Category Archives: Socialism

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.

Why is China Painted as “Capitalist” by Western  Propaganda?

Let us start with the punchline: “Mass media in the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia is depicting the People’s Republic of China as ‘capitalist’ because ‘capitalist’ is now a dirty word. Even people in the West see ‘market economy’ as some sort of filth.”

To call China ‘capitalist’ is to smear China. It is as if to say: “Chinese people are precisely like us. China is doing to the world the same injustice, committing the same crimes as we have been doing for 500+ years.”

Western, but particularly the British and the U.S. demagogy, have managed to reach ‘heights’ of nothing lesser than deadly perfection. They already conditioned billions of brains, in all corners of the world, forced them into the uniformed, servile way of thinking. All this is not just propaganda anymore; it is the true art of indoctrination. It hardly ever misses its target. And even if it fails to convince some strong individuals completely, it always leaves a mark on the psyche of even those who are struggling to be different and ‘independent.’

In short: Western propaganda is perfect. It is deadly. Until now, it is bulletproof.

All those terms like “capitalist China,” “Chinese state capitalism,” are violating the truth, and they are repeated over and over again until no one dares to contradict them anymore.

The same goes for the lies about Uyghurs, Hong Kong, the Sino-Indian border, as well as various historical events.

But why really to lie about China ‘not being socialist’?

The answer is simple: it is because most people associate words like ‘socialism’ and ‘Communism’ with hope. Yes, they do! At least subconsciously. Even after decades of brainwashing and smear campaigns! “Socialist China” means “China which brings optimism to its own people and humanity.” On the other hand, people on all continents associate ‘capitalism’ with something depressing, stale, and regressive. Therefore, call China ‘capitalist’, and it evokes feelings of gloominess and slump.

Imperialist, capitalist West cannot compete with socialism, anymore. Therefore, it tries to drag it through filth, tries to destroy it. Either indirectly, by sanctions and attempts to orchestrate coups in places like Iran, DPRK, Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela, or directly, like in the Middle East. China is being attacked on ‘all fronts,’ from economic ones to ideological, although not yet militarily. The most powerful and repulsive weapon, so far, has been constant injections of lies, contradictions, and nihilism. Just look at Hong Kong!

Nihilism is deadly. It destroys enthusiasm, and it robs countries of confidence and courage.

And that is precisely what the West is trying to achieve: to derail progressive socialist countries from marching forward and prevent nations oppressed by neo-colonialism from dreaming, hoping, resisting. (I described this destructive process in my book Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism).

The Western demagogues know: China robbed of its essence – and the essence is “the Socialism with Chinese characteristics” – is China which cannot inspire, cannot offer alternatives to the world. The most effective way to smear China, to silence it, is precisely to convince the world that it is ‘capitalist.’

Such techniques were used, for instance, by German Nazis who claimed that resistance against their occupation actually consisted of a bunch of terrorists. The U.S. is known to do the same. Or the British Empire, which christened rebellious local people in its colonies as “hordes of savages.” Just reverse the truth and win!

Twist things shamelessly, turn them upside-down, repeat your lies thousands of times, print them in all your mass media outlets. Chances are, your fabrications would be eventually accepted by billions of people.

In the case of China, West is trying to convince the world that PRC is the same type of gangster states like the United States or Great Britain, France, or Canada. It is doing it by calling China capitalist, by calling it even imperialist. By ridiculously equating China’s behavior to the behavior of the Western colonialist powers. By declaring that China is oppressing its own minorities, as the West has been doing for centuries.

*****

But China is not a capitalist country, as it is not an imperialist one. It is the least expansionist major country on the planet.

It does not kill millions of human beings worldwide, it does not overthrow governments in foreign countries, and it is not robbing already destitute nations of all they have left.

It is not governed by bankers and oligarchs. Instead, it is directed by the socialist 5-year plans. Its private and state companies have to obey the government and the people. They have to produce goods and services in order to improve the standard of living of the nation and the world. Companies are precisely told what to do by the government, which represents the people, not the other way around, as happens in the West. Because in the West, it is companies that are selecting the governments!

That is socialism. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The socialism which managed to get rid of all extreme poverty in the country with almost 1.4 billion inhabitants. The socialism which is building “Ecological civilization”. The socialism which is connecting the world, including, until now, the destitute countries on Earth, through the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

In China, democracy is not about sticking pieces of paper into a box. It is literally the ‘rule of the people’; it is all about the country which is developing in a socialist way, consistently making lives of its men, women, and children better and better, year after year.

It is a fresh, optimistic, constantly improving, and evolving system. Ask people in the Chinese cities and the countryside, and they will tell you. The vast majority of them are happy; they are hopeful and optimistic.

Ask people in the North American cities or countryside, and… you know what they will tell you. That increasingly, life is s**t!

*****

The big problem is that majority of North Americans and Europeans know China only from the hardly strategic position of their couch commonly facing the television set or from the heavily censored Yahoo or Google ‘front’ news pages.

Many of those who go to, or who “do China” are traveling in groups, visiting major tourist destinations only. Even that is, of course, much better than nothing. China is impressive everywhere.

But only a small fraction of the Westerners, those who dare to pass judgments, know China in depth. This includes even such ‘top White House advisors,’ like Peter Kent Navarro, Assistant to President Donald Trump and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, who knows close to nothing about China, speaks no Chinese, but writes anti-Chinese books. Or such as senior Republican Senator Marco Antonio Rubio.

And the propagandists in London, Paris, and New York are well aware of the lack of knowledge about China, at least in the West. They feel free to declare and to publish the most outrageous lies and fabrications because they know they’d not be confronted. And if confronted, they’d easily manage to censure those individuals who’d dare to contradict them.

How many times have you seen on a British television channel, a Chinese Communist man or a woman, speaking about his or her country? Never! It is forbidden. Truth is not allowed, at least in the West. Only those Chinese people who are tugging the Western propaganda line can speak freely on Western channels. Never thought about it? Then think! Or, how many Russians, pro-President Putin or pro-Communist, have you ever heard on the British or U.S. radio stations?

The Western firewall is complete.

Media is digging out the filthiest chapters of Western history, and without blinking an eye, turns things around and attributes them to China. Australians, North Americans have been sterilizing native, Roma, Aborigines, or other women. So, they invent, say that China is doing it now. For centuries, West has been locking people in its colonies and even in Europe, in the concentration camps. In a twisted way, propaganda gurus in London and Washington are attributing such behavior to China.

No proof is needed. Let your imagination run wild. People are used to lies. They are obedient, brainwashed. And they like it when other, non-Western nations are smeared, especially when they are accused of the same crimes which Europe and the United States have been committing for centuries. It makes them feel less guilty. They can then say: “The entire world is disgusting. We are all equally terrible!”

Perhaps, after these propaganda assaults, there is no more hope left. But at least, in the West, there is no rush to shed those complexes of superiority, and to get rid of the privileges.

*****

And so, ‘China is capitalist!’ While baobabs are actually bougainvillea. Western-imposed global dictatorship is, believe it or not, democratic. And Western advisors have a full moral mandate to lecture the world.

Some Chinese Communist Party officials are now banned [by the West] from traveling to the United States. In contrast, the U.S. officials, who are responsible for ordering mass killings in all parts of the world, can travel virtually anywhere.

The Communist Party of China is responsible for building a prosperous, highly educated, and increasingly ecologically sound nation of almost 1.4 billion. While the Imperialist apparatchiks of the United States are responsible for overthrowing countless progressive governments, bombing millions of people, ruining the environment in the colonies, and starving hundreds of millions through sanctions. But they are not sanctioned themselves and can go almost anywhere they desire. Strange world? Go figure…

The better China is doing, the more it gets smeared. If it manages to do even better in the future, it may get attacked directly, perhaps even militarily.

And rest assured that socialist China will be doing better and better. Yes, you are guessing correctly: Under the banner of the Communist Party!

So, what should we prepare ourselves for? World War III? Annihilation of the human race? Just because the West doesn’t know how to lose? Just because capitalism and imperialism would not let go of their global grip on power, even if it means the end for all of us?

Just because North America and Europe are notorious liars, suffering from pathological complexes of superiority, as well as genocidal instincts?

I don’t think this is a good prospect for our Planet.

I’d much rather bet on optimistic, socialist China, instead of on the Western system which in the last 500+ years has already murdered hundreds of millions of people and which is, until now, covering up its crimes and its undeniable mental illness.

And not only ‘bet’; I’d rather join China, which is building a much better and ethical world. As we all should do! As some of us are already doing.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

Left Gatekeepers Through the New Left: Monitored Rebellion Part II

Orientation

In Part I of this article, I raised some questions about the uneven distribution 0f media coverage (radio, newspapers, magazines) between leftists, social democrats and anarchists on the one hand, and Leninists on the other. The social democrats and the anarchists receive the most media attention.  Next, I showed how the social democrats and the anarchists can be grouped into a single category of “New Left,” while Leninists represented the “Old Left”. I looked for patterns in their differences as I compared them across thirteen categories.

In the second half of Part I of the article, I discussed the machinations of a CIA front group in the 1950’s and 1960’s called the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The purpose of this organization was to keep communism from spreading into Europe by drawing anti-Stalinists into their organization, writers and artists, to make the case against communism through books, movies and modern art produced by non-communist left.

In Part II of this article, I explore the presence of other organizations today that perform the same monitoring function, except that Left Gatekeeping is directed primarily within Yankeedom. In the second half of this article I identify the characteristics of a left organization that would threaten the Left Gatekeepers. I complete the article by revisiting the characteristics of the New Left I laid out in Part I and show how its theory and practice can work quite well with the goals and purposes of liberal foundations, think tanks, political campaigns and mainstream media. As it turns out, the Left Gatekeepers of the 2nd half of the 20th century use the New Left to do their monitoring of any kind of movement that has any independent aspirations from the Democratic party. These organizations perform a very similar role as the Congress for Cultural Freedom played in the 50’s and 60’s. The leftist patron saints I named at the beginning of Part I are all unintentionally being used as tools of the Left Gatekeepers today.

Stratospheres of the Ruling Class

William Domhoff is a political sociologist who spent his entire life as a social scientist tracking empirically how the ruling class rules. Two of his books that detailed this were The Powers that Be and Who Rules America?. Domhoff found that the three most powerful organizations in the United States are the National Association of Manufacturers, The Business Roundtable and the Rockefellers’ group, The Council on Foreign Relations. These organizations rule through eight descending levels, culminating in the control of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

The first level is through university trustees and the setting up of foundations and grants. The second level are the think tanks which represent conservative, centrist and liberal viewpoints. More on this later. From the think tanks come policy discussion groups which develop public relations campaigns. Out of these public relations campaigns come reports, testimonies, books and newspaper editorials. From these are drawn “opinion leaders” who speak regularly to mass media. Policy discussion groups also lead directly to lobbyists and these lobbyists control the political candidate selection, whether they are Republican or Democrat. Lastly, there is the pageantry of elections where the public gets to vote. The important thing to notice is how passive both political parties are. They are the creatures of the upper levels, both liberal and conservative.

Most pertinent to Left Gatekeeping are the think tanks. Conservative think tanks include the Rand Group, American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Hoover Institute and the Manhattan Project. A centrist think tank is the Brookings Institute. Liberal think tanks include the Center for American Progress, the Ford Foundation, the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

While the Congress for Cultural Freedom has supposedly dissolved, the ruling classes have learned quite well the importance of controlling alternative visions to capitalism through think tanks, media and selected personalities. Their goal is to exclude any serious organizing of a socialist movement independent of the Democratic Party.

But if the Old Left died with the fall of Stalin as I argued in Part I, what do the ruling classes have to worry about? The truth is that the Leninist tradition has not died out, especially outside the United States. It continues to be present in Cuba, in parts of South America, in Europe and in parts of Asia. The job of the liberal think tanks in the United States is to either censor them or vilify them. How do they do this? By indirectly supporting the Old Left’s competition – the social democrats and the anarchists of the New Left.

Liberal Think Tanks, Media, and Left Patron Saints as Left Gatekeepers

In his powerful research paper, Left Gatekeepers, Bob Feldman created a flow chart with ruling class powers such as Council of Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, the CIA, with the Carlyle Group at the top. The funding for liberal think tanks comes from the Rockefellers, Carnegie, and Soros.  The Ford and MacArthur Foundations establish grants for left liberal news and media sources such as Mother Jones, the Nation Magazine, Z Magazine, AlterNet, Fair, NPR, Pacifica, and Democracy Now.

The funding of any leftist organization depends on the organization’s willingness to “play ball” if it expects to get regular funding. In his paper, Feldman asks:

Are the interests of the people being served by dissidents who are being subsidized by the very agencies of the ruling class whom they should be exposing? What does it say about the motivations behind the left establishment ideological warfare against conspiracy researchers, and their adoption of an increasingly watered-down analytical view which fails to look closely at the inner power structures and conspiracies of the ruling elite?

What is Left Gatekeeping?

The purpose of both the CIA, the upper classes and the entire Left Gatekeeping organizational apparatus is to combat communism, whether at home or abroad. Left gatekeeping is a practice by the ruling class of setting up organizations, foundations and think tanks which funnel money into leftist organizations that are:

  1. To the left of Leninism (anarchism)
  2. To the right of Leninism (social democracy, and New Deal liberals)

They do this in order to infiltrate independent working-class movements, whether Leninist or not. This is the job of the CIA and FBI. The second purpose is to indirectly fund what is perceived as the weaker and less threatening tendencies of the left for the purposes of isolating the Leninists. This is the job of foundations, think tanks, the policy-making discussion groups and the political campaigns. Thus DSA, Jacobin magazine, Socialist Alternative and Global Exchange will always find a welcoming ear on the radio waves and journals of the Left Gatekeepers. Noam Chomsky, proclaimed anarchist, can come onto Democracy Now whenever he wants. But Michael Parenti, who will defend the Soviet Union or China and who is quite capable of matching Noam Chomsky, rarely gets on the air. Then, in election years, without too much nudging, DSA, Jacobin and Socialist Alternative will, one way or another, collapse themselves safely inside the Democratic Party. The rightward turn of the Green Party was orchestrated so that they limited themselves to campaigns in “safe states”. This way the Democratic Party will have no competition coming from the Left.

Left Gatekeeping in Action: Let’s Get Personal

In 2002 Naomi Klein made a wonderful documentary with Avi Lewis called “The Take”. The movie was about workers taking over bankrupt factories and running them without bosses. This was followed by a well-researched and popular book of hers called The Shock Doctrine. It described the destruction of economies around the world by a neoliberal economic policy founded by the “Chicago Boys”. A book or so later, she wrote This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. In this book she uses the term “capitalism” in a manipulative way. The word “capitalism” is provocative for selling the book. However, the book does not criticize capitalism as a system, but only the more neoliberalism version of it. So we are left to wonder, is she a Keynesian or is she a socialist?

Naomi Klein could have gone all over the world in a follow-up to her documentary and described workers’ self-management projects. She could have linked that to the workers’ councils that were present and operating in Russia from 1917-1921 and in Spain from 1936-1939. But this was perhaps not a project that a publisher would be interested in or a think tank or a foundation might support or promote.  So, Naomi Klein swings the gate between sympathy towards anarchism (worker occupations) and New Deal liberalism.

Cornel West is another critic who gives his followers mixed messages. In non- election years, he promotes a social democratic program. In most election years he bows to the “lesser of two evils” scenario and tells his followers to vote for the Democrats. Whether or not he promotes the Democrats or the Greens depends on who is running as a Democrat. So, for him, if he likes the person, which party the person is in is not so relevant. From a structural Marxist viewpoint, it doesn’t matter who is running as a Democrat. The Democratic Party is a ruling class party and whoever the individual may be is irrelevant. West also swings the gate between social democracy and New Deal liberalism.

Noam Chomsky swings the gate in a way similar to Naomi Klein. In election off-years, besides criticizing US foreign policy, he will promote anarchism by writing forwards to anarchist books. However, during election years his anarchism seems to disappear, and we will be told that the Republican Party is the most dangerous party in history, and we must vote for a Democrat. Chomsky swings the gate between anarchism and New Deal liberalism. Like the Cold War liberals of the 1950s, Chomsky is a dogmatic and relentless critic of any kind of state socialism and does not make a distinction between communists and fascists. Christopher Hedges also equated antifa to the Proud Boys as equally dangerous in that both advocate armed conflict. All these unwitting Left Gatekeepers share the characteristics of the New Left in Table A in Part I of my article.

Who do the Left Gatekeepers Censor and Vilify?

Any organization that is clearly for the working class. This doesn’t mean unions necessarily. In the business unionism of the United States from the 50s onward, union leadership lost all sense of vision, of fighting for workers to manage the workplace. Union dues were spent by the leadership on promoting voting for the Democratic Party rather than on organizing workers. Union bureaucrats were much more at home with Democratic politicians than they were with their own members. One organization that we predict will not ever make the news at either NPR or the Pacifica radio station is Labor Notes. Labor Notes has been in operation for 40 years. It tracks working class struggles around the United States from the point of view of the rank-and-file. Their goal is to “put the movement back in the labor movement.”

Another enemy of the Left Gatekeepers is the formation of a working-class party that is independent of both political parties. In his article on our website, Joe G. Kaye has nicely identified all the reasons a working-class party has not been formed in the United States. However, he has not included the machinations of the ruling class – the foundations, think tanks, etc. Despite whatever good intentions they may have, DSA, Jacobin, Socialist Alternative on the right, and anarchists Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert on the left, all are colluding in keeping a working-class party from forming when they invite us every four years to vote for the ”lesser of two evils”.

Whatever their shortcomings, Leninist parties all over the world have had some success in Russia, China and Cuba in organizing socialism at a national level and sustaining it over decades. Despite their political authoritarianism, they have done very well in reducing poverty, raising the literacy rate, and providing inexpensive housing. Leninist parties will always be condemned. The social democratic parties of Denmark, Sweden and Norway have also done well but only because their social democratic movement was a separate party and did not try to influence a ruling class party like the Democrats, as DSA has done here. While social democracy in these countries has not been condemned by the Left Gatekeepers, they are ignored as examples of how to be socialist and also produce a high standard of living. An independent socialist party terrifies the Left Gatekeepers.

The third group to be disinvited is any New Left group that is anti-Zionist. US foreign policy is very dependent on having a friendly base in the Middle East and we can rest assured that any group that is pro-Palestinian such as the ANSWER coalition will be attacked as being anti-Semitic. There is good reason why the scholar Norman Finkelstein has never been able to receive a full-time teaching position because of his defense of the Palestinians. The entire New Left must get a permit paper from AIPAC, the most powerful lobby for Israel in Yankeedom.

Another group targeted by the Left Gatekeepers are organizations that actively support anti-imperialism. Any Pan-African movement leaders like Gaddafi in Libya will be condemned as “authoritarian dictators”, mouthing CIA positions. The African People’s Socialist Party in Yankeedom would also be dismissed.

Furthermore, on an international level, any organization or media outlet that show the slightest sympathy to nations deemed an enemy of the United States will be targeted. The Left Gatekeepers will have no problem with anarchists who condemn both US foreign policy and the authoritarian governments of Russia, China and Iran. But any news source that reports some sympathy for Russia, China, Iran, Cuba or Venezuela are deemed enemies. It is very important to the Left Gatekeepers (whether inside or outside the CIA) that the left in the US tow the party line about its perceived enemies.

So, for example, it is impossible to say that that yes, China has an authoritarian government and, yes, there is a deep class structure and, yes, it is state capitalist. Nevertheless, the Chinese state has raised the standard of living for millions of people and internationally it is doing what Marx said was best about capitalism: developing the productive forces through building the New Silk Road. China is also going off the dollar, as is Russia, and they are backing their economies in gold. We think that any nation-states or states that attempt to break the domination of the Yankee empire is worth critically supporting. But for the Gatekeepers and their new left pawns, this is too much.

News sources that defend countries that challenge Yankees’ foreign policy will be harassed. This is the case for New Eastern Outlook, Russian Times, The Greanville Post, TeleSUR, or Venezuelan Analysis.

Lastly any group that suggests the United States has been and is capable of assassinations and false-flag operations at home or abroad will be labelled “conspiracy nuts”. This is certainly what happened and is happening to the 911 Truth Movement.

Strange Bedfellows: Is the New Left a Pawn of the Left Gatekeepers?

In this last section I want to show how easily the beliefs of the new left can mesh with the foreign and domestic policies of the Left Gatekeepers. First, when the New Left uncritically rejects the state socialism of the former Soviet Union or the current state capitalism of China, it cuts itself off from the Yankees’ greatest international rivals and it makes sympathetic collaboration impossible.  Secondly, when the New Left championed identity politics at the expense of social class, it lost the most powerful force for stopping the capitalist system — the working-class production of surplus value in the workplace. Organizing around race and gender does not have a concrete site in which surplus value is produced. As far as gender goes, however real “patriarchy” is, a women’s revolution against men is very far-fetched since it runs against evolutionary psychology’s sexual selection strategies.

When the New Left throws up its hands and says capitalism can go on forever, it deprives itself of understanding the weak points of the system and how it could be overturned. The Left Gatekeepers are thrilled with the 50-year wild-goose chase dissecting language, psychology, and sexuality, none of which are threats to capitalism. It would be one thing if the New Left approached political democracy with its own party. However, the New Left never built its own party and so it has been trapped for 50 years inside the Democratic Party. With the possible exception of the anarchists, the New Left ignored democracy, in the economic sense of democracy, in the workplace. Being trapped inside the Democratic Party is the ultimate aim of the Left Gatekeepers.

When the New Left rebels against social evolutionary visions of progress domestically, it renounces the expectation that capitalism live up to its promises to use science and technology to reduce the work hours while creating a better life for all. It walks away from the prospect that socialism must be based on abundance, not on redistributing scarcity more evenly. With the exception of Murray Bookchin and his followers, when the New Left embraces the ecology movement it treats ecology as separate from political economy, as in the case of Earth First.  Ecological spiritual interventions of the 1980s and 1990s treat nature as separate from capitalism. It also loses the Promethean spirit of humanity as a higher form of nature. When New Leftists renounce the nation-state for localism or “small is beautiful”, these decentralized movements are much easier for the Left Gatekeepers to control.

When the Club of Rome tells us that the Earth has a limited carrying capacity, it looks to the size of the population in peripheral countries as a problem. Instead of understanding that these countries have larger populations because they have a resource base in agriculture, they are seen as irrational. In reality, like all agricultural societies, they have more children because more children mean free labor. If peripheral countries were allowed to industrialize, their populations would shrink. By telling these countries they have to do with less, the Left Gatekeepers deny peripheral countries their right to the fruits of modern capitalism. Less people in the periphery means less competition for wealth.

Internationally, when the New Left becomes anti-western and throws itself into tribal primitivism, eastern mysticism or Wicca, it loses the potential for an organized liberation theology within the major churches. As this anti-westernism spreads around the globe, it opens the door for the Left Gatekeepers’ promotion of religious fundamentalism. This keeps science and engineering from developing in peripheral countries. That is dangerous for the Left Gatekeepers because these scientists might discover new forms of energy harnessing that might undermine the resource base of western capitalism.

In the arts, the Left Gatekeepers are delighted when the New Left rejects representational art and considers socialist realism too constraining. Abstract expressionism doesn’t depict existing social reality or how social reality could be. It describes psychological rumination that is cut off from social issues. The Left Gatekeepers tell abstract expressionists – “by all means, throw paint on the canvas, you rebel you!”

The same goes for personal appearance. In my article Is Shocking People Revolutionary, I explain how infinite personal expression may be psychologically satisfying to some but it also creates distance between the middle class, who might be curious about this, and the 40% of the working class for whom this seems quirky or weird.

While pot smoking and LSD tripping may be relaxing and mind-transforming in small doses, too much of this is a loss of organizing potential. I could not organize anyone who was high on pot or in the middle of an acid trip. The CIA gatekeepers knew exactly what they were doing when they flooded black communities with hard drugs in the early 70s. The New Left began with an interest in Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism. But many disappeared into the rabbit hole of individualist psychology, whether it be primal scream or gestalt psychology. The feminist cry “the personal is political” soon became the belief that the personal is all there is. For close to a century of psychological manipulation of Gatekeepers, see Adam Curtis documentary Century of the Self, especially Part III.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is not to suggest that the non-Leninist left is the passive victim of the CIA, foundations, think tanks and lobbying groups. After all, these organizations did not create the New Left out of nothing. The New Left created its own politics and culture in reaction to real social struggles of the 1960s. It is instead to say that once these politics and culture were created, especially in the late 1960s, they were massaged, sculpted, cut, pasted and smoothed over to also meet the needs of the Leftist Gatekeepers. It is to say:

  1. there is real documentation in the present and past that shows that most leftist groups were, and are, being monitored and controlled by Left Gatekeepers;
  2. that there is an implied profile of the kind of leftist groups that are the enemies of the Left Gatekeepers; and,
  3. that in the light of the current crisis in capitalism and the coronavirus, it is more urgent than ever to embody, organize and spread a political-economic movement along the profile in line with the enemies of the Left Gatekeepers.

First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

See Part 1 here

Left Gatekeepers Through the New Left: Monitored Rebellion

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders
Cultural containment meant “ring around the pinkos”

Leftist Patron Saints

What do the following people have in common: Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Robert Reich, Michael Albert, Howard Zinn, Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, Norman Solomon, Chris Hedges, Michael Moore, Greg Palast, and Chip Berlet? With the exception of Norman Solomon and Chip Berlet, these are household names among “progressives”. What they appear to have in common is that they are “left.” How far left? On the surface, they appear to run the full spectrum.  After all, Chomsky and Michael Albert are anarchists. Most, if not all, of the rest are advocating some kind of social democracy. Robert Reich and possibly Amy Goodman are New Deal liberals. Have we missed any tendency? Is that it? Yes, we are missing a tendency. The Leninist tradition, whether Trotskyist, Stalinist or Maoist. Are there reasons they are not included?

Why would the most supposedly leftist of all tendencies, the anarchists, get airtime on a show like Democracy Now, while Leninists such as Michael Parenti or Gloria La Riva are rarely, if ever, invited? A crucial key to understanding why this is the case is to clarify the differences between the Old and the New Left.

The Old vs the New Left

What all these patron saints have in common is that they are members of the New Left in the U.S. as opposed to the Old Left. The New left grew up in the early 1960’s on the basis of rejecting the Soviet Union as a model for socialism. For the New Left, some form of social democracy or participatory democracy (anarchist) was the best model. Additionally, the old left emphasized that social class — specifically the working class — was the agent of revolutionary change. The New Left rejected this. For them, the working class has been bought off by capitalism and was no longer a revolutionary class. The New Left turned to philosophers like Herbert Marcuse who claimed that students were the revolutionary class worth organizing.

At the same time, some sections of the middle-class civil rights movement organized around Martin Luther King (a social democrat). The women’s movement had two wings, the liberal Betty Friedan wing and the radical lesbians. But what both these New Left systems of stratification had in common was that race and gender were more important than social class.

There were exceptions to the rule. For example, while the Weatherman were anti-working class, they were secretive (Leninist), and identified with anti-imperialism and the necessity of armed force in order to fight. They tended to idolize third world countries and blindly accept their leadership. Malcolm X had clear roots in the Black working class and poor and maintained a class perspective. He was murdered before he settled within a leftist tendency, but he seemed to be on the way to Trotskyism when he died. So, in the New Left, there were some Leninist tendencies but mostly the social democratic and anarchist orientations won out.

A fourth major difference between the Old and the New Left was the economy. For the Old Left of the Communist Party of Russia, China and Cuba, capitalism by its very nature has contradictions that will drive it to destruction. All Leninists agreed that capitalism was doomed. For the New Left, capitalism seems to have survived its crisis of the Great Depression and the World Wars and was expanding production. It was thought that capitalism could go on forever. The New Left became increasingly cynical that capitalism could be stopped due to any inherent contradictions. Only by revolutionary will would it be possible for capitalism to be overthrown.

Who developed revolutionary theory? For the Old Left, revolutionary theory was developed by professional revolutionaries inside the Communist Party or by members of trade unions. At least hypothetically, if not actually, Leninist theory should be informed by political practice in organizing the working class and its struggles. On the other hand, led by the Frankfurt school, New Leftist theory was developed not within a party or a union but within the academy. Most New Leftist theory after 1970 came out of universities, whether structuralism, Foucault, post-structuralist or postmodernist. These theories were not informed by any connection to practice. They built on each other and increasingly lost touch with any kind of practical tests. One exception to this academic trend was Murray Bookchin and his anarchist followers.

Next, the Old Left did not think much of democracy. Leninist democratic centralism had limited democracy, but once a party decision was made there was no more arguing. Every member of the party carried out the program. For the New Left, democracy was very important. For the social democratic wing, democracy could be obtained by participating in elections either as an independent party, such as the Socialist party, or even by entering the Democratic Party, as had been done for 50 years by the Democratic Socialists of America. The anarchists would have nothing to do with representative democracy but wanted participatory democracy as in the early years of SDS.  This participatory democracy continued in the strikes in France in May 1968, and in the theories of the Situationist International. The social anarchists who followed Murray Bookchin and the Occupy movement of nine years ago incorporated this participatory model.

The attitude towards the arts between the New Left and the Old Left were at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Leninist left thought the responsibility of the artist was to represent reality as it really was from a working-class viewpoint (socialist realism). For the New Left, art was a rejection of the life of the working class. Beat poetry and abstract expressionism moved away from reality and expressed the psychological idiosyncrasies of the artist. What was revolutionary was individual expression.

As for appearance, Leninists tried to emulate the dress of the working-class so that short hair and jeans were a sign of solidarity. For the New Left appearances were determined by the countercultural tastes which included beads, long skirts, bell bottoms and tie-dyed clothes.  Among the Leninist Black New Left, dressing in the clothes of the African country they were originally from was an option.

In terms of social evolution, the Old Left embraced Marx’s linear model of primitive communism through three forms of class society before reaching communism. Like the bourgeoisie of their country, they championed the notion of progress through science and technology. The New Left was having none of this. They questioned whether capitalist society was more evolved than what went before and they were skeptical of science in delivering us to the promised land. They were much closer to romantics, who identified with tribal societies, whether in the United States or around the world.

For the Old Left, one’s personal life had little to do with the political world. It was possible to be withdrawn, apathetic or abusive in personal life and that had nothing to do with the revolution. For the New Left, specifically the women’s movement, “the personal was political”. What this meant was that your personal life needed to be a microcosm of the world you wanted to build. That meant you could not have a bad marriage and a good revolution. You had to “be the change you wanted to have happen”. This was enhanced by pot and LSD trips.

Where does psychology fit into the picture? For the Old Left, personal psychological problems were just “nerves” not worth taking seriously. It is understandable that the Old Left was skeptical or cynical of psychology and dismissed it as “bourgeois”. The work of Vygotsky, Luria and Leontiev in Russia remained untranslated, so they had no “communist psychology” to draw from. The New Left was much more interested in psychology. It was very sympathetic to the Freudian left of Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm. For the socialist women’s movement Karen Horney was a heroine. Reich’s work The Mass Psychology of Fascism helped explain not only the rise of fascism but the failure of the working class to rise up. For the Black Leninist left, Frantz Fanon was the best at explaining self-hatred among colonial people.

For the Old Left ecology was not an issue. They treated the ecological setting as a backdrop for social evolution which was understood as a higher form of nature. In terms of scale, the Old Left took for granted the nation-state as the smallest, most realistic political body to organize around. The Old Left thought of nature as infinitely fecund and able to carry a growing population without limits. But for the New Left, the ecology movement in the 60’s saw nature as under attack and should be defended and appreciated. The romantic tendency of the New Left meant “going back to nature”. This was later accompanied by the “small is beautiful” movement which fit well with anarchist decentralization concepts. Furthermore, in 1972 the Club of Rome issued its first report stating that the carrying capacity of the planet was limited. This meant that unlimited growth could no longer be sustainable. People had to learn to do with less. For the first time since the eugenics movement, the question of too many people on the planet was broached, however tentatively.

The last categorical difference has to do with the differences in religion and spirituality. For the Old Left, atheism was the ideal and organized religion and spirituality were all part of the same superstition. The New Left was more open to institutionalized religion (as in following Martin Luther King), while making a distinction between institutionalized religion and spirituality (which was separate from organized religion). By the early 1970’s, the New Left became susceptible to Eastern mysticism (TM, yoga) and the Gurus who came with it. Women especially were leaving institutionalized religion for wicca and other neo-pagan traditions. Some New Leftists later morphed into Rudolf Steiner Waldorf education and Gurdjieff movement.  Anarchists were more likely to gravitate to the magical work of Aleister Crowley. See table 1 for a summary.

But why does this matter? If the Old Left is marginalized and excluded in the press, magazines and on radio waves today and the New Left —  social democrats and anarchists — are welcomed, what does this have to do with Left Gatekeeping? After all, maybe the Old Left is not paid attention to because they are “out if date” with their Leninist vanguard party and mindless defense of the Soviet Union. To some extent this may be so, but that is far from the whole picture.

Old Left vs New Left – Table I

The Congress for Cultural Freedom

How it started

In his book The Mighty Wurlitzer Hugh Wilford describes the events that led to the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF):

In March 1949, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel hosted a gathering of Soviet and American intellectuals, the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace. This was sponsored by the American Popular Front attended by, among others, Paul Robeson and Lillian Hellman. It was a publicity disaster. The State Department derailed preparations by refusing to grant visas to would-be European participants.  Anti-communist vigilantes were alerted by the Hearst Press. Disruptions were staged by anti-Stalinists, organized by Sidney Hook. (Page 70)

What it did

In her book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Frances Stonor Saunders traces the activity of an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom which existed from 1950 to 1967. The secret mission of the organization was to promote cultural propaganda in Western Europe to keep it from going communist. The idea was to make it seem that the cultural criticism of communism coming from the West about the Soviet Union was a spontaneous irruption, rather than stage-managed. The CIA poured tens of millions of dollars into this project.

As it turns out, groups of ex-communists for the most part inadvertently, helped to invent the weapons with which the CIA fought communism. Later, these ex-communists were sidelined as the spies attempted to professionalize their front operations with their Ivy League recruits.

As Stonor Sanders tells it, the congress:

…stockpiled a vast arsenal of cultural weapons — journals, books, conferences, seminars, art exhibitions, concerts and awards. Whether they knew it or not, there were few writers, poets, artists and historians, scientists or critics in post-war Europe whose names were not in some way linked to the covert enterprise. It consisted of former radicals and leftist intellectuals whose faith in Marxism had been shattered by Stalinism. (Page 2)

In terms of propagandistic goals, as Stoner Saunders says, “The most effective kind of propaganda is where the subjects move in the direction you desire for reasons which he believes are his own” (Page 4)

The strategy of promoting the non-communists was to become the theoretical foundation of the agency’s political operations against Communism over the next two decades. (Page 63)

Suitable texts were easily available from the CCF such as Andre Gide’s account of his disillusionment in Russia, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Yogi and the Commissar, and Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine. Further, the CIA subsidized The New Class by Milovan Djilas about the class system in the USSR. Books with titles like Life and Death in the USSR by a Marxist writer criticizing Stalinism was a book widely translated and distributed with CIA assistance. The compilation of articles made into the book The God That Failed was distributed all over Europe.

On the surface it may seem that the purpose of the CIA front groups was to destroy communism. However, Stoner Saunders denies this.

The purpose of supporting leftist groups was not to destroy or even dominate… but rather to maintain a discreet proximity and monitor the thinking of such groups to provide them with a mouthpiece so they could blow off steam. It was to be a beachhead in western Europe from which the advance of Communist ideas could be halted. It was to engage in a widespread and cohesive campaign of peer pressure to persuade intellectuals to dissociate themselves from Communist fronts. (Page 98)

Besides publishing, the CIA set up front groups for disseminating their ideas. In 1952 it began setting up dummy organizations for laundering subsidies. The formula was:

Go to a well-known rich person and tell them you want to set up a foundation in the name of the government:

  1. Pledge this person to secrecy.
  2. Publish a letterhead with the would-be name of the donor.
  3. Give the dummy organization a neutral sounding name.

When it came to the arts:

With an initial grant of 500,000 Laughlin launched the magazine Perspectives which targeted the non-communist left in France, England, Italy, and Germany. Its aim was not so much to defeat leftist intellectuals as to lure them away from their positions by aesthetic and rational persuasion. (Page 140)

According to Stoner Saunders the animated cartoon of Orwell’s Animal Farm was financed by the CIA and distributed throughout the world. But the CIA did more than distribute. They actually changed the story.

In the original text, communist pigs and capitalist man are indistinguishable, merging into a common pool of rottenness.

In the film, such congruity was carefully elided (Pilkington and Frederick, central characters whom Orwell designated as the British and German governing classes are barely noticeable) and the ending is eliminated. In the book:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig and it was impossible to say which was which. Viewers of the film saw something different — which was the sight of the pigs impelling the other watching animals to mount a successful counter-revolution by storming the farmhouse. By removing the human farmers from the scene, leaving only the pigs reveling in the fruits of exploitation, the conflation of the Communist corruption with capitalist degradation is reversed. (Page 295)

When it came to his novel, 1984, most everyone assumed that the idea of it came from Orwell’s Trotskyist criticism of Stalinism. However, Trotsky’s biographer, Isaac Deutscher, claimed that Orwell got the symbols, plot and chief characters from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s book We.

Image is of author Arthur Koestler, trade-unionist Irving Brown and Professor James Burnham

Who was involved?

What leftists or former leftists were involved in the Congress for Cultural Freedom? Sidney Hook (former Marxist), Arthur Koestler (former communist), James Burnham (former Trotskyist), Raymond Aron, Harold Laski, Isaiah Berlin, Daniel Bell (The End of Ideology), Irving Kristol (former Trotskyist,) Franz Borkenau (former communist), and Lionel Trilling to name just a few.

For the most part, without knowing exactly who they were dealing with, these former communists like Burnham, Koestler and Louis Fischer wanted to directly confront Stalinism politically. They felt no one knew better how to fight communism than they did. Burnham went so far as to say that CCF should form a true anti-communist front embracing the non-socialists right as well. Koestler, Burnham, Hook, Lasky and Irvin Brown met every evening as an unofficial steering committee. But cooler heads prevailed. Michael Josselson, one of the founders of the organization, believed in the soft-sell strategy, which is winning intellectual support for the western cause in the Cold War by fostering a cultural community between America and Europe.

Did these ex-communists know they were working for the CIA?

The parameters of knowing ranges from who knew and who didn’t. But these extremes are too easy. Better to separate points of gradation into:

  • Those who knew everything about the CIA involvement;
  • Those who knew some things and not others and did not want to find out;
  • Those who thought some things were fishy but didn’t inquire further; and,
  • Those who were completely naïve and didn’t know.

One who knew was Sidney Hook, who was in contact with the CIA. He was a regular consultant to the CIA on matters of mutual interest. In 1955 Hook was directly involved in negotiations with Allen Dulles. Another who knew but was not ashamed of it was Diana Trilling who said, “I did not believe that to take the support of my government was a dishonorable act”. Late in his life Orwell knew the CIA was involved and actively supported them. He had handed over a list of suspected fellow travelers to the Information Research Department in 1949.

Deeply suspicious of just about everybody, Orwell had been keeping a blue quarto notebook close to hand for several years. By 1949 it contained 125 names. (The Cultural Cold War, Page 299)

It would seem that most leftists fell into categories two and three. It is highly unlikely that those involved in radical politics both internationally and domestically, and those subjected to the intrigues of Stalin would be completely naïve about the machinations of any other large political organizations that were involved.

Furthermore, as Primo Levi points out insightfully in The Drowned and the Saved, those who consciously lie to others as well as themselves are in the minority:

But more numerous are those who weigh anchor, move off from genuine memories, and fabricate for themselves a convenient reality. The silent transition from falsehood to sly deception is useful. Anyone who lies in good faith is better off, he recites his part better, he is more easily believed. (The Cultural Cold War, Page 414)

How successful was the CIA?

It is tempting to think that an organization as powerful as the CIA would overwhelm and turn to mush another group that stood in its way. But that is not what happened. Ex-communists fought among themselves and twisted the intention of the CIA and took things in another direction. As if to answer Stoner Saunders’ excessive attribution of power to the CIA, Hugh Wilford says that the CIA might have called the tune, but the piper didn’t always play it, nor did the audience dance to it.

Did This Left Gatekeeping End with the Ending of the Congress for Cultural Freedom?

It is fair to say that Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin broke the hearts and backs of The Old Left. The sad story of disbelief and denial of communists who spent years bending over backward justifying Stalinist terrors and show trials was exposed. The Congress of Cultural Freedom contributed to this downfall to some extent, though the whole operation was exposed by Ramparts Magazine in 1967.

But what about the New Left? Since the Congress of Cultural Freedom had ended, was there anything left to monitor? After all, the New Left was not Leninist. Is there a relationship between the characteristics of the New Left in Table I and some new monitoring organizations like foundations, think tanks, public relations campaigns and lobbyists? Or was the New Left an autonomous, spontaneous eruption of the youth culture of the 60’s? Part II will discuss these important questions.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Down and Out in Portland: Retired in Style in Waldport, OR

The irony of this quote from the Dustin Hoffman movie, The Graduate, is not wasted on Duane Snider:

— One word: plastics.

That was Benjamin Braddock, just graduated from college, sitting in a swimming pool. Giving him advice on gaining the American dream, the neighbor’s statement says it all. Today? Hedge funds? Flipping houses? Coronavirus repossessions?

For Duane, that one word: artwork.

Duane as a child with his only sibling.

We’re sitting on the back porch of his brand-new Adair home on a third of an acre on the high land of Waldport. He and his wife Linda are proverbially happy, fat and sassy in this new iteration of their lives.

He went to Benson high school, when it was an all-male segregated school. It was during the Viet Nam, at the height of the draft.

Just a few weeks earlier, Duane and I ran into each other on the beach near the Alsea River emptying out into the Pacific. Loons and eaglets started the conversation, and quickly Duane recognized me by my by-line for this newspaper. He had purchased a piece of art from one of the people I have featured in a Deep Dive column for Oregon Coast Today – Anja Albosta, artist and environmental refugee from Yosemite  see Dec. 16, 2019, “Art in a changing climate”).

Duane’s 68,  and his wife — originally from Sonora, CA — is 67. Duane’s work life is quintessential drudgery millions of Americans called working stiffs have face. In his case, 39 years working at one place, grinding optics for an optical service in Portland. It was for Duane 20 years in a hostile work environment where his boss bullied him. There was no real upside to the job — a repetitive job tracing lenses and frames and low pay.

He conveys to me that for more than a decade was highly depressed, even suicidal.

I could see the Ross Island bridge. Daily, I would look out the window and fantasize jumping off it. Even planning out in my mind how I’d have to aim my fall just right as to hit the bike path just to be sure.

Alcohol and drug abuse were a big part of his life, but to his credit Duane’s been clean in sober going on three decades. His addiction to substances was eclipsed by another addiction – art collecting. He’s been a fixture in Portland’s art scene for decades —  a gallery gadfly, and someone who ended up with smart and strategic ways of appreciating art and purchasing it.

He’s a veritable encyclopedia of Who’s Who of the Oregon art world.

It’s not so unusual Duane would have gained this proclivity for art appreciation and deep regard for art’s role in society as something bigger than commerce, industry and day-to-day drudgery of commercialism.

When he was a youngster, he studied guitar. He was good enough to end up switching over to classical guitar in the style of Andres Segovia. He’s taken a master class from the best – Christopher Parkening. That was 1975.

I knew I was going to have to take a vow of poverty if I was going to try and pursue being a musician.

Duane’s father was a union baker and not very involved in the boy’s life. For the just-turned-18-year-old Duane, his cohorts were going to be drafted but he was talked into enlisting. “A friend said the Navy, since it wasn’t the Army. Anything but the Army. But that was nuclear submarine duty and I was claustrophobic. There was no way I was going on a submarine.” Instead, he ended up in the Air Force. He even tried the conscientious objector route.

Military life was short-lived when he was drummed out as a 4-f. They found traces of codeine in his drug test. “Ironically, I had done all sorts of party drugs.” It wasn’t the LSD he dropped they discovered, but the codeine the psychedelic from which it was titrated.

Music Out, Optics In

If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.

Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.

― Baruch Spinoza

He was homeless for a few months. Coming back from Lackland AFB, Duane ended up working with the crippled children’s division of OHSU. He took a second master guitar class at Berkeley. “I knew poverty was going to be a regular part of my life. I wasn’t that good. I took classes with trust fund babies. Money wasn’t an issue for them.”

Here’s where things really get prescient – “I had a poster of Picasso’s Old Guitarist on my apartment wall in Portland. I was studying with extraordinary musicians. I wasn’t about to spend 10 or 15 years in poverty.”

The Old Guitarist was painted in 1903, just after the suicide death of Picasso’s close friend, Casagemas. Picasso was deeply sympathetic to the plight of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. He painted many canvases depicting the poor, sick, and outcasts of society. In fact, Picasso was penniless during 1902.

It’s an amazing painting in the style of El Greco. That moment for Duane Snider turned into a life passion – sacrificing part of his soul in that daily grind in order to enter another world: one that was rarefied, filled with the passions and creativity of artists just like Pablo Picasso. Except his art ersatz it was Portland based.

When he returned from Berkeley, he ended up in a friend’s parents’ house. He applied to Portland Community College, talked to a counselor, told her he wanted to find a steady job, one that was reliable. “I wanted something recession and depression proof. Optician fit the bill.” He ended up taking psychology and philosophy classes awaiting the term to start for his major.

He grabbed a job at a lab his second term. He parlayed that into a full-time gig at Columbian Bifocal. The first 20 years it was a family run place, and the last 19 years it ended up as one of 17 labs for Hoya, a Japanese investment group.

Good benefits, steady work, and a bully boss. “We hated each other. It’s amazing I survived.”

He hands me a DVD of an Oregon Public Broadcasting special featuring Portland art collectors. Duane is profiled. He laughs, recalling how he had read about the great philosopher Spinoza’s life as a lens grinder. What was good for the father of rationalist and deductive reasoning had to be fine for Duane Snider’s life.

Not so ironically, the dust from lens grinding led to Spinoza’s early death from tuberculosis.

The amazing number of artists Duane has met propelled him to write essays on art for a local art rag – NW Drizzle. Here’s what he penned in 2005, as he emphasizes he was “just coming out of a four-year bout of suicidal depression.”

When I gave up the guitar, I couldn’t give up my need for a place to put my passion. It seems natural that my passion migrated toward the visual arts. Giving up playing music meant letting go of a sizable part of what I thought was my identity. My search for a new sense of self played a major role in pushing me toward the idea of collecting.

That’s when I started learning that the real value of art is not determined by the price on the sticker, but by the strength of the connection between the viewer and the object of interest.

Deeper Dive in the Mind of a Collector

Early-20th-century philosopher Irwin Edman gives a remarkably simple bit of insight into what art offers us in everyday life:

Painters speak of dead spots in a painting: areas where the color is wan or uninteresting, or the forms irrelevant and cold. Life is full of dead spots. Art gives it life. A comprehensive art would render the whole of life alive.

Duane Snider is the embodiment of turning life into his own art project:

“Instead of using pigments and a canvas to make an artwork, I told myself that I would turn my life into a conceptual art piece to create a lifestyle that’s sustainable and comfortable,” tells me twice: once on the beach on our first meeting in Waldport and then up at his new 1,900 square foot single level home.

The beauty of my own life-force is I get to get under people’s layers, follow the act of serendipity, and then sculpt with words conceptualized, philosophized narrative. Story.

In the middle of a beach with harbor seals sunning along their haul out on Bay Shore, two very different guys run into each other and start a deep conversation. I am a radical social worker and revolutionary writer (some couldn’t tell that from my regular gigs as a newspaper and magazine) and educator. Marxism is more than just a conceptual point in economic history for me.

Here is Duane Snider, saying he too is a Marxist, but emphasizing he was dealt a hand of capitalism’s cards, so he successfully learned to play the game within those constraints. He tells me he feels guilty for getting he and his wife Linda down here on the coast with zero debts and a custom home that is paid off.

I reassure him that he is kosher with me, and no one should begrudge he or his wife this little slice of paradise.

The dream in Waldport was germinated 36 years ago. They purchased a home in Portland (Richmond District) for $48,000. That was 1984. Thirty-two years later they pulled up stakes in Portland with a $517,000 sale price. No permanent lines of credit needed. He even got their nest egg out of the market and put into cash two years ago. “I saw this coming.”

He didn’t predict the SARS-CV-2 virus outbreak, but he did see a faltering Stock Market.

“He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.”

His tutelage in art began at a most unlikely place – Menucha which was an estate created by the Meiers of the Portland department store fame. Near Corbet in the Columbia Gorge, Menucha (Hebrew for rebuilding, restoring and renewing) hosted camps for youth.

 

According to the website: “In 1950, First Presbyterian Church of Portland purchased the property from the Meier family, who were pleased to see it dedicated as an ecumenical center, a gift in perpetuity to communities of people from around the world.”

Duane began collecting art before he ended up  buying the Portland house. The art bug drilled into his consciousness when in 1967 he went to a high school arts camp at Menucha. His parents always took off for Reno and Vegas during summer vacations, and they opted to put the young Duane in a summer camp.

That was serendipitous.  He told me that he had never been to an art gallery until after high school. He met Jackie West who ran Graystone Gallery in the Hawthorne District. “I went inside and I was looking around the half gallery/half store. It was an old house. Actually, it became part of the Oregon Potters Association. My eyes landed on this water color. It was as if time stopped.”

He ended up purchasing his first piece, a hyper-realistic water color of an iris by Kirk Lybecker.

Duane emails me a couple of his essays in NW Drizzle – “Embarking on a journey of discovery: The life-affirming qualities of art” & “Art’s true value: Aesthetics vs. commerce.” In his essays he reiterates how art came to save him and how collecting became a true emotional and spiritual line to the artist, to the art. Here is one  passage:

The gallery from which I bought my first artwork made the sale because the gallery owner made an effort to make the pricing and sales process as transparent as possible. She gave me a short but thorough explanation on how galleries set prices. She explained that great art comes in all price ranges, as does mediocre art. That’s when I started learning that the real value of art is not determined by the price on the sticker, but by the strength of the connection between the viewer and the object of interest.

He launches into several iterations of how art —  the actual object — is more than what it is in your hand or on the wall; that it is something that “holds great value for us as individuals and for all cultures of the world.”

Red is the Color of Egalitarianism

Duane and I talk about the friction and dichotomy  between the high-highfalutin rich “patron of the arts” and the middle-class view of art – we need the rich folks to support the arts, but we also need to invest in regular people getting original artwork in their homes. “Conceptually, I am a Marxist working in a capitalist system.”

That means he wishes our society from top to bottom was more egalitarian.

Duane Snider has no angst when it comes to what a thinker like Michael Parenti might say about capitalism: “It’s the powerful who write the laws of the world– and the powerful who ignore these laws when expediency dictates.”

We met the first time during a voluntary social distancing because of the cornonavirus, and then shortly afterward when the state of Oregon pushed more draconian measures to shut down business, interactions, meetings, and public gatherings.

Then we shift to all the artists he knows, has known and will know. He has over 200 works of art in his home, most of them on display. I had to look through some of the windows from the outside to view many fine works on the couple’s walls.

His goal is to have the collection donated to a non-profit like Art in Oregon, whose motto is “building bridges between artists and communities.” The engine there is to get businesses to purchase and show art, and for there to be that bridge between the artist and the community.

Duane is less an enigma than he is kind of Every-man. He puts on several hats – he knows most of the gallery owners in Portland, is friends with the director of the Portland Art Museum, spent time with Dennis Hopper and Danny Glover, and finds solace watching a warbler feed from his new backyard.

“I connect with anyone who knows what arts is. We need to get young people into discovering our unique art. Unfortunately, unique objects are under threat in the digital age.”

He repeats how he played the hand that was dealt him. He came from a working-class family. He himself was poor and homeless for a time. He learned the value of art through “figuring out the game you have to play to survive, to be comfortable.”

No contradictions there, and Duane Snider would smile at one of Karl Marx’s doozies: “The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs.”

Q & A in a Nutshell

Paul: Why have the world’s super powers and despotic regimes always deployed the bombing of museums, cultural landmarks, and looting the arts and important symbols of a country’s artistic and historical (archaeological) output?

Duane: The easiest way to destroy a society or a culture is to destroy its art treasures.  When you take that away, you take away their history and sense of identity.  Also, historically, art has huge inherent value because of its ability to offer meaning to people beyond those of the culture that produced it. Also, unique and rare art objects that are considered beautiful and meaningful are valuable because they are rare or unique.

Paul: Riff with this — “So here we are in the 21st century. The forward march of labour ended some time ago. How do today’s artists portray poverty? Interesting question – for perhaps wealth has never been more raw and obvious in the art world. This is the age of the diamond skull. Compared with the compassion of a Caravaggio or Van Gogh, contemporary art really does seem to take the rich collector’s view on life. Where’s our Luke Fildes? For images of economic injustice in today’s art you probably have to look outside the gallery world.”

Duane: In general, most artist don’t even address the issue in today’s market.  Social commentary is more aligned with journalism and documentary efforts.  Much of the art market doesn’t want art that shines a light on social inequities of the darker side of our culture.  There are huge exceptions of course in museum installations and high-end art by big named artists, and there is a lot of art that is beautiful, but not pretty that skirts around the big issues but doesn’t show up in fine art galleries.  Photography is the most common place to find imagery of social injustice because of the connection to journalism.  The sad fact is that most art is a commodity and with that comes the necessity for broad acceptance of work for it to be marketable.  How many Diego Rivera’s do you see out there these days?

Paul:. If you could do your youth and high school years over again, would you? Yes, why and how? No, why?

Duane: When I was in my forties and fifties, I wished I could have changed a few things, but now, not so much.  I suffered some in getting here, but it turned out well enough that there is little I am not grateful for, on a personal level.  I am comfortable and largely free of any feelings of guilt.  What should I change? I don’t know.

Paul: Tell the average consumer and retail-loving American why art is valuable to them and to our society especially now in 2020?

Duane: Art is one of the last places we have where we can freely explore our identities and the meaning of the lives we inhabit, where we can express ourselves in simply possessing and object or identifying with a performance experience.  Art offers insight into who we are, how we are unique, and what we believe in.  Art gives us context for understanding the content of our lives.  How do you put a dollar value on that?  For way too many Americans, money is what they look to for those answers.   What a shallow existence that is.

End Notes — I talk with Duane a lot, and I have met him a few times on the beaches near Waldport. He and I have this sort of “out on our own Covid-19” relationship. We talk long and hard about the failure of capitalism. The failure of Western nations to move aside and not only give back what they’ve stolen but for complete reparations.

The quandary is I work three gigs. I lost $39K in a measly retirement account because of the perverted whims of the masters of finance on Wall Street. That chunk is a huge push back on my life.

My spouse is out of work because of despicable management in her job that laughed at the idea of washing hands and who constantly berated my spouse, who is a professional with 20 years in her field.

We have tried for more than 8 weeks to get her unemployment — she’s worked like since she was 14 years old, paying into this muck. The state of Oregon is a joke. Those Zoom motherfucking meet-ups by politicians at the state level and locally are what I can only characterize as infantile, disconnected to real struggle, and bizarre.

Duane Snider won’t disagree, and he repeats how he feels guilty for setting himself up with a paid-for-home and some money in the bank and his social security, along with his wife’s.

I assure him that his sacrifice in life — working 39 years hating the job, hating himself for some of that time, and his deep depression larger issues with substance abuse, well, man, he respects artists, and he wants art to be shared by the masses.

He is quick to deride the “business of the art world,” where the artists are literally screwed and art is a trading commodity. He loves each piece he has, and we go over each one. He knows the artist for each piece and for those he purchased at openings, he spent time talking with each artist.

Pieces he bought in group shows, he went ahead an hunted down the artist. He touches the images with his vision, his heart and his intellect.

Capitalism destroys people, and sometimes eat eats at the soul and sets a course of disengagement, resentment and a dog-eat-dog retribution. It creates people who say, “I have mine, and screw everybody else.” It is a violent system — just the act of sending in Sheriff deputies to homes, parading the evicted and foreclosed upon citizens to the squad car, well, what sort of violence does that breed? What sort of lived and relived trauma will that have not only on the parents but the children?

That mentality is seeped in all of them at the proverbial top — Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Trump, Obama, the entire lot of them.

Imagine how many presidents have failed to pardon Leonard Peltier? Thinks of the structural violence of bailing out banks and Wall Street while taking SNAP away from families. Imagine a society where people have no health care, and the shit coverage they have is so violently mean and expensive, they opt not to go to the for-profit hell that is modern US medicine.

Duane is all there, in the fight in heart and mind. I see his artwork addiction has both magnificent and something deep inside, where he is finding some landing pad for his emotions, and all those years where he was about to jump off the Ross Island bridge.

I wonder if he’ll ever get that image from Portland — maybe I’ll head out from the coast to my old stomping grounds and shoot it and mess around in Photoshop and give it to him before more evolution unfolds in each other’s lives.

That’s communism — no expectations for the things given, and no bullshit competition to trade up whether it is material things or ideas and discourse.

Duane’s learned the lexicon of Marxism and has played his cards in a mean as cuss Capitalist system. I repeat that good commie’s love their wine, their music, food and art. Not as a bourgeoisie thing, but as a tribute to the enduring nature of struggle and persistence, even in the most horrific gulags and dungeons.

 

Iran:  Socialist, Internationalist, Powerful and Determined

I refuse to describe Iran as a victim. It is not. It is one of the most influential and strong-minded nations on Earth.

When facing mortal danger, its people unite, harden themselves and get ready to face invaders, no matter how threatening they might be.

Iran determined despite attacks

Iran is home to one of the oldest and deepest cultures in the world, and it’s precisely this culture that helps Iranian people to survive the most frightening moments.

And one such moment is sadly right now.

*****

U.S. battleships are sailing right next to the Iranian territorial waters. One mistake, one false move, and war could erupt, engulfing the entire region in flames. Iran is a proud nation, and it takes its independence extremely seriously.

Right now, the country is facing one of the most unjust embargos in human history. It is being punished for nothing; or more precisely, for sticking to all the points of the agreement called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as The Iran Nuclear Deal, which it signed in 2015 with China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany, and which the United States abandoned, without providing any logical explanation. While not particularly happy about the U.S. withdrawal; Germany, France and U.K. are doing all they can not to anger their senior partner, and its leaders in Washington.

Add COVID-19, and inability of the country, due to sanctions, to buy medical equipment, at least in the West, and you have the perfect scenario for a national calamity and even for imminent collapse.

Or more precisely, anywhere else this would be the case, but not in Iran!

After receiving terrible blows from the West, one after another, Iran has never fallen to its knees. It has never abandoned its internationalist and socialist course (socialist, with Iranian characteristics), and it has preserved its dignity.

What it has managed to achieve is amazing, nothing short of heroic, given the circumstances.

*****

If you look at the latest, 2019 HDI (Human Development Index, compiled and published by the UNDP), Iran is in the High Human Development bracket, and only 3 steps from the Highest Human Development group of countries. Which is thoroughly amazing, given the above-mentioned sanctions, embargos and constant military intimidations.

In Tehran, monument to nuclear scientists murdered from abroad

Whenever I visit Iran, I am astonished by its public spaces, cultural institutions, public transportation, fountains, comfortable trains… The country is functioning well, showing incredible grace under pressure. Its television channel – PressTV – is one of the most important anti-imperialist news outlets in the world. I don’t see extreme misery, or homelessness, there. Iranians are polite, well-educated and proud. They have to deal with complex exchange rates, which I do not understand. Whenever I pay in a café or taxi, I simply extend my hand full of local currency, and I never get cheated. Things are solid and reassuring there; I feel it and really appreciate it.

Iran is an internationalist country. Not unlike Cuba or Venezuela, who are its long-term allies. Even when injured, itself, it helps others, those who need solidarity even more. This can never be forgotten, particularly in places like Latin America, or Syria.

Hezbollah, Iran’s close ally in the Middle East, is fighting the most dangerous terrorist groups in Syria; those groups that have been injected there by the West, but also by Washington’s allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But Hezbollah is also essentially the only social net for the poor in Syria’s neighbor – Lebanon. And not only for the Shi’a Muslims, but also for the disadvantaged Sunni citizens, for the Christians, and non-believers. Whoever is destitute in Lebanon comes to Hezbollah for assistance. I was based in Beirut for five years, and I know what I am talking about. All this, while the Lebanese elites are burning money in Paris, in Nice, in the nightclubs of Beirut, driving their lavish cars through the slums. And the more Iran and Hezbollah help the region, the more frustrated, outraged and aggressive the West gets.

Look at Palestine. When it comes to the liberation of the Palestinian people from the long and brutal Israeli occupation, the Gulf countries just talk and talk. In the end, some of them side with the West and Israel. The closest, the most determined allies of the long-suffering Palestinian people in the region, are, without doubt, Iran and Syria. That, everybody in the Middle East, knows, and it is only “a secret” to Westerners.

In Afghanistan, particularly in Herat, I witnessed long lines of Afghan people in front of the Iranian consulate. Devastated by the NATO occupation, Afghanistan is in despair, rated as a country with the shortest life expectancy in Asia, and the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) on the Asian continent. Tens of thousands of the Afghan people have been travelling to Iran in search of jobs. Without Iran, Herat would most likely starve to death. And now, Iran is searching for ways, (together with China and Russia), how to help Afghanistan to find a political solution, and send the NATO forces packing.

For years, all the Socialist countries of Latin America could always rely on Iran. Be it Bolivia, before the legitimate government of Evo Morales was overthrown, or Cuba and especially Venezuela. Iran has been building social housing, it was helping with oil technology, and with many other social essentials.

Iraq and Iran, two great nations, in the past brutally pitched against each other by Washington, are once again cooperating, working together. The Western occupation has already thoroughly ruined Iraq (as it has ruined Afghanistan), historically one of the richest countries in the region. However, more positively Iran gets involved in neighboring Iraq, the more aggressively the West behaves. It now habitually crosses all the lines of acceptable behavior. In January 2020, a U.S. drone strike murdered Iran’s national hero, General Quasem Soleimani, while he was travelling right near the Baghdad International Airport.

For years now, Iran has been standing shoulder to shoulder with Russia, China, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba; the nations which are openly and bravely deterring the aggression and brutality of Western imperialism.

Iranian cinema, world famous. Filming on the streets

It seems that no matter what the West tries to do, Iran cannot be broken. Despite the embargos and sanctions, it demonstrates that it is capable of producing and shooting satellites into space, or of producing its own medical equipment to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. While the nation creates its great scientific and technological achievements, Iranian filmmakers keep producing their cinematic masterpieces. What a nation!

Unfortunately, all this is hidden from the eyes and ears of the public, both in the West and in the client states. There, Iran is portrayed as a “threat”.

*****

Look at this irony. On April 30, 2020, Reuters released a report about the German move to ban Hezbollah:

Last December, Germany’s parliament approved a motion urging Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to ban all activities by Hezbollah on German soil, citing its “terrorist activities” especially in Syria.

On a trip to Berlin last year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped Germany would follow Britain in banning Hezbollah. Britain introduced legislation in February of last year that classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

When the West says “Terrorist activities, especially in Syria”, what it really means is “fighting the terrorism injected by the West and its allies, into Syria”. Everything is twisted, perverted and turned upside-down by the propaganda outlets operating out of the United States, Europe, Israel and the Gulf.

“Terrorist activities” outside Syria, also means supporting the Palestinian struggle for independence, as well as at least moral support for Syria in its attempts to regain the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, an occupation which has never been recognized, even by the United Nations. It also means helping Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Latin American countries, which are brutalized (or should we say ‘terrorized’) relentlessly by Washington and its allies.

This is precisely the logic and lexicon which was used by German propagandists during WWII to describe resistance forces in its colonies. Freedom fighters and partisans were labeled as terrorists in France, Yugoslavia, Ukraine.

*****

Even the otherwise mainstream newspaper – The Independent – published on May 1, 2020 a report critical of the bizarre U.S. scheming against Iran:

The United States is pushing ahead with a scheme to extend a United Nations arms embargo on Iran that is due to be lifted in October as part of the nuclear deal that Washington abandoned two years ago.

To force the extension, Washington will attempt to lobby the Security Council to continue the arms embargo, which bars weapons sales to or from Iran.

But it also is making what legal experts and diplomats describe as a convoluted argument that it is still part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action it left, and hence able to use one of its provisions to “snapback” the embargo.

This weird political somersault has been, according to The Independent, criticized even by one of Washington’s allies, the French President Emmanuel Macron:

China and Russia have already vowed to use any means to block the US plan. France’s Emmanuel Macron has been working behind the scenes to sabotage the Trump scheme because of what it sees as an attempt by the White House to destroy international legal norms, said a well-placed European diplomat.

France, the U.K., Germany and other EU countries are not necessarily happy with Washington’s foreign policy towards Iran, but their outrage is far from being moral indignation. Iran is big and it is far from being poor. European companies are losing billions of euros in trade because of the sanctions. For instance, in the recent past, two Iranian airlines were ready to purchase large numbers of brand-new Airbus aircraft, in order to compete with Qatar Airways and the Emirates. Such plans collapsed because of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, and the almost immediate imposition of new, senseless but brutal sanctions against Teheran. Now even Mahan Air, a civilian airline, is facing sanctions, allegedly because of its flights to Venezuela, and to several Middle Eastern destinations.

*****

Now, many are perhaps wondering what triggered in the West such hate towards Iran?

There is a well-hidden (again, in the West) secret regarding Iran: “It is a Socialist country. Socialist with Iranian characteristics.”

In his latest and by all means ground-breaking book about Iran (“Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism”), which our publishing house Badak Merah will be publishing later in May 2020, an Iranian author and the PressTV Paris chief correspondent, Ramin Mazaheri, passionately defends the Iranian socialist concept:

I think that if open-minded leftists would simply become aware of the facts and… modern socialist interpretations of Iran’s policies – many of which I’m sure are being presented in English for the first time – I’m sure that they would not be waiting breathlessly for the collapse of the Middle East’s greatest bulwark against imperialism and capitalism.

It is urgent that Western leftists understand that the reversal of Iran’s popular, democratic revolution would have incredibly negative ramifications for the anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East, and thus the global anti-imperialist movement, and it certainly would be the cruelest loss for Islamic Socialism, which is taken quite seriously in the Muslim world even if atheistic Trotskyism cannot even discuss the concept without resorting to insults.

And, of course, a counter-revolution in Iran would be a major blow for global democracy, as there is no doubt that the Iranian People support their revolution, constitution and unique system in a democratic majority.

Like Russia and China in Euro Asia and in Asia, like Venezuela, Cuba and before the coup, Bolivia, Iran is spreading hope and revolutionary optimism in its entire part of the world. And it is an extremely wounded part of the world where hope is absent but desperately needed.

Spreading hope – that is never forgiven by the Western empire which, like some gigantic and sadistic prison warden, constantly demands submission while spreading depression and fear.

In the entirety of modern history, Iran has never invaded, never attacked anyone. Iran is a peaceful nation. But at the same time, it is a powerful, brave and proud country.

The United States and its turbo-capitalist regime understand brutal force, only. They do not comprehend, do not appreciate cultural nuances, let alone depth. Pity! There is so much to learn from Iran and its culture.

Iran will not attack anyone. That is clear as is proven by history. But if physically confronted, it will defend itself, and its people. It will fight, well and bravely.

The West should know: if it triggers a war with Iran, the entire Middle East will be consumed by terrible fire.

*****

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook,  a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correcting Marx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a new mode of production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ecumenical activism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ecological apocalypse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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