Category Archives: Revolution

Power to No One but to Every One

There is an old adage, if the people lead, the leaders will follow.

“There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” Gandhi said (probably apocryphal.)

Rather than a leader being in advance and in the vanguard of a movement he or she is only the reflection of it. The actions of leaders are limited by the outlook of their supporters. Impossibilists see leaders as an anachronism. It is undemocratic in principle; it is unhelpful in the task of arousing class consciousness and a sense of the dignity and strength of the working class; it, therefore, tends to demoralise the “rank and file” and leads to a spirit of competition rather than co-operation; it can also be a direct cause of factionalism, intrigues and splits caused by personal ambition and group rivalry developing into hostility. Another way in which the leadership cult can be detrimental to a political party is due to the leader’s “charismatic” personality being identified with his or her party’s policy.  Even if the leader leads a blameless life, has courage and intelligence, is incorruptible, it only requires a jail sentence or an early grave, for the party to suffer a crippling blow.  What the Impossibilist movement wants is the conscious support of men and women the world over, committed to destroying the rotten fabric of capitalist society, not patching it up but exposing the stark reality of its squalor and misery, famines and wars, bigotry and xenophobia. Working people can and must decide our political destiny for ourselves, taking full responsibility on our own shoulders and not leaving the burden of decision to selected individuals. For the “leader” is no better than his or her flock and may well be a good deal worse. Leadership, hero-worship, and élitism are contrary to the democracy of the socialist movement, incompatible with the egalitarian nature of a socialist society and are utterly inimical to the mass movement of class-conscious workers to abolish the old privilege-ridden society.

Must we have leaders? Most will answer “Yes – to educate the workers politically and economically towards socialism ” But teachers are not leaders any more than erudite writers or eloquent speakers are leaders. Their function is to spread knowledge and understanding so that the workers may emancipate themselves. Quite different from the idea that we should have leaders to direct their subordinate supporters. Socialism is not the result of blind faith.

One of the astonishing things about the Impossibilist parties is their claim to be leader-free. Leaders has always been an accepted fact in workers’ movements. “Surely somebody has to lead” is the bewildered response of disbelief when people hear there are no leaders within the Impossibilist movement. Leadership is one of those problematic words that needs qualifying. When Impossibilists say “don’t follow leaders” they mean by this something very specific – a narrow political sense of the term – to denote the idea of surrendering power to an individual or group to change society on our behalf. They are not promoting the false idea that socialism is about “making everyone equal” in their abilities and so on. There will always exist those who will be better orators or write more clearly than others.

How often have we all heard that we want is good leadership to later excuse failure on the treachery of the leadership yet bringing forth the demand for yet another leader full of promises. Unlike other political parties, one of the things the Impossibilists pride themselves in is an opposition to political leadership because it is as an obstacle to the spread of socialist ideas, something most workers cannot so far conceive of.

The leadership idea has cursed the working class movement from its beginning. Political leaders have made stepping stones of their followers to advance their own careers. The Impossibilists in the World Socialist Party of the United States and the Socialist Party of Canada explain that if we are going to change the basis of society we will not do so by following professional politicians or leaders of any kind. We are going to have to act for ourselves to organize ourselves democratically to bring about a society geared towards serving human needs, not profits. Only a party whose members understand and seeks socialism can work to that end and the growth of such a party cannot proceed faster than the work of spreading socialist knowledge.

It is often asserted by the left-wing, that the workers  require the assistance and guidance of educated, intellectuals, both to direct their agitation and energies now, and to manipulate affairs. The workers, therefore, should not endeavor to obtain control of the political machinery themselves, but should place the career politician in that position of command and control and obey orders.

When these leaders sell out their followers, the excuse is made that they were “bad leaders. The role of the party, cadre or vanguard plays a large part in contemporary Left discussion. Marxism teaches that the revolution against capitalism and the socialist reconstruction of the old world can be accomplished only through conscious, collective action by the workers themselves. Revolution is not a goal in itself. Revolution is an instrument. The goal is building a socialist class-free society, the self-emancipation of the working class, and self-liberation of all the exploited.

The simple fact is that wherever people accept leaders it always provides the conditions for selling out, no matter who those leaders may be. Such is the lesson; “Trust and ye shall be betrayed”. The workers have still a fair road to travel before they will get rid of the superstition of “leadership” or the belief in “good” and “bad” leaders. Workers haven’t yet recognized we can achieve a world without masters. Socialism means self-emancipation of the working class by the working class. Forget about looking for leaders. What is required is a movement that rises from the people and empowers ourselves. People need organizations, and people need to come together. A leader may say “all that our organization has gained is because of me”. But it is not so. It is not because a leader negotiates with a government to be ameniable, but because the actions of mass movements forces the government to yield some of what has been taken from us. Leaders, indeed, will sometimes pretend that they know best and that the movement depends on them. But they can do this only by with-holding knowledge and denying power from others. The individual leader substitutes for and holds back the capacities of the led. If we rely on one leader, or a clique of leaders, we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position because we can easily be mis-led. When a leader comes to symbolize an organization’s cause and it is projected on to one individual then that person’s reputation and fallibilities comes to represent and embody the cause.

William Lovett, the Chartist activist, renounced all leaders in the early 19th century:

The masses, in their political organisations, were taught to look up to “Great Men” (or to men professing “greatness”) rather than to great Principles. We wished therefore to establish a political school of self-instruction among them, in which they should accustom themselves to examine great social and political principles, and by their publicity and free discussion, help to form a sound and healthful public opinion throughout the country…We have not wished, neither do we desire to be, Leaders, as we believe that the principles we advocate have been retarded, injured or betrayed by Leadership, more than by the open hostility of opponents. Leadership too often generates confiding bigotry, or political indifference on the one hand, or selfish ambition, on the other.

The principles WE advocate are those of the peoples’ happiness, and for these to be justly established, each man must Know and feel his Rights and Duties. He must be prepared to guard the one; and perform the other with cheerfulness. And if Nature has given to one Man superior faculties, to express or execute the general wish, he only performs his Duty at the Mandate of his brethren; he is therefore the “Leader” of none, but the equal of ALL.1

There exists an assumption that without leaders, there can be no organisation. The Impossibilists’ contention is the opposite. Leaders, and the followers who create them, are holding the workers’ movement back. Each of us can be our own leader. The greatest command is that over oneself. This capitalist world, controlled by a few wealthy people and their minions, has done its best to school out of us the very things which make us such a great species in the first place – initiative, experimentation, imagination, diversity. The leaders we are asked to support represent a myth, created and maintained by leaders, themselves. They are poor examples of honesty, integrity, even of humanity. They are not interested in truth, justice, or any of the grand ideals they spout about. They exist, have always existed, will always exist, for one purpose only: to line their own pockets and empty yours. They are parasites on the social body, unwanted, unnecessary and destructive. To follow leaders is to hand over your heart on a platter, with knife and fork attached. It is an admission of defeat and an acceptance that you are inadequate, in and of yourself. It is an act of submission and indeed an act of cowardice. Relying on leaders dulls the critical faculties of people who habitually depend upon others to solve their difficulties. They become averse to working out solutions to their own problems. They expect the leaders to do their thinking, and when events take place that needs thoughtful action they have lost the ability. They blame the leadership for failure. Repeated failure develops apathy, and the feeling that success is impossible.

Rosa Luxemburg explains:

The understanding by the mass of its tasks and instruments is an indispensable condition for Socialist revolutionary action―just as formerly the ignorance of the mass was an indispensable condition for the revolutionary action of the ruling classes. As a result, the difference between “leaders” and the “majority trotting along behind” is abolished (in the Socialist movement). The relation between the mass and the leaders is destroyed.

The Impossibilists argue that to refuse to follow leaders is a liberating step, but one which the working class has yet to take. Leaders come and go, but capitalism will go on until the very people who admire leaders come to understand the social system they live under. The leaders always say that they stand for a world of peace and human dignity. But only when the system which needs the leaders is gone will these empty and cynical words become reality. People who despair of the apparently endless procession of aspiring candidates for leadership should consider the proposition that the alternative is not to switch their support from one leader to another and then back again but to adopt the Impossibilist tradition of creating and structuring political organizations where there is no role for leader.

The first thing a leader must do is to convince the masses that the course he or she proposes following is the best one. Out of this arises rivalry and antagonism among leaders, each striving for support and building up of a club of political disciples. This creates the intrigues and internecine warfare that plays a prominent part in labor politics. The qualities that make leaders are varied. In some cases, it is the power of their oratory, the ability to make fine speeches, in others a capacity for intrigue, and in others again, the ability for the back-room bureaucratic paperwork. Extravagant unachievable promises are the general stock-in-trade. Exclusive inner-circles develop, placing barriers around the available jobs, and a great part of the political life is taken up with this side, instead of pushing for the workers’ interests. Any criticism either by erstwhile followers or budding rivals is bitterly resented. Leaders are jealous of one others’ popularity. At times, where circumstances dictate it, the interests of followers are sacrificed to the interests of keeping the job. There are innumerable examples of the callous way in which those who have risen to position on the backs of followers have then abandoned their followers for further political advancement.

Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party of America’s presidential candidate but never a member of its management committees, once said:

I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and mis-representatives of the masses you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.

And another time he said:

Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. He has not come; he never will come. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again.  I would have you make up your minds that there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves.

The Left-winger behaves as if he or she was Moses, laying down the commandments in tablets of stone for the faithful to obey. Left -wing propaganda offering leadership portrays the worker as incapable of thinking, organizing and acting and imbues further the master-and-servant mentality of the worker. Therefore, revolutionary ideas have to be introduced from outside the working class by all-knowing “professional revolutionaries” who will lead workers to the promised land.

The Impossibilists are unique among political parties in calling upon people NOT to vote for them unless they understand and agree with what they stand for. Those on the Left who offer a critique of the leader-free politics assume people who are fighting to dismantle leadership systems in the working class are really opposing formal leadership structures where the leadership is open and accountable, while concealing themselves behind anti-leadership rhetoric, they replace open leadership with informal, secret and unaccountable leadership cliques. The Impossibilists expects any working class body that professes democratic self-organization to possess formal rules and structures, to prevent the emergence of unaccountable, self-appointed elites, who may become the de facto leaders making decisions. They endorse Jo Freeman’s Tyranny of Structurelessness.

Impossibilists are not promoting the sort of structures advocated and practised by Leninist-type organisations, which are designed to enshrine control by a self-perpetuating elite. Impossibilism favours majority decision making in face-to-face assemblies and when not feasible by fully accountable re-callable delegates. A representative is someone who makes decisions for the other people. A delegate, in contrast, carries out a mandate they have been given by the people who delegated them. In other words, they don’t act as they think best, they act as they are told. How could it not? The whole premise of Leninism’s democratic centralism is that a central committee dictates policy to everyone else, so no matter how democratically chosen it is, it will enforce its party-line and stifle dissent. Democratic centralism would exclude you from participation, in practical terms, the real vanguard always remains the central committee. Impossiblists are talking about structures that place decision-making power in the hands of the group as a whole, along the lines of the “principles of democratic structuring” listed by Jo Freeman. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership referendums are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organization control that organization and, as such, key procedures in any organization genuinely seeking socialism.

Socialism can only  come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organized democratically without leaders – to achieve it. has good reason to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the party to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding. Once a member, she or he have the same rights as the oldest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak and have access to all information.

Consider what happens when people join left-wing groups. The new applicant has to be approved as being a loyal comrade. The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called “credential indicators”. Hard work (more often than not, selling the party’s paper) and obedience and compliance by new members are the main criteria of trustworthiness in the organization. In these hierarchical, top-down groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leadership, and reward only those with proven commitment to their “party line” with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure, finding themselves unable to influence decision-making, eventually resigning, often embittered by all the hard work they had put in and the hollowness of the claims of equality and democracy.

When the workers become socialists, they will not need a vanguard party or their cadres to lead them. They will organize consciously and politically to emancipate themselves. Its bond of comradeship and unity is rooted in the barest minimum of socialist principles which may be summarized as: socialism is a product of social evolution; the socialist revolution is inherently democratic because of its nature of being conscious, majority, and political; and that socialism is based on the social relations of a community of interests between all the members of society and society as a whole. There can hardly be any compromise on these three general principles. Further, a socialist is one who recognizes and realizes that capitalism can no longer be reformed or administered in the interest of society or of the working class; that capitalism is incapable of eliminating poverty, war, crises, etc.; and that the times call for arousing the majority to become socialists to inaugurate socialism, now possible and necessary.

Let the working class shed its sheep-like acceptance of leaders and themselves set about solving the social problem. The problem and the solution are comparatively simple. no leader, no matter how honest, clever or sincere he or she may be can lead the workers out of slavery. No person or group can create a new society which depends for its success upon the knowledge and understanding of the bulk of the population. Socialism will be a society of voluntary co-operation. This means that in order to run socialism, the workers have to be aware of what is necessary to make the new society function. And it follows from this, that it will not be possible to establish a voluntary society unless those seeking to do so are in fact the majority of people in society, and those people know what is involved and can work conscientiously for socialism. Socialism can only be attained by working men and women who know what socialism means and how it is to be obtained. Therefore, it is necessary for working men and women to do the comparatively small amount of thinking that is necessary to understand socialism.

“Our philosopher” as Marx and Engels described Joseph Dietzgen said,If a worker wants to take part in the selfemancipation of his class, the basic requirement is that he should cease allowing others to teach him and should set about teaching himself.”

When they have done so they will know the steps to be taken, and will no longer need to rely on leaders. In that day, the orator of cheap, hackneyed false phrases will find his or her eloquence wasted and will depart. For many years we have witnessed the “success” of a procession of practical efforts to rally workers to socialism by clever policies. We have seen the transformation of these advocates of socialist goals into supporters of the status quo ― rebels who have been converted and co-opted into the system. Where are the convinced socialists they were going to make?

When the Revolution begins, the big question for the ruling class and their media hacks will be “Who are your leaders?”

  1. William Lovett, Life and Struggles of William Lovett, 1876, references to 1967 edition prefaced by R.H. Tawney, page 75.

Re-forming the Reformers

Further to previous articles,1 on the Marxist Impossibilist tradition it must sound rather bizarre to modern ears that there exist political parties that do not make demands upon the present capitalist system and its protector, the State. For many people it seems common-sense that a socialist party should advocate for something right now. Labor and left-wing parties have over the years issued manifestos listing their immediate demands, formulating platforms for various minimum programs and promoting their particular menus of transitional reforms. Amelioration of conditions by palliative changes has been the bread and butter of elected politicians for generations and, in contrast, here are the Impossibilists of the World Socialist Party of the United States and the Socialist Party of Canada declaring that they stand for socialism, only socialism, and nothing less than socialism. Yet they express the original authentic view of the Marxists. It was after the dismal results of a French election in 1881, that saw a group arise which began to advocate a more pragmatic policy, declaring “We prefer to abandon the ‘all-at-once’ tactic practised until now…We desire to divide our ideal ends into several gradual stages to make many of our demands immediate ones and hence possible of realisation.” Describing themselves as the Possibilists, they regarded socialism as a progressive social process. Those who still regarded capitalism and socialism as mutually exclusive systems and refused to budge from the revolutionary position of what has become known as ‘the maximum program’ were henceforth labelled as Impossibilists.

Those Impossibilist parties, such as the WSPUS and SPC do not deny that reforms won by the working class have improved living and working conditions. Indeed, they see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that enhance the quality of their lives, and some can be viewed as “successful” such as public education, housing and sanitation. They also acknowledge that the “welfare” state, socialized healthcare, unemployment payments and so on, made living standards of the working class better than they ever had been under free-market, laissez faire capitalism. Nevertheless, these “successes” have, in reality, done little more than to keep workers fit for the treadmill and their families in working order and while they may have taken the edge off problems, they have rarely managed to eradicate problems completely. The theory underlying the Impossibilist case against reformism is that a revolution is the work of a class which has gained political power in order to transform society to suit its interests; a reform is carried out only within the framework of the social system. Reforms cannot end capitalism; they can modify it to some extent, but they leave its basis untouched. To establish socialism, a revolution — a complete transformation of private property into common property — is necessary.

Impossibilist socialists do not oppose reformism lest it dampens revolutionary ardor, nor because they think that capitalism cannot deliver on any reforms but because the continued existence as property-less wage-slaves undermines whatever attempts is made to better our lives through reforms. The objection to reformism is that by ignoring the essence of class, it throws blood, sweat and tears into battles that will be undermined by the operation of the wage-labor system. All that effort, skill, energy could be instead turned against class society, to create a society of common interest where we can make changes for our collective mutual benefit. So long as class exists, any gains will be partial and fleeting, subject to the ongoing class war. It is much like medics on a battlefield, all they can do is to keep slamming in the morphine, slapping on the bandages and hope that somehow the slaughter might cease.

What Impossibilists are opposed to is the whole concept that capitalism can be tamed and made palatable by the proper reforms. They do not claim capitalist reforms stand in the way of achieving socialism. If they did, they’d logically have to oppose them — which they don’t. They actively encourage workers to fight back against employers but don’t propose or advocate reforms, and don’t oppose them if they genuinely do improve workers’ lives under capitalism. Impossibilists say that palliatives are merely irrelevant to achieving socialism and that a socialist party should not advocate reforms.

If a pipe bursts and the water is flooding the house, one can start bailing the water out while it continues to flow in, or one can turn the water off, and then start bailing it out. It may take a while to find the tap, but unless the water is turned off, the water will continue to rise and bailing is rather pointless. Human tragedies occur daily, by the millions, and generate thousands of social activist groups trying to stem the tide. The Impossibilists urges people to find the tap and turn it off.

In the history of the working class movement a variety of different parties have been following and vacillating between four different roads:

1 ) The insurrection of a small determined group which would hold on to power until the majority were converted to socialist ideas – Blanquism/Leninism
2 ) The seizure of the means of production and distribution by some form of economic action – Syndicalism/Industrial Unionism
3 ) The accomplishment of ever more sweeping reforms until capitalism had been reformed out of existence and society had become socialist – Reformism/Gradualism
4 ) The conquest of power by a majority of class-conscious workers imbued with the single aim of abolishing the capitalist ownership of the means of production and distribution – Impossibilism

In the history of the working class movement a variety of different parties have been built, some following one or other of the above roads. Endeavoring to change capitalism, or reformism is the route that has been taken by most who have wanted to improve society. Reformism has some attractions over revolution – especially if you lack imagination, don’t like confrontation, prefer to think only in the short term, and don’t want to be accused of not living in the real world. You are also assured of being in good company because large numbers of people think as you do that capitalism can be humanized. What is needed is for the class which is poor to dispossess the class which is rich so that we may have a society in which we will all live in a condition of security and equality.

Reforms can be defined as political measures brought forward to amend the operation of capitalism in some way. Because in a class-divided system like capitalism, it is the State which is the institution operating this entire process. By extension, reformism is the attempt to seek support so that political power and influence over the state can be obtained to enact reforms. The role of hegemony – that powerful combination of ruling ideas filtered through the mass media is important in understanding how reformism is actually carried out. Concerned as they are to maintain the profit system, reformists persuade themselves to do what is best for “the economy.” Reforms are implemented by political parties that seek and get a mandate to run capitalism. Politicians’ logic prevails:

1. Capitalism is terrible.
2. We must do something.
3. Reforms are something.
4. Therefore we must enact reforms.

While political and economic measures are often intertwined, without their political character, they can’t be reformist. So the key issue for Impossibilists is not to advocate nor seek political support for reform programs, as this is reformism. It is for others such as trade unions and the many one-issue activists to engage with the State for the purpose of gaining relief from the effects of capitalism.

Important to note (and perhaps the most common mistaken criticism of them) is that Impossibilists do not accept the view that nothing but socialism are of concern and accept that a non-revolutionary phase of the struggle between the classes is as inevitable as the revolutionary. When the worker acquires revolutionary consciousness he or she is still compelled to make the non-revolutionary struggle, fighting in the here and now, where they can and how they can. Opposition to everything that does and can happen in capitalism in the guise of being true to socialist principles would be ridiculous. Impossibilists argue that while the working class should organise for socialism, it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done this side of the revolution. Such things as basic healthcare and education came into being because the working class fought for them. Without the threat of action we would never have won such concessions. Industrial action helped to improve wages and working conditions. We have the ability to change things if we act together. The power to transform society lies in the hands of those who create everything – the working class. This is the source of our power, should we eventually use it. It is the class power not to make a few reforms, but to change the whole system, to make a social revolution. Leading the workers along the path of reform is not equipping them for their revolutionary role.

Those convinced that political parties promising reforms deserve support should consider the following points. The campaign, whether directed at right-wing or left-wing governments, will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system. In other words, the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain. Any reform can be reversed and eroded later if a government finds it necessary and we are witnessing that from all the recent austerity measures happening from Scandinavia to Spain. Reforms rarely, if ever, actually solve the problem they were intended to solve. One can pick any single problem and find that improvements have taken place, usually only after a very long period of agitation. But rarely, if ever, has the problem actually disappeared, and usually other related problems have arisen to fill the vacuum of left by the “solution”. Impossibilists choose to use their time and limited funds to work to eliminate the cause of the numerous social problems. They hold the opinion palliatives and ameliorations will be offered and conceded by a besieged capitalist class in a desperate attempt to retain ownership rights if the working class were demanding the maximum program of full and complete appropriation and nothing less. To stem the socialist tide reforms now derided as Utopian aspirations will be two-a-penny in an attempt to fob off the workers. Governments do not feel threatened by appeals to it to act on single issues – even if those appeals take the form of mass protests. A government feels a sense of power and security in the knowledge that the protesters recognize it as the supreme arbitrator to which all appeals must be made. As long as people are only protesting over single issues they are remaining committed to supporting the system as a whole. But a government will take a very different view when people confront it not to plead from a position of weakness for this or that legislative change, but to challenge the whole basis of the way we live – in other words to question the inevitability of buying and selling and production for profit, and to actively work from a position of political strength for its replacement by the socialist alternative. In such circumstances, the governments’ aim will be to buy off the growing socialist consciousness of workers. In other words, reforms will be much more readily granted.

Finally, another reason the Impossibilists resist the siren song of reformism as some sort of tactic to gain support from workers, is that people who’d join a socialist party because they are attracted by its reformist tactics would eventually turn it into a pure and simple reformist organization, constantly working on the terrain of capitalism. History shows the fate of the social democratic parties, which despite a formal commitment to socialism as an “ultimate goal”, admitted non-socialists and sought non-socialist support for a minimum reform program of capitalism rather than the maximum socialist program. In order to maintain their non-socialist support , they were themselves forced to drop all talk of socialism and become even more openly reformist. Today the social democratic parties are firmly committed to capitalism in theory and in practice. Impossibilists say that this was the inevitable result of the admission of non-socialists and advocating reforms of capitalism. That is another reason why they have always advocated socialism and declines to call for the reform of capitalism. A socialist party advocating reforms would be the first step towards its transformation into a reformist party. Regardless of why or how the reforms are advocated, the result is the same: confusion in the minds of the working class instead of growth of socialist consciousness. The Left always wish to have the ear and confidence of the working class and will say to fellow-workers “Carry on with your reformist struggles. We’re with you all the all way” even though it is known that this is a recipe for failure and so, in the end, the Left actually helps to weaken not strengthen the working class by tying it ideologically to capitalism, fostering the illusion that capitalism can be run in the interests of workers and entrenching their dependence on capitalist governments to do it for them. It is far better to say what you really think and feel to be the case however unpopular or out of touch it might might make you seem at the time. Workers will not thank you for trying to lead them up the garden path and you will certainly not gain their confidence as a result.

  1. Here and here

A World is Right When We Learn to Preserve and Embrace the Word Like a Poet

Special for Dissident Voice and LA Progressive, part of National Poetry Month, 2019

*****

I’m thinking a lot about creativity. About young people, 6 or 7 years of age, so ripe for learning and how we as mentors and teachers should not only respect how their inner voices count, but allow them that exploratory space.  Words as expressions of rebellion. Empathy. Rage. Regret. Laments.

Words, sold now as marketing tools, have less and less power as we have devolved into a country of business-speak, unheralded words of death-ray politicians, tweeting twats and Tweedledum’s and Tweedledee’s. Words even in creative writing programs are branded, marketed and sold as, hmm, a type of group think. MFA (masters of fine arts) programs are destructive to the outsider’s realm of seeing, hearing, touching and his or her own consciousness and subconsciousness.

Poetry, of all the practices, seems the least understood and many times destroyed the most by instructors and teachers attempting to over-analyze or over-classify what it is they think poetry – and a poet – is.

Here, early on, I’ll forward a big slash to the market of the MFA – creative writing programs, their in-house literary journals, and the bourgeoises siphoning off any remarkable revolutionary thought in creative writing.

Rebellion, and Nicaragua, and the Sandinistas fighting against the dirty and perverted capitalist dictator, Somoza. Here, first, revolutionary, Gioconda Belli.

What Are You, Nicaragua?

What are you—
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?

What are you—
a flight of birds
guardabarrancos
cenzontles
hummingbirds?

What are you
a roar of rivers
bearing polished, shiny stones
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?

What are you—
A women’s breasts made of earth
Smooth, pointed and threatening?

What are you—
Singing of leaves in gigantic trees
Green, tangled and filled with doves?

What are you—
Pain and dust and screams in the afternoon
“screams like those of women giving birth”?

What are you—
Clenched fist and loaded gun?

What are you, Nicaragua
To cause me such pain?

Thinking like a kid is what the credo should be for adults, especially in this lobotomized world of consumption and endless war and digital dungeons. Dreaming like a child. Sketching worlds and fantastical dreams like a youth.

Instead, many MFA programs are like buttoned-down harbingers of the generalized professing: “Believe us professors and grad students as we are the key to creative writing, and do not stray, as we are the arbiters of fine arts, the word, poetry, life.”

John Steppling:

The practice of writing, the philosophy is, Firstly, a resistance to formulas and solutions. Writing and art pose questions, and if the mystery leaves the work, leaves the process, then usually, the work has died. Institutional forces demand standardized steps and conditions in their creative writing programs … because the institution knows, deep down, that art is there to destroy it. Even the word “creative” is probably suspect, but such are the conditions under which writing is taught. It is an intuitive and unconscious process, and even if done, for some film work, in partnership – it is still solitary.

One cannot write outlines and then follow them. This is what CPAs do, or insurance salesmen preparing their district conference sales quota speech. If one were to know where a narrative was going, one would have a stillborn project on one’s hands. The play or screenplay has within its narrative, an idea of itself. Narrative provides a space for character. The truth of a character is at once indelible and totally opaque. This idea is the reason, I suspect, we have art at all.

Art is not about communication, nor is it about moral instruction. It is about awakening. But it is also a discipline, and a practice. Those Neanderthal cave paintings, found in places where only one person might see them, at a time, is worth keeping in mind, at least when audience questions arise. You don’t write for an audience. Nor do you write for yourself. That is the paradox and the riddle.

Being able to recognize the truthful from kitsch is the basic foundation for starting on having a practice.

I’ve been a poet a long time, since, of course, virginal youth, and then into my teens, until death do me part. My journey has been, as Steppling states above (referencing story and play/screen writing), a series of awakenings.

The shadow of lamentations, too. Nothing heroic is happy and set upon a political or moral frame without first forcing us all to ask primal questions – questions about self in a world that’s insane. At least now, from pre-Industrial, or I imagine, starting with the ripping of tribal tides with so-called conquest societies, colonizers, we have to ask those age-old questions how to live through the mother and father haven been ripped up by superstitious and perverted religious and economic principles (sic). Insanity now, but our own relocation of the disconnected, by artists, is our sanity in an insane system, capitalism.

Words expressed – poetry – is the shaping of the amphora on the potter’s wheel. That wet healing clay, squished between fingers and synapses. The remarkable lifting of sediments from earth into the shape of creation, imagined first, then reimagined with each pump of the pedal of the wheel, each turning, each fingering and palming of clay into a work of art. Poetry.

National Poetry Month Poster 2019

This month, April, has been generally deemed as National Poetry Month. In the schools I’ve taught at. In some of the libraries I’ve perused, the posters and highlighted books are prominent. In many ways, pushing the word, and celebrating this form of creative expression is both herculean in the sense that almost everything in the USA has been co-opted by consumerism and blatant crass middling thinking and presentation; and it’s worthy of effort to have people leave the business world, the world of making money, into one of making stanzas. In addition, many slam poetry or spoken word events have been tied to the National Poetry Month, started almost a quarter of a century ago in the USA.

Here, National Academy of Poets has the month branded:

National Poetry Month each April is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.

While we celebrate poets and poetry year-round, the Academy of American Poets was inspired by the successful celebrations of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), and founded National Poetry Month in April 1996 with an aim to:

  • highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
  • encourage the reading of poems,
  • assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
  • increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,

I’ve had some good opportunities to be around poets and live with them and their words. Heck, just a few weeks ago, here I was, in the Central Oregon coast, with Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford, whose own skin is tattooed with the words of his famous poet father’s literary gravitas – William Stafford. Here, my piece in LA Progressive and elsewhere, including the literary journal, Cirque“A Poet, the Pacific Flyway, and a Sonora Flash Flood Memory.”  And my poem about reconnecting to Stafford’s son, Kim, here on the Oregon Coast, a new home for me: “Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from ‘Oregon Trail’

Over the years I have front and center cajoled with poets, seeing myself as one of their peers while living in precarity and calling forth lamentations as a poet. It started seriously when I was an 18-year-old in Tucson hanging out with poets and fiction writers, as part of the University of Arizona’s poets/writers series. I used to hang out at and take classes in rooms at the Poetry Center at the U of A. I’ve helped out poet Richard Shelton with his writer’s workshop at the Arizona State Prison, and he wrote a book about his big project that involved many different cohorts and writers with some tough-living inmates: Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer.

Here I was, still a youth in 1975, when Shelton taught me in poetry classes and started his trips up to death row at the Arizona State prison. I got to be a part of that, Richard’s prison workshops. Not so ironically, shortly after graduating and becoming a journalist and part-time college faculty, I started incorporating that “prison workshop” ethos in so many other of my writing gigs with my own students in a federal prison, La Tuna, NM. I’ve done writing workshops, including poetry, with gifted and talented students in Austin, TX, and with gang-influenced youth in Segundo Barrio, El Paso. I’ve carried through with writing workshops in a life-long learning program at the University of Texas—El Paso, where I had, as an example of some of my students’ histories,  survivors of Dachau write about their lives, and women who knew Pancho Villa, and other interesting older folk, write poems while we worked on their memoirs. Writing workshops for just-released inmates in a homeless program in Portland, and writing projects with homeless veterans and their families, and poetry workshops for fourth graders, and more, have cascaded into my life.

Poetry teaching was always the razor edge way to get people to open up that creative and deeply drawn area of their humanity that is more etched with meaning than their own epigenetics or more fluid of their self-worth than the corpuscles flowing inside– the embedded humanity and horror of being alone in this world. Poetry, as Sapphire shows, can be triumph, momentarily, over evil and the scars evil produce in us all.

Here, though, some quick turn of words to express what poetry is from poets themselves:

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before. —Audre Lorde

I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests. —Pablo Neruda

Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness. —Alice Walker

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful. –Rita Dove

As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor – those great tools of thought – and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world. —Naomi Shihab Nye

Luckily, Angie with Dissident Voice and Dick with LA Progressive and Hollywood Progressive are opening up the digital venues for my limited standing column (in the month of April), as a format for some musings and personal and monumental ideas around the power of the word, poetry. Call it a cry out for something more real than the echo chambers of modern America.

More real than all the stuff I end up writing about in LA Progressive’s Terminal Velocity – Man Lost of Tribe or for Angie at DV which usually is tied to the politics of negotiating our own humanity and community and self inside the war that is killer capitalism. The most creative and psychologically real and satisfying things come to me as people I’ve touched and who have touched me, and, of course, learning to think like a mountain, as Aldo Leopold calls it in his Sand Country Almanac – imagine the poetry in this excerpt by Leopold, one of the fathers of conservation and environmental sanity:

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

It’s not a quaint thing, this poetry. Actually, many people do write poems, and see themselves as poets. Really, not just MFA students or older ladies waxing religious rhymes, but plumbers, construction workers, nurses, bookkeepers, and every form of human life.

The poem is a distilled world, as Rita Dove says. Neruda also has it right – it’s where you are from, inside the body of the world, as in forests, oceans, inside rain: that’s the germination of a poem. And, poetry should be rebellious and about revolution as Alice Walker states, and lived, as she told me twice when I’ve been to her readings and workshops.  That poetry is a bridge over fears, as Lourde states, makes so much sense. Bridging humanity over the troubled waters of the inhumane.

The direct line to human feeling . . . . and making our lives deeper in confidence, so much so there is transformation, even for the oppressed and imprisoned, giving meaning in the world and life is meaningful, no matter the circumstance, as Shihab Nye states.

I remember talking with Czeslaw Milosz at a reading in Austin, Texas. I was trying to drill down what poetry was, how I could parachute into the lives of gang members, spooks (inhalers of volatile compounds like gasoline), homeless war vets, young adults with developmental disabilities, survivors of sexual assault and invoke some solid concepts on why the poem – no matter what form it takes – is what Naomi states: imaging life as it can or should be or is honoring the word and creative practice of language in the art of detailing.

He was near the end of his life when he told me, In reality, whatever the poet attempts to say, all words are a type of lamentation. Despair, maybe, colored by something else that pushes down the blackness of humanity in this age of destruction.  Something like that. He went deeper, though. As seen in this interview in the Paris Review:

Of course, it’s true that people talk too much and without restraint. But poetry imposes certain restraints. Nevertheless, there is always the feeling that you didn’t unveil yourself enough. A book is finished and appears and I feel, Well, next time I will unveil myself. And when the next book appears, I have the same feeling. And then your life ends, and that’s it.

Two poems by Czeslaw Milosz to start the month:

In Black Despair

In grayish doubt and black despair,
I drafted hymns to the earth and the air,
pretending to joy, although I lacked it.
The age had made lament redundant.

So here’s the question — who can answer it —
Was he a brave man or a hypocrite?

A Felicitous Life

His old age fell on years of abundant harvest.
There were no earthquakes, droughts or floods.
It seemed as if the turning of the seasons gained in constancy,
Stars waxed strong and the sun increased its might.
Even in remote provinces no war was waged.
Generations grew up friendly to fellow men.
The rational nature of man was not a subject of derision.
It was bitter to say farewell to the earth so renewed.
He was envious and ashamed of his doubt,
Content that his lacerated memory would vanish with him.

Two days after his death a hurricane razed the coasts.
Smoke came from volcanoes inactive for a hundred years.
Lava sprawled over forests, vineyards, and towns.
And war began with a battle on the islands.

Next: Poetry as environmental sanity and rebellion!

Call of Duty: Resisting War in Venezuela

Every war is a war against children.

— Egalntyne Jebb, founder Save the Children a century ago.

Responding to the British post-war blockade of Germany and Eastern Europe, Jebb participated in a group attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to children who were starving.

In London’s Trafalgar Square, she distributed a leaflet showing the emaciated children and declaring:

Our blockade has caused this, – millions of children are starving to death.

She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined. But the judge in the case was moved by her commitment to children and paid her fine. His generosity was Save the Children’s first donation. Source: Kathy Kelly

****

This vet for peace has made a life duty to a simple call to action —  Hands Off Venezuela. Imagine the same call in 1960 —  Hands Off Vietnam; or in 1970 —  Hands Off Chile; or in 1991 —  Hands Off Haiti; Hands Off Puerto Rico 140 years ago.

Those ham-fisted, Imperial-seeped and Monroe Doctrine-primed hands are ours, Uncle Sam’s.

There are resisters to this global hyper power disease that we have been infected with in America that professes a USA-rules-the-world mentality. Dan Shea is that Vietnam Veteran for Peace. He puts his actions where his mouth is.

Rewind the tape 13 years, and we see Dan as a Veterans for Peace organizer  working on the city of Portland becoming a sanctuary city for soldiers AWOL from the armed services who were inserted into Iraq and Afghanistan illegally.

“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Portland and the City Council to support the soldiers who are coming back and their right to speak out,” said Dan Shea of Veterans for Peace, who first proposed the idea.

Shea told an interviewer in 2006 he had enlisted with the Marines and spent most of 1968 in Vietnam, where he was exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange. That resulted in his diabetes, he said.

Shea professes he never supported the Vietnam War, yet like many boys and men (girls and women) back then – especially high school drop-outs — he felt obligated to serve. However, when he came home, he felt betrayed by the country, saying the initial reasons for going to war were nothing but lies. The same thing is going on today, he said.

Over the years of our illegal incursion into Iraq, destroying the country and killing a million or more, and then our longest war, Afghanistan, Shea has talked to veterans who can no longer support the war because of what they participated in or witnessed. “These are people of conscience,” he said. “They served for what is the best of our country — the ability to speak out — and now they are being persecuted for that.”

Shea has had a long history with Central America, and Latin America in general. He went to Venezuela in 2006 and met Hugo Chavez. He also has been to Nicaragua to meet with the revolutionary government and actors in that country which overthrew a despotic dictator, Somoza, who was a puppet of the United States.

Fast-forward to the current debacle of the US and its vassal states and even the supposedly “independent” EU countries  pushing for a violent overthrow of the Chavismo Nicolas Maduro. Shea has just returned from Venezuela on a fact-finding trip that included embracing the Venezuelan people.

Dan and I talked about how that arc of social justice and the golden rule, if indeed true, would have “saved” the world from war and injustice a long time ago. Unfortunately, the boomerang of the capitalists and lords of war continues to cut down movements and countries wanting no more of the insanity of “the endless war on terror” mentality Bush and his neocons (supported by Obama) promulgated.

How can we ever forget Mark Twain’s anti-imperial words in regard to his time and historically the crime of war:

There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one–on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful–as usual–will shout for the war. The pulpit will–warily and cautiously–object–at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ‘It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.’ Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers–as earlier–but do not dare say so.

And now the whole nation–pulpit and all–will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”

― Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories

For 70-year-old Shea, that grotesque self-deception is what now emanates from the very pores of Trump’s regime, from the profiteers of war, from the elite who want Venezuela for their profits, and from the Democrats – the supposed opposition party – who believe America is the great white hope that should be meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.

That moniker, Vietnam vet for peace, speaks to Daniel Shea’s persuasive and holistic approach to life, and he’s  not easily dissuaded by the long arm of capitalism’s systems of oppression which create mayhem through social and cultural injustice he’s experienced in his 70 years on planet earth. He’s a former Marine who had been deployed to Vietnam in 1968.

He did not see himself engaging in the tradition of military service so many in this country seem compelled by — especially civilians like Donald Trump, who not only actively got out of military service during the Vietnam War, but also has been quoted many times deriding vets who went to war, calling them “losers.”

That call of duty, Shea told me, was predicated on being stuck in a hard labor job in Portland, Oregon, and the reality that his draft number would be called up anyway.

He wasn’t a supporter of the war, but he said he just went in to “just get it over with.”

“I did not support the war,” he told me. “I knew the minute I stepped into boot camp that it (military life) was not for me.”

Heck, he went AWOL before being sent to Vietnam – “We went out drinking, and we ended up showing up late to our duty station.” Hard drinking because he and his band of brothers didn’t know if they were going to live or die once in-country. For their human sanity wanting to drown out the reality of possible pending early grisly deaths – it’s a normal emotion and psychological state to resist death, one’s own death – Shea and the others were thrown into the brig.

This story begins in reverse, with Venezuela March 2019, but without a narrative context, few would know why the Portland, Oregon chapter president of Veterans for Peace just returned from Venezuela as part of a big delegation to meet with the people of that country, the people in the streets, in government, in the media and just the regular Jose and Josefina in an effort by this peace delegation to carry forth on some real ground truthing.

“We were on a mission, to listen, to observe, and to attempt to assess the root causes of opposition grievances and whether there might be avenues for talks to address their concerns and find compromises and produce a peace to the advantage of all concerned,” Shea told me. Obviously, the delegation was not blinded by the media lies and the Trump Administration’s propaganda war and the opposition party’s back-stepping.

The right for Venezuelans to determine their futures was always at the forefront of Shea’s and the others’ minds during this delegation. Nicolas Maduro was elected as the leader of the country, and this largely unknown puppet – hand-picked by the Trump people and his same old usual suspects of neocons, going way back, gleaned from the dirty wars of Central America and international felons (like Elliot Abrams) — Juan Guaido is as legitimate to Venezuelans to lead their country as is Donald Duck or Elvis Presley.

“Our main mission was to express our Solidarity with COSI – Venezuela — Committee of International Solidarity and Struggle for Peace.” Shea went with folks like Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Co-chairs of Popular Resistance.

Other heavy hitters included Ajamu Baraka, Black Alliance for Peace and 2016 VP running mate of Jill Stein; Joe Lombardo, co-coordinator United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC); Gerry Condon, President of VFP; Sarah Martin, Anti-War Committee; Miguel Figueroa, President Canadian Peace Congress; Eva Bartlett, fearless Canadian freelance journalist; and others.

Dan and I cleared the air early on in our interview: I asked him what makes 2019 and Venezuela different than all the other times US presidents/ administrations have taken that which was not theirs to take, who murdered those who resisted and, then who set forth imperial overreach to subjugate people and societies through generation after generation.

“Same old story, nothing has changed – Capitalism is at the root cause of targeting Venezuela. The country’s oil is the price, and the US Corporate Masters will use any means necessary including war,” Shea told me. “They are willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people in order to secure oil for the United States. This was pretty much publicly stated by John Bolton to FOX News in which he said that United States would benefit economically from access to Venezuelan oil.”

Yet we are in an era of cognitive dissonance, distraction and delusional thinking, where the corporate mass media drive a false narrative that supports regime change and resource plunder while the uninitiated public is bombarded with the meaningless of social media feeds and popular lobotomizing culture. Or as Twain describes the US public’s myopic masses as that “great, big, dull bulk of the nation.”

The trip this past March was righteous and part of Shea’s vow of non-violence and weeding out the lies of the very country he went to war for. The trauma of combat was real for him as an 18-year-old in Indochina, but he made it clear to me that it was “the moral injury of realizing I was part of a killing machine that resulted in four to six million people killed and still many more effected by the health effects of Agent Orange.”

He tells me that when he first returned from “his war,” via the Philippines, he like many Vietnam vets was reluctant to self-examine with friends, family or the public: “I just didn’t want to talk war, about Vietnam, or anything associated with the military.”

He slogged ahead, used the GI Bill to enroll in community college in Portland. He got married with his first child on the way. He and his wife were living in an apartment, and got their first house soon thereafter.  Shea began his political development – or we could call it a series of enlightenments — during this period. Then his wife Arlene became pregnant. “This news was received with great joy as I always wanted to have children. We began a series of healthcare classes for pregnant women studying natural birth alternatives, and regular visits to the doctor to make sure Arlene was getting all the nutrients she needed during her pregnancy.”

Lamaze classes, and then the birth of Casey in 1977.  When Arlene’s water broke, the couple was extremely excited. It was a tough labor,  “I think it was about 10 hours and our doctor was a longtime family doctor by the name of Doctor Miracle . . .  how could you go wrong with a doctor named miracle?”

Shea was present at the birth and vividly recalls the doctors rushing his son to the side and then the medical team whispering, eventually stating there were some health concerns with Casey.

“Casey had a seizure and had to be rushed up to the NICU at Doernbecher Neonatal Unit Children’s Hospital. We learned our son had been born with a cleft palate, congenital heart disease and other abnormalities.”

Lots of tears, but Shea and his family were able to celebrate the miracle child, and then a year later, they had a second child, Harmony. Shea learned that the birth anomalies of his son were related to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. In 1981, their son at the age of three passed away, after seven weeks in a coma from a failed heart surgery.

I’ve worked with veterans who have a grief so painful and so deep tied to the trauma of Vietnam and the battle scars and the inhumanity of napalm dousing villages and carpet-bombing cities. However, the other story to the trauma is both tied to their own failing health and especially all the birth defects of offspring.  “I didn’t even want to live but the love of my wife and my daughter kept me grounded. Additionally, I came to see that my story — my loss — was just one out of millions of lives and all those children in Vietnam who would have been exposed to Agent Orange or who had been killed by our bullets and bombs.”

Out of the personal and historical pain, Shea began to “take a strong and deliberate opposition” to all wars and all military interventions. He dug deep into what the idea of how War and Peace had been so at odds in this Indian-killing country. He was attempting to understand how both civilians and military leaders could see it as “honorable to send their children to foreign shores to kill other children.”

I too have questioned our militarism with a military father who was in uniform for 32 years. Shea has wondered what mechanisms are in place and what sorts of psychological blind-spots would possess working class folks to be part of a deliberate military invasion of another nation to kill other working class families, including innocent men, women, children and even infants.

I still remember Muhammad Ali’s words when I was 10 years old and my father was a regular army officer in Vietnam:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? (February, 17, 1966)

I continually remind people that Trump is a bad hombre in the sense he has a cadre of lawyers and some in criminal enterprises working for him and for whom he works. Bad hombre in the sense Trump has narcissistic personality disorder and believes he is the right hand of god even as he lives, breathes and dreams the way of Satan in the Bible he so publicly reveres.  Bad hombre in the sense Trump is a physically inept bully who encourages racism, white nationalism, misanthropy and blind allegiance to the red white blue and Benjamin’s.

I’ve been around real bad hombres, literally, people who slit the throats of their enemies, people who have no compunction fighting mano y mano to the death, yet these people in the drug dealing world and others I have met as a journalist and then some who I worked with as incarcerated folk have more humanity in their pinky fingers than a Trump and his Klan could ever hope for.

Yet, this country has gone downhill since its first slave holder president, George Washington, who stole from his own soldiers, relished killing the Mohawks for land they wouldn’t sell, and proceeded to break every treaty with the First Nations people.

Things have only gotten worse since Cherry-tree Cutting George took the helm.

Dan Shea: “You’re right this began before Trump. The same faces we saw involved in Central America in the 1980s are now pushing Trump to continue on this path. Those faces of course are John Bolton and Elliott Abrams as well as probably a number of other right-wing Republican capitalist anti-communist propagandists. Besides wanting other countries’ resources, they cannot stand to have examples in the world where socialism trumps Capitalism. This just might give people ideas . . .  and that’s dangerous for those in power who are raping the Earth of its resources polluting, our oceans.”

Mini Q & A:

Paul Haeder: What did the people of Venezuela leave you with?

Dan Shea:  Funny you should ask that question because after visiting with President Maduro, there was a press conference held outside the Presidential Palace and I said it’s my turn to speak. Told them I was born in the United States, but my father was from Panama as well as my grandmother so I have roots one foot in the US and one foot in Panama as well as Central America, but my heart is in Venezuela —  with all of you.

You might ask why I feel that way and I would answer because I have seen the tenacity of a people to stand up against one of the most powerful nations on Earth. Venezuelans have refused to accept United States in their bulling attempts and threats to overthrow their elected president and surrender their oil. This is basically the real interest of the United States and their corporate masters — OIL!

PH: What do you suggest people in the US — who do not want to interfere with the Venezuelan elections and people’s right to their own self-determination and the current legitimate government’s right to move forward — DO to affect change?

DS: Organize, organize, organize. Join any number of groups opposed to war, opposed to interventions. Be involved in mass demonstrations in Washington DC, say no to NATO, say no to war and racism, and demand Hands Off Venezuela.

If you’re a veteran, join Veterans For Peace, become a part of the solution not the problem. If you are a soldier currently in the military, VFP encourages you to resist illegal orders of invading a country that has been no threat to the United States. Refuse to deploy, refuse to continue serving in the military by becoming a conscientious objector. If you wish to battle injustice, totalitarianism, dictatorships then start here at home in the ‘belly of the beast’ and resist war, violence and help us build a massive Antiwar and Peace Movement.

PH: Discuss what you learned about this bizarre gambit Trump and the other pols are creating in the international press from the Venezuelan people’s perspective.

DS:  Most of the stuff coming from the US is lies, exaggerations and cherry-picked statistics to suit their narrative. Such as hyperinflation, and the lack of food and goods for sale because of shortages, but Trump and the media fail to tell you how US sanctions are creating that crisis.

PH: Notable moments there.

DS:  You have to maintain some sense of humor even under the dark cloud of war. Thus, Guaido has become joke. In a press conference in Venezuela, I felt it necessary to inject a little humor by declaring myself President of the United States. If Juan Guaido can declare himself president of Venezuela, then why can’t I declare myself the president of the United States.

*****

We talked about how things have changed since the anti-war and pro-civil rights movements in the country in the 1960s. Maybe that was a flashpoint moment, which led the copulating forces of the US government and corporations to entrench themselves deeper and deeper into anti-democratic methods of suppressing the masses, or even stopping targeted movements and campaigns.

Not many Americans who want change are willing to face jail and employment termination. Upton Sinclair stated it almost a century ago:

I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime,  I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policeman with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country.

— Letter to the Louis D. Oaks, Los Angeles Chief of Police, 17 May 1923

We are today deeper in a time of dumb-downing, largely because we have sold our souls and our brawn and intellectual mettle to the corporation. We have variations now on this theme that Sinclair and H.L. Mencken toyed with:

  • Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.
  • It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
  • It can be very hard to understand something, when misunderstanding it is essential to your paycheck.
  • It is rather pointless to argue with a man whose paycheck depends upon not knowing the right answer.

For Dan Shea, he has great hope for and in the young people today, who are understanding putting truth to power and are training their minds to not only not accept war as inevitable, but also to train themselves to accept the very proposition that socialism is the only way to stop the madness. “They understand this perverse Orwellian language such as ‘preemptive war,’ or how politicians and generals call mass murder ‘collateral damage.’ To repeat, I see the people of Venezuela standing up against one of the most powerful countries in the world.”

He ends the interview with an allusion, deploying Albert Camus: The Greek myth has Sisyphus condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. For Camus, life is absurd and meaningless, as we see with Sisyphus, yet, “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

“I guess the gods would forgive him once Sisyphus pushes the boulder up the hill, but each time he pushes the stone up the hill, he is defying the system. I feel free knowing I too can defy the system.”

Can Maduro Emulate Castro and Assad to Keep NATO’s Imperialist Hands Off Venezuela?

(Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Luther L. Boothe Jr., Task Force Currahee Public Affairs Office)

Imperial logic I: External crises distract from internal ones

Empires with internal problems tend to create external crises to distract the public opinion and unite their political and economical ruling class in a fictitious nationalistic fervor. The current United States policy of overt regime change in Venezuela, backed entirely by its NATO vassals, follows an evergreen imperial playbook of creating new crises to obscure failures and divisions.

In addition to the administration’s overall incompetence, the legal investigations through the Mueller inquiry, and the failure to deliver to its MAGA sycophants their big wall, it has passed unnoticed, and it will never be admitted by US officials or media that the US imperial wars in Afghanistan and Syria are, in fact, lost. Assad will remain in power, and the US administration has publicly admitted that it was negotiating with the Taliban. The temptation for the empire’s ideologues is too strong not to follow the precept: when you have lost a war, you declare victory and you leave. And next time around, you try to pick a weaker target.

Archive of Jakob Reimann

Imperial logic II: A state of war must be permanent

A prime example of this in recent history was the way the events of September 11, 2001 were used internally to justify the emergence of a police state, using far-reaching legislation like the Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Externally, 911 was successfully used by the US to trigger, almost immediately, an invasion of Afghanistan with the entire NATO membership under the hospice of the military alliance’s Article 5, which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all. This was the very first time, since the creation of NATO in 1949, that Article 5 was put into force.

With the US public opinion still largely revengeful, misinformed by media manipulations, and eager to wage war, two years later, in 2003, it was fairly simple for the Bush administration and its neocons to sell the invasion of Iraq as a war of necessity, and not for what it truly was: a war of choice, for oil and greater control of the Middle East. Cynically, the aftermath of 9/11/2001 gave the empire and its powerful military-industrial complex two wars for the price of one.

Archive of Dawei Ding

Imperial logic III: People are collateral damage of realpolitiks

Great moral principles of altruistic universal humanitarian concerns are almost never at stake in these instances. They are mainly smoke screens to hide the board of a cold, Machiavellian, and complex chess game where innocent bystanders often perish by the millions. They are the acceptable collateral damage of realpolitik’s grand strategists. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the true guiding principle of US imperial realpolitik, and all US foreign policy decisions that derived from it, was to stop the so-called communist domino effect.

Communist domino effect: three simple words for a game that killed millions of innocent people worldwide, first in Korea in the early 1950s, then in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, and later, under the tutelage of some of the very same criminal architects, in Central and South American countries like Chile. Now in their golden years, most of these murderous policymakers, like Henry Kissinger, enjoy an active retirement with honors, respect and, unlike their colleague Robert McNamara, not a hint of remorse.

One of these policymakers, a veteran of US imperialism in Central America and also one of the staunchest advocates of Iraq’s invasion in 2003, has made a come back. He is neocon extraordinaire Elliot Abrams. Abrams has been rewarded for his actions in the Iran-Contra affair, El Salvador, and Nicaragua with a nomination as Special Envoy of the Trump administration for Venezuela. In other words, Abrams is in charge of the US-sponsored coup task force against Venezuela’s legitimately elected President Nicolas Maduro.

Archive of Lezumbalaberenjena

Defeating imperial logic: The Cuban and Syrian lessons

There are many others examples in history where in a David versus Goliath fight, the little guy who, on paper, did not stand a chance eventually through sheer determination, organization and vast popular support, won on the battlefield. Vietnam is obviously a special case in this regard, as the Vietcong of Ho Chi Minh managed to defeat, almost back to back, the old colonial masters of the French empire in the 1950s, and, of course. soon thereafter, the US empire.

In the early 1960s, during the Cuban missile crisis, Castro’s days seemed to be numbered. More recently, in Syria, all the lips of the NATO coalition, Israel and Gulf State allies were chanting in unison that as a precondition for resolving the Syrian crisis, “Assad must go!” By 2017, however, some coalition members such as Qatar, France and Germany were not so adamant about the “Assad must go” mantra. Not only did Bashar al-Assad not go, but also, as matter of fact, he is regaining control of his entire country, on his own terms.

AFP PHOTO/www.cubadebate.cu/

Castro outsmarted the empire’s CIA hitmen 600 times

Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, had in Fidel Castro a source of inspiration and the guidance of a father figure. Chavez, like other neo-Marxists, looked up to Fidel for leading a successful revolution, through military action, which had toppled the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista. This regime was not only a docile servant of the US government but was also directly associated with the Mafia’s criminal activities in Cuba in the era of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. With Batista’s complicity, American gangsters had turned Cuba into a gambling and prostitution paradise where the US’ unscrupulous rich went to play. Castro shut down the bordello that had become Cuba and proudly rebuilt his island, and he consciously set out to transform Cuba slowly and steadily into a socialist country.

Needless to say, the shutdown of their depraved and lucrative tropical paradise was unacceptable for the US empire’s ruling elites. Against all odds, the Cuban communist leader managed to defy one US administration after another, and without compromise remained at the helm of the Cuban revolution. It was not for a lack of trying either to invade Cuba, as in the Bay of Pigs botched invasion episode, or to cook up countless assassination attempts on Castro’s person. Starting almost immediately after he took power in 1959, Castro was the target of CIA assassination attempts. From the Kennedy era all the way to the Clinton administrations, Fidel Castro survived more than 600 plots to kill him. Some of the attempts involved collaborations of the Mafia with the CIA. Castro once said, “if surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal!” It has to be added that, at least so far, Fidel Castro has also won a posthumous gold medal for ensuring the legacy of the Cuban revolution.

Damascus, Syria. 15th March 2012 — Loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad attend the rally at the Umayyad Square and hold the Syrian flag and a picture of Bashar al-Assad.

Assad: military might and striking the right alliances

Almost eight years ago, some people in quiet mansions, regal palaces or discrete offices in Washington, Riyadh, Doha, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv or undisclosed locations came up with what appeared to be an excellent plan. They would hijack some of the genuine energy of the Arab Spring then quickly sponsor it with a huge arsenal, while hiring some supposed good Djihadists soldiers-of-fortune as the main muscle to get rid of the uncooperative Bashar al-Assad. In what I called in May 2013, an “unholy alliance to wreck and exploit,” the Western and Gulf States coalition to topple Assad was born. In the US, the late Senator John McCain was one of the cheerleaders of the so-called Free Syrian Army.

Eight years later, with Syria in ruins, 350,000 people dead, around 4.5 million refugees still scattered principally in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, Assad has prevailed in a bittersweet victory, considering that his country has been wrecked as a battleground for proxy wars. Bashar al-Assad did not win on his own. He managed to retain complete loyalty from the Syrian army during the past eight gruesome years. Assad also could count on the military involvement of dependable allies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran and, of course, a critical impact of Russia once Putin’s administration decided to commit military assets and troops.

Maduro can keep Uncle Sam’s hands off Venezuela

One can only hope that Venezuela’s US-sponsored coup attempt using the subterfuge of a phony revolution does not follow the track of Syria in terms of the mayhem. However, the analogies are numerous between Maduro’s situation today and that of Assad in 2011. First, Maduro has at his disposal a reasonably well-equipped military as well as the Chavista militia. To defeat the unfolding coup attempt, the loyalty of the armed forces has to be ironclad. Second, just as Assad has done, Maduro must work to cultivate, in pragmatic ways, both regional and worldwide alliances.

Cuba will do a lot to help and might turn out to be Maduro’s Hezbollah. But will Mexico, Bolivia, and Uruguay go beyond diplomatic posturing in their solidarity with Maduro against NATO’s imperialism? How involved and how far, either economically or, in a worse-case scenario, militarily are Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran willing to go? In geopolitics, unlike diplomacy, only actions talk. Venezuela has a massive bargaining chip in the form of the mostly untapped biggest oil reserve in the world. This is Maduro’s ultimate ace in this game, and it should be used shrewdly. In realpolitiks, friends might be temporary, and they always want something. This is not an altruistic environment.

Grenada: 40th Anniversary of the Revolution

Forty years ago this March, the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, population 110,000, made a revolution.

Prime Minister Eric Gairy had for years headed a neocolonial dictatorship on behalf of Grenada’s minute capitalist class and British and US interests. A private and brutal militia known as the Mongoose Gang was tasked to silence Gairy’s political opponents. Though the island was rich in agricultural resources, like nutmeg, mace, cacao and bananas, too much of its population lived in poverty.

On March 13, 1979, after years of unarmed struggle, the New Jewel Movement, under the charismatic leadership of Maurice Bishop, successfully executed a nearly bloodless coup. The new government built a mixed economy on socialist principles. With the organizational, administrative and economic planning genius of Bernard Coard, Bishop’s childhood friend, Grenada made rapid social progress. The revolution became immensely popular, with good reason.

With the new government, aided and advised by Cuba, literacy rose from 85% to 98%; the ratio of doctors to patients doubled; new labor laws brought 80% of the population into unions; unemployment plummeted from half the population to 14%; new laws criminalized the sexual victimization of women, ensured equal pay for equal work and mandated maternity leave. Free health care and secondary education were introduced, and scholarships provided free college education abroad.

In the first four years of the revolution, Grenada’s economy grew by 9%, in the midst of a worldwide recession. Agricultural diversification brought significant reductions in food imports and increased exports.

But from its birth, the revolution was menaced by the US. Though tiny, Grenada greatly troubled the US. State Department memos revealed why: Grenada’s population spoke English and was predominantly of African descent, so the revolution and its success would have special appeal to African Americans.

President Carter’s administration welcomed exiled ex-Prime Minister Gairy to the US, where he made broadcasts against the Grenadian government. The Carter administration also worked to cut US tourism to the island and denied recognition to Grenada’s ambassador.  President Reagan’s administration followed suit, blocking economic development assistance from international finance institutions.

The US invasion and takeover of the island on October 25, 1983 was plotted years in advance, rehearsed in exercises called “Amber and the Ambergines,” a transparent reference to Grenada and the nearby Grenadine islands. 100s were killed battling the invasion, including two Soviet military officers and 24 Cuban engineers.

Bishop and other leaders were killed in a tragic conflict within the government days before the invasion.  After the invasion, soldiers and surviving political leaders, including Coard, were tried for the killings on scant and dubious evidence.  The trial was paid for and managed by the US and denounced by Amnesty International. The defendants, known as the Grenada 17, spent decades in prison.  The circumstances of the killings remain mysterious, in part because of the US theft and concealment of much documentary evidence.

But for a time a tiny nation in the belly of the beast made a beautiful revolution.

The Grenadian Revolution, ¡Presente!

IQ, Equal Pay for Equal Work, Population Control, Mao, and Communism

“Prepare for Struggle, Prepare for Famine, Work for the People.”

Jordan Peterson posits IQ tests as indicators of intelligence and predictors of long-term success.1 This is not scientific. Intelligence is definitionally problematic as is designing tests to measure whatever is deemed to denote intelligence. Nowadays, intelligence is considered a multi-faceted concept that cannot be measured comprehensively and accurately by a paper-and-pencil test. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to isolate a multitude of other factors and attribute any result exclusively to intelligence; e.g., parental upbringing, socio-economic levels, health, spiritual beliefs, personal inclinations, etc. Into this mix Peterson adds conscientiousness, with the same problems of how to define and how to measure. So such studies would be subjective, and at best any experimental designs would provide correlational statistics. Even resorting to multivariate analyses would not be without problems.

Multivariate analyses are an aid to, not a substitute for critical thinking in the area of data analysis. Meaningful results can only be produced by these methods if careful consideration is given to questions of sample size, variable type, variable distribution etc., and accusations of subjectivity in interpretation can only be overcome by replication…. Perhaps a major cause of the continuing misuse of statistical methods is the insistence of many journal editors in psychology and related areas, on articles being laced with multivariate analyses, and on encouraging the pedantic use of signifance levels, i.e. the inevitable p less than minus, as if such inclusions lent an air of respectability to their journal which it might not otherwise have had…2

In addition, the argument on IQ tests and the role of conscientiousness in “success” and “happiness” is a mined territory because covertly it recalls the dark side of eugenics. If IQs and conscientiousness are the litmus tests for the rank and suitability of individuals in a given society, then how far are we from doctrines adopted by fascist states vis-à-vis their people? The argument becomes seriously explosive in the context of poverty, depending on how one construes the correlation between IQ and success. For instance, according to many sources, Americans living under the poverty line are over 40 million. A question: would Peterson be poised to say that their poverty is a direct function of their IQ and conscientiousness? Any one who dares to pose the question on IQ or conscientiousness must (1) examine their own shortcoming on both matters, and (2) examine the social, economic, and cultural factors conducive, functionally, to lower IQ and social adaptations. Caveat: examining is not a judgement but a process leading to assumptions that must be further tested for factual or theoretical validity.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Although physicists can unravel the mathematical laws of the universe and rocket engineers can calculate how to launch several probes on missions throughout the solar system, according to Peterson, humans are incapable of determining what is equal. “The introduction of the ‘equal pay for equal work’ argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible. That’s why the marketplace exists.” (loc 5403) And just how fair or effective as a distributive mechanism is the marketplace?

First, since the dawn of time, world societies and their economic systems have varied from Babylonia, Pharaonic civilization, ancient China, Rome, Islamic civilization, aggressive Mongolian expansionism, etc through to modern systems such as capitalism, socialism, communism, Italian fascism, social democracies, etc. Equal pay for all or advocating for equality of pay to all never existed. Roman soldiers took less that centurions, and engineers and artists took more than qualified labor and artisans. Early Islamic social laws, as distinct from religious laws, had legislated that qualified artisans and poets receive special pecuniary treatment, so also that the fighters that took less than their commanders did. Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, and even Vladimir Lenin never advocated for equal pay because they acknowledged the important role of creativity and expertise in the making of a valid economic model.

Why does Peterson accept decision of payment being left to the marketplace regardless of equality for the work done? Is the marketplace an entity that popped into existence by itself? Or did it have human hands behind its creation? Of course humans brought about the formation of the marketplace. And which humans would be expected to benefit the most from such an entity? Or did he expect his readers to absorb his statement naively and leave it unchallenged? To make the point, is there a design behind Peterson’s many groundless assertions? In the end, it seems to me that Peterson’s phrase — “That’s why the marketplace exists” — is a poor ideological construct in terms of cause and consequence. Most likely, he came up with it to close a complex argument by pointing to the predictive power of personality characteristics, however, it does not develop as a compact sequential argument. And why should having a extroverted versus introverted personality, or an assertive versus relaxed demeanor demand differential pay for equal work? Peterson provides such as explanations for unequal pay for the same work; to be fair, he does not say such should be the case. But by leaving it up to the market to determine, Peterson by default chooses the status quo wealth and income allocation.

Second, Peterson is positing that the markets can better provide for fairness in remuneration. However, the grotesque inequality that exists in the world clearly adduces that Peterson is dead wrong.3 Does Peterson agree with a market that pays a CEO in a day what a company worker makes in a year? Remarkably, a system within which such unfairness and such inequality do exist is well known: it is called capitalism. Recently, a study has revealed that 26 persons own as much as 3.8 billion of the poorest people. How has this happened? What’s Peterson theory on the matter?

Yet Peterson writes, “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?” (loc 2926)

And what if a person’s experience is unordered because of the mayhem of the state? What if the state is wreaking havoc with households? Did not the American Revolution occur because Great Britain was wreaking havoc with colonial households through unfair taxation? Does poverty not wreak havoc on households? By taking over a city, people may be able to implement a system and policies that bring about equality and peace. By equality, I mean equal opportunity to all people, with remuneration based on effort and sacrifice — although Peterson will throw up his arms and say something like we don’t know how to measure effort and sacrifice. But we will never know how to measure effort and sacrifice to Peterson’s pleasure until we start trying; because to leave things the way they are, to the caprice of the market, is just intellectual cowardice. We can be sure, however, that the marketplace itself does not know how to remunerate workers equitably for work done.

Peterson’s Rule 6 is: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”

However, there are myriad personality, societal, and worldly factors (greed, sexism, racism, nationalism, war, etc) that work against setting up “perfect” order in one’s house. And what exactly is meant by “perfect” order, and is it even achievable? Perfection is an elusive, and probably unattainable, goal. Therefore, if perfection is unachievable, what Peterson in essence is telling us is tough luck, keep plugging away at trying to reach perfection, and in the meanwhile accept the world the way it is — however imperfect that may be.

If not the marketplace, then who decides what is equal pay for equal work? Of course we decide. We pool our brain power to determine criteria as to what is fair remuneration; afterwards we refine and tweak as is necessary. This is infinitely more sensible than sitting our collective butts and allowing the marketplace of fetid capitalism to lather the masses with inequity and penury.

Peterson opines:

We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce much of everything. The winners don’t take all but they take the most, and the bottom is not a good place to be. People get sick there, and remain unknown and unloved. They waste their lives there. (loc 1784)

“We” (a pronoun used often by Peterson) are all different, certainly in many, many ways. We have different predilections, different desires, and different levels of skills. I avoid stating “different abilities” because abilities can be developed to higher levels through proper training and sheer hard work. Not every person is interested or inclined to sharpen their skills in certain endeavors to exhibit a high level of ability.

Granted we are not equal; everyone is superseded by someone else in some facet. Besides, being ranked number one is often subjective and usually ephemeral.

And I disagree emphatically with Peterson; it is the workers that produce most of what the public consumes. Managers and executives supervise and issue orders but produce little by way of physical work — and perhaps much of the intellectual effort comes from workers. In fact, many of the bourgeoisie may be considered leeches on the working class.

Peterson acknowledges the greed of the “winners.” However, I would not construe a group of humans who selfishly grab an inordinate lion’s share for themselves as “winners” while relegating the rest to a sick, unloved ignominy — quite the contrary.

Why does Peterson prioritize production as deciding distribution of wealth by the marketplace? Is production the end-all and be-all of humans? Does it supersede human attributes such as love, empathy, caring, and sharing?

Peterson is advocating dog-eat-dog capitalism. Fuck the market! It all boils down to what kind of world we want. How do we want our societies to look like? Our societies are a mirror unto who we are, unto our our sense of morality. Do we want and accept a society, as Peterson describes, composed of winners and losers? Do we accept joblessness despite the unemployed being desperate for work? Do we accept homelessness, the hungry, shanty towns, hygienic conditions, etc for any among us? Do any of us feel comfortable walking past someone obviously down-and-out?

Do we desire a society free from the ills that define a sick society?

Or do we roll the dice for each person and let the dice (i.e., the market) decide our happenstance?

Because in a sane and morally centered universe, the most meaningful abilities are the ones whereby we can provide warmth, succor, dignity, compassion, and love to our fellow humans.

Dominance is abhorrent. Enlightened thinkers are well aware of that. Hierarchies, excessive self-indulgence, and profligacy are not to be admired. If a permanent hierarchy, then love and altruism must situate at the pinnacle of the human hierarchy. Even primates have evolved altruistic behaviors.

What does it mean have abilities and only use them for self-serving reasons? What purpose, besides self-love and egoism, does it serve to sit on top of some hierarchy (other than a hierarchy dominated by altruism, love, and goodwill)? When Albert Einstein reached the pinnacle of fame as a physicist, did he preen and become self-important? No, Einstein remains a beloved scientist because he loved his fellow humans. Naturally, Einstein was a socialist.

Importantly, the world would be a better place without inequality. A recent book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-being,4 is a British empirical study that hearkens back to Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation that told of an age where equality and cooperation were the norm in society. A review of The Inner Level relates “how more equal societies reduce stress and improve wellbeing” for all of us.

The Monster Mao? China’s “one-child policy” and Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong in Dandong, China 🄯 Photo by Kim Petersen

Peterson also takes potshots at Chinese communism, especially targeting Mao Zedong for vitriol. He employs wording designed to evoke the ire of the reader: “horrors,” “inferno,” “genocides,” “monster,” “totalitarians.”

“… the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stain, and Mao.” (loc 2100)

“… the inferno of Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China…” (loc 3911) The wording of this sentence, however, points at the countries that Stalin and Mao live in rather than directly at the personnage.

“… the genocides of Stalin and the even greater monster Mao.” (loc 3947)

Peterson joins chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution with China’s one-child policy: “… the horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and its one-child policy.” (loc 5059)

Peterson is speaking loosely (although Peterson is emphatic about the importance of his words5 ) and inaccurately. First, the one-child policy was implemented in China in 1979. Mao Zedong died on 9 September 1976. During his life Mao was a mixed bag on child birth; initially he encouraged large families, but later he saw family planning as more important. It was in 1979 that the one-child policy was enacted under chairman Deng Xiaoping. Second, the one-child policy is not to be understood as an absolute. It applied particularly to the majority Han and especially in urban centers. Minorities and rural Chinese were not stringently regulated under this policy. Third, China had a rapidly growing population at the time the policy was enacted. China’s population has since reached 1.4 billion people. Some estimates say the policy resulted in 400 million fewer Chinese today. What would the population of China look like today without the one-child policy? And what demands would such a huge population pose for the environment, species extinction, quality of life, employment, and several other factors? Consider to what extent the one-child policy has had on curbing population growth and the fact that China today is the world’s largest economy slated to eliminate poverty in 2020.

As for the “monster Mao” a book review of Was Mao Really a Monster? wrote:

The continued attacks by anti-Communist academics and authors on the reputation and standing of Mao Zedong continue unabated. Indeed, they will last as long as there is a bourgeois class trying to prevent socialist revolution, or having failed to prevent it, trying to undermine it in order to restore capitalism.

Peterson points specifically to “Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution.” (loc 5434)

Dongping Han, a history and political science teacher at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, wrote a book that presents a different take on China’s Cultural Revolution than that of the western narrative which portrays great tumult across China, targeting intellectuals for re-education, and rampaging hordes committing violence. There were horrible excesses that occurred. Chinese know well of this, and several Chinese films chronicle the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution. But there were also important improvements in Chinese society. Focusing on Jimu, a rural area in Shandong province, Han details improved living conditions, democracy, health and education, infrastructure, and agricultural practices during this time.6

Furthermore, the Cultural Revolution as some westerners allege did not impact negatively China’s economic growth.7

Nonetheless, the Cultural Revolution, as well as the Great Leap Forward, must be seen, in many respects, as colossal blunders — blunders that cost the lives of far too many people and caused much suffering. Mao as the leader is accountable for the mistakes under his leadership. He was misguided; he became a megalomaniac. But Mao’s goals for the Chinese masses were noble, and he still has a great following among Chinese people.

Population Control

Peterson seems to think the more people on the planet, the merrier.

No one in the modern world may without objection express the opinion that existence would be bettered by the absence of Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Englishmen. Why, then, is it virtuous to propose that the planet might be better off, if there were fewer people on it? (loc 5091)

It is a false analogy. Peterson conflates religious identity, skin color, and nationality. Which sane person proposes this?

First, what Peterson’s hypothetical posits is alarming and genocidal, so morally based people do not express such an opinion. What betterment can be had by genocide?

Second, who claims it is “virtuous to propose” having a planet with fewer people? Whether such a proposal is virtuous or not is irrelevant. Relevant is whether managing the number of humans living in a finite ecosystem, such as Earth, would avert future dangers wrought by rampant population growth or even to bring about a betterment of the present human condition and the condition for the other species on the planet.

Third, as Peterson has worded it, what is proposed by others is depopulation, whereas a morally centered proposal would be for a lowering of the number of humans through birth control and not culling specific groups of people. If that is to be achieved through non-coercive means, then objection should be minimal. If through forced compliance, then there must be a logical and moral rationale for such a decision being reached, and it must have been reached through informed and genuine democratic means applied fairly across peoples and not result from a unilateral decision imposed on the entirety of peoples.

Fourth, there are logical and morally based reasons for limiting population growth that can be discussed elsewhere, among them are exacerbating global warming that imperils life on the planet, the scarcity of resources for sharing, extinction of animal life by human incursions into their territories, habitat despoliation by pollution, etc.

China and Communism

Communist China is currently world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. Many critics deny that China is communist. So what is communism in China? Godfree Roberts lists some important features of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

1. The Party’s Genesis. It was founded by Mao and others because Chinese governance needed a new look after the old one had apparently failed. In fact, it wasn’t that Confucian government had failed: it was because Chinese officials and the Emperor forgot Confucius’ instructions. So Mao called his revolution ‘communist’ even though Confucius’ teaching was much more radical than any written by Marx: The Common Good: Chinese and American Perspectives.

2. Membership qualifications. They must swear to serve the people first and enjoy the fruits of their service last.

3. Membership behavior. Most of the 90,000,000 Party members do, in fact, serve the people first and enjoy the fruits of their service last. That’s a lot of unselfish people and, when they act together, they can influence the whole country.

4. Party power. They use their power democratically and have dismissed several heads of State since 1950. They do not tolerate underperforming leaders as we do.

5. Leadership behavior. You can see that the Party’s leaders and theoreticians are substituting Confucian terminology for Marxist language. China is retiring to the Confucian roots it never left–only this time the Party is interpreting Confucius’ doctrine of compassion radically.

Roberts concludes by quipping, “Marx would be delighted.”

I will quibble with the conclusion of Roberts on point 5. Confucianism still has influence. However, CPC general secretary Xi Jinping stated, “In contemporary China upholding the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics means upholding Marxism in its truest sense.”8 Under Xi’s chairmanship a widespread crackdown on corruption has been ongoing.

In stark contradistinction with neoliberalism, Xi emphasizes public ownership dominance.9 The success of socialism with Chinese characteristics will be determined by measuring the benefits accrued to the Chinese people10 — such as rights to education, employment, health care and care for senior citizens.11 Moreover, the benefits are envisioned as for all the world’s people.12

Xi states China is anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, and anti-war. The rising dragon has a socialist market economy that strives for peace and universal security. This started with Mao Zedong leading his comrades to overthrow the despised Guomindang and establish communist governance in China.

Conclusion

Most of Peterson’s 12 rules are quite sensible. The rules, per se, are trite, cute, and sprinkled with home-cooked wisdom. My focus was Peterson’s digressions, many of which point to a self-assured intellect whose assertions and arguments often fall short. Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life became more than just rules. A self-help book became an anti-communist polemic. Capitalism, atrocities wrought and abetted by capitalism, as well as capitalist gulags eluded criticism. Peterson digressed into political economy, history, wealth distribution, dominance hierarchies, gender differences, religion, free speech and censorship, and more. Peterson’s 12 Rules left this reader feeling unsatisfied and underwhelmed. The author needs to explain the deep themes that guide his elaboration and scope of work. Was his intention to grace readers with 12 idyllic rules of life, or was his undisclosed intent to warn us about the “evils of communism” over and above contemplating his rules?

Throughout 12 Rules, Peterson writes about the hardship of living: “Life is suffering. That’s clear. There is no more basic, irrefutable truth.”13 A misleading statement because life must not be viewed through such a parochial prism. Life is ecstasy, rapture, sorrow, pain, anger, jealousy, hate, love, and much more. This all points to Peterson, on certain matters, being a polemicist. He chooses one end of the pole and pronounces; the other pole, or points along the continuum are often, if not outright denied, just marginalized or ignored.

It is often said that money cannot buy happiness, but unmentioned by Peterson is that money can avoid many of the hardships and suffering that life throws at you. Yet, Peterson is too intelligent not to be aware of this. He skips this because his thinking is not about finding solutions but rather to describe the world as he sees it. Nonetheless, the ability to pay rent, put nutritious food on the table, put clothes on one’s back, and afford necessary transportation go a long way to easing hardships in life.

There are examples of communist governments that have eased the hardships of life and brought great improvements to their people. Cuban communism must be singled out for the great strides it has made during and since the Cuban Revolution — despite US sanctions.14 It is only fair to point out the achievements made by the communist government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — despite US sanctions. Another, of course, is the communist government in China.

As Xi often states, China is only in the earliest stages of socialism,15 and communism is to be attained farther down the road.16 The CPC’s goal of ending poverty in China by 2020 is a massive step in the right direction. To the extent that Chinese socialism is successful, especially compared to the status of western capitalist countries, it poses a challenge to the capitalist classes in these countries. Why would the working class accept being relegated to the lower rungs of a society when they see Chinese in the future thriving in a classless China? China may become the template for an economic and social revolution that brings about a fairer distribution of income (something still lacking in China currently) elsewhere. China is an economic colossus whose success should throw light back on Cuba, North Korea, and also the great achievements made by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

Despite the bombast of Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump, socialism remains a viable force for change in the world.

  1. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.17
  1. Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018: loc 5372.
  2. BS Everett, Abstract to Multivariate analysis: the need for data, and other problems, British Journal of Psychiatry. March 1975, 126: 237-40.
  3. See Part 5.
  4. Allen Lane, London 2018.
  5. Peterson’s Rule 10 is: “Be precise in your speech.” Ergo, the words in 12 Rules must be seen as an accurate reflection of Peterson’s thinking: “I’m very, very, very careful with my words”
  6. See Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Routledge, 2001).
  7. See Gwydion Madawc Williams, “Was the Cultural Revolution a success?” Quora, 11 February 2018.
  8. Xi Jinping, On the Governance of China, (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2014): loc 230.
  9. Xi, loc 1275.
  10. Xi, loc 554.
  11. Xi, loc 707.
  12. Xi, loc 947, 4010.
  13. Jordan Peterson, loc 2947. See also locations 191, 335, 1787, 2768, 2909, 2959, 3780, 4048, 4765, and 5737.
  14. See Isaac Saney, Cuba: A Revolution in Motion, (Fernwood Publishing, 2004) and Arnold August, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, (Zed Books, 2013). Review.
  15. Xi, loc 352, 1566.
  16. It is anarchism that will bring about communal individuality and reduce inequality. See Alan Ritter, Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis, (Cambridge University Press, 1980): 76-83. pdf.
  17. Apologies for the delay in getting out part 6, but I was in East Africa without laptop.

Confronting the U.S./EU/NATO Axis of Domination

The hypocrisy and confusion on the issue of race and white supremacy revealed itself once again in the United States with a governor dressed in blackface and a decision by the Trump administration and supported by the European Union to execute a coup against the democratically elected government of Venezuela.

And while Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was outed as a racist when photos surfaced from his yearbook as a medical student in the 1980s that depicted him in either blackface or in a KKK outfit, the assumption that the U.S. and European Union had the right to determine the leadership of a nation in the global South escaped the same condemnation as a racist act of white supremacist power.

The liberal chattering class was quick to condemn this obvious expression of racism and call for Northam’s resignation. But as journalist Greg Palast points out, the attempts by the oligarchy in Venezuela to undermine the government is “at its heart, a furious backlash of the whiter (and wealthier) Venezuelans against their replacement by the larger Mestizo (mixed-race) poor. Which means that the intervention by the U.S. is an intervention in support of white power.

Yet liberals who pretended to be outraged by the racism of Northam and had lambasted Trump as a liar and incompetent who colluded with the Russians to influence the U.S. elections, gave their vocal and enthusiastic support for the Trump administration’s illegal intervention.

How can this be explained? What lesson must the colonized in the global South and the oppressed peoples and classes trapped in the nations of the North take from this unity of purpose between the neocons and liberal interventionists, the liberal bourgeoisie in the U.S. and Europe and even the general public?

The answer lies in the Eurocentric, white supremacist cultural discourses that have conditioned the collective consciousness of Westerners. The cultural affliction of Eurocentric, white supremacist ideology that has permeated all forms of cultural and ideological expression. It is not even a point of contention among the academic and non-academic population, both left and right, that “liberal” capitalist Europe represents a significant development in the history of human civilizations, if not the apex of human development.

This perspective, from Marxism that sees the capitalist phase as a necessary and inevitable stage (albeit with contradictions) to neoliberal globalists, represents a “commonsense” position embedded in all Western social institutions that simultaneously normalizes and invisibilizes behavior informed by the assumptions of white privilege and prerogatives.

Therefore, why shouldn’t Trump and the Democrats intervene in Venezuela to determine its leadership, especially when the racial element of that action is apparently beyond comprehension?

For the public in the U.S., Gov. Northam and Donald Trump represent the easy and crude examples of racism that is universally condemned. But the assumption that the white West has the right and responsibility to determine the leadership and way of life of peoples in the global South doesn’t even register as a debatable issue within discourse on white supremacy.

It is accepted as normal by the corporate media, most of the intelligencia and the public that the U.S. and Europe, without any authorization from any foundational source such as international law or the United Nations Charter, has the right and indeed the responsibility to police the world.

The lack of debate on this issue and the cavalier attitude that most have in the West to the real possibilities of yet another military engagement with a global South nation that will likely result in the deaths of thousands of human beings reaffirms once again that the value of human life is stratified; the more distant that life is from Europeans – geographically, culturally and ethnically – the less value it has.

Consequently, the people of the colonized global South fighting for authentic de-colonization and national self-determination along with the nationally oppressed peoples and classes in the North must be equally clear. The European Union Parliament’s decision to recognize the puppet government being imposed on the people of Venezuela is another reminder that there is a common enemy in the U.S./EU/NATO “axis of domination.”

The constituent elements of this contemporary axis of domination was established and is sustained as part of what the late Rod Bush referred to as the Pan-European Project – the white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchy – that began with the invasion of the “Americas” by Europe in 1492.

That invasion provided the material basis for Europe moving from a backwater region of no significance to the various world orders to the predominant powers on the planet for the last 500 years.

It is important to understand, therefore, that the critique of white supremacy is not limited just to an idealization principle but has a structural reality. This is what differentiates this analysis from the simple rejection of racialism or white supremacy advanced by reform liberals.

The analytical and theoretical framework employed here centers and grounds the relationship between the institutions and structures of global white supremacy – the IMF, World Bank, WTO, international financial institutions and dollar hegemony, NATO – and the ideological expressions of white supremacy such as the belief in the cultural superiority of Europe, “humanitarian interventions” and the so-called responsibility to protect.

There can be no confusion – despite the sectoral fights inside the capitalist class that are currently playing out in the intra-class struggle against Trump – that the oligarchy is united when it comes to projecting the dominance of the Pan-European imperialist project in relationship to the global South. The bipartisan support for the imperialist agenda was in full display during the State of the Union speech by Trump when he proudly mentioned U.S. efforts to subvert the Bolivarian process and in the absence of any opposition to this policy by Stacy Abrams (and, by extension, Democrats) during her rebuttal.

What Must Be the Position of Black Radical Internationalists

Venezuela is just the latest expression of that bipartisan unity of interests and actions in support of the Pan-European imperialist project now led by the U.S.

In the case of Venezuela, we know what will happen if a U.S.-led military intervention takes place. It will be a replay of the 1989 invasion of Panama, where U.S forces turned the Black community of El Chorrillo into a “free fire zone,” resulting in the complete destruction of the community and the deaths of over 3,000 Panamanians.

The people of Venezuela have made a choice. We will not debate the merits of their process, its contradictions or problems. Our responsibility as citizens/captors of empire is to put a brake on the U.S. state’s ability to foist death and destruction on the peoples of the world.

However, as it is has been stated in other places, it is imperative that the Black working class is separated from this naked imperialist move on Venezuela and all imperialist assaults. African/Black people must be clear on the issue of U.S. and European capitalist/imperialist interventions. The war and militarism being waged against Africans/Black people in the U.S. by the domestic military we call “the police” – embodied by mass incarceration – is part of the global Pan-European axis of domination that is now conspiring against the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela.

Opposition to U.S. imperialism cannot be left up to the so-called progressives in the Democrat party or even the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The CBC has consistently backed the white ruling class agenda of subversion and military intervention, from its support for the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) to its failure to oppose the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, responsible for transferring millions of dollars-worth of military equipment to local police forces that are then deployed against poor working class black and brown communities.

Representing the “new” Black managerial/administrative/professional petit-bourgeoisie that is now physically and psychologically disconnected from the Black masses, the CBC has completely thrown in its lot with the owners of capital – white power.

That is why the position of the Black Alliance for Peace should be embraced. BAP says, “not one drop of blood from working class and poor to defend the interests of the capitalist oligarchy.”

All rational human beings want peace. But there is no peace without justice. Real social justice, which requires radical structural change, cannot be realized without struggle. And there can be no effective social change without clearly identifying the enemy—the source of our oppression—and being able to imagine an alternative.

The revolutionary Black working class is clear and building our forces for the fight that must be waged against the U.S./EU/NATO axis of domination. The only question is, who will be our allies.

Understanding the Soviet Union, Inequality, and Freedom of Expression

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

Peterson writes that Marx discombobulated history and culture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plunging further into history, Peterson notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAUL JAY: Meaning the absence of any modern industry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peterson on Compelled Speech

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

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

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

Unlawful opinions? Really?

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

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

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

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

Jordan Peterson on Religion, Science, and Revolution

When one reads Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life,1 the rules in isolation come across as eminently sensible; however, many of the digressions in Peterson’s book strike one as bombastic. It does not require special consideration to recognize the bombast.

Religion vs Science

Take, for instance, what Peterson states about religion and science: “Religion concerns itself with domain of value, ultimate value. That is not the scientific domain.” (loc 2046)

What is meant by value? There are many definitions, of which two seem particularly apropos to what Peterson writes:

10. values, Sociology. the ideals, customs, institutions, etc., of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, or education, or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy.

11. Ethics. any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself.

Sociology is a social science, and sociologists investigate using the scientific method. Ergo, science is not logically or lexicographically excluded from the values expressed in definition 10. Definition 11 is quite nebulous for a dictionary entry, but the investigation into what best explains human’s understanding of natural phenomenon would seem to be captured by science as well. Karl Popper wrote, “The fact that science cannot make any pronouncement about ethical principles has been misinterpreted as indicating that there are no such principles; while in fact the search for truth presupposes ethics.”2

So how does Peterson arrive at the determination that values are not in the scientific domain? A dictionary definition of “science” reads,

1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

Therefore, insofar as values are subject to facts, truths, observation, and experimentation, then values fall, by definition, within the purview of science. Furthermore, although science depends on exact data, the fact is value is a crucial tool in the hands of scientists to ascertain validity of an event. Value, therefore, while latent in the declaration of a scientific fact, is a motor that moves the scientist to understand her objective. Consequently, value while perhaps not in the forefront is a palpable vector in a given analysis.

The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, proposed a system, a modus tolens, of what constitutes scientific theorizing. Popper considered the debate over “simplicity and its value for science.”3 Popper saw simplicity as best conceived in relation to the testability of a theory.4 For Popper, a theory must produce testable hypotheses whose results can not verify a theory; a theory can only be rejected.

Religions, on the other hand, are by and large, faith-based, so facts and truths need not be based on observations, experimentation, and evidence. All that is required is to believe that the words attributed to prophets, scribes, god(s), angels, demons, spirits, or extraterrestrial entities are of unquestionable verisimilitude. This brings up the question as to which values position doctrine beyond testable hypotheses and evidence and beyond epistemological skepticism?

Peterson writes, “Religion is instead about proper behavior.” (loc 2049)

Peterson treats religion, in some sense, as a monolithic entity; hence, he refers to it in the singular. Here Peterson seemingly refines “value” as being about “proper behavior.” However, was the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan by the Taliban “proper behavior”? Was the destruction of Babri Masjid by Hindu fanatics in Ayodhya, India “proper behavior”? Are the outrages against Rohingya by the predominantly Buddhist Myanmarese “proper behavior”? How about the Catholic Church’s sympathy to “fascism as an idea”? “Not only did the church regard communism as a lethal foe, but it also saw its old Jewish enemy in the most senior ranks of Lenin’s party.”5 The Inquisition? The church-run Indian Residential Schools on Turtle Island? The Jewish State’s sniping of unarmed Palestinians on their side of the border?

One could construct a enormous list of evils under the influence, or in the name of, religion.

Confining oneself just to literal interpretations of the Bible (a book filled with rules), behavioral stipulations from Yahweh call for death by stoning for blaspheming god, cursing one’s parents, committing adultery, or being a non-virgin bride on one’s wedding day. Slavery, genocide, misogyny, and racism are condoned, but the seven deadly sins, masturbation, and homosexuality are condemned. What is particularly remarkable is that many of these so-called sins can be confined to oneself and not impinge upon another human. Hence even though the Golden Rule would be unviolated, in the realm of the Old Testament that person would be harshly judged.

Therefor, given the foregoing discussion, one wonders what proper behavior in the scope of religion actually is. Love your neighbor, love your enemy are fine bromides — great actually. But such appealing biblical rules for self-conduct are undermined by the heinous acts also carried out in the name of a religion.

Wikipedia as Accepted Wisdom?

Peterson writes, “I cite Wikipedia because it is collectively written and edited and, therefore, the perfect place to find accepted wisdom.” (loc 2224)

ON CONTACT: Wikipedia – A Tool Of The Ruling Elite

Perfect? Accepted wisdom? Since when does something collectively written become accepted wisdom? What would happen if 10 Zionists worked on a piece on Palestine?

I demur greatly from Peterson regarding Wikipedia. While Wikipedia may be fine for general knowledge, on subjects where various narratives compete, it can be highly problematic, and it should be regarded with skepticism. Current events, history, and geo-politics require utmost skepticism and scrutiny. The editing at Wikipedia is susceptible to great bias.6 The complaints against Wikipedia and its editing are many.7

If one is interested in information, it is widely accepted that one tries to get as close to the source of information as possible. Thus primary and secondary sources are prioritized over tertiary sources. Wikipedia is not a primary source. It bills itself as an online encyclopedia, but its partiality is deeply in question.

Revolutions as Causes of Suffering

Peterson warns of “altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth (diversity springs to mind) is likely to produce far more trouble than good, given the suffering that even small revolutions generally produce.” (loc 2229)

First, one notes that Peterson is hedging his admonition by using the word “carelessly.” Carelessness is, after all, something best avoided in all circumstances. Second, the term “ideological shibboleth” strikes this reader as a pleonasm. Third, religion is a specific form of ideology. Fourth, diversity is not a shibboleth. How is it that the state of being different is considered a shibboleth? Fifth, Peterson is patronizing in how resolutions should be conceived. He lives in a place and time (Canada, 21st century) where revolutions in the classical sense are unlikely to happen because the conditions for them (excepting First Nations) are currently held in check by socialism: employment insurance, welfare, schooling for all, universal health insurance. But had Peterson lived in Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, he might change his mind. Regarding his comments, Peterson seems ready to condemn the French Revolution (yes it was messy, but it ended a system that was corrupt from its roots).

Peterson seems to have a problem with diversity. Diversity is an expression of entropy, which, even in a social sense, signals a natural drift toward increasing randomness. It is hypothesized that evolution which has shaped our current cerebral wiring favoring entropy also gave rise to our consciousness as an after effect.8 Physicsworld explains, “Perez Velazquez and colleagues argue that consciousness could simply be an ’emergent property’ of a system – the brain – that seeks to maximize information exchange and therefore entropy, since doing so aids the survival of the brain’s bearer by allowing them to better model their environment.”

Peterson’s reasoning seemingly points to a static state. This militates against evolution and social thermodynamics. This is emphasized by his argument against “the suffering that even small revolutions generally produce.” Peterson hedges by using the word “generally,” and such hedging is reasonable given that absolutes are rare.

Mark Twain — who Peterson quotes once in 12 Rules (loc 649) but without adequate sourcing — stated that he was “a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute…”9 In other words, revolutions arise from a natural resistance to oppression – and the suffering caused by oppression. Peterson has it backwards, as he points to the revolutions as the source of suffering.

Revoluting against the injustices of a power structure requires courage because centers-of-power are usually loath to relinquish power and the privileges that accompany power, and those people in centers-of-power will use lethal violence to deter any challenges to their grip on power. Centers-of-power control the mechanisms for protecting and projecting their power, thus challenges to power, however justified and morally based, will be defied with violence by the power structure. Those who revolute will have suffering inflicted on them. Revolutionaries understand this. They do not expect to be gifted — what most morally centered people would consider to be a human right — an equitable input into society, its decision-making, and its wealth. Revolutionaries expect the power structure, represented by the State, to try and crush them. Witness the Canadian authorities’ recent heavy-handed police actions against the Wet’suwet’en on their unceded territory and the French state’s draconian measures against the Gilets Jaunes movements in France. The scenario, that seems to elude Peterson, is that revolutionaries make a decision to resist the current state of suffering and indignities to overthrow those who oppress them and establish a fair(er) society knowing fully well that violence against will follow.

  • Read Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Part 4 looks at Peterson’s shallow rejection of communism.
  1. Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: The Antidote for Chaos (Penguin Random House UK, 2018).
  2. Karl Popper, “Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind,” Delivered at Darwin College, Cambridge, November 8, 1977. Popper’s Darwin Lecture is cited by Peterson in his 12 Rules for Life.
  3. Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2005): 131.
  4. Karl Popper, 132.
  5. Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Boston: Twelve, 2007): 235.
  6. See, e.g., “Caught in the Cross Hairs: Media Lens and the Mystery of the Wikipedia Editor
  7. For example, “Wikipedia Is Shockingly Biased: 5 Lessons From An Admin,” “The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia—for Pay,” “Wikipedia’s dark side: Censorship, revenge editing & bribes a significant issue,” “What Wikipedia’s Daily Mail ‘Ban’ Tells Us About The Future Of Online Censorship,” and “Revenge, ego and the corruption of Wikipedia.”
  8. R. Guevara Erra, D. M. Mateos, R. Wennberg, and J.L. Perez Velazquez, “Towards a statistical mechanics of consciousness: maximization of number of connections is associated with conscious awareness.”
  9. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3 (2015) Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith: 451.