsworth wrote of the time of the French Revolution. ‘But to be young was very heaven’. To be young means to imagine ‘heaven’, another dispensation – the place, Wordsworth sang, ‘where in the end we find happiness, or not at all!’.

It is with great pleasure that we – at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research – welcome Professor Aijaz Ahmad to our team as a Senior Fellow. Professor Ahmad, a leading Marxist philosopher and cultural theorist, is the author of the classic book In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literature (1992) and of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Imperialism of Our Time (2004).

Exterminating Angels

Luis Buñuel’s surrealist film The Exterminating Angel is many things to many people. The eye of the bewildered beholder, beholden to his or her personal perspective, conditions the response. The plot is straightforward: a small coterie of wealthy Mexicans convene for a dinner party, only to find that they cannot leave the party — literally. There is no apparent physical impediment. Nothing visual blocks their exodus. Rather it is a kind of psychic inanition that collapses their will to leave. As each guest variously attempts to cross the threshold, a thought pops into his or her head rationalizing a reason to stay. A coffee, breakfast, an argument, a love tryst. It makes no difference. No one leaves. These haut monde citizens are quite conscious of their predicament, but consciousness of the problem is no solution. It is an ingenious plot; sinfully simple, bafflingly motiveless.

Some say the film variously mocks the cinema experience itself, others that it slyly savages religion. Still others say it means nothing, in good surrealist fashion. But perhaps the Marxist lens is especially apposite. The cast are drawn from mid-Fifties Mexican melodramas, having built their careers dramatizing the efete dilemmas of bourgeois life. What today we call first-world problems. They convincingly portray a cast of elites who cannot fix the simplest of problems. In this sense, the movie prefigures our own bourgeoisie, and the professional class cum liberal intelligentsia more broadly. The same sterility of action haunts our liberal corridors. Problems of human health, for which we abound with solutions, cannot be solved. Needless bloodshed, for which we burn blood and treasure, cannot be meaningfully addressed. Rampaging institutional racism and chronic fascism, at home and abroad, are never countenanced but with the thinnest bromides. Buñuel’s gentility cannot exit their dinner party; our liberal class cannot exit neoliberalism.

The liberal class is beholden to lesser evil voting, a reductionist ethic that refuses to consider the long-term consequences of employing it. They turn a blind eye to the rightward drift of a bipartisan political class with no leftward pressure, an actuality created by strident party allegiance.

Stopping Short

Part of the reason liberalism is weak is because it cannot follow the path of its sentiments to their obvious conclusion. It stops short of the logical endpoint of its rhetorical nods to solidarity–which is socialism.

Unwilling to exit the duopoly, incapable of system-level critique, fearful of revolution, liberals narrow their animus to their alter-ego in the duopoly. What is wrong is the fault of Republicans, who stonewall well-intentioned Democrats at every turn. In this sense, problems are off-ramped into diversionary side shows, like the present impeachment hysteria. As the carnival roars ahead, Democrats sign on to vast war budgets, the militarization of space, and the swift rubber-stamping of a raft of Trump judicial nominees. These gross capitulations are elbowed out of view with piecemeal reform, which indicates the true goal of modern liberals: effecting meaningful change without changing their lives in any meaningful way.

This perpetual off-ramping ensures the problem is never seen as systemic. A system critique would, in the end, identify the liberal class itself as a mechanism of the status quo, a release valve for endemic popular frustration rather than a tool of revolutionary transformation. Like Exterminating Angels, liberals (neoliberals in practice) work to exterminate the threat of truly progressive, government-led reform; i.e., socialist policy.

No Stopping Power

This is why liberals are weak against capitalist fascism. They cannot claim a valid ideology to fight it with. Tempering neoliberalism is all they’ve got. Socialism is the ideology that can and has worked but liberals have been convinced that communism leads to mass murder. Hence they are left to weakly decry the excesses of capitalism and limply argue for modest reforms.

There’s little doubt about the benefits that socialist command economies deliver to their populations. The metrics are clear, from the economic figures from the Soviet Union to the decades of stunning growth in China since the Chinese Communist Revolution, the remarkable turnarounds led by Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, not to mention Lula Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil. But all of these achievements have been either scrubbed from modern history or attributed to capitalism through widespread, multi-decade disinformation campaigns.

Liberals, indeed all of us, tend to overlook the evidence of socialist uplift in our own country (aside from the New Deal). As Michael Parenti has astutely noted, how many private industries owe their existence to government-funded research and development? From public transportation infrastructure to satellite communications, the Internet, nuclear power, and aeronautics, the role of federal funding is immense. Then there’s the state university system, another widely effective project of social uplift the federal role of which is widely ignored. In an Orwellian sense, the non plus ultra of socialist success is the defense industry, a system that consumes half of federal discretionary spending to fuel the Pentagon system and the weapons farms that supply it.

This is partly why Bernie Sanders will likely lose in 2020. (Aside from the institutional barriers, erected partly by liberals themselves, and relentlessly negative corporate media coverage.) Sanders has rallied considerable support for New Deal liberalism but has stopped there. He never mentions the socio-economic achievements of the USSR and China because he has made a political calculation that embracing such examples outside the spectrum of acceptable thought would be political suicide. Yet not going all the way will guarantee the ultimate failure of his project. Only embracing a dictatorship of workers would generate enough support for a revolution regardless of capitalist class schemes to undermine his campaign. Not only would his policies never be enacted short of mass socialist revolt, he never speaks of the inevitable rollback that is the immediate consequence of progressive policy in a capitalist society. In this respect, Sanders represents the limitations of liberalism and demonstrates why it is incapable of challenging capitalist imperialism. At best it can achieve limited reforms subject to swift repeal by the fascist right.

Forgotten Legacies

If the liberal camp has forsaken the historic success of various socialist projects, it has likewise glossed over the failures of its own tepid reformism. For liberals already sliding into the Warren camp, a predictable outcome given their historical behavior, here is what we got with our last so-called liberal president. We should note that some 200 former Obama employees are now stumping for Warren, who represents the same milquetoast “centrism” as our erstwhile leader. As author Chris Hedges has repeatedly noted, Obama should be remembered for his:

  • Refusal to prosecute any members of the Bush administration for their war crimes. It is the simplest of adages: if crime isn’t punished, then crime pays. (Note how war crimes are not impeachment-worthy, but a little foreign aid quid pro quo is if might score political points.)
  • The assault on civil liberties was worse under Obama than Bush (including an unprecedented assault on whistleblowers and due process related to ‘enemy combatants’ and detained American citizens).
  • The dramatic expansion of drone warfare was executed under Obama (at the behest of fanatical consigliere John Brennan).
  • The 2002 AUMF was reinterpreted by the Obama Department of Justice to sanction the killing of American citizens.
  • The deliberate use of al-Qaeda and related franchises to destabilize Syria with a proxy war (leading to some 500,000 dead and 13 million displaced, 5 million exiled from the country.)
  • The deliberate use of a no-fly zone to conduct a brutal regime change in Libya (where NATO acted as al-Qaeda’s de facto air force.)
  • Obama’s recovery delivered 95 percent of the economic rebound into the calf-skinned wallets of obscene wealth.
  • A decade after the 2008 meltdown, the average net worth of the average middle class family was $40,000 lower than it had been before the crash. The net worth of black families is down 40 percent and Latino households down 46 percent. Nobody expects recovery.
  • The lavish multi-trillion dollar bailout of corrupt Wall Street banks, which caused the 2007-2008 financial crisis (all while handing crumbs to homeowners defaulting in record numbers).
  • The enactment of the Affordable Care Act, an Orwellian health insurance scheme invented by Republicans, written by the insurance lobby, and forcibly imposed on the American public, leading to a dramatic inflation of healthcare costs, ongoing individual bankruptcies due to medical debt, reimbursement shortfalls, and the utterly cynical separation of ‘healthcare access’ from ‘healthcare’ itself. While providing some appreciable relief at the bottom end of the consumer pyramid, it was, in retrospect, a means of forestalling Medicare for All and of unburdening businesses of their role looking after the health of their employees.
  • The open declaration that Venezuela was a national security threat, entraining lethal sanctions that have only been ratcheted up by the Trump administration (quite predictably). Some 40,000 have died as a result.
  • The facilitation and support of regime change in Ukraine, generating border tensions with Russia, a civil war inside Ukraine, and a new Cold War internationally. The Obama administration’s uptick in hostility toward Russia created the ideological context in which Russiagate was sure to flourish.
  • It was Obama’s NDAA that allowed troops to conduct missions on American soil.
  • It was Obama’s NDAA that legalized domestic propaganda.
  • It was the CIA under Obama that illegally spied on Congress.
  • It was the FBI and CIA under Obama that ginned up the false pretexts to spy on a presidential campaign.
  • The falsification of the need to spy on the Trump presidential campaign led directly to the chimerical Russiagate scandal that has rocked the presidency and critically helped the military-intelligence-industrial complex constrain Trump’s foreign policy instincts (on which he campaigned).
  • It was the Obama administration that delivered a record-setting military aid package to the apartheid state of Israel (including refusal to sanction Israel for its brutal attack on Palestinian people in 2014).

All these realities must be brushed aside so as not to obscure our view of the incremental prosperity that Democrats claim to deliver. But even this promise, that the Democrats will deliver progress in the long run, is false. Both parties preside over decline, not progress. It is the nature of decline that is at stake each quadrennial: death by a thousand cuts or a bullet to the body politic. Simply look at the barometers of prosperity since the implementation of neoliberalism in the early 1970s. During the Long Boom from the post-war era to the early Seventies, productivity was hitched to wages, thanks to labor unions and other forms of class struggle. Since 1973, when neoliberal economics were being implemented with increasing fervor, American productivity has gone up 77 percent, wages by 12 percent. This gap accounts in part for the increasing percentage of the nation’s wealth hoarded by elites.

End Game

The liberal class practices a kind of deliberate cognitive dissonance despite having informed opinion at their fingertips. They do not connect the Democrats to human destruction, though Obama generated untold suffering across eight wars. They do not connect sanctions to economic destruction, though Obama declared Venezuela a national security threat and implemented sanctions that, ratcheted up by the Trump regime, have turned a once robust Venezuelan economy into a derelict engine of instability. They do not connect NGOs to civic destruction, though Democratic use of NGO front organizations in Venezuela and Ukraine and Libya have produced everything from commodity hoarding to street violence and slave labor. They do not connect corporate media to reputation destruction, though they literally watched Bernie Sanders destroyed by lies and negligence from the media proxies of the very party he embraced. They connect none of these events to a bipartisan neoliberal capitalism, the unhinged engine of supra-national exploitation that is the core cause of declining life prospects inside the empire, and extinguished life prospects outside it.

So we are left with an effete professional class of lip-sync liberals who repeat the platitudes of friendly fascism before retiring back to their bunkers of creature comforts. When asked if there was a difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, Hedges replied, “Of course there’s a difference: it is how you want corporate fascism delivered to you. Do you want it delivered by a Princeton-educated, Goldman Sachs criminal, or do you want it delivered by a racist, nativist, Christian fascist?…The fundamental engines of oligarchic global corporate power are advanced by both parties. One tries to present it in a multicultural, inclusive way, the other is embraced by troglodytes….Believing the Democratic Party will save us is a kind of willful blindness.” Like Buñuel’s surrealist depiction, it is the liberal class, echoing the rhetoric of hope and solidarity, that truly exterminate the possibility of either.

In the UK Do Subjects Deserve their Rulers?

I constantly receive such letters; letters which repeat, again and again, year after year, basically the same thing: “If only we would have an opportunity to vote out our damn system!”

Such letters, emails and messages keep coming to me from the United States, but also from the United Kingdom. Particularly, after certain events, like when the Western empire overthrows some progressive government in Asia, Latin America or the Middle East.

I honestly wonder: “Don’t my readers actually periodically have that proverbial opportunity they are longing for? They can, can’t they, install socialism; to let it storm into Downing Street like an early spring?”

But they keep missing that opportunity, again and again. Or, are they really missing it? Actually, for so many years they have voted in the most extreme forms of capitalism and imperialism, so one has to wonder whether the British voters perhaps truly deserve their rulers?

*****

The results of the British elections became so radical, so conservative, that even the most conformist British press, like The Economist, doesn’t appear to be able to stomach them, anymore.

Of course, I am being sarcastic, because precisely that the mainstream press is one of the main reasons, why the British electorates vote as they do.

But seriously, could anyone in his or her sane state of mind vote for BoJo?

Just put Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn next to each other, and listen to each of them for ten minutes, and it would appear that anyone who would vote for the leader of the Conservative Party should be ripe for the mental asylum.

Unless… Unless! Yes, precisely: Unless he or she actually openly or secretly longs for those neo-liberal, deeply conservative “values”, which were introduced to the “Western world” by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, after some wild and extremist theories that were floated behind the walls of the Chicago School of Economics by market fundamentalists such as Friedman and Von Hayek. And after entire nations, such as Indonesia and Chile (both of them now lying in ruins), were raped, tied up and then used as guinea pigs.

Unless the British voters really admire Western imperialism, and that notorious, legendary, sadistic hand of the English teacher holding a ruler over the fingers of a petrified pupil, roaring threateningly: “Shall I?” Unless they truly like this kind of arrangement of the world.

I often wonder: What if they do? Perhaps they do. They most likely do, at least many of them. The voters, I mean…

*****

For years and decades, many thinkers, writers and left-leaning intellectuals are, for some abstract reasons, convinced, that the great majority of Europeans are tricked or coerced into supporting that beastly, insane foreign policy of the United States.

They think that “were Europe to be truly free”, it would embark on a socialist path, as it tried, but was prevented from doing, right after WWII.

I never bought into that argument. Socialist, even Communist European euphoria lasted for only a few years. What followed was the abandoning almost all values and ideals for a series of orgies: food orgies, sex orgies, sports orgies, pop crap culture orgies, and finally the empty travel orgies. Europe is living beyond its means, and is planning to do so, for decades to come. It cannot survive, and it doesn’t want to live without the brutal plunder of the world, or read, without the “conservative neo-liberal regime”.

These days, most of the Europeans support its brutal and unruly offspring, on the other side the Atlantic. Such support guarantees that the complexes of superiority will be pampered, that the working hours will stay short (at the expense of those ‘un-people’ in all corners of the globe), food cheap, and porn and sports free or almost free of charge (at least on television and computer screens).

So, basically, we are talking a clear status quo, which in turn is almost synonymous with the “conservative values”.

*****

The Economist went mental, commenting on the elections in its leading story “Britain’s nightmare before Christmas.” And that was even before the results were announced. Predictably, it trashed Mr. Corbyn and his “bankrupt views” (among them his refusal to antagonize, loot and provoke Venezuela, Iran and Russia), but then it went after BoJo’s throat:

Brexit is not the only problem with Mr. Johnson’s new-look Tories. He has purged moderates and accelerated the shift from an economically and socially liberal party into an economically interventionist and culturally conservative one. Angling for working-class, Leave-voting seats in the north, he has proposed extra state aid, buy-British government procurement and a sketchy tax-and-spending plan that does not add up. Also, he has absorbed the fatal lesson of the Brexit campaign: that there is no penalty for lying or breaking the rules. He promised not to suspend Parliament, then did: he promised not to extend the Brexit talks, then did. This chicanery corrodes trust in democracy… For all these reasons this newspaper cannot support the Conservatives.

How truly heartbreaking!

Deep drift inside the conservative world?

Not really. Boris Johnson simply broke some rules. He showed himself as unreliable, vulgar and embarrassing. He did it all in public. These things are never forbidden, at least not in the U.K. Racism, even sexual crimes, are fine there, as long as they are kept behind closed doors. Well-camouflaged lies are perfectly fine, too, no matter which party leaders utter them, be it Thatcher or Blair.

*****

But back to voting and the British nation.

To simplify everything: Jeremy Corbyn is a decent man. Not perfect, but decent. It is obvious. He is a person who cares about his fellow citizens. He also cares about those billions, in all corners of the Earth, who have been robbed and brutalized by the Western empire (of which the U.K. is, undeniably, an indispensable part).

Look at Boris Johnson and you get the opposite. And it is not a state secret. I have many friends in the U.K., and a great majority would confirm that he is an upsetting buffoon, if not something much more terrible.

Mr. Corbyn is true Labour. He is trying to reverse what all of us know is taking place: that the U.K. has sunk so low, and many of its children are literally starving. Its social system has collapsed under the right-wing (in the past, both Conservative and “New Labor”) governments. That British citizens cannot afford to live in their own cities, anymore. That both education and medical care, as well as infrastructure, are crumbling, in fact going to the dogs.

He wants to stop the despicable suffering of the millions of victims of the Western reign, in all parts of the Earth.

Of course, these facts would never appear in the pages of The Economist.

Boris Johnson does not give a flying fuck about the issues mentioned above. He is on the stage. Since his youth, he has always been playing and acting, as well as self-promoting. He is perhaps the most embarrassing figure in British politics.

And yet… And yet. Perhaps Corbyn’s humanism is his biggest weakness. At least in Europe, particularly in the U.K.

As the New York Times reported:

As votes were counted on Friday, the Conservatives were projected to win 364 seats in the House of Commons, versus 203 for the Labor Party, according to the BBC, with almost all of Parliament’s seats decided. That would give the Conservatives about a 75-seat majority, their largest since that amassed by Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

That is clear message where the public stands, isn’t it?

Of course, I know that soon, my friends and comrades will begin to read into the outcome of the elections: that only a fraction of the population voted. That people were confused. That the mass media manipulated the entire narrative. And many arguments of this nature.

And I am sure that they will be correct.

However, the United Kingdom voted, and these are terribly, outrageous results.

People voted for the most extreme, shameless type of neo-liberalism. They voted for a brigand type of imperialism, neo-colonialism and racism.

*****

My personal observations do not matter, but I’d like to add them, nevertheless.

I come to London at least twice a year. Almost all my visits are work, or “struggle-related”. I am interviewed there, I show my films, promote my books, or speak at the universities.

I used to enjoy my visits. But not anymore.

There is terrible tension in the air. People have become impolite, even aggressive.

As a Russian, I am constantly challenged. Even my very slight accent provokes immediate questions “where am I from?” When I reply, what follows are often direct provocations.

My Chinese friends report much graver abuses.

London is not at peace with itself, that is certain.

I have written about Brexit on several occasions, and as a matter of principle, I refuse to do it in this essay.

Lately, everything is being explained and justified by Brexit.

I don’t believe that it could be. Doing so is a gross simplification.

Perhaps the West is truly an anti-socialist, anti-Communist entity. Perhaps that is why it keeps overthrowing left-wing governments, all over the world. Perhaps that is why it keeps voting in the most unsavory individuals one could imagine.

Perhaps the U.K. deserves the rulers it gets.

There is one little nuance which is being constantly overlooked: the U.K. is not really against Labour. Remember Tony Blair, a closet Thatcherite, and a man who served as an advisor to the murderous Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, responsible for millions of lost lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Blair is also a man responsible for hundreds of thousands of the lost human lives in the Middle East. Remember? Well, he was so-called “New Labour”. But that was obviously just fine, as far as the British voters were concerned.

And there is one more ‘little nuance’ worth mentioning: almost the entire Europe is moving to the right; towards the racist, self-serving right. And it is not only Europe which wants to stay in the EU, or Europe which desires to leave the bloc. Both parts are heading in a similar direction.

Perhaps, after all, the voters deserve their leaders!

Right-wing “leaders” are thriving. While rationality, decency and kindness are kicking the bucket in agony.

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

Still Waiting for (Lefty) Godot

Vladimir: Let us not waste time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!

— Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Agate Keller: Don’t Wait for Lefty! He might never come!

— Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty

Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (The Irish pronunciation is GOD-oh) is recognized as the most significant play of the 20th Century by the most influential playwright of the period. Beckett (1906-1989) wrote the play in 1948 and it’s still the most frequently produced drama around the world some 70 years after its premier in Paris in 1952. Likewise, a Google search reveals that critics remain engaged in the flourishing cottage industry of passionate debate over the play’s meaning. English language versions appeared in London in 1955 and on Broadway in 1956 and some of our greatest actors have performed it, including Patrick Stewart, Bill Irwin, Ian McKellan, E.G Marshall, F. Murray Abramson, Geoffrey Rush, Nathan Lane, Robin Williams and Steve Martin.

I first encountered the play in a first-year undergraduate course on Modern Drama (my minor) and if a liberal arts education is sometimes wasted on the young, I’m an example. I’d never heard of Beckett or Godot and even on a second reading I found the play opaque, totally incomprehensible. Unable to formulate a critical judgement, I remained silent and took notes on the teacher’s interpretation — in all likelihood a conventional Christian take as it was a very conservative Lutheran college. Further, and it’s strictly a guess, my professor and hence his students may have been influenced and delimited by New Criticism, a school of thought which dictated that only the text lent itself to interpretation and excluded the author’s background, context, possible intent and so forth.

This cringe-worthy memory was recently brought to mind by reading the Godot quote (above) in Benjamin Moser’s new biography of Susan Sontag where he describes how she staged Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo while it was under brutal attack by Serbian nationalists in 1993. That, in turn, prompted me to do some research and view an online version of the play in an attempt to further reduce another glaring deficit on my cultural capital ledger. My conceit is that what follows may be useful for others in rethinking both the play and its meaning for today.

Absent a plot, action and time, the play resists a tersely cogent summary but here’s my layperson’s idiosyncratic, some will say caricatured synopsis. After the opening line “Nothing to be done” the audience watches a tragicomedy in two acts about Vladimir and Estragon ( “Didi” and “Gogo” in the performed version), two bedraggled vagabonds waiting in the middle of nowhere for the mysterious Godot to save them. They occupy an almost barren landscape with a country road, single boulder, the sky and a leafless tree which sprouts a few leaves by Act II. To kill time they engage in broad slapstick humor, nostalgic rambling, juggling their bowler hats, halting speeches, and bickering. There are also glimpses of exquisite tenderness between Gogo and Didi, the childish nicknames the pair have adopted for one another.

In Act I, they’re paid an abbreviated visit by Pozzo, a local landowner and his slave, Lucky, who’s tethered to rope and whipped. His fate is to be sold at the fair. A boy appears with the message that Godot won’t be arriving that day “but surely tomorrow.” Didi and Gogo momentarily contemplate suicide by hanging themselves from the tree but decide to continue waiting. In Act II, a greatly diminished Pozzo (now blind) and Lucky (mute and dying) reappear and Didi cries out that they should help them. They do nothing. The boy returns with the same message, suicide is again put off and the wait continues. Spoiler: Godot never shows up. At that point, Vladimir says “Well, shall we go?” To which Estragon replies “Yes, let’s go,” but as the curtain falls, the friends remain stationary. As a reviewer in the Irish Times quipped in 1956, this is a play in which “Nothing happens, twice.”

Whereas Waiting for Lefty was praised by left reviewers, Beckett’s play was despised by many left critics as exhibiting a decadent lack of realism and furthering late modernist bourgeois ideology. Fellow Irish dramatist Sean O’Casey felt Beckett’s work portrayed “a lust for despair” while George Wentworth accused Beckett of being “a prophet of negation and sterility. He holds out no hope for humanity…” And George Lukács, the Marxist theorist spoke for many in claiming Beckett only displays “the utmost pathological human degradation.” If accurate, this interpretation reinforced the paralyzing despair felt by so many working class people at the time and doubly so in the United States today. It also plays into the hands of our rulers.

More mainstream reviews of Godot were peppered with phrases like desolate universe, paralyzing inertia, and unrelieved bleakness. And those were the critics who liked the play. They agreed Beckett was a prophet of inconsolable pessimism about the human condition but on a purely artistic level correctly predicted Godot was destined to be a minimalist theater masterpiece. Note: In response to my recent queries, several introspective friends confided that after watching Waiting for Godot, their strongest impressions ranged from “waiting for God” to “existential despair” and “being a play about nothing.”

During that same semester, but outside of class, I read another play that preceded Godot by some eighteen years and it was also about people waiting for an eponymous character who never shows up. This was the 1935 drama Waiting for Lefty, by celebrated American playwright Clifford Odets (1906-1963) and was nominally based on the famous 1934 strike by New York City cabdrivers at the height of the Great Depression. Odets, a Communist Party member, fashioned his drama on behalf of working class struggle and a hopeful vision of socialist revolution. He called the play “…a machine gun that could be deployed at any strike meeting or picket line.”

In a cabdriver’s union meeting hall, the strike committee is deciding whether to hit the pavement while a corrupt, red-baiting union boss tries to talk them out of it. His hectoring implicitly supports FDR’s effort to save capitalism from the pinkos. Before making a decision the cabbies want to hear from Lefty Costello, their pro-strike faction leader who is nowhere to be found. After more impassioned dialogue and more waiting (in one sequence a secretary voices kind words for The Communist Manifesto), an agitated member shouts “Don’t wait for Lefty! He might never come!” They continue waiting. Finally, a union member arrives with the news that Lefty has been found dead with a bullet in his head. Rather than giving in to despair they begin chanting “Strike, Strike, Strike…” break into a rousing version of “Solidarity Forever” and refusing to waiting for a messiah, commence acting on their own behalf.

The director Harold Thurman, a close friend of Odets, called the play “the birth cry of the 1930s” and said the playwright’s motive was to explain the plight of poor working class people, “to express his love, his fears, his hope for the world” and fervently wanted to make a connection between audience and actors. The play opened on Broadway on March 26, 1935 and the cast received 28 curtain calls.

As a “symbol of proletarian revolution,” it was then staged across the country before raucously favorable audiences albeit closed down in some cities because of its “subversive” content.1 It’s still performed at a smattering of colleges and community theater venues, including a recent four-night run at a 30-seat space in Philadelphia. It’s possible that audiences today find the play heavy-handed, soap-boxish and even quaint with its celebration of labor militancy, radical unions and class struggle but that only shows how successful neoliberal ideology has been in retarding class consciousness.

In any event, for me, Waiting for Lefty was hopeful agitprop theater, art as powerful social commentary that I could embrace for its contribution to my nascent radical political consciousness. The only parallel I detected between the two plays was the failure of the eponymous characters to appear. In retrospect, not only was I mistaken but Beckett’s work was in fact also profoundly political and remains even more relevant today.

Unlike Odets’ didactic left politics, Beckett was steadfastly reticent to explain his play’s meaning and when asked about Godot, he routinely responded that he had no idea of Godot’s identity and had he known would have spelled it out. Beyond that, Beckett maintained that the play was open to a variety of interpretations. Subsequently, a partial list was filled by Christian, Existentialist, Jungian Freudian, Sexual and Ethical. I’ve also read a few erudite Marxist interpretations that, while neither “wrong” nor implausible, felt shoehorned into rigid preexisting boxes in an attempt to appropriate the work. In any event and even if Beckett was being coy (which I doubt) every viewer is left with his or her interpretive freedom without fear of contradiction. As I argue later, that was an artistic and conscious political decision on Beckett’s part.

For me, the most compelling, if not definitive interpretation arises from Beckett’s active role in the French Resistance during World War II. The critic Hugh Kenner argued that virtually every aspect of Godot resembled France under Germany occupation “but no spectator ever thinks of it.”2

While not going that far, Beckett scholar Emilie Morin suggests there are many signs that Beckett’s “perceived his own identity through the lens of the French Revolution.”3

Beckett joined immediately after the German invasion of France in early 1940 even though as an Irish national he could have returned to Ireland or simply continued to enjoy his neutral status in France. Working for British Special Operations and given the pseudonym “l’Irlandis” (the Irishman), his secret Resistance cell Gloria SMH translated and smuggled intelligence reports on German troop movements to the Allies. It was extremely dangerous and twelve cell members were executed and some ninety others deported to Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Ravensbruck.

By D-day, 30,000 Resistance members had been executed and of the 115,000 deported to concentration camps, only 35,000 returned. Several times over a two year period Beckett barely escaped the Gestapo, finally fleeing on foot and sleeping in ditches during a trek to the small, remote village of Roussilon some 400 miles south of Paris. While there he did some writing but also hid weaponry for the Resistance in his backyard. After the war, Beckett worked in an Irish Red Cross hospital in Saint-lo where he encountered first hand the devastation, cruelty and immense suffering from both the Allied and German bombing campaigns of 1944. After the war, Beckett received the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance from the French government.

In the decades that followed, ample public evidence exists of Beckett’s political sympathies. He supported the Spanish Republic, signed petitions against Jaruzelski’s detention of political dissenters and human rights violations in Pinochet’s Chile, wrote Catastrophe (1982) in support of imprisoned Václav Havel and registered his opposition to apartheid in South Africa. In 1963,when asked by South African activists to join Playwrights Against Apartheid, he signed their petition and sent along a handwritten note which read “I am in entire agreement with your views and prepared to refuse performances except before a non-segregated audience.” In the late 1960s, he donated a manuscript for auction to the African National Congress.

Godot was eventually performed in South Africa at an integrated theater with an-black cast. The director Benji Francis revealed that the play evaded the censor’s suspicion because so many people assumed it was “a play where nothing happens.” Francis drew attention to the forlorn tree’s radical political function because “when it sprouted leaves in act two, that sent a powerful message to oppressed people — it suggested new life and resolution, an image of hope against all desolation.”4 After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, Beckett gave the prize money to needy artists. Jack McGowran, one of his closest friends, recalled Beckett’s “deep compassion for mankind” that required “showing things as they are, as he sees them, to tell everything with compassion, always with humor.”5

In addition to the Sontag version, an all-black production of Godot was staged in South Africa in 1976 (blessed by Becket) and another in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with the clear implication that Godot was FEMA. The play has been staged in prisons, including at San Quentin before some 1,400 inmates. Later, the prisoners formed the San Quentin Drama Workshop to organize and act in their own production. Beckett provided them with an annotated script and spent ten days helping supervise production, the only time he did so for his play in the United States.

The foregoing facts simply don’t support the widespread, cliched characterizations of Beckett’s world as only grim existential futility, of an apolitical and even nonpolitical writer whose thinking was disengaged from the real world and its tribulations. Here I’m indebted to noted Beckett scholar Emilie Morin’s recent book Beckett’s Political Imagination which now assumes the preeminent scholarly role of helping us understand Beckett’s politics.

Morin makes a compelling case for a more nuanced, less conventional view of politics at work. For example, when asked by Richard Stern in 1977, whether he was “ever political,” Beckett replied, “No, but I joined the Resistance.”6 And many years after the war, when queried why he joined the Resistance, Beckett responded somewhat uncomfortably, that “He simply couldn’t stand [by] with his arms folded.”7 Perhaps it’s coincidence but here’s a passage from Godot:

Vladimir: It is true that with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we
Are no less a credit to our species…But this is not the question. What are
We doing here, that is the question.

And it’s not true that two vagrants are “doing nothing.” They are in fact doing something: They are waiting for the enigmatic Godot to interpret the world so they will know how to proceed. Beckett’s underlying message is they should stop waiting for something in the future. As Beckett biographer James Knowlson asserts, that waiting situation is “what happens when people have lost the awareness of their purpose in life.”8 At one point, Vladimir says:

Was I sleeping while others were suffering? Am I sleeping now?
At me too, someone is looking, of me too someone is saying he
Too is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep.

It’s notable that this lost awareness, this alienated waiting, does not occur in solitude as the two longtime friends mirror the human condition of being thoroughly dependent upon one another. It would not be a stretch to characterize this as incipient solidarity.

Beckett never claimed to be a philosopher, only saying “One can only speak of what is front of him, and that is simply a mess.” And unlike Clifford Odetts, he was neither a Marxist, to my knowledge referenced Marxism in his work and doesn’t prescribe specific forms of action. But then again, neither did Marx who believed that when the time arrived people would know what to do. That is, when they “know,” they will know how to proceed, how “to go on.”

Again, Emilie Morin notes that “Thinking about the political questions raised by Beckett’s writing can— and should, I think —be uncomfortable; to put it simply, his work asks us whether or not we are willing to see what is in front of us. This is the uncomfortable political question that continues to resonate today.”9

My reading of Godot is that audience’s feelings of uncertainty, doubt and lack of closure reflects, not fatalistic despair but Beckett’s respect for people’s need to resolve matters on their own and his belief that only then can they decide on the most efficacious behavior consonant with what needs to be done. The one thing they can’t do is continue waiting. One thinks of Marx’s famous dictum that “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways ; the point, however, is to change it.”

Finally, if it’s true as Morin concludes, that “The idea that even in the most oppressive and terrifying circumstances, something in the human spirit remains free and indomitable haunts many of Beckett’s later texts”10 this suggests that Beckett wants the reader/viewer to consummate the experience but only after some painful introspection. Thus his pessimism is for:

…an established cultural and societal structure which imposes its
Stultifying will upon otherwise hopeful individuals; it is the inherent
Optimism of the human condition, therefore, that is at tension with
The oppressive world.11

This is reminiscent of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s decision to employ his “pessimism of the intellect” in assessing the world’s wretched reality and then choosing “optimism of the will” in order to move forward. We can hope there’s an aspiring playwright out there who can contextualize a modern day Lefty/Godot into our soul-enervating, neoliberal capitalist world and rewaken an emancipatory spirit that emerges not from outside but from within.

  1. Selena Voelker, “The Power of Art and the Fear of Labor: Seattle’s Production of Waiting for Lefty in 1936,” The Great Depression in Washington State Project.”
  2. Marjorie Perloff, quoted in Enter Godot: ACT Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Beckett’s Existential Classic, 2003.
  3. Emilie Morin, Beckett’s Political Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), p.139. The product of ten years of in-depth research, this pathbreaking study isn’t about Waiting for Godot per se but how power, race and colonies are ingrained in Beckett’s work.
  4. Benji Francis, as quoted by David Smith, Imogen Carter and Ally Carnwath, “In Godot We Trust,” Guardian, March 8, 2009.
  5. Deirdre Bair, Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone De Beauvoir and Me: A Memoir (New York: Doubleday, 2019) p. 50.
  6. Morin, op.cit., p. 13.
  7. Ibid., p. 19.
  8. James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (London: Bloomsbury, 1966) p.638-39.
  9. Emilie Morin, “Beckett’s Political Imagination,” Fifteen Eight-Four, August 22, 2017.
  10. __________, “Beckett, War Memory, and the State of Exception,” Journal of Modern Literature, 42:4, Summer, 2019), p. 135.
  11. Authors at Wikipedia’s Selections for Schools, Samuel Beckett, McGill-CS, on DVD, 2007.