Category Archives: Revolutionaries

Phoenix in Knightsbridge

(Photo: Screengrab)

If the circumstances surrounding the seizure of Mr Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London are correctly viewed, that is compared to appropriately comparable phenomena, then what we have is an audacious daylight act of state terrorism, comparable to the routines developed in Vietnam during the war the US waged against that country. Special forces of the State were deployed to “snatch” a person in violation of any due process or other conventions we are told restrict and regulate the exercise of police and judicial power. The fact that he was seized by people in uniform in broad daylight, does not alter the fact that the chain of events which led Mr Assange to seek asylum from the government of Ecuador and its systematic violation by the British government, is consistent with the lawlessness which now prevails when the State attacks its civilian opponents—the organised lawlessness that was called Phoenix.1 Many readers may well have forgotten how HM Government reacted to an extradition request by the government of Spain, when Augusto Pinochet was whiling on that blessed isle. It has always been unstated policy that asylum is only respected when it serves the designs of the regime. Pinochet was a friend of the regime. Mr Assange is not.

Julian Assange’s case, all nine years of it, can also be seen as a barometer for the policing atmosphere in the Empire. Culminating last year with the election of an army reservist and a general to the Brazilian Executive, the steady suppression of political reform in South America continued unabated while no effort was spared to isolate the Australian heretic. Philip Agee was assigned to Ecuador early in his career. He reported in CIA Diary how long it took then to change the Ecuadorian government, but how it was successful through a combination of bribery and other deceits.2 Getting an Ecuadorian president, who would agree to rescind Mr Assange’s asylum status long enough for Phoenix to fly into the Knightsbridge embassy, was no uncommon feat even if it took time.

Mere mortals are fortunate to plan in days or months, a year at the most. However “the privileged few” know that they are part of an immortal institution for which time is just another resource. It is a serious mistake to measure institutional time and individual time with the same watch.  What was presented as an almost accidental or fortuitous event was, in fact, the result of careful planning and coordination—of organisational intelligence. Organisational intelligence means that the institution created is capable of controlling the behaviour of all involved in a process even without conscious or deliberate commands. Mr Assange was declared an enemy and everyone involved knows how his or her particular work is directed to support the attack on the “enemy”. Those managing the Ecuadorian elections do not need to be told that a president who will revoke the London asylum is needed. Those who are charged with seizing Mr Assange know what they need and can see the opportunities. This is also a key purpose of intelligence coordination and exploitation—to assure that local operations benefit from those conceived globally or executed elsewhere.

Julian Assange was seized openly and in broad daylight to permit the regime to present his seizure as an arrest, rather than a kidnapping. The Press—which flatters its participation in state power by calling itself the Fourth Estate—has an important function. Despite some whining about violation of “freedom of speech” or “of the Press” from all the compatible corners of the Mass Media, the actual reporting serves to distract from the key issue which made Mr Assange’s Wikileaks revolutionary (as opposed to some other apparent disclosures): namely, that unlike Edward Snowden, and more like Philip Agee, Mr Assange rejected the premise that the State has any right to secrecy at all.

This is not only treasonous (if one accepts any duty of allegiance to the sovereign) but also, heretical. It helps to recall that until the Counter-Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church forbade the reading of the canonical texts it called the Holy Bible by anyone not ordained. The Reformation is often trivialised as a few doctrinal changes and the establishment of national churches. However, it took considerable revolt and much violence before ordinary people were allowed to read the works, which ostensibly formed the bedrock of Christendom and Roman Catholic imperial ideology. Wikileaks is fairly compared with the first publications of the canonical texts in the vernacular and their open dissemination without clerical approval or control.

The public performance at the Ecuadorian embassy was designed to give the Press an event—always marketable in itself. There were, no doubt, some of the “privileged few” who would have preferred to send a SEAL Team. However, there is probably a consensus that the executive action against Mr bin Laden was not as successful as intended.3 Staging the invasion of Ecuadorian sovereign territory (by diplomatic convention) with people dressed as police officers and paramilitary forces (none of whose actual organisational affiliation can be stated with certainty) gave the viewers a treat to “reality TV” version of their favourite vigilante/cop show.

However, it was also staged to give the kidnapping the colour of law—although clearly an illegal act. Moreover, it shapes the issue around whether Mr Assange will be treated fairly as a criminal—his criminal status already established by the measures taken to seize him. (Again, recall that Augusto Pinochet was allowed to leave Britain despite a valid British extradition order and he had never requested asylum.) The performance also creates the “legal” position from which the Fourth Estate can reassert itself ritually by claiming that Assange’s seizure was potentially a violation of Press freedom.

First of all, there is no such “freedom”. Moreover, what is commonly understood as that “freedom” has rarely ever been exercised by nine-tenths of those who claim to be the “Press”. The Press is only free by Western definition4 to the extent that it can be and is owned (by private capital or agents thereof). Free Press is like “free trade” (a concept originating to defend the free trade in African slaves).

Julian Assange — by refusing to recognize State claims to secrecy — performed a revolutionary act. This is what made his work significant and why he ought to be praised and where possible defended. However, he cannot be defended by people who are not, in some serious sense, revolutionaries or sincere sympathisers. (That may even mean that Mr Assange’s defenders too become targets, if only in the “C” category.) The so-called Press or as the truly vain and vacuous are fond of calling it– the Fourth Estate– are merely calling attention to their role in upholding the regime they ostensibly would criticise. In the West the “journalist” has been marketed as a kind of holy person, when, in fact, the publishing journalist is often a “cleric”, or an advertising hack, or maybe someone who has to produce the “news product” with which the Fourth Estate (the propaganda industry) maintains the Establishment and its control over the system.5

Gerald Horne’s suggestion that the Enlightenment “freedoms” were essentially articulated to create an ideology for white supremacy and private ownership of non-whites goes far toward explaining the contradiction in which these “lefties” find themselves.6 If one really treats information as public domain and denies the State’s right to secrecy (secrecy claimed to protect “interests”) then one strikes at one of the main pillars that supports the ideology of “freedom” for whites and slavery for the rest. The “interests” that the State ostensibly protects are the desire to retain and expand the private property owned by those who own the State. Today one State on this planet claims and defends its national sovereignty, denying all others, as an exclusive and globally enforceable prerogative—it is the sovereignty over the entire “owned” world and no one else has a right to property beyond the white elite by and for whom that State was constituted.

That State includes most of what is called the Press, concentrated as it is in some five global media corporations.

The fact that the Press is a business that trades in data, variously called information, advertising, etc., means that to publish beyond the Press — as Assange did — is to challenge the ownership of information, the propaganda of property, and the privilege of those who serve these institutions calling themselves “journalists”.

There are workers in the Mass Media, in the Press as a whole. Like most of the nuns and monks in the Middle Ages, they are often exploited labour for the benefit of the higher clergy. They are essentially workers. Workers cannot be faulted for defending their livelihood. Like any peasant or factory worker, they earn wages but do not own their product (a relationship protected by the modern intellectual property regime). It may be a tragedy when a strike is defeated and workers are forced to return to labour just to feed themselves and their families. However, it is quite different when one watches out the top floor office window at the strikebreakers in action, waxing sentimentally that one is also a “worker”.

Julian Assange’s seizure, his kidnapping by forces of the State, is not an assault on the Press. The Press is owned and managed by those who comprise that very State. The “freedom” of which Mr Assange is being deprived is his humanity. By suggesting that this is an attack on supposed “freedom of the Press” attention is being distracted (one of the jobs of the Press and its functionaries) from the crimes against humanity upon which the regime has always been based. Wikileaks breached the wall which had allowed “media courtiers” to hide their knowledge of State crimes. It validated the practice of viewing “state secrets” and deciding for oneself what the State was doing. The Press was created to praise and protect those crimes — crimes committed by Business and the State: by the ruling elite, both individually and collectively — through the manipulation of public consciousness.

The significance of Assange’s Wikileaks was that it opposed the prevailing control of information by the PRESS– through its cadres, often also known as “journalists”. Mr Assange’s release of documents and data produced by the State and the corporations for which it works has been an attempt to prove that there is evidence to discredit and condemn State/corporate action — that there is malice aforethought. The principle is not just of one but a preponderance of smoking guns that need not be ignored. Unlike the stars of “investigative journalism” who call their selection and censorship “analysis” and deceive the public with celebrity and confidential sources, Wikileak’s sheer volume of documents can be examined without clerical mediation. This could be called a “Reformation” but not the reformation of Luther or Calvin– instead it has the calibre of Thomas Muentzer. No priests, or “stars” are needed at all. Certainly none are needed to establish the facts of a criminal conspiracy so large as US capitalism.

Unfortunately, Thomas Muentzer was murdered and the Peasant Revolt violently suppressed with the enthusiastic support of Martin Luther — the Great Reformer.7   Luther’s Reformation survived and a new form of state church emerged to compete with Roman Catholicism.

Muentzer’s death did not put an end to peasant revolts. Whatever happens to Julian Assange will surely not end the state of revolt in which the world finds itself now — a revolt against the New Rome on the Potomac. Surely Mr Assange knows that, too. He has given his life in a struggle in which many millions before him have suffered and died. He is not a “journalist” but a revolutionary and a true human being.

  1. Douglas Valentine, The CIA as Organised Crime and The Phoenix Program.
  2. Philip Agee, CIA Diary: Inside the Company.
  3. If one believes the cumulative lies in the official US account of Mr Osama bin Laden, then in May 2011 a group of specially trained killers called Seal Team Six performed an extrajudicial execution (assassination) but failed to recover or retain the corpse- of one Osama bin Laden. The US Navy Sea Air Land (hence SEAL) organisation was created in 1962. Thus the US Navy could deploy “special warfare” assets along with the Army’s “Green Berets” in support of US political and psychological warfare objectives in Southeast Asia. The mystique attached to “special warfare” relies on the deliberate cultivation of America’s supposed “victim” status combined with the regime’s history of terrorising slaves and indigenous using small unit terror tactics. The doctrine of the US regime’s postwar special operations was also heavily influenced by Nazi SS officers recovered from Europe and employed as advisors and trainers with their “Einsatzgruppe” model.
  4. For a discussion of suppressed global debate about the actual content of “press freedom”, see the UNESCO report on the New International Information Order, the so-called McBride Report. Many Voices One World, Report of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems (1980). Although initiated by the US delegation, it was condemned by the US and UK because its findings about global media ownership and control highlighted the conflict between Anglo-American media monopolies and the demands of developing countries for a fair treatment of their communication and information needs.
  5. The use of the term “journalist” by persons associated with the Mass Media/Press is problematic to say the least. Not only was professional journalism organised in the late 19th century to establish commercial and ideological control over the writers and investigators (one reason Upton Sinclair considered his The Jungle literature and not “journalism”), but news agencies have long functioned as quasi-espionage organisations; e.g., since its founding in 1851 Reuters provided advance “business” information to various interests among the British elite during European wars. Moreover, the status of journalist has often been given as cover for members of the secret services in the performance of their espionage work. There are obviously writers and broadcasters who pursue their craft for an honest living. They are generally subject to all of the restrictions and prohibitions—explicit and implicit—that any employer imposes on its employees.
  6. Gerald Horne, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy and Capitalism in Seventeenth Century North America and the Caribbean, 2018.
  7. Thomas Muentzer (1489 – 1525) was ordained a secular priest. The Peasant’s Revolt (1524 -25) occurred in Thuringia, Germany. After its bloody suppression, supported by the Augustinian Luther, Muentzer, one of its leaders, was captured, tortured, beheaded, his body impaled and his head mounted on a pole for public display.

Grenada: 40th Anniversary of the Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grenadian Revolution, ¡Presente!

In The Eye of the Beholder: USA History of Imprisoning Women Politicals

I was born a protester … My mother had to go to the school a lot and talk to the principal.

— Dorli Rainey (In conversation with author Paul Haeder)

I am being jailed because I have advocated change for equality, justice, and peace. … I stand where thousands of abolitionists, escaped slaves, workers and political activists have stood for demanding justice, for refusing to either quietly bear the biting lash of domination or to stand by silently as others bear the same lash.

— Marilyn Buck, at her 1990 sentencing (epigram in Linda Ford’s book, Women Politicals in America)

Personal Truth

Personal experience is like the yeast in good sour dough bread – lifts truth to the heavens. It wasn’t just a shame to see Dorli Rainey, 80-year-old activist, sprayed with corrosive eye-nose-lung chemicals by the bicycling Seattle Police Department during a peaceful Occupy Seattle rally. That was November 16, 2011.  We were all kettled in and sprayed by the fascist police force, all warm and fuzzy looking in their spandex bike shorts and on black Trek mountain bikes.

Seattle is a libertarian town, a city of racist and Nazi-loving cops and officers that kill Blacks, Latino/a citizens and Native Americans. The images of Dorli with milk splashed on her face being helped out of the crowd that hit the Associated Press headlines didn’t change the patriarchal and thuggish leaders of the Emerald City.

The legacy of Rachel Carson and her work on environmental fascism by the purveyors of the chemical industrial war complex also was deep in my soul after I read Silent Spring at the impressionable age of 15.

Luckily, when I was a first-year high school student, one of my English teachers turned me onto the National Farm Workers Association and Dolores Huerta’s role in leading with Cesar Chavez grape and lettuce boycotts. Ms Courtney was instrumental in inculcating my interest in women heroes in history, highlighting the work of both Mother Jones and Angela Davis.

A legacy of women activists in the streets and my own participation with their causes goes back when I was in my third year of high school, protesting the invaders trying to block people from receiving services from Planned Parenthood in Tucson. I was alongside women who demanded their right to reproductive medicine facing down angry men and women protected by a phalanx of Tucson Police Department goons.

A year later I was covering the police beat for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, a reporting job that put me face to face with the rape culture – most of the stories I covered involved the sexual assaults on and around campus and then throughout the metropolitan area. Four to eighty (4-2-80) was the figure I had emblazoned in my mind – a four year old girl raped by three men in a drug house and an eighty-year-old artist using a walker raped by what the fascist cops dubbed the “Apologetic Rapist.” All ages, all walks of life, all races, that’s what I had come to know as the rape culture engulfing me.

I wrote about judges who sided with the alleged rapists, double raping the sexually assaulted by admonishing her for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for wearing provocative clothes, for playing drinking games with young healthy men – “what did you expect would happen?” I learned early on that my words as a journalist were nothing compared to a baseball to the heads of the perpetrators, both the violent sexual assaulters and the DA’s, and judges, coaches, cops and colonized public.

I was told flat out that I was no longer a protected member of my own gender when I was accused of  “siding with the radical fems castrating men” as I covered stories on Take Back the Night and protests against my campus sweeping under the rug (university politics then and now) of star athletes (male) leveled with rape charges that “mysteriously disappeared.”

I fought tooth and nail around the various newsrooms I worked in, since I was both a hard left socialist and communist in name. I blasted the American Police state (with the full support and logistics of the city government) when they spearheaded and carried out an illegal and unconstitutional military assault against African Americans, while my news reporter brothers and sisters defended the cops and the bureaucrats. I called some of the defendants “the brave women in Philadelphia who had the guts to defend home and family and who witnessed their loved ones firebomb murdered.” I was lambasted by both male and female editors while Debbie Sims and Janine and Janet Africa of the MOVE 9 ended up with 100-year sentences with no chance of parole because a cop was killed by friendly fire. They were political prisoners of a vicious killing machine, propped up by a schizophrenic rule of law pistol in one hand and a machine gun of empty constitutional rights in another hand. The three were locked up in a state correctional (sic) institution starting in 1978, although Debbie was released in June 2018.

Add to the many heroes of the women political prison class others less militant, like Lois Gibbs and other “housewives and mothers” fighting the patriarchal death goo of Love Canal’s Hooker Chemical Co that dumped 21,800 tons of industrial hazardous waste from 1942 to 1953 that ended up being under a Niagara Falls middle class housing development of death. Birth defects, developmental disabilities, and tortuous death.

Free Speech on the Line – Early Beginnings of Fascism in a Stolen Country

The United States has imprisoned women dissidents from the beginning, even as a colony. The intolerance of dissent, of questioning the established order, began then and it has continued.

It is time to recognize, as America slides toward becoming an autocratic fascist state, that we have, and always have had, political prisoners. We also have and always have had, those who have dissented, who have fought injustice, inequality, racism, imperialism and sexism. Many of these dissenters are, and have been, women.

— Linda Ford, Women Politicals

Getting through Linda Ford’s Women Politicals in America: Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart (2018) is both a joy and an unsettling experience. Bearing witness to the incredible depth of courage and conviction of women fighters for justice — and in most cases, these are female soldiers against American empire, fighting military and environmental wars, muckraking against capitalism, battling racism, and charging against sexism, and exposing the cancer of capitalism under a patriarchy, which in the end defines capitalism at its core — forces the reader to DO something with the information and terrible reality of this insane and misogynistic fascism.

An American colony seeded by degenerates, a coven of thieving, fearing, Indian-killing, superstitious and authoritarian whites was bound to start with men trying to whip and stockade their own brand of sadistic order into the society that saw black and white – damned or saved – as the defining philosophy in their Indian hating, woman sniping, slave owning selves!

Burning witches as heretics was the precursor of today, even as I pen this when the spineless Birmingham Civil Rights Institute withdrew its Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award to Angela Davis because of the apartheid forces of Zionism and Israel-too-genocidal/big-to-jail lunatics putting pressure on that civil rights (sic) group to follow lock step the Zionist Lies are Truth shit. Linda Ford talks about Black Panther Angela Davis as one political prisoner of note in her book, and the irony is the Hillary Clinton-supporting Davis, tenured faculty that she is, is back in the white patriarchy gun sights.

This witch-burning continues today, against the accusers of Kavanaugh or Weinstein or any woman going against any number of men in power, from Trump to Epstein, from Charlie Rose to Bill Clinton. Here, from Henry Miller, The Crucible, a telling reminder of what Western White Patriarchy has unleashed in the Americas:  

When it is recalled that until the Christian era the underworld was never regarded as a hostile area, that all gods were useful and essentially friendly to man despite occasional lapses when we see the steady methodical inculcation into humanity of the idea of man’s worthlessness – until redeemed – the necessity of the Devil may become evident as a weapon, a weapon designed and used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church state.

The McCarthy Era and loyalty oaths go way back. Anne Hutchinson became a major threat to the authority of Governor John Winthrop in the 1630’s. Linda Ford starts her book looking at Anne who was “upholding an ideal of self-government and liberty. Anne Hutchinson may have been acceptable as a female prophet, but she went well beyond acceptable political/social norms and religious creed, when she taught her own beliefs in her own meetings.”

Jailed, punished, banished. Those three words rip through the historical record as Linda Ford advances through the epochs and decades to cogently look at the harsh, tortuous and illegal nature of punishing women dissenters. “Early women Travelling Preachers had been whipped through towns for 80-mile stretches, dragged behind wagons, and left in the snowy countryside to fend for themselves.” Mary Dyer, supporter of Hutchinson, was hanged in Boston in 1660.

Most telling in Ford’s book is how well she personalizes the heroines and draws a strong point of view from each of the women’s “selves” she features, large or small, in this timely and powerful book. Words of the condemned (and many times murdered) prove to be powerful in the hands of this gifted writer, Linda Ford:

You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm. No further do I esteem of any mortal man. I fear none but the great Jehovah which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands . . . . And see!This scripture fulfilled this day in mine eyes, therefore take heed what ye goe about to do unto me …  for I know that or this ye goe about to do to me, God will ruine you and your posterity, and this whole state.

— Anne Hutchinson, to the Massachusetts General Court, 1637

This is in Ford’s prologue, and then we get caught in her riptide of narratives in thirteen more sections, as the headwinds of those early days of dissent reverberate throughout Ford’s writing. She writes about the hard row to hoe being not just a dissenter in this country, but a woman dissenter, and when one is a woman of color dissenter, both barrels of the fascist shotguns come blazing against the respective heroes.

They are heroes, no doubt about it, and this book is timely, one for the ages and one that all young women should read with their sisters, aunts, mothers and, of course, their male advocates.

The author alludes to her previous work, Iron-Jawed Angels,  covering the militant suffragists protesting the patriarchal Wilson government from 1912 to 1919:

I found their jail experience as political prisoners dramatic, romantic, horrifying . . . and kind of quaint. But working on this book, which takes women politicals through the present, through the 1980’s and 1990’s to 2018, suddenly it is not so romantic and quaint. Suddenly it is extreme, scary, appalling and way too real.

What’s also relevant about her work that should be the millionth teachable moment for this consumerist, capitalist, predatory loan-bearing, infantile society is the power of women to not only dissent and protest, but to put their lives on the line in this country for the ideals of social justice of a real kind, where freedom and equality and anti-war/anti-imperialism cut to the heart of their struggle.

The end of slavery, the end of chattel laws, the end of misogyny, the end of land-culture-ecosystems theft, and the end of capitalism are worthy battles this book explores through the lives and voices of political women prisoners.

Ironically, environmental warriors (deemed terrorists by the police state) now represent the backbone of Mother Earth protectors, and women are at the forefront of the battles to protect water, air, land and farming rights. We know about earth protectors in other countries being murdered: Berta Caceres murdered in 2016 after resisting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in Honduras. Her daughter, Laura, stated:

We are defenders of life. We are willing to do anything to allow life to continue. We don’t want to lose our lies and lose our mamas and families. But we assume that risk. If they can murder someone with high recognition like me mother Berta, then they can murder anyone.

Ford takes us to Indian country from the beginning of the country’s concerted genocide and overt hatred of both men and women of every tribe, up to the current struggles, to include the Standing Rock campaign, and the horrific, anti-democratic and abusive FBI and police protection of the millionaires and billionaires, in the form of Dakota Access Pipeline Company: A pro-business/big energy thuggery “forcing a pipeline carrying explosive Bakken crude oil through Native-American lands without tribal consultation or consent. There have been no environmental reviews, and it’s clear to dissidents that there is no respect for rights of tribal governments or tribal cultural resources and vital natural resources,” Ford writes.

Ford traverses much spiritual, legal, historical and narrative territory in her chapters, from Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons (1870-1920), to Lucy Burns and her militant suffragist stance; to the anti-war/anti-capitalistic imperialism of Emma Goldman, to the fascism of Japanese internment through a woman hero, Mitsuye Endo; into the communist struggle with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Ethel Rosenburg and deeply into Assanta Shakur’s struggles and other warrior women of the anti-white supremacy/black liberation movement versus the FBI’s COINTELPRO; into the struggle of Mary Brave Bird and Alejandrina Torres against US colonialism; into the period of 1960-1990 with Feminist Barbara Demin and anti-nuclear activist Anne Montgomery; into the armed struggle by “defiant revolutionaries” Laura Whitehorn and Susan Rosenberg; into 1990 to the present with the disappearance, torture and destruction of Aafia Siddiqui, anti-imperialist dissenters, Muslim women and whistleblowers; into the current police state cracking down on women anti-capitalist/racist dissenters and on Human Rights Lawyer Lynne  Stewart; through the 1990s to the current state of the amped up police state with the crackdown on the Black and Occupy Movements.

The struggle and defiance and the powerful resistance of women have gone unreported, or misreported, in this United States of Amnesia as Gore Vidal pegged this country; and as Ford states in her opening, her male colleague was completely unaware of most of the history of deeply committed women, who de facto become political prisoners because of their social and environmental justice bulwark/defense and defiance against the bulwark of Wall Street, bankers, military industrial complex and robber barons — pre-industrial moneyed thugs, through to the industrial revolution war mongers, into the post industrialization billionaire monopolies and anti-worker massive corporations, now, currently, into the surveillance and digital transnational banking stage of late stage capitalism of the Too Big to Fail and Davos kind of money grubbers/controllers.

The stories of the people’s history and the voices of the indigenous people’s history of the United States as clearly written by Howard Zinn and Rozanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Loaded: A Disarming History; Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States) are precursors to this work by Ford, one that is detailed, full of the staff of life, as women throughout the ages of this country’s history are strip- searched, raped, medically tortured, beaten and disappeared for their clarion calls to stop the violence and oppression and ecocide of capitalism USA style. We are exposed to the blatant terroristic tactics of the police state, from redneck bruisers in county sheriff departments all the way up to states’ attorneys general and the country’s AG and all the way up to presidents.

In many of the hero cases Ford lays out, with all the prisoners exposed through her book’s raison d’etre of cataloging the lives of true warriors and politically incarcerated or lynched, we see a line between pacifism of Catholic nuns shackling themselves to the gates of Air Force compounds housing thermal nuclear weapons of mass destruction, to the outright anarchy of the fist and pipe bomb, as seen in the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army, to name just a few in the book where women were not only leaders, but fighting inside the radical groups to stop the sexism that was both rampant and contradictory to true socialism and equality of the working class, all classes.

It’s clear that the women of color have had two or three major impediments put in front of them as revolutionaries and dissidents:

Linda discusses much in her life and writes much about Sioux water protector, Red Fawn Fallis, who is facing 20 years to life for a federal offense of “possessing a weapon.” All trumped up, all out of sync with reality, all part of a system that oppresses women dissidents, women political prisoners. Police are brownshirts, DA’s are Gestapo, judges are SS. The entire white male class is rotten to the core, but when they have positions of power and are the jury, judge and executioner, and when they not only defend extrajudicial killings but encourage them, as their paymasters in the elite class not only demand this force of anti-democratic SOP, but pay for the killings, THEN why the hell do we take it?

In this screwed up Hollywood spectacle society, passivity, compliance and fear rule, when we should be angry daily, mounting daily a contempt of and disregard for the bosses, the Little and Big Eichmann’s.

Passionate, organized hatred is the element missing in all that we do to try to change the world. Now is the time to spread hate, hatred for the rich. — Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

The women political prisoners of the past would be turning in their graves to see how compliant and infected with celebrity fawning disease and rich man/woman coveting syndrome this society has been buried under. But alas, the racism of this society far exceeds the regular patriarchy the society has and continues to fall under like an avalanche of new and more draconian/high tech oppressions.

Environmental racism is twofold for women dissenters. First, the dominant white/capitalist power structure has never had a problem poisoning the lands and neighborhoods of black and brown people, assigning them little worth or consideration when it comes to their healthy existence. Second, any protest coming from nonwhite activists has little chance of success, and any excess force used against such protest will bring few consequences. So, Native-American women who stand as water protectors for their threatened lands, and African-American women who dare to confront state/corporate pollution of their cities face strong reprisals from the police state.

— Linda Ford, Chapter Eleven, Police State I.

In the second part of this analysis, we will drill down on Ford’s forms of agitation women have engaged in and for which they have been treated as political prisoners, though the society in general doesn’t recognize our fascism, doesn’t acknowledge our police state underpinning and fails to collectively understand how the power of the government wedded to the corporation will stop dissent. I will also talk with Linda concerning a few key points that brought her to write the book and her assessment of the world now, which is becoming supercharged and on steroids, as this country – and the world – spirals down the drain of fascistic lock step compliant acceptance.

Here, early on in her book, Linda lays out the types of protests and dissent which have been embraced by “women agitators who have become political prisoners.”

  1. Anti-capitalist – This would include women labor organizers. It encompasses socialists and anarchists, who have long worked against the profit-based capitalist/government system, working to improve the lot and the rights of workers, and so have frequently run afoul of the authorities accordingly.
  2. Antipatriarchal – Feminist activist, primarily in the early and late 20th Century, have used protests and civil disobedience in their critique of a male-dominated, militaristic society which has sometimes meant going up against police and government officials – and jail time.
  3. Anti-imperialist and authoritarian/anti-war – Women have long worked as pacifist and anti-war protesters. Caught up in war hysteria, they have historically been jailed for their efforts, whether World War I, the Vietnam War or the invasion of Iraq. Sometimes they have been victims of political decisions that labeled them enemies for their relation to external foes, as with Japanese- American or Muslim-American women. They have fought against US wars and the authoritarian nature of American government foreign policy, and also against imperialism/authoritarianism in its domestic policy, particularly toward African-Americans, but also against Native-Americans, and more broadly, to protest the abuse of the poor by elites.
  4. Anti-white supremacy — Women who have been civil rights activists, whether anti-lynching/white violence, Martin Luther King marchers, or Black Panthers, have been punished for resisting racism which has persisted in this society since its inception. The recent protests against anti-black police brutality have resulted in very harsh reprisals. Women have also paid dearly for supporting the American Indian movement, and the Puerto Rican independence movement. And now women who are Muslim activists or defenders, or even in some cases because they are Muslim, in a time of an amorphous war on terror, have also been imprisoned by the American government.  

These categories are touchstones for illustrating the history of dissent that has created this political class of heroines, Women Politicals. Today, however, in a hyper-distracted society and one dovetailed to many superficial things created by hyper-consumerism, with the white dominant Western Civilization normalizing war, destruction and theft, I would be hard pressed to find that many Americans willing to engage in self-reflection and self-condemnation through the very catharsis of reading Linda’s book. Causes they can relate to? Seeing these women dissenters as both leaders of thought and necessary people of liberation in democracy?

I am hopeful I will do justice to the book’s core humanness and the principal architectonics of Ford’s investigation of a hidden and covered up history.

Mexico on the Eve of AMLO: “So Far from God and So Close to the United States”

The full quote by Porfirio Díaz is: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” Mexican President Díaz (1876-1880 and 1884-1911) got it at least half right. Mexico has suffered in the shadow of the Colossus of the North, but Mexico is not poor. Mexico is rich in many ways, yet it also has been impoverished. And Mexico has been greatly underappreciated by North Americans.

Mexico is bucking an international right-wing tide, shifting its government from right to left-of-center with the presidential inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on December 1. Speaking for international capital, The Economist is worried. The other 99% of humanity is hopeful. A cautionary history of this trice conquered land follows.

Pre-Colombian Mexico and the First Conquest

Prior to Europeans “discovering” the New World, Mexico was home to many great civilizations, which thrived for nearly four millennia: Aztec, Huastec, Izapa, Maya, Mixtec, Olmec, Purépecha, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Totonac, and Zapotec. History and Headlines rates the “10 great historical civilizations,” naming the Olmecs and Aztecs alongside the Romans, Persians, and Egyptians.

The popular image of the Aztec depicts savage men in loin clothes and feathers on top of stone pyramids making human sacrifices. But let’s put that into historical context. Historian James Cockcroft tells us that at the same time the barbarians in the New World were assuaging their pagan gods with human blood, more  people met their end  burned at the stake as “witches” by the civilized Europeans in the name of Jesus. Christian femicide is a forgotten legacy.

European contact in 1519 brought Christianity and disease to the then flourishing Mexican civilizations. While the Europeans and the indigenous Americans were roughly on the par technologically, the Europeans were far more adept at war and to them went victory and the spoils.

Geographer Jared Diamond estimates that 90% of the Native American population was obliterated by measles, small pox, flu, and the like for which the Europeans had developed relative immunities. Mexico did not regain its 1519 population until 1940, taking over 400 years to recover.

Although the official language of Mexico is now Spanish and Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking nation in the world, it is also home to the largest number of actively spoken indigenous languages in North America.

The Second Conquest of Mexico

The first conquest of Mexico was by the Spanish conquistadores. The second was by the Yankees and has received far less acknowledgement.

Mexico won its independence from Spain in the period 1810-21 and with it slavery was abolished, though not entirely until 1829. It wasn’t until 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued followed by the Thirteenth Amendment two years later, that formal slavery was abolished in the US. However, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws continued to preserve the “peculiar institution” in the “land of the free.”

The Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819 established the border between the former Spanish colonial territories and the former British colony, now the US.

By 1836, the Republic of Texas succeeded from Mexico and was annexed to the US in 1845. The following year, the Mexican-American War was provoked by the US as a war of conquest.

Two years later, Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding nearly half its national territory. The US gained what would become parts or all of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 added southern Arizona and New Mexico to the spoils of war.

In all, 55% of Mexico, over half of her sovereign territory, was taken from Mexico by the ever-expanding Colossus of the North. No wonder our Chicanx compatriots remind us “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us.”

Alta California

Gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill just a few days before the treaty was signed, which transferred Alta (upper) California from Mexico to the US. The discovery of gold was unknown to the signatories at the time.

Alta California was to become the Golden State. With a $2.7 trillion economy, the state now boasts the world’s fifth largest economy, larger than Mexico’s $2.4 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). Were Alta California to rejoin Mexico, the new union’s GDP would be surpassed only by the mega-economies of China, US, India, and Japan.

The constitution for Alta California was drafted in both Spanish and English. Despite having a bilingual constitution, the Alta California voters passed the English-only Proposition 227 in 1998. Then in 2016 the voters passed Proposition 57, which repealed the more egregious English-only provisions of the earlier proposition.

The repeal of the English-only proposition reflected an influx of non-English speakers into the state. Alta California is today a truly multi-ethnic state with 43% of its inhabitants speaking a language other than English at home. The largest ethnic group is again Hispanic-Latinx, comprising 39% of the population and outnumbering what the Census Bureau calls “white alone.”

The Mexican Revolution

The bully to the north became revolution-adverse after concluding its own revolution. When Haiti won its independence from France in 1804, the US joined Napoleon’s empire to force the fledgling Haitian nation to pay debilitating reparations for freeing itself from slavery.

Nevertheless, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20 was able to slip by. In those days the US empire was not as capable at multitasking as it is now and was preoccupied by World War I.

The Mexican Revolution stands in the pantheon of great 20th century revolutions, pioneering the way for Russia (1917), China (1949), Vietnam (1975), and the many Third World liberation struggles of the last century.

As the first of the major 20th century revolutions, the Mexican Revolution guaranteed labor rights, nationalized subsoil rights, secularized the state and curbed the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and gave inalienable land rights to indigenous communities. Women’s rights were advanced, and women fought as soldiers and even commanders in General Emilio Zapata’s revolutionary army. Many of these gains have since been eroded.

The Revolution Institutionalized

After the tumultuous revolutionary period, politics in Mexico became consolidated under the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). This single corporatist party brought together political factions representing the peasantry, labor, and urban professionals. As the revolutionary period receded, the PRI became politically centrist.

The one-party rule of the PRI was finally ended with the successful presidential election in 2000 of Coca Cola executive Vincente Fox of the PAN (National Action Party). The PAN won the subsequent presidential election as well. The PAN is a right-of-center Christian democratic party. It has strong backing among northern Mexican agri-business and international corporations and has a conservative social agenda.

The current Mexican president, Peña Nieto, is a member of the PRI. As the PRI moved to the right, more liberal forces within split in 1986 and formed the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). The main stronghold of the PRD has been Mexico City and among organized labor.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador was the PRD standard bearer in the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections. His losses in both elections are widely believed to be due to fraud.

NAFTA – the Third Conquest of Mexico

The third conquest of Mexico by North American finance capital came in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and similar neoliberal arrangements. Neither free nor restricted to trade (e.g., it includes military cooperation), this stealth conquest facilitated the repatriation of foreign investment profits and the further integration of Mexico into the US economy.

NAFTA was ratified in 1994 among Mexico, the US, and Canada. The agreement remains controversial in the constituent counties. The Zapatistas in southern Mexico specifically chose the initiation date of their on-going rebellion to coincide with the day NAFTA started, presciently predicting the deleterious effects NAFTA would have.

By 2014, as many as a million US workers had lost their jobs due to NAFTA, which also had the effect of depressing wages.

NAFTA ended many Mexican government supports for agriculture, while encouraging entry of US and Canadian agricultural products. Consequently, peasant and most family farm agriculture in Mexico are less economically viable. The result has been a massive internal migration from the countryside into Mexican cities and an external emigration of people forced off the land to the US.

Neoliberalism’s Winners and Losers

A decade or two before the imposition of NAFTA, Mexico had appeared poised to transform from a developing to a developed country. New oil reserves had been discovered and a boom seemed imminent. Then instead of continuing a development model, Mexico bowed to international financial pressure and switched to a neoliberal model of deregulation and privatization.

Rather than lifting Mexico’s economy through its deeper integration with the US economy, as NAFTA’s proponents promised, Mexico has fallen even further behind. After NAFTA and the neoliberal “reforms,” poverty went up in Mexico while per capita economic growth lagged compared to the rest of Latin America.

Instead of wages becoming like those in the US, working wages became competitive with Guatemala. Mexico took its place in the international market economy as an export platform for low-wage maquiladoras, factories owned by foreigners and exporting to a foreign market.

Despite great national wealth, 46% of Mexicans live below the poverty line. The per capita income of Mexico is a third of the US, making the shared border the most income-unequal border in the world.

Neoliberalism has also had its winners. The government telephone monopoly Telmex was privatized in 1990, bought up by Carlos Slim Helú who became the richest man not only in Mexico but in the entire world by 2010. His ranking has now slipped to seventh, though he is still the top tycoon in Mexico owning 40% of the listings on the Mexican stock exchange. His net worth is equivalent to 6% of Mexico’s GDP, which is greater than the entire GDP of neighboring Guatemala and four times that of Nicaragua.

With a new strata of billionaires and deepening poverty, both spawned by neoliberalism, Mexico is among the more income unequal nations, with a Gini Index of 48.2. Carlos Slim and eight other international fat cats now have more wealth than half the world’s population.

Contemporary Mexico

Yet today Mexico as a nation is rich in many ways.

In terms of biodiversity, Mexico is way under-recognized. Mexico ranks fourth or fifth in the world, scoring high for the number of reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants. The much more celebrated Costa Rica in comparison doesn’t make the top ten in any of these categories, although it has a far better public relations apparatus. Mexico encompasses vast rainforests, dry forests, mountains, deserts, and the second largest coral reef in the world.

In terms of conservation, Mexico has been a world leader in the protection of whales. Commercial whaling was banned in 1954. In contrast, the last US whaling station in the San Francisco Bay was closed in 1971, followed the next year by passage of the Mammal Protection Act. The world’s first whale refuge was established in 1972 by the Mexican government. In 2002, Mexico again exercised world leadership in designating all its territorial waters and Economic Exclusion Zones as whale refuges.

Culinarily, Mexico’s cocina is considered among the great cuisines of the world; a lot more than taco trucks and cheap burrito stands. Amongst Mexico’s contributions to the world’s larder are avocado, chocolate, guava, tomato, vanilla, many varieties of beans and chiles, and most notably corn, which is now the world’s most important staple food.

Mexico has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the hemisphere. The three most influential modern muralists are the Mexicans Diego RiveraJosé Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros.

With 7.6 billion bbl of proven reserves, Mexico is a major crude oil producer. Ranking 12th in the world, it outproduces Nigeria, Qatar, and Libya.

Mexico’s economy ranks 11th in the world, placing it second in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico’s GDP is greater than that of Italy or Spain and just below France and the UK, making it one of the world’s economic powerhouses.

The 2018 Election

Left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran for the Mexican presidency on July 1. Having broken from the PRD, this third run was the charm as he won decisively. Morena, his newly formed party, swept the national and state legislatures.

Mayor-elect of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, is also part of the winning coalition. She is the first woman and first Jew to be elected to the post. She is a scientist and was a joint winner of the 2007 Noble Peace Prize as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

After decades of right-wing governments in Mexico, López Obrador is being sworn in on December 1. The popular sectors in Mexico are expectant that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices will be addressed.

Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds

I’ve often wondered about the limits of activist’s reach and the lack of coherent, organized progressive social movements in the US. Does it come down to the precarious nature of our jobs, the stress, strain, and exhaustion caused by the realization of being a paycheck away from penury? Or is it all the fault of our monopolistic media, with the puppet strings controlled by their advertisers, the corporate giants and multinationals? Is it geographic distance from Europe where socialism advanced far broader and deeper into society? Could it be the anti-communist Red Scare that dominated the binary and delusional cold war mindset? Was it the very real threat and use of violence via COINTELPRO, and overseas with Operations Gladio, Condor, etc? Is it deeper psychological issues stemming from the trauma of having to grow up in a cold capitalist world which leads to false consciousness?

It would seem to be a mixture of all of the above. Yet millions of citizens still are able to see through the mendacities inherent in our empire, in our collective cultural death-wish, and many millions more would be able to if provided the education, tools, and resources to see through the lies of our global system of capital.

Activists and educators must reconsider their approaches in light of the repeated failures of international progressive organizations. In short, part of the failure lies with the leadership of non-profits, NGOs, community leaders, and the type of worldview they adhere to. For one, unstable vertical hierarchies are reproduced, with not enough feedback from concerned citizens and community-based, small-scale pressure groups. Also, technocrats and lawyers are relied far too heavily upon to perform band-aid, stopgap procedures in the social and environmental justice fields. Endless petitions and protests are planned which do not lead to fundamental change.

Organization in the majority of so-called progressive movements mimics the neoliberal order. Pedestals and soapboxes are lined up for the official learned classes, who are offered cushy positions to run vote campaigns, to lobby (beg) a corrupt Congress or Parliament to do the right thing. This is turn creates a new split between the middle-class non-profit lawyers, campaigners, and managers; and the working class constituencies, which only fuels social division and alienation.

These maladies contribute to the false consciousness of the mostly liberal, white, middle-class, urbane, college-educated non-profit and social justice managerial class, as well as progressive activists. All of the racist, sexist, and classist baggage is carried alongside these organizations, as we can see so clearly in the faux “progressive” areas like Silicon Valley.

Let us take this line of thought further. I believe the lack of rigor and effectiveness also shows up with so-called radical activists and intellectuals who believe they are sincerely committed to revolution. It works in a few ways: radicals take on the feelings of others in unhealthy ways, bottling up anger and sadness that legitimately occurs and is expressed in subaltern groups. Another point involves the expectation of success, the attachment to pet projects and the personal rage that spills out when failure occurs.

US progressive and radicals are, for the most part, not versed in modern scientific advancements, ecology, or Eastern traditions. There is no tolerance for balance, paradox, and contradiction. Most are stuck on treadmills and attached to their egos and personas. Then there is the problem of speed: trying to catch up with every travesty the establishment and corporations impose on us (playing defense), as if one could bail out a sinking Titanic with a bucket. There is the notion of taking on social justice burdens as a very Christian-like type of “work”, instead of blending work and play into a post-modern, post-coercive labor environment that could put humankind on a type of threshold, a liminal state, towards a saner society of free association and mutual aid which could end much unnecessary suffering.

Running in Circles

There is most likely an inverse relationship between how seriously one takes oneself and one’s wisdom. The most serious among us are almost undoubtedly the least wise. The vast majority of the endless running around from protests or events or conferences or speaking engagements are just a series of distractions.

There are appropriate times for all those things, to be sure. Yet it must be noted that the predominant mode of liberals, leftists, and progressives is predicated on constantly reacting to and diagnosing mainstream culture, rather than arriving at any original prescriptions for changing society.

Many people in the US of all political persuasions are quite aware of the near terminal nature of politics: and many are looking for a model that works. The diagnosis has been made countless times. People are ready for an alternative to our broken system.  Obviously, with no capital this is nearly impossible for poor and marginalized communities.  An international network of direct action, worker co-ops, and communal agriculture must begin as soon as possible to fight neoliberal economics and the looming challenges of climate change.

Brecht’s Stance

A few years ago, I stumbled across Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner. The first passage is entitled “What’s wise about the wise man is his stance.” Here is the full passage:

A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K said to him: ‘You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably.’ The philosophy professor became angry and said: ‘I didn’t want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about.’ ‘It has no substance,’ said Mr. K. ‘I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you’re not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I’m not interested in what you’re getting at.’

Now we’re getting somewhere! As Sean Carney explains in Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics:

The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical.

There is no space to flesh out all the implications here. A few thoughts will have to suffice.

When Western activists scream, “Rise up!” they should be reminded: “Sit down.” Always consider the antithesis. Slowing down, sitting: calling for nationwide wildcat general strikes would do much greater good than marching around with placards along predetermined protest routes.

When others shout “Speak out,” we can remind them: be silent (just imagine kids in school refusing to speak the pledge of allegiance or taking a knee in high school sports in solidarity with Kaepernick). When protestors implore: “Wake up,” they can also be chided and reminded: “Keep dreaming!” (of a genuine revolution, not stopping the imagination at some milquetoast progressive reforms led by the DSA or other pseudo-leftists, which, while helpful, do not go nearly far enough). I am not advocating not speaking truth to power here, or any escapism, only that in certain cases we should ignore the constant dramas and tragedies engendered by the corporate ruling-class and focus on building parallel structures and intentional communities to bust an escape hatch from global tyranny.

Non-striving

It should be recognized that many so-called “radicals” mimic the striving, combative, and authoritarian nature of the neoliberal order. Raised in an ultra-competitive society, some proponents of revolution refuse the inner work necessary while clinging to whatever social capital or insignificant platform one can muster up.

We live in a culture of constant striving, clinging, petty jealousness and egomaniacal childishness. It is no wonder that it shows up on many outlets of progressive outlets as well as on social media, and in activist circles.

Instead, we should begin the work of instilling a radical patience. Not because we have a lot to time left to act (we assuredly don’t), but because attaching oneself to unobtainable goals in the very short term only has the effect of tiring out and disillusioning many sincere people. Western activists could learn something by practicing non-attachment.

Only by giving up hope can we become present in the moment. This has continually been best expressed among Buddhists. As Pema Chodron writes:

As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon Hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.’ We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.

Thus, this brutally honest reflection (on our individual lives, but also on the fate of our civilization as we hurtle into the Anthropocene) leads to self-love, joy, and to vulnerability. This is a baseline for giving our collective culture what Rollo May called The Courage to Create. May contrasts happiness (in this sense a cessation of wants, a sense of security) with basic joy (quoted here):

Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our fathers did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends up in a placidity on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating, it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself…Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers.

One cannot understand joy without noting the sense of timelessness: the past, present, and future all converging into the present moment. Athletes, artists, scientists, and others call this “flow” or “being in the zone.” Time moves more slowly, certainly everyone has experienced this phenomenon at one point or another. Relativity has proven that this is possible, as well as studies in consciousness, meditation, and psychedelics.

Is any of this useful as a guide towards activism today? I will leave it to you to decide. Is it possible to “create light” when you speak, or be in tune with “higher harmonies?”

Time

Regarding time, we can turn to Brecht’s friend, Walter Benjamin, and his notion of the Jetztzeit. In order to break free from “homogenous, empty time,” which, notably, Francis Fukuyama unintentionally expressed so well as the ever-looming backdrop to the neoliberal era in The End of History, Benjamin writes that society must struggle towards “the messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for a suppressed past.”

That is to say, only by looking backwards in time can we assess the damages of the present age, even as the storm of progress pushes us further away from mending the wreckage, as Benjamin explains Klee’s Angelus Novus. Only in the zero-hour, the ever-present moment, can we blast open a historic event. This explains Benjamin’s concept of the monad, a “constellation overflowing with tensions.”

On the Horizon

Does any modern science conform to these ideas of reality as a constellation of energy and matter, something like Benjamin’s monad, influenced by Leibniz, overflowing with possibilities, tensions, and constant flux? Put another way, are there are empirical/scientific fields which show a healthy stance or posture of wisdom?

Here we turn to some of the modern science that corroborates what people like Benjamin, the German Idealists, process philosophy, Leibniz, and before him, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and various Eastern traditions have contributed to: a systems view of life and the universe that explains phenomena holistically. In a nurturing system such as this, cross-discipline studies would expand, converge, and enrich social life and ecosystem health.

In many ways, modern science shows a return to the old ways of knowing: concepts in relativity and quantum mechanics were foreseen millennia ago, such as in Buddhism’s principle of dependent co-arising, for example.

Chaos Theory

Some of the greatest 20th century scientists were: Einstein, Watson and Crick, Margulis and Lovelock. Yet the most influential of all may turn out to be the little known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and the strange attractor.

For a thorough introduction, James Gleick’s Chaos is a great start. For those mathematically inclined, I recommend Manfred Schroeder’s Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws.

It is this system-view approach that can explain, even, the formation of life on this planet: self-organizing proto-nucleotides and amino acids along with fatty membranes and mitochondria/chloroplasts which gave rise to the first unicellular organisms. It is these non-linear dynamics which do, in fact, create higher harmonies- Poincare’s three body problem being the first modern example.

In non-linear systems based on power laws, when the variable in the function passes a certain limit (dependent upon the initial conditions), the function starts to behave chaotically. The next figure cannot be predicted from previous answers. Eventually, a bifurcation will occur: this simply means that further on in the progression, the function bounces back between two figures, back and forth. If the parameter is pushed higher, period-doubling occurs: this simply means that instead of bouncing between two numbers, the function doubles to bounce between four, then eight, 16, etc. This applies to many dynamic systems and can start with any integer, so depending upon the function, you could have period doubling of 3, 6, twelve; four, eight, 16, etc. Period halving is possible, too.

The scientist Robert May was the first to prove this in population biology, and many fields have found it a useful tool for studying dynamic systems since. The point I want to make clear is in regard to climate and weather: all climate scientists and meteorologists accept weather cannot be predicted after 3 weeks, weather is inherently chaotic, yet climate, for now, is stable.

Without significant changes, the positive feedback loops currently warming the planet will eventually push the relatively stable, homeostatic climate model into the “Hot house Earth” model. Wild changes in weather are more likely to occur. Not only that, but much higher-level droughts and flooding will occur more frequently; i.e., climatic normality may switch into an non-linear, chaotic state.

In the US, the Southwest in particular will be hit hard. Consider central Arizona, where the ancient Hokoham population could have reached 80,000 around 1300 CE. The area around Phoenix could have provided for 10,000 people. You make think, well, that was before modern irrigation and food transportation. You would be wrong. The Hokoham were masterful farmers with over 500 miles of canals and estimates of over 100,000 acres of cultivated, irrigated land. Today, metro Phoenix has approximately 4.7 million people. This won’t end well. By 2050, much of Arizona and the wider region could be ghost towns.

The second point: self-similarity is inherent in nature at many scales, as observed in fractals. How does this apply to culture? Direct democracy can be implemented at all scales (local, from worker councils to communal town meetings; to international, with a trans-national body such as a re-imagined UN.)

Chaos theory applies to the brain as well: there is evidence that psychedelics reform and rearrange new connections of neurons, changing the “criticality” of its structural firings. This is what is able to cure patients of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., by changing the flow of thoughts and giving a wider expression, to get your mind out of a rut or a bad habit of harmful/fearful thinking.

There is plenty of sociological and anthropological evidence that mimetic theory (pioneered by Rene Girard) has some merit. Mostly, this is studied cross-culturally (horizontally), but we should consider the vertical dimension of hierarchies: at levels of coercion and exploitation are imitated at all scales of the socio-economic pyramid. The ruthless hierarchy was not that different between the mind-numbing conformity and bureaucratic chicanery of state-capitalist countries, contrasted with the crushing alienation and faux-competitive crony capitalism of neoliberal nations. If the structure is rotten at the top, most state and local governments mimic and take their cue from the power relations above them.

This played out very clearly on the international level after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once the Patriot Act, NDAA, and AUMF were passed, once NATO and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan, with troops and spooks using “rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, with nighttime raids on civilians, and outright drone murder was rolled out by the US, other nations followed suit, with a rash of authoritarian copycat legislation, as well as police and military brutality playing out around the globe. For instance, the uptick in violence by Israel in 2002-2003 during the second Intifada is telling. Without the September 11 attacks and the relentless anti-Muslim propaganda coming from the US, there is little doubt that the IDF would have been so emboldened.

On a positive note, it’s quite telling, and appropriate, that the self-similar snail shell (caracol) became the emblem of the Zapatistas, and the model for their communities. Rebecca Solnit explains this well, and quotes a wonderful passage from Marcos, who draws from his folk hero, “Old Antonio”:

The wise ones of olden times say that the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol, and that those who have good in their hearts and thoughts walk from one place to the other, awakening gods and men for them to check that the world remains right. They say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge. They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk the world…. The caracoles will be like doors to enter into the communities and for the communities to come out; like windows to see us inside and also for us to see outside; like loudspeakers in order to send far and wide our word and also to hear the words from the one who is far away.

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

There is a great passage in an old Marcos communiqué, “The retreat is making us almost scratch at the sky.” As the echo chambers, petty infighting, and silos build up on the Left, I thought it’d be appropriate to share his thoughts on how to respond to those fearful of heterodox-postmodern-non-ideological-anarchic stances:

After these confessions, he of the voice was exhorted to spontaneously declare himself innocent or guilty of the following series of accusations. To each accusation, he of the voice responded:

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

The antisemitics accuse him of being in favor of the Jews. Guilty

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

The “historical vanguard” accuses him of calling to the civic society and not to the proletariat. Guilty

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

The government accuses him of increasing the consumption of antiacids in the government’s Departments. Guilty

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

The orthodox leftists accuse him of not condemning the homosexuals and lesbians. Guilty

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

Everyone accuses him of everything bad that has happened. Guilty”

I take inspiration from this; I see a sort of playfulness, a glimpse of his “inner child”. Today, we could also say: to those who, without nuance, accuse others of being heretics or dogmatic; to those who would accuse us of rather having a messy, non-violent, and imperfect revolution on the streets rather than continue to perpetuate a self-congratulatory, alienating, bloviating, insular, suffocating, and self-defeating movement in substance and style, we must reply: we are Guilty.

Quantum Theory

Our understanding of reality and consciousness has grown by leaps and bounds with advances in quantum physics. The parallels between Eastern thought and quantum mechanics are uncanny, and no one has explained this better than Fritjof Capra in his bestseller The Tao of Physics. Exploring connections between the sub-atomic world and Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, Capra takes the reader on a tour-de-force. Of course, it was the early physicists who worked on the uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment (wave-particle duality), complementarity, and quantum superpositioning who originally noted the connections between Eastern philosophies. Thus, consciousness and the observer effect somehow influences these experimental designs in ways science currently has no answer for.

Capra synthesizes this and builds upon these models: he insists on the interrelationship operating at certain scales of reality, and calls it a holistic/ecological worldview in his afterword to the 3rd edition.

There has been lots of push-back from other physicists since 1975 when the first edition appeared. The science is not in debate at the sub-atomic scale, rather, how it applies to the macroscopic world is what is at stake. There are plenty of scientists that dismiss Capra completely without acknowledging the very qualified, modest theory he put forward.

The new revelations about quantum entanglement push this line of thought further. The basic idea is: two electrons become “entangled” where the spin of one is connected with the other regardless of distance. When one electron’s spin is measured, the second spin correlates instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Non-locality is another name. This flies in the face of the fundamentals laws of physics.

So what does this mean? The best analogy I can come up with (paraphrasing from someone, somewhere) is that when measuring (observing) the first particle, you are pushing through the fabric of space-time with your finger to “touch” the second particle at the same time, bypassing the physical distance between the two.

What are the implications here? Physicists insist this phenomenon doesn’t “scale up” to the macroscopic level. If we look at today’s level of scientific knowledge in physics, they’re right. There is little evidence to suggest this.

Yet, the simple fact that this can occur on sub-atomic levels is staggering. No one knows where these new teachings will take us.  Certainly, though, there are parallels with shamanic/animistic ways of thinking, or, to put it in the words of Stephen Hawking: “every particle and every force in the universe contains information, an implicit answer to a yes-no question.”

However, this interpenetration of levels/worlds in the social and mental realms, is quite pronounced, say, in medical facts. The higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in poor and working class communities as well as for minorities is tied to the mental strain and stress of living in substandard housing without proper nutrition, lack of access to education, etc. African American women are 3-4 times more likely to lose children in childbirth compared to white women, due to lack of pre-natal care, and sometimes because their doctors won’t listen to them. Women who’ve suffered a heart attack are more likely to survive if their doctor is a woman, rather than a man. Again, because women doctors are generally: more competent, listen to patients’ symptoms better, and show higher emotional intelligence and compassion.

Gaia Theory

Turning to Earth systems, it was the pioneering work of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock who together formulated Gaia theory. Thinking of the Earth as a self-regulating super-organism is helpful in many fields, from geology to climate science to evolutionary biology. From the simple-programming of Lovelock’s Daisyworld, today we can model ecosystem resiliency, albedo effects in the Arctic Sea, and deforestation in tropical rain forests, the lungs of the Earth, all in terms of feedback loops which can tie into trends such as global warming, species extinction, desertification, and declining biodiversity.

Scientists are now willing to combine the shocking implications of chaos theory within Gaia: in the journal Nature Barnosky et al. write of “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” The authors write that “the plausibility of a future planetary state shift seems high” and they acknowledge the uncertainty about when it may happen. They also point out: “it is extremely unlikely or impossible for the system to return to its previous state.” Thus, if a hothouse Earth scenario becomes a reality, there will be no going back. Real estate speculation on Antarctica could be a thing in 100 years.

There are reasons to be hopeful. One line of thought was taken up recently by Bruno Latour, who along with a co-author, postulate what they call Gaia 2.0. Simply put, they are referring to a global system where:

…deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.

While they posit this self-conscious biomimetic planning of bioregions as new, because they see it as the first chance to endeavor to perform this on a global scale, the novelty only really applies to a certain brand of Eurocentric/anthropocentric materialists, anti-intellectual monotheists, and other deniers of common sense and basic ecology. Indigenous groups have used bioregional eco-friendly practices for millennia, with First Nations sustainably caretaking land from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle.

Consider terra preta in Amazonia, the miraculous change from teosinte to maize which many estimate domestication circa 9000 years ago, mountain terracing in the Andes, super-high productivity with Central American milpas, multiyear field rotation for fallow lands to rejuvenate nutrients, seasonal burns throughout North America which increased deer and upland game bird populations, with agroforestry “forest farming” of chestnut (Chestnut Trees could produce over a ton per acre in vast portions of America before the die-off occurred), hickory, butternut, oak (acorns are used as a food source removing tannins with water) and more. Not to mention the thousands of uses of native plants and fungi for herbal/traditional medicine, preventive/holistic care, and shamanic/spiritual uses.

I would say one of the most interesting debates about what Gaia 2.0 could look like is mostly ignored, because it is occurring on the far side of the globe: Aotearoa, aka New Zealand. Their government has already launched a “Predator Free” program for 2050, where all mammalian predators are hoping to be eliminated with a variety of programs forming in the near future. Intense debate surrounds the gene drive approach, some techniques using CRISPR and some using other gene editing technology, to in effect, using genetic manipulation, create all male future generations of predators and thus, lead to localized extinction of these mammals in Aotearoa and its small outlying islands.

The bioethics are being debated by UN and national groups and many conservation groups are totally against the idea. Some Maori are open to the possibilities of gene-drive technology, yet they understandably critique the bad faith of the scientists involved, citing:

[An] increasing lack of cultural accountability in academic journals who seem happy to publish anything without thought, consideration, or commentary from the communities those papers have extracted from, taken swipe at, or made promises to… The second issue is what I deem bad research-dating behaviour, or rather how to build respectful relationships with indigenous peoples/communities… Relatively few, however, are actually committed to investing their time into building long-term relationships, despite being continually told that that is what is required… However, some researchers by-and-large continue to push an extractive model whereby they attempt to take intellectual property from communities in return for ‘the greater research good’. This model is naïve to the political situations that indigenous communities are operating in, and often places those communities in culturally unsafe positions.

Fritjof Capra notably calls the first step in transitioning to such a state of ecological awareness and cultural sensitivity “eco-literacy” and the next step eco-design. He’s on point. The funny, sad, and tragic thing (to me at least) is that exposes the orthodox technophile Western Left (seemingly the majority) as supporters of what many like to call Industrialism, the over-arching system, including capitalism and state socialism, of fossil fuel exploitation which is killing the planet.

According to the technophile proponents of unrestrained instrumental reason, many of us, well, sane and sensible people, who, in advocating for appropriate-scale technology, have the basic common sense to understand that Small is Beautiful, are a bunch of Luddites, crazy hippies, anti-civ, lifestylists, primitivists, nihilists, and/or misanthropes.

This type of thinking exposes the narrowness and superficiality of many “Leftists” who espouse all the right mantras, yet never bothered to take Marx’s example and actually study and stay abreast with key scientific and ecological advances.

I try my best to remain calm, patient, and equanimous, yet it is difficult with unabashed technophiles- again, possibly the majority of what qualifies as what’s left of the Left. There is a discomfort from listening to the droning on of progressives, and also many banal Leftist economists and historians who pay lip service to sustainability, while not even giving token acknowledgment of the nature of spiritual transformation required.

Many of these people, even on “progressive” alternative media, are unaware of their own immiseration via lack of engagement with the natural world, which I take no pleasure in pointing out, so my queasiness doesn’t qualify as schadenfraude, but apparently, there is another German word for what I’ve been feeling: Fremdschämen: “‘exterior shame’, for those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.” Perhaps Mr. Keuner was feeling this, as well.

Planting Seeds

Well, there is no high note to end this on. Most of activism goes towards wasting time attempting to change the minds of adults whose conditioning and social infantilization have already reached epic proportions. There is no systemic, global plan for engaging the youth in ecological-cultural restorative practices. This is absolutely ridiculous and a severe oversight of academia, including lackadaisical teachers and administrators, as well as conservatives and liberal-progressives who insist on vote-campaigns and the wonders of traditional higher education which indoctrinates and obfuscates class issues: yet the idea of revolutionizing public education never crosses their minds.

Revolutionary artists have always understood this, as well as indigenous tribal societies and many poor and working class communities. Yet today, the hungry ghosts of global capitalism are here to consume the sustenance and life force of future generations in an era where information is at our fingertips as never before.

The current education model effectively imprisons children in unsafe and unhealthy schools, with psychotropic drugs, authoritarian teachers, mind-numbing boredom and ennui functioning as social conditioning for a future hellscape with billions in poverty worldwide, no decent jobs, benefits, or forms of belonging; alongside a crushing tyranny of corporate rule, oligarchy, global war, climate chaos, and a culture ruled by a principle of “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it is inevitable that the most important thing to do is raise our children in a healthy way. This will require social engagement on a spiritual, intellectual, communal, emotional and material basis (i.e., sharing extra housing for homeless and low-income families, paying child-rearing adults a living wage for their time and labor, equal pay for women, ending oppression against the LGBTQ community, serious environmental education, etc.). Patriarchy and racism will not be solved, until youth are gifted the freedom and opportunity to pursue their passions unencumbered by structurally racist and sexist policies which enforce hierarchy, capitalism, and war, until pathetic guidelines advocating rote memorization in school are abandoned, and crippling conformity fueled by vapid pop culture and the psychically numbing effect of social media is no longer glorified. Poverty, war, and disease cannot be significantly lowered or eliminated without a fundamentally redistributive model.

Furthermore, some sort of restorative healing measures, including some sort of reparations for minorities, including but not limited to redistributing money, property, land, and the means of production, via a process truth and reconciliation in the public sphere, is absolutely crucial. This would necessarily coincide with the dissolving of corporate and state power.

Public and private land must be given back to citizens: we are only free when given the ability to use the means of production to transform corporate agriculture into communal, appropriately-scaled endeavors where communities can directly and deliberatively interact, and transform as need be, to the world-historical changes (climatically, ecologically, and socially) on the immediate horizon.

This would seem to entail relaxing the grip of the Apollonian style of “emotionless” pure logic (techne/episteme), and instrumental reason; and coming to terms with the obverse: the Dionysian, where the shamanic/animistic, nomadic, and anarchic ways of being are accepted. This shift, with the science to back it up, is seen in a many counter-culture belief systems: the push for radical intersubjectivity, expanding studies of the realms of consciousness, a hylozoic belief system, and formulating a new model of recognition (see Taylor, Fraser, Honneth, Butler, among others) which does not re-invigorate the power of capital.

There is no hope of this happening in today’s 24/7 mainstream media, driven by fear and sensationalism. Only a world-historical process, a paradigm shift, can overturn this momentum, which would require inner work to be done on a mass scale in the Western world alongside collective general strikes, debt jubilees, a bit of carnivalesque (Bakhtin)/festival/regional cultural appreciation/in the spirit of a Communitas, and a counter-cultural force which does not overly privilege the economic at the expense of other social struggles.

This critical way of teaching is a sort of “stance”: a tendency towards what Aristotle called eudaimonia, “the good life,” informed by virtue, areté. Another way of phrasing it would be “human flourishing,” and here this referred to a moral sensibility, but also an aesthetic, a form of posture or “stance” if you will, an art of living, a way of (Hölderlin-esque) dwelling poetically upon the Earth.

From another angle, we could consider this a search for The Ethics of Authenticity. As Charles Taylor describes, what is structurally called for is:

…a many leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos.

Yet, again, this type of work should get started by educating children, because under the current conditions of liberal democracy, there is no acknowledgment of “interlinking”. There is only the autonomous individual: at least understood by most adults, whose notion of civic duty is voting, or volunteer work, or donating to charity. Rather, youth could be asked to inquire, as Rudy Rucker wondered:

One might also ask whether a person is best thought of as a distinct individual or as a nexus in the web of social interaction. No person exists wholly distinct from human society, so it might seem best to say that the space of society is fundamental. On the other hand, each person can feel like an isolated individual, so maybe the number-like individuals are fundamental. Complementarity says that a person is both individual and social component, and that there is no need to try to separate the two. Reality is one, and language introduces impossible distinctions that need not be made.

We can imagine a single cell in our body asking itself the same question: am I an individual or just part of a wider integrated whole? We can shift the scale but the self-similarity always follows: it’s turtles all the way down. This famous saying, of course, echoes what we know about fractals, and the possibility that we’re in a multiverse. There are also the First Nation stories about Spider Woman, or Grandmother Spider, who created the world. Again, we find the notion of the web- the basis of our bio/psycho/social being, and also a connection to string theory: spider-woman’s creation song; i.e. vibrations held by interconnected threads.

My preferred analogy to the individual/social false binary is mycological (or rhizomatic, though I’ll save D+G for another day): our conception of ourselves (ego) is the mushroom, the fruiting body which rises above the soil, while the unconscious mycelium sustains us below the surface. Although we stand above the detritus (wreckage, as Benjamin says) we are deeply enmeshed in it, history “is not even past” and it feeds, and thus can warp, our consciousness and sensibilities.

Thus we must tend to the soil, nurture the sprouts and green shoots of this new culture. The meager results of our efforts can be depressing (April really can be the cruelest month) yet we must move on, without clinging to hope.

As for the problem of language which Rucker mentioned, it’s worth reminding our sisters and brothers that propaganda is all around us today. As Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Now is the time for the “revaluation of all values.” The struggle continues.

The Long March to Post-Capitalist Transition: Pan-Africanist Perspectives

The following talk was given by Ameth Lô in a French-language panel, “L’aurore de notre libération,” in Montreal on May 20, 2018, at “The Great Transition: Preparing a World Beyond Capitalism.”

*****

The centenary of the October 1917 Russian revolution, a world-shaking historic event, was an occasion for celebration throughout the world.

Many diverse interpretations are advanced as to its success in achieving a radical transformation of society, both in terms of its history and its overall impact. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this event altered forever the course of history.

For Black peoples, this revolution arrived just over a century after the victory in Haiti in 1804. That event was the first massive and successful revolt of Black slaves, and an important step toward the long-overdue abolition of slavery worldwide.

The establishment of the first Black republic in the Northern Hemisphere emerged from an extended process of resistance to oppression, marked by massive slave revolts on the plantations of Jamaica, Brazil, and elsewhere. Even today, Haiti continues to pay the price for its audacity and steadfastness, for which it has never been forgiven by proponents of the slave system. This dramatic breakthrough later contributed to achievement of a collective consciousness among Blacks.

Indeed, these events demonstrated that freedom comes only through struggle. That is how Blacks laid the foundations for pan-Africanism throughout the African diaspora. Brought to the fore by figures such as the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Edward Blyden, and many others, this movement was linked to the struggles of workers and oppressed peoples across Europe and beyond, which culminated in two historic revolutions:

  • The French Revolution of 1789.
  • The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.

During this process two historic currents, the international Communist movement and pan-Africanism, established strong ties, forged through suffering and resistance. This is not to deny that there were occasional conflicts, resulting from the exigencies of episodic struggles and underlying strategy.

In what follows, we will attempt to illustrate how these two currents, which evolved almost simultaneously over the course of almost a century, became interrelated. This inquiry will reveal a perspective for a transition toward a world with increased justice and greater capacity to assure the survival of the human species and of our planet – in a word, a better world, free from the system of domination that victimizes Black peoples around the world. Most of oppressed peoples live in countries at the periphery of the world capitalist system, but they also are present as layers of common people in the metropolitan countries.

Communism and Pan-Africanism: A Zigzag Relationship

Let us note first of all that Pan-Africanism emerged within the African diaspora, that is, outside the continent. The dire conditions faced by Black peoples during several centuries of slavery provided a fertile ground for emergent revolts. These uprisings in turn gave rise to Pan-Africanism as an ideological tool for the liberation of oppressed Black peoples. It should be noted that millions of Blacks worked for hundreds of years without any form of payment – that is, for nothing. This servitude made possible the industrial revolution and the acceleration of capitalism’s development as a global system, spreading out from its initial strongholds in Europe and North America.

The international Communist movement, from its foundation in 1919, was committed to struggle on behalf of the oppressed and exploited worldwide. It thus took note of the conditions of Black peoples and solidarized with their struggles, not only in the African continent but also in countries like the United States where racial segregation was at its peak from 1920 to 1924. Brief passages in the Communist International archives take note of the struggles carried out by Blacks not only in the diaspora but in countries subjected to colonial domination in Africa. The Communist movement’s statement on African liberation, adopted in 1922, was markedly pan-Africanist in inspiration. Indeed it was written by Black delegates who were strongly influenced by the movement led by Marcus Garvey.

In the years that followed, however, this principled position was subject to several mutations, caused by contradictions internal to the socialist movement. In addition, the difficulties were aggravated by complications imposed on national liberation movements in the Cold War context, where conflicts both between and within alliances often took priority over ideologically principled positions with respect to unconditional support for the struggles of colonial peoples for self-determination. These struggles continued throughout the rise of fascism in Europe, grew more intense in the 1930s, and found expression in the anti-colonial wars and the defeat of Apartheid in Africa. The outcome of these wars played a central role in dismantling colonial structures and heralding a period of decolonisation.

During this development, a crucial role was played by the large number of Africans that took part in freeing Europe from Hitler’s claws. Conscript soldiers from across all of West Africa were organized in the Tirailleurs sénégalais (Senegalese Sharpshooters). Their courage and their decisive contribution has never received its proper reward. Quite to the contrary, and upon their discharge form service, when these soldiers at the end of 1944, asked to receive their demobilization payment, the French colonial authorities on December 1, massacred dozens –  hundreds  of these protesters. This crime took place at the Thiaroye camp a few miles from Dakar, capital of Senegal, and is known today as “the massacre of Thiaroye.”

Cold War, National Liberation Movements, and Internationalist Solidarity

Among the precursors of the pan-Africanist movement was George Padmore, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who came to the United States as a young student. He quickly joined the U.S. Communist Party and played a significant role in the international Communist Movement, where he worked for the goals of pan-Africanism. Assigned as a revolutionary cadre to work in the Soviet Union and Germany, he nonetheless cut his ties with this movement in 1934. Profound disagreements had arisen with regard to the decolonization of Africa, still under the yoke of the old colonial empires, above all those of Britain, France, and Portugal.

During the 1930s and after, the Communist movement sought to align its course regarding decolonization with its own interests in terms of positioning itself in the contest under way among the Western powers. This process convinced progressive pan-Africanists of the need to take their distance from the Communist movement, achieve autonomy of thought and action, and steer their course in conformity with the interests of oppressed Black peoples. In a word, they had to rely above all, on their own strength.

This is the context that led Padmore, who had enjoyed a measure of success in keeping the colonial question on the agenda of the Communist movement, to leave it in 1934 and return to Britain. There he met C.L.R. James, his childhood friend, who was quite active both in Trotskyist circles and in the Black community in London.

In 1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia, which along with Liberia was the only African country that had succeeded until that point at avoiding colonization. The Italian attack had great symbolic significance. It alerted the African diaspora within Europe to the need not only to mobilize against this invasion but also to hasten the organization of nationalist movements with a pan-Africanist outlook in order to speed the end of colonialization.

The Black students in Europe were already active during this period and were laying the foundations for “returning to their roots” – that is, of going back to Africa in both the cultural and political sense for the liberation of their peoples. Among the more prominent currents was the FEANF (Federation of Students from French-Speaking Black Africa). In Portugal, there were students that united around the “Case Africa,” among whom were the majority of leaders who organized and directed national liberation struggles in the then-Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde (Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral).

In Britain, this current was based on figures linked to a structure called IASB (International African Service Bureau), among whom were C.L.R. James; Ras Makonen of British Guyana; Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya; Kwame Nkrumah, father of Ghana’s independence, whom James had introduced to Padmore; and others.

The outbreak of World War 2 led to a breach between the pan-Africanists and the Communist movement. The official line advanced by Moscow from 1941 was to support the war against the Nazi forces and to postpone anticolonial struggles until a later date. Ironically, the Soviet Union had been diplomatically aligned with Germany from 1939 until 1941. Obviously, this approach could not win favour among the pan-Africanists, given that almost all the African colonies were under the yoke not of Germany but of the countries that Moscow now viewed as its allies against Hitler.

Once again, the specific conditions in which the struggle developed globally made clear to the pan-Africanists the path to follow and the need to retain a degree of autonomy, seeking to base the liberation struggle on their own forces, without closing the door to forms of internationalist solidarity that were truly disinterested.

Somewhat later, after the end of World War 2, close and deep ties with internationalist solidarity movement were re-established to support the African peoples in the struggle against colonialism’s last bastions in Africa. Che Guevara’s revolutionary mission in the Congo (1965) fell short of success, as did his expedition to Bolivia (1966-67). Yet these setbacks did not dissuade Cuba from remaining true to its ardent desire to support Africa in its moments of peril.

This tradition also found expression some years later in Cuba’s close collaboration with Burkina Faso during the short revolutionary experience led by Thomas Sankara and his comrades between 1984 and 1987.

The historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale (1987-88), in which Cuban soldiers fought side by side with guerrillas of liberation movements in Southern Africa, succeeded in routing the army of the racist apartheid system in South Africa. This victory opened the road to Namibian independence, freedom for Nelson Mandela, and South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994.

South Africa’s racist regime, backed by consistent support from the Western imperialist powers of Europe and by the USA, then posed a mortal danger to the African peoples. The victory in Angola constituted an initial decisive step toward removing this danger. Yet despite this victory’s importance, it did not end the struggle, given that the power of large-scale capital in South Africa has not been ended and still controls the decisive sectors of its economy.

Cuba demonstrated to the world its celebrated generosity, despite its limited resources and vulnerability as a state under siege by imperialism. Cuba thus brought back to life, a half-century after the fact, the initial vision of internationalist solidarity that prevailed in the first years of the international Communist movement after the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution.

During those years, prominent progressive activists and pan-Africanists such as Lamine Senghor (Senegal), Guarang Kouyaté (Mali), and Messali Hadj (Algeria) took part in the Brussels congress of the Anti-Imperialist League (1927), whose honorary president was the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein and which spoke in the name of all the colonial peoples oppressed by imperialism. The congress already prefigured, in embryonic form, the movement of non-aligned countries that was launched by the Bandung conference in 1955. The Non-Aligned Movement brought together the most prominent leaders of dozens of African and Asian countries, including Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Soekarno (Indonesia) and Zhou Enlai (China). The gathering marked a decisive step in the decolonization of the Global South.

It must be noted, however, that during this entire period of anticolonial struggle by national liberation movements in Africa, they suffered from the impact of ideological rivalries within the Communist movement. Sometimes liberation movements acted as mouthpieces for this or that Communist current. Nationalist, pan-Africanist, and progressive movements in Africa became fragmented along the lines of cleavage that then prevailed in the so-called socialist camp. These currents failed to overcome their differences and to unite their scattered forces in a massive movement capable of undertaking the sweeping decolonization needed to make possible the transition from a colonial state to an independent state. Even today, the aftermath of these divisions represents a continuing barrier to the urgent unification of forces in a united front capable of countering imperialism’s aggressive restructuring and responding to present-day challenges.

Left-wing forces in Latin America have succeeded in creating such united fronts. This surely should convince pan-Africanists and progressives of the need to overcome the wounds inflicted by past divisions. A new era in the struggles of our peoples must be opened up by forces that transcend the limits of the neo-colonial states. The fact that many activists span both these two historic movements can be an asset in unifying the existing pan-Africanist and socialist nuclei. Such a reorganization is a basic precondition in advancing toward new horizons of progress and – why not? – a post-capitalist transition.

But what is the present state of the pan-Africanist movement and of the socialist and communist forces in Africa and in the diaspora?

The Left and the Pan-Africanist Movement: Their Present Reality

Before addressing the prospects for such a transition, we must first carefully assess the present state of pan-Africanist and socialist forces. The torch of resistance in Africa to the capitalist system and its expansion was carried for a time by the national liberation movements in southern Africa and the former Portuguese colonies. Here we saw promising attempts at a radical transformation beyond the limits of the neo-colonial state. They were disrupted, however, by murderous destabilization organized by imperialism acting through local agents. Samora Machel in Mozambique, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau, Steven Bantu Biko and Chris Hani in South Africa, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo – all were cut down by imperialism. This halted temporarily every effort at radical transformation. The systematic assassination of every anti-imperialist leader created a vacuum, a lull that has lasted several decades.

During this period capitalism’s great financial institutions recovered their vigor and, little by little, dismantled all the gains that had been achieved through the sacrifices of courageous patriots loyal to the ideals of pan-Africanism and socialism. The only exception to this extended lull was the leap forward registered by progressive forces led by Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada (1979) and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso (1984). Ultimately, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) further disoriented and finished off forces already weakened by internal disputes regarding ideological positioning and by the inadequacy of their roots among the popular masses of Africa.

Nonetheless, the South African Communist Party, one of the oldest on the continent, succeeded in playing an important role in destroying the Apartheid system (1994) and in forging a fruitful partnership with nationalist forces (the ANC) and the workers’ movement organized in strong unions such as COSATU (Congress of South-African Trade Unions).

The present state of the pan-Africanist and socialist forces – enormously fragmented into still embryonic nuclei – is not favourable for the emergence of a movement capable of mounting a serious challenge to present-day imperialism. New struggles have arisen; popular revolts have broken out that overturned the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Tunisia and of Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso.

Will we see the emergence of new leaderships capable of doing the necessary to build political movements sufficiently prepared, organizationally and ideologically, to face the dangers posed today? That task remains to be accomplished. In the meantime, the absence of vanguard movements sufficiently rooted in the masses could well explain in part the inability of the various popular revolts mentioned above to grow over into full-fledged revolutions.

The Sankara experience: A model for our future.

During the period following the national liberation movements, the revolution in Burkina Faso stands out as the most relevant case of an attempt to break away from the colonial/capitalist system. This revolution drew its strength from both its anti-imperialist orientation and its deeply pan-Africanist inspiration.

Burkina Faso is a small country of the West-African Sahel, characterized by extreme poverty. It is wedged into a region often afflicted by periods of drought that drive its population to emigrate into Ivory Coast and other countries. For many years, Burkina Faso was mired in political upheavals stemming from the fierce struggles among elites for control over the state apparatus and the personal enrichment that it brings.

From the moment of revolution on August 4th 1983, when Thomas Sankara became president, the revolutionary leader and his comrades showed their colours through their solidarity with all struggles of oppressed masses around the world (Palestine, Western Sahara, etc.). They invited the people of Burkina Faso (the Burkinabé) to roll up their sleeves in building a foundation for endogenous and autonomous development, relying on their own efforts.

Although the revolution lasted only four years, it continues to provide a model to all youth in Africa and the world over who seek a better world, one based on humanism and solidarity, in a contest against imperialist dominance sustained by military or economic coercion and by devastating neoliberal policies that enable the masters of global financial capital to control the world.

The central goal of the Burkinabé alternative lies in meeting the needs of the African masses impoverished by decades of the punitive IMF’s “structural adjustment programs,” which imposes continual payments of so-called debt to sinister “funding agencies.”

Oftentimes, any project of revolutionary transformation encounters major obstacles. Nonetheless, many projects spearheaded by Sankara were not only accomplished, but qualitatively changed the Burkinabé population’s conditions of existence. With the help of Cuban volunteers and within the space of a few months, more than 2.5 million children were inoculated against the infectious diseases that plague the very young. Access to education more than doubled and increased to 22% from 10% in three years. During the same period, intensive efforts were made to counter desertification by planting ten million trees.

The event that had the greatest impact on consciousness was the institution of “Women’s Wednesdays,” in which men carried out women’s traditional household tasks. This initiative helped modify popular modes of thought previously shaped by traditional beliefs. It sought to make men more aware of the difficult conditions that women had to contend with every day in order to enable the family to live in decent conditions. Without such a change in thinking, the revolution cannot possibly embrace the population, since almost half of it now lives in conditions of servitude.

Many dikes were constructed to retain water, enabling the rural population to cultivate their land throughout the year and thereby increase their income. Ouagadougou, the capital, was transformed through the construction of new revolutionary housing developments and by an ambitious program to upgrade slum areas that had formerly been virtual ghettos. As regards culture, the emergence of people’s theatre and cinema made it possible to rally the population for the tasks of national reconstruction.

This promising experience had a tragic conclusion: the assassination of Sankara and the end of the revolution in October, 1987. This outcome should lead us to reflect more deeply on the type of organizational framework needed to carry such a radical project for the transformation of African societies to a successful conclusion.

In our view, there is no way around the necessity of building a broad progressive alliance, based on the project of an alternative society carrying out a radical transformation of a capitalist and/or neo-colonial society. To achieve this goal, we must break with the dogmatic positions that often obstruct efforts for consensus around what is essential. By unduly exaggerating such minor and/or secondary contradictions, such dogmatism contributes to undermining worthy initiatives, as in Burkina Faso and Grenada.

In addition, a systematic struggle is required against the elitism of petty bourgeois groupings made up of an intelligentsia cut off from the masses and popular culture, groupings that wallow in theoretical battles disconnected from concerns of the population. Finally, although every social experience has aspects that are universal, we must break with mimicry – the desire to impose such specific experiences on a social environment with its own historical reality.

For this reason, the present renewal of the pan-Africanist movement both within the continent and in the African diasporas can fulfill its great potential only if it unifies the task of rallying pan-African forces once more through popular struggles around the challenges faced by the popular masses, such as ongoing land seizures, economic partnership agreements, sovereign control of the currency, and resistance to heightened militarism and economic degradation driven by climate change.

Toward a Post-Capitalist Transition? Tasks and Perspectives

One hundred years after the Bolshevik revolution and fifty years after the end of colonialism in the formal sense, we still face the challenges of bringing a new world into being and making the transition to a post-capitalist society.

With the stagnation of the anti-imperialist movement in the south, free-market ideologists seized on the brief lull in radical struggles to declare and present neo-liberalism as the final victory of capitalism. Yet the inherent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are still intact and continue to pose the same fundamental questions that will determine whether or not humanity survives. This period is characterized by a rapid deterioration of our ecological system and a deepening of disparities among different social layers – both within countries and at a global level; both within the countries of the South and in the advanced centres of the capitalist system.

Just as Karl Marx predicted, the capitalist mode of production has reached its limits and has today become a barrier to human development. Far from liberating working people by qualitatively reducing their hours of work, advanced robotization is pushing millions of proletarians into the army of the unemployed and the ranks of the lumpen proletariat.

Africa, whose fate is so central for pan-Africanism and for the world, is currently witnessing the massive seizure of the continent’s natural resources. This pillage is sustained by increased militarization, including through the presence of dozens of foreign military bases, which serve to protect the geostrategic interests of the imperialist powers. The post-colonial state’s very nature testifies to the fact that the process of independence remains incomplete. Added to this are questions of collective survival posed by so-called jihadist movements that, in fact, are all too often a creation by the very forces that claim to be combating them.

In reality, the instigators of the present organized pseudo-chaos act as “pyromaniac firemen” – ready to seize on sinister forces crouching in the shadows and press them into action. In this way, the imperialist forces seeking a new mode of domination, strive to make themselves indispensable on the continent in order to attain unfettered control of the continent’s immense energy resources. Countries of the “triad” – Western Europe, North America, and Japan – are dependent on their ongoing ability to draw on these resources almost without payment in order to maintain their countries’ standard of living.

In the Caribbean, the diasporic African population experiences a dependence on foreign food that grows day by day as a result of climate change, rising sea levels, and salination of their soils. Meanwhile, their economy is controlled by an outward-oriented tourist industry, foreign banks, and cruise ship companies. Added to that, agreements for unequal partnership with the European Union still prevent the emergence of local industry capable of competing with foreign multinationals.

U.S. imperialism has renewed its aggressive expansion with the goal of increasing the isolation of the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) through a well-orchestrated strategy of encirclement. Meanwhile, imperialism extends its tentacles in Africa by installing a host of military bases (AFRICOM plus French, German, Turkish, and Chinese bases). All this underlines the urgency of mounting a credible alternative that can lead the world to think in terms of going beyond present-day capitalist society. Even though weakened by the emergence of new blocs, the monopoly enjoyed by the Triad is not going to collapse in its own right.

On the other hand, during the past century, the world has achieved significant advances in scientific knowledge that, if oriented to the urgent needs of humanity’s majority, will enable us to realize the advent of a new society, capable of transforming the world of work and, consequently, of the social relations that arise from the division of labour. However, despite the potential for a qualitative transformation, present technological progress – and above all the present revolution regarding tools such as artificial intelligence – bears within it seeds that could produce quite the opposite effect. These tools could be focused above all on achieving increased and permanent control of citizens through cyber-surveillance and manipulation, minimization of productive labour, concentration on financial speculation, and the like. This control is exerted not only in the physical but also in the mental domain in order to stifle any thought of questioning the established order.

In sum, the nature of social life in the post-capitalist era will be determined in large measure by the way in which these recent technological advances are utilized.

It is thus imperative for both socialists and pan-Africanists to reconnect with the traditions of radical struggle on a transnational level for the emergence of a new society. We need to reconnect with viable forms of transnational solidarity in order to promote the class struggle of oppressed layers of the population. This course requires that the Eurocentric Left recognize that such deep-going shifts in the international relationship of forces will involve a lowering of the standard of living in the richest countries. These living conditions have been made possible only through the systematic pillage of resources from the countries of the South and from Africa in particular. Is the new Left prepared for such an eventuality? The future will tell.

On the other hand, these struggles will necessarily take new forms, given the capacity of the capitalist system to assure its survival through continual adjustment. Sources seeking an alternative must therefore also display the same capacity for adaptation in developing the tactics and strategies needed to attain their goals.

For Africa and the Caribbean, such a transition should involve a deepening of pan-Africanism, which must pose again the urgency of decisive steps toward creation of a federal state – a federation of Africa and its diaspora – which alone can counter the dynamic of domination that draws strength from the fragmentation of our peoples. The weak neo-colonial states into which they are now divided are equally incapable, individually, of assuring their own survival or of exercising the flexibility needed to negotiate in sovereign fashion how their country is inserted into the world system. Such a federation will also offer the sisters and brothers of the African diaspora in the Northern countries a chance to go back to their roots in Africa, if they so desire. Their contribution will be decisive in terms of their daily experience as an oppressed Black minority in the countries of Europe and North America.

All other approaches are illusory and incapable of seriously challenging the alliance of the bourgeoisie in imperialist countries, sustained by their multinationals, with the African elites charged with managing these pseudo-states. The masses are held hostage by the comprador elites, acting as a supplementary force and a buffer between the dominant forces of world capitalism and the popular classes engaged in struggle.

The outcome of these struggles is far from settled. We face a transition in which advances will be made at a varying tempo, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. But this tempo can only arise from the capacity of peoples in struggle to manage their development. If one thing is certain, it is what was said a few decades ago by the former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “Freedom comes only through struggle.” So Aluta Continua! The Struggle Continues.

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.

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)

A Blueprint for Resistance: Jesus Christ vs. the Police State

“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime — the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps …the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer risked his life to undermine the tyranny at the heart of Nazi Germany.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn challenged the soul-destroying gulags of the Soviet Union.

Martin Luther King Jr. called America on the carpet for its color-coded system of racial segregation and warmongering.

And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day—namely, the Roman Empire—but provided a blueprint for standing up to tyranny that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him.

A radical nonconformist who challenged authority at every turn, Jesus was a far cry from the watered-down, corporatized, simplified, gentrified, sissified vision of a meek creature holding a lamb that most modern churches peddle. In fact, he spent his adult life speaking truth to power, challenging the status quo of his day, and pushing back against the abuses of the Roman Empire.

Those living through this present age of militarized police, SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, and invasive surveillance might feel as if these events are unprecedented, the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being are no different today than they were in Jesus’ lifetime: control, power and money.

Much like the American Empire today, the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day was characterized by secrecy, surveillance, a widespread police presence, a citizenry treated like suspects with little recourse against the police state, perpetual wars, a military empire, martial law, and political retribution against those who dared to challenge the power of the state.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, a police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement.  In fact, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

Indeed, the police state in which Jesus lived and its striking similarities to modern-day America are beyond troubling.

Secrecy, surveillance and rule by the elite. As the chasm between the wealthy and poor grew wider in the Roman Empire, the ruling class and the wealthy class became synonymous, while the lower classes, increasingly deprived of their political freedoms, grew disinterested in the government and easily distracted by “bread and circuses.” Much like America today, with its lack of government transparency, overt domestic surveillance, and rule by the rich, the inner workings of the Roman Empire were shrouded in secrecy, while its leaders were constantly on the watch for any potential threats to its power. The resulting state-wide surveillance was primarily carried out by the military, which acted as investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers. Today that role is fulfilled by the NSA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the increasingly militarized police forces across the country.

Widespread police presence. The Roman Empire used its military forces to maintain the “peace,” thereby establishing a police state that reached into all aspects of a citizen’s life. In this way, these military officers, used to address a broad range of routine problems and conflicts, enforced the will of the state. Today SWAT teams, comprised of local police and federal agents, are employed to carry out routine search warrants for minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud.

Citizenry with little recourse against the police state. As the Roman Empire expanded, personal freedom and independence nearly vanished, as did any real sense of local governance and national consciousness. Similarly, in America today, citizens largely feel powerless, voiceless and unrepresented in the face of a power-hungry federal government. As states and localities are brought under direct control by federal agencies and regulations, a sense of learned helplessness grips the nation.

Perpetual wars and a military empire. Much like America today with its practice of policing the world, war and an over-arching militarist ethos provided the framework for the Roman Empire, which extended from the Italian peninsula to all over Southern, Western, and Eastern Europe, extending into North Africa and Western Asia as well. In addition to significant foreign threats, wars were waged against inchoate, unstructured and socially inferior foes.

Martial law. Eventually, Rome established a permanent military dictatorship that left the citizens at the mercy of an unreachable and oppressive totalitarian regime. In the absence of resources to establish civic police forces, the Romans relied increasingly on the military to intervene in all matters of conflict or upheaval in provinces, from small-scale scuffles to large-scale revolts. Not unlike police forces today, with their martial law training drills on American soil, militarized weapons and “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset, the Roman soldier had “the exercise of lethal force at his fingertips” with the potential of wreaking havoc on normal citizens’ lives.

A nation of suspects. Just as the American Empire looks upon its citizens as suspects to be tracked, surveilled and controlled, the Roman Empire looked upon all potential insubordinates, from the common thief to a full-fledged insurrectionist, as threats to its power. The insurrectionist was seen as directly challenging the Emperor.  A “bandit,” or revolutionist, was seen as capable of overturning the empire, was always considered guilty and deserving of the most savage penalties, including capital punishment. Bandits were usually punished publicly and cruelly as a means of deterring others from challenging the power of the state.  Jesus’ execution was one such public punishment.

Acts of civil disobedience by insurrectionists. Starting with his act of civil disobedience at the Jewish temple, the site of the administrative headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council, Jesus branded himself a political revolutionary. When Jesus “with the help of his disciples, blocks the entrance to the courtyard” and forbids “anyone carrying goods for sale or trade from entering the Temple,” he committed a blatantly criminal and seditious act, an act “that undoubtedly precipitated his arrest and execution.” Because the commercial events were sponsored by the religious hierarchy, which in turn was operated by consent of the Roman government, Jesus’ attack on the money chargers and traders can be seen as an attack on Rome itself, an unmistakable declaration of political and social independence from the Roman oppression.

Military-style arrests in the dead of night. Jesus’ arrest account testifies to the fact that the Romans perceived Him as a revolutionary. Eerily similar to today’s SWAT team raids, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, in secret, by a large, heavily armed fleet of soldiers.  Rather than merely asking for Jesus when they came to arrest him, his pursuers collaborated beforehand with Judas. Acting as a government informant, Judas concocted a kiss as a secret identification marker, hinting that a level of deception and trickery must be used to obtain this seemingly “dangerous revolutionist’s” cooperation.

Torture and capital punishment. In Jesus’ day, religious preachers, self-proclaimed prophets and nonviolent protesters were not summarily arrested and executed. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors normally allowed a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that appeared to threaten the Roman Empire. The charges leveled against Jesus—that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King—were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion, which was usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals.

Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate “as a disturber of the political peace,” a leader of a rebellion, a political threat, and most gravely—a claimant to kingship, a “king of the revolutionary type.” After Jesus is formally condemned by Pilate, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, “the Roman means of executing criminals convicted of high treason.”  The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal, as it was an immensely public statement intended to visually warn all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was reserved solely for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, and banditry. After being ruthlessly whipped and mocked, Jesus was nailed to a cross.

As Professor Mark Lewis Taylor observed:

The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, “Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.”

Jesus—the revolutionary, the political dissident, and the nonviolent activist—lived and died in a police state. Any reflection on Jesus’ life and death within a police state must take into account several factors: Jesus spoke out strongly against such things as empires, controlling people, state violence and power politics. Jesus challenged the political and religious belief systems of his day. And worldly powers feared Jesus, not because he challenged them for control of thrones or government but because he undercut their claims of supremacy, and he dared to speak truth to power in a time when doing so could—and often did—cost a person his life.

Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics.

Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.

What a marked contrast to the advice being given to Americans by church leaders to “submit to your leaders and those in authority”—which in the American police state translates to complying, conforming, submitting, obeying orders, deferring to authority and generally doing whatever a government official tells you to do.

Telling Americans to march in lockstep and blindly obey the government—or put their faith in politics and vote for a political savior—flies in the face of everything for which Jesus lived and died.

Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age.

We must decide whether we will follow the path of least resistance—willing to turn a blind eye to what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the “evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination, to the moral degeneracy of religious bigotry and the corroding effects of narrow sectarianism, to economic conditions that deprive men of work and food, and to the insanities of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence”—or whether we will be transformed nonconformists “dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.”

As King explained in a powerful sermon delivered in 1954:

This command not to conform comes … [from] Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.

We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians, who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world.  Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune, and life itself in behalf of a cause they knew to be right.  Quantitatively small, they were qualitatively giants.  Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests.  Finally, they captured the Roman Empire for Jesus Christ… The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.  The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists.  In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!

…Honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering, losing a job, or having a six-year-old daughter ask, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?”  But we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence.  Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.  To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way that comes only through suffering.

In these days of worldwide confusion, there is a dire need for men and women who will courageously do battle for truth.  We must make a choice. Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds?  Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul saving music of eternity?

A Conversation with Andre Vltchek

Andre Vltchek

This week I spoke with philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist Andre Vltchek. Vltchek has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are his tribute to The Great October Socialist Revolution, a revolutionary novel Aurora and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: Exposing Lies Of The Empire. His other books can be viewed here. Also be sure to watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky On Western Terrorism. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.

I spoke with him about his work and his thoughts on the current imperialist attack on independent media.

*****

Danny Haiphong: Could you give readers a background of who you are and what influenced you to take the path of independent journalism and analysis?

Andre Vltchek: First of all, lately I do not define myself as a journalist. These days, journalism is synonymous with ‘the oldest profession.’ I document the world, I inform people, and I propagate my political ideas. I don’t believe in “objective reporting” – it simply does not exist, and those who claim to be objective, like the BBC or The New York Times, are actually the most professional propagandists for the Western Empire. I may be a propagandist, too, but for the left, for internationalism. And I never hide who I am and where I am standing, politically.

Who am I? To simplify it: a Cuban-style unapologetic ‘Commie’ and internationalist. Russian-born, quarter Chinese, novelist, filmmaker, philosopher and revolutionary.

DH: In the years I’ve followed your media work, you have covered such topics as neo-colonialism, the role of the Soviet Union in the rise of internationalist politics, and the little known imperialist wars on Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name a few. Could you tell me more about what led you to seek the truth on these matters?

AV: I witnessed terrible suffering of people in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It often appeared that the Empire truly saw billions of human beings as ‘non-people,’ as some lowly beings who deserve to have no rights, who could be freely exploited, enslaved, even killed. This arrangement of the world made me sick, from my young age. It made me so sick, that I decided to get involved, to take action, to join the struggle against Western imperialism and neo-colonialism.

I never saw Western civilization or Western culture as something glorious or positive. It managed to literally slaughter hundreds of millions of human beings on all continents, for centuries.

I tried to understand the concept of imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, in order to help to stop this deadly process. I went to Namibia to study the first Holocaust committed by Germans. I went to Congo (DRC), in order to understand extremity of European brutality, 100 years ago, and now.

At some point, I finally understood that the only way to reach permanent peace on Earth, based on justice, would be to force Western powers from the position of power, of controlling the world.

DH: In your bio, I’ve noticed that you have written for Russian and Chinese outlets such as RT, New Eastern Outlook, and The People’s Daily. What is the difference, in your opinion, in the quality of journalism that emanates from these countries as opposed to the US and West?

AV: Media outlets that you mentioned belong to the countries which are fighting against Western imperialism and its global dominance. These countries are my allies; therefore, I write for their media, I make films for them, and appear on their television networks. It is not only Russian and Chinese media, but also several outlets in Latin America and the Middle East.

What is different about them? They serve their nations, their people, not some corporate freaks. I like when people work for well-being of their countries: I like healthy patriotism, especially when it is combined with the internationalist principles.

DH: How has the media landscape in the US and West changed since you became a journalist and how have such changes affected broader efforts to understand the developments and changes occurring worldwide?

AV: Media landscape in the West is evolving in one direction only: it is being increasingly, now almost exclusively, controlled by the corporate interests. Corporate interests, in turn, are controlling the state, in both Europe and North America. There is no democracy in the West: governments are being selected, not elected. Most of the media is upholding, glorifying this process. It is definitely not challenging it, philosophically and ideologically. In the past, long decades ago, there was at least some philosophical debate about the direction in which our civilization and our planet was evolving. Now it all stopped. Mass media became synonymous with imperialist propaganda. It is all very well-orchestrated; choreographed. And people in the West are so thoroughly brainwashed that they stopped asking questions regarding the most essential issues.

DH: Since late 2016, the US and Western corporate press and political establishment has been obsessed with the notion that Russia has infiltrated US and Western democracy, influencing elections through the promotion of “fake news.” This accusation has produced grave consequences for alternative media outlets and journalists, as publications such as RT and Black Agenda Report have been labeled dupes of the Russians and subsequently censored by internet search engines such as Google and social media like Facebook. Has social media censorship affected your work at all and what would you say is the significance of this campaign against independent journalism?

AV: In the future, and may this future come soon, those who are performing this outrageous censorship, will be judged by history and labeled as collaborators with the Western imperialist regime, which in turn is synonymous with fascism.

In the meantime, we are now fighting information, or call it a media war. The Western media is directly and indirectly promoting Western imperialism, while some independent media outlets, including Black Agenda Report, and, of course, many non-Western television stations and publications are doing their best to expose the lies and crimes of Western regime and its journo collaborators.

Of course, internet search engines as well as social media are huge business organizations. We cannot expect them to be on our side.

But people, millions of them, even in the West, are now “migrating” to the alternative media sources, like RT, TeleSUR, PressTV, CGTV, but also those that are produced in the West, like TGP, Investig’Action, Black Agenda Report or Dissident Voice.

“The Western media is directly and indirectly promoting Western imperialism.”

And about Russia? Look, it is actually all very simple. And let us say it as it is, brutally: Many Russians look like whites, but they are not really whites, they have their own culture, which is more Asian than European. For centuries, Russia was attacked from the West, by Scandinavians, French, Germans, the US after the Revolution, by the UK, Czechs, Poles, and many others. Russia lost tens of millions of people, but it never ended up on its knees. It became an internationalist power, siding with the oppressed, sponsoring countless anti-colonialist struggles in all corners of the world. One could say, it most likely saved the world from Western fascism, on more than one occasion. The West never forgave Russians for this: white-looking ‘traitors’ who instead of joining the plunder, has been fighting for the oppressed! That is all there is to it; to that anti-Russian hysteria in the West.

DH: You recently wrote a piece criticizing the Western left for abandoning the principle of internationalism. Could you elaborate on your argument and relate it to the question of which way forward the alternative and independent media should go in the current political climate in the US and West?

AV: Yes, I wrote a very critical, some would say damning essay, basically claiming that the Western left is finished and has no right to give advice to any revolutionary country or government in Africa, Asia or Latin America. And if they give advice and are taken seriously, progressive countries end up being defeated, like Argentina and Brazil were defeated, recently. I don’t even trust the Western left when it criticizes politicians like Zuma or Duterte.

The majority of people in the West are not able to commit themselves. They are too selfish, too egotistic. And they are full of nihilism: sweating and shitting nihilism.

They reject all ideologies and they do not want to govern. They despise those who are holding power. However, without ideology and without aiming at governing, no true revolution can take place. I don’t think Western left is serious: there is no revolutionary force there, no willingness to sacrifice anything for the struggle. It is all weak, spineless and boring: like shouting at the high definition television set, or insulting opponents in the pub.

The Western left wants more and more privileges for North American and especially European citizens. Who pays for these privileges? Devastated, raped nations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as those ‘south of the border.’ But French, Italian, Spanish or US intellectuals from the so-called left do not want to talk about this. They are not and don’t claim to be, internationalists.

“The Western left is all weak, spineless and boring.”

I will say more, and this will hurt: they are, many of them are, racist. Not racist in traditional sense, no. They talk racial equality, they are politically correct. It is a different type of racism: they do not mind if millions of Congolese people are sacrificed, so the French workers could have shorter working day or better medical benefits. They are also convinced that countries like China with much greater culture than the West, could and should be judged and defined (“Is China really a Communist country?” For instance) from London, New York or Paris. It is so pathetically arrogant! It is grotesque.

The Western left hates those revolutionaries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East who still dare, who are fighting, who are not afraid to govern.

Independent political media? In the West? It should learn how to be revolutionary, again. Otherwise it will never inspire anyone, anymore. People are bored and tired of theories and clichés. In the West, people are often tired and depressed about themselves, and they’d welcome some mighty kicks into their own asses. In the exploited countries, people do not want to be appeased; they want to fight, to rebel, to have media on their side, carrying their voices.

DH: What are some projects and organizations, if any, that you are working on right now and where can we find your work?

AV: I cooperate with many internationalist media outlets all over the world, be they in Russia, China, Latin America, the Middle East or Africa.

Best way to follow my work is by going to my website. All my latest stuff is there.

As always, I’m running myself to the ground, working day and night, but it is as always great fun! In one month or so, my new book on revoltionary philosophy will be published with the title On Western Nihilism and Revolutionary Optimism. I’m making two documentary films about the absolute environmental devastation of Borneo Island, particularly its Indonesian part (called Kalimantan). And I’m collecting footage in Afghanistan for a low budget feature film. I’m also writing a book about that wonderful but scarred country, and about how the West totally perverted modern Afghan history. I’m involved in a theatre project in Hamburg, and I’m writing two new books.

There is no time to lose. This is a great intellectual war against the West and its deadly imperialism. And for the first time in modern history, we are winning this war. And ‘they’ know it. That is why they are running amok, attacking, censoring. Soon, no one will be taking them seriously. This is our great chance. That is why we have to work day and night, every day and every night, until the final victory!

•First published in Black Agenda Report