Category Archives: Socialism

Active Shooter in the Brain

Oh, the act of deactivating, the process of disconnecting, the very process of uncluttering the brain — bye-bye Facebook — Emancipation!

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Some might say we are caught in a fun-house . . . or caught in a psych ward. I have more and more people in my sphere — work, friends, email world, Facebook world, family — who are not only showing signs of insanity, but also lobotomy, or massive electro-shock therapy (sic-sick). They actually buy into that Matrix shit, that we are part of a sophisticated code god, a program that creates the “reality” we are in. A Super Duper Mario Brothers Hollywood style. Really, and then the ancient astronauts and those aliens that had to help build Chichén Itzá and the great Pyramids of Gaza.

Conversations about this new normal sort of circle the drain, and in so many instance, the putrid politics of “never Trump” come spewing from the mouths of these people, unsolicited. And as a frame of reference, this “Trump is Gone Now — Hurray for Harris and Biden” (sigh of relief, smiles, giddy chortles) — I am back in the back of the back of the intellectual and political bus. You see, many of us know, through study, travel, experience, rebuff — that the system both Biden and Trump adore is the shooter in the brain. Active Shooter in the House. Active Shooter in the Books they Read (not many). Active Shooter in their Consumer Choices. Active Shooter in the Work Places. Active Shooter in the State Capitals. These Active Shooters are everywhere, and have been since the founding of the Active Shooter Society that is called United (hahaha) States (really?) of America (a map maker, man!).

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Just the way the Kingdom of Puritans and Kingdom of Capital laid the groundwork for this sick-in-the-head, sick-in-the-heart, sick-in-the-spirit, sick-in-the-body, sick-in-the-spirit, sick-in-the-commercial-culture has galvanized all those parts to the Active Shooter scenario and Active Shooter response to everything.

A Good Indian is a Dead Indian. There Will be Blood. Atonement for their Savagery. Beat the Dickens Out of their Native Soil/Soil/Spiritual Being. It’s that Collective Psychological Response to the Active Shooter White Patriarchal Rapist/Land Stealer/Murderer Government working out of the White House vis-à-vis all those houses of ill repute, from the CIA, to Pentagon, from NASA, to Every University, from the New York Times to Netflix, from Bank of America to BlackRock, from Jerusalem, to Geneva. Here a few other things these presidents said —

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted putting “dangerous or undesirable aliens or citizens” in “concentration camps.” During World War II, Roosevelt signed an executive order that led hundreds of thousands of people of Japanese descent––including 80,000 U.S. citizens––to be incarcerated in concentration camps on the West Coast of the U.S. The U.S. was in a war against Japan at the time. It was also fighting Italy and Germany, but did not broadly incarcerate people in the U.S. of Italian and German descent.

  • In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower told Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren white Southerners “are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes” while discussing the desegregation of schools.
  • Johnson is often credited as one of the most consequential presidents with respect to civil rights, having signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But for much of his political career, Johnson opposed civil rights legislation. According to a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Johnson, during the two decades he served in the U.S. Senate he would use the phrase “nigger bill.” Johnson also reportedly defended appointing Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court––the court’s first black justice in U.S. history––by stating, “Son, when I appoint a nigger to the court, I want everyone to know he’s a nigger.”
  • Recorded conversations of Nixon’s time in the Oval Office reveal extremely bigoted views of black people, among other groups. In one conversation, Nixon said, “We’re going to [put] more of these little Negro bastards on the welfare rolls at $2,400 a family—let people like [New York Sen.] Pat Moynihan … believe in all that crap. But I don’t believe in it. Work, work—throw ’em off the rolls. That’s the key.”
  • Nixon added, “I have the greatest affection for [blacks], but I know they’re not going to make it for 500 years. They aren’t. You know it, too. The Mexicans are a different cup of tea. They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they’re dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life. They don’t live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.” On Jewish people, Nixon said, “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”

And then, butter-for-brains Vice President Joe Biden, with more and more of his racist toes and feet in his mouth — “The way Trump deals with people based on the color of their skin, their national origin, where they’re from, is absolutely sickening,” Biden said. “No sitting president has ever done this, never, never, never. No Republican president has done this, this no Democratic president,” he continued. “We’ve had racists and they’ve existed, they’ve tried to get elected president but he’s the first one that has. And the way he pits people against one another is all designed to divide the country, divide people, not pull them together.”

Shall I say more about the absurdity of the presidential election/selection? I’d end up in the poor house if I gave a reader a penny for each racist thought-or-statement written by or yammered by USA politicos, media mavens, Holly-Dirters, authors, celebrities, Fortune 1000-ers, et al!

With the continual panic and lockdown mentality and genuflection to authority, this society pre-and post-Trump has been the bum’s rush for me and my ilk. When we put this society through the settler-colonial lens, we are lambasted on both sides of the political manure pile. “You know, the Indians were not all these noble savages. You know, they came here using the Land Bridge. You know, progress means adaptation.” These people have always believed in American exceptionalism, believed in the red and white and blue. Always believed those alabaster statues of Lincoln or Jefferson or even Martin Luther King. That Active Shooter in the House is what creates that Collective Stockholm Syndrome. It can be collective in rarified forms — the Stockholm Syndrome of Branch Davidians or MAGA or QAnon. The Stockholm Syndrome of Greta/350.org/David Attenborough. The Stockholm Syndrome of K-Street. Stockholm Syndrome of the Military Police State. Stockholm Syndrome of Techies and Bezos Types. That Syndrome is the result of the Active Shooter Mindset.

Siberian eatery is ideal spot for a Putin fan | Reuters

Until we end up here, in Lockdown, in a society where stores are boarded up. Streets are empty. Barricades of the mind and spirit erected from sea to shining sea. Incomes frozen. Assets Hacked. Lives Set Inside that Funhouse, or to use non-PC lingo, Madhouse. That Active Shooter rules of engagement also include not speaking out and not moving too quickly, or use anything in reach to subdue and escape, or to crawl and stop and hide. Lights out, doors locked, no sounds, no whispering, nothing, just crouch and hold still until, what? Whirling Blackhawks and Rumbling SWAT Armored Vehicles with Machine Gun Turrets?

The perceptions from the individual and collective Stockholm Syndrome, and the intellectual actions and inactions in this Active Shooter Lockdown Abide by All Leaders’ Laws/Regulations/Rules/ Fines/Admonishments/ Recommendations/Edicts/Penalties/Crimes/Offenses/Dictates, well, that certainly has constructed a very mean and very ostrich like society, and the see-hear-speak no evil and head in the sand and the lashing out and the hyper propaganda and the hyper-knee jerking, and, well, with it all facilitated by unsocial media, we are in the super minority if we dare question the question and the responses and the answers. We dare to go up against any of the narratives, and alas, we then become the pariah and the Scarlet-ed Letter “A” for Anarchist or Anachronistic or Abnormal or Ambiguous or Antagonistic or Adversarial or Asymptomatic or Argumentative or even the letter “A” for Anticlockwise.

“All forms of perception are “subjective” in the sense that they represent only those aspects and properties of the world that can be detected by an organism’s sensory transducers. Hence all perception is subjective in the sense of being partial. Moreover, once organisms reach a stage of cognitive complexity where they start to encode some sort of model of the surrounding world through their sensory contact with it, then the result is subjective in an even deeper sense. For what is represented will only comprise those aspects of the world that potentially matter to the organism (whether this is explicitly represented in the organism’s values, or implicit in the lifestyle that has been selected for it by evolution).”

— Peter Carruthers, from Human and Animal Minds: The Consciousness Questions Laid to Rest ( Oxford University Press, Jan 5, 2020;  p. 68)

Imagine that, the very act of just shutting it off, that Fuck You Book, that social ingratiation book, that rotting of the brain book. I was on it only because I had to set up an account for the nonprofit that was/is Gig Economizing me to work on their rather bombastic project of getting billionaires and millionaires and governments and philanthropies to put in “cash” transfers to poor people during, before and after (there will be no after) the Plan-demic Covid-19, SARS-CoV2, corona virus thing. Then, with the multitasking aplomb of wanting to take a break from this or that writing project, alas, I ended up messing with the Paul Haeder Facebook page, and then “befriending” a thousand or so, and then letting loose the philosophical and political tirades of our age. I did end up exposing folk to left of left stuff, to things that are pretty mainstream to me like Black Agenda Report, and groups like the Black Alliance for Peace. Discourse around why Trump or Trump-lite or Pence or GOP-lite, or DNC, or AOC or Biden-Obama-Hillary lite, and the hard stuff brewed by Empire of the Capitalists, that it’s all the same to revolutionaries or those with the Scarlet Letter “A” emblazoned on our t-shirts. Pure addictive and mind-blowing shit, this country is, and that is the unholy alliance of a country tis of me based on torture, raping, burning, immolating, murdering, beheading, pollution, animal slaughter, and air and soil and water destruction, all in the name of toilet paper for the masses, and kingdoms of jewels, banks, homes, mansions, castles for the Capitalists in Power. The ethanol brain rot of Capitalism a la North America.

I would throw out bombs on why Biden and Trump come from the same patriarchal DNA, how the Democratic Party Machine is as Bad and Corrupt as the Republican Party Machine. How the Machine is greased with Capital, and the Machine is not of, for, by, with, entwinned to the People, US, but for the banks. The techno-fascists, and brothers and sister of the Military Industrial Complex of Another and Another and Another Mother/Mothership.

United Snakes of America. United States of BlackRock. Un-united States of Capitalism, what have you, in variations on the theme, well, those stars on that other Banner, tell the story, and the story shifts with the logos, and those stores are indeed just banners, hiding the real sophisticated thugs of Transnational, Transhuman, Transcultural, Transhumane capital.

Corporate Logo Flags (US Flag) from Reclaim Democracy

In that abortion of Facebook just days ago, I find myself less distracted, though I have always worked as a writer, done my time in the world of nature, walks, paddles, bike riding, and now another gig for the 63-going-on-64-white (self-loathing, sort of)-communist-male-who-has-to-in-polite (mixed up)-company-call-himself-socialist. This one, well, full-time, with benefits, and back in the slog of things, working with adults with developmental and intellectual (and psychological and physical) disabilities. As a counselor, in this case all-around job-employment counselor, developers, what have you. Back to getting my expired certificates re-upped, and then all the vocational rehabilitation and department of human services and department of developmental disabilities courses and trainings. Deja vu, and well, in the beach life of the Central Oregon Coast, my spouse and I have to work, even though it feels fluttering around here that half the people are retired and enjoying high lifestyle, or at least solid retired middle class, and then, there are those who service this place, and many of them are struggling big time. In Oregon with the Nanny Governor and the schizophrenia of Red-Neck and Blue-Neck, the pain of businesses shuttering and main streets depopulating, well, this makes for a very hard time for the clientele I work with — how to get a job for someone who has to usually work 20 hours or less to keep the SSI under wraps. People who are not “normally” those we see in the workplace (the highest unemployment rate for any demographic is adults with developmental disabilities — think 83 percent). Getting creative in Plan-Demic times, well, I am up for the challenge, but alas, working that 40-hour a week schedule, and then doing my own thing as a journalist and novelist and such, well, I have to utilize as much brain-space and keyboard and mouse time as possible for MY work.

Facebook was a kick for a while, then for many of those nanoseconds (they do add up to minutes and then an hour is wasted on Fucker-Berg’s Mind Manipulation Tool, I was put on 24 hour and then three-day and then one week suspension. Expelled from posting and commenting. Then, to make matters even more hilarious (sad, too) those dyed in the wool exceptionalists, those with the Democratic Party diarrhea dreams dream, I just had to call it quits. They are the worse of the worse, the same as Christian MAGA and Conservative MAGA and Military MAGA and Retiree MAGA and Female MAGA, and the like. Total cognitive dissonance, and the Active Shooter mind-scape, well, that got the best of me (not really). Endless stupid dead-end posts and mini-discussions about why Trump is in and why Biden is bad, and, then, just coming from this angle as a communist, err, in Active Shooter land, a “socialist,” the arguments are back on the table about how great it is to have that first person of color in as VP-soon-to-be-Prez . . . (1928-’32, Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s Vice President, was a member of the Kaw Nation).

Endless stupidity about the lesser of two evils, about the evils of two lessers, about how a Biden win will allow for pressure on the left side of things to move the party and the country leftier . . . . Right! Bankers, bombers, baggers, bottom-feeders, bombasts, buccaneers, bag men/women, broadcasters, botulism boys, and the like, already lined up for the Harris-Biden Kill Show. Active Shooters show. Then, the Trump All Encompassing Digital and Cable Network . . . . all the while the offense industrialists (elites in and out of the military industrial complex) will bilk the nation, the globe, the resources until a future is this below, the fighting orangutan’s, a la Homo Psychopithecus!

Alternate text

PETITION TARGETCambodian Ambassador to the United States Chum Sounry

The Phnom Penh Safari zoo in Cambodia showcases disturbing orangutan boxing matches, forcing innocent apes to fight each other in a boxing ring. The animals are also made to ride bikes, hula-hoop, and wear degrading outfits, as shown in numerous TripAdvisor photos.

Orangutans aren’t the only animals abused at this zoo: tigers jump through flaming hoops and cower in fear of trainers’ electric prods; crocodiles are hit with sticks and have their mouths taped shut for selfie opportunities; and elephants are controlled with bullhooks.

The animals appear neglected, too. The tigers are declawed and extremely thinaccording to EARS Asia. And the drinking water is filthy, according to a Khmer Times article that has since been deleted.

Animals do not exist for human amusement. They deserve natural habitats and loving caretakers, not cruel zoos where they’re forced to perform for park-goers.

The abuse must stop. Sign this petition urging Cambodian Ambassador to the United States Chum Sounry to call for an end to all cruel animal performances at the zoo and push for a thorough investigation into the animals’ treatment.

The abusive husband in this loveless marriage of capitalists ruling the roost, writing the narrative, spinning the malignant history, fears the loss of her/his master because that abusive system has turned him/her into a clinging hopey-dopey thing who believes all those decades of oppression will somehow be redefined to allow this shattered individual and collective to lose all self-esteem to the point that we are no longer capable of imagining a life without our parasitic master.

We are collectively servants of those masters who have for centuries plotted and prodded populations into fearing agency, revolution and radical transformation. We are that Disney-fied and Disney-fed collective, and those elites especially, yammering and yammering about the LGBTQA+ minority’s play (Lin-Manuel Miranda), “Hamilton,” being so wonderous and so emblematic of the good of this nation, well, not a one would question the slaver’s role in America — a slaver, new documents do show that not only was Alexander Hamilton a slave trader for his in-law family, the Schuyler’s, his own account books demonstrate that Hamilton bought, sold and personally owned slaves. But try and have that conversation about Miranda and the elite’s bullshit love of this bullshit play on Fuck-You-Book, or in person (of course, masked up and at least six feet of separation, please, and no more than 8 gathered in an open space, please or else!!!).

I would have expected a few of the people on Fuck-You-And-The-Horse-You-Rode-Into-Town-On BOOK, to nuance the Biden-Harris gig, the bullshit nature of GOP and DNC, and the trillions thrown at the sex addicts and money changers in the billionaire class, while mom and pop, sister and brother, downtrodden and almost-to-be-downtrodden, get shit from Pelosi and Mitch, but instead, the Collective Stockholm Syndrome of the liberal lite kind has just plummeted our 2021 into the new normal of following more anti-civil rights and anti-free speech and anti-freedom of movement laws backed by thousand-dollar fines, the fuzz with their assault rifles and, well, the GIANT Scarlet Letter A for, well, fill in the blank of anti- as prefix. You get expelled from Zoom Doom school, get cut from the team, get sacked, get ostracized, and get kicked to the curb if you dare question narratives of the ruling class. Dare to question this science (sic) versus that science. You know, that is the mob mentality of America, whether it is in the village square burning heretics, or on the greasy grass mowing down dancers and drummers. We are in a Little Bighorn, and the Big-Small-wannabe Eichmann’s are there, mostly, in places of “authority,” the elites, the nanny governors and their cadre of pencil neck followers, the compliant ones, the ones who follow order, those who say LGBTQA+, but are hope-dopey Stockholm Syndrome sufferers of the major kind, creating dictate after dictate.

You can’t even talk about small businesses closing. Can’t talk about the renter and mortgage class (sic) sticking it and sticking it and resticking it to the masses. Imagine this fucked up Corona World, where stupidity and no-deep questioning rule. Can you imagine scum bucket governors from red and blue states, yammering and yammering.

There is no plan for the resettling in and after Plan-demic. But there is that Fourth Industrial Revolution, the big plans by big tech, and the Google world and the economies of scale of the Amazon-kind variety and the satellites launched at sunset and the Elon Musks and the entire shit-show that is Forbes and Rockefeller and Council on Foreign Affairs, the Aspen Institute, the Federalist Society, the Family, the TED Talk crews, all of them, from QAnon to the Tweets, and everything in between, it is the world of the ACTIVE Shooter, and duck and cover, the name of one generation’s game, and now, the slave master will say, “All Money, All Movements, All Things” will and must be on a digital platform. Passports from Hell to Enter a New Hell. No Travel Unless Eyes Are Scanned and Vaccination Record Checked.

Somehow, that has been the pathway of the elites, from Holly-Dirt, to the schools, to the drone programs at two-bit community colleges, to the food purveyors. We have colonized each generation, and the baselines of old hopes — agency, real food, real relationships with people-land-planet, real debate, real learning, real arguing, real water, real air, real art, real feelings, real history, real enfranchisement, real conversations — that too has been put on Red Flag Active Shooter hold. Deep Sixed.

Conversations and philosophical constructions and deconstructions are put on hold as the majority of people in the United Snakes of BlackRock, well, they talk about “things” as bifurcated nonsense, politics, histrionics, heliographs, shit shows and PT Barnum One-Upping Scams of the Mind and of the Culture.

I love what John Steppling has to say in the front of his essay, The Mechanical Soul:

One of the reasons I keep writing about AI is that the entire construct of an artificial intelligence has become both a symbol and metaphor for contemporary thought, and, is part of this ongoing reshaping of human consciousness.

I admit I am surprised how many people believe in the entire project of AI. Clearly it holds something very appealing that people WANT to believe in. And a key element in this is the idea of predictability. And predicting means controlling. So, in one sense, there is nothing new in this desire to foretell the future.

Now the first problem when discussing “consciousness” is that finding a definition for that word is nearly impossible.

“Moreover, the explicit dualistic beliefs of children in Western cultures get less strong with age (Bering 2006). This suggests that dualism is the default setting of the folk-psychological system, which gets weakened by cultural input in scientific cultures—at least at the level of explicit verbal expression—rather than depending on such input (Riekki et al.2013;Willard & Norenzayan 2013; Forstmann & Burgmer 2015). Indeed, dualist intuitions are prevalent in both children and adults, even in cultures whose norms discourage overt attention to mental states, albeit becoming weaker as a function of exposure to Western education (Chudek et al.2018).” –Peter Carruthers (Human and Animal Minds)

With Facebook and Twitter and even consumption of the low art of Netflix and everything on the Internet, that is, almost all of it on the Web, we are losing the race for dualistic beliefs, of holding many counter-arguments in our brains, and even just considering counter-intuitive things. But, the news, the real news, should send shudders down any human’s spine — Bend, Oregon, on the frigid east side of the Cascade Range, is currently without a warming shelter, largely due to complaints by rich residents about a location. Early Tuesday morning, the body of Dave Melvin Savory, 57, a homeless double amputee, was found slumped against a dumpster outside a Rite Aid pharmacy.

Finally, of course, any real leftist would be cheering the defeat and dethroning of any ruler of the empire. Christ, just watching both sides of the sewer pond is what a revolutionary would hope for. Trump defeated and his slim-balls and himself slipping and sliding in their own shit, that is a good day to be a human being. And, the end of Biden and Harris and all the hit men he and she are hiring on for the Biden-Harris Empire Shit Show, that too will be a very good day for humanity.

Something About Heads on Pikes and All Chained up in the Docks? Banned on Facebook.

America’s Active Shooters!!!

One-time rival Senator Kamala Harris backs Joe Biden for president | amNewYork
Oh Say Can You See by the Dawn’s Early Covid Lockdown…
Pope Francis offers prayers for President Trump - The Dialog
… and Christian Bombs Bursting in Air while laughing all the way to the bank!

Final Note — Imagine this shit show America, and this blog, and the few things I wrote in it, enough to toss me to the curb. Big Brother and Big Sister, they are all watching. Just this recent new job, I was told by a person in the nonprofit involved in hiring me that “I Googled you . . . I had to really get beyond that to think, ‘there is more to this guy than all that.'” Hmm. Is this the proverbial digital straw that broke the human being’s back?

The post Active Shooter in the Brain first appeared on Dissident Voice.

What Now?

Now that the election is all over, it should be the time to debate our future political activity. The Left insisted that Trump was the anti-Christ and that working people should vote for a lesser evil, the saintly figure of Joe Biden. But now with Biden in the White House they are telling us to begin organizing campaigns to save ourselves from the very evil we just helped to put into the Oval Office. The Justice Democrats and their ilk now expect us to accept the right-wing narrative that Biden can be made to take a left turn, ignoring that it was not the Republicans who defeated Bernie’s Medicare-For-All nor AOC’s version of the “Green New Deal” but the Democrats themselves. The DNC hold the reins of the Democratic Party not Sanders and the Squad.

Possibly without a majority in the Senate nor having control of the Supreme Court, Biden is impotent. How can the liberal progressives even hope to push Biden left-wards. Even if he possessed the conviction to do such a shift, Biden’s primary concern is to compromise with and make concessions to, not the left of his party, but with individual Republicans in the Senate to get anything of importance passed. The Democratic Party will, in fact, move to the right. Certainly, we can expect there will be some cosmetic changes such as re-joining the Paris Climate-Change Accord but there can be no Green New Deal of any substance.

Urging people to vote against a politician or a party is not the way forward. Instead of negativism, socialists have to promote a vision of the future to work towards. We fully acknowledge our task is not going to be accomplished in a few election cycles. It means education, organizing and agitating. We must convey a genuinely revolutionary message.

The World Socialist Party of the United States has retained its integrity by stating the truth concerning Biden, which angered our opponents who believe that part of supporting a lesser evil is also all about lying on behalf of it. The WSPUS now submits a possible strategy for our fellow-workers to consider.

Fantasy is the first act of rebellion said Freud. Let us indulge ourselves in that most human of all pursuits – let us imagine the future.

It is not easy to convince someone of the necessity and feasibility of a fundamentally new society by simply offering the description of the future. No matter how appealing that future society might seem, for compared to present-day reality, it will still appear to be a figment of the imagination. We can only see a different system in terms of our present one. From a very early age every person is taught to be “practical”, “realistic” and stop “dreaming dreams”. And yet imagination is the very act of being human. Whatever else makes us different from other animals, the human capacity to imagine is one of the most striking. The stifling of this  imagination is essential if the owning class are to maintain their monopoly of the planet, for the greatest revolutionary act for working people is to imagine an alternative to the present day system.

It is not particularly scientific to lay down an exact blueprint of how future socialist society will be organized and we are not concerned to say that this or that is how the future must be. Drawing up a detailed plan for socialism is premature, since the exact form will depend upon the technical conditions and preferences of those who will actually construct socialism and then it will solidify into an appropriate plan. It will be based upon the conditions existing at that time, not of today. What we can do, however, is to offer a glimpse into society as it could become. We can describe certain basic principles and guidelines, and give a sketch in a very broad brush-strokes of the picture we think society might be. We possess a plan but it is not THE plan.

I. Socialism

1) A socialist party must first be clear in its socialism, that socialism must be a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of production and distribution and in the interest of the entire community. Socialism is a global community without borders, where goods are produced only for use. Buying and selling, and with them prices, wages, money, and banks will disappear. Instead, everyone will have free access to the common store according to his or her needs. Socialism is a fully democratic society. The coercive state machinery of class society will be replaced by the simple democratic administration of the affairs of society.

2) The government ownership of industry, or nationalization, is state capitalism. Workers in state industries are still exploited for profit by the wage system and still need to organize into unions and to strike to protect their interests. The nationalized industries are run on capitalist lines to produce for sale. This has absolutely nothing to do with socialism. Socialism and communism are not different systems of society. Both describe the same society based on social ownership. For us, the words “socialist state” or ”workers’ state” are oxymorons and contradictions. Where there is socialism there is no state, and where there is a state then there is no socialism.

II. The Path to Socialism

3) Socialism can be established only by the political majority of the working class who want and understand socialism. To establish socialism, the working class must first gain control of political power and to do so, we must organize a political party.

4) That the majority should want and understand socialism has been a principle that has distinguished the World Socialist Party from all other parties who call themselves socialists. Once the nature of socialism is understood as a free society based on voluntary work and free access to all the fruits of this work, it is clear that socialism can only be established by the conscious action of the majority. The voluntary cooperation and social responsibility that socialism demands cannot be imposed by any type of leadership.

5) When it is recognized that there must be a majority of socialists who understand and want socialism, a majority with a socialist consciousness, then force is not required, unless the pro-capitalists use it first. The socialist majority will use the popular vote as it is to show they are a majority and also to send its delegates to parliament and local councils, thus gaining control of the state apparatus.

6) We maintain that insurrection and street-fighting are redundant tactics. In the modern political situation — the overwhelming numerical superiority of the working class, universal suffrage, political democracy, a civil service and a military recruited from among workers — the working class can and must use the elections and the various legislatures as a way leading to power for socialism. A socialist party should contest elections as often as possible  but only on a socialist platform. Where there are no socialist candidates, voters should be urged to return blank or spoiled ballot papers yet without engaging in anti-election propaganda of the anarchist type.

Any idea of an anarcho-syndicalist general strike of industrial unions as a means of overthrowing the capitalist yoke is obviously impractical because it would leave the means to crush such a strike, the state apparatus, in the hands of the capitalists.

III. The Futility of Reformism

7) At a certain level of development of the socialist movement in each country, socialists should organize themselves into a party, with its own democratic rules, rather than remain discussion or study or reader groups that may have been previously more convenient and appropriate. A political party can only be what its members are. If a socialist party wants to remain as such, it must be made up of only socialists. This is particularly necessary in a democratic party where all members have equal votes on policy decisions. Acquiring a basic knowledge of socialism must be a condition of admission to the party of socialism.

The party that the working class use as a tool to gain political control must be organized on a democratic basis. The structure of the socialist party will have to reflect the democratic nature of the society it is seeking to establish. Its policies and administration must be entirely in the hands of its members, there should not be leaders and those who are designated to perform different functions must be accountable to members. Full free and frank discussion of party policy should exist. In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership, the World Socialist Movement is a leader-free political organization.

8)  Moreover, to remain socialist, the party must seek support solely on the basis of a socialist program. Inevitably, in the present circumstances, the result will be that the party will be comparatively small in number, but there is no other logical way to build a genuine socialist party. History showed us the fate of the social democratic parties, which despite a formal commitment to socialism as an “ultimate goal”, admitted the non-socialist to their ranks and sought non-socialist support for a reform program of capitalism rather than a socialist program. In order to maintain their non-socialist support, they were themselves forced to drop all talk of socialism and become even more openly reformist.

Today the social democratic parties are firmly committed to capitalism in theory and in practice. We say that this was the inevitable result of the admission of non-socialists and advocating reforms of capitalism. That is why we have always advocated socialism and never called for the reform of capitalism. We are not saying that all reforms are anti-working class, but as a socialist party advocating reforms, it would be its first step towards its transformation into a reformist party. Regardless of why or how the reforms are advocated, the result is the same: confusion in the minds of the working class instead of growth of socialist consciousness.

9) The preservation and protection of the environment is a problem which requires humanity to establish a viable and stable relationship with the rest of nature. In practice this implies a society which uses, as far as possible, renewable raw materials and energy and practise the recycling of non-renewable resources; a society which, once an appropriate balance with nature has been formed, will tend towards a stable level of production, indeed towards “zero growth”. This does not mean that development is to be excluded on principle, but that any change will have to respect the environment by taking place at a pace to which nature can adapt.

It has been the employment by capitalism of destructive methods of production has, over two centuries, upset the balance of nature. It is not “humanity” but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems. It is only after having placed the means of society’s existence under the control of the community that we will be able to ensure their management, no longer in the selfish interest of the capitalist class, but in the general interest.

Most environmentalists accept the economic dictatorship of the owning minority since they don’t understand the link that exists between the destruction of the environment and the private/state ownership of the means of production.  Because by definition capitalism can only function in the interest of the capitalists, no palliative can (nor ever will be able to) subordinate capitalist private property to the general interest. For this reason only the threat of a socialist movement setting down as the only realistic and immediate aim the establishment of social property of society’s means of existence so as to ensure their management by and in the interest of the whole community, would be able to force the capitalists to concede reforms favorable to the workers for fear of losing the whole cake. Yet more reason to advance the maximum program of socialism.

10) As the trade union movement stands to-day it is still craft and sectarian in outlook, still mainly pro-capitalist.  The struggle on the economic field has to be, and is, carried on by socialists and non-socialists alike. The ideal trade-union, from a socialist point of view, would be one that recognised the irreconcilable conflict of interest between workers and employers, that had no leaders but was organized democratically and controlled by its members, that sought to organize all workers irrespective of nationality, color, religious or political views, first by industry then into One Big Union, and which struggled not just for higher wages but also for the abolition of the wages system. This cannot become a full reality until large numbers of workers are socialists. We cannot have a union organized on entirely socialist principles without a socialist membership. The small number of workers who really understand the meaning of socialism is such that any attempt to form a separate socialist economic organisation at present would be futile, for the very nature of the workers’ economic struggle under capitalism would compel such an organisation to associate in a common cause with the non-socialist unions during strikes and all the other activities of the class struggle. A socialist party, therefore, urges that the existing unions provide the vehicle through which the workers should obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labor-power.

11) A socialist party must oppose nationalism in all its forms. The interests of working people are the same in all countries and they should never be enemies of each other. Anti-imperialist nationalism is the ideology of an actual or aspiring capitalist class that seeks the way to its own independent state; they are striving to carve out a place for themselves within the existing system, not to overthrow it. Such movements will subordinate the interests of workers to those of the capitalists. Socialists have always clearly stated that workers have no country.

IV A Model of Socialist Society

It is reasonable to assume that productive activity would be divided into branches and that production in these branches would be organized by a delegate body. The responsibility of these industries would be to ensure the supply of a particular kind of product either, in the case of consumer goods, to distribution centres or, in the case of goods used to produce other goods, to productive units or other industries.

Since the needs of consumers are always needs for a specific product at a specific time in a specific locality, we will assume that socialist society would leave the initial assessment of likely needs to a delegate body under the control of the local community. In a stable society such as socialism, needs would change relatively slowly. Hence, it is reasonable to surmise that an efficient system of stock control, recording what individuals actually chose to take under conditions of free access from local distribution centres over a given period would enable the local distribution committee to estimate what the need for food, drink, clothes and household goods would be over a similar future period. Some needs would be able to be met locally: local transport, restaurants, builders, repairs and some food are examples as well as services such as street-lighting, libraries and refuse collection. The local distribution committee would then communicate needs that could not be met locally to the bodies charged with coordinating supplies to local communities.

The individual would have free access to the goods on the shelves of the local distribution centres; the local distribution centres free access to the goods they required to be always adequately stocked with what people needed; their suppliers free access to the goods they required from the factories which supplied them; industries and factories free access to the materials, equipment and energy they needed to produce their products; and so on. Production and distribution in socialism would thus be a question of organizing a coordinated and more or less self-regulating system of linkages between users and suppliers, enabling resources and materials to flow smoothly from one productive unit to another, and ultimately to the final user, in response to information flowing in the opposite direction originating from final users. The productive system would thus be set in motion from the consumer end, as individuals and communities took steps to satisfy their self-defined needs. Socialist production is self-regulating production for use.

To ensure the smooth functioning of the system, statistical offices would be needed to provide estimates of what would have to be produced to meet peoples likely individual and collective needs. These could be calculated in the light of consumer wants as indicated by returns from local distribution committees and of technical data (productive capacity, production methods, productivity, etc) incorporated in input-output tables. For, at any given level of technology (reflected in the input-output tables), a given mix of final goods (consumer wants) requires for its production a given mix of intermediate goods and raw materials; it is this latter mix that the central statistical office would be calculating in broad terms.

Such calculations would also indicate whether or not productive capacity would need to be expanded and in what branches. The centres for each world-region would thus be essentially an information clearing house, processing information communicated to it about production and distribution and passing on the results to industries for them to draw up their production plans so as to be in a position to meet the requests for their products coming from other industries and from local communities. The only calculations that would be necessary in socialism would be calculations in kind. On the one side would be recorded the resources (materials, energy, equipment, labour) used up in production and on the other side the amount of the goods produced, together with any by-products.

Stock or inventory control systems employing calculation in kind are absolutely indispensable to any kind of modern production system. While it is true that they operate within a price environment today, that is not the same thing as saying they need such an environment in order to operate. The key to good stock management is the stock turnover rate – how rapidly stock is removed from the shelves – and the point at which it may need to be re-ordered. This will also be affected by considerations such as lead times – how long it takes for fresh stock to arrive – and the need to anticipate possible changes in demand.

As we have seen, socialism will be a self-adjusting decentralized inter-linked system. A socialist economy would be polycentric, not centrally planned. The problem with a central planning model of socialism is its inability to cope with changing situations. It lacks any kind of feedback mechanism which allows for mutual adjustments between the different sectors in such an economy. It is completely inflexible. Socialism does not necessary involve the creation of new layers of administrations but simply the transformation of them. It is not a command economy but a responsive one to provide for a self-sustaining steady-state society.

And we can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero-growth steady-state society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. This could be achieved in three main phases.

a) There would have to be emergency action to relieve the worst problems of food, health care and housing shortages which affect billions of people throughout the world.

b) Longer term action to construct means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems for the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. These could be designed in line with conservation principles, which means they would be made to last for a long time, using materials that where possible could be re-cycled and would require minimum maintenance.

c) 
With these objectives achieved there could be an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode. This would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth. On this basis, the world community could reconcile two great needs, the need to live in material well being whilst looking after the planet.

A money-free society can calculate opportunity costs and allocate resources rationally by:

1) Calculation-in-kind which means no more calculation in units of value whether measured by money or directly in some unit of labor-time but rather expressed as required quantities such as grammes, kilos, tonnes, litres, and so forth, of various materials and quantities of goods. It would be necessary to calculate the amount of inputs that would be needed to achieve a certain level of production. This kind of input-output calculation would need to occur on different geographical scales, from “local” forms of calculation to the regional and also global.

2) A self-correcting system of stock control — which identifies quantities of stocks available and provides a reliable indication of consumer demand (via the depletion rates of stocks.)

3) The law of the minimum — whereby you economize most on those factors of production that are relatively more scarce.

4) A social hierarchy of production goals — which sorts out the allocation of scarce factors where competing demands are placed upon them.

5)The use of a non-monetary variant of cost-benefit analysis to determine opportunity costs.

Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behavior reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people’s needs are not met and people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. The establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other.

In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one’s command, would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the stronger the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos.

Free access to goods and services denies to any group of individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others (a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life). This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level.

A most important point is that we are not starting from the beginning. It’s not a blank sheet. We are taking over and inheriting an already existing economic system which has in place various means of determining allocations and trade-offs. There are countless professional and trade associations and marketing boards and government departments which have the research and diagnostic tools available, plus the trade union movements with its skills and knowledge. All those bodies may presently be based on commerce but they can be quite easily democratized, socialized and integrated organizationally. Planning in socialism is essentially a question of industrial organization, of organizing productive units into a productive system functioning smoothly to supply the useful things which people had indicated they needed, both for their individual and for their collective consumption.

Conclusion

Anything less than the demand for full free-access socialism does not go far enough. In the final analysis, those who oppose it lack the confidence that either there are sufficient resources on the planet to provide for all as many Malthusian-influenced environmentalists appear to believe, or they deny that human beings can work voluntarily and co-operate together without coercion to organise production and distribution of wealth not are they capable of consuming wealth responsibly without some form of rationing, as the basic ideologues of capitalism frequent declare. In the end, these critics remain fixated to the disproved lazy person, greedy individual critique of human behavior.

Those of us in the World Socialist Party* believe it is now the opportunity “to dream the impossible dream”, as the popular song goes,

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause

We must not suppose that socialism is therefore destined to always remain a Utopia.  As William Morris said:

Have you not heard how it has gone with many a Cause before now: First, few men heed it; Next, most men condemn it; Lastly, all men ACCEPT it — and the Cause is Won.

* For more on the World Socialist Party of the United States see:1

  1. Alan Johnstone, Rising from its Death-bed, Dissident Voice,  April 25, 2019; Be Realistic: Demand the Impossible, Dissident Voice, May 4, 2019;  Reforming the Reformers, Dissident Voice, May 12, 2019.

The post What Now? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Resurgence of Socialism in Bolivia

In Bolivia, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) – a major leftist political force – has returned to power following a thumping victory in the 2020 elections. The MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce obtained 55.09% of the votes, decisively ahead of the neoliberal candidate Carlos Mesa and the right-wing extremist Luis Fernando Camacho who garnered 28.83% and 14% of the votes, respectively. The triumph of MAS in Bolivia is highly significant since it follows hard on the heels of the 2019 US-backed coup which violently overthrew the MAS president Evo Morales and attempted to re-institute neoliberalism through blood and bullets. Headed by the de facto president Jeanine Áñez (a religious bigot), the fascist coup government genuflected to the American empire, joined the conservative Lima Bloc — a group of 12 Latin American nations determined to subvert the Bolivarian Revolution — exited leftist regional forums, kicked out Cuban doctors and re-established ties with Israel. With the re-election of the MAS, it has been demonstrably shown that Bolivians don’t have any liking for the barbaric blueprint of imperialism and socialism still throbs through the nation’s body.

The Socialist Project

There are many reasons to explain Bolivians’ continued support for the MAS. In spite of state aggression aimed at terrorizing citizens, the oppressed masses remained steadfast in their refusal of neoliberalism and organized sustained mobilizations to resist imperialist forces. Behind this courageous anti-imperialism, we can locate a primary motivating factor: MAS’s socialist project. With the help of this socialist project, the MAS radically re-configured a turbo-capitalist economy, allowing poor people to take hold of their own lives and move beyond the existentially crippling effects of necro-political neoliberalism.

Under Morales’ administration, a new constitution was promulgated in 2009 which proclaimed: “We have left the colonial, republican and neo-liberal State in the past.” With this departure from neoliberalism, changes soon took place within the country. In the first eight years of the Morales administration, national government revenue from hydrocarbons increased nearly sevenfold from $731 million to $4.95 billion, a direct corollary of nationalization and state-led economic re-construction. Earlier, corporate interests used to take over 80% of the profits from Bolivia’s natural gas reserves. Morales effectively reversed this trend with a nationalization decree giving Bolivia more than 80% of industry profits in the form of taxes and royalties.

Increased revenues allowed the government to establish a new welfare state with Conditional Cash Transfers such as: Income Dignity that benefitted every retired Bolivian over 60 years;  Juancito Pinto Bonus given to poor families to send their children to school; and Juana Azurduy voucher that provided free medical support to pregnant and poor mothers. The MAS also established a number of public firms: the telecommunication company Entel, Bolivian Aviation (BOA), Productive Development Bank, the Bolivian Customs Deposits (DAB), the cargo airline company Bolivian Air Transport (TAB), television channel named Bolivia TV; and Quipus for information technology. In the 2006-2016 period, these public firms employed 120,793 people.

The new economic regime instituted by the MAS was clearly distinguishable from the previous system of perpetual exploitation. Under the previous economic architecture, the oppressed people of Bolivia were savagely suppressed by the bourgeoisie to boost profits. To take an example, trade as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doubled from 10% in 1989 to 18% in 1999; foreign direct investment increased from an average of $38 billion per year from 1993-1997 to $74 billion per year between 1998- 2003. Yet, common citizens did not benefit from this neoliberal growth. They protested against this endless enrichment of the few and the utter dehumanization of the masses. Out of these protests, Morales emerged as a political leader, capable of waging a war of attrition against the ossified structures of oppression.

In 2005, the top 10% of the population had 128 times more income than the bottom 10%; by 2012 this difference decreased to 46 times. From 60% in 2006, the poverty rate has fallen below 35% and the extreme poverty rate is 15.2%, down from 37.7% in 2006. From 2005 to 2015, public investment doubled from 7% of GDP to 14%, expanding the public capital stock from 78.8% to 100.5% of GDP during the same period. Between 2005 and 2019, the gross domestic product increased from $9.574 billion to $40.885 billion. Bolivia’s real per capita GDP has grown at two times the rate for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) since 2006. The annual per capita growth across LAC economies has been 1.6% per year since 2006; Bolivia’s real per capita GDP has grown at an average of 3.2%. This growth was accompanied by a reduction in unemployment which fell from 8.1% in 2005 to 4.2% in 2018. Life expectancy increased by nine years. From 2000 to 2019, minimum national wage increased by 153%.

The MAS government undertook significant land reforms which benefitted 800,000 low-income peasants and indigenous people, enshrined women’s inheritance rights and allowed smallholders to control most of the country’s land for the first time since the Spanish conquest. As part of this agrarian revolution, ten million acres were expropriated for redistribution from expiring logging concessions and big landowners who held lands over the limit of 25,000 acres set by the new agrarian law.

In 2013, the MAS government established state-owned banks and implemented the Financial Services Law (FSL 393) which intervened in credit allocation decisions of private banks, instituted lending quotas to a list of “productive sectors” — industrial manufacturing, agriculture, agribusiness, extraction, processing of metals, minerals, and natural gas — and limited profitability by capping interest rates. FSL 393 was a radical measure taken by the socialist administration. It acted as a counter-tendency to the financial liberalization which the country had been experiencing for many years. This unbridled liberalization included the liberalization of all interest rates in 1985, opening of the capital account, and privatization and closure of state owned banks through the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in a highly dollarized and primarily privately owned financial system by the early 2000s.

The FSL 393 led to increased financial stability, de-dollarization, reserve accumulation and increased public ownership of the economy. All this was made possible due to sustained subaltern pressure from below which combined with the legitimacy of the socialist state to initiate a program of incremental reform that decreased the importance of the private sector in the economy, weakened the power of business interests and thus, reduced the importance of disinvestment threats.

The 2019 Coup and Anti-imperialist Resistance

The 2019 coup against Morales was an imperialist effort to transform Bolivia into a neo-colony and bring a halt to the country’s socialist project. In its “2019 Investment Climate Statements: Bolivia”, the US Department of State said, “U.S. companies interested in investing in Bolivia should note that in 2012 Bolivia abrogated the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) it signed with the U.S. and a number of other countries.”. BIT is a form of international law that creates legally enforceable rights and entitlements for foreign investors. Under the international system of investor protection created by BITs, private investors can sue for damages while citizens of host states have no way to take direct action. Therefore, BITs are legal instruments of capitalist power consolidation. When Morales came to power, he terminated the BITs. This was an initial indication of the socialist orientation of the MAS government which deeply troubled the US.

In another acknowledgement of MAS’ socialist outlook, the 2019 Investment Climate statement notes that “Environmental regulations can slow projects due to the constitutional requirement of “prior consultation” for any projects that could affect local and indigenous communities. This has affected projects related to the exploitation of natural resources, both renewable and nonrenewable, as well as public works projects.” Natural resources occupy a key position for American companies. According to the Country Commercial Guide (CCG) prepared by the US embassy in Bolivia, the following is one of the top five reasons to consider Bolivia for foreign investment: “Bolivia is rich in non-renewable natural resources. Mining and hydrocarbons are some of Bolivia’s largest export sectors, and there is still room to grow.  In addition to presently mined minerals such as zinc, silver, lead, and tin, Bolivia boasts significant lithium deposits, which remain mostly unexploited.” From this, it is evident that American businesses were salivating at the prospect of accessing lucrative natural resources and the only barrier to this was socialism.

In order to crack open Bolivia’s economy for the unrestricted entry of American corporations, the US orchestrated a capitalist coup in 2019. The coup was designed to overtly facilitate neoliberalism. The US Department of State’s “2020 Investment Climate Statements: Bolivia”– in an implicit acknowledgment of the neoliberal leanings of the coup government – said: “In November 2019, a transitional government came to power that indicated an interest in taking additional steps to attract more FDI…Bolivia does not currently have an investment promotion agency to facilitate foreign investment.  However, the transitional government is working to create such an agency in order to attract investment”.

Apart from subordinating itself to the economic exigencies of capitalism, the coup government simultaneously tried to target public companies. For instance, the new chief executive officer (CEO) of the public sector airline BOA appointed by the Áñez government declared that the airline was running on severe deficit, with no data to substantiate that claim. The new BOA manager was the chief financial officer of Amazonas, a private airline that is BOA’s main rival. Not content with destroying state companies, the new government reduced public investment by 32.5%.

Regardless of the coup government’s efforts to re-institute neoliberalism, US oligarchy’s strategy of imperialistically prying open Bolivia did not go as planned. The proletariat presented a heroic resistance to imperialist violence and continuously strategized to finally defeat it. This was bound to happen. The principal trade union federation in the country, the Bolivian Workers’ Centre (COB), actively supports Morales’s policies and economic reforms, particularly the nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry and the new labor codes and reforms implemented throughout his tenure. The coca growers’ union, known as the Tropic Federation, in the region of Chapare in the north of Cochabamba, is most loyal of all the peasants’ organizations. The Union Federation of Bolivian Mineworkers (FSTMB), an affiliate of the COB and the main union covering workers in the state-owned Bolivian Mining Corporation (COMIBOL), also supports Morales. Thinking that these workers will remain passive in the face of imperialist-fascist incursion is totally naïve.

The victory of the MAS in the 2020 elections has proven that the politico-economic fabric woven by socialist-indigenous movements can’t be torn apart by profit-seeking imperialist forces. While plutocratic putschists tried their best to fracture Bolivia’s internal social structures, the masses did not surrender to imperialism and continued to fearlessly confront the onslaught of neoliberal capitalism. In the current conjuncture, solidarity needs to be shown with the Bolivian people who have once again shown that an independent path, free from the shackles of imperialism, is possible.

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“Dictatorship” and “Democracy” as Loaded Language: Anti-Communist Cold-War Propaganda

ORIENTATION

In my last article I showed how the word “totalitarian” was used as a loaded vice word to attack the Soviet Union after World War II and to red-bait communists around the world. The use of the word totalitarian began in the 1930s, but even before then in the 1920’s, the word “dictator” began to surface in order to explain another political response to the crisis in capitalism. We will study the use of this term from the 1920s to the end of World War II, although, of course, the word dictator is still used for propaganda purposes today against socialist governments.

If I were to ask 95% of the Yankee population, “Is Putin a dictator” almost all would say “yes”. If I were to ask “Is Maduro a dictator” I would get the same response. But if six months ago I were to ask “Is Trump a dictator” the answer would be mixed. This is because the CIA controlled political propaganda machine saves the word “dictator” for foreign countries, inevitably the head of socialist or communist states. But here in Yankeedom we don’t have dictators, not even Donald Trump.

Within the same time period, the 1920s, the word “democracy” was also manipulated to mean different things at different times but for the same anti-communist reasons. In the first half of this article I will discuss the propagandistic use of the word dictator and in the second half I will discuss the propagandistic use of democracy. For the section on dictatorship, I will be drawing mostly from Dictators, Democracy and Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy 1920s-1950 by Benjamin Alpers. For the section on democracy I will be using mostly The Crisis in Democratic Theory by Edward Purcell Jr.

THE UNITED STATES FLIRTS WITH DICTATORSHIPS IN THE 1920S AND EARLY 1930S

In the 20s the U.S. press praised Mussolini for bringing political order to Italy. So relieved was the U.S. press at Mussolini’s seizure of power in 1922 that few journalists bothered to report his hostility to democracy or his radical left past. From Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922 to mid-1930s, dictatorship was seen sympathetically on the left (Stalin’s dictatorship) as well as the right. The same praise was given to Stalin’s first 5-year plan. As Mussolini’s prestige rose in the U.S., Stalin was seen as accomplishing wonderful things by labor representatives, public health workers and engineers.

In a 1932 interview with Mussolini, the press packaged him as a model for the US as “what a real dictator would do”. Here is an excerpt from Barron’s editorial section: “Whether we are quite ready to admit it or not, sometimes openly and other times secretly, we have been longing to see the superman emerge… Of course, we all realize that dictatorships and even semi-dictatorships in peacetime are quite contrary to the spirit of American institutions and all that.”

Rather than rejecting the fear that “it can’t happen here” the sociologist Robert Lynd suggested that the capitalists secretly desired a dictatorship.

Dictatorship and the Great Depression 

The coming of the depression made dictatorships more attractive. Mussolini received a favorable reception by capitalists as a dictatorship seemed like an efficient way to deal with labor unions, economic depressions and a way to organize an economy along non-socialist lines. In the early years of the Great Depression, dictatorship was an important political fantasy. The image of a dictator was a great man, one who was able to lift himself to prominence despite humble beginnings.

Dictatorship was understood as a personality and not part of a political structure. The dictator was the ultimate “doer”. Liberals bent over backwards explaining why dictatorship did not make it the opposite of democracy. Dorothy Thompson argued that good dictators can save democracy; bad dictators can destroy it. In the middle of the 1930s, 33% of unemployed engineers agreed with the need for a dictator.

In 1932-33, the necessity for a dictator in the US spread to the movies, including two Hollywood films. In the documentary movie Mussolini Speaks, no reference is made to fascist brutality. The film celebrates Mussolini’s enormous control of the crowd. In its initial run at the New York Place Theatre, it received critical and popular success. In 1933, the New York Times gave it an enthusiastic review.

The film Gabriel over the White House advocated dictatorship in the US. In it, a dictator tells Congress it has turned its back on the people. The dictator solves the problems of unemployment and organized crime. The newspaper magnet, Randolph Hearst, collaborated with this film. It was a hit at the box office but encountered mixed reviews. The problem was that the film hit theaters just as the Yankee longing for dictators was coming to an end. Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 ended Mussolini’s popularity in the US. During the social and economic crisis of the 30s, U.S. analysis had briefly hoped that dictatorship might offer a more efficient way to unify and organize capitalism. As the costs of dictatorship rose in the late 30s, sociologists and historians, instead of blaming capitalist chaotic economic relations for interest in dictators as forces of order, blamed the masses for the existence of their now demonized dictators.

Roosevelt, Hitler and the end of the romance with dictators

While there were a minority of conservative groups that greeted Hitler’s rise with an anti-communist sigh of relief, the arrival of Hitler to power in 1933 ended the flirtation with dictatorship as a virtue word. After 1935, business journals began to equate fascism and communism. By the 2nd half of the 30s, dictatorship became an evil word. In 1927 “dictator” had enough favorability to have a car named “dictator”. The name of the car was recalled after 1937. In the early 1930s dictators were seen as either heroic (Mussolini) or horrific (Hitler), but each was admired as a man who single-handedly tamed the unruly masses and restored honor to the nation. By the late 1930s dictators were thought of as one-sidedly negative. Dictatorship became a loaded vice word.  Dictators were subjected to pop psychological analysis or treated as buffoons, as in the movie of Charlie Chaplin or in the Three Stooges. In fact, Chaplin’s film on Hitler was the highest money-making film in the U.S. between 1933 and 1942.

In the United States the right-wing even accused Roosevelt of being a dictator throughout his term. There was a mocking phrase “Third Reich, Third International, Third Term” slogan for him.  Even in 1937, 37% feared Roosevelt was becoming a dictator. In 1938 the figure rose to 50%. So, in the 1920s and early 1930s, dictatorships were seen as a temporary solution to social problems; whereas in the late 1930s dictatorships appeared to be the cause of social problems and perpetuated by mass media and the masses.

The absence of fathers promotes desire for dictators (Roosevelt)

One theory had it that American family life was in trouble. The need for more than one income put women in the workforce and this undermined the role of the father. There had to be some authoritative figure to be looked up to. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats provided this substitute. The dream of defeating Hitler through the patriarchal authority of Roosevelt backed by supportive women was present in a number of American films. In the novel, The President Vanishes, fascism comes to America, but it was overcome by a strong leader and the backing of a good woman.

Hollywood’s first attempt to deal with German politics was in the novel, Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada (1932). It contrasts the stable bonds of matrimony against chaotic political action. It presents dictators as produced by rifts in the social fabric. Improved family life offered the best opportunity to mend it. In Sinclair Lewis’s It can’t Happen Here a populist demagogue with fascist overtones, along with a core of “white-shirts”, win the election. Minutemen seized Congress and abolish political parties. A resistance formed, called “New Underground”, was led by a Yankee individualist who saves the day.

THE AUDIENCE ITSELF IS THE DRAMA: DICTATORSHIP, CROWDS AND MASSES 1936-1941

Up until now, dictatorship was focused in the individual dictator and had little to do with the masses. But by the late 1930s there was a shift from the personality of the dictator to a crowd-centered explanation of modern dictators. If in the early 30s Americans were fearful or hopeful of a single man asserting himself and ruling the country by his will, in the last half of the decade the personality of the dictator was dethroned as an explanation for the existence of dictators. It was the crowd or the masses that produced dictators.  In the early 1930s, dictatorships paid little attention to the political actual organization of the dictatorships except for a very few groups. By the late 1930s there was much more attention paid to the social situation dictatorships emerged out of.

Cynical Views of the Public

Dorothy Thompson suggested that public opinion, not any desire on the part of the president, was responsible for the danger posed to democracy. In the play by Archibald MacLeish, Fall of the City, with Orson Welles and Burgess Meredith, the message was that people invent their oppressors. Masses wish to believe in them; they wish to be free of their freedom. The leader is a projection of the masses wanting to be dominated. Dictatorships don’t end once the dictator has disappeared. What explains the dictator? In the early 1930s fascism was the tyranny of a minority. But by the late 1930s fascism was understood as the work of the crowd. In the early 1930s order was understood as a good thing, something that restored chaos. Order was understood in mechanical images such as the machines of Henry Ford and Fredrick Taylor. But by the 1930s, the order of a regimented crowd became a dangerous thing.  By the late 30s bad order existed because people desired regimentation, fanatical chanting and saluting in unison.

Just as the bomber squadron — powerful, ordered, cruel and devoid of autonomy — was the dominant representation of the dictatorial forces of Europeans in war, so the regimented crowd, standing or goose-stepping, became the prevailing image of European dictatorships in peace. The word “mob” had taken on new meaning with the rise of Al Capone. The FBI projected a view of Nazis and Communists that was similar to popular notions of organized crime: a vast secret network running a racket that was political as opposed to criminal. In real life, mobs are disorganized social bodies of individuals with no coordination. Fascist or communist crowds were hyper-coordinated and the opposite of mobs.

For extreme conservatives, the most obvious explanation for the rise of the regimented crowd was nationality. The American Legion’s response against communism was a call to cut European immigration quotas by 90%. In other words, Italians and Germans as ethnicities were believed to be more likely to produce crowd violence than the respectable English or Norwegians.

Crowds vs Masses

What did this new kind of crowd look like? In the 1930s, crowds were understood as a minority of the population, arising spontaneously, chaotic, but having a short-term lifetime. They had a diffused attention span and were not very efficient. Crowds in the early 30s were predominantly male and crowds had to be in the same place at the same time. Because of this, members of crowds could easily be dispersed, jailed or deported. However, once the individual left a crowd they returned to their normal behavior as individuals.

Modern communications technology, specifically the radio, allowed crowds to be called into existence even when people were not physically gathered together and when the speaker was at a great distance. This crowd was now a mass, focused and much more long-lasting. Further, an individual as a member of mass does not leave his mass mind when he leaves a crowd or turns off his radio. He maintains a crowd mind even when alone. Masses in the late 1930s constituted a majority of the population who voluntarily joined, were regimented, could move efficiently. Masses arose with the decline of all intermediate groups and voluntary associations. In the late 1930s masses were mostly male, but women were out and seen in public.

Sympathetic Views of the Public

Frank Capra found his own independent film production in 1939 which dealt with the regimentation of crowds. In both Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Capra makes the press responsible for creating public opinion. Capra was a conservative Republican, but it was not only conservatives who blamed mass media for the rise of mass men. In War of the Worlds, Orson Welles wants to spread democracy by exposing the hold mass media has on people. In Citizen Kane, Wells wants to turn the audience into investigators instead of relying on mass media.

Raymond Cantril studied the public reaction to War of the Worlds, but Cantril did not blame mass media. In his Invasion from Mars in 1938, it was not because of mass media that people were duped. It was their willingness to believe they were being invaded. Some people lacked the critical thinking ability to disbelieve what the radio was telling them. On a psychological level, formal education would discourage a willingness to believe. At the same time, the timing as to when they tuned into the broadcast was an important situational factor in explaining the masses’ reaction.

More importantly, Cantril concluded that social stress explains the rise of dictatorships. His conclusion was that economic hardship is the cause of the rise of dictatorships and makes people less rational. Unstable political and economic institutions are responsible for that and this results in the cultivation of ignorance, intolerance and abstention from democratic processes.DEMOCRACTIC THEORY

The Reality and the Fantasy of Democracy

A number of years ago, according to a UN conducted analysis of democratic processes, Yankees ranked 29th in the world. Something like 28% of the population does not vote and another 24% is ineligible to vote. The Yankee public is known around the world as not wanting to talk about politics.  When asked, roughly 2/3 of Americans say they want more than two parties. Yet, if you asked soldiers why they were fighting you would be told they are fighting for democracy. How can there be a democracy with only two parties from which to choose? If you ask the general public if they live in a democracy, they will say yes. How can this be? The answer is that the virtue-word “democracy” has been worked into the anti-communist propaganda machine whereas “totalitarian” and “dictatorship“ are used as vice words, which are counter to the virtue word “democracy”.

Traditional Jeffersonian Democracy

In the United States, the first theories of democracy, Jeffersonian, literally meant the rule of the people. Democratic processes supposedly took place in face-to-face town-hall meetings and discussions. The population was imagined to be intelligent and informed. Their decisions were based on conscious and rational thinking processes. Whatever the place of emotions, they were toned down. People were expected to know their self-interest and the way they made their political judgments were thought to be by weighing the pros and cons.

Skepticism of Democracy: Merriam, Lasswell, Wallas and Lippman

By the second decade of the 20th century, “the people” were not seen in such a favorable light. Charles Merriam and Harold Lasswell challenged the rationality of human nature and the practicality of a government where the people ruled. Both believed that politics should be the study of how small groups dominate. They thought that politics should be about the study of the influential minority. In the 1920s there was a great controversy over how to interpret the terrible scores of Yankee soldiers on IQ tests. The dominant schools of psychology such as Freud and the crowd psychology of Gustave Le Bon argued that people were driven by the irrational forces located in the unconscious. Graham Wallas and Walter Lippmann both argued that the ideal human society would be if a few intelligent leaders directed the majority. According to them, the public does not process political events as they happen objectively but though past experiences. Lippmann said in his book Public Opinion, that town-house democracy could no longer work. From the late 19th century, thanks to mass communication, people now have to rely on newspapers and political propaganda for their sources. For Lippmann, the best we can hope for is an elite democracy. He became even more right-wing as he aged, suggesting that people should not be taught to meddle in public affairs.

Lasswell suggested that deep hatreds within the families of Yankees were sublimated into public life. Individuals were thought to be a bad judge of their own self-interest. Free and open discussions obscured rather than clarified problems. Another indicator that the public was not trustworthy came from a study of Chicago politics in which it was found that half the public did not vote. As we saw in the first part of this article, Yankee elites flirted with dictatorship as their skepticism for democracy grew. It wasn’t until the rise of Hitler that they began to defend democracy ideologically, if only for propagandistic purposes.

Cowin and Eliot put a smiley face on public indifference. They argued that the reason people didn’t vote was because they were satisfied with the system! Some said the indifference of people to principles was a crucial factor in the success of popular government. Non-voting kept the public from being divided sharply into coalitions. Given the fickleness of public opinion, those who did vote ensured that no impassioned commitment (god forbid) would mobilize large numbers for a sustained confrontation. In other words, apathy is good because it keeps people from having ‘extreme” opinions. Besides, people are too busy to be bothered with politics.

It rarely occurred to any of these theorists that the reason that over half the people do not vote was that, at least for working class people, there was no one to vote for because both parties were controlled by the ruling class. Instead, they avoided this problem completely, by comparing it to the totalitarian system of the Nazis. John Dewey tried to make democracy akin to a scientific experiment which: a) denied absolute truths; b) remained intellectually flexible and critical; c) valued diversity, and; d) drew from competing subgroups as a base. Dewey tried to link democracy to science, not considering that masses of people do not apply scientific methodology to politics.  Dewey was setting the table for the political pluralism of the 1950s.

Schumpeter’s Competitive Elitism

In 1942 Joseph Schumpeter published Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, which became one of the foundation stones for the pluralism of Robert Dahl over a decade or so later. For Schumpeter, power configurations are stable and in the long run, they do not change. What is democratic is not the extent that people are involved but rather the centrality and stability of political leadership. The state was not an expression of the people’s will but an independent and well-trained administration. The political culture is fractured. People not only have different wants but different values and methods of achieving them. This is why democracy must be concentrated in the leadership. Schumpeter agreed with Le Bon’s theory of crowds, so he thought people were easily influenced by demagogic leaders, advertising, fads and fashions. Politics is dominated by party politics which have little to do with the public. Schumpeter argues that the intermediate groups, the voluntary groups so dear to de Tocqueville, really were not significant. In reality, there was no significant mediation between the state and the individual. At this point, you might think “what does this have to do with democracy?” Schumpeter says that elites have different interests and the voters have the power to vote in or vote out elites.

The Tough-minded and Tender-hearted Politics

Competitive elitism is the bad conscience of the pluralists of the 1950s. Competitive elitism is based on the realism of Max Weber. Pluralist political science was based on the softer sociology of Emile Durkheim. The relationship between competitive elitism and pluralism is like the relationship between Freud and most of his followers. Anna Freud, Adler and Ernest Jones tended to soften Freud and dress him up in his Sunday best. The same can be said about the political relationship between Hobbes and Locke. Hobbes is the hard-core pessimist, while Locke preserves some parts of Hobbes but softens him into a respectable liberalism. In other words, Schumpeter, Weber, Freud and Hobbes were pessimistic realists. The pluralists with the aid of Durkheim were the tender- hearted liberals like Locke and orthodox psychoanalysts.

Pluralism of V.O. Key, Dahl, Truman and Lindholm

On the surface it appears that competitive elitists are the opposite of pluralists. After all, unlike the competitive elitists, according to David Reisman, power in Yankeedom is situational and mercurial rather than consisting of stable power blocks. V. O. Key, Jr., one of the most influential political scientists of the post-war era, says there is a wide dispersion of power in his book Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups.  The belief that American society was pluralistic led to a revival in the 50s of the group theory of politics, drawing from Arthur Bentley’s 1908 book The Process of Government. Unlike the competitive elitists, Dahl argues that there are overlapping interest groups with equal access to power, because power is always changing. The pluralists think that the public can mobilize itself to be a force to be reckoned with. Competitive elitists think this is naïve.

This third relativist democratic theory was essentially a defensive doctrine. It emphasized civil liberties, but minimized the problems of social and economic inequality. Another pluralist, David Truman, in his The Governmental Process:  Political Interests and Public Opinion, assumed that the US had already  succeeded in its democratic goal. Social scientists were more concerned with problems of conserving what already existed. They devoted more and more research to the problem of stability rather than change. For pluralists, the nation states do not have independent power as they do with the competitive elitists, but they are mediators of public demands. The public does not have a fractured set of wants, methods and values. Rather Yankees are united by the constitutional rules of a supportive, rather than combative political culture.

The most influential and persuasive advocate of realistic democratic theory was Dahl’s book, Preface to Democratic Theory in 1956. According to Dahl, in American government, majorities rule through pressure groups which were the empirical basis of democracy. Dahl and Lindblom argued that economic problems depend not upon our choice among mythical grand alternatives like socialism or communism, but by a gradual tinkering method. Being rational meant that all ideologies were mythical and have to be abandoned. Pluralists supported the “end of ideology” belief of the 1950s. The very concept of a realistic democratic theory implied that reality, not an ideal, was the primary criterion of both theoretical validity and legitimate political action. It deprived democratic theory of its traditional critical function.

Since ideal and empirical theory were conceptually and unconsciously fused, reality became the standard for both systematic analysis and ideal behavior. Reality became the standard to evaluate ideals rather than ideals being the standard by which to judge reality. The pluralists admit that there is a passive citizenry, but there is also an active citizenry which is sufficient for political stability. Lastly, for the pluralists, intermediate associations of neighborhoods, religious groups, clubs, trade associations, political clubs mediate between the individual and the state.

What draws the pluralists into the orbit of competitive elitists is that each has completely given up on Jeffersonian democracy. They have also given up on the idea that the electoral process is itself undemocratic. There is no talk about having candidates that actually represent the lower classes or that the electoral college is a damper on the popular vote. The system is acceptable as it is. It’s just a matter of convincing people to believe in it.

Pluralism did not fare well in the 1960s because it could not explain racism, poverty and war. With no hesitancy, it assumed that Yankeedom already was the democratic ideal. Pluralism imagined that only absolute, authoritarianism, and rationalism could be ideological. They couldn’t imagine that pluralism, empiricism, and pragmatism could themselves be ideological. But books like The End of Ideology can itself be an ideology for liberal anti-communism.

DID CAPITALISM PRODUCE DEMOCRACY? ARE THESE WORDS INTERCHANGEABLE?

Capitalist rulers never seem to tire in reminding us that capitalism is responsible for creating democracy and that socialist societies are never democratic. What this ignores is the 20th century examples of capitalist political economies that prospered without democracy including Hitler’s Germany, South Korea, Taiwan after World War II and Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  Secondly, there is no necessary relationship between prosperity and capitalism. Most of the countries on the periphery of the world-system today (mostly Africa) are capitalist run in an authoritarian manner that have low Gross National Products.

But what about the origins of capitalism? Weren’t capitalists responsible for the beginnings of democracy?  The short answer is no. According to Rueschemeyer, Stephens and Stephens, in their book Capitalist Development and  Democracy, the bourgeoisie wrested its share of political participation from the royal autocracy and aristocratic oligarchy, but it rarely fought for further extension to the classes below them once its own place was secured. When the bourgeoisie was fighting for power against the king and the aristocrats it recruited the lower classes. But once in power themselves, they did not support lower class inclusion. Their contribution was to establish parliamentary bodies between the king and the people rather than to accept the rule of a king alone. Parliamentary bodies are not necessarily democratic. As Marx once called them, they are the “talking shops of the bourgeoisie”. Even by World War I only a handful of countries had become democratic: Switzerland, 1848; France, 1877; Norway 1898 and Denmark 1915.

Historically it was the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie — merchants, craftsman, farmers — who were responsible for the movement towards democracy. Further, it was the industrialization process that transformed society in such a way that it empowered subordinate classes to make it difficult to politically exclude them.  It was capitalist development that transformed the class structure, strengthening the working and middle classes and weakening the landed upper class. It was not the capitalist market that made political life more democratic. Rather it was the contradictions of capitalism.  It was the growth of the working class and its capacity for self-organization that pushed for a breakthrough to suffrage, at least for white males. It was the rising militancy of the unions and the threat of socialism that pressured capitalists to include workers in the voting process and institute a semblance of formal democracy.

LIBERAL CONSPIRACY: MODERNIZATION THEORY AS ANTI-COMMUNIST DEMOCRACY

Our strategy must be …both global, embracing, every part of the world, and total, with political, psychological, economic and military considerations integrated into one whole.

— International Development Advisory Board Partners in Progress, 1951 (David Rockefeller: Head of International Development Advisory Board)

While American pluralism was the norm for domestic democratic theory, students of comparative politics were making pluralistic democracy the norm for their analysis of nation-states throughout the world. As the US became involved in a Cold War, they wanted research to help them understand what Gabriel Almond called political development of nations, through what Almond called “political culture”.

The major book I will be using to take us through this section is Nils Gilman’s Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America. Almond’s comparative politics was a significant aspect of modernization theory, part of a vast integrated anti-communist project that began after World War II. In fact, the very creation of the MIT Center for International Studies was the result of top-secret anti-Communist propaganda project in the fall of 1950. As Gilman says, modernization theory represents the most explicit and systematic blueprint ever created by intellectual elites for reshaping societies throughout the world to counter Soviet communism. Arthur Schlesinger said modernization theory represented an American effort to persuade what were then called “Third World” countries to base their revolutions on Locke, rather than Marx.

Many of the key figures in modernization theory were children of missionaries like Lucian Pye and David Apter. Their sense of wanting to save the world (from communism) no doubt impacted their study of comparative politics.  Almond and Rostow claimed that communism was a form of psychopathology and Rostow called it a “disease”. Rostow is considered the most hawkish anti-communist of the modernization theorists. He decided at 16 his life purpose was to construct a theory of economics and history capable of countering Marx.  During the war he first worked for the OSS, a predecessor to the CIA.

In the hands of Lucian Pye and Walt Rostow, modernization theory would represent liberalism’s attempt to enter the world of political ideology, as an alternative to both fascism and communism. An added twist was to dissolve their liberal ideology and pretend that it was neither liberal nor ideological. They made believe they had no ideology. It’s just what was reasonable, a “vital center” of the political spectrum. This masking of liberalism became part of the End of Ideology orientation of Daniel Bell.

Modernization theorists were elitist, liberal anti-communists, not populist, right-wing McCarthyites. In practice this project was part of a containment policy against the Soviet Union. They set a dominant social scientific paradigm, and found sponsors like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford and other foundations to set up think tanks and eliminate rivals in various academic disciplines. Please see Table B for all the tentacles of this anti-communist project.

Rostow’s theory of modernization was a unilinear theory of social evolution going through five stages: 1) traditional societies; 2) preconditions for take-off; 3) take-off; 4) drive to maturity, and; 5) age of mass high consumption. All other disciplines in Table B went along with Rostow’s theory.

What all these interdisciplinary projects had in common was either assumptions or assertions that:

  1. All premodern societies — hunter-gatherers, simple horticulture, complex horticultural, herding, maritime societies and agricultural states — can be lumped into one category of “traditional societies”.
  2. All nation-states are internally.  There is no influence (such as colonialism) on traditional societies by modern societies. They are premodern because they are superstitious and lack initiative.
  3. All societies are inevitably moving towards industrial capitalist societies (though they never named it as capitalist). The use of the term “transition” suggests that there are no crises, no reversals, no other roads possible.
  4. All “mature” modern societies are industrial capitalist.
  5. Fascism was not an expression of modern society but premodern “residues”.
  6. Communism was not a candidate or a road to be taken as a stage. It was premodern.
  7. The United States and western Europe already achieved maturity and they were not going back.
  8. Capitalism and democracy were used interchangeably.
  9. Capitalism as an economic system is never named. It is replaced by euphemisms such as “markets” or “business” or loaded virtue words like the “free market” or “free enterprise” if they are feeling defensive.

CONCLUSION

In order to justify its existence as an industrial capitalist society, capitalists in western Europe and the United States need propaganda to censor or demonize alternatives to its rule. In the realm of language, its job is to narrow the frame of political and economic reference to two choices. For this purpose, it deploys key loaded language words for the purpose of working people up. On one side are the socialists and communists who are demonized with words such as totalitarian or dictatorial. On the other side are the loaded virtue words like democracy, the free market or free enterprise. In order to break away from the narrowing of the political focus we need to neutralize and define key terms which open up rather than narrow our political and economic choices. 

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post “Dictatorship” and “Democracy” as Loaded Language: Anti-Communist Cold-War Propaganda first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Marxian Theory of Value: A Response to David Pena (Part Three)

Read Part 1 here;  Part 2 here

Perhaps Pena does not see this because he does not appear to grasp the point that in the Marxian concept of socialism (aka communism – unlike Lenin, Marx never differentiated between these two terms), the question of “exchange value” becomes completely redundant (and, with that, the preoccupation with ensuring “equivalent exchange”).  This is because in socialism, as Marx saw it, commodity production would completely cease to exist.

The “actually existing socialisms” that Pena refers to have nothing in common with Marxian socialism.  In all of these, commodity production and wage labour prevails.  From a Marxian perspective what is called “actually existing socialism” is simply another name for state-administered capitalism and I would highly recommend Paresh Chattopadhyay’s book The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience (1994) which very persuasively argues this point. The Soviet Union was predicated upon fundamentally capitalist economic categories.  It was actually Lenin who was primarily responsible for the shift in the meaning of the term “socialism” away from how Marxists had originally defined it as an attempt to garner political support for the Bolsheviks’ state capitalist agenda.

Thus, in 1917 Lenin declared that “socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole” (The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It).  The enormous impact that the Bolshevik Revolution had on world affairs meant that this Leninist definition of “socialism” – identifying it with the activities of a state rather than the stateless society Marx envisaged it to be — came to prevail in popular discourse while the original Marxian definition faded from sight.   I suspect that it is through the prism of the former that Pena views the latter and that it is this that goes a long way towards explaining the many egregious errors he makes when analysing the latter.

Since Pena’s critique is supposed to be against Marx, he would be better advised to direct his comments to how Marx defined socialism, not Lenin.  In Marxian socialism, goods would be produced solely and directly for use, not for sale on a market, and would be made available to the population on the basis of free appropriation (“free access”).  Needless to say, this presupposes the technological potential to produce enough to meet the basic needs of the population and socialists assert that this potential has long been around (as I will later explain).  We no longer require the “productive forces” to be “increased” (as Marx thought) in order to establish the kind of society he called socialism-cum-communism. All that we need is a working class majority – not some Leninist vanguard acting in its behalf – to consciously and democratically bring this about.

As a logical corollary of “free access” in Marxian socialism, the cooperative labour required to produce the goods we need would take the form of “freely associated” (to use Marx’s expression), voluntaristic, unpaid work where the very notion of “compensation” for work done would completely fall away. Wage labour, or any other form of coerced labour, for that matter (and by “coerced” I mean economic coercion not just physical coercion) would no longer exist since it cannot logically be reconciled with a socialist mode of appropriation based on free access.  The Gordian knot between what one consumes and what one contributes would be severed and the antagonism of interests that this presupposes would cease to apply.

That antagonism is embedded in the very institution of market exchange itself and finds expression in the conflictual relationship between buyer and seller (including the buyers and sellers of labour power). The buyer seeks to secure the lowest possible price for the commodity in question; the seller, the opposite.  So they haggle.  Exchange value is the impersonal market-imposed outcome of this haggling, mediated through the interplay of supply and demand but ultimately responsive to the Marxian law of value.

Pena does not seem to have much of a clue about any of this and you have to seriously wonder how familiar he is with Marx about whom he professes to write so authoritatively.   He continues to dogmatically assert that “the labor theory of value promotes ecocide and is therefore fatal to ecological socialism”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Marx did not intend that his theory would apply to socialism.  This is because it is inextricably bound up with, and only makes sense in the context of, a system of commodity production which would cease to exist in socialism.

Pena’s attempts to deny this point are risible. He comments:

He further argues that I “totally miss the point” that the labor theory of value is an explanation of how capitalism works, not socialism. This is related to an earlier insinuation that I do not understand that the law of value applies only to capitalism. Since capitalism is the only sphere in which the law operates, Cox reasons, it is impossible for Marx’s labor theory to have any ill effects on socialism. Therefore, in addition to my ridiculous physical reductionism, my claim that the labor theory is bad for ecological socialism is false and patently absurd.

Pena then proceeds in his attempt to refute my claim that “labor theory of value is an explanation of how capitalism works, not socialism” by means of a two-pronged attack.

The first prong involves an arcane discussion on Aristotle’s analysis of value in the Nicomachean Ethics.  The point of the exercise is presumably to demonstrate that commodities existed long before capitalism – as if I was not aware of this and needed to be condescendedly enlightened by Pena on the subject.  Of course, commodities predate capitalism and I have not denied this.  My argument was, rather, that the “law of value” is really only applicable to a society in which commodity production has become generalised and, above all, where labour power has itself been generally transformed into a commodity, not just the products of labour themselves.  In other words, where there is in place a system of generalised wage labour.  In fact, Marx himself treated the term, the “wages system” as a synonym for capitalism as in Capital where he spoke of “capitalistic production, or the wages system” (Vol 1, Ch.1.)

To ram home the point, I refer the reader to the opening sentence of that book with its ringing declaration that “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities, its unit being a single commodity.”  Thus, what distinguished capitalist from non-capitalist, or pre-capitalist, societies, in Marx’s view, is precisely the fact that most wealth did not take the form of commodities in the latter – that is, it was not produced for sale on the market.  This is why it is incorrect to say that production in these societies was “governed by the law of value” which has to be a society-wide phenomenon in order to function as such, in my view.

Pena avers that this was not the “settled view” of Marx and Engels and patronisingly commends me for “showing signs of intellectual independence” if I intend to take a contrary position – an odd comment from someone who earlier claimed I see Marx as some sort of “guru”.  The Engels quote that Pena provides certainly seems to suggest that he (Engels) thought the law of value had universal application, applying also to those pre-capitalist societies in which there was a limited degree of commodity production.  For the record, I don’t agree with Engels but endorse instead the position adopted by others such as the (recently deceased) Marxist economist, John Weeks, that the law of value is unique to capitalism.

Marx’s position is a little more complicated in that he thought that, though the law of value did indeed predate capitalism, it “develops fully only on the foundation of capitalist production”. (Capital Vol 1.)  Here Marx was alluding to the law of value governing “simple commodity exchange” and the transformation of this law under capitalist conditions where “more labour is exchanged for less labour (from the labourer’s standpoint), less labour is exchanged for more labour (from the capitalist’s standpoint)”. (1863, Theories of Surplus Value, Ch 3. Section 4.)

The second, and more significant, prong of Pena’s attack is to assert that “the law’s applicability to socialism also means that the anti-ecological effects of the law apply to that system” and that Marx’s labour theory of value promotes “anti-socialist hierarchies and an anti-ecological economy within socialist society”.  This further illustrates the point I made earlier – that Pena does not understand that, for Marx, socialism entails the complete abolition of commodity exchange.  If there is no commodity exchange then the question of exchange value cannot logically arise, in which case it is nonsensical to talk of the law of value applying in socialism (at least as Marx defined this term as a synonym for communism).

To say that Pena’s attempt to justify his assertion is feeble would be an understatement.  He asserts “I would argue there is nothing in Marx to prevent the law functioning under any conditions in which workers own the means of production, including socialism”. Really?  If he referring here to worker cooperatives, then he is quite mistaken in thinking this. Marx did not consider co-ops to be an instantiation of “socialism” but, along with the capitalist joint stock company, a transitional form from the “capitalist mode of production to the associated one”.  Though he had positive things to say about co-ops as pointing the way ahead, he saw them, nevertheless, as operating fundamentally within the constraints of capitalism:  “The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system”. (Capital, Vol 3, Ch 27.)

To justify his claim concerning the law of value being allegedly applicable to Marxian socialism, Pena refers us to Marx’s distinction between simple and complex labour under capitalism as an illustration of how the law of value differentially impacts on the remuneration of workers under capitalism.  Labour power is a commodity and, like any other commodity under capitalism, its value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required to produce and reproduce it. Skilled workers, for example, require more training and this will be reflected in the price of their labour power – the relatively higher wage they command compared to unskilled workers.  At the same time, skilled workers tend to be more productive than unskilled workers – that is, they generate more value.

Pena contends:

Marx and Engels’ position on the applicability of the law of value to non-capitalist societies suggests the labor theory of value, with its distinction between simple and complex labor, applies to post-capitalist society as well, including what Marx called the “first phase” of communism.25  The distinction between simple and complex labor colors Marx’s vision of socialism.26  This is dangerous to socialism because it lays the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society in which individual social position and access to goods and services is determined by one’s status as a simple or complex worker, which is in turn decided by the worker’s level of education and training. Marx’s labor theory of value is the basis of a social hierarchy in the Marxist conception of socialism that undermines both socialism and ecology.

Firstly, it does not follow at all that, even if the law of value was applicable to non-capitalist societies, it must also be applicable to post capitalist societies “including what Marx called the “first phase” of communism”

In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx wrote in highly speculative terms of this first phase of communism (socialism) thus:

Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase “proceeds of labor”, objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society – after the deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.”

This calls for one or two comments. To begin with, it should be mentioned at the outset that neither I, nor the SPGB, support Marx’s proposal to institute a scheme of labour certificates to compensate workers for their labour contribution.  Such a scheme is unnecessary and superfluous inasmuch as we have long moved away from the era of unavoidable material scarcities in which Marx lived and in which he penned this particular proposal as a way of coping with these scarcities in the early days of socialism.  Today such scarcities are no longer unavoidable but, on the contrary, have to be artificially imposed and rigorously reinforced for the sake of the system we all still live under – global capitalism.

Not only that, the labour certificate scheme proposed by Marx would be bureaucratically cumbersome and wasteful inasmuch as it would require a very substantial amount of administrative labour to operate it and to maintain an appropriate level of labour surveillance for the scheme to work on its own terms. Furthermore, there are intrinsic technical difficulties associated with the scheme such as how one might go about valuing different forms of labour which would make it very difficult to implement.  Also, it is not just people’s labour contributions that would need to be directly measured for the purpose of distributing these certificates; the goods produced by this labour would need to be measured too in terms of the amount of concrete labour time it took to produce them – a truly daunting task given the socially integrated nature of modern production and its incredibly complex division of labour.

I mention this only to once again illustrate just how wide of the mark is Pena’s silly jibe about Marx being my “guru”.   Marx was fallible like everyone else and I consider this to be one of the many errors he made. His proposal was informed, as I suggested, by the belief that a socialist society would initially be handicapped by the problem of material scarcities inherited from capitalism and so would have to institute some form of rationing which is precisely what his labour certificate scheme amounts to. But, even if this was the case, there are other far more effective, and better targeted, ways of rationing scarce goods than the hugely unwieldly approach he advocated.

Having said that, it is pretty clear from what Marx wrote about this first phase of socialism that he did not envisage the law of value operating within it and that Pena has completely misread what Marx was saying.  For a start, the producers, Marx said, “do not exchange their products” so consequently we cannot possibly be talking about a society in which exchange value exists (and therefore one in which the law of value would apply). There is “exchange” of course – notably the performance of a certain amount of labour in exchange for a certificate — but this is not what exchange value or the law of value is about.  These certificates do not in themselves constitute money since they do not circulate and cannot be used as a means of accumulating wealth.

Moreover – and crucially — it should be noted that what is measured here for the purposes of distributing labour certificates is concrete labour, not abstract labour which, as we saw earlier, is the fundamental metric of value in Marx’s theory.  This fact alone destroys Pena’s absurd claim that Marx envisaged the law of value continuing in socialism.  The worker in Marx’s first stage of socialism receives back in the form of a labour certificate exactly what she has contributed to society in terms of her own labour – not some hypothetical social average.

Marx goes on:

Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption.

So this resembles the exchange of equal values in commodity exchange inasmuch as it involves an equality of exchange — you get back exactly what you contribute to society (allowing for the various social deductions Marx refers to).   But there the resemblance ends since what is happening here is that “content and form are changed”.  This is because it is not abstract labour that constitutes the basic metric of this transaction but concrete labour.

Secondly, there is indeed more than a hint in Marx that workers would be differentially compensated in this first phase of socialism according to the duration and intensity of their contribution:

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. (Ibid.)

Pena makes great play of this and contends that this is dangerous to socialism because it “lays the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society in which individual social position and access to goods and services is determined by one’s status as a simple or complex worker, which is in turn decided by the worker’s level of education and training”.  I would accept that this does indeed entail a hierarchy of sorts but I think Pena grossly exaggerates its likely consequences.  After all, we are not talking about a class-based hierarchy but rather one based purely on one’s work contribution.  As Marx says “everyone is only a worker like everyone else”.  So the hierarchical aspect of this arrangement is likely to be far less pronounced than anything one is likely to encounter in a class-based society where sectional or class ownership of the means of production massively amplifies the asymmetrical distribution of power and status.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest there might not be a significant degree of social mobility within this hypothetical first stage of socialism, as Marx conceived it.  What is to stop individuals moving up this hierarchy by, for instance, undertaking the requisite education and training, thereby boosting their status within the hierarchy?

We also need to take into consideration Marx’s views on the division of labour by which he meant the compulsory division of labour that compels a worker to do a particular kind of job but prevents her from simultaneously doing some other job.  Marx was very much opposed to this. He saw socialism as presupposing or being dependent on what might be called the polytechnic or multi-skilled worker and (rather over-optimistically) speculated that the trend in work patterns in late Victorian Britain was moving in that direction.   He could perhaps be forgiven for not “predicting” the rise of Fordist style assembly production in the early 20th century

Nevertheless, his views on the division of labour likewise help to undermine the claim that what Marx was advocating would result in some sort of rigidly oppressive social hierarchy.  Insofar as workers would be far more free to undertake a variety of jobs, rather than confine themselves to just one kind of job as is normally the case under capitalism, the effect of this would be to further flatten or soften the aforementioned hierarchy Pena refers to.

However, once again, let me reiterate that this should not in any way be construed as meaning that I somehow defend Marx’s labour certificate proposal (which I don’t). It is merely an attempt on my part to put criticism of the scheme in some sort of reasonable context.  Pena’s criticism, in my view, is unreasonable and way over the top.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I come back to the point that all Marx’s speculations concerning this lower or first of phase of socialism (communism) were predicated on the assumption that the productive forces were not yet fully developed to permit the introduction of full socialism – or more precisely, its higher phase.  Pena talks loosely about the “Marxist conception of socialism” in this connection but this is misleading because in this particular context Marx was only talking about its first or lower phase.  He was not talking about socialism or communism, per se, as Marx himself makes abundantly clear:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

In this higher phase all of the objections Pena raises against Marx, needless to say, would – or, rather, should – perforce, fall away.  In this phase, as in the first phase, commodity production (and hence the law of value) would be done away with.  But also in this phase, concepts such as “compensation for work performed” that applied only to the first phase would likewise fall away.  Meaning the grounds on which Pena bases his spurious argument about the application of the labour theory of value in socialism laying the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society, cannot possibly be true, even by the logic of his own argument, of the higher phase of socialism in which there is no “compensation for work performed”. Consequently, there is no reason for Pena to say the “Marxist conception of socialism” must necessarily be “hierarchical” since this conception also includes as well the idea of a higher phase of socialism.

Indeed, in this higher phase the very fact that goods and services would be universally available on the basis of free appropriation is what would deprive any individual or group of the social leverage by which they could exert power over others and coerce them to do their bidding.  Contrary to the claims of anarcho-capitalists and other exponents of the free market, the material basis of a truly free society would be precisely Marxian socialism.

Anarcho-capitalists may routinely claim they have no objection to others operating a socialist society, providing they themselves should be allowed to produce for the free market. Well, let us extend this hypothetical possibility to them and see how far they can run with it. How would they persuade others to relinquish the freedom of voluntary associated labour and submit to the economic coercion of wage labour instead? How would they entice them to buy what they had to sell – and with what? – in a society in which what individuals wanted would be available for them to freely take? Free access trumps free markets every time!

Returning to Pena’s argument it is ironic that it is Pena himself who wants to keep intact, and indefinitely perpetuate, the principle of compensation in the name of “fair distribution”.

He states:

Justification of differences in compensation among workers must cite measurable differences in energy expenditure during the labor process or in legitimate needs, such as medical condition, size of family, etc. This replaces Marx’s standard of labor time and the hierarchy of complex over simple labor. Compensation hierarchies based on differences in the quality or complexity of different forms of work are unjustified in these terms of energy expenditure or legitimate individual need. Societies might be tempted to use compensation differences to encourage quality improvements or the acquisition of complex skills, but the principle of socio-ecological worthiness must take precedence over perceived utility. In an ecological society, the priority of distribution is to return to individuals the amount of energy they have invested in society, minus unavoidable deductions for social purposes, and to meet legitimate, basic needs in a manner that is socio-ecologically sound.

So, apparently, it’s all right for Pena to accuse Marx of wanting to establish a social hierarchy resulting from the differential compensation of complex and simple labour in the first phase of socialism. But when Pena talks about the need to justify differences in compensation among workers in terms of his own preferred criterion of “measurable differences in energy expended by workers during the labor process” suddenly and rather mysteriously and conveniently, all talk of “social hierarchies” disappear from view.  Why, if Marx’s proposal for compensating labour lays the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society, would that not equally be true of Pena’s?  On that score, Pena’s silence is deafening.

To reiterate — what is needed is to do away with the very principle of quid pro quo compensation itself with all the simmering tensions and seething antagonisms it embodies and entails.  It is this principle that separates the individual from her fellows and covertly or overtly places her in a conflictual relationship with them over the relative magnitude of the compensation she receives. It encourages comparison and the ensuing conflict to which that give rises.

Marxian socialism, by contrast, operates according to a completely contrary principle — generalised reciprocity.  Instead of separating out individuals who then confront each as buyers and sellers in the market place with opposed interests, generalised reciprocity brings them together.  It serves to cement the social relationships that bind us to each other.  It highlights our mutual inter-dependence and reinforces our sense of mutual obligation to one another.

Marxian socialism is what the anthropologists mean by a “moral economy” in the sense that the transactions between individuals would not simply be self-interested (as in Adam’s Smith mechanistic model of the market) but other-oriented as well – although one might quibble with notion that socialism might be called an “economy” at all.  In fact, the very idea of something called an economy arose out of the emergence of capitalism itself and the identification by Smith and others of a distinct economic realm within society which was subject to certain economic laws pertaining sui generis to this realm.  In traditional pre-capitalist societies, by contrast, the different facets of social life — morality, politics, religion and “economics” — were much more closely intermeshed and one suspects the same would be true of a future socialist society – further grounds, one might add, for rejecting the claim that the Marx’s law of value would operate in such a society.

The emergence of a distinct disembedded economic realm in capitalism was accompanied by, and mirrored in, emergence of distinct concept of the individual as sovereign and free floating – cut adrift from the ties that bound individuals to each other in earlier traditional societies.   It is this market economy of capitalism that atomises individuals and interposes between them the cold nexus of cash payment.  When money mediates everything, our essential human sociality is rendered opaque. We objectify and separate ourselves from our fellow human beings in much the same way as soldiers in a war seek to dehumanise the enemy in order to more effectively liquidate it.

It is this kind of thinking that underlies the idea that workers should be compensated for their work which is really another way of saying that they should be externally coerced and cajoled into working which tells us a lot about the nature of work and by extension the nature of the society we live in that requires its citizens to be thus coerced.  It is nor for no reason that Marx spoke of labour becoming “not only have a means of life but life’s prime want” in higher communism.  Human beings have a fundamental need to creatively express themselves in work.  Though we tend not to call it work under capitalism (where work tends to be equated with employment) it is highly significant that even under capitalism people work more hours without any kind of monetary “inducement” than they do with such an “inducement” and there is ample evidence that so called money incentives can negatively impact on what industrial psychologists call our intrinsic motivation to work.

In Marx’s first phase of socialism the need to compensate workers for their labour in the guise of labour certificates was rationalised on the grounds that in this phase society would still be subject to material scarcity which he envisaged would eventually give way of abundance. But on what grounds does Pena rationalise his system of compensation?

Pena maintains that in his ecological society the priority of distribution is to return to individuals the amount of energy they have invested in society”. What can this possibly mean?  If the more energy you “invest in society” means the greater your reward how would this apply in the case of , say, the operator of JCB digger who uses her machine to dig a hole, compared to a manual labourer who uses merely a pick and shovel?  On the face of it one might be inclined to say that the former invests more energy in accomplishing this task than the latter – particularly if you take into account the fuel costs of the machine and amount of energy required to manufacture it (as distributed over the life time of the machine itself).  But (as we have already seen) this is not at all what Pena has in mind:

That some forms of work involve manipulation of higher quantities of energy than others does not entail that workers in these fields expend more of their own metabolic energy during their work or as part of their labor in acquiring and maintaining their skills; nor does it entitle them to more abundant and higher quality material expectations. The view that they “create” or manipulate higher energy fields is not a badge of entitlement.

So it is the amount of metabolic energy expended by workers which we referred to earlier — how many calories you burn up — that is essentially Pena’s criterion for compensating workers.  Sweaty, back-breaking, manual toil associated with digging a hole with a pick and shovel is to receive preferential treatment over, and rewarded more highly than, operating a JCB digger in Pena’s world.   I don’t know if David Pena has ever done hard physical labour – as a landscape gardener I actually do it for a living – but I can’t help noticing that this romanticising of physical labour tends to be a trait of “middle class” intellectuals who seem to do precious little of it themselves. It kind of reminds me of Jerome K Jerome’s witticism: “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours”.

Frankly, I see no problem with using machines providing one doesn’t go overboard with this.  For instance, there is a strong case for applying small scale “appropriate” technologies, like rotavators and strimmers, to relieve the burden of back breaking toil and at the same time increase productivity , for instance, in the case of millions of peasant producers in the Global South.

But all this is by the by. If Pena wants to use the expenditure of an individual’s own metabolic energy as the criterion of compensation — though how he proposes to apply this criterion in practice is anyone’s guess — then he needs to be aware of the likely consequences of what he is advocating.  Above all, he needs to understand that it will encourage the substitution of more productive forms of labour using machinery by less productive and more labour intensive forms of production not least because of the greater incentive the latter has to offer insofar as it commands a higher level of compensation.  If so, that will in all likelihood mean a quite a significant decline in output.

We can see how this links up with the argument about material abundance being a precondition of Marxian socialism.  Without the technological potential to produce enough to satisfy people’s basic needs, the establishment of a socialist society becomes problematic if not downright impossible. Marx’s labour certificate scheme was predicated on precisely this insight.  In the early days of socialist society he speculated there would be not quite enough to go around to adequately meet the needs of everyone.  It was only when “all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly” that society could abandon this scheme and move on to implement fully the socialist principle of “from each according to ability to each according to need” – the system of free access and voluntaristic labour we associate with the higher phase of communism.

These speculations on Marx’s part relate to a possible future post-capitalist socialist world.  But the world in which Marx made these speculations was one in which the socio-economic system we call capitalism was still developing and had not yet fully matured.   Indeed, in contrast to today’s global capitalism vast chunks of the world back then in the mid-19th century still remained relatively untouched by the spread of the capitalist market economy.

It was in this context that the 1848 Communist Manifesto’s talked in such glowing terms of the way in which capitalism was developing the productive potential of society. It spoke candidly of the need “to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible” precisely because Marx and Engels believed this would hasten the day that a communist society could be established.  That was not an unreasonable argument to make given the circumstances of the times in which Marx was writing.  If the productive forces were not sufficiently developed to allow society to meet the needs of the people the result would be scarcity.  This would unleash a competitive scramble for goods – and greed as the inevitable product of a scarcity mind-set – that would likely undermine the entire communist project even assuming it could even be realised under these circumstances in the first place.

As they put in The German Ideology“This development of the productive forces is an absolutely necessary practical premise [of communism], because without it want is generalised, and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive.” (1846, Vol 1.)

I, for one, would be interested to learn what, if anything, Pena has in mind to put in place that might avert a revival of all that “old crap” in his version of an “ecological socialism”. For material scarcity is bad news for socialism and bad news for the environment as well.  Yet one gets the distinct impression that Pena scorns the need for a developed infrastructure and the opportunity to take advantage of the best that modern technology has to offer in favour of us all wearing hair shirts.

For scarcity is what Pena is urging us to embrace with all the stoicism of a Tibetan monk.  At least Tibetan monks have the charity of others to fall back upon for their means of subsistence but a whole society cannot depend on this.

We have already seen how the logic of what he is arguing for would result in a profligate waste of resources through the application of his own version of the law of value which he recommends for an “ecological socialist” society. Now we see how a decline in output is likely to be assured through the preferential treatment or compensation he proposes to accord sweaty manual labourers like myself based on our comparatively greater “expenditure of metabolic energy”.

What better inducement can there be for us to abandon the machines that lighten our toil than the fact that we would get paid more? But in abandoning the machines we also diminish our productivity and what we are able to produce. He should not be surprised if his hair-shirted proletarians rise up in protest as times get progressively harder.  Come back Pol Pot, all is forgiven.   There will seemingly be little need, or call for, desk-bound scientists, doctors and engineers, and little attraction for such occupations anyway, in David Pena’s utopia.

However, paradoxical though it may seem, the one thing that can kill off greed and the competitive scramble for goods that drives it, is abundance – or, to be more precise, the possibility for individuals to freely appropriate what they need without the barrier of market exchange.  Let me illustrate this with a practical example.

Some years ago I lived in a small spa town in southern Spain.  The water that flows non-stop into the numerous fountains dotted around the town is to all intents and purpose the same water that is bottled by the bottling plant located just outside the town that is then sold on to various supermarket chains throughout the region and beyond. The former is freely available to take without limit but you, frankly, don’t find the good citizens of the town frenetically rushing to the nearest fountain to fill up every available container they can lay their hands on.  There is simply no need to.  They know the water is always going to be available for them to take whenever they need to.  Curiously (under the circumstances) the bottled version of the same water is stocked in the local supermarket and, needless to say, comes with a price tag.

The free access to potable spring water that the town’s residents and visitors alike enjoy might well be taken as an exemplar of the principle of distribution in Marx’s higher phase of communism.  The point is that it works.  And there are multiple other examples of the same principle that can be found to work even under capitalism today.  People do adjust their behaviour to fit the material circumstances they find themselves in.

However, when Marx talked about all the “springs of co-operative wealth” flowing more abundantly in his higher phase of communism this should not be taken to mean that he had in mind some unlimited cornucopia of absolute abundance.  That particular gloss on the term is an idealised abstraction or reflex that springs from the basic precept of bourgeois or mainstream economics – the dogma that human wants are insatiable.  Given the allegedly insatiable nature of such wants abundance is unobtainable – unless you mean this idealised version of “absolute abundance” of literally everything and we all know that that is unobtainable. Therefore, goes the argument, “socialism is impossible”.  Case closed.

But is it? “Scarcity” according to this argument is built into the very concept of opportunity costs – namely, to do or to have X we must necessarily forego Y.   But this particular construction of scarcity is a trite truism.  It is what you might call “psychologically empty”.  Nevertheless it allows our budding undergraduate economist in the rarefied world of bourgeois economics to smugly maintain that socialism is a pipe dream since it presupposes that we will be able to do or to have both X and Y in order for socialism to be possible. In short, the disappearance of opportunity costs altogether.   Since this is indeed impossible then so too must socialism be impossible.

But this is not what socialists mean by “scarcity” or “abundance” at all.  The fact that I choose to play tennis in the afternoon does indeed mean I have to forego the opportunity to take a walk in the park at the same time or any other of the countless activities I could be doing. But in what sense, pray, is this going to present a problem?  Am I going spoil my game of tennis by fretting over the opportunity I have thereby foregone to engage in some other activity? Any reasonable person would surely think not.

Returning to Pena, it strikes me that his interpretation of how Marx viewed things is based on a complete caricature. Implicitly he seems to go along with reasoning of our bourgeois economists. Thus, he seems to think that the passage from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme describing the higher phase of communist society implies “the continuation of productionism and consumerism (and why suppose any limits on procreation?) under communism, while the environmental implications remain unacknowledged”.  Note well that this marks him off as a critic of both Marx’s higher and lower phase of communism.  In short, communism (or socialism) as such.

He contends that the “ecocidal development” of the so called “socialist countries” exposes “environmental practices under socialism as no better than under capitalism overall”.  How he imagines these state capitalist regimes in any way resemble Marx’s conception of socialism I cannot say but, in any case, if he believes that environmental practices “under socialism” are so environmentally destructive, why then advocate for “ecological socialism”? The “socialism” part of this construction will surely be at odds with the “ecological” part, according to Pena’s logic.  Why pretend, then, to be an ecological socialist? Why not drop all claim to be a socialist if that is what you truly think of socialism?

It is an all too wearily familiar refrain from (some) environmentalists unfamiliar with Marx’s writings that he was sceptical or disbelieving of the notion of ecological limits and was religiously devoted to some promethean goal of unlimited “production for the sake of production”. However, there has been a veritable spate of books and articles published in recent decades that have utterly debunked the idea that Marx was unaware or unconcerned about the destructive impact of capitalist economic activity on environment.  I refer the reader to books such as Howard Parson’s Marx and Engels on Ecology (1977), Paul Burkett’s Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (2014) and more recently still Kohei Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy (2017).

Engels, Marx’s collaborator, was no less passionately committed to the environmental cause. In his Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy (1843) he observed how the private ownership of the land, the drive for profit and the degradation of nature all hang together. “To make earth an object of huckstering — the earth which is our one and all, the first condition of our existence — was the last step towards making oneself an object of huckstering” 

Forty years later in his The Dialectics of Nature (1883) he penned what is arguably one of the most beautiful and compelling passages of environmental prose one is likely to encounter:

Let us not, however,  flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were … thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.

Yet, astonishingly, Pena uncharitably dismisses such talk as a set of “disconnected ad hoc comments” that “do not amount to a mature theoretical treatment of and comprehensive policy toward ecological issues

But did not the Communist Manifesto argue for the need “to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible” you might ask.

Certainly it did. But in no way can this be construed, as Pena attempts to construe it, as a rallying cry for unlimited production for the sake of production and consumption for the sake of consumption.  In fact, that claim makes no sense at all.  The whole point of the exercise was to raise the productive potential of society to the point at which the reasonable needs of the population can be adequately met, at which point the competitive pressure on our natural resource arising out of material scarcity can then begin to ease off. The notion of “limit” is implicit in the very logic of the argument itself. Arguing for the need to increase production up to a certain point cannot be squared with the idea of unlimited production or production for the sake of production.

Unless we can increase production up to that point where our basic needs can be adequately met it is inevitable that, in the words of The German Ideology, all “the old crap must revive” and Pena has singularly failed to demonstrate in any way whatsoever how the revival of the old crap can be averted in his scenario and thereby doom his own version of “ecological socialism” to failure.  A truly ecological socialist society has also to be a post scarcity society.

As stated, in Marx’s time the prospect of a post scarcity was not on the cards. This perhaps helps to account for some of the more questionable ideas he put forward – like his labour certificate scheme — which socialists today are under no obligation to go along with.  Nevertheless, he and Engels were sensitive to ongoing developments in their time and not dogmatically attached to what they had previously written. Thus, in the 1872 Preface to Communist Manifesto we find them saying:

The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848, and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in some details been antiquated

The mention here of the “gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848” is a reference to the growing productive potential of modern industry to supply the population with their means of subsistence.  Socialists today would argue that this productive potential to create a post scarcity society has been around for at least a century.  Consequently, there is no need to defer socialism on the grounds that that productive forces need to be “further developed” as Marx and Engels had argued in their time.

Even in their time they were able to detect the growing contradiction between what society was able to produce and what it profitably allows to be produced.  Even as early as 1848 they noted in their Manifesto that in the guise of economic crises “there breaks out an epidemic that in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of overproduction”. Increasingly, the problem that capitalism has to contend with is its ability to produce too much, not too little, by its own yardstick of what is “too much”.  An oversupply of commodities in relation to what the market demands causes prices to fall and along with that, profits.  Pena may dismiss the concept of a contradiction as metaphysical mumbo jumbo but for the workers laid off when it is no longer profitable to employ them in the face of glutted markets, that contradiction is all too tangible.

Since Marx the contradiction between what society actually produces and its potential to adequately meet human needs has, if anything grown exponentially.  In fact, the existence of such things as empty homes alongside homeless people or the destruction of food to boost prices in the face of starvation is only one small aspect of the sheer waste of capitalism.  More significant still is the fact that the bulk of economic activity carried on in capitalism today has nothing to do with meeting human need at all.  It has simply to do with meeting the systemic needs of capitalism itself and with enabling this system to tick over.

The entire financial sector is one among many examples of capitalism’s steadily growing, and already enormous, “structural waste” which diverts vast quantities of materials and labour into activities that are completely irrelevant and useless from the standpoint of meeting human needs.  Yet you will never grasp the full extent of this waste unless you view it through the prism of a perspective informed by Marx’s notion of full communism – a society in which individuals produce directly to satisfy their human needs rather than for sale on the market.

The ecological implications of this argument are absolutely huge yet Pena seems to have not the slightest inkling of any of this.  He does not understand that simply by virtue of fundamentally changing the mode of production to a fully socialist or communist one (in the Marxian sense) and thereby eliminating the enormous structural waste of capitalism we can, in one stroke, significantly increase the output of socially useful wealth and, at the same time, significantly reduce the pressure we currently exert on the environment.  We can produce more with much less by diverting all those massive quantities of material and human resources that we currently waste on socially useless production into socially useful production.

However, it is not just a question of supply.  Scarcity – or abundance – is a function of both supply and demand. I am reminded of Marshall Sahlin’s seminal work Stone Age Economics: the original Affluent Society (1972) in which he talked of there being two possible routes to affluence:

Wants may be “easily satisfied” either by producing much or desiring little. The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way, makes assumptions peculiarly appropriate to market economies: that man’s wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although improvable: thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that “urgent goods” become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, departing from premises somewhat different from our own: that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty-with a low standard of living.

I would argue that Marxian socialism represents a kind of dialectical fusion or interplay of both these approaches to achieving affluence.  Marx’s humanism is predicated on the belief that we are fundamentally social animals at heart and that we are capable of recognising our basic interdependence as individuals and act upon this in ways that encourage responsibility to each other and towards our natural environment upon which we all depend. Our attitude towards nature is conditioned by our attitude towards each other.  As C S Lewis once said: “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument”.  The Abolition of Man, 1843.)

The kind of society we live in today, however, makes it difficult for such an outlook to take hold and gain a footing.  When a multi-billion dollar global advertising industry relentlessly eggs us on to buy yet more stuff and insidiously drip feeds into us a sense of personal inadequacy that can only be assuaged through that curious ritual that goes by the name of retail therapy, we know we are in the presence of powerful forces bent on shaping and moulding our view of the world to fit its own particular agenda — the maximisation of profit.

Such is the expansionist dynamic built into a system of market competition.   Capitalism is a zero sum game in which one business enterprise must seek to capture a larger slice of the market at the expense of another or go under. This is the material basis of Pena’s “productionism” — production for the sake of production — in a profit driven economy in which the overriding imperative is to accumulate more and more capital out of profit in order to stay ahead of the competition.  Its natural corollary is “consumption for the sake of consumption”.

Consumerism, as this is called, is inextricably intertwined with the very existence of capitalism, with the very existence of production for sale on the market.  Individual business desperately seek to increase what they can sell on the market even if the contradictory nature of capitalism is such that in their individual effort to produce and sell more they collectively bring about a state of affairs in which the markets for what they blindly produce become glutted.

Notwithstanding Pena’s claim that if we “cannot understand and measure value, then we cannot implement the principle, and if we cannot do that, then we cannot have socialism” it is only in the context of production for the market that the need to “understand and measure value” arises.  It arises because of the need to ensure that market exchanges are the exchanges of equivalents – to go right back to what was said at the outset of this article. Value in the specific economic sense of exchange value has no purpose in a society without market exchange. So what Pena is saying in effect is that we need a market economy.  He would do well to remember what that entails.

Production for the market, as we have seen, nurtures individualist values just as it undermines collectivist values.  But if we put ourselves at the centre of the universe and have little or no regard for the wellbeing of others what is there to restrain us from seeking to accumulate without limit and in the process inflict damage on the environment?

In the acquisitive society that is market capitalism the status of an individual, the esteem in which she is held, tends to boil to her wealth and her conspicuous consumption of such wealth.  No amount of moralising against the “consumerism” of the average citizen is going to prove effective when we live in a world in which a tiny handful of multi-billionaires — the very exemplars of “capitalist success” which we are urged to look up to and strive to become — own more wealth than half this world’s population combined, this grotesque inequality being the very product of market capitalism itself.

In stark contrast, Marx’s vision of a socialist society renders such a notion of “status” completely meaningless simply by virtue of the fact that each and every individual has free access to those goods and services she requires.  Actually, the only way in which you can earn the respect and esteem of your fellows in such a society would be through what you contribute to it, not what you take out of it.

This is yet another point that Pena has completely overlooked in his assault on Marxian socialism and I suspect that is because he has not really grasped what this entails. If he seriously wants to address the problem of consumerism he needs to get the root cause.  It is not by stridently lecturing the ordinary man or woman in the street struggling to make ends meet, on the moral virtues of abandoning consumerism that you will make progress,  Rather, it is by organising collectively in our own interests to create a different kind of society that we will achieve that.

Thus,  it is both from the standpoint of supply as well as from the standpoint of demand that Marxian socialism recommends itself as the most appropriate and most direct route to a truly ecological society that Pena doubtless desires but has no way of realising if his ill-informed critique of Marx is anything to go by.

The post The Marxian Theory of Value: A Response to David Pena (Part Three) first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Savior of Capitalism

Roosevelt’s New Deal brought an array of acronyms for new government agencies to the attention of the American public:  NRA, WPA, CCC, TVA et al. The only one absent was capitalism’s SOS.

There is no doubting that many of the projects initiated by the New Deal were indeed beneficial to America’s infrastructure and were a success. It was said that the capitalists had acquired a social conscience. Roosevelt’s election was engineered by a group of individuals whose economic interests required urgent governmental aid. The Crash of 1929 was so devastating that it left the capitalists traumatized. Their profit system was shaken to its core. They looked desperately around for any solution to get the system functioning again. Roosevelt was selected to lead America out of economic chaos. Private capital could hardly finance the costs involved and thus the New Deal passed a wide range of new laws the country had ever seen. These included certain measures that resembled corporatism of fascist Italy, but they also included social-welfare legislation that enabled some critics to denounce the New Deal as a socialist plot. Others claimed for FDR the foundation of the welfare state, ignoring that it actually emerged in the 19th Century from Germany’s “Iron Chancellor”, Otto von Bismarck.

Today we have many liberals and progressives who wish to revive the idea of the New Deal, judging it to have been a success in the past, believing Roosevelt did end the Great Depression. That is simply not true.  His policies did not work and it is particularly apparent by a study of the rich treasure trove of contemporary sources available using the Marxist Internet Archive. Yet there still exists a strong sentiment who see in Sanders and Biden the spirit of Roosevelt. The New Deal legislation was neither radical nor particularly liberal. It was only an example of the fact that United States capitalism had finally reached the level of European capitalism which had supported social security schemes for decades.

It was the coming of war that revived production demand and restored profits to business. On the eve of war the United States was in a state of economic stagnation. Unemployment fell because American economy started to prepare for war. From 1933 into 1937, unemployment did fall, from 15 million to under eight. Then came the 1937 slump. Despite all those governmental projects the new depression could not be prevented. Suddenly, the unemployment figures rose to eleven million. It did drop a little in 1938.  It dropped but only to rise once more to 11.5 millions. And it remained around 11 million until war broke out in Europe. For most of 1940 it stayed above 10 million. It did not drop below that level until production had started for the United States’ own war production.

So how successful was the New Deal? Unemployment in America was 24.1 percent in 1932, the year when Roosevelt became President, and 25.2 percent in 1933. By 1937 it was down to 14.3 percent, though it rose again in 1938 to 19.1 percent. The New Deal was to be so much more than putting unemployed labor on relief or into work camps. It was to salvage capitalism and create a recovery. It failed. War turned America into the lucrative “arsenal of democracy.” With war looming, Roosevelt’s New Deal had a new purpose. In October of 1937, FDR announced, “Steer toward the coming war and make all preparations accordingly.”

The national income per capita in 1938 was only 76 percent of that in 1929 because there was another economic slump in 1937 which caused the industrial index to plunge.  The 1937 depression was halted and reversed, not by any normal upswing of the economic cycle, but by the speeding up of war preparations not only in America but throughout the world. It was not until the US entered the Second World War four years later that the slump finally came to an end.

At the end of 1935, the President announced that he was going to  drastically reduce the relief program in order “to restore business confidence.” In early 1936, he submitted a budget to Congress which called for cutting-in-half the total expenditures for relief. The drive to cut relief appropriations continued throughout 1936 and 1937. It was momentarily stopped by an economic down-swing in the late fall of 1937. A temporary rise in relief funds was voted in early 1938, but the slightest sign of recovery later in the year, led to further administration-sponsored relief cuts. Even before the effect of defense spending was felt in late 1939 and early 1940, the relief budget had been slashed from two-and-a-half billion dollars for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1938 to one-and-three-quarter- billion dollars for the year ending June 30, 1939.

The New Deal federal spending was largely limited to projects which did not compete with private enterprise. This meant building roads, schools, hospitals, etc. which after completion had to be maintained by the local governments. But the latter, with their limited means of taxation, found it increasingly difficult to maintain the completed projects turned over to them. They were already cutting back on their education, highway and welfare budgets. For example, in 1938 the WPA revealed that Philadelphia was refusing to accept projects which would put forty thousand men to work immediately. Other cities followed suit. Continuation of government spending on peacetime projects would have had to move increasingly into areas where it would compete with private industry. But this would come up against resistance from the capitalists. 

The Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) came into being to put the 18-to-25 year-old men into labor camps and in exchange for room, board, and some pocket money, they were put to work planting trees, building roads, tracks, and dams. Although the CCC form of relief was the most expensive, it was the only one that found general approval, for as its director, Robert Fechner, pointed out in 1938:  “The 2,300,000 youths trained in CCC camps since its inception in March 1933, were about 85 percent prepared for military life and could be turned into first-class fighting men at almost an instant’s notice.”

Relief there had been, but little more than to keep the population looked after at subsistence levels. Reform there had been, but the great problems of the country had hardly been touched. It was not the redistributive policies of the New Deal that had ended the slump of the 1930s.

Certainly, FDR did not plan for the European war to break out and America’s eventual entry, but it was those events that brought a halt to the capitalist depression which the New Deal policies had failed to end. And it was the consequent post-war economic boom of the re-construction of the destruction which helped to prolong the 1950’s period of economic prosperity. But once accomplished, eventually the series of capitalist recessions resumed.

At the core of Marx’s ideas is that capitalism is inflicted with inherent economic contradictions which mean recurring recessions. And regardless of whether the policies are Keynesian or Neo-liberalism, those are unavoidable. Temporary respite may be possible but in the end capitalism’s instability prevails. Socialists accept Marx and his understanding that economic periodic crises cannot be prevented, only perhaps, on some occasions, temporarily postponed or shortened or even exacerbated by some government interventions.

The Great Depression forced the American capitalists and their politicians to try out new ways to improve the profits of capital and reduce the costs as much as possible. The depression obliged the federal government to intercede to a greater extent than before with the nation’s business activities. It had to deny some capitalists in order to serve others. It had to pressure reluctant sections of industry into accepting the general plan so as to bring about an overall improvement of conditions. Roosevelt had to sacrifice the interests of some capitalists in order to satisfy the rest of capitalist society. To carry through such a course of action it was deemed necessary to appeal for mass support of the population to enforce the government’s will against stubborn opposition from some capitalists. Peaceful class relations would be the main prerequisite, a pacified workers’ movement. In order to get the workers and the unions behind it, Roosevelt flattered them with honeyed words. He appealed to their patriotism and for national unity. He offered palliatives to their problems.

For instance, the Farm Credit Administration allowed farmers loans at low interest to pay off their existing mortgages. Yet this Act had no benefits for the thirteen million people in tenant farm families or the three million in share-cropping families. The Act only helped the owners of land. In fact, it brought about a greater concentration of ownership and reduced many of the tenant farmers to mere wage-labourers.

We are not faulting FDR for following his class interests for we fully expect politicians of pro-capitalist political parties to represent their masters, even if they do couch it in conciliatory tones. FDR was attempting to save capitalism and divert workers from a socialist revolution. He managed to convince labor union leaders to soften their demands with his sophistry.

Learn from history. Don’t go repeating its mistakes because of the colored perspective of today’s bourgeois economists and the romantic nostalgia of politicians. The New Deal was no harbinger of a new social order. Victory in 1945 meant that the American capitalist class could now afford to end the concept of any New Deal. Corporations were bloated with war profits and were more powerful than ever before. Henry Wallace, Roosevelt’s earlier Vice-President, a New Dealer candidate, was resoundingly beaten in the post-war election.

The main illusion of the modern-day New Dealers is their misunderstanding that any capitalist party or pro-capitalist politicians, or any capitalist government, can operate on behalf of the working people. They are all, in their own way, servants of boss class regardless of how left-wing they may sound in their speeches.

As the Workers Socialist Party of the United States (now the World Socialist Party) explained at the time in 1934:

…The Socialist does not say that the trends of capitalism cannot be hastened or slowed down by legislative measures, but he does emphatically declare that such modifications are slight and that the general problems of the system can neither be overcome nor circumvented by such methods…One thing can certainly be said of future developments — that, whatever they may bring, the workers will continue to get the worst of the bargain until they cease to be deluded by the red herring of reform, by attempts to patch up capitalism, and until they unite for the only program that can solve their problems — the abolition of the whole rotten system itself and the establishment of Socialism.

• Images by 1930’s cartoonist, Carlo, from Marxist Internet Archive

The post Savior of Capitalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Flag; a Violent MAGA Family; a Brick through the Window!

I’ll get to the punch line soon, since this is part two of a two-part mini-horror story of a neighbor’s 41-year-old MAGA son, the actual son’s 63-year-old MAGA-mean mom, and alas, the 41-year-old son’s 39-year-old brother. And then the lot of them under the roof of a 63-year-old stepfather who has “US Navy retired” on his Facebook account, as well as every single post about on-line Texas Hold’em. [Part One! Your Right Ends with My Right to Might]

The offending sign:

They are not what David Graeber said, “We Are the 99 Percent.” They are making three retirements, getting social security (times two), government (tax payer funded) Medicare, free VA, and they sold a house (obscene inflated price) in California, and have come to Oregon because this coast is almost “We Are the 99 Percent White” homeland of Sundown Laws. Their house on our street is the largest and newest built right on the dunes overlooking the bay. Cheap compared to Simi Valley. They banked the rest for their glorious days as racists on the coast of Oregon.

You know, criticize students, teachers, journalists, local elected officials, the road department, Portland in general, Democrats, anyone with a green button on, and, well, not exactly connoisseurs of our incredible Hatfield Marine Sciences Center.  For them, spending money at a spendy restaurant in Newport, chipping in a $7 tip, and lording over some subservient waiter is their way of “rubbing elbows with the poor people.”

I know the types because I have talked with others around here — Californians from Orange County, Semi Valley and the like. The ones who for decades have cursed the Mexicans, the Guatemalans, the African Americans, the Koreans, the Armenians, the Sikhs, the Indians, the Chinese, and on and on and on. You know, in places named Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Diego, those all-American English proper nouns.

The single thread I have attempted to help students understand is that we are as individuals what we individually… do, say, eat, drink, watch, read, dream, hope for, act upon, see, smell, hear, hold true, protect, believe, perform, learn, value, preserve, who we valorize, what we consume, build, and write. Collectively, well, one can imagine as a society or culture or nation that we might also have  all of these “what we …” to reflect upon whether we are good people or bad people, takers or leavers, kind or cruel, pacific or warring, COLLECTIVELY.

Ways of Thinking - Feudalism is very much alive

More on the MAGA deplorables in a moment.

Having lived in some interesting places – Bisbee, Tucson, Sierra Vista, El Paso, Albuquerque, Spokane, Seattle, Portland,  Vancouver, and then many other places in foreign lands —  I understand the concept of those who have and those who have nothing or barely nothing.

I understand (know closely) those in crisis, those with bad families, those who have been abandoned by the most important people who should have been there for them – mother, father, sister, brother, uncles and aunts, extended families. I know the directionless mindset of young people who join gangs, use drugs, commit violence,  and are on a war-path toward self-destruction. I know the deep thread of trauma inflicted upon people, and how that stays for life, an ever-lasting series of lamentations, self-analyses, and self-doubts and self-loathing, to just name a few.

It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to know bad hombres when you see them. It doesn’t take the niece or the sister of a Trump Character to know the lack of worth and the insult to humanity a guy like him reflects.

Did Hitler have adverse childhood experiences? Does it matter? Trump? Cheney? Bush? Kissinger? Milton Friedman? Colin Powell? Madeline Albright? Obama? Clinton? Biden? Every single billionaire and every single millionaire?

You know, I have a neighbor here, next door, from Arizona. Husband and wife. They hate Glendale, hate the republican Red State politics, hate the criminal ex-pardoned-sheriff Joe. They are here, and alas, they bought a lot, and built on it a manufactured home. The kind that comes in two parts. You know it from the long line of cars on the freeways with “extra wide load” pilot cars sandwiching them. A nice one with a foundation and it looks like a from-the-ground-up-with-footings house.

The deal is they (no one) can get a traditional mortgage for a trailer or park home or manufactured home. But, that billionaire Warren Buffet made some cool billions by financing mobile homes, using a balloon payment system, and his scheme (one of thousands) caused many (millions) to pay exorbitant fees, interest rates, and many-many homes were repossessed, like yesterday’s Pontiac Grand Am. Then, old Warren inflicts another layer of making money — on the used (repossessed) manufactured home market. This is the scheme of misanthropes, those that make the Forbes 1000 List, those that end up on Obama’s economic transition team. Or Trump’s. Or Biden’s.

The neighbors are nice, but alas, they are voting for Biden-Harris, and even that action conjures up fears, so much so they are afraid to put out a legal, everyday “Vote for Harris-Biden 2020” yard sign. Other neighbors want that same sign up, but fear retaliation.

I know many people living in many countries, including many in Europe, and they are sort of looking at this country from a telephoto lens, and really have not idea how bad, how messed up, how fearful, how spineless Americans are. Sure, they want USA to bomb Iran, bomb North Korea, bomb Venezuela, bomb China, bomb Russia, bomb liberals or bomb MAGA’s, but in reality, this country is all show and all bravado with a few tens of millions of psychopaths with guns running around (driving big trucks) with the red-white-and-blue dangling near the tailpipe.

Show up here on the coast a dark-skinned Italian, Frenchman, Greek, Spaniard, well, you get the picture. A deep swarthy tan, even for a so-called white man or woman, well, that’s a suspect epidermis. REALLY.

I used to work outside a lot, ride a bike for 50 miles in a day, and had dark black hair and a goatee. Sure, the hair on my arms bleached out, but still, in Idaho, in 2001 when I first ended up in the Pacific Northwest, from El Paso, one day in Idaho, while taking guests around, I was asked if I was a Heb – Jewish? Asked if I was an Arab? And asked if I was a Mexican?  I am not kidding. First, you have to deal with the fact being any of those – Jewish, Arab and Mexican – I still think is legal. But then, the undertone, the very concept of questioning who I am, based on nationality (or maybe ethnicity, because you can be any racial member in all three camps – Arab, Jewish and Mexican.

File:American corporate flag.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Deplorables 2001. Deplorables in 1980 bombing innocents in Central America. Deplorables rah-rah Bush and Nixon and Bombing them All Back to the Stone Age. And, those who work for these deplorables, well, some can call them Eichmann’s or Little Eichmann’s like Ward Churchill called many of those working in the World Trade Center. People who work for the masters, the paymasters, the schemers, the grifters, the snake oil salesmen, the high risk loan sharks, PayDay loan sharks, all those used car salesmen who eat the potato salad at the Sunday School brunch, and on Monday, sell another car with saw dust inside the transmission casing or hawk an SUV that once floated around NOL after Hurricane Katrina. Faulty air bags, faked VW emissions, cracks in the O-ring for the NASA Space Shuttle, fissures in the metal containing the nuclear rods at Three Mile Island. You know, all those people, who, unfortunately, have been lumped into “We Are the 99.”

We can say they were duped by the money, made a Faustian Bargain, drank the Kool-Aid, were bought out or sold out. Brainwashed by Capitalism … or greed. Sell their mothers down the river, because something bad in their lives turned them. Excuse/ excuse/ excuse.

I can’t go there now, or even years ago when the slogan began, We Are the 99.” I was pepper sprayed by Seattle Police during Occupy Wall Street. Many of those in the “99” ended up on the message boards and comments sections telling us that we deserved to be pepper sprayed, or what did we expect, or that there are other ways to make our point other than marching peacefully.

So, yeah, no, not part of any “We Are the 99.” Closet racists? Misogynists? Believers in the lie that all faculty at colleges and universities are elitists?

I was not brought up in privilege – my old man was an airman in USAF and then got into the Army as a Warrant Officer. Yes, I got to live overseas, travel overseas, be with relatives in Scotland, England, Ireland and Germany, but we are not talking about anything past lower-middle class. [Of course, there are plenty of psychological studies and cognitive theses on how Americans conflate their abilities, inflate  their actual economic standing, and frame their own narratives around the bastards of the world. Imagine, dirt poor people in Appalachia relating to silver-spooned, poor-hating, accent-mocking, disabilities-deriding, excon-slamming Trump or Bush or Nixon or Reagan.]

Did I strike gold? Well, I was in that time period in 1975 when a state college education was dirt cheap, and the state university in Tucson was progressive, made tons of allowances letting dudes like me major in science, English, journalism – all at the same time, semester to semester. Electives were anthropology [got to do the Garbage Project, garbology, with William Rathje];  marine biology [got to be a diver in Sea of Cortez with incredible professors who had a slew of marine species named after them]; poetry and creative writing [got to be a hanger on at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and all the writers who came through to the university];  journalism [got to get paid reporting for the then daily Wildcat newspaper, a wholly independent newspaper not under the thumb of the journalism department]. We broke stories on the veterinarian school paying for dogs (stolen) for ghastly experiments with ballistics; and broke the story on the football coach scamming refunding unused airline vouchers for his own slush fund. I even got to take a special topics class with W. Eugene Smith, the photographer. We got the Center for Creative Photography and the Ansel Adams slides. I did a first-person series on homelessness in Tucson, and I learned community journalism working on the lab paper, The Tombstone Epitaph. I got to party with Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bly, Denise Levertov, and even had beers several times with Lee Marvin. I got the chance to ride my motorcycle as an extra in C.C. & Company, with Joe Namath and Ann Margaret. And, much-much more by the time I was 20 years old.

A measure of an adult is not the size of his or her bank account, for sure, and alas, 43 years later, I am still lower-middle class, having had a life of part-time gigs threaded into a multi-variant quilt. Some of my friends are/were tenured professors, semi-successful novelists, and a millionaire or two here and there.

The bulk of my life has been teaching in places like El Paso and Las Cruces and Tucson, Spokane, Seattle and Vancouver.

The measure of some can be grasped through the quality of their living, their life philosophy and for some, an education inside and outside the hallowed walls of university life. I took education by the horns, got the paid TA-ship for one master’s (in English) and got another almost free ride getting another master’s in urban and regional planning. Learning is and was something you can do outside of a college, but a good college and good students and a vibrant campus and community life, no one can replace. They can bullshit you into thinking everything taught and learned in school is easily learned in the real world, but the problem is the real world is not our house, and the real world is the paymaster. A real education is life-long learning, a community of service learning, and one where curriculum is morphed, special projects encouraged, across disciples are the norm, and the liberal arts the foundation.

As many have said, I should/could write many books on my life and on what I have seen in so many other people’s lives.

Amazon.com : ACAB Anti Cop Stop Police Brutality Protest Statement Garden Flag for Outdoor House Porch Welcome Holiday Decoration, Fit Chritmas/Birthday/Happy New, 3x5ft : Garden & Outdoor

I take radical action seriously, and I know – knew from an early age – the system is rigged for the rich, and that in this country, at least, the majority of people are colonized and co-opted by the complex forces of capitalism as it plays out as predatory, penury, parasitic, usury, sociopathic and ablaze with the profits privatized and all the external costs to us, society, and to the environment, socialized. A society that doesn’t do a drum beat around the tenets of something like War is a Racket and one that has no grasp of that the same fellow, General Smedley Butler, thwarting a military coup against FDR by a group of businessmen, none of whom got “hook-line-and-sinkered” for the crime, well, that society is delusional and infantilized.

I have studied human nature, have been in developing countries, under developed countries and what might be termed as third world countries. I understand the overt corruption of a place like Mexico, where cops-politicians-rich-narcos have laid siege on the people, on the indigenous ones, on teachers and land reformers and environmental defenders. The duplicity, the complete global thuggery of the USA – all those systems of exported extortion, pollution, hostage taking, maiming, theft, fraud, and grifting, again, make the narcos look like school bullies. Right, tales of a few tens of millions Economic Hit Men, thanks John Perkins!

There is something totally hardened by the Yankee and Rebel  –

In 1923, the British novelist D.H. Lawrence offered a grim assessment of America and Americans: “All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”

Lawrence’s observations of the American character did not draw upon deep wells of direct personal experience. When he wrote those lines, he had only been living in the United States for a bit more than a year and had spent much of that time among artists and the literati. But he was neither the first nor the last to make such an observation. Nearly 50 years ago, surveying both the wreckage of the 1960s and centuries of archives, the brilliant historian Richard Hofstadter acknowledged that “Americans certainly have reason to inquire whether, when compared with other advanced industrial nations, they are not a people of exceptional violence.”

The general strike that didn't happen: a report on the activity of the IWW in Wisconsin

Here, David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. He was one of several who helped coin the “We Are the Ninety-Nine Percent.”

Well, one of the things that I discovered in researching my book is that the kind of debt crisis we’re experiencing now, being a real debt crisis, which is a debt crisis that affects ordinary people, debts between the very wealthy or between governments can always be renegotiated and always have been throughout world history. They’re not anything set in stone. It’s, generally speaking, when you have debts owed by the poor to the rich that suddenly debts become a sacred obligation, more important than anything else. The idea of renegotiating them becomes unthinkable. In the past, though, there have been mechanisms, when things get to a point of real social crisis, that have always existed. And they vary by the period of history. In the ancient Middle East, often new kings would simply declare a clean slate and cancel all debts, or all consumer debts, commercial debts, between merchants were often left alone. The Jubilee was a way of institutionalizing that. In the Middle Ages, there were bans on interest taking entirely. There have been many mechanisms. [Counterpunch]

Now how is Graber’s untimely death Sept. 3, 2020 related to the misanthropes across the street who not only exhibit the middling middle class from California hatred of Muslims, hatred of liberals, hatred of education, hatred of book learning, hatred of the arts, hatred of discourse, hatred of debate, hatred of countervailing beliefs, hatred of evolution, hatred of most sciences, hatred of multiculturalism, hatred of youth/color/polyglots/indigenous people.

Every week there is a new yard gnome, a new seasonal flag up – you name the Hallmark celebration, this family puts them all up, during those “correct” calendar spans. They wear sports team clothes, they shop at Walmart, they plant plastic flowers, they have a yippy little dog, they don’t own a bicycle, kayak, canoe, anything to at least prove they are part of the walking species. They don’t walk. Both have hobbled gaits, and at 63 they seem and act like dinosaurs from an Archie Bunker episode.

What takes the cake is that they, as I said in the first part, took down a smallish placard/sign from our property, at our front door. The son did the stealing, age 41, and the mother the next day out and out told me “my son would never do that.”

This is America, the nation of liars and thieves and infants. So, the sign was gone, I caught him in the act, I tried to stop him with my words, and he slinked into his mother’s house at 10:40 pm. All the lights were out.

You see, they were looking at this sign, and not only were they bubbling over with rage, they were talking about it. Somehow, this sign represents everything they are against. Steal a sign from the neighbors.

Ahh, but that just was part one. Now, two days later, we get a bang on the door. Nothing like having to utilize your 2nd amendment rights. Startled, well, I thought maybe this guy was back on a rampage. I saw a Sheriff deputy.

Well, this same boy, at 7 pm, according to two witnesses, threw a large garden cement paving stone into my passenger side window. The witness called the cops. The cop asked if I wanted to report this as a crime. The cop photographed the interior, the paving stone, and then took the stone. He also called for back-up. He told me a neighbor and visitor witnessed the brick being thrown through my window. Of course, on the little Metro, I had the same sign on the back window.

This is it for America, in a nutshell. This is not Covid-19 stir crazy. This fellow has a history of booze and 24-hour drinking at mom’s place. I found this out later. The other son also has issues with going off the wagon. This is the reality of these Trumpies, 39, 41 and two 63-year-olds. Big screen TV I can see every time I go outside. The talking heads of the 24/7 Hate TV, Big Brother Hannity and Fox and Friends Hate TV stars.

But you see, these deplorables were deplorables way before this greasy man got into the White House. Seething against the Latinos and Blacks. Seething against the wildfires (blaming the democrats for those). Seething against the high cost of living, and seething that they were passed up on the time line the day they were born.

Trauma informed care means understanding where people are in their addictions, their mental crises and their involvement in the criminal injustice system. Not about blame or expecting people to meet some “normal” level of functioning, but meeting them there at the trauma and going from here to be an inspiring and helpful case manager.

But when the shoe is on the other foot – the neighbor committing an act of violence (yes, a brick or rock through a car window right outside your home is a symbolic threat to a person’s body) or the politician thieving or the president raping – well, the victim cannot always be so holistic and understanding of those perpetrators’ childhood, juvenile, teen, young and old adult traumas as rationales for bad behavior.

One brick, a few hundred dollars later, then cops who give citations but do not take people to jail because of Covid-19. Guys that are white met by white cops. Lies, excuses, etc. The deputy said this perpetrator was saying, “Come on, aren’t you guys part of the blue lives matter? Come on, what I did was for you.”

There you have it. Me threading the needle, since I know for sure policing has been a giant racist and punishment and sadistic thing in US society. I know if the perp had been a dark person, a BIPOC, then, one backtalk move, and that person would be in cuffs.

Instead, the deputy said this guy was all over the place, was trying to coddle up to the cops, and that he was smelling of booze and that his job was to disarm the individual’s uneven demeanor by de-escalating things.

And, the bottom line is I am told to exercise my 2nd amendment rights, have the gun/guns ready, “and, if any trouble happens on the property, wink wink …,” well, those are the words of cops.

Oh, and they recommended to get a no-stalking order filed at the court, so a judge can meet with me via phone to determine if this one guy, the 41-year-old, will be hit with a court order to stay away from me. For each member of the family, we’d have to file individual stalking orders.

This is America, the hard, cold shallow/sallow America. The California Here You Come America. The Fox News America. The seething white racist America. The Americans who hate welfare while they scoop up all the welfare from their mercenary service (sic) in the US Navy, while getting social security, while getting Medicare and VA benefits, and maybe this fellow, the 41-year-old, he too is on government assistance – unemployment and possibly developmentally disabled before age 18?

I have friends all over the world who think the United States is something completely than it is. They consume so much Holly-dirt, and they maybe smart and read the elites and Ivy League mostly white books on this or that angle in America. Their take on things – because the Ivy Leaguers and Elite Coastal Lizards – have no real sense of how bad the country is, how tough the soul of the white nation is, how quickly the nation of immigrants will turn into a nation of haters.

The paperwork for the no stalking order is absurdly long. Then, the conference courtroom swearing in. All the other no-stalking cases up first – violent spouse or ex-boyfriend. Nothing like listening to all these cases of violence, threats, etc. to get a person re-traumatized. That’s what was on the docket — my case and then women who were in fear for their lives because of violent ex-spouses and ex-boyfriends.

So, get this – in the USA, now, I have a temporary no-stalking order, and the guy will be served soon, which means, you guessed it, more escalation of his testosterone, etc. More of the MAGA might makes right stupidity? That’s one possible scenario. The order goes to a level, according to the judge,  of this fellow not being allowed in my field of vision, which makes it, err, problematic for him, since the house’s stoop overlooks the same road we share.

All the nonsense like –

You will have the opportunity to ask the judge to stop the stalker from:

Following or monitoring you,
Threatening you,
Talking or writing to you (by mail, phone, text, email, or social media),
Interfering with or damaging your property,
Coming near you in public or on private property, and
Showing up at your work, home, school, or daycare facility.

Someone may be stalking you when they:

Follow you,
Conduct surveillance on you,
Appear uninvited at your home, work, or school,
Makes unwanted phone calls or sends unwanted emails or texts,
Leave objects for you,
Vandalizes your property, or
Hurt your pet.

Like I said, I have had an interesting life. Worked as a police reporter and was even threatened as a newspaper journalist by both Sheriff deputies and a local policeman in Bisbee, Las Cruces and El Paso. For publishing too much on the PD/Sheriff. Got to hang out in Chihuahua City and on a couple of ranchos outside the city with some mean hombres – both college educated (MBA and JD) in the USA, but then, also politicos with ties to the cocaine trade. Been in small towns in the south, and up north in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah and Arizona.

The Euro’s and Aussies and Kiwis know nothing about how warped and dysfunctional this country under white banking and war rule is. Imagine, that defective set of genes then moving into 1990 and the 2000s. Complete monsters like Zuckerberg and Bezos, the entire Fortune 5000 captains of industry, the sports team owners, Hollywood, from sea to shining sea.

The MAGA thing is real, not just some kneejerk against the orange monster/menace/accused pedophile/accused rapist. Yet, there are so many Americans willing to give the GOP the benefit of the doubt, so many Ellen’s and Karen’s giving Bush Baby the benefit of the doubt. This is the caliber of both sides of the political manure pile.

You’re 77 and Joe Biden and, bam, the slippage, big time. Then the felon, the grifter, the complete imbecile, Trump, 74. Two accused rapists, two rotten men, and one, Biden, living some fabled set of lies, the plagiarist in the Senate and VP. Then the habitual thief, Trump, lying as a tool, incompetent, and believe it or not, dumber than dirt, making Bush Junior look like Stephen Hawkins.

One hundred and fifty-one, the two of them, combined imbecility and lies and entitlement. Both racists, both lovers of the exceptionalism that is the huge American lie. Imagine, having five leaders, 30 years old each, running for president? Imagine that. “Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for holding the presidency. To serve as president, one must: be a natural-born U.S. citizen of the United States; be at least 35 years old; resident of the US for at least 14 years.”

This is the quality of MAGA, and many of them are old, Christians, sure, and they in any other time in history would not let their daughters come home with a greasy man like Trump for a date, let alone for candidacy for son-in-law. Not exactly all-American virtuous guy. No Norman Rockwell guy. No Norman Vincent Peele kinda dude.

Yet, their televangelists and pulpit punchers are all degenerates, and the country – little do the Euro visitor knows this – is steeped in magical thinking, protective angels, strong belief in papa in the head office guiding the poor and even educated people on what to think, say, mouth, and hear around what it means to be American.

So it goes, these neighbors, the quasi-restraining order (for a stranger, no less – not even work related). People of two generations hating blacks, hating gays, hating people with disabilities, hating the environment, hating hating and more hating.

A rock through the window, and what’s next? What will happen when the Black Lives Matter signs go up? When will they bring out their guns and ammo? When oh when will that restraining order come to the rescue? After two more pavers are thrown into our vehicles’ windows? Gunshots over the house, threw the window or at us?

This is the Trump-Land, and the same scum were there during Clinton (I went to a gun show in Texas and they were selling embossed bullseye targets with Chelsea, Bill and Hillary faces on them. Nixon? Democratic Convention in Chicago? School busing? How many are dead in Ohio? Black Panthers? Which red-baiting McCarthyite went on to, well, advise Mister Queens New York?

Flag for the Black Panthers (Black Panther Party) : vexillology

This is how the sausage was made in America with that secret ingredient always back into the ground up mix–

400–500 years ago, Europe’s unwanted social outcasts and religious extremists began relocating to Virginia and Massachusetts. Grateful crowns back in London, Amsterdam and Strasbourg rejoiced as their most ungovernable and unwanted subjects self-exiled to the new world. There, waste people and pilgrims set about recreating the same intolerance they sought to flee. Puritan Christianity was so intolerant that they were unable to coexist anywhere – neither with their own kind back in the old world, nor with the natives of the new.

These first settlers thought the Inquisition ended too soon and eagerly sought to reproduce it – burning heretics and accused witches, perpetuating the cruel and unusual medieval tortures discarded by their European forebears, and forcing abused wives to wear the scarlet letter. Women and children had no rights; men were vicious tyrants. Colonial promoter Richard Hakluyt back in England neatly summarized the first settlers’ goals in 1585: “The ends of their voyage are these: to plant Christian religion; to trafficke; and to conquer.”  Abel Cohen

Great Debate: Should it be a crime to burn the American Flag? – The Crimson

Oh, those in the One Percent and then the others, in that 19 Percent Group

U.S. has highest level of income inequality among G7 countries

I’ll go with Michael Parenti on this accord — the richest 85 families own as much wealth as the lower 50 percent of the world? Bullshit. Those misanthropes own a hell of a lot more than anything the 3.5 billion people on earth might collectively “have.” No comparison:

Regarding the poorest portion of the world population— whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.— can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down? Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities? especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc. We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are. — Michael Parenti 

And so I get a rock through my car window, get to go to court to file a no stalking order, and await yet more American mean as cuss reactions as the Black Lives Matter and Ecosocialist signs go up . . .  Of course, after I have to purchase and install closed circuit surveillance cameras. Yep, MAGA Mutts for Trump 4.0.

What does it mean if the US flag is upside down? - Quora

The post A Flag; a Violent MAGA Family; a Brick through the Window! first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Nathan J. Robinson’s Why You Should Be a Socialist: Useful and Misleading

There are only a few introductory texts on socialism that manage to be accessible, witty, and broad enough to survey its history as well as contemporary thought on the subject. Nathan J. Robinson’s new book, Why You Should Be a Socialist is able to do just that by weaving together a compelling narrative and excellent arguments that cover the rich practical and theoretical implications of socialism in a down to earth, entertaining way. There are serious holes in the book’s content with regards to theory, however, as well as a reluctance to demonstrate if contemporary “democratic socialism” is up to the task of revolution. On the whole, the text provides many convincing arguments to win over skeptical progressives, centrists, and even conservative readers who perhaps have never deeply considered the case for socialism.

Robinson begins the book by addressing the fundamental impulses that socialists share: revulsion at gross inequalities and inhumane conditions that are the direct consequences of our dominant socio-economic system, capitalism. This is where Robinson’s work truly shines. He is able to clearly show how socialist or least anti-capitalist thought is permeated by the notion that mainstream politics and finance are anything but normal in regards to human decency and meeting basic needs. What socialism contends, and what Robinson easily and deftly spells out, is that our economic system is not simply unfair or “the way things have to be”. Rather, capitalist institutions are set up to perpetuate systemic injustices including mass poverty, institutional racism, and imperial wars and foreign conflicts.

Part One of the book (Chapters one through three) dives into the failures of capitalism in detail, and the author cites many common studies and figures which bolster the arguments for socialism. What Robinson hits on over and over, to his credit, is to explain how completely arbitrary and cruel contemporary capitalism is. It is important to note that socialist thinking does not have to come from theoretical teachings or ideology. Instead, innate curiosity and what Robinson calls a “moral instinct” provides the natural tendency which grounds socialist thought. Here we can see clear articulations as to how and why capital relies on human immiseration for continual self-expansion, and how it chooses profits over people time and time again. This section does have convincing arguments to persuade open-minded liberals and skeptics.

Part Two dives into defining principles and terms associated with the left tradition, as well as expanding on modern utopian ideals and pragmatic agendas that socialists of today advocate for. At its core, socialism is about expanding democratic values and empowering workers, and Robinson’s analysis reflects this. Yet he seems to continually pepper his own belief system with the common qualifiers such as “libertarian socialist” and “democratic socialist.” Robinson also errs by unduly misrepresenting Marx and Lenin, even throwing in a baseless quote from Murray Bookchin about Marx as if to prove his point. A few pages later, Robinson is quick to cite Hellen Keller’s importance to American socialism, and rightly so; yet this reviewer is left to wonder if he is aware that Keller repeatedly praised Lenin throughout her life.

Part Three demolishes the usual conservative and liberal arguments and opposition to socialism. It’s quite an entertaining read and Robinson deftly dismisses both the intellectual bankruptcy of conservatism and the inadequate wishy-washiness of liberal thought. The section “Response to Criticisms” also does a good job explaining the bad faith mainstream critics use in lame attempts to discredit socialist thought. There is one notable exception, however, in which the author seriously errs in his attempt to bolster his argument by relying on discredited propaganda.

Robinson tries to explain how the capitalists’ talking point: “if you want socialism you’ll end up with Venezuela” is an absolute canard. Capitalists love to point to economic hardships in the developing world as being caused by socialism no matter what, obviously.

What’s bewildering, however, is the author’s insistence that Venezuela cannot be an example of socialist failure because, in fact, Venezuela does not have socialist policies. Amazingly, Robinson repeats mainstream lies and distortions, and attributes the crisis almost solely to internal “poor economic policies,” “authoritarian government,” and a “corrupt kleptocracy.” This is an uneducated viewpoint, one that does not take into account the worldwide drop in oil prices which hurt the spending power of the government; the sanctions, covert action, and economic sabotage from the US; and purposeful withholding of household goods and supplies by Venezuelan corporations and oligarchs who support the US-backed opposition. This is a prime example of what some humorously refer to as “State Department Socialism,” and was cringe-inducing to read. There are only three types of people who cite the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post as credible sources on Venezuela: the educated fool, the sycophantic quisling, or the total sociopath; and Robinson appears to fall into the first category in this instance.

As founder and editor of Current Affairs, the leftist/progressive website and magazine, Robinson’s ideas are passed around the admittedly tiny socialist community and this book cannot be disentangled from his wider media footprint. Current Affairs does have some good content for socialists and younger “baby leftists,” and poses itself as more down-to-earth and irreverent compared to venues like Dissent or Jacobin.

Robinson is even maligned online, perhaps a bit unfairly, for his (possibly?) affected accent and his fashion sense; in his book he correctly identifies these sorts of criticisms as liberal tendencies. In his section on the inadequacy of liberals, he describes the way a “politics of attributes” is invoked, which is a good way of summing up the superficiality of liberal identity politics and woke political correctness. The ranks of lefties and socialists have a long, proud tradition of being filled with eccentrics, after all.

More to the point, valid critiques of this work as well as the wider milieu of Current Affairs and the above mentioned outlets focus around immature and indecisive ideology and policy proposals. Robinson’s own brand of libertarian socialism in the book is never really developed or expanded upon, and he does not bother to delve in and explain how he reconciles his own beliefs with democratic socialism. His passing references to Marx are, frankly, embarrassing, as even Jacobin’s review noted. The paucity of references to leftist movements internationally and in developing nations is a problem. The criticisms of Venezuela are unfounded; he attempts to attack from the left but uses mainstream arguments and sources from the Wall Street Journal, for crying out loud.

This book reflects a lot of tendencies of younger democratic socialists and millennial left politics. It’s immature, brilliant, clumsy, utopian, sentimental, geeky in an endearing way, out of touch, starry-eyed, short on history. It’s at turns sprawling and ambitious; it’s also characteristically insular and, again, mostly bereft of historical materialism and internationalist influences. Like the wider projects of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Robinson’s own work elides the issue of his own privilege and how it is being leveraged to network and strengthen the “pragmatic” opportunism of socialists and social democrats trying to work within the inherently corrupt Democratic Party.

The text does exhibit some elements of salesmanship that can be at different points irritable or likeable, with a witty joke here, a silly pop culture reference there. In spite of the laid back prose, there is a sort of striving, overachieving tone. It does appear that the author wants to be seen as a very serious person: see Current Affairs’ interviews with very important people, rock stars of US “progressivism” such as Noam Chomsky, Ilhan Omar, Naomi Klein, but no one, well, too subversive. The bio in the book jacket (“Robinson is a leading voice of millennial left politics”) even mimics Jacobin’s byline: “Jacobin is a leading voice of the American left.” For those being introduced to leftist thinking, the book does a good job explaining some of the moral and practical reasons in favor of socialism. Those already steeped in theory and practice will find much familiar ground covered, as well as having to deal with the frustration of imprecise and immature reasoning from a self-proclaimed “leading voice.”

Baseball and Socialism in Cuba

What is a million dollars worth compared to the love of eight million Cubans?

— 3-time Olympic heavyweight boxing champion Teofilo Stevenson on why he never signed a contract to become a professional boxer

Fidel inaugurated revolutionary Cuba’s First National Series. Photo: Archive

On April 2, 2019, the Cuban Baseball Federation published a list of 34 players between the ages of 17 and 25 who would be eligible to sign with major league teams. A list of players over 25 who would be able to sign was to have been sent in July. This would be virtually the same “posting system” that is used for major league clubs to sign players from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. This was all made possible by three years of negotiations between the Federation and Major League Baseball that would allow Cubans to play in the majors without defecting.

On April 9 – only 7 days later – the Trump administration nullified it. In response, the Federation tweeted “the agreement with MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball. Any contrary idea is false news. Attacks with political motivations against the agreement achieved harm the athletes, their families and the fans.” A senior Trump official said that the accord would have made the players “pawns of the Cuban dictatorship.” The administration has said it won’t change its policy until Cuba stops its support of Venezuela, which is disingenuous as there will always be an excuse to punish Cuba for daring to challenge U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.

This all harkens back of course to the success of the Cuban Revolution on New Year’s Day in 1959, and the subsequent refusal of the U.S. to accept the legitimacy of a government that it didn’t have control of or significant influence over. Thus the total embargo that was imposed on Cuba on February 7, 1962 which made it illegal to export virtually anything to Cuba or to allow American dollars to be spent on the island. This blockade (as Cubans call it) has been in force for 57 years and while it has cost the U.S. economy $1.2 billion, it has had its intended effect on Cuba. With the collapse of the USSR in 1989, the Cuban economy was devastated, but with internal adjustments and increased trade with Europe, it has survived – but just barely.

While the government has continued to provide free education and healthcare and subsidized housing, Cubans still find themselves narrowly getting by. And although baseball remains the beloved national sport, teams have increasingly relied on donations of equipment such as bats, balls, gloves and catchers gear from visiting foreign teams to be able to continue to play games. Almost all of the ballparks are old and falling apart – many were built in the 1970s – and the cost of lighting them and transporting players across the island have resulted in shortened seasons.

But in the early years of the Revolution, aid from the Soviet Union enabled the government to devote significant resources to the development of sports facilities. Not surprisingly, the Cuban government adopted the Soviet model of athletics, which was based on achieving two desirable outcomes: 1) mass participation in a variety of sports would make for a healthier population; 2) state development of elite athletes for success in international competitions would promote socialism as a desirable economic system. Boxing, volleyball and track and field were seen as important, but baseball – Cuba’s most popular sport – was the centerpiece. And Fidel Castro’s love of baseball was decisive.

Just five days after the rebels took power, Fidel appointed General Felipe Fuerra Matos – one of his 26th of July Movement officers – as director of the new Sports Ministry. As a result, 5,000 baseball players on 240 teams participated in a tournament won by a racially integrated team, which was unusual in Cuba. The creation of INDER – the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation – in 1962 made island-wide organized amateur sports possible and established the baseball National Series, a league which in one form or another continues today.

As a socialist who had no love for money, Fidel decreed in 1967 that all sporting events in Cuba would now be free for all to attend, except for international tournaments. This was an integral part of Fidel’s vision: that moral incentives should take precedence over material incentives. In a socialist society, players should participate for love of the game rather than the chance to enrich one’s self at the expense of others, and sports fans should have opportunities to attend events regardless of their ability to pay. This emphasis on the importance of social values over purely individualistic ones was implemented throughout Cuba and Che Guevera’s Man and Socialism in Cuba is probably the best expression of this ideology. As a consequence, salaries were essentially the same for all players (and have remained so today).

Initially, they had other jobs and were only part-time ballplayers. But the popularity of baseball was such that amateurs soon became – in reality – “professionals” in that their full-time job was playing baseball. Each team was comprised of players who were born and grew up in the province where the team was located, and except for rare exceptions, they played for only that team throughout their careers. There was no trading from one team to another, as players were seen as human beings, not commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace. The government established sports academies in each province which would develop youngsters who showed particular promise. From there they would go to the Cuban minor league, and if they continued to progress, to the National Series team in their province.

While the National Series (the Cuban equivalent to the major leagues in North America) ostensibly began play in 1962, it wasn’t until the mid-60s that the league had established at least one team in each province. Today there 16 National Series teams: one each for 13 provinces, one for the municipality of Isla de la Juventud, and two for the province of Havana. Each team plays 90 games with the top eight teams qualifying for the playoffs. A three-round playoff concludes with the two surviving teams playing a best-of-seven game series to determine the champion. One unfortunate consequence of players being restricted to their provincial team is that the teams from the two most populous provinces, Havana and Santiago de Cuba, have traditionally been more successful than the others. In that, Cuban baseball has something in common with Major League Baseball, as a small number of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox tend to have the greatest success, although this is a function of having more money, not larger populations, than the other teams.

But the glory of Cuban baseball has always been its national team. Cuba dominated international tournaments from the 1960s through the 1990s, either winning them or finishing second, an amazing record that will never be equaled by any country. This included a winning streak of 159 games in a row. Peter C. Bjarkman, in his fascinating book Fidel Castro and Baseball – the Untold Story, asserts that “both the big-league successes of a growing contingent of defectors and Cuba’s surprise victories in the MLB-sponsored World Baseball Classic have demonstrated an undeniable truth: that this league, for much of its run, ranked alongside the Japanese pro leagues and perhaps just below the U.S. majors among the trio of highest-level circuits.” But with the allure of riches only 90 miles away, some of the best players began to brave storms, sharks and greedy human traffickers for the opportunity to play in the North American major leagues.

So, why would Cuban ballplayers want to leave their home? Is it all about the money? Well, yes. There had been players leaving Cuba before 2009, but between 2010 and 2013 four Cuban stars – Aroldis Chapman, Leonys Martin, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu – defected and were richly rewarded by major league owners. Then the flood started: in 2014 and 2015, almost 150 Cuban players left the island for what they hoped would be big money. But not all of them found what they were looking for: according to Cuban baseball historian Peter C. Bjarkman, “more and more Cuban players were discovering the risks of flight and also realized how they were being used by greedy agents who rarely had their best interests at heart. Some have found their way back home, and a few are even reenergizing their careers in the depleted Cuban circuit.”

It should be noted that there were Cuban superstars who could have defected and signed large contracts, but decided that the adulation of their fellow Cubans was more important than the money they would have been offered. Omar Linares, Orestes Kindelan and Pedro Luis Lazo are three of the greatest Cuban players of all time and who stayed in Cuba for their entire careers. Of the three, Linares is arguably the best player in the history of Cuban baseball. Universally considered to be the best third baseman to never play in the major leagues, Linares had a lifetime batting average of .368, won 4 batting titles and led the league in Runs Batted In 4 times. Peter C. Bjarkman says, “Linares repeatedly turned his back on big-league offers and personally chose to cast his lot with the Cuban socialist baseball system he so visibly represented and championed for two full decades.”

So, what are we to make of the Cuban socialist experiment in baseball? The sad truth in 2020 is that Cuban baseball is nowhere near as good as it was before the relatively recent wave of defections. If it is to be judged by the significant number of players who left, one might consider it to be a failure. But the National Series with its socialist orientation persists. Perhaps we should look at more than just individual players, but instead see Cuban baseball in the context of an attempt to change attitudes about how sports should fit in to a vision of a just society. With all its mistakes, bureaucratization and inefficiency, Cuba was able to create a socialist sports system that worked for the vast majority of baseball players and fans throughout the island – instead of for the wealthy few.

Baseball and Socialism in Cuba

“What is a million dollars worth compared to the love of eight million Cubans?”

  • 3-time Olympic heavyweight boxing champion Teofilo Stevenson, on why he never signed a contract to become a professional boxer

On April 2, 2019, the Cuban Baseball Federation published a list of 34 players between the ages of 17 and 25 who would be eligible to sign with major league teams. A list of players over 25 who would be able to sign was to have been sent in July. This would be virtually the same “posting system” that is used for major league clubs to sign players from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. This was all made possible by three years of negotiations between the Federation and Major League Baseball that would allow Cubans to play in the majors without defecting.

On April 9 – only 7 days later – the Trump administration nullified it. In response, the Federation tweeted “the agreement with MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball. Any contrary idea is false news. Attacks with political motivations against the agreement achieved harm the athletes, their families and the fans.” A senior Trump official said that the accord would have made the players “pawns of the Cuban dictatorship.” The administration has said it won’t change its policy until Cuba stops its support of Venezuela, which is disingenuous as there will always be an excuse to punish Cuba for daring to challenge U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.

This all harkens back, of course, to the success of the Cuban Revolution on New Year’s Day in 1959, and the subsequent refusal of the U.S. to accept the legitimacy of a government that it didn’t have control of or significant influence over. Thus the total embargo that was imposed on Cuba on February 7, 1962 which made it illegal to export virtually anything to Cuba or to allow American dollars to be spent on the island. This blockade (as Cubans call it) has been in force for 57 years and while it has cost the U.S. economy $1.2 billion, it has had its intended effect on Cuba. With the collapse of the USSR in 1989, the Cuban economy was devastated, but with internal adjustments and increased trade with Europe, it has survived – but just barely.

While the government has continued to provide free education and healthcare and subsidized housing, Cubans still find themselves narrowly getting by. And although baseball remains the beloved national sport, teams have increasingly relied on donations of equipment such as bats, balls, gloves and catchers gear from visiting foreign teams to be able to continue to play games. Almost all of the ballparks are old and falling apart – many were built in the 1970’s – and the cost of lighting them and transporting players across the island have resulted in shortened seasons.

But in the early years of the Revolution, aid from the Soviet Union enabled the government to devote significant resources to the development of sports facilities. Not surprisingly, the Cuban government adopted the Soviet model of athletics, which was based on achieving two desirable outcomes: 1) mass participation in a variety of sports would make for a healthier population; 2) state development of elite athletes for success in international competitions would promote socialism as a desirable economic system. Boxing, volleyball and track and field were seen as important, but baseball – Cuba’s most popular sport – was the centerpiece. And Fidel Castro’s love of baseball was decisive.

Just five days after the rebels took power, Fidel appointed General Felipe Fuerra Matos – one of his 26th of July Movement officers – as director of the new Sports Ministry. As a result, 5,000 baseball players on 240 teams participated in a tournament won by a racially integrated team, which was unusual in Cuba. The creation of INDER – the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation – in 1962 made island-wide organized amateur sports possible and established the baseball National Series, a league which in one form or another continues today.

As a socialist who had no love for money, Fidel decreed in 1967 that all sporting events in Cuba would now be free for all to attend, except for international tournaments. This was an integral part of Fidel’s vision: that moral incentives should take precedence over material incentives. In a socialist society, players should participate for love of the game rather than the chance to enrich one’s self at the expense of others, and sports fans should have opportunities to attend events regardless of their ability to pay. This emphasis on the importance of social values over purely individualistic ones was implemented throughout Cuba and Che Guevera’s “Man and Socialism in Cuba” is probably the best expression of this ideology. As a consequence, salaries were essentially the same for all players (and have remained so today).

Initially, they had other jobs and were only part-time ballplayers. But the popularity of baseball was such that amateurs soon became – in reality – “professionals” in that their full-time job was playing baseball. Each team was comprised of players who were born and grew up in the province where the team was located, and except for rare exceptions, they played for only that team throughout their careers. There was no trading from one team to another, as players were seen as human beings, not commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace. The government established sports academies in each province which would develop youngsters who showed particular promise. From there they would go to the Cuban minor league, and if they continued to progress, to the National Series team in their province.

While the National Series (the Cuban equivalent to the major leagues in North America) ostensibly began play in 1962, it wasn’t until the mid-’60’s that the league had established at least one team in each province. Today there 16 National Series teams: one each for 13 provinces, one for the municipality of Isla de la Juventud, and two for the province of Havana. Each team plays 90 games with the top eight teams qualifying for the playoffs. A three-round playoff concludes with the two surviving teams playing a best-of-seven game series to determine the champion. One unfortunate consequence of players being restricted to their provincial team is that the teams from the two most populous provinces, Havana  and Santiago de Cuba, have traditionally been more successful than the others. In that, Cuban baseball has something in common with Major League Baseball, as a small number of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox tend to have the greatest success, although this is a function of having more money, not larger populations, than the other teams.

But the glory of Cuban baseball has always been its national team. Cuba dominated international tournaments from the 1960’s through the 1990’s, either winning them or finishing second, an amazing record that will never be equaled by any country. This included a winning streak of 159 games in a row. Peter C. Bjarkman, in his fascinating book “Fidel Castro and Baseball – the Untold Story,” asserts that “both the big-league successes of a growing contingent of defectors and Cuba’s surprise victories in the MLB-sponsored World Baseball Classic have demonstrated an undeniable truth: that this league, for much of its run, ranked alongside the Japanese pro leagues and perhaps just below the U.S. majors among the trio of highest-level circuits.” But with the allure of riches only 90 miles away, some of the best players began to brave storms, sharks and greedy human traffickers for the opportunity to play in the North American major leagues.

So, why would Cuban ballplayers want to leave their home? Is it all about the money? Well, yes. There had been players leaving Cuba before 2009, but between 2010 and 2013 four Cuban stars – Aroldis Chapman, Leonys Martin, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu – defected and were richly rewarded by major league owners. Then the flood started: in 2014 and 2015, almost 150 Cuban players left the island for what they hoped would be big money. But not all of them found what they were looking for: according to Cuban baseball historian Peter C. Bjarkman, “more and more Cuban players were discovering the risks of flight and also realized how they were being used by greedy agents who rarely had their best interests at heart. Some have found their way back home, and a few are even reenergizing their careers in the depleted Cuban circuit.”

It should be noted that there were Cuban superstars who could have defected and signed large contracts, but decided that the adulation of their fellow Cubans was more important than the money they would have been offered. Omar Linares, Orestes Kindelan and Pedro Luis Lazo are three of the greatest Cuban players of all time and who stayed in Cuba for their entire careers. Of the three, Linares is arguably the best player in the history of Cuban baseball. Universally considered to be the best third baseman to never play in the major leagues, Linares had a lifetime batting average of .368, won 4 batting titles and led the league in Runs Batted In 4 times. Peter C. Bjarkman says “Linares repeatedly turned his back on big-league offers and personally chose to cast his lot with the Cuban socialist baseball system he so visibly represented and championed for two full decades.”

So, what are we to make of the Cuban socialist experiment in baseball? The sad truth in 2020 is that Cuban baseball is nowhere near as good as it was before the relatively recent wave of defections. If it is to be judged by the significant number of players who left, one might consider it to be a failure. But the National Series with its socialist orientation persists. Perhaps we should look at more than just individual players, but instead see Cuban baseball in the context of an attempt to change attitudes about how sports should fit in to a vision of a just society. With all its mistakes, bureaucratization and inefficiency, Cuba was able to create a socialist sports system that worked for the vast majority of baseball players and fans throughout the island instead of for the wealthy few.