Category Archives: Noam Chomsky

The “Lesser-Evil” Syndrome: Noam Chomsky’s Fall Into Self-Contradiction

In a recent interview Noam Chomsky declared that there “was a big difference” between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential elections, a difference “you could count in several million corpses in Indochina.” But, Chomsky added, “a lot of the young people on the left said, “I’m not going to vote for Humphrey. He’s a corporate Democrat. I can’t sully my hands on that. So I won’t vote.” In effect, said Chomsky, this meant that they “help[ed] Nixon win,” and more specifically, they “help[ed] kill a couple million people in Indochina, plus a lot of other (bad) things.”1

In other words, Humphrey was the lesser evil in 1968.

Twenty years ago, speaking with David Barsamian of Alternative Radio about the very same elections, Chomsky said the opposite:

I could not bring myself to vote for Humphrey. I did not vote for Nixon. But my feeling at the time, and in retrospect I think it’s probably correct, was that a Nixon victory was probably marginally beneficial in winding down the Indochina wars, probably faster than the Democrats would have. It was horrendous, but maybe less horrible than it would have been.2

In short, Nixon was the lesser evil in 1968.

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

In the 1960s Chomsky occasionally voted for Republican candidates if they opposed the Vietnam War, but as the GOP turned increasingly reactionary he voted more and more for Democrats, which habit he considers morally obligatory for anyone on the political left. This has proven to be a tough sell, however, since the Democrats are not so much the lesser evil as they are the more effective evil.3 Precisely because of their (false) reputation for being more humane than Republicans, they can act more viciously than the GOP (Clinton ending welfare “as we know it,” for example) at times, and this is, in fact, their assigned role. Furthermore, as an opposition party the GOP is formidable, while the Democrats are pussycats, rolling over for everything a Republican president wants, often conceding even more than is asked for (Pentagon spending, for example). The focus of “opposition” since 2017 (laughably referred to as “the resistance”) has been Trump’s insulting tweets and boundless vulgarity, not his right-wing policies, which are allowed to advance unimpeded.

In short, no matter whether or how we cast our ballots, policy is insulated from voter preferences and keeps moving to the right. Nevertheless, Chomsky takes leftists who abstain or vote third party (in swing states) to task for failing to carry out what he considers to be a straightforward exercise in damage mitigation.

“It’s very frustrating,” he says, that “this is constantly happening,”4; i.e., that some on the left refuse to vote according to a simple lesser evil formula. Unfortunately, Chomsky doesn’t even recognize that he has been unable to keep his story straight as to which side actually is the lesser evil, in spite of the allegedly “big difference” between the two corporate parties. In fact, this year he goes even further and says – try not to laugh – the difference (between Biden and Trump) is not merely big, but colossal.

Though he’s mentally absent much of the time, even Biden has more sense of political reality than that, promising rich donors just last year that “nothing would fundamentally change” in a Biden administration. But Chomsky wants us to be impressed by a slate of disingenuous Sanders-Biden position papers crafted for vote-harvesting purposes, rather than Biden’s devastating dedication to “more effective evil” politics extending back over forty years.

Chomsky well knows the emptiness of electoral politics under capitalism. Through the years he has advanced a scathing indictment of U.S. elections, saying that they are really more “public relations extravaganzas” than ideological contests, that they therefore mean very little, especially at the national level; that he himself votes “less and less” at that level; that the system is not generating issues that resonate with the public; that there really can’t be said to be any political parties, but only “candidate-producing organizations” driven by marketing concerns; that the quadrennial farce that plays out at the presidential level is worth no more than “five minutes time,” and that only to determine which candidate represents the greater threat, in order to vote against him; and that, in view of all this, we should reserve our main political energy for vastly more important work, such as popular education, union organizing, and cultural resistance/transformation.

Nevertheless, in recent years, the significance of voting has loomed large in Chomsky’s mind: he warned that failure to vote for Hillary Clinton was a “big mistake,” that allowing Trump to win could be “the death knell of the species,” and that the 2020 elections are the “most important in human history.” This represents an escalation of election year hype, which in previous cycles has modestly urged us to “vote or die” in “the most important elections in our lifetimes.” By 2024, we may have to resort to the “most important elections in the history of the universe.” In any case, what’s noteworthy is Chomsky’s juxtaposition: voting is both trivial and urgent, likely to determine the fate of the earth and not worth more than a few minutes of our attention. Are these assumptions really reconcilable?

Probably not. If it is really true that we are at a “tipping point” vis-à-vis global warming, then it does not make sense to spend the vast majority of our political energy working for the long-term goal of transforming the U.S. into a country where a decent person could live without shame. Far better to throw ourselves unreservedly into the circus campaign to elect Biden now, in order to insure ourselves the time to deal with longer term matters later. But many Bernie Sanders voters will not do this, to say nothing of those farther left, and even Chomsky is not recommending it (though a Chomsky lesser-evil editorial IS being used as a campaign ad for Biden).5

Chomsky favors an independent political party in principle. “I think it is important the building of a political party which could enter the political arena and represent the population, and not just business interests.”6  However, he favors a “safe states” strategy in determining how to cast ballots whenever an independent left candidate faces off against the capitalist duopoly, which virtually guarantees failure. The reasons why are captured well by journalist Matt Taibbi, who offered an evaluation of the safe states approach back in 2004 when David Cobb of the Greens ran “against” George W. Bush and John Kerry:

For those of you who didn’t follow this story Cobb snatched the Green Party nomination away from (Ralph) Nader last week largely through his embrace of the so-called safe states strategy, known affectionately in political circles as the ‘crack suicide squad’ approach to campaigning. In this scenario Mr. Cobb agrees in advance to refrain from campaigning in any state where the Greens might have a chance to affect the outcome of the Bush-Kerry race. Bravely, however, he condescends to campaign balls-out in any state where a vote for the Greens doesn’t matter. 7

In other words, all the left’s energy was directed towards not influencing the outcome. Though he hardly needed to, Taibbi explained the absurdity:

…This is the kind of politics you get when you raise a generation of people who don’t understand the difference between brand identification and ideological conviction. Much the same way that Burger King and McDonald’s are scrambling to figure out a way that you can be on the Atkins diet and still spend your money at their vile, ass-inflating restaurants, Cobb and his party basically figured out a way that Nation subscribers can wear Green this fall and still keep their friends. They have turned politics into a shoe and a handbag, a conquered market demographic.8

The last part is key to all the rest. In a fake democracy voting means lining up with your assigned market demographic, not electing leaders, much less determining policies. As Taibbi jokes:

Vote Green – elect Kerry! Lose weight – drink Low-Carb Coca Cola! It’s the same thing, on many different levels. Because both decisions really boil down to the same compromise: trying to fit an instinct to reject corporate consumer culture into the ruling paradigm of corporate consumer culture.”9

Rejection by affirmation – touché. Taibbi rubbed the point in for effect:

Logic dictates: if you want to lose weight, the way to do that is not to drink the right kind of Coca Cola. The way to do it is to not drink Coca Cola. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, but it is apparently beyond the grasp of most Greens.9

And, as always, there was a lot more to reject:

Similarly, if you don’t believe in things like corporate personhood, if you are against the war in Iraq, if you are against the scourge of corporate money in politics, if you are in favor of a reduction in military spending, if you want to abolish the WTO and NAFTA, if you want to end the export of arms, if you want to break up media monopolies, if you want to get Channel 1 out of public schools, if you want to end the targeting of children by corporate advertisers – if you believe any of these things, or more to the point, if they are embedded in your party platform, then you can’t vote for either the Republicans or the Democrats, because they’re united against you all the way down the line.10

Updating to 2020, we can say that if you are against funneling trillions of dollars to banks and other mega-corporations, while tens of millions of Americans face homelessness and coronavirus with little or no income and no health insurance, then you can’t vote for either Republicans or Democrats, because they are united behind such policies all the way down the line. (For the record, the GOP was initially less stingy on direct cash payments than the Democrats, and the lone vote against the CARES Act, a multi-trillion dollar give-away to the rich, was Republican Thomas Massie’s. But the differences are slight).

Nonetheless, Taibbi concedes there is a logic to the “anybody but ________” idea (Bush, Trump, etc.):

I understand the logic . . . it is a rationally defensible position, one that makes sense on some primitive level. What does not make sense here is why the burden of ‘anybody but _________’ should fall on the Green Party. The burden really rests with the Democrats. If they want to end the Green Party problem, then those votes are there for the taking. All the Democrats have to do is renounce the WTO and NAFTA, create a universal health care system, and slash the defense budget, putting the proceeds into education and health care. Among other things.10

Sixteen years later, the Democrats have still done none of those things, and Taibbi’s main point is more valid than ever: the burden of anybody but Trump (i.e., any blue will do) should not fall on the Green Party or Bernie Sanders supporters, to say nothing of those farther left. (Or, more accurately, those farther down the wealth pyramid.) Over forty percent of the electorate – the poorest part of the wealth pyramid – never vote for president, because it’s a foregone conclusion that they will continue to be brutally exploited no matter which wing of the duopoly wins a given election. What possible sense does it make to tell them that they should care more about electing Biden than the Democratic Party itself does? The Democrats know perfectly well they are widely detested by the working class, but they get to share power even when they lose; the poor get nothing either way. That’s why they don’t turn out. The job of the rest of us is to define and deliver on a politics that alleviates their plight and makes it worth their while to vote, not tell them they have a moral duty to kiss the boot crushing their neck.

Why do the Democrats refuse to adopt policies that induce their base to vote? Taibbi stresses the obvious:

They’re too addicted to corporate money. They’re money junkies. And as anyone who’s had any experience with junkies will tell you, junkies cannot be trusted. They’ll say anything you want them to say about going straight, but at the critical moment, they’ll still steal your television and shoot it right into their arms.10

Obviously, offering to help a junkie desperate for a fix is sheer folly:

The only way to deal with a junkie is to change your phone number or, if you ever find him in your house, chain him to a radiator. . . . the one thing you can’t do is keep giving him that one last chance. That only guarantees that he will come back again very soon, covered with mysterious bruises and needing 200 bucks to pay for – tchya, right – a hepatitis shot.11

The political version of this story is even uglier, notes Taibbi:

Shit, just look at what’s happened since the last election. The junkies got kicked out of office, which ought to have been a wake-up call, and what did they do? They went out and almost unanimously voted for the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and two wars. . . .  And now here they come four years later, and they say: ‘We need all your votes right now or we’re fucked.’ Am I the only one laughing?12

Two economic collapses, five more wars, and a pandemic later, and everyone’s well beyond laughing, but there’s still a lot of puking over what the Obama/HRC junkies have been up to since they left office: establishing an entire propaganda industry blaming the village idiot for everything from bad breath to jock itch, relentlessly pushing slimy, red-baiting charges about (imaginary) Russian collusion with Trump, squandering impeachment on an equally worthless Ukrainegate diversion, and preventing desperately needed change by successfully rigging elections against their own democratic base, which is what produced president Trump in the first place.

In short: we can vote for Trump, or for what produced Trump, guaranteeing a president worse than Trump in short order.

Taibbi concedes there’s a method to this Democratic madness:

I also understand the Democrats’ point of view. I used to take a lot of drugs, too. And when you take a lot of drugs, absolutely nothing matters except getting off. In the quest for drugs, any kind of behavior is excusable. . . . .That’s junkie morality. That’s why from the Democrats’ point of view it makes perfect sense to nominate a gazillionaire, missile-humping aristocrat who’ll have more corporate logos pasted on him than a NASCAR driver when he gets into office (John Kerry). What’s the difference? We got off! Why is everybody complaining?12

Right, and in 2020 it makes perfect sense for the Democrats to nominate a senile, prison-humping pimp for billionaires, who tortures the poor with fees and penalties while exporting the job base and railroading a generation of desperate black and brown people into jail on petty or trumped-up charges, not to mention drowns the Middle East in an ocean of blood on ludicrous WMD pretexts. And that’s just for starters.

But the any-blue-will-do rationale makes no sense for the Green Party (or any independent workers party), says Taibbi, because “If you’re going to suck a cock in a train-station lavatory, you ought to at least get something for it.” True, but the logic of “safe states” doesn’t allow for this, so in 2004 “the Greens [were] going to roll over for John Kerry, and in the best-case-scenario all they [were] going to get for it [was] another insane trade agreement, more troops in Iraq, more corporate handouts, and another my-dog-ate-my-homework health care fiasco.”12

As it turned out, they actually got a worst-case scenario: the Greens rolled over for Kerry, Kerry bent over for Bush, and the American people were left bleeding badly from the anus, the usual outcome of “democratic” elections administered by capital. At the moment, everyone seems certain that Dementia Joe has the 2020 race locked up, but whether he does or not is far less important than our will to fight the crackpot logic that says we have “no choice” but to keep submitting to this abuse.

It simply doesn’t matter that lesser evil logic makes a crude kind of sense, because it just aggravates the damage it is intended to mitigate. Taibbi reminds us that it’s the system that requires bad candidates that should be our real concern:

Yes, ________ is a moron and a monster (Bush, Trump, etc.) and it would be better if he were not around. But America’s political problems are bigger than ________. The real problem in American politics is the rule of calculation and money over principle, and until this problem is fixed, the _________s of the world will always be with us. The Greens used to offer a solution. They’ve now become part of the problem.13

Exactly. In a fake democracy voting for corporate candidates just legitimizes our servitude. That’s the problem. Of course, Chomsky has always advocated committing our major political energy outside electoral politics, forming and expanding social movements that can bring pressure to bear on the elite political system to make democratic concessions. And on this basis he rates the two Bernie Sanders runs for the presidency a success, because the Sanders-Biden task forces have now, Chomsky says, crafted the most democratic policy positions since FDR (not coincidentally, the last president before the creation of the National Security State). In other words, Sanders is moving Biden to the left.

This is nonsense, of course, as there is nothing binding in position papers, and the Sanders campaign has already surrendered whatever leverage it had by giving unqualified endorsement to Biden in advance.  Obviously, the DNC loathes the New Deal policy positions favored by Sanders, which is why they torpedoed his campaign – twice. And now we’re to believe they’re going to make concessions to the agenda they just defeated? Why would they do that? In the midst of a pandemic, they refuse even to concede on Medicare For All, much to the amazement of the rest of the developed world, which implemented one or another version of single payer national health insurance decades ago.

As Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC (former senior advisor to Senator Daniel Moynihan) points out, pressure from the left is irrelevant to Democrats:

If you want to pull the major party that is closest to the way you’re thinking to what you’re thinking, you must, you must show them that you’re capable of not voting for them. If you don’t show them you’re capable of not voting for them, they don’t have to listen to you. I promise you that. I worked within the Democratic Party. I didn’t listen, or have to listen, to anything on the left while I was working with the Democratic Party, because the left had nowhere to go.”14

That’s the voice of experience, not advocacy.

Unfortunately, the advocates of so-called damage mitigation voting show a marked tendency to insult those who recognize that reflexively voting Democrat just aggravates the “nowhere to go” problem. For example, Chomsky dismisses the efforts of Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to vote for Biden as “go[ing] off and sulk[ing] somewhere,”15 when, in fact, they have formed the Movement For a People’s Party, and are currently engaged in a host of popular actions to extend the $600 a week federal subsidy to the unemployed and help tens of millions of working people avoid being thrown into the street in the middle of a pandemic. That would seem to qualify as an example of popular grassroots organizing for positive change, which Chomsky ordinarily favors, but apparently not in this case.

In any event, those who feel moved to support “Lunchbox Joe” and the Biden/J. P. Morgan/Bain Capital/Noam Chomsky National Liberation Front should certainly feel free to do so. Our corporate-administered electoral choices are truly awful, and voting is a deeply personal matter.

As for Joe Biden, what can one say? Following the highly rational strategy of keeping his mental disintegration out of public view, he emerges only rarely from his basement, usually to take his Corvette for a spin, or confirm that he hasn’t the faintest clue as to his own whereabouts or what day of the week it might be.

But on the burning issue of coronavirus, at least, which has sent Donald Trump’s poll numbers plummeting into the dirt, he has the best thought out plan his keen presidential mind is capable of:

“Get things into place where there are shortages of.”16

Truer words were never spoken: any blue will do.

  1. WowFEST: Lockdown Presents Noam Chomsky “A Letter From America,” You Tube, July 14, 2020.
  2. Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, “Propaganda and the Public Mind,” (South End, 2001) p. 136.
  3. This term is borrowed from Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report. See his debate with Michael Eric Dyson on Democracy Now, September 7, 2012.
  4. Chomksy, WowFEST, “A Letter From America.”
  5. A Message to the Swing States from Noam Chomsky: “VoteTrumpOut“.
  6. Noam Chomsky, “Understanding Power,” (New Press, 2002) p. 194. For fuller discussion, see pps. 333-7.
  7. Matt Taibbi, “Spanking The Elephant – Dispatches From The Dumb Season,” (Three Rivers Press, 2005) p. 202.
  8. Taibbi, Ibnid, p. 202.
  9. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 202.
  10. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 203.
  11. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 203-4.
  12. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 204.
  13. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 204-5.
  14. O’Donnell video clip, Jimmy Dore Show, August, 8, 2020.
  15. Chomsky, WowFEST interview July 14, 2020.
  16. Saagar Enjeti, “Rising,” April 10, 2020.

The Battle of Seattle was Fought by the Pro-war “Left” in Northern Syria

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant. — Maximilien Robespierre

The ongoing series of protests, riots and unrest following the death of George Floyd culminated in the establishment of a self-declared “autonomous zone” by activists in Seattle, Washington, after police abandoned a local precinct in the city’s Capitol Hill district. Lasting just three weeks until law enforcement retook the six block territory from occupants on July 1st, the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) — initially called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) — was a short-lived experiment which unfortunately exhibited all the contradictions of the so-called Left that have become characteristic in the United States today. Although it is undeniable that American police have a brutality and racism problem (having been trained by Israel), within weeks it was clear that what began as spontaneous protests were hijacked for an establishment agenda. Meanwhile, the ill-fated demise of the Seattle commune should be understood as symptomatic of a larger problem within the U.S. left as a whole.

One of the most influential figures of the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre, who died 226 years ago this month, famously said that “the secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.” The insurrectionary Paris Commune was established after the storming of the Bastille fortress on July 14, 1789. Unfortunately, this protest movement could not be any less educational and the siege of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct was certainly no Bastille Day. Many have speculated as to why Mayor Jenny Durkan and the SPD seemingly allowed the protesters to occupy the neighborhood, while they enjoyed direct support from local politicians such as Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant of the Trotskyite Socialist Alternative organization who fancies herself the first “socialist” to win an election in the city since Anna Louise Strong in 1916. However, the more meaningful question is what has this movement accomplished besides recoiling the U.S. working class further away from progressive politics?

The biggest misconception across the political spectrum, especially on the Right, is that this leaderless and haphazard movement is somehow “Marxist.” Karl Marx, whose entire worldview was based on a material and scientific understanding of history, focused on the class system and would be spinning in his grave knowing what a mess identity politics has made in his name. In contrast, the ‘wokist’ cult at the center of these marches ignores both science and class with no political vision beyond destruction, vindictiveness, and the stifling of free speech. This is why the U.S. political establishment, which has been completely unable to implement the most elementary measures in providing healthcare and securing employment to Americans during the pandemic, is quite happy to jump on board a narrative that pits divisions of the working class against each other based on race while wealth trickles up to the 1%.

The CHOP/CHAZ occupants reportedly established a reverse hierarchical social structure where whites self-flagellated by performing quasi-religious rituals of atonement for the sins of slavery. There was also a diversity quota of “centering” certain individuals based on their ethnic background, gender and sexual orientation to cede leadership roles at the co-op, with white participants coerced into overcoming their “fragility” (or sensitivity in discussing racism). Concurrent with the protests, corporate consultant and University of Washington professor Robin DiAngelo’s intellectually fraudulent book White Fragility shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and is a perfect example of how such identity politics fails in dealing with social issues. Collective punishment is never a suitable guiding principle in addressing social problems, nor is using a conception akin to the religious idea of original sin where “white privilege” is the root cause of racism. There were even mini-reparations demanded of repenting white protesters reminiscent of the collection plate passed around by worshippers in a church. This sort of bizarre and self-indulgent identity politics is much like what was widely mocked in a viral video of a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) convention collapsing into infighting last year.

What began as protests against police brutality were not only derailed into efforts to set-up communes in major cities but a nationwide debate on statues, after the wave of demonstrations and rioting across the country led to the Taliban-style destruction of historical monuments perceived as glorifying racism. As a result, the toxic political atmosphere which surrounded the events in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 was reignited. While the calls for the removal of Confederate statues erected during the Reconstruction era is long overdue, more debatable is the removal of those honoring slave-owning Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson which were toppled in Portland, Oregon. This was followed by a statue of Union General Ulysses S. Grant being knocked over in San Francisco and calls to remove the Lincoln Memorial in D.C., two men who victoriously led the North in the Civil War. Regrettably, the prioritization of such iconoclastic gestures has not only defanged the protests but diverted them from bringing real change to social inequities in the immediate future.

This is not the first time we have witnessed this phenomena. Last year, a more troublesome example were the calls to remove a historic mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco that were capitulated to by the city school board. The thirteen panel mural, Life of Washington, painted in 1936 by Russian-American artist Victor Arnautoff was commissioned as part of the Federal Art Project, a New Deal program funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which employed visual artists to create public works during the Great Depression. One controversial panel depicts George Washington pointing to a group of armed colonizers standing over the corpse of a Native American, while another fresco portrays two colonizers surveying land as slaves toil in a field. It would seem obvious to anyone that the mural is not only explicitly anti-racist but representative of an important period in U.S. history where art was a force for social change and progressive politics was at the center of American life. Arnautoff was a Russian immigrant who was an assistant to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, while the WPA and its art program were dominated by communists such as the two men. Still, no matter the context or intent — the unflinching depiction of American history was deemed “offensive to certain communities” because students were “triggered” by the harsh realities illustrated.

This might seem unrelated, but the same illogic is behind the vigilantism of the statue removals. While the Arnautoff mural is clearly anti-racist and certain monuments may glorify slavery, the distinction is indecipherable to the social justice sect which needs its “safe space” from the uncomfortable truths of American history. The differentiation between a left-wing WPA mural opposing racism and colonial statue commending it is illegible to them. The entire purpose behind the Arnautoff mural is to make one uncomfortable because its subject matter is something no one should ever be at ease with. Yet its undeniable educational and artistic value did not prevent the San Francisco school board from voting to paint over it, while articles were published in the New York Times and even The Nation magazine applauding their decision. What on earth is happening to the left when it is censoring anti-racist art in the name of fighting racism?

The whole point of education at a high school is to teach students to analyze and interpret subjects like art and history, not just emotionally react to them. When the very fabric of culture and society like a historic mural or statue can be torn down simply because people are upset by them, the next plausible step is book burning. San Francisco High School completely failed to educate its students when they decided upon the most backwards way of interpreting the mural, just as the protesters tearing down these statues did not use their faculties to understand them in a historical context. Genocide and slavery are indeed the foundations of the U.S., but we should learn from our tragic history to grasp the equivalent injustices happening today. Simply eradicating murals and statues that remind us of it, whether they oppose or elevate them, is totally ineffectual.

While some activists have expressed concern that the protests have deviated from their original purpose, the right has fixated on the presence among the marches of “Antifa” which Trump wants to designate as a “terrorist organization”, a reckless idea given the completely decentralized nature of the group. The original Antifa movement in the 1930s had been part of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in its effort to form a popular front against fascism, but the dilettantes in the modern incarnation are closely associated with black bloc anarchism and other amateurish orientations. Two decades ago, Seattle was the site of the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO), often referred to as the ‘Battle of Seattle’, which saw 40,000 march against globalization. Some may recall this was where the black bloc first became notorious for injecting vandalism and senseless violence into peaceful demonstrations and were widely thought to have been infiltrated by law enforcement. In 2016, the current embodiment of Antifa first came to attention during protests on college campuses against speaking appearances by far right media personalities during the U.S. presidential election, including at the University of California at Berkeley which had ironically been the site of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.

Following Trump’s election, the stage was set in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally and counter-protests over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in August 2017 for “Antifa” to be crowned as heroes shadowboxing the historical ghost of fascism. When the likes of the New York Times is suddenly promoting the black bloc, that’s your first clue something else is afoot. In order to prevent the emergence of a truly progressive movement in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat, a false narrative was concocted by the political establishment about the significance of Trump’s victory, which we were told was the result of alleged Russian meddling and the racism of “deplorable” Trump voters. Instantly, any critique of the system which produced Trump disappeared and the establishment wing of the Democratic Party was able to neutralize the Bernie Sanders-led opposition in its ranks.

As a result, the vast majority of the left became convinced by the interpretation that Trump’s election was purely the outcome of a resurgence of “fascism”, thus making Trump the singular, most immediate danger — while U.S. imperialism and endless war continue unopposed, including the support for actual fascists in Ukraine. It should be understood that what Trump and the wave of pro-Zionist, Islamophobic right-wing populists in the EU represent is something qualitatively different. Still, anyone on the left who dares oppose U.S. imperialism today is risking being branded a ‘red-brown’ collaborator. The Democratic Party, which spearheaded the Orwellian idea of “humanitarian interventionism” used to justify the wholesale destruction of uncooperative nations by the American war machine in recent decades, has since tricked the majority of the left into unwittingly backing U.S. imperialism to unseat “dictators.” Even when the Left today ostensibly opposes war, it is often forced to qualify its objections by repeating the same talking points about countries attacked by Washington used to justify it.

The U.S. foray in the Syrian war is a perfect example. Trump’s idea to designate Antifa as a terrorist group would be especially ironic considering that many American leftists who self-identify using the “Antifa” black and red standard have thrown their support behind the creation of another infamous “autonomous zone” in Northeast Syria established by mostly-Kurdish militias known as Rojava — with the help of none other than the U.S. military. There is even a self-proclaimed International Freedom Battalion of American and European volunteers fighting to defend the enclave that purports to be in the tradition of the International Brigades which defended the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. These “Antifa” conscripts fight alongside the YPG (People’s Protection Units), a Kurdish-majority militia which has been rebranded by the Pentagon as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). These leftists are apparently in serious need of a history lesson, considering it was the Soviet Union alone which intervened to defend the Spanish Republic from fascism, not the United States. From Washington’s perspective, CHOP/CHAZ should be considered blowback from this policy.

The U.S. creation of the SDF has not been without controversy, as the YPG is widely regarded as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey which Washington’s NATO ally regards as a terrorist organization. While the Kurds and their Western volunteers may believe they are creating an anarchist utopia, in reality they are infantryman for the Zionist plan to balkanize Syria and prevent Damascus from accessing it own resources. So it makes perfect sense that they would try to replicate what they learned in Afrin in an American city using Rojava as a model. When Trump tried to follow through on his anti-interventionist pledges as a candidate and pull U.S. troops out of Syria, it sparked outrage from the pro-war “left” which glorifies Rojava as a ‘libertarian socialist’ and ‘direct democracy’ experiment, even though non-Kurds such as Arabs and Assyrian Christians face ethnic cleansing at hands of Kurdish nationalists in their efforts to create an ethno-state.

The ideological inspiration for the Rojava federation is the Jewish-American Zionist anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin who was especially influential to PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan. Unbeknownst to many, Bookchin was also a noted Zionist — but this is not as unlikely a paradox as it may seem. After all, Israel itself was initially established with the settlement of communes and the Zionist form of “autonomous zones” known as kibbutz (“gathering” in Hebrew). Even prior to WWII, European Zionists and early kibbutniks came to Mandatory Palestine as illegal immigrants and began living in their communes while fusing Jewish nationalism and their own conception of socialism, an amalgamation not unlike what the Kurds are practicing in Syria today. One other highly influential thinker in the anarchist community who purports to be a ‘libertarian socialist’, Noam Chomsky, was himself part of the Zionist kibbutz movement in his youth. This explains why Chomsky would call for a continuation of the U.S. occupation of northern Syria on the basis of “protecting the Kurds“, who are trying to repeat the formula used to found Israel to create a Syrian Kurdistan as another U.S. protectorate in the Middle East.

It is no coincidence that in the manifesto listing the demands of the sit-in in Seattle, nowhere to be found is the defunding of the Pentagon — the primary supplier through the 1033 Program of the militarized police violence being protested. The same cognitively dissonant left calling to “defund the police”, which will almost certainly be used as a pretext to privatize them, completely ignores endless U.S. wars abroad and opposed efforts by the Trump administration to scale back expansionism in Syria. The focus on the tearing down of statues from America’s colonial ‘past’ has also coincided with Israel’s preparations in colonizing what remains of Palestinian territory with the annexation of the West Bank — where are the mass protests to stop that? If Black Lives Matter dared focus on AIPAC, it would be shut down very quickly. In 2016, when BLM endorsed the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to boycott Israel, their previously enjoyed benefits suddenly were in jeopardy and was revealed to be the direct result of sabotage by the Zionist lobby.

In the last several decades, there has been a retreat of class conscious forces in U.S. political life, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. The degenerate form of the left that exists today is an unfortunate result of the academization of social issues and the influence of the Frankfurt School critical theorists whose bourgeoisification of Marxism reduced it to a lens by which to critique culture and the arts while removing its class politics. The politically correct obsession with the policing of language by the postmodern cult of identity politics is excluding the working class from the conversation and counteracting its revolutionary potential. The CIA fronts in the Open Society, Ford, and Kellogg Foundations of the non-profit industrial complex have successfully corralled the protests while no substantial change has been made to the real ills in U.S. society where the 1% has made trillions during the pandemic and subsequent economic depression. While the masses are busy tipping over statues and monuments in a crusade to purify history, the ruling class is laughing all the way to the bank.

Pilpul for Beginners

Americans may be surprised to learn from Alan Dershowitz that their constitution is far more intrusive and oppressive than what they and their forefathers have believed for generations. The law ‘scholar’ declared yesterday that “you have no (constitutional) right to not be vaccinated.”

Watch Video: You Have NO RIGHT to NOT be Vaccinated” – Alan Dershowitz:

One possible explanation for Dershowitz’s peculiar constitutional ‘interpretation’ is that some parts of the American constitution were actually written in Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic. As such, their meaning is only accessible to a small privileged segment within the American population, one that amounts to 2% or less.

But there is a far better explanation that shines light into the ‘reasoning’ offered by Dershowitz.

In a spectacularly brave Huffpost article titled “What Is Pilpul, And Why On Earth Should I Care About It?” author David Shasha writes, “Pilpul is the Talmudic term used to describe a rhetorical process that the (Jewish) sages used to formulate their legal decisions… It is a catch-all term that in English is translated as ‘Casuistry’.”

The English word “casuistry” is defined as: “the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions; sophistry.”

Dershowitz, is a pilpul master. He often employs peculiar reasoning in relation to moral questions especially when it comes to his own morality and conduct.

Shasha writes of the history of pilpul tradition that “the Ashkenazi rabbis were less concerned with promulgating the Law transmitted in the Talmud than they were with molding it to suit their own needs. Pilpul was a means to justify practices already fixed in the behaviors of the community by re-reading the Talmud to justify those practices.”

Pilpul, as described, is not about understanding of the law and its meaning but about the deliberate miss- interpretation of the law so it fits with one’s core interests.

Shasha points out that “even though many contemporary Jews are not observant, pilpul continues to be deployed. Pilpul occurs any time the speaker is committed to ‘prove’ his point regardless of the evidence in front of him. The casuistic aspect of this hair-splitting leads to a labyrinthine form of argument where the speaker blows enough rhetorical smoke to make his interlocutor submit. Reason is not an issue when pilpul takes over: what counts is the establishment of a fixed, immutable point that can never truly be disputed.”

Pilpul is basically a legalistic exercise that is removed from truthfulness, ethical thinking or even logic. What we see from Dershowitz is a dramatic pilpul-ization of the American legal culture and ethos.

“In this context,” Shasha continues,  “the Law is not primary; it is the status of the jurist. Justice is extra-legal, thus denying social equality under the rubric of a horizontal system. Law is in the hands of the privileged rather than the mass.”

In a pretty accurate description of Dershowitz’ modus operandi Shasha writes, “Pilpul is the rhetorical means to mark as ‘true’ that which cannot ever be disputed by rational means.”

Shasha, obviously had Dershowitz in mind when he wrote his Huffpost article. But Dershowitz is not the only one. In Shasha’s article Noam Chomsky is equally guilty of pilpulism. “The contentiousness of the Middle East conflict is intimately informed by pilpul. Whether it is Alan Dershowitz or Noam Chomsky, both of them Ashkenazim who had traditional Jewish educations, the terms of the debate are consistently framed by pilpul. What is most unfortunate about pilpul — and this is something that will be familiar to anyone who has followed the controversies involving Israel and Palestine — is that, since the rational has been removed from the process, all that is left is yelling, irrational emotionalism, and, ultimately, the threat of violence.”

I agree with Shasha. The Middle East conflict has been reduced into a pilpul battle ground between Zionists and their Anti Zionist Zionist twins.  The question for Americans is whether Pilpul, a Jewish Ashkenazi litigious practice that is removed from truthfulness, ethics and reason should interfere with American’s constitutional rights, way of living, politics, culture, spirit and vaccination policies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correcting Marx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a new mode of production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ecumenical activism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ecological apocalypse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conspiracy to Stop Corbyn: Reopening Auschwitz

Thoreau got it right:

‘Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.’ (Thoreau, ‘Walden’, Penguin, 1983, p.68)

The same is certainly true of propaganda. We can laugh now at McCarthyite paranoia warning of Soviet tentacles threatening every aspect of Western life during the Cold War. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood produced dozens of anti-communist films with titles like I Married a Communist and I Was a Communist for the FBI. Large-circulation magazines were titled, Communists are after Your Child. Even children’s comics declared:

‘Beware, commies, spies, traitors, and foreign agents! Captain America, with all loyal, free men behind him, is looking for you.’ (Quoted, Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, Harper Colophon, 1990, p.428)

We can guess how future generations will view the current propaganda blitz depicting Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to Britain’s Jews. Not since 2002-2003, when sanctions-stricken Iraq, willing to allow months of no-notice UN weapons inspections, was said to be a ‘clear and present danger’ to the nuclear-packing US-UK, has the truth been so completely and shamefully distorted.

The level of madness is breathtaking, even by ‘mainstream’ standards. In July, the Sunday Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer claimed on LBC radio that Corbyn ‘wants to reopen Auschwitz’. When the interviewer responded that it was completely unacceptable to suggest that Corbyn was capable of such a thing, Heffer replied:

‘I’m sure, in 1933, they had similar conversations in Germany: “the Fuehrer’s never going to do that”.’

Jeremy Hunt, then Foreign Secretary, commented in July:

‘When I went to Auschwitz I rather complacently said to myself, “thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening in the UK” and now I find myself faced with the leader of the Labour Party who has opened the door to antisemitism in a way that is truly frightening.’

Noam Chomsky summed up the shameful nature of these remarks:

‘The way charges of anti-Semitism are being used in Britain to undermine the Corbyn-led Labour Party is not only a disgrace, but also – to put it simply – an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust…’.

In the i newspaper, former Independent editor Simon Kelner focused on the way Corbyn had ‘mispronounced’ the name of the sexual criminal Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew’s former friend, in a TV debate: ‘He called him “EpSchtine”,’ Kelner noted.

Along with ITV political editor Robert Peston (see below), Kelner did not only dispense with the usual affectation of journalistic impartiality, he emphasised his subjectivity in lending weight to an attack on Corbyn:

‘My reaction was a visceral one: it’s not something I can explain easily, or even rationally, but a Jewish person does know when there is something that sounds wrong, or perjorative [sic], or even threatening. It was as if he was saying: “Are you aware this man is Jewish?”’

The idea, then, is that Corbyn – who has been subjected to relentless, highly damaging attacks on this issue for years, and who has done everything he can to distance himself from anti-semitism, taking a very tough line on the suspension of allies like Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson from the Labour Party – was emphasising Epstein’s Jewishness in a deliberate – or, worse – unconscious effort to smear Jews. Of course, only a truly crazed racist would be unable to resist such a patently self-destructive impulse on national TV. And yet, the outgoing Speaker of the House of Commons, former Conservative MP, John Bercow, who is Jewish, said during an interview with British GQ magazine last month:

‘I myself have never experienced anti-semitism from a member of the Labour Party, point one. And point two, though there is a big issue and it has to be addressed, I do not myself believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic.

‘I’ve known him for the 22 years I’ve been in Parliament. Even, actually, when I was a right-winger we got on pretty well… I’ve never detected so much as a whiff of anti-semitism [from him].’

Our search of the ProQuest media database found no mention of Bercow’s comment in any UK national newspaper.

Remarkably, in July 2018, The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph produced similar front pages and a joint editorial warning against ‘the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government’.

Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist and author who writes a weekly column for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, commented on the smears last week:

‘The Jewish establishment in Britain and the Israeli propaganda machine have taken out a contract on the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. The contract was taken out a long time ago, and it was clear that the closer Corbyn came to being elected prime minister, the harsher the conflict would get.’

This echoed the view of Professor Norman Finkelstein, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto and the Majdanek concentration camp, and whose father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. Finkelstein said:

‘If Corbyn loses, a lot of people in the Labour Party are going to blame it on those Jews who fabricated this whole anti-semitism witch-hunt hysteria. And that will be a problem, which… you know what the bigger problem there is? It’s true! Jews were the spearhead of this campaign to stop Corbyn. And so, there’s going to be a lot of anger within the Labour Party – that’s not anti-semitism, that’s factually based.’

Finkelstein added:

‘The British elites could not have gotten away with calling Corbyn an anti-semite unless they had the support, the visible support, of all the leading Jewish organisations. You have to remember that during the summer, all three major British publications, for the first time in British Jewish history, they all took out a common editorial denouncing Corbyn as an anti-semite and saying that we’re now standing on the verge of another Holocaust. They are the enablers of this concerted conspiracy by the whole of British elite society to destroy Jeremy Corbyn.’

As Levy observed, the campaign reached its climax in an article last week in The Times by Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. Mirvis suggested that Corbyn should be ‘considered unfit for office’, adding:

‘I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.’

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston tweeted:

‘The Chief Rabbi’s intervention in the general election is without precedent. I find it heartbreaking, as a Jew, that the rabbi who by convention is seen as the figurehead of the Jewish community, feels compelled to write this about Labour and its leader. I am not… making any kind of political statement here.’

We responded:

‘What kind of journalistic neutrality is it for ITV’s political editor to use the fact that he is Jewish to support as sincere and even “heartbreaking” a bitterly disputed claim attacking the Labour Party in this way? In what universe is this impartial, objective journalism?’

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted on the chief rabbi’s criticism an astonishing 23 times in 24 hours. Kuenssberg retweeted the following comment (screenshot here) from chat show host Piers Morgan in response to Labour shadow international development secretary Barry Gardiner’s refusal to field further questions on anti-semitism:

‘Wow. The breathtaking arrogance of this chump telling journalists what questions to ask. They should all ignore him & pummel Corbyn about anti-Semitism.’

Kuenssberg later apparently deleted this retweet.

Small glimpses of sanity were occasionally visible on social media. Glen Oglaza, former senior reporter at ITN and ex-political correspondent for Sky News, commented:

‘Don’t want to get involved in the #Labour #anti-semitism row, but worth pointing out that the #ChiefRabbi is a lifelong Conservative supporter and, in his own words, a “lifelong friend of Boris Johnson” Nuff said’

It was indeed ‘nuff said’. But, in fact, it was almost never said by corporate journalists.

Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept was typically forthright in responding to Mirvis:

‘This is utter bullshit.

‘The British Conservative Party is rife with anti-semitism, while there’s no evidence Corbyn is.

‘If you want the Tories to win, just say so. It’s incredibly dangerous to keep exploiting anti-semitism for naked political and ideological ends like this’

In 2014, during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ – the Israeli attack on Gaza in which 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 299 women and 551 children – Mirvis wrote:

‘There is no “cycle of violence” in Gaza. There is Hamas trying to annihilate Israel, and Israel trying to defend itself…’

With hundreds of civilians lying dead, he added:

‘Israel has no desire to kill or injure civilians in Gaza. They are potential partners in peace whose death only serves the interests of Hamas’s PR war.’

And:

‘To measure the morality of war by the military might of each party, the number of deaths or the amount of suffering on each side is not merely misguided; it plays into the hands of a ruthless and calculating aggressor.’

Levy commented on Mirvis’s smear:

‘As opposed to the horrid Corbyn, Mirvis sees nothing wrong with the continued occupation; he does not identify with the struggle for Palestinian freedom, and he doesn’t sense the similarity between the South Africa of his childhood, Har Etzion of his youth and Israel of 2019. That is the real reason that he rejects Corbyn. The Jews of Britain also want a prime minister who supports Israel – that is, supports the occupation. A prime minister who is critical of Israel is to them an exemplar of the new anti-Semitism.’

In contrast to the blanket coverage of the chief rabbi’s comments – it was the lead story on the BBC News website for half a day – there was only token notice given to the Muslim Council of Britain’s warning of ‘denial, dismissal and deceit’ of ‘endemic, institutional’ Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.

There was also virtual BBC silence in response to the blistering attack on Boris Johnson’s racial slurs by Stormzy, the British rap artist who was a huge success at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. In an Instagram post that has been ‘liked’ almost 300,000 times, Stormzy noted:

‘I think Boris Johnson is a sinister man with a long record of lying and policies that have absolutely no regard for the people that our government should be committed to helping and empowering. I also believe it is criminally dangerous to give the most powerful role in the country to a man who has said that the sight of a “bunch of black kids” makes him “turn a hair”, compared women in burqas to letterboxes and referred to blacks [sic] people as “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. I think it’s extremely dangerous to have a man with those views as the sole leader of our country.’

He added:

‘I will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn… for me, he is the first man in a position of power who is committed to giving the power back to the people and helping those who need a helping hand from the government the most.’

A commenter said (forwarded to us via email, 27 November 2019):

‘I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but the BBC are seriously compromised in this election.

‘Yesterday, arguably *the* most influential black person in the UK, Stormzy, launched a blistering attack on Johnson, calling him “sinister” and deploring his history of racism. This has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media. In the same post, he applauded Jeremy Corbyn as a figure of trust.

‘The BBC have not covered this at all.’

In a letter to the Guardian, Professor Des Freedman of Goldsmiths, University of London, commented:

‘Rigorous academic research shows that, in the first three weeks of the election campaign, coverage of Labour in the press has been overwhelmingly negative, with the Conservatives receiving consistently positive coverage… The most powerful sections of the UK media are simply not prepared to let citizens freely make up their own minds on Labour policies, nor to scrutinise Conservative claims systematically.’

The Evidence: The Real Threat To Human Life

Our ProQuest database search of newspaper articles for ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ shows how intensively the issue has been used to attack Corbyn prior to the looming election on December 12:

September = 337 hits

October = 222 hits

November  = 1,620 hits

While opinions in effect declaring Corbyn a Nazi are widely reported, opinions defending Corbyn by the likes of John Bercow, Gideon Levy, Norman Finkelstein, Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, Jonathan Cook, Michael Rosen and others reach a comparatively small audience on social media but are simply ignored by the establishment press reaching millions.

Exactly mirroring the fake claims justifying the 2003 Iraq war – also universally presented as serious and fact-based – it turns out that claims of an epidemic of anti-semitism within the Labour Party are completely bogus. Israel-based former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook summarised a recent survey published in The Economist:

‘It showed that those identifying as “very left-wing” – the section of the public that supports Corbyn – were among the least likely to express antisemitic attitudes. Those identifying as “very right-wing”, on the other hand – those likely to support Boris “piccaninnies” Johnson – were three and a half times more likely to express hostile attitudes towards Jews. Other surveys show even worse racism among Conservatives towards more obviously non-white minorities, such as Muslims and black people. That, after all, is the very reason Boris “letterbox-looking Muslim women” Johnson now heads the Tory party.’

Other surveys have strongly supported these conclusions, including an October 2016 report by the Commons home affairs committee and a September 2017 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and a Labour Party report discussed here in February 2019.

In 2002-2003, credible evidence from former UN weapons inspectors arguing that Iraq had been ‘fundamentally disarmed’ of 90-95% of its weapons of mass destruction by December 1998 was almost completely ignored by the corporate press – it just didn’t fit the establishment narrative. The same is true of the above highly credible and consistent reports – they are simply not part of the discussion.

If we are serious about offering a moral calculus, then we should, of course, include the fact that Johnson would certainly support Trump in any future racist wars against Iran, Venezuela, or North Korea, whereas Corbyn would not. Does it matter to journalists, to the public, that we might elect a leader who would make it more difficult for the US to kill, injure and displace hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people? How does that concern rank alongside Brexit, the fact that Johnson is a jovial fellow, or the fake claims of anti-semitism? We need only glance at Johnson’s track-record for evidence of the threat.

Since November 1, ProQuest finds 24 newspaper mentions containing the words ‘Boris Johnson’ and ‘Yemen’. Only one of them, in the Independent, focused on Johnson’s destructive role in the conflict:

‘The government has signed off nearly £2bn worth of arms sales to repressive regimes in the two years since the 2017 election, official figures show.’

These regimes include Saudi Arabia, ‘which has been widely condemned by the international community for its offensive in Yemen’ and ‘benefited from £719m in UK licences for bombs, missiles, fighter jets, sniper rifles, ammunition’.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said:

‘As foreign secretary, Boris Johnson played a central role in supporting the terrible Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen, which has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, but the arms companies only see it as a business opportunity.’

In 2017, defending the US-UK destruction of Libya in 2011, Johnson crassly commented that the Libyan city Sirte could be the new Dubai, adding, ‘all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away’. Johnson also voted for the devastating 2003 Iraq war.

By contrast, The Times reported:

‘Labour is pledging to put human rights and international law at the heart of foreign policy, in keeping with one of Jeremy Corbyn’s longest held passions. As well as attacking “failed military interventions”, the manifesto promises a War Powers Act to give parliament a legal veto on military action.’

And:

‘Arms sales to Saudi Arabia would be suspended immediately after criticism of the country’s role in the civil war in Yemen.’

But even these horrors are trivial – we don’t use the word lightly – compared to Johnson’s Trump-like stance on climate collapse. Johnson, a notorious climate denier, has ‘Almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change.’ In 2015, Johnson wrote an article in the Telegraph titled: ‘I can’t stand this December heat, but it has nothing to do with global warming’. Johnson endorsed the completely discredited view that ‘it is all about sun spots’.

The reality is very different. Professor Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, lead author of a recent article in Nature warning of ‘existential threat to civilisation’, said last week:

‘We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of interrelated tipping points. The simple version is the schoolkids [striking for climate action] are right: we are seeing potentially irreversible changes in the climate system under way, or very close.’

Phil Williamson at the University of East Anglia, concurred:

‘The prognosis by Tim Lenton and colleagues is, unfortunately, fully plausible: that we might have already lost control of the Earth’s climate.’

Most recently, Johnson refused even to participate in a Channel 4 leaders’ debate on climate change, instead sending his father and MP Michael Gove, who were turned away. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted a defence and a humorous discussion on this no-show, but no criticism. We can only wonder at her response, and that of the rest of the establishment press, if Corbyn had refused to participate in a debate on a key area of vulnerability, instead sending his dad.

If we can see beyond the propaganda, it is quite obvious that it is Johnson who offers, and who has already offered, a very serious threat to human life, not Corbyn. Voting for Johnson will likely have deadly consequences, not just for the traditional victims of US-UK firepower, but for all of us as the last hopes of averting climate collapse rapidly slip away.

US Openly Pushes for Overthrow of Elected Government in Venezuela

In one concise statement, Dan Kovalik sums up the criminal — if self-serving and for now effective — foreign policy of the U.S. across the planet:

The US appears to be intentionally spreading chaos throughout strategic portions of the world, leaving virtually no independent state standing to protect their resources, especially oil, from Western exploitation. And, this goal is being achieved with resounding success, while also achieving the subsidiary goal of enriching the behemoth military-industrial complex.

A divided Korea, a decimated Vietnam, endless war in Afghanistan, a barely functional Iraq, a destroyed Libya, ongoing destruction of Syria and Venezuela, relentless attacks and incipient war on Iran, give us more than a glimpse into the awesome power of America’s military might, its malice and ruthlessness in projecting that power, its no-holds-barred no-moral-qualms no-body-count no-questions-asked ends-justify-the-means tactical use of genocide, its jaw-dropping hypocrisy in portraying itself as a force of good, its psychopathic exceptionalist world view which judges all other nations and their populations as dispensable, and its ultimate loyalty to a tiny autocratic ruling elite who use “democracy” as just another tool in their bag of tricks to promote absolute corporate tyranny — the framework of fascism Sheldon Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism  and global hegemony. It’s for good reason that the U.S. is now often referred to as the Empire of Chaos.

The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela: How the US is Orchestrating a Coup for Oil, as the title suggests, more specifically focuses on the horrors inflicted by the U.S. government on Venezuela. This thorough, extremely well-researched, and fully supported exposé covers the current crises in and about Venezuela, intentionally and purposefully instigated by the U.S. to overthrow its current government and plunder the country’s rich oil reserves. Just as importantly it offers rich and revealing historical accounts of America’s past dealings with Venezuela and almost identical scenarios with other Latin American nations, detailing the darkness and corruption that lies at the heart of U.S. foreign policy, and how that has cast a pall of oppression over the entirety of South and Central America, the nations of which have the geographical misfortune of being in America’s self-declared hemisphere of influence — read that as hemisphere of total domination and ruthless exploitation.

From Chile to Haiti to Panama to Honduras to Nicaragua to El Salvador to Colombia, we see the brutal deployment of U.S. political and military assets leaving whole countries impoverished, the poor without hope — often deprived of even food and water — and piles of nameless corpses in escalating numbers, dismissed by the U.S. government and its lapdog media as collateral damage of the Great Imperial Project.  

By the end of Kovalik’s chilling indictment of U.S. malfeasance in its war on the people of Venezuela, what is astonishing and shocking is that the U.S. is again getting away with such overt and illegal aggression, by not only using the same play book, but by using the same players. With Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, John Bolton as National Security Advisor, and Elliot Abrams as Special Envoy to Venezuela, at the helm of the project to take Venezuela’s government apart and replace it with the puppet regime of the unelected Juan Guaido, we have three of the most notorious of the notorious  murderous, lying thugs  doing the dirty work. All three have sordid histories of inciting war and orchestrating regime changes. Abrams was indicted and convicted for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair.

The thought-provoking Plot to Overthrow Venezuela is very well-written, with a clarity, accessibility, and erudition which puts it in a class with the best works of Noam Chomsky. The Foreward by Oliver Stone is a worthy and deserving way to get things started. I give it six out of five stars, truly one of the most engaging and informative books I’ve read in ages.

Empire’s War under the Radar: Nicaragua

In April of 2018 armed and unarmed proxies of the US in collaboration with Nicaraguan elites launched a war against the Nicaraguan state, its government, its economy and its people. It disrupted transportation and communications throughout the country and sabotaged the economy. This was effected through acts of vandalism, arson, assault, beatings, killings, torture and rape, as well as the construction throughout the country of hundreds of violently enforced roadblocks, and the staging of political demonstrations peppered with violence. Through false and deceptive domestic, international and social media reports and posts, the aggressors in this war managed to enlist a number of Nicaraguans not part of the country’s politically reactionary elite.

The war proper began mid-April and ended mid-July with the removal of the opposition roadblocks. Over 250 people had been killed and many more injured.  More than 250 buildings were burned down or ransacked, with public sector property losses of over $230 million USD. GDP fell nearly 4%, a loss to the economy of nearly 1.5 billion USD, with job losses of up to 300,000. (NB: This review calls the events of 2018 a “war,” though it may also be called a “regime-change operation,” “coup attempt,” and more.)

This 270-page ebook, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?, which the editors call a “Reader,” is offered free by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), the leading anti-imperialist solidarity organization in the US. It includes essays, investigative journalism, interviews and first-hand accounts of the war. It is a thoughtful and multifaceted collection covering a highly significant event in modern revolutionary and anti-imperialist history. Contributors are Alex Anfruns, Paul Baker Hernandez, Max Blumenthal, Michael Boudreau, S. Brian Willson, Jorge Capelán, Enrique Hendrix, Katherine Hoyt, Chuck Kaufman, Dan Kovalik, Barbara Larcom, Coleen Littlejohn, Gabriela Luna, Nils McCune, Nan McCurdy, Nora McCurdy, Camilo Mejía, Barbara Frances Moore, John Perry, Louise Richards, Stephen Sefton, Erika Takeo, Helen Yuill and Kevin Zeese.

Live from Nicaragua exposes and refutes the biased and false accounts of the war presented in the corporate and even alternative media, along with Washington-aligned human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their narrative imagined a peaceful, progressive protest movement crushed by the brutal national police of a dictatorial regime. Even from the broad Left (however defined) this narrative has been disseminated by North American Congress on Latin America, Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin Magazine, The Nation, The Guardian, and iconic broadcasts like Democracy Now! (262-263) In the Orwellian world we inhabit it is certain this Reader, despite its importance, scope and quality, will never be acknowledged by the corporate media or most alternative media, much less reviewed or discussed there.

In addition to longer essays and articles, Live from Nicaragua includes news briefs.  From these we learn of the launch of the regime-change war, and that some days before the war began, a fire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve was greeted with contrived protests against alleged government inaction. These protests tried but failed to initiate the war and they fizzled with the fire. We learn the details of the proposed social security reforms by which the government sought to avoid the neoliberal plans of the International Monetary Fund and the powerful Nicaraguan business association, the Superior Council for Private Enterprise. These proposed reforms were misrepresented in opposition media and met with pretextual protests with changing rationales. These were the protests that initiated the war.1

These news briefs report the burning of government offices in Masaya, with the fire spreading through much of the neighborhood; the teachers’ denunciation of the violence and the roadblocks; the kidnapping of a high school teacher in Managua who had marched in the protests; shootings in Carazo and Jinotepe; the burning of the pro-Sandinista radio station “Tu Nueva Radio Ya” in Managua; opposition calls for a coup; Mother’s Day violence which killed 16 and wounded 30 police and Sandinista supporters in Managua, Masaya, Chinandega and Estelí; the arrest of Christian Mendoza, “El Viper,” gang leader who carried out murder, car theft and other crimes, and who had been in charge of the initial April violence at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua; the burnings in Granada of the municipal building and vendor markets, destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of vendors and small business owners.

Elsewhere are vivid eyewitness accounts of the war, such as this from Maribel Baldizón, a self-employed Managuan fruit-seller and General Secretary of the Federation of Workers at Bus Stops and Traffic Lights (226):

[W]e couldn’t be in our streets; we couldn’t walk freely because we were worrying about those who might rape, kill or steal…I sell here in the sector of the [University of Central America]…they set my stand on fire…they shot mortars where I sell, and they burned down [Tu Nueva Radio Ya, pro-Sandinista radio station] across the street…

She rejected the media’s false narrative, saying of the opposition:

What they did was against the people, it was not a struggle in which the people rose up, no, it was a struggle against the poor.

In “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua” (115, 179), Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune analyze the regime-change operation, the violence committed by opposition forces, and opposition claims of government use of excessive force. They identify the class character of the conflict, aptly calling it “an upside-down class war.”

In “How Nicaragua Defeated a Right-wing US-backed Coup” (57), Max Blumenthal interviews Nils McCune. This especially compelling interview gives an overview of the war from its inception. Also discussed is the role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-funded Felix Maradiaga and his criminal operatives in organizing and committing the violence, as well as the role of nominally Left parties of the opposition: Movement for Sandinista Renovation, and Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo (both parties known by the acronym MRS). McCune notes that these parties lack popular support and give a perpetually weak showing in elections, always in single digits and nearly always at the low end. “They’re very strong outside the country,” McCune notes, but “very weak within the country. There’s not one MRS member in Tipitapa [McCune’s town] because it’s a very working-class city.”

Previously AFGJ and the British organization, Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG), collaborated on Dismissing the Truth, a detailed refutation of two Amnesty International reports on the violence in Nicaragua. The 55-page analysis is excerpted in the Reader (195) and available free at afgj.org. Amnesty International has been a primary purveyor and ostensibly authoritative source of the false narrative embraced by the media, and this debunking by AFGJ and NSCAG makes plain AI’s subservience to the anti-government narrative promoted by the US and Nicaraguan opposition press.

In “The 15 Days of Protests without Deaths” (83), Enrique Hendrix references his own longer study, “Monopolizing Death,” which examined every death occurring during period of the war, from April 19 through September 23, 2018. Hendrix’s work refutes the myth of a popular peaceful opposition protest movement met with brutal police repression.

In “How Washington and Soft Power NGOs Manipulated Nicaragua’s Death Toll to Drive Regime Change and Sanctions,” (191), Max Blumenthal discusses the falsification of the death toll by partisan NGOs in the reporting of the regime-change war and the use of so-called human rights organizations in propagating false and misleading accounts. These organizations include the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, relied upon by the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Blumenthal also reports the close and unconcealed ties between leading young activists of the Nicaraguan regime-change efforts and the right wing of the US Congress.

With precision and wit, like a defence lawyer delivering a summation to a jury, Chuck Kaufman in “The Case Against Ortega” (138) eviscerates the charge that Ortega is a dictator, as well as the claims of those who assert that they stand to the left of the Sandinistas. Explaining his motivation (and startling this reviewer), Kaufman opens his piece with a collective self-reproach to the US solidarity Left:

[S]ince the [Sandinistas]’ return to power with the 2006 election of Daniel Ortega as president, we haven’t really countered the disinformation campaign against Daniel, his wife, and his government. We mistakenly assumed that the demonstrably improving standard of living, the reduction in poverty, infant and maternal mortality, the lack of Nicaraguans coming north to the US border, the return of economic and political rights stripped from the people during seventeen years of neoliberal US vassal governments [1990 to 2006], would outshine the lies.

John Perry studies the role of “social media, Nicaragua’s corporate media and the international press,” in “Nicaragua’s Crisis: The Struggle for Balanced Media Coverage” (208):

Nominally the protests that began on April 18 were in opposition to a series of quite modest reforms to the social security system. A vigorous disinformation campaign fooled large numbers of students and others into joining the protests by misrepresenting the details of the government’s proposals. But the students leading these protests were soon joined by those with a much wider agenda of attempting to bring down the Ortega government. Rather than arguing about changes in pension arrangements, social media were quickly promoting regime change.

This campaign “included many more fake videos and false reports. Facebook posts reported that public hospitals were refusing to treat injured protestors. Fake videos appeared of ‘injured’ students being treated in universities and at the Catholic Cathedral of Managua.” Social media disseminated “instructions to track down and kill government sympathizers or officials.” On July 12, a caravan of motor vehicles ”attacked both the police station and the town hall.” Four police and a teacher were killed. “Around 200 armed ‘protestors’ kidnapped the remaining police, took them away, beat them up and threatened to kill them.”

Perry remarks the existence of a “consensus narrative” on Nicaragua. International media, including the New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, BBC, and Huffington Post adhere to the narrative, often comparing Ortega’s government to famous dictatorships of history. And AI, HRW and IACHR repeat the false claims and invented body counts of local Nicaraguan ‘human rights’ organizations that are “aligned with the opposition, are notoriously biased and have often received US funding.”

Chuck Kaufman’s “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” briefly outlines the alphabet-agencies and fronts responsible for the regime-change operations of 2018. (171) These include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the AFL-CIO, and others, along with Nicaraguan-based NGOs, some not only funded but created by US regime change organizations. Max Blumenthal’s essay, “US Government Meddling Machine Boasts of ‘Laying the Groundwork for Insurrection’ in Nicaragua” (174) details these US operations and their evolution from covert to overt operations in US foreign policy. It is estimated that the US may have spent hundreds of millions on the efforts that culminated in the regime-change war of 2018 (Willson and McCune, 13).

In pieces by Gabriela Luna (5), Chuck Kaufman (10, 171), Brian Willson and Nils McCune (13), and Dan Kovalik (186, 256), the long arc of the Sandinista Revolution and its accomplishments emerge, from the triumph in ’79, the reversal in 1990, and the return to power in 2007. During the first Sandinista period:

The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated. (Dan Kovalik)

Then in 1990 came the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Revolution, but as Noam Chomsky noted at the time, “the Nicaraguan people were voting ‘with a gun to their heads,’” understanding that if they did not vote out the Sandinistas the US would continue the dirty war. Counter-revolutionary government followed, during which the gains of the Revolution were reversed: in public health care, education, land redistribution, and much more. (Willson and McCune)

With the return of the Sandinistas in 2007, the Revolution began its second phase, with enormous and rapid progress in poverty alleviation, food sovereignty, gender equality and much more. (Kovalik) For example, the “absolute number of undernourished people in the country has been reduced by half, access to free education and health care has been guaranteed to rural communities, maternal mortality has been reduced by 60% and infant mortality by 52%, while access to electricity has been increased from 54% to 96% of the rural population.” (Gabriela Luna)

One of the accomplishments least known in North America are Nicaragua’s achievements in gender equity (Kovalik, 258-259): “[I]n 2018 Nicaragua was ranked number 5 in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF).” Only Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland were ranked higher. A 50-50 law mandates gender equality in party candidate lists for elections. All this, Kovalik remarks, “is at great variance with the derisive claims of many in the US left and the human rights community that Nicaragua is being led by a sexist ‘caudillo’ in the person of Daniel Ortega, but few will acknowledge this glaring contradiction.”

The Reader includes essays on Nicaragua that cover much more than the events of 2018. Nils McCune writes of the unique Nicaraguan “popular economy” (221), which he aptly calls “Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy,” referring to Naomi Klein’s work on neoliberal opportunism, The Shock Doctrine.

While the formal private sector — represented politically through the Supreme Counsel of Private Companies — employs about 15% of Nicaragua workers the informal, popular sector employs upwards of 60%…The capitalist creates employment in order to maximize accumulation; the self-employed worker, family business or cooperative uses accumulation as a tool in order to provide employment.

And it is the popular economy that provides much of Nicaragua’s food, clothing and housing.

In “A Creative, Enterprising and Victorious Economy to Defeat the Coup” (232), Jorge Capelán has written an expert, statistic-rich, but extremely readable analysis of the Nicaraguan economy as a whole, its development over the last forty years throughout the first and second periods of Sandinismo, as well as during the interim neoliberal period of 1990 through 2006. Capelán explains why such an economy was able to maintain stability and provide for the needs of the people both during and after the war. This success owes much to strategic government policy and regional alliances with Venezuela and Cuba  (e.g., Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America: Peoples’ Trade Treaty [ALBA] and PetroCaribe).

This very economic success, as Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune explain (“Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” referenced above), answers the question of why the modern Nicaraguan state became the target of empire: because the country’s popular social, economic and political achievements, and its open rejection of imperialism, present the classic “threat of a good example” that might inspire other countries of the global south to break free of the imperialist choke-hold. It is also because of Nicaragua’s alliances with Cuba, Venezuela and the Palestinian struggle, its support for Puerto Rican independence, its membership in ALBA, and its alliances with China for a canal project and with Russia for security cooperation. (122)

Taking opposition critics of the government at their word, Kathy Hoyt (143) writes that for some, including those trained by NGOs funded by the US and the EU, “material improvements are not enough for them or they are not particularly interested in them.” Instead, they have particular complaints about the political system, the nature of Nicaragua’s political parties, elections, the person of Daniel Ortega, etc. But for supporters of the government, both in Nicaragua and abroad, the remarkable improvement in the lives of the poor of Nicaragua matter, and as Hoyt notes, quoting Orlando Nuñez Soto speaking of Cuba, “we are seduced by the fact that the children eat and go to school.”

In “The Catholic Church Hierarchy and Its Role in the Current Political Crisis in Nicaragua” (243), Colleen Littlejohn writes of ideological or theological differences within the Catholic Church, and the Church hierarchy’s participation in the war, both as instigator and organizer of the violence, and as a duplicitous negotiator and mediator. While the hierarchy formed part of the opposition, other Church elements resisted the betrayal of revolutionary Liberation Theology, which still has deep roots in Nicaragua’s Catholic laity and some clergy.

In “US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They would not let our flower blossom’,” (13) Brian Willson and Nils McCune have written a gripping introduction to the century-and-a-half history of the US attempt to control Nicaraguan “resources, infrastructure and a potential interoceanic canal route.” One learns that the US has used every technique in its campaign against Nicaraguan sovereignty: direct and mercenary war, military occupation, assassination of political leaders, financing of opposition political and media organs, use of international institutions to exert pressure, coup attempts, sanctions on trade and credit, and manipulation of US credit rating corporations to misrepresent Nicaragua’s financial stability. Even the world’s first use of planes to drop bombs was done by the US, on Nicaragua.

In the 1930s General Augusto César Sandino led a guerilla war against US occupation. He was assassinated in 1934 by Anastasio Somoza García, who also massacred Sandino’s troops. Backed by the US, the Somoza family then ruled the country from ’34 to ’79. Although the Sandinista Revolution was victorious in 1979, the US seamlessly continued the counter-revolutionary efforts that preceded the revolution, beginning the Contra War. President Jimmy Carter, after briefly wavering just before the Sandinista triumph, initiated the effort that was next taken up with such brutality and sadism by the Reagan administration. Ancillary techniques of this war of murder, torture and rape of civilians, and the destruction of hospitals, clinics and schools, included US funding, via the CIA and the NED, of a reactionary pro-Contra press, economic and election sabotage, radio propaganda broadcast from neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, and manipulation and recruitment of Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito population on the Atlantic Coast. The Iran-Contra Affair, a US national scandal, helped the administration fund the Contra without telling the public or Congress. This is the period when the CIA’s covert funding of opposition parties for regime-change efforts in many places in the world began to be done overtly by the NED, which loomed large in the 2018 war.

But victories are rarely final. With the recent passage of the NICA Act (unanimous in both Congress and Senate), the US has announced that its war on Nicaragua is far from over. This unlawful siege-by-sanctions and the international campaign of demonization against the country continues, immiserating the lives of the poor and vulnerable in particular, just like the illegal, unilateral sanctions the US wields against dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Syria. Live from Nicaragua should arm the solidarity Left in its resistance to the cruel and reactionary methods and aims of the empire.

  1. “The Events of 2018 and Their Context,” Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton, 76ff.

Empire’s War under the Radar: Nicaragua

In April of 2018 armed and unarmed proxies of the US in collaboration with Nicaraguan elites launched a war against the Nicaraguan state, its government, its economy and its people. It disrupted transportation and communications throughout the country and sabotaged the economy. This was effected through acts of vandalism, arson, assault, beatings, killings, torture and rape, as well as the construction throughout the country of hundreds of violently enforced roadblocks, and the staging of political demonstrations peppered with violence. Through false and deceptive domestic, international and social media reports and posts, the aggressors in this war managed to enlist a number of Nicaraguans not part of the country’s politically reactionary elite.

The war proper began mid-April and ended mid-July with the removal of the opposition roadblocks. Over 250 people had been killed and many more injured.  More than 250 buildings were burned down or ransacked, with public sector property losses of over $230 million USD. GDP fell nearly 4%, a loss to the economy of nearly 1.5 billion USD, with job losses of up to 300,000. (NB: This review calls the events of 2018 a “war,” though it may also be called a “regime-change operation,” “coup attempt,” and more.)

This 270-page ebook, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?, which the editors call a “Reader,” is offered free by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), the leading anti-imperialist solidarity organization in the US. It includes essays, investigative journalism, interviews and first-hand accounts of the war. It is a thoughtful and multifaceted collection covering a highly significant event in modern revolutionary and anti-imperialist history. Contributors are Alex Anfruns, Paul Baker Hernandez, Max Blumenthal, Michael Boudreau, S. Brian Willson, Jorge Capelán, Enrique Hendrix, Katherine Hoyt, Chuck Kaufman, Dan Kovalik, Barbara Larcom, Coleen Littlejohn, Gabriela Luna, Nils McCune, Nan McCurdy, Nora McCurdy, Camilo Mejía, Barbara Frances Moore, John Perry, Louise Richards, Stephen Sefton, Erika Takeo, Helen Yuill and Kevin Zeese.

Live from Nicaragua exposes and refutes the biased and false accounts of the war presented in the corporate and even alternative media, along with Washington-aligned human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their narrative imagined a peaceful, progressive protest movement crushed by the brutal national police of a dictatorial regime. Even from the broad Left (however defined) this narrative has been disseminated by North American Congress on Latin America, Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin Magazine, The Nation, The Guardian, and iconic broadcasts like Democracy Now! (262-263) In the Orwellian world we inhabit it is certain this Reader, despite its importance, scope and quality, will never be acknowledged by the corporate media or most alternative media, much less reviewed or discussed there.

In addition to longer essays and articles, Live from Nicaragua includes news briefs.  From these we learn of the launch of the regime-change war, and that some days before the war began, a fire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve was greeted with contrived protests against alleged government inaction. These protests tried but failed to initiate the war and they fizzled with the fire. We learn the details of the proposed social security reforms by which the government sought to avoid the neoliberal plans of the International Monetary Fund and the powerful Nicaraguan business association, the Superior Council for Private Enterprise. These proposed reforms were misrepresented in opposition media and met with pretextual protests with changing rationales. These were the protests that initiated the war.1

These news briefs report the burning of government offices in Masaya, with the fire spreading through much of the neighborhood; the teachers’ denunciation of the violence and the roadblocks; the kidnapping of a high school teacher in Managua who had marched in the protests; shootings in Carazo and Jinotepe; the burning of the pro-Sandinista radio station “Tu Nueva Radio Ya” in Managua; opposition calls for a coup; Mother’s Day violence which killed 16 and wounded 30 police and Sandinista supporters in Managua, Masaya, Chinandega and Estelí; the arrest of Christian Mendoza, “El Viper,” gang leader who carried out murder, car theft and other crimes, and who had been in charge of the initial April violence at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua; the burnings in Granada of the municipal building and vendor markets, destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of vendors and small business owners.

Elsewhere are vivid eyewitness accounts of the war, such as this from Maribel Baldizón, a self-employed Managuan fruit-seller and General Secretary of the Federation of Workers at Bus Stops and Traffic Lights (226):

[W]e couldn’t be in our streets; we couldn’t walk freely because we were worrying about those who might rape, kill or steal…I sell here in the sector of the [University of Central America]…they set my stand on fire…they shot mortars where I sell, and they burned down [Tu Nueva Radio Ya, pro-Sandinista radio station] across the street…

She rejected the media’s false narrative, saying of the opposition:

What they did was against the people, it was not a struggle in which the people rose up, no, it was a struggle against the poor.

In “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua” (115, 179), Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune analyze the regime-change operation, the violence committed by opposition forces, and opposition claims of government use of excessive force. They identify the class character of the conflict, aptly calling it “an upside-down class war.”

In “How Nicaragua Defeated a Right-wing US-backed Coup” (57), Max Blumenthal interviews Nils McCune. This especially compelling interview gives an overview of the war from its inception. Also discussed is the role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-funded Felix Maradiaga and his criminal operatives in organizing and committing the violence, as well as the role of nominally Left parties of the opposition: Movement for Sandinista Renovation, and Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo (both parties known by the acronym MRS). McCune notes that these parties lack popular support and give a perpetually weak showing in elections, always in single digits and nearly always at the low end. “They’re very strong outside the country,” McCune notes, but “very weak within the country. There’s not one MRS member in Tipitapa [McCune’s town] because it’s a very working-class city.”

Previously AFGJ and the British organization, Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG), collaborated on Dismissing the Truth, a detailed refutation of two Amnesty International reports on the violence in Nicaragua. The 55-page analysis is excerpted in the Reader (195) and available free at afgj.org. Amnesty International has been a primary purveyor and ostensibly authoritative source of the false narrative embraced by the media, and this debunking by AFGJ and NSCAG makes plain AI’s subservience to the anti-government narrative promoted by the US and Nicaraguan opposition press.

In “The 15 Days of Protests without Deaths” (83), Enrique Hendrix references his own longer study, “Monopolizing Death,” which examined every death occurring during period of the war, from April 19 through September 23, 2018. Hendrix’s work refutes the myth of a popular peaceful opposition protest movement met with brutal police repression.

In “How Washington and Soft Power NGOs Manipulated Nicaragua’s Death Toll to Drive Regime Change and Sanctions,” (191), Max Blumenthal discusses the falsification of the death toll by partisan NGOs in the reporting of the regime-change war and the use of so-called human rights organizations in propagating false and misleading accounts. These organizations include the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, relied upon by the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Blumenthal also reports the close and unconcealed ties between leading young activists of the Nicaraguan regime-change efforts and the right wing of the US Congress.

With precision and wit, like a defence lawyer delivering a summation to a jury, Chuck Kaufman in “The Case Against Ortega” (138) eviscerates the charge that Ortega is a dictator, as well as the claims of those who assert that they stand to the left of the Sandinistas. Explaining his motivation (and startling this reviewer), Kaufman opens his piece with a collective self-reproach to the US solidarity Left:

[S]ince the [Sandinistas]’ return to power with the 2006 election of Daniel Ortega as president, we haven’t really countered the disinformation campaign against Daniel, his wife, and his government. We mistakenly assumed that the demonstrably improving standard of living, the reduction in poverty, infant and maternal mortality, the lack of Nicaraguans coming north to the US border, the return of economic and political rights stripped from the people during seventeen years of neoliberal US vassal governments [1990 to 2006], would outshine the lies.

John Perry studies the role of “social media, Nicaragua’s corporate media and the international press,” in “Nicaragua’s Crisis: The Struggle for Balanced Media Coverage” (208):

Nominally the protests that began on April 18 were in opposition to a series of quite modest reforms to the social security system. A vigorous disinformation campaign fooled large numbers of students and others into joining the protests by misrepresenting the details of the government’s proposals. But the students leading these protests were soon joined by those with a much wider agenda of attempting to bring down the Ortega government. Rather than arguing about changes in pension arrangements, social media were quickly promoting regime change.

This campaign “included many more fake videos and false reports. Facebook posts reported that public hospitals were refusing to treat injured protestors. Fake videos appeared of ‘injured’ students being treated in universities and at the Catholic Cathedral of Managua.” Social media disseminated “instructions to track down and kill government sympathizers or officials.” On July 12, a caravan of motor vehicles ”attacked both the police station and the town hall.” Four police and a teacher were killed. “Around 200 armed ‘protestors’ kidnapped the remaining police, took them away, beat them up and threatened to kill them.”

Perry remarks the existence of a “consensus narrative” on Nicaragua. International media, including the New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, BBC, and Huffington Post adhere to the narrative, often comparing Ortega’s government to famous dictatorships of history. And AI, HRW and IACHR repeat the false claims and invented body counts of local Nicaraguan ‘human rights’ organizations that are “aligned with the opposition, are notoriously biased and have often received US funding.”

Chuck Kaufman’s “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” briefly outlines the alphabet-agencies and fronts responsible for the regime-change operations of 2018. (171) These include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the AFL-CIO, and others, along with Nicaraguan-based NGOs, some not only funded but created by US regime change organizations. Max Blumenthal’s essay, “US Government Meddling Machine Boasts of ‘Laying the Groundwork for Insurrection’ in Nicaragua” (174) details these US operations and their evolution from covert to overt operations in US foreign policy. It is estimated that the US may have spent hundreds of millions on the efforts that culminated in the regime-change war of 2018 (Willson and McCune, 13).

In pieces by Gabriela Luna (5), Chuck Kaufman (10, 171), Brian Willson and Nils McCune (13), and Dan Kovalik (186, 256), the long arc of the Sandinista Revolution and its accomplishments emerge, from the triumph in ’79, the reversal in 1990, and the return to power in 2007. During the first Sandinista period:

The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated. (Dan Kovalik)

Then in 1990 came the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Revolution, but as Noam Chomsky noted at the time, “the Nicaraguan people were voting ‘with a gun to their heads,’” understanding that if they did not vote out the Sandinistas the US would continue the dirty war. Counter-revolutionary government followed, during which the gains of the Revolution were reversed: in public health care, education, land redistribution, and much more. (Willson and McCune)

With the return of the Sandinistas in 2007, the Revolution began its second phase, with enormous and rapid progress in poverty alleviation, food sovereignty, gender equality and much more. (Kovalik) For example, the “absolute number of undernourished people in the country has been reduced by half, access to free education and health care has been guaranteed to rural communities, maternal mortality has been reduced by 60% and infant mortality by 52%, while access to electricity has been increased from 54% to 96% of the rural population.” (Gabriela Luna)

One of the accomplishments least known in North America are Nicaragua’s achievements in gender equity (Kovalik, 258-259): “[I]n 2018 Nicaragua was ranked number 5 in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF).” Only Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland were ranked higher. A 50-50 law mandates gender equality in party candidate lists for elections. All this, Kovalik remarks, “is at great variance with the derisive claims of many in the US left and the human rights community that Nicaragua is being led by a sexist ‘caudillo’ in the person of Daniel Ortega, but few will acknowledge this glaring contradiction.”

The Reader includes essays on Nicaragua that cover much more than the events of 2018. Nils McCune writes of the unique Nicaraguan “popular economy” (221), which he aptly calls “Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy,” referring to Naomi Klein’s work on neoliberal opportunism, The Shock Doctrine.

While the formal private sector — represented politically through the Supreme Counsel of Private Companies — employs about 15% of Nicaragua workers the informal, popular sector employs upwards of 60%…The capitalist creates employment in order to maximize accumulation; the self-employed worker, family business or cooperative uses accumulation as a tool in order to provide employment.

And it is the popular economy that provides much of Nicaragua’s food, clothing and housing.

In “A Creative, Enterprising and Victorious Economy to Defeat the Coup” (232), Jorge Capelán has written an expert, statistic-rich, but extremely readable analysis of the Nicaraguan economy as a whole, its development over the last forty years throughout the first and second periods of Sandinismo, as well as during the interim neoliberal period of 1990 through 2006. Capelán explains why such an economy was able to maintain stability and provide for the needs of the people both during and after the war. This success owes much to strategic government policy and regional alliances with Venezuela and Cuba  (e.g., Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America: Peoples’ Trade Treaty [ALBA] and PetroCaribe).

This very economic success, as Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune explain (“Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” referenced above), answers the question of why the modern Nicaraguan state became the target of empire: because the country’s popular social, economic and political achievements, and its open rejection of imperialism, present the classic “threat of a good example” that might inspire other countries of the global south to break free of the imperialist choke-hold. It is also because of Nicaragua’s alliances with Cuba, Venezuela and the Palestinian struggle, its support for Puerto Rican independence, its membership in ALBA, and its alliances with China for a canal project and with Russia for security cooperation. (122)

Taking opposition critics of the government at their word, Kathy Hoyt (143) writes that for some, including those trained by NGOs funded by the US and the EU, “material improvements are not enough for them or they are not particularly interested in them.” Instead, they have particular complaints about the political system, the nature of Nicaragua’s political parties, elections, the person of Daniel Ortega, etc. But for supporters of the government, both in Nicaragua and abroad, the remarkable improvement in the lives of the poor of Nicaragua matter, and as Hoyt notes, quoting Orlando Nuñez Soto speaking of Cuba, “we are seduced by the fact that the children eat and go to school.”

In “The Catholic Church Hierarchy and Its Role in the Current Political Crisis in Nicaragua” (243), Colleen Littlejohn writes of ideological or theological differences within the Catholic Church, and the Church hierarchy’s participation in the war, both as instigator and organizer of the violence, and as a duplicitous negotiator and mediator. While the hierarchy formed part of the opposition, other Church elements resisted the betrayal of revolutionary Liberation Theology, which still has deep roots in Nicaragua’s Catholic laity and some clergy.

In “US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They would not let our flower blossom’,” (13) Brian Willson and Nils McCune have written a gripping introduction to the century-and-a-half history of the US attempt to control Nicaraguan “resources, infrastructure and a potential interoceanic canal route.” One learns that the US has used every technique in its campaign against Nicaraguan sovereignty: direct and mercenary war, military occupation, assassination of political leaders, financing of opposition political and media organs, use of international institutions to exert pressure, coup attempts, sanctions on trade and credit, and manipulation of US credit rating corporations to misrepresent Nicaragua’s financial stability. Even the world’s first use of planes to drop bombs was done by the US, on Nicaragua.

In the 1930s General Augusto César Sandino led a guerilla war against US occupation. He was assassinated in 1934 by Anastasio Somoza García, who also massacred Sandino’s troops. Backed by the US, the Somoza family then ruled the country from ’34 to ’79. Although the Sandinista Revolution was victorious in 1979, the US seamlessly continued the counter-revolutionary efforts that preceded the revolution, beginning the Contra War. President Jimmy Carter, after briefly wavering just before the Sandinista triumph, initiated the effort that was next taken up with such brutality and sadism by the Reagan administration. Ancillary techniques of this war of murder, torture and rape of civilians, and the destruction of hospitals, clinics and schools, included US funding, via the CIA and the NED, of a reactionary pro-Contra press, economic and election sabotage, radio propaganda broadcast from neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, and manipulation and recruitment of Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito population on the Atlantic Coast. The Iran-Contra Affair, a US national scandal, helped the administration fund the Contra without telling the public or Congress. This is the period when the CIA’s covert funding of opposition parties for regime-change efforts in many places in the world began to be done overtly by the NED, which loomed large in the 2018 war.

But victories are rarely final. With the recent passage of the NICA Act (unanimous in both Congress and Senate), the US has announced that its war on Nicaragua is far from over. This unlawful siege-by-sanctions and the international campaign of demonization against the country continues, immiserating the lives of the poor and vulnerable in particular, just like the illegal, unilateral sanctions the US wields against dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Syria. Live from Nicaragua should arm the solidarity Left in its resistance to the cruel and reactionary methods and aims of the empire.

  1. “The Events of 2018 and Their Context,” Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton, 76ff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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