Category Archives: Socialism

Ending “West’s Neocolonial Oppression”: On the New Language and Superstructures

The Russia-Ukraine war has quickly turned into a global conflict. One of the likely outcomes of this war is the very redefinition of the current world order, which has been in effect, at least since the collapse of the Soviet Union over three decades ago.

Indeed, there is a growing sense that a new global agenda is forthcoming, one that could unite Russia and China and, to a degree, India and others, under the same banner. This is evident, not only by the succession of the earth-shattering events underway, but, equally important, the language employed to describe these events.

The Russian position on Ukraine has morphed throughout the war from merely wanting to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine to a much bigger regional and global agenda, to eventually, per the words of Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, “put an end to the unabashed expansion” of NATO, and the “unabashed drive towards full domination by the US and its Western subjects on the world stage.”

On April 30, Lavrov went further, stating in an interview with the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, that Russia’s war “contributes to the process of freeing the world from the West’s neocolonial oppression,” predicated on “racism and an exceptionality.”

But Russia is not the only country that feels this way. China, too, even India, and many others. The meeting between Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on March 30, served as a foundation of this truly new global language. Statements made by the two countries’ top diplomats were more concerned about challenging US hegemony than the specifics of the Ukraine war.

Those following the evolution of the Russia-China political discourse, even before the start of the Russia-Ukraine war on February 24, will notice that the language employed supersedes that of a regional conflict, into the desire to bring about the reordering of world affairs altogether. 

But is this new world order possible? If yes, what would it look like? These questions, and others, remain unanswered, at least for now. What we know, however, is that the Russian quest for global transformation exceeds Ukraine by far, and that China, too, is on board.

While Russia and China remain the foundation of this new world order, many other countries, especially in the Global South, are eager to join. This should not come as a surprise as frustration with the unilateral US-led world order has been brewing for many years, and has come at a great cost. Even the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, though timid at times, has warned against this unilaterality, calling instead on the international community to commit itself to  “the values of multilateralism and diplomacy for peace.”

However, the pro-Russian stances in the South – as indicated by the refusal of many governments to join western sanctions on Moscow, and the many displays of popular support through protests, rallies and statements – continue to lack a cohesive narrative. Unlike the Soviet Union of yesteryears, Russia of today does not champion a global ideology, like socialism, and its current attempt at articulating a relatable global discourse remains, for now, limited.

It is obviously too early to examine any kind of superstructure – language, political institutions, religion, philosophy, etc – resulting from the Russia-NATO global conflict, Russia-Ukraine war and the growing Russia-China affinity.

Though much discussion has been dedicated to the establishing of an alternative monetary system, in the case of Lavrov’s and Yi’s new world order, a fully-fledged substructure is yet to be developed.

New substructures will only start forming once the national currency of countries like Russia and China replace the US dollar, alternative money transfer systems, like CIPS, are put into effect, new trade routes are open, and eventually new modes of production replace the old ones. Only then, superstructures will follow, including new political discourses, historical narratives, everyday language, culture, art and even symbols.

The thousands of US-western sanctions slapped on Russia were largely meant to weaken the country’s ability to navigate outside the current US-dominated global economic system. Without this maneuverability, the West believes, Moscow would not be able to create and sustain an alternative economic model that is centered around Russia.

True, US sanctions on Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela and others have failed to produce the coveted ‘regime change’, but they have succeeded in weakening the substructures of these societies, denying them the chance to be relevant economic actors at a regional and international stage. They were merely allowed to subsist, and barely so.

Russia, on the other hand, is a global power, with a relatively large economy, international networks of allies, trade partners and supporters. That in mind, surely a regime change will not take place in Moscow any time soon. The latter’s challenge, however, is whether it will be able to orchestrate a sustainable paradigm shift under current western pressures and sanctions.

Time will tell. For now, it is certain that some kind of a global transformation is taking place, along with the potential of a ‘new world order’, a term, ironically employed by the US government more than any other.

The post Ending “West’s Neocolonial Oppression”: On the New Language and Superstructures first appeared on Dissident Voice.

War in Ukraine: Provocations, Belligerents and Their Objectives, Spurious Arguments, Outcomes, Our Task

Since Russia’s military operation commenced on Feb 24, the socialist left has been divided in its response to the armed conflict in Ukraine.  On one side are those who align with the US, NATO, and their client state in Kyiv in denouncing Russia as the only real villain.  On the opposing side are those who recognize the conflict as the outcome of the West’s new cold war against Russia and the post-coup regime in Ukraine as a willing pawn of the West in that new cold war.  There are also many who condemn both: Russia for its February 24 action and the US and NATO for their provocations against Russia’s national security concerns.

Purpose herein.  This critique neither endorses nor condemns Russia’s action.  It does, however, take issue with arguments proffered by those leftists who have evaded, or failed to ascertain, the relevant facts and context of the event.  In fact, much of the liberal left has responded by joining the US and its NATO allies in portraying the Kyiv regime as an innocent victim of “unjustified” or even “unprovoked” Russian aggression.  Actually, the key fact is that the war in Ukraine would not have occurred but for the machinations and provocations by Western imperialism using the Kyiv regime as a pawn against Russia which (with China) had become an obstacle to Western imperialism’s pursuit of total domination of the world.

Unprovoked?  Some of the evaded facts. 

The US and NATO violated their promise that NATO would not expand into central and eastern Europe, promise given in 1990 in order to obtain needed Soviet consent to the reunification of Germany.

The US placed nuclear-capable missiles (capable of striking Moscow, St Peterburg, et cetera) in Poland and Romania (planned from 2008, installed in 2018).  Not a provocation?  Do we remember how the US pushed the world to the brink of nuclear apocalypse when the USSR placed such missiles in Cuba after the US had placed similar missiles in Turkey?

NATO has repeatedly conducted war games, practicing for war against Russia, in the Baltic states on Russia’s border.

The US and NATO consistently responded to the past 25 years of Russian protests (of the foregoing NATO threats to Russian national security) with an arrogant intransigence; continued diplomacy was clearly not a viable means for obtaining redress.

The US, especially through its National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has been funding and training anti-Russia pro-West political organizations in Ukraine (also in Belarus) since the collapse of the USSR.  It funds and trains pro-Western media and civil society organizations in scores of countries (including Russia itself).  NED was created in 1983 to replace the CIA as the principal US agency for surreptitiously promoting regime-change in countries (including democracies) which refuse to comply with US dictates.

The US incited and abetted the 2014 coup which, spearheaded by violent neo-Nazi militias, ousted the democratically elected government of Ukraine because said government had chosen to keep Ukraine neutral between Russia and the West.

The post-coup regime (far from innocent) has consistently pursued anti-Russia policies:

The US had been arming and training Ukrainian military forces, including the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, for military operations against the Donbas rebels.

There clearly was a great deal of provocation: by the US, by NATO, and by the post-coup regime in Ukraine.

The belligerents and their objectives.  To reduce this war to a case of evil Putin-Russia preying upon innocent Ukraine is simplistic to the point of ridiculous.  The current war is not simply between Russia and Ukraine.  The US and NATO, with their economic siege (draconian sanctions) against Russia and their supplying of huge amounts of lethal arms to Kyiv, are very much belligerents even though not putting their own soldiers into the fight.  The belligerents’ objectives.

  • The US-NATO objective (since the 2014 coup) has been to weaken Russia, to strip it of its limited sphere of influence, and to effectuate a regime change to replace Putin with someone who will be submissive to Western imperial dictates.
  • The post-coup Kyiv regime wanted and wants to impose ethnic Ukrainian dominance throughout the country, to eliminate Russian influence, to impose its absolute rule over predominantly-minority regions seeking autonomy or independence, and to integrate Ukraine into the West both economically and militarily.
  • Russia has been striving: to prevent the presence of hostile military bases (including nuclear-capable missiles) in neighboring Ukraine, and to protect the rights of ethnic Russians and Russia-friendly political factions in Crimea and Ukraine.

International law? The Russophobe part of the left is condemning Russia for its alleged “violations of international law” and “of the UN Charter.”  This oversimplifies and worse.

Firstly, it evades the fact that the Kyiv regime, with US encouragement and deliveries of ever more-lethal arms, remained intransigent in response to appeals by Russia and the breakaway Donbas Republics to resolve the Donbas conflict peacefully.  Kyiv was refusing to even talk to the leaders of said Republics and was evidently intent upon crushing them through brute military force.  Moreover, it was the coup regime in Kyiv which first resorted to violence when (in 2014) it sent armed forces, including neo-Nazi militias, to crush Donbas resistance to said coup.  Russia insists that its military action against Ukraine is, at least in part, a response to Kyiv’s aggression in Donbas, and, in fact, it was the Kyiv regime which first resorted to armed force.  Thus, Russia makes its case that its military action in Donbas was a justified response to Kyiv’s continued military aggression against the breakaway Donbas Republics, and therefore allowed under the UN Charter.  As for Russia’s invasion of the rest of Ukraine, Putin regards Kyiv’s collaboration with NATO’s increasing moves to threaten Russian national security as providing his justification; and, although some may regard that as an implausible stretch, it is not a clear-cut case of all right versus all wrong.

Secondly, in their legalistic diatribes against Russia, the US-NATO-aligned leftists generally say not one word regarding the repeated and massive violations of the UN Charter and of international law whenever said laws have stood in the way of the unjust aggressions by their own imperialist states:

  • arming violent reactionary insurgencies (such as the Mujahidin in Afghanistan and the Contras in Nicaragua) in resistant countries;
  • murderous economic sieges (Cuba, Iraq, Venezuela, Iran, …);
  • threatening war games (Baltic states, south Korea);
  • inciting and abetting coups, even against democratically-elected governments (Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and dozens more);
  • assassinations and attempts (Lumumba, Castro, Qasim, Allende, Gaddafi, …);
  • interference in many other countries’ elections (beginning with Italy in 1948);
  • devastating murderous military interventions on the side of repressive reactionary regimes in other countries’ civil wars (China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, …);
  • regime-change military invasions (Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Libya, …).

Many of those racist imperial interventions (scores of them since 1945) have left several tens of millions impoverished, displaced, injured, or dead.

Finally, none of those victims of Western imperial violations of international law were able to have it enforced against their oppressors.  In fact, the US and its major allies routinely violate the Charter and international law; and, given the lack of any authority with the power to enforce said law against them, they (its major violators) are never held accountable.  Nevertheless, our Russophobe leftists are now echoing the US-NATO one-sided application and misapplication of international law in order to justify their backing for the West’s new cold war against Russia.  They may argue that US crimes are a separate case and therefore irrelevant.  That is wrong because that argument is, in effect, calling for the worst outlaw in a lawless world to enforce the law against a lesser alleged offender notwithstanding that it is doing so solely in furtherance of its own crime.  This is giving de facto allegiance to the worst criminal gang in the world.

“Imperial Russia”?  Our Russophobe leftists make much of Putin’s Russia as an “autocratic,” “anti-democratic,” “imperialist” state.  Certainly, Putin’s ideology is highly reactionary; and there is much to fault in Russia’s domestic policies.  As for Russian imperialism, although striving to preserve its limited sphere of influence; it is primarily defensive.  It pales to insignificance in comparison with Western imperialism which dominates and oppresses most of the world and is led by the world’s only current superpower.  Moreover, Russia’s grievances against US-NATO imperialism and against the post-coup regime in Ukraine are real and valid.  Making an issue of Russia’s deficiencies, while evading that reality, is simply an irrelevant pretext embraced by those in need of an excuse for aligning with Biden, Stoltenberg, and the Kyiv regime against Putin’s Russia.

The national question?  Some Russophobe “Marxists” allege that Russia is violating the Leninist principle that nations such as Ukraine have the right to self-determination and separate existence as an independent nation-state.  Certainly, Putin’s statement, challenging the legitimacy of Ukraine as a country separate from Russia and expressing his romantic notion of a grandiose east Slavic nation, must be condemned.  However, substituting Putin’s fantasies for his actual deeds, and evident intentions, in order to justify siding with Western imperialism is both illogical and deceitful.  The relevant facts.

Firstly, Putin has clearly acknowledged the impossibility of resurrecting the Soviet Union.  He has evidenced no intent to deprive Ukraine of its existence as a separate independent country as long as it does not become a threat to Russian security; and he persisted for nearly 8 years in seeking Ukraine’s implementation of autonomy within Ukraine for the Donbas regions (as Kyiv had agreed to do in the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements) even though popular sentiment in said regions was for unification with Russia.  Nothing, that Russia did, prevented Kyiv from implementing the promised autonomy.

Secondly, these “Leninists” echo the US and NATO by branding Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its assistance to the breakaway Donbas regions as “violations of Ukrainian national sovereignty.”  So doing necessitates a gross oversimplification and misapplication of the national question as applied here.  These “Leninists,” like the US and NATO, insist upon the right of Ukrainians to have an independent country separate from Russia; but (contrary to Lenin) they deny the self-determination rights of smaller ethnic populations to even have autonomy within regions wherein they predominate.

Moreover, some of these “Leninists” try to justify their one-sided application of national rights by questioning whether the peoples of Crimea and Donbas actually wanted independence from, or autonomy within, Ukraine.  They have evidently rushed to judgment without bothering to ascertain the relevant factual evidence.

  • 1954.  Khrushchev orchestrated the decision (of dubious legality) to transfer Crimea from the Russian Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian SSR without the consent or approval of the people of Crimea.
  • 1991.  At the breakup of the USSR, Crimea’s elected leaders attempted to obtain recognition of Crimea as an independent Republic separate from Ukraine.
  • 1992.  After disputes between Kyiv and Crimea over the scope of Crimea’s autonomy, Kyiv agreed to a compromise recognition of Crimea as an Autonomist Republic within Ukraine.
  • 1995.  Kyiv abolished the Constitution of Crimea, abolished its office of President, made the elected Crimean parliament’s choice of its Prime Minister subject to veto by Kyiv, and imposed other severe limits upon its authority (largely negating its autonomy).
  • 2008.  Polling by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies (not an agent of Moscow) found that 64% of Crimeans would like Crimea to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
  • 2009—11.  The UN Development Programme (not an agent of Moscow) conducted periodic opinion polls in Crimea.  Each time, at least 65% of Crimeans favored Crimea leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.
  • Crimea’s break with Ukraine was a direct popular response to the US-backed 2014 coup in Kyiv.  Although Russia’s authorized military forces already based in Crimea assisted local forces in effectuating the independence referendum and the subsequent secession and reunion with Russia, those actions were welcomed by a huge majority of Crimeans most of whom were already so inclined.  Moreover, given the history of past denials of their self-determination rights by both Moscow (1954) and Kyiv (after breakup of the USSR); the people of Crimea had more than ample justification for seceding and reuniting with Russia.  Lenin, insisting that socialists are “the most consistent enemies of oppression,” would have agreed.

Our Russophobe “Leninists” have joined the US and NATO in insisting upon national rights for Ukrainians but denying such rights for the peoples of Crimea and Donbas.

Trap?  Some genuinely anti-imperialist analysts believe that the US, with its intransigence regarding Russian security concerns, deliberately set a trap for Russia; and there is precedent for that proposition.  Jimmy Carter (beginning in 1979) armed the reactionary Mujahidin insurgency against the Soviet-allied revolutionary government in Afghanistan: in order to provoke Soviet military intervention in defense of that government, and (as his national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated) draw the USSR into a Vietnam-like quagmire.  A 2019 report titled “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia” by the US-military-funded think tank, Rand Corporation, proposed that the US goal should be “to undermine Russia just as it did the Soviet Union in the cold war.”  Until there is access to the internal communications of Biden’s national security team, we cannot say with certainty that they intended to trap Russia into a self-destructive war in Ukraine.  However, there was apparent advocacy for that policy within the US foreign-policy establishment.  That aside, our Russophobe “socialists” refuse to even acknowledge the clear fact that the US and NATO were acting to isolate and weaken Russia.  Why?  Because, with their distaste for Putin’s Russia, these “socialists” evidently share that objective.  Thus, they have all-too-willingly fallen into the trap of misdirected “anti-imperialism.”  So, when should anti-imperialists target Russia?  How about when, and if, Russia makes truly unprovoked attacks upon an independent country which is not allied with, or a pawn of, a hostile scheming Western imperialism.

Should imperial-state foreign military action ever be supported?  To insist upon opposing such military interventions, regardless of context, is dogmatic and wrong.  In exceptional events, socialists have appropriately supported such interventions.  Example: US and British empires against Nazi Germany (1939—45).  A recent case where it may be argued that such support was justified is US military assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against the Islamic State (IS) Caliphate which was subjecting people in Syria and Iraq to horrendous persecutions pursuant to its medievalist perversion of Islam.  The US left was mostly silent with respect to US action in that event.  Had socialists expressed conditional support for that US military intervention (as I believe they should have), they would have been obligated at the same time to explain: (1) that the US was acting for its own interest and would otherwise not have cared about the victims of IS oppression, and (2) that the US would likely become a treacherous ally (as indeed it did in 2019 when it abandoned the SDF to attack by NATO ally Turkey).  The SDF is a popular revolutionary organization fighting for social justice.  The Kyiv regime is a repressive chauvinistic state and a willing pawn of US-NATO imperialism in the latter’s new cold war against Russia.  Huge difference.

Domestic politics.  Socialists, whatever their views of the war in Ukraine, are rightly concerned about the rise of bigoted reactionary political factions in the US and many other countries.  However, it is wrong to portray the capital-serving centrist-dominated supposedly “center-left” political parties as saviors of progress and “democracy”.  Those parties are thoroughgoing supporters of the imperialist military alliances and policies to which their governments are committed.  In fact, centrists have no progressive principles which they will not jettison whenever it becomes politically expedient to do so.  Actually, the increased influence of bigoted reaction and the electoral weakness of the center-left parties is a result of the latter’s subservience to capital and of their consequent failure, for the past 4 decades, to use their capacity, when in power, to improve conditions for most of their base working-class constituencies.  With growing homelessness, increasing inequality, declining labor unions, decreased job security, mushrooming debt bondage, and ever more disruptions of lives by climate disasters; conditions have actually worsened for much of that constituency.  Consequently, there is an increased tendency for many potential supporters to stay home on election day.

In the US, many liberal-reformist “socialists” give their allegiance to the Democrats despite the latter’s” longstanding betrayal of their working-class electoral base.  Although it is appropriate to tactically ally with centrist Democrat politicians when they actually fight for social justice and to support their election at the federal level in 2022 and 2024 in hope of reversing Trump-Republican attacks on voting and other democratic rights; it is necessary at the same time to educate the people as to the perfidy and betrayals of social justice by said Democrats.  Failure to so educate is: to tail after the agents of capital, and to perpetuate existing ignorance and prejudices within the populace.  Sadly, many liberal “socialists” downplay Democrat betrayals domestically, and they almost completely avoid challenging the Democrats’ allegiance to US hegemony over the world and the consequent imperial crimes in US foreign policies (especially when under Democrat Presidents).  Biden promised to end Trump’s new sanctions against Cuba; he has not.  He has also continued the economic sieges against Venezuela and other countries resisting US dictates.  He promised a non-racist and more humane policy on migrants; but he then summarily deported some 20,000 Haitians to hellish conditions in Haiti, and he now welcomes white European refugees from Ukraine.  Also, there are Biden’s past flip-flops on school bussing and tough-on-crime legislation as he pandered to racial prejudices among his voters.  For more on Democrat betrayals of social justice, see here.  Hence: temporary limited tactical alliances, yes; allegiance, no.

Those “socialists”, who give their allegiance to the Democratic Party, can only give lip-service to anti-imperialism.  So, when Democrats are in control, they mostly remain silent with respect to US imperial crimes against peoples in foreign lands.  They even become willfully blind to some of said crimes, as they ask people to vote for said Democrats (nearly all of whom subscribe to US interventionism based upon the notion of the US being the world’s “indispensable nation” and champion of “freedom” and “democracy”).

Outcomes.  While the US and NATO send ever increased and ever more lethal weapons which serve to prolong the horrors of this war, it is Ukrainian and Russian (not NATO-country) fighters and civilians who suffer and die.  This despite the reality that Russia’s peace terms (neutrality and no hostile bases in Ukraine plus respect for the self-determination rights of Donbas and Crimea), both before and since its invasion, are entirely reasonable.  Regardless of who prevails, both Russia and Ukraine will have paid a huge price.  Meanwhile, transnational capital, especially in the arms industry and fossil fuel companies, will reap increased profits.  If Russia obtains its objectives, that will weaken a defeated Western imperialism.  If Russia is ultimately compelled to give up in defeat and humiliation: the US hold over Europe will be solidified, Western imperialism will be greatly emboldened to intensify its new cold against China, and it will have a freer hand as it perpetrates its crimes against other resistant countries.  Yet, our Russophobe leftists refuse to oppose more arms to Ukraine.

Principal contradiction.  Portside (a very moderately left-leaning online publication) published a solidly anti-imperialist analysis of the Ukraine war by the US Peace Council (USPC), subsequently indicating that it did so in order to present an alternative viewpoint with which Portside did not agree.  Shortly thereafter, Portside published 11 comments in response to the USPC statement, all but one opposing the USPC analysis, several in very condemnatory words.  Two of those joined a number of other Russophobe leftist commentators in denouncing the anti-imperialist analysis as the “anti-imperialism of fools” or “idiots”.  A third, namely prominent “Marxist” (Carl Davidson), commented that the principal contradiction in this conflict is “the Russian invasion of a sovereign nation and Ukraine’s defense of their sovereignty”.  Evidently, Russophobe “socialists” such as Davidson have decided that the contradiction between Western imperialism and its victims throughout most of the world is no longer the principal one for anti-imperialists.  Being in sync with the US and NATO in this Ukraine conflict, they have become social patriots.  A social patriot is any avowed socialist who supports and whitewashes the predatory imperial aggressions of his/her own imperialist state against another state and justifies so doing by branding the opposing state as the sole villain.

Our task.  We may consider Russia’s Ukraine response to be an inappropriate excess or imprudent or both, and we may fault Russian methods in its military operations; but we have no capacity to influence Russia’s decisions.  Our job, as anti-imperialists in the West, is to condemn and vigorously oppose US-NATO imperialism (including arms to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia) as well as the mainstream media’s grossly one-sided and extremely deceptive portrayals.  It is not to tail after the misinformed public and the Democrat politicians (who are all too eager to support: the bipartisan imperialistic foreign policy consensus, the massive military spending, and the cold wars against the peoples of countries which resist US dictates).  We should recognize that said Democrats (with very few exceptions) readily jettison their anti-racist and other progressive pretensions whenever it becomes politically expedient to do so.  “Anti-imperialists,” who evade the reality of the Ukraine War being the result of Western imperial machinations and provocations so as to simplistically blame it solely upon Putin’s Russia (while exonerating the US, NATO, and the Kyiv regime), become social patriots serving the real imperialist enemy of peoples throughout the world.  We must avoid shifting our focus onto the faults (real and imagined) of Russia; we must persist in supporting the fight against that real enemy, even though we will be defamed as “Putin apologists,” “fools,” and “idiots.”

Image credit: Marxist-Leninism Today

The post War in Ukraine: Provocations, Belligerents and Their Objectives, Spurious Arguments, Outcomes, Our Task first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Tectonic Shifts in the World Economy: A World Systems Perspective

Orientation 

One of the main problems with Western media (other than their non-stop anti-Russian propaganda), is the narrow and parochial manner in which they conceive world events. Like realists and liberals of international relations theory, they analyze world events two countries at a time, for example, the U.S. vs Russia. They appear to have little conception of interdependence, like Russia, China, and Iran as a single block. Or the U.S., England, and Israel as another block. No state can make any moves without considering the causes and consequences of their actions for their interdependent states. Secondly, these talking heads fail miserably in understanding that conflicts between states are inseparable from the evolution of global capitalism which, in many respects, is stronger than any state. Thirdly, their “analysis” fails to consider that the world capitalist system has evolved over the last 500 years, as I will soon present. We will see that what is going on in Ukraine is part of a much larger tectonic struggle between Eastern China, Russia, and Iran to create a multipolar world while being desperately opposed by a declining West, headed by the United States and its minions.

A Brief History of Modern Capitalism

According to world systems theory, the global capitalist system has gone through four phases. In each phase, there was a dominant hegemon. First, there was the merchant capital of Italy that lasted from 1450-1640. This was followed by the great Dutch seafaring age from 1610-1740. Next, there was the British industrial system from 1776 to World War I. Lastly, the Yankee system which lasted from 1870 to 1970. Note that over these 500 years the pace of change quickened. In the Italian phase, the city states of Venice and Genoa rose and fell over 220 years. By the time we get to the United States, the time of rise and decline is 100 years. All this has been laid out by Giovanni Arrighi in The Long 20th century. In Adam Smith in Beijing, Arrighi also lays out the reasons he is convinced that China will be the leading hegemon in the next phase of capitalism.

Five Types of Capitalism   

Historically there have been five types of capitalism. The first is merchant capital in which profits are made by trade, selling cheap and buying dear. This is what Venice and Genoa did, as did Dutch seafarers on a grander scale. Next, is agricultural capitalism, including the slave system of the United States, Britain, and parts of the Caribbean, South America, and Africa. Then, the British invented the industrial capitalism system in which profit was made by investing the infrastructure of society: railroads, factories, and surplus labor from the wage labor system. Lastly, especially in the 20th century, we have two other forms of capitalism. In addition to being an industrial power after World War II, the United States used its industrial power to invest in the military arms industry and relied on finance capital (stocks and bonds).

Destructive Forms of Capitalism

In the later stage of all four systems, making money from commodities or technologies becomes problematic because it becomes unpredictable what people will buy. For example, after the Depression from 1929-1941, the United States got out of the depression by investing in the military. This was so successful that after World War II, capitalists began investing in the military even during peacetime (Melman, After Capitalism). It provided a much more predictable profit as long as countries continued to go to war. This encourages arming your own country or supplying the whole world, which is what the United States does today. There is also finance capital, where banks invest in stocks, bonds and financial instruments rather than infrastructure (as industrial capitalists did). For the past 50 years military and finance capital are primarily where the ruling class in Yankeedom has made its profits.

In the early phases of capitalism, in all four cycles, commodities were produced which required money as mediation, but the purpose was to produce more commodities and technologies. In the decaying part of the cycle, capitalists would rather invest in finance capital than industrial capital because of the quick turn-around in profits. Investing in building bridges, repairing roads, or building schools will surely benefit capitalists in the long run. Smooth supply chains for capitalist profit and a sound education in high school and college would ensure that workers not only know how to do their jobs but that they would be creative-thinkers and innovators. Capitalists these days don’t want to invest in these things, and this is why the infrastructure in Yankeedom is falling apart and the Yankee population cannot compete with students from other countries with better educational systems.

What is World Systems Theory?

World systems theory is a macro-sociological theory of long-term social change which includes economic theory and world history. It is provocative in at least three ways. One, its basic unit of analysis is the entire world-system of capitalism rather than nation-states. Second, it argues that the so-called socialist societies were not really socialist, but rather state-capitalist. Third, global capitalism organizes itself into a transnational division of labor which ignores the boundaries of nation-states. World-systems theory has been used by historians, international relations theorists, and international political economists to explain the rise and fall of nation-states, the increase and decrease in stratification patterns, as well as rise and decline of imperialism. Christopher Chase-Dunn and Terry Boswell have specialized in understanding social movements and the timing and placing of revolutions from a world-systems perspective.

Economic Zones Within the World-system

Overview of the core, periphery                                                 

World-systems are divided into three zones: the core, the semi-peripheral, and the peripheral countries. Economically and politically, core countries dominate other countries without being dominated. Semi-periphery countries are dominated by the core, and, in turn, dominate the periphery. The periphery are dominated by both. Part of the wealth of core countries comes from their exploitation of the peripheral countries’ land and labor through colonization.

Core and periphery

The core countries control most of the wealth in the world capitalist system. Workers are highly specialized, high technology is used. It has an industrial-electronic base. They extract raw materials from the peripheral countries and sell peripheral countries finished products. Core countries have the most highly specialized workers and a relatively small agricultural base, whereas peripheral countries have strong agricultural or horticultural bases and have a semi-skilled urban working class. The peripheral countries have relatively unspecialized labor whose work is labor-intensive with low wages. Much of the work done in peripheral countries is commercial agriculture—the production of coffee, sugar, and cotton.

The core countries are the home of the transnational corporations who control the world. Additionally, the core countries control the major banking institutions that provide international loans, such as the IMF and the World Bank. Finally, the core countries have the most powerful militaries. Paradoxically, when core countries are at their peak, their militaries are not very active. They only become more active as a core country goes into decline, as in the United States. Core countries typically have the most highly trained workers. In their heyday, core countries have strong centralized states that provide for pensions, unemployment, and road construction. In their weak stage, states withdraw these benefits and invest in their military to protect their assets abroad as their own territory falls apart. Core countries have large tax bases and, at their best, support infrastructural development.

The periphery nations own very little of the world’s means of production. In the case of African states or tribes, they have great amounts of natural resources, including diamonds and minerals, but these are extracted by the core countries. Furthermore, core states are usually able to purchase raw materials and cheap labor from non-core states at low prices and yet demand higher prices for their exports to non-core states. Core states have access to cheap skilled professional labor through migration (brain drain) from semi-peripheral states . Peripheral countries don’t have a solid tax base because their states have to contend with rival ethnic and tribal forces who are hardly convinced that taxes are good for them and their sub-national identities.

Peripheral countries often do not have a diversified economic base and are forced by the world market to produce one product. A good example of this is Venezuela and its oil. Peripheral countries have relatively steeper stratification patterns because there are no middle classes for the wealth to spread across. A tiny landed elite at the top sells off most of the land to transnational corporations. The state tends to be both weak and strong. States in the periphery have difficulty forming and sustaining their own national economic policy because foreign corporations want to come and go as they please. On the other hand, if a nationalist or a socialist rise to power, the state will be very strong and dictatorial. This is because they are constantly at war with transnational corporations who seek to overthrow them. Since transnational corporations often do this through oppositional parties, those in power are extremely suspicious of oppositional parties. Hence their label as “authoritarian”. In contemporary world systems, peripheries are found in parts of Latin America and in the most extreme form in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Semi-periphery                                                 

The semi-periphery contains countries that as a result of national liberation movements and class struggles have risen out of the periphery and have some characteristics of the core. They can also be composed of formerly core countries that have declined. For example, Spain and Portugal were once core countries in Early Modern Europe. Semi-peripheral countries often take over industries the core no longer wants such as second-generation computers, appliances, or transportation systems. Semi-peripheral states enter the world systems with some degree of autonomy rather than simply a subordinate country. These industries are not strong enough to compete with core countries in “free trade”. Therefore, they tend to apply protectionist policies towards their industry. They tend to export more to peripheral states and import more from core states in trade. In the 21st century, states like Brazil, Argentina, Russia, India, Israel, China, South Korea and South Africa (BRICS) are usually considered semi peripheral.

As I said above, the world capitalist system has changed four times in the last 500 years and each time not only have the configurations of the core countries changed but so have the semi peripheral countries in the world systems. For at least half of capitalist world systems, there were some countries that were outside the periphery, including the United States. Semi-peripheral countries are not fully industrialized countries, but they have scientists and engineers which can lead to some wealth.

Which countries are in the core periphery and semi periphery countries today?

The core countries in the world today are the United States, Germany, Japan, and the Scandinavian social democratic countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. Minor core countries are England, France, Italy, and Spain. Eastern European countries are in the semi-periphery. South of the border, there are four semi-periphery countries: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. More powerful up and coming semi-peripheral states include Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia, China, and India. Most of Africa is in the periphery of the world systems with the exception of South Africa (semi-periphery).

Where did world systems theory come from?

Immanuel Wallerstein was a sociologist who specialized in African studies, so he had first-hand knowledge of the reality of exploitation by colonists. He was influenced by the work of Ferdinand Braudel who wrote a great three-volume history of capitalism. Wallerstein was also influenced by Marx and Engels, but he thought their history of capitalism was too Eurocentric. He emphasized that the core countries did not just exploit their own workers, but they have made great profits through the systematic exploitation of the peripheral countries for hundreds of years.

Modernization theory

World systems theory was in part a reaction against the anti-communist, modernization theory of international politics that prevailed after World War II into the 1960’s. Please see the table below which compares world systems theory to modernization theory.

Dependency theory of Andre Gunder Frank

Around the same time as world systems theory developed, Andre Gunder Frank developed what came to be called “dependency theory”. This theory also challenged modernization theory’s assumption that countries that were called “traditional societies” were improved by contact with the core countries. He claimed that they were systematically exploited by the core countries, made worse than they were before they had any contact with them. As long ago as 1998, Gunder Frank predicted the rise of China. See his book ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age.

Karl Polyani

Other influences on the world-systems theory come from a scholar of comparative economic systems, Karl Polyani. His major contribution is to show that there was no capitalism in tribal or agricultural civilizations and that the “self-subsisting” economy of capitalism was a relatively recent development. Wallerstein reframed this in world systems terms, with the tribal as “mini-systems”, agricultural civilization as “empires” and the capitalist system as “world economies”. Nikolai Kondratiev introduced patterns he saw in the capitalist world economy that centered around cycles of crisis and wars within very specific time periods.

Interstate System

As I said earlier, in international relations theory, realist and neo-conservative theory and neoliberal theories of the state treat each state as if they were separate units. Applied to today, that would formulate world conflict as a battle between, say, the United States and Russia. Neo-conservative and neoliberal theory treat any alliance between states as secondary epiphenomenon that can be dissolved without too much trouble. Secondly, both these theories operate as if interstate politics are relatively autonomous from economics. To the extent to which these theories mention capitalism, it is the domestic economy of nation-states. Each tries to hide the international nature of capitalism and the extent to which transnational corporations can, and do, override national interests. The ideology of the interstate system is sovereign equality, but this is practically overridden as states are treated as neither sovereign nor equal, especially in Africa.

World systems theory sees states differently. For one thing, nation-states are not like Hobbes atoms which crash against each other in a war of all against all. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, fresh after the Thirty Years’ War, was an attempt to move beyond dynastic empires to nation-states. In core capitalist countries there were never single nation states. The Treaty created a system of nation-states which had rules of engagement, treaties, do’s and don’ts.

Today, between the core, periphery, and semi-periphery countries lies a system of interconnected state relationships. This interstate system arose either as a concomitant process or as a consequence of the development of the capitalist world-system over the course of the “long” 16th century as states began to recognize each other’s sovereignty.

Between these economic zones there were no enforceable rules about how nation-states should act, outside of not impeding the flow of capital between zones. Political domestic elites, international elites, and corporations competed and cooperated with each other, the results of which no one intended. Unsuccessful attempts have been made by the League of Nations and later the United Nations to create an international state. However, nation-states have been unwilling to give up their weapons. Therefore, the international anarchy of capitalist production is still unchecked. The function of the state is to regulate the flow of capital, labor, and commodities across borders and to enforce the structure of market rates. Not only do strong states impose their will on weak states. Strong states also impose limitations on other strong states, as we are seeing with US sanctions against Russia.

Who Will Be the Next World-Economy Hegemon?

Situation in Ukraine

Everything about Ukraine needs to be understood as the desperate clawing of a Yankee empire terrified of being left behind. The U.S. has so far convinced Europe to stay away from Russia and China, but it has nothing to offer. As Gary Olsen said, the Europeans may slowly make deals with Russia and China because they have some sense of where the future lies. So, Western hydra-headed totalitarian media all speak with the same voice: RUSSIA, RUSSIA, EVIL RUSSIA. EVIL PUTIN. Putin certainly had nerve wanting a national economy with its own economic policy. God forbid! But the time is up for Yankeedom and no terrorist police, no military drones, no Republicrats, and no stock exchange jingling with the trappings of divine honor can stop it.

The weakness of Europe

 So, if Yankeedom is in decline (and even Brzezinski admitted this) who are the new contenders? Up until maybe five years ago, I thought Germany might be, with its industrial base and its strong working class. But in the last five years German standards of living have declined. It seems that the EU is in the midst of cracking up. There is no leadership with the departure of Angela Merkel. Macron is on the way out in France. All the other countries in Europe, including Italy, are under water with debt. England is the puppy dog of the United States and hasn’t been a global power in over 100 years. Germany, Spain, Italy, and Greece could be helped enormously by allaying themselves with Russia and China, but at this point most Europeans have been bullied and complicit in myopically siding with a collapsing United States. There is a good chance the US will drag most of Europe down with them.

Collapse of the core zones?

As we have seen, according to world systems theory, the history of capitalism has had three zones: core, periphery, and semi-periphery. The countries that have inhabited the three zones have changed along with the dominant hegemon over the last 500 years, and we are now in unprecedented territory. There is a good chance that the entire batch of formerly core states, the United States, Britain, France, and the west will collapse and that the core capitalist system will be without a hegemon (with the possible exception of the Scandinavian countries). China seems to be about ten years away from assuming that position.

2022-2030 the reign of the semi-periphery?

So, is it fair to say there is a huge tectonic shift where most of the core countries will collapse and the world system will have no core for maybe 20 years? It seems clear that the new hegemon is going to be China. Arrighi and Gunder Frank both thought this. But China is still a semi-periphery country and it might take 10-15 years to enter the core. Meanwhile its allies, Russia and Iran, are also semi-periphery countries. In South America, Argentina had the foresight to sign on the Chinese Belt Road Initiative. Brazil and Chile are still uncommitted to China and occupy a semi-peripheral status. The big country in Asia is India. It is very important to the Yankees not to lose control of India, and they have all the reason in the world to beat war drums in an attempt to demonize China. If a right winger such as Modi can refuse to side against Russia in the current events in Ukraine, will a more moderate or social democratic president of India have the vision to see the future lies in aligning with China? I wouldn’t count on it given the behavior of green-social democrat leadership in Germany.

The only European countries who seem to have made their way through 40 years of Neoliberal austerity, the collapse of Yugoslavia, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of fascist parties in Europe are the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. There is no reason why they could not maintain core status, though China would be the leading power.

The new hegemon China and the world-system in 2030  

I can imagine the world-system in 2030 could consist of China and the Scandinavian countries in the core, with Russia, Iran, and maybe Brazil, Argentina and Chile on the semi-periphery along with possibly India. I don’t know where to place the US and Europe. Since they are drunk with finance capital, it is unfair to put them in the semi-periphery, which is usually involved in productive scientific endeavors. Yet they are more productive than the peripheral countries. Africa could be the last battleground between the decadent Yankee and European imperialists who live on as neo-colonial crypto-imperialists attempting to either sell arms to Africans or directly set up regimes and enslave Africans to work the mines.

If China is able to develop African productive forces with the Belt Road Initiative, it might be an incentive to calm down the ethnic warfare there. It would be a wonderful thing if the African states could finally control the enormous wealth of their country. We cannot expect too much from China. The best they could do would be to invest in cultivating scientists and engineers to build up Africa as a fully industrialized continent. To me, what matters about China is not arguing whether or not it is really socialist, but that it is doing what Marx liked best about capitalism: developing the productive forces.

The prospects for a world state?

We cannot expect the Yankee state to decline peacefully and not start World War III. Is it possible to have a global capitalist realignment without starting World War III? As Chris Chase-Dunn has advocated for decades, we need a world state that has the capability to enforce a ban on interstate warfare. That is not likely now. The only attempts at this: the League of Nations and the United Nations happened after the misery of two world wars. Both attempts at world state have failed because nation-states would not agree to give up their weapons.

What about world ecology?                                                                              

But as world systems theorist Chris Chase Dunn points out, a Chinese-centered world still inherits the increasing ecological destruction that has been an inherent part of the world system since the industrial revolution and now the global pandemic. This includes extreme weather (hot and cold), pollution of land and oceans with plastics and the products of industrialization like carbon, flooding from global warming, and desertification of lands due to droughts and monocropping.

What about Marx’s dream of shrinking the ratio between freedom and necessity in the light of ecological disaster?

For Marx and Engels, the dream of socialism was based on abundance. Unfortunately, because socialism first took place in what Wallerstein would call peripheral or semi-peripheral countries, socialism has come to be associated with poverty. An implication that could be drawn under socialism is that people should expect to be poor and share the poverty equally. That is the opposite of how Marx and Engels saw things. They hoped that socialism would first break out in the west in an industrialized country, with an organized working-class party taking the lead. They hoped that the revolution of overthrowing capitalism would preserve its material abundance, technology, and scientific achievements, not tear them to the ground. They wanted to develop the forces of production that capitalism unleashed while abolishing the political economy of private property over means of production. As socialism developed, the collective creativity of workers would shrink the ratio between necessary work and freedom. What does this mean?

This meant that workers would either:

  1. a) work less and produce the same amount
  2. b) work the same amount but produce more
  3. c) work more and produce much more

In other words, workers would have an increase in the number of choices of what to do with their free time because of an increase in the technology and collective creativity to produce more with less. My question is, given the irreversible ecological situation we are in, is it still realistic to expect socialism will continue to be based on abundance? I can imagine that the way China is going, in that part of the world it may still be possible. I also suspect that in the Scandinavian countries it might be possible. The problem is that global pandemics, extreme weather, flooding, desertification, and pollution cannot easily, if at all, be contained within countries that are capitalist or socialist.

How Reliable is World-systems Theory?

I will limit criticisms of world systems theory to those of a political and economic nature. One common criticism is the struggle to do empirical research with a unit of analysis being the entire world system. This is not to say world systems theorists do not do empirical work, because they do. It is more a matter of how to derive meaningful relationships between variables at such a complex level of abstraction. Statistics for individual nation states are easier to manage, although nation-states are not autonomous actors.

Another criticism is that the successes of existing socialist states are in danger of being given the short shrift. Like many in the West, the first line of criticism by world systems theorists of socialist countries is that they are one-party dictatorships. While this may be true, there is good reason why communist parties in power are nervous about the prospect of oppositional parties being used by foreign capitalists to overthrow them. In addition, socialist countries have better records than capitalist countries on the periphery in the fields of literacy (reading and writing), low-cost housing, healthcare, and free education. Please see Michael Parenti, Black Shirts and Reds for more on this.

The third major criticism comes from orthodox Marxist, Robert Brenner. Brenner claims that the emphasis by world systems theorists on the relationship between economic zones comes at a cost to understanding the class structure within and between nation-states. I think world systems theorists are well aware of class relationships, but they choose to focus on the capitalist relationships between states. Lastly, Theda Skocpol argues that world systems theory understates the power of the state in international affairs. The state is not just the creature of transnational capital. States engage in military competition which long s capitalism. State structures compete with each other.

On a positive note, as I said earlier, Christopher Chase-Dunn has done some creative work with Terry Boswell in tracking the timing and location of rebellions and revolutions in the 500 years of the world systems in Spirals of Capitalism and Socialism. In addition, he wrote a very groundbreaking book with Tom Hall Rise and Demise, which challenges Wallerstein by suggesting that there were precapitalist world systems that go all the way back to hunter-gatherers. Also see my book with him, Social Change: Globalization from the Stone Age to the Present.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Socialism

The post Tectonic Shifts in the World Economy: A World Systems Perspective first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Vito Marcantonio Gets Da Biziniss

I have stood by the fundamental principles which I have always advocated. I have not trimmed. I have not retreated. I do not apologize, and I am not compromising.”

— Socialist New York City Congressman Vito Marcantonio
(Dec. 12, 1902-Aug. 9, 1954)

I say these words, but who hears me? … Do I know what I say? … I can’t tell anymore. … I’m haunted by the reality that a man was killed because he opposed me. Is that my sin? Will that bring my downfall?… I’m dizzy … weak. … Will I die with this on my soul?”

“Vito. We have to talk. Now!”

“Talk? I don’t know how this is talk. It’s a command,” Carlo. “I know what you want.”

“Vito, please. For my sake, and my family. Meet with this guy. Granted, he’s a member of a certain Italian-American subculture, but he only wants his son in West Point. That’s all. The kid goes to Mount Saint Michael’s Academy in the Bronx, and is an honor student and athlete.”

“But, Carlo, he’s from the Bronx. Not East Harlem!”

“That’s the point, don’t you see? I’m from the Bronx, and he knows I support you because my restaurant is in your district, and the appointments in his Bronx district are all taken. You come. You meet. You give him what he wants. And, we all go away happy. And, alive! There’s a lot of tough paisons in the Bronx. You don’t want to mess with this one.”

I leave this meeting. Like I don’t have enough to worry about. Italians, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Negroes, Irish and Germans. They call each other wops, kikes, spicks, jigs, micks and krauts, and I have to make them into one. To stick together for our common good. And, now this inappropriate, no, illegal, West Point business.

The phone at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia political club in East Harlem rings. It’s Mayor LaGuardia, for Vito, who runs the place: “Vito, how are you and our Gibboni? All going well, I hope.?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, not really. You lost the Republicans to this silk stocking guy with the big name: Frederick Van Pelt Bryan. Maybe we make you a Van Pelt? You do better with such a name. Ha, ha.”

“We can win without the Republicans.”

“Maybe. But, you see today’s Mirror?”

“That bad?”

“Get this: ‘The chief pro-Communist of the House has skinned through the primary by the scum of his political teeth.’ ”

“So, what else is new?”

“You’re kind of calm, considering that all the papers are against you, including the Daily News, Governor Dewey, Dubinsky and the Garment Workers.”

“I’m a son of East Harlem. I can speak to my 18th Congressional District constituents in their own tongues, English, Italian, Spanish and Yiddish. And, Mayor, always remember: It is the duty of government to provide for those who through no fault of their own have been unable to provide for themselves.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“That was my speech at Dewitt Clinton. When, you took me out of high school, and set me on the road I’m now traveling. Anymore questions?”

“No! That’s my boy!”

It was the night that I walk a few blocks to the restaurant, Basilicata. It’s named for the region to the deep south of Italy, where my parents were born. Carlo takes me to a table in the back, and I meet my new “constituent,” Mingo Indelicato, and his son, Scott (Scott? Gimme a break). Mingo is huge, the kid huger, if that’s a word. Both with wall-to-wall smiles. The kid is a top student at The Mount. Bright, athletic. And, I have to get him into West Point. “OK,” I say. “But, you don’t have an address in my district.” Mingo says, “Don’t worry. I got that covered. I’m gonna use the address of Carlo’s restaurant.” Then, this that troubled me: “And, also, don’t worry. I’ll be watching you, to see that you’re safe and OK, and if there’s anything I can do to help your campaign?” He didn’t want me to lose my congressional seat, or die, before I could get the kid into the Point!

The public focus in 1946 went to the general election in the 18th Congressional District, where what the Mirror called the “miserable pip-squeak who pipes the tunes from Moscow” faced Bryan. Time magazine said the “little padrone” … boss of this verminous, crime-ridden slum” — was seeing his grasp threatened. But, Vito ignored the print media and went on radio. His broadcasts mainly stood on his record, support by LaGuardia, two housing projects he helped build, fight for a more liberal G.I. Bill, civil rights and price controls.

The 18th District gave Vito a plurality of 6,500 out of 78,000 votes cast, for the defeat of Bryan. Presenting the American Labor Party, and a fusion of other parties, a victory over the GOP in a strong GOP year.

Vito served his East Harlem constituents, listened to them and acted. Such as when a delegation of residents enters the LaGuardia social club. Vito is seated up front, ready to greet and help constituents of his district, 5th Avenue to the East River and 98th Street to the Harlem River. The group, comprising mainly Italians, Puerto Ricans and blacks, is led by an Italian woman, Florie Di Piona, who has a high school diploma, and is a swim teacher in the city public schools.

“Vito,” says Florie, with a big smile, “this river, the East River, is our river. Vito, it’s our home, but the Americones want to take it. Can you imagine, Vito, luxury apartments on the banks of our river. This is where we learned to swim. In these waters I found my future as a swim teacher. I was called the only ‘broad’ who could swim the river to Brooklyn. Be that as it may, broad, or whatever, luxury apartments are not welcome here, and neither are the wealthy who would own them. These people, these Americones, they use tomato soup for spaghetti sauce. Can you imagine? Tomato soup!”

Then, shaking her right forefinger right to left: “No! I say no!”

Within days, Vito rallied his forces, his “Gibboni,” and suggested a site for public housing along the river: “We do not want in our community penthouses and Silk Hats alongside tenements of people on relief budgets. We do not want Dead Ends. The East River is our River. We were born on its banks. We learned to swim in that river. We have lived and suffered alongside this river. We have had to smell it on the hot summer days. Now that the river has been cleaned, and now that the land along side it is available, we want that river for ourselves.”

Vito got his way. The federal government announced plans for a major housing project in East Harlem, the East River Housing Projects, with rents in line with Vito’s suggestion, $5 a month. The first opened in the late 1940s.

Then, the killing. A Republican district captain, Joseph Scottoriggio, was beaten to death on his way to the polls. Case never solved, but an opening against Vito. Dewey and Bryan said the killing was done by left-wing thugs in the 18th District. News stories sought to show a connection between Vito and hoodlums, and that he be punished. A crime reporter said the killing was likely an “accident,” when the “muscle men” failed to follow orders “to just give it to him once over lightly.”

Life magazine ran a story with pictures showing Vito “with bold, cynical eyes,” and several well-known gangsters of the time such as Joey Rao, Trigger Mike Coppola and Frank Costello. It said that the killing exposed Vito’s crime-ridden district, but the attacks on Vito also produced the Citizens’ Investigating Committee to ensure Fair Political Reporting. Its leader, William Jay Schieffelin observed: “To my mind there is no precedent in recent years for the deliberate venal propaganda campaign conducted by various newspapers against Congressman Vito Marcantonio during the past several months.”

I got this, now. A stone in my shoe. I’m not only a Communist, but a racketeer. How do you succeed in politics in the 18th District without including everybody, including the Mafia. Could it be Mingo? Did he in some cockamamie way see Scottoriggio as a problem for me, and take him out? … Democrats, Republicans and others think I don’t see their attacks coming, but I know they’re ganging up on me because of the Communist thing; political parties, the Catholic Church people and the government. …But, I keep thinking my deal with Mingo brought this on. My sin. I’m carrying a Crucifix and a Rosary around with me now. Why? Am I trying to get straight with the big fella upstairs?

Democrats, Republicans and Liberals did, indeed, gang up on Vito to make Democrat James Donovan their 18th District candidate. Donovan also tried to tack onto Vito the attempted assassination of President Truman because the attackers were Puerto Rican, a primary Marcantonio constituency. Vito lost 50,391 to 35,835 in this 1950s race.

Vito, the New York University law graduate, continued as a champion of unpopular causes. Counsel to Marxist W.E.B. Dubois and the Communist-dominated Peace Information Center. Also, Hollywood stars fighting the House un-American Activities Committee, and seeking clemency for the would-be Truman assassins. Then, in 1954, he reentered politics with the creation of the Good Neighbor Party. The Daily News, alarmed, sought “fast action on Marc,” and a plan to close the political ranks against him. He thought about running for governor, but settled on his old congressional seat.

I know it will be the same old forces of reaction against me. And, the Scottoriggio killing will be blamed on me. And, the church, and Cardinal Spellman against me. And, the newspapers against me. But, I know how to fight. To prevail in this contest. What I don’t know is how to get up these subway steps. I’m so weak, dizzy.

On Aug, 9, 1954, Vito died of a heart attack at age 51. Francis Cardinal Spellman, a strong anti-communist, overruled local Catholic clergy, and Vito wasn’t granted burial in a Catholic cemetery. He was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, a nonsectarian site in the Bronx, not far from the grave of his patron, LaGuardia. Vito’s gravestone said, “Defender of the People.”

Thousands in East Harlem said farewell to Vito, and he was eulogized by many.

* Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker publication: “He lived Matthew {of the Bible}. And did the work of mercy. … Crowds came to him, and he always listened. He always tried to help.”

* Puerto Rican leader Gilberto Gerene Valentin: “Without Vito we are politically orphans.”

* Black leader, W.E.B. Dubois said Vito was one of the clearest thinkers in Congress … “a politician in the finest sense of the mutilated word.”

*At Vito’s services, a black man raised up his son to the casket and said, “I want you to say goodbye to the best friend the Negro people ever had.”

*Power broker Robert Moses and his wife, Mary, said Vito was “one of the kindest people we had ever met, and while his philosophy was quite beyond us, we will still miss him very much.”

* Then there was TV star Ed Sullivan, an East Harlem product: “Marcantonio’s squandered life should spell out to other Communist fronters … that when you hitch your wagon to a star be certain it isn’t the Red Star of the Kremlin.”

*And, Mingo: “Too bad I didn’t know Vito was gonna check out so soon. I would a told him to tell Scottoriggio I was just trying ta send a message. Nothin’ personal. Just business. Like my father would say, ‘Da biziniss.’“

Mingo, at an Arthur Avenue, Bronx, cafe, takes another sip of his espresso, with a twist of lemon:

“Yeah. Da biziniss.”

The post Vito Marcantonio Gets Da Biziniss first appeared on Dissident Voice.

We Are in a Period of Great Tectonic Shifts

Chiharu Shiota (Japan), Navigating the Unknown, 2020.

Chiharu Shiota (Japan), Navigating the Unknown, 2020.

The war in Ukraine has focused attention on the shifts taking place in the world order. Russia’s military intervention has been met with sanctions from the West as well as with the transport of arms and mercenaries to Ukraine. These sanctions will have a major impact on the Russian economy as well as the Central Asian states, but they will also negatively impact the European population who will see energy and food prices rise further. Until now, the West has decided not to intervene with direct military force or to try and establish a ‘no-fly zone’. It is recognised, sanely, that such an intervention could escalate into a full-scale war between the United States and Russia, the consequences of which are unthinkable given the nuclear weapons capacities of both countries. Short of any other kind of response, the West – as with the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 – has had to accept Moscow’s actions.

To understand the current global situation, here are six theses about the establishment of the US-shaped world order from 1990 to the current fragility of that order in the face of growing Russian and Chinese power. These theses are drawn from our analysis in dossier no. 36 (January 2021), Twilight: The Erosion of US Control and the Multipolar Future; they are intended for discussion and so feedback on them is very welcome.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (Canada), The One Percent, 2015.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (Canada), The One Percent, 2015.

Thesis One: Unipolarity. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, between 1990 and 2013–15, the United States developed a world system that benefitted multinational corporations based in the United States and in the other G7 countries (Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Canada). The events that defined overwhelming US power were the invasions of Iraq (1991) and Yugoslavia (1999) as well as the creation of the World Trade Organisation (1994). Russia, weakened by the collapse of the USSR, sought entry into this system by joining the G7 and collaborating with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a ‘Partner for Peace’. Meanwhile, China, under presidents Jiang Zemin (1993–2003) and Hu Jintao (2003–2013), played a careful game by inserting its labour into the US-dominated global system and not challenging the US in its operations.

Thesis Two: Signal Crisis. The US overreached its power through two dynamics: first, by overleveraging its own domestic economy (overleveraged banks, higher non-productive assets than productive assets); and second, by trying to fight several wars at the same time (Afghanistan, Iraq, Sahel) during the first two decades of the 21st century. The signal crises for the weakness of US power were illustrated by the invasion of Iraq (2003) and the debacle of that war for US power projection, and the credit crisis (2007–08). Internal political polarisation in the US and a crisis of legitimacy in Europe followed these developments.

Olga Bulgakova (Russia), Blind Men, 1992.

Thesis Three: Sino-Russian Emergence. By the second decade of the 2000s, for different reasons, both China and Russia emerged from their relative dormancy.

China’s emergence has two legs:

  1. China’s domestic economy. China built up massive trade surpluses and, alongside these, it built up scientific and technological knowledge through its trade agreements and its investment in higher education. Chinese firms in robotics, high-tech, high-speed rail, and green energy leapfrogged over Western firms.
  2. China’s external relations. In 2013, China announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which proposed an alternative to the US-driven International Monetary Fund’s development and trade agenda. The BRI extended out of Asia into Europe as well as into Africa and Latin America.

Russia emerged on two legs as well:

  1. Russia’s domestic economy. President Vladimir Putin fought some sections of the large capitalists to assert state control of key commodity export sectors and used these to build up state assets (notably oil and gas). Rather than merely leech Russian assets for their overseas bank accounts, these Russian capitalists agreed to subordinate part of their ambitions to rebuilding the power and influence of the Russian state.
  2. Russia’s external relations. Since 2007, Russia began to edge away from the Western global agenda and drive its own project, first through the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) agenda and then later through increasingly close relations with China. Russia leveraged its export of energy to assert control of its borders, which it had not done when NATO expanded in 2004 to absorb seven countries that are near its western boundary. Russian intervention into Crimea (2014) and Syria (2015) used its military force to create a shield around its warm water ports in Sebastopol (Crimea) and Tartus (Syria). This was the first military challenge to the US since 1990.

In this period, China and Russia deepened their cooperation in all fields.

Ibrahim el-Salahi (Sudan), Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I, (1961-65).

Ibrahim el-Salahi (Sudan), Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I, (1961-65).

Thesis Four: Global Monroe Doctrine. The United States took its 1823 Monroe Doctrine (that asserted its control over the Americas) global and proposed in this post-Soviet era that the entire world was its dominion. It began to push back against the assertion of China (Obama’s Pivot to Asia) and Russia (Russiagate and Ukraine). This New Cold War driven by the US, which includes hybrid warfare through sanctions against thirty countries such as Iran and Venezuela, has destabilised the world.

Thesis Five: Confrontations. The confrontations hastened by the New Cold War have inflamed the situation in Asia – where the Taiwan Strait remains a hot zone – and in Latin America – where the United States attempted to create a hot war in Venezuela (and attempted but failed to project its power in places such as Bolivia). The current conflict in Ukraine – which has its origins in many factors, including the demise of the Ukrainian pluri-national compact – is also over the question of European independence. The US has used ‘Global NATO’ as a Trojan horse to exercise its power over Europe and keep it subordinated to US interests even if it harms Europeans as they lose energy supply and natural gas for the food economy. Russia violated the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine, but NATO created some of the conditions which accelerated this confrontation – not for Ukraine but for its project in Europe.

Olga Blinder (Paraguay), A mi maestra (‘To My Teacher’), 1970.

Olga Blinder (Paraguay), A mi maestra (‘To My Teacher’), 1970.

Thesis Six: Terminal Crisis. Fragility is the key to understanding US power today. It has not declined dramatically, nor does it remain unscathed. There are three sources of US power that are relatively untouched:

(1) Overwhelming Military Power. The United States remains the only country in the world that is able to bomb any of the other UN member states into the stone age.
(2) The Dollar-Wall Street-IMF regime. Due to the global reliance on the dollar and to the dollar-denominated global financial system, the US can wield its sanctions as a weapon of war to weaken countries at its whim.
(3) Informational Power. No country has as decisive control over the internet, both its physical infrastructure and its near monopoly companies (such as Facebook and YouTube, which remove any content and any provider at will); no country has as much control over the shaping of world news due to the power of its wire services (Reuters and the Associated Press) as well as the major news networks (such as CNN).

There are other sources of US power that are deeply weakened, such as its political landscape, which is deeply polarised, and its inability to marshal its resources to send China and Russia back inside their borders.

People’s movements need to grow our own power, by organising the people into powerful organisations and around a programme that has the capacity to both answer the immediate problems of our time and the long-term question of how to transition to a system that can transcend the apartheids of our time: food apartheid, medical apartheid, education apartheid, and money apartheid. To transcend these apartheids leads us out of this capitalist system to socialism.

In the past week, we have lost many comrades, old and young. Amongst them, our Senior Fellow Aijaz Ahmad (1941–2022), one of the great Marxists of our time, left us at the age of 81. When Marxism was under attack after the fall of the USSR, Aijaz held the line, teaching generations of us about the necessity of Marxist theory; that theory remains necessary because it continues to be the most powerful critique of capitalism and, as long as capitalism continues to structure our lives, that critique remains boundless. For us at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Aijaz’s mentorship was invaluable. In fact, the dossier Twilight, which helped us orient ourselves in the current conjuncture, was written after substantial discussion with Aijaz.

We also lost Ayanda Ngila (1992–2022), who was the deputy chairperson of eKhenana land occupation, part of South Africa’s militant shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM). Ayanda was a courageous leader of AbM who had recently been released from a second spell of being held in prison on trumped up charges. He was a kind comrade to his peers and a student and teacher at the Frantz Fanon School. When he was gunned down by his adversaries in the African National Congress, Ayanda was wearing a t-shirt with a quote from Steve Biko: ‘It’s better to die for an idea that is going to live than to live for an idea that is going to die’. On the walls of the Frantz Fanon School, the comrades at AbM painted their ideals clearly: Land, Decent Housing, Dignity, Freedom, and Socialism.

We concur. So would Aijaz.

The post We Are in a Period of Great Tectonic Shifts first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Mythology, Ritual, and Art of Romantic Socialism

Introduction

For the most part socialists and members of organized religion seem to be opposites. After all, didn’t Marx say religion was the opium of the people, the heart of a heartless world? But has it always been this way? Socialists in the 19th century had very different ideas about the importance of mythology, ritual, and art. But could19th century socialist engage in these activities without getting caught up in supernatural ideas and reified images? This article discusses the efforts of William Morris, Walter Crane, and the Knights of Labor to bring heaven down to earth.

Orientation

The need for art, myth, and ritual in socialism

Despite its seemingly secular orientation, literature scholar Terry Eagleton has said that socialism has been a greater reform movement than religion, in fact, it has been the greatest reform movement in human history. But in order to achieve these reforms, economic reorganization of society by itself was not enough to move people. There also needed to be socialist culture, artistry, aesthetics, symbolism, rituals, and mythology. However, you would never know it if you looked at socialist practice for most of the 20th century, especially in Germany and in Yankeedom. Stefan Arvidsson says this about the classical description in historical materialism. The description of how different modes of production have emerged and how socialism of necessity will precede capitalism has something glaringly mythic about which modernist socialists never capitalized on. Karl Kautsky, the socialist Pope of the Second International, went so far as to state that socialism had no ideals to realize, no goals to reach, everything was a secular movement, with no myths and no rituals. Yet all movements, secular or spiritual, need appeal to collective emotions, awaken hope while giving structure to disappointments, sadness and anger. Romantic socialism did this well in the 19th century but why was it so reluctant to claim the same legacy in the 20th century?

Enlightenment and Socialist Criticisms of religion

In his book The Style and Mythology of Socialism: Socialist idealism, 1871-1914, Stefan Arvidsson names three of the most typical left-wing criticisms of religion:

1) Rational – the claim that religion is false. Religion contradicts the factual description of reality offered by the natural sciences. There is no god in heaven; magic is built on faulty premises and faith healing doesn’t work. This was the Enlightenment criticism.

2) Political – priests and the church claim divine authority to control crowds and legitimize the right to their privileges and that of political and economic elites.

This can be seen in Catholicism and Protestant elites in Europe and the United States. It is present in Islamic elites and the Brahminical Hinduism of Modi. It is present among Zionist elites in Israel. This slant also came out of the Enlightenment.

3) Ideological – this is the criticism of Feuerbach and Marx. It affirms that God is the alienated creativity of the masses. What people cannot do on earth, they project onto heaven. It’s the promise of a world to come in order to sugarcoat the lack of a prosperous world in this life.

I believe all these criticisms are right. The problem is:

  1. They are undialectical and do not ask the question of why religion has maintained itself for thousands of years in spite of these criticisms. Surely from a Darwinian point of view, if religion was just irrational, a political trick or an ideological mystification keeping people in mental chains, why didn’t natural selection filter it out?
  2. Religion is held at arm’s length. All the methods of religion – myths, rituals, holidays, sacraments, pilgrimages, art, altered states – were hot potatoes, too hot to handle. This unfortunate circumstance has kept socialists in the 20th century from learning from and using these spiritual tools in a non-reified, non-superstitious way.

My claim

The purpose of this article is to say:

  • Religious art, myth, rituals, symbols and techniques for altering states of consciousness should be taken over by socialists and used to our benefit.
  • The Knights of Labor and some socialists the 19th century knew how to do this and we must learn from them.

Plan for the article

The plan of this article is first to ask if socialism is a religion. My response if that I don’t think it’s a religion. Then I will examine the characteristics of romantic socialism in the first half and second half of the 19th century. I then turn to the Christian mythology of the Bible, the positivism and the religion of humanity and lastly the pagan claims of Jules Michelet and the work of Ricard Wagner. I then discuss socialist art, including the work of William Morris and William Crane. Next, I examine the political application or romantic socialism to the organization of the Knights of Labor.

In the last part of my article, I will discuss how romantic socialism was gradually replaced by modernist socialism. I close with a discussion of how romantic socialism missed the boat by relying on the slave religion of Christianity for its inspiration rather than a pagan tradition which is much more consistent with the anti-authoritarian nature of romantic socialism.

Is socialism a religion?

There is a beehive of conservatives who were all too happy to claim that, contrary to its atheist claims, socialism is a religion in its own right. In the Psychology of Socialism, Le Bon points out many quasi-religious phenomena of socialism like feasts, saints, martyrs, canonical texts, revolutionary myths, holy symbols and ritualized speech. Georges Sorel argued that the value of socialism does not rest with its material success or failure. Socialism as a kind of myth which gives people hope. It is fair to say that like any religion, socialism has a list of mythological events – Thomas Müntzer leading the German peasants, John Ball leading the English peasants in England, and Robin Hood (myth or not) robbing the rich to give to the poor. In the 19th and 20th centuries we had the Paris Commune, the storming of the Winter Palace in Russia, worker’s self-management during the Spanish Revolution and the life of Che to name a few. Even now, socialism still depends on symbolism – the red rose of the social democrats, the red star of revolutionary socialism and the encircling A of anarchism all show that socialism needs images to inspire.

Modern socialists, especially Marxists, have resisted the idea that it may be appropriate to label socialism as a surrogate religion because they claimed that socialism is scientific. In addition, as a Marxist I would claim that socialism is not a religion because the root meaning of religion is to bind-back, implying that something was lost. What was lost is a community which bound classless, pagan, and tribal societies together. Religion is a social emulsifier designed to paper over class differences. As Marx writes, it is the heart of a heartless world. Socialist attempts to create a classless society are designed to create a real binding, a heaven on earth, a return to primitive communism, but on a higher level. But polarizing socialism to be the opposite of religion was not the way socialists of the 19th century framed things. These socialists understood that religious means could be used to create socialist ends.

Romantic socialism

Romanticism is not an easy term to define and it covers the entire political spectrum.

Arvidsson names five “colors” of romanticism. Blue romanticism is the dreamy, sublime artistic romanticism of Schiller, Shelley and Byron.  There is white romanticism which is a religious and clerical tradition of revolutionary romantic lodges, and Christian socialists and the Knights of Labor. This form of romanticism wanted to take the individualist blue romanticism to the masses. Red and black romanticism is the romanticism of the anarchists, Sorel and artistically the symbolists’ writers. Green romanticism is the romanticism of the radical arts and crafts – Morris, and life reform movement. Yellow romanticism is what I would call the art-for-art’s sake of Oscar Wilde.

1st half of the 19th century

The socialism of early 19th century, what Marx and Engels would have called utopian socialism, began with the experiments in communist living of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier. These societies operated on a small scale and combined farming and artisan work, prior to the specialization of labor. Here workers did many more parts of the job than what happened in the specialization of labor in the second half of the 19th century. The emphasis in this community is characterized by Arvidsson as fraternity, intensity, and authenticity. These values were most clearly embedded in the work of Jean Rousseau, John Ruskin and later, William Morris. What made them so different from the socialism of the end of the 19th century was their incorporation of religion with its myth, rituals and art.

2nd half of the 19th century

Surprisingly, the thinker who had the most impact when it came to spreading the expression “religion of socialism” was the person whom Marx characterized as “our philosopher”, Joseph Dietzgen. His was a kind of the Feuerbach-inspired religion of humanity. For Dietzgen, this new religion has two parts:

  • scientific knowledge wherein nature is tamed; and,
  • science through “magic” – that is, the creative power of labor. It is magic because nature is transformed through work. Work is the name of the new redeemer.

Some advocates of the religion of socialism wished to appropriate socialist hymns, socialist saints, socialist sacraments, socialist rituals and even a socialist Ten Commandments.

Even funeral rites began to be ritualized within the religion of socialism. The great revolutionary socialist Ferdinand Lasalle believed that his political meetings were reminiscent of the very earliest religions. In the early years Wagner, the Viking revivalist, dreamed of creating an opening for revolutionary change with his epic opera. Later on, we will revisit this period and examine the practices of the Knights of Labor. Feeding forward a bit, in the early 20th century Russian authors Maxim Gorky, Anatoly Lunacharsky, and Alexander Bogdanov seized the initiative to create a “god-building” movement. The idea was to merge positivists and left-wing Hegelian religion of humanity, a-la Dietzgen and Wagner.

Mythology

Christian mythology

Socialists in the 19th century were not squeamish about drawing on the Bible to justify their movement. The books of the prophets have been the greatest inspiration for people to fight back. These books tell of rage against the shortcomings of their leaders and condemn social injustices. The man who did the most to link Jesus to the labor movement was George Lippard. For him, Jesus was a worker with class-consciousness. Famously, there is the painting and description of how Jesus cast out all the money-changers from the temple and overthrew the tables. The biblical figure of Mammon become the name of the god of money. Later in classical mythology Pluto is also the god of wealth, involving money and securities.

In Mark (in the Bible), there is the saying it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  The socialism of Blatchford and Keir Hardie was wrapped up in biblical language. At some point, Debs says “Just as a missionary goes out and preaches to the heathen in foreign countries, so we socialists got on soap boxes and persuaded people that industry could be run for use and not for profit.” (Page 216 of Style and Mythology of Socialism). The president of the union for miners in Illinois preached about the divine origin of labor unions. An English Baptist preacher declared that the capitalist market economy is more in keeping with the gladiatorial than a Christian theory of existence.

Positivism and the religion of humanity

There were a number of famous Christian socialists who were not waiting around for the life hereafter. During the 19th century they included Henri de Saint-Simon, Étienne Cabet, Wilhelm Weitling, Moses Hess, and later in the century, Leo Tolstoy.

In the case of August Comte, it was the human being that were to be worshiped as a deity in the making. Over time, Arvidsson says positivism developed into a full-fledged religion, having even its own calendar composed of writers and inventors like Dante, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, while excluding Christian figures. This religion of humanity included rituals, temples and mythical heroes.

It is easy to dismiss the Christian socialist as not real. But it may surprise you to know that some of the members of the Second International were trying to integrate religion with socialism. For example:

One of those most driven to establish a religion of humanity in Great Britain was Morris’ friend and partner within the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League, E. Belfort Bax (212). Bax writes:

The religion of the future must point to the immorality of the social man. The religion of socialism can contribute to extending the life of the individual. (224)

What Bax meant was that the immortality of social man would be embedded in the processes and results of building socialism on earth. The individual is immortalized in the collective creations they built in the bridges, buildings, books, paintings, and weavings that became the fabric of the new world long after the individual is dead.

Witches and pagans

Jules Michelet was one of the first historians to consider witchcraft not merely as a religious controversy but as a resistance movement of the peasantry. Arvidsson says he introduced the witch as a proto-socialist whose Chthon-ic gods and goddesses were seen as a viable spiritual alternative to a Christianity which seemed increasingly to have come into conflict with scientific truths.

Just as Michelet brought in pagan witches, William Morris, the revolutionary, was nostalgically fascinated with the Viking Age, especially with anti-royalist Iceland. He studied Old Icelandic, which lead to a translation of the Völsunga Saga. Later when we examine the art of Walter Crane, we will see his work as a longing for a sensuality hedonism and paganism. It belongs to the primitive tradition of Rousseau and Fourier. We can see his paganism when Crane imagined the laborers’ holidays as being a more Dionysian affair.

All primitive magical rituals use all the arts in order to create an altered state of consciousness. This included costume making, music, myth, storytelling, mask-making and dance. For most of western history, with the exception of within the Catholic Church, the arts became separate from the sacred. It was Richard Wagner who reunited them in his epic theatrical productions which included drama, opera, and ritual. It is tempting to dismiss Wagner because of his right-wing turn towards the end of his life, but he was once a leftist:

In Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk, beautiful music is wrapped together with anarchist revelations about the corrosive forces of power and wealth, and the innate idealism of natural human beings. (142)

Wagner says:

We should never be careful not to underestimate the yearning by many people to be part of something big and beautiful. Fellowship was all well and good, but men needed something to whet their appetites. (143)

Unfortunately, the modernist socialists never understood this.

Wagner’s use of Norse and Medieval texts for his opera The Ring, which he began working on during the revolutionary days of 1848 when he fought with Bakunin on the streets of Dresden. The Ring is about the curse of greed. Regardless of Wagner’s right-wing turn, Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first Soviet minister of culture and education, liked Wagner. In 1933, the 50th anniversary of Wagner’s death, Lunacharsky paid homage to him by describing the composer as a musician who gets the spirits to gather. A famous Swedish example of the anti-capitalist use of Norse mythology is Viktor Rydberg’s interpretation of the Edda poem Grottasöngr. 

Socialist Aesthetics

Idealist aesthetics in the 19th century claimed that the task of art – whether it was poetry, literature, music, or painting – was a way to uplift us and to point the way to the ideal. They wanted to help transform people into more virtuous human beings. 

William Morris

John Ruskin was mercilessly critical of civilization and culture and felt that it oozed of modern decay and decadence. His most driven spokesperson was the great English socialist, William Morris. Morris distinguishes society from civilization and says he hates civilization. For Morris, socialism and anarchism replaced Ruskin’s “blue” romantic elitism. He wanted to align those ideas with Ruskin’s romantic criticism of civilization. Morris’s ideals certainly stemmed from Ruskin and Walter Pater’s Renaissance ideas of beauty. Morris used to say art is man’s expression of his joy in labor. All work should or could be art. Beautiful objects are created by beautiful working environments. For Morris, the reward of labor is life. An ideal society is a society that is not only encouraged by art but is in and of itself a work of art. For Morris, socialism implied a complete philosophy of life that comprised the Good and the True as well as the Beautiful.

At the end of the 1889 into the 1890s, William Morris and the arts and crafts movement stood for the first radical artistic change. Morris and his disciples were not only concerned with graphic design but also with full aesthetic programs for handicraft, architecture, city planning, conservation, art, and literature. The aim was:

  • The transformation of life
  • The transformation of the conditions of physical labor

The purpose was that life and work cease to be alienated. For Morris, articles become beautiful when they are created from the joyful laboring of a rich personality.

Walter Crane

According to Arvidsson, no one meant more for the socialist culture of visual arts in the late 19th to early 20th century than Walter Crane. Crane joined the Socialist League under the leadership of Morris and Eleanor Marx Aveling. He marched in pro-Irish demonstrations, which would be later known as Bloody Sunday. In his painting, Socialist Valkyrie, the peace of socialism triumphs over the warring knights of liberalism and conservativism. Many of his political posters, Solidarity of Labor; Labour’s May Day 1890; the Worker’s Maypole; The Cause of Labor and the Hope of the World have been copied. For the first time in the history of the world, a socialist iconography had been created. Crane believed that artists learn from the handicraft traditions of folk culture. The artist should look downward towards the lower class and to nature for inspiration, not upwards towards some kind of ingenious spiritual inspiration. The engraving The Triumph of Labor (1891), was Crane’s most famous, commemorating the socialist May Day and the definitive image of English socialism. In Walter Crane’s painting of Freedom, the angel frees humanity from both the animalistic power of the king and the transcendentalism of the priests. In another painting, the famous French icon Marianne leads workers to attack the class enemy.

In a May Day parade, socialists carry Crane’s prints of The Triumph of Labor, which Arvidsson describes in the following way:

In the thick of the procession walks a winged bringer of light…Liberte Marianne…The personifications…bleed into one another. Beside her, a boy leads a mounted farmer and they are closely followed by Monsieur Egalitarian and Fraternity…

The figures of the French Revolution are followed by the two oxen, a woman with a cornucopia – perhaps Demeter and a young man playing a flute (Pan or a satyr) – and a young woman dancing with a tambourine.  (maenad) (192)

Even leading Austrian Marxists consciously tried to infuse May Day with religious solemnity and messianic feelings.

Socialist Romanticism in Politics: The Knights of Labor

Description of the Material Vision of the Knights of Labor

The Knights of Labor was the largest and the most powerful labor organization of late 19th century in North America. Skilled and unskilled laborers were welcomed, as were women and black workers. The order tried to teach the American wage earner that s/he was a wage earner first, a brick layer, carpenter, miner and shoemaker after that. He was a wage earner first, and a Catholic, Protestant and Jew, white, Democrat, Republican after.

Surprisingly for a labor organization, in the spirit of fraternity, politics and religion were forbidden topics of conversation in the congregation’s building.

The Goals were:

  • To make industrial and moral growth, not wealth, the true standard of individual and national greatness.
  • To secure for the workers the full enjoyment of the wealth they create, and sufficient leisure in which to develop their intellectual moral and social faculties.

Their constitution included the following:

The implementation of safety measures for miners; prohibition of children under 15 from working in factories; a national monetary system independent of banks; nationalization of the telegraph, telephone and railway networks; the creation of cooperative businesses; equal work for equal pay irrespective of gender; a refusal to work more than 8 hours per day. (p. 91)

The Knights felt it was immoral and blasphemous to live off the work of others. Toil was one thing, but to be exploited was another. Under capitalism, they struggled with how to pay tribute to essential and natural creative work without defending alienation of labor. They believed labor was the only thing that generates value.

Knights of Labor as a Secret Society

The Knights of Labor was no ordinary labor organization. They wanted to bring together humanity, hand, head, and heart. The Knights used medievalist mythology as part of the overall trend towards a Gothic revival. Guild socialism was a notion that Middle Ages was valued because it was believed that economics and ethics had not yet been torn from each other. There was a fraternal secret of laborers with rituals, special handshakes, devotional songs, and mythologies. Officials within the order thus acted as a kind of priests and there was a pledge to be loyal to the order and not to reveal any of its secrets. Devotional songs were sung and organ music filled the air. Cooperation is portrayed as divine. The lodges were like seeds that are scattered over the earth and like all seeds, they struggle to germinate and grow. For the Knights of Labor, the philosopher’s stone was no philosophical process of turning dross matter into gold. It was the process of work itself.

Here is a recommendation for a poetic recitation during the opening ceremony:

Notice the combination of matter and spirit throughout the poem: granite and rose, archangel and bee, flames of sun and stars. Notice a pantheistic view of God. This was a theological orientation associated with political radicalism during the 19th century:

God of the Granite and the Rose

Soul of archangel and the bee
The mighty tide of being flows
Through every channel, Lord from Thee
It springs to life in grass and flowers
Through every grade of being runs
Till from Creations radiant towers
Thy glory flames in stars and suns

In 1879 Terrace Powderly was elected grand master workman and he began reworking the images of socialism used for agitation purposes. For example, in the painting of the Great Seal of Knighthood, humanity joins together in the form of a circle around God’s triangle in the Great Seal. Arvidsson points out that Powderly added some new touches. Instead of abstractions like creation, justice, humanity, he added labor. He changes the triangle of God on the inside to the process of laboring: of production, distribution and consumption. The pentagon is changed to the five days of the work-week. Finally, the hexagon on the outside is changed to a symbol of various tools.

For the Knights the handshake was secret, but the manner of the shake was rooted in labor. The emphasis on the importance of the thumb was intended to reinforce how important an opposable thumb is compared with other fingers.  The thumb makes possible humanities such the use of tools at work, in the fine arts and in craftsmanship. Lastly the production of buttons, pins, and portraits of the founders and of Powderly were made. He was first American working-class hero of national stature.

The Fall of Romantic Socialism

According to Arvidsson, after the devastations of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune, romanticism was on the run in Europe. In the second half of the 19th century romantic socialism had to compete with other cultural styles. For romantic socialism, it was the ideal of the good that was designated in symbols. But alongside it there were now artistic movements of realism and naturalism for which the ideal was not what was good, but what was true – including the dark side of social reality. In the light of the naturalistic outlook with its scientific eye for the less beautiful side of humanity, romanticism seems meaningless, moralizing and out of touch with reality. With Darwinism, the time had become ripe for vitalism, where life was seen as a struggle, where the strong and the sound, not the honest, noble and beautiful triumphed.

Oscar Wilde was the mediator between Morris and Crane’s romanticism on the one hand and modernism on the other. Wilde wanted to link socialism with aestheticism and wanted to revolutionize society so that the life of people will be to become artistic. With Wilde, aestheticism returned to romanticism in emphasizing the importance of beauty, but with a difference. For romantics what was beautiful had to have a particular content, namely, the cause of workers. But for aestheticism it was the principles of beauty independent of its application.

From fraternal order to trade union

For the founders and many of the leaders of the Knights of Labor, the single-minded pursuit of higher salaries seemed narrow and short-sighted. They strove instead to create a higher culture. A sizable chunk of workers’ experience is dismissed if ritual and fraternity is ignored. But attitudes towards fraternalism as a form of struggle began to change at the turn of the century. The mythic and religious aspects of the Knights of Labor were toned down as a consequence of the Catholic Church’s criticism and threats. With the ritualistic dimension missing for the workers, the requirements for direct material success of labor organizations became more pressing. The experience of knighthood was to be replaced by membership in pragmatic oriented and often reformist or relatively apolitical, modern and secular trade unions. Within the political life of unions, socialist modernism suggested that fraternal organizations existed for the benefits of the leaders. They were seen as forms of social careerism for these “high priests”. In the US, it was the modern labor union and socialist-oriented political parties that replaced socialist fraternalism. Socialism came to be understood as economic and less and less to do with culture. Modernist socialists like Marx, Engels, and later Kautsky all took this stand.

From Fraternal order to Fabian Think Tank

In Britain Fabianism became a bridge between life reform and culture-oriented socialist romanticism and the social democratic parties that followed. The Fabian Society was founded in 1884. Members included Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Edward Carpenter, Havelock and Edith Ellis, H.G. Wells, Annie Besant, George Bernard Shaw, and Walter Crane. Early on, they cultivated a kind of life-style socialism, including vegetarianism. But they were not interested in ritual or dramatization. It became important for the Fabians to distance their modern socialism from bohemian lifestyle socialism and primitivist flirtations. The Webbs and Shaw founded the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895. Political reform, which was foreign to the Knights of Labor, was another tendency that grew with the parliamentarian successes of socialist parties after they became legal. This impressed the Fabians.

From co-producer of culture to consumer of culture

Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, mass advertising and department stores began to spring up, first in Paris and then on the east coast of Yankee cities. By the end of the 19th century, the rising consumer culture pulled the rug out from under both the Knights of Labor and the Fabians. Instead of listening to lectures and singing in the assembly halls, laborers started to visit the emergent theaters, amusement parks, and cabarets more frequently. Leisure was transformed from largely participatory to more passive, consumer activities. In the 19th century, people marched in parades. By the early 20th century, they cheered parades from the sidelines. Successful entrepreneurs were the new heroes in the kingdom of trade. The story lines contained within advertising and their logos replaced myth. Shopping sprees became the new rituals. Buying luxury items became modern talismans. Economists became soothsayers and prophets of economic growth. Old worker flags and banners of real people turned into stylized and geometrical forms.

From Utopia to Dystopia

The 19th century was the great century of Utopias whether in practical communist societies or theoretical novels. Edward Bellamy, William Morris, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were different, with some supporting high technology and others not. However, all were optimistic. Twentieth century modernism was all pessimistic beginning with Jack London’s Iron Heel. In the first half of the 20th century utopian literature became dominated by three disillusioned ex-socialists: Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin’s We in 1921; Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in 1932; and Orwell’s 1984 in 1949.

Romanticism ended with World War I and lost out as a cultural style. However, it was rebirthed with the beats after World War II, the rise of the New Left, the counterculture of the 60s, and the New Age and Neopagan movements that began in the 1970s.

See the table at the end of this article which summarizes the differences between romantic and modern socialism.

Witchcraft and paganism as socialism’s lost opportunity

In the middle of this article, I mentioned the work of some progressives and socialists for whom witchcraft and paganism offered resources for hope. As I mentioned earlier, Jules Michelet claimed that witchcraft in the Middle Ages and in Early Modern Europe was a resistance movement of the peasantry against both the Church and the landlords. Later, William Morris saw the anti-royalist Vikings as inspiration enough for him to study the language of Iceland. Furthermore, the artwork of Walter Crane had many pagan elements in it. Lastly, Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and The Ring are both about the curse of greed and corruption. But even more importantly Wagner combined his tales in epic proportion by saturating the senses with pageantry, music, dance, drama, and ritual. This was a throwback to the pagan rituals of tribal societies and more elaborately in agricultural states. Why wasn’t this seized on by romantic socialists more often instead of relying on the slave religion of Christianity for its inspiration?

The pagan tradition of tribal societies is much more consistent with the anti-authoritarian nature of romantic socialism. What I want to focus on is the Neopagan movement started by romantics in the middle of the 18th century and blossomed in the 1970s. I’ve written a number of articles agitating for a new pagan-Marxist synthesis. In my article New Agers vs Neopagans: Can Either Be Salvaged for Socialism? I identified many categories where there is full agreement between Neopagans, democratic socialists, anarchists and the various types of Leninists. Here are some of the commonalities from that article. Here is what both romantic and modern socialists are missing out on.

Western magic and matter as creative and self-regulating

Paganism and the western ceremonial magical traditions have deep roots in the West, from ancient Roman times through the Renaissance magicians, alchemists, Rosicrucians and up to the Golden Dawn at the end of the 19th century. All these traditions were committed to in some way redeeming matter. Matter was seen by all magical traditions as creative, self-regulating and immanent in this world. Pagans are either pantheists or polytheists. Like socialist materialists, matter is seen by pagans as real, rather than evil or an illusion. There is clearly a relationship between pagan pantheism and dialectical materialism.

Nature and society are objective forces that impact individuals and only groups change reality

Like socialists, Neopagans would never say individuals “create their own reality”. Neopagan nature is revered and must be taken care of. The forces of nature or the gods and goddesses actively do things to disrupt the plans and schemes of individuals. How would socialists react to this? Very positively. All socialists understand nature and society as evolving. Socialists understand that individuals by themselves can change little. It is organized groups which change the world. Since much of Neopagan rituals are group rituals, there would be compatibility in outlook here as well.

Embracing the aggressive and dark side of nature and society

Neopagans could never be accused of being fluffy or pollyannish. There is a recognition that there is dark side of nature. These dark forces must be worked with and integrated. Socialists would agree with this, but as the darkest force on this planet is capitalism, socialists would disagree that there can be any integration with capitalism.

Importance of the past: primitive communism and pre-Christian paganism

The past is very important to Neopagans mostly because of what Christianity did to pagans throughout Western history. The past is also very important to Marxists because primitive communism was an example of how humanity could live without capitalism.

Most Neopagans, like Marxists, are very pro-science

Chaos theory, complexity theory that would attract Neopagans is very much like Marxian dialectical materialism. While the Gaia hypothesis would be a stretch for materialists, Vernadsky’s Biosphere would be welcomed by Neopagans. Lastly, even primitivist anarchists are very interested in science fiction and how society could be better organized in the future.

Commonality between Wiccan covens and anarchist affinity groups or cells

There have never to my knowledge been pagan cults. Many Neopagans are generally an anti-authoritarian lot and organizing them can be like herding cats.  Many Neopagans, like socialists, are very anti-capitalist anarchists and Neopagan witches.

Politically many wiccan pagans like Starhawk’s Reclaiming have organized themselves anarchistically with consensus decision making. The most predictable anti-capitalists in Neopaganism are wiccans. Economically, the work of anarchist economist David Graeber would fit perfectly for Neopagan witch anarchists.

Commonality between Neopagan goddess reverence and socialist feminism

Wiccans are also very pro-feminist and some are organized where the goddess values of women are predominant. All this is good news for socialists, since Margot Adler has said that about half of the roughly 200,000 Neopagans are wiccans. A program for a socialist feminism could be easily taken in stride by most Neopagans.

Sensory saturation and inspired altered states of consciousness

I have saved these categories for last because this is the area of Neopaganism that might be the most actively contested by socialists, but it is also the area that I think Neopagans have the most to teach socialists. As I’ve stated in other articles, a good definition of magick is the art and science of changing group consciousness at will by saturating the senses through the use of the arts and images in ritual. Socialists are likely to dismiss this as dangerous because it sweeps people away. They are also likely to confuse this with religious rituals which religious authorities control their parishioners for the purposes of mystifying people and asserting control over them. This is a big mistake. Not all rituals are superstitious reifications. and when done well, are a way to empower people and built confidence. People in egalitarian societies, the ones Marxists call primitive communism, understood this. The pagan holiday Beltane May Day corresponds to socialist May Day celebrations around the world and a great place for the meeting of these movements. We need socialists in the arts, especially in dance, music, choreography and play-writing to join with Neopagans who are already good at this.

Table of Information from articleFirst published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

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Before and Without Marx

Some peoples possess shamans to explain how the world works. We have charlatan economists and politicians posing as intellectuals who claim to be able to reveal the mystery of running society.

The ideas of Marx did not arise out of thin air but grew from the works of many others before him. But the purpose of this short essay is not to explore his Young Hegelian philosophical roots or to expound on the influence of earlier economists such as Ricardo had on Marx but to focus upon the independent thought that developed within the working class which Marx would incorporate into his own conception of the world around him.

Out of the discontent of the Industrial Revolution arose the Chartist movement. The need for the whole working class to unite in one movement had come to the fore. The Chartists was the first mass political movement of the British working class and effectively Britain’s first civil rights movement. Many unknown and, therefore, unacknowledged workers engaged in the mass struggle for the vote. As the factory and mill owners resisted any rebellion against the dictatorship of capital, certain radicals emphasized the connection between the struggle to win the vote and the class struggle. They also came to understand that this was just a part of a wider and greater international fight for democracy and people’s power.

In his 1839 Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy or The Age of Might and the Age of Right, one of  the early Chartist activists, John Francis Bray, writes:

There is wanted, not a mere governmental or particular remedy, but a general remedy – one which will apply to all social wrongs and evils, great and small…they want a remedy for their poverty – they want a remedy for the misery…Knowledge is merely an accumulation of facts; and wisdom is the art of applying such knowledge to its true purpose – the promotion of human happiness.

In the same year as Bray published his book, George Julian Harney was dismissing the policy of appealing to the goodwill of the ruling class, rebuffing any alliances with them. Referring to the effects of the New Poor Law Act on the conditions in the workhouses, he stated:

You see now through the delusions of your enemies. Nearly nine years of ‘liberal’ government have taught you the blessings of middle class sway, blessings exemplified in ‘bastilles’ and ‘water gruel,’ in ‘separation’ and ‘starvation’; in the cells of silent horror and the chains of transportation, in the universal misery of yourselves and the universal profligacy of your oppressors’. 1   .

It was on September 1845, two decades before the First International, the society of Fraternal Democrats was formed, adopting the motto, ‘All men are brethren.’

It was founded by some in the British Chartist movement such as Harney, along with a variety of political exiles from across Europe.

The Fraternal Democrats’ political platform, declared:

We denounce all political and hereditary inequalities and distinctions of castes…that the earth with all its natural productions is the common property of all; we therefore denounce all infractions of this evidently just and natural law, as robbery and usurpation. We declare that the present state of society, which permits idlers and schemers to monopolise the fruits of the earth and the productions of industry, and compels the working classes to labour for inadequate rewards, and even condemns them to social slavery, destitution, and degradation, is essentially unjust.

It made a call for internationalism:

Convinced that national prejudices have been, in all ages, taken advantage of by the people’s oppressors to set them tearing the throats of each other, when they should have been working together for their common good, this society repudiates the term ‘Foreigner,’ no matter by, or to whom applied. Our moral creed is to receive our fellow men, without regard to ‘country,’ as members of one family, the human race; and citizens of one commonwealth – the world.

As Harney explained:

Whatever national differences divide Poles, Russians, Prussians, Hungarians, and Italians, these national differences have not prevented the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian despots uniting together to maintain their tyranny; why, then, cannot countries unite for obtainment of their liberty? The cause of the people in all countries is the same – the cause of Labour, enslaved, and plundered…In each country the tyranny of the few and the slavery of the many are variously developed, but the principle in all is the same. In all countries the men who grow the wheat live on potatoes. The men who rear the cattle do not taste flesh-food. The men who cultivate the vine have only the dregs of its noble juice. The men who make clothing are in rags. The men who build the houses live in hovels. The men who create every necessary comfort and luxury are steeped in misery Working men of all nations, are not your grievances your wrongs, the same? Is not your good cause, then the same also? We may differ as to the means, or different circumstances may render different means necessary but the great end – the veritable emancipation of the human race – must be the one end and aim of all.

It is not any amelioration of the conditions of the most miserable that will satisfy us: it is justice to all that we demand. It is not the mere improvement of the social life of our class that we seek, but the abolition of classes and the destruction of those wicked distinctions which have divided the human race into princes and paupers, landlords and labourers, masters and slaves. It is not any patching and cobbling up of the present system we aspire to accomplish, but the annihilation of the system and the substitution, in its stead, of an order of things in which all shall labour and all enjoy, and the happiness of each guarantee the welfare of the entire community. 2

Another prominent Chartist activist, Ernest Jones gave the Chartist movement a more socialistic direction and he too was committed to the wider international context of the workers’ movement. In The People’s Paper of 17 February 1854, Jones wrote:

Is there a poor and oppressed man in England? Is there a robbed and ruined artisan in France? Well, then, they appertain to one race, one country, one creed, one past, one present, and one future. The same with every nation, every colour, every section of the toiling world. Let them unite. The oppressors of humanity are united, even when they make war. They are united on one point that of keeping the peoples in misery and subjection…Each democracy, singly, may not be strong enough to break its own yoke; but together they give a moral weight, an added strength, that nothing can resist. The alliance of peoples is the more vital now, because their disunion, the rekindling of national antipathies, can alone save tottering royalty from its doom. Kings and oligarchs are playing their last card: we can prevent their game.

In yet another article from the ‘Peoples Paper’, March 3 1855, Jones explained:

Let none misunderstand the tenor of our meeting: we begin to-night no mere crusade against an aristocracy. We are not here to pull one tyranny down, only that another may live the stronger. We are against the tyranny of capital as well. The human race is divided between slaves and masters…Until labour commands capital, instead of capital commanding labour, I care not what political laws you make, what Republic or Monarchy you own – man is a slave.’

Ernest Jones was also the prime mover in assembling what was called, the Labour Parliament. Jones in The People’s Paper for January 7, 1854, wrote:

Every day brings fresh confirmation of the need for a mass movement and the speedy assembling of the Labour Parliament. If it is delayed much longer, every place, Preston included, lost or at the best forced into degrading and weakening compromises…The Cotton Lords, at a ‘Mass Meeting/ of their own, unanimously resolved to support their brother Cotton Lords of Preston and Wigan with the full force of their funds. Under these circumstances it is class against class…It must, therefore, become manifest that unless the working classes fight this battle as a Class, that is, in one universal union by a mass movement, they will be inevitably defeated …The greater the lock-out, the wider the strike movement, the more national becomes the movement –the more of a class struggle it is rendered –and if the working classes once see that they are struck at as a class, their class instinct will be roused and they will rise and act as one man.

The Parliament met on March 6, 1854, at Manchester, attended by some fifty or sixty delegates with the Parliament’s discussions lasting several days. Marx was to comment:

Some future historian will have to record that there existed in the year 1854, two Parliaments: a Parliament at London and a Parliament at Manchester – a Parliament of the rich and a Parliament of the poor – but that men sat only in the Parliament of the men and not in the Parliament of the masters.

Peter McDouall was another significant figure in Chartism who was an advocate of the power of the ordinary worker. He explained:

The Trades are equal to the middle class in talent, far more powerful in means and much more united in action’ and again ‘The agitation for the Charter has afforded one of the greatest examples in modern history of the real might of the labourers. In the conflict millions have appeared on the stage and the mind of the masses has burst from its shell and begun to flourish and expand.’The question of what was to be the next step forward was one of great urgency and on this issue, the Chartists were deeply divided. Many moderates refused to host McDouall’s meetings as he opposed alliances with the middle class.

Past defeats, he judged, could all be attributed to the fact:

Our associations were hastily got up, composed of prodigious numbers, a false idea of strength was wrought up to the highest pitch, thence originated a sense of security which subsequent events proved to be false, and why? Because no real union existed at the bottom.

McDouall’s proposal was to turn to the working class as only it had the necessary potential strength. He believed the Chartists should win over the newly-forming trade unions and use them. However, some of his Chartist critics saw the trade unions not as allies but as rivals, regarding union activity as a diversion, side-tracking people from the real struggle for the franchise.

McDouall was yet another Chartist who recognised the international aspect of their struggle.

Let all who have possessions in India, or all who profit by what you call ‘our Indian possessions’ be off to India, and fight a thousand battles for them as they like… but let them not mock our degradation by asking us, working people to fight alongside them, either for our ‘possessions’ in India, or anywhere else, seeing that we do not possess a single acre of ground, or any other description of property in our own country, much less colonies, or ‘possessions’ in any other, having been robbed of everything we ever earned by the middle and upper classes…On the contrary, we have an interest in prospective loss or ruin of all such ‘possessions’, seeing they are but instruments of power in the hands of our domestic oppressors.

1848 was Europe’s Year of Revolutions and as Marx and Engels released their Communist  Manifesto, McDouall was addressing rallies, spurring people into action. After he spoke in Edinburgh, there were street disturbances with shouts of ‘Vive la Republique’ and ‘Bread and Revolution’.

Many before Marx understood the terrible human impacts of the capitalist system — all the poverty, misery, madness, inequality and its injustice. Socialists, who reject capitalism, follow a similar strategy as those Chartists militants before us and struggle for any improvements even if we know they can disappear overnight. But to stop struggling would only make workers worse off.

  1. London Democrat, April 20, 1839.
  2. George Julian Harney, Red Republican, 1850.
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We Have to Stand on Our Ground, the Best Ground from Which to Reach the Stars

Likbez (USSR), Tatar Literacy Club, 1935.

Likbez (USSR), Tatar Literacy Club, 1935.

Almost every single child on the planet (over 80% of them) had their education disrupted by the pandemic, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) agency. Though this finding is startling, it was certainly necessary to close schools as the infectious COVID-19 virus tore through society. What has been the impact of that decision on education? In 2017 – before the pandemic – at least 840 million people had no access to electricity, which meant that, for many children, online education was impossible. A third of the global population (2.6 billion people) has no access to the internet, which – even if they had electricity – makes online education impossible. If we go deeper, we find that the rates of those who do not have access to the gadgets necessary for online learning – such as computers and smartphones – are even more dire, with two billion people lacking both. To have physical schools closed, therefore, has resulted in hundreds of millions of children around the world missing school for nearly two years.

Macro-data like this is illustrative but misleading. The bulk of those without electricity and internet live in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For example, before the pandemic, one in five children in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Asia had never entered a primary school classroom. One in three girls didn’t have access to education in Northern Africa and Western Asia, compared to one in twenty-five boys. Projections show that one in four children in Southern Asia (population est. 2 billion) and one in five children in Africa (population est. 1.2 billion) and in Western Asia (population est. 300 million) will likely not go to school at all. Studies of the reading levels of children under the age of ten deepen our sense of these inequities: in low and middle-income countries, 53% of children cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school, while in poor countries this number rises to 80% (it is only 9% in high-income countries).

The geographical distribution of low and high-income countries reveals the same old divides. This was the main focus of dossier no. 43 (CoronaShock and Education in Brazil: One and a Half Years Later, August 2021), summarised in our seven theses on the present and future of education in Brazil. These regional and gender inequalities predated the pandemic but have been exacerbated because of the lockdowns.

Aya Takano (Japan), Convenience Store, 2016.

Aya Takano (Japan), Convenience Store, 2016.

Signs of improvement are not yet visible. Earlier this year, the World Bank and UNESCO noted that, since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, two-thirds of developing countries have cut their education budgets. This is catastrophic for large parts of the world where students rely upon public and not private education. Before the pandemic, these gaps were already enormous: in high-income countries, governments spent $8,501 per school-age child, while in poorer countries the amount was only $48 per school-age child. The negative economic effects of the pandemic on developing countries mean that the gaps will widen, with little hope of recovery. As a result, there will be fewer resources to bridge the electricity, digital, and gadget divides, with almost no funds to build lending libraries for smartphones, for example, and much fewer resources to train teachers on how to handle the return of students to the classroom after a two-year hiatus. Since vaccination rates have remained poor in low-income countries, closures will continue indefinitely or risk spreading infections in schools.

Mehdi Farhadian (Iran), Cannons and Ballerinas, 2018.

Mehdi Farhadian (Iran), Cannons and Ballerinas, 2018.

Recently, the Indian government released its Annual Status of Education Report 2021, which showed that large numbers of children had no school last year and less than a quarter were able to access online education. As the economic situation for middle-class families worsened during the pandemic, enrolment declined in private schools and increased in public schools. This shift in the wake of dwindling government spending on public education will lead to intensified pressure on students and public school staff, especially teachers.

A study by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) found that these inequities continue into higher education, with the sharp discovery of a 50% gender gap amongst those who use the internet through their mobile phones in India (21% of women versus 42% of men). In Tribal special focus districts, a mere 3.47% of schools have access to information communication technologies (ICT), according to government data. To make matters worse, the closure of university hostels has hit young women especially hard since living outside the family home served as a refuge from the suffocation of patriarchy in myriad forms, including early marriage and the pressures of reproductive labour.

Meanwhile, a bright light shines in Kerala, a state in southern India governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) where education rates are 90%. The LDF government has increased education funding in the state and has allowed local self-governments to decide how to spend that money. Before the pandemic, Kerala’s LDF government built high-tech classrooms; once the pandemic set in, it created the necessary infrastructure to allow for online learning. During the pandemic, over 4.5 million students attended school not through smartphones and computers, but through First Bell, a telecast from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the government-owned Versatile ICT Enabled Resource for Students (VICTERS) television channel. It is much easier for families to access a television than to access more expensive digital technology. The Kerala example shows the power of centring education around a community’s existing capabilities.

Education is not only about devices and classrooms. It is about how teaching happens and what is taught (a point worth noting during the centenary of the birth of the great educator Paulo Freire, whose legacy we discuss in our dossier no. 34, Paulo Freire and Popular Struggle in South Africa). So many of the successes in Kerala are a consequence of a socialist culture that believes in each child and believes in the importance of elevating rather than denigrating the cultures of the working class and the peasantry.

Cuban Literacy Campaign, 1961.

Cuban Literacy Campaign, 1961.

News comes from Brazil that the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) has enabled more than 100,000 people to become literate in the last thirty-seven years. The MST uses Freirean techniques and the Cuban Yo Sí Puedo (‘Yes I Can’) model of education developed by the Latin American and Caribbean Pedagogical Institute(IPLAC). This model emerged after Fidel Castro’s pledge in September 1960 to raise literacy rates to 100%. In eight months, the country realised near total literacy through the Cuban Literacy Campaign. A quarter of a million people, half of them under eighteen, volunteered to go to rural areas and spend nights and weekends improving the skills of the peasantry with chalk and blackboards. They used what Cubans already had in the way of knowledge and enhanced it by teaching them how to read and write, rather than treating them as illiterates needing to be told what to do. Leonela Relys Diaz, one of the original youth volunteers of the literacy campaign, developed the Yo Sí Puedo curriculum in 2000. Now, the programme uses pre-recorded, culturally specific videos alongside highly motivated and trained local facilitators to lift the confidence and skills of people. This programme has also been used in Venezuela since 2003, where it helped teach 1.48 million adults to read and write, thereby eradicating illiteracy in two years.

During the pandemic, socialist projects – such as those of LDF government in Kerala, the Cuban educational programmes, and the MST literacy campaign – are flourishing, while other governments cut their educational funding. ‘It’s always time to learn’, says the MST literacy programme, but this adage is not in use everywhere.

Michael Armitage (Kenya), The Fourth Estate, 2017.

Michael Armitage (Kenya), The Fourth Estate, 2017.

During the pandemic, the University of Nairobi in Kenya decided to shut down its Department of Literature. This department pioneered post-colonial studies when its faculty transformed the colonial English Department, allowing scholars and learners to look deeply into Kenyan arts and culture by absorbing the potential of the African imagination. One of the architects of the new department was the writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who took art to the working-class neighbourhood of Kibera and brought the aesthetic of Kibera to the university. For that, wa Thiong’o was fired and imprisoned in 1978. As word came of the department’s closure, he wrote the poem ‘IMF: International Mitumba Foundation’. Two words of annotation: Mitumba is the Swahili word for ‘second-hand’, used here to poke fun at the International Monetary Fund; the word MaTumbo means ‘stomach’.

IMF: International Mitumba Foundation

First, they gave us their tongues.
We said, it is okay, we can make them ours.
Then they said we must destroy ours first.
And we said it is okay because with theirs we become first.
First to buy their aircrafts and war machines.
First to buy their cars and clothes.
First Buyers of the best they make from our Best.
But when we said we could best them
By making the best from our best
Our own from our own
They said no, you must buy from us
Even though you made the best out of your best.
Now they make us buy the best they have already used
And when we said we could fight back and make our own
They reminded us they know all the secrets of our weapons.
Yes, they make us buy the best they have already used
Second hand, they call it.
In Swahili they are called Mitumba.
Mitumba weapons.
Mitumba cars.
Mitumba clothes.
And now IMF dictates mitumba universities
To produce mitumba intellectuals.
They demand we shut down all departments
That say
We have to stand on our ground,
The best ground from which to reach the stars.

But mitumba politicians kneel before IMF,
International Mitumba Foundation,
And cry out
Yes sirs
We the neo-colonial mimics milk the best bakshish.
Mitumba culture creates MaTumbo kubwa
For a few with Mitumba Minds.

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Class Warfare and Socialist Resistance: Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela as Existential Threats to the US

Why do Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela pose such an existential threat to the U.S.? The promise of socialism and their resistance to US class warfare.

One of the extreme ironies of the latest attack by the settler-colonial regime of the United States against the national democratic project of Nicaragua is that in Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in the Americas, universal healthcare and education are guaranteed to the population as a human right, while in the U.S. those kinds of basic human rights are distant dreams.

The day after the so-called progressive block of legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives surrendered to President Joe Biden and the right-wing corporate wing of the party on the Build Back Better legislation that offered some minor and temporary relief for workers and the poor, many of those same “progressives” voted for the RENACER Act. The RENACER Act is a vicious piece of legislation meant to undermine the ability of the Nicaragua government to protect the human rights of its people and to punish the people for having the temerity to support their government and their anti-colonial project.

Why do Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela pose such an existential threat to the U.S.? Why are they able to unite all the wings of the democrat party and the republican party against them? It boils down to two factors. First, the power of their example in attempting to build independent, self-determining projects that center the material needs and interests of the people over those of capital. Second, the class warfare politics of the U.S. state.

The reassertion of the racist Monroe Doctrine by the former US National Security Advisor John Bolton was not repudiated by the Biden administration because it is also the guiding framework for its policies. The reference to the Monroe Doctrine was nothing more than connecting that doctrine to its contemporary policy expression reflected in the doctrine of “Full Spectrum” dominance that has been bipartisan U.S. foreign policy for twenty years. The thrust of this policy  is that any nation that attempts to defy the U.S. and build an independent project that threatens U.S. hegemony in any region of the world will be destroyed.

The fact that Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela are not only attempting to build independent projects but build socialism makes their example even more of a threat.

But there is also a domestic ideological component to this as well. The very existence of these nations at this historical moment, a moment characterized by the deepening and irreversible contradictions and current crisis of the capitalist order poses a potentially serious ideological threat. If these relatively poor nations can build public housing and eliminate homelessness, offer free education and universal healthcare, guarantee that no one will be allowed to go hungry, can build democratic structures with the protected right of popular participation, the question as to why these kinds of human rights are unrealizable for the people of the U.S. is a destabilizing one that must be avoided at all costs.

For the U.S. it has never been about human rights but hegemony

Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela are attempting to build a socialism that is committed to a framework of social justice that we refer to as People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHRs). PCHRs are informed by the theoretical social practice of the African American radical human rights tradition and have emerged as the flip side of the same coin from People(s)-centered development. Unlike the liberal, individualist, state-centric and legalistic conception of human rights, PCHRs are defined as:

Those non-oppressive rights that reflect the highest commitment to universal human dignity and social justice that individuals and collectives define and secure for themselves through social struggle.

This approach to human rights views human rights as an arena of struggle that when grounded and informed by the needs and aspirations of the oppressed, becomes part of a unified comprehensive strategy for de-colonization and radical social change.

U.S. President Joe Biden declared that Nicaragua president Daniel Ortega was “no different from the Somoza family that Ortega and the Sandinistas fought four decades ago.” He went on to say that “the United States, in close coordination with other members of the international community, will use all diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to support the people of Nicaragua and hold accountable the Ortega-Murillo government and those that facilitate its abuses.”

Biden forgot to mention that the U.S. placed Somoza in power and supported him until he was overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979.

The idea that the U.S. is concerned about democracy or human rights anywhere in the world is an insult to all thinking persons. I will not list once again the litany of crimes that support that assertion except for two. The Biden administration and their ideological lackeys in the media and even among some elements of what is referred to as a left question the 65 percent turn-out for the elections in Nicaragua. But when it was objectively verified that less than one quarter of the voting population turned out for the phony election of the Clinton imposed president of Haiti Martel Martelly, or equally phony election of Jovenel Moise with less than twenty-percent turnout, where were the questions from the New York Times, Washington Post and all the other propaganda outlets posing as news operations?

What was Joe Biden’s position in the administration when his boss President Obama gave the green light to overthrow the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras? Did he oppose it?

Criminality is a core characteristic of all settler-colonial states because they are born out of systematic, terroristic, and genocidal violence against indigenous populations, and even more so when, as in the case of the U.S., they become global empires. Democracy and human rights are no more than ideological props to obscure the real interests and intentions of the rulers and to build domestic support for whatever criminal activity the state has embarked on.

Subversion in Haiti, sanctions and attacks on Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela and the ongoing wars launched from the over 800 U.S. military bases world-wide continues and will continue as long as the U.S. public is confused, disorganized, and diverted from understanding that the interests of the capitalist oligarchy are not their interests.

Slowly that shift in consciousness is happening in the U.S. The economic crisis of the last year and half, coming on the heels of the devastating crisis of 2008-9, has created a legitimation crisis and a new understanding of the real interests of the rulers that will not be reversed. The precarity of workers and the poor are forcing them to eliminate any and all illusions about their government and the economic system.

Debate around the Build Back Better legislation and the elimination of provisions that could have had a material impact on the lives of workers, in particular women of color workers, exposed the legislation as a cynical public relations stunt.

Compared to the attempts by states attempting to move toward socialism, the provisions in the bill even before it was stripped of most of its progressive provisions, still did not offer a real minimum floor for the protection of the fundamental human rights to social security, the right to an adequate income, housing, education, the right to participate in governance with the right to vote as a minimum, and healthcare, to name a few of the rights denied the population in the U.S., and even more so for its racialized and colonized captives.

That is why the idea of socialism and the possibility of an alternative to the barbarity of capitalism has been attacked. The U.S. intends to turn Nicaragua into Haiti, Cuba into Honduras, and Venezuela, which is key for liberation movements in the region, into Libya – the U.S. and European latte-left is helping.

But as brother Netfa Freeman stated, Black anti-colonial revolutionaries will stand with Nicaragua and all the struggling peoples of the planet against the number one threat to international peace and human rights – the United States of America. In that position, there is no compromise and no retreat!

The post Class Warfare and Socialist Resistance: Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela as Existential Threats to the US first appeared on Dissident Voice.

New Agers vs Neopagans: Can Either be Salvaged for Socialism? (Part II)

Is it possible or desirable for socialists to integrate pantheism into dialectical materialism? Can Wiccan covens be integrated into anarchist affinity groups? Can socialism improve itself by embracing celebratory Neopagan seasonal rituals? All this is possible if socialists could admit that being atheists has not been attractive, fun or inspiring in organizing the working class.

Orientation

The term “New Age “means different things to different people: some positive, some negative. But I disagree with those sociologists or scholars of New Religious Movements who are overly inclusive and lump all kinds of alternative movements into New Age. To address this, in Part I of this article I contrasted twenty-seven ways in which Neopagans differ from New Agers. I began with what New Agers have in common. Then I defined the New Age, its boundaries and relationships with other movements along with its heroes and heroines. Then I did the same for Neopaganism. I also identified the historical and economic circumstances in which each arose.

However, my intentions are more ambitious than just doing a compare and contrast exercise. As a socialist, I want to know if either the New Age or Neopagan movements have anything to offer 21st century socialism. If you ask socialists themselves the overwhelming majority say no! They might say New Age is a desperate attempt by alienated middle classes to escape the crisis in capitalism by retreating into mysticism. They might refer to its commonalities with the mysticism of the end of the 19th century that Lenin criticized. As for Neopagans, socialists might say they are a throwback to superstitious times before the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, after all, dismissed witches as products of the sick minds of the Inquisition. Undeterred by this socialist cynicism, in Part II of this article I answer the questions I raised at the end of Part I. First, I address what New Age has to offer socialism. Then I ask is there anything of value that Neopaganism has to offer socialists. I conclude that there is almost no New Age claims and values that are of any use to socialism. On the other hand, there is quite a bit that Neopaganism has to offer socialism if only socialists would listen.

What Does The New Age Have To Offer Socialism?

Eastern spiritualism and spiritual individualism

Many socialists are insensitive to the difference between the Judeo-Christian religion of the West and Eastern spiritualism, which is embraced by New Agers. They are likely to dismiss the new-found techniques of meditation and rarely meditate themselves. What socialists would particularly reject is the do-it-yourself individualist spirituality. Liberation Theology socialists might say at least Catholic spirituality has a social component. Working-class socialists would either continue with their traditional religions or simply drop out and be apathetic to their religion. Individualist spirituality would have no draw for them.

The new science and decentralized eclecticism

Socialists would happily agree with New Agers who rejected mainstream political and religious authorities, but they are not likely to agree with New Agers about science. For socialists, science is a bedrock and they are likely to be unaware of new science and would not be very interested in challenging tradition. There are some socialists that would celebrate Stephen J. Gould’s punctuated equilibrium as the application of dialectics to Darwinian theory. However, New Age interest in science is usually the New Physics, the study of the brain and states of consciousness. Socialists usually aren’t interested in these subjects. New Age is a decentralized association of groups that have made little, if any, attempt to centralize or coordinate their activities let alone centralize so that they might fight for power. Socialists would see New Age as a spiritual marketplace.

The subjective nature of evil, anti-proselytizing

The New Ager’s pollyanna attitude of love and light would drive all socialists crazy. While socialists would agree with New Agers that there is no objective evil in the form of a devil, socialists would disagree that evil comes from psychological short-sightedness, lack of education, or ignorance. Socialists would say capitalists are a small class of people that are willing to destroy humanity and the planet.  This class struggle is not a matter of capitalists being short-sighted, lost, greedy, or incompetent. Socialists would not call capitalists “evil” because of its moral and spiritual overtones. But this is what it amounts to.

Some socialists would agree that the development of a socialist individual identity would move beyond the individual ego, but would say that deeper individual self is inseparable from the practice of a community of socialists and not to be achieved through an isolated spiritual practice. New Agers reluctance to proselytize or do a kind “missionary” work would be treated as lacking ambition. Socialists want to recruit the working class to its ranks and understands that the working-class has “false-consciousness” that must be overcome through argument and struggle.  Socialists know that socialism can only be successful if it can spread internationally. It must aspire to expand. It cannot afford to wait for workers to get on board on their own accord.

The shape of change

Socialists would agree with New Agers that operating with a linear sense of time is outdated. They would agree up to a point with New Agers about the importance of looking at long-term change as cyclic. However, socialists’ interest in cycles would be limited to historical change. It would mock New Age interest in long-term astrological cycles. For socialists, astrology has nothing to do with what happens in history. Lastly, for Marxian socialists, cycles change into a dialectical spiral moving from theses-antithesis and synthesis.

Ancient Wisdom of the East 

Is it in some way advantageous for socialists that New Agers draw heavily from Eastern traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism rather than western traditions in Europe? For better or worse, for socialists it would be a disadvantage. Capitalism developed first in the West and working-class opposition to it also derived there. Most socialists still believe that any hopes for socialism will come out of Europe, because there has been a much deeper history of rebellions and revolutions than in the East. The fact that the first socialist revolution (Russia) did not have advanced industry;

The fact that today the largest socialist country in the world (China) is not from the West, should make socialists pause. Unfortunately, many socialists treat Marx’s theory that socialism is most likely to be from industrialized countries dogmatically and will be slow to change.

Where do sacred sources come from: the perennial philosophy

New Agers are critical of organized religion not because the spiritual world doesn’t exist but because organized religion is a bastardized, exoteric version of religion for controlling the masses. For New Agers, at the core of every world religion is an esoteric core of spiritual truths which all the great spiritual founders agreed with. This has been called “the perennial philosophy”. New Agers support the esoteric version of all the world’s religions. What would socialists think of this? They would be happy to see that New Agers are sensitive to the propagandist nature of world religions. The less dogmatically atheists like social democratic socialists might see some value in this.

Transcendentalism, monism, and the reality of matter

New Agers tend to see an ultimate spiritual force as being monistic and transcendental to biophysical and social reality. How might that be received? Socialists will be split on the question of whether the ultimate source is singular or plural. Most Marxists are materialistic monists and they will appreciate all of reality comes from a single source. The anarchists, being decentralists, will object and claim this as some form of spiritual imperialism. However, both Marxist and anarchists would be dead set against the sacred source being beyond the world (that is, transcendental). All socialists see nature and society as immanent, self-regulating, and creative. The fact that most New Agers see matter as either an illusion or a derivative of spirit would be dismissed by socialists. Socialists are generally materialists who think that matter is real and spirit is either an illusion or derivative.

Altered states, parapsychology, reincarnation, and creating your own reality

New Agers are greatly drawn to altered states of consciousness, either through mystical experience of through the use of hallucinogens. How will this go over with socialists? Not well. The leaders might think taking mind-altering drugs is a distraction from doing political work. Socialists will roll their eyes at New Age interest in ESP, clairvoyance, and telepathy and claim that a century’s worth of research has not found anything significant.  They see this as more New Age escapism. Working-class recruits will find this interesting and would probably enjoy TV shows like The X-files. Some New Agers claim to believe in reincarnation. Some say individuals are working out karma based on past lives. What will this do to socialist organizing? How might it help or hurt a working-class person to know they were a prince or a pauper in another life? Socialists will view belief in reincarnation as more pie in the sky when you die. It is a distraction from the one life we have and it pulls us away from making the world a better place. It reduces our world to a reform school for learning spiritual lessons.

More extreme New Agers like EST or Shirley MacLaine claim that individuals create their own reality and that reality has no objective existence. All socialists would throw up their hands at this and point to Berkeley or Fichte and say this is subjective idealist narcissism. The objective world is prior to, independent of, and beyond subjective reality, and individuals are limited in their aspirations based on their class location, their race, their gender, and the point in history they are born.

Upper-middle class and mildly patriarchal

Demographically New Agers are primarily upper-middle class professionals. This would work against organizing them into socialist organizations or a mass party because upper-middle class people are more individualistic based on the kind of work they do. However, if mobilized, they would be good at public speaking or legally defending socialists. Because some New Agers are susceptible to following Gurus this may work well with Leninist organizations which are sometime cultist (Democratic Workers Party in San Francisco and the Sullivanists in New York, both in the 1980s). New Agers are moderately supportive of feminism.  However, many women in New Age cults have been sexually exploited. Socialist feminists would be especially disgusted by this. They would see that women can only gain more power by being part of a movement that includes the working class, which is essentially absent in New Age circles.

Spiritual intentional communities: Burning man, Arcosanti and Findhorn

If a radical socialist labor union were taken on a tour of Findhorn, Soleri’s Arcosanti city, or given admission to a nine-day Burning Man, what would they think? Burning man would be immediately dismissed as a decadent play-pen for spoiled upper-middle class yuppies. Arcosanti would be dismissed as an impractical utopian city which is hopelessly running away from capitalism. Socialist cities have to grow out of a revolutionary struggle, not set up outside of it. Findhorn community would be looked upon as a bunch of spiritual kooks listening to angels.

Please have a look at Table A which lays out the New Age spectrum of interests. Following that, please see Table B which summarizes how New Age beliefs and actions compares with 21st century socialism. Across these 20 categories there is not a single clear commonality. Now we will turn to Neopaganism and see what it has to offer socialists.

What Does Neopaganism Have to Offer Socialism?

Western magic and matter as creative and self-regulating

Paganism and the western ceremonial magical traditions have deep roots in the West, from ancient Roman times through the Renaissance magicians, alchemists, Rosicrucian’s, and up to the Golden Dawn at the end of the 19th century. All these traditions were committed to in some way redeeming matter, rather than dismissing it or warning that it was an illusion. The “low” magical traditions of witchcraft are more controversial in terms of their origins. But we do know that witches were herbalists and midwifes and were committed to working with and transforming matter. Matter was seen by all magical traditions as creative, self-regulating, and immanent in this world. They are either pantheists or polytheists. Like socialist materialists, matter is seen by pagans as real. There is clearly a relationship between pagan pantheism and dialectical materialism.

Nature and society are objective forces that impact individuals and only groups change reality

Unlike New Agers, Neopagans would never say individuals “create their own reality”. Neopagan nature is revered and must be taken care of. The forces of nature or the gods and goddesses actively do things to disrupt the plans and schemes of individuals. How would socialists react to this? Very positively. All socialists understand nature and society as evolving. Secondly, socialists understand that the individual by ourselves can change little. It is organized groups which change the world. Since much of Neopagan rituals are group rituals, there would be compatibility in outlook here as well.

Embracing the aggressive and dark side of nature and society

Neopagans could never be accused of being fluffy or Pollyannish. They recognize that there is dark side of nature, and as Jung would say, a shadow side of humanity and individuals. These dark forces must be worked with and integrated. Socialists would agree with this, but insofar as the darkest force on this planet is capitalism, socialists would disagree that there can be any integration with capitalism. Since most Neopagans are not radical socialists, they might see socialists as advocating a dualistic cosmology.

Importance of the past and future and the shape of change

As I said in Part I, the past is very important to Neopagans mostly because of what Christianity did to pagans throughout Western history. Socialists might disagree with the value of Christianity. Some socialists focus on early Christianity and think in some ways Christianity was an evolutionary advance from paganism. Regardless of this difference, the past is also very important to Marxists because primitive communism was an example of how humanity could live without capitalism. Neopagans, like Marxists, are also very pro-science (some anarchists are not) and are very interested in science fiction and how society could be better organized in the future.

However, there is a difference in how the shape of change in conceived. Pagans see change as taking place in cycles with the turning of the seasons over the eight pagan holidays of the years as a model.  Marxian socialists would say this misses the fact that cycles turn into dialectical spirals, where the past returns on a higher level. This can be seen in Marxist visions of social evolution when primitive communism returns on a higher level to mature communism after mature communism has appropriated the material wealth produced by capitalism.

Neopagans also seem far less interested in the prospects of paranormal psychology than New Agers are. As I said earlier, good pagan rituals create altered states of consciousness on a regular basis and perhaps they are not looking for something out of the ordinary if the ordinary rituals can achieve altered states. This is one less obstacle for socialists to overcome.

Attitude towards authority, politics and economics

Unlike the New Age, there has never (to my knowledge) been pagan cults. Neopagans are generally an anti-authoritarian lot and organizing them can be like herding cats.

They are also anti-authoritarian in that most are self-educated like most socialists and do not have many “holy books.” Neopagans, like socialists, are very anti-capitalist in that they usually do not charge beginners in terms of passing on knowledge. Dedication to learning, sincerity, and consistency are all that is required. Anarchists and Neopagan witches are sympatico on this. Leninists who are hierarchical in their political organization would have difficulty with Neopagan anti-authoritarianism and they would be dismissed as anarchists.

Politically, many wiccan pagans like Starhawk’s Reclaiming have organized themselves anarchistically with consensus decision making, so they would be on a collision course with Leninists. Even worse, Neopagans who are ceremonial magicians organize themselves in graded orders, with knowledge passed on gradually over many years. This hierarchy in the magical world is then projected into politics. There are real reactionaries and even monarchists involved in ceremonial magic. Another point of difference is over whether or not to proselytize and convert. Like New Agers, Neopagans think people have to come to paganism on their own. Socialists disagree with them, as I discussed in our section on the New Age.

The most predictable anti-capitalists in Neopaganism are wiccans. Wiccans are also very pro-feminist and some are organized where the goddess values of women are predominant. All this is good news for socialists since Margot Adler has said that about half of the roughly 200,000 Neopagans are wiccans. The rest of Neopagans are for small business capitalism like running bookstores or coffee shops rather than supporting big business. Neopagans are more diversified class-wise than New Agers. There are some artisans, white collar working-class, middle-class, and those working with computers. These folks have less resistance to being organized with working class people than the prospect of socialists trying to organize with mostly upper middle-class people as in the New Age.

Altered states of consciousness, sensory saturation, gods and goddesses

I have saved these categories for last because this is the area of Neopaganism that might be the most actively contested by socialists, but it is also the area that I think Neopagans have the most to teach socialists. As I’ve stated in other articles, a good definition of magic is the art and science of changing group consciousness at will by saturating the senses through the use of the arts and images in ritual. Socialists are likely to dismiss this as dangerous because it sweeps people away. They are also likely to confuse this with religious rituals which religious authorities use to control their parishioners for the purposes of mystifying people and asserting control over them. This is a big mistake. Not all rituals are superstitious and when done well, they can empower people and build confidence. People in egalitarian societies, the ones Marxists call primitive communism, understood this.

As far as gods and goddesses go, in a superficial way we can say socialists are atheists and Neopagans believe in gods and goddesses, and that’s the end of it.  But it is not so simple. Yes, there are Neopagans who believe in the real existence of gods and goddesses (called “hard polytheists”) but these gods and goddesses do not contain the usual attributes of the monotheistic god. They are not transcendental; they do not promote fear and submission, nor do they have unrealistic, one-sided positive attributes such as all loving and all-knowing. These gods and goddesses don’t infantilize the population. Neither is there a devil as in monotheism. In Greek mythology, for example, all the gods and goddesses have strengths and weaknesses, expressing on a larger scale similar problems as human beings. There are no escape hatches for Neopagans.

Secondly, not all Neopagans believe in the independent existence of gods and goddesses. Some follow the Jungians in claiming the gods and goddesses are archetypes of collective humanity. They are projections along with mythology that show people how to live. Finally, there are those like myself who are Atheopagans. Led by Mark Green, we see gods and goddesses as metaphors for how to live. In their rituals, Neopagan gods and goddesses are not part of the ritual, but the ritual is very powerful without them.Conclusion

Of the 23 categories I’ve actively compared between Neopaganism and socialism, there are eight categories where there was full agreement between Neopaganism and social democrats, anarchists, and Leninists. The categories include:

  • Western sources of influence
  • The similarities between pantheism and dialectical materialism
  • Matter is active, self-creative, self-regulating, and independent of mind or spirit
  • Importance of the past—paganism before Christianity; primitive communism before class societies
  • Importance of the future in the form of science fiction
  • Recognition and acceptance of the aggressive and dark side of nature and humanity
  • Very pro-feminist—emphasis on goddesses in Neopaganism and socialist feminism
  • Passing on special knowledge without economic exchange. Importance of self-education

In addition, the political decentralization of the anarchists is directly in line with wiccan covens. This is a direct challenge to any kind of federation or centralization, whether it be Leninists or Social democrats. Given that according to Margot Adler about half of Neopagans are wiccans, there is an even stronger connection between anarchism and Neopaganism.

In other articles I’ve named some of the major components of 21st century socialism for Yankeedom. A mass political party which analyzes, generalizes, and spreads working-class self-organization: the presence of newsletters like Labor Notes which tracks working class struggles around Yankeedom; the presence of a transition program which shows workers our plans 3,5, 10 years down the road; the presence of worker cooperatives where workers rehearse how to make decisions about what to produce, how to produce it, and where the product should go as well as how much to pay themselves. Lastly, economic theorists which track the crisis in capitalism and project various alternative socialist economic models. In socialist economics, this would be the work of Richard Wolff, David Harvey, Anwar Shaikh, Michael Roberts, and John Bellamy Foster. Since most of these economists are social democrats, they might have some appeal to Neopagan New Deal liberals who might be curious about socialism. The work of anarchist economist David Graeber would be perfect for Neopagan witch anarchists. With the possible exception of a transition program, Neopagans could easily be brought in.

However, where Neopagans have most to offer socialists is their ability to do meaningful rituals during the course of the seasons of the year. There are eight Neopagan holidays throughout the year: Yule (Winter Solstice); Brigid (Candlemas); Eostar (Spring Equinox); Beltane (May Day); Litha (Summer Solstice); Lughnasad; Mabon (Fall Equinox); Samahin (Halloween). People all over the world celebrate some or even all these holidays. The benefit of celebrating these holidays is that it gives a cyclic dimension to social life. It harnesses us to nature and the turning of the seasons.

The history of socialism is out-to-lunch in not understanding the importance of cycles of the seasons to human beings. It is one of many reasons why nationalism, sports, and religion have been more attractive to the working-class than socialism. Sports is rooted in the seasons of the year. For baseball, spring to fall, then next spring and next fall. For football, its fall and winter. Nationalism has its special holidays peppered throughout the year that are connected to the seasons. So does religion. What do socialists have to celebrate seasons? Nothing. Socialists have no yearly rhythm. Strikes, boycotts, and protests all rise in reaction to a particular event. When they are over, there is no grounding in how they might be connected to the spring and summer. There is no socialist respect for the turning of the seasons in nature and that we are partly biological beings who need rituals to ground us in the seasons. As I’ve said in other articles, we need socialists in the arts, especially in dance, music, choreography, and playwriting to join with Neopagans who are already good at this. Socialism badly needs seasonal rituals if it is to compete with sports, nationalism, and religion.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post New Agers vs Neopagans: Can Either be Salvaged for Socialism? (Part II) first appeared on Dissident Voice.