Category Archives: Revolution

An Updated and Improved Marxism

It is the rare intellectual who can withstand the pressures of groupthink. This is a fundamental truth, or a truism, borne out not only by daily experiences in an academic or other “intellectual” context (e.g., the newsroom or editorial board of any establishment media outlet) but also by critical scholarship from the likes of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky. Left-wing intellectuals tend to be vigilantly aware of irrational groupthink among mainstream, establishment types, or even among other leftist sects with which they don’t identify; but, like all intellectual cliques—indeed, like nearly all individual intellectuals—they’re reluctant to turn their critical gaze on themselves. They imbibe certain ideas and ideologies in their formative years and perhaps refine them as they mature, but on the whole their commitment to the ideology is apt to become rigid and uncritical.

This complacency has always most disturbed me with regard to Marxists, whose system of thought, if correctly formulated, is precisely the most critical, the most self-critical, the most democratic and revolutionary ideology ever devised. I expect intellectual laziness from mostpostmodernists,” from liberals and centrists, from all witting or unwitting servants of power. I’m disappointed, though, when I see it in Marxists and semi-Marxists. There’s a pronounced dogmatism in most Marxist circles. Personally, I’ve tried to stimulate some critical rethinking of Marxism in various publications, including my book Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States and this distillation of some of its arguments (though disregard the editor’s oversimplified summary at the top of the page), but I haven’t had much success. These writings appear to have been ignored.

Which is unfortunate, because I’m convinced it’s necessary in the twenty-first century to revise the Marxian conception of revolution. Conditions have changed from what they were a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago; Marx would likely be appalled by the lack of creative rethinking that has met these altered conditions. It’s an unfortunate situation when millions of activists across the world are struggling to build new modes of production, new modes of politics, and Marxist scholars and thinkers still confine themselves, more or less, to quoting staid formulations from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (This fact, ironically, supports Marx’s argument that old ideologies tend to hang on doggedly even as changing material conditions make them progressively irrelevant.) Writers and ‘critical ideologists’ can play an important role in the laborious construction of a new society from the ground up, but instead they’re usually content with elaborating on old slogans about seizing the state or smashing it, establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, creating a vanguard party, and so on.

An article that Jacobin recently published provides an example of this stubborn immersion in the past, as well as an opportunity to propose a more critical and up-to-date interpretation of revolution. The article in question is actually an essay by the famous British Marxist Ralph Miliband, entitled “Lenin’s The State and Revolution,” published in 1970. In itself it’s a perfectly respectable and sophisticated meditation on Lenin’s classic work, indeed counseling a proper critical attitude towards it. But the reposting of it on the website of a “cutting-edge” left-wing journal almost fifty years later highlights just how stagnant (in some respects) Marxist thinking continues to be, especially given the editorial comment with which Jacobin introduces the piece:

Marx famously proclaimed the need to “smash” the bourgeois state. But what does that mean in practice? If our aim is a democratic, non-bureaucratic socialism, what kind of state should we be striving for?

Those looking for answers have often turned to Lenin’s State and Revolution, where the famed revolutionary confidently speaks of transforming “a state of bureaucrats” into “a state of armed workers.”

In the following essay, Ralph Miliband…offers a critical appraisal of Lenin’s pamphlet and explains why “the exercise of socialist power remains the Achilles’ heel of Marxism.” …[T]he essay is still the sharpest reading of State and Revolution available.

The accuracy of this introduction is rather sad. In 2018 we’re still looking for inspiration to a brief critical analysis written in 1970 of a short work written in 1917—in completely different conditions than prevail today—that itself was but a commentary on sketchy ideas put forward in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. (One can argue, moreover, that State and Revolution was intended as little more than cynical propaganda for the Bolshevik party, in light of its deviation from Lenin’s earlier party line and his later authoritarian practice.) Surely we can do better than this.

Miliband is still right, though, that “the exercise of socialist power remains the Achilles’ heel of Marxism.” This is true not only of practice but of theory—which is to say, as I’ve argued in my paper “The Significance and Shortcomings of Karl Marx,” that the concept of proletarian revolution is Marxism’s main weakness. In the rest of this article I’ll again summarize, very briefly, some of the points from my book, in the hope of shedding a little light on an old problem.

*****

The conceptual revisions I proposed in the book offer two main advantages: first, they bring the strategic or prescriptive aspect of Marxism up to date, incorporating the increasingly popular idea and practice of the “solidarity economy” (while simultaneously providing a systematic theoretical framework to interpret the latter’s potential); second, they correct certain inconsistencies and logical errors that Marx’s sketchy proposals on revolution introduced into the theory of historical materialism. That is, with my “revisions,” Marxism has been made more logically defensible and consistent with itself. And the road is cleared for even orthodox Marxists to engage creatively with the burgeoning alternative economy of cooperatives, public banks, and other experimental ideas/institutions.

We can start with Marx’s formulation of revolution in the following four sentences from the famous Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms—with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

One problem with this classic statement is that its notion of “fettering” is meaningless. And nowhere else in his writings does Marx flesh it out with sufficient content. Capitalist production relations, especially in the last hundred years, are, in fact, constantly fettering the use and development of productive forces—and yet no post-capitalist revolution has happened. Recessions and depressions certainly “fetter” the productive forces; so do legal obstacles to the dissemination of knowledge, such as intellectual copyright laws; so do ideologies and practices of privatization, which hinder the public sector’s more socially rational and dynamic use of science and technology. On the other hand, even in decadent neoliberalism the productive forces continue to develop in various ways. So it seems wrong or meaningless to say that production relations fetter productive forces and then revolution breaks out.

A slight revision can remedy the problem, and at the same time changes the whole thrust of the Marxist theory of revolution. Rather than a conflict simply between production relations and the development of productive forces, there is a conflict between two types of production relationstwo modes of productionone of which uses productive forces in a more socially rational and “un-fettering” way than the other. The more progressive mode slowly develops in the womb of the old society as it decays; i.e., as the old dominant mode of production succumbs to crisis and stagnation. In being relatively dynamic and democratic, the emergent mode of production attracts adherents and resources, until it becomes ever more visible and powerful. The old regime can’t eradicate it; it spreads internationally and gradually transforms the economy, to such a point that the forms and content of politics change with it. Political entities become its partisans, and finally decisive seizures of power by representatives of the emergent mode of production become possible, because reactionary defenders of the old regime have lost their dominant command over resources. And so, over generations, a social revolution transpires.

This conceptual revision saves Marx’s intuition by giving it more meaning: the “fettering” is not absolute but is in relation to a more effective and democratic mode of production that is, so to speak, competing against the old stagnant one. The most obvious concrete instance of this notion of revolution is the long transition from feudalism to capitalism, during which the feudal mode became so hopelessly outgunned by the capitalist that—after the emergent economy had already broadly colonized society—bourgeois “seizures of the state” finally became possible.

You see that the simple conceptual revision I’ve proposed changes the Marxian theory from advocating a statist “dictatorship of the proletariat” to advocating a more grassroots, gradual, unambiguously democratic transformation of the economy that proceeds at the same time and to the degree that the old society deteriorates. This change of emphasis is itself an advantage, since the old overwhelmingly statist theory (notwithstanding Lenin’s semi-anarchistic language in State and Revolution) was idealistic, un-dialectical, and utopian. Which is to say un-Marxist.

In the orthodox account of the Communist Manifesto and later writings, the social revolution occurs after a seizure of state power by “the proletariat” (which, incidentally, isn’t a unitary entity but contains divisions). But this account of revolution contradicts the Marxian understanding of social dynamics—a point, oddly, that few or no Marxists appear ever to have appreciated. It exalts a relatively unitary conscious will as being able to plan social evolution more or less in advance, a notion that is utterly undialectical. According to “dialectics,” history happens behind the backs of historical actors, whose intentions never work out exactly as they’re supposed to. Marx was wise in his admonition that we should never trust the self-interpretations of political actors. And yet he suspends this injunction when it comes to the dictatorship of the proletariat: these people’s designs are supposed to work out perfectly and straightforwardly, despite the massive complexity and dialectical contradictions of society.

The statist idea of revolution is also wrong to privilege the political over the economic. In supposing that through sheer political will one can transform an authoritarian, exploitative economy into an emancipatory, democratic one, Marx and Lenin are, in effect, reversing the order of “dominant causality” such that politics determines the economy (whereas, in fact, the economy “determines”—loosely and broadly speaking—politics).1 Marxism itself suggests that the state can’t be socially creative in this radical way. And when it tries to be, what results, ironically, is overwhelming bureaucracy and even greater authoritarianism than before. (While the twentieth century’s experiences with so-called “Communism” or “state socialism” happened in relatively non-industrialized societies, not advanced capitalist ones as Marx anticipated, the dismal record is at least suggestive.)

Fundamental to these facts is that if the conquest of political power occurs in a still-capitalist economy, revolutionaries have to contend with the institutional legacies of capitalism: relations of coercion and domination condition everything the government does, and there is no way to break free of them. They can’t be magically transcended through political will; to think they can, or that the state can somehow “wither away” even as it’s forced to become more expansive and dominating (to suppress capitalist resistance), is to adopt a naïve idealism and utopianism.

In short, the interpretation of revolution that contemporary Marxists have inherited is backward. It is standing on its head; we have to turn it right-side up in order to comprehend our activism and our goals properly. Of course, this isn’t to deny the importance of engaging in political work, whether it takes the form of constructing a workers’ party, electing socialists under the aegis of the Democratic Party, or lobbying for particular laws. As during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, it’s essential to target the state at every step of the way. We simply have to recognize that a paramount strategy is to take advantage of openings and divisions in the capitalist state to politically facilitate the long-term construction of new relations of production, on the foundation of which the new society will gradually emerge. The revolution can’t happen in any other way. Certainly not through a historical rupture in which “the working class” dramatically seizes power, suppresses (somehow) all its opponents, and organizes a new economy on the basis of utopian blueprints. In the twenty-first century, any such ruptural conception, even if moderated by realism on some point or other, is astoundingly naïve.

The truth is that revolutionaries have to dig in for the long haul: a global transition to a post-capitalist society will take a century or more. Cooperative and socialized relations of production (in forms that it’s futile to predict at this point) will spread through generations of bitter struggle. Meanwhile, the conquest of political power will occur piecemeal—at different rates in different countries—suffering setbacks and then proceeding to new victories, then suffering more defeats, etc. It will be a time of world-agony, especially as climate change will be devastating civilization; but the sheer numbers of people whose interests will lie in a transcendence of capitalism will constitute a formidable weapon on the side of progress.

*****

As Chomsky has said on more than one occasion, the job of intellectuals, or one of their jobs, is to make simple things appear complicated. You’re supposed to think that in order to understand anything about the world, you have to be able to read and write long articles or books full of citations and arcane terminology and long discussions of other writers, delving into the intricacies of their arguments, minutely dissecting the meanings of their favored terms, spinning out paeans to verbiage like a crafty spider trying to snare the unwary. This is how intellectuals protect their territory and ward off democratic challenges to their status. But the truth is that old-fashioned commonsense reasoning can get you pretty far. It only takes a bit of reading and a bit of critical thought to find approximate answers to classic questions about the nature of society, the nature of a good society, and the revolutionary path to the latter. And, in fact, in the sociological domain, you’re never going to do much better than approximate answers. With interactions between billions of people to take into consideration, too little will always be understood.

So, to get back to the old question that Lenin and Miliband tackled: what does it mean to “smash” the bourgeois state? What kind of democratic state should we be striving for? Well, the notion of “smashing” the state is just a pithy metaphor that provides no guide to action. We should stop being bewitched by old and unhelpful imagery. In conditions very different from those that confronted Marx and Lenin, we should simply focus on the matters at hand rather than endlessly poring over what the god Lenin said. Keeping in our mind the Marxist and anarchist ideal of a stateless, non-coercive, economically democratic society, we should just do what we can to make the state we’re immediately confronted with more democratic and more just. We do what we can to expand democracy in the real world, and step by step we find ourselves approaching the distant moral ideal that guides us. It’s hopeless to try to spell out the ideal in detail. Marx understood this, which is why he was so reluctant to get bogged down in these kinds of questions, confining himself to some vague suggestions that, not surprisingly, turned out to be largely mistaken.

The task of Marxists now, aside from continuing to critically analyze society, is to rethink the old prescriptions and abandon tired formulations. In so doing, they’ll not only make themselves more relevant to the contemporary world, a world teeming with democratic and nonsectarian initiative; they’ll also, in effect, finally rid Marxism of its lingering traces of irrational dogma, internal inconsistency, and parochial nineteenth-century ideology. The system will at last have realized the old ambition of being a genuine science of society.

  1. In reality, of course, political and economic relations are fused together. But analytically one can distinguish economic activities from narrowly political, governmental activities.

True Heroes Don’t Die: Their Hearts Get Eaten again and again

Today’s hero in popular culture is a corrupted version of Milton’s Satan, a collaborator with the rigged game of a tyrannical God. His errors are the violations of God’s law, but God does not really mind since he knows that humans could never follow these arbitrary rules. Satan is God’s deniability.1

Shelley (and Mark Twain)2 recognized this and therefore sought a heroic character who does not pretend to compete with God and refuses to deny his alliance with humanity.

This mistake denies him a simple death and condemns him to the punishment of repetition.3 The inability to prevent the recurrence of history and all the pain this brings.

In Portugal, the parliamentary budget debates of the past years – at least as reported in the national media – gave more attention to the German finance minister (as representative of the richest EU state and the banks domiciled there, who are leading creditors to subordinate member-states like Greece and Portugal) than to the vocal complaints of Portuguese citizens.4 This is even more bizarre when considering the preliminary conclusions about the catastrophic fires in our country in 2017.5 For decades now we have been told that the failures, the mistakes, of European democracies (especially in Southern Europe) have been caused by the absence of heroic leadership (whether by individuals or parties). Such heroism would mean that elected representatives and governments would make the hard choices against the will of their electorates needed to remedy the “errors of fiscal irresponsibility” that are the cause of our misery. Of course, discretion or good taste impede calls for “heroic autocrats” these days.6 The “heroism” is supposed to be more anonymous and perhaps less accountable. This raises the questions of what are those “errors” and what “heroism” really means in this context.

1. The Portuguese national poet Luís Camões wrote a sonnet in which he says that he would have been ruined by “love alone” – his errors were incidental.7

Camões, however, was a pre-Revolutionary poet and we might assume that he was lamenting failed love, more than history. The point is that while all love fails—it is the pre-condition of humanity and therefore it is reborn.

  1. What does ERROR mean? ERROR can be best understood today as the inadequacy of the human individually, and as a species, to respond perfectly to the environment. Sometimes error or creativity is just what is needed by a stagnant culture. This is the central thesis of Morse Peckham’s Man’s Rage for Chaos.8 In this book, Peckham began to ask the question “whether there is a biological explanation for the arts?” Any answer to this question must begin with the fact that humans are born into a world in which they are dependent on others (in particular, adults) for food and protection for a rather long time compared to other animals. Furthermore, virtually everything humans do to survive must be taught and learned. And as anyone can observe it is virtually impossible to learn anything perfectly – so humans spend most of their time making “mistakes”. We have learned at least since the 19th century to distinguish between mistakes that are errors, mistakes that are crimes, and mistakes that are “creative”. Therefore it probably makes more sense NOT to ask “do we learn from mistakes?” but what do we mean when we say we have “learned” anything?
  2. Consider the meaning of “hero” and “heroism”. Heroism is a role.9 In Western culture the basic models for heroes are derived from interpreting classical Greek and Roman mythology. In fact Os Lusíadas, for which Camões is most famous, is also an explicit comparison with ancient Greek heroism. The hero, as we all know, is by definition an exception. Something she or he does has to be beyond what the majority do – otherwise it would be indistinguishable from the behaviour of that majority. If the majority follows conventional rules of behaviour, then heroism is and heroes are unconventional – that is to say first of all mistakes, failure for whatever reason to behave in accordance with conventions.

However the heroes of classical antiquity – at least as conventionally presented – were part of what might be called the divine universe. Their acts were mistakes – violations of the conventions among the deities, errors made by gods and demi-gods. Man was at best a conduit, not an agent. To the extent that heroism was relevant to humans it was by virtue of human submission to the gods. One of the best examples of this is the myth of Sisyphus.10

  1. Until the late 18th century this divine drama – at least in Europe had been transferred from the celestial to the terrestrial monarchical system. One can see this in the arts of the period. The transfer of divine law from the ancient gods, to the Church and then to monarchies, did not go unchallenged, as the English Civil War demonstrated. Milton defended his staunch republicanism by turning Satan into the hero of his Paradise Lost.

However by 1789, the convention of divine law – whether vested in the Church or in the monarch – was threatened by what turned out to be a major cultural crisis, but exploded in the French Revolution. Critics of the Revolution, both contemporary and since then have blamed the mass violence and wars triggered by the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy on a massive error: the belief that human equality and democracy could substitute for what was now called “natural law”. Opposed to this was a wide spread optimism that having swept away the obstacles of kings and priests, it would be possible to create a religion of humanity. In fact, in the first years of the Revolution there was a movement to reorganise religion in France by creating a cult with appropriate rites and festivals as a substitute for the Catholic Church. What is important here is that significant participants in the Revolution recognised that the abolition of the monarchy and the secularisation of the Catholic clergy were negative acts and that a culture, especially one undergoing change needs positive acts. So while opponents of the Revolution preferred to focus on violence and destruction, the most dedicated – in this sense, “heroic” – participants knew that a revolution had to be creative to survive. They had to be unconventional in the creation of new conventions.

Two major English poets were especially known for their support of the French Revolution. Both wrote works, which interpreted the heroic role and thus created new ideas of heroes and heroism. However, they came to disagree profoundly both on the consequences of the Revolution (in their day) and the meaning of heroes and heroism.

For purposes of simplification, there was a negative and a positive form of heroism. These were exemplified in the works of Byron (negative) and Shelley (positive).

Shelley introduced his positive hero by contrasting Prometheus with Satan, who was the hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In his introduction to the play Prometheus Unbound he wrote:

The only imaginary being, resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgment, a more poetical character than Satan, because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandizement, which, in the hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest. The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs, and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure. In the minds of those who consider that magnificent fiction with a religious feeling it engenders something worse. But Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.11

The hero imagined by Byron — today we still have the term “Byronic hero” – was very different. Although recognising that the conventional rules of behaviour were no longer adequate, the Byronic hero sees this as an individual error. In the end this error is incorrigible and can only bring death. The development of this conception of heroism can be seen in the four cantos of Childe Harold. In this narrative poem Byron effectively describes his transformation to an enthusiast of the Revolution to one who laments its failure and the defeat of Napoleon and finally resigns to death in the belief that the Revolution was futile, pointless, that nothing can be changed.12

Shelley completely opposes the view Byron espouses in the Canto IV.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite; To forgive wrongs darker than death or night; To defy Power, which seems omnipotent; To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
 From its own wreck the thing it contemplates; Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent; This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
 Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free; This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.13

  1. A century ago another revolution shook and shocked the West – the October Revolution. It too was a signal of the crisis and an attempt to transcend it. Again the roles of heroism had to be reinterpreted. The reaction to the October Revolution was at least, if not more, violent (because of technological developments) than that triggered by the French Revolution.

The negative heroism (Byron) became violently opposed to the positive heroism (Shelley). Attempts to understand this conflict have been distorted by what can only be called a sloppy use of the terms and an even sloppier explanation of the forces and political entities involved. For example whereas the history of the period from 1917 until 1945 was seen as a collective struggle for socialism in Russia and wherever it was supported in the world on one hand. The alternative explanation has been that the struggle has been for individual liberty. Thus the hero in the West ostensibly fights against all forms of social control, which inhibit his individualism. The hero in the “East” on the other hand fights for the integrity of the society and the strength of collectivity.

The principal theorists of what might call Byronic heroism in politics were Isaiah Berlin in Britain and Leo Strauss in the US.14 The complement to this Byronic form of politics has been an economic doctrine called the Austrian School15 but also neo-liberalism. There was a negative reaction to the French Revolution, which only saw the violence and the anarchy. And there was the negative reaction to the October revolution in the 20th century. Strauss and Hitler were right in line in hating communism. So was Churchill. Berlin too. They hated the optimism and hope of the October revolution. They had to worry about their own masses, who wanted to be free and to benefit from their own labour.

In fact, after 1945 it was still communism/socialism, which enjoyed the enthusiasm of most of the masses in Europe and rest of world. Contrary to the images created by Hollywood, most people in Europe knew that it was the Soviet Union that had defeated Hitler’s empire and communists who had been the most disciplined resistance to fascism in the occupied territories. 70 years later the record is public about how much money and political pressure the US had to devote to persuade Europeans not to vote for the optimism of the October Revolution.16

  1. In 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the so-called “socialist bloc”, left the West with what might be called a “Byronic victory”. Ostensibly this has been the triumph of the individual over all forms of collectivity/disparagingly called “collectivism”. But what does that really mean? What is the actual end of Byron’s notion of heroism and its derivatives “negative romanticism” and negative liberty?
  2. The apparent victory of negative heroism has actually left us with the death of value. The hero’s acts are violent, fervent and ultimately futile – and what is worse, he knows it and accepts the destruction as the price.

This was an answer by those for whom the revolutions had failed and although revolt may have been inevitable, in the end it was necessary to admit that “god was right”, “monarchy was best” and “humans are incorrigible”.

The consequences of this collapse could already be seen in the ascendancy of Austrian/neo-liberal economic doctrines beginning in the 1970s. This was coupled ironically with an abandonment of any pretence that democracy – in the sense of popular rule for the general welfare – was an acceptable social system. This is ironic because from 1945 until 1974, nearly the entire world was engaged in struggle to obtain the promises of democracy whether that inspired by 1789 or by 1917. Just when more countries became independent than at any time in history, democracy and a social state were abandoned as the primary model of political-social order. The hero in all of this was the entrepreneur or politician or even military officer who was willing to take the hard decisions needed to suppress popular, democratic aspirations for the sake of the supreme human objective of personal profit.

Despite numerous economic crises, not to mention endless wars, there is still a widely propagated belief that the problems will be solved by more heroism, negative heroism that is. The heroes in our society are supposed to act deliberately against their own interests or against the interests of those they ostensibly represent. This is the Byronic heroism which if carefully analysed can be seen as the font of nihilism – not creativity or humanity. The Byronic hero has resigned to defeat, accepts the world as hopelessly corrupt and therefore the gods/ potentates as the least possible evil. It is the heroism of suicide.

In fact, many ordinary people resist this kind of heroism because it is obvious that it is a death wish.

The contrast to this heroism is positive heroism that for purposes of simplicity can be identified with Shelley – in particular, Shelley’s reinterpretation of the Prometheus myth in his dramatic-lyric poem Prometheus Unbound. This enigmatic poem is a deliberate response to Byron’s underlying nihilism. It poses the conflict between individualism and society as a pseudo-problem – one created by subservience to the gods. In other words he says that the game between god and man has been rigged and there is no way out except to stop playing on god’s terms. It is god (the gods) who creates the conditions under which man is opposed to himself and to his fellow creatures. The individual that Byron described and supposed he lived was a product of his desire to be reconciled with authority to be happily submissive. Shelley’s Prometheus refuses to play god’s game. In doing so he becomes emblematic for the refusal to be divided and exploited by the gods.

Shelley’s freedom is exactly Berlin’s positive liberty – the ability to create one’s own systems and structures or what is generally called in political science self-determination. Negative liberty, which Berlin from his sinecure at Oxford espoused as the only defensible form, is merely freedom with in a system one cannot change, as freedom to buy and sell in the free market or capitalism.

In Act IV, Shelley does not describe a utopia – a nowhere in which there is nothing to do and all questions are answered, all problems are solved. That is the usual opposition to the vision of Shelley and the positive Romantics or the committed revolutionaries of 1789 and 1917. Instead Shelley shifts from a drama in which Prometheus has had to deal with his oppressor and tormenter as punishment for bringing man fire (knowledge), to Prometheus as the emblem of all human potential when knowledge is attainable by all and can be used to live in the world. The meaning of the heart that grows back each time it is consumed is precisely the opposite of Byron’s song of futility in Childe Harold. It is the heart – the love of man – that is renewed in the struggle to live and use the knowledge attainable. Prometheus has not sacrificed himself. It is not a Christian parable because Shelley’s Prometheus is not a surrogate – he is everyman, unmediated in life itself and without god or any other tyrant to dominate him. Prometheus is not everyman as an individual. One ought perhaps to say Prometheus is only comprehensible as Man or Humanity. The liberal individual of the Enlightenment was the imitation of god, god the autocrat, the tyrant. Shelley believed that this individual was an insidious fiction – and for humanity a very destructive fiction.

From 1789 until 1918 the key social event for humanists was the French Revolution. From 1918 until 1989 the key social event was the October Revolution. The October Revolution magnified the French Revolution to a global scale. 1989 can be seen as the final collapse of the French Revolution as the central ideal of what is paraded as “Western humanism”.

Of course that does not mean that the ideals of the French Revolution and October Revolution were extinguished, only that the potential of Western states to promote humanism in whatever form collapsed.

One of the reasons for this collapse can be seen in the prevalence of what has been called “negative Romanticism” and its negative (nihilistic) hero. Nietzsche anticipated this, essentially arguing that the Byronic hero – the possessive individual (in the sense of defined by property, rather than humanity) – was a destructive ideal. In that sense Nietzsche did not promote fascism, as is often supposed – although his sister did – but prophesied its destructive power.

The October Revolution globalised the French Revolution and it was met by globalised fascism leading to the Second World War, which was an even more violent reaction than the wars against Napoleon. Although the Soviet Union, led by its own Napoleonic figure in the form of Stalin, was able to defeat the centre of European fascism, it was only at the cost of a kind of “Congress” solution in 1945 with the NATO under US dominance emerging as the power to isolate the Soviet Union and prevent the expansion of the ideals of the October Revolution.17

WWII destroyed European control over its empires and ironically magnified the influence of the Soviet Union beyond its own ambitions for change in the world system. Thus from 1945 until 1975, revolutions continued to threaten the new “Congress” dispensation.18

By 1989, however, the Soviet Union was exhausted and so were all the countries that had struggled to become independent based on the ideals of 1789 or 1917.

1989 marked what must unfortunately be seen both politically and economically, but also socially and ecologically, as the consequences of the “negative liberty”, negative heroism, and above all the nihilistic response to the French Revolution – a return to divine despotism and clerical domination.

“Heroism” is by definition an act that violates convention, an error – at least in the eyes of those who feel compelled to follow conventional rules of behaviour. That heroism is an exception. So how can human society be organised “heroically” when that would mean constantly violating any conventions – any rules that might be agreed for the benefit of human life?

The hero as we have learned to appreciate him has always been a part of the deity – his violations were always within the confines of what the gods decreed – and priests interpreted.

For Shelley there were no gods. Prometheus joined the human condition, the human species. He took fire to share with humanity. He did not bring divine perfection—the gods were never perfect either. Shelley’s Prometheus was chained to the Earth like humans are as a species. In his view the renewing heart, is not a brief illusion.

However the potential of positive heroism has not been exhausted. It has merely lost its historical agents. Prometheus has had his heart consumed and now must bear its slow but sure replacement.

  1. Plausible deniability is a concept attributed to the US national security policy to characterise the imperative of covert action. The principle is simply that any covert action should only be performed if, should it be exposed, it is possible to deny official responsibility for the action. Then CIA director William Colby explained the doctrine as understood by the Agency in hearings before the so-called “Church Committee”, (US Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities) on 16 September 1975.
  2. Mark Twain (1909/1962) Letters from the Earth. Twain’s satirical treatment of the Creation is presented in the form of correspondence between Satan and his heavenly brethren, the archangels.
  3. Another version of this article was delivered at the VI Conference of CITCEM, University of Porto, expected publication in 2018. The conference theme was derived from the Camões Sonnet No. 193.
  4. At the time, the German finance minister was Wolfgang Schäuble (from 2009-2017) Schäuble has been a CDU member of the German federal parliament since 1972, the longest serving active member of the party that has dominated German politics since 1949.
  5. 2017 there were massive forest fires throughout central Portugal. In one notorious case, Pedrógrau Grande, many people were burned alive in their cars as they tried to escape via the few roads in that rural area. Preliminary investigations showed that aside from the natural conditions conducive to fires, the failure to invest in training and equipment for local forest management and fire departments and the chronic neglect of the rural areas by national government aggravated the damage immensely.
  6. Portugal’s autocrat (1928-1968), António de Oliveira Salazar was initially invested with wide powers as finance minister on the pretext that courageous fiscal authority was needed to save Portugal.
  7. Camoes, Luís. Erros meus, má fortuna, amor ardente Sonnet CXCIII (My errors, cruel fortune and ardent love, trans. Richard Zenith, 2006.)

    Erros meus, má fortuna, amor ardente/
    em minha perdição se conjuraram;/
    os erros e a fortuna sobejaram,/
    que para mim bastava o amor somente.Tudo passei; mas tenho tão presente/
    a grande dor das cousas que passaram,/
    que as magoadas iras me ensinaram/
    a não querer já nunca ser contente.Errei todo o discurso de meus anos;/
    dei causa [a] que a Fortuna castigasse/
    as minhas mal fundadas esperanças./

    De amor não vi senão breves enganos./
    Oh! quem tanto pudesse que fartasse/
    este meu duro génio de vinganças!/

  8. Peckham, Morse. Man’s Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior and the Arts, (1965).
  9. Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History, (1841), James Fraser, London. All societies set up heroes who embody their values. Heroes are essentially a religious way of looking at life. Jesus is a hero, too. Prometheus is a type of Jesus.
  10. Camus, Albert (1955) – The Myth of Sisyphus (first published in French in 1942).
  11. Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1927). Complete Poetical Works. Published by Oxford University Press. London, p. 201.
  12. Byron, George Gordon (1936). Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and other Romantic Poems, Published by Doubleday. New York, p. 173. For example, Stanza CV (Canto IV):

    And from the planks, far shatter’d o’er rocks,/
    Built me a little bark of hope, once more/
    To battle with the ocean and the shocks/
    Of the loud breakers, ad the ceaseless roar/
    Which rushes on the solitary shore/
    Where all lies founder’d that was ever dear/
    But could I gather from the wave-worn store/
    Enough for my rude boat, where should I steer?/
    There woos no home, nor hope, or life, save what is here/.

  13. Shelley, p. 264.
  14. Berlin, Isaiah (1958) Two Concepts of Liberty. Leo Strauss was a German-American political philosopher and proponent of “natural law” doctrine, who while a professor at the University of Chicago has been credited as the intellectual mentor for what is called in the US “neo-conservatism”. Although Berlin is often considered a “liberal” whereas Strauss is considered a conservative/ reactionary, a principal historical motivation in both is their venomous reaction to the Russian Revolution.
  15. The Austrian School of economic dogma. Its most notorious contemporary propagandist was Milton Friedman. However Friedman was simply a populist acolyte of the economic theorists who were spawned in the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and after WWII found their home in the United States, many of whom gave birth to what was known as the “Chicago School” since it was spawned at the University of Chicago (along with a host of unsavoury German-speakers from north of the Salzach river).
  16. Agee, Philip/Wolf, Louis (1978) – Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe. Lyle Stuart and Dorset Press. New York,  This is just one of several books/collections which drew attention to the covert operations of the US government to manipulate elections throughout Western Europe after World War II, principally to prevent popular European communist parties from winning elections.
  17. See NSC-68, promulgated in 1947, this policy document defined the US national security strategy and objectives. It remained classified until the late 1970s.
  18. Of the three key US diplomats of the so-called Cold War era, Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, and Henry Kissinger, it is telling that Kissinger’s academic focus was on the political order created by the reactionary Congress of Vienna, designed to suppress democratic and revolutionary movements after the defeat of Napoleon.

Cuba and America: A Primer on History and Politics

The relationship between Cuba and the United States is a relationship of history and politics. It is a relationship which shows the nature of Capitalism and Imperialism. It is a relationship which also shows the nature of the struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution. Cuba, the first revolutionary Socialist state in Latin America, has managed to survive as a revolutionary Socialist state despite that relationship — a relationship forced upon Cuba by the most powerful Capitalist state in the history of the World — the United States. In many ways the relationship between Cuba and the United States defines part of the nineteenth-century, the twentieth-century and the present-day — between Revolution and Counter-Revolution. In history and politics the old struggle and old relationship between Cuba and the U.S. defines much of the history and politics surrounding us today.

The history and politics between Cuba and the United States began in the nineteenth-century. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is a product of the nineteenth-century, and the twentieth-century; a product of Imperialism, Capitalism, Revolution, Rebellion, Class Struggle, and War. In the nineteenth-century, the United States effectively took Cuba from the Spanish Empire and fought a war with Spain in 1898 over the issue of American power in Cuba. In the twentieth-century, the United States effectively controlled Cuba and Cuban politics — before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

The political relationship between Cuba and the United States has been defined by the Cuban Revolution. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is also the product of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 — the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959, the Cuban Revolution of 1959-1962. The Revolution changed the relationship between Cuba and the United States by making Cuba both independent of the power of the United States and in conflict with the United States. The conflict which has persisted between Cuba and the United States, since then, has been a fundamental reality of the Cuban Revolution — as an anti-Imperialist Revolution and one determined to see Cuba retain its Independence from foreign domination, specifically that of the United States.

Since 1959, to the present, the United States has sought to undermine the Cuban Revolution and the Revolution in Cuba. This struggle against Cuba and the Cuban Revolution has defined Cuba since 1959. This struggle, from the American and Cuban sides, has also helped to define both States during and since the Cold War. In the United States it has shown the persistence of the U.S. Government to overcome the Cuban Revolution. In Cuba it highlights the success and strength of the Revolution of 1959, both politically and socially. For the rest of South America and Central America the Cuban Revolution still represents the possibility of social progress and revolution. In the terms of the history of South America and Central America, the Cuba Revolution represented the ability of a State, Society and Nation in the American hemisphere to break from the United States and to chart its own social development and economic development. That the Revolution in Cuba survived the twentieth-century, and still survives to this day, is a testament not simply to Cuba, the Cuban State, the Cuban Communist Party or the Cuban Revolutionaries of 1959, but to the Cuban people themselves.

The political and historical relationship between Cuba and the United States cannot be seen in isolation from the history of American Imperialism in the rest of South America and Central America.1 From the nineteenth-century, through the terrors of the twentieth-century, the United States has acted to maintain its own power and its own Imperialism in both South America and Central America — preventing both social progress there and social revolution. The history of American relations in South America and Central America is the history of U.S. support for dictatorships, oppression, exploitation, coups and military occupation. It is a history which continues in the politics of today — in U.S. Imperialism and U.S. policy.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 began and defined the relationship between Cuba and the United States – a war in which Cuba traded Spanish Imperialism and Spanish Domination, for American Imperialism and American Domination. In 1898, the United States formally invaded Cuba as part of its War against Spain, beginning an occupation which would last until formal Cuban independence in 1902. In political terms and economic terms this merely transferred Cuba from Spain to the United States, despite American promises that Cuba would be allowed to be both free and independent as an independent republic. Much of this period of Cuban history, from 1898 to 1959, can formally be called the ‘American Period’ — in which Cuba was both formally and informally part of the American sphere, American power and American interests. At the same time, besides political subservience to the United States, Cuba became economically dependent and economically subservient to the United States, beginning a process of economic domination which would not end until the Revolution of 1959. After 1898, Cuba was nominally independent, but would remain an American puppet and an American satellite, through various interventions, coups and counter-revolutions, until the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The period of 1898 to 1959, the first period of Cuban history in modern history, was one where Cuba was prevented from both political independence and economic independence — again a period which lasted as part of Cuba’s history until the triumph of the Revolution of 1959.

American interest in Cuba began long before 1898. Before 1898, in the nineteenth-century, the United States had taken an interest in Spanish Cuba — as part of the emerging U.S. doctrine of American interests in Latin America and the Monroe doctrine. As part of the process of emerging American Imperialism, in both the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century, Cuba was part of American visions and American designs for American power in Central America — of American power and American Imperialism outside of the United States.

This Imperialist interest in Cuba, by the United States, as with all American interests in South America and Central America, has defined the history and politics of the United States in Cuba. A history and politics from the 1820s, through the 1860s and 1890s, through the twentieth-century, through the Revolution of 1959, to the present day.

Cuban politics, on the Left, understood the nature of American Imperialism and American exploitation in Cuba. This formed the basis of Cuban revolutionary politics in the twentieth-century and the Cuban Revolution of 1959, alongside the need to free Cuba from the Batista dictatorship of 1952 to 1959.

José Marti, the great hero of Cuban Independence and Cuban Freedom, in the nineteenth-century, always noted the danger of American intervention and American Imperialism in Cuba. Like many in Cuba, from the 1890s to the present, from Marti to Castro, from 1898 to 1959, Marti worried and feared the power of the United States in distorting Cuban independence and Cuban freedom. For Marti, the hope of the American Revolution of 1776 had turned quickly into the reality of American Imperialism.

Fidel Castro, as leader of the Cuban Revolution, based his Revolution on opposing U.S. Imperialism in Cuba and Latin America. Castro, as leader of the 26th July Movement of 1953, leader of the revolt of 1953, leader of the revolutionary war of 1956-1959, leader of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and leader of the Cuban Revolution in general, understood this history and this politics in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. Even in the immediate aftermath of the victory of the Revolution of 1959, when relations between Cuba and the United States might have travelled in another direction, Castro and the Revolutionaries of 1959 seem to have been cautious about American intentions, and most of them understood the history and politics of America’s history and America’s politics in Cuba.

The Revolution of 1959 in Cuba is the decisive event in the history of Cuba — and the history of Cuban-American relations since 1898. The victory of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 changed the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Just as the wars of independence in the nineteenth-century, the 1895 war for Cuban Independence and the Spanish-American War of 1898 all changed Cuba’s relationship with Imperial Spain, so too did the Cuban Revolution change America’s power in Cuba. In political terms and economic terms the Revolution of 1959 destroyed America’s power in Cuba. The Revolution, effectively, ended one period and replaced it with another — with the victory of the Revolution itself. With the downfall of the Batista regime and the victory of the Revolutionaries, Cuba became free from American influence and American dominance — in both political terms and economic terms. This change in the relationship between Cuba and the United States, was one that the United States could not accept – given the reality of American power in South America and Central America in all the centuries since the nineteenth-century. With the victory of the Revolution the United States resolved to recapture Cuba and restore American influence to Cuba — a policy which has continued to this day, in differing terms and differing wording. With the victory of the Revolution, Cuba became a target for further American aggression and American Imperialism — as the United States attempted to overthrow the revolutionary government for its own political and economic interests. In terms of the relationship the victory of the Revolution of 1959 was the single most important event — as it ended the old relationship and started a new one. Cuba gained its own political independence in the event of the Revolution of 1959.

The Cuban Revolution, due to Cuban politics and American politics, has had to face many foes. The Cuban Revolution, due to the dynamics of having to face both a national foe (the Batista Government, the Batista Dictatorship, Cuban Capitalism) and an international foe (the United States of America, American Capitalism and International Capitalism), has had to settle accounts with both national enemies and international enemies. This dynamic within the Cuban Revolution, while not unique in the history of Revolutions, has certainly affected the Politics of the Cuban Revolution. Instead of simply facing a national bourgeoisie or a national dictatorship the Cuban Revolution had to face down the external threat of a Capitalist Superpower, while also trying to make a Social Revolution and a Political Revolution.

The political relationship between Cuba and the United States, after 1959, was structured by the nature of the Cuban Revolution itself. In order to free Cuba from the social reality of its oppression and exploitation, the Cuban Revolutionaries had to struggle against more than simply the National Capitalist Class of Cuba, or even the Batista dictatorship, they had to struggle against the USA itself. This fact became apparent after the events of 1960-1962, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The historical relationship between Cuba and the United States was also defined by the necessities and realities of the Cold War. At the height of the Cuban drama with the United States, the events of 1959-1963, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, it was impossible for Cuba to avoid the wider struggle of the Cold War — between the USA and the USSR. This aspect of the struggle between Cuba and the United States furthered the social context and international context of the Cuban Revolution; both for the better and for the worse; that it was a Revolution in the American sphere; that it was a Revolution in Uncle Sam’s backyard. This heightened the potential of the Cuban Revolution, in the 1950S and the 1960s, but also left it isolated — and even more vulnerable to the wrath of the United States. Cuba, in the age of the Cold War, could not be allowed to provide a model of a successful Revolution or a successful Society. The result was the reality of U.S. Policy towards Cuba — one of confrontation, aggression, threats, blockade, sabotage, terrorism, and threatened invasions. This U.S. Policy, a relationship of antagonism and U.S. Threat, has survived even the Cold War itself — surviving into the 1990s, the 2000s and the present. Despite this Cuba managed to survive and achieve its own form of Social Progress and Social Revolution.

One further reality of the U.S. and Cuban relationship is the reality that the Cuban Revolution turned into a major Revolution of the twentieth-century. That Cuba attempted to re-assert its independence in 1959 was something which already upset the United States — and provoked U.S. Reaction. That Cuba declared its willingness to a make a Socialist Revolution in Cuba, and a Revolutionary Society in Cuba, was something which the United States would not accept and could not accept. Both a Social Revolution and a Political Revolution, indeed a Socialist Revolution, in Cuba, were all events which the United States could not accept from Cuba or from Latin America. This is the reason why the United States pushed for reaction and counter-revolution in Cuba and did all it could, for decades, to undermine both Cuba and the Cuban Revolution. That the Cuban Revolution of 1959 turned from a Nationalist Revolution into a Socialist Revolution was part of both Cuban politics and Cold War politics, but it also reinforced the revolutionary threat that Cuba posed to the United States — that it threatened the strength of U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere and in Latin America. If Cuba could free itself from foreign and U.S. domination then other states in Latin America, in both South America and Central America could do the same. The United States feared this wave of revolutions that Cuba’s experience and Cuba’s example could inspire. This reality of the Cuban Revolution, as a Revolution which inspired International Revolution, throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Third World, was what made the Cuban Revolution a danger to the United States — and was what provoked the reaction of the United States. The Cuban Revolution, even today, still inspires with is powerful international example of Social progress and Social Revolution — across Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. But the key fact of why the United States spent so much of the Cold War fearing a Revolution which emerged from such a small island was the reality that the Cuban Revolution was an inspiration, both in Cuba and the rest of the World. The Cuban Revolution showed that American Imperialism could be confronted and defeated — a lesson which still remains today in the struggle for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America.

The Cuban Revolution is also part of a wider political history in Latin America — between Latin America and the United States. The history and the politics of the Cuban Revolution cannot be understood without reference to the wider history of Latin America — specifically the relationship between Latin America and the United States.2 In basic terms the history and politics of Cuba’s relationship with the United States is similar, almost exactly the same, as the relationship between Latin America and the United States.3 In terms of understanding the traditional and historical conflict of the peoples and states of Latin America to the United States the reality of American Imperialism and American support for the Right in Latin America is vital. The history of Latin America and the United States is a history of Imperialism of the latter against the former. This is what makes the Cuban Revolution, and the history of Cuba, so important in both political and historical terms. Cuba’s history with the United States, and the trajectory of the Cuban Revolution, marches what has occurred in Latin America across two long centuries of American Imperialism and American Empire. In terms of the politics of Latin America, and Cuba, today, that relationship still haunts the politics of the region. Only a further Social Revolution, and Socialist Revolution, in the region, can hope to break that history — and with it the dominance of the United States. The victory of the Latin American Revolution is vital for the hopes for a Revolution in the United States.

The relationship between Cuba and America is the product of history and politics. The political future of the political relationship between Cuba and the United States will probably be over-determined by the history and past of that relationship.4 It will be determined by the old struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. If the Cuban Revolution is to survive the early decades of the twenty-first century, the present-day, it must remember the reality of its previous relationship and current relationship with the United States — one in which the United States sought to overthrow the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban State and to return Cuba to the status of being a economic colony dominated by the United States. Indeed a better relationship between Cuba and the United States would be preferable — a softening and opening up of relations between the two based on equality and mutual respect, as almost happened in the 2010s — but that does not seem to be the ideal of the United States or its Government. Indeed the majority of American Presidents have seen the Cuban Revolution as a threat and American governments have remained the impassable foe of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba itself. In the context of the wider struggle for social change, social revolution and socialist revolution in South America, in Central America, in Latin America, it seems that the United States will remain a foe of that progress, until the day that major social and political change occurs in the United States itself. For Latin America the relationship between the United States and the Cuban Revolution is their relationship with the United States in microcosm. Cuba, despite its real problems in the twentieth-century, has managed to survive against U.S. Imperialism. The survival of the Cuban Revolution is a victory for the Latin American Revolution.

  1. American Imperialism began in Central America and South America. The history and politics of U.S. Imperialism, from the nineteenth-century, found their origins in American foreign policy in Central America and South America, from the earliest days of the United States.
  2. See the work of Richard Gott, Cuba: A new history (2004).
  3. See the work of Hugh Thomas, Cuba: A History (2010).
  4. The history of Cuban politics and Cuban society really cannot be understood, from 1898, from 1959, without the impact of U.S. Imperialism; both in terms of Cuban political ideas and Cuban political concerns.

Drawing Straws: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for an American to understand the truth

In a sense, blowback is simply another way of saying that a nation reaps what it sows. Although people usually know what they have sown, our national experience of blowback is seldom imagined in such terms because so much of what the managers of the American empire have sown has been kept secret.

It is time to realize, however, that the real dangers to America today come not from the newly rich people of East Asia but from our own ideological rigidity, our deep-seated belief in our own propaganda.

― Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, Second Edition: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

There are no more leaps of faith, or get out of jail cards left anymore.

The first casualty of war is truth.

Lofty heights of defining the first amendment are just overlooks onto the crumbling mythology of a democracy, where the people – citizens — vote for laws directly. We have a republic, a faulty one, the source of which is the power derived from billionaires, financiers, arms merchants, K-Streeters and the attendant moles allowing the government to break every charter of human concern.

So, in that regard, we in this corptocracy have the right to be fooled every minute, suckered to not know a goddamned thing about democracy in big quotes.

The very concept of manufactured consent and a controlled opposition destroys much of the power of agency and so-called freedom of assembly, association and travel.

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.

― Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.

― Vladimir Lenin

But, alas, we have blokes who see the world not as a black and white dichotomous illusion of the for v. against bifurcation, but a world of flowing back to what words should mean, a world that allows the filters to be smashed like high polished glass and instead deploying a magnifying glass to point toward the very source of the blasphemies and strong arm robberies that have been occurring in the Republic the very first moment the beaver hat was put on and the first treaty scripted by the powdered wigs of Washingtonian Fathers and broken, ripped to shreds, seeded with the dark force that is the white race.

Here comes Tools for Transparency into the mix of triage to uphold the declaration of independence, and the few tenets of the constitution that are supremely directed to we-by-for-because of the people, AND not the corporation, monopoly, Military-Retail-Finance-Ag-Energy-Pharma-Prison-Medical-Toxins-IT-Surveillance-Legal Complex. This project is the brainchild of a former Marine who “came to life late in the world” of pure skepticism about the powers that be and his own questioning of the motivations and machinations of his government and political representatives. Sometimes it’s hard to don and doff the uniform of a trained/manipulated/choregraphed killer and make any sense of the orders belted out and campaigns designed with no benefit to the invaded peoples other than the demented good (bad) for that gluttonous octopus parasite called capitalism as it entangles its tentacles on each invaded country’s birthright, history, natural resources, land and people through the power of the high explosives bomb and the usury bond.

“Heck, before starting this project, I didn’t even know we had 535 representatives in Congress,” states Brian Hanson.

So goes the beginning of this start up, Tools for Transparency, an on-line clearing house for what Hanson hopes will be a light shed onto all the backroom dealings we as consumers of news just aren’t privy to. Or that’s at least what Brian Hanson is shooting for in this atmosphere of “fake” news, “really fake” news, “non” news, “no” news, “distracting” news “manufactured” news, “rabbit hole” news, “lies are truths” news, or newspeak.

The Beaverton, Oregon, resident is the father of this platform which is still in its infancy, as the former Marine throws his all into the project.

The 37-year-old Hanson is a Pacific Northwest product, having dropped out of traditional high school and landing up in an alternative high school where the instructors were outside the box. He recalls reading Shakespeare, doing two weeks of study on the Nez Perce peoples, and a class report on the Battle of Wounded Knee. With gusto, he told me that his class made a video of the trail of tears and presented it to the local Shriners.

For this father of a special needs daughter, he easily lets roll off his tongue, “black sheep,” both an emblematic moniker and symbolic of his travails, having stuck with him throughout his life, from high school, to the Marines (“where I learned to get responsible”) to today: divorced, single dad, precarious income stream. On top of that, he’s living in his elderly parents’ garage/converted small studio apartment.

After the Marines, where he specialized in communications, and field wiring, he worked on a community college degree, eventually ending up with a BA from Portland State University in psychology.

The disciplines of cognitive behavior therapy and behavior analysis “got to me” first in college, initially through the inspiring teaching of a San Bernardino community college instructor who helped the young Hanson stick it out after Hanson smashed up bones in a motorcycle accident: a spill that caused him to miss half the classes. This faculty member went the extra mile, Hanson says, allowing him to do outside work and test make-ups.

I was fresh out of the military and had no idea what I was doing. This professor missed dinners with his family, missed his kids’ recitals, to allow me to make up tests. . . . I’ve been a lifelong feminist because of this man, who instructed me on his own philosophy tied to feminism. I never had a male role model like that before.

Hanson kicked around, came back to Beaverton, worked with developmental disabled youth and then foster youth, where I met him when we were both case managers for 16-to 21-year-old foster youth.

We talk a lot about consumable information, as Hanson explains his gambit with his new information web company. It’s an age-old conundrum, what George Lakoff puts down as narrative framing. That was a big issue in the Bush Junior (W) election cycle, how born-with-a-silver-spoon George W had snookered Joe Six-Pack and NASCAR country with his Yale education, dicey National Air Guard record and Bush’s rich charmed life, getting a professional baseball team (Texas Rangers) as part of the family bargain.

The illustration is dramatic to both Hanson and myself, as we talked about Mad Men, the Edward Bernays and Milton Friedman schools of propaganda, framing stories (lies) and setting out to paint good people as bad, heroic politicians like Salvador Allende of Chile as Commie Baby Killers. Even now, Bush, the instigator of chaos in the Middle East, with all the cooked up lies and distractions of his own stupidity (like Trump), and, bam, W is reclaimed (in the mainstream mush media) as something of a good president, and especially by the likes of the Democratic Party misleadership. Bush, millionaire, entitled, crude, racist, and, bam again, we have dirt poor kids from Appalachia or Akron joining up through the economic draft of standing down the armies of burger flippers to fight illegal wars, and then to come home creaking decrepit shells of their old young selves to fight for oil and geopolitical checkmate brinkmanship of the World Bank and Goldman Sachs order. Here we have an old Connecticut political family, from Prescott Bush, putting the grandson out on tens of thousands of acres of scrub brush near Waco, Texas, with 4×4 hefty pick-up trucks and chainsaws (George is deathly afraid of horses), and we’re all good to call him a man’s man, roughing it West Texas.

Honest George or Rough-rider Teddy or Ahh Shucks Reagan, Yes We Can/Si Se Puede Obama, One Thousand Points of Light Bush Sr., Make America Great Again Trump — the news isn’t the news, and patriotism is the graveyard of scoundrels and their bromides.

A huge turning point for Brian was this last election cycle, with Trump getting guffaws and trounced in the court of public opinion as a wimp, liar, cheat, misogamist, racist, buffoon, narcissist, from people all over the political spectrum, during the beginning of the election cycle. But then once Trump got in, family feuds and friendship breaks occurred: “How was it that this relationship I had with a male buddy, a true friend, going on 27 years, just gets dumped because I was questioning Trump as a viable candidate and questioning his integrity?”

The age-old battle – turning blue in the face trying to explain to a friend, or anyone, that candidate x is this and that, based on the historical record. In Trump’s case, there is a long written, legal, quotable/citable record of this guy’s dirty dealings, bad business decisions, his lechery, racism, sexism, blatant unmitigated arrogance, criminality. For Hanson, it’s a no-brainer that anyone in their right mind might question Trump’s validity and viable character when he threw his toupee into the ring.

A great friend just dropped Brian. Took him off social media, stopped socializing, screen to black, and this broken friendship was racing through Hanson’s mind because of the new normal: the targeted toxicity of social media feeds, and the social and psychological conditioning which this huge chasm between red state/blue state ideology has meted out to an already bifurcated flagging American consumerist society.

Even having a respectable, clean and thorough debate about Trump is almost impossible, Hanson said while we talked over beers at the Yukon Bar in Sellwood. This huge cultural divide exists as far as individuals’ skills sets and critical thinking skills. The more technical the stuff like climate change or the deep state military industrial complex, people’s world views get challenged. They just don’t have the tools to dig deep into a bill passed (and endorsed) by their local representatives.

Again, “consumable” as a tool to enlightenment or at least knowledge comes up in our conversation, and Hanson has done the following thought experiment literally hundreds of times – “I hear an opinion in the news – FOX, MSNBC, the Young Turks – and I can spend four hours digging up truths, and how that opinion got to us.” What he’s found is the consumable stuff the typical news consumer gets is absolutely counter to the reality of that news’ origins, facts and context.

His Tools for Transparency cuts through the opinion, and as he proposes, makes the world news and the even more Byzantine and elaborate proposed legislation and lobbying groups behind “the news” approachable, again, consumable.

He taps into his college days taking courses in industrial organizational psychology, seemingly benign when the American Psychological Association gets to mash the term into a three-fold brochure by defining it for prospective students as business as usual for corporations, and humanity is better because of this sort of manipulative psychology, but . . .

In reality, it’s the science of behavior in the workplace, organizational development, attitudes, career development, decision theory, human performance, human factors, consumer behavior, small group theory and process, criterion theory and development and job and task analysis and individual assessment. It’s a set of tools to keep workers down spiritually and organizationally, disconnected, fearful, confused and ineffectual as thinkers and resisters, and inept at countering the abuse of power companies or bureaucracies wield over a misinformed workforce.

The shape of corporations’ unethical behavior, their sociopathic and the draconian workplace conditions today are largely sculpted and defined by these behavior shapers to include the marketers and the Edward Bernays-inspired manipulators of facts and brain functioning. This begs the question for Hanson, just what are today’s hierarchy of needs for the average American? Physiological; Safety; Love/Belonging; Esteem; Self-Actualization.

Of course, Maslow added human’s innate drive toward curiosity. Ironically, the lower scaffolds of the pyramid are deemed primitive – eating, sleeping, drinking, as are the safety needs and social needs such as friendship and sexual intimacy. In one sense, we see it played out – one cannot philosophize on an empty stomach and for Aristotle, his observation is prescient – ‘all paid work absorbs and degrades the mind.’

Hanson and I talk about the existential threats of climate change, terrorists, war, and our own mortality. We are in that hyper-speed moment in history when technology changes at breakneck speed, and disruptive technologies’ create disruptive economies which in turn give us disruptive communities.

We are avoiding the inevitability of collapse, peak oil, peak everything, so we construct comforting (read: dopamine-triggering and sedating) realities, tied to bourgeois values, consumeristic habits, customs, degraded culture, moral codes that are antithetical to our own agency, and, then, religious fervor.

Hanson states:

How do they get us to take actions against our beliefs? This conditioning now is based on not just ‘buy my product’ to attain unattainable standards. Today, we, as a society, are terrified if we can’t attain that level of status or standard,

Hanson’s singular (one of several) bottom lines is that his Tools for Transparency has to find a way to be consumable, and a second one Hanson repeats posits the solutions to our problems have to be profitable: “How can he create a market for alternative information profitable?”

Tools for Transparency uses the platform Patreon, founded five years ago as a platform that allows patrons to pay a set amount of money every time an artist creates a work of art. Hanson’s web site and service, then depends on loyalty, fee-paying patrons.

The result thus far for Hanson is nascent, but growing. I asked him how his daily routine tied to this dream can be synthesized in a nutshell:

My daily routine is actually starting to wrap up at this point, it has never been very consistent as a single start-up founder anyways. For the most part my site is not sophisticated enough to continue in perpetuity yet. Too many requirements for data and input that cannot be done on a static basis. So I am mostly working on a static prototype I can display, build an audience with.

For the most part I have been diving headfirst into legislative bulk data sets. Making connections between publications, finding creative ways to link (intentionally I think) differently formatted data together. Working to construct cohesive and understandable information. When I get tired of staring at data sheets, I will work to develop relationships with business people, work on marketing techniques, reaching out to colleges and programs, learning about business development, corporate securities, federal regulations pertaining to my business, or some general outreach (mostly family right now, you’re the first real contact outside my main family I am working with). There really isn’t anything routine about what I am doing, because it is mostly just me and a single developer friend working on the site.

We talked about other issues tied the militarization of society, and I posed some long-winded questions cut and pasted below:

1. What makes what you are doing relevant to the click bait/screen addicted generation?

2. You say you were terrified for the lives of the family members, the country. Blacks and Hispanics tell me that finally, the whites get what we have been experiencing for decades, since the beginning of the country. Speak to that reality. This has been and is a white supremacist country, and with that operating procedure/system, poor people, disenfranchised people, people of color especially, are on the chopping block for those white elitists and the militarized mentality of law enforcement and even our daily lives as a renter class.

He and I talk much about Black Lives Matter, and why this new movement is relevant in 2018 as it would have been in 1950 USA or 1850 America.

And I do not for a second believe it has ever not been exactly this way. Every regime has to have a solider class that it uses to enforce the social hierarchy. And the solider class is always expected to use violence to enforce ideology. The threats are always transient, ever shifting, but the response is doggedly the same. Authoritarianism flourishes in this environment, we sacrifice freedoms for security, and our world shrinks a little more.

Brian believes there is an awakening today in this country, and that the examples of movements such as those in Portland where youth are out yelling against the police state, and then how we are seeing individual officers returning firing with violence against those youth:

The viral video of an officer drawing his pistol on a group of school age children is terrifying.

We talk a lot about the devaluing of language and intentional discourse which includes the abilities of a society to engage in lively and cogent debate. For me, I know the forces of propaganda are multi-headed, multi-variant, with so much of American life seeded with lies, half-truths, duplicitous and twisted concepts, as well as inaccurate and spin-doctored history, which has contaminated a large portion of our society, up and down the economic ladder, with mind control.

Unfortunately, our language now is inextricably tied to emotions, as we see leftists (what’s that?) and so-called progressives screaming at the top of their lungs how Trump is the worst president ever. Black so-called activists, journalists, stating how the empire (sky) is falling because Trump talked with Putin. Imagine, imagine, all those millions upon millions of people killed because of all the other presidents’ and their thugs’ policies eviscerating societies, all those elections smeared, all those democracies mauled, all those citizens in the other part of the world hobbled by America’s policies, read “wars, occupations, embargoes, structural violence.” It is a daily reminder for us all that today, as was true yesterday, that we are ruled by masters of self-deception and our collective society having a feel good party every day while we plunder the world. Doublethink. Here:

Orwell’s point:

To tell deliberate lives while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

Herein lies the problem – vaunting past presidents on pedestals while attacking this current deplorable, Donald Trump. The reality is the US has been run by an elite group of militarists, and by no means is Trump the worst of the worst, which is both illogical and unsupported by facts:

Yet, we have to mark the words and wisdom of those of us who have been marking this empire’s crimes, both internal and external, for years. Here, Paul Edwards over at Counterpunch hits a bulls-eye on the heart of the matter:

After decades of proven bald-faced crime, deceit and the dirtiest pool at home and abroad, the CIA, FBI, NSA, the Justice Department and the whole fetid nomenklatura of sociopathic rats, are portrayed as white knights of virtue dispensing verity as holy writ. And “progressives” buy it.

These are the vermin that gave us Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Chile, the Contras, Iraq’s WMD, and along the way managed to miss the falls of the Shah and Communism.

Truly an Orwellian clusterfuck, this. War Party Dems misleading naive liberal souls sickened by Trump into embracing the dirty, vicious lunacy Hillary peddled to her fans, the bankers, brokers, and CEOs of the War Machine.

Trump is a fool who may yet blunder us into war; the Dems and the Deep State cabal would give us war by design.

In an innocent way, Brian Hanson is hoping to dig into that “objective reality,” with his Tools for Transparency. He might be unconsciously adhering to Mark Twain’s admonition: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Maybe Tools for Transparency will get under the onion peels of deceit, a consumeristic and kleptocratic debt-ridden society to expose those culprits’ origins – where or where and how and why did something like the Flint, Michigan, poisoning of people’s water happen? Who signed off? How did it, the deceit (felonies), weave its way through a supposedly checked and triple-checked “democracy”?

As we parted from a free jazz concert in Portland, he has some pointed words for me: “I will keep working on you Paul to get some hope about society, about the world. I’m going to keep on you.”

Is Britain’s Green Party About to take a Significant Step Towards Revolution?

The Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) is currently undertaking a huge holistic review as to how the Party works. As it already has a superb set of highly radical policies encompassing not only its well-known concerns for saving the environment but also proposals for revolutionary reforms of the economy, British foreign policy, and our so-called constitution, the holistic review has the potential to be either a step towards a major peaceful revolution, or a damp squib.

Since the Greens were first established in Britain decision-making has been undertaken at annual conferences, where any Party member attending the conference may be involved. This has worked reasonably well, but obviously excludes all those members who are unable to attend conferences. The holistic review may possibly modernise this system.

About a hundred years ago Emma Goldman was one of the first to observe that if voting could really change anything it would be made illegal. It’s not absolutely true, of course, but her point, that most of our so-called democracies are not fit for purpose, was right on the money.

Democracy is a relatively new feature of human society. Given the incredible technical advances that humans have achieved over the last couple of thousand years, it’s not exactly impressive that it’s only just a hundred years or so since women were deemed to be sufficiently human to be entrusted with the right to vote once in a while.

The main reason why we have not yet evolved a system of government where all human beings are able to exercise well-informed decisions is not only because the technology has not been up to providing such a marvel until very recent times, it’s also because the tiny minority of super-rich beings that have always ruled the world have always fought tooth and claw to resist any efforts at weakening the vice-like grip they have always held on political power.

The GPEW has fine policies intended to try to advance the cause of real democracy. Inevitably it’s very hard work to effect those changes. Not only is there the huge problem of the existing global power structure which, like its predecessors, still fights to resist change, there’s also the problem of mass ignorance – the fact that the vast majority of the population has been conditioned to meekly conform to the wishes of our rulers and their lackeys in the mainstream media, or are too apathetic to even care.

However, the Greens holistic review must eventually lead to a major leap forward for real democracy. The Party recently tried to host a couple of online workshops as part of the review. It was the first time it tried to do something like this on a Party-wide scale. Whilst I have some reservations about how this initial effort was made, the fact the effort was made at all has to be greatly applauded. Few things work perfectly at the first attempt, so it’s no surprise that this online exercise had some problems.

Although I signed up to take part in three of the workshops it turned out that I was unable to do so because I do not have the requisite camera and microphone attachments for my computer. If those technical requirements had been stipulated in the original message from the holistic review team I obviously would not have booked a place, thus preventing someone else from taking part – as there was limited availability for participation. So this is the first little glitch – the fact that it was assumed that all GP members are computer literate and have instant access to the required technology. I know of GP members who do not use computers at all, so their voices are obviously excluded from the start. Given that equality and diversity are supposedly important to Greens, the fact that this limitation was not even considered is not impressive. Whilst I accept that it’s reasonable to assume that most people are computer literate, and will continue to be even more so, it should at least have been stated that this problem was recognised, and suitable apologies voiced in the name of tolerance for floundering baby steps towards the brave new world of real democracy.

On the day of the first workshop I received an e-mail from the organisers: “Message to attendees at conference”. There was very little information about how the process would work, but one point was made clear: “If you’re a man, and there have been lots of men speaking, I’ll prioritise a woman even if she had her hand up after you.” Why was this about the only rule the organisers mentioned? It’s significant that the reverse situation was not stated – we were not told that if lots of women had been speaking a man would be prioritised even if he put his hand up after women. The rule suggests discrimination against men, not a good look, but also not the first time I’ve come across it in the Green Party.

The last part of the “Message to attendees” was something of an agenda – some bullet points of subjects to be discussed. Obviously you need agendas, but at no point was I invited to contribute towards it, and this is very important: whoever controls agenda content controls the debate. Everyone taking part in any group discussion should be able to contribute to deciding what subjects will be discussed, and in what order – no matter their gender, race, physical condition, and so on.

One of the workshops I wanted to attend was about “Equality and diversity in the Green Party”. The first part of the “Message to attendees” of this workshop was similar to the previous message, with its identical discriminatory condition about men – quite ironic given the subject matter. This message also had an agenda, towards which, like its predecessor, I had also not been invited to contribute.

However, the given agenda looked quite interesting. The most interesting issue, to me, was the fourth item: “How do we avoid the infighting which has affected the Labour party about discrimination, especially anti-Semitism and transphobia?”

This is a very important topic. I was in the Labour Party for just over a year, and an active supporter of Momentum. Whilst there is indeed considerable dissent in Labour, I saw little evidence that it is any more or less discriminatory than the Greens. Labour’s infighting has almost nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with the fact that it has no core ideology, no equivalent of our Policies for a Sustainable Society.

All the same, the point is interesting. Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism is mostly created and routinely exploited by the mainstream media to smear Jeremy Corbyn for his decades of opposition to Zionism. It’s just another fake news scam. Labour is no more anti-Semitic than the Greens are, and the London-based Jewish Socialists’ Group, for example, is very supportive of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. But the very expression “anti-Semitism” has been corrupted by the mainstream media, possibly influenced by the powerful Zionist lobby.

The literal definition of Semitism originally referred to anyone with an ethnic origin stretching from North Africa to Iraq. The etymology of the word derives from ‘descendants of Shem’, a son of Noah, from whom the Phoenicians are believed to have come – the people who colonised much of the Mediterranean. Hence Arabic is routinely identified as a Semitic language, and unsurprisingly has similarities to Hebrew. But the way Semitism is being interpreted today is almost as a synonym for Zionism, suggesting that anyone who criticises Israel’s Zionist government is being anti-Semitic. But Zionism is a repulsive political ideology not dissimilar in practice to apartheid, and has nothing to do with Semitism – and many of its supporters are not even Semites. It’s a clever tactic designed to confuse understanding of the horrendous situation in Occupied Palestine and eliminate criticism of the vicious junta that rules it – something Jeremy Corbyn has always rightly done, as have the Greens, to some extent, with their support for the BDS campaign against Israel. Given Corbyn’s longstanding support for the terrible plight of Palestinians – a Semitic people – how could anyone rightly accuse him of anti-Semitism? So this is indeed a good and legitimate subject to include in the subject of “avoiding infighting” – but perhaps not quite as the workshop organisers intended.

Avoiding infighting is a vitally important concept, but it’s also a deeply loaded expression which can lead to totalitarianism. Enemies of the Greens will always seek to exploit any potential divisions as a means of destroying the party – the old “divide and rule” tactic. The widely-used traditional method for dealing with dissenting voices in large organisations is simply to eliminate them, one way or another. This is not an option for an organisation that’s striving to reform democracy. The most effective way to do this, for Greens, is through proper open debate and Party-wide decision-making. When dissenting opinion occurs, as it always will, provide a proper debate where voices for and against that opinion can be widely heard and then allow the whole membership to decide the result. The dissatisfied losers of such debates are free to leave the Party if they choose, but should not be pushed. Real progress can only be made in an environment of truly free expression and open debate, never through repression. So “avoiding infighting” should be managed through a process of open debate and decision-making, never through some form of secret policing. The very important need for widespread debate over the horrors being perpetrated in Occupied Palestine, for example, is being silenced everywhere by the simple device of labelling it “anti-Semitic”.

As I was unable to attend the workshops I have no idea how successful they were. But the fact that they were done at all is a huge advance, a giant leap forward towards creating a system where essential Party-wide debates and decision-making can be created. The key to improving the model is through increasing membership involvement at all stages, not limiting it. Those individuals tasked with administering the process must have less ability to control it. Their role must be simply to properly administer, not decide. A way must be found where any Party member may be included in deciding what issues to discuss, and in what order. Another way must be found where Proper Information is provided for each and every issue being discussed, both for and against, in an environment of real free expression. The provision of Proper Information is an essential component of real democracy. The spirit of Voltaire (who is alleged to have said, “I may disagree with all you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”) must be the guiding principle (whether he actually said it or not – because the principle is a fine one). And a way must be found where any Party member can vote to decide the outcome of any debate. An honest, transparent, inclusive, trustworthy, voting system is another essential component of real democracy. There is no plausible excuse for not doing any of this. We have the technology. It must be used.

Many of today’s political decision-makers will inevitably resist the creation of real democracy. That has been the story of democracy from its very earliest days: every new advance has been bitterly opposed by those who wield political power. From the days when British kings lost their “divine right” to rule, allowing rich land barons to share power, to the days when the voting franchise expanded to permit a whole 1% of the population to vote, the right to make political decisions has been ruthlessly restricted. Such was the situation for hundreds of years. It’s not even a hundred years since women were finally allowed to vote, as they were always deemed incapable of doing so – just as non-white people were forbidden to vote, and for the same reason, in most parts of the world, up to as recently as just twenty five years ago when apartheid ended in South Africa. Even today voting is still not a natural right for all citizens. Israel still practices apartheid, preventing many Arabs from voting in Israeli elections by the creation of Bantustans, where Arabs have no political rights outside their ghettoes, exactly as happened in South Africa.

Emma Goldman was mostly right when she made her observation about the uselessness of voting. Her words are still largely true even today, when so-called democracy is largely a cynical pantomime carefully stage-managed by the super-rich to create the illusion of democracy. But in recent years technology has provided the means to set us truly free. We now have the technical ability continually to provide good information to the entire population, and then to harvest the opinions and choices of the population. It’s only a question of time before that is routinely available to all citizens.

The GPEW is now leading the way in providing this inevitable innovation. A noble place in history awaits those who first deliver real democracy to the people. The Greens must surge ahead with this fine start they have made, and use its changes as a campaigning aid. We must create a model of real democracy within the Party to show citizens a working example of how a Green government could deliver real democracy to the whole country, and then the world. The Greens have long had a policy aim of Direct Democracy. We now have the opportunity to start providing it. The days of policy decision-making being restricted to the few people who are able to attend party conferences must end. Every Green Party member should be able to take part in all Party decision-making. If the holistic review does not include that, and propose steps to achieve it, it will be a largely pointless exercise.

When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born

As discontent increases with overly expensive and totally inadequate US health care, it is time to look closely at the beginnings of the modern Cuban medical system.  Like the US, Cuba had unintegrated, overlapping medical institutions that failed the poor, especially black, population of the island.  Though several European countries have developed health care systems about 40% cheaper than the US, Cuba was able to craft health care which became more than 80% less costly than the US with a roughly equivalent life expectancy.

When the revolutionary government took the reins in 1959, millions of Cubans went without medical care.  The years 1959-1964 aimed at overcoming the crisis of care delivery as half of the island’s physicians fled.  During the second half of the decade (1964-1969) Cuba began redesigning medicine as a holistic system.  It’s created a model for poor countries that forever changed medicine.  Cuba did so largely by putting the polyclinic at the center of care delivery.

The Policlínico Integral

The term “polyclinic” (or “policlínico” in Spanish) generally refers to a medical facility offering outpatient services.  In 1961, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) began a study to unify preventive and curative medicine. In May 1964, it opened the first policlínico integral.  The next year, MINSAP spread the model throughout Cuba.

Staff at the new polyclinics included at least a general practice physician, nurse, pediatrician, OB/GYN and social worker.  Nurses and social workers made house calls.  Staff extended services to workplaces, schools and communities.  Community outreach included health campaigns such as mass vaccination programs and efforts to control malaria and dengue.

Vaccination began shortly after the revolution; but the policlínico integral structure vastly increased its effectiveness.  In 1962, 80% of all children under 15 were vaccinated against polio in 11 days.  In 1970, it took one day for the same national effort.  Malaria was eradicated in 1967, as was diphtheria by1971.

Clinic staff coordinated primary care programs (maternal and child care, adult medical care, and dentistry) as well as public health (control of infectious diseases, environmental services, food control, school health services, and occupational and labor medicine.)  In addition to combining preventive and curative medicine the policlínicos integrales provided a full range of services at a single location, coordinated community campaigns and offered social as well as medical services.  Most important, they provided a single point of entry into the system, allowing for a complete record of patients’ medical histories.

Mutualism Withers Away

Post-1965 efforts increased nursing schools as well as training for auxiliary nurses, x-ray technicians, laboratory technicians, sanitarians and dental assistants.  Always attentive to alternative medicine, Cubans integrated healers (curanderos) into the health system.  As dentists were absorbed by the polyclinics, their numbers quadrupled.

MINSAP also addressed the unbalanced number, proportion and location of medical facilities.  Only 22% of Cubans lived in Havana, which had most of the country’s hospital beds.  The Oriente, or eastern part of the island, with a larger black population, was home to 35% of all Cubans but had only 15.5% of hospital beds.  Plans for new beds and doctors were concentrated in the east.

Also problematic was the existence of many small rural hospitals which could not provide a full range of services.  They dealt with the contradiction by decreasing the number of rural hospitals simultaneously with increasing the number of rural polyclinics as well as beds per hospital.

The role of the polyclinic became more central – more patients were initially seen at polyclinics where a physician could refer them to a hospital.  Polyclinic visits doubled at the same time visits to hospitals went down.

Cuban planners confronted a thorny dilemma: How do you cope with an inefficient medical anachronism that is immensely popular?  “Mutualism” had existed in Cuba for 400 years.  It was a pre-revolutionary holdover unable to resolve health issues because of its disheveled array of unconnected services.

Mutualism was similar to insurance, with subscribers paying a monthly fee for hospitalization and medical services.  The type of services covered varied widely from plan to plan and always left something out.  Unlike the new policlínicos integrales, mutualist clinics did not offer preventive medicine, were not adequately linked to hospitals, and did not have a specific geographical area where they provided services.

The revolutionary government was wise to not nationalize mutualist clinics as it did many large, foreign-owned businesses.  Instead, mutualist clinics were required to be increasingly similar to government clinics.  When separate financing for them ceased, their reason for existence withered away.  In 1970, mutualism ended new memberships and monthly dues as it equalized services for members and non-members.  It thereby ceased to exist.

At the same time, private medical practice, while not prohibited, faded into the sunset.  Within 10 or 11 years of the revolution, Cuba had a unified medical system, with a focus on the polyclinic for care delivery and all services guided by MINSAP.

Centralization/Decentralization

Planners carefully studied health systems of the Soviet Bloc.  They were typically overly centralized, leaving little opportunity for creative thought by practitioners or local administrators.  Instead, Cubans developed the concept of “centralization/decentralization.”

Centralization increased with a 1966 statute creating 10 new research institutes.  A centralized MINSAP was overseeing virtually all professional services by 1967.

What may be difficult for non-Cubans to grasp is that decentralization increased conjointly with centralization.  By pulling mutualist clinics into the medical system, MINSAP increased the number of clinics and their decision-making power.  While there was vertical control of programs for tuberculosis, leprosy and venereal disease, their efficiency was improved by the polyclinics’ deciding how to implement them.  The period saw a process of unifying and standardizing the rapidly expanding system of clinics while decentralizing clinic management and increasing autonomy.

At the very beginning of the polyclinic era, the Cuban government charted a course which would ensure their role as the cornerstone of decentralization: The policlínicos integrales became independent of hospital control.  Instead of being administrative branches of regional hospitals, clinics had an administrative position equal to hospitals.

A subtle but important component of elevating the status of the policlínico integral was creation of primary care as a specialty, which addressed everyday medical problems in clinics.  Offering this as an option for post-graduate training put primary care physicians on par with other medical specialties.

Mobilization for a Health Revolution

The role of polyclinics in coordinating health campaigns both enhanced their stature in the eyes of the average Cuban and consolidated their position in the decentralization of health services.  No one knew better than Fidel Castro that a government cannot merely decree that a campaign will occur.  The literacy campaign showed that there must be massive involvement and enthusiasm for it to be successful.

Fidel was a driving force of mobilization.  He motivated physicians, graduating medical students, and the entire country by reminding them that “Public health occupies a prioritized and sacred place in the revolution.”  Fidel pushed for changes that would accelerate training of medical personnel and rotate professors, instructors and residents from Havana to new medical schools.

One of Fidel’s most important contributions was explaining that Cuba could improve upon eastern Europe’s concept of community clinics.  He believed that Cuba needed to create an example of public medicine that could be used by poor and undeveloped countries.

The Committees for Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) were organized in 1960 to guard against sabotage and attacks from the US.  They provided social networks for neighborhoods and soon became intricately linked to public health coordination.

CDRs took on the task of registering the entire population at policlínicos integrales.  Since each policlínico integral had a defined geographical area, 100% enrollment was not an unreasonable goal.  Working in conjunction with policlínicos integrales, the CDRs were deeply involved in establishing social and preventive medicine; educating and mobilizing the population to help combat flies and mosquitoes, control infectious diseases, and donate blood; building schools and parks; and cleaning and repairing streets

The first decade of the Cuban revolution shows that if limited resources are distributed in an egalitarian fashion medical miracles can happen.  The key to Cuba’s medical revolution was (a) dedication and work by all health care professionals under (b) a well-guided structure set forth by MINSAP with (c) decentralized implementation of health campaigns by policlínicos integrales in coordination with mass organizations.

Lingering Issues

Despite Cuba’s having forged a unified medical system with a single point of patient entry into a decentralized policlínico integral, significant issues persisted 10 years after the revolution.  Most disturbing was that infant mortality continued to climb.

Also, the fusion of centralization and decentralization was often not as smooth as hoped.  Even though many revolutionary doctors took positions in MINSAP or as administrators of medical facilities, conflicts still surfaced between those whose primary jobs were re-creating the medical system and those whose daily work focused on care delivery.

While the new ideology proclaimed the importance of preventive medicine, doctors and other clinicians frequently perceived health to merely be the absence of disease.  The changeover in attitudes did occur, largely through the education of the next generation of practitioners.

Doctors tend to be very autonomous, confident that their method is the best.  What happens when their approach diverges from policy, the community and/or colleagues?

There was widespread disagreement over a parent wanting to “live-in” with a hospitalized child.  Most doctors and nurses were very opposed to initiating a policy of letting a parent sleep in a child’s hospital room, fearing that s/he would be a nuisance.  Dr. Ezno Dueñas recalled his experience at Lenin Hospital in Holguín when there was a shortage of nurses: “So we had to have mothers taking care of their children.  Now, the mother is with the child in the hospital and is not upset.”  When the government decided to implement the policy of live-in parents it became very popular and resulted in shorter hospital stays for children.

The stress of going to medical school in Cuba during the 1960s was enough to cause almost half of students to drop out.  One program to keep them enrolled was to create alumnos ayudantes (student assistants or peer tutors).  Dr. María Luísa Lima, who currently teaches at ELAM (Latin American School of Medicine), began medical school in 1965 when she was 17 years old.  She explained to me that ayudantes were those who had done well in basic sciences and were closely tutored by doctors so they could help others through courses.  The ayudantes expanded the reach of professors and were themselves potential new faculty.

Despite all efforts, there was still a shortfall of doctors in 1969.  This unquestionably hurt the ability to provide health care for all.  I asked Cuban historian Hedelberto López how difficult it would have been to implement the changes of the 1960s, including the development of polyclinics, if the counterrevolutionaries had stayed.  He replied that “Of course, the revolution in medicine would have been impossible if doctors had not fled the country.  They would have disrupted everything.”

By the last half of the 1960s, the departure of half of Cuba’s doctors to Miami proved to be a double-edged sword.  One edge slashed into the health care of Cubans, depriving millions of desperately needed health care as the other edge cut off the ability of nay-sayers to hamper the building of a new medical world.

Many lessons of the first decade of Cuban medicine had been assumed or suspected before the revolution confirmed them.  It became clear that medical care could only be improved if a country simultaneously addressed necessities such as food, housing and education; medical campaigns must be based on mass participation; it may be possible to cope with an obstructive institution such as mutualism by creating a better method of delivering care before abolishing the old one; an institution could be improved by undertaking two contradictory processes simultaneously (such as centralizing and decentralizing medicine); despite the short term damage of 3000 doctors leaving, the long term ability to renovate medicine was blessed by their absence.

None of these principles can be applied in a rigid fashion to another country.  They demonstrate that providing health care which genuinely meets human needs must go beyond patching up holes in the old system and completely reconceptualize the system itself.

Why Venezuela and Syria Cannot Fall

Despite tremendous hardship which the Venezuelan people are having to face, despite the sanctions and intimidation from abroad, President Nicolás Maduro has won a second six-year term.

Two weeks ago, at the Venezuelan embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where I addressed several leaders of East African left-wing opposition, an acting Charge d’ Affaires, Jose Avila Torres, declared: “People of Venezuela are now facing similar situation as the Syrian people.”

True. Both nations, Venezuela and Syria, are separated by a tremendous geographical distance, but they are united by the same fate, same determination and courage.

During the Spanish Civil War, Czech anti-fascist fighters, volunteers in the International Brigades, used to say: “In Madrid we are fighting for Prague”. Madrid fell to Franco’s fascists in October 1939. Prague had been occupied by German troops several months earlier, in March 1939. It was the blindness and cowardice of the European leaders, as well as the support which the murderous fascist hordes received from populations of all corners of the continent, which led to one of the greatest tragedies in modern history – a tragedy which only ended on May 9, 1945, when the Soviet troops liberated Prague, defeating Nazi Germany and de facto saving the world.

More than 70 years later, the world is facing another calamity. The West, mentally unfit to peacefully end its several centuries long murderous reign over the planet – a reign that has already taken several hundreds of millions of human lives – is flexing its muscle and madly snapping in all directions, provoking, antagonizing and even directly attacking countries as far apart as North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

What is happening now is not called fascism or Nazism, but it clearly is precisely that, as the barbaric rule is based on a profound spite for non-Western human lives, on fanatical right-wing dogmas which are stinking of exceptionalism, and on the unbridled desire to control the world.

Many countries that refused to yield to brutal Western force were recently literally leveled with the ground, including Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. In many other ones, the governments were overthrown by direct and indirect interventions, as well as deceit, as was the case in the mightiest country in Latin America – Brazil. Countless “color”, “umbrella” and other “revolutions” as well as “springs” have been sponsored by Washington, London and other Western capitals.

But the world is waking up, slowly but irreversibly, and the fight for survival of our human race has already begun.

Venezuela and Syria are, unquestionably, at the front line of the struggle.

Against all odds, bleeding but heroically erect, they stand against the overwhelmingly mightier force, and refuse to give up.

President Hugo Chavez

“Here no one surrenders!” shouted Hugo Chavez, already balding from chemotherapy, dying of cancer which many in Latin America believe, was administered to him from the United States. His fist was clenched and heavy rain was falling on his face. Like this, died one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time. But his revolution survived, and is marching on!

I am well aware of the fact that many of my readers are from the West. Somehow, particularly in Europe, I cannot explain, anymore, what it really is to be a revolutionary. Recently I spoke at a big gathering of ‘progressive’ teachers, which took place in Scandinavia. I tried to fire them up, to explain to them what monstrous crimes the West has been committing all over the world, for centuries.

I tried and I failed. When the lights went on, I was drilled by hundreds of eyes. Yes, there was an applause, and many stood up in that fake cliché – a standing ovation. But I knew that our worlds were far apart.

What followed were pre-fabricated and shallow questions about human rights in China, about “Assad’s regime”, but nothing about the collective responsibility of people of the West.

To understand what goes on in Syria and in Venezuela, requires stepping out of the Western mindset. It cannot be understood by selfish minds that are only obsessed with sexuality and sexual orientation, and with self-interest.

There is something essential, something very basic and human that is taking place in both Syria and Venezuela. It is about human pride, about motherland, about love for justice and dreams, about a much better arrangement for the world. It is not petty; in fact, it is huge, and even worth fighting and dying for.

In both places, the West miscalculated, as it clearly miscalculated in such ‘cases’ as Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, DPRK.

Patria no se vende!”, they have been saying in Cuba, for decades – “Fatherland is not for sale!”

Profit is not everything. Personal gain is not everything. Selfishness and tiny but inflated egos are not everything. Justice and dignity are much more. Human ideals are much more. To some people they are. Really, they are, trust me – no matter how unreal it may appear in the West.

Syria is bleeding, but it refused to surrender to the terrorism injected by the West and its allies. Aleppo was turned into a modern-day Stalingrad. At a tremendous cost, the city withstood all vicious assaults, it managed to reverse the course of the war, and as a result, it saved the country.

Venezuela, like Cuba in the early 90’s, found itself alone, abandoned, spat at and demonized. But it did not fall on its knees.

In Europe and North America, analyses of what is happening there have been made “logically” and “rationally”. Or have they, really?

Do people in the West really know what it is like to be colonized? Do they know what the “Venezuelan opposition is”?

Do they know about the consistency of the terror being spread by the West, for centuries and all over Latin America, from such places like the Dominican Republic and Honduras, all the way down to Chile and Argentina?

No, they know nothing, or they know very little, like those Germans who were living right next to the extermination camps and after the war they claimed that they had no idea what that smoke coming up from the chimneys was all about.

There is hardly any country in Central or South America, whose government has not at least been overthrown once by the North, whenever it decided to work on behalf of its people.

And Brazil, last year, became the ‘latest edition’ of the nightmares, disinformation campaigns, ‘fake news’ and coups – being spread with ‘compliments’ from the North, through local ‘elites’.

You see, there is really no point of discussing too many issues with the ‘opposition’ in countries such as Venezuela, Cuba or Bolivia. What has to be said was already pronounced.

What goes on is not some academic discussion club, but a war; a real and brutal civil war.

I know the ‘opposition’ in South American countries, and I know the ‘elites’ there. Yes, of course, I know many of my comrades, the revolutionaries, but I am also familiar with the ‘elites’.

Just to illustrate, let me recall a conversation I once had in Bolivia, with the son of a powerful right-wing senator, who doubled as a media magnate. In a slightly drunken state he kept repeating to me:

We will soon kick the ass of that Indian shit [president of Bolivia, Evo Morales] … You think we care about money? We have plenty of money! We don’t care if we lose millions of dollars, even tens of millions! We will spread insecurity, uncertainty, fear, deficits and if we have to, even hunger… We’ll bleed those Indians to death!

All this may sound ‘irrational’, even directly against their own capitalist gospel. But they don’t care about rationality, only about power. And their handlers from the North will compensate their losses, anyway.

There is no way to negotiate, to debate with these kinds of people. They are traitors, thieves and murderers.

For years and decades, they used the same strategy, betting on the soft-heartedness and humanism of their socialist opponents. They dragged progressive governments into endless and futile debates, then used their own as well as Western media to smear them. If it did not work, they choked their own economies, creating deficits, like in Chile before the 1973 Pinochet’s coup. If that did not work, they’d used terror – naked and merciless. And finally, as the last resort – direct Western interventions.

They are not in it for ‘democracy’ or even for some ‘free market’. They are serving their Western masters and their own feudalist interests.

To negotiate with them is to lose. It is identical with playing the game by their own rules. Because behind them is the entire Western propaganda, as well as financial and military machinery.

The only way to survive is to toughen up, to clench teeth, and to fight. As Cuba has been doing for decades, and yes, as Venezuela is doing now.

This approach does not look ‘lovely’; it is not always ‘neat’, but it is the only way forward, the only way for progress and revolution to survive.

Before Dilma got ‘impeached’ by the pro-Western bunch of corrupt freaks, I suggested in my essay that was censored by Counterpunch but published by dozens of other outlets world-wide, in many languages, that she should send tanks into the streets of Brasilia. I suggested that it was her duty, in the name of the people of Brazil, who voted for her, and who benefited greatly from the rule of her PT.

She did not do it, and I am almost certain that now she is regretting so. Her people are once again getting robbed; they are suffering. And the entire South America is, as a result, in disarray!

Corruption? Mismanagement? For decades and centuries, the people of Latin America were ruled and robbed by the corrupt bandits, who were using their continent as a milking cow, while living in the repulsive opulence of the Western aristocracy. All that was done, naturally, in the name of ‘democracy’, a total charade.

Venezuela is still there – people are rallying behind the government – in terrible pain and half-starving but rallying nevertheless. It is because for many people there, personal interests are secondary. What matters is their country, socialist ideology and the great South American fatherland. Patria grande.

It is impossible to explain. It is not rational, it is intuitive, deep, essential and human.

Those who have no ideology and ability to commit, will not understand. And, frankly, who cares if they will or not.

Hopefully, soon, both Brazil and Mexico – the two most populous nations in Latin America – will vote in new left-wing governments. Things will then change, will become much better, for Venezuela.

Until then, Caracas has to rely on its far-away but close comrades and friends, China, Iran and Russia, but also on its beautiful and brave sister – Cuba.

Evo Morales recently warned that the West is plotting a coup in Venezuela.

Maduro’s government has to survive another few months. Before Brazil is back, before Mexico joins.

It will be a tough, perhaps even bloody fight. But history is not made by weak compromises and capitulations. One cannot negotiate with Fascism. France tried, before WWII, and we all know the results.

The West and its fascism can only be fought, never appeased

When one defends his country, things can never be tidy and neat. There are no saints. Sainthood leads to defeat. Saints are born later, when victory is won and the nation can afford it.

Venezuela and Syria have to be supported and defended, by all means.

These wonderful people, Venezuelans and Syrians, are now bleeding, fighting for the entire non-Western and oppressed world. In Caracas and Damascus, people are struggling, battling and dying for Honduras and Iran, for Afghanistan and West Africa.

Their enemies can only be stopped by force.

In Scandinavia, a Syrian gusano, who lives in the West, who smears president Assad and gets fully compensated for it, challenged me, as well as the Syrian ‘regime’ and Iran, during the Q/A session. I said I refuse to discuss this with him, as even if we were to spend two hours shouting at each other, in public, we would never find any common ground. People like him began the war, and war they should get. I told him that he is definitely paid for his efforts and that the only way for us to settle this is ‘outside’, on the street.

Venezuela and Syria cannot fall. Too much is now at stake. Both countries are presently fighting something enormous and sinister – they are fighting against the entire Western imperialism. It is not just about some ‘opposition’, or even the treasonous elements in their societies.

This is much bigger. This is about the future, about the survival of humanity.

Billions of people in all parts of the world have been closely following the elections in the Bolivarian Republic. There, the people have voted. President Maduro won. He won again. Scarred, bruised, but he won. Once again, socialism defeated fascism. And long live Venezuela, damn it!

Originally published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

The Economist on Marx’s 200 years

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

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

Marx’s “failures”

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

The proofs are all very weighty:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marx’s successes and further “failures”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There follows Marx’s worst “mistake”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can capitalism reform itself anew?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Economist on Marx’s 200 years

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

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

Marx’s “failures”

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

The proofs are all very weighty:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marx’s successes and further “failures”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There follows Marx’s worst “mistake”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can capitalism reform itself anew?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Fidelis or Das Kapital Uber Alles: From Eisenhower to Trump!

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

— Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1935)

I don’t think so. I think that the – the hook for many of our supporters was the idea that this was an unusual messenger for an important environmental message. You know, people who support environmental issues are constantly trying to find a way to preach beyond the choir, to reach beyond their base of people who are already on board, and I think one of the things that’s very appealing about the film, but primarily Jerry as a messenger, is that you don’t expect this message to come from a career military person.

And through Jerry, you’re – we’ve been able to reach this audience of military folks who maybe wouldn’t be attuned to the environmental message about the effects of toxins on health and things like that. So I think there was a real appeal to many of those organizations from that perspective.

— Rachel Libert, co-producer of filmSemper Fi

I’m thinking harder and harder about the Continuing Criminal Enterprise that is the Corporate State. Thinking hard about the buffoonery, really, “regular” citizens, and members of the armed services, taking hook-line-and-sinker the foundational belief that it’s we the people, by the people, for the people, because of the people.

How wrong my old man was, 32 years combined Air Force and Army, believing he was upholding some decency, some safety nets for all, old folks homes, jobs for college grads and those without any training. Turning in his grave, absolutely, if he could now witness the evisceration of our post office, libraries, public schools, health care, roads and infrastructure. He fought for government oversight, EPA, FDA, and the rights of nature over the thuggery of madmen and Mafiosi and financial philanderers. He witnessed the abuse and fraud of the US Military Lobbying Corporate Ripoff complex, up close and personal. When he was in Korea, he had the utmost respect for Koreans, on both sides of the line. When he was in Vietnam, he had the utmost respect for the Vietnamese. He taught me the words of General Smedley Butler when I was 12. Now how fucked up is that, man. Living half a century on that graveyard of lies, propaganda and insufferable patriotism.

Daily, that American exceptionalist clarion call is pummeled and delegitimized by purveyors of Capitalism – rapacious, arbitrary, steeped in usury, couched in profits over all, cemented by the few elites and their soldiers – Little Eichmann’s – to define all human and non-human life as anything for the taking, consequences be damned. It’s a bought and sold and resell system, United States. Many times, it’s a rip-off after rip-off system of penalties and penury.

Think of Capitalism as, in spite of the people, against the people, forever exploiting the masses. Daily, I have seen this played out as a kid living on military bases around the world; or in just one of a hundred examples, as a student at the University of Arizona watching white purveyors of capital squash the sacred mountain, Mount Graham, in the name of telescopes and tens of thousands of profits per hour for anyone wanting to peer through the scopes. Sticking to the Sonora, I saw the developers in Tucson and then in Kino Bay, Guaymas, all there to push ecosystems toward extinction and to hobble the people – of, for, by, because – with centuries of collective debt and decades of individual fines, levies, taxes, penalties, tolls, externalities. This has been a Greek tragedy of monumental proportions, my 61 years of hard living, shaped by Marxist ideology and informed with communitarian reality.

Name a system or an issue, and then I quickly and easily jump to the cause and effect of the problem, and searching for intended and unintended consequences, and then comprehending shifting baselines, and then inevitably, realizing the tragedy of the commons tied to anything enshrined in consumer capitalism, and then, finally, acceding to the full context of how exponential growth and the limits of growth all come pounding like an aneurysm into my brain.

Call it death by a thousand rules, death by a thousand loopholes, death by a thousand fine print clauses, death by a thousand new chemicals polluting land, soil, air, water, flesh. Death by another thousand PT Barnum adages from dozens of financial-extracting arenas — “a sucker is born every minute,” all tributes to this casino-vulture-predatory capitalism which is insanity as we go to war for, because, despite it all.

Teacher-journalist-social worker-activist-unionist: Who the hell said I had any place in this society of “money takes/speaks/controls/shapes all,” or the Holly-dirt celebrity that is Weinstein or Rosanne Barr, the lot of them, and the unending perversion of big business-big media-big energy-big finance-big pharma-big arms manufacturing-big war as the new coded and DNA-embedded value system, the existential crisis (hog) of culture, civil society, the commons, community, and nature?

The men and women I work with now, after a cavalcade of careers under my belt, are wounded soldiers, sometimes wounded warriors, and many times wounded children – both the inner child and the literal children of soldiers. We’ve had one-day-old babies and 83-year-old veterans in this shelter. Every type of service, every type of discharge, every kind of military history. Some were never deployed overseas, some were but in support capacities, and others saw combat.

That is the microcosm of society reflected in this homeless shelter. I’ve written about it here and here and here. The prevailing winds of one or two strikes, then one or two bad debts, then one or two evictions, or one or two convictions, and, one or two co-occurring maladies, or one or two levels of trauma, and you are almost out; and mix that up with failed relationships, and capitalism and militarism, joined at the hip like a six-legged frog, and we have homelessness. Living in garages, in mini-vans, on couches, in tents, on floors, in wooden boxes, in abandoned buildings, in cemeteries, in cars.

For veterans, there is some level of dysfunctional help through the VA, the medical and dental system, the psych wards, and with housing vouchers and some debt relief. Thank a veteran for his or her service to the country, well, that’s a sloppy invocation of superficial respect.

The crumbs of the octopus that is capitalism wedded to war trickle down to some sectors of society – those who were diagnosed before 18 with some developmental-psychological-intellectual disability and veterans who served. I am talking about vets who didn’t go full-bore and retire after 20-plus years. These vets sometimes ended up in for four or five years, some a few months, and as is the case, here, the hierarchy of character and demographics kicks in, as veterans deployed to war and those who were wounded in war get a higher level of “benefits” than, say, someone who was in a few months or a year with no splashy combat rejoinder to his or her record.

We have vets in continuous, long bureaucratic lines working on their service connected disability claims, and, it’s sometimes a huge Sisyphus game of producing medical record after medical record going up against the hydra of the US government, Arms Service Committee pols, and the western medical system that was bound for failure after the striped barber pole days ended. The military does not help, denying injuries on the job, in combat or otherwise.

Tinnitus or loss of hearing, well, that’s usually a given after even a few months of service in the military. Knees, hips, feet, back problems. Anxiety, depression, skin issues. Kidney, teeth, TBI issues. PTSD and MST (military sexual trauma). The list is a ten-volume encyclopedia.

What I’ve found is most guys and gals are not wired for the obscene confusion, machismo and endless stupidity of repetition and humiliation of barking dehumanizing orders and tasks coming out of service to our country – all branches of the military make the Sanford Prison Experiment look like a walk in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

A Documentary About Cover-up, Collective Guilt, Toxins in the Water, Death

The precipitating factor behind a review of a 2011 documentary, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, directed and produced by Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon, is I am working with a former Marine client as his social worker. In a homeless shelter for veterans; that moniker – social worker — is a deep one, a cover-all assignment, with wide ranging responsibilities, some anticipated and others surprisingly serendipitous.

His case, age 63, former Marine, in at age 17 with parents’ permission, is complicated – as if the other cases are not. A lot of these cases involve young men and women, virtually boys and girls, getting out of Dodge. Some with a sense of patriotism, for sure, and a few with aspirations of turning the military into a career. But make no bones about it, these people many times got caught up in the rah-rah patriotism of the day, Apple Pie, Mom, Hot Dogs and Football. Some were in it for the macho badge, and others wanted to learn avionics, electronics, logistics and nursing, etc. Many were discharged because of physical injuries or some sort of mental strain, or many were rifted for the unjust downright downsizing.

I’ll call my man Larry, and he grew up on the Oregon Coast, ending up hitching up with the Marine Corps because he wanted out of bubble of the small town and wanted in with a band of brothers.

Today, he is still tall, but a bit hunched over. His face is frozen in a heavy screen of sadness and fear. Both hands he is attempting to calm, but Parkinsonian tremors have taken over; he can’t hold a tray of food and drink, and he has no signature left. He has bruises on his arms and shines from falling over, tripping. He repeats himself, and knows it, telling me his words are coming out slurred.

He spent two years in prison for what amounts to minor (in my mind) medical fraud with his company. Those two years, he tells me, were nirvana. “The prison guards told me they had never anyone say they were glad to be in prison. I told them this was the calmest and most level I had ever been, or for at least years.”

His life was one of overwork, overreach, clients all over the Pacific Northwest, gambling addiction, big money from his business, lot of toys and big home, and children who ended up spoiled and broken as adults. Larry’s juggling a hoarder wife whose mother is dying, a heroin-addicted daughter with a child, another daughter in an abusive relationship, and countless appointments now to the VA, psychologists, counselors, OT and PT professionals, and support groups.

Today, he is quickly slipping into miasma of Parkinson’s, with all the symptoms and negative cycles of someone with Parkinson’s hitting him daily. He barely got a diagnosis, as early on-set, a few months ago; in fact, he’s been living with the Parkinsonian-triggered suite of maladies for up to 12 years, he tells me. “I remember my clients telling me I was repeating myself. I really think the stupid decision to defraud the state for a few hundred dollars was triggered by Parkinson’s.”

He and I have talked to support groups, looked at the literature around Parkinson’s, watched TED Talk’s focusing on the disease, gone to Michael J. Fox’s web site, and just honed in on what his life will be like in a year, two years, and five.

Right now, his Parkinson’s is one of nine major maladies tied to service connected disabilities the VA is now processing. This ties into the movie – Semper Fi – because my client was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as part of the Marine Corps where learning the art of war was also combined with the silent spring of water contamination that eventually resulted in diseases that both affected the veterans but also their families, and civilians who used the water, as well as their offspring.

This is a three decades long exposure, 1957 – 1987, with an estimated 750,000 to 1,000,000 people who may been exposed to the cancer- and neurological disorder-causing chemicals. They consumed and bathed in tap water contaminated with “extremely high concentrations of toxic chemicals.”

The documentary follows three main protagonists fighting for their lives, the legacy of loved ones who were affected, and for the truth.

This is Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and according to the epidemiologists and scientists from the National Academy of Sciences, it is one of largest water contamination incidents in US history. We learn in the film the main carcinogens the people were exposed to — benzene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE), three known human carcinogens, in addition to perchloroethylene (PCE), a probable carcinogen.

The list of physical damage caused by exposure is long — Birth Defects, Leukemia, Neurological Damage, Bladder Cancer, Liver Damage, Ovarian Cancer, Breast Cancer, Lymphoma, Prostate Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Lung Cancer, Scleroderma, Kidney Damage, Miscarriage, Skin Disorders.

My guy Larry is afraid of watching the documentary, as he is now in a spiraling malaise and deep anxiety tied to the reality of what life with Parkinson’s is, and that maybe many of his life decisions, from infidelity in a marriage to spontaneous behavior like gambling addiction may have stemmed from the stripping of his neurological web by these solvents and fuels that were leaking into the water supply, a contamination known by the United States’ Marines.

Knowledge is power but it can be a leveling power, one that forces people to look at the totality of their lives as may be based on a stack of lies and false ideologies. The movie reveals to the audience that this is one of 130 military sites in the USA with contamination issues. Alas, as I’ve written about before, the US military is the largest polluter in the world, and other militaries have the same standards or lack thereof for storing fuel, solvents, cleaners and other chemicals utilized in the war machine of the West.

Three Lives Following the Chemical Trail, Lies and Deceit

The documentary looks at three lives intensely – a 24-year veteran of the Marines whose 9-year-old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, a man who was born on the base and raised there and then developed male breast cancer, and a female Marine who served years at the Camp and who throughout the film is going through chemo to fight her rare disease.

We see the gravestones at the military cemetery at Camp Lejeune and remarkable typographic evidence of strange deaths – babies buried after a day living, stillborn babies buried, families with two or three deceased individuals, the offspring of serving Marines buried in plots surrounded by others who prematurely died.

Jerry Ensminger, the former drill sergeant, pushes hard to attempt to understand how the Marines could have lied and covered up the years of contamination. He fights to understand how the chemical producers through their lobbyists could hold sway over the common sense duty of protecting the citizens of the United States who swore an oath to defend the US Constitution. In the end, Jerry Ensminger (Janey’s dad), Michael Partain (male breast cancer survivor), and Danita McCall (former Marine enlisted soldier) make for compelling film making, since the project went on for four years.

Here, Rachel, the co-producer, talks about Danita:

The woman who shook her head is a woman named Danita, who we also followed in the film. When we met Danita, she was actually healthy, but shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer that honestly had metastasized so much in her body that I don’t think they could even say what the organ of – you know, what organ it started in. And we began to – in addition to following Jerry and Tom and the others, we also followed Danita as she fought to stay alive, as well as fought to get this issue out.

She did not make it in the time that we were making the film. And neither my co-director or I had ever experienced that in a project we’d worked on, and it was really hard. But Danita felt very strongly that her story should be in the film, and she – even though there were times where she was not feeling so great when we were trying to film her, because she had chemo treatment and whatnot, she really rallied through.

The ultimate sacrifice fighting for your life because of chemical-toxin induced cancers are eating at your very soul while also going up against the PR and hellish propaganda systems that define America, define the powerful, the political, the lobbies, the Captains of Industry, in this case, the chemical purveyors who have been given carte blanc the right to kill entire neighborhoods and classes of people and non-people species because Capitalism is predicated on unfettered rights of any snake oil salesman or demon shyster to bilk, bust, and bill for all the disease they perpetrate. Is anyone with a sound mind going to believe that Agent Orange and PCBs were not already deemed harmful to human life before they were even sprayed on the innocents of Vietnam? Does anyone believe the polluted, lead-flecked water of Flint doesn’t kill brain cells? Off-gassing, Volitile Organic Compounds, plastics, solvents, flame retardants, pesticides, fungicides, diesel fumes, nitrous oxide, fluoride, well, the list goes on and on, and those demons will hide, obfuscate, and downright lie to keep the pennies from Capitalism’s Heaven falling into their fat, off-shore, tax-free bank accounts.

Here, Jerry, talking to C-SPAN:

When any family ever have a child, especially a child, that’s diagnosed with a long-term catastrophic illness, without exception — because I’ve talked to so many other families, when Janey was sic– the first thing after you have a chance to sit down after the shock of the diagnosis wears off is that nagging question: Why? Well, I was no exception.
And I looked into her mother’s family history, my family history, no other child had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

We are talking about over one thousand Freedom of Information requests to have Navy, Marines and other government agency files open for public viewing. The concept of we the people, by the people, for the people – public health, safety, welfare – has never really been a reality, but a myth. For filmmaker Rachel Libert, she too has been caught with wide open eyes around how rotten the systems in place are for supposedly cross-checking and protecting people’s lives:

It’s been eye-opening for me. I think the thing that was probably the most eye-opening – I don’t consider myself a naive person, but I – I actually believed that our regulatory agencies were doing their job and protecting us, bottom line, that things that were really, really harmful and known to be carcinogens wouldn’t really be in our environment, in our water and things. And in making this film, I realized that that system is very flawed and that we aren’t as protected, and that was a very difficult thing for me to accept.

I mean, I certainly didn’t go into it thinking, oh, the government’s perfect and there are no problems, but that was a big revelation.

Again, the film is a microcosm of the world I live in, the world I work in, and the world of a Marxist struggling to make sense of the psychology of power and the impact of that power on the common people. Yes, schooling has helped with the American mythology of greatness. Yes, the Madison Avenue shills have aided and abetted the stupidity of a collective. Yes, the genocidal roots of this country’s illegal origin continue to splay the DNA of Americans. Yes, the food is bad, the air contaminated, the medicines polluted and the human spirit malformed in the collective American household. Yes, those in power are perversions, open felons, war mongers and money grubbers.

But, when you see over the course of four years – these main “actors” in the documentary are not paid – the Don Quixotes flailing at windmills, just replace Camp Lejeune with Love Canal or Monfort slaughter house, or fence-line communities around Houston or the flaming waters of the Cuyahoga River. Just spend a few years studying the largest Superfund site, Hanford in southern Washington. Just spend time looking at the research on Glyphosate (Monsanto’s DNA-killing Round-up). Just delve into the research on EMFs and cancers, or cell phones and brain lesions. Again, this so-called exceptionalist country is a purveyor of lies, purveyor of mentally deranged uber patriotism, and without exception, eventually, anyone going up against the system will quickly hold to him or her self the belief we all have been snookered by the Titans of Industry and the Wolves of Wall Street.

Here, the good Marine, 24 years in, Semper Fi, now a farmer in North Carolina, wondering just what he was fighting for:

Well . . . one thing that they’ve done over the years is that they have obfuscated the facts so much, they have told so many half-truths and total lies, they’ve omitted a lot of information to the media, and now if they were to sit down with me face-to-face, I could show them with their own documents and counter what they’ve been saying, and they don’t want to do that.

I mean, I have been very, very cautious throughout this entire fight to speak truth. I’ve told Mike Partain, when he got involved in it, and everybody else that gets involved in this situation, don’t ever speculate. If you’re talking to the media, if you’re talking to Congress, never speculate. If you don’t have a document out of their own files to back up what you’re saying, keep your mouth shut.

And going back to Mike Partain, when Mike got involved in this back in 2007, Tom was starting to fall out of the hike. Tom’s in his 80s. And Mike was a godsend. I mean, Mike has a degree in history. And he has also got investigative skills, because he is an insurance adjuster. He couldn’t – he couldn’t pay to raise his family on high school teacher’s pay, history teacher’s pay, so he went and got a job as an investigator.

Admirable, the story telling and truth Sather qualities in this film, for sure. The audience gets up close and personal with Jerry and Mike and Danita, and the directors let the soldiers tell the story. We get the cold hard stare down of the military brass. Indeed, for the uninitiated this story is compelling.

But also on the outer edges of this piece are the obscenities of blind obedience to command. There are some ugly truths to being a Marine, of following orders, of sadomasochistic drill sergeants, the culture of rape, the outright racism, and all the attendant issues tied to military service.

This is the fiftieth year after the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. The two or three soldiers who stood down some of the killers and reported the crime were vilified. That bastion of war, Colin Powell, was a junior officer whose job was to hunt down any incriminating evidence against the soldiers who reported the murders. Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer for his reporting on My Lai. Yet, Colin Powell rose to power, ending up in another war criminal’s administration – Bush Junior. To think of all the illegal wars these soldiers have prepped for and gone to, one wonders if any soldier can believe anything around their sometimes teary-eyed salute the flag patriotism.

The USS Liberty, 51 years ago, and Israel murders 34 sailors, and wounds 171, yet deniability, no repercussions, and here we are, US DoD and US Military are the beckon call of Israel firsters running our government, and the blind allegiance to the apartheid and genocidal state 70 years after forced trail of tears for Palestine, and all those deniers now in positions of Fortune 500 power, and who decide the fate of the plebes, the foot soldiers of industry and military services.

Conversing with my veterans, so many are confused about aliens and Area 54 and reverse engineering from that Roswell kid from space; somehow a Trump is more palatable than an Obama than a Bush. How many times have I been spat upon and cursed when I fought against illegal wars, overt or proxy, in South America, Central America, the Middle East? How many times have I been yelled at for fighting against chemical plants or fighting for clean air, water, soil? How many times have I been called a Pinko Fag for fighting for spotted owls or gray wolves?

As an avowed revolutionary, Marxist, one who has been hobbled by the middling mush that is America, from acidified sea to oil slick sea, I can only say that George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain, respectively, say it correctly about this thing called “patriotism”:

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

— George Bernard Shaw

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

— Mark Twain

I’ve got a more horrific story to tell about Larry, my former Marine. Yes, he might get some more service connected disability money coming in for the toxic water exposure he attained in North Carolina while on the Marine Corps base for a few years.

He is now stagnant, fearful of uncontrollable tremors, fearful of not getting words out, fearful of falls, fearful of a life now full of attendants, and as we all are, fearful of ending up destitute (he is in a homeless shelter, readers), and alas, his one asset — his brain — is now fogged and riddled with the bullet holes of anxiety and paranoia.

Yet, his toxic waters story pales in comparison to what happened to him as a 17-year-old at boot camp in Dan Diego. A story so bizarre and troubling, that it’s one the military has dealt with since time immemorial, when the first militaries came about under those pressed into service rules of the rich needing bodies to fight their unholy skirmishes, battles and world wars.

That story and series of human penalties Larry encompasses will come soon, but for now, imagine, a country run by the likes of Obama, Bush, Clinton, Trump, et al. Imagine those swollen jowls and paunchy millionaire politicians. Imagine their lies, their sociopathic inbreeding. Imagine the tortures they foment at night. Imagine these people sending people to war, and imagine the entire lie that is America, the land of the free.

Hell, in my own neck of the woods, Portland, again, we are a third world country when it comes to we, for, by and because the people:

In one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the fight for clean water is taxing. From Salem, Oregon to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and from Flint, Michigan to the L’eau Est La Vie Camp in Louisiana, Americans are finding their access to clean water threatened.

Emma Fiala